Midnight Clear (Callahan Garrity Series #7)by Kathy Hogan Trocheck, Kathy Troheck
Ex-Atlanta cop-turned-house-cleaning entrepreneur Callahan Garrity doesn't know what she is getting for Christmas, but she never expects the gift that arrives at her door: her estranged, ne'er-do-well brother, Brian, and his adorable three-year-old daughter, Maura. A rebel who's been in and out of trouble most of his life, Brian's deep in it now since he… See more details below
Ex-Atlanta cop-turned-house-cleaning entrepreneur Callahan Garrity doesn't know what she is getting for Christmas, but she never expects the gift that arrives at her door: her estranged, ne'er-do-well brother, Brian, and his adorable three-year-old daughter, Maura. A rebel who's been in and out of trouble most of his life, Brian's deep in it now since he illegally abducted Maura from under the nose of his shrewish former wife.
When the beautiful child's mother is found murdered, the police come looking for Brian. And now, to save her brother and her holiday, Callahan -- along with her irascible mom, Edna, and a gaggle of House Mouse employees -- must uncover the truth and a killer, even if it means digging around the roots of her own family tree and exposing the rot underneath.
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We had a real dime store when I was a kid. Not a Kmart or a Target, but a Woolworth's, where you could buy wonderful things like a live goldfish and bowl for your brother, or a bottle of eau de toilette in a satin-lined box for your mother, or a ceramic ashtray in the shape of a clown's head for your dad. One year, instead of the usual box of chocolate-covered cherries, I bought my mother a plastic snow globe for Christmas. Only I was so excited about spending a whole dollar on her that I made her unwrap her gift two days early.
I shook the globe hard and little white flakes of something that looked like snow swirled around in the perfect little world encased in plastic. Inside that snow world there was a tiny church with a white steeple, and a green fir tree, and a minuscule ice-skater. "See," I told Mama. "It's a snowstorm.
When the snowflakes settled, I grabbed the globe out of her hand and went to shake it up again. Even then, I guess, I preferred a world in constant motion. But the globe flew out of my hand and bounced off the mahogany chest of drawers. The plastic covering cracked, fluid seeping out all over the bedroom carpet. I don't remember crying, but I can remember being certain I had spoiled Christmas.
"Never mind," Mama told me. "I like it better this way. Who ever heard of snow in Atlanta at Christmas?"
For years, the snow globe came out with the Christmas decorationsand it held a place of honor on the coffee table, along with a lumpy red candle my sister made as a Brownie project, and the genuine Italian ceramic manger scene my brother Kevin bought one year when he was flush with money fromhis newspaper route. The crack was never mentioned, although it grew wider every year until one year, in my early teens, it broke in two in my mother's hand as she was unpacking it. Edna took the pieces, taped them together, wrapped them in tissue, and tucked them back in the cardboard Rich's department store box where she kept all her Christmas decorations. It never got unpacked after that year, but she never threw it away, either. I think she thought it would eventually heal itself.
"You're using up a whole, perfectly good pound cake for that mess?"
Edna put down her mixer and peered over my shoulder. I was cutting finger-sized slices of pound cake and layering them in the bottom of my grandmother Alexander's big cut-glass bowl. I was preparing English trifle. You would have thought I was cooking haggis or water buffalo or something. My mother sniffed her disapproval and turned up the volume on the CD player. She knows I can't stand Perry Como--so there was Perry, blaring in my ears about how there was no place like home for the holidays. Perry didn't have a clue. His mother probably never came unhinged if somebody cooked something new in their kitchen.
Edna went back to her corner of the kitchen counter, where she proceeded with her Tom and Jerry batter. Edna is famous for her Tom and Jerrys. She got the recipe decades ago from an Italian family in our old neighborhood, and every year since, at Christmastime, we make quarts and quarts of the stuff to give away as gifts and to serve at Christmas Eve dinner, along with the fruitcake and the pound cake and the Coca-Cola baked ham and the ambrosia made with real, honest-to-God grated fresh coconut.
Most people these days don't even know what a Tom and Jerry is. It's probably better that they don't. All those uncooked eggs, along with heavy whipping cream, confectioner's sugar, brandy, rum, and cognac--a nutritional nightmare. And that's just the batter. To make the actual drink, you heat up a tot of the batter with a cup of milk--whole milk, of course--and toss in a stout dose of bourbon. Not for the weak of heart, literally.
So the beaters were whirring and Edna was cracking those eggs like a fiend, tossing the eggshells right at me, not caring that she was splattering me with egg yolk and beaten cream. I could complain, but that would be picking a fight, sure as anything.
That's what you get for getting above yourself, I could hear her thinking as she pelted me with shells. Miss Smarty-pants. Miss Too-good-for-Jell-O-salad. Miss Dried-apricots-in-the-fruitcake.
"This office Christmas party was your idea, you know," I said loudly.
Her shoulders stiffened, but she didn't turn around.
Edna and I run a cleaning business called the House Mouse, right out of this same kitchen where we were currently holding our annual Pillsbury bitch-off. The house is a cozy little Craftsman bungalow in an in-town Atlanta neighborhood called Candler Park. Well, inside it's cozy. Outside, the neighborhood is sometimes a little edgier than we would have wished. Last year, we ended up chaining our wreath to the front door after it was stolen twice in the same weekend. But I'm optimistic that things are changing for the better. I'd decided on an Elvis Presley "Blue Christmas" decorating motif this year, with yards of silver garlands and festive strings of blue chasing lights and a spotlit portrait of a pre-Vegas Elvis smiling down from its perch atop the porch roof, and I think even the homeless guys who sleep in the vacant house on the corner were leaving us alone, out of respect for The King.
The girls who work for us love Christmas. Edna had been baking nonstop since the day after Thanksgiving, we'd worn holes in our Perry Como/Andy Williams/Nat King Cole/Bing Crosby CD collection, and the tree in the living room was already swamped with wrapped gifts.
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