The Silver Bear Shop and Factory might be the cutest place around, but there’s nothing warm and fuzzy about murder . . .
As manager of the family teddy bear shop and factory, thirty-one-year-old Sasha Silverman leads a charmed life. Well, except for the part about being a single divorcée with a ticking biological clock in small-town Silver Hollow. And that’s just kid’s stuff compared to Will Taylor, the sales rep who’s set on making drastic changes to the business her parents built from scratch—with or without Sasha’s approval . . .
But before Will digs his claws in, someone pulls the stuffing out of his plan . . . and leaves his dead body inside the factory. Reeling from shock, Sasha’s hit with more bad news—police suspect her hot-tempered Uncle Ross may have murdered him. Sasha knows her uncle would never do such a thing, and she’s launching her own little investigation to expose the truth. As she tracks Will’s biggest rivals and enemies for clues, Sasha can’t get too comfy—or she’ll become the next plaything for a killer . . .
“A twisty mystery tale with a likable protagonist and a colorful supporting cast. Sure to be a very enjoyable series!”—Livia J. Washburn, bestselling author of Black and Blueberry Die
“Cute and cuddly on the outside, murder and mayhem on the inside—I love this book!!! Totally adorable.”—Duffy Brown, bestselling author of Braking for Bodies
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Meg Macy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Meg Macy
All rights reserved.
By this time in my life, at thirty-one, I had planned to be a happy suburban wife chauffeuring three kids and the dog in a van. That plan had not exactly panned out.
Instead I was single and channeling my love for children into managing my parents' teddy bear shop in Silver Hollow, Michigan. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could make kids happy, helping them choose a best friend, and then send them home. No tears, no temper tantrums, only happy faces and squishy hugs for their new toys.
"Hey, lady? Catch!"
A little boy tossed a bear, which I grabbed before it bounced off the ceiling fan. "You can call me Ms. Sasha," I said, and placed the bear in a bin chock-full of other brown bears. "Let's not play catch, though."
He flashed a mischievous grin and grabbed a white bear. This time, I gave him an I dare you stare. The little rascal squinted at me, gauging if I was serious, and then settled for swinging the bear around by one ear. That didn't worry me. Our bears were nearly indestructible — depending on the abuse, of course.
"Daniel John," his mother said, "put that back. We're trying to choose one for your sister Sarah's birthday."
"Actually, he may have chosen the perfect bear for her — it's a polar bear," I said, smiling at Daniel. "That size fits any of our clothing, like the purple floral dress with the matching sandals."
Three racks included a display of shoes and fun accessories such as skateboards, balls, and sports items, tea sets, tables, and chairs, to fit all sizes of our bears. I'd convinced my dad that last-minute urges to purchase an outfit or toy for a gift bear would boost sales. He was skeptical until the profit figures soared within three months.
"Yes, how sweet." The woman took the bear from her son, holding it up to stare into its eyes. "Sarah loves the polar bears at the zoo. Sarah would love the purple dress and the sandals. And that straw hat! She could decorate it with tiny flowers, too."
"Certainly. I can ring you up whenever you're ready."
Meanwhile her son had scampered up the wide stairs in the central round tower of the Silver Bear Shop. We called the tower the Rotunda. Customers always gasped in delight while they admired our Parade of Bears along the inner curved wall, displayed in special five-shelf acrylic boxes. The Bears Around the World each held a tiny flag, and the Branded Bears from Gund, Boyds, Steiff, and Lloyd ranged from oldest to newest.
"I'm so glad we stopped in." The woman glanced around for her son and checked her watch. "Daniel John! You have a dentist's appointment, and we have to get you new shoes for school. If you're not down here in three seconds ..."
"I'll go up and see where he is," I offered, since my sister had wandered in from the office. Maddie could handle swiping the customer's credit card and packing up her purchases.
I figured the kid would be safe upstairs jumping on "Mr. Silver." Not the biggest stuffed bear in the nation but, at eight feet, giant enough for children to crawl over his fluffy legs or have their photo taken sitting in his lap.
I took the shallow stairs two at a time. First I glanced into the side room with the array of "profession" bears dressed in costumes — doctor, nurse, lawyer, and teacher — which lined the wall display shelves. The boy wasn't there. In the loft playroom, the plastic tea set, table, and chairs, plus several well-loved crochet teddy bears, were scattered across the carpet. Daniel landed on poor Mr. Silver with an audible "oof."
"Your mom is calling you. Time to go, and thanks for visiting!"
He scrambled to his feet. "Who's that?" Daniel pointed to a framed photo on the wall.
"My grandfather, who inspired my dad to open this shop."
"He looks old."
Daniel ran for the stairs before I could laugh. Kids — rascals or angels — were always honest. In the photograph, eighty-year-old T. R. Silverman posed with the bears he sewed by hand for his children, nieces, nephews, and the local neighbors.
"Miss you, Gramps." I quickly tidied up before heading back down to my sister, who manned the counter. "That was a nice sale, wasn't it?"
"Polar bear, clothes, and a small bear for the brother. Best yet this week." Maddie squinted at the cell phone in hand. "When was the last time you talked to Mom or Dad?"
"Uh. It's been a while."
"I sent a text to Mom on Monday. Almost three days, and she hasn't answered yet."
I shrugged. "Maybe they're busy."
Madeline and I didn't look at all like siblings. I cleared five-ten, wore my blond hair pulled back, and forced myself to swim, walk, and pedal to counterbalance my true passion for cookies. At five-two, with her dark pixie-styled hair, pale skin, and brown eyes, she embodied Audrey Hepburn's waiflike sweetness. She could wear anything and look cute, stylish, or hot. Today she wore a red cardigan over a white tee, red capris with matching espadrille sandals, and dangling earrings that flashed a rainbow of tiny seed beads.
Fashion with flair. My silver metallic shirt was wrinkled, like I'd slept in it, over blue twill pants and sneakers. Maybe I needed a shopping intervention.
"Mom always texts me about what she's doing," Maddie said, clearly worried. "And I'm swamped, so I haven't paid that much attention like I should."
"We both have been swamped."
"And you still haven't found that file of invoices," she reminded me.
I groaned. Maddie, far more organized than me, was a stickler for filing everything that wasn't nailed down. By contrast, I was always misplacing things. My keys, my cell phone, the staff schedule — which didn't include Will Taylor, our company's salesman and PR expert, who kept his own hours. He gave me the willies. Pun intended. But Maddie kept track of his comings and goings for the most part.
I caught a glimpse of two large SUVs pulling into the parking lot. A gaggle of little girls, adorable in their Girl Scout Brownie vests, tumbled out into the sunshine and then lined up behind two leaders. I waved my sister back behind the counter.
"Better stay put, Mads. The tour's here."
"I've got a ton of work, and a half-finished post for Facebook about the teddy bear picnic on Monday. See this adorable photo?"
She held up her cell phone. Two teddy bears sat on a red-checkered cloth, a teapot between them, with china cups and plates, and a tiny bear peeping out of the wicker hamper. My sister was a whiz on social media, posting photos, drawings she made, memes with bears — toys and real animals — on the shop's Web site, Twitter feed, Facebook page, Pinterest, you name it. Über-talented with pen and ink, watercolor, whatever she put her mind to do.
"Shamelessly adorable. I gotta run, though. I'm starting to wonder if we need to hire a full-time sales assistant."
"That would get Will's blood boiling." Maddie frowned. "He wants all our sales reports in time for the meeting tonight. He's already moaning and groaning again about staff —"
"Wait — what meeting?"
"Didn't you get his e-mail? Or his text message?"
I retrieved my phone and swiped it, but the screen didn't light up. Dead battery. Again. Maddie grinned while I scrabbled under the counter for the charger and plugged it in. Then I texted an order to Fresh Grounds, the local coffee shop and small bakery. Will had been gone for three weeks back east, doing who knows what. I loathed his frequent complaints whenever he returned to the office. The peace and quiet during his absence had been heavenly.
"He better not spring another stupid idea on us," I said.
"Let's hope he didn't convince Dad to cut jobs. You know he's been wanting that."
"Over my dead body."CHAPTER 2
I rushed outside to greet the tour guests. Warm rays of sun bathed my face, although the early September heat would soon overtake the day. This weekend, the Labor Day holiday meant a parade through the village, our teddy bear picnic event, and extra hours at the shop. I breathed fresh air deep into my lungs. That braced me for my other job as tour guide, showing off my parents' dream-come-true business to seniors, children, or a range of ages.
"Welcome to the Silver Bear Shop and Factory." I flashed my brightest smile at the two dozen giggling, squirming Brownies. "Looks like you're ready to have fun, ladies! Stay on the painted paw prints — see the stones set in the path? Follow me."
Luckily, the troop leaders kept the eager young girls under control. We strolled beneath the covered walkway between the shop and factory, where purple clematis entwined the white posts supporting the roof. The lush green lawn against the garden's colorful flowers made for a pretty setting. The building interior wouldn't offer visitors that same serenity, however, given its rough wooden walls and beamed ceiling.
"Gather around in a half circle. Eyes on me! One, two, three," I counted slowly, and then pushed a stray blond hair out of my eyes. The troop quieted down after the last two girls stopped poking each other. "Before we head into the factory, listen to the story of my grandfather, T. R. Silverman. Can anyone tell me his first name? I'll give you a hint."
When I held up a brown bear, all the girls shouted, "Teddy!"
"Yes. He was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. Grandpa T. R. loved to sew stuffed bears for his family and the neighbors' children. Times were hard during the Depression. Many people didn't have jobs, and some didn't have enough to eat. They couldn't afford toys for birthdays or Christmas. So Grandpa T. R. cut the teddy bears' fabric from old feed sacks and sewed the pieces together. Then he stuffed them with cotton and gave them as gifts. Just inside the door, we'll see three original bears."
With that, I opened the factory door wide. The troop leaders kept the girls in two half circles so they could view the display case. I pointed to the closest bear.
"That patched one was my dad's, and he passed it to me. My younger sister didn't get a chance to play with Patches, though. His head had come loose. Over here in this display box — remember, follow the tracks!" I pointed to the painted paw prints. "These are my grandpa's tools. Scissors, needles, and all the thread, plus a sample of the burlap feed sacks he used. Can anyone guess how he used the corduroy fabric?"
One girl's hand shot up. "For the nose?"
"Good guess! That and the paw pads. Today we use a sturdy felt."
"What did your grandpa use for stuffing?" one girl asked.
"His very first bears had straw or corn husks, but they tended to get wet and moldy. Then he switched to cotton. Let me tell you how he started working at twelve years old. You've all seen the Quick Mix factory, right?"
Several piped up with, "It's near our school," and, "Behind our playground!"
"The girls wrote letters to Quick Mix asking for a tour, like we did here," one leader said. "We also visited the city offices and took part in a flag-raising ceremony. After marching in the parade on Monday, the girls will earn their community badge."
"And they earned money to buy a large teddy bear for our elementary school auction," the second leader said. "The profits will go to help the Wags and Whiskers pet shelter."
"Our company would love to donate a second bear for the auction." I ignored the fact that Will would rant against that idea, since he'd shot down the last chance we had to participate in a charity function. "Let's begin the tour, but please stay behind the railing at all times. We want you to stay safe at all times, girls. Each section shows the production process, assembling, stuffing, and then selling them in our shop next door."
"My mom says they're expensive," one girl said.
I smiled. Our teddy bears lasted three times longer than cheaper stuffed animals due to quality controls and a careful manufacturing process. Mentioning that fact seemed pointless, however. The troop came for a tour, not to hear a sales pitch.
We stopped at the fabric storage area, where the long rolls of fur in various colors were stacked on shelves. "We prefer realistic colors for our bears," I said. "White for polar bears, black, silver, and brown ranging from light tan to the darkest brown."
"Why are there silver bears?" The girl pushed up her glasses with a squint. A leader shot her a warning look for speaking up a second time, but I smiled.
"The Mexican grizzly bear had a grayish-white coat, although they're now thought to be extinct. Because of Grandpa T. R. Silverman, we used 'Silver' for our business name." I led them along the path until we stopped at the cutting machine. "This is where our staff cuts the fabric. We stack the fur in alternating layers, fuzzy side up against fuzzy side down, and so on. The dies are like cookie cutters in the shape of arms, legs, torsos, and heads."
"What kind of fur are the bears made from?" one leader asked.
"Our most expensive bears are mohair, which is shorn from long-haired goats and woven into cloth before it's dyed, and also alpaca pelts. But we use synthetic fur for most of our bears. The hydraulic press machine cuts through all of the layers at tremendous pressure." I pointed to the cutting machine. "That's my uncle. He runs the factory side of the business founded by my father."
I didn't mention the dangers of operating the cutting press. Uncle Ross, who was busy stacking layers, lost part of two fingers five years ago, but refused to admit his carelessness. He resembled a sailing captain with grizzled gray hair, a bushy beard, and the navy corduroy cap he always wore. Tall and thin, almost skeletal at sixty-three, he favored Hawaiian shirts and khaki pants with plenty of pockets; he wore dock shoes without socks, summer and winter, as if he'd just stepped off a sailboat. Uncle Ross deliberately ignored the kids. I couldn't remember a time when he didn't act gruff, like an ornery bear woken from hibernation.
"From here, two of our staff work as a team on bears throughout the stations, trading them to check quality," I said, and drew the girls forward to the next area. Sewing machines lined up in several rows. "Say hello to Deon and Pete."
The girls chimed a greeting in unison. Pete waved, slouched as usual, hair half in his face. Deon didn't notice; he worked fast, wearing earbuds and tapping his foot in rhythm to his rap music, so focused on packing an order into a big box. I drew the girls to the next team, where Harriet and Joan sat at their sewing machines — one sewing ears on a white bear's head, the other sewing limbs on a silver bear. Lois and Flora were hand-sewing the eyes of their tan bears.
"Standards in the United States are very strict. The bears' eyes have to be secure to avoid any choking hazard —"
"Ach-choo!" A leader sneezed into her elbow. "I'm sorry."
"Tiny bits of fur, threads, or fluff always float around in the air," I said, half in apology, "although we try to keep it down with an air filtration system."
"How many bears do you make?" one girl asked.
"Around sixty to seventy each week." If things didn't break down, I thought to myself, since one of the sewing machines had gone haywire last week. "Each team takes their finished pieces to the stuffing machine. Our tiniest bears are soft, without the pin and lock washers on our larger bears. That's what allows a bear's arms and legs to move."
"But how would a washer make them move?" several girls asked at once.
I pointed to the joint of my index finger. "Everyone hold up their hand and then wiggle your fingertip. Pin and lock washers are sort of like the 'bones' inside your finger. We can't put them into our tiniest bears, since there's not much room. But our larger bears can lift their arms to hug you back," I said with a smile. "Now, the torso is the last part to finish. Here's the stuffing machine, but please stay behind the ropes."
Two girls wrinkled their noses. "It stinks!" The troop all convulsed into loud laughter, and I joined them.
"It's been oiled recently. Once a worker places the unstuffed bear on the nozzle, they press that pedal near the floor — it fills the toy at a fast rate, faster than a speeding car. They have to make sure the bear is stuffed the same throughout, which is tricky. The seams might burst if the bear is too full, or it might feel limp and squishy with too little fiber filling."
Lois, Flora, Harriet, and Joan waved at the girls. "Why can't each of them sew the same thing? Like one all the arms, and the other all legs," one leader asked.
"Too boring," Flora said with a hearty laugh.
I nodded. "It also ensures a quality product. They check and recheck each other's work, though. The very last parts the team sews are the tags, using a ladder stitch, right under the tail." Many of the girls giggled, and I heard a few whispered "bear butts" before the leader hushed them. "Then we attach the Silverman Bear Factory cardstock tag to the left ear with a plastic tab."
Excerpted from Bearly Departed by Meg Macy. Copyright © 2017 Meg Macy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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