A fatal hit-and-run in front of Savannah Webb's glass shop proves to be no accident . . .
A highlight of Savannah's new glass bead workshop is a technique called flame-working, which requires the careful wielding of acetylene torches. Understandably, safety is a top priority. But as Savannah is ensuring her students' safety inside, a hit-and-run driver strikes down a pedestrian outside her shop.
The victim is Nicole Borawski, the bartender/manager at the Queen's Head Pub, owned by Savannah's boyfriend Edward. It quickly becomes clear that this was no random act of vehicular manslaughter. Now the glass shop owner is all fired up to get a bead on the driver—before someone else meets a dead end . . .
Praise for the Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery series
“Hollon hits a home run.” —RT Book Reviews
“Will keep you guessing to the end!”
—Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author
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Monday afternoon,Webb's Glass Shop
"Fire!" screamed Rachel Rosenberg. She pointed at her twin sister. "Faith started a fire."
Savannah Webb sniffed the distinctive odor of burning hair. She ran over to Faith's student bench, grabbing the fire extinguisher on the way. She quickly scanned each twin's short white hair, which appeared untouched. Faith was near tears but pointed to a pink cashmere sweater that lay in a smoldering heap on the floor behind the metal work stool.
Faith snuffled like a toddler. "I tossed it over there."
As normal, the twins had been the first students to arrive. Also, as usual, they dressed alike and wore head-to-toe vibrant pink. From pink ballet flats and slacks embroidered with flamingoes, to cotton sweater-sets with flamingos screen-printed on the front. All topped by large flamingo earrings and pink polished nails.
Using two rapid spurts from the extinguisher, Savannah sprayed the burning sweater. Then she stomped on the remains for good measure. She turned to her perennial students, her throat still pulsing from the surge of adrenalin. "Are you all right? Did you get burned?"
"No." Faith sat very still with her eyes wide, staring at the sodden lump of pink char. "I forgot about the rule banning loose clothing. I got a chill and drew the sweater over my shoulders. My sleeve must have dangled across the flame." Faith's eyes began to fill with tears. "I'm sorry."
The twins were typically aloof, tightly controlled, but friendly. Emotion at this level felt awkward.
Savannah heard the pitch of her voice rise. "What possessed you to turn on the torch? We haven't started class."
Faith's eyes grew even wider. "I just don't know. It seemed to call to me to turn it on. I couldn't resist. I've never had that happen before."
Savannah covered her mouth with a hand and pressed her lips together. I'm so relieved they're okay!
Rachel huffed a great breath and put both hands on her hips. "You've always been clumsy. You should have waited for Savannah to tell us exactly how to light the torch. Perhaps this class isn't such a good idea."
Savannah put an arm around each twin and drew them into a warm side hug. "Ladies, you know that at Webb's Glass Shop, a class wouldn't be complete without you two. You've attended every class offered for the last — how many years?"
The twins looked at each other and Rachel shrugged. "It's been at least five years, don't you think?"
"Yes," said Faith. "We were walking by and noticed the poster in the window offering beginning stained-glass classes and we went right in. You know, of course, that your dad was a wonderful instructor."
Savannah smiled. "Yes, he was." She paused for just a second. His loss was still a raw spot. "Now that he's gone, you've been my security blanket and my dear friends. I need you. Don't decide about the class right now."
Faith wrung her hands. "But I could have burned the shop down. You might have lost the whole building." She put her hands over her eyes and began to cry.
"Stop that. I'm well prepared for any little accident. My friend over at Zen Glass Studio says that if there's not at least one fire a day, he's not making money. He runs a lot of students through his shop. Close calls are part of the deal."
Savannah felt her heart pounding and she huffed out a breath. Near accidents caused an aftereffect, but they were far better than a real accident. She felt her confidence drop as she thought of her six beginner students wielding molten glass inches in front of their faces.
Rachel gently pushed Savannah back and folded Faith into her arms. "Don't fret, sister. It wasn't a problem. You saw how quickly Savannah put out the fire."
Faith lowered her hands and gulped a shuddering breath. "I'm so sorry."
Savannah put a hand on each twin's shoulder. "You both enjoyed the sand-etching class, didn't you?"
The twins stepped apart, looked at each other and then glanced away.
"Remember that and give flameworking a chance. I won't hear a word about quitting until you've gotten to the end of today's class."
"But —" chirped Faith.
Savannah pointed like a teacher. "Back to your workstations."
Rachel and Faith returned to their work stools. They folded their hands and raised their chins. They looked ready to pay attention to the first lesson in making a glass bead.
Savannah sighed deeply. Her relief that no one had been injured was both personal and calculating. An accident could tarnish the reputation of the family-owned glass shop that she had inherited from her father. Even though her small business was doing well, it would all collapse in the wake of burning the whole building down.
She turned to the other three new students. "This might have been the best unplanned lesson ever. This is not a risk-free art form." They were wide-eyed and solemn with nodding heads. "I'll expect your full attention during the safety briefing."
She scooped up the sodden lump of burned sweater with a dust pan and dumped it into the trash bin. It stood next to the fifty-gallon drum that contained their unusable glass. It was nearly full and would need dumping into the bright blue city recyclables bin in the next day or so.
Today was her first afternoon teaching a workshop in glass-bead creation. The method called flameworking, or sometimes lamp-working, utilized acetylene torches fastened to the front of each table, facing away from the students. The beads were formed by manipulating colored glass rods through the flame.
Safety for the students was always Savannah's primary worry when working with an open flame, so she had been testing the torches one by one when Faith let the sleeve of her sweater catch fire.
To accommodate her growing student clientele, Savannah had installed all the student workstations in the newly acquired expansion space of Webb's Glass Shop. She owned the entire building, so when one of her long-term tenants retired and closed their art-supply retail business, she took the opportunity to expand. Luckily, the expanded classroom was adjacent to her current location. Savannah hired contractors to remove the adjoining wall and created a larger student space.
That left two more businesses in her building that still held on to their leases. One was a nail salon and the other a consignment shop. She rarely raised her rent more than two percent a year because loyalty meant so much more to her than risking an empty rental.
Because the flameworking torches needed powerful exhaust fans to remove noxious fumes and expel clouds of glass dust, she had placed the workstations on the back wall facing the alley and had a contractor knock small holes into the outside wall for the fans. The construction work on the six-station teaching space was finished mere minutes before the class began at one o'clock this afternoon.
There was a little space for her personal station, but students brought money in the door, so that work would be finished later. All but one student had shown up early to learn bead-making. They had also gotten an unplanned show and prime example of the dangers of working with an open flame.
The bell over the entry door jangled. "Am I too late?" asked a thirty-something tall woman dressed in muscle-hugging black athletic wear. "Have I missed something important?" Her pale face flushed and a sheen of sweat formed on her brow.
Savannah walked into the display room and led her into the new classroom. "A little, but you're in good time." Savannah shook her head. "We've had a bit of delay getting started. Anyway, you're the last one to arrive, so our class is complete. If you could take a seat at the end workstation, we can all make our introductions. After that I'll make some important safety and housekeeping announcements, and then we'll begin."
Savannah pointed to the late-arriving student. "Welcome. We'll start introductions with you. Give us your name, where you live, and what you want to get out of this class."
The pale lady looked extremely uncomfortable at the notion of speaking. She cleared her throat not once, but three times. "I'm Myla Katherine Nedra, but everyone calls me Myla Kay. I'm a seasonal resident from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I'm recently widowed, and I couldn't stomach the idea of a cold winter in our big house all alone, so I rented one of the tiny bungalow cottages in a courtyard within a few blocks of here. This class should be a great distraction and will hopefully be a way to get to know the neighborhood."
Savannah raised her eyebrows. That's an unusual way to introduce yourself — recently widowed. Most women would be reluctant to admit that so quickly. She's confident.
"Thank you, Myla Kay. You must be in that street of tiny houses near my house. I live right down the block from you. I find the tiny-house zone in the Kenwood Historic Neighborhood fascinating, although I could never live in one. Which one did you rent?"
"I chose the converted Blue Bird school bus."
Savannah bobbed her head. "I walked through that one while I was at the Tiny Home Festival last year. The bus has a very colorful history. Remind me to tell you about it."
She's awfully young to be a widow.
Savannah looked toward the next student. He adjusted the collar of his green Columbia fishing shirt and stood in front of his work stool. He said in a booming voice, "My name is Lonnie McCarthy. I'm from Pittsburgh. My wife and I are staying downtown with friends for a few weeks and I have some basic experience with making stained glass. I want to present my wife with some handmade beads for her fancy Pandora bracelet." He gave everyone a politician's wide-toothed smile and sat.
The third student, with brown hair framing soft brown-eyes, looked as gawky as her sixteen years of age. She popped up before Savannah could signal her turn. "Hi, I'm Patricia Karn." Her voice was high and thin, exactly like her teenage figure. "I'm here from Indian Rocks Beach. I'm a native Floridian but my parents are from Akron, Ohio. I want to make beads as Christmas gifts to send up to my six cousins up North. I'm home schooled and this class will fulfill my art elective credits for the year."
"Thanks, Patricia. Did you bring your signed release?"
"Yes, ma'am." Patricia pulled a folded slip of paper from her back pocket and handed it over.
The next student sat until Savannah nodded toward him. He was white-haired with a close-clipped beard and mustache. He gripped the back of the chair and stood, favoring one knee. Even at his full height, he was a little stooped. "I'm Herbert Klug." He gave a sheepish shrug of his shoulders. "I'm here because my wife wants me out of the house."
Everyone laughed. His timing and stage presence reminded Savannah of a stand-up comedian.
He smiled at the reaction. "No, I'm kidding. That's not exactly true. I'm a retired research professor. My lab was downtown at the Bayboro Campus of the University of South Florida." His well-modulated voice had everyone's attention. "Although I haven't created anything in glass as an artist, I have certainly made plenty of glass pipettes for my lab. This is my chance to explore flameworking as an artist." He maneuvered cautiously back onto his work stool.
He must have been an excellent instructor. Edward had been prodding Savannah to hire more staff. Edward was still coming to grips with his new role as her fiancé. He was cautious about giving her advice about her business, but felt compelled to solve her tendency to overcommit, quickly followed by overworking. However, just because he's a research professor doesn't mean he'll have an affinity for teaching civilians. I'll see how he survives the chaos of the class.
Next were Faith and Rachel. Savannah knew they were more than eighty years old, but their looks and actions declared middle-sixties. The twins deftly avoided all discussions about their age. They stood up together. "Hello, everyone. I'm Rachel Rosenberg and, obviously, this is my twin sister, Faith."
"We've been coming to all of the Webb's Glass Shop classes for years," said Faith.
Savannah stepped between them and put an arm around each twin. "Webb's Glass Shop, like any artistic enterprise, needs patrons. These two ladies have been attending classes for years and knew my father, who started this business from nothing. Without this level of support, the arts have no chance to survive." She turned her head to each twin. "I appreciate your patronage more than I can say."
"Yes." Rachel looked at Savannah. "We find the challenge of learning new skills keeps us young."
They sat down with their backs to the workstations and Savannah felt all eyes upon her.
She had taken the opportunity to brush up on her flameworking skills at the nearby Zen Glass Studio. She wasn't like her dad, in that she was open to using any resource available to make her classes the best they could be. He had been more of an "if it isn't available here, it isn't worth having" management style.
The Zen studio was less than a mile away and, like hers, was a small shop that catered to beginning glass students and offered work space and time for advanced students. The owner, Josh Poll, cheerfully advised Savannah about how to set up the student work space along with a demonstration workbench.
Josh had been turning away students and felt another teaching venue would be good for both Webb's Glass Shop and Zen Glass Studio. There were enough snowbirds and retirees seeking adult education or lifestyle classes to keep the arts-based businesses solvent. It was another example of how the business owners supported each other. They were still competitors, but all boats rise on an incoming tide.
"Thanks, everyone. First things first. I need to cover the safety issues. It is important to wear formfitting clothing, pinned-back hair and closed-toe shoes. Glass does occasionally drop onto the floor — but mostly it will stay on your work surface. If it does drop on the rubber mats, it will flame up. Let me handle it. I'll pick up the glass with pliers and stamp on the flames. It cools surprisingly quickly, but don't touch it." She lowered her head a touch and winked at Faith. "No loose sweaters on the shoulders or jackets tied around the waist. Understood?" The students nodded their agreement.
"Okay, then. Everyone, follow me."
Savannah walked over to the back door, went outside and held the door for everyone to follow. She pointed to the newly installed tanks that sat in a fenced-in enclosure. She pulled out a key and unlocked the gate.
"This is the butane tank — just like the ones you might use for your barbecue grill." She pointed to the controls. "Here's the knob to turn off the gas. I will probably never ask you to do this, but if I ask — turn the knob to the right. Remember this phrase: Righty tighty, lefty loosey. It's a memory trick for: Turn right for OFF and turn left for ON. That's universal. Okay, back inside."
She led everyone to a stainless-steel container not far from the end of the long workbench. There was a workstation space on the far-left side of the back wall that Savannah planned to use as her own, so it had a higher quality torch and more advanced tools.
"This is the control for the oxygen tank. The same thing applies — Righty tighty, lefty loosey."
"Question," said Herbert. "I thought we would be using those portable torches that you can get at the hardware store."
"Those don't get hot enough long enough for us to work the glass. We need our temperatures to be at least 4500 degrees. Mixing the butane with oxygen gets us there. Good question. What did you use in your lab?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Since I was only modifying thin lab glass, I just used the Bunsen burners that were already in the lab."
"We need more heat since we're going to combine solid glass rods," said Savannah. "Now for the first aid salve you're most likely to use more than anything else. Let me introduce you to Bernie the aloe plant." On a plant stand against the right-hand wall was a moldy clay pot that contained a strange plant with ugly spikes sticking out in every direction. "If you get a slight burn, pluck off a stem, split it open, and slather the juice all over the burn. It will seal it so you can keep on working. Obviously, if you get a bad burn, we'll take further action, but for minor ones, Bernie is your friend."
Patricia stiffened. "I know this sounds silly, but I've never worked with fire before. I'm actually very nervous."
Herbert learned over and said in a low voice, "Don't let that stop you. You need practice in order to get comfortable." He quickly glanced over to Savannah and then straightened. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's not my place to answer questions. Force of habit, I'm afraid."
"But you're completely right." Savannah noted his deft handling of Patricia's fears. "It's perfectly normal to be cautious, but not to the point where you don't learn. I spent my first weeks near Seattle at Pilchuck Glass School making paperweights. I made so many I could do them in my sleep."
Patricia raised her hand. "Did you meet the famous Chihuly? I love his work! I practically haunt his museum downtown."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Down in Flames"
Copyright © 2019 Cheryl Hollon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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