Now that her moonshine shop is up and running, Hattie Hayes can focus her efforts on expanding her fledgling business to events in the area, like the Chattanooga Choo Choo Model Train Convention, which is running full steam ahead at the convention center down the block. Hattie is all aboard, seizing this perfect opportunity to promote her Southern homebrew to the folks who have come to the city for the annual event.
But when an attendee dies after drinking some of Hattie’s moonshine, she’ll need to prove her innocence. Between tight-lipped train hobbyists and competitors for a coveted convention prize, Hattie has a wide array of suspects to choose from, and she’ll need to use all the tricks up her sleeve to make sure her moonshine business can survive a murderer and stay on track.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Thunk. The sound of my cat's front paws hitting the wooden floor of our rustic cabin woke me from my slumber. Smoky had been snuggled up against me in bed all night, but he'd decided that breakfast was more important than sleep now. He'd also decided he wasn't going to wait for me to rouse myself. He issued his breakfast order with an insistent chitter that said I'd better get to it if I knew what was good for me.
My demanding feline friend was named after the Smoky Mountains that rose into a mysterious gray mist near our hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Until recently, I would have described the cat as aloof. Things had changed after a killer had forced Smoky and me off a winding mountain road. Together, we'd survived a harrowing rollover in my secondhand van and an ensuing pursuit through the woods by a man intent on silencing me for good. Since the terrifying ordeal, Smoky came around more regularly and expressed real affection, purring and encircling my ankles, even swiping my cheek with his sandpaper-like tongue once or twice. He'd never be the cute and cuddly type of kitty, but at least he now let me know he loved me-even if our relationship would always be on his terms.
I glanced at the clock on my bedside table. 6:48. Ughhh. Though my alarm wasn't set to go off for another forty-two minutes, I supposed it couldn't hurt to get moving. I had a busy day ahead of me. Sighing, I deactivated the alarm, threw back the covers to climb out of bed, and addressed my demanding cat, who was eyeing me with a grumpy glower. "Don't get your fur in a fluff, boy. I'm coming."
I followed Smoky's swishing tail to the small kitchen, which was adorably outdated. The round-cornered mint-green Kelvinator refrigerator had stood in place since the late 1950s. My determined and resourceful granny always managed to rustle up the hard-to-find parts to repair what she called her icebox, once even driving all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, to get a new thermostat. She'd passed on ten years ago, but she'd left me with lots of wonderful memories, including that fun trip to Tallahassee, as well as a head covered in dark curls, just like she'd had when she was younger.
My grandparents had lived in this cabin all of their married life. After my granny headed on to heaven, my grandfather had continued to reside here until he decided to move to the retirement home. He'd offered me the cabin. My siblings and cousins had no interest in the small, no-frills house that was too far from the city, schools, and stores for convenience yet too close to the city to constitute a real getaway. I, on the other hand, had been thrilled to move into the place. The cabin might not be much to look at, but it was peaceful and quiet. What's more, the home played a significant role in the scandalous history of the Hayes family. My great-grandfather's old moonshine still remained hidden in the trees out back, though the apparatus was now covered with rust and vines. The also rusty Ford flathead V8 that Eustatius Hayes had used to outrun law enforcement during Prohibition likewise sat in a shed behind the cabin. No way would I let my family's ancestral home be sold off. I'd paid my grandfather what the cabin was worth, which wasn't much. Although the porcelain bathtub was chipped, it worked just fine for a quick shower or a relaxing soak, and I didn't need the latest in kitchen appliances or countertops to be happy here.
I opened a can of whitefish pâté and upended it in Smoky's bowl. The food slid from the can with an unappetizing sluck. Not that Smoky seemed to mind. The instant I set it down in front of him, he dug in, gobbling his breakfast as if he hadn't eaten in weeks.
Now that my chubby charge had been fed, I set about taking care of my own needs. Hot coffee. A warm biscuit. A steamy shower. T-shirt, overalls, and comfortable sneakers, a must for all the walking I'd be doing today. After brushing my teeth, I slapped on a little makeup, dabbed some hair product into my hand, and ran my fingers through my shoulder-length curls to wrangle them into submission. Ready to go.
Smoky, who was employed as my Moonshine Shack's unofficial mascot, was ready to go to work, too. He'd already lain down in his extra-large plastic carrier. I fastened the latch, grabbed the handle on top, and grunted as I lifted my precious cargo. I carried him out front and set him down next to the rocking chair on the porch while I locked the door. The mid-June sun hovered just over the ridgeline above, the rays penetrating the thick forest and creating flashes of light around us. When we returned home tonight, the fireflies would do the same, lighting up the dark yard like a neon-green disco ball. Speaking of neon green, such was the color of my brand-new custom-painted van, which I'd recently bought to replace the one that had been totaled in the rollover. The color went along with my moonshine brand logo, which featured two fireflies with bright behinds.
Once we were in the van, I headed down the curving road into Chattanooga. My first stop was at a gas station, where I topped off my tank. My second stop was at the Singing River Retirement Home. Granddaddy waited out in front of the one-story stone building for me, sitting on his metallic red scooter, one arm crooked cockily over the handlebars as he chatted up a couple of the ladies who lived in the home with him. Granddaddy's hair might be white and sparse, and his weathered skin might have the texture of beef jerky, but these traits were offset by the spirited glint in his eyes and the broad smile made extra bright by freshly polished dentures. He wore his usual scuffed boots, a lightweight plaid shirt under denim overalls, and the black Stetson cowboy hat my granny had bought for him years ago. The hat had been a perfect gift for him. Granddaddy might be pushing ninety, but he was still the same irascible rascal he'd always been.
I unrolled the passenger window and called out to him. "Mornin', Granddaddy!" I raised a hand and gave a friendly nod to the ladies. What are their names again? Selma and Louetta? Velma and Lucille? Thelma and Louise? Heck, I couldn't remember. I supposed it didn't much matter. Granddaddy had no intentions of ever replacing Granny, but he wasn't above a little flirtation if it earned him a casserole or a slice of pecan pie. Besides, I'd seen these same two ladies working their feminine wiles on the other gentlemen in the home, too. They weren't looking to replace their husbands, either, only going for a little fun and companionship. No harm in that.
"Mornin', Hattie!" my granddad called back, his smile and eyes bright.
I climbed out and circled around to the back of my new van, where I lowered the ramp so we could load the scooter into the cargo bay. He motored up to the bottom of the ramp and climbed off the scooter, retrieving his cane from the basket. As he made his way to the passenger door, I climbed onto the scooter and drove it up the ramp and into the van, ducking to make sure I didn't hit my head. I pulled the ramp into the bay, closed the back, and retook my place in the driver's seat.
As we pulled away from the home, I cast a look at my grandfather. "You're looking extra chipper this morning."
"It was doughnut day in the dining hall," he said. "I'm hopped up on sugar." He reached into the front pocket of his overalls, pulled out something round wrapped in a paper napkin, and held it out to me. "Snatched one for you. Blueberry cake."
"My favorite! Thanks."
I ate the doughnut on the drive to my Moonshine Shack, popping the last bite into my mouth as I pulled to a stop in the small parking lot behind my store. I brushed crumbs from my lap as I slid down from the driver's seat. Once I rounded up my grandfather, his scooter, and my cat, I unlocked the back door and stepped into the combination office and storage room at the back of my shop. With the air conditioner set to eighty degrees to save electricity, the place was warm and stuffy. I nudged the thermostat down to a more comfortable temperature and released Smoky from his carrier. He sauntered out, performed a full-body stretch, then continued on into the shop, hopping up to take his usual place in the front window where he could keep an eye on Market Street and cast condescending glances at passersby.
Granddaddy carefully drove his scooter into the maze of stacked cartons in my storeroom and disappeared behind a wall of boxes. But while I could no longer see him, I could hear him. "You've been busy!" he called from behind the wall.
"Sure have!" I called back. With competition from microbreweries and other local craft liquor producers, my moonshine shop hadn't exactly taken off like a rocket when it opened in late spring. But traffic to the shop had picked up after recent, crazy events. Catch one killer and suddenly the media that has been ignoring you and your moonshine business wants an exclusive feature in their news reports. But, hey, I'd take all the free publicity I could get. That publicity had brought customers to my shop.
Yep, things were looking up for my Moonshine Shack. I'd hired a woman named Nora to help out at the store on weekdays while her children were in school. Nora had proven to be a responsible, diligent worker with a sunny disposition that made my customers feel right at home. I'd added two new products to my shelves, too, a candy apple moonshine flavor suggested by Officer Marlon Landers, the hunky cop I was dating, and 'shine sauce that combined my granddaddy's traditional moonshine with barbecue sauce produced by a local restaurateur. I'd even ordered my grandfather one of those power recliner chairs, the kind that would also tilt forward and stand a person right up with the push of a button. Like Smoky, Granddaddy enjoyed hanging out at my shop, but he tended to doze off. Falling asleep in a rocking chair out front could be dangerous. He might slide off the seat and hit his head. I'd surprise him with the new chair once it arrived. It was the least I could do for the man who'd not only taught me how to make moonshine but who also assisted me in selling the stuff in my store. He worked the register, made flavor suggestions to the customers, and served as a mascot of sorts, sitting out in front of the Moonshine Shack and attracting the attention of tourists and locals alike with his folksy charm, far more effective than any inflatable tube dancer or sign spinner.
Having help in the shop allowed me to focus my efforts on marketing rather than routine store operations. One of my recent efforts had paid off. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Model Train Convention would kick off at 10:00 this morning, a little over an hour from now, and continue through Saturday. Yours truly had convinced the manager of the convention center hotel to hold a Monday Moonshine Mixer in the bar. It would give the conventioneers a reason to gather and spend their money, which would benefit both the bar's bottom line and mine. I'd offered the manager a good price on my Southern homebrew in return for him allowing me to post promotional signs and offer the crowd discount coupons if they came down the street to my shop to purchase a jar or two of my 'shine. It was a win-win. I figured model train people were a nostalgic bunch, and they might find my folksy wares and rustic shop to be right up their alley.
Granddaddy took a seat on a rocker out front, and set to whittling a little block of wood. He made all kinds of cute little critters, and I'd even given him some space on a shelf in my shop to sell them. They made a nice supplement to his social security, and gave him a little extra spending money, most of which he lost in poker games at the retirement home. The man couldn't bluff to save his life, and I knew from playing a few hands with him myself that he had an unmistakable tell-he wiggled his ears when he had a good hand.
Meanwhile, I plopped down at my desk in the back corner of the storeroom and spent a few minutes updating the shop's financial records to account for the weekend's sales. I'd sold nearly three grand in moonshine on Saturday and Sunday combined. Not bad. Not bad at all. Of course, business was much slower on weekdays. But with any luck I'd entice some of the conventioneers to come down to my shop this week.
My bookkeeping complete, I logged off the computer, gathered up the stack of flyers I intended to distribute at the model train convention, and slid them into a tote bag. I added promotional coasters, discount coupons, and even a few T-shirts printed with my logo. I stepped to the front door and called to my grandfather. "Time to load up, Granddaddy."
My grandfather used his cane to push himself up from the rocker, barely retaining the muscle strength to manage it. Even so, he got around darn good for someone his age. Naturally, Smoky had by now abandoned his spot in the front window and settled atop the cases of moonshine I'd set aside for tonight's event. He stared me down as I approached, as if daring me to move him. With a groan from me and a growl from him, I picked up my cat and carried him to his padded bed atop my desk. But Smoky wasn't about to accept being put in his bed lying down. He reached up and swatted one of the curls that bobbed around my cheek, letting me know he was the one who was really in charge here.
I groaned again as I stacked the two cases of my fruit-flavored moonshine on a dolly. I'd expected running a store would be work. I hadn't expected it would also be a workout. I was building my muscles right along with my customer base. Meanwhile, my grandfather tucked six earthenware jugs of his Granddaddy's Ole-Timey Corn Liquor into the basket on his scooter. "You sure six jugs is enough?" he asked.