Can there be such a thing as too many men in kilts? Normally Liss MacCrimmon, proprietor of Moosetookalook, Maine's one and only Scottish Emporium, would say no. But that's before one of them turns out to be murderous...
The bagpipes are blaring at Moosetookalook's finest hotel, reopened just in time to host an annual celebration of Scotland's most beloved poet. But when the Scottish Heritage Appreciation Society arrives on the scene, they bring more than a hunger for haggis and a passion for plaid. The quarrelsome group harbors their share of long held grudges, and the animosity only grows as the whiskey flows. Then a fierce blizzard hits, trapping everyone--angry Scotsmen, hapless hotel staff, and Liss herself--indoors.
It isn't long before a body is discovered face down in a storage room, covered in tartan--and blood. Now Liss will have to work fast to solve this crime before another body goes as cold as the snowstorm keeping her cooped up with a killer.
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Kensington Publishing Corporation
October 04, 2011
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Excerpt from The Corpse Wore Tartan by Kaitlyn Dunnett
"Sure are a lot of kilts in town," Sadie LeBlanc said to her two companions.
Her housekeeping cart rolled silently ahead of her along the second-floor hallway of The Spruces. Six months earlier, the stately, historic hotel in rural Moosetookalook, Maine, had reopened its newly renovated doors to the public, providing employment for a good many of the tiny village's residents.
"Long as they got money to spend in them sporran things, I don't care how silly their clothes are." Rhonda Snipes pushed her own well-maintained cart over thick carpeting that still had a trace of new-rug smell to it. She was short and squat, with no bosom to speak of.
"Sporran? You mean that leather pouch that looks like a purse?" Sadie sniggered. In contrast to Rhonda, Sadie was a beanpole, one of those painfully thin women who always look as if they'd blow away in a good wind.
"It is a purse," Rhonda said. "Though why they'd want the thing banging against them at crotch level is beyond me."
Like Sadie, Rhonda had been hired to clean guest rooms and, on special occasions, to help out the small waitstaff. Neither job paid all that well, but sometimes there were tips. She rubbed the back of her neck as she headed for the service elevator. It was the end of the shift, but all three of them would be back in only a couple of hours to help serve drinks and canap�s at the cocktail party that preceded the Burns Night Supper.
"Disgraceful, I call it." Dilys Marcotte's voice was rife with disapproval. "I hear some of them don't wear a blessed thing under their kilts. Take a peek and you'd see bare skin all the way up."
"Who told you such foolishness?" Sadie demanded. "Stands to reason it's too cold in January not to wear something underneath."
Two bright flags of color stained Dilys's plump cheeks. "Never you mind. I know what I know." She appeared to be a little older than the other two and was of middling stature.
The elevator doors slid open with a quiet whoosh and the three women hauled their housekeeping carts inside for the ride down to the basement. The carts would be stored there overnight and restocked with towels and other supplies in the morning.
Liss MacCrimmon, a tall, slender brunette in her late twenties, waited another minute to be certain the coast was clear before she stepped out from behind a potted palm. Her face wore a broad grin. She'd had to struggle not to laugh out loud during the conversation she'd just overheard.
Eavesdropping on members of the housekeeping staff had been accidental, but once she'd realized what they were talking about, she hadn't wanted to embarrass them by revealing her presence. After all, she was the one who'd asked the three local women to put in overtime that evening.
Dilys had it wrong, of course. Would she be disappointed, Liss wondered, to know that most men preserved their modesty by wearing cutoffs or swim trunks under their kilts? The more daring made do with regular underwear. That modern Scotsmen wore nothing at all under their kilts was just another of those ridiculous things that "everyone knew" was true. In other words--nonsense.
Liss was confident she was right. Even though she'd only visited Scotland once, as a teenager with her parents, she was very familiar with the Scottish-American community. She'd grown up competing in Scottish dance competitions at Scottish Festivals and Highland Games. Then she'd performed for nearly eight years with a Scottish dance troupe, until her knee gave out and ended that career. Now she was half owner and sole employee of Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium, a small shop in the village that sold Scottish imports and other items with a Scottish theme. She was in the process of buying out her aunt, Margaret MacCrimmon Boyd, just as Aunt Margaret had bought out Liss's father when he retired and went to live in Arizona.
These days, the Emporium relied heavily on online and mail-order sales to stay in the black, but the brick-andmortar store was in no danger of closing. Furthermore, Liss's aunt would continue to be her landlady even after she sold Liss her share of the business.
With a glance at her watch, Liss headed for the service stairs leading to the mezzanine. It was already four. She'd be late if she didn't hustle.
Ever since Christmas, Liss had spent almost as much time at the hotel as she had in the shop. Aunt Margaret had a new job--events coordinator at The Spruces. As such, she had a lot on her plate. Liss had agreed to help out by acting as a liaison to the Scottish Heritage Appreciation Society.
SHAS was a small group. Most of the members came from the Portland, Maine, area, with a few from as far away as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All were proud of their Scottish roots. Because of that, they gathered every twenty-fifth of January to celebrate the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. One quirk of the organization was that the Burns Night Supper was never held in the same location twice. The Sinclair House in Waycross Springs had been its venue the previous year. When The Spruces had been chosen as the next site, everyone had been thrilled. The booking was for two dozen of the hotel's most expensive rooms plus a private dining room. That was no big deal by city standards, but it was a lifesaver for a small- town business that was hanging on by a thread.
Three people waited for Liss in that dining room. Eunice MacMillan was a rawboned woman in her mid-fifties who stood only an inch or two shorter than Liss's five- foot-nine. She had sharp features and an intense gaze that Liss found disconcerting. During the weeks of preparation for the Burns Night Supper, Liss had spent considerable time with Eunice. She couldn't say she'd come to know the woman particularly well--just enough to dislike her.
Looking for all the world like a pair of bookends, Phil and Phineas MacMillan stood on either side of Eunice, who was Phil's wife. Liss could not tell one twin from the other. Their graying hair was styled exactly the same way and their features--square jaw, beak of a nose, and close- set dark brown eyes--were identical. So were their outfits. Although they were not yet in formal Scottish attire, they were wearing kilts in the MacMillan tartan, a pattern of bright yellow and orange.
"Ah, Ms. MacCrimmon, so good of you to join us," one bookend said. He'd been using his skean dhu--a small knife--to clean under his fingernails while he waited. Without looking, he put it away in a sheath tucked into the top of his right kilt hose.
"I swear," Eunice muttered, "one of these days you're going to slice your leg open doing that. You should be sensible, like your brother, and let the blade go dull."
"No point in sharpening it," the brother in question chimed in. "I don't plan to shave with it."
"No, you use yours as a letter opener." He turned on Eunice. "For God's sake, woman, don't fuss at me. It's not as if I'm going to slip and cut my own throat with it."
"Har. Har," his brother said, imbuing the mock laugh with enough sarcasm to sink an ocean liner.
There was no need for any of them to expand on the reference, Liss thought. They all knew that famous bit of Scottish history. The story went that when the Scots had at last been soundly defeated by the English, all weapons had been forbidden to them. The only exception had been the skean dhu, which was declared to be "only big enough for a Scotsman to slit his own throat with"--an outcome to which the English apparently had not had any objections!
Liss forced herself to keep smiling until the three MacMillans finally lost interest in bickering among themselves and turned their collective attention to her.
"Well?" Eunice demanded.
Liss held up the clipboard she carried. "Everything seems to be running right on schedule, Ms. MacMillan. All the members of your group have checked in."
"This meeting was supposed to have started ten minutes ago," complained the twin who preferred a dull blade. He looked pointedly at his watch.
"Don't give the girl a hard time, Phineas," Eunice chided him. "She's doing the best she can."
Damned with faint praise, Liss thought, and kept smiling. Her facial muscles already ached.
Phineas was Phineas MacMillan, president of SHAS. He was scheduled to give the opening remarks and make the toast. Liss could see no way to distinguish him from his brother, except to keep an eye on both of them and remember that the one currently standing to Eunice's left was her husband, Phil. Even their voices--complete with undercurrents of disdain--sounded identical.
While Liss watched, Phineas examined every place setting and piece of stemware in the dining room. He seemed disappointed when he couldn't find anything to complain about. Then his eyes lit up. He pounced on the clip-on microphone lying beside the plate at the center of the head table.
"I can't use this fiddly little thing." Phineas held it up with two fingers. From the expression on his face, Liss would have thought it was a cockroach he'd caught crawling across the tablecloth. "I want a real microphone. Something with some heft. And an on/off switch."
In other words, Liss thought, a big honking phallic symbol that he could wave around as he spoke. He probably thought wearing a small mike attached to his collar wasn't macho enough.
Schooling her features to show only a calm, helpful fa�ade, Liss promised to take care of the matter before the supper got under way.
"See that you do," Phineas said.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" Liss asked. She hoped not. She had a full plate already.
"Eunice forgot to pack toothpaste," Phil said.
"We stock several brands in the gift shop just off the lobby," Liss told him.
For a moment, her smile was genuine. The gift shop also carried a number of items from Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium. With any luck, members of SHAS would be inclined to buy a few of them, or at least pick up one of Liss's catalogues.
"A first-rate hotel would supply the basics for free," Eunice said in a snippy voice.
Liss gritted her teeth, kept smiling, and did not give voice to what was on her mind. "I can assure you that the gift shop's prices are reasonable," she said instead.
"Come along, kiddies," Phineas said, putting one hand on Eunice's elbow and the other on Phil's shoulder. "We've got a busy evening ahead of us."
When they'd gone, Liss switched the microphones herself. That small task took only a few minutes. It was 4:30 when she left the private dining room. She decided she had just enough time to pay a visit to the hotel kitchen and grab a bite to eat before the cocktail party. For that she was profoundly grateful. Dealing with the MacMillans had given her an appetite.
From the top of the stairs that led down from the mezzanine, Liss had a bird's-eye view of a scene of Victorian splendor. Polished wood floors were dotted with large plush rugs to create cozy seating areas, and these were further divided into small pockets of privacy by a series of pillars. At the far end of the lobby was a huge fireplace with a tile-lined hearth and an ornate marble mantel and huge mirror above. Nearer at hand, at the foot of the gently curving staircase, sat a check-in desk made of rich woods polished to a high gloss. Behind it, backed up against a wall of old-fashioned cubbyholes used to hold guest keys and messages, stood Mary Winchester.
Liss frowned. That wasn't right. And Mary's expression was a classic--wide eyes and dropped jaw. Following the direction of the other woman's gaze, Liss spotted two men wearing kilts and cable-knit sweaters. At first glance, they appeared to be playing a game of tag around the pillars.
Then Liss noticed the bagpipe. One of the men held it like a club. He was attempting to beat his companion over the head with it. The tableau gave new meaning to the bagpipe's designation--by those same English authorities who'd permitted Scots to keep their skean dhus--as an "instrument of war."
Liss hurried down the stairs. She flashed a reassuring smile at Mary as she passed the desk but didn't stop. The two men were both strangers to her, but one wore the Grant tartan and the other sported the colors of Clan Erskine. Members of SHAS--no doubt about that!
"This is a worthless piece of junk!" shouted Grant, the man wielding the bagpipe. He slammed it down on Erskine's left shoulder. A sick-sounding blat issued from the bag as a small pocket of air was expelled. "This bag is dried up." Whack! "The drones are cracked." Thunk! "I want my hundred dollars back."
Shielding his head with upraised arms, Erskine did not appear to be in any immediate danger of serious injury. He bobbed and weaved, kilt swirling with every movement, and he managed to keep a series of wingback chairs, sofas, and coffee tables between himself and his attacker.
"Let the buyer beware!" he hollered, and ducked when Grant lunged. From the shelter of a pillar, a distinct whine in his voice, he attempted to reason with the other man. "You looked it over before you paid me. What did you expect for a bargain price?"
"Better than I got!"
Liss caught Grant's sweater-clad forearm as he reared back to throw the bagpipe. "Settle down," she said in a firm voice. "There's no need for violence."
"Who the hell are you?" Grant demanded. His eyes narrowed in his flushed face, but the interruption had thrown him off his stride.
"I'm your liaison with the hotel." She looked him right in the eyes. The moment he lowered his arm, Liss grabbed hold of the bag and tugged the instrument out of his hands.