When she came to a sudden halt in aisle three at Spooktacular Sam’s, Heidi LaRue spilled her large pumpkin latte all over her sheepskin boots. Where her boots stopped lay the body of Bartholomew Fink. The poor, dead man was curled around a decorative pumpkin-themed yard sign impaled through his chest. Heidi didn’t scream. Or maybe she did. She honestly couldn’t tell because Ghouls and Guise: The Spooktacular Sam’s Store Soundtrack was blasting over the loudspeakers.
She dialed 9-1-1. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
Heidi had come in fifteen minutes early for her afternoon shift at the discount Halloween store. Spooktacular Sam’s popped up in towns across the Midwest from August 15 to November 2, and everyone she knew grabbed a second shift. After five years as an associate, Heidi was now the assistant manager which came with a pay raise. She was saving the extra cash to put toward her wedding to Officer Christopher Larson—if they could decide on a date. Her future in-laws scared her more than the Halloween decorations at Spooktacular Sam’s. They invited themselves over for dinner again last night to badger Heidi about selecting a date to host the wedding. As the owners of Larson Farms, Wheatland’s premier wedding venue, her future in-laws offered to reserve the space for half price. This led Heidi to a tense argument with Christopher about family boundaries.
Heidi spent the whole morning mulling over how to talk to her fiancé rather than focusing on her other job as a barista at Café Coffee across the parking lot from the Halloween store. As a result, she’d endured yet another tirade from helicopter mom Karen Bizby who stormed out of the café after Heidi accidentally made a large vanilla latte instead of a large French vanilla latte. Heidi was hoping the customers at Sam’s would be more amenable. Dead was a different thing all together.
“Wheatland 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Flo Hanks, the cheery operator, answered.
“There is a dead man at Spooktacular Sam’s. Aisle Three. Please come quickly!” Heidi carefully stepped away from the body as her spilled latte mingled with blood on the concrete floor.
“Heidi LaRue, you little prankster. It’s probably just another outdoor decoration,” Flo said. “My husband Roy scared himself last week in the attic trying to get—”
“Flo, listen. This isn’t a prank. It looks like Bartholomew Fink, the vice principal of Wheatland High. Please get Christopher over here.” Heidi’s fiancé was a policeman in Wheatland and up for promotion to detective. Their fight could wait. She needed his help handling the body while Heidi handled her staff.
“Vice Principal Fink was stabbed yesterday by an unknown suspect. My team has thoroughly canvassed the crime scene and will be keeping aisle three cordoned off for the time being.” Christopher looped his thumbs through the shoulder straps of his police vest as he addressed Heidi and her staff on Sunday.
The staff of Spooktacular Sam’s was squeezed into the breakroom as Christopher had asked to speak with them before the store re-opened. They had to shut down yesterday, so the police could process the crime scene (“We have two Saturdays until Halloween! This will ruin us!” Store manager Garrett Kennedy had cried as Heidi took charge of closing the store).
“Does this mean we don’t have to go to school on Monday?” Trent Bizby, a high school senior and quarterback for the Wheatland Wombats was sitting on a box of tombstones.
Heidi shared a look with Emmeline Larson, her future sister-in-law. Like Trent, Emmeline was a senior. Unlike Trent, Emmeline was top of her class. Many mornings, Heidi had watched Emmeline tutor Trent at Café Coffee. Emmeline only continued the gig because Trent’s mom paid twice Emmeline’s usual rate.
“No, it does not. You won’t get out of my history exam that easily,” Lester Phillips said before Christopher could continue.
“Mr. Phillips, what if I don’t pass, and then I don’t get to play on Friday? Isn’t that, like, a bigger problem?” Trent raised an eyebrow, looking for a challenge.
“A man died, Trent,” Emmeline said, “and you’re worried about football?”