More mystery in historic Chesapeake City

House FBIn case you missed it, the Cecil Whig newspaper and website published another Chesapeake City mystery featuring the characters from “Delmarva Renovators.” Tom and Mac first appeared in “The House that Went Down with the Ship,” which is an old house renovation mystery novel set in Canal Town.

What follows is the opening from the “mini-mystery” that appeared in the Whig’s pages. At the end of the excerpt is a link that takes you to the entire story. Enjoy!


The House that Got a Lump of Coal for Christmas

Forget the reindeer and sleigh—in Chesapeake City, Santa Claus is comin’ to town by boat.

And not just any boat, but a 1958 Chris Craft with a gleaming mahogany hull. In the Chesapeake Bay region, an antique boat is a lot easier to find than reindeer.

But even with a pretty sweet ride, Santa was late.

“Where the heck is he?” asked Mac, stamping his large feet to say warm. Mac and I had joined the crowd in Pell Gardens for the arrival of Santa and the lighting of the town Christmas tree—which wasn’t a tree at all but a giant pyramid of crab pots decorated with green lights.

I was on my second cup of hot cider, but it wasn’t doing much to fend off the December chill blowing in from the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and town harbor. “Let’s take a walk and check out some of the houses,” I suggested, eager to escape the cold.

Santa’s arrival in Canal Town coincided with the annual Holiday House Tour, when many homes in the historical district were open to the public. The town had grown up around the canal back in the 19th century. Some of the more modest homes had been built for canal workers using planks salvaged from barges and boats. Grander homes had risen along with the fortunes of those who had businesses connected to the canal. In its heyday, the canal had almost been like an intracoastal version of the internet, connecting people and commerce. With so much rich history, each old house had a story to tell.

For our online home improvement show, “Delmarva Renovators,” we had been in and out of a few of those wonderful old houses. My name is Tom Martell, and I’m the producer of the show. Mac is our master carpenter. The rest of the crew was off for the holidays.

We were just passing the Metz House (built in 1854 as the home of Jacob and Sarah Metz) when we heard a very un-Christmas-like scream.

“What was that?”

“I’m no Santa, but it sounds like someone is being naughty!”

We ran inside, only to be met by another scream. A shriek, in point of fact. And no wonder. There on the parlor floor was our Santa, right down to his bright red suit and gleaming boots. His fake beard was askew. His hat had come off, revealing a balding pate. Clutched in his hand was a cookie. One thing was clear—Santa was dead as Christmas tree lot on December twenty-fourth.

I’ve always been a detail person. You don’t fix up old houses and produce a home improvement show without sweating the small stuff. There was nothing peaceful or pretty about Santa’s death. Even his fingers seemed twisted in a final rictus of pain. A bit of foaming spittle spilled from the corner of his open mouth. On a table nearby stood a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Snickerdoodles, to be exact. A hand-lettered card beside the plate said, “For Santa.”

Mac tends to eat in stressful situations. He started to reach for the cookies. “Don’t,” I said.

“I don’t think Santa will be needing any of these,” Mac said.

“That’s not the point,” I said, looking down at the Jolly Dead Elf. He still clutched a half-eaten snickerdoodle in his hand. “What if the cookies are poisoned?”

“Who would want to poison Santa?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” I asked.

Mac rolled his eyes. This wasn’t the first time we had gotten caught up in solving a murder in Canal Town. These old houses looked quaint, but there had turned out to be a few skeletons in the closets—and in the walls.

You can read the entire story by following the link below:

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