“If you go into the woods Saturday, all of Shawano County will hear your cries, because that will be the day the great Patches Sinclair dies.”
The annual Teddy Bears Picnic is the highlight of the year for the children of Shawano County, more so than Easter egg hunts or visits from Santa Claus. Besides being a celebration for the end of summer and an opportunity to break the record of the number of teddy bears at one gathering, the children get to party with Patches Sinclair, a beloved seven-foot teddy bear. However, bear hunting season seems to have arrived early in northeast Wisconsin as Thad Sheppard, the man inside the bear, is found dead in the woods with a knife in his back, no head on his shoulders and a love note composed in hell.
Zachary Gagewood must determine who hated Thad enough to want him dead—two vengeful ex-wives, clown and magician competitors jealous of the bear’s acclaim, loan sharks, even a young man who claims Thad is his father. However, when Zachary’s beloved, Newell Krueger, decides to play the role of Patches so the picnic can continue, he fears his boyfriend could end up being the next bear to be hunted down in the woods.
Zachary and Alexander watched from behind the sales counter as the seven-foot teddy bear affectionately known as Patches Sinclair dazzled more than sixty children and their parents with tales about why it was important to share. Zachary couldn’t believe how quiet it was in the shop right now. There were no kids gazing elsewhere or running through the aisles of The Literary Barn. If Patches hadn’t been telling stories, one could have heard a pin drop.
Zachary had been trying to catch up on the bookkeeping, but every time he tried to balance the receipts, his attention drifted back to Patches, whose tender voice was encouraging children not to take everything in life, but instead take a little at a time, and once you’re done to share it with others. Zachary felt like a painter trying to concentrate on a bowl of fruit when there was a nude model standing on a pedestal.READ MORE
“I can’t believe how attentive everyone is,” Alexander whispered as he was dusting off the counter. “If Patches knew hypnotism, he could plant a suggestion that everyone buy books. Our sales would go through the roof.”
“That’s an interesting thought,” Zachary said dryly. “Maybe we should spike the punch while we’re at it, since drunk people are more susceptible to suggestion, too.”
“I can’t believe we convinced Thad to bring Patches here for a minor fee. He usually only brings out his bear persona for the Teddy Bears Picnic unless he’s getting paid big bucks.”
“You deserve the credit for that, Alexander. It was your idea, and you’re the one who convinced Thad to do it. So how much do we owe him for the appearance?”
“Twenty bucks. He suggested we take the usual performance fee and spend the rest of it on teddy bears for Saturday.”
“I wonder how many teddy bears have been collected so far.”
“Rumor has it we’re at two thousand already. Since last year’s count was around twenty-eight hundred, we might be on track to break our local record, if not the world record.”
“Alexander, you are aware that there’s not an official record for the most teddy bears in one location. Honestly, I think we just need to have more teddy bears than any Toys R Us store.”
Alexander rubbed his chin. “Hmm. Maybe we should call the tourism bureau and ask them to pony up some cash for signage that says ‘Gresham: Teddy Bear Capital of the World.’”
Zachary quietly chuckled at Alexander’s suggestion. It would definitely attract visitors to the area. Gresham wasn’t exactly on a standard beaten path. The nearest state highway was five miles outside of town, and the two area casinos had faster routes around Gresham rather than through it. It took special events like the Teddy Bears Picnic to attract large groups of people to the tiny village with six hundred residents.
“So, Alexander, have you bought any teddy bears for the weekend?”
“You could say that. There’s three dozen at home and I brought in six or seven that I was going to display on the shelves with little reminder cards that the picnic is Saturday.”
“You’re just full of incredible ideas, my friend. I might have to give you a raise.”
“Please! I’m well off, remember? Save the money for the renovation. I’m really excited about you expanding this place. You’re an amazing person who bucks trends.”
“I try.” Zachary looked around. “Hey, have you seen Jody? I thought she was supposed to be working today.”
Alexander cleared his throat and pointed to the children’s book shelves, where the redhead in question was standing, fascinated by Patches’ stories and songs. Jody was a sophomore in college, taking courses from the technical school over in Shawano. Working part time at The Literary Barn was helping to defray some of her college costs while also aiding in her indulgence for reading.
“You know,” Zachary said, “I haven’t seen people around here so happy for a while. I mean, it’s not like people were miserable or anything, but it seems like folks have more of a song in their heart. Do you know what I mean?”
“Mmmmm. Perhaps we should take out the concrete sidewalk in front of the shop and replace it with yellow brick.”
Zachary raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should express order a house to drop on you.”
The sarcasm fest was interrupted by Patches asking the children to rise to their feet. “Hey, kids. How many of you know the song for the Teddy Bears Picnic?”
The peaceful quiet in the bookstore quickly vanished as the children cheered. Patches made a motion for the children to join him in a parade around the store as they sang and pranced. The front door opened as a pair of women stepped in. Once they saw the giant teddy bear and all the singing children, they quickly turned tail and left.
Zachary chuckled. “Those people act like no other bookstores have a seven-foot teddy leading children around like the Pied Piper.”
“Hopefully once the expansion is done, we can have children’s programs in one area without it infringing on other customers just wanting to get a book.”
Zachary nodded. “I know. When I opened this place a few years ago, I never imagined I would be expanding someday.”
He pulled out his camera from behind the counter to take pictures as Patches and the kids danced up and down the aisles. He almost felt like a kid himself as laughter rang through the bookstore. However, he knew that what was currently happening would pale in comparison to the coming weekend, when hundreds of children would come to Gresham, hugging teddy bears big and small and celebrating the end of summer vacation.
“Beneath the trees where nobody sees, they’ll hide and seek as long as they please, because that’s the way the teddy bears have their picnic,” a chorus of children chanted as Patches passed by the sales counter and waved to Zachary, whose face was buried behind his camera as he snapped photo after photo.
The bell over the front door jingled, heralding the arrival of Anne Marie White Eagle, a teacher at the community school and an enrolled member of the Menominee tribe. Her slender face was accented by a gentle smile and bright, blue eyes.
“Good morning, Zachary. I see that business is booming.” Anne Marie pointed to the parade of children finally coming to rest where they started.
Zachary grinned. “If I’d known that having a walking, talking teddy bear would bring hordes of people into the shop, I’d have stuck Alexander in a fur suit months ago.”
Alexander shook his head. “It never would have worked. You know what they say—once you go Thad, anything else is just plain bad.”
“So, Anne Marie, what brings you here? It’ll still be a couple of weeks before your textbooks come in, so I’m guessing something else has piqued your interest.”
Anne Marie nodded. “I was wondering if I might be able to ask Thad if he’d be interested in bringing Patches Sinclair to life in my classroom once school starts again. I’ve always struggled to get the students motivated after their minds have turned to mush over summer break, and it seems like good ol’ Patches can get kids to do almost anything, including crack open a book.”
“Anything’s possible. His performance is supposed to go on for another fifteen or twenty minutes, but I’m sure he’ll chat with you after he ducks back into his phone booth and changes back into Clark Kent.”
“Is there any place for me to sit and wait?”
Zachary looked around. There weren’t enough chairs for all the people who came to see Patches as it was, but Zachary hated to not accommodate a customer, especially a true blue faithful like Anne Marie. He grabbed his own stool from behind the sales counter and brought it around for Anne Marie to sit on.
Anne Marie’s face brightened as she sat down. “Wow. I think this stool is more comfortable than the chair at my desk at the school.”
Zachary chuckled. “Give it a few hours. When you’re trying to get bookkeeping done on it, it’s amazing how uncomfortable it can get.”
For the next fifteen minutes, Patches kept the children entertained as he read books and sang some more songs. The kids were entranced. The big teddy bear could have commanded them to go toilet paper the school principal’s yard, and they would have done it gladly.
Once the show was over, the children and their parents swarmed the children’s book area, forcing Jody to flee where she’d been watching Patches. Anne Marie moved just as quickly to try and catch the oversized teddy bear.
“Okay, everyone. Battle positions,” Zachary said. “Any moment now, the parents and children are going to be making a beeline for the register, and once they’ve escaped with their desired tomes, we can bolt the doors and take early retirement.”
Alexander whispered to Jody. “I think his mind is being clogged by teddy bear fuzz. Either that, or his hamster finally jumped off the wheel.”COLLAPSE