Ellie Huffman knew how to throw impressive birthday parties. Every year the entire family - right down to third cousins - gathered at the Huffman Estate on the weekend nearest Granny Jeter's birthday for a day-long birthday bash. Ellie continued the family tradition of decorating a birthday tree with flowers and ribbons and family photographs, not to mention clear plastic balls filled with nuts for the guests. There was a very good reason for those nuts to be on the tree; the Jeter family had made its fortune in pecans before turning over the family pecan orchard to Ellie and her husband.
Every year some joker hooked a few leftover candy canes from Christmas on the tree alongside the nut balls. That always gave Ellie fits; it was good for a laugh. She never caught the prankster.
This year the prankster had gone too far. One of Ellie's prize pecans was missing from her display case. It was the highlight of her collection of nuts! She was fond of almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts, but pecans made Ellie's eyes shine like no other. Those pies in the grocery store, "Ellie's Down Home, Gooder 'n Good Pecan Pies," had paid for a yearly luxury cruise to Alaska and weekly spa treatments and massages. Pecans allowed Ellie to take very good care of herself. As her twins, Pia and Connie, always said, pecans were Ellie's life.
When Ellie first noticed the nut was missing, she had run straight to the buffet line to find Harley, her husband.