Murder, She Reported Coming July 31 - wherever e-books are sold!
It was six-thirty at night and Elizabeth Adams was still at her desk. The newsroom was comparatively quiet—the usual cacophony of clattering typewriter keys absent for the time being.
Most of the reporters had fled to a tenement building on Eighth Avenue where a man was holed up in a standoff with the police. He’d just killed his wife and was threatening to kill himself.
Elizabeth shivered. She rubbed the back of her neck and stared at the piece of paper protruding from her typewriter. Her bones ached from the cold and she was hungry. She wondered why she had thought it would be glamorous to have a job.
Instead of sitting in this drafty newsroom, she could be resting comfortably in her family’s Madison Avenue apartment listening to the radio or reading a magazine and waiting for Mrs. Murphy to put one of her excellent dinners on the table.
Elizabeth’s mother had been horrified when Elizabeth had told her about the job—crying and twisting her monogrammed lace handkerchief between her fingers and asking why on earth Elizabeth couldn’t be more like Helen Cummings’s daughter Dorothy who was engaged to Humphrey Van Alstyne and spent her time planning her wedding. How was she ever going to explain to her friends that her daughter was not only working--she said the word as if it left a foul taste in her mouth—but working for some ghastly newspaper.
A woman was meant to only have her name in the paper three times in her life, her mother reminded her—when she was born, when she married and when she died. It certainly wasn’t meant to appear under some sordid photograph on the front page.
Elizabeth had laughed and had assured her mother that it would be many years before she had a credit line and probably many more years after that before she landed a picture on the front page.
Even Mrs. Murphy had gone pale when she’d asked why Elizabeth had come to the breakfast table with her hat already on, rushing through her boiled egg, and Elizabeth had replied that she had a job and mustn’t be late.
Elizabeth groaned and put her fingers back on the keys. She wanted more. She had had the crazy idea that she could right social injustices and further truth by working for a newspaper. So far she had been relegated to the role of office gal Friday fetching coffee, running copy to the editor, checking sources. She sighed. She knew she had to pay her dues.
The air stirred and the scent of Tabu wafted toward her. She looked up to see Estelle Draper bearing down on her. Elizabeth hastily put her head down and pecked out a few more words.
Estelle was wearing a brown and white tweed suit with a nipped in waist and a brooch on the lapel. Dark-rimmed glasses dangled from a gold chain around her neck.
Estelle was the women’s editor for the Daily Trumpet. She had made it clear from the beginning that she didn’t like her position as the only woman in the office usurped.
Elizabeth had taken pains to win Estelle over, bringing her a nickel cup of coffee from Horn and Hardart in the morning or a piece of lemon meringue pie from Schrafft’s when she learned it was Estelle’s birthday.
Estelle stopped beside Elizabeth’s desk and rapped it sharply with the yellow pencil in her hand.
“Almost,” Elizabeth mumbled, keeping her eyes on the paper protruding from her typewriter.
She hoped Estelle wouldn’t notice how little she’d done. She’d engaged in a bit of hyperbole when she’d told the paper she could type and she was laboriously picking out each letter of Estelle’s Dear Miss Draper column that ran in the paper every day under her byline.
Dear Miss Draper, Elizabeth read. My fiancé and I have broken it off. Do I have to give the engagement ring back?
Damned if I know, Elizabeth thought as she pecked out a few more words.
The scent of Tabu faded and was replaced by a sulfurous odor. Elizabeth sniffed the air. Eggs. It smelled like eggs. Her stomach grumbled.
She turned around to see Ralph Kaminsky, one of the veteran reporters, taking a sandwich out of its wax paper wrapping. Elizabeth knew without asking that it was egg salad on rye with sliced onions. So far she had never seen Kaminsky eat anything else. He’d chase it down with cold coffee left in the thick white mug on his desk and then follow that up with a cigarette.
She wondered why he wasn’t with all the other reporters racing to Connecticut in an attempt to beat each other to the story that was bound to be on the front page of every paper in town. Crime was his beat—this story was right up his alley.
Elizabeth didn’t know much about Kaminsky—only that he lived alone, had been with the Daily Trumpet since he was a kid hired to sweep the floors and that every afternoon at four o’clock on the dot—unless he was off chasing a story—he left his desk in the newsroom to head to the bar across the street for a shot of Old Schenley and a cold Budweiser chaser.
As far as Elizabeth could tell, Kaminsky lived for his job, ready to sally forth into the city day or night to report on wretched stories of murder, theft and the more horrific cases of assault and battery.
Kaminsky was all sharp edges—bony elbows and knees—with gray hair that stood up like the bristles on a brush and a long face with a prominent nose and purple circles, like bruises, under his eyes.
The telephone on Kaminsky’s desk rang, and he grabbed it. He muttered a couple of words, sputtering bits of his egg salad sandwich into the air.
Elizabeth cringed and looked away. Kaminsky scared her a little. He was blunt to the point of being rude and had no use for women invading what he viewed as the male domain of the newsroom.
“That crumb,” Kaminsky yelled as he slammed the receiver down so hard it jumped out of the cradle and hung alongside his desk, swaying back and forth, the dial tone blaring.
“Anybody know how to work one of these?”
Elizabeth turned around again to see Kaminsky brandishing a camera.
She hesitated then raised her hand. “I do.”
Kaminsky looked startled then barked. “Get your hat and coat. Sullivan’s got the flu and Gloria DeWitt is making her debut at the Waldorf and all predictions point to her being the It Girl of the decade. Boss wants pictures and a story.”
“We can walk,” Kaminsky said as he held the door open for Elizabeth. “Waldorf’s not far. It’s a swell place. Wait till you see it.”
Elizabeth didn’t tell him that she’d made her own debut at the Waldorf and had been there for numerous parties in the Marco Polo Club, dinners in the Empire Room and lunches at Peacock Alley.
Elizabeth pulled her collar up around her throat. The wind blew in her eyes and mouth, gritty with the exhaust from the cars and taxis racing up Park Avenue in an endless stream of red taillights.
“What’s your name again?” Kaminsky asked as he pulled a battered pack of Camels from his coat pocket.
“Elizabeth. Elizabeth Adams,” Elizabeth said, breathless from trying to match Kaminsky’s long strides. She was hampered by a slight limp—a souvenir of having had polio as a child.
“What do your friends call you?”
Kaminsky snorted. “That’s a mouthful. I’m going to call you Biz. I hope you don’t mind.”
It wasn’t a question, and Elizabeth didn’t answer. Besides, she kind of liked it.
“Do you mind telling me something?” Elizabeth said as they waited for the light to turn green at Forty-Fourth Street.
“Depends on what you want to know.” Kaminsky cupped his hand around a match and lit his cigarette.
“Why isn’t Miss Draper covering this story? She’s the women’s editor. Why you?”
Kaminsky laughed. “You mean why send a man to do a woman’s job?”
“I suppose so.”
The light changed and they began to cross. Slushy water had collected at the curb and Elizabeth shivered as it sluiced over the top of her suede oxfords.
“It’s on account of the boss likes to hold a grudge, see. A bunch of us were having a nice friendly game of poker over at O’Leary’s on Third Avenue. Boss was feeling cocky seeing as how he was holding a set of quad eights. At least until I plunked down a jack-high straight flush.” Kaminsky chuckled. “Took a couple of doubles off of him, and he didn’t like it.” He shook his head. “Old man’s like an elephant—he never forgets.”
“This won’t be much of a story, I guess. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Kaminsky grinned at Elizabeth. “Listen to me, kid. There’s always a story. It’s the reporter’s job to find it.”
Kaminsky drew on his cigarette and the tip glowed like the taillights on the cars that continued to stream up Park Avenue. “Tell me about yourself,” he said, turning to Elizabeth.
“Not much to tell.” Elizabeth thought for a moment. “I mix a wicked Manhattan,” she said, “have a killer backstroke and can rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time.”
“And you know how to operate a camera,” Kaminsky said, dropping his cigarette to the ground and grinding it out with the toe of his shoe.
Elizabeth watched as the glow faded to a pinprick and went out.
“Where’d you learn to take a picture?”
Elizabeth’s heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk, and she took a moment to regain her balance. She didn’t want to admit that she’d been in a photography club at Wellesley and that her roommate’s aunt, the famed photographer Beatrice Harper, had taken Elizabeth under her wing.
“That Sullivan,” Kaminsky said without waiting for an answer. “He doesn’t have the flu. I’d bet a c-note he’s recovering from a bender. He can down a couple of six packs of Schlitz in one evening.”
Kaminsky accidently jostled the elbow of a woman in a black coat and a fox fur collar with the animals’ heads and tails intact. Their beady eyes glowed menacingly in the yellow streetlights as she passed them. Kaminsky doffed his hat and murmured an apology.
He sighed. “Sullivan’s a damned good photographer though.”
He stopped and put a hand on Elizabeth’s arm “Did I tell you about the time Sullivan strapped a camera to his ankle, snaked the trigger release up his pant leg and snuck into the execution chamber at Sing Sing?”
Elizabeth shook her head, nearly unsettling the brown suede Robin Hood hat she’d bought at Bergdorf Goodman with her first week’s pay. She grabbed for it and pulled it down more tightly over her dark wavy hair.
“Sullivan came out with the only known picture of someone in the electric chair just as the executioner was pulling the lever. Biggest scoop the Daily Trumpet’s ever had.”
They were nearing the Waldorf, and Kaminsky’s attention was caught by the line of sleek black cars pulling up to the entrance. Uniformed chauffeurs stood at attention as satin slippers and yards of tulle emerged from the open doors of the shiny Cadillacs and Lincolns.
An icy rain had begun to fall and umbrellas popped open like blossoming flowers over the crowd of young women scurrying toward the welcoming doors of the Waldorf.
The hotel was lit with spotlights and light shone from every window of its forty-seven story limestone façade. It was the tallest and largest hotel in the world and tonight it seemed more spectacular than usual. Even to Elizabeth, who had been to the hotel many times, it looked especially magical this evening.
Kaminsky whistled. “This is some wingding.”
Elizabeth squinted into the distance. “There’s Gloria DeWitt,” she said pointing to a figure cocooned in a mink coat emerging from one of the waiting cars.
Elizabeth had a sudden thought—what if someone recognized her? She’d have to tell the truth. Besides, there was no shame in having a job.
Kaminsky shot a glance at Elizabeth. “You know her?”
“My sister does,” Elizabeth admitted.
Kaminsky’s head spun around. “How in hell did your sister ever meet the likes of Miss Gloria DeWitt?”
Elizabeth swore she could see his reporter’s nose quivering with the scent of a good story. She scrambled for an explanation that wouldn’t be too revealing but fortunately Kaminsky rarely ever waited for the answers to his own questions unless he was interviewing someone.
“Holy mackerel!” He said. Get me a word with her and we’ll scoop every paper in town.”
Girls in dresses as elaborate as wedding gowns—yards of white tulle and satin festooned with flounces, ribbons, lace and bows—crowded the Art Deco lobby of the Waldorf, the huge ten foot by ten foot chandelier shining down benignly on their glossy privileged heads. The marble floor was polished to a high shine which reflected the staccato flashes of the photographers’ cameras.
Kaminsky, smelling of cigarette smoke and onions, looked out of place in his worn topcoat with the missing middle button and frayed collar. He put a hand on Elizabeth’s arm.
“You get some pictures, kid, and find Gloria DeWitt. Tell her we want an exclusive interview. Tell her we’ll put her picture on the front page. Hell, tell her anything so long as you get her to agree to it, understand?”
“Where are you going?” Elizabeth asked trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
“I’m feeling a little out of place surrounded by all these dames. I’ll be in the Men’s Bar. Give a holler when Miss DeWitt is ready to talk.”
Elizabeth watched as Kaminsky gingerly made his way through the swarm of young women. She envied him—she could do with a bit of Dutch courage herself.
The lobby was warm with so many bodies milling in one place. Elizabeth unbuttoned her coat and stuffed her gloves in her pocket.
A murmur went through the crowd and the girls began making their way toward the elevators that would take them to the Waldorf’s four story Grand Ballroom. The smiles and laughter were gone—their expressions now somber as they prepared to make their curtsies and be presented to society.
Elizabeth thought of her own debut—the endless planning, the nerves, the expense—all to introduce her to people she already knew and with the express purpose of getting her married off before she became too long in the tooth. It made her think of farmers selling livestock at the county fair or perhaps an auction at Sotheby’s—sold to the highest bidder—a guaranteed genuine virgin!
Elizabeth yanked the camera Kaminsky had given her from the case and popped in a flashbulb. She took a deep breath and began snapping. Swirls of tulle and satin topped with anxious white faces flashed before her camera lens.
The girls were disappearing from the lobby as quickly as a puff of smoke, but two of them stopped when they saw Elizabeth. They angled themselves toward the camera with expressions that told Elizabeth they had spent many hours practicing in the mirror.
“Will we be in the paper?” The blonde asked as the flashbulb went off.
“I hope so,” Elizabeth said. She imagined the photograph splashed across the front page with her name—Elizabeth Adams—underneath.
The girls gathered up their skirts and scurried off. The elevator doors swooshed closed behind them and Elizabeth stood alone in the now sedate atmosphere of the lobby.
She hadn’t found Gloria DeWitt. But the night was far from over. There would be dining and dancing after the presentations. She’d nab Gloria then.
Elizabeth headed to the sanctuary of the ladies restroom and pushed open the door. It was an oasis of calm, no less grand than the hotel lobby with a vase of blood red roses atop the marble fireplace mantle and a comfortable sofa and chairs. The room was filled with the fading scents of a dozen perfumes.
Elizabeth sank into one of the chairs with a loud sigh. She put her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes.
The sound of water running startled her and she sat up abruptly, her eyes flying open, her ears at attention.
The noise was coming from one of the stalls—small rooms with a real door and an individual sink and vanity—which were off the sitting area. Elizabeth had thought she was alone but was obviously mistaken.
The running water stopped and she heard someone crying. She tiptoed across the plush carpet and listened.
The sound was unmistakable—someone was having a good cry in one of the stalls. One of the debutantes?
Elizabeth knocked on the door.
“Is everything alright?”
A loud sniff and a hiccough and a small voice answered. “I’m fine, thank you.”
Elizabeth retrieved a new flashbulb and inserted it without thinking.
“If there’s anything I can do….” Elizabeth leaned against the wall. “Can I get you a tissue?”
The knob rattled and the door slowly opened. Gloria DeWitt’s famous face appeared in the gap—tear-stained and with make-up smudged.
Afterwards Elizabeth wasn’t sure how it had happened. She couldn’t have done it on purpose but somehow she had.
She’d pushed the button and her flash had gone off.
Shelby McDonald stood in the midst of row upon tidy row of lettuces, a woven willow garden basket over her arm. Dew, shimmering like diamonds on the delicate leaves of the plants, was evaporating rapidly in the rays of the sun. The rich, dark earth was cool against Shelby’s bare knees as she knelt between the two rows and began picking.
She plucked some merlot lettuce from the ground, shook off the excess dirt, and placed it in her basket. It would go into the salad she was making for the St. Andrews Church potluck later that day. She moved to the next row and chose some heads of butter lettuce. Its smooth, buttery taste would be the perfect complement to the full-bodied flavor of the merlot. Plus, the pale green of the butter lettuce and deep burgundy of the Merlot would look beautiful together in the bowl.
Shelby had taken over Love Blossom Farm ten years ago, when her parents retired to spend their time traveling the country in their secondhand RV. She’d headed to Chicago after college, but city life hadn’t suited her, and she’d been glad to return to Lovett, Michigan, and the place she loved more than anywhere else on earth.
Shelby grew lettuces and herbs that she sold to the Lovett General Store and also cultivated a kitchen garden that provided her and her children with vegetables all year long—fresh in the spring and summer and canned or pick - led the rest of the year.
The speck of red in the distance was an old barn, where Patches, an aging calico cat, who was still nimble despite her advancing years, kept mice and other small critters at bay. Next to it was a chicken coop. Shelby kept a flock of cantankerous Rhode Island reds that squawked for their feed every morning but presented her with a stream of large brown eggs. Jack Sparrow, a bantam rooster inherited from an elderly farmer her parents knew, strutted among them, keeping order.
Her basket full of lettuce, Shelby headed back to the farmhouse. It was old, with worn gray shingles and plumbing that was in a constant state of disrepair, but Shelby loved it. She pushed open the back door and went through the mudroom and into the kitchen. She put the basket on the counter and filled the kitchen sink with cold water. Although she grew everything organically, it was still necessary to make sure the lettuce was free of any dirt or sand. She separated the leaves and put them in the water to soak.
Her computer was on a small table tucked into a corner of the kitchen. Shelby slipped into the chair she’d picked up at a going- out-of-business sale and powered on her laptop. She put her fingers on the keys and began to write.
Today is the church potluck fund- raiser. Poor St. Andrews is desperately in need of a new roof. Last Sunday it rained more inside the church than out. The St. Andrews Youth Group, under the direction of the Reverend Daniel Mather, who is beginning to look slightly harried, is erecting a large tent here on the grounds of Love Blossom Farm, and his wife, Prudence, is helping the Women’s Auxiliary as they prepare to set up long folding tables for the food.
As I write this, my house is filled with the fragrance of a cottage cheese pie baking in the oven and a huge pot of dill and wax bean soup simmering on the stove. I made the cottage cheese earlier this morning, and used the whey in the soup instead of some of the stock. There are dozens of uses for whey, a by-product of making cheese, and it’s packed with protein and vitamins and minerals. The house is so peaceful. The children are quietly occupied in the living room. Amelia is practicing her piano and Billy is working on his latest model airplane. It is amazing how well they get along even though Amelia is about to turn thirteen and her younger brother is only eight . . .
“Mom!” Amelia screamed suddenly in the tone of utter disdain that only a preteen girl can achieve.
Shelby took her fingers from the keyboard and rushed out of the kitchen to see what was wrong. Because Amelia’s tone made it very clear that something was wrong— of course, it could be anything from a wild bear breaking into the house and attacking them to the fact that she was down to one bar on her cell phone.
Shelby stopped dead in the hallway.
“Not again!” She cried. Dear Reader, Shelby composed in her head, I lied. The children are not playing happily together in the living room. No, indeed. Billy has gotten his head stuck in the bannister railing again, and Amelia is amusing herself by taking pictures of him and texting them to her friends.
If she was going to write a blog, Shelby decided, she might as well be honest with her readers about the crazy, tumultuous, sometimes frustrating, and often wonderful life she was leading on Love Blossom Farm—give them the good with the bad, because that was life.
“Billy, didn’t I tell you not to do that?”
“Aw, Mom, I didn’t mean for my head to go all the way through, honest.”
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to get it out this time,” Amelia said without taking her eyes from her phone.
Her curly blond hair and blue eyes made her look like an angel, which Shelby knew was a highly misleading resemblance.
“We’ve done it before, we can do it again. The ears are always the biggest problem.”
Unfortunately Billy’s ears provided no hindrance to getting his head through the bars, but they sure did when it came to pulling it out. It was a matter of tilting his head at exactly the right angle. After all, if he got it in, surely they could get it out again?
Shelby studied her son. Exasperation combined with a tidal wave of affection washed over her. She loved every inch of him—from his dirty feet that looked too big for his body to the freckles scattered across his nose, the tiny chip in his front tooth from the time he fell off his bicycle, and the cowlick in his blond hair that was as stubborn as he was.
Shelby put her hands on either side of his face and turned his head slightly.
“Ouch,” Billy yelled.
“He’s faking,” Amelia said with her eyes still glued to the phone in her hand.
Shelby grabbed the wooden railings on either side of Billy’s head and put as much pressure on them as she could. If they moved even a millimeter, it would help.
“Come on, pull,” she said. “Harder.”
“Owww,” Billy yelled again, but his head finally came free and he staggered backward. He rubbed the back of his head briskly, making his hair stand on end.
“Where are you going?” Shelby grabbed him by the strap of his overalls as he turned and tried to head back to the living room. “Not so fast.”
“But cartoons are on.” “It’s time to get ready for the potluck.” Shelby gave him a gentle push toward the stairs.
“I am ready,” Billy protested.
“You’re not wearing those dirty old things.” Shelby pointed to his stained and torn overalls. “Go wash your face and hands and put on a clean shirt and pair of pants.”
Billy grumbled, but he did as he was told. Shelby let out a sigh. That would end soon enough, when he reached Amelia’s age. Her daughter refused to listen to anything she said, and they argued more often than not. Shelby knew it was a stage. She just wished it would hurry past.
If the children’s father was still alive, perhaps things would be different, Shelby thought. William “Wild Bill” McDonald had lived up to his name—dying in a motorcycle accident on a rain- slicked road one night several years ago.
At the time, Shelby thought she would die from the pain of her loss, but over time the pain had lessened until it became a dull ache. Much to her surprise, entire days went by now when she didn’t think about it.
Shelby went back to the kitchen, hit save on her computer, and powered it off. She would finish her blog later. She’d started writing The Farmer’s Daughter during the long, lonely winter nights mostly to amuse herself and chronicle her little family’s life on the farm, but the blog had taken off and she now had a respectable following. She loved sharing recipes and cooking and gardening tips along with the challenges and joys of being a single parent and running Love Blossom Farm. If she didn’t post for a day or two, readers would actually e-mail her to ask if everything was okay.
Everyone at St. Andrews had prayed for good weather for the potluck, and it looked as if they’d been successful. Only the faintest wisps of clouds floated in the blue sky, and the breeze was soft and gentle. Shelby paused on her front steps. Even though she’d grown up on Love Blossom Farm, she never tired of the view of the rolling green hills of southwestern Michigan. She took a deep breath, savoring the scent of newly mown grass and fresh hay mixed with the faintest hint of manure. That last wasn’t a scent most people cared for, but to Shelby it smelled like home. And if the wind was coming from the east and Jake Taylor’s dairy farm, there would be more than a mere hint of manure in the air. It was possible to have too much of a good thing, Shelby thought.
Next to the farmhouse, with its welcoming front porch cluttered with wicker rocking chairs and pots of flowers, was a large pasture that Shelby leased to Jake. He kept a herd of black-and-white dairy cows and, in exchange for a reduced rent, provided Shelby with enough milk to make the cheeses she sold to the Lovett General Store.
When Prudence Mather had approached Shelby about holding the potluck at Love Blossom Farm, she had readily agreed to the plan. When Shelby’s husband died four years ago, members of the church had wrapped their arms around her and her family, bringing them dinner every night for weeks, stopping by to keep her company in those early days, running errands when she was still too dazed to drive. She was glad she could now return the favor in some small way.
The farmhouse was set far back from the road with a sweeping and fairly level front lawn bordered by a white fence. It was the perfect venue for the dozens of people expected to attend.
“Whoa,” someone yelled suddenly.
Shelby looked in the direction of the shout. The tent was tilting precariously to the right.
The women scurried out of the way, chattering like Shelby’s chickens when she came out with their feed in the morning. Daniel Mather, the newly appointed rector of St. Andrews, was gesturing wildly. He was decidedly sweaty now, and Shelby was pretty sure that he was muttering a couple of choice words under his breath, despite being a minister. She knew she would.
“Grab that rope.” He gestured frantically to one of the members of the youth group, a skinny kid with glasses. “No, the other one. No, that one over there.”
The young boy hesitated like a baseball player trying to decide whether to steal second base as he attempted to make sense of the reverend’s contradictory instructions.
The tent listed farther and a high-pitched scream went up from one of the women.
“Daniel, please be careful. You could get hurt.”
Prudence Mather scurried over to where her husband was trying to deal with the uncooperative tent. Daniel gave Prudence the same sort of look that Shelby’s husband used to give her whenever she told him to be careful. She’d seen other men do it, too. It was their I am a man and therefore invincible, so please don’t emasculate me by telling me to be careful look.
Prudence was wearing powder blue capris, with a flowered top and matching blue sandals. She would have been homely if not for her eyes, which were large and a deep, sapphire blue.
“Need some help?” Jake stepped over the fence separating the front lawn of Love Blossom Farm from the pastures beyond and strolled over to the group.
He looked more like a cowboy than a dairy farmer—dressed in worn jeans, a faded blue work shirt, and cowboy boots.
“Thank you,” Prudence gushed, squeezing Jake’s arm before scooting out of the way.
Jake studied the tent, then grabbed one of the ropes and pulled. Slowly the tent righted itself and a sigh of relief went up from the crowd.
“Got a hammer?” Jake held the rope with one hand and untied the knot anchoring it to the stake with the other.
Daniel rushed over to Jake and handed him a large hammer with a red handle. He stood back and ran his finger around his collar. He wasn’t wearing his clerical collar but was dressed informally in a short-sleeved shirt and khakis.
“Thanks. I want to hammer this stake in a little further. If you’ll hold this rope . . .”
Daniel grabbed the rope with two hands while Jake pounded the stake a couple of inches farther into the ground. Daniel handed him the rope. Jake quickly tied it to the stake and gave it an extra tug for good measure.
“We can’t thank you enough,” Daniel said.
Jake stood up and brushed some bits of grass from the knees of his jeans. He ambled over to where Shelby was standing. “You need any help with anything?”
He shaded his eyes with one hand and smiled at Shelby. She noticed that the expression created attractive crinkles around his blue eyes.
She gestured toward the crowd on her front lawn. “Thanks, but I haven’t been given any jobs to do besides bringing the dishes I’m contributing.”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be of any help to you there.” Jake laughed. “My cooking skills consist of microwaving, opening take-out containers, and peeling the plastic off frozen pizzas.”
The thought of someday inviting Jake to dinner flashed through Shelby’s mind. She knew he found her attractive, by the way he looked at her and how he was always offering to do little things to help her out. She certainly found him more than attractive. Someday. She wasn’t quite ready yet.
Prudence came over to where Shelby was standing.
“What have you made for the potluck, dear? I read your blog all the time, and those recipes!” Prudence clasped her hands together and rolled her eyes heavenward. “They all sound so delicious.”
Shelby told her about the cottage cheese pie she had baked earlier that morning and the various salads she’d put together with produce from her own gardens.
“That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to try everything.”
By now the women had the tables set up and covered in plastic cloths. Napkins, paper plates, and plastic silverware were set out, along with some flowers Shelby had picked earlier.
Prudence glanced at her watch. “I guess we should start bringing out the food.”
She looked toward the group of women for confirmation. One of them, an older woman with tightly permed gray hair, nodded approval.
“I need to know where your outdoor outlet is,” Prudence said, looking down at Shelby.
Prudence was of average height, but Shelby barely made five feet and even soaking wet wasn’t much over a hundred pounds. Amelia was already almost as tall as her mother, and Shelby knew Billy wasn’t far behind.
“It’s over here.” Shelby led Prudence across the lawn toward the side of the house. “I have extension cords and a couple of surge protectors, too.”
“I’ll need to plug in my slow cooker,” Prudence said. “I’ve made some meatballs.” She frowned. “I do hope they’ll be okay. The telephone rang while I was making them and in the end I couldn’t remember whether I’d put any salt in them or not.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Shelby said.
She left Prudence to deal with her slow cooker and scurried away as quickly as she could. She noticed Billy had come out of the house and was wearing a fresh outfit. Never mind that the shirt and pants clashed wildly— at least they were clean. He was amusing himself by weaving in and out of the tent poles. Shelby looked around, but Amelia was nowhere to be seen. She was probably still in her room, polishing her nails or fussing with her hair.
A woman was headed across the grass toward Shelby. She was clutching a bowl covered in plastic wrap.
Shelby waved to her. “Hi, Jodi.”
“Hey,” Jodi said. She held the bowl out toward Shelby. “I brought some potato salad. I hope it’s okay—it comes from the General Store here in town. I just didn’t have time to make anything. I felt kind of bad when I saw what everyone else brought, though.” She jerked her head in the direction of the tables.
“It’s perfect. Everyone loves the General Store’s potato salad.”
“If you’re sure. You’re always posting those great recipes. Someday when I have time . . .”
Jodi Walters had a full-time job in the local dentist’s office, a husband who was a long-distance trucker, and three young boys to look after. It was hard to imagine how she found the time to sleep, let alone cook something for a potluck.
Cars were beginning to pull into the empty lot next to Shelby’s house. Among them was a small truck with Lovett General Store written on the side. It maneuvered into a space next to a red pickup. Shelby noticed Matt Hudson get out of the driver’s seat, walk around to the back, and open the double doors. He wrestled several large coolers from the truck. A couple of men rushed to help, and they carried them over to Shelby’s front lawn.
“Any particular place you want these?” Matt asked when he came abreast of Shelby.
“What are they?”
“Popsicles for the kids. Compliments of the Lovett General Store.” Matt grinned.
Shelby looked around. “Maybe under that tree?”
She pointed toward a large maple whose branches would provide some shade. It was so like Matt to think of the kids. She walked alongside him as he made his way to where she was pointing. He bent and put the cooler down with a grunt.
“We’re almost out of your herbed yogurt cheese,” he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Matt had purchased the Lovett General Store from the previous owner who had operated it ever since Shelby could remember. He was slowly introducing some gourmet food items—particularly Shelby’s homemade cheeses and homegrown lettuces and herbs—amid the packages of macaroni and cheese and canned spaghetti and rakes, snow shovels, kayaks, and all manner of other things the store carried. The nearest big box store was forty miles away, so people depended on the Lovett General Store to meet their needs.
Matt always had a slightly sad look about him, but Shelby thought it was slowly lifting. He had come to Lovett to escape from memories of September 11. At that time, he had been working as an investment banker at a firm in Lower Manhattan. He counted himself lucky to have survived when some of his friends hadn’t been as fortunate. He had stayed in Manhattan for almost another ten years before deciding that he needed to get away in order to heal completely. Shelby knew he liked her and that with a little bit of encouragement would probably ask her out. Someday, she said to herself again.
“Looks like you’ve got a good turnout.” Matt shaded his eyes and looked around at the growing crowd. A line was beginning to form at the food table.
“Yes. I think Reverend Mather is going to be quite pleased.”
¼ lb. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ pint sour cream
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries roughly chopped
½ cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix topping ingredients in a bowl and reserve.
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in eggs, vanilla and sour cream one at a time. Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixture one third at a time. Fold in chopped cranberries.
Spread half the batter in a greased and floured tube pan. Sprinkle with half the topping. Spread remaining batter on top and sprinkle with remaining topping.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan before removing.
Berry the Hatchet, #2 in my Cranberry Cove Series, will be out on May 4! Here is a sneak peek of the first chapter. The book can be pre-ordered now so don't wait!
Berry the Hatchet
Cranberry Cove was in an uproar.
It was less than six hours until the opening of the town’s first Winter Walk, an event designed to bring tourists—and their wallets—to Cranberry Cove during some of the darker days of the year. The festive Christmas season was over, the spring tulips were a long way yet from blooming, and the hope was that the Winter Walk would provide an infusion of much needed capital into the local economy between the two more popular seasons.
The shops along Beach Hollow Road bustled with business all spring and summer and into the early fall months, when tourists arrived in droves for autumn color tours. Then things trailed off until the weeks before Christmas, when Cranberry Cove’s quaint shops and traditional holiday decorations drew shoppers from all over the state of Michigan and beyond. January was one of the worst months as far as business was concerned. An icy wind blew off the waters of Lake Michigan and the sky was gray and leaden more often than not. The vacancy sign swung from the pole in front of the Cranberry Cove Inn all month long, and the only busy shops were the drugstore, the hardware store and the Cranberry Cove Diner, where locals gathered for farmer- style breakfasts and strong coffee in thick white mugs.
So while other towns were taking down their Christmas decorations two weeks after the holidays, Cranberry Cove was stringing up extra garlands of small white lights, adding festive blue and silver bows to anything they could tie a ribbon around and generally gussying up the place as much as possible. Merchants would be throwing open their doors for the next several evenings and offering hot chocolate (made from the finest Dutch cocoa,of course— early settlers of the area had come from the Netherlands and a good portion of the current residents were of Dutch descent), cups of tea and even bowls of wassail for the shoppers who would hopefully soon crowd their establishments.
Sassamanash Farm had erected an outdoor stall in front of Gumdrops, the local candy shop run by the identical twin VanVelsen sisters. Monica Albertson had been baking and cooking for several weeks to ensure a healthy stock of cranberry muffins, bread, salsa and other goodies made from the farm’s fall cranberry harvest. Her half brother, Jeff, had crafted a comfortable shelter to protect her from the winds blowing off Lake Michigan barely a block away, and Monica had installed a couple of electric heaters for extra comfort. The VanVelsen sisters had been more than happy to let her run the power cords into their shop outlets.
The wind was picking up, and Monica wrestled with a cloth imprinted with bright red cranberries that she planned to use to cover the rough wooden table Jeff had made for the occasion. Her fingers were stiff with the cold, making them awkward, and the wind kept flipping the fabric up over her face as if this were some sort of playful children’s game. Finally, she gave up. She needed to get warm and needed to do it fast.
“You must be freezing, dear,” Hennie VanVelsen said when Monica pushed open the door to Gumdrops.
Gumdrops specialized in Dutch treats like hexagonal boxes of Droste pastilles, Wilhelmina peppermints, and De Heer chocolate, along with a counter full of what used to be called penny candy—like Mary Janes, root beer barrels and nonpareils, which the sisters scooped into white paper bags for their customers.
“We have a pot of nice strong tea going in the back room. I’ll get you a cup.” Hennie headed toward a beaded curtain that separated the shop from the room behind. “Gerda got us an electric teakettle for Christmas, and I must say, the thing is a marvel,” she called over her shoulder as she pushed her way through the curtain.
Moments later she reappeared with a steaming mug, which she handed to Monica. Gerda was right on her heels, wearing an identical pale blue sweater set and blue and gray pleated skirt and sporting the exact same tight gray curls as her twin.
“Hello, dear.” Gerda rubbed her hands together briskly. “You look positively frozen.”
Monica wrapped one hand around her mug of tea and brushed a tangle of auburn curls out of her eyes with the other. “I am. The wind certainly has a sharp edge to it, although the thermometer claims it’s almost thirty-five degrees.”
Gerda nodded sagely. “It’s the wind that does it, that’s for certain. A few miles inland and it probably feels positively balmy.”
Hennie quirked a smile at Gerda. “Maybe not quite balmy, love.”
Gerda made a sound deep in her throat. “You’re right,of course. Certainly not balmy.” She gave a tight smile. “But more comfortable than here on the very shore of the lake.”
Monica hid the grin that rose to her lips. The VanVelsen sisters might be inseparable, but they had their squabbles, just like any other pair of siblings. But instead of driving them apart, their genteel disagreements seemed to bring them closer together.
While Monica had resented her stepmother Gina for stealing her father away, she had adored the baby brother who had arrived barely a year later. Monica and Jeff wereas close as any siblings, although there were times, of course, when they had to agree to disagree.
Hennie glanced out the window with a furrow between her eyebrows. “We really need it to snow.” She worked her gnarled fingers into the pleats of her plaid skirt. “Miss Winter Walk is supposed to arrive on a horse-drawn sleigh. It’s the highlight of the whole event. That’s how Mayor Crowley planned it. I read all about it in the newspaper.”
Gerda frowned at the large windowpane that looked out onto Beach Hollow Road. “I don’t think we’re going to get any snow by this evening. Mayor Crowley had a wonderful idea, and of course we normally have piles of the stuff by now, but this year. . . .”
Preston Crowley, owner of the Cranberry Cove Inn, had taken over as mayor of Cranberry Cove upon the death of the former mayor, Sam Culbert.
“I’m sure it has something to do with Tempest Storm.” Hennie shuddered.
“The lack of snow?” Monica blew on her tea and took a cautious sip. “How could that be?”
Hennie fiddled with a box of Droste chocolate pastilles, turning it over and over again in her hands. “She’s planning on performing some sort of spell on the village green.” She shook the pastilles at Monica and the candies rattled inside their box. “No good is going to come of it, mark my words.”
“It isn’t a spell,” Monica explained patiently. “It’s called Imbolc, and it’s a ritual designed to hurry spring when people are fed up with the cold and ice of winter.” She glanced out the window at the gray skies. “Which most of us are, I think.” She always wished that winter would end on New Year’s Day and that spring would arrive in full force the next morning.
“I’m sure that’s why we don’t have any snow,” Hennie said.
“Sounds pagan to me,” Gerda sniffed.
“It’s Wiccan.” Monica looked at the sisters over the rim of her mug. Their faces were settled into identical creases of disapproval.
“No matter what you call it, I don’t like it,” Hennie said.
“Besides, what kind of a name is that? Tempest Storm indeed.”
“She is something of a whirlwind.” Gerda laughed and Hennie shot her a quelling look.
“Still, who names their child Tempest?”
“It’s hard to imagine her being called something plain like Jane or Martha with all those crazy clothes she wears.” Gerda pointed out.
Monica put down her now empty mug. “I’d better get back outside if I hope to have the stall ready for tonight.”
“I hate to think of you out there in the cold. You must come in to get warm from time to time,” Hennie said firmly.
Monica promised she would.
The wind had died down slightly, so Monica decided to tackle the tablecloth again. This time she was successful in getting it on the table with all the sides even. She pulled a packet of thumbtacks from one of the boxes she’d lugged with her, and tacked each of the four corners to keep the cloth from blowing away.
She glanced up to see Bart Dykema bustling across the street, headed toward his butcher shop on the other side of Book ’Em, a mystery bookstore and one of Monica’s favorite shops in town. He had a number of strands of lights looped over his arm. He waved when he saw Monica, and she waved back. She’d only been in Cranberry Cove since the summer, but she was already beginning to feel like a native. Certainly she felt more at home here than she had in Chicago, where she’d run a tiny café and coffee shop that had been put out of business by one of the big name chains with whom she couldn’t hope to compete. When Jeff had asked for her help on his cranberry farm, it had seemed the perfect time to start over.
The smell of frying food drifted down the street from the Cranberry Cove Diner. Monica’s stomach rumbled in response. She’d just get a few more things set up, she promised herself, and then she’d treat herself to a nice hot bowl of the diner’s famous chili.
The tablecloth having been nailed down, so to speak, Monica began stringing small white lights around the perimeter of the table. Mayor Crowley wanted the town to sparkle as much as possible. Monica looked at some of the other establishments. She hoped the lights wouldn’t prove to be too blinding to the customers.
“Need some help with that?”
Monica looked up to see Greg Harper, owner of Book’Em, standing in front of her cranberry-bedecked table. He had a knitted hat pulled down almost to his eyebrows and thick gloves on his hands.
“I’m just about done.”
Monica and Greg had fallen into an easy friendship soon after meeting in September. They shared a love of books in general and mysteries in particular, especially the grand dames of the Golden Age like Christie, Marsh and Sayers. The relationship was slowly taking a romantic turn. They’d both lost someone—Greg his wife and Monica her fiancé—and it took time and a certain amount of courage to move on.
“I’ve got Book ’Em done up in so many lights, people are going to need sunscreen just to go near the place.”
Monica laughed. “It does seem like overkill, doesn’t it? But if the mayor is right, and the Winter Walk does bring tourists to town, I guess we should all be grateful.”
“That’s true.” Greg looked up at the sky. “Now all we need is a dusting of snow to complete the picture.” He squinted and pointed toward the clouds. “Those look like snow clouds to me.”
Monica followed his gaze. “I think you’re right. Now if they would just release their contents at the right moment, we’ll be in business.”
Greg squeezed Monica’s shoulder. “I’ll see you later. Maybe after all this madness is over we can grab a bite to eat or something.”
“I’d like that.”
Monica was giving a final tweak to Sassamanash’s stall when her cell phone rang. She tried to dig it out of her pocket, but her bulky gloves made it nearly impossible. She pulled one off with her teeth, retrieved her cell and said, somewhat breathlessly, “Hello?
“Monica, darling, is that you?”
“Mom. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
Monica tried to keep her sigh from being audible. “It’s just that you rarely call except for Sunday nights.”
“That’s because I have some news. I’m coming to Cranberry Cove.”
Monica took her phone away from her ear and stared at it as if it wasn’t working correctly. Because surely her mother hadn’t just said she was coming to Cranberry Cove?
“I’ll be there in about an hour. I assume you can find me someplace to stay?” Nancy Albertson continued. “I doubt you’re overrun with tourists at this time of year.”
Monica could hear the sound of tires swooshing and horns beeping in the background of the call.
“But why . . . what . . . ?”
The thought of her mother in the same county, let alone the same town, as Monica’s stepmother, Gina, made Monica feel slightly sick.
“I’ve been dating this wonderful man,” Nancy continued. “He comes to Chicago on business somewhat regularly. We met when he helped me hail a taxi outside of Neiman Marcus in the pouring rain. Poor man got completely soaked on my behalf.”
Monica realized she had a death grip on her cell phone and tried to loosen her stiff fingers.
“And small world and all that, it turns out he’s from Cranberry Cove. “
“Really?” Monica managed to say despite the fact that all the moisture in her mouth and throat seemed to have dried up.
“The traffic’s picking up, dear, so I’d better get off the phone. See you soon. Try to book me a room somewhere. Somewhere decent.”
There was a click and the line went dead. Monica stared at her phone in disbelief. Her mother was coming to CranberryCove. Now.
What was she going to do?
It’s giveaway time! To celebrate the release of Berried Secrets, first in my Cranberry Cove mystery series, on August 4, I am hosting a number of giveaways. Put these on your calendar now! Wishing you all good luck and happy reading!
Goodreads – 5 copies of Berried Secrets. Giveaway ends August 1.
July 30 – Share-A-Palooza: Book themed gifts from me and Mary Kennedy (facebook)
July 29 – copy of Berried Secrets plus Dutch candy treats. (Facebook)
July 26 – Killer Characters (killercharacters.com) – copy of Berried Secrets
August 1 – Mystery Lover’s Kitchen (mysteryloverskitchen.com) – copy of Berried Secrets
August 12 – copy of Berried Secrets plus Dutch candy treats (Facebook)
August 15 – Mystery Lovers Kitchen (mysteryloverskitchen.com) copy of Berried Secrets
Be sure to like my author page on Facebook so you enter to win! Find it here: http://on.fb.me/1mvvsV8
Berried Secrets takes place in Cranberry Cove, a charming town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan where the influence of the Dutch settlers in the 1800s is still keenly felt. Gumdrops, a candy store in town, still sells Droste pastilles, Queen Wilhelmina peppermints, sweet and salty dark licorice and other Dutch delights. Residents dine on erwtensoep--Dutch pea soup--and eat olliebollen--Dutch doughnuts--on special occasions.
Ellery Adams, NY Times bestselling cozy mystery writer said, "Cozy fans and foodies rejoice--there's a place just for you and it's called Cranberry Cove."
I'd like you to get to know Cranberry Cove firsthand so I am including a sneak peek at the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it and that you'll come back to Cranberry Cove in August when Berried Secrets hits the shelves. Berry the Hatchet, second in the series, will appear in May 2016.
Monica Albertson coaxed her ancient Ford Focus up the last hill, past the boarded‐up vegetable stand, the abandoned barn and the Shell station. As usual, she paused at the crest. Cranberry Cove was spread out before her--a view that still thrilled her, even though it had been five weeks since she’d fled Chicago for this idyllic retreat on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.
From her vantage point, Monica could see the sparkling blue waters of the lake and the horseshoe‐shaped harbor, where several white sails bobbed in the wind. The Cranberry Cove Yacht Club, where wealthy summer visitors sat on the deck sipping cold drinks, was a speck on the horizon, and the pastel‐ colored shops that lined Beach Hollow Road were bathed in a soft light by the early morning sun.
Monica took her foot off the brake and rolled down the hill toward town, relishing the cool breeze from her open window and the warmth of the sun on her arms.
She drove down Beach Hollow Road, where all the shop fronts were painted in sherbet hues of pink, lemon yellow and melon. The streets were quiet and the sidewalks nearly empty—it was late September, so the summer crowd had gone back home to their everyday lives and the carloads of tourists on autumn foliage color tours hadn’t arrived yet. Cranberry Cove wasn’t Chicago, but Monica found it very charming with its old‐fashioned gaslights, planters overflowing with the remains of the summer’s flowers and the white gingerbread gazebo that graced the middle of the small vest‐pocket park.
Monica pulled the Focus into a space in front of Gumdrops, a candy shop that was housed in a narrow building painted the palest pink. Fancy lace curtains hung in the window, and a ceramic Dutch couple kissing sat out on the doorstep, which had been swept clean of any sand borne by the winds of the most recent storm.
Miss Gerda VanVelsen came rushing forward almost before the bell over the door finished sounding Monica’s arrival. Or was she Miss Hennie VanVelsen? Monica could never be sure—the VanVelsens were identical twins, spinsters sharing the home that had belonged to their parents. Their grandparents had been part of the wave of immigration from Holland to western Michigan in the 1800s, and the sisters had retained many of the traits of their ancestors—thriftiness, cleanliness and efficiency.
Monica stole a glance at the name tag pinned to the woman’s top—this was Hennie, dressed in a pastel pink sweater and skirt that almost matched the color of the front of the candy shop. Her gray hair was set in elaborate curls and waves, and her pink lipstick matched her sweater.
“Hello, dear,” Hennie said warmly. “How are you settling in? It’s been a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? Have you got your little cottage fixed up yet?”
Monica nodded. “Yes, I’m almost done. It’s turned out very well.” Actually Monica adored her cottage, but from the time she was little, her parents had discouraged hyperbole.
“Terrible shame about your brother. We were all horrified when we heard,” Hennie said, leaning her elbows on the counter. “So many young men lost over there. I suppose he can count himself lucky he came home at all.”
Monica’s half brother, Jeff, had been deployed to Afghanistan for a year, where he had been injured in a surprise raid. The nerves in his left arm had been damaged, leaving it paralyzed. She had been nearly beside herself with worry the entire year he was gone for fear of losing him.
“So good of you to come and help him with the farm.” Hennie smiled at Monica. “And just in time, too, with the cranberry harvest coming up any day now.”
Guilt washed over Monica like a wave. If she’d been able to make a go of it in Chicago, would she have been so keen to rush to Jeff’s rescue? The small sliver of a café she’d rather unimaginatively named Monica’s—three tiny round tables and a glass case full of her homemade goodies—had been put out of business when a national chain coffee bar opened directly across the street. Monica might have tried again in a different location but the death of her fiancé in a swimming accident shortly afterwards took all the steam out of her, and she was glad to escape to Cranberry Cove.
The curtain to the stockroom was pushed aside and Gerda VanVelsen entered the shop. She was wearing an identical pink skirt and sweater, had her hair set the very same way and sported the exact same shade of pink lipstick as her twin.
Monica was tempted to rub her eyes. It was like seeing double.
“You haven’t seen Midnight, have you?” Gerda asked with a slight tremor in her voice.
Midnight was the sisters’ much beloved cat. She was black from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, and a lot of people in town considered her bad luck, which Monica found silly. She herself was neither superstitious nor given to flights of fancy.
“No, I’m afraid I didn’t. Is she missing?”
Gerda fiddled with the strand of pearls at her neck. “Not missing exactly, but we let her out an hour ago, and she would normally be back by now for her breakfast. I always worry you know.” She knitted her gnarled hands together. “There are people who would wish her harm because of her coloring. But she’s a sweet, gentle old thing and wouldn’t hurt a soul.”
“I’m sure she’ll be back any minute now,” Hennie said consolingly, putting an arm around her sister and giving her a squeeze. “Now, dear.” She turned her attention to Monica. “What can we get for you?”
“I’ve developed a real taste for your Wilhelmina peppermints,” Monica said, pointing to the white box with the red and blue ribbon and the silhouette of Queen Wilhelmna’s profile.
While Gerda fussed about selecting the appropriately sized white bag with Gumdrops printed on it in varicolored letters, Monica looked around the shop. It was as tidy and spic‐and‐span as the VanVelsen sisters themselves. A large case held a dazzling assortment of sweets—from root beer barrels to Mary Janes. The sisters also carried an array of uniquely Dutch treats, and while Monica had developed a taste for the peppermints, she had yet to succumb to the appeal of the sweet and salty black licorice so beloved by the Dutch.
Gerda rang up the purchase, and Monica handed her the money.
Gerda gave Monica the bag. “You have a good day, dear.” She paused. “And would you mind keeping an eye out for Midnight?”
“I’d be glad to,” Monica reassured her as she left the shop.
Monica strolled down Beach Hollow Road, checking in alleys and doorways for the missing Midnight. She passed Danielle’s Boutique, a pricey store that catered to the summer tourists with its stock of bathing suits, cover‐ups, gauzy caftans and expensive costume jewelry. Next to it was Twilight, a New Age shop where you could have your palm read or your fortune told with Tarot cards.
The door to the Cranberry Cove Diner was propped open, and the seductive smell of bacon frying drifted out to the sidewalk. It was a gathering spot for the locals, who gave the evil eye to any tourists who dared to darken its interior—which Monica suspected hadn’t changed in the last forty years.
Book ‘Em, a bookstore specializing in mysteries, was tucked in next door. Monica was in need of a new book, having finished the one she’d brought with her from Chicago. She hadn’t liked it very much, which had made for rather rough sledding, but she never allowed herself to put a book down without finishing it. To her, that smacked of being a quitter.
This was Monica’s first visit to the small, untidy and rather dark, shop, She stood on the threshold and took a deep sniff. She loved the scent of books. The store itself was quite a mess, with volumes spilling off the shelves and piled haphazardly in every nook and cranny, and a narrow spiral staircase leading to an upper balcony. Monica’s fingers itched to bring some order to the place.
She noticed a man with his back to her—he had dark hair, was slightly taller than Monica and was humming softly under his breath. He had a stack of books in his arms that he appeared to be shelving, although there was hardly any room on the already overcrowded stands.
Monica strolled over to the paperback section and began browsing. Books were six deep in the racks, and the book in front was not necessarily the same as the one behind it or the ones in the middle. It was like a treasure hunt—Monica had no idea what she would find tucked away in the chaos.
She found a classic Agatha Christie and picked it up. It was one of the mysteries she remembered reading in high school--The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She scanned the back blurb, trying to remember the plot. Perhaps she’d buy it and read it again.
“Ah, the famous, or should I say infamous, unreliable narrator.” The fellow who was stocking books came up behind Monica and pointed at the paperback in her hand.
The lines around his eyes suggested he might be a few years older than her, but his rather shaggy hair and worn corduroys and crewneck sweater made him look appealingly boyish.
Monica smiled. “I was trying to remember this particular book—it’s been ages since I read it, but now it’s coming back to me.”
“One of Dame Agatha’s best, don’t you think?” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it even more disheveled. “Everyone knows Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None—at least that’s what it was titled here in America—but Roger Ackroyd is far more clever if you ask me.” He looked at Monica, his head tilted to one side. “Are you a Hercule Poirot fan or a Miss Marple fan?”
Monica thought for a moment. “Both, actually. And a Miss Silver fan as well,” she threw out to see if he was really as up as all that on his English mysteries.
“Ah, Patricia Wentworth’s redoubtable heroine.”
Monica smiled, feeling absurdly pleased that he’d understood the reference.
He extended his hand. “I’m Greg Harper, Book ’Em’s owner, manager and general dogsbody “
He had a firm handshake, which Monica returned. “Monica Albertson.” She hated to admit it, but she was almost disappointed when he let go of her hand.
“How are you liking Cranberry Cove? I heard you’ve come to help your brother with his farm.”
Monica was startled, and seeing the expression on her face made Greg laugh. “This is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business.”
Monica wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She was used to the anonymity of the big city.
She ended up buying the Christie book—she wanted to see if she agreed with Greg about its being one of Dame Agatha’s best works. She’d also picked up the newest Peter Robinson—a current favorite author—but then put it back down. It would give her an excuse to come back again later in the month to purchase it.
Monica rather reluctantly left Book ’Em and headed next door to Bart’s Butcher—the type of old‐fashioned place where they had sawdust on the floor and tied your package in paper fastened with string.
She planned to pick up a steak. She’d invited Jeff to have dinner with her—he was looking entirely too thin for Monica’s tastes. She suspected he subsisted on takeout and microwave dinners, neither of which was particularly high in nutritional value. That, combined with his worry about the farm, had turned him from lean and muscular to almost scrawny.
Monica selected a prime looking T‐bone, and Bart Dykema, a round barrel of a man, pulled a sheet of paper from the roll on the counter and placed the steak on it. He gestured toward Monica’s package with his chin.
“See you bought something in that shop next door.” Monica nodded. “Nice guy, Greg Harper.” He measured out a piece of string from the roller attached to the counter and cut it. “Ran for mayor last year but was defeated by Sam Culbert, who’s holding the office now. Harper’s widowed, you know.” He wrapped the string around the neat bundle he’d created. “Not seeing anyone so far as I can tell.”
Monica felt her face getting red. Was Bart insinuating that she and Greg . . .
“How’s your brother doing?” Bart said, suddenly changing the subject. “Got a good crop of cranberries going? I imagine he’ll be harvesting any day now.”
“He’s managing,” Monica said, although in reality, the farm was bleeding money, and Monica hoped she’d be able to help Jeff staunch the flow. Sam Culbert, who was the farm’s former owner in addition to being the mayor, had managed the farm for Jeff while he was overseas, and Jeff had returned to find the place in near financial ruin.
Monica took her package, bid Bart a good day and headed toward the farmer’s market at the end of Beach Hollow Road. She picked up salad fixings—tender lettuce, a cucumber and tomatoes still warm from the sun. Her shopping completed, Monica headed back toward the farm.
On her return trip to Sassamanash Farm—so named because it was the word for cranberry in the Algonquin Indian language—Monica stopped at the crest of the hill again. This time she could see the farm in the distance. It looked like a carpet of green dotted with the brilliant fire engine red of the ripe cranberries. The berries had been pale pink when Monica had arrived at Sassamanash Farm, but as the weather had become cooler, they had turned their characteristic ruby color.
If she squinted, she could see the dollhouse sized cottage she was in the process of renovating, the stretch of black macadam where tourists parked when they came to watch the harvest, and the dot of white that was the clapboard building that housed the small store where they sold baked goods made with cranberries, and kitchen items decorated with the fruit, such as tea towels, napkins and pot holders.
Monica continued down the hill toward the farm. She parked in front of the little cottage she now called home. She had seen its inherent potential the minute she arrived from Chicago. It had dormer windows, a gabled roof and a trellis with the remains of summer’s climbing roses. It had taken a month of painting, scrubbing and sheer elbow grease to make it habitable, but Monica was pleased with how it had turned out.
She stowed the steak she’d purchased at Bart’s in the refrigerator along with the salad fixings. The cottage still smelled of sugar and spice from the goodies she’d baked early that morning—cranberry muffins, cranberry scones dusted with sugar and a cranberry salsa she was still experimenting with to get the right balance of flavors—both sweet and hot—with accents of lime, cilantro and jalapeno. Monica packed everything in a basket and headed back out the door.
Darlene Polk was behind the counter of the Sassamanash Farm store when Monica arrived. She was taller than Monica’s five foot eight—almost six feet—with a lot more meat on her bones. Her nondescript light brown hair was gathered into a ponytail, and her bangs were curling in the humidity.
She glanced up when she heard Monica enter. Her face bore its usual resentful expression, her lower lip stuck out as if she was continually pouting. Monica had tried to become friends with her, but Darlene preferred to keep to herself.
Monica put down her basket and turned to Darlene, who was leaning against the counter reading one of those magazines that grocery stores sell by the checkout lane.
“Can you help me put these out?”
Darlene stared at her blankly for a moment before shuffling over, the sulky expression on her face intensifying with each step.
“I don’t see what was wrong with the stuff we carried before,” Darlene whined. “It sold, didn’t it?” She glared at Monica challengingly.
When Monica had arrived at Sassamanash Farm, she’d discovered that the shop was selling mass produced cranberry products—muffins preserved in plastic wrap, scones filled with trans fats to keep them fresh, and preserves that Darlene had slapped a Sassamanash Farm label on. Having made all the baked goods for her own little café, Monica got to work creating fresh products for the store.
“I’m sure it was all very fine,” Monica said soothingly. “But customers today want fresh, homemade tasting goodies. They can get mass produced products anywhere. We need to sell something that’s special.”
Monica carried the containers of salsa over to the cooler where they kept bottled water and pop for the tourists. “What happened to the salsa I brought over yesterday?”
“Sold it.” Darlene cracked her gum and stared at Monica from under her bangs, the ends of which were caught under her smudged glasses.
“You sold all of it?” Monica couldn’t believe it. Although locals occasionally frequented the shop, most of their sales were from tourists stopping by the farm to get a firsthand look at the cranberry bogs. The store didn’t exactly do a brisk business, except during the harvest.
Darlene was already back at the counter, flipping through the pages of her magazine. “Some guy came in and bought them all. Said he was from the Cranberry Cove Inn. Said it was the best salsa he’d ever tasted, and he wanted to put it on the menu.”
Monica’s heart skipped a beat. Perhaps she’d found the perfect balance for the salsa after all. And if the Cranberry Cove Inn wanted to buy it, there might be others as well. She chewed on a ragged cuticle. Goodness knows, they needed as much cash as they could get to keep the farm running. Jeff had sunk his life’s savings into it, and she wasn’t going to let him lose it if she could help it.
Monica arranged the fresh muffins in a basket lined with a red‐and‐white gingham napkin and placed the scones in an orderly row on an antique silver platter she had found at an estate sale.
She felt Darlene’s beady eyes on her as she went about tidying the shop—dusting the jars of preserves she’d made herself and creating a display with the cranberry decorated tea towels and napkins a local woman sewed for them.
There was a noise outside, and Darlene looked up. She made her ponderous way to the window and peered out. She turned around, her scowl deepening.
“It’s that Sam Culbert. I thought we’d seen the last of him around here. He sold the farm to your brother, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but I imagine there may still be some things they need to discuss.”
Monica watched as Jeff and Culbert said good‐bye.
Culbert was broad shouldered with thick gray hair and slightly bowed legs. Monica was surprised to see him get into a dark, late model Lexus.
“That’s quite the car,” she said to Darlene. “I didn’t realize there was so much money in cranberries.”
Darlene snorted. “About a penny a berry—and only the unblemished ones. The rest are worthless. The Culberts own a lot more than Sassamanash Farm. They have real estate all over the county, own half the buildings in town and have a huge house with a view of the lake. You should see the place. I clean it for Mrs. Culbert once a week.” Darlene scowled again. “Must be nice. I grew up in a double wide with secondhand furniture and hand‐me‐down clothes. Of course my mother, bless her soul, did the best she could seeing as how I didn’t have no daddy.”
Monica made comforting noises to the best of her ability. Darlene would complain about the deprivation of her upbringing out of one side of her mouth while out the other side she would insist that despite their lack of means, her childhood had been nearly idyllic.
Monica brushed some dust off her sweatshirt. “I guess I’ll be going now.”
Darlene gave her a sour look.
Jeff only kept Darlene on because it was hard to get anyone to work in the store when they could make more money waitressing or clerking at one of the shops in town.
Monica walked back to her cottage, where she planned to spend the afternoon reviewing the farm’s accounts. Jeff had just borrowed a considerable sum from the bank to keep things afloat. Monica had learned a little something about business while running her café, and she hoped that she would be able to straighten things out for Jeff. She set up her laptop on the kitchen table and plugged in the flash drive that held the data from Jeff’s computer.
Going over the accounts for Sassamanash Farm was a long and tedious process, but Monica had plenty of patience. By the time she finished examining the pages and pages of Excel spreadsheets, and all the statements from the bank, she had the answer to why Sassamanash Farm was failing to produce a profit.
But how was she going to break the news to Jeff?
I’ve been asked to write this blog by Webucator (www.webucator.com) as Nano (National Novel Writing Month) has now come to a close. Their questions prompted me to think about my writing and my goals. Many of you are still in the writing mode or working on revisions to your novel. This might be the jumpstart some of you need to get started on the writing path.
What were my goals when I started writing? At first my only goal was to get published in any form whatsoever. I started writing nonfiction, and I did succeed in selling articles to local and national magazines. Still, that wasn't enough. I wanted to be published in fiction, which for me, was the real definition of “writer.” My first thrill was getting, after much hard work, my first agent. And I was even more thrilled when I got my first publishing contract.
Now that I have been published—I have six books out with Berkeley Prime Crime and contracts for six more, plus two e-books out with Beyond the Page Publishing and one more coming from them very shortly—my goals have obviously changed. I hit the Barnes & Noble national bestseller list with my first Gourmet De-Lite mystery, Allergic to Death, and I was thrilled. Of course there are still other lists to conquer including the biggest one of all—the New York Times bestseller list!
Like many writers I would love to be able to support myself with my writing. That’s a huge goal! Not many writers ever achieve that level of success. I think a more realistic goal is that when I retire, writing will become a supplemental income that will give us more financial freedom and allow us to travel. Right now I still need the security of my health insurance.
I currently work as a marketing communications manager for a large company providing services to seniors. I do a lot of copywriting on my job and a lot of PR work. I enjoy it, but it does make it difficult to find, not so much time to write, but the creative energy needed to work on my manuscript at the end of a long day. That’s where deadlines come in handy!
Of course I haven’t completely abandoned the writer fantasy of the kind of life I would lead if I only had to work on my books. I get a taste of that when I take a week off from the day job and spend it at home writing.
I am motivated to keep writing by the modest success I have already achieved. Even though the money is not enough to pay all the bills, it's a substantial enough to make a difference. Plus I don’t think I could stop writing! I have too many stories to tell and I’m very excited to share them with my readers.
As for advice to young writers, I would say the most important quality in a writer is perseverance. I circulated three different projects during a two-year period and racked up 400 rejections. It's very hard not to give up in the face of that many rejections, however there were nuggets of encouragement in them that kept me going I think in order to be a successful writer—however you define successful—whether it’s being published or whether it’s making a living, I think you have to have an extremely strong drive to write. That is really the most important quality of all—you would write even if you knew you would never get published because you can’t help wanting to tell stories.
Today at Dru's Book Musing (http://drusbookmusing.com/2014/04/05/lucille-mazzarella-2/) Lucille from my Lucille Series talks about her new "diet" and I'm giving away a copy of Unholy Matrimony. All you have to do is leave a comment.
Brace yourself! Lucille and Flo are back in Unholy Matrimony, the sequel to Confession Is Murder.
From the back cover:
The hilarious Lucille Mazzarella is back and planning a wedding. But even the worst Bridezilla can’t
create the wedding drama she’s about to face in this second book in the
Desperate to see her pregnant daughter Bernadette married
before the baby comes, Lucille is engrossed in all things wedding. Nothing will
distract her from planning this Mazzarella main event. Nothing, that is, except
for the murder of the mother of the groom.
Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Lucille is
named as the prime suspect, and it’s a race against time as she and her best friend Flo struggle with
shady financial dealings, a family that isn’t at all what it seems, a groom that
might not be all man, and a little bundle of joy that might make an appearance
before the mother can say I do.
Peg Cochran also writing as Meg London..