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Authors: Pat Amsden

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1 Chocolate Worth Dying For

BOOK: 1 Chocolate Worth Dying For
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Chocolate Worth Dying For
First in new cozy mystery series, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

Text copyright C 2013 Pat Amsden

All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, companies or events living or dead is purely coincidental

Chapter One

"The chocolate raspberry truffles are to die for," Chelsea Evans said as she took a dainty bite.

"I couldn't agree more," her husband, Frank said surveying the scene before him.

The cobble stoned streets of Olde Towne were filled with the movers and shakers of Victoria. As they wandered from store-front displays to a theatre showing Charlie Chaplin silent films and out again they stopped periodically to exclaim over their glimpse of Victorian life or enjoy chocolate truffles and dessert wine.

Maxine accepted their praise graciously. Breaking out into an actual happy dance in the middle of the BC Historical Society's annual fundraiser and party could safely be considered a no no.

But as the owner of Au Chocolat, her brand new chocolate shop and catering business, catering this event was a huge break. True, she'd used every connection and edge she could think of to get it. But bottom line, if this event failed, she'd be lucky to get a job catering her family birthday party.

She scanned the room anxiously. Did everyone have drinks? Were people enjoying her chocolates?

"Darling, it's marvelous," Wendy Carr said, pausing briefly, and leaving Maxine to wonder just what the anorexic bitch was up to. She doubted a smidgeon of chocolate had passed Wendy's lips and had it on good authority, that if anything had, she'd probably be found in the bathroom doing her best to get rid of it.

Rae-Ann Hunter, wife of lawyer David Hunter, joined them. How anyone so genuinely nice could be friends with Wendy remained a mystery to Maxine. She could only assume it was because their husbands worked together. Along with Carly Halvert, the owner of an upscale clothing boutique named Sunshine and Flowers, the three were a force to be reckoned with on Victoria's social scene.

"I must say, your chocolates are absolutely divine," Rae-Ann said.

Maxine was happy to accept their praise, but her eyes were on Tanya Schmidt, a local model who'd been sampling way too much wine and was currently draped around Bill Carr. She disengaged herself from the group and made her way towards them, intent on getting Tanya out of the action, where hopefully her assistant, Heath, could help in sobering her up before she did something she'd regret. And before Bill's wife, Wendy, noticed how much attention he was paying to Tanya.

Although the conversation between Bill Carr and Rick Dodd, a local developer seemed to be heating up. Something to do with bridging…

"On an interim basis," she heard Rick Dodd say. At least that's what she thought she heard him say, but really, she was much more interested in getting Tanya out of the way.

Rail thin Tanya ate virtually nothing. Add a tendency to over-indulge in the wine department and things could get out of hand quickly leaving Tanya with regrets in the morning. With luck Maxine would be able to get Tanya out of the way before she shared in those regrets, while watching both their careers go down in flames.

David Matthews, a local surgeon, passed by with his wife, Devon, dressed in a stunning period gown. She smiled at them, exchanging a quick hello as Maxine draped her arm around Tanya's shoulder. Later Maxine would wonder if she should have noticed anything. As it was she was only intent on getting Tanya away from the main party where Heath could help sober her up.

That didn't mean she didn't notice city counselor, Keith, with his seeing eye dog, Murray, or Nikki Benshaw, columnist for the local gossip paper. Jewellery designer Sanje Gupte was posing for a picture, when photographer Will Reimer, got the shot of a life-time.

At that precise moment, developer, Ron Vandemeer, crashed through the upper balcony of an Olde Towne storefront onto the cobble stoned street in front of her, clutching his throat with one hand while foaming at the mouth. The other hand had a half-eaten chocolate. One of hers!

She let go of Tanya who reeled out of the way saying, "he doesn't look so good," while Maxine loosened his shirt in a desperate attempt to make him feel better. But even as 911 was called and Dr. Matthews knelt down beside her, to help in any way he could, it was all too obvious Ron Vandemeer was on his last legs. Within minutes he was dead.

Watching as officers clad in white suits complete with white head gear that completely covered their head to avoid any possible contamination and clear plastic masks, inspired fear in the party guests who'd been told to remain in the small waiting area just before Olde Towne. They murmured amongst themselves.

Maxine stood to one side her arms crossed as her fingers dug into them shivering in horror at what had just happened. She watched as Ron's body was put into a body bag and zipped up, the ambulance drivers wheeling it out on the stretcher.

Tracey Vandemeer's high pitched wail filled the building and tore at her soul. A family friend led her to a side-room with the help of a police officer as the wails turned into sobbing. How could an evening that had started with such promise have gone so terribly wrong?

Party guests pointed in Maxine's direction. People she'd grown up with, known her entire life, even if only by sight, now pointed at her and whispered. She heard the words poison and murder. It wasn't possible. She knew that.

She felt as if she was shrinking down, her heart collapsing in on itself as she watched all the food she'd made bagged up and taken away. As police officers dressed in Haz Mat suits carried out all her cooking supplies

Heath joined her. "He probably died of a heart attack. Or maybe a brain aneurysm" he said, giving her a weak smile. Six feet two, with spiked brown hair and a tattoo on his arm, he was fresh out of cooking school, full of enthusiasm and a zest for life.

She gave him a stricken look. "That's still horrible."

He sighed, looking her straight in the eyes. "You didn't cause this. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it."

"I know," she whispered, a tear sliding down her cheek. "But I can't help feeling awful about… about," she gestured towards Olde Towne, to all the party guests, "this!"

Before she had a chance to say anything more her sometimes boyfriend , detective Patrick Shannon from Victoria PD arrived with his partner.

"I know you're not responsible for this," he said, looking at her with those blue, blue eyes that had once so charmed her. "But we have to cover all our bases, dot all our T's. We're questioning everyone."

"I understand," she said bravely. She just wished it didn't feel as the eyes of everyone in the room followed her as he led her into a small room to interview her.

"We'll be testing the chocolates and wine," he said. "No choice really. And we've advised everyone that if they have any concerns about their health they need to get it checked out."

She gave a small cry.

"It's just precautionary," he said, clearly uncomfortable. "I mean I know you would never," His words were cut off as she gave a strangled cry.

"You know I wouldn't," Just the thought she might have contributed in any way to the death of another made her sick to her stomach. She looked at him in horror.

He sighed "Is there anything you did differently tonight? Did you have anything out on the counter while you were making the chocolates, something that might have…"

"You know I wouldn't be that careless," she said angrily. My kitchen and equipment are spotless. And we all follow Food Safe precautions!"

"We have to examine all the possibilities," he said evenly.

"I know," she said brokenly.

***

'Death by Chocolate', screamed the morning newspaper, with a picture of Ron Vandemeer, chocolate in hand, foaming at his mouth as he fell to his death.

Maxine felt dark despair as she circulated through her crowded shop stopping to talk to a guest here and filling a coffee there. Normally she'd have been thrilled to find her shop crowded with people at nine o'clock in the morning. Right now she wanted to tell them all they were a bunch of ghouls and to just go away.

Sam Dixon, owner and operator of a small art gallery next door, came in asking for an espresso and the chocolate of the day. "You definitely made a splash," he said half teasingly as he thanked her for the coffee.

She closed her eyes, giving her head a shake. "Please don't joke about such things!"

Midnight blue eyes laughed at her as he helped himself to another chocolate. How did he manage to stay so thin? Oh right. It was probably the times he went into an artistic frenzy and spent a week at a time, or more, painting at his easel in his surrealist style, barely stopping to eat or come up for air.

"How could I not?" he replied. "It was a perfect death. Reimer got the shot of a life-time handed to him on a silver platter. I'm thinking of doing a painting on it."

She gasped. "NO! You'll ruin me."

"Nonsense. You worry too much. It looks to me as if business is booming."

"That's just because of people's morbid curiosity," she grumbled.

He shrugged. "Perhaps. But they're lining up in record numbers to eat your chocolates. Obviously it takes more than someone dying to keep them away."

She had to admit he was right. For how long she wasn't sure.

Eileen Zadil phoned at ten that morning to cancel. "Darling, I realize it's not your fault, but this is my daughter's wedding. I want the focus to be on her. Not whether the food is safe to eat."

"I understand," she said woodenly, trying not to show how much the news bothered her as she stood behind the counter listening to the excited buzz of her customers.

She'd been so excited to get the booking. And she'd already spent hours developing a cake the bride would not only be happy with, but rave about. She had chocolate fountains planned along with a full chocolate buffet.

"I hope when this is cleared up and you realize I had nothing to do with it you'll consider me for future events." But even as Eileen promised this, Maxine had a sinking feeling there would be no further business from her.

Yvonne Chadwick called next. "I know I booked you for our meeting," she said breezily, "but we've decided to go in another direction. You can keep the deposit."

She was hoping against hope that the BC Environment Ministry bash was still on. Then Karen Langdon, Events Planner, for the ministry called, "I'm sorry, I truly am, but we've decided to go in another direction."

It was summer in Victoria, but Maxine was feeling a cold chill as she saw her new catering business go up in smoke. Fortunately she was upstairs in the chocolate making part of her shop as the last call came in. The tears that came to her eyes as she bowed her head in defeat were seen only by her assistant, Heath.

"It's over," she said dramatically. "I'll never make it as a caterer now, now…" she bit her lip, determined not to break down.

Heath, her assistant, had a far more optimistic point of view. "There'll be other bookings. You had nothing to do with Ron Vandemeer's death and you'll be cleared as soon as they do the autopsy anyway."

"Then why did he have to be holding one of my chocolates in his hand as he plunged to his death?"

"We've always said your chocolates are worth dying for," he said with a grin.

She looked at him grimly. She'd been counting on the catering side of the business taking off when she hired him. That didn't seem likely now. Could she afford to keep him if the catering business was – non-existent?

It was true her shop was doing well today but could she count on that if the reason for Ron's death wasn't announced soon? She'd never prayed so hard for someone to have a heart condition …or some type of condition that made it obvious that, she, Maxine Peters, was not responsible for his death.

She was paying a small fortune for the shop lease. Mainly because the front over-looked the harbor and a second story gave her lots of rooms to make truffles and chocolate creations. That could be important now. Tourists were less likely to read the newspaper reports on Ron's dramatic death or hear the whispers or poison or murder.

Unfortunately she didn't have a lot of reserves. It had taken every cent of the small inheritance she'd received from a great-uncle to launch Au Chocolat to start with.

She'd figured with a little luck and a lot of hard work her dream would become reality. But for crying out loud, people weren't supposed to die holding one of her chocolates at the social event of the season.

She looked up to see detective Shannon coming through the door. For just a minute she entertained the hope he and his partner had stopped by for coffee and a chance to sample some of her chocolates as they so often did.

"We're going to have to examine your kitchen," he said speaking in a low voice.

Not low enough she suspected as she gave him a forced smile. Conversation stopped and she was aware of everyone in the shop listening. "Of course, if you feel that's necessary."

"It's just a precaution," he said "You keep your catering and everything for the shop separate?"

She nodded, wide-eyed. "Nothing used at the event is being served in the shop."

The officers breathed sighs of relief as did everyone around them. They let her lead them upstairs to the kitchen area before donning white suits and letting her show them where everything was. She showed them the temperature controls on the coolers, the dishwasher, anything and everything that was used in the making of her chocolate creations.

"You couldn't do this after closing?"

"We'll be as discreet as possible and our investigation will stay up here."

"Have you got any idea what caused his death?"

"Nothing definitive," Patrick said. "The medical examiner is doing the best he can." He paused in what he was doing and looked straight at her. "Can you think of anyone who might have a grudge against you?"

"You're not suggesting this is because of me, are you?" she said horrified.

"Of course not. But we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't check out every angle."

"I just don't see who would want to kill Ron Vandemeer."

"I doubt you could see a reason for killing anyone," he said tenderly, his eyes giving her the once over.

"I'm not a moron. I know the world isn't filled with smiling people living in pink clouds," she said crossly.

BOOK: 1 Chocolate Worth Dying For
3.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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