Authors: Teresa Watson
A Lizzie Crenshaw Mystery
Death Takes the Blue Ribbon
A Lizzie Crenshaw Mystery
By Teresa Watson
2014 Teresa L. Watson
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
I was sitting in one of the back booths at the Eat It or Starve Café. Papers covered most of the tabletop. Half of them were for the upcoming county fair; the other half was ads about the fair for the newspaper. Truth be told, I wanted to toss the whole pile in the air and run away screaming.
Reaching for my glass, I realized I had finished all of my sweet tea. Maddie, owner of the café, appeared next to me with a pitcher and refilled my glass. “I’d leave this here, but I don’t see an empty space to put it. What is all this?”
“Stuff for the fair and the newspaper,” I sighed. “Somehow I was ‘volunteered’ to supervise the pie-eating contest this year.”
“Oh, I know how that happened,” Maddie replied. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “Gladys did it.”
I looked past her to my arch enemy, Gladys Norwell. She had been a royal pain in my behind since I moved back here three years ago. She couldn’t resist goading me about anything and everything any chance she got. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope,” she chuckled. “I was at the meeting when she did it. She said that the younger generation needed to get more involved. She said you were the perfect choice to judge the pie-eating contest, since you were always shoveling pie into your mouth.”
“That sounds like her. Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Because I didn’t want you to try and shove a piece of pie in her face to get even.”
“I would never do that,” I gasped in mock horror. “That would be a waste of a perfectly good piece of pie!”
“Glad to hear it. Want me to bring you a slice of the usual?”
I nodded. “A big one. I’m going to be here a while. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
As she left, Jake Mathias slid into the seat across from me. I had to admit, looking at his handsome face was a lot better than staring at the papers in front of me. Good thing I was immune to his charms. “What are you doing sitting inside on this beautiful fall day?” he said as he started to straighten the papers on the table. “You need to be outside, soaking up the sunshine.”
I snatched the papers out of his hands. “I would be if Dale hadn’t taken off for parts unknown again. He knows the county fair is one of the busiest times of the year for Brookdale. But no, he had to get away. That’s all he’s been doing for the past six months! He works for a week, and then disappears for a month. We’re the ones running the paper; we should just buy it from him and send him on a permanent vacation.” I glanced over at Gladys. “I found out that the wicked witch across the room over there is the one who drafted me for the pie-eating contest.”
“If you’d stop egging her on,” Jake said, “you wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“She usually starts it. Her and her high and mighty, holier-than-thou ways. Someone needs to take her down a peg or two.”
“As long as it’s not you, I’m fine with that idea.”
“Mother would kill me.”
Maddie placed a large slice of pecan pie in front of me. “Good afternoon, Jake. How’s the most handsome man in town?”
“Oh Maddie, you sweet talker! What is it you want me to do this time?” Jake laughed.
Before she could reply, we were interrupted by a loud argument near Gladys’ table. “Don’t you dare try and deny it, Gladys Norwell!” Durlene Snodgrass said, jabbing a bony finger in Gladys’ chest. “I saw you with my own two eyes!”
“Ha! You can’t see your finger without your glasses on!” Gladys retorted.
“I’m not the only one who noticed. Charlene Sims was with me.”
“Charlene is one of my best friends. She would never say anything against me.”
“Well, I’m not one of your friends, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops.”
Gladys glared at Durlene. “You do, and I’ll sue you for slander.”
“Uh oh,” Maddie said, “this is going to get ugly.”
Just then, Gladys picked up her glass of water and threw it in Durlene’s face. People scrambled out of the way as Durlene picked up a piece of pie and smashed it in Gladys’ face.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Maddie yelled as she rushed over to stop the fight. She grabbed Durlene’s arm and tried to pull her away, but Durlene just shook her off, grabbed another glass that was sitting on the table, and dumped it down Gladys’ blouse, ice cubes and all.
Jake got up and went over to the two fighting women. I reluctantly followed him. I was enjoying seeing someone else getting into it with Gladys. He grabbed Durlene, pushing her backwards. I stepped in front of Gladys; why, I have no clue. Unfortunately, I stepped in front of her at the wrong time. She smashed a piece of apple pie with whipped cream in my face.
I stood there for a moment, shaking my head. Someone put a towel in my hand, and I wiped my face off as best I could. Glancing at Gladys, she didn’t look very contrite about her actions. “Would someone please explain what is going on?” I said calmly.
“I’ll tell ya what’s going on,” Durlene said. “We’re supposed to use only fresh fruit for the pie contest. I spotted her,” she pointed at Gladys, “buying frozen blueberries and blackberries at the store the other day.”
“That doesn’t mean she used them in her pie,” Jake said.
“Oh yes, she did,” Durlene replied. “Charlene and I saw her do it.”
“Were you standing in the kitchen when she did it?” Maddie said. Durlene mumbled something. “Speak up, woman. We can’t hear you.”
“I said we were watching through the kitchen window.”
“How did you know when she was going to bake the pies?” I said.
“Because she always bakes them two days before the contest. That way, if something goes wrong, she has time to make another one.”
“So you stood in her backyard and watched?”
“Not exactly. We stood in the neighbor’s yard, the one right behind her house, and we watched through binoculars.”
I saw people shaking their heads in disbelief. The contest was a big deal in our small town, and the rules were very specific. Frozen fruit was not allowed; only fresh ingredients could be used. The winner got bragging rights for a year, and some of these women could be downright insufferable after they won. “We just have your word for it that she used frozen fruit,” I pointed out.
Durlene reached into her bag and pulled out a Ziploc bag that contained two empty frozen fruit packages. “How did you get those?” Gladys sputtered.
“I dug them out of your trash,” Durlene said proudly.
“That’s invasion of privacy,” Gladys said. “I could have you arrested.”
“The trash was on the street, which makes it public property.”
I looked at Jake, who was trying hard not to laugh. I wasn’t sure if he was laughing at the stupidity of the situation, or the pie and whipped cream that was still on my face. “Gladys, did you use frozen fruit in your pies?” She looked down at the floor and didn’t answer. “It’s a simple yes or no question. Either you did or you didn’t.”
“Yes, alright. I used frozen fruit this year. The store was out of blueberries.”
“So why didn’t you choose strawberries, peaches or something else?”
“Because I had already told too many people that I was going to make my special blueberry pie. I didn’t want to look like a fool by bringing something else.”
“Well, I’m afraid I’ll have to tell Delia about this. You’ll be disqualified.”
“Ha!” Durlene said.
“And I’m also going to ask her to disqualify you as well, Durlene.”
“What? You can’t do that!”
“Oh yes, I can. You spied on a fellow contestant while they were making their pie. That’s against the rules, too. Every cook has the right to protect their recipes from other contestants. You violated the spirit of the contest.”
Durlene started to argue, but Maddie stopped her. “She’s right, Durlene. Don’t you remember what happened in 1997, when Mabel Comstock got caught watching Elmo Hightower when he was making his award-winning Dutch Apple pie? She was banned for two years from entering the contest. You’ll be lucky if they don’t do the same thing to you.”
The two combatants had nothing to say after that. Durlene stomped out of the café, and Gladys grabbed her purse, and tried to leave with as much dignity as she could muster. Considering she still had pie everywhere and the front of her blouse was soaked, she didn’t have much dignity left.
Maddie brought me a wet towel, and I wiped the rest of the pie and whipped cream off my face and the front of my shirt as best I could. She handed me a dry towel as Jake and I walked back to the booth. “Well, that went well,” Jake said as we sat down.
“For you, maybe,” I snorted. “You’re not the one that got the pie in the face treatment.”
“That was funny,” he laughed. I just glared at him and glanced out the front window. I could see Durlene and Gladys arguing by the latter’s car. I wondered what was being said. With both of them being disqualified, I hoped that everything would blow over by the start of the fair tomorrow.
Boy, was I ever wrong…
I was too busy at the newspaper the next day, so I didn’t even make it to the fair. And two days after the incident at the café, I was standing in the tent where the pie eating contest was being held, going over the checklist I had on my clipboard. There were only a few empty chairs left. Gladys was sitting in the front row; her husband, Harold, was one of the contestants. The other participants were Sheriff Owen Greene; Crandall Martin, owner of the Martin Steakhouse near Highway 287; Alan Sinclair, a police officer for a nearby city (his wife, Abbie, was Owen’s secretary); Bruce Dillon, one of the reporters for the newspaper; and Sam Knight, the butcher who was married to Delia, owner of the bakery.
Volunteers stood behind them, ready to replace empty pie tins with fresh pies. They would also help me make sure that everyone kept their hands behind their backs while they ate. My money was on Owen, although several people had told me not to discount Harold. “He may be skinny, but that man can eat!”
“Come on, Owen, I’ve got fifty bucks on you!” his sister (and my best friend) Trixie called from the front row.
“Wow, no pressure or anything, Trix,” I laughed.
“He can do it,” she said confidentially. “He usually eats two pies over the Thanksgiving holidays.”
I looked up in time to see Durlene come in. Oh Lord, I didn’t need this today. I saw her scanning the nearly full tent, trying to find a place to sit. Unfortunately, out of ten seats that were empty, her eyes landed on the empty one right next to Gladys. Before I could get Trixie to run interference, Durlene stomped over and plopped down in that empty chair. Gladys glared at her, but thankfully kept quiet.
Rolling my eyes toward heaven, and saying a quick prayer for peace, I turned my attention to the tables at the front. “Alright, gentlemen, you know the rules,” I said as the volunteers finished tying the bibs around the contestants’ necks. “You don’t have to lick the pan clean, but you have to eat most of it. Keep your hands behind your back, and no shoving or distracting your neighbor.”
“Better watch Harold,” someone yelled from the back of the tent. “Last year he tried to shove Marv Endicott out of his chair. Doc threatened to carve him up on his autopsy table while he was still breathing.”
Yuck, that was an image no one needed before eating a bunch of pies. “I’ll be watching you, Harold,” I warned him. “You better not try anything like that this year.”
“I won’t, Lizzie, I promise,” Harold swore.
“Seems cheating runs in the family,” Durlene remarked.
I turned around. “Knock it off, Durlene. I’m not going to put up with any fighting in here today. If you can’t keep a civil tongue in your head, you might as well leave now.”
“Goodness, Lizzie, don’t you sound like your momma,” she replied. I just stared at her. “Fine, fine, I’ll be quiet. I thought we were supposed to have fun at a county fair.”
“You are,” I said, “but I don’t want to be in the middle of another food fight.” I looked at the two women, who were pointedly ignoring each other. “Perhaps we should have a professional, who know how to wear a good pie in the face, show us the proper technique of pie eating. So Gladys, do you have any tips for the guys before they start?”
Everyone laughed except Gladys, who started turning red. Surprisingly, she didn’t say anything.
“Are we going to talk or eat pie?” Owen said.
“Eat pie!” everyone yelled.
“Alright, let’s get started,” I said, turning back toward the front. A pie was placed in front of each contestant. “Ready, set, go!”
Six heads bent over their pans, and pieces of pie started to fly everywhere. I don’t think I need to describe the carnage; I’ll just say watching a contest like this is not for those with a weak stomach. Owen and Harold finished their first pies at the same time. The empty pans were removed and a new pie was put down in front of them. A minute later, Crandall, with cherries dripping off his chin, started on his second pie. Bruce and Sam began working on their second ones after that, and poor Alan brought up the rear.
Harold finished his second pie, and from the look on his face, he was thoroughly enjoying the contest. I glanced over at Gladys, who had a look of pride on her face. People in the crowd were cheering on their favorite, and from the cheers, it sounded like they were either for Owen or Harold.
Despite the bibs, I saw stains on the collars of three contestants. The dry cleaners were going to get some business after this was over. Alan finished his second pie, just ahead of Bruce. Crandall sat up, and his face seemed to be turning an ugly shade of green, which didn’t go well with the cherries smashed on his cheeks. But he swallowed his pie, got a drink of water, and started eating again.
Owen was just starting his third pie as Harold finished his third. It looked like he had eaten blueberry this time, because there were bluish-purple stains on his collar and face. A fourth pie was put in front of Harold, but he didn’t start to eat it. He started gasping for breath, his hands grabbing at the edge of the bib like it was choking him. I won’t go into all the gory details; trust me, you don’t want to know. But it ended with Harold falling face first into his fourth pie.
Gladys screamed and jumped out of her chair. Doc Endicott, who was sitting a couple of rows behind her, rushed to the table. Durlene grabbed Gladys, holding her back while Doc checked on Harold. Bruce, who had been sitting to Harold’s left, moved out of the way while Owen and Alan gently lowered Harold to the ground. “Alright people, stay right where you are,” Owen ordered as he stood up. “Nobody leaves until we take care of Harold.”
It was hard to take him seriously with apples and cherries all over his face. One of the volunteers handed him a wet towel. He wiped his face and ripped the bib off. He was wearing a blue and white checkered western shirt, jeans and boots. “Lizzie, can you call Abbie? Tell her to send an ambulance and some officers.”
Doc stood up. “It’s too late for the ambulance, Owen. He’s dead.”
“No, he can’t be dead!” Gladys cried. She tried to wiggle out of Durlene’s grasp, but she wouldn’t let Gladys go.
“Ok, folks, I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay here for a while until my officers and I can talk to everyone.” The crowd groaned. “I know it’s inconvenient, but I promise to make this as quick and painless as possible.”
Durlene gently pushed Gladys back into her chair. Iris Griswell, Gladys’ best friend since grade school, and Charlene came over to sit with her. Durlene quietly stepped aside and let them take her place.
Owen came over to me. “Could I borrow your clipboard?”
I handed it to him. “What do you need it for?”
“I’m going to start interviewing people. I’m also going to need to see any notes you have about the contest. Do you know who made the pies?”
“Several people volunteered to make pies for the contest,” I said. “All my notes are right there on the clipboard.”
“Then I’m going to need to keep this until my investigation is over.”
“That’s fine. Is there anything I can do?”
Owen looked around the tent. “Maybe we could get some food and drinks for these folks. We’re going to be here a while.”
“Sure,” I said, glancing toward the tables, where half-eaten pies sat abandoned. I couldn’t see Harold, but I knew where his body was because Doc was standing near him. “I’m sure Alan can help you until the others get here. That will speed things up a little.”
“Good point,” Owen replied. “Do you have another clipboard?”
“I’ll see if I can find one. Poor Harold,” I said, shaking my head. “Do you think it was an accident?”
Looking around, Owen pulled me further away from the crowd. “This is between you and me. I better not see this in the newspaper.”
“Word of honor.”
“From what I saw, I don’t think it was an accident. I think he was poisoned.”
I gasped. “You mean someone killed him?”
“Looks that way.”
I looked over at Gladys, who was rocking herself in her seat as Andrea Martin came over and sat next to her. She wrapped an arm around Gladys, leaning in close and talking to her quietly. “But who would want to do that? Gladys is the one everyone hated.”
Owen shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe they did it to hurt Gladys.”
“Man, that is a long list of suspects you’re going to have to go through.”
“You do realize you’re on that list.”
“I know. But you know I would never resort to murder, especially of an innocent person.”
“True, but your history with Gladys is well known. I hope you have an alibi for the last twenty-four hours.”
“Almost all of it, except for when I went home to sleep for four hours.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think you did it, but I have to cover all my bases.”
“Are you going to interview Gladys?”
He looked at her. “I have to.”
“Better you than me.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I’m not looking forward to it at all.”