Authors: Joanne Fluke
Tags: #Mystery, #Romance, #Thriller, #Crime, #Contemporary, #Chick-Lit, #Adult, #Humour
This book is for Cody and Jacob.
In loving memory of Gladys Gladke Oven, my second grade teacher, and Hannah, who passed her love for my Hannah on to her daughter.
A big hug and kiss to Ruel, my inspiration and in-house story editor. And hugs all around to the kids and the grandkids.
Thank you to Mel & Kurt, Lyn & Bill, Gina, Adrienne, Jay, Bob, Amanda, John B., Judy, Dr. Bob & Sue, Laura & Mark, Richard & Krista, Mark B., and my hometown friends in Swanville, Minnesota.
Thank you to my kind and talented Editor-in-Chief, John Scognamiglio, for saving my bacon more times than I can count.
The same goes for Walter, Steve, Laurie, Doug, David, Maureen, Meryl, Colleen, Michaela, Kate, Adam, Jessica, Peter, Robin, Lori, Mike, Tami, Susie, and Barbara.
Thank you to Hiro Kimura for the luscious Cream Puff on the cover. And thanks to Lou Malcangi for designing such a delectable dust jacket.
Thanks also to all the other talented folks at Kensington who keep Hannah sleuthing and baking up a storm.
Thank you to Trudi Nash, a wonderful traveling companion! And thanks to David for getting along without her.
Thank you to Dr. Rahhal, Dr. and Mrs. Line, and Dr. Wallen.
Thanks to Joel at L’Affair Café for his expert advice on cutlery.
Thank you to John at Placed4Success for Hannah’s movie and TV spots. Thanks to Ken Wilson—Let’s have lunch. And a big hug for Lois Brown, food stylist extraordinaire.
Thank you to Connie Martinson for the kind words and encouragement.
Thanks to the Books-A-Million managers who invited me to Birmingham. Great folks, great city, great time!
Thanks to Jill Saxton for catching my Minnesota goofs. Hugs to Lois Hirt for dental advice—Norman, thank you, too.
Many thanks to Terry Sommers for her incredible Carrot Cake Cookies, and to Paul for tasting, critiquing, and carrying.
Thank you to Sally Hayes for sharing the virtual baking.
Thank you to Jamie Wallace for keeping my Web site, MurderSheBaked.com up to date and looking great.
Hugs to everyone who sent favorite family recipes for Hannah to try so she’ll never run out of yummy sweets to bake. And thanks so much for all the friendly e-mails and snail-mails that send me off to write about Lake Eden with a smile on my face.
T here was a loud crash as someone dropped a platter. A split second later, Hannah Swensen reached up to pick a piece of pepperoni out of her curly red hair. She examined it, identified it for what it was, and just barely managed to resist the urge to pop it into her mouth. Although one bite of the traditional pizza topping might not exceed her calorie count for lunch, it could pave the way to a self-indulgent feast from the menu at Bertanelli’s Pizza, a popular eatery in Lake Eden, Minnesota.
One glance down at the salad she’d ordered and Hannah almost gave way to temptation. It was a perfectly good salad, crispy lettuce in three varieties, several slices of tomato, strips of yellow and red bell pepper for color, and a dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side. Salads were good. Salads were healthful. Salads were much better than pizza when you had to lose at least ten pounds because everything you owned was too tight around the middle, including your very favorite pair of jeans.
“What’s that?” her sister Andrea asked, watching Hannah wrap the meaty missile in a napkin and set it aside.
“Pepperoni. I heard a crash right before it hit. One of Ellie’s new waitresses must have dropped a pizza platter.”
Without another word, both sisters picked up their winter parkas and slid over to the edge of the booth so they could peer out at the other diners. It was Saturday, and Bertanelli’s was packed with customers. It was also November in Minnesota, and that meant the coatrack by the door was also packed, and they’d had to stash their bulky outerwear in their booth. Andrea was sharing her side with her husband, Bill Todd, the Winnetka County sheriff. Hannah’s lunch date was her sometimes boyfriend, Bill’s chief detective, Mike Kingston. This was obviously a working lunch because the men hadn’t even noticed the porcine projectile that had landed on Hannah’s head. They were too busy discussing a bungled bank robbery that had taken place in a neighboring town that morning.
The interior at Bertanelli’s was comfort itself, with carved wooden booths and tables, plastered walls with fake brick peeking through, and Italian scenes painted by the Jordan High senior art class. The candles on the tables were stuck in wine bottles that had been dripped with various candle colors, a tribute to the crafts movement of the fifties. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing place to have lunch, but not today.
“Uh-oh,” Andrea said, beginning to frown.
“You said it,” Hannah added, spotting Bridget Murphy, who had just righted herself after running smack-dab into the waitress who’d been carrying the pizza that had provided Hannah’s unexpected slice of sausage.
Both women watched as Bridget, who was known for her fiery Irish temper, veered off toward the big round booth in the corner where Ronni Ward was holding court. Ronni was flanked by four of Lake Eden’s most successful males. Mayor Bascomb and bank president Doug Greerson were seated on her left. Al Percy of Lake Eden Realty, and Bert Kuehn, co-owner of Bertanelli’s, were seated on her right.
Everyone had thought that Ronni was gone for good last winter when she got engaged and moved in with her fiancé to help him run his fitness center in Elk River. But Ronni and the man she’d promised to marry had broken it off, and, as Hannah and Andrea’s grandmother had been fond of saying, the bad penny had turned up in Lake Eden again. Bill, who was a soft touch for a sob story, had rehired Ronni as the fitness instructor at the sheriff’s department, and the word on the Lake Eden gossip hotline was that Ronni was flirting heavily, or perhaps even more, with the deputies at the sheriff’s station, regardless of their marital status.
Unable to live on the small salary the sheriff’s department paid her, Ronni had found a part-time job at Heavenly Bodies, the new fitness spa at the Tri-County Mall. Her track record there appeared to be more of the same. She’d sold more memberships than anyone else on the staff, but the members she’d signed were almost all male. Several local wives weren’t happy about their husbands’ resolve to get into shape by joining one of Ronni’s exercise classes or hiring her as their personal fitness coach after hours.
“Here comes Cyril,” Hannah said as Bridget’s husband attempted and failed to intercept his wife before she reached Ronni’s table.
The two sisters watched for a moment. At first only words were exchanged, but with each salvo, Bridget’s frown grew fiercer and Ronni’s scowl etched deeper.
“What’s happening?” Bill asked, tapping his wife on the shoulder.
“Ronni Ward’s arguing with Bridget Murphy, but Cyril’s there and he’s trying to break it up.”
Almost simultaneously, Bill and Mike reached for another piece of pizza. Hannah thought she knew what was running through their minds. Bertanelli’s had the best pizza in Minnesota. If Bill and Mike had to leave to break up a catfight between Ronni Ward and Bridget Murphy, they wanted to finish their lunch first.
“Bridget doesn’t look happy,” Andrea went on with her running commentary.
Hannah watched Bridget’s husband put himself in what might be harm’s way to block Bridget’s access to Ronni.
The women’s voices became louder, and Bill reached for a final piece of pizza. “What’s happening now?”
“I think it’s almost over,” Andrea told him. “Cyril’s got Bridget in one of those holds you see on the wrestling channel, and he’s hauling her away. I wonder what set her off?”
Ronni did, Hannah thought, but she didn’t say it. She’s enough to set any woman off. “I wonder if Ellie knows where Bert is,” Hannah speculated.
“She knows. She’s over there at the kitchen door, just staring at Bert. If looks could kill, Bert would be a statistic. One of these days Ronni is going to get hers, and it won’t be pretty.”
“Right,” Hannah said, and then she leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “I just hope I’m there to see it.”
“Me too! Maybe someone ought to call Stephanie Bascomb, and Sally Percy, and Amalia Greerson, and invite them to come out here for lunch.”
“You wouldn’t!” Hannah said, giving her sister a long hard look.
“Probably not, but it’s fun to think about what would happen if somebody…uh-oh! Bridget got loose!”
Both sisters watched anxiously as Bridget raced back toward Ronni’s table. Cyril looked dazed, and Hannah had a sneaking suspicion that Bridget had bitten him on the shoulder since he was rubbing it through his shirt. It took him a moment to recover, and that gave Bridget time to reach her goal. Once she arrived, red-faced and panting, she hurtled herself at Ronni and grabbed her by the hair.
“Have you no shame?” Bridget’s voice took on the thick Irish brogue of her ancestors. “He’s got a wife and baby, and another one on the way. You leave my boy alone or you’ll answer to me!”
“You tell her, Bridget!” someone shouted, and it sounded like Ellie to Hannah.
“Knock it off, will you? We’re trying to enjoy our lunch here!” a diner shouted, and Hannah recognized the voice. It was her downstairs neighbor, Phil Plotnik, and he was sitting with a whole table of DelRay workers.
“Be quiet! Both of you!” a woman called out from a booth across the room. “And if you can’t, do us a favor and take it outside!”
Several other shouts for Ronni and Bridget to cease and desist came from various sections of the dining room. Almost everyone wanted the altercation to end, but it was pretty clear that there was even more trouble brewing when a half-dozen Jordan High students at a table in the center began to clap and whistle.
“Food fight!” one of the boys yelled, and all six of them started to hurl garlic bread and meatballs.
Pandemonium ensued in very short order. Waitresses squealed and ran for the safety of the kitchen, several metal pizza pans hit the floor with a clatter, and a plastic Coke glass sailed across the room, barely missing the tall, straw-cradled bottle of Chianti that Ellie had placed next to the cash register.
“Time to go to work,” Bill said, sliding over in tandem with Mike. “Let us out, will you? We’ve got to break this up before those Jordan High students do some damage.”
“And before Bridget and Ronni really hurt each other,” Mike added, and then he turned to Bill. “It’s your call. You outrank me.”
Bill didn’t hesitate. “I’ll take the Jordan High kids. You take the women.”
“I knew you’d say that,” Mike said with a grin. “Okay…let’s roll.”
Once they’d let Bill and Mike out of the booth, Hannah and Andrea sat back down to watch the men in action. For several moments it was a free-for-all as Cyril tried to pull Bridget away. Invectives from the women and the patrons alike rebounded. At the same time, Italian sausage, breadsticks, antipasto, and spaghetti vied for air supremacy. Andrea and Hannah leaned out to catch the action, ducking back when any edible ammunition came within their range. It took several minutes, and Andrea wound up with a splatter of marinara sauce on her arm, but it was clear the tide had turned and the long arm of the law was winning.
“Wow!” Hannah gasped as Mike dashed nimbly over fallen platters, food, and drink glasses to lift Ronni out of the booth. He grabbed her by the waist like a father dealing with a recalcitrant child, and carried her out the door.
“Wow is right.” Andrea motioned toward the table of students. Bill had just arrived at the table and as they watched, he disarmed them neatly by grabbing the edge of their red-and-white checkered tablecloth and removing their weaponry in one massive jerk.
“Good thing he doesn’t know how to do Herb’s trick with the tablecloth,” Hannah said, chuckling as she remembered her mother’s shock when Herb Beeseman, Hannah’s partner’s new husband and an amateur magician, had grabbed the edge of the tablecloth at the last dinner party they’d attended and whisked it away, leaving everything on the table intact.
Their lunch dates were nothing if not efficient, and in remarkably short order peace was restored. A squad of Bertanelli’s waitstaff hurried out to make the mess disappear, and within a matter of a minute or two, patrons were once more able to enjoy their lunch and hear Tuscan melodies over the sound system.
“That was fast!” Hannah commented. “Bill calmed those students down in nothing flat. Your guy’s good at this.”
“So’s yours,” Andrea responded, snagging one of the remaining pieces of pizza.
“He’s not mine. I’m not even sure he’s partially mine, not when Ronni’s living in the apartment right across the hall from him.”
Andrea picked up a slice of mushroom that had fallen to the platter and popped it into her mouth. “I don’t think Ronni will be around for much longer, at least not at the sheriff’s department. Bill called her in last week and told her that if he heard one more word of gossip about her and any of the married deputies, he’d fire her.”
“Can’t be too soon to suit me,” Hannah muttered, frowning deeply.
Andrea reached out to pat her sister’s hand, a more personal touch than what was the norm for the Swensen clan. Whether it was due to the Scandinavian influence or some other innate cold-climate reticence, warm hugs and embraces were more generally attributed to Mediterranean climates and did not come easily to Minnesotans. “Let me pay, and let’s get out of here. And then we’ll…” Andrea stopped, drew in her breath sharply, and then continued, “I can’t believe I forgot!”