Authors: Jessica Beck
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Cozy, #Amateur Sleuth
Gabby made a telephone call but she hung up quickly as I approached. “Are you all right?” I asked as I walked over to her. The woman’s spirit was normally indomitable, but at the moment, she looked as if the weight of the world had crashed down onto her shoulders.
I asked quietly, “Gabby, have you been crying?”
“I’m fine,” she said as she dabbed at her eyes with a well-used tissue. “It’s these blasted allergies.”
Funny, I hadn’t heard anyone else complaining about them. “You’re sure you’re okay? I can come back later, if you’d like.”
“Nonsense,” she said, wiping her eyes again.
I wasn’t going to let her get away with that. “Gabby, you can talk to me; you know that, don’t you?”
She looked surprised by my offer to listen. “Janice was rude to me, and the sad thing is, she wasn’t the only person to bite my head off today.”
“Who else has been giving you trouble?”
I thought for a second she was going to tell me, but the notion clearly passed as quickly as it had come. Apparently, Gabby was finished sharing with me.
“What brings you next door?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Peg Masterson.”
“What about her?” Gabby’s voice was flat and devoid of any emotion as she asked the question. It appeared that I’d made exactly the wrong query.
“I’ve just been wondering who could do such a thing, no matter how abrasive the woman could be.”
She stared hard at me a second, then without breaking eye contact, she said, “I’ve been wondering the exact same thing.”
“Hang on a second. You don’t think I had anything to do with it, do you?” I couldn’t believe anyone who knew me could honestly think I was capable of such a thing, and yet I was getting the impression that most folks around April Springs were giving that thought much more merit than it ever deserved.
Gabby took a deep breath, then said, “She died with your donut in her hand, and you were five feet away from her at the time.”
I shrugged. “Okay, I’m willing to admit it was one of my donuts, but I’m telling you, it was fine
when it left my shop. And I never got within five feet of Peg. It was twenty feet, at least.”
Gabby bit her lip. “You two didn’t get along, though, did you?”
“Can you name one person who liked her?” I asked. “I mean really enjoyed being around her?”
“Me! I liked her. She was my friend, and now someone’s killed her. If you didn’t do it, who did?”
“That’s what I’m going to try to find out,” I said. “I’m sorry, I never should have come in here. I didn’t realize you two were so close.”
Gabby waved off my apology. “Some of us have to work a little harder to make friends.”
She was openly glaring at me now, and I was glad her shop was empty so no one else was witnessing it.
I said as calmly as I could manage, “Gabby, I’m sorry you lost a friend, but I didn’t do it. If you really cared about her, wouldn’t you want to help me find her killer? Isn’t that the best way to honor her memory?”
“You need to go, Suzanne.”
I did as she asked, because really, what other choice did I have? If Gabby wanted to lash out at me because she’d just lost one of her few friends, I couldn’t make her talk to me.
I walked out of her shop, and a few seconds later, I saw some movement inside. She slapped the
sign over to
, then pointedly dead-bolted the door behind me.
It appeared that Gabby, a resource I normally depended on in my informal investigations, wasn’t going to be available to me this time. I briefly thought about getting Grace to talk to her when she got back
into town, but Gabby was too shrewd not to realize she would be asking questions at my bidding.
It was a dead end, and now it was up to me to find a new way into Peg Masterson’s life, and to figure out why someone had decided to end it.
“Janice, I’d like to order a cake,” I said half an hour later when I walked into Patty Cakes. “I was wondering if you could help me with something special.”
It was the only excuse I could come up with to spend some time grilling the woman about her relationship with Gabby, and to see if she knew something about Peg that I didn’t. Janice’s shop, which specialized in custom cakes for all occasions, had a large selection of cookies for sale as well. They were pretty enough to look at, but in all honesty, I’d never cared for the way they tasted, much too bland in my opinion. It wasn’t very politic to bring that up at the moment, though.
“What’s the occasion?” Janice asked. Her body type did nothing to help advertise her business. For a woman who made cakes and cookies all day, Janice was so thin that when she turned sideways, she just about disappeared. In my opinion, if you’re going to own a shop where you’re offering decadent treats, you should at least look like you enjoy indulging in them every now and then yourself. That was my excuse, anyway.
“It’s for my mother,” I said, lying on the spot. “It’s her birthday soon, and I want to get her something special.”
“Your mother hates cake,” Janice said, which wasn’t entirely true. Momma hated Janice’s cakes, but she liked everyone else’s just fine.
“How about a big cookie, then?”
The store owner put her pen down. “Why are you really here? We both know it has nothing to do with your mother. You overheard Gabby and me talking in her shop, didn’t you? Admit it, Suzanne, you never were a very good liar.”
“It was kind of hard to miss,” I said. “What on earth were you two arguing about?” Was it really going to be that easy? Did I just have to ask the question to get the answer I was looking for?
“That’s none of your business,” Janice said.
So much for it being easy. “That’s not a good way to treat your customers, you know,” I said.
“I thought we already established that you weren’t buying anything,” she said as sweetly as she could manage, which wasn’t very nice at all.
“Not at the moment,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean I might not be in the market for something in the future.”
Janice began cleaning the display counter, though it already looked pristine to me. “I’ll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I don’t have time for gossip and idle speculation, especially from you.”
“Why me in particular?” I asked.
“Must we really have this discussion?” she asked.
I wasn’t about to budge. “Yes, we do.”
Janice threw her towel down on the case. “Fine, if
you insist on having this conversation, then we’ll have it. You’ve been stealing my business, and we both know it. It’s simply wrong. My shop was here long before you bought that donut shop of yours, and I’ll be here well after you’ve moved on to something else.”
I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d handed me a hundred dollar bill or a live chicken. “Janice, what on earth are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me,” she said.
“Who’s playing? I haven’t a clue.”
Janice said, “The Jackson-Bright wedding.”
Then I realized exactly what she meant. Robbie Jackson and his betrothed, Heather Bright, had decided that instead of a conventional wedding cake, they wanted donuts, and lots of them. I thought it was sweet, since they’d had their first date at Donut Hearts, and had wanted to commemorate the occasion appropriately. Emma and I had pulled an extra shift that day, making donuts long after our shop was closed in time for the late afternoon wedding. It had been a big hit with most of the folks who attended and knew their story, though a few relatives from out of town on both sides were perplexed by the nuptials being held in an old train station that now housed a donut shop.
“It was one wedding,” I said. “They met in my shop, so it made sense. Trust me, I’m not going after your wedding cake business. I don’t have the time, or the energy.”
Janice was not appeased by my explanation. “Just know that if you do it again, I’m going to start making donuts and selling them here in my shop as well.”
“You’re welcome to make them any time you want,” I said. I wanted to add that she’d better hope she made them tastier than her cakes, but I bit my tongue instead.
In a softer voice, I said, “I wasn’t trying to poach your clientele, honestly.”
Janice seemed to soften a bit, so maybe she actually believed me. “So you say.”
I took a deep breath, then asked, “Can we talk about what happened to Peg Masterson today? Or would you rather tell me why you and Gabby were about to come to blows in her shop a little bit ago?”
“Suzanne, as I told you, I don’t have time to stand around and talk to you. I have orders to fill and work that needs to be done.”
“Go ahead. But be warned, I’m not leaving until you tell me,” I said.
“Oh really? Let’s just see what the police say about that,” she said as she reached for the telephone.
I knew when I was beat. “Save yourself the call. I’ll leave.”
She had a smug expression on her face, one I wasn’t going to let her keep for long. With my hand on the front door, I added, “Just remember one thing, Janice. I won’t give up until I find the truth.”
“Is that a threat, Suzanne?” she asked.
“No, ma’am. It’s a promise.”
I walked out of the shop, wondering where to go next with my investigation. So far, I was about as popular as a dog at a cat show, but I wasn’t going to let that slow me down.
I just wish I knew where else to look. I’d told
George that I could talk to Peg’s neighbors, but it was hard to tell what they’d be able to tell me about her.
I needed to come up with another plan.
My ideas, at least for the moment, were gone. I was ready to go home and grab a bite, then try to unwind before it was bedtime. I had George out scouring for clues, and I wouldn’t do anybody any good stumbling around without at least some kind of plan. I’d had one day to sleep in, and it had turned out to be a disaster, so I was looking forward to getting back to my old schedule as quickly as I could.
In all honesty, I needed routine in my life more than I was willing to admit. Donuts were always the same; predictable, and steady. I could make them in my sleep, and sometimes it felt as though I did. I found great comfort in knowing what tomorrow would bring. At least most days.
I drove home the few short blocks, and as I pulled the Jeep into my parking place, my cell phone rang.
I checked the caller ID and was surprised to see who was calling me. What on earth did Trish Granger want?
There was only one way to find out, no matter how tired I was.
“Hey, Trish. How are you?”
“Oh, dear. You sound tired. Maybe I shouldn’t have called.”
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was barely past five. “Nonsense. I’m fine, though I will admit that it’s been a long day.”
“This isn’t really all that important,” she said.
“Why don’t you call me tomorrow and we’ll talk then.”
“Trish, I assure you, I’m fine.”
“Okay, then. I caught enough of your conversation with George at the diner to know that you two are investigating what happened to Peg Masterson. It’s not like I mean to,” she added quickly. “But you know how small that place is, and voices tend to carry.”
I’d dodged enough direct questions for one day. “I admit it. We’re both afraid the police are going to focus solely on me, and we know I didn’t do it. There really isn’t much choice but to find out what really happened to Peg ourselves, is there?”
“I agree with you completely,” she said. “That’s why I’m calling. I overheard something that might be useful to you.”
“I’m listening,” I said.
She paused, then admitted, “Two minutes ago, I could swear I heard someone say that Burt Gentry at the hardware store isn’t as upset as he should be about the murder.”
I’d known Burt all my life. “Why should he be any more affected than the rest of us?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know? He and Peg were dating, at least until she broke up with him last week. I thought everyone in town knew about the two of them.”
“Apparently it was a better kept secret than you thought,” I said. None of my friends had said a word about Burt’s relationship with Peg, and I thought we knew everything that was going on in April Springs.
“Maybe so. Do you think the police know about the relationship? It might give them a suspect in her murder. Besides you, I mean.”
“You could always tell them yourself,” I said.
“Why don’t you?”
I sighed, “Trish, if I tell them, they’ll immediately assume that I’m making it up to get myself off the hook. You’re a lot more credible at the moment than I am.”
“I don’t know, Suzanne. I hate to get involved,” Trish said.
“How do you think I feel? I’m in the middle of a murder investigation, and I’m as innocent as a spring lamb.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll call the chief right now.”
“Let me know what he says, okay?”
“I’ll do it.”
As I hung up, I looked up and saw Momma standing on the porch.
As I got out of the Jeep, she said, “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever coming in.”
“I had a telephone call I had to take,” I said.
“I heard that Jake was back in town,” she said. “Will he be joining us for dinner?”
“No, ma’am. He seems to think that it would look bad to go out with me while he’s investigating Peg Masterson’s murder, so I don’t see that there’s much of a chance we’ll be dating again anytime soon.”
Momma frowned. “That’s just nonsense.”
“You want to know the truth? I’ve had some time to think about it, and I’m starting to think he’s right.”
As I walked inside the cottage, I smelled the air, and was suddenly enveloped by the aroma of my mother’s famous meatloaf. “Besides, if Jake were here, I’d have to share my dinner with him.”
“I made an entire meatloaf, I believe we have enough to spare for some company, don’t you?”
“You don’t know how hungry I am,” I said. “Is it ready yet?”
“We can eat whenever you’d like.”
I took my seat at the table, and helped myself to meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, one of my favorite meals of all time.
After we said the blessing, I had a forkful poised for my mouth when my cell phone rang.
“Let it ring,” Momma said. She hated it when our meals were interrupted by telephone calls, and though she couldn’t ban them from the table, she managed to show her disapproval if I took a call while we were eating.