Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery) (22 page)

BOOK: Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)
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Ella Mae held her breath.

Reba came around the counter to refill the coffee carafe. “Don’t worry, hon. You were born to inject food with magic. To influence how folks feel. That, and so much more. Watch Mr. Crump there. Watch how he changes for the better. If you’d just believe in the good your gifts can do, then you’ll realize that you’re capable of anythin’. You can rescue your mama, unite your kind, and bake a helluva pie. Watch and believe.”

Reluctantly, Ella Mae complied. She saw Mr. Crump chew, swallow, and hesitate. He stared down at the food on his plate as if he couldn’t comprehend what he’d just tasted. Clearly surprised, he took another bite. A glint of light surfaced in his eyes and as he continued to devour the pie, his entire face started to glow. His sallow cheeks turned pink and his mouth curved into a wide, boyish smile. After one more bite, he was shrugging off his coat and unwinding the threadbare scarf wrapped like a noose around his thin neck.

“What’s in this pie?” he shouted. His voice was no longer weak and reedy. It resonated with strength and virility.

The other patrons stopped talking and turned to see what Mr. Crump was eating.

“It’s a Red Hot apple pie,” Ella Mae said, stepping out from behind the counter. “I was hoping it would warm you up.”

“It’s done more than that, my girl!” Mr. Crump sat back in his chair and grinned at her. The joyful expression transformed him, erasing years from his skin and making his eyes shine like sunlight on the lake. He stood up, tossing back the dregs of his coffee as if it were a shot of whiskey, and turned to face the other customers. After clearing his throat, he began to sing.

Ella Mae didn’t recognize the melody or the lyrics about woods and fertile meadows, but the song painted a picture of the mountains surrounding Havenwood. She could visualize the blue hills as they looked in springtime, dressed in green leaves and sunshine.

At first, the pie shop’s customers gaped at Mr. Crump, but by the time he’d reached the third stanza, their gazes had turned wistful and several of them swayed in their chairs.

And then, a woman who’d been sitting alone near the rotating display case slowly rose to her feet and added her soft, sweet soprano to Mr. Crump’s rich baritone. Together, they sang. The words soared through the pie shop like graceful birds, casting a spell over everyone in the room.

“Hail to the blue-green grassy hills;

Hail to the great peaked hummocky mountains;

Hail to the forests, hail to all there,

Content I would live there forever.”

When the song was finished, Ella Mae and her patrons clapped heartily and someone cried, “I’d like what he had for dessert!”

The request was taken up by all of her customers.

“You’d best get back in the kitchen, girl,” Reba said with a sly wink. “Keep on singin’ folks,” she announced gaily. “A slice of Red Hot apple pie in exchange for a song.”

As Ella Mae hurried through the swing doors, she heard the organist from the Methodist church sing the opening line of the hymn, “Another Year Is Dawning.”

Surrounded by music and warmth, Ella Mae began rolling out dough.

Two hours later, she peeked into the dining room and was stunned to find that none of her customers had left. Some had changed seats to chat with other diners and the organist and the town florist were playing cards with Mr. Crump, but every person was still there. The room had grown loud. Gone was the subdued lunchtime murmur. Story swapping and raucous laughter existed in its stead.

“Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” Reba asked, looking smug.

Nodding, Ella Mae reached for the tray of dirty dishes Reba had set on the counter. “Okay, you’re right. I’ve been moping far too long. My mother wouldn’t want that. She’d want to see what I’m seeing: the people of her community coming together to share a meal, a song, and a laugh.”

“Like I said before, anythin’ is possible,” Reba said gently as the two women returned to the kitchen. “Break your mama’s spell. Yes. But don’t forget to weave a few of your own. Speakin’ of that subject, Suzy Bacchus just came in. She looks like a kid waitin’ to ride the Ferris wheel. She’s so antsy that I couldn’t even get her to sit down. Want me to send her back?”

Ella Mae, who’d been busy loading cutlery into the dishwasher, froze. “Please. And can you ask her to bring me a cup of coffee? The day feels like it’s lasting forever. Not that I mind. I’m thrilled with what’s happening in that dining room. I just need a jolt of caffeine before I clean the kitchen.”

“Sure, I’ll let Suzy play waitress. But I’m not sharin’ my tips,” Reba teased and then vanished through the swing doors.

Suzy Bacchus owned Havenwood’s book and gift store, an eclectic shop called the Cubbyhole. Like Ella Mae, she had special abilities. Suzy had a photographic memory. Despite the fact that her mind was a storehouse of knowledge, she was humble, bubbly, and fun. Whenever she entered a room, she immediately filled it with positive energy. When she breezed into The Charmed Pie Shoppe’s kitchen, Ella Mae felt as if the lights shone a little brighter.

“I have big news!” Suzy said, setting a coffee mug on the wooden worktable. She yanked off her fuchsia hat and a pair of hand-knitted mittens and tossed the accessories on top of a crate of potatoes.

“I’m all ears.”

After pushing back a strand of honey blond hair from her cheek, Suzy took a deep breath and said, “I know we’ve spent the past few months poring over any and all references to the Flower of Life in hopes that it would free your mom. We started at the beginning by researching the Gilgamesh legend. That story described the original Flower of Life.”

“Suzy, we’ve read everything under the sun about Gilgamesh. I’m sick to death of the guy. He got his flower. We need to find another one. Preferably, within driving distance.”

Suzy grabbed Ella Mae’s hands. “That’s what I’m here to tell you! According to the Gaelic scroll I found in your family’s library, these magical blooms can be found near our sacred groves. In other words, if a sacred grove is located near a body of water, then there’s a flower of life growing in the deepest part of that water.”

“Like a lake? As in Lake Havenwood?

Suzy’s eyes glimmered with triumph. “I think so, yes.” Her exultant expression dimmed a little. “There’s just one teeny tiny complication.”

“Naturally,” Ella Mae grumbled, then quickly squeezed her friend’s hand. “I’m sorry. You’ve been such an amazing friend. I have no right to take my frustration out on you.”

“Now that you mention it, I should be angry. Do you realize that I’ve gained ten pounds since we started hanging out?” She gave Ella Mae a wolfish grin. “Speaking of which, what’s got your customers feeling so merry? It’s like Christmas in that dining room.”

Ella Mae cut a wedge of Red Hot apple pie for Suzy. “You can have the whole pie if you’ll finish telling me what you learned.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal!” Suzy popped a bite into her mouth and nodded enthusiastically. “Hmmm. This is
good
.” Licking her lips, she said, “To make a long and complicated story short and complicated, I’ll begin by saying that over two hundred years ago, a local man wrote a book called
Lake Lore of the Americas
. I can only find references to this book in other authors’ bibliographies. But apparently, this nifty little tome was all about lake magic. Native American shamanism. Elemental spirits. Sea foam women appearing to the colonists. That sort of thing. There’s also a whole chapter devoted to the rare and powerful objects
within
certain lakes. And while I can’t track down an actual copy of
Lake Lore of the Americas
, I believe I know someone who can. Are you ready to hear the awesome part?”

“I am.” Suzy’s optimism was contagious. Ella Mae could feel it singing through her blood, more beautiful and sweet than any of the tunes she’d heard today.

“Because the author was from Havenwood, his family might have a copy of his book. I bet the print run was quite small and since the subject matter was obscure, the title’s virtually disappeared off the face of the earth. Still, I like to think that at least one copy would have been kept by his descendants.”

“Let’s hope so.” Ella Mae touched the burn scar on her palm. It was shaped like a four-leaf clover and she often rubbed the smooth, puckered skin when she was anxious. She’d gotten the burn several months ago when a piping-hot glass pie dish had slipped from a pot holder and made contact with her skin. According to legend, the mark indicated that she might be the Clover Queen, a woman born of two magical parents who would one day unite the descendants of Morgan le Fay and Guinevere and forever break the curse placed upon their kind by the warlock, Myrddin.

Suzy shot a quick, fascinated glance at the burn before meeting Ella Mae’s gaze. “The only drawback is that you don’t exactly get along with his people.”

“Let me guess,” Ella Mae said miserably. “He’s a Gaynor.”

Suzy nodded. “And I know exactly when to broach the subject of the book with your old pal, Loralyn.”

Saying nothing, Ella Mae only raised her brows.

“I’ve been invited to a party at their place tonight,” Suzy continued airily. “Guess who’s going to be my plus one?”

Ella Mae groaned.

“That’s the spirit! Now why don’t you go home, take a long, hot bath, and put on your nicest dress? We can have a cocktail before we head over to . . . what’s the name of their estate?”

“Rolling View,” Ella Mae said. “Listen, Suzy. I know that you’re on good terms with the Gaynors and really, I’m happy about that. The feud between our families is just that. A feud between our families. But they won’t be pleased when I show up tonight. I haven’t been to their house since Loralyn’s seventh birthday party.”

“What happened at that party?”

Smiling, Ella Mae said, “I hit Loralyn with a Wiffle ball bat.”

Suzy’s jaw dropped. “You went Babe Ruth on the birthday girl?”

“I was aiming for the piñata, I swear, but I was blindfolded and Loralyn’s friends had spun me around so many times that I didn’t know which way was up, so I just stumbled forward and swung away.” Ella Mae smiled wickedly. “You should have heard the
smack
the bat made when it connected with Loralyn’s cheek. I hightailed it out of there without even bothering to pick up my loot bag.”

Suzy started laughing. She threw back her head and let the laughter bubble out of her. She couldn’t seem to stop. Before long, Ella Mae was laughing too.

Reba entered the kitchen a moment later and glanced at the two friends. “I don’t know why the two of you are hootin’ and hollerin’ like hyenas on crack, but I came back to say that I’ve started kickin’ folks out. It’s time to close and I’ve made enough cash to enjoy myself at the bowling alley tonight.” She gave her apron pocket a satisfied pat. “All thanks to your special pie, Ella Mae.”

“And Mr. Crump?” Ella Mae asked. “Is he still feeling good?”

Reba snorted. “I haven’t seen a happier man in ages. Well, other than the ones who wake up next to me, of course. Mr. Crump’s been invited to play Bingo tonight and Bunco next Monday. And if he wasn’t a churchgoer before, he’s gonna become one real fast. That organist is sweet on him. Cal Evans wants to go ice fishin’ with him. That man’s calendar is fillin’ up.” Reba studied Ella Mae. “What about yours? You have any special plans for tonight?”

“Yes,” Ella Mae said. “I’m going to fortify myself with a few shots of whiskey, pack my Colt in an evening bag, and crash the Gaynors’ party.”

“That’s my girl,” Reba said, beaming.

BOOK: Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)
3.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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