Authors: Nancy McGovern
Tags: #Cozy Mystery
A MURDER IN MILBURN, BOOK 1:
Death At A Diner
Rights & Disclaimer
This is entirely a work of fiction. All people, places and events contained have been completely fabricated by the author. Any similarities to real people, places, or events are completely coincidental.
Death At A Diner Copyright © 2016 Nancy McGovern
All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any manner or used in any way without advanced written permission by the author.
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“It’s here!” Maddy squealed, jumping up and down.
In her hands she clutched a large brown package stamped with signs from New York’s LaGuardia airport. “This is it, Nay-Nay! We’re
Nora gave a squeal of delight – the kind of squeal a girl only makes with her best friend. The kind of squeal you give when the dream you’ve been working at steadily for ten years is finally coming real. She grabbed her best friend and danced around with her, and the two of them laughed and talked in short and frequently interrupted sentences.
Raquel Madden, dressed in a baggy red sweater with dark navy tights, her hair pulled up in a messy bun, still managed to look every bit the rockstar that she secretly thought she’d one day become. She finally dropped the package on the carpet and sat down in a yoga pose. Nora, dressed casually in a boat necked t-shirt and jeans, dropped down beside her.
“Ready?” Raquel asked. She rubbed her hands together. “Ready for the beginning of the rest of our lives?”
“You sound like you’re proposing to me, you know,” Nora laughed.
“Marriages aren’t always forever,” Raquel said, laughing, “
“Let’s give it a few years first,” Nora said, but there was a huge smile plastered on her face. At that moment, she felt invincible. How could she not? It was finally all coming together – the bank loans, the delays, the messy construction work, the necessary permits. She and Raquel had climbed over every hurdle together.
Sitting beside her, Raquel clapped her hands like a child, then drew out a small pair of scissors from her purse and cut open the package. Tissue paper rustled inside, and the heavenly smell that only new clothes can possess wafted out.
“Perfect,” breathed Nora, her eyes sparkling. They’d spent hours on Pinterest, scrolling through endless designs, until they’d finally created one that they loved. Here it was – a chalk blue dress with yellow piping on the sleeves and sides and a delicate lace collar. The perfect uniform, for the perfect Diner.
“It’s done then. Norquel’s Diner has finally got its uniform. We’re all set to open on Monday.”
“I can’t believe you’re still calling it Norquel’s,” Nora laughed. “It’s Rara’s Diner and you know it.”
The two friends had scribbled pages and pages of names that the diner would be called. Finally they had whittled it down to top contenders, two of which were combinations of their names. It had become an inside joke to call the diner by the runner-up names. Somehow, neither girl wanted to call the diner by its real name until opening night.
The Madness Diner.
That had been the first thing Raquel said when Nora had come up to her with the business plan.
“This is madness, Nora!”
The idea had been born ten years ago, when the two of them had just graduated high school in Milburn, Wyoming. Nora had spent three summers flipping burgers at various joints around town and watched each of them slowly close down its doors as the unending recession blew people away from their hometown. Raquel was being very generous when she called it madness. Stupidity, others might have said; sheer insanity, even.
“No, it’s not,” Nora had replied, just a teen, but with mutinous grey eyes that would remain the same forever. “Raquel, this town will survive. It always has. Trust me, one day it’s going to thrive again, and we’ll be the ones feeding its growth.”
“Nay-Nay. Come on.” That was Raquel’s nickname for her, and she spoke softly, realizing that her quiet best friend had probably been nurturing this dream for a long time. “We’ve got to be realistic. Owning a restaurant is a good day dream, but real life doesn’t work that way. It costs money, and god knows we’re both broke. It takes skills. Skills we don’t have,”
“So?” Nora had said. “We’ve got what matters, Maddy. We’ve got the vision. We can do this. So we need money? We’ll get a loan. We need skills? We’ll spend time working at places until we got them.”
“Sure, Nora,” Raquel had said. “I’ll tell you what. If you ever gather enough of a down payment to get a bank loan for this joint, I’ll drop whatever it is I’m doing and come join you.”
Nora had nodded seriously, and Raquel had moved onto other topics, convinced that this was yet another daydream that would dissolve as the years moved on.
The years had moved on, but the daydream had not. Through the death of her parents, through the loss of her childhood home, through the many, many, jobs she worked as a cook in NYC and Boston, and through the night classes she took at a community college, Nora had clung on to the dream, just as she’d clung on to her only real friendship.
She and Raquel had been an odd pair, but they’d been inseparable since third grade. Nora was the quiet teacher’s pet with a hidden wild streak, and Raquel, the madcap prom queen with a hundred boyfriends and a tendency to read complicated books by French philosophers. Nora was tall and gangly and blonde, with grey eyes and braces. Raquel was short, curvy, dark-haired, and as beautiful as a supermodel, with her sharp features and bright blue eyes.
Whatever they were to the outside world, inside the tight bond of their friendship, they were no less than sisters. After Nora’s parents died, it was Raquel who had helped her move on.
The years had passed, and their lives changed. Raquel had tried hard to become a musician. She’d gone to Nashville, and to San Francisco and to Minneapolis, but her voice had never really been heard. So she’d settled, and adjusted herself to a quiet life. She had gone on to study accounting and begun working as an associate in a local firm of chartered accountants. Three nights a week, she followed her original passion, singing in a band that would rotate gigs among the three bars in town. She’d made it a point to always speak to Nora once a week. Their Wednesday phone calls were sacrosanct, no matter what deadline approached the next day, or what hot band or movie or date they were missing out on. Sisterhood trumped it all.
Ten years after that first discussion of the diner, three months from this day, Nora had driven back into town in a rusty 1990s Camry. She’d made her way to town slowly, needing to psych herself up before she committed. Her journey had her winding through Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and Colorado before finally crossing the state lines into Wyoming. Nora still remembered the thrill she felt, coming home after ten years of being away, seeing the majestic snow-crested Tetons again. She’d been brought up in Wyoming, and its broad flat plains, its endless green stretch, and its jagged mountains. Seeing them now made her feel a stress being lifted from her shoulders as if she’d been unconsciously caged by the metal hum of the cities she’d lived in for so long. Here, in the shadows of the mountains, she felt tiny, but free.
It felt epic, really. To an outsider, she would have looked like a pretty blonde with a sharp nose and bright eyes, tapping on the steering wheel of a rusty blue car. To herself, she felt as magnificent as an emperor returning from exile, though as frightened as a sheep crawling into a wolf’s den. She’d found herself a place to stay, a small bedroom in an old lady’s house, as cheap as possible since she was going to need every last penny she had for the diner.
Then, she had made her way to Raquel’s and presented Raquel with her business plan. Once more, Raquel had said, “This is madness, Nay-Nay!” But this time, Nora was more persuasive.
“I’ve saved, Raquel,” Nora’d said. “I’ve saved half my salary at every job I’ve ever been in. I’ve lived poor for ten years to build up the cash and I’m ready to toss it all on this. We’ve got it now. We’ve got the money and the skills. All we need is the vision.”
But, for the first time, there had been doubt in Nora’s voice. Ten years was a long time, and her best friend had a new life she’d settled into. Surely, Nora thought, Raquel would refuse. There was no way she was going to throw away her career to support Nora’s crazy dreams. Without a capable partner like Raquel, Nora wondered if she’d be able to handle a business all alone.
Raquel had looked at her best friend now, at the glint of determination in her eyes, and the fear in them, and quietly opened up her computer to show Nora the $500,000 she had saved up in her bank account.
“That’s an insane amount of money, you know,” Nora said, delighted. “How on earth did you make it?”
Raquel had smiled, and said quietly, “The old fashioned way, Nay Nay. I earned every penny of it. How about you? How did you gather yours?”
“Worked my butt off for it,” Nora chuckled.
“So it seems.” Raquel grinned and patted her friend’s rear end. “Not that you had much of one anyway.”
“You took all the excess.” Nora grinned back and nudged her. Then, her face turning serious, she said, “Let’s do this, Maddy. For real. Let’s build something that’ll last forever, and let’s feed this town the way it deserves.”
Raquel had felt something inside her – a new vision coming to life. She’d finally shared Nora’s dream.
“Let’s do it!”
Now here they were, with the uniforms they’d designed. They sat there, running their hands over the uniforms, a 1950’s style dress with buttons down the middle and an apron in the front. Trying them on, they giggled and twirled around to show off how it looked.
They’d worked and scrimped and saved even after Nora returned to town, Raquel still keeping her day job and Nora throwing herself into starting their new venture. It had all come together. On Friday night, three days away, they would open The Madness Diner.
What neither of them dreamed was that Raquel would be dead before the diner ever opened its doors.
Harvey was having a bad day already, and the goon with the gun just made things worse. Sighing, Harvey put a finger to each side of his temple and rubbed it in little circles. He made a mental note to remind Ashley never to let anyone into his office during his 2 o’clock brainstorming sessions.
His office was wood-paneled, deliberately meant to evoke associations of old English clubs, a little psychological ploy that seemed to work well on his clients. They’d enter with their problems, and in between the potted ferns, the tasteful Monet-style art, the mahogany desk and expensive leather chairs, they’d leave assured that their money and their business were all going to be in safe hands with Harvey.