Authors: Christine Wenger
THE COMFORT FOOD MYSTERIES
A Second Helping of Murder
“Like good old-fashioned comfort food,
Second Helping of Murder
will satisfy your mystery-loving taste buds. Trixie Matkowski is a frisky, sassy sleuth with a heart of gold.”
âDaryl Wood Gerber, national bestselling author of the Cookbook Nook Mystery series
Do or Diner
“The first Comfort Food mystery is a real treat! Well plotted, it'll keep you guessing right up to the last chapter. Trixie's involvement as an amateur sleuth is well motivated, and her witty sense of humor makes her instantly likable.”
RT Book Reviews
“Culinary mystery fans have a new series to sample.”
âThe Poisoned Martini
“A comfort foodie and cozy reader's delight.”
âEscape with Dollycas into a Good Book
The Comfort Food Mystery Series
A Second Helping of Murder
Do or Diner
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright Â© Christine Anne Wenger, 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Â Â Â Â The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
This book is for the Packeteers: Ginny Aubertine, Laurie Bishop, Gayle Callen (who also writes as Emma Cane), Terry Kovian, Michele Masarech, and Peg Benson (who writes as Maggie Shayne).
For Packeteers Emeritus Jenna Mindel and Lisa Hilleren, who have moved away but aren't far away in my heart.
And for Packeteer Amber Schalk, whose love of books can't be measured. I miss you dearly, Amber, and I often think you are still with us when we laugh and joke.
We've been together since 1992, and all of you have believed in me and have supported me, especially when I proposed my first cozy mystery. I totally love you all and always will!
And for Jim, the love of my life.
y diner was hopping and so was I!
I'd just dropped the larger-than-a-manhole-cover, cast-iron frying pan on my foot. It bounced off my big toe and landed on the floor with a thud. Thank goodness there wasn't anything in it yet.
I took a couple of deep breaths and willed myself to calm down. I had a big breakfast (served twenty-four hours a day) order to get ready with a variety of eggs and an even greater variety of toast.
Wiping the sweat from my forehead with a towel that I kept draped over the shoulder of my new tomato red chef's jacket, I took the pan over to the sink and grabbed another that was equally as big and heavy and emptied a couple dozen patties of breakfast sausage, handmade by yours truly, into it, along with a half pound of bacon, and set it on the stove, on low.
Then I readied another order and rang the little brass ship's bell that I had bought because it was
nautical and sounded better than the little school bell that reminded me of Sister Mary Mary's constant attempts to get our attention in fourth grade.
Chelsea Young, one of my waitresses, appeared in the kitchen looking more than exhausted. It had been an extraordinarily busy graveyard shift at my Silver Bullet Diner.
“You rang, Trixie?” Chelsea yawned, walking slowly toward the prep table.
“Hang in there, sweetie. We're almost done.”
I handed her the plates over the steam table. “One cowboy on a raft, one hounds on an island, a large Cobb with Thousand Island, three meat-loaf specials with the works, and two kiddie specials.”
I had become very fluent in “Dinerese,” the special language that diner staff used to communicate orders. It took me a while to get the hang of Dinerese, but I kind of enjoyed it now. Truth be told, I even made up my own as I went along, which sometimes stymied my waitresses or got us all laughing.
“Don't forget the free udder juice that goes with the kiddie specials, Chelsea.”
“The whaâ?” She wrinkled her face. “If you're referring to milk, that's pretty lame, Trix.”
Chelsea set the western omelet on toast, the franks and beans and everything else on a large serving tray. “I've never seen the diner so packed at two o'clock in the morning.”
I eyed the pile of orders wrapped with a rubber
band that the day cooks, Juanita Holgado and Cindy Sherlock, had filled on the morning shift. Later, I'd enter the orders on a spreadsheet, somehow looking for a pattern as to what customers liked and what supplies I needed to order.
“It's been like this all shift.” I plucked a couple of orders from the wheel and studied them. There were a lot of orders for the daily specialsâcream of chicken soup, my salsa-infused meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravyâand for those looking forward to a summer picnic, I offered the Silver Bullet Summer Clambake: a dozen steamed cherrystones, an ear of corn, broiled or fried haddock, and salt potatoes. Thankfully, I could do some of those orders at the same time. “I love it when we are busy, though. Time goes by so fast.”
And with the extra business, I could make the next balloon payment to Aunt Stella!
I'd bought the diner on the installment plan from my aunt; it had been in our family for years now, and I hadn't been about to let it go under when Aunt Stella decided to retire.
I'd grown up inside this diner, spending summers here with my family, learning how to cook from Uncle Porky and Aunt Stella. My aunt and uncle didn't have any children, and had always wished to keep the property in the family, so when Aunt Stella wanted to sell and my awful divorce from Deputy Doug, my cheating ex-husband, made me want out of Philly, I jumped at the chance to buy.
“By the way, Trix, I love your new outfit,” Chelsea said, balancing the tray on the palm of her hand and hoisting it to shoulder level.
I looked down at my red jacket and matching baggy pants covered with a never-ending tomato print and grinned. I'd ordered both items from a new little shop on Cedar Street called Sew What, which was across from the Sandy Harbor Library. The three senior owners, Barbara, Diane, and Elaine, who were cousins from Buffalo, had huge commercial sewing machines arranged in a circle for conversation. The little shop had three walls loaded with bolts of material that looked as if they were about to fall over on the Sew What owners or customers. I'd invited them to lunch at the Silver Bullet so I could get to know them better.
“Thanks. I love my new outfit, too. I've decided that since I'm a chef, I ought to look the part.” I brushed some panko crumbs from my embroidered pocket, which read T
I had added the embroidery in black script when I ordered the jacket. Classy.
Chelsea scooted off with her order, and I pulled an assortment of plates from the shelf for the next order.
Smiling, I thought about how the diner would soon get even busier since it was almost the official start of the tourist season in Sandy Harbor: Memorial Day. The fishermen arrived even before all the ice melted on Lake Ontario. Soon the sun
worshippers would arrive at the state beaches, so would the recreational boaters, and those who had camps.
My heart raced when I realized that in addition to the Silver Bullet Diner, circa 1952, I was ready to open the doors to my twelve cottages that dotted my “point,” a type of peninsula that jutted out into the lake.
I'd be doubly busy when the cottages opened!
Thank goodness, my handymen, Clyde and Max, had slapped a fresh coat of white paint on the cottages and freshened up their shutters and trim in forest green.
They did the same to my Victorian farmhouse, which I called “the Big House,” not that it looked like a prison in the least, but because it was way too big for one person.
The Big House was to the left of the diner. Now everything matched. I chuckled, thinking that it looked as if the big Victorian gave birth to a litter of little cottages.
I'd bought everything from my aunt Stella, whose interest in the diner plummeted after Uncle Porky died.
I remembered giving Aunt Stella a down payment after we worked out the numbers on a Silver Bullet place mat. Aunt Stella had handed me a fistful of keys, given me a quick kiss, and headed for a long cruise to Alaska. Then she slid right into retirement in Boca Raton with a gaggle of her friends.
I had always loved cooking, but to own and manage the Silver Bullet (
OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK, AIR-CONDITIONED, WELCOME
) and twelve housekeeping cottages seemed overwhelming at times. However, keeping busy took my mind off my divorce from Deputy Doug and his very fertile trophy bride.
But why was I thinking about ancient history? I'd like to believe that I moved on from Doug. I took back my maiden nameâMatkowskiâand was making a new life for myself in Sandy Harbor, so what was my problem?
I rang the ship's bell, placing the major breakfast orders under the heat lamps. Chelsea needed to hurry, or the eggs would keep cooking.
“Chelsea, order up.”
Wipe off hands on towel, fling towel over shoulder, make up another order. Ring bell. Repeat.
I helped Chelsea stack the orders onto two more trays and met her at the kitchen door to relay the orders to her.
Back at the prep table, I mentally ran through a checklist of all the things I had to do to prepare for our busy summer season as I made four large antipastos, six small house salads, and two Cobbs for what looked like a party of twelve.
Then it dawned on me that I probably needed to hire more maidsÂ .Â .Â . er,Â .Â .Â . housekeeping attendantsÂ .Â .Â . to clean the cottages. All of the cottages were designated as “bring your own stuff,” but some customers opted for daily service.
I pulled my ever-faithful notebook from the pocket of my tomato-printed pants and scribbled
Hire more housekeepers. Put an ad in the
Sandy Harbor Lure.
Most of the cottages were rented for the entire season and beyond with the same families returning year after year. That was just what my family had done. Cottage Number Six had been the Matkowski family's standard rental.
“Where's Chelsea?” I wondered, looking at all the antipastos and salads for the party of twelve, which were now languishing on the shelf. I rang the ship's bell again.
Then I looked over at the pass-through window. Not that I ever used it for passing orders through, but it gave me a look into the dining area of my diner.
Chelsea was leaning over the counter along with my two handymen and a dozen or so regulars. They were all reading what seemed to be the morning edition of the
Sandy Harbor Lure
Deputy Ty Brisco, my studly neighbor who lived above the bait shop next door, was holding court and gulping down coffee. He was with the two other cops who made up the entire Sandy Harbor Sheriff's Department.
“It's been a long time,” said Mrs. Leddy, the president of the Sandy Harbor Historical Society. “I've always wondered what happened to her.”
Who were they talking about?
“âSeveral local children had been exploring Rocky
Bluffs and stumbled on a cavelike place,'” read Clyde, my maintenance man. He turned to the gathering, waving his hands. “And there she was. It probably scared the pants off them.”
Who was in a cavelike place?
I looked over to where the party of twelve should be sitting and waiting for their salads. Half of them were missing, and probably were part of the crowd gathered around the deputies and my staff.
“Chelsea, your order is up,” I said, louder than usual.
She gave a nod in my direction and reluctantly tore herself away from the group who were now all talking at once.
I could only catch pieces of the conversation, but I was dying to find out what the hot topic was. Ty Brisco suddenly looked up and smiled.
My face heated up as if I'd just opened the big pizza oven. Why did the former Houston cop have to be such eye candy? And why did he have to be a deputy like my ex?
Not that I was interested in the least.
I gave a half wave to Ty and returned to my spot behind a massive aluminum table just as Chelsea walked in. Time to get the big order started.
Time to cross-examine Chelsea.
“Chels, what's going on?”
“Some kids were climbing the rocks by the bluff, and somehow they discovered a cave. Inside the cave was a body.” Chelsea's eyes grew as big as
saucers. “The newspaper said that according to Hal Manning, the Sandy Harbor coroner, it's the body of a woman. Hal identified her, but I forgot whoâ He checked the remains against dental records.” She shuddered. “Everyone knows her. Oh, I forgot her nameÂ .Â .Â . umÂ .Â .Â . uhÂ .Â .Â .”
“Claire Jacobson.” I could barely breathe. I remembered Claire from when I was about ten years old. Claire was the prettiest and coolest high schooler that I'd ever met, and she was so nice to me.
“That's the name.” Chelsea hoisted the tray full of salads. “She disappeared from here a zillion years ago, from Cottage Eight, the one that everyone thinks is haunted.”
After Claire's disappearance, I always thought Cottage Eight was haunted, too. Aunt Stella said that it was always the last cottage to be rented, and not to old customers, but to new customers who hadn't heard the storyâyet.
The back door of the diner opened and I knew it was Juanita Holgado, one of the day cooks. She seemed to appear right out of the fog and darkness. Or maybe I was just feeling overdramatic because of the news about Claire.
, Trixie!” She walked around the steam table and gave me a hug. Juanita was definitely a morning person. She always arrived happy and cheerful. “Look at you! Nice tomatoes!” She eyed my baggy chef's pants, grinning.
Suddenly I remembered Juanita telling me she'd worked for my aunt and uncle for a long time.
She'd been working as a housekeeping attendant at the cottages during that fateful summer twenty-five years ago when Claire Jacobson went missing. A lot of the staff had helped in the search for her, and Juanita had, too.
It had been a big deal that had shaken our small community to the core.
But the recent news about Claire could wait. No need to bring down my cook's morning cheer yet.
“Hey, Juanita. Good morning. I have a surprise for you.”
I handed her a gift bag and enjoyed watching my friend's face as she opened it.
Juanita pulled out a red chef's coat that matched mine, but her chef's pants were covered in red and green peppers. Juanita loved her peppers, the hotter the better.
“I love it. I just love it!” Juanita grabbed me in a big bear hug. “And my name is embroidered on the jacket. We are really chefs now. We can have our own show on TV.”
Juanita hurried to the storage room, probably to change. I had another gift bag for Cindy Sherlock, another full-time member of my kitchen staff. It was a red coat and pants covered with colorful slices of pizza. Aunt Stella and Uncle Porky, in all their wisdom, had really invested in quality appliances for the diner. The wood-fired pizza oven was a big point of pride for me. Cindy was known for making the best pizza at the Silver Bullet.
Then there was Bob, the missing fourth chef,
who was supposed to be helping me on the graveyard shift. I hadn't yet met or even talked to the elusive Bob in my several months as owner. He was always on sick leave and his doctors were suspiciously in either Vegas, Atlantic City, or New Orleans.
I didn't buy him anything. Matter of fact, if he ever showed up, I probably would fire him.
I went back to preparing the order for the party of twelve. Sometimes it felt as if I were dancing in the diner, doing what I called the Silver Bullet Diner Shuffle. I twirled to the fridge and grabbed a steak. I tangoed to the freezer, scooping up an order of fried clams. I pirouetted to the toaster and loaded buns and bread onto the Ferris wheel.