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Authors: Joanne Fluke

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“Here, Tracey,” she said handing her the bills. “I want you to buy something for yourself.”

A grin spread over Tracey’s face. “Thanks, Aunt Hannah! I’m going to get a Viking helmet.”

“A purple one with white horns?”

“No, Aunt Hannah!” Tracey giggled, and Hannah knew that she was delighted. “I’m going to buy a
real
Viking helmet, the kind they used in the thirteen hundreds to plunder and pillage. Big Ole wears one.”

“Who’s Big Ole?” Hannah asked, although she knew the answer.

“He’s a twenty-eight foot high statue of a Viking.”

Hannah put on her most innocent expression. “I didn’t know they had statues of football players in Alexandria.”

“No! He’s a
real
Viking. They named the football team after the real ones, not the other way around.”

“Right,” Hannah said, smiling.

“Anyway … after we leave the Runestone Museum, we get back on the bus and go to Kensington Park. That’s where Olaf Ohman’s farm used to be. And
that’s
where he found the Kensington Runestone in eighteen ninety-eight.” Tracey took a step closer and lowered her voice. “They think it’s a fake, but Mom doesn’t know. And the scientists haven’t made up their minds yet for sure, so I’m not going to tell her until they do.”

“That seems wise.”

There was the sound of footfalls coming down the hallway. A moment later, Andrea walked into the kitchen. “She’s sleeping like an angel,” she reported, and then she turned to Hannah. “I still don’t know how you did it. She was so fussy with that runny nose. But somehow you managed to put her right to sleep.”

“Mom?” Tracey spoke up. “It’s not bedtime for me yet. Can I sit here and watch while you and Aunt Hannah make what I’m taking on the bus for a snack?”

“No,” Hannah said before Andrea could answer, and she laughed as both Andrea and Tracey stared at her in surprise. “You can’t sit here and watch, Tracey. I want you to help us make it.”

“You want
me
to help?” Tracey looked thrilled at the prospect.

“Absolutely. You can start by spraying that disposable roaster on the counter with Pam.”

Tracey frowned. “All we have is the other stuff. Mrs. Evans was out of Pam when Grandma McCann took us to the Red Owl.”

“That’s okay. Any nonstick cooking spray will do.”

Tracey went to the cupboard next to the stovetop and took down a can of spray. She carried it to the counter and sprayed the inside of the disposable roaster that Hannah had brought with her.

“Is this going to get heavy?” Tracey asked, returning the spray to the cupboard.

“Not too heavy, but it still might be a good idea to support the bottom by setting it on a cookie sheet.” She turned to Andrea. “Do you have an old cookie sheet we can use?”

“I think so,” Andrea said, but she didn’t make a move to find one. Hannah got the feeling that her younger sister wasn’t really sure where any cooking utensils or supplies were kept in her own kitchen.

“I’ll get it,” Tracey said, walking over to the oven and pulling out the drawer under it to reveal a stack of cookie sheets. “Do you want me to preheat the oven while I’m here?”

“Good idea. Set it for three hundred degrees,” Hannah
told her. “And once you slip the cookie sheet under the roaster, I want you to go wash your hands. It’s summer cold season, so make sure you soap them for at least twenty seconds.”

“Twenty seconds,” Tracey repeated. “I know how to tell when twenty seconds are up without using a clock.”

“You do?” Andrea sounded surprised at that revelation.

“Grandma McCann taught me. All you have to do is say,
one hundred one, one hundred two, one hundred three
, all the way up to one hundred twenty. It takes twenty seconds to say it that way.”

“There’s another way to do it, too,” Hannah told her. “Janice Cox told me what she does down at Kiddie Ko-rner. Some of her kids can’t count as far as twenty, so she tells them to sing
Happy Birthday
all the way through twice.”

“I’ll have to tell Karen about that,” Tracey said, naming her best friend. She washed her hands, mouthing the words to the birthday song, and then turned back to Hannah. “What next, Aunt Hannah?”

“Get out a one-cup measure, and put nine cups of cereal in the roaster. You can use some from each box.”

Hannah and Andrea watched as Tracey carefully measured out the cereal. When she’d transferred nine cups to the roaster, she stepped back and turned to Hannah. “I’m ready for my next assignment.”

“I want you to measure out one cup of slivered almonds. They’re the nuts in that plastic bag on the counter. I think there’s one cup in the bag, but you’d better check to make sure.”

Tracey carefully measured out the almonds. “There’s just a little over one cup, Aunt Hannah. Shall I put them all in the roaster?”

“Put them all in. More nuts will be fine. And then mix everything up with those clean hands of yours.” Hannah waited until Tracey was busy and then she turned to Andrea. “What did they offer him this time?” she asked in a soft voice.

Andrea watched as Tracey dipped her hands in the roaster and began to mix up the cereal and nuts with her fingers. Then she replied, keeping her voice low. “Another ten thousand a year if he accepts by the end of the month. That’s a lot of money on top of everything else they’ve offered.”

“I’m done,” Tracey said, stepping back from the roaster and turning to Hannah. “What should I do next?”

“Go find a quarter-cup measure.” Hannah waited until Tracey had gone to search in the cabinet where Andrea had stored her measuring cups, and then she asked her sister another question. “You said there were other incentives?”

“I’ll say! If he travels, he gets five hundred a day for meals and extras. That’s a flat rate for every day he’s on the road. He doesn’t have to save receipts and invoice them when he gets back to the office.”

“That’s a real perk,” Hannah said and then she stopped talking as Tracey came up with a quarter-cup measure.

“This is right, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Absolutely. Now go find a glass measuring cup that’ll hold a pint. That’s two cups. If you can find one with a spout, that’ll be perfect.”

It was clear that Tracey was used to fetching bowls, measuring cups, and kitchen utensils for Grandma Mc-Cann, because she found the measuring cup that Hannah wanted right away. There wasn’t even time to ask Andrea another question about the incentives that Tachyon had offered.

“I’m ready,” Tracey said, waiting for her next task.

“Take a tube of frozen orange juice concentrate out of the freezer, open it, and measure out a quarter cup. Put the lid back on, seal it in a plastic freezer bag, and put the rest of the frozen orange juice back in the freezer. Then add the quarter cup of orange juice concentrate to the glass measuring cup.”

Once Tracey was engaged in her task, Hannah slid her chair a little closer to Andrea. “Did they offer anything else?”

“They said they’d fly him down there first class to take a look at their headquarters. And they offered to pay for me to come along.”

“What did he say to that?” Hannah asked, but before Andrea could answer, Tracey was back for more instructions.

“We need a quarter cup of brown sugar. Don’t use the sugar you have in the pantry. Take it from the bag I brought. It’s on the counter.”

After Tracey had found the bag and opened it, Hannah gave her further instructions. “Just dip the quarter cup measure in there and fill it up. Then pack it down until it can’t hold any more, and level it off with your finger.”

“Like this?” Tracey did as Hannah had told her. “Do I put it in the cup with the orange juice?”

“Yes. And then get out a stick of salted butter, cut it in half, unwrap the half, and add it to the glass measuring cup.”

Once Tracey was occupied with the next instruction, Andrea answered Hannah’s question. “He said he didn’t think I’d be interested in coming and I really didn’t want him to take the job. And when they asked him why, he explained that our families were here and we didn’t really want to move.”

“Mom?” Tracey called out. “Do you want me to add this leftover butter to the butter dish?”

“Yes, please.” Andrea said, and Hannah noticed that she looked impressed with her daughter’s ability to follow directions.

“But I thought you said you were afraid he was beginning to waver.”

“I did. And I think he is. I found a piece of scrap paper in the wastebasket. He was figuring out how much more take-home pay he’d make every week if he took the job at Tachyon.”

“But that doesn’t mean he’s planning to take it. Maybe he’s just curious.”

“Maybe, but …” Andrea stopped speaking as Tracey approached. “Is everything in the cup, honey?”

“Yes. What do I do with it now?”

“Heat the glass measuring cup in the microwave for one minute,” Hannah answered her. “Take it out with an oven mitt, stir it all up together and if the butter has melted, pour it over the top of the cereal and almonds.”

“How about the cranberries?” Tracey asked, pointing to the bag of sweetened dried cranberries Hannah had brought with her. “Aren’t we going to put those in?”

“Good question, but the cranberries go in after it bakes. Just stir everything up with a big mixing spoon, and then put the roaster in the oven. Close the door and set the timer for fifteen minutes.”

Hannah waited until Tracey was busy, and then she turned back to her sister. “I really don’t think you have to worry. Bill doesn’t want to move to Florida, either. His parents, his relatives, and all of his friends are here in Lake Eden. He’s Minnesota born and bred, and I really don’t think he wants to leave. Tachyon might offer him
the sun and the moon, but I’m almost positive he’ll turn them down.”

“I don’t know …” Andrea looked worried. “It’s a really good job, Hannah. And he’d be one of their top executives.”

Tracey carried the roaster to the oven and placed it on the rack. Then she closed the oven door and reached up to set the timer.

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Hannah said, giving her sister a smile.

“What’s that?”

“Bill loves you.”

Tracey turned around and came back to give her mother a big hug. “Aunt Hannah’s right. Daddy knows you don’t want to move to Florida, so he won’t take that job.”

Hannah and Andrea exchanged glances. They hadn’t realized that Tracey was listening.

“Besides,” Tracey continued, “he can’t move to Florida.”

“Why not?” Hannah and Andrea asked almost simultaneously.

“Because he likes the Vikings a whole lot more than he likes the Dolphins.”

IMPERIAL CEREAL

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F., rack in the middle position.

9 cups dry cereal
(any combination – I used Multi-grain Cheerios and Rice Chex)

1 cup slivered almonds
(I’ve also used pecans and I like them better)

¼ cup orange juice concentrate
(I used Minute Maid)

¼ cup brown sugar
(pack it down when you measure it)

¼ cup salted butter
(½ stick, 2 ounces, ⅛ pound)

½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
(I used Craisins)

Hannah’s Note: The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use your choice of any dry cereal, any nuts, any frozen juice concentrate, and any dried fruit.

Place the cereal and slivered almonds in a large ovenproof bowl or a disposable roaster or steam table pan. Make sure to support the bottom with a cookie sheet if you use disposable vessels.

With your impeccably clean hands, mix the cereal and the almonds together until they’re evenly distributed.

In either a 2-cup measuring cup or a microwave-safe bowl, combine the orange juice concentrate, brown sugar, and butter.

Heat the mixture in the microwave for one minute, or until the butter has melted. Stir thoroughly.

Pour the mixture over the cereal and almonds in the roaster. Mix it all together until the cereal is evenly coated.

Bake the mixture, uncovered, at 300 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

Take the roaster out of the oven and mix in the sweetened dried cranberries with a spoon.

Set the roaster on a cold burner or a wire rack until it has cooled to room temperature. Stir it again to make sure it’s not stuck together in big pieces. Store Imperial Cereal in a tightly covered container at room temperature.

Sally sends little packages of Imperial Cereal along with guests when they go for boat rides, hike through the woods, or take walks around the lake. She also confesses that she’s even eaten it for breakfast when she’s in a hurry.

Sally calls this snack
Imperial Cereal
because it’s fit for a king.

Yield: Approximately 10 cups of sweet, crunchy goodness that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

Chapter Eight

S
he had just turned over in bed and found a comfortable position midway between two lightly snoring felines when there was a soft knock on her door.

Must be the start of a dream
, her tired mind said, reaching out to gather the warm soft blanket of semicon-sciousness around her once again.

“Hannah?” a voice asked, and then there was a palpable change in the air, as if someone had entered her bedroom and was now sharing the prevailing oxygen with her.

The dream wasn’t that interesting and Hannah wished she could change the channel. Unfortunately, dreams seldom responded to remotes. This one would go on, dull, flat, uninteresting, until …

“Hannah!”

The voice was louder, and despite her best intentions, Hannah opened her eyes. And there was Michelle standing close to her bed. “Huh?” she asked, surprised she could frame even that intelligent a question in the middle of the night.

But it wasn’t the middle of the night! Hannah came to that realization with a jolt. The dawn was already breaking outside her window and that meant it was almost five in the morning!

“Wha … time?” Hannah asked, pleased that she’d regained at least some of her ability to verbalize.

“Ten minutes to five. I heard your alarm go off, but then it stopped. And you didn’t get up. Don’t you have to go to work?”

“Work. Yes.” Hannah sat up and blinked several times. “Thanks, Michelle.”

“There’s coffee. Take a quick shower while I pour your coffee and dish up some pancakes for you. I made Sausage and Cheese Pancakes this time.”

Michelle’s pancakes were legendary. She’d run the gamut of additions to her excellent pancake batter, quite literally from fruit to nuts. Lately she’d been experimenting with meats and cheeses, and this morning’s pancakes sounded like winners to Hannah. The thought of a tasty hot breakfast came close to making her actually
want
to get up and start her day.

Once Michelle had left the room, Hannah wasted no time getting out of bed. She was late to work and she’d have to hurry. One lightning-quick shower, a moment with both toothbrush and hairbrush, a jump into her clothes, and Hannah found herself sitting at the kitchen table clutching a life-giving mug of what one set of her grandparents had called
Swedish Plasma
.

“Here you go, Hannah.” Michelle set a plate on the table in front of her older sister. “They’ve got breakfast sausage and sharp cheddar cheese.”

“They look wonderful!” Hannah picked up her fork, preparing to dig into the fragrant dish.

“I’m all ready to go. Is there anything I can do for you while you’re eating?”

“I don’t think …” Hannah stopped as she remembered her promise to Lisa. “Yes, there is. I need Rose’s recipe for Zucchini Cookies. Mother got it last Christmas at a cookie exchange.”

“Mother baked cookies for a cookie exchange?!” Michelle looked completely shocked at the idea. As their mother so succinctly put it, she didn’t bake. Since Hannah had left home, the interior of her mother’s oven had seen the only two meals Delores ever made, Hawaiian Pot Roast and EZ Lasagna. Dinner at the Swensen family home consisted of entrée A or entrée B served with a tossed green salad, packaged dinner rolls that could be reheated in the microwave, and ice cream with jarred toppings for dessert.

“No, Mother didn’t bake cookies for a cookie exchange.
I
baked cookies for Mother so that she could take them to her cookie exchange. The recipe should be in a yellow folder on the second to the bottom shelf in the living room bookcase.”

“Zucchini Cookies. I’ve heard of zucchini bread, but never cookies. I’ll find it for you if I can have a copy.”

“Of course,” Hannah said, except that it didn’t exactly sound that way since she was busy eating. Even so, Michelle must have understood the muffled assent because she gave a thumbs-up and went off to the living room bookcase to find the recipe.

By the time Hannah had finished her second helping, Michelle was back with the recipe. When she noticed that Hannah had refilled her plate, a smile spread over her face. “That must mean you like my pancakes,” she said.

“I love them. I don’t know why I never eat breakfast
when I’m here alone. It’s my favorite meal. And it’s always wonderful when you make it for me.”

“Thanks.” Michelle looked proud as she sat down at the table and began to copy the recipe for herself. “What’s on the docket for today? Mother said she could spare me if you need help with the turnovers.”

“Thanks, but we should be okay. We’ve got double what we’ll need for the talent show tonight and we’ll reassess when it’s over.”

“Are you sure? Mother doesn’t think there’ll be much business today since everyone will be at the charity luncheon.”

“She’s going, isn’t she?”

“Yes, but Luanne isn’t. She’s going to stay and work on the books. And Luanne said that since she’s going to be there anyway, there’s no reason for me to stay.”

“Then come over to The Cookie Jar. You can always wait on customers while Lisa and I get a head start on tomorrow’s cookie dough.”

“But aren’t you going to the luncheon?” Michelle asked, looking puzzled. “Mother said she gave you one of her tickets.”

Hannah groaned. She’d forgotten all about the luncheon ticket her mother had given her.

“You forgot?” Michelle guessed.

“Completely. I wonder if Mother would mind if I gave it to Lisa. Samantha Summerfield is the guest speaker and she’s Lisa’s favorite actress.”

“I don’t think Mother would mind. She likes Lisa and she’d probably enjoy having lunch with her. Besides, she knows you hate organized luncheons and you can hardly wait until they’re over.”

“You’re right.” Hannah finished her pancakes and stood
up. “Are you ready to go? The only thing I have left to do is give the cats food and fresh water.”

“And all I have to do is get an outfit for the luncheon.”

“You’re going, too?”

“No, but Lisa might need something and I think we’re the same size. I’ll take an outfit of mine along just in case.”

Lisa’s eyes began to sparkle and she gave a delighted laugh. “Your mother wants
me
to go with her?”

“That’s what she said.”

“But are you sure, Hannah? She bought the ticket for you.”

“I’m sure.” Hannah found herself enjoying Lisa’s excitement about a thousand times more than she would have enjoyed the luncheon. She’d cleared the substitution with Delores, who had seemed very glad that Lisa, and not Hannah, would be attending the luncheon with her. “Mother told me she was looking forward to sitting next to you because if I went, I’d just fidget through the whole thing.”

Lisa just stared at Hannah. “Would you really?”

“Probably. I don’t like formal luncheons and I can’t stand guest speakers. They always go on and on until I’m bored stiff. I really didn’t want to go, Lisa. You’re doing me a big favor by taking my place.”

“Oh, good! I’ve never been to a formal luncheon before. And I’ll actually get to see and hear Samantha Sum-merfield. I’m so lucky I can hardly believe it!” Lisa stopped speaking and gave a little sigh. “What shall I wear? I’ve only got one party dress. It’s the one you bought me two years ago. And it’s way too warm for summer.”

“Michelle’s got that covered,” Hannah told her, pointing to the garment bag hanging on one of the hooks by the back door. “She picked out something just in case you didn’t want to run home and change. Go try it on.”

Several minutes later, Lisa emerged from the miniscule bathroom and she was smiling. “We’re the same size. How does it look? I couldn’t get far enough away from the mirror in the bathroom to see.”

“Gorgeous,” Hannah pronounced as Lisa turned around. The floral print dress with cap sleeves and full skirt was perfect for a garden luncheon.

“I’d better go take it off before it gets chocolate or something just as bad on it.”

“Just as bad?” Hannah teased. “Bite your tongue, Lisa. There’s nothing bad about chocolate!”

Michelle had just come in to help Hannah handle the noon rush when Herb came in the front door. “Where’s Lisa?” he asked.

“At the charity luncheon as Mother’s guest,” Hannah told him.

“Wow. That’s nice of your mother to take her. She’s crazy about Samantha Summerfield.”

“Coffee?” Michelle asked, holding out a cup.

“Thanks.” Herb took the coffee and turned back to Hannah. “I need to talk to you, Hannah. I’ve got a big problem, and you’re the only one who can help me.”

Hannah led the way to the kitchen, hoping that Herb’s problem had to do with what to get Lisa for her birthday, or how to make dog biscuits at home. She could handle both of those. There was bound to be a recipe for dog biscuits on-line, and she knew the brand of perfume that
Lisa loved. But from the frown on Herb’s face, she sensed the problem was a bit more serious than that.

“Can Dillon come in?” Herb asked her. “He’s out in the back in the car.”

“Sure, as long as I can whistle for him this time. I want to see if I can do it.”

Herb removed the dog whistle from his pocket and handed it to her. Then he went to open the back door. “Three whistles and a pause. And then two more whistles.”

“Got it.” Hannah put the whistle to her lips and blew on it three times. She waited a moment and then she blew twice more.

There was a thump as Dillon hit the pavement. A few seconds later he was through the open door and racing up to them. He skidded to a stop at Hannah’s feet and looked up at her.

“He knows I blew the whistle?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes, but that’s because it’s still in your hand. Give him a pat and tell him he’s a good boy.”

“Good boy, Dillon,” Hannah said, patting the top of his head and rubbing his ears. “Hold on a second and I’ll give Daddy a treat to give to you.”

A few moments later, Herb was settled on a stool at the stainless steel workstation and Dillon was stretched out on the floor next to him, chewing his dog treat.

“Now tell me what’s wrong,” Hannah said, setting a plate of the Zucchini Cookies she’d just made in front of Herb.

“I need a favor. A big one.” He delayed their dialogue by taking a bite of his cookie. “These are good,” he said. “What are they?”

“Zucchini Cookies.” Hannah realized that Herb wasn’t
eager to go into details about that favor he needed. She was equally uneager to hear those details, but there was no time like the present. “What’s the favor?”

“It’s my cousin Mary Kate,” Herb said. “She’s got the flu and she can’t be more than a couple of seconds away from the …” Herb stopped and cleared his throat. “Trust me. You don’t want to hear the details.”

“You’re right. I don’t. So what does Mary Kate have to do with this favor you need?”

“Mary Kate is Amazing Herb’s assistant.”

Hannah groaned. She couldn’t help it. She’d promised herself she’d never agree to be Herb’s magic show assistant again.

“I know you don’t like helping me out with the act,” Herb said, sighing deeply. “I can’t blame you for that. It’s not much fun getting into the Cabinet of Death. But Lisa can’t do it. She’s just too claustrophobic. And nobody else except Mary Kate knows the act. Could you be my assistant just once more, Hannah? I’m begging you. Otherwise I’ll have to drop out of the talent show tonight.”

Hannah took a deep breath and told herself to hold firm. And then she glanced at Herb. He looked unbelievably plaintive, so she switched her gaze to Dillon. Dear heavens! There were two of them! Two sets of begging puppy-dog eyes! Herb’s entreating orbs reminded her of a basset hound pleading for a pat on the head. And Dillon’s eyes were as sad as a grieving widow’s, so desolate that Hannah could swear she saw tears glistening in their depths.

“Okay,” she said, bowing to the inevitable.

“You mean … you’ll do it?”

“Yes. If I don’t help you out, your dog’s going to cry. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand in this world, it’s a crying puppy dog.”

SAUSAGE AND CHEESE PANCAKES

Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting, rack in the middle position.

1 large egg

1 cup unflavored yogurt

¼ cup cream

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons baking powder

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