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Authors: Kathleen Delaney

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Ellen McKenzie 04-Murder Half-Baked

BOOK: Ellen McKenzie 04-Murder Half-Baked
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MURDER HALF BAKED

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Delaney
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by Camel Press

PO Box 70515

Seattle, WA 98127

 

For more information
go to
www.
camelpress.com

www.KathleenDelaney.net www.KathleenDelaney.camelpress.com.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
book
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

This is
a work of fiction. The names, characters, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover design by Sabrina Sun

 

Murder Half
-
Baked

Copyright © 2011 by
Kathleen Delan
e
y

 

ISBN:
978-1-60381-830-8
(
e
P
ub
)

 

Pr
oduced
in the United States of America

 

 
 

For my father, Lee Delaney, a truly good man and the best story teller I've ever known.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
Acknowledgments
 

A big

thank you

to all the bakeries, from the California coast to the outer banks of the Carolinas, that
 
I visited while writing this book. They let me
 
poke around in
 
their kitchens, never tired of answering my questions,
 
and were unfailingly generous in sharing their knowledge and their Cherry Danish.

 

 

Chapter One
 

T
he vintage Cadillac sailed slowly through the cemetery gates like a battleship looking for its berth. The elderly driver peered over the long hood, carefully navigating the narrow roads, searching for the parking lot he always used. The walk from there to the grave was a little longer than he liked, but there was enough space to easily turn the car around. Today, cars were short. Compacts, they called them. Or SUVs, whatever that meant. Everyone stuffed them full of kids, dogs, and toys. In his day, the dog stayed home. So
did
the kids, if you could swing it. No one drove big, comfortable cars like this one anymore. Why, he had no idea. Didn’t know what they were missing, that was for damn sure.

He was in luck. The lot was empty. Last time there had been that stupid woman. He’d never understood why she made such a fuss. Her silly little car was barely dented. Slowly he maneuvered so that he faced the exit and stopped. He sat for a moment, took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.

Gravel crunched. He hated gravel. Why couldn’t they pave this lot? The roads were paved. Didn’t the groundskeepers know gravel could trip people? Especially people who used canes. Not that he had to, of course. Use his cane. It was just that, well, sometimes lately

He hung onto the driver’s door as he inched his way to the back one,
swung
it open, and took out the hated cane. There was a small hill to climb, and, as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he’d need it to get himself and his flowers to the grave he’d come to visit. Flowers. Where were the flowers he’d brought? Damn it. They’d fallen over. Water had seeped onto the mat, soaking the back floorboard. He’d told that fool girl to prop them up with something. She hadn’t listened, of course. No one did anymore. He took the roses, red as usual, out of the container, examined it to make sure there was some water left, and placed them both on the ground. He pulled out the floor mat and laid it flat beside the car. Maybe it would dry a little while he was gone.

He stuffed the roses back in the plastic vase and picked up his cane.
Should h
e fill the container from the faucet at the head of the path
?
No, it’d just slop over and get his trousers wet.

This was the old part of the cemetery. Families who had lived in this town for over a hundred years were buried here. Granite monuments were scattered liberally over the slight hill, many with generations of names inscribed on them. Others, like the family plot he headed for, had marble statues on pedestals. Angels mostly, guarding the dear departed, waiting to take the next in line to heaven. He wondered if he would get into heaven. A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. Sure he would. Francis would lobby for him. Almost there. Just up the path a little way and around the bend. He paused for a moment to get his breath. He loved this moment, going toward her, being with her again.

Everyone said that time would dull the ache, but it hadn’t. Even after two years, the hole she had left in his life was so huge, the cavern so great, he couldn’t see the other side. Francis. He had been everything to her. The children she’d wanted had never come, so she had devoted her life to him. He wondered fleetingly if she thought he’d devoted his life to her. Stupid. Of course she had. He’d never looked at another woman. So what if he hadn’t been much on sweet talk. She knew.

Something was wrong. He struggled forward, staring ahead. Was he in the right place? There should be an angel standing there, almost directly over Francis’s grave. But there was no angel
, just t
he pedestal. Where was the angel? Oh God. There it was, lying on its side. What happened? Kids. He hurried forward, anxiety filling his chest. That was Francis’s angel. He’d always hated the damn thing, but she loved it. Her parents were buried under it, and her sister, May.

A branch lay across the fallen angel. A big branch. He looked up. A white scar marred the side of the old oak tree that sheltered the graves. That storm on Thanksgiving night. Must have broken off then, landed on the angel, and knocked it right off its pedestal. It seemed intact. No. It was missing an arm. He looked around. No sign of it. He leaned heavily on his cane as he examined the angel. Probably could be fixed. If they could find the arm, of course.

A shadow fell across the grass, and a figure emerged from behind the neighboring monument. He stared at the person for a moment, surprised. He squinted a little, trying to focus. Eyes weren’t as good as they used to be, but after a moment he was sure.

“What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you.”

“You’re supposed to be …”

He never finished. The missing angel arm hit him across the side of the head, crushing his skull, splashing brain tissue and blood on the grass, the path, and the body of the fallen statue. He
only
had time to think “why?” before he folded slowly onto Francis’s grave.

 

Chapter Two
 

I
stood
in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom, trying to decide if I should laugh or cry. “I look like an aging Scarlet O’Hara.”

My friend, Pat Bennington, said nothing, but the twitching around the side of her mouth said laughter.

“Mom, I’m

Oh. Oh!” My daughter, Susannah, walked into the room and came to an abrupt halt. Her mouth twitched as well. “I hate to mention this, but Halloween’s over.” She took another look at my ruffled, hoop
-
skirted dress and smirked
.

“Laugh and I’ll—”

“What. Hit me with your hoopskirt?”

“Strangle you with my corset.”

“You’re not serious.”

“About the corset or strangl
ing
you?”

“The corset. Even Grandma wouldn’t

that
is
the wedding dress she sent you. It’s not one you picked out. Is it?”

I gave her my most withering look, which she ignored. Instead she picked up the broad brimmed hat that lay on the bed, flared out the veil, set it on my head, and stepped back.

“You don’t need to say it. I look like an aging Scarlet O’Hara.”

“More like
Hush

Hush, Sweet Charlotte
.”

How nice. I took another look in the mirror. All I needed was cobwebs, and I’d be a dead ringer for Miss Haversham. I removed the hat and started to throw it on the bed, but Susannah grabbed it and with a giant whoosh placed it on her head. With her long dark curls and deep blue eyes, she really did look like Scarlet

a young, seductive Scarlet. I didn’t.

“What do you think?”

“Not even close,” Pat replied.

“You’re right. I think I want a simple wedding. No frills or ruffles.” Susannah grinned at my reflection in the mirror and took off the hat.

“What wedding?” I whirled around to confront her, hoop swaying, ruffles coming close to sweeping clean my nightstand. “You’re way too young to start thinking about weddings.”

“You were my age when you married Dad.”

“I was older,” I stated, somewhat inaccurately. “Much older. Besides, look how that turned out.”

“I plan on choosing more carefully.”

Pat grinned for the first time since I’d shown her the dress. A
s
well she might. It was her son, Neil, who was Susannah’s current, and only, boyfriend. “One wedding at a time.”
Pat pushed me away from the mirror and started circling me, picking up the organza skirt, fingering the taffeta underskirt. Susannah started circling the other way, examining the bodice of the dress.

“This is actually pretty.” Susannah ran her fingers down the beadwork across my front. “If the sleeves weren’t so funky
.
S
hort
er
maybe, or at least not so puffy. And if there was about twenty yards less material in the skirt
…”

She and Pat stood back and stared at me, nodding and muttering. I felt like a store dummy.

“What do you think?” she finally asked Pat.

“I think we can do it.” Pat nodded and
circled me again.
“The cream color is nice. So, if we take the ruffles off the skirt, bring down the bodice over the underskirt

it’s pretty but sort of bunchy looking

change the sleeves
… ”

“And ditch the hat. Yep, that should do it.” Susannah acknowledged me with a grin. “Good thing Pat spent all these years rescuing costumes for the Little Playhouse, or we’d really be in trouble.”

“What are you going to do?” I couldn’t help being suspicious. After all, it was my wedding dress. Even if I hated it, I should have some say about what happened to it. Shouldn’t I? Besides, what would I tell my mother? She was convinced that the reason my marriage to Doctor Brian McKenzie hadn’t worked was because we’d eloped and she hadn’t been able to give me the huge wedding she’d
been
plann
ing
since my christening. So, when she learned I was going to marry Dan Dunham

whom she’d known since his birth and had picked out for me when we were both toddlers

she’d insisted on sending me a wedding dress. She said it was the least she could do since she and my father now lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, and wouldn’t be around to help me with all the wedding plans. I was so relieved she wasn’t coming early that I accepted her offer
almost eagerly
. Mother always means well, but she gets carried away. Like with this dress. I took another look at myself in the mirror and shuddered.

“Okay. Start snipping.” I’d figure out something to tell her.

I stepped out of the dress and handed it to Pat
,
who immediately spread it
across
the bed. It covered the whole thing and part of the floor. She and Susannah
pinned and plotted
as
I watched. After awhile I got tired of standing there in my bra, panties, and that stupid hoopskirt. Besides, I was getting cold.

“Do you need me?” I asked. “For, maybe, a decision about how the dress should look? Something like that?”

“I think I’ll take it apart first and see what we can do.” Pat was doing something with seams and barely noticed me. Susannah, on the other hand, was staring at me intently. “I think this wedding stuff is getting to you. You’ve lost weight.”

I looked down at myself, then at my reflection and smiled. At least one good thing had come from all those sleepless nights. It wasn’t just worrying about the wedding that had ruined my appetite and set me to tossing and turning
at
three in the morning. It was the whole idea of marriage. My first  had been pretty grim. Twenty years of gradual disintegration, finishing up with an abrupt demand by my devoted husband for a divorce. I’d been scared to death to say “yes” to Dan, fearing that the same thing would happen.
But Dan wasn’t Brian and, after a lot of sleepless nights, I’d decided that life with him was infinitely preferable to life without him. Even if that meant marriage, which
to him
it
clearly
did. But I still had butterflies in my stomach when I thought about it. Or maybe they were bats flying around in there. Anyway, it had all been great for my waistline.

The screen door slammed and a “where is everyone” followed.

“Up here,” Susannah called down the stairs, “laughing at Mom’s wedding dress.”

“Doing what?” Aunt Mary puffed a little as she came up the stairs, paused at the landing, and
entered the room
. “Good God, what’s that?”

She walked over to the bed where the dress lay and poked at it, lifting
up
one ruffle before dropping it back on the bed. “This isn’t—“

“My wedding dress.”

“My sister has finally lost her mind.”

Pat
hoisted
the dress up, and all the ruffles sort of fluffed out, cascading onto the floor.

“Ruffles? At your age?” She sounded torn between horror and hilarity.

“I’m not that old.”

“You’re too old for ruffles.”

There was a loud ripping sound, and we all jumped.

“Pat Bennington, what on earth are you doing?” Aunt Mary demanded.

“See, no more ruffles.” Pat held up what looked like a whole bolt of filmy stuff and laughed. Susannah joined her. So did Aunt Mary. Somehow the joke escaped me.

“I’m getting dressed,” I announced. “In real clothes. I hope no one minds.”

“We don’t.” Susannah’s grin made me grumpier. “And quit worrying. We’ll tell Grandma all those ruffles made you look fat.”

I stopped trying to untie my hoopskirt and stared at her. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

S
trains of Beethoven’s Fifth sounded faintly.

“Isn’t that your cell?” Susannah asked, looking around.

“Yes. Where is it?” I started combing through all the material covering the bed.

“Watch it
,” Pat said
.

You’re going to have beads all over the bed.”

“Here.” Aunt Mary held it out to me. “It was on your nightstand. If it was a snake, it would have bitten you.”

Why did people say that? If it were a snake, I’d have been galloping down the hall, hoop skirt and all. The screen said my office was calling. I forgot all about snakes.

“Really? It just came in? Sure. I have a two o’clock appointment but I’ll pick it up before then. Thanks.”

They were all watching me.

“Good news?” Susannah had tried on the hat again and was watching me in the mirror as she fluffed out the veil around her. “Actually, this isn’t too bad.”

“Yes it is.” I watched her in the mirror. She looked lovely. I could see her coming down the aisle, radiant, Neil beaming as she came closer

. No. That vision had to wait awhile. Years.

“I hope it’s good news,” I answered. “I’ve got an offer on Minnie’s little condo in Sunset Village.”

“Minnie who? Mouse?”

“No, smarty. Patterson. I can hardly believe it. We just listed it. I haven’t even had it on caravan.”

“Caravan?” said Aunt Mary.

“Sort of an open house for agents.”

Aunt Mary pushed aside some skirt and sat on the edge of my bed. “
I didn’t know Minnie was still living by herself.
I thought she’d gone into assisted living after Ben died. Why, she must be in her nineties.”

“She is, and she should have gone somewhere before this. Her place is

not in the best shape. She’s almost blind and doesn’t remember things very well. But she wouldn’t budge. Or she wouldn’t until last week. She left the teakettle on and it burned up. Almost set the kitchen on fire. Scared her and panicked her kids, who aren’t all that young themselves.”

I tugged at the knot holding my hoopskirt up. It finally came undone and fell to the floor in a heap. I kicked it in the general direction of the corner and pulled on knit pants and a baggy, oversize
d
sweater.

BOOK: Ellen McKenzie 04-Murder Half-Baked
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