Authors: Patti Benning
Grilled Cheese Murder
Book Four in the Darling Deli Series
Copyright 2016 Summer Prescott Books
All Rights Reserved
. No part of this publication nor any of the information herein may be quoted from, nor reproduced, in any form, including but not limited to: printing, scanning, photocopying or any other printed, digital, or audio formats, without prior express written consent of the copyright holder.
**This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons, living or dead, places of business, or situations past or present, is completely unintentional.
GRILLED CHEESE MURDER
Book Four of The Darling Deli Series
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“Candice, can you grab the mop again?” Moira Darling called out to her daughter. The blond twenty-year-old poked her head out of the kitchen, took one look at the puddle of dirty water on the deli’s floor, and ducked back through the swinging door, to emerge a few seconds later with a mop and bucket in hand.
Moira was glad that the weather had finally broken; a late spring was better than none at all. However, the warm weather came with its own set of problems, namely the seemingly endless amounts of muddy slush tracked in on people’s boots. The weatherman had announced just this morning that another cold front was moving towards them, which meant that in a few days all of the snow melt would turn back into slick, deadly ice.
For now, though, the warmer weather was encouraging people to leave their houses and come to town to stock up on goods before bad weather returned. Darling’s DELIcious Delights had been bustling with familiar faces today. It was, in fact, the busiest that the store had been since the crowds of tourists that the Winter Festival had brought in a few weeks before.
“I think I’ll just leave this out here,” Candice said after she had finished cleaning up the muddy puddle that had been left by their latest customer. “I’m sure we’ll need it again soon.”
“Good idea,” Moira replied. “How’s the soup of the day holding up?” In honor of the nice weather, she had made her famous spring onion soup. Always a favorite, it seemed especially popular today. The light yet flavorful broth combined with rice noodles and chopped green onions was a dramatic change from the heavier soups and thick, savory stews that she usually made during the winter.
“We’ve still got about a third of the broth left. I just put some noodles in the smaller pot for us,” her daughter replied. The rice noodles cooked quickly, taking just a few minutes to reach the perfect al dente state. To keep them from getting soggy, Moira had to cook each batch separately as the customer ordered it.
“Great, I’m starving,” she said. “I’ll go make us a couple of bowls of salad in a few minutes, if you’ll watch the register.”
“It’s a deal.” Candice joined her mother behind the counter, leaning casually against the refrigerated glass case. “What are you working on?”
“Oh, I’m just going through some of the deli’s financial records. I’m comparing our bank statements with the ones from this time last year… we’re making almost twice what we were,” she said happily.
The deli had started out as a hobby for Moira a few years ago, but it had quickly grown into a thriving business. With her shelves full of organic cold cut meats, artisan cheeses from local Amish farms, and a variety of products from local farms and businesses, her store was unique in the area. The people of Maple Creek seemed to like knowing that they were supporting their local economy when they shopped there, and summer tourists couldn’t get enough of the quality food that she sold. The deli also served a daily soup and sandwich or soup and salad combo, which was Moira’s personal favorite aspect of the little shop. She enjoyed coming up with new recipes, and loved seeing people enjoy the food that she cooked.
“That’s amazing,” her daughter said. “I’ve been reading so many stories of small businesses failing lately that I’ve been getting worried about whether or not I’ll be able to keep a candy shop running. I guess I just have to remember that for every failed business, there’s also a success story like yours.”
“I think you’ll do great, sweetie,” she told the young woman. “You know more than I did when I started out, and you’ve got my support and the support of everyone that works here. And I’m sure your boyfriend will be a big help too; he seems like a smart young man. How is Adrian, anyway?”
“Oh, he’s fine. He does want to help me with the candy shop, but I’m not sure I want to keep dating him. We might just end up as business partners instead.” Candice shrugged. “He is really good at figuring out how much everything will cost though. He’s already saving me the cost of an accountant. How are you and David doing?” Her daughter gave her a sly look, referring to David Morris, the private investigator who had helped them out of some recent sticky situations.
“There is no me and David, we’re just friends,” Moira said, half amused and half irritated. “But he’s doing well, from what I’ve heard.”
“You can’t be
blind, Mom. You’ve got to know that he likes you as more than ‘just friends.’ He wouldn’t hang around and help out at the deli so much if he didn’t.”
“He’s just being friendly—you’ll understand when you’re our age. Oh, speaking of David, he said that he knew someone who’s thinking of closing down his business and moving out of Lake Marion. His store is right on Main Street, so it would be perfect for you. Do you want to go take a look at it?” Moira attempted to change the subject. She was relieved when it worked; the truth was, she
have feelings beyond friendship for the private detective that had helped her so much recently, but she didn’t know if he thought of her as anything more than a good friend and she wasn’t willing to risk their friendship to find out.
Candice jumped on the distraction. “Right on Main Street? That sounds perfect. How big is the display window? Do you know if he’s planning on leasing the building or selling it? Does it have a natural gas hookup?”
“Slow down, slow down,” Moira said with a chuckle. “I don’t know much, but he said that we can come and look at it today or tomorrow if you want.”
“Can we go today? As soon as we close the deli?”
Unable to resist Candice’s eager face, the deli owner agreed. “As long as the temperature doesn’t drop. I don’t want to be driving on icy roads if I can help it. Just don’t get your hopes too high,” she warned. “David said his friend wasn’t even a hundred percent sure he was going to sell it. I’ll call him and ask if he can meet us there.”
“I know, I’ll try to keep my expectations realistic, but—” Candice was cut off when the deli’s front door swung open. A young man walked in. His olive skin and gray eyes looked familiar, but Moira couldn’t quite place his face.
“Welcome to Darling’s DELIcious Delights,” she said brightly. “Feel free to take a look around. Our soup of the day is spring onion, and that comes with an Asian ginger salad.”
“I’ll take a bowl of the soup,” he said. “No salad. And can you do that to go?”
“Sure thing.” As her daughter ducked into the kitchen to get the young man a bowl of soup, Moira rang the order up. “Will you be paying with cash or card?” she asked. He looked up from the wall of photos he’d been examining. The photos were all of local people, plus a few pictures of the winning ice sculptures from the Winter Festival. A group shot of everyone that worked at the deli had the place of honor in the center. Darrin, one of her young clerks, had thought up the photo display, and the locals loved it.
“Oh, um, cash.” He reached into his pocket and brought out a few crumpled ones, which he placed on the counter near the register. When Candice came back out with his order, he mumbled a thanks and left. Moira stared after him for a few seconds, certain that she had seen him before.
Maybe he’s related to someone I know
, she thought. Then she shrugged and left Candice to handle the young woman that had just walked in, while she whipped up some salads and a couple of bowls of soup to serve as a quick lunch for the two of them.
Luckily for them the weather held, so after the two of them closed up the deli for the evening, they headed down the road to Lake Marion. It was a scenic drive, with thick forest abutting either side of the Michigan highway. As they got closer, they could begin to see the lake that the town was named after through the trees. Late evening sunlight glinted off the patchy ice that still covered the majority of the water’s surface. It really was a beautiful town. Moira often wished that Maple Creek had a lake so close to town, but she supposed that the small river that ran through the park sufficed well enough.
David’s car was already parked outside of the toy store that, if their luck held, would soon be re-purposed into a candy shop for her daughter. She parked behind him and she and Candice walked inside together. The private investigator was talking to a woman at the counter, and Moira walked over to join him while her daughter took in the wide display window and pre-installed shelves.
“Hey,” David said, smiling at her when she reached the counter. “How was the drive?”
“It was nice,” she replied. “I can see why Candice wants to live here.”
“Well once she moves, you’ll have an excuse to visit whenever you want.” He flashed her a quick grin, and then turned his attention back to the woman behind the counter. “Can you at least tell me where he is?” he asked her.
“Sorry, he asked me not to say,” she replied. “I’ll tell you when he gets back if you leave me your number.”
“He has it—like I said, we’ve been friends for years.” David sighed. “Look, if you see him, can you just ask him to return my call? He sounded worried the last time I spoke with him, and I want to make sure he’s all right.”
“I will. You three can look around if you want. Everything’s thirty percent off,” she said.
He and Moira thanked the woman and headed across the store where Candice was taking pictures with her cell phone. “I’m hoping that Adrian will be able to get some sort of measurements from these,” she told them. “This place looks perfect. I don’t think I could even imagine a better building to set up my shop in.”
“I’m glad you like it,” David said. “As soon as my friend gets back from wherever he took off to, I can try to get a price from him.”
“How soon are they planning on selling it?” Moira asked, looking around at the toy shop. The shelves were still lined with stuffed animals, old-fashioned wooden toys, and shiny new electronics. It didn’t have the look of a store that was going out of business.
“Henry—my friend—seemed like he wanted to find a buyer within a few months. But Alice, that’s his granddaughter, the woman at the counter, didn’t seem so sure. Sorry,” he added, looking over at Candice. “He didn’t tell me he was going to be out of town.”
“That’s fine, if he’s not around to sell it right now, that means no one else will be able to snap it up before I get the funds together for a down payment.” Candice grinned, looking around the small space with a gleam in her eye that reminded Moira of how she herself had felt when she had first seen the building that was to become her deli.
“I like your positive attitude,” the private investigator said with a laugh. “Feel free to keep looking around for as long as you like. Why don’t you leave your number with Alice so Henry can contact you when he gets back.” He turned to Moira. “We can go wait outside and let her get a feel for the place on her own.”
She followed David outside, glancing back only once to make sure her daughter was happy. She was glad to see that the young woman was still eagerly taking pictures of the store, her face bright and hopeful.
“I hope that this place works out for her,” she said to David as the door shut behind them with a jingle. The air outside was chilly, but compared to the bitingly cold temperatures of just a few days ago, it was almost pleasant. Night had begun to fall, and streetlights lit up the small twilit town.
“Me too. I don’t know where Henry could have gotten to—this really isn’t like him.” She saw worry flit across his face for a split second before he shook his head and offered her a small smile. “But that isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.” He fell silent, and Moira raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue. Though not exactly talkative, the private investigator was rarely at a loss for words when something needed to be said.