Authors: Hope Callaghan
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Senior Sleuths - Michigan
|Hope Callaghan - Garden Girls 04 - Death by Dumplings|
|Number IV of|
Garden Girls Mysteries
|Hope Callaghan (2015)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Senior Sleuths - Michigan|
|Mystery: Cozy - Senior Sleuths - Michiganttt|
Death by Dumplings
Garden Girls Cozy Mystery Series Book 4
Copyright © 2015
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Although places mentioned may be real, the characters, names and incidents and all other details are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Visit my website for new releases and special offers:
A special thank-you to my mother-in-law, Sybil, one of the best Southern cooks on the planet, for sharing her Chicken and Dumplings recipe with me for this book.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The first thing Gloria noticed were the police cars surrounding Dot’s Kitchen. The second thing she noticed was the police tape. The bright yellow tape with black letters,
POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS
A cluster of black uniforms with holstered guns plastered to their hips crowded the sidewalk out front. Even more were milling about inside. All the parking spots in front of the restaurant were taken. Cop cars, crime scene investigation vans. There were some that even looked like unmarked police cars. The closest spot Gloria could find was at the end of Main Street. She pulled Anabelle in next to a Montbay County Crime Scene unit.
Today was Gloria’s first chance to make it into the little town of Belhaven after her sister, Liz, led her on a wild good chase through the Smoky Mountains. She hoped to meet up with some of the other girls for coffee this morning and find out what she and her friend, Margaret, who went with her on the mountain trip, had missed.
Judging by all the action in front of the restaurant, it looked like they missed a lot!
Gloria’s brow furrowed in a deep line as she pushed the car door open. Hopefully, Dot and her husband Ray were alright.
She locked the door and began the short walk down the sidewalk in the direction of Dot’s.
There were only two officers standing out on the sidewalk now. They were just on the other side of the police tape, engrossed in conversation. They didn’t hear Gloria come up behind them. “… poisoned right there at the table. That stuff was so strong it would’ve killed a horse.”
Her hand flew to her mouth.
Someone in the restaurant had been poisoned
? What if it was someone she knew? After all, their little town of Belhaven was so small, she knew almost everyone that ever ate there.
A lump lodged in the back of her throat. What if it was Dot herself?
The officer closest to Gloria had his back turned. She tapped on the young man’s shoulder. “Excuse me…”
The conversation stopped. He twisted around to face her, his eyebrows raised.
“My friend, Dot. She owns the restaurant. Is she okay?”
The officer nodded. “Last time I checked, the owners were around back on the patio.”
Gloria let out the breath she’d been holding. At least Dot and Ray were okay! And she knew exactly where they were at. There was a small, covered patio area with a few picnic tables, just outside the rear entrance. Dot and Ray kept tables out there for the employees to sit at when they were eating lunch or on break.
She wandered down the alley that ran along the side of the building and made her way to the back. As she rounded the corner, she could see her friend, Dorothy “Dot” Jenkins and husband Ray sitting at one of the tables.
Gloria’s heart plummeted when she saw her friend’s face buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. As she got closer, she could hear Ray talking to her in a low voice. “Don’t worry, Dot, they’ll get this all straightened out,” he reassured his wife. “We both know you didn’t poison anyone.”
For a second, Gloria hesitated. Maybe this wasn’t such a good time for her to interrupt. She started to back away, hoping they wouldn’t notice her. She probably would’ve been able to escape if not for the dang planter in her path. She backed straight into it. The metal ornament teetered back and forth in slow motion before it tipped over and hit the cement with a loud clatter.
Dot’s head shot up as she followed the noise and spied her friend. “Oh Gloria! You’re back.”
Gloria pasted a smile on her face and took a small step forward. “I was just coming in for a cup of coffee this morning…” her voice trailed off. “What happened?”
Dot opened her mouth to speak but instead, burst into tears. Gloria rushed over to the picnic table. She sat down on the edge of the bench and wrapped her arm around her friend. “It’s going to be alright, Dot. Don’t you worry.”
Dot’s shoulders sagged forward. She sobbed for several long minutes before pulling herself together. Gloria stuck her hand in her purse and rummaged around inside. She plucked a small pack of tissues out. She handed them to Dot and waited as her friend pulled one of them from the package and blew her nose.
Ray patted his wife on the shoulder as he glanced worriedly toward the back door. “I better go inside and see what they’re doing.” He looked over at Gloria. “You’ll be here for a few minutes?” He didn’t want to leave his wife all alone by herself but he was anxious to see what, if anything, they were able to find.
Gloria nodded. “I’ll stay out here ‘til you get back.” She watched as he disappeared inside the restaurant before turning to her friend. “What on earth happened?”
Dot drew a shaky breath, refusing to cave in to the overwhelming desire to start bawling again. “I-I’m not really sure. Everything was just fine when I came in this morning. I was doing my usual morning routine. Baking a batch of fresh cinnamon rolls for the coffee crowd, working on the chicken ‘n dumplings.” She paused. “You know, Wednesday’s Dumpling Day.”
How could Gloria forget Dumpling Day? Dot made the best chicken ‘n dumplings in the entire Midwest. It was one of her busiest days of the week. People from the neighboring counties would drive for miles just to taste Dot’s delectable dumplings.
Gloria nodded. “Yes, of course. I love your dumplings!”
Dot went on. “Well, the coffee crowd came and went. The place cleared out by 10:30 or so, which was a good thing.” She grabbed another tissue and wiped her nose. “You know how some of those chatty folks can be. They like to sit around for hours and I have to keep running back and forth to the tables with fresh coffee while I’m trying to get ready for the lunch crowd.”
Gloria nodded sympathetically. She knew some of the town folks were just lonely and Dot’s was their unofficial hangout. But it was hard on Dot trying to keep up with them and do all her other stuff, too.
Dot continued. “Anyways, I was making good time. The dumplings were just right. I even made an extra batch. I had a hunch today was going to be extra busy.”
“What time did Jennifer come in?” Gloria wondered. Jennifer was Dot’s part-time employee. She’d been working at the restaurant for a few months now.
It was a win-win situation for both of them. Jennifer’s family was in a pinch money-wise. Her husband, Tony, was working down at his dad’s lumber mill trying to make ends meet. Work at the factory, his regular job, had slowed down and they cut back on his hours. The extra tip money from waiting tables helped pay the bills.
Dot stared off, deep in thought. “Well… I think she got here right around 11.”
She went back to her story. “The lunch crowd started wandering in closer to 11:30. By then, Jennifer and I had everything pretty much ready to go. Ray was in the back, firing up the grill and fryers.”
Just then, Ray’s head popped out from around the screen door. “Everything okay?” Gloria could see the concern etched on his face.
Dot turned a pair of red eyes to her husband. “Yeah, I’m doing alright. Just telling Gloria what happened.”
He nodded. Without saying a word, he disappeared back inside.
Dot grabbed another tissue and dabbed at her eyes.
She must be getting to the bad part
, Gloria decided.
“By noon, the restaurant was packed. Jennifer and I were in front taking orders. Ray was back in the kitchen, frying away.” She paused. “Funny thing, no one ordered the dumplings right away.” She cast a puzzled glance at Gloria. “Normally, they order the dumplings right off the bat.”
“That does seem odd,” Gloria agreed.
“It had to be close to half an hour before the first orders came. I fixed two heaping plates, added a bowl of biscuits, hot out of the oven, and carried them out front.”
Gloria was curious. “Did you know the customers who ordered them?”
Dot shook her head. “It was a man and a woman. Their faces looked a little familiar. Like I’ve seen them before, but they’re not like regulars or anything.”
Dot stopped, her face started to pucker again. The flow of tears threatened to begin again.
“Then what happened?” Gloria prompted. She couldn’t bear to see her friend cry like that.
“I walked back in the kitchen. Jennifer was right behind me. She said something about the table I just served wanted talk to me.” She took a deep breath. “So I headed back out front. The woman. She pointed to the dumplings and said they smelled funny. Like, you know, chemically.”
“What did you do then?”
“Well, I asked the man if his tasted okay. Apparently he thought so. He kept eating and said they were fine.”
She went on. “I took hers back to the kitchen with me. I made a small dish for myself. Although I tried them right after they were done and they were good. But that was earlier,” she added.
“What did the second dish taste like?” Gloria asked.
Dot made a sour face. “I don’t know. All I know is it smelled terrible. That woman was right. There was something wrong!”
She twisted the Kleenex around her finger as she fought to stay composed. “I hustled back to the dining room to take the dish from the man but it was too late.”
Gloria sucked in a breath, waiting for what was coming next.
“By the time I got there, he was clutching at his throat. He whispered that his throat was on fire right before he fell out of the chair and hit the floor,” she said.
Gloria clutched her own throat.
How could something like this happen? Was it an accident? Or did someone pour something into the pot on purpose?
Ray wandered back outside. He put a hand on Dot’s shoulder and gently squeezed. “The police are gone now but I’m sure they’ll be back.”
Dot whirled around to face her husband. “And the man?”
Ray shook his head. His eyes dropped. “He didn’t make it.”
The color drained from Dot’s face, her eyes stared blankly at her husband. “You mean he died?”
Ray nodded somberly. “I’m afraid so. On the way to the hospital.”
Dot glanced over at Gloria. “Now what?”
Gloria didn’t have an answer. The whole thing was just unbelievable. Surely this whole thing would be straightened out in no time. Dot’s restaurant had been open for over a decade with nary a single restaurant inspection violation. No, this was either an accident – someone poured the wrong thing in the pot – or someone intentionally mixed poison in the food. But who or why?
Gloria glanced up at Ray. “What about the restaurant?”
He shook his head. “Closed down until the investigation is complete.”
Dot gasped. Not run the restaurant? Where would all the people in town eat? Not only that, what would they think?
Her stomach churned violently. She clamped a hand over her mouth and darted over to the bushes that lined the edge of the patio.
Gloria felt helpless as she listened to the sounds of a woman’s lifelong love and dreams shatter. Dot loved that restaurant. It was her life. And Ray’s life. The two had sunk their entire life savings into the place. It was all they had. It made her own stomach churn.
After Dot was done, she fell back against the side of the restaurant. “I need to go home,” she moaned. “I’m going to take a sleeping pill, crawl into bed and I’m not getting out until this is all over,” she vowed.
“The car is out front,” Ray reminded Dot. He turned to Gloria. “Can you give Dot a ride home? There’s a crowd of people gathered in front of the restaurant. I don’t want her to have to deal with them.”
Gloria nodded. “Yes, of course!” She put her arm around Dot’s shoulder and gently guided her down the alley towards the car.
Dot and Ray’s house was a short drive from the restaurant. Gloria dropped her friend off, making sure she was safely inside and tucked into bed before she headed back into town.
She made a last minute decision to swing by Andrea’s. Andrea was Gloria’s young friend. She was in the middle of a major renovation project on a fixer-upper home. And not just any fixer-upper. It was a major fixer-upper. The old Johnson Mansion to be exact. Gloria had stopped by the place last week and the construction crew was making major progress, updating the electrical and plumbing inside so there wasn’t much to see. Gloria was anxious to find out if the crew had started on the outside.
When she pulled in the drive, she spotted Andrea’s sports car parked in the grass off to the side. She could see the crew was hard at work scraping away layers of peeling paint. It looked they already replaced a large section of rotted boards on the front. In another week, Gloria guessed they would start to paint. And that, she could hardly wait to see!
Gloria pulled Anabelle in next to the sports car. She slid out of the driver’s seat and looked around for her friend. Andrea’s blonde head was bent over a saw horse. She was in deep conversation with a tall man wearing a hard hat. She hesitated, unsure whether or not she should interrupt.
Andrea must’ve sensed someone watching her. She looked up. Her lips curled in a welcoming smile. She held a finger up to the man and made her way over to her friend. Andrea hugged Gloria tightly. “You made it back!”