Authors: Terrie Farley Moran
“A terrific new spin on the culinary cozyâwith a great story, plenty of heart and compelling characters.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
“Celebrates books, food, laughter, friendship and, oh yes, dark dire doings.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
Ghost to the Rescue
“Solving crime with Sassy and Bridgy is nothing short of delightful.”
âLaura Bradford, national bestselling author of
Ãclair and Present Danger
“Set in a paradise Florida island town, with lovable and quirky characters and a combination bookstore/cafÃ© that I wish was in my own hometown, Terrie's well-plotted novel tells a tale of murder, old secrets and friends-for-life.”
âBrendan DuBois, two-time Shamus Awardâwinning author of
“The close-knit cast of charactersÂ .Â .Â . should appeal to fans of Elaine Viets's Dead-End Job series, while food-loving fans of Lucy Burdette's Key West Food Critic Mysteries will find their mouths watering at the mention of
Old Man and the Sea
Chowder and buttermilk pie (for which a recipe is included).”
âFlorida Book Review
“Perfect pacing, a cast of eccentrics, a wealth of Florida color and history and a testament to friendship.”
WELL READ, THEN DEAD
READ TO DEATH
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
READ TO DEATH
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2016 by Terrie Moran.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
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eBook ISBN: 9781101639511
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2016
Cover illustration by Robert Kayganich.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
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.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: 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.
Robert Adam Moran:
In the parking lot of the Read 'Em and Eat CafÃ© and Book Corner, I stood by the side of a sky blue van with oversized white letters advertising the “Gulf Coast Cab and Van” etched on the center door panel. I mentally counted the members of the Cool Reads/Warm Climate Book Club as they settled in. All six were present. My BFF and business partner, Bridgy Mayfield, was busily stowing thermoses of sweet tea and pastry boxes in the carrier right behind the driver.
Oscar Frieland sat in the driver's seat, his bony knees sticking out of a pair of khaki shorts; one cuff was ripped, leaving a strip of cloth dangling. His thin gray hair stuck out in every direction. Thick black eyebrows looked as though they hadn't been trimmed in decades. A number of wiry brow hairs were inching toward his receding hairline. He had a plump red pillow stuffed behind his back, pushing
him toward the steering wheel. Oscar eyed the pastry boxes. “Hey, missy, you got any of those Robert Frost fruity things stuck away in there for later? Sure do love 'em.”
A few rows back, well into her seventies but still quite perky, Blondie Quinlin said, “Oscar, you never met a sweet you didn't want to nibble.”
“True enough. And that especially goes for your sweet cheeks.”
His mischievous reply caused the women on the van to laugh uproariously, except for Blondie's seatmate, Augusta Maddox, who boomed, “Mind your manners, Oscar. All ladies here, you know.”
Oscar ignored Augusta and turned back to Bridgy. “So, what's in the boxes?”
Bridgy smiled. “Miguel made his wonderful Miss Marple Scones with a delicious sweet orange sauce to give our snowbird members a final taste of Florida before they head up north.”
“But no fruit?” Oscar was insistent.
Rather than remind him that orange was indeed a fruit, Bridgy sighed and got out of the van, rolling her eyes at me. “Sassy, I'll run inside and pack up a few Apple and Blueberry Tartlets, rather than listen to Oscar teasing me about them all day.”
I pushed an unruly lock of auburn hair out of my eyes and reached into the wide turquoise messenger bag slung over my shoulder and across my chest. I pulled out a set of colorful visitor's guides to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates and was about to step on the bus when I heard a familiar voice. “Wait. Don't leave. I told you I want to tag along. Here I am.”
Bridgy's aunt Ophelia, owner of the Treasure Trove,
an upscale consignment shop a few doors from the Read 'Em and Eat, was hurrying toward the van. Her left hand was squashing a wide-brimmed straw hat firmly on the crown of her head, and she was waving her right arm in wide circles, as if anyone could miss her dashing along the asphalt in a chartreuse dress cinched with a bright green belt that matched her strappy high-heeled sandals.
She stopped in front of me and dropped her hand onto her ample, heaving chest. “Darlin', I had so much to do. Cancel two appointments. Reschedule a delivery. There's no way I was going to miss this trip with all of your charming book club ladies. I was afraid you'd leave without me, even though I know I told BridgyÂ .Â .Â .”
I tuned Ophie out completely and focused on counting the visitor's guides. I clambered into the van and began passing the guides to the four snowbirds who, along with townies Blondie and Augusta, had been attending the book club all winter.
Oscar didn't seem to notice that his plaid shirt was misbuttoned. He reached for the longer hem, grabbed at the fabric and began polishing the lenses of his sunglasses. He glanced at Ophie. “Hey girl, come if you're coming.”
Ophie stood stock-still until she realized that Oscar had no intention of helping her climb into the van. Then she pulled herself up two high steps, settled into a seat and gave a honey cheerful “Hi y'all” to the other occupants.
“Didn't take you to be one who's interested in the history of these parts.” Augusta's rumbling baritone filled the van, floated out the door and caught the ear of a man walking across the parking lot. He stopped and checked the sky for dark clouds accompanying what he thought was thunder. Seeing none, he continued on his way.
“Gracious me! Of course I'm interested.” Ophie took off the straw hat and began fluffing her hair, which I considered to be oat colored but she constantly referred to as “natural blond.” “At one time brilliant men such as Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford agreed that Fort Myers was the finest place to live, leastwise in the winter months. Why then, their reasons pique my curiosity.”
“When we decided to read
The Florida Life of Thomas Edison
as our final book of the season, I thought,
. But it turned out to be fascinating.” First-time snowbird Tammy Rushing was pleased that most of her fellow clubbies um-hummed in agreement. “It's great to know the history of a place. I loved learning about the Calusa Indians when Margo and I toured the Mound House. I expect today we'll all find out a lot about the history of the area in a timeline much closer than the two thousand years ago when the shell mound was built.”
Her seatmate Margo Wellington replied, “I'm sure you Americans know a lot more about Edison and Ford than we do. They both are icons down here. In Canada we know who they are, what they did. We appreciate their achievements, but we don't glorify them the way you seem to. In Fort Myers, everyplace I turn there is an Edison something or other. Even the big mall is named after him.”
Sonja Ferraro was stuffing a sweater into her massive imitation alligator tote. She paused, glanced at the ceiling for a few seconds as if making a decision and then turned catty-corner in her seat and looked directly at Margo. “Speak for yourself. I grew up in Windsor, right across the river from Detroit. You can bet we learned everything there was to know about Henry Ford. Jobs at the Ford plant
kept our families going for generations. And we learned plenty about Edison, too.”
Margo dismissed her with a hand flap. “No need to get snippy. I only meantÂ .Â .Â . Oh, why am I bothering? I don't have to explain myself.” And she turned to gaze out the window.
Tammy offered a rueful smile, as if silently apologizing to all for her friend's rudeness, and popped her sunglasses on top of her head. The wire rim got caught in a tuft of hair, and Tammy grimaced.
While Tammy was struggling to untangle, Margo pointed to the glasses. “That's why I wear plastic frames. You paid what? I'm guessing more than a hundred dollars for a first-class highlight process resulting in those blond and silver streaks. Every time those glasses pull out a few strands, the symmetry of the shading is damaged. Although with all the red in your hair, I'm not sure why your hairdresser didn't recommend gold tones.”
Tammy pushed her hair back into place and turned her attention to me as I reminded everyone to fasten their seat belts.
“It's going to be a bumpy ride. Remember that movie with Bette Davis? What was the name?” Ophie looked to Blondie Quinlin for help, but it was the much younger Sonja who chimed in.
All About Eve.
And it's a bumpy night, not ride. âFasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night.' I love the old black-and-white movies.”
I interrupted before the conversation wandered too far afield and someone whipped out a cell phone to look up the day's schedule on TCM.
“We're going to have a busy morning. We'll visit both the Edison and the Ford houses, and then Edison's laboratoryâa fascinating place. Those of you who like gardening will be amazed at the variety of plant life Edison cultivated. Not to mention his dozens of experiments to grow a plant that could be used as rubber for tires. After World War One and the rise of the automobile and the airplane, Edison and his friends, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, wanted to develop a replacement for rubber, which was a major import product. They wanted to be sure the United States had its own supply.”
I felt my face flush when Margo let out an exaggerated sigh. “I thought that section about trying to develop rubber plants was the most boring part of the book.”
Quick to the rescue, Oscar leaned out of his seat and reminded me, “Don't forget the tree.”
I flashed him a grateful smile. “Somewhere around 1925 Edison had a banyan tree planted on the property, and today it covers somewhere around half an acre. I seem to recall it is the largest banyan in the nation, maybe the world. You'll want to take pictures. No one back home will believe it.”
“And they have a weird swimming pool tucked off in a corner.” Augusta Maddox's voice thundered through the van again. “You would think with the houses built right on the Caloosahatchee, they'd jump into the river to cool off, like we jump into the Gulf of Mexico. Rich folks. Humph.” She shook her head.
Bridgy stepped up into the van with a big pastry box, which she stowed behind Oscar's seat.
He eyed the package. “Fruit?”
“Fruit,” Bridgy answered.
“Okay, then. You and Sassy get into your seats. Snap your belts. This train is leaving the station.” Oscar hit a button on the dashboard that slid the wide door closed. He turned the key in the ignition and said, “I'm putting the air conditioner on low. Let me know if anyone is too hot or too cold.” And he pulled the van into the traffic on Estero Boulevard.
Traffic was light on the San Carlos Bridge, and it didn't take long before we were on the mainland and the van was rolling along McGregor Boulevard.
“I never get tired of looking at the magnificent royal palms that line this street. Why, some must be one hundred feet high. Do you think Edison planted them?” Ophelia asked.
I was searching for an answer, mentally going through all the material I'd prepared for the excursion, when Oscar chimed in. “McGregor Boulevard was nothing but a dirt road when Edison showed up in 1885. Wasn't even McGregor Boulevard. There was a time it was known as Riverside Drive. Caloosahatchee is right there.” He waved vaguely to his left. “Of course now houses block our view. There was a time you could see the river while you were riding on this road. I'm guessing that's what attracted Edison. Pure country.”
Remembering my notes, I interjected, “Edison started by planting a few hundred royal palms on the road to beautify his ride into what used to be known as downtown. You know, where the hotel was. It's mentioned in the book.”
“And didn't the road lead to Punta Rassa where the boats landed?” Tammy didn't sound quite sure.
Blondie nodded vigorously, her curls tapping against her forehead. “Punta Rassa was the major port for these parts. Back in those days this was cattle country. Edison was here before the railroad came over this way. Quite a trip he made each year.”
Angeline Drefke laughed. “My husband and I drove down from Pennsylvania. We took our time, stopped along the way, and I was still bushed when we got here. But we had such a wonderful winter, it was well worth the trip. When I was reading how the Edison family traveled, I was totally worn-out from imagining what they endured and how long it took.”
“We sure had an easier time of it than folks did more'n a hundred years ago. I'll give you that.” Oscar made a smooth right turn into the parking lot of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates complex. “Course we only come from the beach, not from some faraway place like New Jersey.” He growled a laugh as he pulled into a space between two vans, one a bit bigger than his own.
The clubbies climbed out of the van and were getting ready for their tour. A few were rearranging their hats. Tammy Rushing was rubbing sunscreen on her nose and cheekbones. Blondie Quinlin shook her head. “Should have thought of that sooner, honey. Takes time to seep in, you know. You can borrow my hat if it gets too sunny, but Edison was one for planting trees, so we'll have lots of shade.”
Ophie got her bearings quickly and did a little spin on her spiky heels. “There's acres and acres of land here. Imagine living like this? Such luxury.”
“You're one who ought to know, given the prices you charge for them trinkets you sell.” Augusta waggled an accusing finger.
Ophie reared back for a few seconds and then leaned toward Augusta. “I'll have you knowÂ .Â .Â .”
“Time to get moving. Our guide will be wondering where we are.” I pushed expertly between Augusta and Ophie all the while sincerely hoping that I wasn't going to have to stay between them for the rest of the morning.