Table of Contents
ALSO BY JOANNA CARL
The Chocolate Cat Caper
The Chocolate Bear Burglary
The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up
The Chocolate Puppy Puzzle
The Chocolate Mouse Trap
Crime de Cocoa
The Chocolate Bridal Bash
The Chocolate Jewel Case
The Chocolate Snowman Murders
The Chocolate Cupid Killings
Chocolate to Die For
The Chocolate Pirate Plot
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, October 2011
Copyright Â© Eve Sandstrom, 2011
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
The chocolate castle clue: a chocoholic mystery/JoAnna Carl.
ISBN : 978-1-101-55853-9
1. McKinney, Lee (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. Women detectivesâFiction.
3. Chocolate industryâFiction. 4. MichiganâFiction. I. Title.
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with thanks for bouncing those ideas back
when I throw them at him
The CHOCOLATE Castle Clue
I didn't set out to solve one of the biggest mysteries in Warner Pier's history. All I intended to do was clean out the garage.
And I wasn't happy about it. It was too pretty of a day to be cleaning out a garage. It was one of those glorious fall days with mellow light everywhere, a pale blue sky, soft air I wanted to wallow around in, and Michigan's trees all wearing muted shades of yellow, orange, brown, rust, burgundy, and green.
I would definitely have preferred to be taking a boat ride out into Lake Michigan, hiking through the local nature reserve, eating an ice-cream cone in the Dock Street Park, or even sitting at my desk in the office of TenHuis Chocolade. But no, I'd put the garage storeroom off as long as I could. The time was here. I had to sort through it that afternoon.
Luckily, I had help. Dolly Jolly, chief assistant to the chief chocolatier for TenHuis Chocolade, was up to her vivid red hair in dirt and debris as the two of us investigated boxes and filing cabinets full of . . . well . . . stuff, and tried to fill up the bed of my husband's pickup truck. Filling the bed of that truck was one of our goals, and it was already looking as if we'd fill it twice.
My husband, Joe Woodyard, drove a pickup because he owned a boat shop, so he had to be prepared to haul boats. He restored antique wooden power boats. That was half his workweek. During the other half he was a lawyer, practicing poverty law with a nonprofit agency thirty miles up the road, in Holland. The reasons for his split personalityâprofessionallyâare too complicated to go into, but I admire both his personas.
The garage storeroom Dolly and I were clearing out was across the alley, behind the TenHuis Chocolade factory, offices, and shop on Fifth Street in Warner Pier, Michigan. My aunt and uncle, Phil and Nettie TenHuis, founded the company (“Luxury Chocolates in the Dutch Tradition”) thirty-five years ago. Uncle Phil died in a car wreck five years ago, so Aunt Nettie was now sole owner of the company. I'm Lee McKinney Woodyard, their Texas niece, and I've been business manager for three and a half years.
TenHuis Chocolade had rented the garage and storeroom across the alley for twenty years. Uncle Phil, and occasionally Aunt Nettie, had used it to store obsolete equipment and old business records. More recently we'd crammed the contents of the garage side into the storeroom side so that Dolly Jolly could use the remaining half for her Jeep SUV. She lived in an apartment above TenHuis Chocolade, so a space down the stairs and just across the alley had been handy for her.
Aunt Nettie owned the TenHuis Chocolade building, but the storage space we were working on was in a building that faced the next street over. Now that building had changed hands, and the new owner wanted his space back. We had to vacate, and we couldn't take all our stuff out until we'd sorted, tossed, and packed. I was prepared to rent a storage unit for the things we wouldn't be able to get rid of, and Dolly would have to park on the street until another downtown garage space opened up. Garage spaces in Warner Pier's business district were scarce.
That Friday Dolly had moved her Jeep onto Fifth Street, so we had a fair amount of room for the sorting, tossing, and packing. After Labor Day there was always plenty of on-street parking in a resort town like Warner Pier.
We'd begun the day by piling up some pieces of old equipment for the dump and sending others to the secondhand restaurant-supply dealer. Aunt Nettie had declared all of it useless, “unless it goes to some museum.”
Next we'd packed up plastic buckets, plastic bins, and plastic lids from containers that had originally held fondant and other chocolate-making supplies. This was typical of Uncle Phil's pack-rat tendencies: saving bins, buckets, and plastic lids for twenty years just in case anyone ever wanted them. No one ever had, and no one ever would. These we put into giant garbage sacks to be taken to the recycler. Joe had carried those away at midmorning.
I had rented a heavy-duty shredder, and after the plastic was gone, Dolly and I started on the papers.
Aunt Nettie was taking the day off, but she came by for a few minutes. She was descended from west Michigan's Dutch pioneersâher maiden name was Vanderheideâand all she needed was a cap with starched wings and some wooden clogs to look as if she'd just stepped off a canal boat in Amsterdam.
“You two make me feel guilty,” she said, patting her gray and blond hair. “You're working so hard, and I'm spending the week visiting with old friends.”
“You'll work hard all week, since you're the main hostess,” I said. “And you've worked hard to get ready for this reunion.”
“I just hope all the girls have fun.”
Aunt Nettie referred to her high school pals as “the girls” even though they were all in their sixties. It was the first time the group of six friends had all been together in more than forty years.
Their reunion was part of a larger one. Five years of Warner Pier High School graduating classes were to gather a week later. A banquet, a picnic, tours, a boat excursion out into Lake Michiganâall sorts of activities were planned.
Aunt Nettie had even ordered special molds so she could make Warner Pier High School mementos out of chocolate. Tiny models of the old high school (torn down thirty-five years ago), little diplomas, and miniature mortarboards had all been embellished with the graduation class years and were ready to be handed out to the old grads.
She had also created more historic molds, including a tiny version of the
, the boat that brought one of the first groups of settlers to the area; the old Root Beer Barrel, a drive-in popular in Aunt Nettie's youth; and the first school, a one-room structure torn down a hundred years ago. But the most spectacular chocolate piece was a model of the Castle Ballroom, a landmark in Warner Pier from the early twentieth century through the 1970s. Aunt Nettie had made a three-dimensional replica two feet high, plus smaller two-dimensional versions.
And Aunt Nettie and her five friends were the stars of the reunion. They had all worked together as waitresses at the Castle Ballroom and had also been a prize-winning vocal group at their high school. They were to perform again at the reunion banquet. Their private weeklong reunion was partly for fun, but it also gave them an opportunity to rehearse. They had to learn to sing together again.