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Apple Turnover Murder Key Lime Pie Murder Cherry Cheesecake Murder Lemon Merengue Pie Murder
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2010 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"'Til death do us part."
The words echoed in the hushed flower-scented air and Hannah Swensen shivered in her bridal finery. The church was filled to capacity on this Sunday afternoon in early June and sunbeams streamed through the stained glass windows that lined the nave, transforming the dust motes that floated on lazy air currents into bits of vividly colored confetti.
'Til death do us part.
The words were simple, the sentiment was true, and Hannah knew that marriage was supposed to last a lifetime. But hearing such grave words on this joyous occasion always reminded her of an opening line in a television murder mystery. In the next shot, the groom would kiss the bride and the whole congregation would mirror their happy smiles. Then the camera would pull back, and the music would change to a minor key. Something was about to happen, something ominous. Someone was going to die before the first commercial break, and you could almost bet that the victim would be one-half of the bridal couple, most likely the actor or actress who was lesser known and lesser paid.
But not today and not here in Lake Eden, Hannah told herself, feeling a bit silly for her dark thoughts on this happy occasion. She could probably blame her overactive imagination on too much work and not enough sleep. Hannah and her partner, Lisa, had put in long hours at The Cookie Jar, their coffee shop and bakery, and their jam-packed schedule was far from completed. They'd baked scores of cookies for graduation celebrations, bridal and baby showers, engagement parties, and school picnics. They'd even baked their signature wedding cookies for this wedding, Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies topped with glittering crystals of granulated sugar and decorated with the initials of the bride and the groom in frosting, enclosed in a frosting heart. Once the reception line had come to an end, everyone would mingle in the church garden to enjoy iced lemonade and The Cookie Jar's wedding cookies.
Hannah was attempting to count the wedding celebrants that filled the pews to make sure they'd brought enough cookies when a warm hand reached out to clasp hers. The hand belonged to Norman Rhodes, son of the bride, Carrie Rhodes, and one of the men she was currently dating. Norman was smiling and he'd told Hannah that he was pleased his mother was marrying a man they all knew and liked, Earl Flensburg.
As Carrie and Earl turned and began their first walk down the aisle together as man and wife, Hannah caught a glimpse of her own mother's face. Delores Swensen was a study in contrasts, smiling and dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief at the same time. Weddings always made Delores cry. She'd once admitted to Hannah that she'd cried at her own wedding and, much to her embarrassment, smudged her mascara in the process.
Hannah followed Norman out of the pew and down the side aisle toward the front doors of the church. "Are you going to stand in the reception line?"
"I'll congratulate them later when I make the first toast." Norman waved and Hannah turned to see Mike Kingston, the other man she occasionally dated, standing on the steps that led up to the church doors. He was still wearing his Winnetka County Sheriff's Department uniform and that probably meant he was still on duty. Mike waved back at them and Hannah and Norman went down the steps to greet him.
"Sorry I missed the wedding," Mike said when they arrived at his side. "I was supposed to be off work an hour and a half ago, but there was a robbery. You'd think in heat like this, the criminals would stay home and fan themselves."
"What did they steal?" Norman asked.
"A couple of fans?" Hannah guessed, earning long-suffering looks from both men.
"You're close," Mike told her. "They stole a truck loaded with one of those above-ground swimming pools."
"That's a pretty big thing to steal," Norman said. "Did you catch them?"
"Sure. The pool was still in the bed of the truck and they were trying to fill it up in the parking lot at the Eagle. You know where that is, don't you?"
Both Hannah and Norman nodded. They'd rescued Hannah's youngest sister, Michelle, from the country-western bar last summer when she'd helped them substantiate a suspect's alibi.
"They were trying to set up the pool at the Eagle?" Hannah asked him.
"Trying is the operative word. Since they didn't have a hose, they recruited everybody at the bar to carry out beer mugs filled with water and dump them in the pool. Lonnie and I figured it would have taken them at least four days to fill it up enough for a swim."
"So you caught them and arrested them?" Norman asked.
Mike shook his head. "It seems they were drinking buddies with the owner of the truck. And once they agreed to help him unload the pool at his house, and he agreed to let them go for a swim, everybody went off happy. But I missed the wedding and I'm sorry about that." Mike turned to Norman. "Give your mother and Earl my apologies, okay? And tell them I'll see them later."
"Let's head out to the Lake Eden Inn," Norman suggested after Mike had left.
Hannah glanced at her dress watch, squinting a bit to read the tiny numbers. She was used to the big dial on the watch she wore at work where time was of the essence and a minute or two more could turn a boiled frosting into concrete. "If we leave now, we'll be an hour early for the reception."
"Good. I want to check my video equipment to make sure everything's working right." Norman stopped speaking and frowned slightly. "Did I give you the bag of cat treats and toys I bought?"
Hannah turned to smile at him. "Yes, you did. But there's enough in that bag for a month and you're only going to be gone for three nights."
"I know. It's just that I've never left Cuddles before and I wanted to make sure she had everything she needed."
"But how about the time Marguerite took her up north?" Hannah asked, remembering the vacation Cuddles and her former owner had taken last summer.
"That's different. I didn't leave Cuddles. Cuddles left me." Norman was silent for a moment and then he began to grin. "That sounds a little crazy, doesn't it?"
"Not a bit. I'd feel the same way."
Hannah reviewed the plan in her mind as they walked to Norman's car. Once the reception was over, Norman would be driving his mother and Earl to the international airport in Minneapolis where they would catch a midnight flight to Rome. They were touring Italy for their honeymoon, somewhere Carrie had always wanted to go. Norman would see them off and then he'd drive to the hotel where he'd be staying for three nights. On Monday he'd meet up with some friends from dental school who were opening a clinic in St. Paul, tour the building they'd chosen for their clinic, and then they'd all go out to dinner together. On Tuesday he'd attend the grand opening, stay over that night, and drive back to Lake Eden Wednesday morning in time for his first appointment. He'd pick up Cuddles that night after work, and his cat would have almost seventy-two hours to spend playing with her best friend, Moishe.
"Do you think we should check on the cats before we drive out to the reception?" Norman asked.
"We can stop at the condo if you're worried about them, but I'm sure they're fine. I filled the Kitty Valet with food before we left and Moishe's always been a real gentleman about letting Cuddles eat first. They're probably snuggled up on the couch together, watching the Animal Channel."
"You're right. No sense in disturbing them." Norman opened all four doors of his car to let the heat out before he gestured for Hannah to get inside. "I'll get the air conditioning on right away," he promised.
It was a hot afternoon and Hannah was glad that the air conditioning in Norman's sedan was better than the air conditioning in her cookie truck. Even if she turned it on full blast, someone blowing over the top of an ice cube would be more effective. Riding in Norman's well-maintained car was a welcome treat, and by the time they pulled out of the church parking lot, cool air was already beginning to pour out of the vents. "I just love your car!" she said with a sigh, leaning back against the headrest.
The moment the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. They'd just come from a wedding and that meant both of them had weddings on the mind. It would be natural for Norman, who really wanted her to accept the proposal he'd tendered over a year ago, to say, Marry me and I'll buy you one just like it. Or, Just say yes and I'll make everything easy for you, Hannah. Or even, Did you see how happy Mother was? I'd make you even happier if you'd marry me.
But Norman didn't say any of those things. Instead, he just laughed. "You don't love my car. You love my air conditioning."
"It's true." Hannah hung her head in pretended shame. "I'm just a fool for a good-looking condenser and powerful vents."
Norman chortled. There was no other word for it. It was a sound that was midway between a chuckle and a gurgle and it made Hannah smile to know she'd caused it. There was no greater gift than making someone laugh. People who laughed were happy.
It was a huge party. Almost everyone they knew in town was there, but the Swensen sisters had found each other and snagged a table. Hannah, Andrea, and Michelle were seated at a rectangular table at the edge of the dance floor. Their mother, Delores, sat at one end, looking no more than a decade older than her daughters.
"And you're going to fill in at Granny's Attic while Carrie's on her honeymoon?" Hannah asked Michelle.
"That's right." Michelle turned to smile at her mother. "I've got a whole month before I have to be back at Macalester, and Mother's promised me a commission on any antiques I sell."
"And an hourly wage on top of that," Delores amended her youngest daughter's statement, and then she turned to Hannah. "Michelle will be able to stay with you for a while, won't she, dear? I'm having the hardwood floors redone and it could take several weeks."
"Not a problem. Michelle can stay with me anytime she wants."
Michelle turned to give Hannah a grin. "Thanks!"
"I should be the one to thank you. The last time you stayed over, you made breakfast for me. And the day you left, you stripped your bed and washed the sheets. Not only that, you emptied the drier and folded all my clothes. I love it when you stay with me."
All four Swensens looked up as a man stopped by their table. It was Lonnie Murphy, the deputy sheriff Michelle dated when she was in town. "Hi, Shelly. Do you want to dance?" he asked.
"I'd love to!" Michelle smiled, got up from her chair, and took Lonnie's arm. She looked genuinely delighted to be asked as they stepped out onto the dance floor.
Hannah hid a grin. Michelle hated to be called Shelly. It was the name her fourth grade class had given to the box turtle they kept in their terrarium. She'd once told Hannah she thought that Shelly was a great name for a turtle but not for her, and she'd engaged in several hair-pulling fights on the school playground with anyone who'd dared to call her by that nickname. Obviously things had changed. When Lonnie called her Shelly, Michelle just smiled at him. Hannah figured that must be love, or at least a close facsimile.
"Delores. Just the person I wanted to see." Bud Hauge approached their table. He owned the welding shop in town and Hannah knew he'd worked on several broken antiques for her mother.
"Bud." Delores acknowledged him with a nod. "Don't tell me you can't weld the rocker on my treadle sewing machine."
"Okay. I won't tell you I can't weld your sewing machine."
"Bud!" There was a warning tone in their mother's voice and Hannah exchanged grins with Andrea. Delores had gone to school with Bud and he loved to tease her.
"Just kidding. It's all ready for you, good as new. I'll drop it by Granny's Attic tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, Bud. That's perfect. I'd like you to take a look at something else we bought. Have you ever done any restoration on grave art?"
Bud gave a little shrug. "I don't know. They bring it in, I weld it. What's grave art?"
"It's a tribute for a grave, a statue or some kind of decoration chosen by the family. Commonly they're made of marble or granite, but this one is metal."
"What is it? An angel or something like that?"
"No, it's a fish."
"A fish?" Both Andrea and Hannah spoke at once since Bud appeared to be rendered speechless.
"I believe it's a walleye pike. It's not so unusual if you consider that families like to personalize the graves of their dearly departed."
Dearly departed? Hannah stared at her mother in shock. She'd never heard anyone use that phrase outside the walls of a church. "So some dead person inside, whoever he was, liked to fish?"
"I assume so, dear. We have several examples of grave art at the shop. They're from the family mausoleum section of Spring Brook Cemetery and they date back to the eighteen hundreds."
"They're tearing down part of that section, aren't they, Mother?" Andrea asked.
"They're relocating it, dear. The city council feels that the crypts are in such bad repair, they could be dangerous."
"How could they be dangerous if everyone who's in them is dead?" Hannah asked.
Andrea and Bud burst into laughter, and Hannah noticed that Delores did all she could do to keep a straight face. "That's not very nice, dear," she chided her eldest daughter.
"But it's funny," Bud said, still chuckling.
"And it's true," Andrea added.
"Well, be that as it may, the council decided to take down the crumbling mausoleums and relocate the ... um ... contents."
"All of them?" Hannah asked, remembering how she used to ride her bike out to the old part of the cemetery and walk past the giant stone angels and carved headstones. "I used to love the pink granite mausoleum with the columns in the front."
"That belongs to the Evans family and Florence has agreed to repair it. Four generations of her family are buried there. The problem the council had was with some of the other mausoleums. At least a dozen were unclaimed. Either the families moved to parts unknown, or there are no living relatives."
"Those are the ones they're tearing down?" Bud asked.
"That's right. But some of the grave art can't be moved to the new gravesites. Either it's in bad repair or it's simply too large. Carrie and I are taking whatever we can salvage to sell at Granny's Attic and we'll donate the proceeds to the relocation fund."
"That's nice of you, Mother," Andrea said. "But do you really think that anybody will buy a walleye for a grave?"
"It's already sold, dear. Winnie Henderson is buying it for her family crypt. She's kept it up over the years, but she never got around to ordering any kind of decoration."
"And she wants the walleye?" Bud looked astonished.
"Yes. One of her husbands just loved to hunt and fish. I think it was the third one?"
"I thought it was the fourth," Hannah said.
"Whatever. Winnie said his fishing buddy wanted all his fishing tackle, so she couldn't put any inside. All she had were his hunting things."
"She put those inside?" Andrea asked.
"Yes, and that's why she wants the walleye. Winnie wants everyone to know that he was a great fisherman as well as a good hunter."
"Sounds like what the Egyptians did with the pyramids," Bud commented. "Does Winnie believe he'll use them in the afterlife?"
"I don't know, Bud. Winnie has some strange notions and I didn't really get into it with her."
"Wait a second," Bud said, looking a little worried. "She didn't put any guns in there, did she?"
"Heavens, no! She kept the guns. She said you never know when you need firearms out on the farm. She shot a lynx last year, right before it attacked one of her calves."
"Is a lynx the same as a wildcat?" Andrea turned to Hannah. "I always get those two mixed up."
"A lot of people do. The bobcat's genus is lynx, but if you're thinking of the Canadian lynx we see here in Minnesota, they're twice as big as bobcats, and they have snow-shoe paws."
Delores laughed. "I don't think Winnie got close enough to examine its paws."
"But was the bobcat Winnie shot a Canadian lynx?" Andrea asked.
"Probably," Bud answered her question, "especially if it was attacking something as big as a calf."
"Maybe it was a cougar, or a ... a mountain lion." Andrea was obviously struggling with the nomenclature. "Or don't we have any of those here?"
"I think cougars are another name for mountain lions," Hannah told her. "And if I remember correctly, they're lumped in there somewhere with pumas and panthers."
"But do we have mountain lions here?" Andrea repeated her question. "We don't have any mountains in Minnesota."
"You're right," Bud said. "Most of them are farther west, but they migrate over here once in awhile. They're adaptable, and if there's not enough food where they are, they go in search of it."
"Then you think the big cat that Winnie shot might be a mountain lion?" Hannah asked him.
"I doubt it. If you spot a big cat here, it's probably a Canadian lynx." He turned to Delores. "Tell me more about that walleye. What's wrong with it?"
"It's missing one of its fins. That's why I asked if you'd ever done any restoration work. Do you think you could fabricate a fin and weld it on?"
"Yes, but only if you dance with me."
"Only if you dance wwith me. This is our song ... remember?"
Delores didn't say a word, but she got to her feet and took Bud's arm. Hannah noticed that her mother's cheeks were bright pink as Bud led her to the dance floor and took her in his arms.
"I wonder if Bud's an old flame," Andrea mused.
"He could be. Mother told me she dated a lot in high school."
"You mean our mother played the field?"
"You could call it that, I guess. I know she wasn't serious about anyone until Dad came along."
Both sisters were silent as their mother danced by with Bud. Then Andrea turned to Hannah. "I wonder if she feels lonely now that Carrie's married again."
"I don't know. She hasn't said anything about it. Then again, she probably wouldn't. Do you want me to ask her?"
"No! That'll only make her think about it, if she's not thinking about it already. It's just that ... I was wondering if we should keep an eye on her ... just in case."
"Just in case what?"
"Just in case she falls in love again. Remember what happened with Winthrop?"
"I'll never forget it, but I really don't think that'll happen again."
"Because Mother's wiser now, and there aren't any new, fascinating men with British accents who've moved to Lake Eden. Mother's known all the eligible local men for years."
"I know that, but ..."
"Besides," Hannah went on, "Mother doesn't seem interested in anything but friendship. And the men seem to feel exactly the same way."
Excerpted from Apple Turnover Murder Key Lime Pie Murder Cherry Cheesecake Murder Lemon Merengue Pie Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2010 H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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