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A Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery
Death of a Pumpkin Carver
By LEE HOLLIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Rick Copp and Holly Simason
All rights reserved.
Halloween was Hayley Powell's favorite day of the year, but it was also incredibly dangerous.
Especially for her waistline.
All that candy.
The peanut butter cups.
The candy corn.
The mini Milky Way bars.
Of course, every year without fail, she would stock up on every sweet imaginable. More than all of the trick-or-treaters who showed up at her door could possibly stuff into their orange plastic pumpkins that they hauled around the neighborhood.
No, she was always left with a candy overflow.
So she had always carefully hidden her stash from her two kids when they were younger so she could gorge in peace when they weren't home. Her kids were much older now. One was in college. The other a junior in high school. They weren't so rabidly determined to get their hands on free candy anymore.
But old habits die hard.
And Hayley still found herself hiding candy around the house.
As office manager at the Island Times newspaper, it was also her responsibility to have plenty of treats on hand in case any pintsized ghosts, goblins, witches, or werewolves might come into the office with their parents in search of candy.
She certainly didn't want them leaving disappointed.
So as the office wall clock inched closer to five in the afternoon, which was her usual quitting time, Hayley's eyes never left the ceramic bowl of Gummy Bears that sat within her easy reach. She was always after her kids, even now as young adults, not to indulge in treats before dinner, but those chewy, delectable, oh-so-delicious-looking, lip-smacking Gummy Bears seemed to be calling to her and making her mouth water.
Just try one.
When had she ever stopped at just one?
The next thing she knew she was scooping up a fistful, popping them three or four at a time in her mouth, closing her eyes, relishing in the familiar fruity taste and soft jelly bean texture.
"Good night, Hayley," Bruce Linney said as he blew past her from the office bullpen, heading for the door.
Her mouth was full and she was chewing as fast as she could, but there were too many Gummy Bears in her mouth to swallow all at once, and she couldn't speak.
Bruce noticed her nonresponse and stopped at the door. "Everything all right?"
Bruce took one look at the half-empty bowl of Gummy Bears and Hayley's bulging chipmunk cheeks.
It didn't take the cunning deductive skills of Hercule Poirot to solve this one.
"Save some for the kids, okay, Hayley?"
Hayley narrowed her eyes and crinkled her nose, making as mean a face possible given the sad fact she could hardly voice her displeasure at the moment.
Bruce winked at her, smiled, and disappeared into the chilly autumn evening as orange and red leaves from the tree next to the office swirled around him.
Hayley's harsh opinion of crime reporter Bruce Linney had softened during the previous six or seven months. They had worked together on a story for the paper and discovered, much to both their surprise, that they actually didn't despise each other. In fact, they worked rather well together as a team, and even though they still rubbed each other the wrong way on occasion, at least the constant bickering and barrage of insults they had exchanged on a daily basis had quietly subsided.
And besides that, Bruce had also recently started working out at the gym more, trimming a good portion of his belly fat and putting on some serious muscle.
It was impossible not to notice.
Although Hayley always loved a nice bearish man she could grab onto, there was also an attitude shift in Bruce as he shed his excess weight and felt recharged physically. He seemed more confident, happier, more at peace. Which was a big change from when he was smoking and drinking and barking at Hayley for her irritating penchant for trespassing into his crime-solving territory.
No, the new Bruce was far more palatable.
And dare she say, sexy.
Hayley stuffed another handful of Gummy Bears in her coat pocket for the five-minute ride home.
She promised to prepare a healthy meal for herself and the kids tonight.
Whenever they got home.
She rarely saw them anymore.
Gemma was home from the University of Maine in Orono continuing her work-study program at the office of Dr. Aaron Palmer, Hayley's ex-boyfriend and the town veterinarian. Dustin, an aspiring filmmaker, was off wheeling and dealing, scouting locations and casting his next opus as if the small town of Bar Harbor, Maine, was actually his own personal East Coast version of Hollywood.
As Hayley pulled into her driveway, chewing on her last Gummy Bear, her jaw dropped open and the last bit of the rubbery candy toppled out of her mouth and into her lap.
She couldn't believe her eyes.
Right there on the front porch were two jack-o'-lanterns that had not been there when she left for work that morning.
The kids hadn't been home all day.
She knew that for a fact since she had spoken to both of them less than an hour ago.
One of the pumpkins had been expertly carved into the face of Batman.
The other was a dead-on caricature of Harry Potter.
Batman was Dustin's favorite fictional character from childhood.
Harry Potter was Gemma's.
Hayley felt her heart beating faster, ready to burst out of her chest.
There was only one person in the world who could have left those jack-o'-lanterns on her front porch.
Her ex-husband, Danny.
He used to carve those exact same drawings every year for the kids when they were little.
It was one of the few tasks he could be counted on to complete.
Hayley jumped out of her car and ran to the porch to inspect the pair of jack-o'-lanterns up close.
They were definitely Danny's handiwork.
Which could only mean one thing.
He was sending her a direct message.
Danny was letting her know he was back in town.
Which, in Hayley's mind, was hardly a good thing.
Because whenever Danny Powell showed up, trouble soon followed.
And Hayley had no clue at this point in time just how much trouble was ahead.
Big trouble.CHAPTER 2
When Hayley pulled up to the ramshackle cabin tucked in the woods of Tremont on the other side of the island from Bar Harbor, she saw smoke wafting from the chimney. She knew her ex-husband Danny's uncle Otis was home.
And as she stepped out of her car, there was no mistaking the screaming, wailing animal cry of Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses, Danny's favorite band, being blasted from inside.
That was all the proof she needed.
Danny was here and he was probably inside smoking some weed and guzzling down some of his favorite uncle's homemade moonshine.
Two of his favorite pastimes.
Otis was the one who taught Danny how to carve pumpkins when he was a kid. It was the only nice thing he did teach him. The rest of his educational lessons were hot-wiring cars, selling pot, and outrunning the police.
Hayley had always been attracted to the "bad boys" when she was growing up.
Until she actually ended up marrying one.
After ten years of marriage to Danny, she was officially cured.
But he wasn't all bad.
He did have a few good points.
He fathered two wonderful children and he loved them to bits.
He worshipped those kids and would do anything for them.
Danny definitely had a soft, gooey center.
He also sported rugged good looks and was a sweet-talking charmer, both of which he maximized to his full advantage.
He would screw up time and time again with one scheme or another, and then when his back was against the wall, he would pour on the charm and flash that high-wattage smile. Hayley, not to mention almost everybody else in town, would fall for it ad nauseam.
Hayley would find herself saying, "I think he's finally maturing" or "This time he's really going to change" and inevitably she would wind up disappointed and heartbroken.
After they divorced and he moved to the Midwest their relationship improved slightly, mostly due to the distance between them, but they would always be a part of each other's lives because of the kids.
Hayley marched up the dirt path to the faded front door and rapped on it with her fist.
There was no answer.
Probably because she could hear Danny and Otis screaming along with the song playing on the sound system. Something about being in the jungle, feeling a serpentine, and wanting to hear someone scream.
Hayley couldn't help but roll her eyes.
She banged on the door harder.
Still no answer.
She tried the knob.
The door was unlocked.
She swung it open to see Danny and Otis, arms around each other, small jugs of moonshine in their free hands, faces beet red from screeching, swaying back and forth, bobbing their heads up and down, totally caught up in the song.
The blue glass bong with a white skull on the side that sat on the scratched-up, barely erect wooden coffee table in front of them confirmed her suspicions that they would be high on weed as well as drunk when she found them.
Otis looked like he had just flown in from Duck Dynasty Headquarters in West Monroe, Louisiana. He had a sagging, thin, weathered face and a long, reddish beard that reached all the way down to his belly button. He wore an Army-green T-shirt and a red-and-black checkered hunting shirt over it, jeans smudged with caked mud, and a pair of scuffed tan hiking boots. Danny was in a tight-fitting black T-shirt that showed off his muscles, and tight jeans and black boots. It was obvious he still liked to work out. That was another weapon in Danny's arsenal. He had a great body to go with the charismatic personality.
She ignored how good he looked.
It took years of practice but she was finally immune to his charms.
Hayley looked around the ramshackle cabin.
There was junk everywhere.
Fishing equipment stacked against one wall.
Empty jugs Otis used to fill with his moonshine stacked everywhere.
Dirty dishes piled high in the sink.
Boxes of papers and a rickety metal shelf filled with pot paraphernalia.
Otis was a slob and if not a full-blown hoarder, he was very close to getting there.
They hadn't noticed Hayley standing in the doorway.
Danny set his jug down on the floor beside him and lowered his mouth over the opening in the bong to take a hit, and that's when his eyes met Hayley's.
Without missing a beat, he pushed the bong aside, jumped to his feet, and dashed over to her, arms outstretched.
"Babe, what a surprise!"
He grabbed her in a bear hug and tried to plant his lips on her mouth, but she managed to push him away before he kissed her.
"How long have you been standing here?" he asked, grasping her shoulders with his strong hands.
"What are you doing here, Danny?"
"I said what are you doing here?"
Danny turned to Otis. "Uncle Otis! Turn down the music!"
Otis was still wailing to the Guns N' Roses song with his eyes shut.
"Sorry, he's a little hard of hearing!" Danny said, before sprinting back to the ratty old couch they were sitting on and searching for the remote. It took him almost a minute to rummage through the discarded newspapers and used joints before he found a sticky, ancient remote and hit the volume button.
The music faded and Otis opened his eyes to find out what was going on.
"Look who's here, Uncle Otis!" Danny said with a bright smile.
"Hayley! How have you been?" Otis said, his speech slurred.
"Fine, Otis. And you?"
"I got arthritis in my hand. Hurts like a son of a bitch. And the doctor says I got a fatty liver but what the hell does he know?"
He probably knew an alcoholic when he saw one.
"Can I get you a drink, Hayley? Otis just whipped up one of his best batches of moonshine I've ever tasted," Danny said.
"No, thank you. Why are you in town?"
"I had some time off ..."
"You've been working?" Hayley asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, I got a job. Good one too. Night watchman at a warehouse. Pays well. Decent benefits. Everything but dental."
"And they're already letting you take a vacation?" "I did some double shifts so I could take a week off."
"And you decided to come here?"
Danny tried to step closer, but Hayley kept him at arm's length.
"Yeah. I've been missing the kids. I got to thinking I hadn't been home in a while so I just kind of found myself driving east. Got here last night."
"And the carved pumpkins on my front porch was your way of telling me you're back?"
"Something like that. I didn't want to just show up on your doorstep unannounced if you weren't ready to see me."
"You're looking prettier than ever, Hayley," Danny said with that engaging smile.
How could he have such perfect teeth and not even have dental insurance?
"So you're not here to borrow money?" she asked, arms crossed, suspicious.
Danny's smile slowly disappeared, his eyes were downcast. "No, Hayley. I don't want any money."
His feelings were hurt.
Or was he just trying to convey to her that his feelings were hurt?
He was that good of an actor.
If he had channeled his abundant energy into performing, he could have been the next Ryan Gosling.
With the same rock-hard abs.
Danny couldn't blame her for being suspicious.
She had fallen for this before.
More than once.
"Danny, if you're short on cash, you come to me. I've got plenty," Otis said, marching over to his bed in a sectioned-off corner of the cabin.
Well, a mattress on the floor.
There was no bed frame.
There were sheets that were once white but now covered in stains (from Lord only knew what) balled up on the floor next to it and a couple of flattened pillows strewn across it.
Otis got down on his hands and knees and stuck his hand through a slit on the side, fished around, and pulled out a wad of cash. He then crawled back up to his feet and noticed Hayley staring at him.
"I don't trust banks. Never did."
He walked over and tried to hand it to Danny, who waved it away. "No, Uncle Otis. I didn't come here to take your money. I don't want it or need it."
Then he turned pointedly and said to Hayley, "And I'm downright insulted that anyone would think the only reason I came here is because I'm broke."
He waited for Hayley to apologize.
But she didn't.
This was a pattern.
He always made a great show of insisting he was not home because he needed something.
And then, after a few days, once he was able to suck you back in again, he would find a subtle way to ask for what he needed.
He was the master of manipulation.
But Hayley was ready for him this time.
Or so she thought.CHAPTER 3
Hayley spent the following morning at Mount Desert Island High School judging a baking contest in the Home Economics class that was recently reintroduced into the curriculum because of an overwhelming demand from both male and female students with big dreams of winning Top Chef. After crowning a clear winner, a boy from Southwest Harbor whose Pulled Pork Tamales with Corn Salsa, a recipe he learned while traveling with his family to Mexico City, blew all the other entries away, Hayley sped back on Eagle Lake Road in her car, dreading the pile of work waiting for her in her in-box.
When she arrived at the Island Times office, there wasn't anybody around.
No reporters filing stories.
No photographers downloading pictures.
No Bruce Linney hovering around her desk waiting to bother her.
She dropped her bag and sat down to check her e-mail when raucous laughter from the conference room in the back bullpen broke the silence.
She could tell from the wheezing and familiar hysterical giggling that it was her boss, Sal Moretti.
Hayley was surprised because Sal rarely laughed.
He usually was too busy yelling.
But when he did lose it, it came at you fast and furious like a flash flood.
And someone today had him in stitches.
She walked in the back and opened the door to the conference room to find Sal nearly falling off his chair, tears streaming down his cheeks, shaking his head, unable to control himself. Across from him was Danny, feet up on the table, flashing his megawatt smile, with his hands clasped behind his head, totally relaxed. "I swear on my mother's grave that when I took that Buick for a joyride, I had no idea it belonged to Police Chief Hall! I mean it was his fault! He left the keys right in the ignition when he went into the Big Apple for his doughnut and coffee!"
Excerpted from A Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery by LEE HOLLIS. Copyright © 2016 Rick Copp and Holly Simason. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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