Ever since local developer Fred Stanton and his wife, Mimi, built five modular homes next door to Lucy Stone’s farmhouse, life hasn’t been the same. With Mimi complaining about everything from the state of Lucy’s lawn to another neighbor’s lovable dog, quaint Tinker's Cove, Maine, is now entangled in cul-de-sac politics and backstabbing. And when Mimi doesn't show up for her shift at The Hat and Mitten Fund bake sale, the scent of burnt sugar leads Lucy to a shocking discovery: Mimi, face down on her kitchen floor—with a knife in her back.
While the police start their investigation, reporter Lucy gets busy writing up the murder for the Pennysaver—and following a few leads of her own. Lucy knows the women in her neighborhood didn’t like Mimi, but they certainly didn't want her dead…did they?
“I like Lucy Stone a lot, and so will readers.”—Carolyn Hart
“Mothers everywhere will identify with Lucy Stone and the domestic problems she encounters.”—Publishers Weekly
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Bake Sale Murder
By Leslie Meier
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Leslie Meier
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'd like to kill that kid."
Something in her husband's tone of voice caught Lucy Stone's attention. He sounded like he really meant it, and in more than twenty years of marriage Bill had never, until now, expressed homicidal tendencies. It was true, however, that the roar of Preston Stanton's Harley could drive even the most mild-mannered soul over the edge.
"What's the matter with his parents?" yelled Bill. "We never let our kids drive around like that, making a racket."
Lucy waited before answering, easily following Preston's noisy progress down Red Top Road, where he paused to rev the motor several times at the stop sign before roaring on off towards town. Only then could she make herself heard without raising her voice. "We could complain to the police. There are noise limits for motorcycles, you know. I checked."
"That's not likely to get very far. His mother works at town hall and you know how those town employees stick together."
"At least we'd get it on record." She paused, reaching up to pat her husband's beard, lightly touched with gray. "It might come in handy as a defense when they put you on trial for murder."
Bill wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close. "Very funny." He was bending to kiss her when they were interrupted bytheir youngest daughter, Zoe.
"Mom! I'm going to be late!"
Lucy checked the clock and sighed, pushing Bill away. It was almost eight, time to get Zoe to Friends of Animals day camp. Zoe, almost nine, was the caboose on the family choo-choo, five years younger than her next oldest sibling, her sister Sara. Sara, 14, would be a freshman in high school when school reopened in just a few weeks. This summer, Sara had her first job; she was working as a chambermaid at the Queen Victoria Inn where she was following in her older sister Elizabeth's footsteps. Elizabeth had spent her summer abroad, backpacking around Italy and France with a couple of girlfriends. Home for barely a week, she'd returned early to Chamberlain College in Boston, where she was going into her junior year, to help with freshman orientation. Lucy often wondered where the years had gone; her oldest, Toby, was engaged to his long-time girlfriend Molly and they were saving for a house.
Zoe broke into her reverie. "Mom! We've got to get going!"
"Right." Lucy grabbed her purse, automatically fishing for her car keys as she checked to make sure the coffee pot was off and the dog's water dish was full. "Let's go."
* * *
Stepping off the porch, Lucy's eyes were drawn to the new houses Fred Stanton, Preston's father, had built on the old Pratt property. "He didn't actually build those houses," scoffed Bill, a restoration carpenter known for his meticulous work, "he assembled them."
It was true, in a way. The houses were modular homes; they'd been built in a factory and delivered in sections. Fred and his crew had bolted them together and done the finish work, a process that had gone remarkably quickly. It seemed to Lucy that the houses had sprouted, like mushrooms on a rainy night. One day the old Pratt house was standing there, looming over them, and the next it was gone. Before they knew what had happened, their country road had turned into suburbia.
Designed to have high curb appeal to the potential buyer, each little house had an oversized Palladian window front and center, and a double-door entry overlooking a landscaped front yard boasting two small yew bushes and a couple hundred square feet of sod. It had been a particularly dry summer but now, in August, the sod was still the same bright emerald green it had been in April when it was installed, thanks to the sprinklers the new neighbors ran day and night. The sprinklers clicked and sputtered, lawnmowers roared, barbecue smoke filled the evening air. It was enough to make you miss the Pratts, thought Lucy, starting the car.
She didn't actually miss the Pratts, she admitted to herself as she carefully backed the car around, but she did miss seeing their house at the very top of Red Top Hill where it once seemed to symbolize the simple, rugged way of life that was becoming increasingly rare, even in Maine. It was the kind of house a child might draw, a too-narrow rectangle topped with a triangular roof. The windows were rectangles, too, without shutters. The siding was weatherbeaten gray clapboard, and the white paint on the trim boards had peeled off long ago. There was no landscaping to speak of, no bushes softening the stark lines of the house, and no lawn at all. Just a dirt yard with a chicken pen and a rotting old car or two, kept for spare parts. It wasn't a friendly house; it might as well have had a big "Keep Out" sign nailed to it. Which was just about right because the Pratts hadn't been friendly people. They'd been horrible neighbors, mean and quarrelsome. They were gone now. Prudence had died, been murdered, actually, and her husband Calvin and son Wesley were in the county jail for stealing lobsters out of other people's traps. All that remained of the Pratt family was the name of the street that now bisected their land. The developer, Fred Stanton, had named it Prudence Path.
She was starting down the driveway when she saw Fred's wife, Mimi, marching along the road, headed their way. Only Zoe's presence in the seat beside her kept her from saying a very bad word.
"Lucy, could I just have a quick word with you?" asked Mimi, bending to look into the car window. She was talking in that false, bright tone a lot of women use when they're broaching an uncomfortable topic.
"Sure, Mimi. What's up?"
"Well, Lucy, it's really the same old thing," sighed Mimi, adding a fleeting, tight little smile. "I'm afraid those bushes of yours are really a safety hazard. They block the sight lines on Prudence Path, you know. Why, just yesterday I was almost hit by a speeding truck when I was pulling out, on my way to work."
"I don't see how you can blame my lilacs for somebody going too fast on Red Top Road," said Lucy.
"Well, of course, you are right. The truck was going way too fast. But the fact is that I couldn't see the truck because of your bushes." She smiled again and Lucy wondered if she'd had her teeth whitened or something. Maybe it was just a reflex, a nervous twitch. A tic. "I've spoken to you about this before, numerous times in fact, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to file a formal complaint."
"So go ahead and file," said Lucy, impatiently checking her watch. She knew Zoe hated to miss the opening circle at day camp when commendations and prizes from the previous day were handed out.
"I'm not sure you understand exactly what that means," said Mimi, looking concerned. "A traffic officer will conduct an investigation and, if he determines the bushes are a hazard, the town highway department will cut them."
"They can't do that! The town can't touch my bushes. And they're not just bushes, anyway. They're lilacs and they're absolutely gorgeous in the spring."
"I'm afraid they can, Lucy, even if they are lilacs." Mimi was positively grimacing, attempting to illustrate how terribly painful this was for her. "You see, I work at town hall-in the assessor's office-and I know they do it all the time. Why, just last week they cut Miss Tilley's privet hedge. Of course, she's in her nineties and nobody expects her to clip her hedge herself...."
"The town cut Miss Tilley's hedge?"
"Oh, Mimi, that's terrible. That hedge gives her relief from the traffic noise."
"Not anymore," said Mimi, with a mincing little shrug.
Lucy didn't run her over as she sped down the driveway, she just wished she could. The woman was infuriating, coming on all mealy-mouthed and nicey-nice when she was planning to destroy bushes that had been growing for at least a hundred years, probably planted by the original builders of the Stones' antique farmhouse. But, shrugged Lucy, her encounter with Mimi had cleared up one thing. She now knew where Preston got his annoying tendencies -he'd inherited them from his parents.
"It's about time," sang out Rachel Goodman, when Lucy finally pulled open the screen door at Jake's Donut Shop. She was fifteen minutes late for the weekly Thursday morning breakfast get-together that was a ritual for the Gang of Four, as they called themselves. In addition to Lucy and Rachel, the group gathered at the booth in the back included Sue Finch and Pam Stillings. Pam was married to Lucy's boss at the Pennysaver, Ted Stillings, whose many hats included those of publisher, editor-in-chief and primary newshound. Lucy worked part-time, writing features and helping Phyllis, the other staff member, with listings of local events.
"Sorry," said Lucy, taking her usual place. "I had another confrontation with Mimi Stanton about my lilacs. She says they're a traffic hazard."
"That's what they told Miss Tilley," said Rachel, who provided home care for the town's oldest resident. "The town sent a bunch of highway workers to cut down her privet hedge. She pulled a Barbara Frietchie, you know, declaring that they might as well cut off her "old gray head" before she'd let them clip her hedge, so the foreman relented and they just gave it a little trim."
"Tinker's Cove is really changing," mused Sue. "Remember when it used to be a quiet little fishing village, with a handful of summer people? Now there's summer traffic all year 'round. You can't even get a parking spot on Main Street anymore." "What happened?" asked Rachel.
"Growth," said Pam. "It's supposed to be a good thing."
"Well," said Lucy, as the waitress set a cup of coffee in front of her, "I wouldn't mind all these new folks if they'd know their place. Take Mimi, for example. She doesn't have the good sense to know she's new in town and maybe she ought to keep a low profile and learn how to blend in before she goes around ripping up people's prized lilac bushes."
"She's not really new," said Sue, sipping her coffee. "She's worked at town hall for years. The family's been around forever; they lived in Gilead until Fred built that new subdivision. He's got another project going out by the yacht club. Luxury condos. Sid's been putting in a lot of custom closet shelving for him. California style, you know. The closets are as big as my bedroom."
"Who has that many clothes?" wondered Rachel, who was still wearing the sandals, jeans, and ponchos she wore in college.
"I do," said Sue, a noted shopaholic. "In fact Sid's promised to do one for me. In Sidra's old room."
"Don't you want it for her? When she comes home with the grandchildren?" asked Pam.
"No sign of that yet," said Sue, pouting. "So I might as well have the closet."
They all laughed.
"What about you, Lucy? Any sign that Toby and Molly are going to start a family?"
"Heavens, no," exclaimed Lucy, raising her eyebrows. "They're not even married."
"That doesn't stop anybody these days," observed Pam.
"Besides," finished Lucy, "I'm too young to be a grandmother."
They were still laughing when Lucy's standing order of two eggs sunny-side up with a side of corned beef hash, no toast, arrived.
"Before you got here, Lucy," began Pam, "we were trying to think of a way to raise some money for the Hat and Mitten Fund."
"More money?" Lucy broke one of the yolks, letting it run into the hash. "I thought you were all fixed now that the children's shop at the outlet mall gives you all their leftovers at the end of the season."
"That's worked out great," admitted Pam. "But now I think we really ought to help out with school supplies."
"School supplies?" Sue was skeptical. "What do they need for school besides a pen and a pencil?"
"That was the old days," said Pam. "Now all the teachers give out lists of supplies that they expect each child to have, things like floppy disks and calculators and separate notebooks for each subject. Even tissues and spray cleaner for their desks. It adds up, especially if you have three or four kids."
"We never had to supply all that stuff," said Rachel.
"That's because the school provided it, but those days are gone. The school budget has been cut every year and there's no room for extras."
"It's true," agreed Lucy. "We have to pay a hundred dollars so Sara can be a cheerleader."
"You're letting Sara be a cheerleader?" Rachel, a fervent women's libber, was horrified.
"It's a sport," said Lucy, defending her daughter. "You should see the flips and stuff they do."
Pam rolled her eyes. "It's simply another example of female submission to male dominance. Why can't she play football?"
"Football's so violent," objected Rachel.
"She doesn't want to play football, she wants to be a cheerleader," said Lucy.
"This is getting us off the track," said Sue. "We all know how difficult it is for many working parents to pay for these required school supplies. The question is, how can we help?"
"I'd like to set up a revolving fund that I could dispense to families as the need arises," said Pam. "I'm pretty sure that once we get it going we'll get donations from local clubs and businesses. What we need is some seed money."
"How much do you need?" asked Rachel.
"Maybe two or three hundred dollars," said Pam.
They all sat silently, staring at their plates.
"A magazine drive? That way the kids could help themselves," suggested Lucy.
"The PTA's got that locked up. We can't compete with them."
"How about a giant yard sale," suggested Rachel. "Why, my cellar alone ..."
"No way. What do we do with all the leftover junk?"
"I know," said Sue. "Let's have a bake sale."
"But we haven't had one in years," objected Pam.
"I know. That's why I'm sure it will be a huge hit. People will line up to buy all the goodies they've been missing."
"Like Franny Small's Congo bars," sighed Pam. "Remember them?"
"Do I ever," said Lucy, patting her little tummy bulge. "I think I'm still carrying them around."
"They were worth it," said Pam.
"No, no. If I'm going to put an inch on my hips it's going to be from Marge Culpepper's coconut cake," declared Sue.
"How did she get the frosting so light?" asked Lucy.
"It was a real boiled frosting, made with a candy thermometer and everything. So amazing. Nobody cooks like that anymore," said Pam, with a sigh.
"It's a good thing," said Rachel, who was a health nut. "We'd be big as houses and our arteries would be clogged with trans fat."
"If I'm going to die from eating I want it to be from Cathy Crowley's rocky road fudge," declared Lucy. "I'd die happy."
"Oh, yeah," sighed Pam. "That's the way to go."
"I think it is," said Sue. "A bake sale is definitely the way to go. I mean, if we're this excited about fudge and cake I bet a lot of other people will be, too. And we can charge a lot because everything will be top-quality and homemade."
"Affordable luxuries," agreed Rachel. "Very hot right now."
"So we're agreed?"
"Agreed. All we have to do is call for donations."
"I can't," said Pam. "I've got to help my mother move into assisted living next week."
"And I'm visiting Sidra in New York," said Sue.
"I'm filling in for Bob's secretary, she's on vacation," said Rachel.
"I guess that leaves me," said Lucy. "No problem. I've done it a million times, I'm pretty sure I've still got a list of volunteers from our last bake sale in the back of my cookbook." She picked up the check and put on her reading glasses. "Okay. How much is fourteen dollars and thirty-eight cents divided by four?"
Chapter TwoLucy loved everything about the Pennysaver office from the jangle of the little bell on the door to the dusty wood venetian blinds that covered the plate glass windows to the tiny morgue where the scent of ink and hot lead from the linotype machine still lingered. Originally known as the Courier & Enterprise, the paper had been covering all the happenings in Tinker's Cove for more than one hundred and fifty years.
Phyllis, who served as receptionist and listings editor, also seemed to harken back to an earlier era, the sixties, with her dyed bouffant hairdo and bright blue eyeshadow. She was given to wearing bright colors, generally accessorized with oversized pieces of costume jewelry. Today she'd encased her ample frame in aqua pedal pushers and a bold floral print shirt topped with a string of beads that could have inspired a mother hen to sit a while.
"What's new with the gang?" asked Phyllis, by way of greeting.
A stack of the latest edition of the Pennysaver stood on the counter in front of her desk, practically hot off the press. Lucy picked one up and flipped through, making sure her byline was in all the right places. She grimaced, spotting a misspelled headline: APPEALS BORED DEBATES NEW ZONING REGS.
"They want to have a bake sale so the Hat and Mitten Fund can help families buy school supplies."
Excerpted from Bake Sale Murder by Leslie Meier Copyright © 2006 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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