Maggie Miller’s attempt to run from her troubles leads her to Table Rock, Arizona, her own beignet café . . . and disaster.
Welcome to Table Rock, Arizona, the place where folks who aren’t too keen on the ‘mainstream’ move to. Maggie Miller has come here to forget about her dead husband. OK, so he isn’t really dead. That’s just what she tells everybody. Recently divorced, Maggie flees Phoenix and the sight of her husband and his new wife and moves to Table Rock to be closer to her own family. She’s also planning on opening her own beignet and coffee business, Maggie’s Beignet Café.
But that dead guy in her storeroom might just put a kink in her plans. Unless she can figure out who killed him, and why, she might never open for business . . .
About the Author
J.R. Ripley is the author of the Tony Kozol mystery series and other novels. He has penned novels in various categories including literary, popular fiction, mystery and crime novels, YA and children's books. As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, he has chaired the Edgar committee for Best Original Paperback novel and served on the Best Short Story Committee. As a member of the International Association of Crime Writers, he has served on the Hammett Award committee for Best Novel.
Read an Excerpt
Buried in Beignets
By J.R. Ripley
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 J. R. Ripley
All rights reserved.
My husband always wanted to own a beignet shop. Always talked about opening a beignet and coffee shop. Ever since our late June honeymoon trip to New Orleans over a dozen years ago, and our even later breakfast that first sunny morning at the world famous Café du Monde that sits beside the muddy – and muggy – Mississippi River on Decatur Street, across from Jackson Square and the Saint Louis Cathedral. The charming café has been a New Orleans institution for over one hundred and fifty years. I was certainly feeling charmed that morning.
With the scent of chicory flavored coffee rising from the table and powdered sugar tickling our now married tongues and noses, my husband leaned back and said, 'Hey, wouldn't it be a great idea, Mags, if we opened up a place like this of our own back home?'
I agreed. I was a newlywed bride reveling in the glow of the first morning after our first night together as husband and wife. Of course I was going to agree. He was my husband now.
And now that Brian was dead, I was honoring his wishes and opening a beignet shop on one of the lesser-travelled downtown streets of Table Rock, Arizona. Population five thousand or so humans and another twenty thousand or so extraterrestrials – if one was to believe all the New Age mages living and operating from our odd little red-rocked corner of the world. According to the mages, aliens outnumbered Arizonans four-to-one.
And those mages should know – they were in nearly daily contact with the extraterrestrials, after all.
I should mention that Table Rock is up in Coconino County, Arizona. Not far from Sedona, a New Age capital in its own right. Not that you'll hear that from a Table Rocker, though. Table Rock is where folks move to who feel that Sedona is too 'mainstream.'
I moved here about six weeks ago because it's where my little sister, two nephews and Mom live. And no, I'm not a glutton for punishment. Though if you set a big bowl of chocolate ice cream, plate of chocolate cake or bag of French fries in front of me, I am, without a doubt, a glutton of the first order. And maybe Brian wasn't literally dead, but he was dead to me. That counts, doesn't it? I was telling everybody that inquired about him that he was dead. That counts too, right? And maybe I wasn't so much honoring his memory as rubbing his nose in the fact that he was all talk and no action, as he had been throughout the course of our marriage, but Maggie Miller was the kind of woman who got things done.
It may have taken thirty-nine years of living and a broken marriage. But if there was one thing Maggie Miller was going to do, it was get things done.
Today was a dry run. The grand opening was tomorrow. I was polishing the front counter and admiring my tenacity and fortitude in having made it this far when a lanky forty-something male entered the shop. Rats, I'd forgotten to lock the door behind me on my way in this morning. I live in a small one-bedroom apartment three blocks over from the shop, so walking or cycling to work are my preferred modes of transportation. That and the fact that I didn't have a car.
I once had a car – a pretty neat 2001 flame red Plymouth Neon – but I sold it to help set up this café. I hated seeing her go. It so happened that 2001 was the last year of the Neon – the last year for Plymouth, too, as it turned out. But every dollar counted and I didn't have many dollars left to count. At this point, I could probably count them all on two hands and a foot.
This morning I'd biked in and, pulling the old Schwinn in behind me, I'd forgotten to turn the key in the lock afterward as I was too busy hauling packages to the back to worry about petty things like locks and doors.
And look what the proverbial cat drags in.
This being Table Rock, I'd been thinking of hanging a No Shirts, No Shoes, No Aliens sign on the door. Not that it would have necessarily helped in this instance.
He reached out a long-fingered hand the color of sandstone. 'Hi, I'm Clive Rothschild.' We shook. He aimed a finger stage right. 'My husband and I own The Hitching Post next door.'
I nodded. I'd passed the place a hundred times since coming to town. I'd been meaning to drop in and introduce myself but getting the café up and running had taken all my time.
This being the Old West, of sorts, you'd think The Hitching Post would be selling lassos, lariats, spurs and saddles. But this was Table Rock. This was the New West. Heck, this was the New Age West. This Hitching Post sold bridal gowns and accessories – items of the 'I do and forever after' variety. It was that kind of hitching that Clive Rothschild was promoting. Clive had red hair and freckles. I liked him already. What can I say? We redheads have to stick together, even if his mane was prettier and more luxuriant than my own.
I was going to have to ask Clive what shampoos and conditioners he was using once I got to know him better. I didn't want to scare the man off by getting too personal too quick. I'd made that mistake enough times to know better. Clive was dressed casually, but expensively, in designer jeans and a T-shirt.
'Maggie Miller,' I replied. 'Welcome to Maggie's Beignet Café.'
He did a turn. 'Nice place you have here.'
'Is there a Mister Maggie Miller?'
'He's dead,' I replied, without mincing my words, looking him straight in his green eyes. I told you I tell everybody he's dead. See? I meant it.
His hands came up to his face. 'Oh, I am so sorry,' he cooed.
'Don't be,' I said. 'I'm not.' He blanched and I immediately felt bad for the man. OK, maybe I should have minced my words just a little. Shame on me, as Mom would say. And often did.
'Hey,' I said, trying to lighten the mood and bring a little color back into Clive's face, 'how would you like to be my first customer?'
That seemed to do the trick. Clive's face brightened immensely and his hands fell to his sides. 'Could I? That would be wonderful. I love beignets!' He rubbed his flat belly through the shiny material of his shirt. I expected a genie to pop out of his belly button and offer us a few wishes apiece. Unfortunately, no such luck, as none appeared.
'Sure,' I said. 'Today is a dry run. I was just going to prepare a batch of dough and give all the equipment one last test.'
OK, so it was a first test. I know – this was something I should have done before the day before the grand opening. If this second- and third-hand but seemingly working equipment didn't work, it wasn't going to be so much a grand opening as a grand failure.
'Why don't you have a seat at that table by the window —' I stopped. 'Oh.' I'd set out the eight tables that filled my small café to capacity but hadn't gotten around to setting up the chairs. I'd ordered three dozen from a big box store down in Phoenix. The whole lot of them were still stacked in the backroom.
I knew I'd forgotten something. I just hoped the chairs were the only thing. I placed a hand on either side of my head. Yep, it was still there. That was a good sign. Hopefully my brain had come along for the ride.
'Tell you what, Clive, let me get the fryer started.' The fryer was right there at the counter so the customers could watch all the beignet magic as it happened. I turned the dial up to three hundred and seventy degrees. That's the temperature you want if you're gonna make beignets. Anything less and they wouldn't rise properly. Anything more and, well, you'd end up with beignet chips. 'While the fryer heats up, I'll go get a couple of chairs.' And try to find my rolling pin. It seemed like every time I turned around, it went missing.
'Can I help?'
Aww, wasn't he sweet? But even though he was a fellow shop owner, I barely knew the man. I didn't want to be inviting some strange man into my storeroom this early in our relationship. Besides, I was Maggie Miller. I could handle yanking a couple of laminated wood chairs out of cardboard boxes. 'Thanks, but I can manage. You hang in there for a minute. I'll be right back.'
I pushed through the swinging doors to the windowless back storage room. It was small but adequate for my needs. Rows of shelving reached to the low ceiling. A small refrigerator and separate freezer stood in the corner near the back door.
It was a tad musty, due mostly to age, I supposed, and there was a pungent smell that seemed to have gotten worse over the course of the past day or two – like somebody was ripening Pont L'Eveque cheese rather than deep frying pastry dough.
Maybe I needed one of those dangly air fresheners they sell next to the cash register at the convenience store. But I figured once I got the business up and running in earnest, the provocative and mouth-watering smells of sweet-fried dough and fresh coffee would soon take over. Besides, those air fresheners cost two to three bucks apiece.
Or maybe the skanky odor was all due to me, running around like the proverbial hen with her head cut off, spending too much time prepping to open the café and too little time showering.
Eighteen boxes, each containing two chairs, took up the bulk of the space. I couldn't wait to get them unpacked and out of my way.
Why hadn't I done it earlier? Are you kidding? Did you hear me? Eighteen boxes? Thirty-six chairs?
Sheesh, I had enough to do around here. I had more things on my plate than I had plates. And not being open for business, who cares if you have chairs?
I grabbed the box cutter off the shelf above the microwave, fought my way past a pallet of pastry dough, flour and coffee and grabbed the nearest box. Each one was about three and a half feet tall. I'm about a box and a half tall, give or take, at five foot seven. The box didn't stand a chance. There was a slight moon-shaped stain along the bottom edge of the one I'd grabbed. I hoped its contents were OK and that I wouldn't have to contact the shipper or the store about it. I had enough to do as things stood.
And tomorrow – hopefully – there'd be customers to deal with to boot. Fingers crossed.
I slid open the razor and sliced the top of the box right down the middle, listening to the satisfying zip sound. Nothing like the smell of freshly cut boxes in the morning.
I pushed the box cutter down in the back pocket of my jeans, frowning a little at how snug it felt – note to self: more biking, less beigneting – then pulled back the cardboard flaps.
I lifted a layer of translucent green bubble wrap and set it aside. My nephews could have all kinds of fun with it later making popping noises. If I turned it over to them. I loved making popping noises with bubble wrap, squeezing it between my fingers, jumping up and down when no one was looking ... Ah, it's always the simple things, isn't it? Of course, Brian always chided that it was simple-minded of me. But Brian was dead now. I could do whatever I wanted.
The next thing I knew, somebody was yelling at the top of her lungs.
Then I realized it was me.CHAPTER 2
Beneath a second layer of bubble wrap, the blurred but striking image of a crushed scalp of curly black hair confronted me. A dark stain of something – I didn't want to know what – seemed to be trapped between two layers of the wrap. Hard to tell what it was from my vantage point. More bubble wrap was swathed clumsily around the body that was folded up inside the box, knees to chest, like an oversized marionette. I wasn't sure what the corpse was doing here, but I was pretty certain I hadn't ordered it.
I was having trouble thinking straight because that obnoxious big-lunged woman would not stop screaming.
Clive came crashing through the door, thrashing through the dry goods, and laid a hand on my shoulder. The screaming mercifully stopped.
'C-c-c —' My finger pointed. My tongue lolled.
'Dead guy,' finished Clive.
I was going to say corpse – I'm much more alliterative than Clive – but dead guy would do. Summed it up pretty darn good.
I leaned into Clive. Big strong arms and all that. But I was forgetting this guy owned a bridal shop. He didn't lift wrenches, chop down trees or wrestle bulls to the ground for a living. This was a guy who lifted gowns off hangers, hefted angel weight bridal veils and only wrestled the occasional eight-foot tulle wedding gown train when a bride-to-be was tripping over her feet while practicing her walk down the aisle.
Sure enough, Clive collapsed to the ground, and my attempts to keep him up proved futile.
His big feet banged against the box containing the dead guy. The dead guy wasn't complaining. My shoulders were, though, as I grabbed hold of Clive by his armpits and dragged him back out front.
I pulled him up against the counter and left him there, his head lolling slightly to the left. I put a finger against his chin and straightened him out. Maybe that was a little OCD of me but I hated seeing him sitting there unconscious and crooked like that. I mean, somebody walking by might look in the window and see him that way. We couldn't have that, could we? Imagine how embarrassing that would be for Clive.
I took a step back. He looked so much better now. Almost peaceful.
Then I remembered the dead man in the box. I whipped out my cell phone and punched in the three digits that everybody knows.
'Hello, this is Information, can I help you?'
'Dead man! Storeroom!'
'Can you spell that, please? Is this a business you are seeking?'
I pushed the phone out at arm's length. Huh? I reeled it back in.
'Hello?' the tinny voice said again. 'Ma'am, can I assist you with something today?'
OK. I took a deep breath. Wrong three digits. 'Sorry, wrong number.' I pushed the button for ending the call and tried again. More slowly. 9-1-1.
I had to hand it to the cops, they were quick. I don't think if I'd yelled 'Free beer!' at an Arizona State University frat that a bunch of guys could have moved any quicker. Maybe it was a slow day. Maybe all the loonies were out worshipping the sun gods or aligning their chakras while listening to some self-help program on the local NPR station.
Whatever it was, they were lightning quick – Zeus quick.
The big detective in the lead burst through my front door, his right hand laid atop the gun snuggled up in his holster. He was quite dashing, actually.
At least, I expected he was a detective, decked out in that cheap brown cotton suit and milk-stained tie. In the movies, these guys were always the detectives. Unless they were from Miami, then they dressed like David Caruso and Jonathan Togo, or so I'd been told. I've never been to Miami.
Those guys on CSI: Miami knew how to dress. Well, at least their wardrobe person knew how to dress them. I wouldn't have minded dressing either of them myself.
Two men in blue followed close behind. Hmmm, either they were with my detective friend or I had misread the situation completely. Maybe this was all a big coincidence. He was a baddie and these two delightful and hardworking officers of the law were in pursuit.
'Please, step aside,' ordered the big guy. Before I could move a muscle, he'd placed a hand on each of my trembling shoulders and moved me toward the window.
He pointed at Clive. 'Check him out!'
Since the boys in blue responded by approaching Clive, who still lay peacefully against my counter, I figured I'd been right in the first place. They were definitely a party of three.
While the stern-faced blond cop focused his weapon on Clive, the second one moved in and felt the side of Clive's neck. He turned to the big guy in the rumpled suit.
Didn't he know how badly cotton wrinkles? Sheesh, he'd have been better off, in his line of work, with polyester. Or how about gabardine or wool? No, too hot in summer for wool. This was Arizona, after all. Land of the heat wave. But, hey, it's a dry heat. Which, if you ask me, is about as pleasant as the dry heaves, but that's just my opinion —
'He's alive,' said the cop hovering over Clive.
The big man's well-formed forehead formed ripples. 'Are you sure?'
The cop nodded. 'Here come the EMTs. You can ask them if you don't believe me.'
He sighed. Not a bad sound. 'I believe you.' He turned his gaze on me. Those were yummy brown eyes, sort of the color of brown M&Ms. I like M&Ms. He wasn't exactly looking at me with affection, though.
I squirmed and took a step closer to the window. I'd have gone through it but it was solid glass and I wasn't good at transmutation. I've heard there are several folks wandering around Table Rock who are. I'm just not one of them.
Excerpted from Buried in Beignets by J.R. Ripley. Copyright © 2015 J. R. Ripley. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first book in the Maggie Miller Mysteries series and it is not what I was expecting at all. This is a cozy mystery, but it is funny, the characters are rather quirky and eccentric and the town is somewhat strange. Table Rock, Arizona, is where people move to get out of the "Mainstream". They are into aliens, yoga, healthy and organic foods or just plain hiding out. Maggie Miller has moved here to start a new life where her sister and mother live. She is trying to forget about her ex-husband who she tells everyone is dead. He recently remarried and she wanted to get out of Phoenix. She had always wanted to open a cafe serving beignets after her honeymoon in New Orleans, so this is her chance to open Maggie’s Beignet Café. Unfortunately circumstances delay her opening. The day before she is to open, she finds a dead man in a furniture box in her storeroom. Turns out he was killed by being bashed in the head with her marble rolling pin. Guess who is the number one suspect? Maggie decides she needs to investigate or she might end up being arrested and lose her dream business. There are so many suspects it is hard to narrow it down. It turns out that there are a lot of people who were upset with the murdered man and Maggie gets them all stirred up. Of course as in most cozy mysteries, the amateur sleuth puts themselves in danger and this book is no exception. Is someone trying to sabotage her dream? But who and why? Everyone in Table Rock is not who or what they appear to be. Will Maggie find out before her dream becomes a reality? As I said earlier, the characters are a little quirky. Maggie is clumsy and somewhat scatterbrained. She goes from one theory to another. She is likeable though as she is determined, funny and loyal to her friends. The owners of the bridal store are a hoot. There is the hairstylist whose haircuts are awful, the woman who owns the thrift store that can fix anything, the detective with the M&M brown eyes who is infatuated with the prosecutor VV and the doctor who it appears Maggie may be heading into a relationship with. I am looking forward to reading more about the group. If you like cozies with some humour and strange but endearing characters, then pick this one up. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.