This summer, Becca is looking forward to selling her delicious jams and preserves, but things are changing fast at the farmers’ market. A fleet of food trucks has arrived for a two week visit, peddling cupcakes, tacos, chicken wings, and more—including a gourmet hot dog truck operated by Becca’s own cousin, Peyton.
Tensions between truck operators and market vendors over their required licenses reach a crescendo when the town’s business manager is murdered. With Peyton already under suspicion of stealing money and a secret recipe from the restaurant where she worked in Arizona, the cops start grilling her as their prime suspect. Now it’s up to Becca to clear her cousin and find out who at the market gave themselves a license to kill…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My agent, Jessica Faust, who somehow continues to make me think she studied at Hogwarts and has mastered all sorts of magic.
My editor, Michelle Vega, who works untiringly to make each and every word count.
The cover artist for the Farmers’ Market Mysteries, Dan Craig. He’s perfect.
This is a place used to thank the people who helped you with the book that follows these first pages. I’m going to take some liberty with this one and use some space to send out a giant personal thank-you to Jessica, Michelle, and my precious family, friends, and readers. When my life was rocked with a personal crisis (about a year and a half ago from when this book publishes), you were all there to support and care. I can’t express how much that still means to me, and I have no doubt that it was your support that gave my family the boost we needed to make it through. I will be forever grateful.
ON THE RUN
“Come on, Peyton, pull over,” I said as I looked for something to hold on to. There were no handles anywhere, and the dashboard was just a flat piece of vinyl-covered plastic with a duct-taped heating and cooling vent at the top corner. This was one old truck. Even older than mine. But that wasn’t fair; this truck did things mine didn’t. It was an old box truck, but it had been converted to make food—delicious food, hot dogs topped with every imaginable thing, even things that shouldn’t taste good on hot dogs.
“I’m innocent, Becca. You should know that. I can’t get caught. They’ve made me look guilty. I have to get away and let things settle.”
Her protests made her sound both irrationally panicked and guilty. But murder? Peyton? I looked at my cousin’s profile. She was young, barely twenty-two, and pretty in a classic, perfect skin way. Though her short, dark curls were worn in a modern style, there was something reminiscent of the 1920s about her. Thin, sleek, with dainty features, a cute button nose, and a bow mouth. She was the baby of all the cousins. At first when she’d moved to Arizona to “find herself,” we were all worried. But when we heard about the food truck, we hoped her journey of self-discovery had proved successful and she’d found a way to have a fulfilling career and life. This beautiful, smart free spirit couldn’t be a killer, could she?
“Peyton, we’re in a box truck. It’s not built to go fast, and you shouldn’t push it; it’s too old, it’s dangerous. It’s a high-exposure vehicle, and a gust of wind or a quick turn could tip us over,” I said as held on to the sides of the old seat. The truck was probably at its top speed, which was maybe about sixty-five, but it was so big and clunky that it bounced all around as we moved down the road. I hoped the brakes worked.
“It’s the middle of June. There’s no wind to tip us, Becca. And the sooner we get out of town, the better. I need to leave the jurisdiction. Your boyfriend and that other officer are bound and determined to make me look guilty.”
“Peyton,” I said, my voice sharp. I’d tried to be patient with my young cousin and her unusual behavior over the past few days, but she’d just hit my next to last nerve. I had only one left, and I really didn’t want it triggered. “Sam is fair and will listen to everything you have to say. He doesn’t jump to conclusions. Harry Lindon’s also a friend and I’m sure he’s fair, too.”
“Sorry.” She wasn’t. “But come on, don’t you think someone is trying to frame me?”
“I don’t know, but Sam and Harry will make sure you are treated fairly,” I repeated, my voice even sharper. “Pull. The. Truck. Over.” I reached into my pocket and grabbed my cell phone.
We weren’t far out of Monson, but once we were on the road, the passing scenery had turned into countryside quickly. We were on the way to Columbia, but there were many woods and farms and towns to pass by before we got there. I knew we were about to hit a big stretch ahead that didn’t have any cell phone coverage, and I wanted to get ahold of Sam before we got there.
But I was too late. My phone had zero bars, which currently felt like less than zero. I glanced out the side window, but any thought to jump out of the truck withered quickly. Injury and pain were certain.
“Let’s just get to the coast. I’ll catch a cruise ship or something and leave the country,” Peyton said.
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. “You’ve seen too many movies. That’s not going to work. We’re not even going to make it to Columbia. I’m going to call Sam and tell him what’s going on.”
“Becca, please! Just listen to me a minute. I’m not guilty. Someone is framing me. Okay, well, yes, I got into some trouble in Arizona, but I thought I got it cleared up. I can’t explain that to Officer Lindon—he might be the one framing me, don’t you see? And this . . . murder? Not in a million years, Becca. How could anyone think I had it in me to kill someone?”
“You won’t be in trouble if you are innocent.”
“But the evidence makes me look guilty. I will be arrested. And if I’m arrested, I can’t to do what needs to be done to clear my name. I need to get away. Why can’t you understand that?”
“I understand, and I’ll help, Peyton. Allison will help, so will my parents. You know them. They’re all about making sure no one is wrongly accused of anything. They’ll make signs and picket if they have to.”
“No. Give me that phone.” Peyton reached over quickly and tried to grab the phone out of my hands.
I pulled back, but the moving and rocking truck didn’t make it easy. The phone fell onto the flat, dirty metal floor beneath my feet.
“Stop it, Peyton,” I said as I bent over and tried to grab the phone.
I hadn’t put on the flimsy seat belt. Supporting myself with my feet as I bent over to reach for the phone was precarious. The floor was slippery enough that the phone zipped back and forth, continually dodging my reach. Peyton jerked the steering wheel so it would slide close to her toes.
“Peyton! Come on!”
Another steering wheel jerk and the phone disappeared under the driver’s seat, out of my fingers’ and Peyton’s toes’ reach.
“Stop the truck, Peyton, and let’s just talk about this a minute. Give me a chance to understand your position better. No one is after us right now. No one knows where we are. Just explain to me what’s going on. I’m on your side. You know I am.”
I tried to sound sincere, but I wasn’t sure I pulled it off. Mostly I wanted to punch her.
Peyton looked over at me. Her brown eyes were panicked and scared, and suddenly I did feel a small but genuine drop of sympathy for her. She was young. She was terrified. It was a combination that frequently led to bad decisions.
“Please,” I said.
She nodded and looked back at the road.
But even though she’d had her eyes off the road for only a second, it was enough to cause the truck to travel over the yellow line. And even though there wasn’t much traffic on these back roads, there were some cars in the opposite lane. We suddenly faced a big, red, horn-honking pickup truck. I tried to brace myself on something and Peyton screamed as she jerked the steering wheel.
One more time.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER
“Close your eyes,” he said.
I did as he instructed.
“Okay, stick out your tongue,” he said.
“Tell me what you think.” He deposited a small drop of liquid onto my tongue.
“Mmm,” I said a second later. “That is so good. Can I open my eyes?”
Herb and Don, of Herb and Don’s Herbs, a popular stall at Bailey’s Farmers’ Market, stood in front of my stall with expectant looks on their faces and a collection of dark brown miniature bottles in their hands.
“Really good,” I said. “That’s your peppermint?”
“It is, and made into our very own peppermint oil. So good. Right?” Don asked. “Flavorful, maybe even a little cooling?” He smiled. Even if the peppermint had been served with a sliver of ice, it would have done very little to combat today’s heat and humidity.
“Yes,” I said, returning the smile. “It’s perfect.” I knew exactly what it was like to bring a new product to the market. Nerve-wracking. I’d done a few taste test tours through Bailey’s aisles myself. There were never enough positive comments, never enough assurances that the product you’d created was a good one, and one that would not only sell, but that customers would sincerely enjoy.
“Oh, good,” Herb said, his shoulders relaxing. He grinned at Don. “She likes it.”
“She does,” Don said with his own smile. “We’re at one hundred percent, Becca. Everyone who has tried it has given us good reviews, but we were most worried about you. You have one of the best tasters at the market.”
“I did not know that. Glad I could help.”
“When Ian said he could show us how to create essential oils from some of our herbs, we thought we were in for a terrible learning curve, but he’s helped us so much.” Don’s smile faded. He blinked and bit his bottom lip. It took me a second, but I figured out the problem: he wasn’t sure he should side with Ian in front of me on anything ever again. I appreciated his loyalty.
I laughed. “Ian and I are still friends. Ian and Sam are friends, too. It’s good”—I leaned toward them—“but between me and you guys, it’s also a little weird.”
It really wasn’t all that weird, my old boyfriend and my new boyfriend having a friendly relationship of their own, but I knew it should be weird so that’s usually what I told people. In fact, Ian, my old (much younger) boyfriend, and Sam, my current and forever boyfriend (or so I hoped), seemed to get along great. They genuinely liked each other. There was a point, early on in my relationship with Sam, that I was sure he would put a halt to our dating if Ian had been adamant about wanting to stay with me. I thought that maybe we’d passed that point, and that Sam would now fight until the bitter end for me, or at least put Ian in a jail cell until the younger man came to his senses.
Sam was a Monson police officer so he had access to a couple small holding cells in the back room at the police station. Ian was in his mid-twenties and an artist with long hair and lots of tattoos, but none of the criminal behavior that might be expected to stereotypically coincide with that look. Instead, he was a smart, ambitious, talented yard art artist and lavender farmer, with plans to make all sorts of products from his crops—essential oils were only the beginning. Not long ago he’d mentioned to me that Herb and Don were becoming interested in his oil development techniques, and he was excited to teach them his ways. I was happy to see that the end result of their project together had become a viable new market product.
“I’m so glad to hear that. You know, things don’t seem weird around here with you and Ian, but he’s at the market less and less and we just weren’t sure. We should have just asked, huh?” Don said.
“It’s okay. I understand.”
Herb and Don were both business and life partners and had had an herb stall at Bailey’s for years. They’d been so successful growing oregano that they’d been approached by a national spice company, and both of them were offered great-paying jobs in the product development department. But they declined, choosing to stay at Bailey’s instead of going to what they predicted was a sterile indoor environment requiring adherence to corporate rules and such. We’d all been happy to hear the good news.
“Thank you, Becca,” Herb said. “When we have the oil ready for sale, we’ll drop off a bottle for you.”
“I’d love one.”
Ah, the perks of working at a farmers’ market.
Herb and Don dodged customers as they continued down the aisle in search of other available vendor tongues. I glanced over my inventory. Six jars of strawberry preserves were all that was left for the day, and my regular customers and special orders had all been taken care of and reordered if necessary. I was tempted to pack up the jars and go home, or to someplace where I could jump into frigid water, maybe step into a freezer.
My fraternal twin sister and the Bailey’s manager, Allison, had installed a tubed water mister system along the aisles and above the stalls that had given us tiny clouds of cooling relief during our warm South Carolina summer temperatures, but the misters had stopped working the day before. She’d been trying to get someone to come out and fix them since only a few seconds after they’d come to a silent and dry halt, giving way to a collective moan of despair that spread throughout the market.
We’d been spoiled by our misters.
Unfortunately, Allison couldn’t be her typical determined pest with the repair people because another surprise had been sprung on her only a few hours ago.
Bailey’s managers had given the go-ahead for five food trucks to spend two weeks in the market’s parking lot, and the trucks were scheduled to arrive today. They were part of a national program called KEEP ON EATING. The participants were reimbursed all fuel and hotel expenses as they traveled to someplace that they’d never served their food before, preferably away from their home states. It was a way to bring attention to the food truck industry, different regional foods, as well as to some of the unknown but talented chefs and bakers who created delicious, in some cases gourmet, food—from inside a truck. The benefits to Bailey’s were hopefully increased traffic to the market, and an agreement that the food truck operators would purchase as many groceries as they could from the market vendors. The chefs would place signs on their trucks mentioning that they were only using the best-quality and freshest food, found locally from Bailey’s Farmers’ Market. It was with the delivery of the signs earlier today that Allison learned about the trucks’ imminent arrival.
It was a great idea, of course, no matter how or when the news had been delivered. But unfortunately, making sure the goings-on went off without a hitch was more than just making sure there was room in the parking lot for the trucks. Allison’s duties had been all about KEEP ON EATING since the moment she’d seen the signs. I hadn’t talked to her since, but I had left her a phone message letting her know that if she needed any help, I could make myself available.
So instead of going home, I decided I would pack up my remaining inventory and then track down my sister. Maybe she actually could use a hand but hadn’t had a moment to call me back.
I grabbed a box from underneath my front table and started to load the six jars.
“Ms. Robins?” A voice that seemed hesitant but familiar pulled my attention back up toward the aisle.
I recognized him. I remembered him. But how was he here? How was he in South Carolina? It didn’t fit. His deeply tanned skin and brown eyes—framed in the best laugh lines I’d ever seen—his thick, dark hair, the ever-present cowboy hat. Had he taken a wrong turn or gotten lost, perhaps somewhere around Missouri?
“Hi! Oh my gosh!” I said as I abandoned the box and the jars and stepped around my front table to greet my friend from Arizona. “Harry! Talking Trees! It’s great to see you.”
“Becca Robins, hello,” Harry said with a smile that crinkled the laughing lines into deep cheery fan folds.
Harry Lindon, also known as Talking Trees on his reservation home in Arizona, was a law enforcement officer in his neck of the woods; his hot, dry, desert neck of the woods. I’d visited Chief Buffalo’s Trading Post and Farmers’ Market the summer before and had met Harry when murder had become a part of the adventure.
“You look well. Good as new,” I said. “What in the world are you doing in South Carolina?”
“I’m fine,” he said, waving away any concern I might have about his state of health or his recovery from the potentially deadly injuries I knew he’d suffered. “I’m here on business, but I was surprised and happy when I heard I was coming to Monson so I could see my new friend who made me laugh even after we’d gone through some very dangerous moments together.”
“I’m so happy to see you, too. What in the world would your business be in South Carolina?”
Harry looked around. He was tall, but not as tall as his presence made him seem. His wide shoulders and cowboy hat made it feel like he took up a gigantic amount of space.
“This is not a great place to talk. Maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee, or something cold to drink after you’re done working?” he said.
“I’m done,” I said. I felt bad about not tracking down Allison, but I couldn’t resist taking some time to understand why Harry was in Monson, here on “business.” “Do you have a vehicle?”
“I flew into Columbia and then rented a car. It’s out front in the lot.”
“I have an orange truck. I’ll come around and then you can follow me to a coffee shop.”
“All right,” Harry said.
Only a few minutes later, I’d officially closed my stall for the day and brought my truck around to the front parking lot. Harry waited at the entrance in his tiny car. His hat was off because there couldn’t possibly be enough room for both him and it.
I led us to Maytabee’s, a local coffee shop, one of six now in South Carolina that carried some of my products. My preserves, jams, and jellies had sold well from the first day they’d been on the Maytabee’s shelves, but lately they’d done even better, orders coming in twice as big as they’d been only a few months earlier. I didn’t mind, even with the now required extra hours spent in my converted barn/kitchen.
I was dressed in my typical summer short overalls and it had been a hot day, so the overalls and my short blond hair were both wilted, but the people at Maytabee’s had seen me in even worse shape—in fact, one day extra-blue from a jar of blueberry jam I’d dropped in the parking lot when it had slipped out of my hurried hands. They’d referred to me as the Oompa Loompa jam lady ever since.
I didn’t recognize any of the baristas today, though, as I asked Harry to take a seat while I ordered the coffees.
We sat across from each other in matching worn leather chairs, both of us able to enjoy the cool air coming from a ceiling vent. The chairs were off in a corner by themselves, so though there were a few other customers in the shop none were close enough to hear our conversation.
Briefly, we recounted the craziness we’d gone through together in Arizona, but Harry didn’t want to give me many details regarding the deeper investigation into the motives behind the murder of a Native American jewelry maker, other than to tell me that the authorities had the important answers but were still trying to get more details. I made him promise to call me and let me know once all the mysteries had been solved. He said he would.
“Harry, what is your business in Monson?” I finally asked.
“Ah, it’s a curious thing, I suppose. I’m on the trail of someone we think stole a substantial sum of money from a large restaurant in Arizona. She worked for them at the time, stole the money along with one of their proprietary recipes.”
“And she’s in Monson?”
“She’s on her way, I think. I don’t think she’s arrived yet. I hope she truly does make it here. She operates a food truck—a venture she began shortly after leaving the restaurant. She got out of town too quickly for me. I was going to follow her, but I missed her middle-of-the-night exit a few nights ago.”
“Food truck! I know about the food trucks. Five are coming in. But from Arizona? I can’t imagine why someone would travel so far.”
“It’s a long way to go, but we think she’s trying to get far away from home. We don’t know if she’s trying to make a permanent move or just a temporary one. When I contacted the organization sponsoring the summer food truck event, they told me that she requested Monson specifically. They said they tried to honor all of the requests they got, though most of the trucks were only going to travel a state or two away from their homes.”
I knew nothing about the specific trucks set to arrive at Bailey’s. I didn’t know what kind of food they prepared, and other than selling them some of my products at a discount, I didn’t know what role I was to play in their visit.
“Tell me more about her. What kind of food?”
“Gourmet hot dogs. They’re good, too. She grills all the dogs. Her toppings are delicious, including the secret recipe she stole, a sauce made with tomatoes and a mix of spices that has just the right bite, but lots of flavor.”
“Mmm. My mouth is watering.”
“I have to admit when I started investigating the alleged stolen recipe, the part where I had to sample the food was much more enjoyable than lots of other investigations I’ve conducted.”
“The sauce is identical?” I said.
“Mostly,” he said hesitantly.
I was not in a position to interject any ideas into Harry’s investigation. I didn’t know the details, I didn’t know the people involved. But I’d witnessed a few alleged recipe thefts over the years. When you work with food, even if it’s not in a restaurant setting, you have the chance to taste things that are so good that you want to create something similar. It becomes a challenge, a goal. Recipe theft is one thing, but trying to re-create something based upon your own tastes and experience is something else altogether.
“Is that what makes you think she stole the recipe?” I asked.
“It started when the card with the secret recipe went missing from the restaurant’s office. She was the last one seen leaving the office. On her own, behaving suspiciously. The sequence of events is too long to go into now but that combined with her quick departure from the restaurant shortly thereafter and what happened to the manager the week before makes her look pretty guilty. I’ve been hanging around her truck trying to figure her out, as well as eating the food she prepares. It’s very good. I started questioning her more seriously a couple weeks ago. I think she got nervous about my curiosity, and the food truck tour became a convenient way to leave town, at least for a little while.”
“What happened to the restaurant manager?”
“She was assaulted on her way to the bank to make a deposit.”
“Is she okay?”
“Concussion. Not good, but could be worse. She’ll be okay eventually.”
“That’s good. Mind if I ask how much the deposit was? I’m just trying to get a feel for the size of the restaurant.”
Harry looked at me with his intelligent brown eyes. They were such friendly eyes. Even when he’d been in the middle of some of the most terrifying moments life could throw your way, his eyes had remained friendly. I knew. I’d experienced some of the terror with him. Right now his friendly eyes told me that he was about to say something important. I listened closely.
“Fifty thousand dollars,” Harry said quietly, no matter that no one was close enough to eavesdrop.
“The alleged thief had been put in charge of the restaurant the previous week. She claims that before the manager went on vacation, she told her not to take any deposits to the bank. The manager would take care of the money when she got back.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t, and the manager claims she never made that request.”
“This is not looking good for the food truck woman.”
“No, particularly when after the assault and the suspicious exit from the restaurant office, she was able to open her food truck. And with cash, from what I understand. There were no bank records of the money’s movement until the seller of the food truck put it in her bank account.”
“Why haven’t you already arrested her?”
“It’s still all circumstantial, Becca. No proof, but I’m working on it. Or I hope to somehow catch her either in her lies or doing something else illegal.”
“Good luck. I hope you get her. What’s her name? I’ll keep an eye on her, too.”
I’d never experienced a real choke-on-your-drink moment. When Harry said the chef’s name, I hadn’t even been taking a sip. Technically I guess I choked on the sharp intake of air that accompanied my gasp. The name was too unusual for it not to be attached to the person I thought it was attached to. Peyton. Arizona. Food truck. Until he’d said her name, I hadn’t considered that my cousin might be a part of Harry’s “business.”
“Wait, did you say Peyton Chase?” I said after I recovered.
“I did. You okay?” He sat forward on the chair and set his coffee on the floor.
“Fine. Hang on one second, Harry,” I said. I pulled out my phone and pushed the button for Allison. With whatever good juju I might have, I willed that she answer this time.
“Hey, Becs, what’s up?” she said.
“Peyton Chase,” I said.
“She’s one of the food truck people.”
“She is? Hang on.” Allison must have been in her office. I heard papers shuffle and a drawer open and close. “Yes! The hot dog truck. I had no idea.”
“Our Peyton Chase?” I said.
“I thought she was in Arizona, but if it’s Peyton, who knows what she’s up to? But why would she travel this far?”
“I think it’s our Peyton, Allison.”
“Okay. That’s great!”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll tell you later. Gotta go.”
“Uh, okay. Well, the trucks should start arriving in about half an hour. Be here if you want.”
“Will do.” I ended the call and looked at Harry.
“What’s going on, Becca?” he said. He hadn’t removed his hat yet. He did now, setting it on the floor next to his coffee, punctuating the sudden seriousness of the moment.
“Harry, I have a cousin named Peyton Chase. I know she moved to Arizona in search of herself and an adventure. We were all pretty excited when we heard she got a food truck, but I never learned the details. I don’t know if hers is a gourmet hot dog truck. I wonder if we’re talking about the same Peyton. But . . . how could it not be?”
Harry reached into a small pocket with embroidered edging on the front of his vest and pulled out a picture.
“This her?” he said as he held it out for me to inspect.
The picture was a close-up of a young woman leaning out over the counter of the truck, serving someone a hot dog piled high with onions towering above the red and white paper boat the dog sat in. The woman’s short, wavy, dark hair was held back by a blue bandanna and her eyes were just as happy as her big smile.
“Yes, that’s her.” My heart sank. I literally felt it plummet.
“I see.” Harry sighed heavily and sat back on the chair. He returned the picture to his pocket and then steepled his fingers, resting his chin on top. “I suppose there are some conflicts of interest arising here.”
“Because you and I know each other?”
“So you won’t be able to investigate thoroughly because you’re friends with your suspect’s cousin? We might be fast friends, Harry, but we only hung out a few days total.”
“Someone might question the integrity of my investigation.”
“I don’t believe that. Again, I might not know you well or for long, but you don’t let personal feelings get in the way of your investigations. I know that firsthand. I saw that. In Arizona, it got pretty personal for you, Harry.”
“Still.” Harry’s eyebrows came together and he moved his hands to the chair’s armrests.
I needed to think about what I wanted to say. I knew what I was about to suggest wasn’t the most usual way to handle the predicament in front of us. I’d been shaken by my cousin’s potential involvement in illegal activities, but I still had enough of my wits about me to know that I didn’t want Harry to relinquish his investigating duties to someone else. Harry waited patiently as I held up one finger and let my brain work through some needed gyrations.
“Harry, let me help you,” I finally said after the pieces came together in my mind.
Harry laughed, transforming his serious face into a happy, amused one. “Becca, either you like or don’t like your cousin. She’s family, it can go either way. But whatever the case, you helping me doesn’t make sense, and would only compromise the investigation even more.”
“No, hear me out. My boyfriend, Sam, is a local police officer. I’ll introduce you to him. He’s like you—wouldn’t let personal feelings get in the way of investigating a case, ever. You two can work on it together. I can help by trying to prove Peyton innocent, but Sam won’t let me get in the way. You look for evidence of guilt; I’ll look for evidence of innocence. I know that’s not how it’s supposed to work, but I do like Peyton, Harry. I love her. I haven’t seen her for about five years, but I care deeply for my cousin. She was a sweet, kind, but somewhat untamed child who Allison and I probably tormented way too much, but she always had a determined attitude. I really hoped she’d find herself. She sure seemed to need to search a lot.”
Harry couldn’t hide his skepticism. His friendly chocolate eyes, it seemed, could squint perfectly with doubt. “I’m not sure that’s the best way to go about this, but Arizona is a long way away, and it might be a challenge to get someone else from there interested enough to make the trip all the way here. All right, Becca, I’ll give it a day or two.”
“Great! This will work. Somehow, this will work.” I lifted my coffee cup in a toast.
I just hoped it worked in Peyton’s favor.
The plan was to take Harry to the police station immediately and introduce him to Sam, but when I called to see if Sam was at the station, he told me he was actually at Bailey’s, there to provide crowd assistance and suggestions regarding the placement of the soon-to-arrive food trucks. He’d quickly educated himself on town ordinances regarding the legal placement of all types of temporary businesses. I mentioned that I was surprised we had any such ordinances. He added that they were pretty vague.
Harry followed me back to Bailey’s and we both parked in the front lot, on the side opposite of where it seemed the trucks would be parked. We concluded that something important must be going on over there considering the number of people who had gathered. Harry and I observed as we leaned, side by side, against Harry’s petite rental car. The goal was to not draw attention to ourselves as we took a few minutes to get the “lay of the land.” However, between Harry’s hat and my orange truck, we were probably hard to miss.
“When you were in Arizona, you mentioned that your love life was . . . I think you used the word messy. At the coffee shop you said your boyfriend was a police officer. Sounds like you got things figured out.”
“I did. Sam”—I nodded toward the other side of the parking lot where Sam stood with his hands on his hips next to Allison, inspecting a patch of open land next to the parking lot that extended to the back of this side of the market stalls and up to the two-lane highway—“and I have been together since shortly after I returned home from Arizona. It’s not so messy or complicated anymore. In fact, it’s as close to noncomplicated as I’ve ever been. The woman standing next to Sam is my sister, Allison.”
“You two look nothing alike,” Harry said.
I laughed. “Would you believe we’re twins? Fraternal, of course. Allison is tall, dark, and beautiful like our dad. I’m short, blond, and almost as adorable as our mom.”
“Allison is Bailey’s manager. She’ll jump in and help you, too.”
“Becca, I know you mean well, and I meant it when I said I’d stick around for a couple days, but you do know that any investigation needs to be conducted by officers of the law only?”
I smiled up at his friendly eyes, which were now shaded by the brim of his hat. “I mean, of course, I know that, but like I said, I’ll look for ways that Peyton is innocent. It’s the least I can do for a family member. She was such a sweet kid, Harry. Really she was.”
Harry nodded doubtfully and adjusted the hat.
“What do you think of South Carolina?” I said as I swung my attention back to the other side of the lot.
“It’s much greener than Arizona, but most places are, and it’s got lots more humidity. The parts I’ve seen are beautiful, but I haven’t seen very much. I came straight to Bailey’s.”
I was about to offer a tour, but the first food truck rumbled into the parking lot, making sightseeing much less important.
“Paco’s Tacos,” Harry said as he read the side panel. “Sounds good.”
“It does,” I said. The name of the truck was painted across the yellow side panel in black letters that were framed by a red whimsical scribble and pictures of bow tie confetti in a rainbow of colors. There were no pictures of tacos, or any other kinds of Mexican food fare, but the design did its job of bringing attention to the truck and somehow making the idea of eating tacos sound like a good one, or at least a fun, festive one.
Only a couple seconds later another truck pulled in. This one’s side panel had a number of animated chickens painted onto a white background. The chickens were cartoonish as well as chock full o’ personality, with big smiles and winks and thumbs-up (okay, wings-up). The name painted along the top of the panel was simply “Wings.”
“That sounds good, too,” Harry said.
“Maybe we should have had more than coffee at Maytabee’s,” I said.
“Maybe.” Harry laughed.
Allison and Sam directed traffic well, but when I noticed that both Ian and Brenton, the homemade dog biscuit guy, were assisting, I felt like I was neglecting an unspoken duty.