To most of the people of Longely, New York, St. Paddy's Day means good food, great music, and plenty of Guinness. But when the lifeless body of Mike Sweeney floats to the top of a vat of green beer, it looks like the luck o' the Irish has just run out. Unfortunately for the Simmons sisters, Bernie and Libby, the number one suspect is related to one of their very best catering customers, the pampered and powerful Bree Nottingham. When Bree visits A Little Taste of Heaven to beseech them to clear her nephew's name, they just can't say no.
But the more information Bernie and Libby stir up, the more Duncan Nottingham looks like a killer. For Bernie and Libby, the situation is in danger of boiling over. And they can't count on good old Saint Pat to drive out the snake in their midst…they'll have to do it themselves.
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A CATERED ST. PATRICK'S DAY
By ISIS CRAWFORD
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Isis Crawford
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was a little after nine o'clock in the morning and Bernie and Libby Simmons were rolling out pie dough in the kitchen of their shop, A Little Taste of Heaven, when the call came in. Ironically, they had just been congratulating themselves on how peaceful everything had been in the last four months.
There'd been no crimes committed in Longely—at least none that they'd been called on to investigate—the shop was running smoothly, no strategic piece of equipment had broken, their staff was showing up on time and were not exhibiting the usual drama to which they were prone, and the shop's sales figures were more than respectable. In fact, it looked as if they could get a new delivery vehicle soon.
"It's almost boring," Bernie had told her sister as she went over to the cooler and took another portion of dough out. Their dough had so much butter in it that it had to be refrigerated until it was ready to be rolled.
Libby sprinkled a little more flour on the counter and flipped the piece of dough she was working onto its other side. "As Mom would have said, 'Bite your tongue.'"
Bernie rolled her eyes and brushed a speck of flour off the black silk shirt she was wearing. She made it a point of honor to cook in clothes that she would wear outside the kitchen, unlike her sister, who preferred jeans, sweats, and T-shirts.
"What's wrong with saying that?" Libby demanded, noting her sister's expression.
"I didn't say anything was wrong with saying that," Bernie protested with mock sincerity.
"You rolled your eyes. It's the same thing."
"I just think it's a silly expression. I thought so when Mom used to say it and I think so now. It's like believing that knocking on wood will bring you good luck and walking under a ladder will bring you bad luck."
Libby gave the dough on the counter two more outward strokes with her rolling pin before slipping her rolling pin under the perfect circle she'd created and transferring the dough to the pie pan. She allowed herself a moment to admire her handiwork before speaking.
"You mean that's not true?" she asked her sister as she crimped the pie's edges.
Bernie closed the cooler door, put the dough she'd retrieved on the table, and gave it a couple of good whacks with her rolling pin to soften it up. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not," Libby said even though she had been. She was in a crabby mood and got a certain amount of satisfaction out of pushing her sister's buttons.
"It's a superstition."
"Well, sometimes there are reasons for superstitions," Libby pointed out. "Walking under a ladder isn't the smartest thing to do—something could drop on your head. And that thing about breaking a mirror bringing seven years bad luck ..." Libby's voice trailed off. She'd lost her train of thought. Damn. She hated when that happened.
Bernie peeled the wax paper off the dough. "And why is that?"
"I forget," Libby confessed. Then, as she moved the salt aside to make more room on the table, she remembered. "Because mirrors used to be very expensive. Like salt."
For some reason, today's shop feature, four-leaf-clover-shaped sugar cookies with green icing in honor of Saint Patrick's Day, sprang into Bernie's mind. "What about four-leaf clovers? Why are those good luck?"
"Because they're rare and rare connotes valuable," Libby said.
"They could just as easily be bad luck. Unusual is not necessarily good," Bernie mused. "Now if that were true," she said, thinking of all the cookies they'd baked and the cupcakes they'd decorated with four-leaf clovers, "we'd be out a fair chunk of change. No one would buy them."
Libby put her rolling pin down and went to pour herself another cup of coffee. It was an organic Guatemalan light roast. When she'd told her dad that was what she was giving him this morning, he'd snorted and said, "What happened to a plain old cup of joe?" And maybe he was right. After all, Starbucks had switched to Pike Place. Maybe she and her sister should try and find a signature brand of coffee to sell in the shop.
"On the other hand," Bernie continued when Libby got back, "we do touch the kitchen witch for luck every morning before we start working."
"Is that habit or superstition?" Libby asked.
Bernie thought for a moment, then said, "Learned behavior. We saw Mom do it every morning so we do it too." "She did, didn't she?" Libby said in a softer voice.
Bernie nodded her head. "Without fail."
Their mom had gotten the kitchen witch at a local craft fair when she'd first opened the shop and it had been hanging over the kitchen window ever since. It hadn't been particularly well made, so now the witch was tattered and shabby looking. Libby had resewn her seams and restuffed one of her arms and her hat several times, but both she and Bernie were loath to get a new one. She was irreplaceable in their eyes.
Funny how things go, Libby thought as she added a smidgen of heavy cream to her coffee and watched it swirl around in the cup, turning the liquid from an almost black brown to a pleasing shade of tan.
"Changing the topic ..." she said after she'd raised the cup to her lips and taken a sip. "I have a question about the coffee." But she never got a chance to ask it because Bernie's cell went off.
"I wonder what Brandon wants," Bernie said as she reached for it. "He should be asleep by now."
"Maybe he forgot to tell you something," Libby suggested.
"Maybe," Bernie said. But she couldn't think of what it could be that couldn't wait.
She knew that Brandon had closed the bar last night, which meant that he hadn't gotten home until after three in the morning, which meant he hadn't fallen asleep until around five because it always took him a couple of hours to wind down. It was now a little after nine. He should be snoring up a storm at this moment, not calling her.
Especially since the day was going to be nuts at RJ's, it being the day before Saint Patrick's Day, which meant that they would be serving green beer this afternoon. Couple that with the fact that it was Friday and you got chaos. They couldn't pay her enough to work behind the bar this weekend, Bernie decided. Not that anyone had asked her. In fact, she had absolutely no desire to go anywhere near RJ's until Saint Pat's Day was over. She could do without the puking and the fights and the crowds.
"Hi," Bernie said to Brandon as questions swirled through her mind. "What's going on? Is everything okay?"
"No," Brandon told her. His voice was hoarse. "It's not okay. It's not okay at all. Come around to the back of RJ's as soon as you can." And he hung up.
"What's going on?" Libby asked.
Bernie shook her head. "He wants us to meet him at the back of RJ's."
"He didn't say." Bernie hit speed dial.
Libby put down her coffee mug. "What are you doing?"
"Calling him back." This time the call went straight to voice mail. Bernie looked up. "He shut off his phone."
"He never does that," Libby said.
"I know." Bernie bit her lower lip. "Listen, can you take care of the pies? I'm going to see what's up."
The shop had a standing order for ten pies for Friday night for the after-theater event at the Longely playhouse.
"Don't be silly. I'm coming too," Libby told her sister. "Mrs. Saks isn't picking up her order until five o'clock. We've got plenty of time to finish up before then."
Bernie gave her sister a quick hug. Okay, they did bicker a lot, but Libby was always there when she needed her. "Maybe it's not that bad," she said as she rewrapped the dough ball in a fresh sheet of wax paper and plopped it back in the cooler. The crust would be a bit tougher from being overly handled, but there was nothing she could do about that now.
Libby dusted the flour off her hands. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"No," she said softly. "I don't."
In the first place, Brandon had sounded really tense. In the second place, he never turned off his phone. And in the third place, Brandon was never one to ask her for help if there was any other possibility. He was a guy guy, and as such thought that he should be able to handle anything that came along by himself. They'd once been lost in the Adirondacks for a little under two hours and not only had Brandon refused to ask for directions, he wouldn't let Bernie ask either.
"I don't know what this is about, but whatever it is, it isn't good," Bernie conceded. "It isn't good at all." She started to punch in Brandon's number again and then stopped. What was the point? "I guess we'll find out when we get there."
"Guess so," Libby said as she and Bernie slipped on their coats, walked out to the front of the shop, and told their counter people that they were leaving for a little while, and would, hopefully, be back shortly.
On the way out the door, they fielded comments from Mrs. Gupta and Mrs. O'Conner as to the spiciness of the ginger chicken and the type of apple used in the shop's trout, apple, walnut, and frisée salad, fended off a Coca-Cola salesman and another salesman who wanted to sell them a new POS machine, and took delivery of a load of kale and beets from one of the local farmers. Ten minutes later they were finally underway.
Neither of the sisters spoke to each other as they drove through the streets of Longely. They were both too nervous for chitchat. It had been a relatively mild winter and patches of green grass were visible among the brown thatch on people's lawns. And Libby thought she could spot a few of the willow trees starting to bud. Spring would be here very quickly, she realized, which made her think that she and Bernie had better start planning their spring menu.
They always changed things up for each season, although they were careful to keep some of the perennial favorites. Libby was about to tell Bernie they'd better get going on that, but looking at the expression on her face, Libby decided that this wasn't the right time or place to bring the subject up, so she just sat back and watched the houses and the shops go by. Even with the economic downturn, Longely was still a prosperous community, something Libby was unendingly grateful for, and the houses they passed were all freshly painted and neatly landscaped.
RJ's was located about three miles away from A Little Taste of Heaven. Unlike the shop, which was situated on Longely's main street, RJ's was located on the edge of an old strip mall that contained a hardware store, a cleaner's, a beauty salon, a Rite Aid, a small diner, and most recently a dog-grooming place. The bar was a community fixture. It had been in existence for twenty years and Bernie and Libby had hung out there when they were younger, eating chicken wings, drinking beer, shooting pool, and playing darts.
They still hung out there and enjoyed an occasional game of pool, but that was as much a function of Bernie's boyfriend Brandon working behind the bar as anything else. It remained a very popular place however, especially on Saint Patrick's Day. Longely might not have a parade like New York City did, but they did have green beer at RJ's, and that was good enough for most people.
Bernie drove around to the back and parked the van. Earlier in the week, she'd broken out her new Marc Jacobs knee-length double-breasted navy spring coat, the one she'd gotten on sale at Barneys last fall, while Libby was still wearing her old beat-up winter parka, mostly because she'd been too lazy to go down to the basement and dig out her spring jacket, which actually wasn't in much better condition than her winter one was.
"You should get rid of that thing," Bernie told her as she reached out and touched it. "It's so old the material is starting to fray."
"It's my good luck jacket," Libby protested.
"It's an offense to the eyes," Bernie countered. She was about to add something to the effect that even the Salvation Army wouldn't take it when she caught sight of Brandon.
"Over here," he called, waving the sisters in his direction.
Brandon was standing next to the first of ten large kegs of beer. Bernie knew that the kegs contained green beer and that they had been, as was the custom, dropped off by a trucker yesterday and that they were due to be wheeled into the bar and tapped with a great deal of ceremony sometime later that afternoon. At least that was the way things usually went, but she had a feeling that this time things were going to be different.
"So whazz's up, Holmes?" Bernie asked as she walked toward Brandon.
Brandon took a step to the side and pointed to one of the kegs. "Check it out."
Libby and Bernie moved closer.
"I take it this is not about the quality of the beer?" Bernie asked him.
"I wish it were," Brandon replied.
Bernie took another step forward. Now that she was closer she could see a body bent over the barrel Brandon was pointing at. From the looks of what she could see of him, Bernie decided that the person was obviously male.
And obviously dead.
Unless he didn't need to breathe air. His legs were visible, but his chest and head were floating face down in green beer.
"Maybe he was drinking and fell in," Bernie suggested.
"And maybe the cow really did jump over the moon," Brandon told her.
"There is a chance it could have been an accident," Bernie countered.
"A very small chance," Brandon allowed. "An infinitesimal chance."
"Yeah. I don't really think so either," Bernie admitted.
"Do you know who it is?" Libby asked Brandon.
Brandon nodded. "Unfortunately, I do. It's Mike Sweeney."
"Mike Sweeney of the Corned Beef and Cabbage Club?" Libby asked. "That Mike Sweeney?"
"Yup. That's the one," Brandon said.
"He's such a jerk," Libby blurted out. She clapped her hand over her mouth when she realized what she'd said.
"Now he's a dead jerk," Brandon replied.
"I guess drinking green beer didn't bring him much luck," Bernie observed.
Brandon rubbed his chin with the knuckles of his left hand. "I never believed that one."
Bernie reflected that he looked exhausted. "Have you called anyone besides us?" she asked.
"I called my boss first."
"Naturally," Bernie said. "That's who I would have called. Who needs the cops anyway?"
"Well, it is his place," Brandon said defensively.
"That's true," Bernie conceded. "So what did he say?"
"He said to hold off calling anyone until he got here."
"Then why did you call me?" Bernie asked.
"I was hungry for your body."
"Seriously," Bernie said.
Brandon moved his eyebrows up and down. "I was hungry and I thought you'd bring me a corn muffin and some coffee."
Bernie stood up on her tiptoes and kissed his nose. "That's very sweet, but I don't believe you."
"About the coffee? I definitely need some."
"That I believe," Bernie told him. "You look as if you're ready to fall asleep standing up. But I don't believe you called so I could bring you a muffin. For one thing, you didn't ask."
"I thought you'd know, being as you say you can read my mind."
"You could have gotten something at the diner, which is—what?—two steps away?"
Brandon made an attempt at a smile and failed. "His stuff isn't nearly as good as yours," he pointed out.
"Seriously," Bernie repeated, wondering what Brandon wasn't telling her.
Brandon sighed. "Seriously, I called you because I wanted you to see how everything is before people start mucking around with things."
"Are you talking about people in general or is there someone specific you have in mind?"
Brandon ran his hand through his hair, which Bernie noticed was standing out in all directions, then zipped up the hoodie he was wearing. "Just in case," he said instead.
"Just in case what?" Bernie asked.
Brandon crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. "Just in case," he repeated.
"Now you're not making any sense," Bernie told him.
Brandon didn't say anything. Instead he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Bernie studied him for a moment. "Are you afraid you're going to get arrested?" she asked gently.
"It had crossed my mind," Brandon admitted.
"Why don't you tell Auntie Libby what happened," Libby coaxed.
Brandon jammed his hands in his pockets and pressed his lips together.
"After all," Bernie pointed out, "isn't that why you called us down here in the first place?"
"I guess you're right," Brandon said.
And so he did.
Excerpted from A CATERED ST. PATRICK'S DAY by ISIS CRAWFORD Copyright © 2012 by Isis Crawford. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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