As the national bestselling Cookie Cutter Shop mysteries return, things are heating up for Olivia Greyson, her best friend, Maddie, and the rest of the crew at The Gingerbread House—until a cold case puts their plans on ice…
Olivia’s mom, Ellie, is always cooking up new schemes, but her latest idea has Livie and Maddie especially excited. Ellie’s converting an old boarding house into an arts and crafts school—one that, of course, houses a kitchen for those interested in baking. But right as renovations start, the workers discover a pile of bones buried within the boarding house’s walls, evidence of a long forgotten crime.
A silver necklace with a cookie cutter charm is found within the remains, convincing one of the workers that the bones are the remains of her father, who’s been missing for over five years. Of course, Livie and Maddie can’t resist the allure of investigating. But they’re about to discover that digging up the secrets of the past can be deadly dangerous…
About the Author
Virginia Lowell is the national bestseling author of the Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery series (Cookies and Scream, One Dead Cookie, When the Cookie Crumbles).
Read an Excerpt
Olivia Greyson opened a kitchen cabinet and reached for a bag of flour that wasn’t there. With an impatient sigh, she reminded herself that she was working in an unfamiliar kitchen. She and her business partner, Maddie Briggs, had organized the kitchen, which was twice the size of their own cozy little kitchen back at The Gingerbread House. This kitchen, with its state-of-the-art appliances and many cabinets, felt less homey to Olivia. She loved to lose herself in the pleasures of baking decorated cutout cookies, such as the feel of a cutter as it slid through the dough and the warm, sweet aroma of the cookies. She loved to watch a colorful design emerge as she squeezed royal icing through the tip of a pastry bag. To Olivia, having to stop and hunt for baking ingredients felt like hearing the doorbell ring as she drifted into a cookie-filled dream.
Olivia shut the cabinet door with more force than she’d intended, though the new magnet kept it from bouncing back at her. “This is very irritating,” she said as she swiped at a lock of auburn hair that flopped over one eye. “I could have sworn we had another bag of flour. There’s no more sugar, either. I’d so rather be back at The Gingerbread House, baking in our own simple, well-stocked kitchen. Maddie, remind me why we agreed to work here, and make it convincing.”
Maddie, Olivia’s best friend since age ten, tousled her curly red hair over the sink to shed a dusting of flour. “Because, my cranky friend, we solemnly promised your mom we would help her achieve her dream of transforming this disreputable dump into an arts and crafts school. As I recall, you were all gung-ho about the idea. I believe you hoped it would keep Ellie too busy to pressure you into taking yoga classes.” Maddie straightened and tossed back her hair, which appeared to have ballooned by several inches.
“Well, it’s a reason, though I doubt Mom will ever give up pressuring me to take yoga.”
Wielding a pastry bag, Maddie piped a burnt orange outline around a baked and cooled cookie shaped like a saw. “Our delectable cookies are sorely needed to energize those hungry workers upstairs,” she reminded Olivia. “It’s tough work, transforming this old place into a structure capable of passing a housing inspection.” Maddie piped burnt orange polka dots on the saw-shaped cookie.
“Those dots look like rust spots,” Olivia said, nodding toward the cookie.
Maddie’s pale eyebrows lifted haughtily. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s the look I was aiming for. It’s a subtle yet tasty reminder not to leave tools out in the rain.”
Olivia snickered, awakening Spunky, her little Yorkshire terrier, who’d been snoozing on a soft blanket in the corner of the kitchen. Hoping for food, he yapped and flapped his tail.
“Not a chance, Spunks, my little con artist,” Olivia said fondly. He trotted over to her, and she scooped him up for a cuddle. “I must admit, I’m glad Spunky could come with us,” Olivia said as she rubbed his ears. Unlike the Gingerbread House kitchen, this was still considered private property. Since they weren’t preparing food to sell to the public, they were safe from the threat of a Health Department inspection.
Maddie finished decorating the last baked cookie, a wrench, with burnt orange candy stripes. “By the way,” she said, “if you were thinking about starting another batch of cookie dough, I put the flour on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, shoved toward the back, behind the bread and lunchmeat. The sugar is in there, too. It’s for their own protection.” Maddie glanced up at the stained ceiling. “I don’t want to be around when the workers rip down that ceiling. I’m still not convinced those mice have vacated the premises.”
“Yet another reason I’d rather be baking in the lovely kitchen of our own little shop.” Olivia opened the door of the newly installed refrigerator to retrieve the bag of flour.
“Point taken.” Before the refrigerator door slammed shut, Maddie reached inside to grab a disk of chilled cookie dough from the top shelf.
Olivia opened the fresh bag of flour and measured enough for one batch of dough. “I’ll feel more cheerful once I start another batch of cookie dough,” she said. “Besides, you and I usually bake all Sunday and Monday, while The Gingerbread House is closed. Where we bake isn’t really important. It’s the rolling, cutting, and decorating I truly love.”
“And the cookie sampling,” Maddie said.
“Can’t argue with that.” Olivia lowered the mixer beaters into the bowl, where sugar and butter waited to be creamed together. “Tomorrow we’ll be back in our own sweet, low-tech kitchen. Although I have to admit, it’s fun to watch those workers upstairs devour our cookies. I wish I could eat like that.”
“They will be renovating all those old rooms,” Maddie said. “They need sugar.” Her freckled brow furrowed as she assessed the cookies she’d finished decorating. Apparently satisfied, she said, “Personally, I think it’s fun to test out a newly renovated kitchen, especially when someone else is paying for top-notch equipment. We should get one of these silicone rolling pins for the store kitchen. I used hardly any flour to roll out the dough, plus this is so easy to wash.” Maddie held the rolling pin by one handle and pointed it toward the ceiling like a drum major’s baton. “This isn’t solid wood, but it might make an effective weapon should we ever again have to protect ourselves from a murderer.”
“When it comes to confrontations with killers, we have more than fulfilled our lifetime quota.” Olivia nestled the unopened bag of flour in a cloth sack to be carted back to The Gingerbread House.
Maddie applied the rolling pin to the center of the chilled dough and began to roll it out. “I do get a kick out of making cutout cookies in the kitchen of an old flophouse.”
“This place didn’t start out as a flophouse, you know,” Olivia said. “Mom told me it was a boarding house built in the 1920s for single workers aspiring to middle-class status. Respectable single women could live here alone, as long as they had jobs. Then the Great Depression hit Chatterley Heights, not to mention the rest of the—is that your cell phone blasting? It can’t be mine, because I left it charging in my own humble kitchen, where it is safe from your compulsion to mess with other people’s ringtones.”
“Ha! I knew it,” Maddie said. “You’ve been forgetting your phone on purpose, just so I can’t spice up your boring taste in ringtones.” When her cell phone blared again, Maddie said, “My hands are covered with flour. Would you see if that’s someone worth talking to, like my sweet, hunky husband or my aunt Sadie?”
Olivia reached toward the kitchen counter and scooped up Maddie’s cell phone. “It probably isn’t Lucas or Aunt Sadie,” Olivia said as she checked the caller ID. “It’s a local number, though. I don’t recognize it. Maybe one of the workers upstairs is calling you for some reason. I suppose we’d better answer.”
Maddie grabbed a towel and wiped the flour off her hands before she took the cell phone from Olivia. “Hi,” Maddie said. “Who are you?” Her forehead crinkled in puzzlement. “It’s your mom,” she whispered to Olivia. “Ellie, why are you . . . ? Yeah, I know, Livie is always forgetting her phone. It drives me crazy. But what happened to yours? Did the poor, ancient creature finally die? Maybe now you’ll consider getting a smartphone. I could help you set it up.” Maddie’s frown deepened as she listened. “Ellie, slow down, I can’t understand you. Is that pandemonium I hear in the background?” Maddie glanced at Olivia and shrugged. “All right, ours not to question why. We’re on our way upstairs.” Maddie hung up and slid her phone into the pocket of her jeans. Spreading a clean towel over her partially rolled dough, she said, “Our instant presence is required upstairs in room eight.”
“What on earth . . . ? Has one of the workers been injured?”
“I don’t know,” Maddie said, “but all will be revealed. From the sound of it, your mother was busy coping with someone in hysterics. Maybe several someones. Prepare for anything.” Spunky left his blanket and ran to join his human buddies. He barely made it into the hallway before Maddie closed the kitchen door.
“Just an ordinary day in Chatterley Heights, Maryland,” Olivia muttered as she followed Maddie and Spunky up the rickety staircase to the second floor. They walked down the dimly lit corridor on stained, threadbare carpet to room number eight. Through the thin wood of the closed door, Olivia heard a jumble of voices. She turned the knob, but the door cracked open before she could give it a push. Olivia recognized her mother’s hazel eyes, or at least one of them, peeking out at her. Ellie Greyson-Meyers’s small, yet remarkably strong arm snaked out, clutched Olivia’s wrist, and yanked her into the room. Maddie and Spunky followed.
At first, Olivia saw nothing to explain her mother’s urgent summons. The room was littered with stained and splintered boards, along with equipment she couldn’t identify by name. No one appeared to be working. Five workers clustered together in a corner of the room, near a bare window with a northern exposure. Their spirited discussion halted abruptly when they noticed Olivia and Maddie. Through the window behind the workers, Olivia saw a small forest of overgrown trees.
Olivia’s tall, gangly younger brother, Jason, stood apart from the group. For once, Jason wasn’t cracking jokes. As he stared down at his feet, a lock of brown hair fell across his forehead. He ignored it. When Spunky trotted toward him, Jason’s sober expression brightened.
A woman huddled on the floor against the west wall. Long, wavy chestnut hair fell forward as she hid her face in her hands. From the distressed skinny jeans that clung to the woman’s slender legs, Olivia guessed she was fairly young.
One worker broke ranks to join the young woman. Olivia did a double take as she recognized her stepfather’s cousin, Calliope Zimmermann. She was in charge of the work crew, in addition to providing substantial funding for the project. In work boots, jeans, a loose sweatshirt, and a hardhat, Calliope looked indistinguishable from the male workers. As usual, her long, plain face was free of makeup. A fringe of gray-tinged brown hair showed beneath her hardhat. Calliope slid down the wall next to the young woman and handed her a wad of tissue. “Steady on now, kid. Blow your nose. When the police finally show up, they’ll want to ask you some questions.”
“I’ve told you over and over, my name is Alicia, not kid. Besides, I’m nineteen years old.” With a sulky frown, Alicia snatched the tissues from Calliope’s hand.
“Yeah, I know.” Calliope removed her hardhat and ran her fingers through her matted hair. “I just wanted to make you mad. Mad is better at a time like this. Believe me, I’ve been through it, and I was a lot younger than you. Why don’t you go home? You only work half days, anyway.”
“You’re only saying that because I don’t do anything but fetch stuff,” Alicia said. “You never let me do any real work. I need the money, you know. I won’t make enough waitressing.”
Calliope sighed loudly. She was not a small woman, but she hopped to her feet with no apparent effort and ambled back toward the other workers.
“Mom, what the heck is going on here?” Olivia asked Ellie in a low voice. “Why were the police called?”
Calliope heard the question and joined them. “It looks like we’ve got ourselves another murder here in Chatterley Heights,” she said.
Alicia wailed into her wad of tissues.
“I’ll go comfort Alicia.” Ellie glanced toward the east end of the room, where a sheet of plywood leaned against the wall. “I’ve already seen what there is to see. Come on, Spunks, we are needed.” The little Yorkie followed her eagerly.
Calliope motioned to Olivia and Maddie to follow her across the room. “Alicia is convinced it’s her father in there,” Calliope said, nodding toward the plywood.
“Her father is inside the wall?” Maddie exchanged a quick glance with Olivia. “Is Alicia . . . I mean . . .”
“Sane?” Calliope shrugged her broad shoulders. “She’s emotional, that’s for sure. Won’t stop bawling.” When they were a couple of feet away from the wall, Calliope signaled them to stay where they were. Olivia glanced back at her mother, who was sitting on the floor next to Alicia, an arm around the girl’s shaking shoulders. Spunky gazed at Alicia, his head tilted, as if he were trying to puzzle out what the sobbing sounds meant.
The workers had begun to chat among themselves. Jason broke away from the group and crossed the room to join Calliope, who spoke softly to him. Jason nodded. He positioned himself at one end of the plywood. Calliope took hold of the opposite end, and together they eased it away from the opening in the wall. Olivia assumed they were trying not to disturb the site any more than necessary. When the plywood scraped against the floor, Olivia heard a cry from across the room. Probably Alicia, Olivia thought, but she didn’t turn around to check. She couldn’t drag her gaze away from the wall.
“Livie, dear,” Ellie said, “Alicia and I will be downstairs in the kitchen making sandwiches and coffee. Did I hear you mention you’d finished baking some cookies?”
Olivia answered her mother’s question without turning her head. “Oh, sure, Mom, eat the cookies, drink the coffee. There’s plenty of both.”
“You’ll need to move some dough off the table,” Maddie said. “Just wad it in a towel and stick it in the fridge.”
The workers shuffled closer to the wall to get another look inside. “You guys clear out,” Calliope said. “You can take the rest of the day off, with pay. Stop for lunch on your way out. Wait for me in the kitchen and don’t leave before I get there.” The men whooped. “And if I find out you’ve told anyone about what we discovered in that wall, I’ll fire you on the spot. Understood?”
The workers all nodded vigorously and filed out of the room.
“Everyone in Chatterley Heights will hear about these bones by sundown at the latest,” Maddie said. “You know that, right?”
“Sure, I know that,” Calliope said. “But I’m betting my threat will slow them down, maybe make them think twice. I’m paying them well, and they need the work.”
Jason and Calliope leaned the plywood against the wall, revealing a cavity more than a foot deep. The area seemed generous for a wall, but Olivia knew that walls had often been thicker in the past. No one spoke for a time. There wasn’t much to say because there wasn’t much to see beyond some bones. Olivia was too embarrassed to admit, at least in public, that she’d envisioned a skeleton more like the plastic one her family had hung on their front door every Halloween.
“Huh,” Maddie whispered. “Is that all there is?”
“Jeez, sorry to disappoint you guys,” Jason said.
Olivia felt something brush against her ankle. She glanced down to see Spunky sneak toward the cavity. His fluffy tail swished with eager curiosity as he sniffed the air. “Spunky, no!” Olivia grabbed him and lifted his tiny body to her chest. “Those bones are not for you,” she whispered in his ear. He squirmed in her arms, clearly not convinced.
Olivia ran her finger over several small holes along the outer edges of the wall. “Are these nail holes? So that plywood was actually nailed to the wall?”
“It was,” Calliope said. “Sloppy job. I’d have re-plastered the whole wall. No one would have been the wiser, at least until the site was cleared for development. Even then, the bones might have been crushed by a bulldozer before anyone saw them.”
Olivia peered into the wall cavity, taking care not to step inside. “This area seems large for an inner wall,” she said. “Shouldn’t there be insulation or something?”
Jason snorted. “Inside walls don’t need insulation. However, despite the dumbness of your question, I agree that the space is larger than I’d have expected. My guess is this might originally have been a shallow storage closet. It goes along half the wall. There would have been another closet in the room sharing this wall to fill in the other half. For some reason, the closets in both rooms got plastered over to make them into walls. Don’t ask me why. Maybe the closets were disintegrating. Anyway, the building was abandoned years ago. Somehow the wall got damaged, and someone covered the whole thing with plywood. That’s all I can figure.”
“Let me have another look.” Calliope peered around the cavity. “You might be right, Jason. I’d say this wall has been through several renovations, mostly on the cheap. It started out good and solid. Then maybe somebody decided it used up too much valuable space and tried to make a closet out of it. Not a very good closet, but by then the inhabitants were probably too poor to need much storage space.” Calliope shook her head. “Too bad. This was a decent building once. I hate to see good construction go bad.”
“Forgive me for interrupting such a fascinating and poignant discussion of wall design,” Maddie said, “but I thought someone said the police were on their way. Did you give them the right address? Won’t they be here soon, and shouldn’t we put the plywood back?”
“Mom called 911,” Jason said. “The dispatcher said it might be some time before someone could get here. I guess there’s been a huge accident between here and Twiterton. That’s what’s occupying all the available police from several towns. The dispatcher decided that finding some old bones wasn’t a big emergency, so it could wait.”
“I know Del has been in DC at a conference,” Olivia said. “Did anyone get hold of him?” Sheriff Del Jenkins was, as her mother put it, Olivia’s “special friend.” Ellie was a sixties flower child who had once lived in a commune, but when it came to her daughter, she’d turned traditional.
“I called Del on his cell,” Calliope said. “He said he’ll drive back to town this evening, after he does some talk or other. He warned us not to touch anything, and we haven’t, except for removing the plywood covering. Del wants to look at the scene first before he calls in the experts. I mean, this guy’s been dead for years. Anyway, chances are he sneaked in here and died of natural causes.”
“But then why was he hidden in the wall?” Maddie asked.
Calliope shrugged. “This was a hangout for vagrants. My guess is they didn’t want any trouble, so they stuffed the body into a rotting wall, found an old piece of plywood, and nailed him inside.”
Maddie grimaced. “Wouldn’t it, um, smell?”
“The place probably didn’t smell great to begin with,” Calliope said. “A passed-out drunk might not care, especially if he had nowhere else to sleep.”
“Where is Cody?” Olivia asked. Chatterley Heights’ deputy sheriff, Cody Furlow, was an eager investigator, though he could be indecisive at times. Olivia also knew that Del wanted to give Cody a chance to gain confidence and experience.
“Cody’s dad had a heart attack during the night,” Jason said. “I heard about it from Ida this morning at Pete’s Diner. Ida said Cody took off early this morning. She knew that because he’d left a message ordering a take-out breakfast, which he picked up just after the diner opened at five-thirty a.m. He had it half eaten before he got out the diner door. Ida was impressed.”
“Ida doesn’t impress easily,” Olivia said. “Poor Cody. He probably just wanted to get to his dad as fast as possible. So Chatterley Heights is currently without any police protection?”
“Jeez,” Jason said, “don’t be such a wimp. This town doesn’t need 24–7 police protection. Besides, you’ve got me and Cal.”
“So good to know,” Olivia murmured. “Why is Alicia so convinced those are her father’s remains?” Olivia directed her question to Calliope.
“I’ll show you.” Calliope squatted down and pointed toward some thin, curved bones that Olivia guessed were ribs. She and Maddie leaned in as close as they could without disturbing the scene.
“Is that a necklace?” Maddie asked. “I think I see a thin piece of chain.”
Calliope nodded. “When I mentioned seeing a chain, Al burst into sobs. She refused to come over and take a look, but she said she’d given her father a necklace with a silver chain. That’s all it took to convince her these bones were his. Maybe Ellie can get more out of her.”
“Mom has a talent for wheedling information.” Olivia arched her neck to get a better look at the chain. “I don’t suppose someone brought a flashlight?”
“I never leave home without one. Hang on a sec.” Calliope returned with a hefty cordless spotlight.
Olivia held her breath as Calliope aimed the spotlight at the narrow floor inside the wall. For an instant, the pile of bones seemed to brighten and stir, as if light were all they’d needed to restore them to life. The thin length of chain, on the other hand, looked dirty and dull. Olivia leaned forward to follow its path over a rib and behind a thicker bone she couldn’t name. “I think something might be attached to that chain,” she said. “Calliope, can you shift the light a bit to the right so I can see behind that bone? Good, that helps.”
“I’m about to explode,” Maddie said. “What do you see?”
Olivia craned her neck. “I’m not positive, but I think it’s . . . Maddie, you won’t believe this. I think it’s a tiny cookie cutter.”
“Be serious,” Maddie said.
“Really, it looks like a tiny cookie cutter with a back.”
“Let me see.” Maddie nudged Olivia aside.
“I’m five-seven, and I can barely see it,” Olivia said. “You’re shorter than I am.”
“Only by an inch, and besides, I’m more flexible.”
“I’m five-eight,” Calliope said. “That makes me taller than both of you. Step aside.” She left the spotlight on the floor pointing toward the remains.
In the interests of fact finding, Olivia and Maddie yielded to Calliope’s superior height. Besides, Olivia reasoned, Calliope knew a cookie cutter when she saw one. Olivia retrieved the spotlight and aimed it directly at the area where she had spotted the tiny object nestled among the sad bones.
Calliope dropped to her hands and knees, her neck muscles straining as her eyes followed the path of the thin chain until it dropped out of sight. “Lift the light higher,” Calliope ordered. With a curt nod, she said, “Livie was right.”
“A cookie cutter on a chain?” Maddie asked. “That sounds really uncomfortable, especially for a guy. Are we sure these bones belonged to a man? Shouldn’t we ask Alicia’s mother about what happened to her husband before we leap to conclusions? Not that I don’t enjoy speculating, of course.”
Calliope sat back on her knees and brushed dust off her hands. “Her mom doesn’t care what happened to him, as long as he is gone forever. Anyway, that’s what Alicia says. She and her mom don’t get along. Alicia is living at home until she can save enough money to afford an apartment of her own. Meanwhile, she tries not to be home when her mom is there. They rarely speak to each other.”
“Wow,” Maddie said. “You’ve lived in Chatterley Heights for less than a year, and already you know more about the place than I do.”
“Ellie told me,” Calliope said. “Once I decided she was worth listening to, I started picking up all sorts of interesting stuff. I don’t listen much when she tells long stories, though. I get bored.”
“I hear you,” Olivia said. “Although there’s usually a point to those stories, if you can hang on till the end.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.” Calliope rolled off her knees and stood up, demonstrating an agility that made Olivia feel old, even though she was at least a decade younger. “About that necklace,” Calliope said. “It looks like a sappy Valentine’s Day cookie cutter shaped like a heart with an arrow through it. I don’t think it’s a real cutter, though. It’s even smaller than a fondant cutter, and it isn’t deep enough to cut through rolled dough. I’d say it was meant to represent a cookie cutter but thin enough to function as a charm. I’ll bet Jason’s farm—for which I hold the mortgage, at least until he pays me back—that the pierced heart shape had a personal meaning for whoever once owned those bones.”
“I agree,” Olivia said. “Why else would a man, assuming these bones do belong to a man, wear a cookie cutter image of a pierced heart around his neck?”
Calliope leaned against the wall. “Alicia told me something right before she started all that crying. She said her father was ‘wearing her heart,’ like he’d promised her. Mind you, she hadn’t seen the charm. None of us had at that point, but it sure looks like this necklace could be the one her father wore. Of course, for all we know it was her dad who killed the person these bones belonged to, and then he threw the necklace in there to convince everyone he was dead. He might have assumed it was worthless costume jewelry.”
“Maybe it is,” Maddie said.
Calliope shook her head. “The charm is tarnished, just like the chain, but it has held up well. From what I can see, it looks well crafted. I’m betting the whole thing is made of silver. It isn’t gold, but still, he could have gotten something for it, enough to buy a meal, anyway. For a vagrant, that’s a lot.”
“If those bones really are Alicia’s father, whoever nailed his body inside that wall didn’t take the necklace,” Olivia said. “Why not, I wonder.”
“The real question,” Maddie said, “is do we wait for Del to get here, like good little girls, or do we start asking questions on our own?”
Olivia grinned. “Do you even have to ask?”
Before joining Calliope and her crew for lunch, Olivia and Maddie felt they should try to secure room number eight, where the skeletal remains lay as they’d been found, untouched. The lonely bones could rest for another day or so, at least until the police removed them for analysis.
While Olivia held Spunky, Maddie rifled through a satchel slung over her shoulder. “There’s no way to lock the door to this room,” she said, “so I asked Calliope for a roll of duct tape and scissors. I’ll stretch some tape across the door as a warning to stay out. That’s the best we can do for now. Hey, when we see Del, we should ask him to requisition some crime scene tape for us. You know, for next time.”
“There will be no next time,” Olivia said.
“You said that last time.” Maddie cut long strips of duct tape and crisscrossed the closed door in three places. “That ought to do it.” She stood back to admire her work. “No, wait a minute.” Maddie drew a rag from the pocket of her jeans and used it to wipe off the doorknob. “If anyone besides Del breaks through the tape and goes into the room, we’ll have their fingerprints.”
Olivia arched one eyebrow at her best friend since age ten. “You’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you?”
“You bet,” Maddie said. “Solving a crime is almost as much fun as baking and decorating cookies. This time I don’t feel so sad. Those are old bones, so it’s not like finding the body of someone who was alive just a little while ago. But, Livie, maybe we’ve jumped the gun a bit . . . if I may mention a gun or any other weapon, which, by the way, we didn’t find with those bones.”
“It could have been removed.” Olivia paused on the staircase to look up at her friend. “If that was your unique, roundabout way of saying this might not have been an actual murder, then I agree we can’t be sure. Only it does seem odd that someone would stuff a body inside a wall and nail up a sheet of plywood to cover the hole. The building had already been abandoned. If the death was natural, the body could probably have remained out in the open. To me, it looks like someone wanted to hide the body but didn’t have much time.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Maddie said. “Still, even if this was murder most foul, it didn’t happen recently, or we would have found a body instead of bones, right? So this feels more like we’ve stumbled upon an archeological site. It doesn’t upset me.”
Olivia wasn’t sure she agreed. She had felt a rush of sadness when she’d first seen those bones, even though she hadn’t known Alicia’s father . . . assuming they belonged to him. Discovering a recent murder victim, especially if she’d known the person, would have disturbed her more deeply. Yet Olivia couldn’t forget that those bones had once been a living person. At the same time, she had to admit she’d always experienced a surge of satisfaction whenever she and Maddie helped bring a murderer to justice. Okay, maybe a tiny thrill, too . . .
Maddie bounced down the staircase and headed toward the kitchen. Olivia followed at a more conservative pace. On their way up, she had noticed how creaky the stairs were. She had visions of putting her foot through a step, and she didn’t trust the wobbly banister to save her. The old boarding house would need a lot of work before it could reopen as the craft school that kept expanding in her mother’s fertile imagination.
Constance Overton, owner of the Chatterley Heights Management and Rental Company, had bought the old place for a song, or more like half a stanza. However, Constance wouldn’t have taken it for free if she’d thought it couldn’t be put to a profitable use. Luckily, she had offered Calliope and Ellie a rent-free year, so they could focus their efforts and resources on yanking the building up to code—if it didn’t fall down first.
When Olivia opened the kitchen door, she felt as if she’d barged in on a party. She held on tightly to Spunky. He was used to shoppers roaming around the store, but Olivia kept him in her apartment whenever she and Maddie hosted an event. She was afraid someone might trip over the little five-pound pup.
The noisy room felt crammed, though it was at least twice the size of the Gingerbread House kitchen. Calliope, Jason, and the other workers slurped coffee, devoured sandwiches, and snatched cookies so quickly that Ellie was searching the refrigerator for more food. At the kitchen counter, Alicia slapped cheese and lunchmeat between slices of buttered bread. Sandwiches piled higher and higher, rapidly filling a large platter. On the table, a second platter was emptying fast. When a worker grabbed the last sandwich, Alicia swapped the plate for a loaded one, then began making more sandwiches.
Maddie, who’d beat Olivia to the kitchen, had nearly finished filling the reservoir of a new twenty-cup coffeemaker. She measured ground coffee into the basket and flipped the on switch. “Want a sandwich?” Maddie asked as she joined Olivia.
“Are there enough to go around?” Olivia watched the workers swoop up the newly delivered sandwiches as if they’d worked sixteen hours straight without stopping for food.
“There’s plenty, if we act quickly.” Maddie snatched two sandwiches from the tray and handed one to Olivia. “Those guys will eat anything they see, but they aren’t really starving. Ellie said they went through two trays before I got to the kitchen. She was delivering a third tray to the table as I walked in. Alicia took over for her, and . . . well, as you can see, those appetites know no bounds.” Maddie nodded toward the new tray, which now held only one sandwich. In an instant, a beefy hand grabbed that last sandwich.
“Yikes,” Olivia said. “Lucky thing Calliope is footing the bill for food.”
“No kidding. Your mom said she plans to do some major grocery shopping and restock the fridge this afternoon, so the workers won’t starve tomorrow—assuming the police allow them to go back to work, that is.”
“They might be able to work in other areas of the building,” Olivia said. “After all these years, there can’t be much evidence left to find, except maybe inside that wall. But we’ll see what Del says.”
When Calliope spied the empty plate on the table, she called a halt to the feeding. “All right, you guys, gorge on your own time. I’ll call all of you tomorrow if, and only if, the police won’t let us into the house. Otherwise, assume we’ll be working. Be here at eight a.m. and not a minute later.” The worker who had scored the last sandwich stuffed half of it into his mouth as he scraped his chair back from the table.
“Wow, you’re a tough boss,” Maddie said as the kitchen door slammed behind the last of the workers.
Calliope shrugged. “I know what hard work looks like, and most of those guys aren’t even trying. They think a woman boss is a pushover. They’ll think differently when I’m through with them.”
“You go, girl,” Ellie said.
When her mother bumped fists with Calliope, Olivia had to sit down. “I feel a bit light-headed,” she said softly to Maddie. “The atmosphere is thin in this alternate universe.”
As soon as Calliope arrived in Chatterley Heights after a nomadic life in Europe, she’d moved into the Greyson-Meyers house, Olivia’s childhood home. Olivia’s stepfather, Allan Meyers, was Calliope’s cousin on his mother’s side. The living arrangement had not gone well, especially for Ellie. For a time, Olivia had worried that her normally self-contained mother would lose her carefully centered mind. However, fate and building projects intervened. Calliope had vacated the Greyson-Meyers home to move in with Olivia’s brother, Jason. Calliope was helping him renovate his new farmhouse and barns, in addition to overseeing the transformation of the crumbling old flophouse.
Once they were no longer under the same roof, Ellie—petite, intuitive, and yoga obsessed—had bonded with the tall, forceful, and blunt Calliope over a dream for a new arts and crafts school in Chatterley Heights. Calliope, who was wealthy and loved to work with her hands, provided and subsidized the materials and workers. Ellie had taken charge of overall planning for the school. She adored learning new crafts even more than she loved her yoga classes, although she had no intention of choosing between them. Calliope had drawn up plans for the building renovation that included a specially designed room for yoga enthusiasts. The two vastly different women had become friends. Olivia, however, continued to hold her breath, because when it came to families, you never knew.
“We might as well clean up the kitchen and get back to The Gingerbread House,” Maddie said. “Calliope, I’ll put these cookies in cake pans and store them in the fridge. They should keep you and the guys supplied for the week, as long as you dole them out daily and don’t let anyone know where they are kept. We’ll be working in The Gingerbread House through Saturday. Our own baking time will be devoted to keeping our customers happily in a mood to buy anything from cookie cutters to expensive mixers.”
“We’ll be fine,” Ellie said. “Thanks to both of you for all your work setting up the kitchen. The room looks lovely. Maddie, once we open the school, you will be available to teach cookie baking and decorating, won’t you?”
“Hey,” Olivia said, “what about me? I’m almost as good a cookie baker as Maddie is.”
“Yes, of course you are, dear.” Ellie gave her daughter a gentle smile and turned aside to consult with Calliope.
“I think I’ve been insulted,” Olivia said.
Maddie grabbed her cell phone from the counter and pushed Olivia through the kitchen doorway. Once they were out of earshot, Maddie said, “I think Calliope might be rubbing off on your mother. Either that, or Ellie isn’t getting her optimal dose of yoga. However, I suggest we wait and see. Right now the two of them are obsessed with this building project. Once that’s completed, your mom will surely revert to her sensitive, intuitive self.” Maddie’s cell phone rang, and she glanced at the caller ID. “I’ll bet this is for you, Livie. I’m getting used to fielding calls for you, though I do wish you would try to remember your cell when you leave your apartment.”
“Who is it from?”
“Del.” Maddie handed her phone to Olivia and closed the front door of the old building.
“Hey, Del, it’s me,” Olivia said as she negotiated the cracked stone steps. “Or did you really mean to call Maddie?”
Del chuckled. “Nope. I’ve adjusted to your forgetfulness. When your cell goes to voice mail, I call Maddie. So I understand we need to touch base about some skeletal remains. I already talked to the crime scene crew about how to handle the evidence. I’m now heading toward Chatterley Heights. I should be back—”
Olivia paused on the sidewalk. “You’re driving, aren’t you? You know how I feel about that. It scares me.”
“Sorry, Livie, but honestly, traffic is practically at a halt, and as I keep telling you—” The blast of a horn came through loud and clear.
“Call back when you are safely parked,” Olivia said. “Assuming you’re still alive.” Without hanging up, she handed Maddie’s phone back to her.
“Hi, Del,” Maddie said as they turned the corner and headed north on Park Street. “You can talk to me. I deeply believe in the superior multitasking abilities of our intrepid police.” She listened for a while. “Okay, we can do that. Are the guys allowed to work on the renovation tomorrow? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Calliope installed new locks and deadbolts on all the outside doors. You’ll have to get keys from her or Ellie. I put duct tape across the door of the room in question, so it should be all right, assuming the murderer isn’t still alive, in town, and willing to break and enter. Was that extended horn blast aimed at you? I take back my compliment about your multitasking abilities. Bye.” Maddie hung up and shook her head. “Men.”
“Amen to that,” Olivia said. “What were you supposed to tell me?”
“Del assured me I did the right thing to tape the door, although I’m pretty sure he was trying not to laugh.” Maddie slid her cell phone into her jacket pocket. “When he gets back to town, he’ll take pictures of the scene. Then he’ll secure the door somehow and put real crime scene tape across it. He said the guys can probably get back to work soon, but he’ll let Calliope know when. They will probably have to work downstairs for a while. Del will close off the upstairs until the crime scene folks remove the remains and anything else they will need. The lab is overwhelmed at the moment, so this is a lower priority case.”
“Does that mean Del will be in charge of the investigation?” Olivia asked.
Maddie clapped her hands. “Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that. If Del is the lead investigator, that means we, through you, will have a front-row seat. I’ve always wanted to solve a cold case. They always sound so . . . historical.”
“Yes,” Olivia said, “that would be due to the ‘cold’ part. But just because Del and I are involved doesn’t mean he’ll share his investigation with me. A case is a case, cold or not.”
Maddie paused as they reached the sidewalk in front of The Gingerbread House. “Remember, Livie, Del did lighten up a bit last summer, after we helped Cody solve a murder while Del was out of town.” Maddie drew her car key from her jacket pocket. “I’m parked a block north on Park Street, so I shall bid you adios. Was that Spanish or French? Never mind, the important thing here is that Del will need our help with the case of the bones in the wall. He didn’t move to Chatterley Heights until around 2006, right? So he doesn’t have a long personal memory of this town and its inhabitants. He’ll need our superior insight into the town’s many secrets. Anything we don’t know, we can wheedle out of your mother or my aunt Sadie. You and I are essential to this investigation. You can start working on Del this evening during dinner.” Maddie turned to leave.
“Wait,” Olivia said. “What dinner?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Del said to tell you that he’s treating you to dinner at Pete’s this evening. He’ll meet you there, but he’s not sure what time. He’ll call you when he finishes the crime scene stuff.”
“I hate to dash your hopes,” Olivia said, “but what if Del tells me there’s no evidence of foul play at the scene?”
Maddie’s windblown locks seemed to bounce with energy as she flashed a bright smile. “Not to worry. Del won’t draw his conclusions that quickly. He’ll want to do more investigating, which will give us time to do the same. Once we dig into the victim’s past, we will find what we need. I can feel it. Foul play will rear its ugly, yet fascinating head.”
A chilly breeze ruffled Olivia’s auburn hair as she crossed her own front lawn. She pulled her jacket tight around her T-shirt and held Spunky against her chest. Front door key in hand, Olivia hurried up the front steps of her little Queen Anne house to the wraparound porch. She made a mental note to start dragging out her warmer clothes. The wind was powerful enough to rock the empty chair near the large front window. A shiver snaked down Olivia’s back as she recalled seeing a dead man in that very spot. However, this was a different rocking chair. Its predecessor had gone to the crime lab, and Olivia had neglected to reclaim it. Instead, she had visited her favorite antiques mall and found a replacement, a southern country porch rocker. It was a simpler design than the abandoned rocker and, therefore, less likely to hide a body from view.
Olivia hesitated in the foyer, near the door to The Gingerbread House. The store occupied the entire ground level of her beloved Queen Anne style house. She and Maddie were business partners, but it was Olivia who carried a hefty mortgage for the whole building. The store was always closed Sunday and Monday. Olivia had been so busy helping to set up the kitchen at the old boarding house that she hadn’t been inside her own store for two days. She was tempted to check to make sure it was ready for opening the next morning.
Bertha Binkman, their head clerk, had offered to restock the shelves for the beginning of the work week. Bertha was a woman of her word, as well as pathologically drawn to deep cleaning. Surely the store was ready to wow the most critical of customers. Besides, Spunky was due for a good, brisk walk. Except for quick outdoor bathroom breaks, he’d been restricted to the boarding house kitchen for most of the day. His exercise had ranged from begging for cookie crumbs to flopping around on his blanket. He’d be desperate for a run, no matter how short.
Olivia passed by the locked Gingerbread House door and unlocked the door to the stairway that led to her second floor apartment. As soon as she took the first step, Spunky leaped from her arms and hit the stairs running. Olivia heard an explosion of yaps as he reached the landing upstairs. Spunky had a ferocious set of lungs for a five pound Yorkshire terrier.
“Knock it off, Spunks,” Olivia yelled up the stairs. “I am a mere human. My legs won’t work any faster.” Spunky’s yaps took on a plaintive edge, as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks, although Olivia had brought his food along to the boarding house. The little guy was feisty and brave, but highly manipulative. Olivia loved him dearly. But sometimes she needed to remind him who bought the kibbles and Milk Bones. Not that it made any difference.
Spunky repeated his commands and complaints while Olivia climbed the stairs to the second floor landing. As she inserted her key into the lock, Spunky scratched at the door as if he were helping it open. Olivia felt touched that he wanted to get into the apartment so badly. When she’d first brought him home as a puppy, Spunky had tried relentlessly to escape from the very same apartment. His instinctive desire to flee from confinement had helped him escape the puppy mill where he’d been born, and his fierce intelligence had kept him safe on the streets of Baltimore until a Yorkshire terrier rescue group finally caught up with him. Olivia was relieved that Spunky had apparently decided he was safe with her. It probably helped that she was a pushover when it came to doggie treats.
Spunky managed to squeeze between Olivia’s ankles when she opened the door. He hopped inside, paused, then turned around and waited, as if he wanted to make sure Olivia wasn’t going to lock him inside and leave. When she entered the apartment and locked the door behind them, he relaxed and headed toward the kitchen.
“Good boy, Spunks,” Olivia said. “And you’re right, it is your suppertime.” Spunky followed his mistress into the kitchen and paced impatiently, nails clacking on the tile, while she filled his small bowl with kibbles. “I owe you a long walk after keeping you cooped up all day,” Olivia said. “When we get home from our walk, we can relax on the sofa until bedtime. How does that sound?” Spunky had sunk his head into his bowl, but his fluffy tail wagged his approval.
Olivia decided to start a small pot of coffee for herself. As she opened the cabinet where she kept her favorite Italian roast, she saw her cell phone plugged in behind Mr. Coffee. She unplugged the phone and flipped it open to check for messages. There were three from Del and a recent one from a number with no name attached. “Oh jeez, I forgot about dinner with Del,” she said out loud. Spunky whined from the depths of his food bowl. “Sorry, kiddo, relaxing on the sofa will have to wait until later.” Olivia punched in her code and listened to all three of Del’s messages. “He wants me to meet him at Pete’s Diner in . . .” She glanced up at the kitchen clock. “In an hour. That gives us time for a run through the park, Spunks. Then I’ll need a quick shower and a change of clothes.”
Olivia dropped the phone on the counter and turned away. She took one step and stopped. “No, Livie,” she muttered, “do not walk away from that cell phone. You know you’ll forget it again.” As she picked it up, she remembered there’d been another message, which she had skipped because the number was unfamiliar. Probably a wrong number, but she called her voice mail and listened.
“Um, Livie?” asked the timorous female voice on the recorded message. “It’s Alicia . . . Alicia Vayle. We met earlier at the renovation site, remember? I’m sorry to bother you, but . . . Well, Calliope gave me your cell phone number. I hope that’s all right.” Olivia heard a long, shaky breath, as if Alicia might be trying to suppress tears. “Someone told me that you and Maddie have solved some crimes in town. Well, actually, it was Calliope who told me. So I was wondering . . . The sheriff called and talked to me a little while ago about finding my father’s . . . The thing is, I don’t think the sheriff believes me. That it’s really my dad, I mean. And even if I convinced him, I got the feeling he didn’t think they’d ever be able to find out what happened to him. What if his death was—” Alicia halted abruptly as if she’d run out of air. “I have to know the truth. Would you help me find it? Please? You see, I know everyone was wrong about my father. He was a good—” The message ended. Cell phones, Olivia knew, could be unpredictable, so she wasn’t too concerned.
Spunky had emptied his bowl of every kibble crumb, so he trotted to the kitchen door, where a leash hung from the knob. He stared intensely at Olivia to remind her that she’d promised him a run in the park. When she didn’t respond, Spunky went over to her. He stood on his hind legs and pawed at her jeans, whining. Lost in thought, Olivia reached down and rubbed his ears. Spunky enjoyed the attention, but that wasn’t all he’d had in mind. Finally, he resorted to a volley of insistent yaps.
“Oh, Spunky, I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” Olivia said. “We’d better do that run in the park pronto, or I won’t have time for a shower.” She gave up on making coffee and grabbed Spunky’s leash.
A few minutes later, they were outside, heading for the park that marked the historical center of Chatterley Heights, known as the Town Square. Unlike many small towns, Chatterley Heights hadn’t been nipped too badly by the Great Recession. Tree-lined streets and vibrant small businesses, ranging from quaint to practical, formed a square around a large park. Only two shops stood empty, hoping for new owners. Olivia and Spunky waited for traffic to clear before they jogged across the street and into the park.
Spunky strained at his leash in his eagerness to run, and Olivia was more than willing to keep up. After a day of baking, she relished the exercise as much as Spunky did. “Better enjoy this while you can,” Olivia said. “Winter is coming. You know how I feel about jogging in cold winds.” Spunky picked up his pace. He didn’t slow down until they’d nearly reached his favorite spot in the park—the statue of Frederick P. Chatterley, the amusingly disreputable founder of Chatterley Heights. Spunky halted near a rear leg of the horse that Frederick P. never quite managed to mount.
“Fine, Spunks,” Olivia said. “Take your time. I need to catch my breath.” Spunky sniffed his way around the horse’s four legs, searching for the most inviting scent. Olivia followed him, keeping a tight grip on the leash. “Don’t take too much time, though,” she said. Spunky obligingly lifted his leg and aimed at the horse’s left front leg.
“I think that’s really disrespectful,” said a petulant female voice behind Olivia’s back. She spun around too quickly and lost her hold on Spunky’s leash. The little Yorkie had been too engrossed in his task to hear the woman’s approach, but he made up for his negligence by yapping ferociously as he lunged toward her. The woman froze and shrieked, “Help, someone help! It’s a mad dog. He’s trying to kill me!”
“Spunky, stop.” Olivia used a low, commanding voice that was supposed to convey authority, or so she’d read in the puppy training books. It had never worked before. This time it did, though Olivia suspected the woman’s hysterical reaction had alarmed the little guy. He stopped yapping and stayed where he was, several feet away from the woman. “Spunky, come,” Olivia said, hoping not to break the spell. Spunky stood his ground and began to growl softly. Taking slow steps, Olivia inched toward the leash handle until she could reach down and recapture it. “Okay, kiddo, that’s quite enough bravado.” She scooped him up in her free arm. He squirmed and whined, but Olivia held him tightly around his middle. Finally, he gave up and cuddled against Olivia’s chest. “Good choice,” she whispered.
“Binnie Sloan was right about that dog of yours,” the woman said. “He’s a menace, just like Binnie says in her blog. I read it every day, so I know what’s really going on in this town.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Virginia Lowell and the national bestselling Cookie Cutter Shop Mysteries
“Virginia Lowell will keep you hungry for more.”—Fresh Fiction
“Sentiment, humor, and cookies blend together in this sweet mystery that shines with characters who genuinely support one another and appreciate the eccentricities that make them all so unique.”—Kings River Life Magazine
“An entertaining investigative thriller…Fans of cozies will enjoy this Maryland small-town whodunit.”—Genre Go Round Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Olivia's mom Ellie has bought a home to convert it to an Arts and Craft school. While tearing out walls they find a skeleton in the wall. One of the workers is Alicia and claims it is her missing father. Naturally Olivia and Maddie get involved to see who it is and if he was murdered. Many people are trying to get them to stop. Twist and turns in all directions. Enjoyable read. Making cookies and selling cookie cutters help them solve the crime. A keeper in cozy mystery books.
Dead Men Don't Eat Cookies is the sixth book in A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery series. Times are rather calm in Chatterly Heights, MD., so it must be time for a little mystery. Olivia and Maddie busy baking cookies for the construction workers working on renovating the old Chatterly Heights Boarding House. Olivia's mother, Ellie, has bought the old house planning to convert it into an arts and crafts center. The calm is disturbed when Olivia gets a call from Ellie asking her to come upstairs, it seems that some bones have been found hidden behind one of the walls in one of the rooms. Alicia, one of the construction crew is sure that they are the bones of her father, who had gone missing a number of years ago. There is also a rumor going around that possibly there were some valuable antique cookie cutters also hidden somewhere in the house. So it is time for Olivia and Maddie to put on their sleuthing hats to help Del, sheriff and Olivia boyfriend, determine who the bones belong to and to apprehend the murderer. Most all of the characters from the previous books are back once to help our sleuths and also provide a little humor. I particularly enjoyed Leona, a retired actress of a “certain age”. She has visions of having Ellie turn the center into a theater and having her friends from the movies come and put on plays. And as always Aunt Sadie, Maddie's aunt is back with her humor and to provide information about the town and it's people back in the day. Will be watching for the next book to see what Olivia and Maddie are up to next.
The Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery series was one of the first cozy mystery series I read. I’ve loved it from the first sentence of book one, COOKIE DOUGH OR DIE, and after finishing the last sentence of DEAD MEN DON’T EAT COOKIES, I love it even more! Author Virginia Lowell has penned a series that continues to get better with every book. And this one is no exception. I always enjoy my time spent with Olivia Greyson and her best friend and business partner Maddie at The Gingerbread House. Ms. Lowell has written these characters and the supporting cast in a way that truly makes them feel like old friends. Ms. Lowell wasted no time getting the mystery going in this story with the discovery of the body happening almost right away. The investigation that follows has lots of ups and downs, and twists and turns, all leading up to a climatic reveal! This book reminded me once again why adore this series and has secured its place in my favorite. And don’t miss the yummy recipe at the back of the book!
Very enjoyable light readiing