For Sandy Harbor’s tastiest comfort food, venture to the Silver Bullet Diner. But head next door to the new drive-in theater if you have an appetite for murder….
Trixie Matkowski has a tall order to fill this fall. Aside from dishing out delicious fare at the Silver Bullet during peak fishing season, she’s helping her friend—Antoinette Chloe Brown, or ACB for short—open a drive-in movie theater in the vacant lot beside her diner. It’s just the thing to take ACB’s mind off Nick, her missing biker beau.
But their plans are fried after Nick’s body is discovered during the groundbreaking for the drive-in. And when the police connect the murder weapon to ACB, she becomes the prime suspect in eighty-sixing Nick. With the fate of her innocent friend and her business on the line, Trixie must make the guilty party pay up before someone else gets stiffed….
Includes Delicious Home-Style Recipes!
About the Author
Christine Wenger is the author of A Second Helping of Murder and Do or Diner. She has worked in the criminal justice field and is thrilled to bring the beauty of upstate New York to life in the Comfort Food Mystery series.
Read an Excerpt
I wondered why Antoinette Chloe Brownelli wanted to speak to me. It couldn’t be good. On the phone she whispered and sounded serious, as if we were going to embark on an adventure worthy of 007.
Antoinette Chloe and I stood in a field—a large, overgrown field that she owned—next to my property. The weeds were choking what was left of the wildflowers and the poor little things were gasping for breath. Some butterflies still roamed over what was left of the pickings, and I could hear the buzzing of a bee. I turned to see a big, fat one land on some goldenrod. The insect might as well get what it could before frost chilled the air and turned the goldenrod to mush, but just in case Mr. Bee wasn’t friendly, I prepared to get out my EpiPen.
“Trixie. Thanks so much for coming.” Antoinette Chloe Brownelli’s purple muumuu with huge white gardenias billowed in the September breeze. Her matching purple flip-flops each sported a big sunflower that covered most of her glittery toenails.
“Of course, Antoinette Chloe. What’s up?”
I wouldn’t ever dare call her just Antoinette without adding the Chloe. Most of the time, I thought of her as ACB to save time.
I, Trixie Matkowski—and don’t you dare call me Beatrix—would do anything that ACB wanted. She’s a lovely person under all the stage makeup, the clunky pounds of jewelry, and the lime green fascinator that sported a fountain of colorful feathers. A faux peacock rested on the fountain of feathers that fluttered in the breeze and dangled precariously over her right ear.
ACB’s fake feathered friends always seemed to be hanging over her right ear, probably in an escape attempt.
“I’ve bought back the land that my snake of a husband sold to our mayor. I’d like to build a drive-in on it. I hope you don’t mind, since my land is next to your land.”
“What kind of drive-in, Antoinette Chloe? A food drive-in?”
My mind raced. I didn’t want the competition for my Silver Bullet Diner, especially not out here on the outskirts of the village. Competition might be good for the economy, but there weren’t enough people in Sandy Harbor to sustain two eating establishments right next to each other.
If it weren’t for the seasonal visitors like the fishermen, the summer vacationers, and the leaf peepers and snowmobilers, this place would be a ghost town all year long.
Antoinette Chloe already had a restaurant in the village, Brown’s Four Corners, shortened from Brownelli’s Four Corners, that she could barely handle. Why would she want another food establishment?
She moved the greenish-blue peacock into place on her hat, but it slid back down again. “A drive-in movie theater, actually.”
Whew! I could breathe again.
“But aren’t drive-ins closing all over the United States?”
“That’s right, Trixie. So why not strike while the bowling ball is hot?”
How could I argue with crazy logic like that? But as her friend, I was going to try.
“Antoinette Chloe,” I said, using my practical voice, “it seems to me that nowadays the only kids who go to movies are kids who don’t drive yet—so a drive-in movie wouldn’t work without a car. Besides, don’t you think that they’d rather be lounging in a plush chair in a nice theater?”
“Psh. Where’s the fun in that? The younger generation hasn’t experienced the fun of watching a movie with a speaker hanging from the window while the mosquitos are biting. And when it rains, it adds another layer of excitement. I’m even thinking of staying open in the winter. What a thrilling experience that’ll be if it snows!”
I’m shivering right now just thinking of watching Iron Man 29 or Batman Returns Yet Again and Again in the middle of a snowstorm.
“I don’t know if there are speakers that hang off the window anymore. I think the sound comes in on the car radio,” I said.
She waved her hands dismissively. “I’m going to go retro, so there will be speakers hanging. I want customers to experience the old-fashioned drive-in. You know, the kind with the little hills where you position your car to be higher in the front.”
“Don’t forget about the playground in front of the screen for the kids to enjoy before the movie starts,” I added, getting swept away by her enthusiasm.
“And remember when the movie started, how we’d all scream and race to the cars?”
I grinned. “Those were definitely fun times, Antoinette Chloe.”
A warm cocoon of memories enveloped me. I remembered my parents letting us wear our pajamas to the drive-in. How my mom would make a brown grocery bag full of popcorn, and how there’d be some sodas on ice in a cooler. Before the movie even started, my brother, John, would curl up on the back window ledge of the car, like it was his own balcony, but soon he’d be fast asleep.
“Maybe you have a good idea, after all.”
ACB grinned. She raised a fist in excitement just as her peacock shook loose of his feathery nest and dove into the high grass at our feet. “What fun those drive-in days were! Necking in the car with Sal . . .” Suddenly, tears flooded her eyes. “Sal and I were going to build our retirement home on this land—right on the waterfront. We had the plans drawn up and . . . and . . . everything. It was going to be our dream home. The perfect place to spend the rest of our lives together.”
She picked up the peacock, pulled out a red bandanna from her cleavage, and then slipped the peacock in. After she blew her nose, I pulled her into a hug, disturbing the cloud of perfume that surrounded her. I held my breath, trying not to sneeze.
“Sal deserved what he got—I know that, Trixie. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss him.”
ACB’s husband, Sal, was serving a life term at Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in New York, for the attempted murder of both ACB and yours truly, and for the completed murder of Marvin Cogswell the Third, who was once a restaurant inspector.
I patted her back. “I thought you and Sal’s brother, Nick, were an item now. You motorcycled all over North America with him, didn’t you?”
That brought a fresh round of tears, and I felt awful. What did I say?
“I haven’t seen Nick in ages,” she sniffed. “And we had so much fun on his Harley, with Nick burning up the road and me in the sidecar. I was really a hot biker mama.”
I smiled to myself as I remembered ACB’s hot-biker-mama attire: black makeup, black hair with a white skunk streak in the part, black flip-flops with glitter, and lots and lots of heavy chains draped everywhere. Oh, and a black helmet that ACB embellished with black sequins, black feathers, and a miniature Harley glued to the top.
“Nick hasn’t even called you?”
“Is that like him?”
She moved away from me and blew her nose. “Two weeks ago, he said that he was going to cook at my restaurant, just like before. He’s such a skilled cook, Trixie—a real chef. But because he never showed up, I’ve been forced to do all the cooking myself. Thank goodness you trained me, or I’d be up Salmon River without my fuchsia waders.”
“Did you try calling him?”
“Of course. But I keep getting his voice mail. I probably left about two dozen messages.”
“Did you go to his house?”
“Yes. His place was the usual perfection. Everything in its place. I was going to dust for him, but then I thought, Hey, why should I? He hasn’t even bothered to call me.”
The red bandanna disappeared into the muumuu, and, with a flourish, she then pulled a flowered scarf out of her cleavage, shook it out, and draped it around her shoulders. This was better than a magician’s act in Vegas. Thank goodness she had a lot of cleavage for storage.
“Nick and I were close, Trixie, if you get my drift. Very, very close.”
She gazed off in the distance, and I could tell she was remembering something really . . . uh . . . special.
I smiled. “Let’s go to the Silver Bullet and have lunch. It’s Meat Loaf Monday, and I’m hungry. Are you?”
“I could nosh.”
I was in the process of buying the Silver Bullet Diner, the eleven cottages (there were once twelve, but that’s another story), and the big Victorian farmhouse from my aunt Stella Matkowski. It all sat on a prime piece of land that jutted out into Lake Ontario, which was called “the point” by the locals.
Aunt Stella had lost interest in everything since Uncle Porky died, and my husband (now my ex), Deputy Doug Burnham, had lost interest in me.
Aunt Stella and I both decided that we needed a change of scenery, and so she sold me her diner and took off for greener pastures. I suggested that she might want to work up an agreement with a lawyer; she said that I was family, like the daughter she never had, and that the back of a Silver Bullet place mat was more than adequate. Then she tore up the place mat, telling me to pay her a little bit at a time with the profits.
And that was that. Shortly after, I moved to Sandy Harbor and Aunt Stella moved to Boca Raton. It had almost been a year now, and neither one of us had looked back.
Since I walked here from the Victorian, we both headed to ACB’s white van that had BROWN’S FOUR CORNERS RESTAURANT AND CATERINGwritten on the side along with phone numbers, a Web site address, and a salami dancing with a loaf of bread.
ACB was a slow driver. Granted, we didn’t have far to go, but I couldn’t relax while she was going about twenty miles an hour on the highway in a fifty-five zone. I kept looking in the rearview mirror, expecting an eighteen-wheeler to zip around the bend and push us out of its way.
As ACB finally turned into the parking lot of the Silver Bullet and parked, the tension drained from my shoulders. I slid down from the passenger’s seat and waited for her to catch up so we could walk together.
Whenever I looked at the Silver Bullet, I couldn’t believe that it was actually mine. Well, that it would be mine after I kept chugging along with a payment schedule that I devised and tried to stick to.
To the left of the diner, in the middle of the point, was my white Victorian farmhouse with the wraparound porch and forest green shutters. I called it the Big House, not because it was a jail, but because it really was a big house. Behind it stood the eleven housekeeping cottages—the Sandy Harbor Housekeeping Cottages, to be exact.
In front of the cottages was a sandy swath of beach that stretched on a nice chunk of land on the New York State part of Lake Ontario. The lake was great for swimming, and the grounds were a perfect place for my guests to picnic, to build sand castles, to make mud pies, and to make memories.
That’s what my family did every summer when we rented Cottage Four. Growing up, my diary mostly consisted of three countdowns: my birthday in February, summer at the cottage, and Christmas.
“I love the lines of the Silver Bullet and how it’s so shiny . . . like a real silver bullet,” ACB said, interrupting my trip down memory lane. “I remember when your aunt and uncle had it delivered back in 1952. Everyone gathered along Main Street, as if a parade was passing by. I was just a little girl at the time, but I can remember what I wore as if it were yesterday: a pink tutu with red tights. And my hair was done up high with ringlets on top of my head.”
“Wish I was around to see it.” I meant that I wished I could’ve seen the diner being delivered—not ACB’s pink tutu—but I wouldn’t have been born for another . . . oh . . . thirty years or so.
I slipped my arm around hers as we walked, because the parking lot was slick with wet leaves and her flip-flops didn’t provide much traction.
“Antoinette Chloe, let’s go shopping for a pair of boots for you. I hear that the tractor store got in some of those waterproof boots in lots of bright colors and—”
“Boots?” She paused, shaking off a wet leaf that got stuck between her toes. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing boots. I’d have to be hiking in a blizzard before I’d give up my flips.”
“I’ve seen you in the snow with your flips on, and it’s a wonder that you still have all your toes. Really, you should get boots and socks. This isn’t Margaritaville, girlfriend. Sandy Harbor is more like the North Pole.”
I was starting to sound like Sister Mary Mary, my fourth-grade teacher at St. Maggots . . . oops, I mean St. Margaret’s.
“Socks? You can’t mean those ugly cotton things you put on your feet.” She stopped shuffling through the wet leaves. “That is so not going to happen.”
“You know, I have an extra pair of boots that I can give you and some wool-blend socks. They are all brand-new. What size feet do you have?”
“Eleven,” she whispered. “I wear an eleven.” She looked around furtively to see if anyone might be able to hear her, but the parking lot was empty except for us. “Yes, my feet are as big as canoes.”
“I wear a ten, so my boots might not work, but I’d love to go shopping with you,” I said.
She gave me a look, and I decided to drop the subject after this, because I felt like I had started to drift into nagging territory. And that wasn’t my intent. Besides, it was obvious that my friend didn’t welcome my flip-fop bashing. ACB had her own fashion sense, which obviously included various shades of frostbite, and I was content to leave her to her ways, even if I didn’t agree with them.
Finally, we made it to the cement ramp, which was leaf-free, thanks to my handy guys, Clyde and Max. I opened the door, and the scent of bacon and fresh coffee permeated the air. As the sign said, BREAKFAST SERVED 24 HOURS A DAY.
And the diner was packed. Yes! As we made our way to the last vacant booth, I waved at my two waitresses on duty, JoAnn and Kathy.
JoAnn started to hand out two menus, but on second thought picked one of them back up and erupted into a low, throaty chuckle. “Trixie, I bet you could recite this menu by heart.”
“I totally can.” I turned to ACB. “Antoinette Chloe, you know JoAnn, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. JoAnn used to work for me at Brown’s right after she graduated from high school.”
“It was my first job,” JoAnn said, shifting on her feet, looking a tad embarrassed. “I left for Nashville to cut a record, but the closest I got was cleaning rooms at the Opryland hotel.” She put her hand on ACB’s shoulder. “And Antoinette Chloe sent me plane fare to return home.”
Tears pooled in JoAnn’s eyes as she hugged ACB, and then she hurriedly left.
“That was nice of you,” I told my friend. In my ten or so months in Sandy Harbor, I’d heard of several touching things that ACB had done for other people.
She shrugged and waved off my comment. “I told JoAnn that I’d pay her rent for a couple of months, that she shouldn’t give up on her dream, but her mother got sick, and JoAnn felt she should come home and try again some other time.” ACB shook her head. “She never went back, but she sings in the church choir and at funerals and weddings, and, well, I think that makes her happy.”
ACB picked up her menu and studied it, while I looked at the purple-black sky. We were going to have rain. A lot of rain.
“Antoinette Chloe, this is Meat Loaf Monday, but it’s also Meatless Monday, which means vegetarian lasagna is on special tonight, too. Juanita made it, and it’s fabulous.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ve been thinking of going vegetarian.”
Within minutes, JoAnn appeared again with pad and pencil in hand, looking much cheerier.
“Have you ladies decided yet?” she asked.
ACB handed her menu back to JoAnn. “I’ll have the vegetarian lasagna with three meatballs on the side, a salad with Thousand Island dressing, and a glass of chocolate milk. And can I get some extra veggies?”
“I can get you mixed veggies,” JoAnn said.
“That’ll work as long as there’s lots of butter on them,” Antoinette Chloe said.
“We can do that.” JoAnn nodded and scribbled on her order pad.
ACB tapped a long, sparkling nail on the table. “Oh, JoAnn, could you add a couple pieces of sausage to my order, too? After all, what is vegetarian lasagna without meat?”
JoAnn chuckled. “It’s vegetarian lasagna.”
ACB and I laughed. JoAnn was always quick with a joke and a tease. Everyone, but especially the truckers and the county snowplow guys, just loved to verbally spar with her.
“How about you, Trixie?”
“I’ll have the vegetarian lasagna, as well, with meatballs and one sausage, and house dressing on my salad.” As God is my witness, I’ll watch my calories tomorrow, at Tara.
“What would you like to drink, Trixie?”
“Got it. I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
When JoAnn left, Antoinette Chloe took off her peacockless hat and fluffed up her hair. “Trixie, I also called because I wanted to talk to you about the Miss Salmon Contest. We have a lot of work to do for it, since it’s our first contest, and I don’t want to overlook a single tiny detail. But I did overlook a big detail—a major big detail.”
I sat back in the coziness of the red-vinyl booth, not wanting to hear what ACB had to say. I had so much on my mind, running the diner and the cottages, that one more thing was going to make my head explode. So I crossed my arms and let the well-worn vinyl take me away to the 1950s, when the diner was shiny and new, when I wasn’t the owner, and when ACB didn’t have a major problem with the Miss Salmon Contest.
I don’t know what it was, other than age, but the stuffing inside the booths adjusted to everyone’s body type. I’d been toying with the idea of getting all the booths reupholstered, but I’d decided against it. Why tamper with a good thing?
But ACB was still talking about the major problem, and I was still desperately trying to tune her out. Anyway, any problems with the contest should be presented to the Miss Salmon Committee, not me. I decided I should probably point that out to her before she got carried away.
“Antoinette Chloe,” I said. “We have a Miss Salmon Committee meeting today. Remember? It’s being held at my house in exactly two hours. Which reminds me—I need to vacuum. Yet again.”
Blondie, my sweet golden retriever, sheds so much hair every day that I could make another dog with all of it. I vacuum twice a day. Three times if I’m having company, and I’m not a cleaning fan.
I was dreading the Miss Salmon pageant meeting. As chairperson of the event, ACB wanted to be the mistress of ceremonies. She was panting to be a part of all the glitz, glamour, and costume changes that the Miss Salmon Contest could muster. However, our mayor, Rick Tingsley, who was running for New York State senator, wanted the podium, the microphone, and the photo ops. Rose Starr of the Salmon Committee was going to talk him into being a judge instead and letting ACB be emcee.
The next ten days were going to be an epic battle, the likes of which no one has seen since the British sailed into this area during the War of 1812.
“But I’ve overlooked a really, really big detail,” ACB continued. “I’ve been getting e-mails from a bunch of contestants, especially from a girl named Aileen Shubert, telling me that there’s no room at any of the hotels in the area and that even the campgrounds are all filled up with fishermen. And Aileen wants to come early and settle in so she can take some time to practice before the big day. Oh, Trixie, this is a huge problem!”
I nodded. “Well, all my cottages are full for the next couple of weeks. I have a huge waiting list.”
JoAnn returned with our drinks, and we both reached for them at the same time and took a couple of sips.
“And on top of that, I feel like we have a responsibility to keep an eye on the contestants.”
“Won’t their parents be with them?”
“No, most are too old for chaperones, and a good dozen are coming a week earlier to work with our resident Broadway choreographer for our special dance productions. Aileen is one of them.”
Dance productions? Resident Broadway choreographer? Hm. I hadn’t missed a meeting, had I? This was all news to me.
“Who are you talking about, Antoinette Chloe? Who’s this Broadway person?”
“Margie Grace, of course.”
“Margie Grace isn’t a day under eighty-eight years old. She hasn’t been on Broadway since they named it Broadway.”
“But the contestants don’t know that,” she said with a smile.
“Can you spell fraud?”
“Oh, they’ll love Margie. And she might be an old bat, but she can still put together a dance number. She did the Tango of the Shepherds for the Episcopal Church’s Christmas play last year, remember? It was brilliant.”
“How could I have forgotten that? The shepherds had red roses in their teeth and they tangoed with their sheep.”
“It was unprecedented. Creative. Just what I want for the dance number in our pageant.” She pulled a little notebook from her—wait for it—cleavage closet again, along with a pen, and started scribbling. “Maybe Margie Grace could choreograph a tableau depicting salmon swimming upstream?”
I bit my lip to stop myself from bursting out into laughter. I didn’t think that the rest of the committee members would go for dancing, spawning salmon.
“Getting back to our problem of the girls without rooms who are studying with Margie Grace, what can we do?” Antoinette Chloe sat back into the booth as JoAnn returned with our orders.
Both were presented nicely with carrot curls and radish roses to decorate the plate. ACB’s meatballs and sausages were served on an oval side dish with spaghetti sauce and fresh parsley. Her lasagna was a generously sized portion, as was mine.
Just how I wanted everything plated. I made a mental note to compliment Juanita Holgado, my day cook, when I saw her next.
“How many girls do you figure will come early?” I asked.
“About twelve or fourteen.”
“Hm. Maybe we could rent some trailers for them. I’d say we could have them park on my land, but they would require water hookups and pump-outs and all that, which I don’t have handy.” I shook my head. “That’s just too much. It just won’t work.”
ACB buttered a slice of Italian bread. “What about your house?”
Oh no. No way. No way am I going to entertain a houseful of young beauty contestants. “Whoa. My house? Antoinette Chloe, what are you sniffing?”
“Yeah. Your house. The Victorian you call the Big House.”
I waved her statement away. “Oh, it’s not that big. I should really call it the Little Cottage.”
“You have—what?—like, four full bathrooms and a couple of half baths?”
My late, and dearly loved, uncle Porky believed in porcelain and lots of flushing, and expected a lot of visiting relatives when he built the house.
“That seems like a high estimate,” I protested.
“It’s way low. You have more like eight or nine bedrooms.”
“Perhaps. I never counted them.”
“Trixie, please! Help me out. It’ll only be for a couple of weeks. And when the pageant ends, they’ll be all gone and everything will go back to normal.”
How could I say no to my friend when she was in such a jam?
But there would be endless chatter, lots of toxic hairspray and perfume, and hair in the drains. Not to mention giggling and sneaking out at night to meet up with boys, snacking in the beds, smuggling booze inside, smoking . . .
Oh, wait! I was thinking of my college-dorm days.
“Okay, Antoinette Chloe. Okay. On one condition: You have to move in and chaperone them and get them to clean up after themselves. They can take their dinner at the Silver Bullet. And you can make breakfast and lunch for them at the Victorian.”
She sniffed and blinked tears back. If she let them fall, there’d be two rivers of makeup dripping down her cheeks and onto her muumuu.
I couldn’t let that happen. ACB’s muumuus were like living things, plus mascara stains were a beast to get rid of. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a little packet of tissues and handed it to her.
She pulled out a few, closed her eyes, and blotted them. “You’re a lifesaver, Trixie, and a good friend.” She sniffed and blotted again.
But no turquoise or purple eye shadow appeared on the tissues that she set down on the table. No black eyeliner, no black mascara, no orange blush, and no Pan-Cake makeup.
“And you are quite clever, Antoinette Chloe. I smell a setup. And the fake tears were a nice touch, by the way.”
She laughed. “Well, I was in show business, after all.”
ACB always astonished me. “You were?”
“Most definitely. I was a ticket taker at the Sandy Harbor Bijou when I was in high school.” Her eyes twinkled and she grinned. “I considered that show business.”
She’d set me up again, and I walked right into it.
“Sheesh. I didn’t see that coming.”
Suddenly, the smile left her face and she became quite serious. “I agree to your terms, Trixie. Matter of fact, I welcome them. I’ve been so . . . lonely lately. I’m sure chaperoning the girls will cheer me right up.”
Oh my. My friend was displaying a full menu of emotions tonight. She was ecstatic over her drive-in idea, mad at Nick for disappearing without saying anything to her, worried that the pageant contestants wouldn’t have a place to stay, sad that Sal was in jail and that her dreams of a retirement home on the water were dashed, and then joking about being in show business.
I was exhausted by it all and worried that Antoinette Chloe was headed toward a nervous breakdown.
“Trixie, it’s just awful being so lonely,” she continued. “Sal tried to kill me, and now his brother is ignoring me. I mean, is it me? What’s wrong with me?”
This time her tears were real, and they did drip down her cheeks. But, thankfully, she caught them before they hit her muumuu.
My heart was breaking for her. But I didn’t know what I could do other than to help her get some answers from Nick. Maybe if she had that, it would help her move on.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Antoinette Chloe. Maybe it’s the Brownelli brothers, but together we’ll find out where Nick went off to.” I patted her hand and vowed to give Nick Brownelli a piece of my mind. “And when we do, you can hear what he has to say for himself; then you can take him or leave him.”
“Yes!” She pounded her fist on the table, and it made me jump. The customers around us were also airborne. I swear our meals shot two inches into the air, then landed back on their plates.
I slid her ice water closer to her, thinking that a cold drink might refresh her, but she ignored the water and picked up the steak knife at her place setting and held it upright on the table.
Oh, this didn’t look good! For everyone’s safety, I got ready to spring into action.
She rapped the handle of the knife on the table. “As soon as I find Nick, I’m going to make sure that he never lies to me again!”
Could she be any louder?
Everyone turned to look at Antoinette Chloe as if this was a dinner show. And, boy, she didn’t disappoint the spectators.
Very dramatically, she gripped the knife with both hands and lifted it over her head, and before I could blink, she plunged it into a plump sausage on her plate.
“Take that, Nick Brownelli!”
The Miss Salmon pageant meeting at the Big House was a disaster. The committee members got loud to make their points over each other, and Blondie started barking like a mad dog.
I phoned Sandy Harbor deputy sheriff Ty Brisco, one of my first friends when I moved here. Ty’s a transplant from Houston, Texas, and he can really work a pair of jeans and a white cowboy hat. If he adds his snakeskin boots and his brown suede bomber jacket, women of all ages melt like butter on toast.
But not me. I’m not interested. I’m still shell-shocked from my divorce from Deputy Doug of Philadelphia.
“Ty, can you come over and take Blondie? I have a real heated meeting going on here, and she’s barking her head off.”
“Sure, Trixie. I’ll be right over to get her. We’ll go for a long walk.”
“Thanks, Ty.” I just loved his drawl. I could listen to him read the phone book.
It wouldn’t take Ty long to walk to the Big House. He lives above the Sandy Harbor Bait Shop on the other side of the Silver Bullet in a fabulous apartment that Uncle Porky and Mr. Farnsworth, the bait shop’s owner, built. It also has a huge corner window that overlooks the lake and the Big House. Sometimes I can see Ty in that window, looking at the lake.
“Trixie! We need you in here!”
The melodious voice of ACB bounced off the walls of my house. Blondie howled. I wanted to howl along with her.
“I’m coming.” I guess I couldn’t stall any longer.
I didn’t see Ty yet, so I got Blondie’s leash and headed into the kitchen until he arrived.
“What did I miss?”
Pam Grassley, the third-grade teacher at Sandy Harbor Grammar School, raised her eyes to my vintage tin ceiling. “Someone needs to take charge of this meeting. I haven’t got all day.”
I looked at Blondie’s pink leash loaded with fake rhinestones. Some were missing. When I looked up, the committee members were staring at me.
“It’s your kitchen, Trixie. You should run the meeting,” Jean Harrington, the co-owner of the Gas and Grab on Route 3, said.
Thankfully, there was a knock on the door, and I hooked Blondie’s leash on her collar. She knew it meant a walk, and she just about jumped out of her fur.
“That’s Ty Brisco. He’s going to take Blondie,” I explained. “Come in, Ty.”
The committee members quickly fluffed their hair, applied lipstick, and waited in anticipation for Ty to walk into the kitchen.
“Well, hello, ladies.” Ty tweaked his white cowboy hat with his thumb and finger.
Yes, his jeans were perfect, his snakeskin boots were polished, and he was wearing the hell out of a brown suede bomber jacket that probably was as soft as it looked. And his eyes were as blue as Lake Ontario on a clear summer day.
Not that I noticed.
I handed him Blondie’s leash, and he leaned over and whispered, “Bad meeting?”
He winked. “I’ll keep Blondie for the rest of the day. I think I’ll go for a jog.”
“Good-bye, Deputy,” said Kathy Prellman, the owner of an auto-repair shop. Kathy could take apart a motor and put it back together again, and she looked like a swimsuit model. Actually, she still modeled for the Ford Models agency in New York City from time to time. She was going to be the head Salmon judge.
“See you, Kathy. Ladies.” He tweaked his hat again, and we all watched him walk away.
“Nice butt,” ACB said, expressing what we were all thinking.
“Let’s get down to business,” I said. “I’m sure that we all have things to do, so let’s rock.”
I decided that I’d lead the meeting after all, because I had to cook at the diner in about ten hours, and I needed to get some sleep.
“We need to discuss accommodations for the out-of-town contestants. I understand from Antoinette Chloe that there are twelve contestants who need a place to stay for a week or so before the Miss Salmon pageant to practice routines with Margie Grace. I’ve volunteered to house them all here. This house. They’ll have to double or triple up. Antoinette Chloe will move in to help me and to chaperone. She will prepare breakfast and lunch for them. They can walk over to the Silver Bullet for dinner.”
“What will be the charge for dinner?” Kathy asked.
“I didn’t think of that,” I said honestly.
“I’ll cover the cost,” ACB said. “I should have thought about the lack of accommodations in town when we decided to go forward with this idea.”
There were protests around the table, and it was finally decided that we’d charge the contestants a minimal amount and ACB could cover the rest.
More items were raised, and Margie Grace agreed to put together a dance that would signify the importance of salmon to Sandy Harbor. Again, that was ACB’s idea, and when I glanced at Margie’s notes, I saw a doodling of two rows of fish heads complete with legs and arms.
I could just imagine the contestants wearing salmon heads and tap-dancing or doing a kick line.
We accomplished a lot more, including accommodating the five contestants from the Sandy Harbor Golden Age Apartments. All five were in wheelchairs and they called themselves the Wheeling Grannies. We were proud of the fact that the Miss Salmon pageant was open to all ages eighteen and up, and Margie Grace assured us that she’d be able to work them into her program.
I brought up a few more items—an emcee for the event was one of them. Several names were hashed around, including Antoinette Chloe, Ty Brisco, Reverend Clem Reynolds of St. Luke’s of the Lake, and Chef Nick Brownelli.
The mention of Nick’s name sent ACB into a fit of hysterics, then rage.
The alarmed committee members voted for ACB to be emcee, probably just to shut her up—which worked, I might add. She turned into a ray of sunshine, giddy with being selected. As she talked about designing a formal muumuu for the event and decorating new flip-flops, one by one the committee members put their dishes into the sink and backed out of the kitchen to the front door.
As I walked them out, all of them expressed concern for Antoinette Chloe and her mental health. Kathy, Pam, and Margie were at the Silver Bullet when ACB shouted Nick’s name and violently stabbed her side order of sausage. It had left them quite shaken and worried.
After everyone else left, I sat down across from Antoinette Chloe at the table and took a deep breath. I might as well jump in with what I had to say.
“Antoinette Chloe, do you think you might need someone to talk to? How about seeing a counselor or Reverend Clem or someone?”
She raised a penciled eyebrow. “What for?”
I put my hand over hers. “Maybe you can talk about Sal and how you feel about his incarceration.”
“He tried to kill me. How do you think I feel?”
“I know, sweetie.” And, trust me, I did. Sal tried to kill me, too. However, I pressed on. “But maybe you could talk about Nick? You said that you were lonely without both of them. And then you stabbed the sausage when you thought about Nick. You seemed pretty mad.”
“I’m definitely mad, Trixie. And I’m feeling sad and lonely and betrayed, and all because of the Brownelli brothers. But why should I go to a counselor? I have you to talk to.” She studied a huge purple ring. “And I have to keep busy: the Miss Salmon pageant, for one, and I have to get Brown’s remodeled—yep, I’m going to do that—and then there’s the drive-in. I want to break ground on that soon. Hopefully next Thursday.”
“You are definitely going to be busy.” That was good for a person like ACB.
“Can you fit a counselor in?” I patted her hand.
Excerpted from "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Death"
Copyright © 2015 Christine Wenger.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Comfort Food Mysteries
“A frisky, sassy sleuth with a heart of gold.”—National Bestselling Author Daryl Wood Gerber
“[A] promising and very well-written series.” —Kings River Life Magazine
“Well plotted and sufficiently twisted.”—Fresh Fiction
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
On a cold wintry day there's nothing better than a nice dish of comfort food...and the latest Comfort Food Mystery Diners, Drive-Ins, and Death by Christine Wenger The 3rd Comfort Food Mystery On a cold wintry day there's nothing better than a nice dish of comfort food...and the latest Comfort Food Mystery by Christine Wenger. Trixie Matkowski is back bringing comfort food to the people of Sandy harbor, NY at the Silver Bullet Diner. Her friend, the irrepressible Antoinette Chloe Brown, is also back with plans to build an old fashioned drive-in movie theater. Unfortunately, on ground breaking day the body of ACB's missing boyfriend is found...dug up by the backhoe! Who wanted Nick dead? Could ACB's ex-husband been jealous enough to kill his own brother? Could it have been one of the men from the gang of biker chefs? A prior business associate? Or ACB herself? Trixie knows she has to help ACB with or without the help of Deputy Ty. Will she be able to find the killer while babysitting a house full of beauty contestants, keep ACB out of trouble, and still cook through the night serving up delicious diner food? I remember as a kid getting into my pajamas early then grabbing my sleeping bag and pillow and getting into the station wagon. My parents and I were going to the drive-in. It was still light when we got there so I played in the playground till it was dark enough for the movie to start. I can vividly remember that, though I couldn't tell you the film for the life of me! Those days are gone now, and most of the drive-ins with them. I'm pleased that ACB also remembers the fun of the drive-in and the wish to create a new one. The books in Christine Wenger's Comfort Food Mystery series are comforting and nostalgic in the best ways. They evoke those happy memories of the past while giving us an adventure in the present. The author also adds lots of fun: ACB's fashion sense and the Miss Salmon pageant, complete with an 88 year old choreographer and girls dressed as salmon...and fishermen! That being said, these books are by no means fluff. There are issues at play and underlying everything is the strength of friendship and the power of nostalgia. Of course, we also have a fine mystery as well. I welcome Trixie Matkowski and the people of Sandy Harbor into my home with each novel. I only wish I could visit the Red Bullet Diner myself and have a heaping plate of comfort food! Recipes included.
With names like Trixie, ACB, Toxic Waste, and Fingers, just to name a few, it was easy to see this was going to be a fun book. The lead character Trixie is immediately likeable. I knew spending time with her would be interesting and it was. The supporting cast of characters added a real richness to the story. The mystery was a good one. Not real easy to guess, but not too hard either (Don’t you want to solve it yourself sometimes?). I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Wenger is a gifted storyteller. I love the touch of having Trixie send an email off to her Aunt. A clever ides to add a little more depth to the story. And you can’t have a book about a diner and not have recipes. There are several great sounding ones included. Even one for dog biscuits!
Dollycas’s Thoughts Trixie Matkowski owns the Silver Bullet Diner and summer rental cottages. She also has a bit of land that came in handy when her friend’s significant other is found in a shallow grave. Antoinette Chloe Brown, or ACB for short, owns a restaurant in town and she wants to build a drive-in on land next to Trixie’s. Her biker boyfriend, Nick, has taken off without a word to anyone, her ex-husband, the boyfriend’s brother, is rotting in jail, and she is organizing a beauty pageant, so why not jump in with both feet to another venture. She is so worried about Nick she asks Trixie to help her find him but he turns up before they do much looking. His body is discovered during the groundbreaking for the drive-in and there is enough evidence at the scene to arrest ACB and haul her off to jail. What follows next is a nifty mystery served up with a bowlful of humor. ACB and her colorful mumus and fascinations just crack me up. Seeing her in a motorcycle sidecar must be a hoot! She and Trixie are the best of friends. Trixie even put up the bail to get her out of jail. She also let her move right into her house. The antics of these two are absolutely hilarious but Trixie does keep them on track as they try to find the real killer. I have grown comfortable with these characters and I appreciate the comfort food served at the Silver Bullet. I don’t know how I got behind on this series but that will be remedied soon. I am so glad I started Flashback Friday to help me catch up on great series like this one. Macaroni and Freeze has moved to the top of the To-Be-Read stack and It’s A Wonderful Knife comes out February 2.
I read the first two books in this series and loved them! So, I was very disappointed in the third book. To me the plot didn't seem as well thought out and there were times when I was bored with the whining from some of the characters. Not my personal favorite at all. I am really hoping Ms. Wenger picks up the slack and the fourth book is like the first two.