Fiddling with Fate (Southern Homebrew Mysteries #3)288
Fiddling with Fate (Southern Homebrew Mysteries #3)288
Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)
It’s August in Chattanooga, Tennessee and moonshiner Hattie Hayes has collaborated with a nearby vineyard to serve her moonshine at a Wine and 'Shine event. Not only is this an opportunity for Hattie to gain more moonshine fans, but she’s also excited to hear the Bootlegging Brothers, a popular bluegrass band. But not every attendee is looking for harmony. When one of the brothers disappears and is presumed dead, Hattie realizes her grace note gathering has suddenly turned more sour than her mash.
Unearthing what happened to the missing musician is more difficult than Hattie first expected. Hattie’s moonshine is tied to the crime and there’s no time to fiddle around—she has to step up to solve the case. Luckily, Hattie’s cool head and quick mind help her understand that when investigating a musical crime, always stay sharp.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Southern Homebrew Mysteries , #3|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By late August in Chattanooga, Tennessee, folks have had their fill of the summer's relentless sunshine, heat, and humidity. Fortunately, though, they hadn't had their fill of bluegrass music or moonshine. That's why I was up early this Saturday morning, scurrying about my tiny mountainside cabin, getting myself ready for the opening of the Hamilton County Bluegrass Festival. I'd donned my usual firefly-green T-shirt that bore my moonshine brand's logo, a pair of old-fashioned denim overalls, and sneakers with gel inserts and arch supports. I'd be on my feet all day at the festival. Best to be prepared. For the final touch, I pulled my brown curls up into a carefree ponytail, swiped a few coats of mascara on my lashes to accentuate my dark-brown eyes, and applied a light coat of lip gloss. There. All done. No sense putting much more effort into my appearance. With the outdoor temps still lingering near ninety, makeup would melt off my face. Besides, I wasn't the glamorous type to begin with and, at just over five feet tall, I was better off going for girl-next-door rather than gorgeous.
My gray cat, Smoky, eyed me from atop the kitchen counter, where he lounged. Unsanitary, I supposed. But I'd scolded the cat and removed him from the counter a thousand times before and learned it was a futile endeavor. The instant his paws hit the floor, he'd jump right back up onto the countertop. I bent over and put my face in his while scratching behind his ears. "Be a good boy while I'm gone, okey dokey, Smoky?"
The swish of his tail said, Nope. Not even gonna think about behaving. He'd probably spend the day sharpening his claws on my couch, shedding on my bed coverings, or kicking the litter out of his box.
I gave him a kiss on the head and headed out to my fluorescent-green glow-in-the-dark van. In the daylight, it just looked crazy bright but, come nighttime, you couldn't miss the van as I made my way around town, advertising my wares as I went about my business. My first order of business today was to pick up my granddaddy from the Singing River Retirement Home. If not for Benjamin Hayes having lovingly taught me how to make moonshine, I wouldn't even have my Moonshine Shack shop. I owed everything to him. Well, maybe I owed some to his father, who'd first taught him the secrets of moonshining, and to my Irish ancestors who'd preceded him, bringing their whiskey-making know-how over with them from the mother country when they'd immigrated long ago and settled in the mountains here.
I motored down the winding road that led from my cabin into the beautiful city of Chattanooga. Granddaddy waited on a bench in front of the one-story stone retirement home, clearly eager to start the day. He might be almost ninety years old, but he was like a little boy when it came to our moonshine. He loved talking up the fishine with customers, drawing them in with his folksy charm. Today, he'd enjoy the fresh air and music. Bluegrass was his favorite, especially the classics like "Rocky Top," "Mountain Dew," "The Wabash Cannonball," and the fast-paced instrumental "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."
When Granddaddy spotted me approaching, he pushed himself up to a wobbly stand and stuck out a gnarled thumb as if attempting to hitch a ride. Forever the jokester.
I unrolled the window, raised a hand in greeting, and called, "Hey, Granddaddy! Ready to hear some good music?"
"Sure am, Hattie!" he called back. "Ready to sell lots of fishine, too."
Like him, I hoped for big sales today. Since I'd launched my brand and opened my Moonshine Shack, things had been a roller-coaster ride. Not long ago, the former owner of the Irish pub located across the street from my shop was found dead on my store's stoop, and my moonshine had also later been implicated-wrongly-in a poisoning death. But things had bounced back and were on an upswing now. Only time would tell how far up the swing would go. The festival was a perfect opportunity to introduce my fishine to more folks. There was sure to be a big crowd of both locals and bluegrass fans from around the region. With any luck, they'd spread the word about my fishine when they went back home to their cities and towns.
I hopped down from my van and helped my granddaddy into the passenger seat. Though he fussed at me the entire time and insisted he didn't need my help, he'd have never gotten into the seat without a little boost from me. As we drove off, he waved goodbye to a trio of women working a puzzle on the veranda. "See you later, ladies!"
They waved back, one in particular treating him to a bright smile filled with perfect teeth. She'd clearly polished her dentures. They were as white as her curly hair, which she'd swept up into a wild knot atop her head. With her curls and carefree smile, she resembled my long-gone granny.
I glanced over at Granddaddy. "Something going on between you and Louise?"
"Her name's Louetta," he snapped, "and nothing's going on. How could you even ask me that? She sits by me sometimes on movie night and we share a popcorn, but that's all."
Fighting a grin, I asked, "Do you plan in advance to sit together at the movies?"
"No," he said. "She asks me if I'm going to watch the show and, if I say yes, she saves me a seat. But there's no plan."
Sure sounds like a date to me. "I think you've got yourself a girlfriend, Granddaddy."
"No, I don't!" He sent a heated look my way and scowled. "I'd never cheat on your granny."
The poor, naïve fool. He might not realize he was dating Louetta, but I was pretty sure she thought she was dating him. Besides, you couldn't cheat on someone who'd been gone for over decade. His heart would always belong to Granny, but I'd bet even she wouldn't mind seeing him enjoy some female companionship. I dropped the subject, though. No sense getting him all riled up. He was difficult enough on his best behavior, and I'd never forgive myself if he suffered a stroke or heart attack on my account.
We drove on to Market Street, turned down the back alley, and parked in the Moonshine Shack's rear parking lot next to the single-horse trailer I'd repurposed as a portable moonshine bar. I'd spotted the old trailer behind the barn where my boyfriend, a mounted police officer, boarded his horse. The paint had faded, the metal had begun to rust, and the tires had been worn bald. Like the old gray mare, the trailer wasn't what it used to be and had been put out to pasture. When I'd approached the owner of the boarding facility about buying the trailer, he'd barked a laugh. "Hon, you don't want to put a horse in that old thing. The floor's likely to cave in."
I told him I wouldn't be using it to transport a horse, but rather planned to repurpose it as a mobile moonshine bar. He'd barked another laugh. "You millennials. You're always turning things on their heads. You've got imagination, I'll give you that."
Speaking of giving . . . "How about I give you fifty dollars and you give me the trailer?"
As fast as he'd accepted my offer, I had to wonder if instead I should've asked him to pay me fifty bucks to haul the thing away. My friend Kiki Nakamura and I had laid some plywood over the floor of the trailer to cover the holes. We'd also painted the outside a beautiful midnight blue with the word moonshine in glow-in-the-dark fluorescent green across each side. Kiki, a graphic artist, added a white crescent moon and a scattering of brilliant stars. When we finished, I had an adorable portable beverage bar that I could use to serve my moonshine at outdoor events. The cost of the trailer and paint was less than the price for renting a commercial food trailer a single time. I didn't need all the bells and whistles of a fully outfitted food truck anyway. There was no need for running water, gas, or electricity. Moonshine could be stored at room temperature, and ice could be kept cold in plastic coolers.
Today would mark the trailer's debut. I couldn't wait to see how things would go at the festival! After attaching the trailer to the hitch on my van, I headed through the back door of my shop and into the storeroom. Granddaddy used his cane to hobble inside to help me. In light of his age and balance issues, his help consisted primarily of telling me to be careful and making sure I packed enough jugs of his pure Granddaddy's Ole-Timey Corn Liquor, which I sold in earthenware jugs sealed with a cork. I also packed up multiple cases of my fruit-flavored moonshine, which was sold in mason jars. I loaded a portable table, folding chairs, sun canopy, chalkboard sign, cups, and napkins into the trailer, as well as large beverage coolers that contained iced tea, lemonade, and a sour fruit punch. I packed cleaning supplies, too, in the event of spills. To fight the heat, I'd ordered two small battery-operated fans online. The fans went into the van, as well.
Materials in tow, we drove to the riverfront area and made our way to Ross's Landing, a riverside park with a natural amphitheater, pier, and marina. I flashed my vendor badge at the attendant and was allowed to drive my van through the checkpoint and onto the festival grounds. A covered rectangular platform had been erected at the end of the grassy area to serve as the main stage. While bluegrass music typically did not include instruments that required electricity, microphones and speakers would nonetheless be needed to amplify the sound. To that end, men strung electrical cords, set up speakers, and hung lights. Food trucks and trailers rolled slowly along, easing into their assigned places. Merchandise vendors milled about on the other side of the lawn, setting up their booths along the perimeter of the grass.
Granddaddy glanced about. "Where's our space?"
"We're booth number thirteen." When I'd received the booth assignment from the event organizer, I'd been tempted to ask for a different space. After all, the number thirteen was supposed to be unlucky. But I'd refrained. After all, we make our own luck, don't we? At least, I liked to think so, for the most part anyway. Unexpected things could happen, of course, but it was childish to fret about something as silly as a booth number. Besides, the spot was close to the stage, where we'd be highly visible. I'd been fortunate to land such a prime spot.
We continued past booths ten, eleven, and twelve. I pointed when I saw four orange cones marked with the number 13 designating the perimeter of our space. "There we are."
I pulled into our space and we climbed out of the van. The first thing we did was set about erecting the pop-up canopy in front of the trailer so my customers could enjoy some cool shade while waiting for us to prepare their drinks. Laying the parts out on the grass, I screwed the support poles together and attached them to the canvas canopy in the appropriate places. But as I tried to erect the tent, the supports collapsed in on each other. This is a two-person job.
Granddaddy shifted his cane to his left hand and reached out with his right. "I'll hold the poles while you tie 'em down."
While my grandfather held each corner pole in place, I used a mallet to hammer the plastic support stakes into the grass. When we finished, I took a few steps backward to admire our handiwork. I held my breath as a light breeze kicked up and the wind filled the canopy, attempting to whip it about, but the covering held its ground. I released the breath-phew!-and raised the mallet in victory. "We did it!"
"Did what?" came a familiar woman's voice from behind me.
I turned to see Kiki approaching with a large rectangular cooler on a dolly. Kiki was one of the most reliable, supportive, and thoughtful people on the planet, though her punk-rock garb sometimes threw people off. Today, she sported a bright-red romper with torn fishnet hose and battered combat boots. She'd topped things off with a bright-yellow bowler hat adorned with a pink silk rose in full bloom on the brim. She looked like an escapee from clown reform school. One side of her head was shaved close to her scalp, while the dark tresses hanging from the other side cascaded over her shoulder. She'd adopted the punk look after studying abroad in London during college.
I explained the source of my pride. "Granddaddy and I set up the shade tent all by ourselves."
She eyed the canopy and shrugged. "Big whoop. I just lugged fifteen tons of ice from my car." She quirked her head to indicate the cooler.
"And I can't thank you enough." Though I seriously doubted her math, I stepped forward and enveloped her in a warm hug.
Now that the canopy had been installed, we situated my grandfather on a folding lounge chair in the shade. Leaving Granddaddy to hold down the fort, Kiki and I went to her Mini Cooper in the public parking lot and retrieved the additional two coolers of ice she'd picked up for me that morning. Her car was painted to resemble the Union Jack flag. For such a small car, the Mini held a surprising amount of cargo.
We stacked the heavy coolers on the dolly and rolled them back to my moonshine trailer. The trailer was seven and a half feet high, six feet wide, and ten feet long, just big enough to hold the six-foot table and stack the coolers beside it for easy access. After covering the table with a vinyl tablecloth for quick cleanup, I stacked the cups upside down on the tabletop, where we could grab them to prepare the drinks. Kiki set the napkin dispenser beside it. I uncorked a jug of the unflavored moonshine and placed two jars of each flavored moonshine on the table in easy reach, replacing their aluminum lids with pour spouts. Things were warming up inside the trailer, and my skin felt clammy. I strategically positioned the two fans on the floor, angled upward and turned to maximum power to provide us a small measure of relief from the heat.
Today, we'd be serving three moonshine drinks that Granddaddy and I had concocted together. The first was called Blueberry Bluegrass Tea, and consisted of iced tea with a shot of blueberry moonshine, garnished with fresh blueberries and an orange wedge. The next we'd deemed Rosemary Lemonade. It, too, was simple. Lemonade with a dash of my grandfather's unflavored moonshine, garnished with both a curlicue of lemon peel and a sprig of fresh rosemary. The Sucker Punch consisted of two-thirds fruit punch and one-third ruby red grapefruit juice, with a dash of cherry moonshine, a dash of peach moonshine, and a dash of apple pie moonshine, garnished with a strawberry. An extra shot of fishine could be added to any drink for only a dollar more.
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