Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast manager Kelly Jackson is hosting a cooking class during the Week of the Mushroom festival to attract guests, not drama. But soon after she finishes foraging for an edible mushroom species on sacred Native American land, a local newspaper reporter gets shot dead at the same site. With suspicions spreading like fungi in the quaint Northern Californian community over the culprit's identity, Kelly and a savvy gang of sleuthing seniors known as the "Silver Sentinels" must uncover the truth about the secluded property before a tricky killer prepares another lethal surprise . . .
Read an Excerpt
Mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors covered the top of the large table in the work area of Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast. Each had been centered on a white piece of paper. Some looked like a person's sweet, peaceful dream of fluffy white clouds. Others were from someone's ghoulish nightmare. I reached toward a fascinating orange one with white dots.
"Stop!" the short, blond woman next to me shouted.
I quickly pulled my hand back.
The woman put her camera on the table. "I'm sorry to startle you. That one, as are some of the others, is poisonous, and you can absorb the toxins through your skin. Contrary to popular belief, you don't risk dying unless you ingest them, but you might have a nasty allergic reaction."
"You don't have to apologize for keeping me from getting sick," I told the photographer, Elise Jenkins.
She laughed. "Thanks for letting me do my mushroom class at your inn."
"I'm looking forward to learning about them as well as finding out more about the Mushroom Festival. As the new manager here, the more I know, the more I can inform my guests."
"It's a lot of fun. I've been going to the festival's events for years. Among other things, there are demonstrations, special menus at many of the restaurants, and a contest. I grew up here and the start of mushroom season is something I look forward to every year, along with many of the other locals."
"You said some of these are poisonous. I've heard eating wild mushrooms can be dangerous."
"It can be. You really need to know what you're doing and not take any chances if you're not sure. People still die, even though they know they need to be careful. There's a saying that goes, 'There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters but rarely someone who is both.'"
Elise put on rubber gloves, began picking up certain mushrooms and double- bagging them in plastic bags. She placed them in an ice chest. "I'll take these home with me. I'll leave the others here to show at the lunch later. Those on that side of the table are safe to touch." She pointed to the left.
I picked up one that looked like a dozen miniature fans glued together in an overlapping pattern to form a mushroom tower. The fungus felt soft and rubbery.
"That's called the hen of the woods," Elise said.
I turned the tan cluster in a number of different directions, but couldn't see any resemblance to the chickens on my parents' ranch.
Elise put the chest in a corner and then pulled name cards out of her briefcase. She began placing them on a long, narrow display table next to the wall.
"I'm going to put the mushrooms over here and keep the display up for the identification portion of the class. We'll be needing the table for eating and food preparation."
I put the hen down above her name tag.
The sound of a car in the driveway drew my attention out the window of the inn's back door. A four-door sedan rolled to a stop. A silver-haired, nattily dressed gentleman in a tweed jacket and cap emerged from a classic gold Mercedes. Herbert Winthrop, better known as the Professor from his days at UC Berkeley, had arrived.
A white Prius and a green pickup with a camper shell drove in behind him and parked. The drivers of the other vehicles emerged, both wearing long- sleeved shirts, blue jeans, and hiking boots. One wore a bright red cap with a matching scarf around his neck. The Professor had informed the Silver Sentinels, a crime-solving group of senior citizens of which he was a member and I had honorary status, that his younger brother and one of his friends was coming to the Mushroom Festival and attending the class at the inn.
They walked up the back steps and knocked on the door.
"Hi," I greeted them as I opened it for them.
A breath of salty ocean air followed them in.
The Professor took off his cap and nodded at me. "Good to see you, my dear." He turned to the two who had followed him in. "I'd like to introduce you to my brother, Timothy." He pointed to a slim man with a strong family resemblance who had the Professor's same sparkling blue eyes.
Timothy extended his hand. "I've heard a lot about you. It's great to finally meet you."
"Same here," I said, and we did the customary handshake.
His hand was soft, but his grip was firm.
Indicating the rotund man next to Timothy, the Professor said, "And this is his friend, Clarence Norton."
He stepped forward. "Hi!" His neat mustache had the whisper of a curl at the ends and his full head of gray hair was brushed back.
I received a vigorous handshake.
"I'm so excited to be here! This class sounds like it'll be great." A laugh punctuated the sentence.
"Timothy and Clarence, this is Kelly Jackson, manager of Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast," the Professor said.
"It's nice to meet you both. Welcome to the inn and please come in." I closed the door and joined them. "This is our multipurpose room. It contains a work space on the left, a kitchen on the right, and a living area at the far end." The spacious room was the hub of our activities and always had a welcoming feel about it.
Elise moved the last mushroom from the table.
"This is your instructor, Elise Jenkins." I nodded in her direction and introduced them.
"Hi, everyone," she said. "I look forward to working with you. I'm about ready to prepare lunch, so we'll talk more later."
The men said hi, and Clarence and Timothy told her how much they were looking forward to the class.
"Professor, I know you're not taking the class," Elise said, "but you're welcome to join us for lunch. I have plenty of food."
"I'd love to, Ms. Jenkins. That's a kind offer."
"Please, call me Elise."
"So I shall," he replied.
I led them to the living area where there was a couch and chairs. "Please, have a seat. Would anyone like some coffee or tea?"
"I'd like some coffee," Clarence said.
Timothy and the Professor responded in the negative.
"Would you like cream and sugar?" I asked Clarence.
"Yes, my sweet tooth just won't leave me alone," he chuckled.
I went to the kitchen and prepared Clarence's coffee, handed it to him, and sat down with the three men.
"We're really looking forward to the event," said Timothy. "We've spent two years learning about mushrooms."
I settled back into my chair. "That's a long time. What made you decide to do that?"
Clarence shifted his position, but it was almost more of a bounce up and down. "We compete every two years in an area we choose. We work to learn as much as we can and see who can be the best."
Timothy picked up the conversation. "We chose mushrooms this time. I knew about the festival and the contest, and it sounded like fun."
Clarence pulled his red wool scarf off and pointed to his matching cap. "Last time our area of expertise was knitting."
"Knitting?" I asked.
Timothy laughed. "Yes. The knitting club in Berkeley where I live didn't bat an eye."
Clarence grinned. "On the other hand, quite a few eyebrows shot up when I walked into a meeting of the Minnesota Knitters Guild. Once I explained, they were really good sports about it. I didn't realize I had ten thumbs."
"Who won?" I asked.
"Two ladies from each group judged our creations. We shipped them back and forth. They declared it a tie."
They both shrugged.
"We did it on a whim." Clarence chuckled. "We were looking through a class catalogue to get ideas. We saw a knitting class and decided that would be new and different."
Elise leaned over the counter that divided the kitchen and work area. "Gentlemen, you're welcome to look at the mushrooms on the table. They're all labeled."
While the three men went to check them out, I joined Elise in the kitchen, where she was beginning to prepare the welcome lunch. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Savory smells had begun to fill the air.
"If you'd set the table, that would be wonderful. I'm not familiar with where the dishes and silverware are kept."
"Sure." I pulled out plates from the cupboard.
I knew from the paperwork I'd seen there were eight participants, six staying at the inn. Elise had asked me to join the class whenever possible, and I was attending today's session. I added three plates for Elise, myself, and the Professor.
Elise opened a black nylon case on the counter. It contained a variety of knives.
I took the plates to the table. "Whatever you're making smells divine."
"Mushroom quiche to help get us into the swing of things. The class is about identifying and finding mushrooms as well as cooking them. This is a recipe I created using a lot of local wild herbs. I prepared the quiches at home and only need to heat them." She selected one of the knives and put it on a cutting board. "Kelly, thank you again for hosting my class here at your inn. I lost my job as a chef, and it's a challenge to make ends meet."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm glad I can be of help."
Elise pulled a huge salad bowl of greens from the refrigerator as well as bags of produce. "My mother's in an assisted care home. My son, Joey, helps as much as he can with the bills. He's a woodworker with limited resources. Joey teaches part-time at a craft school and builds redwood tables he sells in a local art gallery."
I added silverware to the table settings.
"I've been working odd jobs here and there. I hope to get something soon." She began chopping a yellow bell pepper. "Roger Simmons, the sponsor of the mushroom contest, bought the restaurant I worked at. The property is adjacent to his estate. The owners hadn't planned on selling for a couple more years, but he just kept offering them more money. They eventually sold."
"Is it still a restaurant?" I asked.
"No. He just wanted the property. There's a spectacular ocean view. He gutted the building, put in an art studio for his work, and built an addition of a small warehouse. Roger works with wood and that takes a lot of equipment."
I was learning about another aspect of Redwood Cove. I'd seen some of the redwood items for sale but didn't know much about the process for creating them.
"He was very generous to all the employees. We had a lot of notice, and he gave us severance pay that was more than any of us expected. The owners are now very well set for their retirement. I'm unemployed right now, but I don't feel any ill will toward him." She tossed the pepper into the salad bowl.
I finished setting the table. "Mr. Simmons called and said he wanted to meet me. He's coming over in a little bit."
Elise wiped her hands on a dish towel. "He visits as many of the mushroom activities as he can."
She pulled appetizers from the refrigerator and uncovered them. I arranged them on the counter. The men joined us.
"Help yourself," she said as she placed them on the table. "The others should be arriving soon."
I picked up one of the stuffed mushrooms and bit into it. The filling melted in my mouth with a tangy cheese flavor and the taste of dill. I detected a hint of garlic and other spices I couldn't identify.
Clarence picked up an appetizer and beamed at Elise. "I can't wait to get into the woods and start the hunt."
"Me, too," Timothy said. "It's so gorgeous here. The combination of the redwood forests and the Pacific Ocean makes for stunning views. We have fun events planned as well as being in a breathtaking area."
Elise frowned. "The woods are indeed beautiful, but they can also be dangerous, a place of mystery and darkness." She put another plate of appetizers out. "People have been known to get killed in these woods."
The excitement in their faces slipped away and fear entered.
Clarence stepped toward Elise. "Killed? Why?"
"A number of reasons. There are people living deep in the woods who don't want to be found. They have their secrets to protect. Illegal drug activity is another. A keep-out sign means exactly that. And, of course, the mountain lions."
"Mountain lions?" Timothy's voice had taken on a high-pitched note.
Elise put pitchers of tea on the granite kitchen divider. "For the most part they stay away from people. But there have been some incidents. Especially if a lion's been injured or has cubs."
She left the kitchen and went to a pile of papers on the side table, where the mushrooms were, and returned with some stapled sheets. Elise handed one to Clarence and the other to Timothy.
"Here are maps of hunting locations. If you follow my directions and use the maps, you'll be fine and have a lot of fun. I didn't mean to scare you, but I did want to stress it's important to be careful. I can tell you're really excited, and I heard you mention a competition. I didn't want you to get carried away in the heat of the contest."
The Professor looked over Timothy's shoulder at the papers he held. "Who knew hunting fungi could be life threatening? My new piece of knowledge for the day."
A car drove by the side window of the work area. I didn't know much about types of vehicles, but I knew my animals and recognized another type of big cat in the hood ornament — a leaping jaguar. The black car parked, and a man with dark brown hair parted on the side got out. He headed along the walk toward the front of the inn.
I walked down the hallway to greet him, the sounds of my steps muffled by an oriental runner.
I opened the door before he had time to knock. "Welcome. I'm Kelly Jackson."
"Roger Simmons," he responded. "Pleased to meet you."
The sweet scent of the profusion of red, yellow, and blue flowers covering the vines climbing the porch railing drifted in.
"The mushroom class is being held in our multipurpose room in the back. Come this way."
Roger wore a light tan sports coat and neatly creased navy slacks. A silk scarf tucked in his breast pocket had a pattern with colors perfectly matching his attire. He was tall and substantial in size.
We joined the others and everyone exchanged names except for Elise, who gave the newcomer a wave.
Roger looked at me. "Thank you for participating in the Mushroom Festival. The more activities we can offer, the better for attracting people."
"I've been reading about it in the newspaper," I said. "There certainly is a variety of events to choose from."
Roger nodded. "You're right. People really get into it. It goes for two weeks. The chefs outdo themselves coming up with new recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
Elise chimed in. "Including dessert."
"Dessert? Mushroom dessert?" I laughed. "I don't know if I'm ready for that."
Elise smiled. "I wouldn't decide too fast. Wait until you try the candy cap mushroom ice cream."
"There's more," Roger said. "Locals lead hikes to find and identify mushrooms. A stable arranged a special horseback ride and a company called Paddler's Paradise has organized a canoe trip. You can walk, ride, or paddle to find fungi."
Elise pointed to the table with the mushrooms. "There are lists and flyers for the activities if you want to look at them over there." The Professor, Timothy, and Clarence went over to investigate and began picking up various papers.
"Any luck finding a job, Elise?" Roger asked.
Her back stiffened slightly. "Not yet. But something will come along."
"I'll let you know if I hear of anything," Roger said.
"Thanks." She sighed and returned to putting beverages on the counter. "Would you like to join us for lunch?"
"Thanks for the offer, but I'll have to pass. I have another appointment."
"Okay. I know this is a busy time for you," Elise replied.
He turned to me. "I understand you're new to the area. I'd love to have you come and see my art studio. I open it once a month to the public, and your guests might like to know about it. I'll give you a private tour."
"I'd like that. Elise said you create pieces using redwood. I know the trees are an important part of this area, and I'd like to learn more about what people do with them."
He pulled out his wallet, extracted a card, and handed it to me. "Excellent. I'll show you my woodworking equipment and walk you through the process. It's not a side of the craft I have many opportunities to talk about with people."
I examined the card — smooth black cardstock with his name and phone number in elegant, silver lettering. "I'll be in touch."
"I look forward to hearing from you," Roger said.
A battered yellow pickup truck drove by and parked.
"Oh, it's Peter Smith," Elise said. "I forgot to tell you about him, Kelly. I invited him to join us for lunch. He's won the contest for the last five years, and I think he can add some interesting information."
Elise had seen where the plates and utensils were kept and set another place at the table. A couple of class members wandered in and she went to greet them.
I opened the back door and called out, "Mr. Smith," as the man with sparse sandy hair locked his pickup. "This is where the class is meeting."
Excerpted from "Murder at the Mushroom Festival"
Copyright © 2018 Janet Finsilver.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.