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Murder on the Sconset Express
By Hunter Laroche
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Hunter Laroche
All rights reserved.
It was late in the evening at Cy's Green Coffee Pot Restaurant and Bar on Nantucket. The tavern clock's gold numbers glowed against its black finish.
KW had swiped the bar one last time with his rag and then polished a few beer steins before climbing the rickety wooden ladder to clean and wind the old London-style clock. He thought to himself, How many times has that pendulum swung back and forth? I wonder who the original owner of the old clock was. That was a recurring thought that swept through his head almost every time he hand-wound the clock. KW often thought that he should send a letter, along with a photograph of the clock, to the company whose brass plate was on the bottom inside door of the unit.
Schessling and Sons Fine Clock Makers Dresden, Germany, founded in 1829
KW thought they might find it interesting to see how it was holding up and the fact that it was on a small island thirty miles out to sea in another country.
Almost every evening after the last smattering of patrons had cleared out, it was the same ritual: KW checked to make sure the front, back, and kitchen doors were secured shut. Then he would go get a broom and sweep around the bar area before he pulled out the stepladder to tend to the clock.
Earlier this evening he had thought to himself, With this front blowing through, it's gonna be a quiet night for business. Only a smattering of people came in after the movie at the Dreamland Theater. The Philadelphia Story was advertised as coming soon, as well as The Fighting 69th, with James Cagney. KW was going to try to get free time to see both of those.
It was around nine thirty. KW was going to close up, as the last customers had just departed, when the front door opened and a man walked in all wet, his glasses foggy. He had no hat on, and he asked KW if the tavern was still open. He remembered what Tracy Root, the maître d' of the Chanticleer Inn, always told him: "KW, first impressions are lasting ones in the restaurant and hospitality business. Don't ever judge a book by its cover. What you discover also might surprise you."
KW replied, "I was getting ready to close up, but sure, come on in. Grab a seat at the bar. I'll be glad to get you a drink. I might just start cleaning up a little while you're here. Not the best weather out there tonight."
"You've got that right," the man replied. He added, "My name's Richard. Just arrived a short time ago on the boat. Kinda rough seas out there."
"I bet so. Wind's been kicking up pretty good since early afternoon. Rain's been coming down sideways most of the day," replied KW. "Where are you staying?"
"I have a house on Broad Street. Purchased it last year and have had a crew working on it for the past ten months or so."
"You have that really nice Victorian next to Dolly and Nobby's, the Nesbit Inn?"
"That's the one!"
"Well, it's really nice. I was lucky enough to take a tour of the inside a few weeks back."
"You did?" Richard asked.
"Yeah. A friend of mine, David Crosier, is your painting contractor. I met him various times while on the island also, right here, prior to purchasing the bar. So when he heard I was going to be the new proprietor, one of his first questions he had was 'Are you going to keep Sylvia on in the kitchen?' I told him that was the plan. David said, 'Wow, that's a relief. She's the best cook around!'
"He does an excellent job. He's very meticulous with every detail, from paint to wallpaper and everything else you throw at him. David did some work for me here right before I opened. I traded his labor for food and beverage credit. He loved that idea. I had a question for him on some shelving that I was considering adding in the kitchen, so I wandered over to your house, as I knew he was still working on it. He took me for a quick walk-through. You've done an excellent job restoring that."
"Well, we are almost finished. I just thought I would come and see the progress. I haven't been back since I purchased it, and I am really pleased with the way it has turned out."
"Where do you hail from, Richard?"
"Chicago. I am in the banking business. My wife, Inese, arrives tomorrow with her mother, Anita. They're coming in from Europe. I hope the weather clears somewhat."
"What can I get you to drink?" asked KW.
"Do you have a nice red wine?"
"Well, all I pour is Inglenook Cabernet by the glass."
"Do you have anything better?" Richard inquired.
"Well, by the bottle, I have two French and two Spanish and one Italian and two from California."
"What are the French?"
"I have, let's see, a Chateau Greysac 1938 and a Chateau Gloria 1936."
"I'll take the Gloria. If I don't finish it, can you cork it and leave for me for tomorrow?"
"Sure, no problem," KW replied.
As KW set one of his few wineglasses in front of him, Richard looked up and asked, "Do you have any better glasses?"
"No, sorry, this is all I have to offer."
"Well, I tell ya, KW, this seems like a nice tavern, but we've got to work on your wine selection and your stemware!"
"We don't get much call for fancy wines here. Mostly just one or two of our customers ask for better wines, like Pirate Pete, Duff Myercord, and Neil Krauter. The rest is beer and whiskey."
"So you do get a few requests for some better wines?"
"Yes," replied KW. "Duff Myercord enjoys a nice wine that he calls heavy. Pirate Pete likes a French Bordeaux, and Neil Krauter — well, he comes in and just says give me the best you got!" KW said while chuckling.
"That sounds like my type of guy," Richard replied. "What does this guy Neil do? He lives here?" Richard asked very curiously.
"Well, he is here often, even in the wintertime. He lives in New York and Boston and also has places in Paris and Portugal. I met him a couple of years ago. He owns insurance companies in New York, Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The list of his companies seems to go on and on. He actually insures my little place here in trade for food, but he is adamant about paying for his alcohol or wines, and he enjoys a lot of wine! He is something else, that Neil." KW broke out into a good laugh.
Richard joined KW in a loud laugh. "He sounds like a great guy to me. I'd love to meet him."
"Well, you never know around here when he will pop in, with a pretty broad on his arm, of course," KW added, still smiling.
At that point Richard pulled out from his carrying case several folded newspapers and magazines, which he promptly placed on the bar. "Can I get anything to eat?"
Again, KW remembered the words of his friend Tracy, who stopped in almost every Wednesday. KW said, "I don't have much, as the kitchen closed at 8:00 p.m., but let me see what I can whip up. Do you like chicken? We had a nice special tonight: Sylvia's Italian herb-roasted chicken served with green beans and buttermilk mashed potatoes."
"That sounds perfect," Richard replied.
After KW got Richard all set up with his wine, he retreated into the kitchen to make him a plate of chicken. Within fifteen minutes a piping hot dish with a quarter of a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy arrived, which KW placed in front of Richard. Richard was grinning from ear to ear and dug right in. He never took his eyes off the newspaper. Finally, he glanced up and said, "Let me tell you, that was one excellent dish. So simple but the flavors were excellent." When he had finished and KW was clearing his plate, Richard asked, "Dessert?"
KW replied, "Only Sylvia's warm homemade blueberry pie à la mode with hand-churned vanilla bean ice cream."
Richard looked like a kid in a candy store when it arrived. Then he asked, "Coffee?"
KW corked up the rest of the wine, put it on what he referred to as his private shelf, brought Richard his coffee, and went about finishing his chores. He glanced over every now and again to see that Richard was still engulfed in his newspapers. KW had nowhere to go, so he let Richard take his time. KW sat down a few bar stools away. Richard put down his newspaper and started asking about the business, how long he had been working there, and, if he owned it, how the lease and profit margin were.
Right then Marshmallow, the house cat, hopped up onto the bar, walked right over to the newspapers, and sat on them. She let out a big meow, happy and content.
"Oh, by the way, that's Marshmallow," KW said with a chuckle.
Richard smiled and said, "Well, I better let you close up. You wouldn't happen to have a glass of port, would you?"
"One of my favorite nightly rituals is to end with a glass of Fonseca tawny port," KW replied. Grabbing two glasses, he poured them both two fingers. "That's on me," KW told Richard. "Welcome to Cy's."
Marshmallow let out another meow, and they both started laughing. Richard asked for the tab, and he pulled some money out of his wallet, not really counting it, and placed it on the bar. When KW picked it up, Richard was already getting off the bar stool.
KW said, "Wait a minute, Richard. There's way too much money here!"
Richard looked at him and said, "That's fine. Grab a drink on your next day off."
"But, Richard ..." KW started to reply when Richard just walked out the door. KW breathed out a sigh of exhaustion as he walked behind Richard to lock the door. He talked and hummed to himself. "Not bad for a stormy night."
Marshmallow purred loudly and rubbed against an empty whiskey bottle.
"Gonna take a long, easy sleep tonight, kitty cat?" He glanced over at Marshmallow and realized what great company she turned out to be.
Sylvia's Blueberry Pie
1 ½ tbs lemon juice
4 cups native blueberries
1/3 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add blueberries. Place in pastry shell. Sprinkle lemon juice. Dot the top of the blueberry mix with pats of butter. Add top crust, and pierce a few holes in top pastry. Bake at 425°F for 45–50 minutes.CHAPTER 2
KW had only purchased the bar a week earlier when he placed a sign on the front door window: closed for remodeling. He thought with a few changes to the menu, beer, and liquor offerings, he would be back open within seven to ten days. A little touch-up to the old wooden floors, a fresh coat of paint, a few new paintings, and a little spiff -up here and there would be a nice touch — nothing dramatic, as he knew the saying, "If it ain't broke don't fix it!"
Cy's Green Coffee Pot had been an institution for years, with a steady clientele. People loved their food, which was due to Ms. Sylvia's cooking. It was a great location in the heart of town close to the ferry pier and fishing boats. The tavern had a rustic, warm atmosphere.
KW had been a patron many times over the years since he had been visiting the island. He was enjoying lunch at Les's Lunch Counter in Mignosa's Market when he overheard the person next to him tell Les that old Rob and Connie Slimmon might be selling Cy's. KW then caught most of the conversation about how the couple were thinking of retiring and moving to a warmer climate.
KW stopped in Cy's and chatted with Rob Slimmon the next day. Rob had met KW on several occasions prior. They had a nice, detailed conversation in one of the back booths. After a while they agreed that the tavern would be leased to KW with the option of purchasing the building.
After KW took over the ownership, he was cleaning up outside when he noticed a kitten sitting in the bushes, staring at him while he swept the sidewalk. He gave out a "Hello, kitty! How are you today?" The cat just sat and stared at KW for a while. KW went about his business. A memory flashed in his head. He thought of the first time he saw the kitten a few days earlier. She was a tiny little thing with black and white fur. She was chasing a leaf around in the sunlight on the grass across the street one afternoon in the park by the Atheneum.
Sylvia, who had been asked by KW to remain and run the kitchen for the restaurant, had agreed after they discussed it over coff ee and muffins. KW told her he would like to revise the menu, keeping her favorites and adding some new dishes. Sylvia loved the idea, as the Slimmons were not much for change. "Just leave it be," Rob would say to Sylvia. She would just smile and nod at his opinion. Mr. Slimmon would often say to Sylvia, "Customers are enjoying what we offer."
A few days later, as they were nearing the opening deadline, Sylvia was making a batch of s'mores for KW to sample. Sylvia thought they might like to offer them as a dessert once in a while. Right when she was almost done, she looked up to see the cutest black-and-white kitten staring inside from the ledge near the kitchen window. She said, "Oh my! What a beautiful kitten you are!" Right at that moment, the kitten put her paw on the window, almost like a wave. Sylvia opened up the kitchen door, and the kitten strolled right in and let out a meow.
Sylvia got a saucer from the cabinet and poured some milk into it. The kitten lapped it right up and started purring away. Then the kitten jumped up to a corner shelf and proceeded to stick her head inside a bag of marshmallows.
KW walked into the kitchen, being drawn in by the aroma of the baking s'mores, and saw the kitten with her head inside the marshmallow bag and let out a laugh. Sylvia told him about seeing her outside the window and how the cat almost waved to her through the glass. He told Sylvia how he had seen the cat a few times across the street in the park. They both laughed, as now the kitten had managed to get totally inside the almost-empty bag of marshmallows. Then almost simultaneously they said, "Who do you think she belongs to?" They agreed that she looked kind of skinny to have a home to go to.
Sylvia then pulled the kitten out of the paper bag, gave her a kiss, and said, "All right, you little marshmallow, time to go. I have a kitchen to run, and it's not meant for kitties!" She placed the kitten back outside and shut the door. But the cat did not leave. She hopped right back up on the window ledge and kept staring in at Sylvia.
KW loved the s'mores and thought they would make a great fit, thinking they should offer a set dessert on set days. Again, in the kitchen, he saw the kitten staring at him through the window, and he said, "Hello, Marshmallow. Nowhere to go?"
Late that evening when KW was closing up, he went into the kitchen. Out on the ledge was the kitten again, so he opened up the door, let her back inside, and put out a little dish of tuna fish that Sylvia had made for sandwiches earlier in the day. He figured there was no harm in letting the cat stay inside if she felt so inclined.
He hustled the kitten out into the bar area after her snack, and she seemed to feel right at home. She found a booth that seemed to be made for her, hopped up on it, curled right up, and dozed off . When he was just about to lock up for the night, KW picked up the cat, placed her outside, and said, "Okay, home you go, little Marshmallow." But instead of trailing off , she just stared at KW, as if she had nowhere to go. He thought to himself, She is too young to stay outside alone at night. In one swoop, he picked up the kitten and said, "Okay, you little Marshmallow, you're coming home with me!"
Sylvia and KW both asked around to see if they could locate little Marshmallow's proper owners, but no one seemed to know. Sylvia asked the group from the ladies' club and also posted a note on the public board on Main Street but to no avail. Next thing you know, Marshmallow became the house cat of the pub!
Saturday night into Sunday rituals were easy and relaxing tasks as the long week ended. KW flicked the feather duster over the old clock and put his ear to the workings to be sure the ticktock of the tavern clock was in good shape. "All is well in the heart of Nantucket," he said to Marshmallow.
KW climbed down the stepladder to rub Marshmallow's silky black and white fur. Marshmallow let out a loud yawn and stretched out on top of the bar, as content as could be.
Excerpted from Murder on the Sconset Express by Hunter Laroche. Copyright © 2015 Hunter Laroche. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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