Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright is optimistic about the growing profit from her collection of Amish shops—until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a solitary hole in the front window and the store manager lying next to the espresso machine, dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register.
When Amber hires a young Amish woman, Hannah Troyer, to take over the shop’s duties, the two women become fast friends—as well as amateur sleuths. The police believe Gray’s death is a by-product of vandalism, but Amber and Hannah aren't convinced.
Clues that don't add up, a neighbor who is pulled into the midst of the investigation, a town with secrets to hide, and a blossoming romance—all will combine to push Amber and Hannah into unfamiliar roles in order to reveal answers to the mysteries around them.
"Chapman's latest is a mix of mystery and romance with vivid characters, a realistic setting and themes of loss, trust and love." — Romantic Times, four-star review
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Murder Simply Brewed
an Amish Village mystery
By Vannetta Chapman
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Vannetta Chapman
All rights reserved.
April 21, one week later
Hannah Troyer's Monday morning was off to a wonderful start.
She'd turned twenty-two the day before and was still feeling the joy of a new year. Nothing had gone wrong so far—no fights with her siblings, no disagreements with her parents, and no disastrous discussions with the two boys who seemed interested in courting her.
Everything was perfect.
She'd ridden her bicycle from her parents' home to the Amish Artisan Village, pedaling through the April morning along the Pumpkinvine Trail. The trail had been under construction by the town of Middlebury for some time. The portion that passed near her parents' home had been completed the previous year. She'd heard it would soon run from Elkhart all the way to Shipshewana. Although horses weren't allowed, it offered a wonderful path to travel while walking or biking.
The weather was cool but not cold. The green ash, American holly, and crab apple trees had all leafed out nicely into a dazzling display of green. She'd passed a few neighbors while riding—a few, but not too many. And she did feel pretty in her new lilac-colored dress and white prayer kapp.
Not that she was going to focus on her looks this year.
Vanity was a sin—one she struggled with of late, perhaps because of her age, or maybe because it seemed that boys suddenly acted differently around her. It wasn't so much that she thought she was beautiful. With her plain-colored brown hair, plain brown eyes, glasses, and too-thin build, she could best be described as average. She was fine with both being plain and being average, but she did realize that too often she focused on how she looked. It had been six months since she'd joined the church. That was an important day in her life. She'd confessed her faith in Christ before their congregation and vowed to follow the rules of their Ordnung.
So why did she struggle with vanity? She liked new dresses and pinning her kapp where a bit of her hair peeked through. Even the new glasses weren't bad. They were small brown frames with flecks of blue that made her eyes pop. She'd wanted the bright blue glasses but hadn't dared to buy them. They weren't simple at all.
As she pedaled into the Village parking lot, she tried to puzzle out her feelings. She loved their plain style of clothing, because it was how she'd always dressed. Wearing Englisch clothes had not been part of her rumspringa, though she had once tried to drive a car. That had been disastrous when she'd backed it into the tree near her friend's front porch.
No automobiles? No problem.
Plain clothing? Fine.
Hers was more a problem of attitude—braiding her hair different ways to see which was most attractive, choosing fabric with colors that accented her eyes, wondering if a small touch of blush and powder on her cheeks might help her look a tad bit older. She hadn't actually worn makeup, but she'd thought about it. The new glasses were something she needed because her prescription had changed. But the new frames? Those were a luxury that she'd paid for with the money she'd saved from her job.
Yesterday had been her birthday, and today was a new beginning. She did not want a guilty conscience worrying her as she began her twenty-second year. Or was it twenty-third? Birthdays always confused her. Was she ending a year or beginning one?
Her youngest sibling, Mattie, had turned two after Christmas. She had celebrated the end of her second year, which meant yesterday Hannah had celebrated the end of her twenty-second year. She was beginning her twenty-third year. The thought brought a huge smile to her face. Twenty-three had a nice ring to it.
She stored her bicycle in the shed behind the inn and set off on the path that circled the pond. Most of the buildings that made up the Village had been added on to the property as the business grew. The original buildings, the restaurant and inn, were located with easy access to the parking lot. The inn was the largest structure with the conference center addition attached to it. This building stretched across the entire northern end of the pond. Branching away and to the south was a concrete path that led around the tranquil water.
She'd seen pictures from years ago, pictures that were framed and hanging on the wall in the inn's lobby. Back then the pond had looked like something in a farmer's pasture. Weeds grew high around it and cows grazed nearby.
Now there was the path circling the pond with trees that provided shade, and the grounds crew kept the bushes trimmed and the grass cut. The six shops began at the inn and stretched halfway around the pond. The other half of the walk had benches where guests could rest. If you walked the entire thing, which only took ten minutes at the most, you ended up right back at the center of the complex, near the inn and the restaurant.
She could have taken a shortcut from the parking lot, through the lobby of the inn, and back out the far door. But the April sunshine beckoned her outside. She enjoyed working in the quilt shop on the far side of the pond. Carol Jennings managed the Quilting Bee. She was a fair boss, if a bit strict.
Hannah was used to strict, so she had no problem with her boss's rules. One rule was that the shop must be opened by eight a.m. on the dot, which meant Hannah had to arrive at seven thirty. There was the display board to set out on the walk. The music needed to be turned on, filling the shop with the tunes Carol insisted had been proven to soothe shoppers and put them in a buying mood. Any dusting had to be done before the door was opened because Carol wanted her clerks to give complete attention to customers.
The concrete path that skirted the pond was completely empty. Several of the stores did not open until eight thirty or even nine. Hannah had the morning walk to herself. She enjoyed the sweet moments of solitude. Occasionally she peeked at her reflection in the shop windows. When she did, she would smooth down her apron or adjust her kapp slightly. She rather liked being the one to open the shop. She enjoyed the moments of quiet before the day began.
No one else bothered to come so early.
No one except old Ethan Gray, who would have arrived ahead of her. His shop, A Simple Blend, was the last in the line that circled the northern and eastern sides of the pond. The shop practically adjoined theirs. Only a small grassy area separated the two buildings. All day, Hannah smelled kaffi and lattes and espresso. All day, Englischers strolled to the end of the line of shops to purchase Ethan's drinks. Once they had their first quota of caffeine firmly grasped in their hands, some of those customers would blink twice, notice the Quilting Bee was open, and walk inside.
Hannah unlocked the front door of their shop and hurried to the back room. She still had twenty minutes to prepare for opening, but she would rather be ready a minute early than a minute late. Mrs. Jennings had told her more than once, "Hannah, you do everything I ask and you complete the task early. You're a gut girl."
Her boss wasn't Amish, but sometimes the Pennsylvania Dutch words they used slipped into her vocabulary. Perhaps she'd lived among the Amish for so long, she was almost Amish.
The next twenty minutes passed quickly. She made sure there was plenty of change in the cash register. Checked the roll of register tape and checked that there was an extra under the counter. Turned on the music and dusted the shelves of their bookcase, which held quilting books. Where did so much dust come from? Hadn't she done the same thing two days ago?
Satisfied that everything was ready, she walked to the front door and turned the sign to "Open." The temperature was supposed to rise to the low sixties, so she propped the door open with a life-size iron cat. Then she moved their Daily Specials board out in front of their display window. It was a chalkboard, like the ones in her old schoolhouse, but built on an A-frame. Each day Carol had different items on sale so that customers staying several nights at the inn would return. The board currently declared, "Fat Squares for Spring—Starting at $1.29."
She pushed up her glasses and pivoted in a circle, studying the walk, the pond, and then their shop. Something was wrong.
Hannah reached for the strings of her prayer kapp and ran her fingers from the tops to the bottoms. She again checked the sign. It looked fine to her. She glanced left and then behind her, but saw nothing out of place. Ducks were floating on the pond. A few customers had stepped out of the inn and were walking down to the water's edge. The Quilting Bee's display window sparkled—sunny and inviting, showcasing a pretty variety of spring fabrics.
So what was amiss?
Why was there a niggling doubt at the back of her prayer kapp?
She didn't smell Ethan's kaffi, which he always had brewing well before she arrived.
Stepping to her right and moving into A Simple Blend's front flower bed, which was a little muddy from the sprinklers, she pushed up on her glasses again and tried to peer through the front window. When she did, her mind had trouble piecing together what she saw.
There were several holes in the bottom left corner of the store's window, and cracks in the glass had webbed out in every direction.
What could have caused such a thing?
When could it have happened?
Her heart beat in a triple rhythm and her hands slicked with sweat as she moved closer. She again attempted to peer through the window, but it was like trying to look through broken eyeglasses.
Slowly, she continued past the window to the door and tried the handle.
It was unlocked!
Where was Ethan?
A dozen tiny spiders slipped down Hannah's spine. She slapped at her neck, then chided herself. There were no spiders. She was acting like a silly child.
Still, she whispered a prayer.
Of course the door was unlocked. It was nearly eight o'clock. It was time for them to begin their day, a perfect day up until this moment. Hannah chided herself again for hesitating. The shop was no longer locked because old Ethan was inside making kaffi, and soon she would smell its rich aroma drifting outside and down the sidewalk.
But the window ...
She pulled the door open, intending to step inside and call out to Ethan.
Which was when she saw him.
Her heart slammed against her chest and she stumbled backward.
Ethan lay slumped sideways over the front counter, one hand at his heart and the other resting on top of a spilled pile of dark kaffi beans. He'd never placed the beans into the grinder, and Hannah realized as she rushed to his side that he never would.
Ethan Gray was dead.
She stopped short of the body, stopped and prayed that he had found favor in God's eyes and that even now he was standing with the angels.
* * *
Amber Wright had been at her desk in her office on the second floor above the Village restaurant for nearly an hour when her cell phone rang. The switchboard didn't open until eight, but a recording directed visitors to dial nine for an emergency and she had any such calls forwarded straight to her cell. No doubt this was not an emergency, but whoever was calling probably thought it was, thought whatever it was couldn't wait until eight a.m. when the offices opened. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it could.
Years ago, when she'd first started the job as general manager of Amish Artisan Village, she'd learned that her only moments of uninterrupted quiet were from seven to eight in the morning. So when her phone rang at seven fifty-five, she was not happy. She'd been counting on that additional five minutes.
"Amber Wright." She aimed for a pleasant but busy tone.
"It's Ethan. Ethan is ... what I mean to say is he's ..."
The young girl on the other end of the line sounded frantic. Her voice trembled and her Pennsylvania Dutch accent was strong. So strong Amber had trouble making out what she was saying. The girl sounded as if she had been running. Amber could hear her panic loud and clear—more clearly than the words she was stumbling over.
"Who is this?"
"Hannah, but that doesn't matter. What matters is Ethan, and he's ..."
Amber's mind combed over the nearly five hundred employees and landed on a young Amish girl. "Hannah. You work at the quilt shop, correct?"
"Ya, but it's Ethan I'm calling about. He's—"
"Ethan Gray." Ethan had been at the Village longer than Amber had, and she'd been there more than two decades. She'd taken the job straight out of college. In all those years, she'd never heard anyone sound so desperate.
Now the girl's story came out in a rush, like a storm blowing down from Lake Michigan. "Ethan from the kaffi shop, ya. I noticed I couldn't smell kaffi yet, and I stepped over to check on him, and that was when I saw the glass. The glass was all cracked and I couldn't see through it. I opened the door, and I found him. He's ... he's dead."
"Hannah, I want you to take a deep breath." Amber was already logging off her computer and grabbing her tablet and ring of keys—the keys she never left her office without. There was no telling what room or closet she might need access to. They'd been meaning to master key the entire Village, so a single key would open any door, but it kept being pushed down her to-do list. Until then, she and Larry each carried a large ring of keys. The tablet she took with her out of pure habit. She typed all her notes on the tablet.
Amber pressed her cell phone tightly against her ear as she rushed out of her office. She wanted to keep the girl talking.
Her office assistant, Elizabeth, was at her desk in the reception area outside Amber's office. She was bent over, storing her purse in her bottom desk drawer, and all Amber could see as she rushed out was the top of the woman's gray head.
Elizabeth called out, "Something wrong?"
But Amber slowed for only a few seconds as she started down the stairs and then hollered up, "Call 9-1-1. Have them meet me at A Simple Blend. We need an ambulance." Then she fled down the remaining stairs and out the door into the hall of the restaurant.
Maybe Ethan had passed out.
Maybe he merely looked dead.
She prayed the girl was mistaken.
"Are you still on the line, Hannah?"
"Ya. I'm here."
"Where are you now?"
"In the quilt shop. I ran back to use our phone. I left him there. He's alone. Shouldn't I—"
"Hannah, you're doing great. You did the right thing. I want you to go next door and make sure his sign is turned to "Closed." Make sure no customers go into that shop. Do you understand?"
"Right. I'm on my way now. I can be there—"
It sounded like Hannah dropped the phone. Amber heard it clatter and could make out the sound of shoes slapping against the floor. She had intended to keep the conversation going in the hopes she could calm the girl down. But Hannah had done exactly as directed. No doubt she was headed next door to close the shop and stand guard at the door.
There was a moderate crowd in the restaurant, but few seemed to pay attention to her. One older Hispanic man held the outside door open as she rushed through it. The shops fanned out around the pond from the central point of the inn and restaurant. They made a nice little village—and the name Amish Artisan Village fit what she was staring at perfectly. The shops offered products made by local Amish men and women. Amber considered them all to be artists, whether they sewed quilts or made wooden toys or baked. She was proud of the fact that their stores offered original Amish goods and in the process helped to provide income for local families.
Inn with a conference center. Restaurant. Shops.
The Village had expanded over the years until now it circled halfway around the pond. Ethan had always worked at a coffee booth, which had originally sat next to the restaurant. A year ago, they'd moved him to a shop on the far side of the other shops, hoping the desire for a strong cup of coffee would lure shoppers as they strolled down the walk, which circled the pond. It had worked. Sales had been up 12 percent since they'd made the move. Some customers even skipped morning coffee at the restaurant and went straight to A Simple Blend.
But now something had happened, and she knew deep down that today she would have more to worry about than sales.
Excerpted from Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman. Copyright © 2014 Vannetta Chapman. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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