A TREE IS KNOWN BY ITS FRUIT
It’s harvest time in Granford, Massachusetts, and orchard owner Meg Corey and her fiancé, Seth, are both racing to beat the New England winter. Meg is bringing in her apple crop with a team of workers, while Seth is working to restore an old building in the center of town. But when his project is set back due to the unexpected discovery of a skeleton under the building—and even worse, a young man related to one of Meg’s former apple pickers is found dead behind the local feed store—the couple’s carefully laid plans are quickly spoiled…
Meg can’t help but wonder: are they just unlucky, or is there something rotten in Granford? If so, she knows she’s got to seek out the bad apple before it ruins the whole bunch…
Includes Delicious Recipes
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“This whole town has gone crazy,” Seth Chapin said as he dropped heavily into a chair across the kitchen table from Meg Corey.
Meg looked at her fiancé in confusion. “Fiancé”: such an odd, somehow old-fashioned word. She kept forgetting that they were now officially “engaged” in the eyes of the world. Well, the small world of Granford, Massachusetts, at least—it wasn’t like she was announcing it in the Boston Globe. She didn’t feel like a fiancée, which she’d always thought was an equally silly word. They hadn’t gotten any closer to setting a date. They hadn’t discussed where or when or how. They hadn’t even worked out where they’d live, though currently Seth was spending most of his time at her house, which made sense, since his office and storage space were in her barn. On the other hand, Meg also had her housemate to consider—Briona Stewart, who was also Meg’s orchard manager, and indispensable to keeping the apple orchard running. Given how little Meg could afford to pay, the position came with a free room, and she couldn’t just toss Bree out into the local student-driven housing scene. There were many things Meg and Seth needed to talk about, maybe when they were less busy and exhausted—she with the apple harvest, Seth with his fast-growing renovation business. Not the best time to make happy plans.
“What are you talking about?” Meg asked now. “Did I miss something? What’s going crazy?”
“Everyone in town wants to tear things down and put things up, all at once.” Seth sighed. “You have anything cold to drink?”
“Of course. Water, iced tea, even some sports drink, if you want electrolytes.” After a recent brush with heat exhaustion, Meg had been scrupulous about keeping plenty of liquids on hand. Since it was harvest season, she was also always reminding her pickers up in the orchard to stay hydrated, too.
Seth hauled himself up and got a bottle of water from the refrigerator. He sat and downed half the bottle. “That’s better. So, basically, I think everybody in town looked up, noticed it was September, and said, ‘Hey, we’d better get something done before winter.’ Of course, we could argue about whether there’ll even be a winter this year, what with the weird weather we’ve had. Or maybe there’ll be a six-month winter.”
Meg sipped her own drink. “Back up—who’s ‘everybody’?”
“Well, first there’s the library. Did you hear about the new one?”
Meg racked her brain and came up blank. She hadn’t had time to read the local paper since . . . June? And it was only a weekly. She’d been so busy for months, first with fighting the drought, which had meant a lot of hand-watering of her eighteen acres of apple trees; now with managing the harvest, which had begun in August and would run through November, depending on when the apples decided to ripen, which was kind of unpredictable. But a new library was a major step for Granford, Massachusetts, and she felt like she should have known. Besides, Seth, a town selectman, usually kept her up-to-date. “Uh, no?”
“And you a concerned citizen!” Seth joked. “Okay, last year one of the old families in town donated a part of their property to the town to use to build a new library. It’s out near the high school, on Route 202. Plenty of space for parking, and it’s big enough to build what they want, assuming they can figure out how to pay for it. They’ve already got some state grants, and the fund-raising is going well.” He stopped to drink some more water. “The building site is set back pretty far from the road, so you might not have noticed it if you drove past it. But there was a formal ground-breaking a few months ago.”
“Sorry I missed it. Should I make a contribution? But building a new library doesn’t sound at all crazy to me.”
“I’m not finished,” Seth said. “Then there’s the Historical Society.”
“What are they doing?” Meg asked. Now, the Historical Society was someplace she was involved with. They owned a nice but too-small one-story building that faced the village green, just down the hill from the church. When she’d first visited almost two years ago now, as a newcomer to Granford, it had been an unheated space filled with a hodgepodge of unrelated collections. She wasn’t surprised that the director, Gail Selden, had bigger plans. Gail had also become a friend, and had helped Meg more than once to find information about her own eighteenth-century home. “Don’t tell me they’re moving!”
“No, not that,” Seth replied. “They own that building outright, but as you’ve probably noticed, it needs work. And it’s not really big enough to serve the public the way they’d like.”
That was true. Gail had worked wonders cleaning it up and creating exhibits that made sense, but it was still small and unheated.
Seth went on, “The Society has collections stashed all over town, wherever they could find storage space, and Gail really wants to get them all under one roof. But still the same old roof.”
“So what are they planning?”
“Basically, they had two choices: build up or build down. The Historical Society board didn’t want to change the profile of the building by adding another story, even a partial one, so they’ve decided to dig out under the building.”
“Wow—that sounds ambitious. Is it even possible?” Meg got up to help herself to another bottle of water, laying an affectionate hand on Seth’s shoulder as she passed. She was still getting used to having him around more or less full-time, but with their busy schedules, it was nice when they saw each other at all. “Want another?”
“Sure.” He laid his hand over hers, briefly. “They have an architect who says it’s possible, if it’s done carefully, of course. At least it’s not too big a building. They’d have to put supports under the existing building, then excavate, then pour a foundation and finish the space so it can be used for document and collections storage, which means special considerations for moisture and ventilation. Oh, and Gail really wants a bathroom in the building for staff and volunteers.”
Meg laughed. “I can certainly understand that!” While her own colonial house had four bedrooms, it had only one bath, which really wasn’t enough with three people living in the house—especially when they all needed showers at the same time after a working day. She had to keep reminding herself that when the house had been built by one of her Warren family ancestors, there had been no indoor plumbing beyond the well in the basement, which had provided water for the kitchen above by way of an old hand pump. But standards for personal hygiene had been different then. “So what’s the time frame there?”
“Yesterday,” Seth said. “Seriously, they want to get it roughed out before the ground freezes, so it’s a pretty ambitious schedule. But they more or less have the money in hand, so they don’t want to wait.”
“They do?” Having money in hand was an unusual situation for most historical societies.
“Yeah. The Society also owns the house across the street, which they rent out for income, and Gail told me that when they talked to a financial advisor he told them that they could take out a mortgage on the rental house, and voilà! They’d have the cash for the renovations. The rent gives them enough income to cover the mortgage payments. Once they figured out how much money they had to work with, then they started thinking about building plans.”
“I’m impressed. So, that’s the library and the Historical Society—are you finished yet?”
“Not quite. There’s also a school building that needs some serious work, and nobody can decide whether to try to fix it—with state money—or to tear it down and start over. So we put together a committee to study it, but there’s a deadline coming up shortly.”
I really am out of the loop, Meg thought. Of course, not having any children, she hadn’t paid much attention to school-related issues, but still. “Is that all?”
“Almost. This is off the record, but the town is also thinking about selling the town hall building.”
“What? I like that building!” Meg protested.
“It’s a lovely structure, but a lousy municipal building. It was built as a private summer home at the height of the Victorian era. The wiring isn’t up to code, so it’s hard to use computers and printers and the like.”
“Where would the town administration go? Is there some other building that would work? Or do they want to build, too?”
Seth shook his head. “Not clear. They might be able to move into the old library when the new one opens.”
“This really is a game of musical chairs, isn’t it?” Meg said. “Where do you stand on all of these? I mean, you’re a selectman, so in a sense, you are the town, or part of it.” Meg knew there were only three members on the select board, plus a town manager. Who voted to approve projects like these?
Seth leaned back in his chair and stretched. “Caught right in the middle. The library and the Historical Society have their own funding, so they don’t need our approval, apart from permitting and inspections and such. The school project does, and obviously selling town hall would. Theoretically, I’m in favor of all and any of these, as long as the financial numbers make sense and they meet all construction requirements—which could be challenging, at least for the Historical Society.”
“Are you going to be personally involved?” Meg asked. When she’d first met Seth, he’d been managing his family’s plumbing business, but his real love was building restoration and renovation. Although plumbing was a good fallback when no one could afford historically accurate renovations to their older homes.
“If I had my choice, I’d help out with the Historical Society project. It’s an interesting challenge, and I’d like to be sure they retain the historic character of the building. As you know as well as I do, when you start jerking around an old building, you always end up finding other things you need to fix, like rotting sills or termite damage. And if they’re putting in an HVAC system—which, by the way, would be a first in that building—there are issues of windows and insulation and making the building more airtight while still keeping it authentic, at least in appearance.”
“And you don’t have to vote on that project, so there’s no conflict,” Meg mused, almost to herself.
“Exactly. The library doesn’t need me, and the school project probably wouldn’t either. The town hall question is anybody’s guess. So that leaves the Historical Society. By the way, I pointed Gail toward an architect who specializes in this kind of project, so they’ve already got plans in hand.”
“Can it be done before winter?”
“It’s a tight schedule, but it could work, if everything goes well.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“We seal it up as best we can and hope for a mild winter. At least the collections will be stored off-site.”
“Speaking of the collections, I know she’s got more documents about this house that I’d love to see, but I haven’t had the time. Maybe when the harvest is over.” Winter, Meg knew from last year—her first as an apple grower—was the slowest time for the orchard. She’d have some long days to fill.
“How’s the harvest going?”
Meg shrugged. “I don’t have a lot to compare it to other than last year, but Bree says we’re doing okay. We were lucky that the drought broke when it did. Another couple of weeks and we’d have lost a lot of apples.” Along with most of my very thin profit margin.
“Everything working out with the pickers?”
“So far. Most of the regulars are back, bless them, although we lost one to a competitor over in Belchertown who could offer a little more money, and there are fewer and fewer people who want to do this kind of manual labor.”
Meg was lucky that although she was new to running an orchard, the orchard itself was well established, and in recent years had been overseen by the local state university. Which was also how she’d come to employee Bree, a recent graduate of the university who’d studied orchard management. The fact that Bree was Jamaican-born also helped her in managing the mainly Jamaican pickers who had been working the orchards in the Connecticut River Valley for generations—at least it helped once they got used to the idea of working for a woman, and a young one at that, and one who’d spent most of her life actually living in Massachusetts rather than Jamaica. But Bree had earned their respect and things were going smoothly; the loss of that one picker was in no way her fault. “That’s why Bree and I are both up there most days, just to fill in. It’s hard to know in advance from week to week what’s going to be ripe, and sometimes we get swamped. Plus, it’s demanding work. Thank goodness the new trees we planted in the spring won’t be bearing for a couple more years. Maybe by then I’ll have figured out how this all works.”
“Can you take a short break tomorrow? I’m going to talk to Gail about the excavation process in the morning, if you want to tag along.”
“I’d love to see Gail, and this project sounds really interesting. I don’t think we’ve got a lot on the schedule for tomorrow, so I can probably sneak away. But I’ll have to check with Bree.”
“You talking about me?” Bree came in through the back door.
“May I take an hour or two off tomorrow morning, please, ma’am?” Meg said, smiling. “The Historical Society is planning to add a basement under their building, and I’m curious to see how they’re going to do it.”
Bree rummaged in the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. “I guess. We’re just about caught up with the Cortlands and the Empires, but the Galas aren’t ready yet and we’re waiting on the Baldwins. Did you order the new crates?”
“Oh, shoot, I forgot.” The old wooden crates that Meg had inherited when she moved into the house were wearing out fast, and they’d been replacing them as needed with more modern plastic ones. Not nearly as pretty, but much more practical. “I’ll do that in the morning.”
“Then you have my blessing for the morning—after you place that order,” Bree said in a mock-serious tone. “What’s happening with dinner?”
“Not a clue,” Meg replied. “Seth, you have any ideas?”
“There’s a new pizza place in the shopping center on 202. Want to try that?”
“How did I ever miss seeing that? Let’s go!”
The pizza last night had been good, and Meg sent up a silent cheer that Granford had one more place that served food. The only “real” restaurant in town, Gran’s, was more upscale, though far from fancy. Meg loved eating there, especially since she’d had a hand in creating the place, and even more so because she now counted the owners, Nicky and Brian Czarnecki, as friends, but she wasn’t always in the mood for a sit-down meal. A pizza place, and one only a mile or two from her house, was a great quick-and-dirty alternative.
When she awoke the next morning, Meg checked the clock, then rolled over and nudged Seth. “Hey, what time are you meeting Gail?”
He answered without opening his eyes. “As soon as she gets the kids off to school. What time is it?”
Seth opened his eyes, then sat up quickly. “I’ve got to get some paperwork together before we head over there. You are still coming with me, right?”
“Sure. Nobody’s started anything at the Historical Society, right?”
“Not yet, but they’re hoping to begin this week. Right now we’re still at the talking stage, and looking at plans.”
“You going to do the plumbing?” Meg asked.
“Maybe. First step is to find someone to do the digging. I can recommend builders to pour the foundation, but shoring up the building and removing the soil is trickier and it takes more skill.” He was pulling on jeans and a T-shirt as he spoke. “I’ll go start coffee, and then walk Max. See you downstairs?”
“I won’t be long.”
Meg could hear stirring noises from Bree’s end of the hall, so she darted into the bathroom quickly, emerging ten minutes later after a quick shower. She threw on her clothes and joined Seth in the kitchen, where he handed her a cup of coffee. Max, his Golden Retriever, greeted Meg enthusiastically.
“Drink it before it gets cold,” he said. They toasted and buttered a couple of bagels, and Meg scanned the first page of the daily paper. Why did she keep subscribing, when she rarely had time to read it? Oh, right, to put under her cat Lolly’s litter pan. As if on cue, Lolly appeared from somewhere, butting her head against Meg’s leg, looking for her own breakfast.
After she’d fed Lolly, Meg ventured, “Okay, so remind me—how old is the Historical Society building?”
“The building dates back to the mid-1700s,” Seth said. “Actually, it was the first meetinghouse in Granford. There was some infighting going on within the church in South Hadley about where to put the new church they needed, and in the end they decided to split the parish. It took them thirteen years and fifty local meetings to arrive at that decision—makes our current process look lightning fast, doesn’t it? Anyway, the short answer is that the new parish was created in 1762, before Granford was even an official town, and before they had an official place to meet. So the building is about the same age as your house. By the way, South Hadley had another fight about churches starting in 1820, and that time it took them sixteen years to work things out. And then in the 1820s Granby had its own tiff and actually built two churches, but only the one survives, the big one that’s there now. The other one was closer to the cemetery where all those Warrens are buried, but the cemetery is older than the church.”
“But the meetinghouse had no heating and no plumbing.”
“Nope. Those old New Englanders were tough birds,” Seth replied cheerfully. “And sermons were long in those days. Of course, if most people in town showed up, they would have generated some considerable body heat. And, I’ve read, they used to have ‘singing.’”
“Which means what?” Meg asked.
“Got me, but the town paid the princely sum of thirteen dollars for it in 1792, and by 1798 they even had a bass viol.”
“You’re making this up. Aren’t you?”
“Nope. Read Judd sometime.”
Meg recognized the name as the author of a monumental history about the town of Hadley, published in the nineteenth century. “Seth, when do you find time to learn all this stuff?” Meg said plaintively. She could never catch up. She couldn’t remember reading to the end of a book in months—either she had no time or she fell into bed exhausted, so there was no way to study the history of Granford. Maybe come winter she’d try again.
“I like old buildings, and I’ve been passing by most of these all my life. You’ll learn.”
“Yeah, as soon as I have a spare year or two. Are you ready to head out?”
“Sure. I think I’ll leave Max here—there’s too much interesting stuff to smell at the Historical Society.”
It took only a few minutes to drive from Meg’s house to the center of Granford, which still boasted its original town green ringed with maple trees. The church—which Meg now knew was the “new” one, not the original one—anchored one end of the green, with a parish house and then the Historical Society on the slope below. A pharmacy-slash–general store occupied space across the street, and up toward one end, on the highway, loomed the ornate Victorian town hall. The relatively new restaurant, Gran’s, had moved into what had been a nineteenth-century home at the top of the hill, with a nice view of the green, as Meg knew well. There was little traffic.
Gail Selden was sitting on the Historical Society building’s steps waiting, and stood up when they pulled into the church parking lot. Knowing that there might be changes coming, Meg studied the building quickly: single story, low-pitched roof, two massive granite steps leading up to the entrance. And the majority of the town’s population had squeezed inside? Not a very large town back then.
When she saw them, Gail called out, “Hey, Seth. Hi, Meg—did you get dragged along?”
Meg smiled at her. “No, he described what you wanted to do and I had to see for myself. He said you plan to dig under the building? There’s no basement?”
“Looks like it,” Gail replied cheerfully, “and no, they never included a basement. As for the project, our board is on board, so to speak, so all we need is the go-ahead on the structural issues, which is where Seth comes in.”
“You talk to those excavation contractors I told you about?” Seth asked.
“We’ve talked to a couple, and they offered two options for the excavation process. I wanted to ask you which one makes more sense.”
“Let’s go inside,” Seth said. Gail opened the door with an old key, and they followed her through it.
“Wow,” Meg said when they’d entered the main room. “You’ve cleared out a lot of stuff since the last time I was here. The first time I saw the place, there were stuffed birds and animals all over the place. What happened to them?”
Gail grinned. “Uh, let us say they retired. The local taxidermist left something to be desired, and they were molting or shedding all over the place.”
“I can imagine.” Meg smiled back. “You’re really serious about going through with this plan?”
“We sure are! Let’s sit at the table in the kitchen exhibit—it’s open now that we’ve stowed away some of the tools and antique appliances.” Gail led the way to the table, where she had already laid out what looked like architectural drawings. She waited until they were seated before beginning.
“Seth, you can probably follow this stuff a lot better than I can, but as I understand it, the idea is to shore up the building from beneath with leveling jacks and steel beams—”
“Assuming your substrate can support them,” Seth interrupted.
“Of course,” Gail said quickly, “and we’ll check that out first—or our contractor will, I guess. And then we dig out the soil to a depth of ten feet, which gives us space to pour a slab down there and still have adequate headroom.”
“Go on,” Seth prompted. “You know where your HVAC system will go? And what provisions have you made for moisture control?”
Gail held up both hands. “Seth, I know only the big picture. You’ll have to talk to the architect and the contractor about that stuff. But they’ve both done jobs like this before. I’ve talked to several of their clients, and I haven’t heard any complaints.”
“What’s the plan for removing the soil?” Seth asked.
“We’re still debating about that. There’s good old-fashioned manual labor—a bunch of folk with shovels, which would be historically correct but a lot of work. Or we see if we can fit a baby Bobcat excavator in there, once we get it started. Or somebody mentioned using what they called a vacuum extractor—like you stick a big hose down into it, and the dirt is sucked right out and then deposited in a dump truck or even left on-site. I don’t know what you think about that, but it sounds like fun to watch.”
“Let me ask around. I have heard that it’s effective in a small, contained area, and getting rid of the dirt immediately would be a big plus. Both make sense in your case. When do you want to start?”
“Wow,” Seth said. “But you’re lucky it’s a small building. Most excavators could be in and out in a day, once the shoring is in place, and could fit it in between their other projects.”
“Yeah, I know it’s fast, but please, please don’t tell me to ask the board to slow down. Do you know how long it’s taken to advance the project this far? And we’d really love to be able to be open this winter. We’ve never been open in winter before.”
“Do you expect a lot of visitors?” Meg asked.
“Not swarms, but I’m hopeful we could attract a few. There are often parents visiting their kids at the colleges around here, and we’re seeing more of them in Granford since Gran’s opened. And genealogists will trek through anything to get their research done. We’ve calculated that the entry fees or memberships paid by the new researchers should offset the additional cost of heating the place in winter—which should be done anyway, to preserve the collections. Working quickly now won’t impact the cost of the project, will it, Seth? The excavators didn’t seem to think so, and as you said, for them it’s not a big job.”
“Probably not, as long as you don’t run into anything unexpected, like a rock ridge running under the building, or a spring.” Seth looked at his watch. “I’ve got a job in Easthampton, so I’d better go. Meg, you want a ride back?”
“I can take you home, Meg, if you want to hang around a little longer,” Gail volunteered eagerly.
“That sounds good,” Meg said. “You go ahead, Seth.”
“I’ll take the plans and proposals with me to look over, Gail, and I’ll try to get back to you by tomorrow. Fast enough for you?”
“That’s terrific, Seth. My board is really excited about this, and I’d hate to lose the momentum. I appreciate your help. Which reminds me: if we ask nicely, will you do the heating and plumbing stuff?”
“Sure, although I might have to bring in a couple of extra people. I’ll try to keep the costs down, though.”
“I know you’re fair, Seth. Thank you so much for making this work!”
Seth gathered up the papers from the table and as he headed for the door, Meg could hear him whistling. He was a man who truly loved his work.
Gail turned to Meg. “Hey, I haven’t had a chance to say congratulations to you guys.”
“Oh, about our engagement? Thank you. Apparently everyone in town knew we were getting married before we did.”
“You make a great couple. Seth’s a terrific guy.”
“I know—everyone keeps telling me that.” Meg smiled. “Before you ask, no, we haven’t set a date. I’ve got to get through this harvest, and he’s crazy busy with all the projects going on in town.”
“I know! It’s like a contagious disease—everybody suddenly wants something new, or at least renovated. But I think it’s time for all of us. The plans for the library look wonderful. Since they’re going to have a dedicated genealogy room, I’m going to get together with their staff and sort through the documents we each have and see what’s the best distribution of materials.”
“Great idea! What’re you planning to do with the records during construction?”
“More of the same thing we’ve always done—parcel them out around town. I thought maybe you’d like to take some of them, the ones about the Warren family and the settlement of the south end of town.”
“I’d love to, at least for a while, although I don’t know when I’ll have time to look at them. Not until December, I’d guess.”
“Don’t worry, I know where to find you. So, you want to see what else we’re planning?”
“That’s why I’m here. Seth tells me your building is about the same age as my house. Maybe I’ll learn something useful about colonial construction. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you don’t run into anything unexpected!”
“Amen to that!” Gail replied fervently.
“How did your board decide to do this now?” Meg asked Gail, as Gail led her around the room, pointing out changes. “By the way, how many people are on it?”
“There’s the president, the vice president, the secretary, the treasurer, and four additional trustees. You’ve probably met them all at one time or another.”
“You’re not on the board?”
“Nope, I just run the place. But back to your first question, about the timing?” Gail giggled. “I kind of drove the point home when I suggested they hold a board meeting here one evening. You’d be surprised how rarely board members actually set foot in here.”
“They got cold?”
“No, that wasn’t too bad. But then the board chair really, really needed to go, if you know what I mean, and I pointed out that we didn’t have any facilities in the building.”
Meg stared at her blankly for a moment until she figured out what Gail meant, then she laughed. “Oh, you mean ‘go,’ not leave.”
“Exactly. Let me tell you, the meeting broke up pretty fast after that, but I think I’d made the problem clear. So we started talking about how we could add a bathroom, and I told them retrofitting plumbing like that could get expensive, and if we were going to spend that kind of money, we really ought to do as much as we could all at once.”
“Makes sense. But adding a bathroom and digging a whole new basement aren’t exactly the same thing,” Meg commented.
“No, but by that time I’d jump-started the discussion. Like I’ve said, right now our collections are scattered all over town, and frankly, we aren’t even entirely sure what we have and where to find it. That’s just not right. If we’re supposed to be a public institution, serving the people of this town by preserving our history—not to mention attracting a few outsiders—then we’re falling far short. But the icing on the cake was discovering that we could actually afford it.”
“Seth mentioned something about that. What’s the story with the other house?”
“We were ‘gifted’ that house across the street almost twenty years ago now. I’m glad that people want to see their heritage preserved, usually a home or building that’s been in the family for generations, but any property brings its own problems with it. Taxes, maintenance, and so on. Still, this one was close by and right on the green, so we couldn’t say no. Anyway, it came with no strings attached, and we hold the title.”
“And you didn’t want to use it for display or storage space?” Meg asked.
“Hey, it’s a nice house and in good shape, so we rent it out and make some money that way, although we do reserve the right to use the barn behind it for storage. But it wasn’t until we added a new board member who works for a bank that we realized we could take out a mortgage on it to finance our other plans. Not a big one, just enough to cover expenses. And the rent covers the mortgage payments. Everybody wins. He’s already drawn up the papers, and he’s just waiting until we have a firm plan and a final figure.”
“Sounds like this project is meant to be,” Meg said. “You know, even if you do have the money, it might not hurt to do a small fund-raising campaign. You don’t have to ask for much, but buying a board or a brick or getting their name on a plaque gives people a sense of ownership in the project. Maybe it will attract more attention.”
Gail looked off into a dusty corner, thinking. “We’d be competing with the library fund-raising, but I think we could make it work, especially if we pitch our appeal to local historians and genealogists. I’ll talk to the head librarian. Thanks for the suggestion.” She looked over at Meg. “How’re you doing with the orchard?” she asked.
Meg knew Gail was truly curious, not just asking a polite question. “Busy, as always. My trees came through the drought well enough, although it took a lot of work from Bree and me just keeping them watered. The apple crop may be down a bit from last year, but I don’t know if this is normal or last year was. The house hasn’t fallen down around my ears—yet. And the wildfires this summer missed us, thank goodness.” Gail didn’t know the half of that story, and Meg didn’t plan to share it with anyone.
Gail laughed. “Well, you’ll have Seth to help keep an eye on things, won’t you? I’m assuming he’ll move into your place, but where’s Bree going to go?”
“That’s one of those questions we’ve been putting off. We kind of mentioned the idea of her moving into Seth’s house, but that’s a lot of space for one person. On the other hand, it would be free housing and she could still walk to work. It might be better all round to find a family to buy his place, but since it was built by his ancestors and has been continuously occupied by Chapins for the last two hundred–plus years, Seth isn’t exactly eager to sell. So we’re still thinking about it. You’ve seen his place, haven’t you? It’s a lot like mine. And like his mother’s house, too. Those early Chapins and Warrens probably all shared the work on all those houses, since they were near neighbors. Most of the other old houses in Granford are pretty much the same.”
“Ah, but that’s part of the charm, isn’t it?” Gail said. “I shudder to think what would happen if some mogul decided that Granford was the perfect place to build his latest McMansion and all his friends followed him out here.”
“Don’t worry—Seth would lean on the Zoning Commission to stop them.”
“Nothing like having friends in high places!” Gail agreed, laughing. “So, you ready to go home?”
“I’d better be, or Bree will skin me alive. She gave me the morning off, but we’re smack in the middle of picking, and shorthanded. One of our pickers found a better job this year.”
“I sure don’t want to trade places with you,” Gail said fervently. “Manual labor is not my thing.”
The drive home took only minutes. They passed Meg’s orchard, where she saw the pickers working steadily. Each one would reach up to deftly remove an apple from a branch with a quick twist, then place it carefully in the bag strapped to his chest. When a picker’s bag was full, he would then transfer the load to a nearby bin, taking care not to bruise the apples.
“You still haven’t decided to try your hand at cider-making?” Gail asked as they pulled into Meg’s driveway.
“Not yet. Maybe someday. I figured I’d better get the basics down before I add anything else. At the moment I’m selling the less-than-perfect apples to a local cider-maker for next to nothing. At least, I think he’s making cider. He mentioned something about trying to make apple vodka . . .”
“Nothing new under the sun,” Gail said. “In case you’ve wondered—and I’m sure you haven’t—there used to be not one but five whiskey distilleries in Granford in the early 1800s. Didn’t last long, though.”
“Don’t tell me this was a dry town?” Meg asked in mock horror.
“No, nothing like that. After all, hard cider was the drink of choice in colonial America. The distilleries failed because of economic ups and downs. Just like today.”
“Speaking of drinking, you want to come in for something to drink?” Meg asked. “Although it’s a bit early in the day for whiskey.”
“You’re just being polite, but no thanks. I’ll let you get to work. And I can’t wait to hear what Seth has to say about our building plans—I really want to get started on this.”
“In case he forgets, I’ll remind him later. Good to see you again, Gail.”
Gail pulled away with a backward wave of her hand. Meg went inside, greeted Max and Lolly, pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge, and started up the hill to join the pickers.
* * *
By six o’clock Meg and Bree were back in the kitchen, sitting in a daze of fatigue. Meg tried not to count how many crates they’d filled with apples. It was great that they had a crew of skilled workers who made the picking go quickly. But why was it that the apples would decide to ripen all at once for a short time, and then simply stall for no particular reason? Feast or famine in picking, Meg thought.
Thank goodness the weather was cooperating. While it was still in the high seventies during the day, the nights cooled nicely. And after the blazing-hot days and prolonged drought in August, it was a welcome change. Still, the heat during the day took its toll on her, too.
“Do we have to cook?” Meg asked.
“Yes,” Bree said reluctantly. “Where’s a good genie when you need one?”
“There are still plenty of veggies in the fridge, and lots of lettuce. And we should grill while we still can.”
“Ugh,” Bree replied. “That means standing up and finding meat and building a fire and all that stuff. I’d rather just sit here and complain.”
“About what?” Seth said, coming in the door, looking energetic. Better yet, he was carrying several supermarket bags.
“Is that food?” Meg asked.
“Yes, it’s food,” Seth said, smiling at her plaintive tone. “I picked up some premade stuff at the market on the way home. What are you complaining about, Bree?”
She grinned. “I was wishing for a genie to show up with food, and bingo, here you are! Maybe I should make wishes more often.”
They spent a few minutes opening containers and finding plates and cutlery and cold drinks. Meg fed her cat, Lolly; Seth fed his dog, Max. Bree bounced with impatience until they finally all sat down. There followed several silent minutes devoted to intense eating.
Finally Meg leaned back in her chair and stretched. “So much better! Thank you, Seth. So how was your day?”
“Busy, although probably less physical than yours.”
“Gail told me to ask whether you’ve had time to look over the plans she gave you. So I am. Asking, that is. I know you probably haven’t had more than three minutes of free time all day.”
“What’s that all about?” Bree asked.
Meg recounted the meeting at the Historical Society that morning. “So what do you think, Seth? Is it doable?”
“I think so. The engineers have declared that the building is rock-solid, even though it’s over two hundred years old, and I agree—I’ve looked at all the supporting beams and the sill. I think the soil beneath it is stable enough to support temporary shoring. The concrete pour wouldn’t take long, once the framing is in place. And as for the excavation, I talked to a couple of local contractors I’ve worked with before. The vacuum process is cheapest overall, and they said it was appropriate for a project of this scope, since it’s a relatively small building. So I guess that’s the way to go.”
“Gail will be thrilled,” Meg said. “What permits and approvals does her board need to move forward?”
“There’s a long list that the town requires, but most of them don’t apply here, like a wetlands review.” He started ticking off on his fingers, “We don’t need to bring in the highway department since there are no street or curb changes involved. No food service, no flammable or hazardous materials. No perc test if they’re hooking into town water. They will need a plumbing permit, but I think I can handle that for them. The only thing I’d have to verify is whether the town has to hold a public meeting or need a site plan review. Since the footprint and the elevation of the building won’t change, I think we can limit ourselves to the structural issues only. I’ll talk to the building inspector about what he’s looking for, but I don’t think he’ll stand in the way. I’ll verify a few things tomorrow, and then I’ll talk to Gail.”
“I love it—everybody wins. Granford gets to maintain the appearance of its quaint little green, the Historical Society can finally pull all of its records and artifacts together in one place with state-of-the-art storage standards, and they’ll be able to make it available to the public—plus they’ll have an indoor bathroom for the first time in the history of the place. And heat. Any other miracles you want to work before bedtime?”
“Nah. But how about you come for a walk with me and we can let Max run a bit?”
“Sounds lovely, if I can still stand up. Bree, anything we need to go over before tomorrow?”
“Did you order those crates?”
“Oh, shoot, I forgot. Do you need me to do it right now?”
“No, but you’d better do it tomorrow, lady. I’ll remind you in the morning.”
Meg gathered up a light jacket while Seth whistled for Max. Outside the sun had fallen below the horizon, and the air felt deliciously cool. Meg took a deep breath. Autumn was the time of year she liked best; warm days, cool nights, and ripe apples. They headed out toward the Great Meadow, which ran alongside and then back beyond her house. Some years it was boggy, she’d been told, but this year it was lush with tall grass. Meg checked to be sure that her goats had enough hay and water before they turned toward the faint path that led toward the tree line at the rear. Seth tossed a stick for Max, which the dog fetched eagerly.
“He’s full of energy, isn’t he?” Meg said.
“He hasn’t been outside working all day. That’s why I brought him out now, so he can burn it off.”
“We need to figure out where to keep him here during the days.” Seth had put in a dog run at his own house up the hill, so he could probably do the same down here, Meg thought. “Maybe off to the side of the old carpenter’s shop?”
“I’ll put it on the list,” Seth said. “I should get to it by, oh, March. Of next year.”
Meg let out a snort of laughter. “Just about the time I build a distillery and start making apple brandy.”
“Hey, that’s something to think about. Maybe not brandy, but cider could be a nice little profit center for you.”
“Gail was saying the same thing to me, basically. Who do you have in mind to run it?”
“I’ll think about it. Maybe there’s someone at the university that you could talk to? That could fit under either agriculture or hospitality—maybe they could supply you with an intern, or at least a consultant.” They’d reached the end of the open meadow, and Seth put his arm around Meg’s shoulders and turned her to face the house. “You know, you can almost believe it hasn’t changed since it was built.”
“It hasn’t, really,” Meg said. “Except for the heating and plumbing, which don’t show.”
Excerpted from "Picked to Die"
Copyright © 2014 Sheila Connolly.
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.
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