An all-new mystery series set in a Pittsburgh craft brew pub, featuring a brewmaster with a head for sleuthing. Recipes included!
The Allegheny Brew House is a dream come true for Maxine “Max” O’Hara, who went all the way to Germany for her brewmaster certification, and is now preparing to open her own craft brew pub in a newly revitalized section of Pittsburgh. But before she can start pouring stouts and lagers to thirsty throngs, there’s trouble on tap. Suspicious acts of sabotage culminate in Max finding her assistant brewmaster and chef Kurt Schmidt strangled in one of the vats.
Between rescuing a stray gray tabby she names Hops and considering a handsome ex-hockey player as her new chef, Max doesn’t have a lot of time to solve a murder. But with a homicide detective for a dad, she comes to criminal investigation naturally. And if someone is desperate enough to kill to stop her from opening, Max needs to act fast—before her brand-new brew biz totally tanks...
About the Author
Joyce Tremel was a police secretary for over ten years. Her fiction has appeared in Mysterical-e, and her nonfiction has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police magazine. To Brew or Not to Brew is her first novel. She lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband and a spoiled cat.
Read an Excerpt
Praise for To Brew or Not to Brew
Note to the Reader
Special Excerpt from Tangled Up in Brew
NOTE TO THE READER
If looks could kill, the plumbing inspector giving me the bad news would have been in big trouble. “What do you mean there’s a crack in the water line?” I said. “That’s just not possible.”
“Right here.” He pointed. “You’re going to have to replace this whole piece.”
Sure enough, there was a one-inch gash in the line running to the brand-new stainless steel brew kettle, which we’d just installed a few days ago. I was hoping to brew a batch of pale ale tomorrow, but that was now out of the question.
The inspector brought me back down to earth. “You’ll have to schedule another inspection after you get this taken care of.”
This should have been the final plumbing inspection. The brew kettle we’d been using had been a hand-me-down from a local brewery that had upgraded their equipment. I hadn’t planned on a new brewing tank for another year, but this one had come up at a price I couldn’t pass up. Everything else, from the kitchen to the restrooms to the tanks we’d installed previously, had all passed weeks ago. I couldn’t afford a delay right now. The opening of my brewpub—the Allegheny Brew House—was only a month away.
“When I call to schedule it, how long will I have to wait until you come out?”
He shrugged. “I’ll try to get out the same day, but it really depends on how busy I am.”
That eased my mind a little bit—provided I could get the plumber in tomorrow to fix it.
The inspector passed a clipboard to me. “I need your signature that you acknowledge that you didn’t pass.”
I signed where he indicated.
He studied my John Hancock. “You don’t look like a Max.”
I’d heard that so many times, I’d lost count. I couldn’t help it that I was born the only girl in my family. I had five older brothers and my parents assumed they’d have another boy when I surprised them twenty-nine years ago. My brothers all had normal first names—Sean, Patrick, Joseph, James, and Michael. I had no idea why they decided Maximilian would be a good name for a baby. It wasn’t even Irish. Anyway, I ended up Maxine, but I preferred plain old Max.
“I’d get that fixed first thing tomorrow if I were you, Miss O’Hara.”
As I watched him leave, I fought the urge to beat my head against the steel tank. All I could see were more dollar signs before my eyes. Although my plumber happened to be my brother Michael, he still needed to be paid. I got the family discount, but it was still money I hadn’t planned on. Now I was second-guessing my decision to buy this tank.
I started at the sound of my assistant’s voice behind me. Truth be told, Kurt Schmidt was more than an assistant. I didn’t know where I’d have been without him. The son of one of my instructors in Munich, he knew just about all there was to know about brewing beer. He was also an accomplished chef who made the best apple strudel I’d ever tasted. He was easy on the eyes, too—tall, blond, and blue-eyed. There was no romance between us. He was more like my sixth brother, and he was completely devoted to his fiancée back in Germany. “I’d say so,” I answered. “There’s a crack in the water line.” I showed it to him.
“That’s very strange. It wasn’t there yesterday,” he said. “It should not have split like that. It is not a high-pressure line.” He removed his wire-rimmed glasses and examined it closely. “Someone cut this.”
“Impossible. No one’s been near these tanks except the two of us. It was probably just defective.”
“Do you really think Mike would have used a defective pipe?”
“Maybe he didn’t see it.” At this point, I was just relieved it wasn’t a line that was turned on all the time. It might have flooded the whole pub.
“You don’t think that any more than I do.”
“There’s no other explanation. Like I said, we’re the only ones who have been near it.”
Kurt put his glasses back on. “I suppose you still don’t believe the loose electric breaker, the broken mirror, the scratched bar top, and the half dozen other little things aren’t connected. I’m telling you, someone is trying to keep us from opening.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this line of reasoning. Sure there’d been some minor annoyances, but they’d been bound to happen. Even during construction, things hadn’t always gone according to plan. It went with the territory. There were always surprises. “You’re right,” I said. “I don’t believe it.” I turned and went down the metal stairs of the elevated platform that served to reach the higher sections of the tanks. I’d considered installing all the equipment out of sight, but decided half the fun of going to a brewpub was seeing how what you were drinking was made. I wanted a wall of glass, but because of the cost, I’d opted for a large window instead. Eventually, I planned to give brewery tours, but that was a long way off.
I went through the swinging wooden door of the brewery area, crossed the pine-plank floor, and sat down at the oak bar. I couldn’t let myself believe we were being sabotaged. If I did, I’d be giving in to all those who said I’d never succeed in this endeavor. The first time I set eyes on the former Steel City Brewery, I knew it was what I’d been waiting for. When I returned to Pittsburgh from Germany after earning my brewmaster certification, I spent months searching for the perfect spot to open my brewpub. It had taken even longer to get financing, even though I had a nice inheritance from my grandmother for a down payment. No one wanted to take a chance on a five-foot-two female brewmaster. I finally found a lender that specialized in financing women entrepreneurs, and the rest, as they say, is history. At least I hoped so.
Seconds later, Kurt took the stool beside me. “It is not a coincidence.”
“You don’t know that,” I said.
“Explain it, then.”
“I can’t any more than you can. Don’t you think if someone was sabotaging us, they’d come up with something a little more elaborate? It’s been annoying, but it’s all fixable. And how are they getting in? None of the doors have been tampered with.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe whoever it is has a second career picking locks. At least the alarm company is finishing up soon. Then, when the alarm is set off, you’ll see that I’m right.” Kurt stood. “It’s almost five o’clock. Why don’t you go home? I’ll lock up tonight. I want to work on that kirschtorte recipe.”
“But it’s delicious already.” My mouth watered just thinking about it.
Kurt shook his head. “Not quite. It tastes like every other chocolate cherry cake. It’s missing something. I want it to be perfect.”
If it turned out half as good as the apple strudel, he could do whatever he wanted with it. The kitchen was his domain. I’d stick with the beer.
I took Kurt’s advice for a change and left a short time later—after I called Mike, who promised to be there bright and early in the morning. Once outside, I turned to admire the building, like I did at least once daily. Sometimes I had to pinch myself to realize that all this really was mine. It was hard to believe that, not long ago, this had been an empty, forlorn shell. The former Steel City Brewery had been bought out by a large conglomerate, and the first thing the big boys did was shut down the Pittsburgh operation. All the equipment was auctioned off, and the buildings had sat empty for several years before the brewing plant itself had burned to the ground.
The single-story redbrick building, which was now the Allegheny Brew House, had been used as offices for the company. It was at the end of the row of buildings housing various shops and other businesses. It had taken quite a while to tear out everything down to the brick walls. I hoped my patrons would love the exposed brick inside as much as I did. A nice find had been pine-plank floors underneath the industrial linoleum. It had been much cheaper to have them restored than to install new boards.
Both the brewery and my loft apartment were in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Since Children’s Hospital had moved from near the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland to the Bloomfield-Lawrenceville border, the area was booming. It was no longer considered a “bad” neighborhood. Real estate values had skyrocketed, partly because of the medical professionals wanting to move close to work. Developers who bought up all the distressed properties and rehabbed them were likely making a killing on the resale. New shops and cafés opened constantly. It seemed like every time I walked up Butler Street to head home, I spotted something that hadn’t been there the week before. On my block alone, there was a cupcake bakery, a flower shop, several boutiques, a deli, and a coffee shop.
I was tempted to stop for a treat when I passed the Cupcakes N’at bakery next door to the pub, but talked myself out of it. Out of towners always questioned the name of the bakery. The cupcake part they got, but inevitably someone wanted to know what n’at meant. I actually looked it up once and found it was short for and all that. Many of the expressions known as “Pittsburghese” originated with either the Scots-Irish or the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The owner, baker extraordinaire Candy Sczypinski, had become a good friend and apparently thought she was helping when she brought her creations over for us to sample, but my waistline couldn’t handle much more. Between the cupcakes and other goodies, and sampling the menu items Kurt was coming up with, I was going to have to start walking more than just to the brewery and back. I considered joining the new gym a few blocks away, but I didn’t know when I’d actually have the time to go.
Instead of a cupcake, I grabbed a turkey sandwich from the deli across the street. The deli was owned by Ken Butterfield, who manned the counter most days, but since it was after five, he was gone for the day. As I climbed the two flights of stairs to my apartment with my low-calorie sandwich in hand, I felt downright virtuous. That feeling was replaced with guilt when I unlocked the door. I’d moved here three months ago, but the place was still littered with boxes that I hadn’t had time to unpack. I kept telling myself I’d get to them tomorrow, but after putting in twelve-hour days at the pub, I was too exhausted to do much of anything else.
But at least I had furniture. Sort of. Grandma O’Hara’s traditional wingback sofa and chairs didn’t exactly go with the modern style of the apartment. The dark mahogany end tables didn’t match the bleached-oak laminate flooring. Gram’s antique dining room set didn’t even fit—it was stored in my parents’ basement. It would have looked ghastly with the white cabinets and stainless steel in the kitchen anyway. She always said Beggars can’t be choosers, and while I certainly wasn’t a beggar, I was glad to have the hand-me-downs whether they matched or not. Besides, it was comforting to have a little part of her with me. I’d been in Germany when she passed two years ago, and I still regretted that I hadn’t made it home for her funeral, although Gram herself would have been upset with me if I had. A waste of good money, she would have said. She’d never squandered so much as a dime. It was thanks to her that I’d had a nice down payment for the brewery.
When I finished eating my sandwich, I sat at the kitchen island and wondered what to do with myself. I wasn’t used to this. I reached for the pen and pad beside the phone and made a list of things I had to do over the next week. The plumber was already taken care of. I had to schedule some waitstaff interviews. The alarm company needed to finish and activate the alarm. Kurt had already started training the kitchen staff, so I should probably touch base with how that was going. There were other miscellaneous deliveries that I needed to be present for. I hoped I wasn’t forgetting anything.
The phone rang just then, and I picked it up.
“Wonder of wonders, my baby sister is at home.” It was my oldest brother, Sean. Father Sean to his parishioners. Some people thought he had gone into the priesthood because he was the oldest Irish Catholic son, but it was truly a calling for him. He’d broken more than a few hearts when he decided on the seminary. We’d both inherited Mom’s black hair and blue eyes, and they gave him a debonair movie-star look, especially when he wore the collar. If Hollywood ever remade The Bells of St. Mary’s, he’d be a shoo-in to play Father O’Malley. Twelve years my senior, he was my favorite brother, although I’d never tell the others that. A little sister had been a novelty to him, and he became my protector from the day Mom and Dad brought me home from the hospital.
“You can always call my cell phone if I’m not at home, you know.”
“I missed you at Mass yesterday,” he said.
He obviously couldn’t see me, but I felt my face flush anyway. I would have liked to tell him I went to another parish, but I couldn’t very well lie to a priest, even if he was my brother. “Sorry about that. I got tied up at the brewery.”
“You’re working too hard. We missed you at dinner, too.”
Sunday dinner was a long-standing family tradition. Most of the time I loved it. Since three of my five brothers were scattered across the country, Mom liked to keep the rest of us close. I often thought it was because Dad was a police officer. Even though he was a homicide detective now and not on the front lines as much as when he’d been in uniform, she still worried. I’d already talked to Mom that morning about missing dinner and she understood. At least, she’d told me she did.
“With the opening so close, I had a lot to do,” I said.
“Anything I can do to help? Believe it or not, I haven’t forgotten how to wield a hammer or a screwdriver.”
“Don’t let your parishioners know you can do that. You don’t want the contributions to drop because they think you don’t need to pay a handyman.”
“Thanks for the offer,” I said, “but we’ll be fine if we stay on schedule. I’ll be sure to make it to dinner next week.”
“And Mass, too?”
“Maxie . . .”
Sean was the only one who dared call me that. When I was five, I busted the next-door neighbor kid in the chops for doing it. “Fine. I’ll be there,” I said.
“Good. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
I puttered around for a while and actually cleaned out a few boxes of kitchen items. It was nice to see the cabinets fill up. There was a small collection of German beer steins in one of the boxes, and I washed and arranged them on one of the built-in bookshelves in the living room. It was a nice touch, even though the rest of the shelves were almost empty. I vowed to make a better effort to get things unpacked. It was never going to look like home until I did.
By ten o’clock, I was tired and decided to call it a night. The phone rang as I finished brushing my teeth. I almost didn’t answer it, and when I did, I was surprised to hear Kurt’s voice.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“I was right.”
“About what? Your kirschtorte?”
“No. The sabotage.”
Not this again. “There is no—”
“Yes, there is. I know what’s going on, and I know exactly who is doing it.”
I would have argued more, but something in his voice stopped me. “What happened?”
“I have proof. I heard a noise and found . . . You need to come down here. It’d be better if I showed it to you. Then we can turn it over to the police and get to the bottom of this whole thing.”
I still wasn’t convinced anything was going on, but Kurt wouldn’t have called this late if he didn’t think it was urgent. So much for an early night. “I’ll be right there.”
* * *
“Kurt?” I called as I dropped my purse on the bar. The lights were all on, but he wasn’t in the main room of the pub. Upset as he was, I thought he would have met me at the door. Maybe he was in the kitchen. I crossed the plank floor to the other side of the room and pushed open the swinging door. The scent of chocolate and cherries made my mouth water. His latest torte creation sat half-decorated on the stainless steel counter. A bowl of thickened tart cherries was beside it, along with a plastic piping bag that looked full of whipped cream. It was odd he’d walk away without putting it back into the refrigerator. I put the cherries and whipped cream in the fridge, then went looking for Kurt.
He wasn’t in my office. I opened the door that led to the basement, but the lights were out. I stopped outside the men’s restroom and knocked on the door. Twice. I didn’t want to just barge in. Kurt was a good friend, but not that good. When he didn’t answer, I peeked in. It was empty. I stood in the hallway and tapped my foot. I went back down the hallway to the pub. I could see through the window that the brewery was dark. Where could he be? Surely he wouldn’t have taken off and left the place unlocked—especially after asking me to come down here. Could he have stepped out for a quick snack? I went back to the bar and sat down to wait.
Fifteen minutes later, Kurt hadn’t returned. The longer I waited, the madder I got. Why had he bothered calling me if he was going to leave? Apparently, whatever he had to tell me wasn’t all that important after all. I snatched my cell phone from my purse and tapped his number on the speed dial with a lot more force than I needed. He’d better have a good explanation. Seconds later, the sound of his phone ringing made me jump. The sound was muffled, so I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I got up, and as I crossed the room the sound got louder. The ringing seemed to be coming from the brewing area. It didn’t make sense that Kurt would leave his phone in the darkened brewery. I pushed the swinging door halfway open and paused. The ringing stopped, and Kurt’s voice mail picked up. There was another sound, however—the mash tun was operating. A prickly sensation went down my spine. Why was that tank running? We had cleaned out the spent mash earlier when I’d brewed a batch of hefeweizen. There was no reason for it to be turned on, especially at this time of night.
“Kurt?” I fumbled for the light switch. My fingers found it and the overhead lights blazed on. I blinked a couple times at the sudden brightness and spotted Kurt on the platform bent over the large opening at the top of the mash tun. Something wasn’t right about that. I was about to call his name again when it registered. His feet weren’t touching the floor. Heart in my throat, I raced up the metal stairs, the clangs echoing through the room with each step. I reached for the switch beside the tank. My hands shook horribly. I missed the switch. I tried again and turned it off.
It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d missed it again. There was a good reason why Kurt hadn’t been waiting for me or responded when I called him.
He was dead.
Kurt hung halfway into the tank opening. The neck piece of his kitchen apron was twisted tightly around his throat, and the rest of it was caught in the rake in the bottom of the tank. I gagged as I spun around and stumbled down the steps, my whole body shaking. I couldn’t catch my breath. Somehow I managed to make it into the pub and pull a chair down from one of the tables. I collapsed onto it. The room spun before my eyes. I bent down until my head was between my knees. When the feeling passed and I could breathe again, I called 911.
I choked back a sob as I waited by the door for the police. If I cried now, I was afraid I’d never stop. Tears wouldn’t do me any good. They wouldn’t bring Kurt back. I stared out the window and concentrated on the Butler Street traffic. Even at this late hour, the street and sidewalks were busy. People going about their business, not knowing a good man was dead. I hadn’t known, either. Why hadn’t I looked harder for him when I arrived? All the time I’d spent waiting and complaining to myself that Kurt wasn’t here, he’d been stuck in—oh God—what if Kurt was still alive when I got here? What if he had been caught in the rake and couldn’t call out for help? His death could be my fault. I could have saved him if only I’d thought to check the brewery. The tears I’d been holding back burst like a dam. I was still sobbing when the police arrived.
* * *
“Here, drink this.”
I took the cup of tea offered to me. “Thanks, Dad.” I was sitting at one of the square wooden tables in the pub waiting for the investigators to finish. My father was the detective in charge. Dad could have retired when he’d turned fifty-five, but I didn’t think he ever would. He loved his job and he was good at it. I’d lost count of how many commendations he’d received over the years. Sean O’Hara Sr. looked like an older version of my brother, Michael. They both had red hair—although Dad’s was white now—and green eyes. I took a sip and made a face. “What did you put in here?”
He pulled out a chair and sat down beside me. “I thought you could use a little something.”
A “little something” was most likely a splash of Jameson. I didn’t need to ask where he’d gotten it. When I bought the place, he’d given me a bottle as a gift. It had sat unopened on a shelf in the office ever since. I often wondered if he gave it to me because he was disappointed that I’d turned to brewing—German-style no less—instead of distilling. When I went to Ireland after grad school with my masters in chemistry, my plan was to learn all there was to know about Irish whiskey. After a side trip to Germany, I discovered great beer and a new career. I took a large swallow of tea.
“Feeling any better?” Dad asked.
Ever since the tears stopped flowing, I’d been unable to stop shivering. I was finally warming up, thanks to the doctored tea. “Yes, I am.”
“Good enough to answer a few questions?”
I nodded. “Especially if it helps you catch whoever did this to him.”
“Did what to him?”
“Killed him,” I said. I’d done a lot of thinking while Dad and the others were back in the brewery and I’d been relegated to the pub. I thought about all the little things that had happened over the last few weeks and how Kurt had been convinced we were being sabotaged. I hadn’t believed him. If I had, and if I’d reported the incidents earlier, Kurt would be alive. It was no coincidence that he figured out who it was, and an hour later he was dead.
Dad took my hand. “Honey, no one killed Kurt. This was a tragic accident. Nothing else.”
I pushed my mug aside with my other hand. “It was no accident.” I told him about the vandalism and today’s cracked water line. “Kurt called me tonight and said he knew who was behind everything going on—what he called sabotage.” My voice caught, but I continued anyway. “I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe someone would actually come in here and do those things to try and keep us from opening. I should have believed him.”
“Even if someone was trying to keep you from opening, that doesn’t mean there was any foul play in Kurt’s death.”
Dad put up a hand. “Wait a minute. You know why homicide gets called out when something like this happens.”
“Of course I do.” It was to make sure the victim hadn’t been murdered.
“Then trust me to do my job.”
“I do, Dad, but I’m sure it wasn’t an accident. Kurt said he had proof. That’s why he called me to come down here. He had something to show me.”
“Something in that tank? What did you call it?”
“The mash tun. That’s where we mix the grain with water. Don’t you see? The tun was clean. There was absolutely no reason for it to be turned on.”
He was quiet like he was thinking about that. “What did Kurt want to show you?”
“That’s just it. I have no idea. He wouldn’t tell me over the phone—he said it would be better to show me.” I felt the tears coming again, and I pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes. “It’s all my fault. If only I’d believed Kurt sooner, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Honey, it’s not your fault. Don’t ever think that.” He put an arm around me. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll keep this open and won’t call it an accident just yet. But if the autopsy report doesn’t show anything suspicious, I’ll have to go by the medical examiner’s findings.”
* * *
It was four in the morning by the time I got back home. I knew I should try to get some sleep, but there was no way it was going to happen. I made a pot of coffee instead.
Poor Kurt. What was I going to tell his father and his fiancée? Mr. Schmidt hadn’t been crazy about the idea of him coming over here. He’d wanted Kurt to follow in his footsteps and take over the family brewery, not come to America and work with me. His fiancée hadn’t minded, though. She’d been excited about the prospect. I told Dad I should be the one to call and tell them about Kurt, so he retrieved their phone numbers for me from Kurt’s cell. I smoothed the scrap of paper out on the table in front of me and stared at it, dreading making the calls. It was late morning in their time zone, so I’d probably reach at least one of them. I took a gulp of coffee and picked up the phone.
An hour later I had no tears left. Both of them had answered their respective calls, and they’d gone exactly how I expected they would. Mr. Schmidt was angry and used every German cuss word I knew and some I didn’t. I kept silent and let him yell, partly because he was right. If Kurt hadn’t moved here to help me, he’d still be alive. He’d cooled off a bit by the time I hung up. I was grateful he hadn’t broken down. I couldn’t have taken that. Not with him.
The call to Maura had been much worse. She was devastated. She’d just made airline reservations to visit Kurt and be here for our launch. All I could think about was how unfair it was—it was unimaginable that all the plans they’d made to be together for their whole lives could be snuffed out in an instant.
And that fact made me angry. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. By the time I’d showered and dressed, I was determined to find out who was responsible for the incidents at the brewery. Even more so, I wanted to find Kurt’s killer. Despite what my father said, I knew his death wasn’t an accident. Kurt had been Mr. Cautious—sometimes to the point of driving me crazy. He’d double- and triple-check everything. He’d never in a million years do anything careless around the equipment.
By the time I returned to the brew house, I felt energized with a renewed purpose. Unfortunately, that energy only lasted until I saw the aftermath of the investigation in the brewery area. Dad had released the scene to me when we left to go home, but I didn’t have the heart to go back there then. Now I wished I had. I would have locked the investigators in and insisted they clean up after themselves. My formerly immaculate sealed concrete floor was covered with dusty footprints, and there were smudges all over the stainless steel tanks. Not just on the mash tun, mind you. Every tank was dirty. Kurt would have had a conniption. Oh, Kurt, I miss you already.
Before I started bawling again, I pulled out the hose and a bucket. I was halfway through my cleaning when Mike showed up to fix the water line to the new tank. I’d forgotten he was even coming until I spotted him heading my way. I dried my hands on my jeans, and when he reached me he folded me into a hug. His white T-shirt was soft and the scent of Ivory soap reminded me of racing him to the bathroom sink to wash up before dinner. Although he was married with two toddler girls, he still looked like that kid. Maybe it was the freckles and tousled red hair. Even the laugh lines from his near-perpetual grin didn’t seem to age him. He was thirty-two going on fifteen. I gave him a squeeze and stepped back.
“How you holding up, baby sister?” he said. “Dad filled me in.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“Mom said she’ll stop by later.”
“I meant to call her this morning, but after I called Kurt’s fiancée and his dad, I was all talked out.”
Mike nodded. “I can imagine. You sure you’re okay? You know, no one would care if you actually took some time off. You can delay the opening.”
There was no way I was going to do that. Kurt and I had worked too hard to stay on schedule. If he had been in my place, he’d keep going. I wouldn’t dishonor my friend by wimping out just because I didn’t feel up to working.
Mike must have seen my expression. “Yeah, I guess you don’t want to do that.” He glanced around. “So, where’s the cracked water line?”
I showed it to him without mentioning Kurt’s suspicion. It wasn’t that I doubted him at this point, but I wanted verification from a professional, even if that said professional was my brother.
“What the heck did you do? How did you manage to cut it like this?”
“Someone sure did.”
I wanted to tell him about Kurt’s—and now my—suspicions, but I held back. He’d not only go into big-brother mode, he’d get all my brothers to do the same. Even worse, he’d tell Mom. They’d find out sooner or later, but at the moment later sounded pretty good. “It doesn’t matter how it cracked. I just need you to fix it.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not telling me something?” When I didn’t answer, he shrugged. “You’re the boss.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “And don’t you forget it.”
* * *
I smelled Candy Sczypinski—or rather her treat of the day—before I saw her. I was in the office seated at the old oak teacher’s desk I’d picked up cheap at a local place that sold recycled building materials and household items. While Mike repaired the water line, I’d started making calls to reschedule the plumbing inspection and the new hires that Kurt had been training. Before Mike left, I told him I was concerned about training the kitchen staff, as that had been Kurt’s domain, and I didn’t know how I’d ever find another assistant. He said he had a great idea and not to worry. Knowing some of the ideas he’d come up with in the past, I was reasonably sure I had cause to worry.
“Max?” Candy called again.
“In here.” I stood and stretched. It felt good when my back cracked.
Candy whooshed into the office carrying a clear glass plate holding two chocolate chip muffins. These were definitely not ordinary muffins. They were twice the size of most and topped with pecan slivers and drizzled with a dark chocolate glaze. She put the plate down on my desk and crushed me into a bear hug.
“Oh, Max,” she said. “I just heard. I am so sorry! That poor boy. And what you must be going through.”
I seriously doubted Candy “just heard” about Kurt. She almost always heard about things the minute they happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sometimes knew in advance. Her information-gathering skills were second to none. She should have been working for the NSA. I disentangled myself and backed up far enough that she wouldn’t hug me again. Ordinarily, I didn’t mind hugs but Candy’s were a little too enthusiastic to suit me. She was a good bit taller than me, so my head ended up smashed against her ample bosom. The rest of her was fairly ample, too.
Before we met, I’d pictured a statuesque blond bombshell when I first heard her name. She was as far from that as one could be. She was tall, but that’s where the similarities ended. Picture Mrs. Santa Claus in black and gold. She was a rabid Steelers fan and wasn’t afraid to show it, no matter how outlandish the outfit. Today she wore lemon yellow pants and a black T-shirt with a large photo of Troy Polamalu on the front. Her black orthopedic shoes were tied with yellow Steelers laces. Even her fingernails had team decals.
“I’m all right,” I said.
“It must have been so traumatic.” Candy lowered herself into one of the chairs I’d picked up at a yard sale, and I reclaimed the seat at my desk.
“It was.” I knew she was waiting for the particulars. As much as I liked her, I didn’t want the events of the previous night to be fodder for gossip. Candy knew everyone and everything that happened in the neighborhood. She wasn’t malicious about it; she just liked to talk.
“I just can’t believe it,” Candy said. “Kurt was such a nice young man. Did you know we exchanged recipes?”
I shook my head and broke off a chunk of muffin. One piece wouldn’t be too many calories.
“I gave him my aunt’s recipe for German chocolate cake. Maybe I’ll make some in his honor.” She picked up the other muffin and split it in half.
“That would be nice.” I picked off another piece of muffin.
Candy went on about a few more recipes they’d shared. While she talked, my mind wandered and I only half listened. I couldn’t help thinking about Kurt’s last words to me. He’d known who was behind the sabotage. I only came back to earth when Candy stood up.
“I need to get back to the bakery,” she said. “And you look like you need some rest.”
“I’m sorry I’m not very good company right now,” I said. As I walked with her through the pub to the front door, I had a thought. I hadn’t wanted to tell her the whole story because she might gossip, but Candy was the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Maybe she knew who might not want the brewery to open. “Did Kurt ever mention anything about some of the strange things that happened here lately?”
“Like what? Ghosts? I’d love to have a ghost.”
I told her what had been going on and what Kurt suspected, including what he told me when he called.
“It wasn’t an accident, then,” she said.
“I don’t think it was.”
Candy was silent, studying me. It was long enough to make me wonder what she was thinking and if I’d made a huge mistake by confiding in her.
“It really doesn’t surprise me,” she said finally. “Not one bit.”
It was my turn to stare. “What do you mean you aren’t surprised?”
Candy put a hand on my arm. “That didn’t come out quite right. Of course Kurt’s death is a shock. I surely didn’t expect anything like that. It’s just that not everyone in the neighborhood wanted this brewery to open again.”
I walked over to a table, pulled out two chairs, and motioned for Candy to sit. “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t they? Look how this part of town went downhill when Steel City closed. This building was nothing but an eyesore. Another business, especially a potentially successful one, will be a boon to this neighborhood.”
“I know, dear. Not everyone thinks that way.”
“You keep saying that. I want to know who.”
“Off the top of my head, one would be Dominic Costello.”
I didn’t recognize the name. “Who is he?”
“Dom owns the Galaxy down the street.”
The Galaxy was a small neighborhood bar two blocks away. It was a shot-and-a-beer kind of place that had been there since I was a kid. It certainly didn’t attract the same type of customer I hoped the brewpub would.
Candy continued. “Dom is afraid you’ll steal all his customers. I heard he’s telling everyone he sees to boycott this place. He’s even considering adding something besides peanuts and pickled eggs to his food selections.”
“That’s ridiculous. I seriously doubt anyone who frequents the Galaxy would be interested in coming here.” I leaned back in my seat. “I’m going to have to talk to him.”
“He’s likely to toss you out on your keister.”
“I’ll take my chances. Anyone else?”
She tapped two of her Steelers-decorated fingertips on her lips. “Hmm. Let me think.” She tossed a couple more names my way, but they were all neighbors I was on good terms with, like Daisy Hart, who owned the flower shop, and Adam Greeley, who owned three boutiques across the street.
We talked for a few more minutes, but in the end, I didn’t have much in the way of suspects. The most promising one—really the only one—was Dominic Costello. I planned to have a chat with him as soon as I could. But first, I had work to do.
I hadn’t been back to my chores for long when my mom came by. I’d propped open the door to the brewing area, and I spotted her as soon as she entered the pub. Mom was an older version of myself—as long as I aged as well as she has. One of the only things that gave away her age was her salt-and-pepper hair. She refused to color it—she said it gave her character. I waved and she rushed over. As soon as she pulled me into a hug, my eyes opened like a faucet again. So did hers.
“Oh, Max,” she said when we finished. “I am so sorry.”
We sat across from each other at the same table Candy and I had vacated earlier, with a box of tissues between us. I snatched up another tissue and passed the box to Mom. She took one and patted it under her eyes.
“I still can’t quite believe it,” I said.
“Kurt was such a nice boy. Just the thought of what your dad told me . . .” She shuddered and reached for my hand. “Such a horrible accident.”
Excerpted from "To Brew or Not to Brew"
Copyright © 2015 Joyce Tremel.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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