Coup de Glace

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chapter-1

drop-cap-it was hard for Erin to believe that Bella and Vic were only a year apart in age, if that. Vic was her own woman, independent, knowledgeable, opinionated. Sometimes Erin felt like Vic was older than she herself. But Bella was definitely still a kid. Having graduated from high school, she was available to help out at the bakery more often, but Erin had a hard time thinking of her as a grown up.

Vic had taken the day off to go into the city with Willie. Erin was glad to see them back together again, working through their differences. There was still tension between them, not over Vic’s transgender identity, but over the recent revelations of Willie’s past and that he had kept back from Vic the fact that they were from opposing sides of a generations-long clan war. He’d known about it from the start, but had kept his involvement with the Dyson organized crime family from her.

Despite Vic’s feelings about the deception, they had made up and were trying to get back on track again. A day away from Bald Eagle Falls would be good for them. It was easy to get caught up in the personalities of the small Tennessee town and to forget that things were not the same everywhere. Going somewhere else provided a little perspective. Vic had never been outside of Tennessee, and Erin hoped that someday she’d travel a little and broaden her horizons. As long as she still came back to Auntie Clem’s Bakery when she was done. Erin wanted Vic to grow, but didn’t know what she’d do without her.

“Erin, can we make more of the gumdrop cookies and put chocolate chips in them?”

Erin was pulled from her ponderings. She looked at Bella, blinking to refocus herself.

“They’re not gumdrop cookies if you use chocolate chips,” she pointed out.

“Unless you put gumdrops and chocolate chips in them…”

Erin considered the suggestion. Chocolate and gumdrops. Erin’s gumdrop cookies were pretty popular, but she’d never considered including both chocolate chips and gumdrops.

“That’s an interesting idea. Do you think people would go for them?”

Bella’s blue eyes twinkled. “You can’t wreck something by adding chocolate to it!” Her curly blond hair was pulled back from her round face, making her look younger than her seventeen years.

Erin laughed. “Okay, we can give it a try. Substitute part of the gumdrops with chocolate chips, and we’ll call them ‘Bella’s Dream’ cookies.”

“Can’t we just add chocolate chips?”

“You have to have enough cookie dough for them to hold together, especially with gluten-free cookies. If you increase the add-ins too much, they’ll just fall apart into a crumbly mess when you try to pick them up.”

“Oh.” Bella nodded. “That makes sense.”

She got out the gumdrops and the chocolate chips and measured them into her cookie batter before turning the mixer on. “It’s too bad we can’t use peanuts,” she said. “My mom makes these awesome Reese’s Pieces and chocolate chip cookies. They are so good!”

“I’ll bet they are,” Erin agreed. “I like anything with chocolate and peanut butter. But no peanuts or nuts in Auntie Clem’s Bakery. They are too common an allergen and I don’t want even the possibility of cross-contamination.”

“I know.” Bella let out a sigh. “Your baking is really good, but sometimes I wish we could just do normal cooking and not have to worry about allergies and Celiac disease and all that.”

“Imagine how you would feel if you had a life-threatening condition that meant you couldn’t ever eat those things,” Erin said. “It isn’t easy going through life not being able to eat what you want. You and I can just go home and make Reese’s Pieces cookies if we feel like it. Someone with an allergy can’t. They just have to forgo it forever.” Erin made a motion to encompass the baking they were each working on. “That’s why we do this. So that people with allergies or intolerances can have some variety. If people without dietary restrictions want something that’s not gluten- or allergen-free, they can just go into the city or make their own. It isn’t so easy for someone with a life-threatening condition.”

Bella nodded. She took a deep sniff of the cookie dough. “I’m sure glad that I can eat whatever I want. Although…” she patted her stomach, “I probably shouldn’t eat it all!”

Erin just shrugged. She was careful not to eat too much of her own baking, but she didn’t struggle with it like Bella. Bella had been overweight before working at Auntie Clem’s and, while not obese, she had put on a few more pounds since starting.

“I might just have to go out and buy some Reese’s Pieces after work,” Bella said. “Now I’m going to be craving them all day.”

“Have you ever seen E.T.?” Erin asked, trying to distract Bella from thoughts about the candy. “That is such a good show.”

Bella shuddered. “No. One of my friends tried to put it on once, but it was so spooky, and I was really freaked out. I don’t like movies about creepy aliens.”

“But he’s not creepy. He’s just different. He’s really lovable and funny.”

“I couldn’t get past the first five minutes.” Bella shook her head. “No way, you can keep your supernatural stuff.”

Erin shook her head and folded raisins into the muffin batter she was working on.

“I know,” Bella said. “I’m a scaredy-cat about everything. I should grow up and act like an adult instead of a baby.”

“I never said that. There are plenty of adults who are afraid of… supernatural things. It doesn’t make you a baby.”

“Most adults aren’t afraid of everything that goes bump in the night. I wish I wasn’t.”

“Maybe you could see a psychologist or something. Someone who could help you to get over it. They have programs to help people overcome phobias and anxieties.”

“No. I’ve been to them before. They never really help. They always want you to confront your fears. Desensitize yourself. I just… can’t.”

“So how are you supposed to do that? Watch scary movies?”

Erin expected Bella to laugh, but she didn’t. She shook her head, face pale. “No…”

There was silence for a few minutes, Erin not sure what to say.

“They want me to go into the barn,” Bella said.

“Into the barn? What barn?”

“At home. There’s an old barn. It’s… haunted.”

Erin laughed. But Bella wasn’t kidding. Her lips tightened. She was over-mixing the cookie dough, not paying attention to what she was doing.

“It is! I know you don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean you’re right. You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen some of the weird stuff I have. That old barn really is haunted.”

“Okay.” Erin held up her hands. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed. You just caught me by surprise. You’ve never mentioned your haunted barn before.”

Bella eyed her as if suspicious that Erin was making fun of her. She turned off her mixer and pulled out a couple of cookie sheets.

“It’s never come up before.”

“Do you know… who it’s haunted by?” Erin asked tentatively. She wasn’t sure whether that was the appropriate thing to do. Was it polite to ask people about their haunted outbuildings? Or was that a taboo topic?

Bella nodded. “My grandma.” She started to scoop the cookie dough out onto the tray, carefully spacing the cookies apart so they wouldn’t spread into each other.

“Oh.”

Erin started pouring out the muffins. When she looked up, Bella was watching her intently, and Erin wondered if she’d missed part of the conversation while focused on the job at hand.

“You could help me! You’re really good at solving mysteries. If you solved Grandma’s murder, then maybe she’d stop haunting the barn, and I wouldn’t have to be scared of going near there anymore.”

Erin smiled and shook her head. “I’m a baker, not a detective.”

“You haven’t always been a baker, though. You’ve done all kinds of other things.”

“I’ve done other things. But I’m not a private investigator or policeman and I never have been.”

“But you’ve solved other mysteries. Lots of them.”

“Just… lucky. Terry doesn’t want me to get involved in any more police stuff. Not that I want to. It’s always just fallen into my lap before.”

“Officer Handsome can’t control what you do. And if you were looking into a really old case, then it’s not like you’d be in any danger, right?”

Erin grinned at Bella calling Terry Piper ‘Officer Handsome.’ He was that! Especially when he smiled at her and that little dimple appeared in his cheek. A lot of the Bald Eagles Falls women sighed over Officer Piper in uniform, patrolling and investigating with his canine partner at his side. He and Erin had known each other for almost a year and, while it hadn’t been a whirlwind romance, things had progressed, and she did catch herself thinking of him as belonging to her, even though they weren’t engaged and hadn’t ever talked about an exclusive relationship.

“It’s not just Terry. I don’t really want to get involved in another mystery. The ones I’ve been involved with before now… Things have not always had a happy ending.”

Bella nodded her understanding, but she wasn’t ready to let the matter drop. “But like I said, this is a really old case. My grandpa isn’t around anymore. No one would be trying to stop you from finding out the truth. There wouldn’t be any danger, to you or anyone else.”

“Just because it’s an old case, that doesn’t mean no one cares about it anymore.” Erin was thinking about Bertie Braceling. “Sometimes, people get so caught up in trying to protect the past… people’s reputations… histories that they’ve rewritten… what happened years ago still has an effect on today. Trust me.”

“Okay.” Bella sighed. “I guess I understand why you’re scared to look into it.”

The word scared irritated Erin. She wasn’t scared. She was just cautious. She just didn’t see the point in getting involved in something that wasn’t any of her business. In the past, she’d had to get involved in cases because she or her friends had been the prime suspects. She didn’t have any vested interest in what had happened to Bella’s grandmother.

Bella picked up the cookie trays to put them into the ovens.

“Put them in the fridge for a few minutes first,” Erin advised. “I think the dough might have warmed up too much. They’ll spread too much and burn.”

Bella considered the cookies for a moment, looking like she was going to argue, then nodded. “Okay.” She took them to the fridge as instructed.

“It would just be really nice to be able to go to my own barn,” she said with a shrug.

Erin wasn’t so sure that solving her grandmother’s murder would help Bella to go into the barn. She still couldn’t go to the commode in the basement of Auntie Clem’s bakery, even though Angela Plaint’s murder had been solved and the loo was not haunted. Bella was still convinced that it was and refused to use the facilities. It was irritating to Erin that Bella couldn’t retrieve any supplies from the storeroom and had to go down the street if she needed to use the toilet during her shift.

drop-cap-from her attic reading room, Erin looked out the window to the loft over the garage, but there were no lights on. Vic and Willie had not yet returned. Vic had Sunday off as well; she and Willie could spend the night in the city or somewhere other than the loft apartment. While Willie had spent the night with Vic in the past, it had been when she had needed protection, and Vic had made it clear that they were not intimate. Erin didn’t quite understand Vic’s moral standards or why she cared if anyone thought she and Willie were sleeping together, but she just shrugged it off as part of what made Vic unique.

“Looks like it’s just you and me tonight,” Erin told Orange Blossom, the ginger cat who sat waiting for her to settle somewhere. “And Marshmallow, of course.” She hadn’t brought the rabbit up to run around and play with Blossom, nervous that he would fall down the stairs.

She picked up Clementine’s previously missing journal, found in the deceased Joelle Biggs’s possessions, and decided on the window seat. She sat down and patted the cushion beside her for Orange Blossom to jump up. He did so immediately, purr-meowing at her and chattering on about his day. It took a few minutes for him to find a comfortable position, kneading her thighs with his needle-sharp claws.

“Come on, Blossom…”

He finally settled and was still, purring his loud happy rumble. Erin opened up the journal. It was the one that Clementine had been writing when Erin’s parents had been killed, and Erin was curious about what Clementine had known of the car accident that had left Erin an orphan and the intrigue that surrounded it.

To begin with, the mentions of her parents were general, “I have called Luke and Kathryn repeatedly, to no avail,” and “Still no word from Luke.” She obviously hadn’t known about the accident right away. As far as she knew, her brother and his family had just gone away and refused to have anything to do with her. It sounded from Clementine’s outpourings that she had perhaps had words with Erin’s father about their parenting and the instability in Erin’s life, and Clementine thought he was upset with her because of their argument.

There were also mentions of the Plaint boys. She hadn’t known they’d had anything to do with her brother’s disappearance, but she was clearly concerned about Davis. His descent into depression and drug use had not gone unnoticed. She had caught him squatting in the summer house that was now Adele’s home, and had to send him on his way.

I couldn’t let Davis hang around on the property, especially to crash at the summer house. I don’t need teenagers or drifters setting up house there, running it down. I told him he needed to leave and not trespass on my property. If he needs something, he’s welcome to come to the house. I’m more than happy to give him work, food, or just a listening ear.

Erin rubbed her eyes, telling herself they were burning because she was tired. What Davis had gone through because of his father’s bad choices… even Trenton had suffered. He might have been a bully and a jock, but he hadn’t been untouched by his father’s unfaithfulness and his death. Adam Plaint might have thought that no one was being hurt by his affairs, but they had all been affected for decades to come.

Clementine had tried to reach out in kindness to Davis, even though she hadn’t known the full extent of what he had been through. She had seen that he was hurting and had tried to offer him some kind of support.

“You missed your dad too, didn’t you, Davis?” Erin murmured.

Orange Blossom raised his head to look at Erin, then decided she wasn’t talking to him and put it back down to nap. Erin read on, trying not to get mired down in her own history. Yes, she missed her dad, and her mom too. But it had been twenty years and she wasn’t a kid anymore. Sure, her childhood had sucked, passed from one foster home to another, yet life went on. She had worked hard and made something of herself.

The inheritance of Clementine’s house and shop had made it possible for her to become her own boss, something she hadn’t ever known if she would be able to do. So far, she was doing well, making a living at Auntie Clem’s Bakery. Without the bakery, Erin would still have been trapped in dead-end jobs and Vic might have been out on the street.

But Clementine had more to report on than just her absent brother and the troubles of the Plaint boys. Erin’s brow furrowed as she read on.

Strange happenings over at the Prost farm. I know that Ezekiel and Martha have always been strange ducks, but this is stranger than usual. Rumor has it that Martha has passed away, but Ezekiel will not let anyone into the house to see. He insists that she’s just fine and will call them back later. But no one has gotten a call back from her and people are quite sure she’s dead. The sheriff is seeing what he can do about getting in there, but apparently there is not much he can do if he doesn’t have any evidence there has been a crime committed or that anyone is in immediate danger. Martha isn’t in danger if she is dead, and Ezekiel wouldn’t be guilty of anything other than misleading people and maybe improper disposal of a body if he’s done something with her.

That was certainly an eye-opener. Another mysterious death or disappearance in Bald Eagle Falls? Even stranger, Erin had read through all of the newspapers around the time of her parents’ deaths, and there had been nothing in the local weekly about a Martha Prost dying or disappearing under mysterious circumstances. That would certainly have caught Erin’s attention.

But maybe it had just been a rumor. Probably, Martha had shown up again, perfectly healthy and happy, just like her husband said she would, and the rumor of her death was just that, a rumor, with nothing to back it.

Erin looked out the window toward Vic’s loft again. She should have noticed if the light had been turned on, but she had been deeply interested in what she was reading. The apartment was still dark.

“I don’t think she’s going to make it back tonight,” Erin told Orange Blossom. “They must be having too good a time.”

Blossom sat up and yowled at her, a long, mournful sound that he made when she left him alone or took him in the car to the vet. Erin laughed and scratched his ears.

“We’ll be fine if she stays away overnight. She doesn’t sleep in the house anymore anyway.”

Erin yawned, scrubbed at her eyes again, and decided it must be more than the dust from the journal that was making her eyes feel gritty. She needed to be up early in the morning for the bakery. Not as early as usual, because it would be Sunday, which was just the ladies’ tea, and she didn’t have to have everything baked that she would on a regular day. Just a few cookies and treats and an assortment of teas at the ready for when the women got out of their church services.

“It’s my one night to sleep in,” she told the cat, “I’d better take advantage of it.”

 

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Coup de Glace

By P.D. Workman

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