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Bookplate Special


  Bookplate Special

  Lorna Barrett

  Bookstore owner Tricia Miles has put up – and put up with – her uninvited college roommate for weeks. In return, Pammy has stolen $100. But the day she's kicked out, Pammy's found dead in a Dumpster, leaving loads of questions unanswered.

  Lorna Barrett

  Bookplate Special

  The third book in the Booktown Mystery series, 2009

  For

  Gwen Nelson and Liz Eng,

  my staunchest cheerleaders

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Writing a book is always an adventure-and often I have no idea where the journey will take me until I reach the end.

  I could not have written this book without Mona Durgin of the Greece Ecumenical Food Shelf. She gave me an extensive guided tour and shared her experiences, as well as other information concerning the operation and maintenance of a food pantry.

  Gail Bunn of Grammy G’s Café kindly let me pick her brain on more than one occasion, and even let me “play” behind the counter for a shift to get the feel of the workings of a small café.

  Michele Sampson, director of the Wadleigh Memorial Public Library in Milford, New Hampshire, took me on a guided tour of Milford, and encouraged me to write about the Milford Pumpkin Festival. (And she knows all the best places to eat in Milford, too!) My Guppy Sister in Crime, Pat Remick, has been extremely generous answering my questions and offering me more “local color” to enrich my stories.

  My blog buddies at Writers Plot were there to encourage me when I painted myself into corners, especially Sheila Connolly and Leann Sweeney, who were always ready for an impromptu brainstorming session. And I can’t forget my wonderful first readers, Sheila Connolly, Nan Higgin- son, and Gwen Nelson, who pointed out the places where I tripped up.

  Thanks, too, to my editor, Tom Colgan, and his wonderful assistant, Niti Bagchi, and to my agent, Jacky Sach.

  Please visit my website, www.LornaBarrett.com, for news and information on the Booktown Mysteries. And if you can, please support your local food pantry-and your favorite bookstores!

  ONE

  “Get out of my house!”

  “Get out of my house!”

  “Get out of my house right now!”

  Tricia Miles had always considered annoying fixtures to be expendable. Like the stainless steel sink in her last home. The key to a clean kitchen was a clean sink. Water spots became the bane of her existence. So without a hint of remorse, she’d had the sink replaced with a white porcelain one that came clean with a little bleach and very little effort.

  Other fixtures in her life weren’t quite so easily taken care of. For instance, Pammy Fredericks, her college roommate. Pammy had arrived two weeks before to “stay the weekend,” and had since taken over Tricia’s living room-and her life.

  That was about to end. In fact, while Pammy was taking the first of her twice-daily, forty-minute showers, Tricia had packed one of her suitcases and placed it in the dumbwaiter at the end of her loft apartment over her mystery bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue, in the picturesque little village of Stoneham, New Hampshire-also known as Booktown.

  By the time the water stopped running, Tricia had gulped down two cups of black coffee and rehearsed her speech at least a dozen times, with as many inflections.

  The bathroom door opened and Pammy appeared, wearing Tricia’s robe-which was at least three sizes too small for her-underwear, and a grubby, once-white T-shirt. A wet towel hung around her neck, and her damp, shoulder-length, bleached-blond hair fell in stringy clumps around her face. “Any coffee in the pot?” she called.

  “No,” Tricia answered, and forced herself to unclench her fists. Her nails had dug into her palms.

  “Why don’t you make some more while I go grab some clothes?” Pammy said, evidently missing Tricia’s clipped tone, and headed for the living room.

  “Pammy, we need to talk,” Tricia said.

  Pammy halted, though not because of Tricia’s words. She took in the now tidy living room, which had been cluttered with her possessions before she’d hit the shower. “Hey, where’s all my stuff?”

  “I packed it. Pammy, it’s time for you to go,” Tricia said succinctly.

  Pammy turned, her mouth hanging open in shock. “But why? I thought we were having fun.”

  “We had fun the night you arrived. Since then… you’ve had fun. You have lain around my home, annoyed my cat, and interfered with my employees and my customers. It’s time for you to go.”

  “I cooked you several delicious gourmet meals-supplied the food and everything. You said you enjoyed them.”

  “Yes, I did. Thank you.”

  “What about that box of books I gave you for your store? Haven’t I always looked for books for you?”

  “It was very generous of you… but they’re not really what I carry.”

  Pammy’s expression darkened. “If this is about what happened yesterday, I told you I was sorry,” she said defensively.

  Saying “I’m sorry” wouldn’t have helped if the coffee she’d spilled on a customer’s foot had been hot-which would have netted Tricia one nice, fat lawsuit. As it was, it had cost her one hundred dollars to pacify the woman and replace her coffee-stained leather shoes. Next up: getting the carpet shampooed.

  But that wasn’t the worst.

  Tricia crossed her arms over her chest. She was through giving hints. “Pammy, I know about the check.”

  Pammy blinked. “Check?”

  “Yes, the one you stole out of my checkbook and wrote to yourself for one hundred dollars.”

  Pammy laughed nervously. “Oh, that check. Well, you weren’t around, and you’ve been such a generous hostess that I figured-”

  “You figured wrong.”

  Pammy didn’t apologize. In fact, she just stood there, her expression blank.

  “Besides, two weeks is too long for a drop-in visit. It’s time for you to move on.”

  “But I don’t have anywhere to go!” Pammy protested.

  “You have family in the next county.”

  “But I hate them-and they all hate me. You know that,” she accused.

  After sharing digs with Pammy once again, Tricia could well understand why the woman’s family might not want her around. Pammy hadn’t changed a bit since college. Lazy. Noisy. Freeloading. Irresponsible. And now a thief. How had Tricia tolerated living with her in that tiny dorm room for eight semesters?

  This time, Tricia didn’t back down. “I’m sorry, Pammy. You can’t stay with me any longer.”

  A tense silence hung between them for interminably long seconds. Tricia waited for an explosion-or at least tears. Instead, Pammy’s face lost all animation, and she shrugged. “Okay.” She turned away to poke through the open suitcase Tricia had left on the couch. She picked up a blouse, sniffed under the arms, and set it back in the suitcase. She repeated the process until she found a shirt she deemed acceptable, grabbed a pair of jeans, and headed for the bathroom once again. “I’ll be out of your hair in ten minutes,” she said over her shoulder, with no hint of malice.

  Tricia stood rooted to the floor. Her little gray cat, Miss Marple, jumped down from the bedroom windowsill, then trotted up to Tricia in the living room, giving her owner a “what gives?” look.

  “You’ve got me,” Tricia said. “But she is leaving.”

  “Yow!” Miss Marple said, in what sounded like kitty triumph.

  True to her word, Pammy emerged from the bathroom less than five minutes later, her still-damp hair now gathered in a ponytail at her neck. “You didn’t have to wait for me,” she said. “Or did you think I’d steal your stainless cutlery?” Then she laughed.

  “I thought I’d help you with your things.”

 
; “No need,” Pammy said quite affably. She rearranged some of the clothes in the suitcase, latched it, and hauled it off the couch. She slipped her bare feet into her scuffed-up Day-Glo pink Crocs and eyed a carton on the floor. It was filled with books she’d acquired during her stay. “Can I leave this here for a couple of days-just until I get settled? I don’t have room for it in my car right now.”

  “Sure,” Tricia said, eager to do whatever it took to get Pammy out of her hair and out of her home. But then, even though her kindness had been abused, everything about this seemed so wrong, so… nasty… so unlike Tricia. “Where will you go, what will you do?”

  “Today?” Pammy asked, and smiled. “I might just go to the opening of the village’s new food pantry.”

  “The what?”

  Pammy glowered at Tricia. “Don’t you even know what’s going on here in Stoneham? Stuart Paige is in town to dedicate the Stoneham Food Shelf.”

  “Who?”

  Pammy gave her a withering look. “Do a Google search on the man-see what good he’s done here in New Hampshire. You might want to follow in his footsteps.” Pammy grabbed her purse, slinging the strap over her shoulder before wrestling the heavy suitcase toward the door.

  Stuart Paige? The name did sound familiar.

  “Do you need some money?” Tricia asked, the guilt already beginning to seep in.

  Pammy managed a wry smile. “You already took care of that, thank you. Look, I’m sorry I told you I had nowhere to go. That wasn’t exactly true. I’ve hooked up with some people here in Stoneham. I’m pretty sure I have a place to stay for the night-or maybe a few. You don’t have to worry about me, Tricia. I’ve survived on my own for a long time now, although I may have to actually get a job.”

  For a moment, Tricia was speechless. Was it possible she could have tossed Pammy out days-even weeks-earlier, instead of fuming in silence? And what about the threat of actually looking for work? From what she’d said, Pammy had never held a job for more than a couple of months before some catastrophe would occur and she’d be asked to leave. Still, Tricia couldn’t shake feeling like a heel. As Pammy brushed past her, Tricia reached out to stop her. “I’m sorry, Pammy. It just wasn’t working out.”

  “Don’t worry, Tricia. I always have a contingency plan.” She dug into her jeans pocket and came up with Tricia’s extra set of keys, handing them over. “Thanks.” And with that, she went out the door.

  “Miss Marple,” Tricia called, and the cat dutifully hurried to the door. It was time for work. Tricia closed the dumbwaiter and sent it down, then shut and locked the apartment door as Miss Marple scampered down the stairs ahead of her. By the time Tricia got to the shop, Pammy was waiting for her to unlock the door that faced Main Street. Tricia retrieved Pammy’s second suitcase from the dumbwaiter and carried it to the exit. Pammy’s cheeks were pink, and for a moment Tricia was afraid she might be on the verge of tears. But when she spoke, her voice was steady.

  “Good-bye, Tricia.”

  “I’m sorr-”

  “No, you’re not.” Pammy shrugged. “I’ll be back for those books in a couple of days. Bye.”

  Tricia unlocked the deadbolt and waited for Pammy to exit, but her departing guest stayed rooted.

  “Did you piss anyone else off?” she asked.

  Tricia frowned. “What do you mean?”

  Pammy stepped over what had once been a carved pumpkin. Now it lay shattered on the sidewalk just beyond the welcome mat outside the shop’s door.

  “It didn’t belong to me.”

  “No, carving a pumpkin is fun, and that’s something I’ll bet you haven’t had in a long, long time,” Pammy said, stepping over the orange mess. She continued north down the street, without another word or a backward glance.

  Tricia studied the shattered pumpkin; its crushed, lop-sided, toothy grin looked menacing. She closed the door and went in search of a broom and a trash bag.

  “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

  Never had an old saw held so much promise-and guilt-for Tricia. Though preoccupied with the whole Pammy situation, she managed to get through the store’s opening rituals. Pammy’s comment, that she might learn something from the likes of Stuart Paige-whoever he was-and the crack about having fun, had stung. She was a productive member of her community, pitched in at community events, and liked to think she treated her employees and customers well. And she had fun… sometimes.

  Okay, not so much lately. She worked seven days a week, had no time for friends or hobbies, and her love life…

  Lost in thought, she barely noticed when her assistant, Ginny Wilson, showed up for work a full fifteen minutes late.

  “Sorry,” she apologized, already shrugging off her jacket. “The car wouldn’t start. Brian had already left for work, and I thought the guys from the garage would get to my place quicker than they did. And when I went to call you, the battery in my cell phone was dead.”

  Tricia waved a hand in dismissal. “The day started out crappy, so nothing could upset me this morning.”

  “Oh, good. Maybe I should ask for an extra day off-with pay,” Ginny said, and giggled.

  “You’re not improving my mood,” Tricia said, but didn’t bother to stifle the beginnings of a smile that threatened to creep onto her lips.

  “Isn’t Russ back today? That should cheer you up. Have you got a date with him tonight?” Ginny asked, rolling her Windbreaker into a ball and shoving it under the sales counter, along with her purse.

  Tricia’s statement that nothing could upset her had obviously been a lie. Things hadn’t been going so well on the romance front. Pammy’s presence these past few weeks hadn’t helped. “I’m not sure if he’s back yet.” Russ had been traveling on business a lot lately, although he hadn’t exactly been candid about what that business entailed. As the owner/editor of the Stoneham Weekly News, why did he even need to go out of town, when nearly all his revenue came from local ads?

  Ginny looked around the store, which was devoid of customers. “Goodness. Are we to have a Pammy-free day, or is she still in bed?”

  “She’s gone for good-I hope,” Tricia affirmed. “After what happened yesterday, I felt I had to ask her to leave. I can’t risk a repeat of her carelessness-not when it comes to my customers.” She wasn’t about to mention the forged check.

  “Hallelujah! Now the cookies and coffee we put out will actually go to our customers, instead of being hogged by that-that-” Ginny seemed at a loss for words. She scrutinized Tricia’s face. “What’s wrong?”

  Tricia sighed. “I feel bad about the way I-”

  “Tossed her out?” Ginny suggested.

  “I did not toss her out. I merely suggested that two weeks was a tad long for a short visit. Pammy wasn’t the least bit fazed. In fact, she said she’d ‘hooked up’ with some local people.”

  Ginny pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

  “Do you think she could’ve found a boyfriend here in Stoneham?” Tricia asked.

  “Stranger things have happened.” Ginny cleared her throat.

  “Pammy mentioned the opening of a new food pantry here in Stoneham. What do you know about it?”

  “Oh, yeah, I heard Stuart Paige is in town to dedicate it,” Ginny said.

  “Stuart Paige…” Tricia repeated. “I’ve heard the name. I just can’t remember who he is.”

  “Some rich mucky-muck. He gives away money. That’s got to be good karma, right?”

  “I guess,” Tricia said. The circa-1930s black phone on the sales desk rang, and she grabbed the heavy receiver. “Haven’t Got a Clue, Tricia speaking.”

  “Tricia, it’s Deborah Black.” Tricia’s fellow shopkeeper; owner of the Happy Domestic book and gift shop. “I just had a visit from your friend, Pam Fredericks. She wanted to know if I had a job opening. As it happens, I do. Did you know she’s listing Haven’t Got a Clue as her last place of employment?”

  “What?”

  “I thought that
would be your reaction.” Tricia could hear the smile in Deborah’s voice.

  “She never worked here. She only annoyed, and perhaps even alienated, a portion of my customer base by her presence.”

  “I thought so. I told her I would let her know, but with T-shirts and jeans, she doesn’t dress appropriately for the image I want to convey.”

  And that was another reason Tricia had objected to Pammy hanging around Haven’t Got a Clue. “Did Pammy list an address on her application?”

  “Yes-yours; two twenty-one Main Street, Stoneham, New Hampshire.”

  “She is no longer staying with me,” Tricia said emphatically.

  “About time you finally got fed up with her.”

  “That happened two weeks ago. I asked her to leave only about an hour ago.”

  “You know what they say about fish and house guests: after three days they stink. I’d have asked her to leave eleven days sooner than you did.”

  “But I-”

  “Felt sorry for her?” Deborah asked, sarcastically.

  “I always considered compassion an admirable trait,” Tricia replied.

  “It is, sweetie. If you don’t let people take advantage of your goodwill.”

  Tricia’s entire body tensed at the dig. Oh, yes, she’d been a real sucker. “I’ll try to remember that,” she said coolly.

  “Oh, Trish, don’t get mad. Angelica feels the same way I do-as all your friends do. You do too much for everyone. You’re just too nice. Think of yourself first, for once. You deserve it.”

  Talk about a backhanded compliment. At least Deborah thought Tricia was a good person. Pammy had just been upset when she’d tossed off her parting slurs. “I’d better get going,” Tricia said, and glanced at the clock as though it would give her permission to end the call.

  “Talk to you later,” Deborah said, and the line went silent.

 
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