Apple Stuffed Alibis, страница 1
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Other Books by Jessica Beck
THE DONUT MYSTERIES, BOOK 37
Donut Mystery #37 Apple-Stuffed Alibis
Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Beck All rights reserved.
First Edition: July 2018
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Recipes included in this book are to be recreated at the reader’s own risk. The author is not responsible for any damage, medical or otherwise, created as a result of reproducing these recipes. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure that none of the ingredients are detrimental to their health, and the author will not be held liable in any way for any problems that might arise from following the included recipes.
The First Time Ever Published!
The 37th Donut Mystery.
Jessica Beck is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Donut Mysteries, the Classic Diner Mysteries, the Ghost Cat Cozy Mysteries, and the Cast Iron Cooking Mysteries.
For absent friends,
Gone, but not forgotten.
When a prominent member of the community is murdered, the list of suspects is longer than the lines during a free donut giveaway. Odd couple Suzanne and her stepfather, Phillip, dig into the case together to unmask the killer, and in the course of their investigation, the two amateur sleuths become embroiled in some of the worst aspects of small-town life as they struggle to find the murderer.
My plan was to present the event to the community as a celebration of my anniversary of owning Donut Hearts—the shop I ran in our quaint little town of April Springs, North Carolina—but what most folks didn’t realize was that there was another, and for me, much more upsetting, purpose to the event as well. The plain truth was that my business was in trouble, potentially serious financial distress, and if I didn’t come up with a way to pull it out of the slump it was currently in, I might not own the place much longer.
The last thing I needed to deal with was murder, but unfortunately, that was exactly what happened, and in the end, I nearly lost everything I held near and dear, including my own life.
“There’s no doubt about it. I’m in serious trouble,” I told Jake as I looked at him with a frown from across the kitchen table after I’d gotten home as soon as I’d closed Donut Hearts for the day.
“Just how bad is it?” he asked me as he closed the book he’d been reading and gave me his full attention.
“If things don’t turn around, and I mean fast, we’re going to have to do some serious cutting back here and at the donut shop, and what’s worse, it still might not be enough. I may have to lay Emma and Sharon off and run the entire place seven days a week by myself, and even that might not be enough to keep me afloat until cool weather comes back.” It was currently the dead of summer, always the slowest time of the year for us at Donut Hearts, the business I’d bought after my divorce from my first husband and had run ever since, but this had been the worst slump I’d ever seen in my life, at least as far as the business was concerned.
“I have three suggestions,” Jake said as he studied me closely after pondering the situation for a few minutes, “and I can tell you up front that you aren’t going to like any of them.”
“As much as I appreciate the offer, you’re not coming to work for me at the donut shop.” I loved my husband dearly, but I knew that having him around twenty-four-seven was more than either one of us could take. I didn’t know how retired married couples managed it. Even Momma and Phillip, one of the happiest married couples I knew, spent quite a bit of time apart during the day, Momma with her various business interests and Phillip with his cold police cases he loved to investigate.
“Believe it or not, that thought never even crossed my mind,” he said, looking suitably horrified by the mere suggestion of it.
“And I won’t take out a mortgage on the shop,” I said, cutting him off from another avenue I refused to go down. It had long been a point of pride for me that I owned the donut shop free and clear, and the idea of the bank possessing any part of it simply was not an option. I’d bought the place with just about every last dime of my divorce settlement from Max, the Great Impersonator, and it represented my freedom from a destructive and oppressive relationship and a new lease on life that was all mine and just mine.
“I’m not silly enough to suggest that, or even that we take out a mortgage on the cottage,” Jake said, looking around at our home.
It was a good thing, too. Momma had given us the place when we’d gotten married, and it had been in family hands for generations. I wouldn’t have parted with one square inch of it willingly, or even under gunpoint if it came down to that. “Well, other than those things, I’m willing to consider any options you might be able to suggest.”
“Ask your mother for a short-term loan, at least until you can get back on your feet,” Jake said, ticking one finger off his hand.
On the surface, it appeared to be a perfectly reasonable option. After all, my mother was quite wealthy in her own right, and I knew that it would give her great pleasure being able to help me out. The only problem was that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, since my stubborn streak was matched only by my mother’s inclination to dig in her heels at the slightest provocation. I would have rather gone to the bank than to her for a loan, and Jake already knew how I felt about that. “No thanks,” I said. “What else do you have?”
He grinned at me before he answered. “Well, at least you gave it some serious thought.”
“I did,” I said in protest.
“I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was expecting an automatic rejection within a split second of offering it, but you waited at least three heartbeats before you turned it down.”
“It’s not that I have too much pride,” I started to protest, but then I stopped. “That’s not really true, is it? Maybe I have entirely too much of it, but owing her would be worse than having a mortgage with the bank.”
“She might make it an outright gift,” Jake offered.
It was most likely true, but that didn’t change anything. “In a great many ways, that would just make it worse,” I said.
“I know. On to number two, then. I’ve got a pension we can tap. I worked for the state police long enough to amass a tidy little sum, so why don’t we use some of that now when we need it?”
“I can’t do that, either,” I said, though I answered more slowly still.
“Why not?” Jake asked as he started to cloud up. “You’re always saying that we’re a team. Why shouldn’t we use that reserve? After all, it’s our mon
I had to be very careful how I answered him. I wasn’t the only one in our marriage with more than their normal share of pride. “I suppose we could, but given the penalties we’d have to pay for withdrawing it early, it might not be worth the effort.”
Jake looked surprised by my admission. “You’ve actually thought about it before?”
I had, but not in the way he thought. I knew when I brought the topic up with my husband, he’d offer his retirement account without blinking. I just couldn’t bring myself to take it, not unless things got to be much worse than they were. I would have probably asked Momma for money before I took the pension funds from Jake, but he didn’t have to know that. “I considered it,” I admitted. “Is that good enough?”
“It’s more than good enough,” he said, smiling slightly. “Would you like to hear my last idea?”
“Why not?” I asked, leaning back in my chair to hear what he had to say.
“I could get a job,” he said after a moment’s pause. “Not full time and not permanent, but an old buddy from the state police is looking for help doing security for some bigwig CEO in Richmond, and he’s willing to pay handsomely. The job should last only two weeks, and it starts this evening. The truth is that we both know that I’ve been itching to do something, anyway. I hate leaving you here all by yourself, but it could really help out with our financial crunch.”
“Our need for the money aside, is this something that you want to do?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I think I do,” he replied.
“Is it dangerous?” I asked.
“Suzanne, getting out of the bathtub is dangerous.” It was a standard answer for him, one that casually dismissed the possibility of mayhem.
“You take showers, though, so that’s not a problem. Jake, you know what I mean,” I said sternly. “Tell me the truth.”
“There have been a few threats against the man, but Jim sincerely believes that it’s the work of some nut sitting in his basement in his underwear writing threatening emails to folks he doesn’t even know. He doesn’t think we’ll see the guy, let alone have to stop anything, but this lunatic has got the CEO spooked.”
“Your friend could be wrong, though,” I said, realizing that my husband was probably downplaying the danger for my sake. He’d dealt with more than his share of really bad people in the past, and I didn’t like the idea of him putting himself in jeopardy again, especially for my sake.
“Suzanne, the truth is that it will be good for me, and if it will help keep Donut Hearts afloat until you can turn things around, where’s the harm? It’s a sacrifice for the two of us being apart, but we can handle it. What should I tell Jim? He needs an answer by two, and if I’m going, I need to leave as soon as possible.”
It was now one thirty-two. “Jake Bishop, did you wait until the last possible second to ask me?” I queried with a grin.
“Hey, by my reckoning, I’ve got twenty-eight minutes left on the clock,” he said, “but I knew you were doing the books after work today, and after hearing you complain about how slow business has been lately, I thought it might be prudent to hold off until I spoke with you.” He was openly grinning now. “So what do you say?”
“That depends. I have one more question for you. Are your bags already packed?” I asked him as I returned his smile.
“I figured it wouldn’t hurt, just in case you said yes,” he admitted sheepishly. “I can always unpack if you’re dead set against me going.”
I couldn’t say no to this man or disappoint him if I could help it. I had a hunch that our money woes were just one more excuse to let him go, but the main reason was simply because he seemed excited about the prospect, something I hadn’t seen in quite a while, so how could I say no to that? “Go, you big goof. Just promise me that you’ll be careful.”
“You bet,” he said as he jumped up and kissed me soundly. “Oh, there’s one other thing. Our employer has a thing about his people using cell phones on the job, so I may have trouble checking in with you on any kind of regular basis. Is that okay?”
“Don’t worry about me. If I get in trouble here, I’ve got a dozen folks I can call on for help,” I said, not realizing just how prescient I was being at the time.
“Excellent.” He bolted for the bedroom and came out almost immediately again with a travel bag. Putting it down by the door, Jake swept me up in his embrace the moment I stood, and after lingering in his arms for a few moments longer than I probably should have, I pulled away. “Go on, then. Have fun.”
“It’s a serious job, you know,” he reminded me, clearly trying to keep the grin off his face. “But thanks. I will. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I said, and then he was gone.
I sat there for a few seconds feeling sorry for myself. The cottage had never felt emptier, and I knew what I had to do. I needed to go someplace else, somewhere I was almost always welcome, and the beauty of it was that I could get there on foot.
I grabbed my front-door key, and after locking the door behind me, I walked less than a hundred yards to my best friend’s house.
If anyone could cheer me up, it would be Grace Gauge.
“Why so gloomy, Gus?” Grace asked me the moment she opened the door.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked her as I stepped inside her home. We’d grown up together, best friends for life. Having her still living just steps away, each of us in the houses we’d grown up in, was a bonus I was thankful for every day. Momma could read me better, but no one else in the world could, including Jake. It was only natural, I supposed. After all, Grace and I had a much longer history together.
“Not to the average person, but as we both know, I’m anything but average,” she said with a grin. “Let me get us a pair of sweet teas and you can tell me all about it.”
“Did you make the tea yourself?” I asked her as she headed for the kitchen. Grace was many things, but being skilled in any of the culinary arts wasn’t one of them. On the surface of it, making sweet tea didn’t seem that complicated, but in the South, it was a true art form. The drink had to be sweet enough to satisfy the most discerning palates but not enough to make your back teeth ache. The brand, the amount of time the tea steeped, the exact amount of sugar added, and a few other variables were all closely guarded secrets in most of the families I knew, and the debate between using regular tap water, spring water, well water, or bottled water was just one of the many debates that surrounded the preferred drink of the South.
“Don’t worry, I bought a gallon from Trish at the diner,” she said. “Why? Don’t you think I’m capable of making good tea myself?”
“Capable? Of course you are. Whether you choose to is another question altogether,” I said as I took a glass from her with a smile.
Grace tried to look stern, but she could only hold it for a second or two. As she began to laugh, I joined her, and I knew that I’d made the right decision coming to her. My best friend was usually good for whatever ailed me.
After we were seated in the living room, Grace said, “Tell me what’s going on.”
I brought her up to speed on everything, revealing more than I would have even to my own mother. When she heard that Jake had taken a job out of town, she frowned. “It must be serious for him to leave you.”
“He’s just going to be gone a few weeks,” I protested. “It’s not like he isn’t coming back.”
“I know that, you nit,” she said. “Still, is his pay going to be enough to see you through?”
“Probably not,” I told her. “It will help, but if things keep going the way they are, it’s not going to be enough.” I took a breath, and then I quickly added, “Let’s get one thing out in the open. Don’t you dare volunteer to offer me any money.”
She grinned at me. “The truth is that thought never crossed my mind.”
Grace’s smile intensified. “Suzanne, what would you do if I offered you a loan, or even an outright gift? You don’t need to answer. You’d turn it down before I finished making my suggestion. So why waste our breath even discussing it?”
“That’s a fair point,” I said. “I’m open to other suggestions, though.”
“When did you buy the shop? It was around this time of year, wasn’t it?”
I hadn’t even thought about it, but she was right. “As a matter of fact, I believe that my anniversary is in three days,” I said.
“There’s your answer. Throw a blowout celebration! Remind folks that you’re here and that you’ve been serving them loyally for all of these years. If you do it right, you might just be able to turn things around yourself.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I asked her, amazed that the anniversary of me owning Donut Hearts had somehow slipped my mind.
“That’s why I make the big bucks,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes it just takes someone with a fresh perspective to point the way. Tell you what. I’ve got some vacation I have to use or lose, and I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be than here hanging out with you. I’ll help.”
“You could always take a trip with your boyfriend,” I suggested.
“I suggested it, but the police chief said that he couldn’t get away. I’m not so sure we’re going to make it, Suzanne,” she said with sorrow thick in her voice.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I knew the two of them had their share of problems, but I hadn’t realized it was that serious. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I wish there was, but the man’s married to his job, and I’m getting a little tired of just being his mistress.” Grace shook her head for a brief moment. “Your party sounds exactly like what I need, too. Would you mind if I helped you plan it?”