The third book in the Booktown Mystery series, 2009
Gwen Nelson and Liz Eng,
my staunchest cheerleaders
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!
“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.”