As if she could smell the popcorn from afar, Angelica, dressed in her white waitress togs, crossed the street and approached Tricia and Elizabeth. Despite being a nationally bestselling cookbook author, Angelica still enjoyed waiting on customers at her café a couple of times a week. And it was even more imperative that she do so of late, since she’d recently lost her short-order cook to the Brookview Inn’s reopened kitchen and needed to supervise her new hires.
“Good morning, ladies,” Angelica said, but her attention was focused on Dempsey. “So, he’s added popcorn to the mix. What’s next? Cotton candy and funnel cakes?”
“Someone’s already selling those in the park. I love funnel cakes,” Elizabeth said wistfully, but her sappy expression soon turned to chagrin at Angelica’s baleful glare. “How’s business at your café?” she offered as a form of appeasement.
“Not as good as it used to be,” Angelica said, and turned her attention back to Dempsey’s truck. “There’s a reason they called those things roach coaches.”
“Angelica!” Tricia admonished, although she had to admit the only food she’d ever partaken of from a street vendor was roasted chestnuts at Christmastime in Manhattan. Nothing else compared.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your lunch crowd?” Tricia asked.
“Bev can handle today’s setup,” Angelica said, volunteering her new waitress. “I thought I should come out to support Deborah.” And keep an eye on Dempsey, Tricia thought.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. She’d started swaying back and forth, rocking little Davey. “I’m so proud of Deborah. I always wanted to do something with my life, like she has, but I never had the opportunity. I got married right out of high school and had three kids,” she said with a sigh. “We never had any money—Deborah put herself through college. She’s my pride and joy.” Deborah was the youngest of Elizabeth’s children and, from what Tricia had deduced, Elizabeth’s favorite.
A smiling Deborah stepped up to the podium, tapped on the microphone to make sure it was live, and leaned down to speak. “Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Stoneham’s first annual Founders’ Day celebration.”
The crowd broke into applause, accompanied by whistles and cheers.
Again, the plane buzzed overhead, and Deborah had to wait until it was out of range to speak again. “It was back in 1822 that Hiram Stone first opened one of New Hampshire’s biggest granite quarries and established the village where we are gathered today. It’s with great pride that we—”
The plane buzzed even lower this time, and Tricia, Angelica, and Elizabeth involuntarily ducked as it drowned out Deborah before it zoomed into a steep climb.
“What kind of an idiot did Bob hire?” Tricia demanded of Angelica, who could only shrug in answer. Angelica and Bob had been seeing each other for almost two years, although of late their relationship had cooled somewhat.
Deborah cleared her throat and continued with her speech. “Hiram Stone was a visionary, and his gifts to the village named after him in life, live on in—” But no one was listening to her. Their eyes were riveted on the sky.
A sudden, horrible sound erupted from the crowd, and people began pushing, shoving—running away from the gazebo.
Elizabeth had turned her back to the village square. “What’s wrong?” she cried, over the noise of the crowd.
And then Tricia saw it—the small aircraft plummeting to Earth, heading straight for the Stoneham Square and the gazebo. Tricia grabbed her sister’s arm, pulling her as she began to run, with Angelica struggling to keep up. There was no sound of an engine as the plane dove at the ground. It hit the gazebo as if it had a red target painted on it. The squeal of ripped metal and shattered plastic tore through the air.
The plane exploded through the other side of the gazebo, ripping out the support pillars that held up the roof. It collapsed in a heap, and a plume of dust shot into the air. The plane skittered across the lawn and finally came to rest where at least one hundred people had been standing only a few seconds before.
Elizabeth screamed, waking little Davey, whose mouth opened wide as he mimicked his grandmother’s shrieks. Tricia hurried to Elizabeth, who tossed the child at her and ran toward the gazebo.
“Elizabeth, no! The plane might explode!” Tricia warned, but there was no stopping her.
The plane looked like a broken toy with is wings ripped off. Its crumpled fuselage lay on the ground, steam escaping from where the propeller had been, but there was no sign of fire.
Angelica was on her phone, screaming at a 9-1-1 dispatcher, demanding they send a couple of ambulances, but surely there could be no survivors.
Davey’s wails had already quieted, but he tried to pull away, struggling to get down to the ground to follow his grandmother.
Elizabeth had already reached the wreck of what had been the village’s once-beautiful gazebo. She fell to her knees in the grass, her face drawn, her mouth agape with heart-wrenching wails.
Tricia struggled to hold on to Davey’s hand. “Nana, Nana!” he cried, and Tricia cried, too. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and suddenly Angelica was beside her, rubbing her back.
“There’s no chance Deborah could’ve—” Whatever else Angelica meant to say was lost in a sob.
Swallowing hard, Tricia picked up little Davey and turned away.
“I just can’t believe it,” Ginny Wilson said for at least the hundredth time. Her eyes were red from crying, the skin around them puffy. Most of the bookshops on Main Street had closed—there was little point in staying open when the north end of the road was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic and access to the municipal parking lot was blocked. But Tricia’s employees, twenty-something Ginny and elderly Mr. Everett, had been reluctant to leave the store. Mr. Everett looked shell-shocked. Tricia’s little gray cat, Miss Marple, sat on his lap in the reader’s nook, quietly purring, offering the only kind of comfort she could give.
A dry-eyed Tricia stood at the far end of her big display window, her gaze fixed on the roadblock, as though staring at it would give her some kind of reassurance that her world hadn’t gone completely off kilter. That her friend wasn’t dead. That the small village park did not now resemble a war zone. She’d already cried a river of tears and knew there’d be more later, when she was alone.
A figure passed the window and paused at the door, where a CLOSED sign hung from it. The man tried the handle, found it was open, and entered. “Ginny?” Antonio Barbero called, ignoring the others in the store.
Ginny flew across the room and into the arms of her handsome new boyfriend.
“I came as soon as I heard,” Antonio said, his voice soft but the lilt of his Italian accent strong. He held her close and patted her back.
“She’s dead—poor Deborah’s dead,” Ginny sobbed.
“What will happen to her store?” Antonio asked.
Ginny pulled back, her face stricken. Tricia was just as appalled by the question.
Antonio shrugged. “It’s a legitimate question.”
“Only if you’re a vulture waiting to pick the bones of some poor dead animal,” Ginny said, and pushed him away. “I suppose you already told your boss about it and she wants you to put in a bid for the Happy Domestic.”
“Of course I told her. But she did not ask me to put in a bid on the business. Only to keep my ears open in case it should come on the market. She sent her condolences,” he offered lamely.
Nigela Racita Associates was the new game in town. The developer had not only bought the empty lot that once housed the history bookstore that had been blown to smithereens several months before, but it had bought a half interest in the Brookview Inn, which was currently under renovation. After the inn had lost its decorated chef, the new management had recruited—of all people—Angelica’s short-order cook, Jake Masters, to head up their formerly award-winning kitchen. Of course, Jake was a trained souschef—but it seemed incredible that they’d given such a position to someone with such limited experience. The fact that Jake was also an ex-con made the appointment even harder to believe.