Candy coated murder, p.1

Candy Coated Murder, page 1

 part  #1 of  Pumpkin Hollow Mystery Series

 

Candy Coated Murder
 

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Candy Coated Murder


  Candy Coated Murder

  A Pumpkin Hollow Mystery

  by

  Kate Bell

  Copyright © 2017 by Kate Bell. All rights reserved. This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.

  Other books by Kate Bell

  Apple Pie A La Murder,

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 1

  Trick or Treat and Murder,

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 2

  Turkey Trot Terror

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 3

  Candy Cane Killer

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 4

  Ice Cold Murder

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 5

  Love is Murder

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 6

  Strawberry Surprise Killer

  A Cozy Baked Murder, Book 7

  Pushing Up Daisies in Grady,

  A Gracie Williams Mystery, Book 1

  Kicked the Bucket in Grady,

  A Gracie Williams Mystery, Book 2

  --1--

  The bell above the door jingled, and I looked up from the tray of raspberry truffles I was putting into the display case.

  “Mia Jordan,” Hazel Martin said, walking up to the display case. She looked me up and down over the top of her silver wire-framed glasses. Her short, curly gray hair sported a pink antique hairpin tucked into the front and her rouged cheeks bloomed in the candy store lighting.

  “Good morning, Hazel,” I said and forced my mouth to curve into a smile. I had moved home a week earlier and Hazel lived next door to my parents. Up until now I had managed to keep from running into her, but my luck had just run out.

  “You're just the person I was looking for. I was wondering, is it possible to make the pecan pralines without pecans?” She held her pink fake-jewel encrusted purse in front of her, waiting for my answer.

  I stared at her for a moment, wondering if this was a trick question. I shook my head slowly. “No. After all, they’re pecan pralines.”

  She sighed and tilted her head. “I detest nuts. They get stuck in my teeth. But I love the pralines themselves. You need to be more mindful of people who don’t eat nuts.”

  “Okay, well, I’ll keep that in mind.” I finished putting the rest of the raspberry truffles into the display case and closed the glass door. To say Hazel Martin was a difficult person was an understatement.

  “I want to speak with your mother,” she said, brushing invisible lint from the sleeve of her pale pink sweater with one white-gloved hand. It wasn't quite Labor Day and still too warm for a sweater, never mind the 1950s era white gloves.

  I smiled and then called over my shoulder. “Mom!”

  “How are you doing since you moved back?” Hazel asked, looking over the candy in the display case. “It's a shame you couldn’t make a go of it in the real world.”

  I bit my lower lip to keep from saying something I would regret. “Well, you know how it is. That real world is kind of scary.”

  “Indeed it is,” she said with a smile.

  My family had lived next door to Hazel since before I was born. I had grown up with her looking over my shoulder, ready to point out any wrongs I had committed. She was a busybody to the nth degree.

  “Mom!” I called again. I had work to do and she could deal with Hazel. She was more diplomatic than I. I picked up a dishcloth and wiped the front counter so I wouldn’t have to talk to her.

  I had moved to Michigan ten years earlier to go to college with a plan to study veterinary science. But, taking courses requiring me to dissect frogs and rats changed my mind in a hurry. I floated through college for two years, finally declaring my major at the end of my sophomore year. English. I loved to read, and I decided I could be a writer or teach at the local junior college with an English major. Only, after I got my master’s degree in English, I worried it wasn’t what I really wanted. So I got another master’s degree in web development. But I wasn’t sure about that either, so I got a master’s degree in business and web development.

  After ten years of higher education and feeling like a career spinster, I moved back home. It occurred to me I might be avoiding the real world by staying in school indefinitely.

  Home was Pumpkin Hollow, population 6,353. Pumpkin Hollow was a Halloween-themed town in the mountains of Northern California, far enough from the bigger cities to feel like a proper small town, but not so far as to be inconvenient for tourists. We had nine blocks of shops dedicated to all things Halloween. Around the corner was another street with a haunted house, two Halloween party houses (one for adults and one for children), an old-fashioned skating rink with real hardwood floors, and other various Halloween-themed entertainment. At the edge of town was the haunted farmhouse with a corn maze and straw bale maze.

  People came from all over the state to visit, and most importantly, spend their money. The Halloween season, as the locals called it, lasted from Labor Day weekend through mid-November. The remainder of the year saw a little more than a trickle of visitors; so planning our business was imperative.

  My parent’s owned the Pumpkin Hollow Candy Shop, passed down from my mother’s parents. We sold Halloween themed candy; some we made, and some we purchased. The rest of the year we sold other holiday-themed candy, but we always carried a variety of Halloween candy, regardless of the time of year.

  Hazel peered into the display case while waiting for my mother to appear from the back room.

  “Such a shame to waste your parent’s money,” Hazel murmured as she bent down and squinted at the chocolate bonbons.

  “Mom!” I shouted, looking over my shoulder.

  “What is it?” Mom asked, coming from the back room, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. She stopped in her tracks. “Oh. Hazel.”

  “Good morning Ann, how are you?” Hazel asked. Honey dripped from her words, but I wasn’t fooled. She wanted something.

  “I’m fine, Hazel, how are you?” Mom said. Her eyes went to me, then back to Hazel.

  “I want to take issue with your flag.” Hazel clasped her hands together over the strap of her purse.

  “What?” Mom asked, looking confused. She untied her apron in the back and took it off, laying it on a stool behind the counter. “What do you mean?”

  My mother would try to smooth things over, whatever the issue was unless she was pushed. And she had spent too many years being pushed by Hazel Martin.

  “The flag on your house. The homeowners association forbids flags bigger than 24” by 24” and I’m sure your flag is much too big.” She had a smile on her face and I rolled my eyes. How many times had we heard this sort of thing over the years?

  “I don’t think the flag is too big, and I’m sure the homeowners association would have said something by now, if it was,” Mom said, reaching for a dishcloth to wipe down the counter. Mom liked to hang decorative flags on the house that she changed out with the seasons. A large flag with a cut watermelon and romping cartoon mice waved from the front porch as we spoke.

  “They haven’t talked to you about it? I’ll be sure and let them know they’ve overlooked it,” Hazel said, nodding. “Now, let’s see about these pralines.”

  I rolled my eyes again. “We aren’t changing the recipe for the pralines,” I said. “Nor are we changing the flag.”

  Mom glanced at me, eyebrows raised.

  “Mia, the customer is always right,” Hazel pointe
d out. Her glasses were still poised on the end of her nose. As long as I had known Hazel that’s where they sat. I wondered how they stayed put since she was always sticking her nose in other people’s business, but I didn’t ask.

  “Pralines have pecans. That’s the way it is,” I said, sitting down on the other stool behind the counter. I looked to my mother for support.

  “I can’t imagine that pralines would be pralines without pecans,” Mom said. “Maybe you should try something with a soft center. We have a variety of candies to choose from.”

  Hazel shook her head. “I don’t understand this. The city council is always telling residents to buy local. Support the town, they say. But then when I try, I run into this resistance,” she said, motioning toward me. “I was just over at the Sweet Goblin Bakery and bought a dozen donuts and do you know what Stella Moretti told me?”

  I sighed and refrained from asking what Stella Moretti had said. I knew conversations like this would go nowhere. They always did.

  When neither of us asked what was said, she continued. “Well, I’ll tell you. She said a baker’s dozen is twelve donuts and not thirteen! Have you ever heard of anything so nonsensical in your life?” She looked from me to Mom, waiting for a response.

  “Well,” I finally said. Some days I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “A dozen is twelve.”

  “No, Mia. I know you younger generation don’t know much, college education or not, but a baker’s dozen is always thirteen. In the old days, the baker threw in an extra donut or cookie or whatever you were buying, as a good will gesture. And it’s not like Stella was advertising a dozen donuts for nine dollars, either. She was advertising a baker’s dozen donuts. There’s a difference.”

  “Fine, you’re right,” I relented. And she was right as much as I hated to admit it. I didn’t want to argue. I had stayed up too late the night before and I was tired. I also might have been feeling a little sorry for myself for having moved home. I needed to get my own place so I could feel more independent.

  “I most certainly am,” she said, smiling like the goose that laid the golden egg. “And now, about those pralines. How soon can you whip me up a dozen without nuts?”

  I gasped. “We are not making pralines without nuts. They come as is. Take them or leave them.”

  Hazel peered over the top of her glasses. “Listen here, young lady. I have lived in this town all my life and I will get what I want.”

  “We are not making pralines without nuts,” I repeated, looking her in the eye.

  She looked at my mother. “Ann, are you going to make my pralines without nuts?”

  Mom shook her head. “No, I’m sorry Hazel. I don’t even know what a praline without nuts would be called. The nuts are the most important ingredient in the candy. They’re always made with nuts.”

  Hazel gasped. “Well, I never! I’ll be talking to the city council about this. They have no business telling the citizens of Pumpkin Hollow to shop local when the businesses are run so poorly.”

  Hazel slung her purse over her shoulder and stomped out, letting the door swing shut behind her.

  I looked over at Mom.

  She shrugged. “She’s been getting worse. I don’t know what’s gotten into her. Everywhere I go, someone has something to say about her behavior.”

  “She’s a pushy woman, and I’m tired of the way she acts,” I said. “I don’t know how you can stay so calm when dealing with her.”

  “I know. She’s been causing such trouble down at the homeowners association. The other neighbors are up in arms about it. Well, I have fudge to make. With nuts.” She grinned and headed to the back room.

  I sighed. Welcome back to Pumpkin Hollow.

  --2--

  I looked out the window of my mother’s car as we headed home. I had fond memories growing up in Pumpkin Hollow. I mean, what kid wouldn’t love living in a town where Halloween is celebrated year-round? There had been Halloween activities every weekend in the fall. Pumpkin carving contests, kid’s Halloween parties at the party house, costume parties during my teen years, and during October, costume contests. On the edge of town, the old haunted farmhouse stood with its two mazes. The corn maze was for teens and older. It featured villains from horror movies and wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

  There were also trips to the haunted house and hayrides at the haunted farmhouse. I felt a tear come to my eye when I remembered the fun we had. Why had I stayed away so long?

  The neighborhood where we lived was neat and clean, kept that way under the watchful eye of the homeowners association. I found it a bit stifling, to tell the truth. When, or if, I ever bought my own house, I wanted to do as I pleased with it. No one would tell me how to decorate the house I worked so hard to buy.

  “You’re quiet,” Mom said as she turned down our street.

  I smiled. “Just a little tired, I guess.”

  I reached up and pulled the hair tie out of my long brown hair. It was in need of a trim. Maybe I needed to cut it short. I yawned and looked into the rearview mirror. I either needed to get more sleep, or I was looking old for twenty-eight. My eyes were blue like everyone else’s in my family and right then, they were accented with dark circles. I had a sister two years younger than I and Hazel had once commented our parents and the two of us looked so much alike we could be mistaken for quadruplets. Brown hair, blue eyes, upturned noses. I sighed. Hazel needed to keep her mouth shut.

  Mom pulled into the driveway and parked the car. The garage housed my sister’s furniture and boxes she couldn’t find room for after her last move. I wondered when the homeowners association would send a letter to my parents, notifying them they couldn’t park a car in their own driveway.

  “Glad to be home?” my mom asked, reaching for the door handle.

  I smiled and shrugged. “I guess.”

  “You’ll find something,” she assured me. “Those college degrees will come in handy.”

  “Sure,” I said and got out of the car. I knew I would find a job. If I could figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life.

  Hazel’s house bordered ours. Her flowerbeds were neat and tidy with blooming white mums and maroon zinnias. You’d never catch her yard being out of order. Tools were never left lying around and a garden gnome wouldn’t even think about darkening her manicured lawn. The minute a plant died or ceased to bloom, it was ousted and another put in its place. Hazel took her job beautifying the neighborhood seriously.

  I glanced at her front porch, a simple American flag, exactly 24” by 24” hung from a short, skinny flagpole. One potted plant sat near the front door, and a freshly painted white bench sat beneath the front window. I stopped in my tracks.

  What was that?

  The white painted bench on Hazel’s porch had a stuffed scarecrow on it. Even though the town had a Halloween theme, Hazel had never taken part in decorating. For one thing, the homeowners association was strict with what it allowed and its rules had to be kept in mind when shopping for decorations. For another, Hazel didn’t like anything fun.

  “Are you coming?” Mom asked, looking over her shoulder.

  “Yeah,” I said, but kept my eye on the scarecrow. Something about it wasn’t right. I looked at my mother as she headed to our front door and then back at the scarecrow.

  “What are you doing?” Mom asked as she put the key in the lock.

  “I’ll be right there,” I said and walked up the gently mounded grassy knoll that separated our yards.

  The scarecrow was life-sized, with one of Hazel’s purple gardening hats on its head. Straw poked out from the cuffs of its long sleeves, and its pant legs, and it slumped over a bit. I mounted the three porch steps, coming to a stop in front of the scarecrow. The oddest part was that it wore the same pink sweater and white gloves Hazel had worn earlier in the day.

  “Hazel will yell at you,” Mom warned from our porch.

  Something about the scarecrow looked wrong; the way it was slumped over with its head resting on its chest.
Why would Hazel put this thing up so early in the year? Why would Hazel put it up at all? Then it occurred to me that someone was playing a joke on her. Hazel, with her super neat yard and the way she looked down on other people’s yards, was being pranked.

  I breathed out and chuckled. “Someone’s going to get in trouble,” I said.

  I turned back toward my house, stopped, and then turned back to look at the scarecrow. Hazel would have a fit when she saw it. Not that I cared about her feelings. I reached out and pulled the hat off the scarecrow. It was then I screamed loud enough to wake the dead. All of the dead except this one.

  --3--

  I leaned against my mother’s car and watched the EMTs load Hazel onto the gurney and pull the sheet up over her face. I wrapped my arms around myself, looked away, and wondered who could do such a thing.

  There were four police cars parked at the curb in front of Hazel’s house and the police milled about the yard and house. One had a camera and busied himself taking pictures. Pumpkin Hollow was a low crime town and the local police had little to do most days. I recognized most of the police, except for the tall blond one.

  “Are you okay?” Mom asked, touching my arm.

  I nodded and glanced at her, giving her a tight-lipped smile. “I’m fine. Just a little shocked is all.”

  “I don’t know who would do something like this,” she said. “Poor Hazel.”

  “I know. It’s terrible.”

  The neighbors across the street had brought out lawn chairs so they could relax and watch while Hazel was taken away. It didn’t surprise me. The Tompkins weren’t known for being classy. One year they had placed a mooning wooden mummy cutout in their yard at Halloween. I don’t think it was a coincidence it faced Hazel’s house.

  Mr. Gott, an elderly widower who lived in the house on the other side of Hazel’s house, stood in his yard silently watching the police and EMTs do their job. I sighed. It was a sad night in the neighborhood.

 
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