A peachy mess, p.1

A Peachy Mess, page 1

 

A Peachy Mess
 

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A Peachy Mess


  A Peachy Mess

  Sweet Peach Bakery #2

  Wendy Meadows

  Copyright © 2017 by Wendy Meadows

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

  * * *

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

  * * *

  Printed in the United States of America

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Thanks for reading

  Be the First to Know

  Momma’s Recipe

  About the Author

  Also by Wendy Meadows

  Chapter One

  Momma Peach didn't mind it being hot. After all, she was a Georgia woman, used to the heat and humidity and long summer nights filled with lightning bugs and bright stars. But never in her life had she felt heat like the heat scorching her body today in the southern Nevada desert; of course, Momma Peach had never been to southern Nevada before, so the heat was different and new to her. “Oh baby,” Momma Peach said and wiped sweat from her forehead with her hand in its white glove, “give me the strength! I’m going to melt.”

  Michelle looked at Momma Peach. “I'm very grateful you came with me,” she said and smiled. “And look how pretty you look in your new pink dress and white hat.”

  “I feel like a burned-out desert flower,” Momma Peach replied with exhaustion, fanning herself. “And it's only nine o'clock in the morning. Oh, give me strength, give me strength, give me strength. I’m going to melt before lunch time arrives.”

  Michelle glanced up at a bright, clear, blue sky and the scorching sun above the tiny town of Gold Dust, Nevada. She pushed her dark sunglasses tighter against her eyes. “It's going to get even hotter before long. We need to drink plenty of water.”

  Momma Peach stopped to breathe and glanced at the long, short sleeve, gray dress Michelle was wearing. She admired the way Michelle had her hair tied into a tight ponytail. Michelle looked so lovely and beautiful. “My baby is beautiful today.”

  “I feel like a gray wart,” Michelle confessed and let her eyes wander around the small town standing before her. The town rippled in the heat, as if it were exhausted and simply burned out. A rough, pitiless desert landscape wrapped itself around the town like a hungry rattlesnake. A narrow two-lane road ran through the town, cracked, old, and full of pot holes. “McFally is forty miles to the east and High Cliffs is thirty-four miles to the west, and we're right in the middle,” Michelle told Momma Peach. “The middle of nowhere.”

  Momma Peach looked behind her, spotted a hickory rocking chair on the front porch of the small hotel where she and Michelle were staying, and decided to sit down. The old wooden planks of the front porch creaked and whined under her feet. The rocking chair groaned when she sat down. “Michelle, this is an old dusty town. All I know is that it’s famous for a shootout that took place between the Milson Gang and Sheriff Dunfill. I sure don't see the man you're looking for.”

  Michelle studied the small town. She looked across the street and examined the small wooden general store. A humble visitor center the size of a phone booth was connected to the right side of the general store. 'Dunfill's Jail' stood to the left of the general store. Other wooden buildings lined the street – a blacksmith, a restaurant, a souvenir shop – all tired and worn down and bleached pale by the sun’s rays. The hotel was the main building on the left side of the street, along with a small theater that advertised Wild West reenactments, a bookstore, a fake gun shop that sold nonworking replica firearms to the tourists who arrived in their minivans, and a dry saloon where thirsty tourists could get a cold root beer. At the end of town stood the original courthouse that had been built in 1840. The courthouse sat alone on a dry patch of land accompanied by the dead trunk of an old oak tree that had been used to hang guilty men. The courthouse was too dangerous to allow visitors in, but people sure liked to explore the outside, peer through its dusty windows, and imagine the old days. “Except for the courthouse, every other building in this town has either been renovated or torn down and rebuilt,” Michelle observed cannily. “What a tourist trap.”

  “Yes, indeed,” Momma Peach said, rocking back and forth and fanning herself with a tourism pamphlet she had found lying on the porch. She didn't want to throw a rope around Michelle too fast. Momma Peach scarcely knew why they had come to this dusty town, but she knew that Michelle would talk when she felt ready.

  “You can almost hear the voices of people who lived here all those years ago.”

  “That's right,” Momma Peach smiled.

  After a long silence in the scorching heat, Michelle turned and focused on Momma Peach. “Momma Peach, we were supposed to go to Los Angeles, but before we left I received a postcard from this town. I haven't heard from Ben since I received the postcard. I know I should be talking to you more, but I'm worried. Please forgive me.”

  Momma Peach continued to smile. “I trust you with my life and love you very much. When you said we had to make a stop in this little old desert town, I knew it was for a very important reason.” Momma Peach looked around at the dry town. “Your eyes have been troubled every day since we left Georgia, Michelle. I’m not going to run off and leave you. I might melt into the ground, but I ain't gonna run off and leave my baby, no sir and no ma’am.”

  The antique front door of the hotel swung open and a tall, skinny woman walked out of the hotel lobby. “Oh my, it sure is hot,” the woman said in a strong Yankee accent.

  Momma Peach chuckled to herself. Mrs. Chrissy Milkson, age fifty-nine, was no Georgia Peach. The woman was the ex-wife of a rich banker who was living like a queen off her divorce money. Dressed in a crisp white business suit and wearing a white hat over her short, neatly coiffed gray hair, she looked like a chicken missing her eggs. But to be fair, Momma Peach thought, Mrs. Milkson wasn't a bad woman – just trapped inside of her prison yelling to be set free. “This isn't Maine, Mrs. Milkson.”

  “No, it sure isn't,” Mrs. Milkson agreed with her lips pursed severely as she looked around town through a pair of pink sunglasses. Her long, pointed nose began to sweat and the sunglasses began to slip down, which made her appear comical rather than proper, but Momma Peach kept her chuckles to herself.

  Michelle regarded Mrs. Milkson. “Ma’am, I'm curious as to why you stopped here?”

  “Oh, silly me,” Mrs. Milkson stated in an annoyed voice, “I got lost and must have taken a wrong turn. Before I knew it, I was running low on gas. This town was the closest stop. I was on my way to Los Angeles to see my son and decided to do a little sightseeing along the way. I admit this isn't the first time I've gotten lost, either. I got lost in Pennsylvania and Colorado. My husband always complained about my sense of direction...my ex-husband, that is,” Mrs. Milkson corrected herself. “My ex-husband insisted that I would get lost going from my bedroom to the bathroom unless I had a map to direct me.”

  Momma Peach sensed bitterness in Mrs. Milkson's voice. “Divorce is sure hard,” she said and continued to rock back and forth as the heat just seemed to grow hotter and hotter.

  “At times divorce can be a blessing,” Mrs. Milkson replied with a sigh. She took one last look at the little town street, t
hen turned and walked back inside the hotel.

  “Last night that woman couldn't stop talking and now she's a woman of few words,” Momma Peach told Michelle and winked at her. “And look who is walking our way.”

  Michelle turned around and saw Sam McLeod walking across the street wearing a brown cowboy hat, a gray, long sleeve button-up shirt, well-worn blue jeans, and a pair of dusty boots. The man was rugged, hard and tough by reputation, and his clothes matched his character. “Ladies,” Sam said, climbing the front porch steps. Despite his gruff demeanor and his rough face, he smiled at Michelle and then tipped his hat at Momma Peach.

  Momma Peach smiled back. She took a liking to Sam’s thick gray mustaches. She liked the man's honest eyes and sun-worn face. Yes, sir, she thought, Sam McLeod was a good man. “How is the jail?” Momma Peach teased Sam. “Saw you walking out of it.”

  “Oh,” Sam said and winked at Momma Peach, his eyes crinkling with merriment, “had to check on some ugly outlaws in the shape of rats. Those varmints managed to escape the traps again.” Sam looked at Michelle. He saw her serious face and scratched the side of his face. “You don't look happy, Detective.”

  “Mr. McLeod, are you sure you never saw the man I described to you yesterday?” Michelle asked Sam. “I received a postcard from that man from this town. He was here.”

  Sam shook his head and leaned against the rickety porch railing. “Detective, I live in this town year-round. Most folk stop for a few hours, mosey around and drive on. Some folk might stay overnight, but hardly one or two when tourist season is open. And as you can see, there isn't a whole lot to this little spot in the road. We’re so small all the buildings run off electricity generated by solar power.”

  “I saw the solar panels up the roof and around the back,” Michelle said with a nod. “I didn’t realize the town didn’t use any outside electricity, though.”

  Sam nodded his head and continued. “My point, Detective, is that Gold Dust wouldn't even fit in one of the big mansions in Los Angeles. It's not hard to remember all the faces that come through here.”

  “The postcard was purchased at the souvenir shop across the street.”

  “My wife and me, we own and operate the souvenir shop, this hotel, the saloon, the restaurant, and jail, every establishment in this town.” Sam stretched his back, glancing out at the street. He was utterly unbothered by the heat. “Twenty years ago, I got tired of living in the big city and decided to invest my money in this town and give it back some life. I invested a large sum of money into renovations, repairs, supplies, solar energy, food, advertising, the works. My wife thought my mind had flipped on me. Can't say I blame her. But she eventually came around.” Sam stopped stretching and grinned broadly. “I don't make much money, but I do turn a little profit each year. Mostly I get eaten alive by the property tax. Anyway,” Sam continued, “my wife is in Los Angeles sitting with her sister for a while. But no one can drag me away from Gold Dust – I love it too much. I'm running solo here except for a few seasonal workers who drift into town each year, they live out back in their RV's, and no one but me and my wife run the souvenir shop. I would have seen your friend, Detective. Trust me on that.”

  “But Ben was here,” Michelle insisted, a pensive look on her face.

  “Baby,” Momma Peach said in a calm voice, “maybe someone else bought the postcard for Ben? Could be someone bought the postcard and sent it to you in Ben's name?”

  “I know Ben's handwriting,” Michelle told Momma Peach. “He was here in this town.”

  Sam looked at Momma Peach for help. Momma Peach continued to rock back and forth. Her baby was upset and if her baby was upset, she was upset. “Sam, I haven’t been in your souvenir shop yet. Does your shop have security cameras?”

  “No, ma’am,” Sam stated, “because by the time someone robbed me and the police arrived, the robber or robbers would be clear across the state line.” Sam discreetly lifted the hem of his gray shirt a little and revealed a Glock 19 in a black leather gun holster on his belt. “This is my security.”

  Momma Peach chuckled. “Good thing there ain't no more outlaws roaming around robbing banks.”

  Sam grinned. He liked Momma Peach. The woman was soothing, warm and kind – love radiated from her heart like the bright sunshine in the clear blue sky. “Yes, ma’am,” he said and lowered his shirt. “Detective, I'm sure sorry that I can't be helpful to you.”

  “That's okay,” Michelle told Sam. Without another word, she turned and walked back inside the hotel.

  “Is she okay?” Sam asked Momma Peach when the door had swung closed behind Michelle.

  “I think so. Ben Fleishman is the man we're looking for, Sam,” Momma Peach explained. “Ben Fleishman and Michelle were very close friends. This was before I met Michelle. Now, I don’t know the whole story, but I do know that Michelle stills cares about Ben Fleishman. I also fear that Michelle thinks the man might be dead.”

  Sam rubbed his mustache. “Momma Peach, I swear I haven't seen anyone matching the description Detective Chan gave me. And you can see with your own eyes that I've only got three visitors in town and I'm sure Mrs. Milkson will be checking out soon, only leaving you and Detective Chan hanging around in the dust. It's not hard to remember a face in this town.”

  “I know, Sam,” Momma Peach promised Sam. “I know you're telling the truth. But what I don’t know is why Ben Fleishman sent Michelle a postcard from this town.”

  “I tell you what I can do,” Sam said and snapped his finger, “I can go make a list of all the people that have been through here in the last two weeks and give the list to Detective Chan. I can even write down names and facial descriptions. I have a memory like an elephant. My wife complains that I remember her every little mistake, too. Not bad after being married for thirty-seven years.” Sam winked at Momma Peach.

  Momma Peach grinned. “Not bad at all, you old coot,” she laughed and then wiped sweat from her forehead. “I am surely gonna melt. Oh, give me the strength.”

  Sam smiled. “You better go inside and drink some water, Momma Peach. I'm guessing you and Detective Chan will be staying a second night?”

  “Oh, we sure will,” Momma Peach said as she stood up and brushed the dust from the rocking chair off her backside. “Well, I sure got all prettied up for nothing.”

  “I wouldn't say that,” Sam smiled at Momma Peach. “You look as pretty as a peach.”

  Momma Peach blushed, threw a hand at Sam with a chuckle, and then went inside the hotel. Sam smiled. He sure liked Momma Peach. What he didn't like was not remembering Ben Fleishman. He rubbed his mustache again, deep in thought, and then hurried across the street to his souvenir shop. But menacing eyes watched him the whole time.

  Momma Peach walked into the small but cozy – and wonderfully cool – lobby of the little hotel, which had a glossy hardwood floor and cream-colored wallpaper covered with photos of the old west. She spotted Michelle sitting in a blue and white armchair in front of a wooden bookshelf full of old western classics. A silent stone fireplace stood to the left side of the chair, empty and clean. Michelle was staring into the fireplace with worried eyes. “Michelle?” Momma Peach asked in a concerned voice.

  Michelle looked up and saw Momma Peach standing beside the chair. “Ben was here, Momma Peach. I know he was.”

  “I believe you,” Momma Peach promised Michelle. She began to speak again when she saw a lizard scurry across the hardwood floor. “Oh!” she screamed and without a moment's hesitation began trying to climb up onto Michelle’s chair. “Oh, give me strength!” Momma Peach cried out in a terrified voice as she scrambled over Michelle. The lizard hurried behind the bookshelf and vanished.

  “Momma Peach...I...can't breathe….” Michelle started to say, but she was interrupted when the chair tilted backward under their combined weight. Before Michelle could react, the chair spilled backward, tumbling Momma Peach onto her belly. She sighed and tapped the hardwood floor with her fingernails. “Are you okay, Momma Peach?
Michelle asked, in some pain herself.

  Momma Peach narrowed her eyes and continued clicking her nails on the hardwood floor. “I'm gonna call that lizard out at high noon,” Momma Peach told Michelle. “Oh, that lizard is going down…down under the sand. Oh yes.”

  Michelle stood up and righted the chair into its original position and then helped Momma Peach stand up. “Momma Peach, the desert is full of lizards, scorpions, spiders—”

  Momma Peach reached out her right pointer finger and touched Michelle's lips. “Hush,” she begged. “We don't want those awful critters getting ideas about us. Now, I’m going up to my room to fetch my pocketbook. You wait right here.”

  Momma Peach walked out of the lobby and down a short hallway lined with eight doors, four on each side of the hallway. The walls of the hallway were similar to the walls in the lobby, with more antique photographs. Momma Peach walked to room number 8, the last door down on the right. Just as she reached her door, Mrs. Milkson exited room number 7, the room across from Momma Peach.

  “Oh, hello again,” Mrs. Milkson said with surprise.

  Momma Peach glanced down at Mrs. Milkson's hands. Evidently the woman wasn't preparing to leave Gold Dust just yet, despite the ferocious heat. “I’m fetching my pocketbook and walking over to the souvenir shop. Now, where are you off to?” Momma Peach smiled.

  Mrs. Milkson looked down the short hallway, spotted Michelle leaning against the wooden front desk, and then stuffed her room key into a small blue purse over her shoulder. “Sightseeing, I suppose. I'm in no rush to leave.” Mrs. Milkson looked at Momma Peach. “My son isn't anxious for my arrival anyway. Good day,” she finished a little stiffly, and then walked away.

 
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