Sunday, November 26, 2017

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An Excerpt from The Quiche and the Dead

In the other room, the front bell rang.
“You’d better get that.” Charlene jerked her thumb toward the office door. “Petronella is on her smoke break.”
Eager to escape, I bolted out of my chair. It skiddedbackward and hit the wall. I didn’t hang around to inspect for damage, hustling to the counter.
A blond in a smooth-fitting, green workout suit strode through the dining area. Her ponytail bobbed, her long, lean dancer’s muscles moving smoothly, and I had to crane my neck to look up at her. On her jacket, Heidi’s Health and Fitness was emblazoned over her heart. She halted in front of the register.
Joe looked up from his bar stool, grinning, but his smile seemed a little pained.
“Hi.” Smiling, I laid a hand on the counter. “You must be from the new gym. I’m Val.”
“I’m looking for the owner.” The corners of her lips quirked, quick, professional, cool.
“That would be me. Welcome to the street. I was about to go to your grand opening.”
“I’m Heidi Gladstone.”
We shook hands, my knuckles grinding within her grip. Dropping my hand to my side, I flexed my fingers, restoring the circulation. “Thanks for stopping by. I baked a welcome gift for your grand opening,” I said, taking the quiche from beneath the counter.
“No thanks.” She shook her head. “I don’t do dairy.”
“I used almond milk.”
“Is there any cheese in it?”
“Only goat cheese.”
She reared away as if I’d suggested cyanide. “I don’t do dairy.”
Joe’s smile broadened.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the calming scents of baking fruits and sugar. “What can I do for you?”
“You can change your sign.” She pointed at the neon above me. “Turn your frown upside down? It encourages emotional eating. Sugar kills, and though it does give a quick emotional high, the satisfaction is fleeting. My customers are trying to rebuild their health. It’s not good for them to constantly see that negative reinforcement.”
I laughed. She was kidding. Of course. “Right. Good one!”
She frowned, a faint line appearing between her blond brows. “I’m quite serious.”
“But . . . it’s my slogan. It’s on everything—my sign outside, the menus, my business cards.” This had to be a joke.
“Exactly,” she said. “It’s a problem. Do you have any sugar-free pies?”
“My potpies are sugar free. And so is this quiche.”
“I advocate a vegan diet. I couldn’t eat a potpie or a quiche. Do you sell any sugar-free fruit pies?”
“Um, no.” Sugar free? I’d heard of such things, and this was California, where people could be more thoughtful about eating. But a sugar-free pie? That was unnatural and possibly un-American. Besides, fruit was full of natural sugars.
“I’ll bring some recipes by tomorrow.” She whirled, her ponytail coming within inches of my face, and marched out of the store. The bell over the entrance tinkled in her wake.
Joe wedged himself free of the bar stool and waddled to the counter, arms extended. “I’ll take that breakfast pie. And a fork.”
Sighing, I handed him the quiche. “All right. You win. Do you want a plate to go with that?”
“No. Why get a plate dirty? I’ll eat it from the tin.”
“How did you know she wouldn’t take it?”
Joe winked. “She kicked off her grand opening this morning with a lecture on the evils of gluten, lactose, and anything that tastes good. I figured at least one of those things would be in that breakfast pie.”
I nodded. I had yet to meet a gluten-free piecrust that really sang. He rubbed his stomach. “And the spread was awful, all twigs and health food.”
“It is a gym.”
Petronella stomped toward me in her black motorcycle boots, her brows lowered in a slash, a pie in each hand. “Are you working the counter today or am I?”
“You are. Sorry. You can have it back.” I edged away.
“Because I need this job, and if you’ve decided you can do it for me—”
“Nope, you’re still chief pie wrangler. Have at it.” While I wasn’t exactly afraid of Petronella, both she and Charlene were protective of their duties. And since Charlene made the best piecrust in five counties, and Petronella could soothe the most ferocious customer, I’d learned to stay out of their way.
There was a choking sound, and we both snapped our heads toward the counter.
Joe’s fork clattered to the linoleum. Bowed over the quiche, he gripped his stomach.
I froze, brows squishing together, coldness piercing my core. Then Petronella and I raced around the counter, bumping into each other as we fought our way through the narrow passage beside the cash register.
Joe fell to the floor, writhing.
I fumbled in my apron pocket for my phone and called 9-1-1.
Petronella clasped one of Joe’s hands. “Joe! I’m here. Val’s calling an ambulance. What’s happening?”
Joe went limp, his eyes rolling back. He didn’t answer.

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Joanne Fluke

Laura Levine

Leslie Meier



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Leslie Meier

Lee Hollis

Barbara Ross


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