Authors: Tamar Myers
Tags: #Mystery, #Humour, #Detective and mystery stories, #Magdalena (Fictitious Character), #Cookery - Pennsylvania, #Fiction, #Mennonites, #Women Sleuths, #Mennonites - Fiction, #Magdalena (Fictitious Character) - Fiction, #Amatuer Sleuth, #Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Pa.), #Hotelkeepers - Fiction, #Crime Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Amish Recipes, #Yoder, #Hotelkeepers, #Pennsylvania, #Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Pa.) - Fiction, #recipes, #Pennsylvania - Fiction, #Amish Bed and Breakfast, #Cookbook, #Pennsylvania Dutch, #Cozy Mystery Series, #Amish Mystery, #Women detectives, #Amish Cookbook, #Amish Mystery Series, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Women Detectives - Pennsylvania - Fiction, #Cookery
No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk
An Amish Bed and Breakfast Mystery with Recipes
Copyright © Tamar Myers, 1996 All rights reserved
To the Source of all my inspiration
I would like to acknowledge Joseph Pittman, Senior Editor at Dutton Signet, for his faith in me, and his excellent advice. Thank you, Joe. And thank you, Nancy Yost of Lowenstein Associates Inc., for being such a super agent.
As always I would like to acknowledge my Number One Fan (of twenty-five years), Jeffrey Charles Myers. As for those two aging half-Siamese cats, Dori and Gray, who wander across my keyboard at inconvenient times, I have a question. Which one of you is responsible for that hair ball in my new laser printer?
Yost Yoder drowned in a tank of unpasteurized milk. He was naked. It happened on Valentine’s Day.
From the very beginning I suspected there might have been foul play involved. Amish men don’t often go swimming in milk, without their clothes—especially in February. Therefore, for my own sake, as well as yours, I faithfully recorded all the details as they happened, beginning with the phone call that woke me up while I was sleeping on the wrong side of my bed.
“PennDutch Inn,” I answered automatically.
“That depends. Who’s calling?”
“Magdalena, is that you?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Who wants to know?” There are few things I dislike more than rude callers who won’t identify themselves from the get-go.
“It is? I thought it was me.” Perhaps I was a little sarcastic, but last I heard there were over eight billion “me”s in the world. This one sounded a little like Barbra Streisand, but Babs never calls me before eight in the morning.
“Magdalena! I know that’s you. This is Annie Stutzman over in Farmersburg, Ohio. I’m your father’s cousin—I mean, I was.”
“Oh.” Papa was dead. He and Mama died in a car wreck twelve years ago. Every now and then one of their far-flung kin, whom I haven’t seen since before my parents’ deaths, calls or drops by. This always makes me uncomfortable.
“You are Magdalena, Amos Yoder’s daughter, aren’t you?”
“Well, even if I am, my parents’ will was airtight.”
“So it is you!”
“Rumors of my death may have been exaggerated,” I said. If it was good enough for Mark Twain, it would have to do.
“Are you done wasting my time now, Magdalena? This call is costing me a pretty penny.”
The woman was definitely my dead papa’s cousin. “It’s your dime, dear,” I said agreeably. “Talk as long as you want.”
The silence on the other end was just long enough to make me nervous.
“Spill it, Annie. There’s still a half hour until my alarm goes off.”
“Well, I never! And at a time like this, too!”
“The time here is six-thirty a.m., Annie. What time is it in Ohio?”
“Yost Yoder drowned this morning,” said Annie, getting right to the point. “Will you and Freni be coming out for the funeral?”
I racked my sleep-dulled brain for a clue as to who she was talking about. Yost Yoder is a common name among Amish, and those Mennonites of Amish origin. There were five Yost Yoders alone in the small town of Hernia, Pennsylvania, where I lived. There was no telling how many Yost Yoders had been living in a place as big as Farmersburg, Ohio. I would have to do a little fishing. “Didn’t Aunt Lydia’s youngest marry a boy by that name?”
Annie’s bark-like laugh did not travel well over the wires. “That was Noah Yoder. Yost was your second cousin twice removed, and my second cousin once removed. He was also Freni’s first cousin. Double, in fact.”
Believe it or not, this made perfect sense to me. My family tree is so intertwined that it is a veritable thicket. I am, in fact, my own cousin—well, if not, almost. The point is I can have a family reunion when there is no one else present but me, and still manage to have several generations in attendance. I knew exactly what Annie was talking about, even if I didn’t know who she was talking about.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, trying to find the right tone for a cousin I didn’t remember ever having. “Did it happen at the Y?”
“Goodness no!” Annie barked. “Yost was Amish, and a good Amish man wouldn’t be caught dead at the Y. He drowned in his milk.”
I digested that information. “Falling asleep in your porridge must be a terrible way to go, dear.”
“Magdalena! You are every bit as dense as your father was! Yost didn’t die in his breakfast bowl. He drowned in the milk holding tank on his farm.”
I decided it was best to hold my tongue until I had more information. A lot more.
“It happened this morning—sometime before five. Yost got up to do the milking at the usual time, and when he was late for breakfast, Sarah—that’s his wife—went to fetch him. That’s when she found him floating in the milk tank.”
“Oh my!” It is hard to respond creatively at a time like that.
“But that’s not all!”
“Do tell.” However, if there was cereal somehow involved in the story, I didn’t want to know before breakfast.
“He was naked, Magdalena!”
I made her repeat it.
“Naked, I tell you! As naked as the day he was born.”
That only temporarily threw me. I have long since given up on the idea that babies come into this world in cute little layette sets. That idea was put to rest once and for all last year when a girl named Heather had a baby right before my eyes, in my very own barn. At any rate, when it finally sank in that the man we were talking about was found floating in a tank of milk, and without any clothes, I was speechless. There is, after all, a first time for everything.
“The funeral is the day after tomorrow, at the farm, of course. Burial will be at the Amish cemetery off Hershberger Lane. That’s provided there isn’t an investigation,” said Annie matter-of-factly. “Will you and Freni be able to make it to the funeral, or just the burial?”
“Then tell Freni the funeral will start about nine. Since you’re just going to the burial, I suggest you be at the cemetery no later than noon.”
She hung up before I got a chance to ask her how to find Hershberger Lane. Not that I had decided to go, mind you. One needs at least a little time to sort things out, and at the rate things were moving up in Farmersburg, Yost might well be compost before I could properly catch my breath. The poor man had only been officially dead for an hour and a half, and already distant cousins were being called on to commit. Those Ohio folks had always been a little too fast for my blood.
On the other hand, I could always use a change of scenery. Hernia, especially in the winter, can get on one’s nerves if one doesn’t get out now and then. Of course, I could go only if I found someone to run the PennDutch Inn for me during my absence. Too bad that person couldn’t be Freni. Despite the fact that Freni Hostetler is the most cantankerous woman I have ever known—Grandma Yoder excepted—she is, in her own grudging way, quite competent.
But if anyone from Hernia ought to go to Ohio for the funeral, it was Freni Hostetler. She was, after all, a double first cousin to the deceased. Reluctantly, I decided to do the right thing and tell Freni that our cousin had died.
She took it calmly. Then fainted.
Mose, Freni’s husband, and I carried Freni to the Victorian sofa in the parlor. My sister Susannah merely watched.
Fortunately there was a spring loose in the sofa, so Freni didn’t stay out long. “Ach du lieber!” she said, sitting bolt upright. “Somebody get the biscuits before they burn!”
Freni is the cook at my inn. She’s seventy-five, or thereabouts. I don’t know exactly because the number she quotes keeps changing. Personally, I think Freni pads her age in a misguided attempt to gain more respect. No one over thirty could do all the things Freni does and still have enough energy left over to hate her daughter-in-law.
“The biscuits are fine,” I assured her. It was a white lie about to turn black. Already I could smell the smoke.
“Would you like a glass of water?” Mose asked his wife. He has never seen a TV show in his life, which proves that some behaviors are indeed instinctive.
“Better to throw the water on the biscuits,” Freni said. She made an attempt to stand, but Mose and I restrained her.
“Should I call Doc Shafor?” asked Susannah with surprising sensibleness. Doc Shafor is a veterinarian, not a people doctor. But anybody in Hernia with a lick of sense prefers him over Harold P. Smith III, our resident M.D. We are, after all, God-fearing, and Harold is idolatry personified. The M.D. in his case stands for Male Divinity—at least that’s what he seems to think.
“I’ll be fine,” said Freni, “but those biscuits won’t.” She made a move to stand up again, and this time we let her. Both Amish and Mennonites are pacifists, but Freni has been known to bite, and despite her advanced age, her teeth are all her own.
“I’ll call Doc,” said Susannah feebly. Clearly she was reluctant to let go of one of her few good ideas.
“You will not!” Freni said. By then she was on her feet and headed toward the kitchen door.
“Are you all right?” Mose and I chorused.
“What about the funeral?” I would need time to find a replacement for her.
“I’ll go, of course,” she said, without even looking over her shoulder.
There was no “of course” to it. Freni was Amish—albeit Church Amish—and she didn’t even ride in a car on a regular basis, much less own one. Freni and Mose relied on Sadie, their horse, and Sadie’s black buggy for all but their longest trips. Neither did the two of them own a telephone, or a credit card, for that matter. By and large when an emergency happened the Amish folk of Freni and Mose’s ilk relied on the good graces of their Mennonite and “English” neighbors. In this case, I was certain Freni was going to rely on me.
I am a Mennonite. I am one of those Mennonites whose ancestors were at one time Amish, from Switzerland—as opposed to those other Mennonites whose forebears were never Amish and originated in Holland or Germany. Nonetheless, in Freni’s eyes I am just one step away from being “English,” or of the world. The same cannot be said of my sister, Susannah. In her case, the apple not only fell far from the tree, but rolled out of the orchard as well.
Susannah Yoder Entwhistle is ten years my junior. She is everything I am not, and a good deal more. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister—but Susannah not only has no use for her heritage, but for her the term “family values” refers only to the financial assets our parents left us when they died.
How else can one explain the fact that Susannah married a Presbyterian, and then divorced him as well? Or that she dyes her hair, paints her nails, smokes cigarettes, and sometimes stays out all night with men? Somewhere along the line some very strong “English” genes had found their way into the family tree and mutated one of the limbs into a thorn branch. If I had to pick just three words to describe my sister, they would be “slothful,” “slovenly,” and “slutty.” I know, that is a terrible thing to say about one’s own flesh and blood, but even our parents must have seen it coming.
A year or so before they died, Mama and Papa wrote a new will which named me executrix and temporary custodian of their estate. The temporary aspect of the latter was discretionary on my part. In other words, I was to decide when it was that Susannah had matured enough to participate in the decision-making. That day has yet to come.
In the meantime I sold off all but two of the cows, and most of the chickens, and turned my parents’ dairy farm into a bed and breakfast (plus lunch and dinner) establishment. I’m not supposed to believe in luck, but it appeared to be with me nonetheless. Almost immediately the PennDutch Inn received a rave review from a yuppie reporter, and the rest is history. Since then I have jacked up my prices seven times, and my waiting list keeps getting longer. Even insisting that my guests clean their rooms and do their own laundry has only helped the flow of cash into my coffer. After all, you’d be surprised how much abuse people will put up with if they can view it as a cultural experience.
But back to the problem at hand. Someone would have to drive Freni Hostetler to Farmersburg, Ohio. And since Susannah didn’t have a car and I wasn’t about to lend her mine, it would have to be me.
“Who will run the inn?” I asked, thinking aloud. “I need someone capable who knows the ropes.”
Surprisingly, Susannah was miffed. “What am I, liver pudding?”
“You might ask Doc Shafor,” said Mose, heading me off. “He’s a good cook, and I can help him.”
That wasn’t a bad idea. Doc Shafor is in his eighties, but he deals with the English on a regular basis—something Mose is not at all comfortable doing. With Mose working quietly in the background, and Doc up front with the guests, the two old geezers just might be able to pull it off. Of course, I would instruct Susannah to help them, for all the good that would do.
“I’ll give him a call.”
Susannah perked up. “Good, so I’m going with you, right, Mags?”