A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (2 page)

"I thought when they said cabin they meant cabin," she said aloud, realizing she had pictured a tiny, log structure. The actual "cabin" was an A-frame house, wood-shingled, two-storied, and much larger than Maggie expected. A blue Ford rental car with a ski-rack on its roof sat in the driveway next to a small, detached garage. Dyna had already arrived. Maggie pulled her Chevy next to the Ford and turned off her ignition. The side door leading to a small landing immediately flew open.

"Maggie! You're here!"

Dyna bounced down the few stairs, her thick, multi-shaded blond hair and long earrings flyin
g out over her bulky sweatshirt
, and hugged her friend as she climbed o
ut of the car. "Was your trip okay
? What do you think - isn't it great here? We have to go skiing - the weather's perfect. You did bring your ski clothes, didn't you?"

"Yes, Dyna," Maggie laughed, returning her friend's enthusiastic hug. "Yes to everything. Now, may I please bring my things into the house?" Maggie pulled open the back door of her car. Two bulging satchels tumbled out.

"I'll take these," Dyna said, grabbing them and jumping out of the way. Maggie reached in for her most precious cargo, the well-padded laptop computer. Taking one more box, she followed a still-chattering Dyna up the steps of the cabin.

"This is it," Dyna said, holding the side door open and waving Maggie through. She stepped into a small foyer that led immediately to a compact kitchen. Almond-colored appliances glistened in the sun that beamed through an octagonal side window. A raised counter and three stools divided the kitchen from the living area. Maggie headed for a round oak table beyond the counter and gently set her laptop on it.

She looked around at the rest of the living area which contained a sofa and chairs upholstered in amber and blue tweed. A stone-faced fireplace sat opposite the sofa, angled in the far corner. Next to it a sliding glass door led to a redwood deck.

"This is terrific!" she said.

Dyna beamed.
"I knew you'd like it.
Oh, by the way,” she said pointing to the phone next to the sofa, “you’ll use that
land-line phone
a lot up here because the cell phone service isn’t reliable. Something about the mountains, I think.
C'mon up and see the bedrooms," she said, and led Maggie up a winding, wrought-iron staircase. The master bedroom had a queen-sized bed, covered with a puffy yellow comforter, and its own bathroom. The smaller room held twin beds and pine furniture. A second bathroom opened off the hall.

"You take the bigger room, of course, 'cause you'll be here most of the time. The smaller one's always been mine anyway, and it has my initials scratched into the dresser to prove it. Hah! Do I remember Mom's reaction when she saw that! Are you going to leave your computer downstairs?"

Maggie nodded. "I loved that view of the woods through the sliding door, and I'd have more space to spread out my mess."

Dyna raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Little Miss Organized making a mess? I wonder what you call a mess - two papers not perfectly lined up with each other?"

"You'll see," Maggie said, laughing, "when you have to call for a dumpster to clear me out of here. Well, let's get the rest of my stuff."

When they brought in the final load and had kicked the door closed behind them, Dyna plopped onto the sofa. "What do you think about going into town tonight after dinner? Are you tired? There's a Town Meeting scheduled at the school. If we went you could meet just about everyone there in one swoop."

Maggie thought for a minute. She was tired from the long drive, but at the same time she was keyed up, excited to be here. She knew she couldn't just sit down and do nothing. Besides, a town meeting sounded so perfectly New-England-small-town. Her mind conjured up a gathering of several generations - grey-haired codgers, middle-aged and younger couples, some holding sleeping babies on their knees - sipping coffee and discussing who would organize the Fourth of July picnic and should they cut down or try to save the old oak in front of the school.

"Would I need to dress up?" Maggie asked.

"No," Dyna flapped a hand. "I'll go like this."

Maggie looked at Dyna's Baltimore Ravens swea
tshirt and faded blue jeans. "Okay
, just let me hop in the shower."

"Wait, I'd better turn on the hot water first." Dyna went to the door opposite the side door in the foyer. "We turn the water heater off when the cabin's going to be empty," she explained. "Saves electricity. C'mon, I'll show you the whole thing, in case you need it when I'm gone."

Maggie peered over her shoulder as Dyna opened the metal cover of the circuit breaker box inside the utility closet. "This is the switch for the hot water," Dyna said, then pointed to the inside of the cover. "See, they're all marked on this diagram. And this is the main switch for the whole cabin. But you only need to know that if you want to re-wire switches or something. I don't suppose you're going to do that, are you?"

Maggie laughed. "No, I left my tools back in Baltimore."

Dyna closed the breaker box. "The water gets hot pretty quick. I picked up a frozen pizza. Should I put it in now? You'd have thirty minutes."

"That's all I need," Maggie called as she ran up the stairs and began pulling things out of her bags. By the time she stepped out of the shower she could smell the pizza baking, and her stomach gave a healthy growl. She dressed quickly, then struggled with her short, brown hair - always a frustrating experience as the curls stubbornly resisted nearly every direction she tried to lead them - until Dyna called up the stairs that the pizza was ready.

Maggie looked at her reflection in the mirror and shrugged. "That'll do. I'm hungry
!
" She put down her brush, stepped over a pile of clothing, and trotted down to dinner.

 

<><><>

 

Night had fallen, which in New Hampshire in January meant the temperature had already dropped another ten to fifteen degrees by the time Maggie followed Dyna down the cabin's steps and climbed into the Ford parked in the driveway.

"Tonight I'll pull it into the garage," Dyna said. "Dad and Mom had the garage built after they bought the cabin. Sometimes it's a pain having to walk outside to get to it, but they couldn't attach it, and it's better than nothing. There's only room for one car, but I won't be here that long anyway." They had bundled up in parkas, boots and gloves, and, hearing the wind whistling through the trees, grabbed hats on their way out the door. As Dyna backed out onto the driveway she said, "We could actually walk to town. It's close enough if you go through the woods," then added matter-of-factly, "except we might freeze to death on the way back."

Maggie watched eagerly as they drove down Hadley to the turn, then rode along Main Street. Street lights glimmered on the snow, and store fronts glowed, lit softly to show their wares. Dyna explained that since it was a Sunday night most shops were closed. Probably the best time for everyone to gather for a meeting, Maggie thought, images of what she considered a typical small town assembly still floating through her head. This was such a pretty, peaceful town. The perfect retreat for working on her project.

As Dyna turned down Washington Street to get to the school, however, all Maggie's cozy
It's a Wonderful Life
scenes splintered, like a windshield hit with an icy snowball.

"Down with Warwick!" an angry group of people shouted, tramping in a circle and jabbing hand-drawn signs into the air overhead with their thick-mittened hands.

"Keep Warwick out of Cedar Hill!" one burly man demanded, his glare aimed furiously at Maggie and Dyna as they drew near.

"Stop the Rape of Cedar Hill." a housewife screamed, leaning menacingly in their direction.

A small boy aimed a snowball in their direction which narrowly missed, and Maggie's eyes widened in surprise. What had she come to?

CHAPTER 2

 

"
W
hat's going on?" Maggie asked. She peered at the group milling about menacingly in front of the school.

"I don't know," admitted Dyna. She pulled the car into an empty space in the parking lot, and some of the marchers glared in their direction. "But whatever it is, I'll bet Regina White is at the head of it." Dyna seemed unconcerned, so, taking her cue from her, Maggie climbed out of the car and followed her toward the building. "Uh-huh," Dyna said over her shoulder, "I was right. There she is. Hi, Regina!"

A thin, wiry woman dressed in a navy pea jacket and knitted cap from which a few wispy grey hairs escaped, looked over and squinted at them. Maggie saw that her face was lined, but full of energy and set with determination. She appeared to recognize Dyna and gave her a curt nod before turning back briskly to the matters at hand. And the matter at hand seemed to be to keep her small, but loud group shouting and picketing. Whoever Warwick was, Maggie thought, he obviously wasn't on the A-list with this group.

An icy wind suddenly blew around the corner of the school. Maggie pulled her jacket collar closer and hurried with Dyna past the picketers. She helped Dyna tug open the heavy door to be greeted by welcoming warmth and an enticing aroma of coffee. They bustled in, dropped their jackets on a row of empty chairs next to the wall, and followed others gravitating to the refreshments table. Perhaps two dozen people milled about in this combination gymnasium-meeting room, some beginning to take seats in the rows of chairs set up before a table and a podium. Two young women busily worked at laying out cookies and paper plates at opposite ends of the food table.

"Elizabeth! How you doing?" Dyna called out to one of them.

A slim, small-boned woman of about 25, with delicate features and a long, soft cloud of light brown hair looked up and smiled at Dyna.

"Liz, this is my friend Maggie Olenski. She's staying at our cabin for a few weeks. Maggie, Elizabeth Kerr runs the book shop on Main Street."

Elizabeth and Maggie smiled at each other and before Maggie had a chance to say anything Dyna asked, "What's going on out there?"

A tiny frown formed on Elizabeth's face. "The meeting tonight is to discuss changing the zoning law so that Jack Warwick can buy Big Bear resort and turn it into a mining operation, for granite. Some people are opposed to it, and Regina and her group are very opposed for environmental reasons."

Dyna's jaw dropped
. "Sell Big Bear for mining? But it's such a great ski mountain." Maggie looked at Dyna's shocked face and feared for a moment she might run back out to join the picketers.

"Karin, does Alexander want to sell?" Dyna called to the other woman behind the table, making a hasty introduction to Maggie. Attractive, and about thirty, with sleek, chin-length, dark brown hair and large brown eyes, Karin Dekens was married to one of the major owners, Dyna expl
ained,
of Big Bear. Karin rearranged a couple of finger sandwiches before answering Dyna's question, then nodded. Maggie noticed her face had a studied neutrality.

"Alexander feels it would be a good idea to sell. The ski resort has been struggling financially for the last few years, and Alexander thinks this is our best option."

"But Paul loves the place. What about him? Does he want to sell?"

Karin looked at Dyna with her large eyes and said cool
l
y, "Paul doesn't agree with Alexander."

At that point a tall, ruddy-cheeked man whose blue ski sweater stretched over a paunchy middle, came up beside Karin and reached past her for a sandwich.

"These are for after the meeting," Karin said.

"But dear one, you know I'm a growing boy." Alexander Dekens winked, patted his stomach, and grinned at Dyna. He acknowledged her introduction to Maggie, reached for a cookie, and sauntered away with another wink. Maggie noticed that Karin hadn't smiled at her husband's humor but had kept her eyes continuously on her work.

A tawny-haired young woman came up slowly and carefully to the table. She wore cream-colored stretch pants with a matching cream-colored cable knit sweater, and high-heeled, rust-colored suede boots. The effect with her flowing hair was stunning, which her perfect figure didn't hurt. She spoke to Karin in a southern accent, which surprised Maggie, who mentally tried to place it. Somewhere south of Maryland, was all she could determine.

"Karin, I'm just parched. Could I please have a glass of punch?" She seemed to be
having trouble with her balance
and reached a beautifully manicured hand out to the table to steady herself.

"Sure Leslie." Karin introduced Leslie Warwick to Dyna and Maggie as she poured out the cold punch for her. Maggie realized that Elizabeth had suddenly disappeared.

"You picked quite a night to come meet the townspeople," Leslie said to Maggie. "I'd stay near the door to duck out fast if things start flyin'." She laughed, and walked unsteadily towards a chair in the front row. Maggie didn't think her heels were high enough to be the cause of her wobbling.

"Leslie's Jack Warwick's wife, of course," Karin explained after she had left. "Poor thing," she added, looking thoughtfully over Maggie's shoulder. "Excuse me, I'd better get some more ice for the punch."

Maggie followed Dyna over to two chairs near the center and sat down. There was some scuffling as others found seats, and just before the meeting was called to order Maggie noticed that Regina White and the picketers had quietly come in and seated themselves as a group in the back.

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