A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (4 page)

"Hey, slugabed!" Dyna leaned over the garbage can
into which she deposited
a cone of soggy coffee grounds, and looked up. "I knew the smell of coffee would pull you down here." Dyna looked unusually domestic, puttering behind the kitchen counter, mugs, plates and spoons already pulled out of their cab
inets and drawers. Maggie's gaze
searched hopefully among the crockery for somethi
ng edible to go with the coffee
but wasn't finding much. Then Dyna said the words she didn't want to hear.

"Hope you're not too hungry."

Maggie sighed. "No. Coffee's fine."

"We'll have to get to the store. I just picked up a few things in a hurry yesterday. How would you like your toast? Plain, or unadorned?"

Maggie grinned. "Can't beat unadorned. Here, let me take care of it. I think your tea water is ready." The microwave pinged and Dyna pulled out a glass measuring cup of hot water. She poured it over a greenish tea bag sitting in one of the mugs.

Maggie transferred two slices of toast from the toaster to plates, then poured a mug of coffee for herself. She moved to the other side of the counter and climbed onto one of the stools.

"By the way," Dyna
said as she took the
second stool, "I forgot to tell you. I might get a job."

Maggie had just taken a bite of toast
,
and she stopped in mid-chew to keep from choking. Dyna hadn't worked since her pet shop job last spring. Her inability to keep her thoughts to herself while waiting on a customer swathed in animal furs had helped push her into the ranks of the unemployed. Her previous employment had been in a paranormal bookshop whose otherworldly connections could not keep it from going bankrupt. And before that, well, the trouble was Dyna didn't
have
to work. A generous trust fund set up by her grandmother kept her in herbal teas, and she only worked to please her industrious parents, and, possibly, to fill her time.

"What kind of a job?" Maggie asked, having safely swallowed.

"Well, there's this health food store back in Baltimore, near the Inner Harbor. They advertised for help and I went over. Pretty neat place. I think I'd like it there. The store has a nice feel, a good, you know, aura. But I didn't give them a final answer 'cause I wanted to come up here, get you settled in and all"

Ah, health food. Maggie had noticed Dyna's interest in healthy eating gradually increase to the point where now she was almost totally vegetarian, and avoided things like caffeine and alcohol. The pizza she had picked up for last night's dinner had been meatless.

"That sounds like a great situation for you. I hope you don't lose it, though, because of me."

"Oh, no. I'm pretty sure they'll hold it for me. I just haven't, you know, made up my mind totally." She pulled her tea bag out of her mug, then dropped it into the sink.

Maggie stirred her coffee, her mind picturing Dyna ringing up sales of soy milk and salt-free sweet potato chips. It felt right to her. At least, she thought, Dyna wouldn't be at risk of getting into arguments with the clientele. Presumably any opinions she offered there would just be preaching to the choir.

"So, you talk to Rob lately?" Dyna asked.

"Last night. He's pretty busy, getting
the tennis camp started up
. They got a good turn-out."

"Guess your Mom's not too sad he's down in Florida, huh?"

Maggie sighed. "Probably not. You know, she's not saying much, but she's obviously cool to the whole idea of Rob and me as a couple."

"So she's never said exactly what she has against him?"

"No, but I can guess. Probably something like he's not from Baltimore
,
and she hasn't known his family since the day he was born, and all his neighbors, teachers, et cetera, et cetera."

"But that's so weird. I mean, nobody knows anybody that well anymore. People move around so much."

"My folks don't. And none of their friends do, except to the beach for two weeks in the summer. The same beach, and usually the same beach house." Maggie took
another bite of her unadorned
toast. "When Mom got engaged to Dad, they had known each other since high school and their fathers had even worked together. But when they went to the church office to arrange the wedding, the secretary there - an old woman who knew Mom's family and had been running the office since before typewriters were invented probably - looked at her and said, `You couldn't find someone from your own parish?'"

"Wow. That verges on in-breeding."

Maggie la
ughed. "Well, that's where her opinions are
coming from, so

I'm not expecting miracles."

"Sounds like she'd even be suspicious of a miracle, considering, you know, it would have to come from outside the neighborhood."

"Speaking of miracles, I wonder how Jack Warwick is doing."

Dyna looked up. "Yeah, me too. He didn't look too good when they took him away. And the hospital is at least fifteen miles away. It's a good one, though." Dyna looked thoughtful for a while, then a tiny smile appeared. "It's funny, you know, what some people think to do when a crisis like that comes up." She crossed her legs
comfortably, then continued
.

"I was with Annette Raison just before it happened. She was in charge of all the food last night - she usual
ly is - and things were going okay
so we got to talking. Well, when Warwick got sick and staggered back against the food table, you know what Annette did? Not rush over to him like most people did. She ran to the punch bowl and held onto it for dear life so it wouldn't be knocked off."

Maggie smiled. "We all have our priorities, I guess. T
here are probably some good EMT
s who would make terrible food handlers." And I would be awful at both, she admitted to herself. She vowed privately to sign up for a CPR course the next time she saw one advertised back home. She didn't like that feeling of helplessness she had last night as others stepped in to aid Jack. There wouldn't always be someone else around to take over. What if an emergency happened in her classroom?

She also knew she should work at upgrading her cooking from the hurry-up, add-water-and-heat level. And she would. Someday.

Maggie finished her not-so-hearty breakfast as Dyna talked about the various slopes on Big Bear and which ones were best to start out on, then trotted up the stairs to get herself ready for her first full day in Cedar Hill.

 

<><><>

 

Maggie followed Dyna out of the small supermarket on Main Street, carrying half of their fully-packed brown grocery bags. Maggie rested hers on the hood of the blue Ford while Dyna pulled off one of her th
ick gloves to click the remote control button that opened the
trunk.

"I still can't believe they don't carry tofu," Dyna complained. "I mean, it's practically a staple nowadays, isn't it?"

Not in my refrigerator, Maggie thought, but murmured something noncommittal. She hoisted her bags over to the open trunk and dropped them in. "At least they did have Chunky Monkey," she said, looking with satisfaction at the half gallon of her favorite decadent ice cream nestled near the top of one of her bags. Break-time from her writing, she thought, was going to be delicious.

"Well, hellooo!"

Maggie looked up over the trunk lid and saw a forty-ish, apple-shaped woman in snug pants and waist-length red jacket coming down the street towards them. Her small, dark eyes - like apple seeds, Maggie thought - darted around alertly, apparently unwilling to miss a thing as she closed in on the new girl in town.

"That's Annette, the punch bowl savior I told you about," Dyna muttered.

Maggie nodded, stifling a grin
, and closed the trunk. She stepped up onto the curb with Dyna.

"I don't suppose you girls have heard." Annette said, barely acknowledging Dyna's introduction to Maggie, her voice solemn but her face lit with excitement.

"About what?" Dyna asked.

She kept them waiting as she drew a dramatic breath. "Jack Warwick is dead. And not from a heart attack. They suspect poison!"

"Oh my gosh!" Dyna cried.

Maggie
winced and
sa
id, "Oh, no," softly
.

Annette folded her hands over her middle, a satisfied look on her face, clearly savoring the moment.

"The sheriff and his men collected all the leftover food from the meeting late last night," she said. "We had stored it in the school refrigerator. There was quite a bit left, of course, since no one stayed around much after the ambulance left. But I told him," she said, jutting her chin up, "it couldn't possibly be from any of our food. After all, I made most of it myself!"

"Lots of people ate the same things last night. Nobody else got sick, did they?" Maggie asked.

"Of course not. Which only goes to show," Annette said, nodding her head firmly. "Well, I'll let you girls be on your way," Annette had begun glancing around, obviously searching for someone else to spread the dreadful, exciting news to. "Terrible thing to happen in our town," she said as she turned away towards the supermarket, certain to find new quarry there. "Poor Mrs. Warwick" she said, and added, almost as an after thought. "And poor Elizabeth."

Elizabeth? Why would Annette feel sympathy for the young book store manager? Maggie barely had time to register that thought when Annette turned back and called, "Oh, by the way. The sheriff will probably be calling on you sometime today. He's questioning everyone who was at the meeting last night."

At this Maggie groaned. She slumped against the car and looked at Dyna.

"What?" Dyna asked, her face a picture of innocence. "Don't blame me. I didn't do it."

 

<><><>

 

The sheriff didn't waste any time. As they drove up the winding road and approached the cabin
,
Maggie saw his car pulling into their driveway. Dyna pulled in next to him and jumped out as soon as she had braked and turned off the ignition. She called excitedly to the uniformed man who had climbed out of his own car.

"Hey, John! How you doing? You're the sheriff now? I can't believe it! Last I saw you, you were still a deputy."

The tall, gangly sheriff turned to Dyna and looked at her with an easy smile. "Last I saw you, you were going to witching school. Got your diploma yet?" Maggie's lips twitched as she remembered Dyna's tale about her one-time dreams of learning "good" witchcraft, and about the school that actually taught it somewhere in New Hampshire.

Dyna shrugged and sighed. "No, that just didn't work out. One of life's disappointments, you know?"

Sheriff John nodded
solemnly, but Maggie thought she saw a hint of a smile in his eyes. He turned to Maggie.
"You must be Miss Olenski. John Severin." He held out a large hand, and Maggie shook it, feeling the strength and confidence in it. She invited him to come into the cabin, and he helped them carry in their bags, crunching over the packed snow with large, black boots. Dyna unpacked and stowed away the groceries while Maggie fixed a fresh pot of coffee and pulled out mugs.

"So you're investigating Jack Warwick's death, huh?" Dyna asked John as she joined them in the living room with her mug of herbal tea. She sat on the couch, curling her feet under her, a look of wonder on her face. She was still apparently getting used to his new status. "Did you find something in the food?"

"No, not yet. But it'll take a while for all the testing. My guess is that what killed Jack Warwick was in his coffee cup, and only in his cup." John took a long, trusting drink from his own cup, then asked if either of them had seen or heard anything suspicious last night.

Maggie thought back carefully, remembering various small, interesting things she had seen, but nothing she would actually call suspicious. "When Jack got sick, I had my back to him, talking to the mayor's wife, Mrs. Larson. I'm afraid I wasn't aware of anything to do with Jack until someone screamed."

"Me neither," Dyna agreed. "I was talking - no, listening - to Annette Raison. You know how she goes on sometimes. But she always seems to know everything that's happening. You should talk to her."

"We already have," John said, a rueful smile on his face. "It seems she was too busy handling the refreshments and talking to you to see anything out of line." He sighed. "That's probably about what we'll hear from everyone there, but we still have to check it out. Nobody notices something that they're not expecting to see, it seems. This may be a long investigation."

Dyna's eyes lit up. "Maybe Maggie can help you."

"Dyna!"

"But you're good at that," Dyna protested, ignoring the
dark
look Maggie was sending her. "We pretty much met last summer over a dead body, which is a long story I'll have to tell you sometime. But it's mainly because of Maggie that the murderer's in prison now," she explained to John. "I'll bet she would be a big help."

John took a deep breath, his eyebrows wriggling in consternation. Maggie hurried to end his uncomfortable struggle between duty and tact. "Don't worry. I came up here to work on a math book, not become Maggie Olenski, Private Investigator."

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