A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (7 page)

She stepped out onto the sidewalk of Main Street and shook her mind back to the real world. Time to get down to business. She remembered Dyna's directions to the shop she thought was most likely to carry a power adapter and turned left, picking up her pace, not sure how far to go but taking the opportunity to check out a little more of the Cedar Hill shopping area close up. With the predominance of huge malls back home, where you left your car in a multi-level garage, Maggie was still getting used to the novelty of stores that people could actually walk to, or park in front of.

A horn beeped, and she turned to see the mayor's wife, Susan Larson, drive by, waving. She waved back, smiling, and found herself thinking how really nice this little town was, in so many ways. If only people didn't happen to get murdered
t
here.

Maggie looked into the windows of a gift shop as she walked by, passed a small bakery, a dress shop and a pharmacy, and eventually came to the office supply store Dyna had directed her to. A large CLOSED sign hung at the door. Her stomach dropped, and she stood frozen to the spot, staring at the dreadful sign. Now what?

Maggie could have kicked herself for not calling first, for not having at least made a back-up plan. She looked around helplessly, and her gaze fell on the shop across the street, "The Book Nook
,"
quite possibly the book shop Elizabeth managed.

Maggie remembered Paul Dekens' request that they check on Elizabeth, and Dyna's offer to stop in on her yesterday, both forgotten in their
après
ski lethargy. Why not do it now, she thought, and possibly get directions to another computer place at the same time? She climbed over the snow bank at the side of the road and crossed the street.

The bell over the door tinkled lightly when Maggie walked in, and Elizabeth looked up from the rear of the small shop and smiled. She stood at a table of books, clipboard in hand, wearing a soft looking peach-colored sweater and brown skirt that complimented her coloring. Her light brown hair curled gently onto her shoulders.

"You're Dyna's friend
,
Maggie, aren't you? Welcome to my little shop," she said.

"Thank you. I was so glad to see you open this early," Maggie said. S
he loosened her jacket and shivered
as a few snowflakes slid from her collar onto her neck.

"It's a beautiful day to be out if you like snow,
” Elizabeth said,

but still cold. Come over here and warm up with some tea." Elizabeth indicated a small table in the corner with two chairs and a large tea pot, evidently kept there for the comfort of her customers. She poured out a delicious-smelling spicy tea for Maggie, then a cup for herself, and sat down with her in the second chair.

"Business is slow at this time of day, but I've been doing inventory. I'm glad to take a break."

Maggie looked around. It was a small shop, but it made the most of its space. Besides the welcoming aroma of the tea, there were quaint touches here and there, such as a stuffed Peter Rabbit sitting on top of the children's books section, and a bowl of wooden vegetables tucked in the middle of the cookbooks. A black cat peeked out from the shelves of the mysteries. Maggie had to look twice to be sure it wasn't real.

"Dyna told me about the book you're writing. How is it going?"

Maggie winced. "It's not, I'm afraid. I seem to be setting myself up for ways to postpone starting on it." She told Elizabeth about her laptop's missing power adapter and her futile search so far to find another one.

"If you keep going up Main Street and take a right onto Hudson, you'll find O'Connell's. If they don't have what you need, I'm sure they can help you to get it."

"Terrific!
Once I finally begin working, it shouldn't take me too long to put the manuscript together. It's mostly a matter of putting all my notes and ideas into plain English."

"When it's published I'll display your book prominently in the window."

"I'd like that. Perhaps with a compass or calculator next to it?"

"How about notepaper and pencils?"

"That would be even better. Maybe the book should come with them, to encourage working out the puzzles."

Elizabeth smiled. "I'll be eager to try them."

Maggie looked at her. "You know, you're the first woman I've talked to in a long while who hasn't claimed to be just terrible at math."

Elizabeth laughed. "I guess that's going out of fashion, finally. Even the talking Barbie dolls aren't allowed to say they hate math. I never got higher than high school trig, but I always enjoyed math, liked the challenge of it." She looked pensive for a moment. "Maybe I would have majored in it, or at least minored, if I'd gone to college."

Maggie sensed a tone of wistfulness. "Something kept you from going?"

"Well, yes." Elizabeth smiled. "My mother wasn't well by the time I finished high school. She had raised me alone after my dad died when I was three, and she had a bad heart. I couldn't see letting her keep on working so that I could go on to school, and nobody was offering me full scholarships, so I got a job, and eventually became manager of this store. There are living quarters attached, and it was a good arrangement, especially as Mom got worse. I could run over whenever she needed me. She died last June."

"I'm so sorry."

Elizabeth smiled her thanks, but her eyes looked tired and sad. It would be a while yet, Maggie saw, before she was over her mother's death.

"I love the way you've fixed up
the shop," Maggie said
to change
to a more cheerful
su
bject
.

"Thanks. I try to switch
the stuffed toys and things every once in a while. It gives the place a new look, and I notice the regular customers glance around a bit more, move to sections other than their usual ones."

"That cat tucked among the mysteries caught me off guard. I thought he was going to leap out any second."

Elizabeth laughed. "Some day I plan to get a real one. Won't that wake up the mystery readers, when old Blackie there winks at them?"

"Speaking of mysteries, it sounds like Sheriff Severin will have quite a time finding Jack Warwick's murderer."

Elizabeth's face suddenly flushed, and she tried to hide it by taking a sip of tea, managing only to look uncomfortable. This surprised Maggie until she remembered Annette's cryptic comment in front of the sup
ermarket. "Poor Mrs. Warwick
and
poor Elizabeth", she had said. Maggie regretted bringing the subject up. There was something about Elizabeth that made one feel very protective.

The phone rang, and Elizabeth jumped up, clearly grateful for the interruption. "
Hello? Oh, Paul, hi. No, it's okay
."

Maggie got up and wandered over to the children's book section to browse. With the size of the shop, though, she couldn't help overhearing most of what Elizabeth said. Paul was obviously asking about her well-being, and Elizabeth
responded
with distantly polite gratitude, as she might have answered the casual inquiries of an acquaintance on the street. Maggie hadn't seen much distance in Paul's concern when he talked about Elizabeth to her and Dyna in the ski lodge, or when he had watched Elizabeth at the town meeting.

"Dinner? Tonight?" Maggie heard her say. "Thank you,  Paul, but I'm really pretty busy doing inventory now. I'll probably be working late for several nights."

Elizabeth apparently didn't return the strong feelings Paul clearly had for her. She probably wasn't even aware of them, as the neutrally friendly tone of voice implied. That must cut Paul worse than outright dislike and rejection, Maggie thought. 

Elizabeth hung up, and Maggie turned back to her. "Thanks so much for the tea. I won't hold you up from your work any more. I should get back to mine."

"Stop in any time," Elizabeth smiled, picking up her clipboard and pencil. She seemed to mean that sincerely.

"I will." Maggie realized she still held the slim book she had pulled off the shelf and leaned back to return it to its slot. A small spider ran out of the space and onto her hand.

"Oh!" Maggie cried, startled. She shook the spider off and was ready to step on it when Elizabeth stopped her.

"Wait, let me." Elizabeth scooped the insect onto her clipboard and carried it over to a tall potted fern near the window. "It

s too cold to put him outside," she explained without a trace of e
mbarrassment. "Maybe he'll be okay
there until Spring."

Maggie watched, and as she did something clicked in her memory bank, something that had been stored there a long time ago.

"Betsy?" she said.

Elizabeth turned and looked at her. "Nobody's called me that for a long time," she said.

"Since summer camp?" Maggie asked.

Elizabeth stared at her. "You're not
that
Maggie, are you?

Maggie grinned. "I think I am. Camp, oh, what was it called, Camp Kitty...."

"Kittiwake!"

"Yes, that's it!"

"Girl Scout camp, down in southern Maryland."

"Right. We were in sixth grade, I think."

"The summer before sixth," Elizabeth corrected. "And we shared a cabin."

"With two other girls, Jennifer and...."

"Stacey." Elizabeth's eyes were dancing.

"And Stacey found a Daddy Longlegs on her bed once and went berserk and would have squashed it, but you rescued it and put it safely outside."

"Did I?" Elizabeth asked, smiling. "I don't remember that, but I guess I might have."

Maggie smiled back. "I wouldn't have recognized you except for the spider. You've grown up."

"As have you. That was a good two weeks, that I do remember."

"Did you stay in Girl Scouts?" Maggie asked.

"A couple more years. Then we moved, and my mother started getting sick, and...." Elizabeth shrugged. "What about you?"

Maggie would have answered, but a man and woman walked in the store, the bell tinkling, and the man immediately called to Elizabeth for help in locating a particular book. Elizabeth excused herself, saying, "We'll have to talk."

"Yes," Maggie agreed, and as she zipped up her jacket, she watched Elizabeth become once more the conscientious book professional. She looked up, though, as Maggie opened the door and waved farewell, and Maggie caught a glimpse of the eleven year-old she remembered in her smile.

Maggie continued up Main Street three more blocks, fragments of the Camp Kittiwake
camp
song running through her head, then turned onto Hudson, as Elizabeth had directed. Her thoughts returned to the urgency of finding the power adapter she needed
,
and she scanned the block anxiously for O'Connell's. It was there, halfway down the block, open for business, and, miraculously, as she quickly found out, had what she needed. She was so relieved she could have kissed the clerk who handed the power adapter to her. Instead, she gave him her credit card, and was soon happily retracing her steps down Main.

As she passed the bookshop, she glanced in. Elizabeth was busy with another customer, but Maggie tapped on the window and held up her package triumphantly. Elizabeth grinned and did a congratulatory thumbs-up, the elderly woman in front of the counter looking up with blinking, bewildered eyes.

Maggie continued on down the street to the footpath and re-entered her snowy wonderland, thinking, as she
walked along, about how fun
it was to run into someone she had known, if only briefly, in childhood. Elizabeth - rather, Betsy - must had made an impression on the eleven year-old Maggie, because Maggie found she had many clear memories of her, mixed in with the busy-ness of the camp activities. They would really have to get together sometime soon and have a good laugh over it all.

 

<><><>

 

When Maggie reached the cabin it was gloriously empty. Dyna, she assumed, was happily swooshing down the slopes. Maggie immediately hooked up her adapter, turned on her laptop, and spread her notes out on the round table in the living room once more. Before too long she had left Elizabeth and Cedar Hill behind and had entered a world of her own ma
king, one that consisted
of
words and
numbers, and in which she was supremely contented.

She had been working diligently for several hours when she heard Dyna's car pull into the driveway. Good, she thought, she was ready for a break. She leaned back from the computer, stretching, and waited, listening for the usual shufflings of skis and boots being transferred from car to porch. Instead she heard the car door slam and footsteps pound up the steps. Maggie looked up as the door flew open, expecting an enthusiastic description of Dyna's day. But Dyna stood at the door, her mouth working soundlessly, her face a picture of disbelieving shock.

"They've been searching Elizabeth's place," she finally managed to squeak out. "They think she did it!"

CHAPTER 6

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