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Authors: Sharon Short

Death by Deep Dish Pie

BOOK: Death by Deep Dish Pie
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HALF-BAKED

I closed my eyes in anticipation of the yummy mini-pie and bit into it. A half-chew later, my eyes were open. It tasted OK . . . but just OK. The inside was only half-filled. And did I detect staleness in the crust? It was still tasty. But it sure wasn't up to the usual Breitenstrater standard.

I'd heard that the pie company had been losing sales, had recently cut back on ingredients and quality to save costs, which to me didn't make sense. Who'd want to buy mediocre pie?

I ate it anyway. Pie is pie. I gazed through the trees at the bits of looming, gray stone mansion, thinking about how the Breitenstraters—usually quiet captains of local industry—seemed to be everywhere lately, with odd goings-on. We had Cletus working with Mrs. Beavy on some project she wouldn't discuss . . . Dinky back in town with a friend who was supposedly having an affair with Geri Breitenstrater, Alan's wife . . . Trudy playing Goth-girl and hanging out at my Laundromat. And now the clincher: a less-than-perfect Breitenstrater pie.

Yep, something more unusual than usual was definitely up with the Breitenstraters. I pulled away from the side of the road and headed back to town with the feeling that I was about to find out what.

Dedication

To Katherine, who inherited the gift
of persistence and uses it well

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Epilogue

About the Author

Also by Sharon Short

Copyright

About the Publisher

Acknowledgments

A hearty thanks and shout-out to the following people, who so generously contributed both time and knowledge to the creation of this book. Any errors are mine alone.

•  Debbie Goodwin, ferret owner and fellow animal lover.

•  The Antioch Writers' Workshop (Yellow Springs, Ohio)—for inspiration, support, encouragement, connections, and (especially) friendships.

•  Ellen Geiger, agent, and Sarah Durand, editor—for believing in Josie as much as I do!

•  The best family team possible: David, Katherine and Gwendolyn. Thank you.

About the stain removal techniques in this book: please note that these techniques are cited in a wide variety of sources, from books to web sites to word-of-mouth advice. While I've tested each one, what works on one type of fabric might not on another. If you want to try them . . . Josie says, please test first in an inconspicuous area of the item you're cleaning! That said:

•  Thanks to the Wine Spectator Magazine online (www.winespectator.com
,
archives, March 31, 2002) for the report on how to
really
get out red wine stains.

•  Congratulations to the winners of Josie's “Stain Busters” Contest! And thank you to all who entered. This contest had a five-way tie of winners who contributed tips for removing ink stains (the first four suggested spritzing on hairspray; the final entrant suggested soaking the stain in milk for several hours):

Anita Carrasco

Deb Hollister

Jenni Licata

Linda Onkst

Lenna Mae Gara

This tip ended up playing an important role in the novel's plot!

If you'd like to enter Josie's “Stain Busters” for a chance to have your stain tip play a role in the next Josie Toadfern mystery, please see the contest announcement at the end of the book.

1

Secrets have a way of taking on lives of their own.

That's because the true nature of secrets is that they don't
want
to be secret. They want to be revealed for what they really are: the truth.

And truth be told, secrets are a lot like stains. Take, say, a pair of work pants that are grease covered. You've got to face the mess and deal with it. (I recommend pretreating grease stains with rubbing alcohol. Or just pouring a can of cola—I prefer Big Fizz—with your laundry detergent on your grease-stained clothes. Believe it or not, this works.) Or else you end up with a nasty stain that's even worse than the original mess.

Truth is like that. No matter how ugly it is, it's better to deal with it right away. Or else you end up with a nasty secret that's going to be harder to deal with than the truth.

Believe me, I know a lot about stains.

I'm Josie Toadfern, owner of Toadfern's Laundromat, the only laundromat in Paradise, Ohio. I'm a self-taught stain expert and proud of it. Best stain expert in all of Mason County. Maybe in all of Ohio. Maybe even in all of the United States of America.

And up until a month or so ago, I thought I was also an expert in everything there is to know about Paradise, Ohio. After all, how much can there be to know about a town of 2,617 in southern Ohio?

But that was early June, before Trudy Breitenstrater walked into my laundromat for the sixth time in a week, and I decided to take pity on her. In those last peaceful moments—before the bell dinged over my door and fate trounced in with a ferret, a frown, and a basket of black laundry—I wasn't thinking about secrets or truth at all.

For one thing, it was too hot—even with my ceiling fans and two big floor fans—to think about things like that.

For another, I was concentrating on helping the Widow Beavy, my only customer at that moment, with her favorite blouse for going to church at the Second Reformed Baptist Church of the Reformation, out on Sawmill Road.

Now, I knew—because in a town like Paradise, you know these kinds of things whether you want to or not—that this blouse was real important to Mrs. Beavy. It was pale pink, with ruffles down the front, and lace all around the high-neck collar and the wrists, and faux-pearl buttons that Mrs. Beavy kept nice-looking with the occasional dab of pearl-pink nail polish (something I'd suggested to her.)

The blouse had been a birthday gift, five years ago, from Mr. Beavy, just two days before he died while mowing the cemetery behind the church. Mr. Beavy had a stroke, lost control of his riding lawn mower and plunged right on down the hill into the side of the Breitenstrater crypt—which holds all the Breitenstrater remains all the way back to the original Breitenstraters, who founded our town and started the Breitenstrater Pie Company, one of Paradise's major employers. The crypt was cracked and Mr. Beavy, God rest his soul, died on the spot. No one was ever sure which really came first, the stroke or the crack.

Anyhow, on the day when Widow Beavy was in my laundromat, her hand quivered as she pointed at the pinkish-brown stain that bloomed smack dab in the center of where her left bosom would, should she put on the blouse, turn the stain into an unfortunately placed bull's-eye.

“I thought I got it out,” she said, tearfully. “At least, the stain was gone when I left for church last Sunday morning. I rinsed it out, knowing it would dry by the time I got to church. But then it reappeared right as we were singing ‘Precious Redeemer,' and Betty Lou Johnson stared right at the spot, like maybe it was one of those images of Jesus that show up in the oddest places—you know, like in the cellophane covering the top of a Jell-O salad?”

Personally, I've never seen Jesus in a Jell-O salad, but then I go to the Paradise United Methodist church (out on Plum Street), which might account for my lack of vision.

“You sure this stain is blood?” I asked. Mrs. Beavy had confessed to me that she'd had a nose bleed and had rinsed the blood out of the blouse in cold water, just as she was supposed to. But the stain looked too pinkish to be blood, which usually dries with a brownish tinge.

“I'm sorry dearie, what did you say?” Mrs. Beavy was now staring up at the television mounted on the wall near the door. I pride myself in offering several such amenities, besides of course drop-off laundering services, a delivery service, and twelve washers and dryers—two of each in the jumbo size. I have well-stocked pop and snack machines, a kiddie area with a plastic picnic table and coloring books and paper and washable markers (I'd had crayons out until Tommy Gettlehorn had tossed a whole pack into the dryer with his daddy's prison guard uniforms), a shelf of paperback books, and a table set up with free coffee in the cool months and a thermos of free ice water in the hot months.

Earlier the TV had been on
As Our Lives Bloom
(Mrs. Beavy's favorite soap opera) but was now on the afternoon news. There was yet another report about a large company that had secretly overpromised what it could deliver so that an even bigger company would buy it out so that stockholders would make a ton of money. In the end, the company had to lay off workers before finally going bankrupt—with all the workers, except, somehow, the top management, losing all of their retirement money. Not the kind of thing that could happen in Paradise, Ohio.

So I thought.

But then, I didn't think there were any secrets brewing in Paradise, Ohio, either.

I snapped off the TV so Mrs. Beavy could stay focused. I patted her gently on the hand to get her attention.

“Mrs. Beavy, I was asking you about the origin of this stain. It sure would help if you could remember exactly what caused it.”

“Oh, I—I told you . . . I had a nose bleed . . .” Mrs. Beavy looked away from me. “Oh, maybe that wasn't it. I—I really don't remember now.”

Now, Mrs. Beavy is eighty-something, so the kind thing to do would be to believe her. But Mrs. Beavy is also the sharpest woman I know. For one thing, she is the founder and president of the Paradise Historical Society, the holdings of which are housed in the former apartment over her garage, the second story of her home (over on Gooseberry Lane), and in her walk-up attic. People have been donating their “historical” items (their Aunt Matilda's old cast-iron iron, or their Mamaw's wedding dress, for example) to her for more than thirty years, ever since the last of Mrs. Beavy's five kids grew up and left home and she decided she needed something interesting to occupy her time and that that something would be preserving the history of Paradise. And if someone came up to her and said, “Mrs. Beavy, twenty-five years ago I donated my great-great-grandpa's Civil War uniform to you and I'd like to see it again,” Mrs. Beavy. would know right where it was stored in the various places in her house-historical-society-combo.

And now I was supposed to believe she couldn't recall the source of her days-old boob-centered stain? Well, I didn't.

But what kind of secret could the Widow Beavy be keeping about this stain? The Mrs. Beavy I knew—the dear old lady who ran the Paradise Historical Society, who faithfully feather-dusted Mr. Beavy's graveside plastic flower display every Saturday, who was the mother of five, grandmother of eleven, and great-grandmother of seventeen—that Mrs. Beavy didn't have secrets.

Still, patchy redness was now coursing up Mrs. Beavy's neck and over her face, right to the white roots of her top-of-the-head bun. And she was looking at me with teary, pleading, blue eyes, and saying, “Josie, can't you just get the stain out for me?”

I sighed. The truth was, until Mrs. Beavy got her stain-source secret off her chest, I probably wouldn't be able to get the stain itself off her, well, chest.

Still, I couldn't quite bring myself to say that to dear, old Mrs. Beavy.

See how easily truth becomes a secret?

Instead I said, “Mrs. Beavy, if you don't mind, why don't I keep your blouse for a few days. I have some stain books I can consult, and . . .”

The door to my laundromat opened. And in walked Trudy Breitenstrater for the sixth time in one week. Again, all dressed in black—black T-shirt, shorts, hair (blond being her natural color), lipstick, nail polish, and eyeliner. Toting, again, a laundry basket of black clothing. And balancing on her shoulder one ferret named Slinky, who was wearing a tiny harness that connected to a chain that in turn connected to a black leather choker around Trudy's neck. Thank God, mostly the ferret slept, although every now and then it scampered to the top of Trudy's head like a retro Daniel Boone cap come to life.

BOOK: Death by Deep Dish Pie
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