Authors: Betty Hechtman
“So the Delacorte sisters had a brother,” I said, interrupting. I could see where this was going and managed to cut Tag off before he made it clear to the early birds about my predicament with all that wool.
Lucinda knew what I was doing and joined in. “Tag knows all about the history of Cadbury and its inhabitants. He can tell you all about the Delacorte brother. Can’t you, dear?” she said, patting her husband’s hand affectionately.
“I did spend quite a bit of time at the Cadbury Historical Society when we first moved here,” Tag said. “I think that if you’re going to live somewhere you ought to know about it. You probably don’t know this, Casey, but Edmund Delacorte is the one responsible for Vista Del Mar.” Tag seemed to have forgotten about his comment about the wool and became totally involved with talking about Edmund Delacorte. It was almost fascinating, except Tag tended to go into too much detail. It was interesting to hear that Vista Del Mar had started out as a camp and gone through several incarnations as a resort by the time Cora and Madeleine’s brother had bought it. I don’t know if the others were listening, but I didn’t care as long as Tag didn’t start asking me what I was going to do without Nicole and her expertise.
By the time we left all the blue skies and bright green of the Carmel Valley and entered a bank of fog drifting onto the Monterey Peninsula, I knew that Edmund had loved the outdoors and had wanted Vista Del Mar to stay a rustic spot for families to enjoy nature and for retreat groups to have a place to get away from it all. He didn’t want it to be exclusive, like the posh resorts in Pebble Beach. There was talk of him running for office and it sounded like everyone viewed him as some kind of god.
Tag seemed to be running out of steam and I worried that we still had a ways to go. “So what happened to Edmund?” I asked, both out of curiosity and in an effort to keep him away from talking about the retreat.
“He died. He was in his prime, just forty-seven. I can tell you the exact kind of infection if you give me a day or so,” Tag said. I told him it was okay and he went back to talking about Edmund’s philosophy on the outdoors. The fog had grown thicker and it was hard to believe we’d been in such bright sunlight just a few minutes earlier.
We turned onto the street that bordered Vista Del Mar, and I started to relax as Tag’s monologue continued. In a few minutes, the early birds would get out without knowing how worried I was.
The Lodge came into view and I was already reaching for the door handle, thinking I was home free. I had the door open the minute the van stopped.
“Where should we put the wool fleeces?” Tag said as we began to get out. Before I could say anything, he continued, “I hope you find somebody to—”
“To help you take in the wool,” I said, interrupting him before he could bring up Nicole again. I looked at the three pre-retreaters and told them everything was under control and they could go off and enjoy themselves.
I just hoped that Nicole had left a lot of good instructions.
“There’s no reason for you to feel strange. Will gave you the key and told you to take whatever you needed,” Lucinda said as we stood in front of The Bank. What she said was true, but I was still uneasy about going into the closed store. I was glad Lucinda had said she would come along.
The early birds had gone off to have lunch and Tag had gone on home after helping to get the fleeces to the Cypress meeting room. Just before he left, he pulled Lucinda and me aside and said he could research the wool-to-yarn process. Lucinda and I had shared a roll of our eyes.
Lucinda had sent him home and she’d driven into downtown Cadbury with me. “Tag needs to do his exercise walk,” she said, shaking her head. “He always walks in the morning on the same route along Grand Street. You should take it as a high compliment that he chose to help you out this morning and delayed his walk.” I did appreciate what he’d done. Tag was such a habitual person, making an alteration like that had to have been very difficult.
“I never noticed how ornate this building is,” Lucinda said, touching one of the columns outside the front door of the corner building while I fished around for the key.
The leather strap with the bells attached let out a loud jangling sound as I opened the door. Lucinda jumped and then laughed at her nerves. “It’s not like there are ghosts in here.”
“Look who’s feeling strange now,” I joked as we went inside. The whoosh of air from the door opening had sent some papers sailing across the floor. I scooped them up, afraid we’d slip on them. Figuring they were just advertisements that had been slid under the door, I stuffed them in the canvas messenger bag I’d taken to using as a carryall. I looked around the interior. Even with all the windows, the light was low inside the old bank. This was so different from when I’d been there before. Now it felt eerie and quiet.
I found a light switch and turned on the inside lights. When I looked around I expected to see a fiesta of colors and textures, but instead my breath caught. Something was wrong. All the textiles hanging on the old tellers’ cages were askew. Lucinda followed close behind as I took stock of the place.
The first things I checked were the glass cases in the middle of the shop. No surprise, the doors to the counters had been opened. The silver pieces were still there, but when I checked the pink velvet backdrop for the jewelry pieces, it was empty.
The spinning wheels were all in place, but a basket of yarn was dumped. I went behind the half partition and found what Nicole must have used as an office. The drawers on the desk were all open a touch, as though someone had pulled them open and been in too much of a hurry to close them completely. I went right past two cubicles and looked at the vault.
The thick metal door was open and I got up my courage and went inside. As Nicole had said, she’d made it into a meditation room. A forest green cushion sat near a small low table with an incense burner. Not my idea of a place to meditate. The room felt claustrophobic as I looked at the gray metal walls, which I realized were actually rows and rows of safety-deposit boxes. Each had a round hole in the middle where the locks had once been. I noticed that several appeared to have been opened and carelessly shut, like the desk drawers. Lucinda had come in behind me and backed out, obviously reacting to the close feeling of the space. I walked farther into the vault and pulled out the ajar boxes and opened the tops, looking inside. Nothing. Not even lint. I guessed that whoever had checked those three and found nothing there had assumed the rest were also empty and given up. I considered looking through them all, but after opening another three and finding nothing, I gave up. But at least I shut them all the way.
I went back into the main area and took out my cell phone. “I’m calling the cops,” I said, putting in the number. I explained to the dispatcher that it wasn’t an emergency.
I was relieved that the dispatcher must have passed along the information because there were no flashing lights or sirens when the blue-and-white cruiser pulled in front of the store. A moment later Dane walked in, or should I say Officer Mangano, because he was in his midnight blue uniform with a canvas cop jacket on top.
Dane’s demeanor softened when he saw Lucinda and me. “What’s up?” He looked around the place as I explained Will had given me the key.
“But when we got here, it looked like this.” I pointed out the blanket and quilt hanging askew on the tellers’ cages and walked him to the glass cases.
“Is anything missing?” he said, looking inside one of the cases.
I explained about the jewelry made out of hair I’d seen the last time I was there.
Dane tried to keep his cop face on, but he couldn’t help it, he wrinkled his nose with distaste and then asked me if it was valuable.
“The pieces weren’t anything that I’d want,” I said. I added that Nicole had mentioned that some of them were made out of dead people’s hair as a remembrance of them.
After taking him into the vault, we all checked the back door. “This isn’t the original door,” Dane said. I remembered there was a fuss when Nicole had it installed, saying she wanted something to let in light.
He shook his head at the quality of the lock and pointed out that the door seemed to have been carelessly closed. What he said next came as a complete surprise.
“From the looks of things, I’m guessing Nicole made a last stop here. Maybe she was looking for something or wanted to wreck the place and gave up. In her mental state she probably didn’t care about locking the door.” I mentioned the missing jewelry.
“She might have just sold it between the time you were here and now,” he said, gesturing toward the glass cases. “All those silver pieces are still there. If somebody was looking for valuable stuff, they’d have taken those.”
Lucinda walked over to the glass cases and nodded with agreement when she saw what was still there.
“Even so, I think Will should be notified,” Dane said.
I reminded Dane about the lack of cell service and offered to try to reach him. I called the café. Jane said he’d just been in and she’d try to catch him. A few moments later, he picked up the phone and I handed mine to Dane.
Dane didn’t hide his emotions behind a blank expression and flat tone. He knew Will and began by telling him how sorry he was about Nicole and then eased into giving Will the reason for the call. When he finished the call, he handed my cell back. “He doesn’t seem concerned about a break-in and agreed that Nicole probably just left it this way. Poor guy,” he said with a sad nod of his head. “There doesn’t seem to be any reason to write up a report.”
He appeared to be getting ready to leave, but on second thought asked why exactly we were there. I reminded him about my upcoming retreat and that Nicole had been the center of it. “I came to look for some kind of playbook of the program and to look at the spinning wheels.”
When Dane heard I was taking them to Vista Del Mar, he was concerned how I’d get them there.
“I was going to take them in the restaurant van,” Lucinda said.
“I have a better idea,” he said. “I’ll pick them up later in my truck.” He looked at me directly. “You’re baking tonight, right?” When I nodded, he continued. “I’ll stop by the Blue Door and we can come back here and you can show me what you want moved.”
I almost said, “Are you sure your girlfriend won’t mind?” but I smiled and agreed.
“It’s the least I could do for a neighbor.” His angular face lit up with a warm smile. After rechecking that the back door was shut tightly and reminding us to lock up, he got ready to leave. Just before he got to the front door he turned back. “About last night,” he began.
I rushed in before he could say anything else. “You don’t have to explain. I got it.”
Lucinda and I went through the place, straightening the quilts and blankets hanging on the tellers’ cages, closing the back of the glass cases and even straightening the stack of old ledgers that had fallen over next to the fireplace. At the same time, we kept an eye out for something describing Nicole’s plan for the wool. She must have had it all in her head because we found nothing.
“It looks a lot less creepy this way,” I said, admiring what we’d done. “Now let’s get out of here.”
“I don’t know about you, but I need a nice cappuccino,” Lucinda said as I flipped off the lights and led the way to the front door.
“Just what I was thinking,” I said, suggesting where to go. Cadbury didn’t have chain restaurants, big-box stores or Starbucks. But with the chilly cloudy weather, Cadbury was still a coffee town and the brew was dispensed in a number of small shops. My personal favorite was the Coffee Shop. In typical Cadbury by the Sea fashion, the name said what the place was without any fancy flourishes. My understanding was Maggie had been the first to serve gourmet-quality coffee.
The shop was located in one of the Victorian-style buildings and had such a deep fragrance of coffee it was as though the years and years of grinding beans like Sumatra, Costa Rican and Kenyan had been absorbed by the burlap-coffee-bag-covered walls. The walls that weren’t covered in burlap were windowed and looked out onto a small courtyard next to the place.
Lucinda went to snag one of the small round tables. Several of the other tables were taken and there was a low hum of conversation. “Drinks are on me,” I said. Lucinda had a hard time accepting, but after her help with the fleeces and dealing with Nicole’s place, it was the least I could do. I held strong and she finally relented with a thank-you.
* * *
It was a slow time of day and Maggie was working the counter alone. She was finishing up with the customer ahead of me. She popped the lid on one of the red paper cups with
in white writing and set it next to another cup in a cardboard carrier. As I stared at the cups, I had a flashback to the cup lying on the ground with Nicole. Of course, the cup had come from here. I wondered if Maggie was aware of it. I knew how uncomfortable and somehow connected to Nicole’s death I’d felt when Dane had mentioned that one of my muffins had been found on the ground. And Nicole hadn’t even eaten any of the muffin. I wondered if I should bring it up. I was afraid my thoughts showed on my face and I did my best to erase the clouds from my expression.
“This ought to do it.” Maggie took a half straw and squeezed it before sticking it into one of the cup’s sip holes and handing the man the carrier. He offered her a hearty thank-you before walking away.
I stepped up to the counter and her face broke out into a friendly smile. “Casey, I didn’t see you hiding behind that guy.” She leaned across the counter and gave me a hug. “What’s your pleasure?” she said. She saw Lucinda and waved.
I’d barely said “two cappuccinos” when she said, “One with an extra shot, both with two-percent milk, am I right?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Exactly right,” I said in an amazed tone.
She seemed amused by my surprise. “I pride myself on knowing how my customers like their drinks.” She saw me looking at the case of goodies. There was an empty basket where my muffins went.
“Nobody seems to remember that there are no muffins on Wednesdays,” Maggie said, working her magic with the espresso machine. “You know, if you ever change your mind about baking Tuesday nights, my customers would be thrilled.”
The Coffee Shop had been the first place in town to take my muffins and I was forever grateful. It was all thanks to my aunt, but then so much of my life in Cadbury was thanks to her. We talked for a moment about my aunt and how much we both missed her.
It turned out to be meaningless that I’d offered to buy the drinks because Maggie wouldn’t take my money. “Consider it professional courtesy,” she said, giving a nod to Lucinda, who mouthed a thank-you.
I set down the foam-covered drinks as Maggie attended to a new customer. The Coffee Shop proprietor was definitely striking looking, with glossy black hair she always tied with a red scarf. Red was her trademark color. She wore lots of it and even had cups that color. She was outgoing and vivacious and gave no hint to her own personal sadness. My aunt had told me that Maggie’s daughter had died when she was in her early twenties. It had been some kind of accident. And then recently she’d been widowed. I think one of the reasons she always wore something red was to keep herself cheerful.
When Maggie finished with the customer, she grabbed a mug of her own brew and came to our table. “Mind if I join you?”
“As if you have to ask,” I said, pulling a chair from another table. Maggie sat down with a sigh and said something about how all the years of being on her feet were getting to her.
Maggie wasn’t a gossip as much as a news exchanger. The cheerful expression had faded from her face. “I suppose you’ve heard about Nicole Welton. So sad,” she said.
Lucinda and I nodded in agreement. Maggie seemed upset. “I was horrified when I heard she put the poison in a cup of coffee from my place.”
“Then the police talked to you?” I said, relieved that I didn’t have to be the one to tell her.
“It seemed to be the customary type of investigation in the case of a suicide. They wanted to know if she seemed despondent when she came in.” Maggie stopped to drink from her mug. “The thing is, I don’t remember seeing her Tuesday morning. It was pretty busy and the girl I have helping probably waited on her. Poor Carol was so upset at being talked to by the police, she could barely remember her own name, let alone if she’d seen Nicole.” Maggie paused and sighed. “I wish I had waited on her. Maybe I could have said something that would have made a difference.”