Read The Calamity Café Online

Authors: Gayle Leeson

The Calamity Café

PRAISE FOR THE
EMBROIDERY MYSTERIES
BY GAYLE LEESON
WRITING AS AMANDA LEE

“Entertaining. . . . Readers will enjoy spending time with the friendly folks of Tallulah Falls as well as Marcy's adorable Irish wolfhound.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“This great cozy has a lively cast. . . . The pace is fast and the puns are amusing.”

—
RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars, top pick)

“[A] crafty mystery series that continues to successfully balance a light tone and humor with a dramatic plot.”

—Kings River Life Magazine

“Amanda Lee weaves an excellent cozy mystery that will keep the reader hooked from beginning to end.”

—Affaire de Coeur

“[T]here's never a dull moment . . . with . . . touches of humor and a hint of sensual romance.”

—Once Upon a Romance

“Well paced and a real page-turner . . . a great cozy mystery.”

—MyShelf.com

“A fun fast-paced mystery that will be hard to put down.”

—The Mystery Reader

“Fun, full of suspense, and . . . a satisfying conclusion—readers can hardly ask for more!”

—Fresh
Fiction

OBSIDIAN

Published by New American Library,

an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

Copyright © Gayle Trent, 2016

Excerpt from
The Quick and the Thread
copyright © Penguin Random House LLC, 2010

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

Obsidian and the Obsidian colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN 9781101990797

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

Version_1

To Tim, Lianna, and
Nicholas

Chapter 1

I
took a deep breath, tightened my ponytail, and got out of my yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I knew from experience that the morning rush at Lou's Joint had passed and that the lunch crowd wouldn't be there yet. I put my letter of resignation in my purse and headed inside. Homer Pickens was seated at the counter with a cup of coffee. He was a regular . . . and when I say
regular
, I mean it. The man came to the café every morning at ten o'clock, lingered over a sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee, and left at ten forty. It was ten fifteen a.m.

“Good morning, Homer,” I said. “Who's your hero today?”

“Shel Silverstein,” he said.

“Good choice.” I smiled and patted his shoulder. Homer was a retiree in his late sixties, and he chose a new hero every day.

You see, when Homer was a little boy, he noticed his
daddy wasn't around like other kids' daddies. So he asked his mom about him. She told him that his dad had died but that he'd been a great baseball player, which is why she'd named him Homer. When Homer was a teenager, she'd finally leveled with him and said his father hadn't been a baseball player . . . that he'd basically been a bum . . . but that Homer didn't need a father to inspire him. Heroes were everywhere. Since then, Homer had chosen a new hero every day. It was like his inspiration. I looked forward to hearing Homer's answer to my question every day I worked. When I was off from work, he told me who his hero was the day I asked plus the day I'd missed.

I could sympathize with Homer's desire for a heroic father figure. My dad left Mom and me when I was four. I don't really remember him at all.

“That apple tree? The one he wrote about? I have one like it in my backyard,” Homer said. “I cherish it. I'd never cut it down.”

“I'm sure the rain we've had the past couple of days has helped it grow. You bring me some apples off that tree this fall, and I'll make you a pie,” I told him.

My cousin Jackie came from the back with a washcloth and a spray bottle of cleaner. She and I had waitressed together at the café for over a year. Jackie had been there for two years, and in fact, it was she who'd helped me get the job.

My mind drifted to when I'd come back home to work for Lou Lou. I'd just finished up culinary school in Kentucky. Nana's health had been declining for the past two or three years, but it had picked up speed. As
soon as I'd graduated, I'd come home and started working at Lou's Joint so I could be at Nana's house within ten minutes if I was needed. I was only biding my time at first, waiting for a chef's position to come open somewhere. But then Nana had died. And, although I knew I could've asked her for a loan to open a café at any time, I wouldn't have. I guess I got my streak of pride from my mother. But the money Nana had left me had made my dream a reality—I could open my café and stay right here at home.

“Morning, Amy!” said Jackie. “Guess what—Granny says she has a new Pinterest board. It's called
Things I'd Love to Eat but Won't Fix Because What's the Point Anyway Since I Don't Like to Cook Anymore.

I laughed. “I don't think they'd let her have a name that long.”

“That's what I figured. It's probably called
Things I'd Love to Eat
, but she threw that last bit in there hoping we'll make some of this stuff for her.”

“And we probably will.”

Jackie's granny was my great-aunt Elizabeth, but Mom and I had always just called her “Aunt Bess.” Aunt Bess was eighty-two and had recently discovered the wonders of the Internet. She had a number of Pinterest boards, had a Facebook page with a 1940s pinup for a profile pic, and trolled the dating sites whenever they offered a free weekend.

Lou Lou heard us talking and waddled to the window separating the kitchen from the dining room. She had a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip. She tucked it into the corner of her mouth while she spoke. “Thought I
heard your voice, Amy. You ain't here for your paycheck, are you? Because that won't be ready until tomorrow, and you ain't picking it up until after your shift.”

“That's not why I'm here,” I said. “Could we talk privately, please?”

“Fine, but if you're just wanting to complain about me taking half the waitresses' tips again, you might as well not waste your breath. If it wasn't for me, y'all wouldn't have jobs here, so I deserve half of what you get.”

Jackie rolled her eyes at me and then got to cleaning tables before Lou Lou bawled her out.

We deserved
all
of our tips and then some, especially since Lou Lou didn't pay minimum wage and gave us more grief than some of the waitresses could bear. That's why I was here. Lou Lou Holman was a bully, and I aimed to put her out of business.

Speaking of daddies, Lou Lou had been named after hers—hence the Lou Lou, rather than Lulu—and according to my late grandmother, she looked just like him. He'd kept his hair dyed jet-black until he was put into the Winter Garden Nursing Home, and afterward, he put shoe polish on his head. According to Nana, he ruined many a pillowcase before the staff found his stash of shoe polish and did away with it.

Lou Lou wore her black hair in a tall beehive with pin curls on either side of her large round face. Her eyes were blue, a fact that was overpowered by the cobalt eye shadow she wore. She shaved her eyebrows, drew thin black upside-down Vs where they should have been, and added false eyelashes to complete the look.

Today Lou Lou wore a floor-length blue-and-white
floral-print muumuu, and she had a white plastic hibiscus in her hair just above the pin curl on the left. She shuffled into the office, let me go in ahead of her, and then closed the door. I could smell her perfume—a cloying jasmine—mixed with this morning's bacon and the cigarette, and I was more anxious than ever to get our business over with. She sat down behind her desk and looked at me.

I perched on the chair in front of the desk, reached into my purse, and took out the letter. As I handed it to her, I said, “I'm turning in my two-week notice.”

“Well, I ain't surprised,” she said, stubbing the cigarette into the ashtray. “I heard your granny left you some money when she passed last year. I reckon you've decided to take it easy.”

“No. Actually, I'd like to buy your café.”

Her eyes got so wide that her false eyelashes brushed against the tops of her inverted
V
eyebrows. “Is that a fact, Amy?”

“Yes, ma'am, it is.” I lifted my chin. “I'm a good cook—better than good, as a matter of fact—and I want to put my skills . . . my passion . . . to work for me.”

“If you think you can just waltz in here all high and mighty and take my daddy's business away from me, you've got another think coming,” said Lou Lou.

“If you don't sell to me, I'm going to open up my own café. I just thought I should give you fair warning before I do.”

Lou Lou scoffed. “You've got some nerve thinking you can run me out of business. You bring on the competition, girlie! We'll see who comes out ahead.”

“All right.” I stood. “Thank you for your time. I'll be here tomorrow for my shift.”

“Don't bother. I'll mail you your final check.”

“I'll be here,” I said. “I don't want any of the other waitresses to have to work a double on my account.”

“Suit yourself. But don't be surprised if I take the cost of putting an ad in the paper for a new waitress out of your salary.”

I simply turned and walked out of the office. I knew that legally Lou Lou couldn't take her ad cost out of my pay. But Lou Lou did a lot of things that weren't right. I figured whatever she did to me in retaliation for my leaving wasn't worth putting up a fight over . . . not now. I'd pick my battles.

I'd also pick my wallpaper, my curtains, my flooring, my chairs, stools, and tables, my logo . . . My lips curled into a smile before I'd even realized it.

“Bye, Homer! Bye, Jackie!” I called over my shoulder on the way out.

“Bye, Amy!” They called in unison.

I went to the parking lot and got into my car. I glanced up at the sign—
LOU'S JOINT
—as I backed out into the road. The sign was as sad and faded as everything else about this place. If I could convince Lou Lou to change her mind, I'd start with a brand-new sign . . . a big yellow sign with
DOWN SOUTH CAFÉ
in blue cursive letters. I wanted everybody to know what to expect when they walked into my café—Southern food and hospitality.

I could do so much with this little place. Sure, I could also build a new café, but if I did, I'd also have to buy all-new equipment, get the building wired and up to code,
and basically spend a lot of extra money I'd rather save if at all possible. Besides, Lou's Joint was one of only two restaurants in town, and it was really close to my house—a definite plus once winter rolled in.

When I got home, I went straight to the kitchen. Rory, my little brown wirehaired terrier, met me at the door and followed me. Princess Eloise, the white Persian cat, barely looked up from her post in the living room picture-window sill. I bent and gave Rory kisses and then I got his box of dog treats. We play hide-and-seek with the treats before he eats them. Of course, they're in plain sight, but we act like they're hidden.

I scattered the treats in the foyer, hallway, and living room, repeating the word “Hide” each time I dropped one. When I placed the last treat on the marble hearth in the living room, I called, “Seek!” Rory sprang into action, backtracking to find all the treats.

This bought me a good five minutes to wash my hands and get started on an oatmeal pie. Oatmeal pies took a while to make—even when I had a frozen pie crust like the one I was using today—but they were worth it. Nana used to make them. Especially if I was feeling down, I could walk into her house, smell that oatmeal pie baking, and know that everything was gonna be all right.

I took my pie crust out of the freezer and preheated the oven. I got a small mixing bowl, put four eggs in it, and set it on the counter while I gathered the rest of my ingredients.

Lou Lou was right about my nana leaving me some money. The estate had been settled for quite a while, but I didn't want to rush to spend my inheritance. I'd wanted
to wait until I was absolutely sure I knew what I wanted to do.

Nana had a fairly sizable estate, or at least, sizable by Winter Garden, Virginia, standards. I'd always known my grandparents had money, but I hadn't realized how much Nana
did
have until she was gone. Of course, she'd bought me my car when I'd graduated high school, and it was brand-new then. I'd been impressed, but I'd thought maybe she'd been saving up for that for a long time. I'd been driving that little car for ten years now, and it was still going strong.

I smiled to myself, remembering the day she'd taken me to buy that car. We'd had to go all the way to Johnson City, Tennessee, but the dealership had given us Virginia sales tax on the vehicle. And the salesman had nearly fainted when Nana had paid cash!

I cracked the four eggs into the bowl and beat them until they were frothy. In a larger bowl, I mixed together sugar, cinnamon, flour, and salt. I then added the eggs. As I was pouring in the corn syrup, my phone rang. I'd placed the phone on the counter and could see that it was Sarah calling. She was one of my best friends. I hesitated, but when the oven clicked, indicating that it had reached 350 degrees, I let the call go to voice mail. I'd get back to Sarah as soon as I got the pie into the oven.

Sarah and I had become close when we were in elementary school, and we'd stayed that way. Her family was like one of those perfect television families. I used to wish I had a big family like hers, and whenever I said something along those lines, she'd assure me that I did—I had her family.

And I had Mom and Nana. They were wonderful.
Mom and I had lived in a smaller house on Nana and Pop's property. Despite her parents' abundance, Mom had taken as little from anybody as possible. She'd wanted to earn her own way, and she certainly had done that. And of course, Jackie and I had always been more like sisters than cousins, especially since Jackie had never known her dad and her mother had left her with Aunt Bess when Jackie was sixteen.

I poured the oatmeal mixture into the pie shell and slid it into the oven. Then I called Sarah.

“Hey, girl,” she answered. “Did you throw down on the Big Bad Boss yet?”

“Yeah.” I groaned. “Lou Lou was
not
happy when I offered to buy her café.”

“I'd have loved to have seen the expression on her face!” Sarah laughed. “So . . . plan B?”

“I guess so. I'm nervous about it. It'll take longer than having a place that I only have to redecorate,” I said.

“But starting from the ground up, you can get exactly what you want.”

“That's true . . . but it's kinda scary.”

“I'm sure it is, Amy, but you'll know what you're getting every step of the way,” she said. “And you can afford to go with all-new stuff . . . good stuff!”

I laughed. “That's true. But I have to be smart. I won't have my salary to live on while the new place is being built. I gave Lou Lou my two weeks' notice. She didn't want me to come back at all, but I said I wouldn't do that to the other waitresses.”

“Well, honey, it's not like you were making a fortune in that place.”

“I know . . . but what will I
do
to keep from being
bored out of my mind while I'm waiting for my café to be built?”

“You'll help build it,” Sarah said. “I've known you all your life. I can see you jumping right in there with your hammer and nails.”

“You've got a point there. Plus, I'll be getting my permits and all that. Do you think we can get the construction done before winter?” I asked. “How long does something like that take?”

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