Table of Contents
Don’t miss Lee McKinney’s other Chocoholic investigations
In the series premiere
The Chocolate Cat Caper
“A mouthwatering debut!
Feisty young heroine Lee McKinney is a delight in this chocolate treat.... Can’t wait for the next.”
And in the short story collection
And the Dying Is Easy
“The Chocolate Kidnapping Clue”
“This satisfying appetizer will leave fans hungering for the main course.”
Also by JoAnna Carl
The Chocolate Cat Caper
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
First Printing, November 2002
Copyright © Eve K. Sandstrom, 2002
ISBN : 978-1-101-56379-3
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
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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.
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For Claire, Clay, and Eric—the best grandchildren
who ever were
As ever, I relied on many friends and relatives to research this book. The great people at Morgen Chocolate, Dallas, were invaluable—particularly my daughter, Betsy Peters; her boss, Rex Morgan; and the supervisor of production, Andrea Pedraza. Michigan friends Tracy Paquin, Susan McDermott, and Judy and Phil Hallisy were always patient and full of information. I also wish to thank Jim Avance, for information on law enforcement; Bob Bigham, sports car enthusiast; Marv Lachman, authority on classic mysteries; and Earlene Fowler, a generous mystery writer.
he bear wasn’t cuddly or cute. His eyes were squinty and mean, and his face was grimy. A harness—or was it a muzzle?—was around his snout, and he looked as if he resented it. In fact, he looked like he might take a bite out of anybody who tried to take a bite out of him.
“I don’t care how much milk chocolate you load into that mold,” I said. “That bear’s never going to be a teddy.”
The other bear molds looked dirty, too. The metal clamps that held the backs and fronts together were all askew, and their silver-colored metal seemed to be tarnished. All of them looked as if they needed to be soaked in soapy water and scrubbed with a brush. I wasn’t impressed with the cleanliness of the dozen antique chocolate molds Aunt Nettie was arranging on the shelves of TenHuis Chocolade.
“I’d be glad to wash all these,” I said.
“Wash them!” Aunt Nettie teetered on the top step of her kitchen step stool. “You don’t wash them!”
“But they’re dirty-looking.”
“Those are chocolate stains.”
“Naturally, since they’re chocolate molds. But you don’t let the modern-day molds sit around dirty. Wouldn’t the antiques look better if they were cleaned up?”
Aunt Nettie clasped the mean-looking bear to the bib of the apron that covered her solid bosom. She looked so horrified that I could tell my suggestion was making her wavy white hair stand on end, right up through the holes in the white food-service hairnet she wore.
But she spoke patiently. “Lee, the plastic molds we use today won’t rust. These antique ones are tin-plated, and they can rust. So the normal way to maintain them—back when they were in general use—was to put them away without washing them. The coating of chocolate was like oiling them. It kept them from rusting. When the old-time chocolatiers started on their next batch of chocolates—maybe a year later—then they’d wash them.”
“But since we don’t plan to use these, but just to display them . . .”
“No, Lee. The chocolate traces show that the molds are authentic.” She held out the mold of the mean-looking bear. “This one has been washed, and it wasn’t dried properly. It’s rusted already. I pointed that out to Gail Hess when she brought the molds by, so she’d know we didn’t do it. Washing them would be like putting a coat of acrylic on a genuine Chippendale table.”
I didn’t argue.
My aunt, Jeanette TenHuis, is the expert on chocolate and is the boss of TenHuis Chocolade. I’d had to be told that lots of chocolate people use the European spelling—“mould” with a “u”—for the forms they use for shaping chocolates, and reserve the American “mold” to refer to that stuff along the hem of the shower curtain. No, I’m just the bookkeeper—business manager, if you want to sound fancy. I pay the bills for the butter, cream, chocolate, and flavorings Aunt Nettie uses to make the most delicious bonbons, truffles, and molded chocolates ever placed into a human mouth, but I don’t take any part in how she assembles the ingredients.
“Anyway, I think the molds will get us into the teddy bear spirit,” Aunt Nettie said.
“The chamber of commerce committee ought to approve,” I said. “They’re going to look nice, even if they are a bit dingy.”
The little retail area of TenHuis Chocolade was looking quite festive. Warner Pier, already tourism central for western Michigan in the summer, was making a special push to draw winter visitors, and the chamber of commerce had decided on “A Teddy Bear Getaway” as the theme for a late-winter promotion. The amateur theater group was putting on a production of
Teddy and His Bear
, a comic look at the hunting exploits of Teddy Roosevelt. The Warner Pier Sewing Society had costumed the high school choir as toys, and the kids were going to present a concert with “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” as a theme. The twelve blocks of the Warner Pier business district and dozens of the town’s authentic Victorian houses were festooned with bear banners, and cuddly bears shinned up the pseudo-gaslights on each corner. The Warner Pier restaurants—the ones that are open off-season—were serving honey cakes and Turkey à la Teddy. There’s a bed-and-breakfast on nearly every corner in Warner Pier, and the ones that were taking part in the promotion were so full of teddy bears there was hardly room for the guests. Their special Getaway rates had been advertised as far away as St. Louis and New York. The weather seemed to be cooperating, providing picturesque snow that made us look as if we were decorated with stiffly starched antimacassars, but didn’t block the roads. The snowmobile rental places were gearing up, and volunteers were checking the cross-country ski trails. Even the Warner Pier bars were offering specials—bear beer and teddy tonics. The official Warner Pier greeting was a bear hug.
We were cuddly as all get out.
TenHuis Chocolade, one of the specialty shops catering to the town’s wealthy visitors and part-time residents, was getting into the spirit by displaying antique chocolate molds, loaned to us by Gail Hess, who ran the antique shop across the street and who was chairman of the promotion.
“I want to have these up by the time Gail comes back,” Aunt Nettie said.
I left Aunt Nettie to arrange the molds and got down on my knees to festoon swags of red velvet ribbon along the edge of the glass showcase. Since I’m close to six feet tall, I would have had to bend way over to do it standing up, but kneeling put the counter almost at eye level for me. Of course, it also meant that the glass front of the showcase reflected my face in a frightening close-up. I’m not used to seeing every strand of my Michigan Dutch blond hair—pulled back George Washington style—and every speckle in my Texas hazel eyes jump at me in such detail.
The showcase was already filled with an artfully arranged selection of TenHuis teddy bear specialties. We had a milk chocolate teddy who was much more jovial than that cranky-looking antique one, tiny teddy bears in milk or white chocolate, a twelve-inch-high teddy with a white chocolate grin and dark chocolate eyes. Interspersed among the large molded items were miniature gift boxes of gold and silver, each stuffed with yummy TenHuis truffles and bonbons and molded bears. Tins painted with teddy bears beating toy drums held larger amounts of truffles, bonbons, and bears. Best of all, I thought, were the gift certificates—beautiful parchment scrolls peeking out of backpacks worn by eight-inch chocolate teddy bears or held in the paws of cunning six-inch cubs.