Authors: Cindy Bell
Trouble and Treats
A Chocolate Centered Cozy Mystery
Copyright © 2016 Cindy Bell
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious. Any similarity to or identification with the locations, names, characters or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
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Table of Contents
The curtains fluttered as a strong breeze passed through them. Ally glanced up at the motion and smiled as she saw her cat, Peaches, prance across the windowsill. She reached up a paw and batted at the curtains.
“Don’t you do that. Those curtains are not your enemy.” Ally laughed and scooped up the cat before she could get her claws tangled in the material. Peaches nuzzled her chin with the top of her head and let out a low, frustrated meow. “I know, I know, we haven’t had many adventures lately.” Ally felt a pang of guilt as she carried her cat into the living room. She’d been rather busy with the chocolate shop recently and had been spending less time with Peaches and Arnold, who shared the small cottage she lived in. Although, they always had food, and exercise, it wasn’t the same as spending time playing together. She pulled out a stick with a feather on a string and trailed it across the floor for Peaches to chase. The cat stared at her for a moment as if she was offended, then pounced on the feather. Ally grinned.
“See, you’re never too old to play.”
Arnold, her grandmother’s pot-bellied pig, lumbered out of his bed and snorted as the cat bounced around the living room. “Look at her go, Arnold, isn’t it great?”
Arnold stuck his snout in the air and grunted. “I know, I know, you want to go for a walk.” She glanced at her watch. “I have a little time before I have to meet Mee-Maw. I suppose we can take a little walk.” She grabbed Arnold’s collar and leash. As she stepped outside she noticed several of her neighbors were out on the sidewalks. Many walked in the same direction. She knew exactly where they were headed. Emma’s yard sale.
By the time noon rolled around she and her grandmother would deliver some tasty treats for people to enjoy, but the early birds couldn’t wait to dig through the treasures spread out on folding tables. Ally was just as excited. She had known Emma when she was growing up, but because Emma was about ten years older than Ally they had never really been friends. When Ally had moved back home to the small town of Blue River to live with her grandmother after a messy divorce and she had met Emma again, Ally had taken an immediate liking to her.
Emma was a regular at ‘Charlotte’s Chocolate Heaven’. She would often come in for a coffee and chocolate treat after her shift as a nurse at the hospital in the neighboring town of Mainbry. She and Ally had become quite friendly. They would stop to have a conversation and if Ally had the time they would have a coffee together. They shared a love of cats so they would often talk about them. Emma enjoyed talking about her two cats especially since her ex had taken them when she remarried because her new husband didn’t want them in the house. Ally wasn’t sure why, maybe he was allergic to them.
Emma had become known around town as the ultimate collector. She didn’t collect just one type of thing, she collected many things, and usually resold them for quite a profit. Now and then her home would become overrun with trinkets and souvenirs and that was when she would plan a big sale.
“Morning Violet.” Ally smiled and waved to the woman across the street from her.
“Morning Ally, morning Arnold.” Violet waved back, but continued to hurry along. Everyone wanted to be first at the sale. The more Ally thought about it, the more tempted she was to rush right over and take a look herself. But she knew that her grandmother would be waiting at the chocolate shop to prepare the brownies, and Arnold wouldn’t like his walk cut short. Ally decided to take the street that was one street further away than the one she usually took so she would avoid some of the people rushing to the sale.
As Ally rounded the block to head back in the direction of the cottage she noticed some overgrown bushes in front of one of her neighbor’s houses. The mailbox was also stuffed full. She paused at the end of the driveway and peered towards the large front window. The house was dark and quiet. There was no car in the driveway, but in the small town some people didn’t drive cars. Ally had never met the occupant, but from gossip around town she knew that an elderly lady lived there. She had lived there for the few years when Ally lived in the city. The woman had only moved back into the house a few weeks ago after spending many months living with her children after her husband had passed away. Perhaps she had moved to her children’s house again or was on a long vacation. The woman was known as being unfriendly, but how bad could she be. Ally lingered there for a moment as she tried to decide what to do. Arnold decided for her and began to waddle up the driveway.
“You’re right, Arnold, it’s better to be sure.” She walked up to the front door and raised her hand to knock. However, before she could land a single knuckle, the door swung open.
“What are you doing on my property?” The woman barked out her words and held a broom in her hand. “Take that ugly swine away from here.”
“I’m so sorry, it’s just that your mailbox is full and I thought maybe…”
“You thought I was dead, huh?” She clucked her tongue and waved the broom above her head. “You wish. Then everybody could throw a party. No, I’m just fine. I don’t want any of that mail. It’s full of bad news. So, get on out of here before I decide to have bacon for breakfast.” She gnashed her teeth in Arnold’s direction. Arnold squealed and backed away.
“Stop, you’re scaring him.” Ally put one hand on her hip. “There’s no need to be so upset. We’re leaving.”
“Good riddance.” She slammed the front door. Ally jumped at the sound.
“Well, people weren’t exaggerating, she certainly isn’t the friendliest, is she?” Ally raised an eyebrow and led Arnold away from the door. On the way back to the cottage she thought about whether she anticipated ever being that surly. Perhaps aging created a sense of bitterness for some people. Or maybe it was more of a brain chemistry issue. Either way she decided she would keep an eye out for the woman. After she dropped Arnold off she headed to the shop. It did not surprise her that her grandmother beat her there and already had the first batter mixed.
“Is there still time for me to help?” Ally offered a guilty smile. “I got a little distracted on my walk with Arnold.”
“There’s plenty of time.” She handed her a small tasting spoon. “This is just the test batter. The next one will be for Emma. Taste.”
Ally dipped the spoon into the batter and tasted a small amount. “Mm, this is delicious.”
“Yes, it is, but the next one will be even better. You get started on it while I get this one in the oven.”
Ally snatched an apron from the hook beside the counter, then she washed her hands in the nearby sink. Once they were dry she began putting together the ingredients for her grandmother’s secret recipe. It was really only secret because she changed it every single time she used it. She would bake a batch of brownies with the current base recipe, then add a new splash of something or alter the measurements. By the time Ally had most of the batter prepared her grandmother was back by her side.
“Here are the chopped pecans,” Charlotte said as she handed her a bowl of the nuts.
“Add a bit more milk chocolate.” Charlotte nudged her with an elbow as she looked over her shoulder.
“Are you sure? There’s already quite a bit.”
“These have to be the best brownies ever.”
“You say that about all the brownies we make.” Ally laughed and added some more chocolate pieces.
“It’s true, every time.” Charlotte picked up a spoon and slowly stirred the mix. “If we don’t constantly strive for the best then someone else will beat us to it.”
“I’m pretty sure we’re the only chocolate shop in town.” Ally winked at her.
“Right now we might be, but you never know how things will change. Besides, you can never add too much chocolate.”
“That’s not true, remember?” Ally laughed.
“Oh yes, how could I forget? The chocolate volcano of fifth grade.”
“It wasn’t really my fault.” Ally’s eyes widened. “Can you blame the curiosity of a blossoming mind?”
“Yes, I absolutely can. I told you not to add the whole bottle.”
“But I wanted it to look very real. Anyone can make a little spurt, I wanted to wipe out the entire island.” She picked up the bowl and began to smooth the batter into the waiting dish.
“It was quite real when it splattered over the entire fifth grade class, and even more real when I got the phone call from the principal.”
“At least it was tasty.” Ally grinned as she slid the dish into the oven. “No one can complain about that.”
“I had to pay for new outfits for all of your classmates.”
“I had to scrub the floors, walls, and even the ceiling.”
“I helped you with the ceiling.”
“I remember.” She turned to face her grandmother. “You were so angry, but you made sure to tell me that I’d made the best volcano in the history of the school.”
“Because you did. Nothing wrong with giving credit where credit is due.” She winked at her. “Besides, I had the best laugh when I saw that crotchety, old teacher of yours with chocolate all over her. She was always snippy with me.”
“I didn’t know that!”
“Well, I couldn’t exactly congratulate you. I had to be your mentor.”
“You still are.” Ally gave her a quick hug. “I’m so lucky to have you, Mee-Maw.”
“And I you, Ally. Never forget that. Life is unpredictable and best spent with the ones that you love.” She raised an eyebrow. “If you know what I mean.”
“He’s busy, Mee-Maw.”
“No one is ever too busy for the people they care about. Don’t let excuses get in your way.”
“I hear you.” Ally sighed and set the timer on the oven. “These should be ready in about twenty-five minutes.”
“Do you have those boxes of chocolates ready for the yard sale?”
“Yes, they’re on the counter by the fridge,” Ally said. “I’ll go get them and load them into the van.”
Ally picked up the boxes and took them out to the delivery van. She glanced at her watch. The yard sale would be in full swing.
Once the van was loaded she headed back into the shop. As she walked into the back she noticed that the scent of the brownies baking already filled the air. The scent drew forth memories of many occasions throughout her childhood. Brownies were as common as vegetables on her plate.
“Let me get this cleaned up so we can be ready to go,” Ally said.
“Excited about the yard sale are you?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many early birds I passed on Arnold’s walk.” She shook her head. “We’ll be lucky if there’s an empty hanger left.”
“Don’t worry, most people don’t know real treasure from junk. There will be plenty to sort through.”
Ally sank her hands deep into the soapy water and washed up the bowls and utensils. By the time she was done, the brownies were done. Charlotte stowed the first batch for their own supply then wrapped up the second to take to Emma.
Ally walked out the back and put the brownies in the back of the van.
“I hope she will like the brownies,” Charlotte said as Ally got into the driving seat.
“I think it’s sweet that you still worry about whether people will like your brownies. You know everyone loves them.”
“I still hope every time.” Charlotte patted her knee. “You never know when someone’s taste can change, or when the same recipe just isn’t good enough anymore and people try other things.”
“Excuse me?” Ally laughed as she looked over at her. “Does that have a double meaning?”
“All I’m saying is that those who drag their feet end up alone.”
“That’s pretty blatant.”
“It’s my truth.” Charlotte waved her hand through the air.
“That’s not true, you’re one of the most popular people in town. Besides, I’m sure Mrs. Cale, Mrs. Bing and Mrs. White would love to spend more time with you.”
“Don’t start with those ladies. They gossip so much it makes my head spin. Don’t get me wrong I like them, but I don’t think I’d fit in.”
“No, you probably wouldn’t.” Ally smiled.