Bernie's college roommate Ellen Hadley is burning the candle at both ends. And after her children forget her birthday and her husband forgets their anniversary, her Mother’s Day expectations are understandably modest.
When Bernie jokingly suggests Ellen fake her own kidnapping to set her family straight, she never imagined the stunt would find Ellen in a hotel room next to a dead body.
Bernie can't help but feel guilty for helping her friend concoct a recipe for disaster, so she and her sister Libby enlist the help of Ellen’s kids, and together, they must race to find the true culprit.
©2016 Isis Crawford (P)2016 Dreamscape Media, LLC
Release date: May 1, 2015
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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A Catered Mother's Day
She couldn’t have. By any stretch of the imagination. Even her father and her sister agreed with that. But still, there was that small niggling voice in her head, the voice she kept hearing no matter what she told herself. The voice that kept telling her that if she hadn’t mentioned Mother’s Day, Ellen wouldn’t have said what she said, Bernie wouldn’t have made the suggestions she did, there wouldn’t be a dead body on the motel bed, and Ellen wouldn’t be in the trouble she was in.
It had all started so innocently too. When Ellen had walked into A Little Taste of Heaven, the noon rush was over, the day’s baking was done, and the counter was manned. It was one of those picture perfect, Norman Rockwell kind of afternoons. The sky was a cerulean blue, the tulips and the daffodils were in bloom, the grass was a tender green, and the sun was streaming down through the leaves trembling in the breeze.
Shopkeepers had thrown their doors open and drivers were lined up at the car washes getting their rides spiffed up. Teenagers were running around in flip-flops and shorts while adults were parading around in T-shirts. When Bernie was recounting the details of the debacle to her dad, she remembered it had been a little after three in the afternoon when Ellen had come into the shop. Bernie had had a smudge of flour on her cheek and some flecks of it in her hair.
“Baking?” Ellen had asked, indicating the flour.
Bernie had laughed and brushed it off. “I’m through for the day.”
“Want to take a break and go to Skylar Park and watch the boats on the river?”
“By all means. I was just thinking that it’s too nice to be inside.”
Ten minutes later, after Bernie told Libby where they were going, she and Ellen had headed out the door. When they got to the park, it seemed to Bernie as if the whole town of Longely had had the same idea. Kids were running after other kids, moms were chasing after them, and dogs were chasing after anything that moved.
She and Ellen had sat on one of the few unoccupied benches and began drinking the freshly roasted Sumatra coffee that Bernie had brought with her from the shop, black for Ellen, and a small amount of heavy cream and one lump of demerara sugar for herself. They ate the anise-flavored biscotti that Bernie and Libby had finished baking that morning and chatted about Arf, Ellen’s burgeoning dog biscuit business.
“I think we have to decide whether or not to increase production,” Ellen had said.
Bernie took a sip of her coffee and watched as a pigeon waddled toward her. “Do you want to?”
“And you don’t?”
Ellen sipped her coffee. “I guess I’m not as ambitious as she is. But Lisa says it’s the right thing to do. She says you either grow or die.”
“Sounds like something her husband would say.”
Ellen nodded. “But I think Jeremy may be right.”
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic,” Bernie observed.
“I’m not,” Ellen confessed. “But I think it’s the smart thing to do.”
The pigeon stared at Bernie. “That means you’d have to move the business out of your house,” she said.
Bernie decided Ellen didn’t look happy about the prospect.
“So where would you go?”
“There’s a commercial space near Croton that we can rent.” Ellen corrected herself. “Have rented.”
“So it’s a done deal,” Bernie said.
Ellen sighed. “Yeah, it is. The place has lots of equipment. The ovens are good. Of course, it’s not cheap.”
“Not compared to using your basement it isn’t. And then there’s the fact it’s a half an hour drive from your house,” Bernie pointed out.
Ellen frowned. “There is that. Lisa wants to buy a new mixer, although there are a couple of twenty-gallon ones there we can use—at least for a while. They look as if they’re on their last legs.” She reached in her bag and brought out a flyer from a restaurant supply house down on Canal Street. “What do you think?” she asked Bernie, pointing to a forty-gallon mixer. “This is what Lisa wants to get.”
Bernie broke off a tiny bit of her biscotti and threw it to the pigeon. “I think I’d look on Craigslist and get it used. It’ll cost you one-third as much, maybe even a quarter.”
Ellen folded up the flyer and put it in her bag. “That’s what I said to Lisa.”
Bernie threw some more biscotti crumbs out. Two more pigeons landed and started squabbling with the first one. “Expanding is tricky,” she noted. “You’d be working more hours.”
“A lot more if you count in the commute.”
“Did you point that out to Lisa?”
“She doesn’t care. She has a live-in housekeeper, some Spanish lady that lives in a flat over the garage. It’s a nice flat,” Ellen said in response to Bernie’s raised eyebrow. “Nicer than my apartment after I graduated.”
“That’s not saying much,” Bernie noted. Ellen had lived in a stereotypical cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. “So what does Bruce say?” Bernie asked, changing the subject. Bruce was Ellen’s husband.
“He says it’s up to me. Frankly, I don’t think he cares what I do as long as he’s not inconvenienced—meaning there’s food on the table and the laundry is done.”
Ellen took another sip of her coffee, while Bernie watched a tugboat making its way down the Hudson. Then she introduced the subject she wished she hadn’t. All she said was that A Little Taste of Heaven was running a special on French macaroons for Mother’s Day. Harmless, right? One would have thought, but one would have been wrong.
Ellen’s expression turned grim. “I hate Mother’s Day,” she said, pulling at the hem of the faded brown T-shirt she was wearing.
“How come?” Bernie asked. She was curious. Mother’s Day made her sad because her mom had died six years ago, but she didn’t understand why Ellen felt that way. Her mom was alive and well.
Ellen laughed harshly. “Maybe because my family didn’t get me anything for Mother’s Day last year. Not even a card, or a bunch of flowers. Nothing. Zip. Zero.”
Bernie shook her head, puzzled. “But you said they took you out to dinner at La Coquette.” La Coquette was a trendy new French bistro that had opened one town over.
The corners of Ellen’s mouth turned down. “Yeah. Well, I lied.”
Ellen looked at her hands and bit her lip. “Maybe because I was embarrassed.”
Bernie reached over and squeezed Ellen’s shoulder. “They’ll get you something this year.”
“No, they won’t.”
“You can’t be sure.”
“Yes, I can.” Ellen’s voice started rising. “They didn’t get me a Mother’s Day card the year before that or the one before that either, for that matter,” she continued. “So why should this year be any different? Bruce says Mother’s Day is a made-up holiday and he sees no reason to make the card companies rich.”
“All holidays are made-up holidays if it comes to that,” Bernie observed. “It’s not as if they’re encoded in our DNA.”
Ellen sniffed. “Try telling that to my husband.”
“I will.” Bernie looked down. Now she had five pigeons around her feet. She clapped her hands. They retreated.
“Do you know what he and the guys got me for my birthday last year?” Ellen asked.
“Socks?” Bernie posited. They were the worst thing she could think of—unless, of course, they were cashmere and came from Bergdorf’s.
“Even worse than that. A ratchet set.”
Bernie crinkled her nose. “Isn’t that a tool?”
“Yes. I mean really. You know what Bruce got me for our anniversary?”
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“A new iron and ironing board.”
Bernie rolled her eyes. “That’s bad. You should stop ironing. That’s what Chinese laundries are for.”
“I don’t iron. This was his way of telling me I should. We didn’t even go out,” Ellen continued. “Bruce went off and played golf with his buddies instead.”
“Nothing like being ignored,” Bernie observed.
Ellen sniffed. “I’ll say.” Her eyes misted over and she turned her head away for a moment to get control of herself. “It’s like I’m a piece of furniture.”
“Well, maybe expanding your business will be good.”
Ellen turned toward her. “How do you mean?”
“You’ll be away more, so you won’t have time to do all the stuff you do at home now.”
Ellen made a dismissive noise. “I’m still going to do everything around there.”
Bernie fed another crumb of biscotti to a second pigeon. “Why? How old are your boys now?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question. She knew the answer, but Ellen told her anyway.
“Ethan is twelve, Ryan is fifteen, and Matt is seventeen.”
“So they’re old enough to help. They’re more than old enough. You do everything around there. You clean, you cook, you food shop, you walk the dog.”
Ellen’s shoulders slumped. “I know.”
“You should stop.”
“I don’t mind doing it all,” Ellen protested.
Bernie snorted. “Yeah. I can see that.”
“It’s true. I’d just like everyone to pick up after themselves and put their laundry in the basket instead of leaving it on the floor.” Ellen worried her cuticle. “And a thank-you once in a while wouldn’t hurt either.”
“Well, I still don’t see why they can’t do their own laundry and take out the trash,” Bernie persisted. This was not the first time that she and Ellen had had this discussion. It annoyed her that her friend allowed herself to be treated like a dishrag. “After all, you are working full time now.”
“I’ve tried giving them chores,” Ellen replied. “But they don’t do them.”
“So make them.”
“They don’t listen to me.”
“My dad would have kicked our butts if we didn’t do our jobs,” Bernie observed. “Maybe you should talk to Bruce.”
Ellen frowned. “Bruce is part of the problem. In fact, Bruce is the problem. His dad never lifted a finger because his mom did everything, and Bruce thinks I should do the same for him.”
Bernie sighed and stretched out her legs. By now she had a flock of pigeons milling around her. She should never have fed them the biscotti crumbs. She leaned over and waved her arms. “Shoo.” The pigeons retreated a couple of inches. “So what would happen if you didn’t do everyone’s laundry or take the garbage out or cook dinner?” she asked.
Ellen answered promptly. “The dishes would pile up and no one would have any clothes to wear and everyone would yell at me.”
“Eventually they’d get the idea.”
“No, they wouldn’t.”
“How do you know if you don’t try?” Bernie asked.
“I have tried.”
“Yeah, but for how long? One day? Two days?”
Ellen crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she declared. Which was the way most of the discussions she and Bernie had on this topic ended.
“Fine,” Bernie replied. “Your choice.” She would have killed Bruce by now, but then she never would have married a man like that in the first place.
“I like the biscotti,” Ellen said, changing the subject. “I like the texture.”
“They are good, aren’t they,” Bernie replied, happy that her and her sister’s hard work had paid off.
It had turned out that making the biscotti was trickier than Bernie and Libby had anticipated. They needed to be crisp enough to hold their shape when you dunked them in coffee, but not so hard that they hurt your teeth. Plus, there was the fact that they had to be baked twice. Then there were the flavors. She and Libby had been fiddling around with the biscotti for over a month, but in the end, aside from the ones they’d made with chocolate and a dash of chili, they’d settled on anise and almond, the old tried and true. Sometimes you couldn’t beat the classics.
“So when are you going to move?” Bernie asked Ellen.
“We’re in. We signed the lease two weeks ago. We just have to bring in our supplies.” Ellen lapsed into silence as she watched a sailboat out on the Hudson. “Bruce and I used to have one of those, a twenty-four footer. Then the kids came along and we sold it. You’re lucky you’re not married,” she said suddenly.
Bernie dusted the crumbs off her pink silk blouse, which caused the pigeons to surge forward. “You just need to find a way to make everyone pay attention.”
“I’ve tried,” Ellen wailed. “You know I have, but nothing I say seems to penetrate.”
Bernie stamped her feet and the pigeons retreated for the third time. “That’s the problem. You have to stop talking and start acting.”
“And do what?” Ellen put both of her hands out palms up in a gesture of defeat. “Tell me. I’ve tried not doing the dishes or doing the laundry, but it didn’t faze them in the least. Clearly my family has a higher capacity for dirt and disorder than I do.”
Bernie finished off her biscotti. “I might have a solution for you.”
Ellen leaned forward. “Tell me.”
“You could always fake your own kidnapping. That would certainly get everyone’s attention.”
Ellen’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
Bernie snorted. “Of course not seriously. I was kidding. But you could go off to a spa for a couple of days.”
Ellen leaned back. “I like it,” she said.
“Then you should do it,” Bernie replied, thinking that Ellen was referring to her second idea instead of her first.
Up until Ellen’s call on Saturday evening, Bernie and Libby had had a pretty uneventful day. Business at the shop had been slow but steady. They had sold out of their chocolate salted caramel cupcakes and lavender and honey crème brûlées as well as their basil chicken salad, pasta primavera, and Moroccan lamb stew. At a little after seven Bernie and Libby ushered their last customer out, locked the front door, cashed out, wiped down the counters, and swept up.
Afterward, they retired to the kitchen, where they began boxing up the French macaroons they were featuring for Mother’s Day. After that was done they planned on meeting Marvin and Brandon at RJ’s for a drink, then getting a good night’s sleep because Mother’s Day morning was always a busy one, what with frantic dads and unruly kids hurrying in to buy last minute treats.
“I wonder what Mom would have thought of the macaroons,” Libby said as she carefully slid six of them into a clear plastic box and put the top on.
Bernie looked up from cutting lengths of deep blue velvet ribbon. “I’m sure she would have approved. She always liked new things.”
“Mrs. Salazar was asking about the little cupcakes with the candied violets on top that Mom always did for Mother’s Day.”
Libby reached for a ribbon. “We can do those next year.”
“Dad would like that.”
“He liked anything Mom made.”
“This is true.”
The sisters worked in silence for the next twenty minutes. At seven forty-five Bernie’s cell rang. She wiped her hands on her apron, picked it up, and looked at the screen.
“It’s Ellen,” she informed Libby as she answered.
First Bernie heard, “I’m in so much trouble.” Then Ellen began to laugh hysterically. “What’s the matter?” Bernie asked.
Libby moved closer so she could hear.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.” There was another cackle of hysterical laughter from Ellen.
“Ellen, tell me what’s going on.”
“I should never have listened to you, Bernie.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bernie told her. She’d been up since five in the morning and was not in the mood for drama.
“You know, Bernie. Your suggestion. Your brilliant plan.”
“What suggestion, Ellen?”
Ellen’s answer was another burst of maniacal laughter.
Libby raised an eyebrow, demanding clarification. Bernie shook her head in response. She had no idea what Ellen was talking about. She decided to try a different tack. “Okay,” she said. “At least, tell me where you are.”
“I’m at the Riverview Motel. Room twenty-one.”
“Jeez, that’s an oldie but goodie. What are you doing there?”
“Now, that’s a good question. An excellent question. Of course the better—”
Bernie interrupted. “Ellen, stop. Just tell me what’s going on.”
This time Ellen let out something between a laugh and a sob. “How can I tell you when I don’t know? I thought I did, but now . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Bernie looked around the kitchen and saw her evening plans disappearing. “Are you on something?” she asked, although she couldn’t see Ellen ingesting anything that didn’t come from Whole Foods. Was acid organic? Probably not.
“I don’t know. Pills. Acid. Bath salts.”
“Are you nuts?” Ellen’s voice rose in indignation. “I have three kids, for God’s sake.”
“Right. Moving on. Are you hurt?” Bernie asked. “Should I call nine-one-one?”
“No,” Ellen cried. “Absolutely not. Whatever you do, for God’s sake don’t do that.”
“Are you sure?” Bernie asked.
“I’m positive,” Ellen said. “I couldn’t explain. I don’t know who it is.”
“Who who is, Ellen? You’re not making any sense at all.”
“I did a bad thing, Bernie. A really bad thing. You’ll come, won’t you? Please.”
Bernie grimaced. She’d really been looking forward to a shot of Scotch and a visit with Brandon. “Do I have a choice?” Ellen started sobbing on the other end of the line and Bernie immediately regretted her comment. “Of course I’ll come. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she promised.
“Thank you. Thank you so much.” Ellen hung up, leaving Bernie looking at her phone.
“What was that all about?” Libby asked.
Bernie shook her head as she put her cell back on the kitchen counter. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Why doesn’t she call Bruce?” Libby asked as she quickly finished tying the bow on top of a box holding the six chocolate macaroons with a hazelnut praline filling. She fluffed out the loops on the ribbon and added, “Isn’t that what husbands are for?”
“Theoretically.” Bernie picked up a broken macaroon that was lying on the prep table and ate it. It melted in her mouth, leaving behind the taste of chocolate and hazelnuts. “Maybe she didn’t call him because this has to do with him.”
“What did he do? Kill someone?”
“Bruce?” Bernie laughed at the idea. “Not hardly. He’d outsource it. He’s not a get-your-hands-dirty kind of guy.”
Libby sighed as she looked at the unboxed macaroons.
“You don’t have to come,” Bernie told Libby, correctly interpreting her sigh. “It’s okay. I know you don’t like Ellen very much.”
“I never said that,” Libby protested.
“You don’t have to.”
“It’s not that I don’t like Ellen, it’s just that she complains all the time. She whines more than I do.”
“But I’ll come,” Libby told her sister. “Of course, I’ll come. You’re going to need my help.”
Bernie smiled. “Like that’s going to happen.”
Libby smiled back. “Funny, how it always seems to. I wonder what Ellen’s doing at the Riverview Motel anyway.”
“I guess we’re going to find out,” Bernie said. Then she ran upstairs to tell her dad where they were going. A minute later she was down with the keys to the van. Her dad’s routine injunction of “be safe out there” floated down the stairs after her. Libby was waiting outside.
“I’m surprised Dad didn’t want to ride along,” Libby observed.
“He said to call him if it’s anything interesting and he’ll get Marvin to drive him down. He thinks Ellen is probably being hysterical.”
Libby made a pffft noise with her lips. “Well, she does tend to get a tad overwrought.”
“There is that,” Bernie allowed.
“More than a tad,” Libby added.
Bernie didn’t say anything because it was true.
The Riverview Motel on Route 72 had been built over seventy years ago at a time when people went out for leisurely Sunday afternoon drives. Once the motel had been an elegant stopping place for tourists bent on enjoying the scenic pleasures of the Hudson Valley. Now Route 72 was a forgotten road and the Riverview Motel was strictly for the locals. It was the place to go if you were a teenager and wanted to have a party, or you were older and wanted to have an assignation.
The sign signaling the turnoff to the motel was sited ten feet off the road and had never been replaced. Over the years, it had come to tilt sharply to the left, giving the picture of the Hudson River a tipsy feel. The weather had done its work as well, and by now the blues had faded to grays, while the boats on the river and the people on the shore had been reduced to white and black smears.
A few of the letters on the sign had vanished as well, so now the sign read, THE IVERVIEW OTEL. It had been that way for as long as Bernie and Libby remembered, the owners, Isaac and Mina, having no desire to invest money in fixing it. As Bernie pulled into the parking lot she noted that the grass and the ivy seemed to be winning the battle in their fight with the macadam.
Libby pointed as three wild turkeys looked at them, gave a couple of squawks, and hurried off into a cluster of weeds that were invading the parking lot perimeter. “Isaac should sell this place before it falls down.”
“I don’t think he really wants to,” Bernie replied as she maneuvered around a piece of cement.
“Then he should fix the place up,” Libby stated.
“He could,” Bernie said. “But he obviously likes things just the way they are. I’m guessing that he prefers to spend his money on his fishing trips.”
“That salmon was really good,” Libby allowed, remembering the four pounds of king salmon Isaac had given them from his last trip as a thank-you for storing the catch from his freezer in theirs when his power had gone out last winter during the ice storm.
“Good!” Bernie exclaimed. “It was great. I hope he goes on another trip soon.”
“Me too,” Libby replied. It really was the best piece of fish she’d ever tasted. “Dad is talking about going down to the Carolinas with Clyde. They have mahimahi down there.”
“Not as good as salmon, but good enough,” Be. . .
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