When a murder case from the past heats up again, it's up to Marley McKinney to sort through a tall stack of suspects in the latest Pancake House Mystery....
Although it's a soggy start to spring in Wildwood Cove, the weather clears up just in time for the town to host an amateur chef competition. Marley McKinney, owner of the Flip Side pancake house, already signed up to volunteer, and chef Ivan Kaminski is one of the judges. But when Marley visits her landscaper boyfriend Brett at the site of the Victorian mansion that's being restored as the Wildwood Inn, she discovers something else pushing up daisies: human remains.
The skeleton on the riverbank washed out by the early-spring floodwaters belonged to 18-year-old Demetra Kozani, who vanished a decade earlier. While the cold case is reopened, Marley must step in when some of the cook-off contestants fall suspiciously ill. Stuck in a syrupy mess of sabotage and blackmail, it falls to Marley to stop a killer from crêping up on another victim....
Release date: May 28, 2019
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 212
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A banner with bold lettering rippled in the breeze. It gave a snap now and again when a stronger gust tried to wrest it free of the table it was fastened to, but it remained in place, the thick paper refusing to tear. So far the banner had done its job, grabbing people’s attention and directing them to the table where I sat with a stack of papers in front of me.
“Looks like we’ve got the makings of a great competition this year,” Patricia Murray commented from the chair next to mine.
“I had no idea it would be this popular,” I admitted, running my eyes down the list of names written on one of the papers.
I leaned back in my folding chair and stretched my legs under the table set up in the parking lot of Wildwood Cove’s grocery store. It was early on a Saturday afternoon, and normally at that time of day I’d be at my pancake house, The Flip Side, closing up and tidying the restaurant. Today, however, I’d agreed to volunteer my time to help with registration for the Olympic Peninsula’s annual amateur chef competition.
Each year, one of the peninsula’s communities hosted the competition, and this time it was Wildwood Cove’s turn. The event would take place over the following three weekends, and already several residents of Wildwood Cove and other towns had signed up. I’d been sitting at the registration table for two hours, and people were still arriving to put their names down for either the teen division or the adult category.
“I was worried with all the rain this year that most people wouldn’t want to come out and participate,” Patricia said. She owned a bed-and-breakfast three properties away from my beachfront Victorian, and she was also on the organizing committee for the amateur chef contest.
“We’re definitely lucky the weather decided to change,” I said before Patricia greeted the latest person to approach the registration table.
I’d spent many of my summer vacations in Wildwood Cove while growing up in Seattle, but I’d only moved to the seaside town permanently the previous spring and had never been present for the cooking competition. It sounded like fun, though, and I was eager to be involved with the community, so I hadn’t hesitated about volunteering to help out when Patricia had asked me. My participation would be limited to assisting with registration, but I’d been assured that I was providing some much needed help.
As Patricia registered a teenage girl with dark hair even curlier than mine, I breathed deeply, enjoying the fresh air and the lack of rain. The peninsula had seen very little sunshine over the past two months, and the rainfall had been so heavy and persistent that the nearby river had flooded its banks, damaging some homes and causing a slew of problems. Now that we’d had a few days without any rain, the floodwaters were finally receding, allowing everyone to breathe easier, even though many people had a long road of cleanup and restoration ahead of them.
I sat up straighter when I noticed a fifty-something woman approaching the registration table. She had her light brown hair tied back in a bun, and she walked with careful steps. A man about her age followed along behind her and hung back when she reached the table. I greeted her and provided her with the registration form. Her name was Dorothy Kerwin, I noted as she filled in the form with her name, address, and the division she was entering. When she’d completed the form, I provided her with the booklet that every entrant received. It contained the rules and the event schedule.
“Hi, Dorothy,” Patricia said with a smile when she’d finished registering the teenage girl. “How are you doing these days?”
“Better, thank you,” Dorothy replied with a hint of a smile.
“Are you ready to go, Dot?” the man hovering behind her asked as he glanced at his watch.
“Sorry,” she said to me and Patricia. “I’d better be on my way.”
Despite the man’s impatience, he didn’t hurry Dorothy once they set off, one of her arms tucked into his.
“Had you met Dorothy and Willard Kerwin before today?” Patricia asked me once we were alone.
“The poor woman has been through a lot over the past year or two. She fell off a stepladder and broke her back, and then her twin sister passed away while Dorothy was still in the hospital.”
“That’s terrible,” I said with a surge of compassion for the woman.
“I think this is the first time she’s participated in any community event since all that happened, so it’s nice to see her getting involved.”
I was about to agree with her when I caught sight of my boyfriend, Brett Collins, out of the corner of my eye. I smiled and waved as he approached, carrying two take-out cups from the local coffee shop, the Beach and Bean. The light breeze ruffled his blond hair as he reached the table.
“A coffee for you, Patricia,” he said, setting one of the cups in front of her. “And a matcha latte for you, Marley.” He handed the second cup to me.
We both thanked him. Since no one was waiting to be registered at that moment, I got up to give him a hug and a quick kiss.
“Did you get something for yourself?” I asked.
“Yep. A sandwich and a coffee. I put them in the truck.”
“I’m guessing you have to head back to work now?”
“I do, but I should be done for the day in about three hours.”
He was on his lunch break from his landscaping work at an old Victorian mansion that would soon be opening to guests as the Wildwood Inn. Brett ran his own lawn and garden business, and the new owners of the mansion had hired him to landscape and prepare the gardens before the inn’s grand opening, which would be marked by a garden party later in the month. The mansion’s owners, Lonny and Hope Barron, had spent the past several months restoring the Victorian and getting it ready for its new life as an inn.
“I’ll see you at home, then,” I said, leaning into him for another hug before reluctantly releasing him.
“Hello, everyone!” Brett’s sister, Chloe, breezed over to us, her blue eyes bright.
She caught sight of the cups Patricia and I held. “Drinks from the Beach and Bean? That’s where I’m headed.”
“That makes more sense,” Brett said.
“More sense than what?” Chloe asked.
“For a second there I thought you were here to register for the cooking competition.”
“Why wouldn’t that make sense?” Patricia asked as Chloe’s smile morphed into a frown.
Brett slung an arm across Chloe’s shoulders. “Because my kid sister couldn’t cook to save her life.”
“I can so cook,” Chloe retorted, giving him a shove. She looked to me for support.
“You make good cookies,” I said. “I know that much.”
“You mean the ones Jourdan made for the Fourth of July barbecue?” Brett asked, referring to their cousin.
“Hey, I helped,” Chloe protested.
“Right. I seem to recall that you spooned the dough onto the cookie sheets and Jourdan did the rest.”
“I’m sure you can cook,” I said to Chloe, wanting to placate her before things escalated.
“Of course,” Brett said, trying to keep a straight face. “She can make toast, rubbery scrambled eggs, and pasta—as long as the pasta comes from a store and the sauce comes out of a jar.” He addressed his sister. “And what about that time you tried to cook a family dinner and nearly burned down the house?”
Chloe’s gaze hardened. “It was a tiny little fire, and I put it out right away.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, and beside me Patricia was struggling to contain a smile.
“You’re no help, Marley,” Chloe said, turning her frown on me.
“I’m sorry.” I quickly took a sip of my latte to keep myself from laughing again.
Chloe grabbed a pen off the table. “Registration form, please,” she said to me.
I glanced at Brett and then back at her before handing over a form.
“What are you doing?” Brett asked.
“Exactly what it looks like.” Chloe wrote her name on the form. “I’m signing up for the competition.”
“Hasn’t the town seen enough disaster lately with all the flooding?”
Chloe pressed the pen so hard against the paper that I was surprised when it didn’t tear. “Just you wait. I’m going to make you eat your words.”
“They’ll probably taste better than your scrambled eggs.”
Chloe threw the pen at him. He caught it right before it smacked him in the face.
Chloe passed me the completed form, and I gave her a booklet.
“You’ll see,” she said, swatting her brother’s arm with the booklet before storming off, heading in the direction of the coffee shop.
“Brett,” I said, “you shouldn’t tease her like that.”
“But it’s so fun,” he said with a smile.
I shook my head, and he wrapped his arms around me.
“I’ve got to run,” he said in my ear. “See you later.”
After giving me a quick kiss, he left for his truck, parked on the street. A group of three teenagers arrived to register for the youth division, so Patricia and I kept busy for the next several minutes. Two adults registered after that, but then we had another lull. Patricia’s cell phone rang, and she got up from the table, walking a few steps away before answering the call. While she was still occupied, Logan Teeves arrived and asked to register. Logan was seventeen and lived next door to me with his dad, Gerald. He’d dated Patricia’s daughter, Sienna, for a while, and although they’d broken up, they were still friends.
“I didn’t realize you liked cooking,” I said as Logan filled out the registration form.
He shrugged and brushed his fair hair off his forehead. “My dad doesn’t cook, so we’d always be eating takeout and frozen dinners if I didn’t learn.” He shrugged again. “It’s kind of fun.”
“Well, I think it’s great that you’re entering.” I handed him a booklet. “Good luck.”
Logan wandered off, and Patricia returned to the table, dropping into her seat with a worried frown on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“That was Sid Michaels on the phone.”
“The owner of Scoops Ice Cream?”
Patricia nodded. “He was supposed to be one of the judges for the competition, but now he has to make an unexpected trip to San Francisco. He’s not sure when he’ll be back, but he thinks he’ll be gone at least two weeks.”
“So now you need another judge,” I surmised.
“As soon as possible. Would you be able to step in, Marley?” she asked.
“I could,” I said slowly, “but I don’t eat meat.”
“Right. And that would be a problem, especially for the first challenge.”
On the opening day of the competition the contestants would be cooking main course dishes, with the dessert challenge the following week.
Patricia swiped away a strand of dark hair that the breeze had blown across her face. “How about Ivan? Do you think he’d be willing to step in?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure.” Ivan Kaminski was The Flip Side’s talented chef. He was a wizard in the kitchen and more than qualified to take on the role as judge for the competition, but he wasn’t the most social man, and I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about taking part in the event. “I could ask him, though.”
“Would you?” Patricia said with obvious relief. “That would be fantastic.”
“When do you need a definitive answer?”
“As soon as you can get one?”
I pulled my phone from my pocket. “I’ll send him a text now, and if I don’t hear back from him today, I’ll talk to him about it in the morning.”
“Thanks, Marley. That’s a huge help.”
I really wasn’t sure how Ivan would respond to the request, but I decided to do my best to convince him to help with the judging, even if it did put me in direct line of one of his intimidating scowls.
A few minutes later I received a curt text message in response:
We’ll talk tomorrow.
I didn’t share the reply with Patricia, not quite knowing what to make of it. At least he hadn’t said no outright, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in the morning.
When I left for The Flip Side the next day, the few clouds overhead were tinged with pink and the sun was creeping its way up over the eastern horizon. I set off on foot, walking along the beach toward town and enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning. Other than the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore and the occasional call of a bird, there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Breathing in the fresh, salty air, I couldn’t help but be in a good mood. I loved walking to work, and over the past few months I’d driven more often than I’d made the trip on foot. Between the cold, dark weather of winter and the incessant rain in March, I hadn’t had many opportunities to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of Wildwood Beach.
Once I’d left the sand for the paved promenade that ran along the front of the pancake house and other beachfront businesses, I fished my keys out of my tote bag and had the right one ready when I reached The Flip Side. As usual, Ivan and his assistant, Tommy, had arrived before me, and the light from the kitchen spilled out through the pass-through window into the dim dining area. I flicked on the overhead lights and dropped off my tote bag and jacket in the office before heading for the kitchen.
“Good morning,” I greeted as I pushed through the swinging door.
I received a cheerful hello from Tommy and a nod from Ivan. The chef was in the midst of slicing up a log of dough with cinnamon and sugar swirled inside. Even though the maple pecan sticky rolls weren’t cooked yet, my mouth watered at the sight.
“Isn’t there someone else who can judge the competition?” Ivan asked, tearing my attention away from the sliced dough.
“The amateur chef competition?” Tommy asked.
Ivan gave a grunt of confirmation.
“Sid Michaels from Scoops Ice Cream was supposed to be on the judging panel, but he’s had to leave town unexpectedly, so Patricia’s in a bit of a lurch,” I explained. “She’d really appreciate it if you could help out, Ivan.”
He spared me a brief glance, his dark eyes settling on me only for a second before he returned to his work. A year ago I would have been intimidated standing there before the muscular, tattooed chef, but I now knew that beneath his burly, imposing exterior was a good heart.
“The competition starts next Saturday afternoon,” he said as he sliced the last piece of dough in half. “I’ll be working.”
“If you leave right after we close, you’ll be able to make it in time.”
“I’ll still have work to do after closing.”
“I can handle the cleanup and next day’s prep,” Tommy offered. “I don’t mind staying a bit later than usual.”
“Thanks, Tommy,” I said with a grateful smile.
Ivan glared at us before placing the sliced sticky rolls in a baking dish and passing it to Tommy. He wiped down the counter next, all the while leaving me in suspense.
Finally, his eyes met mine again.
“I’ll help with the judging.”
I couldn’t stop another smile from spreading across my face.
“Thank you, Ivan. Patricia will be so relieved.”
I hurried out of the kitchen and fetched my phone from the office so I could text Patricia the good news. With that done, I started my workday, and an hour later the first customers had arrived, hungry for breakfast.
“This weather is a welcome change, isn’t it?” Eleanor Crosby said as I delivered a plate of blueberry crumble pancakes to her.
“That’s for sure,” I said, sliding a plate of marzipan pancakes in front of her dining companion, Marjorie Wells. “Did either of you have any trouble with flooding?”
“Not us, thank goodness,” Marjorie replied. “But my nephew had a couple of inches of water in his crawlspace.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “So many people have been left with a mess to deal with.”
Eleanor took a sip of her coffee. “At least the river level’s going down now.”
I agreed that was a good turn of events and left the ladies to eat. While the aftermath of the flooding was a hot topic of conversation that morning, many diners were also chatting about the amateur chef competition and the upcoming garden party at the Wildwood Inn.
“Brett’s working on the gardens up at the inn, isn’t he?” Gary Thornbrook asked.
He was having breakfast with his buddy Ed, as he did at least twice every week. Ed and Gary were The Flip Side’s most frequent customers, and they rarely strayed from their usual selection from the menu—blueberry pancakes with bacon and sausages on the side.
“He is,” I said as I topped off Gary’s coffee. “It’s a lot of work for him, especially since he’s got all his regular clients to deal with as well. He’s thinking of hiring someone to help him, at least part-time.”
“He’s done well with his business,” Ed said.
“He has,” I agreed with a rush of pride. Before moving on to the next table with the pot of fresh coffee, I paused and asked, “Are you two going to the garden party?”
“If we can still fit into our suits,” Gary said with a laugh, patting his generous stomach.
I smiled and continued on to the neighboring table.
The last diners of the day left the restaurant shortly after two o’clock, and I locked the door behind them, flipping the “open” sign to “closed.” Leigh Hunter, The Flip Side’s full-time waitress, untied her red apron from around her waist. Patricia Murray’s daughter, Sienna, did the same with her apron. Sienna was seventeen and still in school, but she worked at the pancake house on the weekends.
“Did you know that Logan’s entering the amateur chef competition?” I asked Sienna.
“Yep. He’s a really good cook. He got into watching cooking shows about three years ago, and now he can make some really amazing stuff.”
“I hope he does well in the competition,” Leigh said.
“He will,” Sienna said with confidence. “My friend Ellie Shaw’s entering too. She didn’t really want to, but her mom thought she should.”
“Why didn’t she want to?” I asked.
“She’s kind of shy. I don’t think she likes the idea of cooking in front of an audience.”
“Maybe she’ll forget anyone’s watching once she gets cooking,” Leigh said.
“I hope so. She’s really talented, especially with desserts.” Sienna headed for the break room to fetch her jacket, and soon she and Leigh had left the pancake house for the day.
Talking about cooking made me wonder if Brett would be finished work by dinnertime. I sent him a text message asking him how things were going. I tidied up the pancake house while waiting for his response. It came about half an hour later. He figured he’d have to work until six o’clock, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to stay at the inn any longer than that.
Hungry? I wrote in another text. I can bring you a snack.
I love you, was his quick response.
Smiling, I finished up my remaining tasks and grabbed a can of soda from the kitchen before heading out. I walked to Marielle’s Bakery and picked up two doughnuts and half a dozen chocolate chip cookies. From there, I set a course for home. The Wildwood Inn sat on the outskirts of town, and making the trip on foot would have taken a while, so I decided to make a quick stop at home to pick up my car.
After checking on my cat, Flapjack, and Brett’s dog, Bentley, I set off in my hatchback. When I reached my destination, I followed a long driveway toward the beautiful white Victorian mansion and continued along the branch that led around the house to the large detached garage, built in the same style as the inn. I parked my blue hatchback next to the cube van Brett used for his lawn and garden business.
With the paper bakery bag and soda can in hand, I wandered around the garage until I could see clear to the back of the inn’s property. An expanse of green lawn stretched from the mansion to a white gazebo—a new addition, Brett had told me. Beyond the gazebo, flagstone pathways wandered around numerous flower beds. Brett had been working hard to add some color before the garden party. He’d already transplanted numerous types of flowers in a variety of hues and would add more over the coming days. Some of the flower beds farther back in the garden were home to recently planted rosebushes, which would bloom in a few weeks’ time.
As soon as I started across the lawn. . .
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