When a quaint Pennsylvania town hosts a Civil War reenactment, only the blood will be real....
How does a once-hip New Yorker get used to living in a quaint Pennsylvania town famous for its gooey, oversized sticky buns? For Tori Miracle, it means kissing her diet good-bye, always showing up in the wrong clothes, and struggling with a love life. And now that she's filling in for the editor of the Lickin Creek Chronicle and has the town newspaper to look after as well as her own dear fastidious felines, sometimes it means cosponsoring public events like a Civil War reenactment for the local women's college.
But when this charmingly authentic reenactment is done, and each man and woman has played his or her part to the hilt, it's clear that Tori has miscalculated again. Someone used one live bullet in an antique gun. And with a man dead, it's going to be up to the only city slicker in Lickin Creek to unravel a mystery of murder in a town where calories don't count, but murder does....
December 10, 2008
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RESERVED FOR EDITOR. After only a week on the job, it still gave me a thrill to park in front of the sign. Granted, I'd only taken the job as editor of the Lickin Creek Chronicle on a temporary basis to help out P.J. Mullins while she recovered from major surgery; granted, I didn't have the foggiest idea of how to run a small-town weekly newspaper; and granted, the paper only had two full-time employees, including me, plus a few freelance writers, and a delivery staff all under the age of twelve. None of that mattered; for the present I was The Editor for whom the space was reserved, and that was a necessary ego boost for me, Tori Miracle, recovering journalist and mid-list author.
I couldn't find the key to the back door, even though I was sure I had dropped it in my purse last night when I left. But that was okay; I preferred using the front entrance. Maybe someone I knew would see me--the editor--going in.
With the hem of my sleeve, I wiped a smudge off the little brass plaque on the front door that said the building had been constructed in 1846. Last week, as my first official duty, I'd polished it with Brasso until it gleamed. Inside, the little waiting room stretched the entire width of the building, almost twelve feet. The furniture was red vinyl with chrome arms, dating from the forties, two chairs and a couch, and an imitation-maple coffee table that held an empty ashtray and a pink plastic vase full of dusty plastic daisies.
"Morning," I called out as I hung my blue linen blazer on a hook behind the door.
Cassie Kriner came out of the back office. "Good morning, Tori. Can you believe this weather?"
"Is it unusual?" I asked.
"Sorry, keep forgetting you aren't local. Yes, it's very unusual for this late in October. Almost like summer."
In the office we shared, she handed me a mug of coffee. I took one sip to be polite and put it down on the edge of my rolltop desk. As always, it was dreadful, but I hadn't quite worked up the courage to tell her so.
"You had a phone call this morning. From a Dr. Washabaugh. She wants you to call her back."
"Thanks, I will."
"Nothing wrong, I hope?"
"Of course not. She's probably just calling to tell me I'm fine." I smiled reassuringly, but inside I was feeling a little alarm. Would a doctor
really bother to call if the tests were all okay?
"She said to call her back, Tori."
"There's no urgency."
I hoped I sounded less concerned than I felt. Last week, at the urging, no, nagging, of my friend Maggie Roy, the town librarian, I'd gone for my first checkup in about five years. Pap smear, mammogram, the whole nine yards. Dr.
Washabaugh had said she'd call me with the test results. Or had she said she'd call me if the test results were positive? Or did she say negative? Is positive good or bad? I couldn't quite recall what she'd said.
Cassie perched on the edge of our worktable and drank her coffee as if she really enjoyed it. Today she wore a beige cashmere suit that probably cost more than I had earned in royalties from my ill-fated book, The Mark Twain Horror House. At the V of her rust-colored blouse was an amber necklace that looked antique and expensive, and her silver-gray hair was pulled back into an elegant Grace Kelly-style French twist. She always managed to look like a million bucks, I thought, which was a lot less, P.J. had told me, than what Cassie's husband had left her when he suffocated to death in a silo a few years ago.
In comparison, I knew I looked all wrong in my favorite navy blue slacks and red-and-white-striped Liz Claiborne T-shirt. When I dressed this morning, I thought it was a perfect outfit for the warm weather, but it was autumn, despite the temperature, and I now realized I had committed a seasonal faux pas. Even worse, the pleats on my pants were making me feel fatter by the minute, and the contrast between my light-colored T-shirt and my dark slacks
cut me in half and made me look even shorter than five one. Why hadn't I seen that before I left the house?
The regular Friday morning routine, I'd learned last week, was to check the paper for obvious errors and to make sure all the regular features were in place. I took the front section, Cassie took the middle, and we began to read through the articles. It all seemed to be there, the things our readers expected each week: church schedules, real estate transfers, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, comics, high school sports, and a single column of national and world news. The extension service's column was extra long this week, full of helpful tips about fertilizers, apple storage, and the need to turn over one's mulch on a regular basis to prevent fires.
The police blotter was very short, for which I was grateful. The worst crimes Lickin Creek had experienced during the past week were the theft of some plastic flowers from a cemetery plot and some rolls of toilet paper tossed into the trees on the square during the high school's Homecoming Week. It looked like life had returned to normal after Percy Montrose's poisoning death during the Apple Butter Festival a few weeks ago. Despite my role in finding his killer, I knew many locals had added the closing of the medical clinic to the list of things they blamed me for, starting with the burning down of the Historical Society last summer.
After we'd finished our individual sections, we spread the classified section out on the table so we could check it together. The classified ads were of major importance--without them, the paper would fold. We'd found only a few errors before the bell over the front door tinkled, indicating somebody had entered.
"Come in," I called. "We're in the back room."
A young woman appeared, and my first thought on seeing her was she had to be about eleven months pregnant. The visitor's chair echoed her groan as she lowered herself into it.
"Only six weeks to go," she said with a weary sigh.
It flashed through my mind that she must be expecting quadruplets at the very least to be as big as this at seven and a half months.
"I'm Janet Margolies, vice president in charge of marketing and public relations for the college."
By college, I knew she meant the Lickin Creek College for Women, the only one in town.
"Nice to meet you, Janet. I'm Tori Miracle and this is Cassie Kriner. How can we help you?" I asked as I pointed out a typo to Cassie.
"Have you heard about the Civil War Reenactment we have scheduled for Parents' Weekend?"
I shook my head.
"That's the problem. Nobody else has, either. We need some publicity, and we need it fast."
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