Seashells and Murder
Ellie can't believe her luck: instead of a dreary English winter, she's enjoying an unexpected vacation in sunny Florida... and things get even more exciting when she's roped in to judge the annual Key Lime Pie Contest at her beach resort.
The rivalry is fierce, the recipes are daring, but nobody expects the event to end in murder! Before long, Ellie is swapping comfy cabanas and sugar-white sand for some serious sleuthing. She soon discovers that everyone has something to hide. Are the contestants really as innocent as they say?
Does the resort chef still hold a vindictive grudge? And what was the victim's wife really doing on the night of the murder?
Meanwhile, Ellie finds that there are other dangers lurking at the resort, such as being robbed at beak-point by Hemingway the parrot! Then there's her simmering chemistry with the hunky resort doctor--a distraction she doesn't need. Help comes from Mojito the resort cat, who has a nose for clues, but it turns out that this mystery has more twists than a conch shell. If Ellie doesn't solve the case soon, she's going to find that Florida's famous pie is really "to die for"...
Genre: beach mystery, cat cozy mystery series, culinary cozy mysteries, women sleuth, amateur sleuth, humorous cozy mysteries
BAREFOOT SLEUTH MYSTERIES:
Flip-Flops and Murder (Book 1)
Seashells and Murder (Book 2)
Cocktails and Murder (Book 3)
Bikinis and Murder (Book 4)
Release date: August 14, 2020
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 236
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Seashells and Murder
"So… how are you enjoying Florida?"
Ellie smiled at the distinguished-looking, elderly gentleman sitting opposite her, who had asked the question.
“Oh, it's been wonderful so far! You know, I’ve always wanted to visit the famous ‘Sunshine State’ and it was like a dream come true when Aunt Olive—” Ellie glanced at the spry woman in her sixties sitting at the table next to her, “—sent me a plane ticket out of the blue with an invitation to come and join her here in Tampa Bay! London is so dark, cold, and dreary at this time of the year, so it was heaven to be able to get away from all that and come to the warmth and sunshine!”
“And I hear that you’re going to be with us over Christmas and New Year?”
“Yes! My first Christmas outside England. Of course,” Ellie added, beaming, “being able to stay at your beautiful resort, Mr. Papadopoulos, is the icing on the cake.” She gestured at the view of the huge pool and the beach beyond, visible from the open terrace where they were sitting. “I’ve seen postcards and photos of beach resorts with gorgeous white sand and swaying palm trees and dazzling blue swimming pools and cocktails and cabanas… but the reality is so much more amazing!”
“Thank you, my dear,” said Mr. Papadopoulos, tipping an imaginary hat in an old-fashioned but charming gesture. The resort owner was a small, dapper man, with a fondness for wearing white linen suits and gray hair pomaded like a gentleman from the 1950s. His most striking feature, however, was his magnificent moustache, which was thick and styled into two twirls on either side of his nose. Somehow, he managed to make it look distinguished rather than comical. Ellie wondered if his moustache was a nod to his Greek heritage but she didn’t dare ask.
“I’m very pleased that you’re enjoying my resort so much. And I’m delighted that your aunt has decided to remain here until the new year. We’ve never had a ‘writer in residence’ before,” Mr. Papadopoulos said with a twinkle in his eye. “I think it gives the resort a real cachet, like having our very own Hemingway!”
Aunt Olive gave a modest laugh. “Oh, I can hardly compare to that great writer! My books are merely little mysteries—”
“They are very good mysteries,” said Mr. Papadopoulos. “I have read some of them myself. It's why I was so delighted when I heard that you were staying on after the writers’ conference. I'm a huge fan, Mrs. Goldberg.”
“Thank you! And please, do call me Olive,” said Aunt Olive, giving him a flirtatious smile.
“That’s a charming vintage name which you don’t often hear nowadays,” said Mr. Papadopoulos gallantly. He turned to Ellie. “And yours is a nickname too, Ms. Bishop?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, Ellie is short for Elinor, but no one has ever called me that, except my parents when I was in trouble,” she added with a grin.
“In any case, you already have your own Hemingway,” said Aunt Olive with a chuckle. “And he has already made your resort famous around the world!”
“Or infamous, perhaps,” said Mr. Papadopoulos with a wry laugh. “Yes, it’s not everywhere that you can eat breakfast with a scarlet macaw perched on your shoulder, demanding helpings from your plate! Although I have to say, I do worry sometimes that Hemingway might annoy the guests and put people off coming. He can be very mischievous. I know the Sunset Palms Beach Resort has built a reputation as a place for ‘animal lovers’ but I do often wonder if I did the right thing when I decided to let Hemingway have free run of the place. Maybe I should be confining him more—”
“Oh no—everyone I’ve met loves him,” protested Ellie. “He’s such a great character. Besides, I think people expect parrots to be a bit loud and rebellious.”
“Yes, they do say living with parrots is like living with a perpetual toddler—naughty and constantly demanding attention,” said Mr. Papadopoulos, sighing with a mixture of exasperation and affection. “Anyway, I’m glad that you enjoy his antics. And I’m delighted that you’ll be staying with your aunt until the new year. I hope you will both have a wonderful stay at the resort. If there is anything you require—anything at all—just send me a message via the reception desk. I have left a note that you are very special guests.”
“Oh, Mr. Papadopoulos, you are too kind!” twittered Aunt Olive, fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“No, no, it is only right, especially after what happened a week ago with the murder…” He grimaced “It’s the least I can do to make amends for the unpleasant experience.”
“But it wasn’t your fault,” said Aunt Olive. “Who knew that one of the writers at the conference would be murdered? If anything, I think you and your staff handled the whole thing remarkably well.”
“I think it was your niece who handled things remarkably well,” said Mr. Papadopoulos with an admiring look at Ellie. “She is a fantastic sleuth, I hear! Yes, yes, don’t blush, young lady. There’s no need to be modest. I’m good friends with the county sheriff and he told me that you practically helped them solve the case.”
“Oh no, it was really just a bit of luck being in the right place at the right time,” protested Ellie.
“Fiddle-faddle! Nothing was ever achieved just by being lucky,” said Aunt Olive. “Mr. Papadopoulos is right. You’ve inherited my nostrils, Ellie, and you’re quick to pick up clues.”
“Erm… thanks,” said Ellie uncertainly, staring at her aunt’s flared nostrils and not sure it was a compliment.
“Listen to your aunt, young lady,” said Mr. Papadopoulos, his eyes twinkling. “As a bestselling mystery author, I’m sure she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to playing detective!”
“Well, I have no wish to play detective again,” said Ellie, shaking her head with a laugh. “All I want to do now is enjoy the rest of my time in Florida and experience some of the things that Tampa Bay is famous for—”
“Ah! In that case, I have the perfect thing for you,” said Mr. Papadopoulos. “Our Key Lime Pie Contest this weekend!”
Ellie looked at him with interest. “A Key Lime Pie Contest?”
Mr. Papadopoulos nodded. “It’s an annual event that we host here at the resort. It’s extremely popular. Not only with the locals, but many people come from other states to watch. It really helps to swell the numbers at the resort, as well as give us good publicity.”
“Can anyone take part?” asked Ellie, intrigued.
“Yes, anyone can apply, but it’s very competitive because we have so many entries, and can only accept a small number of contestants. Just being chosen for the shortlist is a great honor! Especially as it means that they’ll be working with our head chef, Remy Marcel, one of the top pastry chefs in the country.”
“And is he the one who judges the pies?” asked Aunt Olive.
“Ah no, Chef Marcel oversees the contest and helps the competitors, but we usually have a special guest judge come in to taste the pies and make the final decision on the winner. We try to invite a famous food critic or master chef or even a ‘foodie’ celebrity each year.” Mr. Papadopoulos rubbed his hands together with glee. “This year we’ve managed to get Chad Coleman to agree to judge!”
Ellie looked at him blankly.
“You don't know him?” said Mr. Papadopoulos. “He’s a well-known celebrity food critic and especially popular here in Florida. Coleman used to be a chef himself, actually; then he moved to TV and became the host for various shows on food and lifestyle channels. He has a big following, so it will be very beneficial PR for the resort to have him judge our contest.” Mr. Papadopoulos paused, then added as an uncertain look crossed his face: “Actually, I hope getting Chad Coleman was a major coup and not my biggest mistake!”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Aunt Olive, surprised.
Mr. Papadopoulos sighed. “Well, there’s a sort of a… a feud between Coleman and Chef Marcel. They used to be business partners, you see. In fact, they used to run a restaurant together. But there was some problem and they fell out with each other. It seems that things have been strained between them ever since.”
“What did Chef Marcel say when you told him about Coleman being the judge?” asked Aunt Olive.
Mr. Papadopoulos looked slightly sheepish. “I haven’t actually told him. Marcel can be… well, he’s almost like a stereotypical French chef, you know? Brilliant in the kitchen, but he’s got a terrible temper. My goodness, I can’t tell you the number of times the staff have had to call me in to calm him down about something.” He sighed. “He doesn’t pay much attention to things going on in the resort outside his kitchen and he never looks at the promotional material for the contests, so thankfully he’s remained in the dark about Coleman’s involvement. It’s why I decided it would probably be easier to just surprise him on the day—present him with a “fait accompli,” as the French say. It will be so late in the day that he can’t kick up much of a fuss then, and hopefully they won’t see much of each other anyway. Chad Coleman won’t be mixing with Marcel and the contestants during the day, when the baking is being done. He’ll only arrive in the evening, during the judging and awards ceremony. So as long as they can remain civil with each other, there shouldn’t be any unnecessary ‘drama.’”
“Well, personally, I hope there will be lots of drama!” said Aunt Olive with an impish smile. “There's nothing a writer likes more than real-life conflict. It’s a great chance to observe human nature and get inspiration for my next book,” she said with a wink.
“I’m just interested in the pies,” said Ellie, chuckling. “I’ll never forget tasting that first slice of Key lime pie on the day I arrived in Florida.”
“Ah, where was that?” asked Mr. Papadopoulos with interest.
“Here at the resort—at one of your restaurants: the Hammerheads Bar and Grill overlooking the pool,” said Ellie. “Your lovely head waiter Sol introduced me to it. He told me it’s the state pie of Florida.”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Papadopoulos. “It’s one of our state icons.”
“Is it named after the Florida Keys?” asked Ellie.
“In a way. It’s actually named after a type of lime that grows particularly well down there,” Mr. Papadopoulos explained. “It’s a bit similar to the regular Persian limes that you’d buy in the supermarket, except that it’s yellow when ripe and is much smaller. It also has a sweeter, more aromatic flavor. It’s what gives the pie its distinctive taste.” He smiled. “They say the best place to eat it is down in Key West, but I think the version we've got up here in Tampa Bay is pretty damn good.”
“It sounds delicious,” commented Aunt Olive. “Will members of the public get to taste the pies made by the contestants?”
“No, I’m afraid there won’t be enough pie to go around. But don’t worry: my staff will be making our very own Key lime pies and we’ll make sure that there’s more than enough for everybody.”
“I can’t wait,” said Ellie with relish. “It’s a shame we won’t get to taste the ones made by the contestants, though. I’d love to try different variations and see how the taste differs.”
“Hey, you know what?” said Mr. Papadopoulos, snapping his fingers. “Why don’t we do that?”
“Do what?” said Ellie, confused.
“We’ll have a second award! Obviously, the main winner will be chosen by Chad Coleman, but I always hate to see the disappointment on the other contestants’ faces, so this would be a great way to pick another winner.” He smiled at Ellie. “And you can do the honors, young lady.”
“Yes, yes, we can turn the whole thing into a PR opportunity!” said Mr. Papadopoulos, rubbing his hands together. “Having an amateur—a ‘normal’ person—as a judge, in addition to a professional, could be a great marketing point. Plus, since you’re new to the country, you would have a fresh perspective. You’re English, so your preferences might be very different from an American, and it would be interesting to see which one you think is the best pie. I’m sure the crowds will love it. So will you do it?” He looked at Ellie eagerly.
“Oh… erm… but I don’t have any experience as a food critic or anything,” protested Ellie. “I’ve never judged a competition before.”
“You’ll be wonderful!” said Mr. Papadopoulos, waving a hand. “All you have to do is taste the pies and pick your favorite. That’s it! Oh, and look gorgeous and pose for a couple of photos too, but that should be easy for a lovely young lady like you,” he added gallantly.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Aunt Olive enthusiastically.
“Well… if you’re sure,” said Ellie. She laughed. “I’m not going to turn down the chance to eat more Key lime pie!”
“Great, that’s settled,” said Mr. Papadopoulos, getting up from the table. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m going to speak to my marketing manager about this new idea. Thank you for joining me for lunch. I look forward to seeing you ladies again soon!”
Ellie took a deep breath and stretched out her foot, dipping her toe into the water. It was cool and inviting, but still, she hesitated.
This is ridiculous! She told herself. Everyone else can learn how to do it—why can’t I?
There were a series of wide steps leading into the huge resort swimming pool and Ellie went down these slowly, until the water came up to her waist. It felt cool and silky against her skin and she began to relax. She knew it was silly to be so nervous, but she had gotten so used to the feeling, from years of being scared of the water, that it was hard to change her thinking. Since arriving at the Sunset Palms, she had tried to venture into the pool every day and let go of her fears, but so far, it wasn’t coming as easily as she’d hoped. She looked enviously at two little kids who had jumped fearlessly into the pool and were now paddling carelessly though the water, splashing everyone around them. Look, even little children are just jumping in and they can’t even swim properly, she told herself.
Feeling encouraged, Ellie began wading slowly across the pool, bobbing up and down as she moved through the water. She was careful not to go too far toward the other end, where the bottom of the pool began to slope away and the water got very deep. But she did dare to venture as far as the middle, where the water came up to her chin.
Ellie looked up. She could see seagulls wheeling overhead and hear their faint cries. The sky was a dazzling blue, with not a cloud in sight, and tall palm trees leaned lazily into view, their fronds swaying in the sea breeze coming off the beach. Ah, this is the life, she thought, smiling to herself. She could have been stuck in London, commuting to work on a crowded underground train and shivering in the cold and rain. Instead, she was here at one of Florida’s most beautiful resorts, on a beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico…
She relaxed even more, easing back into the water and feeling it wet the hair at the back of her head. Stretching her arms out, Ellie leaned back even farther, pretending to be floating on the surface of the water… Then suddenly her foot slipped from beneath her, tipping her backward, and she went under.
Ellie flailed in panic for a moment before her toes found the bottom of the pool again and she stood up, coughing and spluttering. She wiped the water from her face, then she realized that her sunglasses had fallen off their perch on top of her head and were now floating away!
“Oh no!” she cried in dismay.
She had only just bought this new pair of shades from the resort’s gift shop yesterday. Her old sunglasses from England were made of cheap plastic and, when she’d seen these designer shades in the window display of the gift shop, she had been unable to resist splashing out on a new pair. They had been an expensive purchase—a real indulgence. An aviator style, with pink mirrored lenses that caught the light in a dazzling way, they seemed to represent her time here in Florida—colorful and exciting, glamorous and full of adventure. They were the most flamboyant thing Ellie had ever bought and she loved them.
I should have taken them off before I got into the pool, she berated herself. She started to go after the sunglasses, but they had drifted toward the deeper end. As she waded after them, she felt the bottom of the pool sloping steeply away and the water start to come above her chin. Ellie stopped. She was too scared to go any deeper. She stretched out her arms, but the sunglasses were floating just out of reach.
“Bugger…” she muttered to herself.
She was just looking around and wondering if she could cope with the embarrassment of having to call one of the pool attendants to help, when she heard a raucous squawking. Ellie looked up at the sky again, and this time she saw an enormous red bird fly across the pool deck. It was Hemingway, the resort’s resident scarlet macaw. He stretched out his huge wings and flapped them powerfully as he came to perch on one of the lounge chairs nearby.
“PEEKABOO!” he said, tilting his head to look at Ellie.
“Hello Hemingway,” said Ellie, giving him a rueful smile. “I suppose you’ve come to laugh at me?”
At her words, the parrot arched his neck and let out a shrill: “HA HA HA HA HA!”
“Very funny,” said Ellie sarcastically.
The parrot turned, his attention caught by the light glinting off the mirrored lenses of her shades floating on the water. He made an excited chattering sound, then suddenly, he spread his wings and took off. As Ellie watched in amazement, he swooped down toward the surface of the pool and, using his powerful claws, fished the sunglasses out of the water and rose up into the sky.
“Hey! Hemingway—come back!” shouted Ellie as the macaw flew across the pool deck and out toward the beach, still clutching her precious sunglasses.
She waded quickly back to the edge of the pool and hauled herself out. Grabbing a towel to wrap around her dripping body, Ellie raced after the parrot. She weaved between the cabanas and lounge chairs spread out on the deck and headed down a path which led from the landscaped grounds of the resort onto the beach.
Before reaching the open sand, the path passed through a small area filled with sand dunes, palm trees, and clumps of beach grasses and other seashore vegetation. Hemingway had stopped on a palm tree here and was perched now on one of the fronds. Ellie arrived at the foot of the tree and winced as she saw that the macaw had her sunglasses clutched in one claw and was nibbling them with his powerful beak.
“No! Hemingway, don’t do that!” she wailed.
The parrot paused and cocked his head to look down at her.
“Come on—be a good boy. Give me back my sunglasses,” coaxed Ellie.
“MY SUNGLASSES!” said the macaw, then continued what he was doing. Ellie heard something crack.
“No!” she gasped. “Oy! Stop that! You’re going to break them!”
She looked frantically around and grabbed at a clump of sea oats, breaking off one of the tall spikes with seedheads. She flung this at Hemingway, but of course, it barely went high enough, fluttering harmlessly to land a few feet away.
“OY! STOP THAT!” squawked Hemingway, eyeballing her.
“Oooh!” Ellie glared at the parrot. She’d forgotten how good he was at mimicking and how quickly he learned new words. In fact, she’d seen a couple of funny situations in the past week when Hemingway had embarrassed guests by repeating what they had said. It wasn’t so funny when she was the target of his mischief now.
She looked around again, and this time she spied an abandoned beach ball nearby. She hurried to pick it up. It was slightly deflated, but she hoped that it would still be substantial enough. Ellie looked up and took aim, then tossed the beach ball at Hemingway.
Her aim was awful. The ball sailed harmlessly past. However, it was big enough to spook the macaw. Hemingway took off, screeching, into the sky. Ellie gave a cry of triumph, which quickly turned to a groan. The sunglasses had dropped from Hemingway’s claws, but instead of falling to the sand below, they had gotten caught on the lowest fronds of the palm tree. They were still stuck up there, completely out of reach!
“Argh!” cried Ellie in frustration as she eyed the shades dangling just out of reach.
She tried to shake the trunk of the palm tree, but it was too thick and barely moved. Turning, she picked up the beach ball again and tossed it at the lower fronds, hoping to knock the sunglasses loose. Her aim was just as bad this time as the last: the ball struck the side of the trunk and bounced away, disappearing over a dune. Then she heard an exclamation come from behind the dune—a male voice crying out in surprise.
Yikes. Ellie hurried over and found herself looking into the startled eyes of a handsome young man sitting up in a hammock. He had obviously been dozing in the hammock, which was slung between two palm tree trunks, just out of sight around a large inkberry shrub. The beach ball must have sailed over and hit him on the head.
“What on earth…?” he said, rubbing his forehead.
“Oh, I'm so sorry!” cried Ellie, putting a hand up to her mouth. “Are you hurt? I didn't realize that anyone was—” She broke off suddenly as she recognized who it was. “Oh! It’s you! What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at your clinic?”
Dr. Blake Thornton grinned at her. “Even doctors get a day off sometimes. Although it would be nice if we could have a nap in peace.”
Ellie blushed. “Yeah, sorry about that. I was trying to get my sunglasses out of the tree,” she explained, indicating the tall palm behind them.
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