Tish Tarragon is catering for a wedding, but the weekend goes from sweet to sour when a guest at the venue is poisoned.
Literary caterer and owner of Cookin’ the Books cafe Tish Tarragon is pushing thoughts of her impending eviction aside to prepare an appetising welcome buffet for a wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. While there, Tish witnesses one of the guests, controversial TV chef and restaurant critic, Gunner Randall, threatening staff after missing breakfast and making do with a mushroom omelet.
When Randall is found dead the following day, it soon becomes clear that poisoned mushrooms were behind his demise. With no shortage of potential suspects and motives, can Tish and her new beau, Sheriff Clemson Reade, uncover who was enraged enough with the unsavoury star to silence him for good?
‘I can’t believe it. My café is closed, and once this job is finished, my catering business is on hiatus until I can find a new kitchen,’ Tish Tarragon, owner of Cookin’ the Books literary café, lamented as she loaded a crate of dishes into her bright red van in preparation for a book-themed wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. ‘When I opened this business, I knew there was a chance it might close because it wasn’t successful, but I never imagined it would close because I’d been evicted.’Julian Davis, Channel Ten weatherman and one of Tish’s dearest friends since college, slid a box of crystal stemware into the spot beside the dishes. ‘Well, you did tell your landlord to shut up, honey. And rather angrily, too.’
‘When I said that, I wasn’t talking to Schuyler Thompson, my landlord. I was talking to Schuyler Thompson, my ex-boyfriend and Hobson Glen’s crummy new mayor who was working with the town council to cover up the identity of a murderer.’
‘Clearly, Schuyler doesn’t compartmentalize these matters as well as you do,’ Jules deadpanned. ‘I’ve gotta say, though, you got the crummy mayor part right. Do you know that man is imposing a town tax on vehicle registrations in addition to the state fee we already pay?’
‘Yes, I heard. The tax would be on a sliding scale, with owners of larger vehicles paying more than those with smaller cars. I can’t wait to see how much it will be to re-register this van.’
‘Disgraceful. I’m proud to say I didn’t vote for him. Although I have a bit of a confession to make – even before you and he split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler.’
‘I have a confession to make, too. Even before he and I split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler either,’ Tish replied, eliciting a loud cackle from Jules.
‘Well, let’s forget him. Now you have yourself a hot, hunky man who treats you like a goddess.’
Tish thought back to the previous night and the lovely candlelight dinner Sheriff Clemson Reade had cooked in the kitchen of his cozy circa-1930 bungalow. ‘He really is wonderful,’ she gushed. ‘He’s been so incredibly supportive through all of this. Helping me scour real estate ads, listening to my fears . . . he even arranged for his friend Shirley – remember, she owns Justine’s, the restaurant by the Canal Walk in Richmond? – to buy leftover stock from me. I don’t have a lot to sell, but it’s good to know that food won’t go to waste. It will also be nice to have a little extra pocket money.’
‘Mary Jo and the kids are staying with Celestine until they can find a new apartment,’ Jules said, referring to their other college chum who had been living in the apartment above the café after a nasty divorce and was now rooming with Tish’s recently widowed baker. ‘The café is closed to the public, you’re selling off extra supplies, and you’re completing the last of your catering gigs this weekend. You also need to be out of here before the end of the month which – need I remind you – is mere days away. So why are you still staying here?’
Tish gazed at the flower-and-plant-festooned porch with its wide cushion-lined swing and blinked back her tears. She had put so much time and care into transforming the café into not just a thriving, welcoming business, but a comfortable home, that it was difficult to imagine leaving it all behind. ‘I suppose I’m not ready to let go quite yet,’ she confessed. ‘There’s also the matter of Tuna—’
‘Tuna will be fine. Out of all the porches in Hobson Glen that cat could have wandered on to, he chose yours. He’s your cat, honey. Wherever you go, he’ll follow and he’ll adapt.’
‘So long as he can follow. Do you know how difficult it is to find an apartment that allows pets?’
‘No, luckily, my landlady loves Biscuit.’ Jules glanced down at the Bichon Frisé sniffing the ground at his feet. ‘But why are you even bothering to look at apartments? I’m sure Clemson wouldn’t mind Tuna coming along for the ride. He has suggested that you move in with him, hasn’t he?’
‘He has,’ she confirmed. ‘I told him I’d think about it.’
‘What’s there to think about? You love him, and he’s loaded to the gills with love for you. What else do you need?’
‘Assurance. The last time I moved in with someone so quickly, things didn’t end very well.’
‘Your relationship with Schuyler didn’t break up because you moved in with him too soon. Your relationship ended because Schuyler’s a jackass.’
‘I understand that, but—’
‘I don’t want to do anything to put my relationship with Clemson in jeopardy. I’d like us to progress to the next step naturally, instead of being pushed into it by circumstance.’
‘Sometimes circumstance is simply fate lending a helping hand,’ Jules philosophized. ‘Considering it took five murder cases and a totaled car before the two of you even started to date, I’m thinking y’all should grab on to any helping hand that comes your way.’
‘I didn’t say no, Jules,’ Tish reinforced with a sigh. ‘I just need some time.’
‘Time for what? To perfect your shadow-puppet skills on the empty walls of your tiny bedroom?’
‘To grieve a little.’
Jules folded his arms across his chest and rolled his eyes. ‘This space is gone, but your business isn’t.’
‘To find a new location for the café,’ she added to the list of excuses.
‘A new, improved, and possibly expanded location,’ he added with a broad grin.
‘I agree with you on the new, but I’m afraid the improved and expanded isn’t quite in the stars at the moment. The only place I can afford is nearly a third the size of this one. I’ll have to limit my business to takeout only.’
‘Oh, you mean that little storefront for rent over in Coleton Creek?’
‘If you’re talking about the one in the strip mall between Jenny Craig and the check-cashing place, then yes, that’s the one.’
‘Well, being next door to Jenny Craig probably won’t help sell Celestine’s fabulous cakes, but the check-cashing place might bring in some business, what with all those people with money in their pockets waiting to be spent.’
‘Yeah, the check-cashing place also runs a pawn service, which means after you hock that engagement ring you no longer need or cash in your late Aunt Hattie’s pearls, you can swing by my place and treat yourself to a scone,’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘The ads will practically write themselves.’
‘OK, so maybe it’s not the ideal location,’ Jules admitted. ‘But I know one that is – the Hobson Glen Bar and Grill building. It’s bigger than this place, has plenty of parking, a newly renovated living area upstairs, a back room you could rent out for parties, and enough surrounding property to expand into an outdoor eating area. Plus, a little birdie told me that the owner turned the deed back over to the bank who, in turn, is selling it for a song.’
‘Yes, I heard the same news, so I took a look online. Even with the discounted price, that song is still way out of my key.’
‘Oh, but it’s perfect! You worked in finance for years. Surely someone you know back at the bank might be able to help you.’
‘Maybe. It’s Friday morning – the work week isn’t over yet. I’ll email my old boss this morning and see if some new financing options have opened up,’ she thought aloud. ‘But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, we need to pack this van. I have a wedding weekend to cater.’
‘Not just a wedding weekend, but a bookish wedding weekend. Ever since you started your business, I’ve been waiting for you to get a gig like this one. Romance, reading, great food . . . sounds like it could be your wedding.’
‘I already had a wedding, remember?’
‘How could I forget?’ Jules asked dramatically. ‘In addition to feeling like an oversized eggplant in that suit you made me wear—’
‘Aubergine was a hot color for bridesmaids that year!’ Tish interrupted.
‘—I spent most of that morning in the ladies’ room with Mary Jo while she suffered from morning sickness.’
‘That’s right. She was pregnant with Kayla. It’s hard to believe that was nearly sixteen years ago.’
‘It is, but you’re missing my point. A wedding isn’t a funeral, honey. A person can have more than one.’
‘A person also can also have more than one best friend,’ Tish volleyed, ‘but sometimes that additional best friend can be a real nag.’
Author of the critically acclaimed Marjorie McClelland Mysteries, Vermont Country Living Mysteries, and Tish Tarragon Mysteries, Amy Patricia Meade is a native of Long Island, NY, where she cut her teeth on classic films and books featuring Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown.
After stints as an Operations Manager for a document imaging company and as a freelance technical writer, Amy left the bright lights of New York City and headed north to pursue her creative writing career amidst the idyllic beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains.
After five years living in Bristol, England, Amy now resides in upstate New York.
When not writing, Amy spends her time working for her musician husband, watching classic films, testing new recipes, belly dancing, and cleaning cat hair from her lap.