To celebrate our shared release today, Edith/Maddie and Barb decided our protagonists should meet up briefly. Get ready for a mashup!
Robbie Jordan stared, stunned, at the picturesque harbor before them that June.
“Wow. Busman’s Harbor, Maine looks just like…” Her voice trailed off.
“Just like it’s supposed to?” her aunt, Adele Jordan, asked.
“Something like that.”
Robbie and Adele had flown east from Indiana to visit an ancestor’s home in Massachusetts and decided to take a jaunt to the Maine coast as part of the trip.
“Look.” Adele pointed to a building at the edge of the busy harbor, an old warehouse with peeling paint and an antique gas pump outside. A steady stream of people came in and out the front door, giving lie to the building’s look of deserted decrepitude. “Maybe we can get lunch there.”
Robbie’s stomach gurgled. “Let’s do it.”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Adele said.
The door opened to a set of stairs, leading down. The thrum of muted conversation emanating from below was encouraging. At the bottom, in the front room, a counter and a kitchen stood in front of them and a strange kind of bowling alley or shuffleboard lane behind them. The other room of the restaurant, with large windows that looked out on the busy harbor, was nearly full, but not completely.
At a round table in the center of the room sat a group of uniformed police.
“Good sign,” Aunt Adele said, sticking her chin in their direction. “The local cops eat here.”
“Who are you?” The man in the white apron who met them at the door was old, but by no means frail.
“I’m Robbie Jordan,” Robbie started. “And this is my Aunt–“
The man shook his head. “Nope, nope, nope.” He stepped forward, backing them toward the door at the bottom of the stairs.
“I own a restaurant myself,” Robbie added. Maybe professional courtesy would apply. “In Indiana.”
“Definitely nope,” the man answered.
Robbie looked helplessly at Aunt Adele. Maybe it was better to just go.
A petite blond woman who was sitting alone at the end of the counter came over. “Gus,” she said severely. “These are my guests, Robbie and her, um, aunt.” She put an arm around Adele’s shoulders protectively and walked them toward the open stools next to where she’d been sitting. “Quick,” she whispered to Robbie. “Tell me everything. You own a restaurant in Indiana.” She led them onward, physically and conversationally, introducing herself as Julia Snowden.
“She does,” Adele piped up. “She owns and runs the cutest country store restaurant. Pans ‘N Pancakes is the most popular place in the county, and she sells vintage cookware, too.” Her aging blue eyes were still bright. “Plus she’s married to an adorable man, and she has a clever teenage stepson, and–,”
“Stop, Adele,” Robbie said. “You’re verging on TMI. Julia doesn’t want to hear about all that.”
“Really, I do,” Julia said, slightly envious. This woman not only had a business, she had a husband and a family. Julia heard the tock of the big hand on her biological clock as it moved inexorably forward. She always pictured it as an antique mantel clock, handwound, which amused her when she was able to be amused by it.
By this time they were seated. Julia got up again and grabbed menus. Most people at Gus’s didn’t bother. The offerings hadn’t changed since long before she was born. “Be sure to order the French fries,” she said to her erstwhile guests.
Gus approached from behind the counter with a pad of paper in his hand and took the stub of a pencil from behind his ear. He shot Julia a skeptical look from under his great, white eyebrows and said, “What’ll it be?”
Robbie ordered a BLT with fries, even though she’d hoped for a Maine lobster roll, and Aunt Adele a tuna melt, both drawing approving looks from Julia. Adele insisted on trying a Moxie, despite Julia’s warning that Maine’s signature soda was an acquired taste.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Adele repeated. It was becoming their mantra for the trip.
“Just water for me, please,” Robbie said.
“It’s funny that you’re in the food business. My family runs a clambake here.” Julia described the clambake to her guests, who were enthralled.
“So you call it a ‘dining experience,'” Robbie said, fascinated. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. It sounds wonderful.”
“You should come,” Julia urged. “How long will you be in town? Our friends-and-family soft-opening for the season is tomorrow. It’ll be a little rough, but…”
“We’re supposed to go back to Massachusetts first thing in the morning.” Robbie looked at Adele.
“Our flight isn’t until Monday,” Adele reminded her.
“We’ll let you know. Thanks for asking us, Julia.”
After their food was delivered, Julia and Robbie settled down to a long talk about food vendors, staffing, scheduling, and challenging customers. The fries were as delicious as Julia had promised. Robbie had acquired a deep fryer for her restaurant just last month. She wanted to ask Gus his secret, but the scowl he wore whenever he looked in their direction persuaded her otherwise.
The group of police filtered out of the next room. A handsome blond man detached himself from the group and waved. “Bye, Julia.”
Adele watched them go. “Running her place isn’t the only thing Robbie’s good at. She’s also good at solving murders.”
Julia’s jaw dropped. “You. Are. Kidding. Me.” She put her hand on Robbie’s arm. “Please come to the clambake tomorrow. We need to talk again. I think we’re going to become very good friends.”
Readers: What do you think? Should Robbie and Julia start collaborating on crime-solving? What other mashups do you enjoy?
In Four Leaf Cleaver, there’s no mistaking Saint Patrick’s Day at Pans ’N Pancakes, where the shelves of vintage cookware in her southern Indiana store are draped with Kelly-green garlands and her restaurant is serving shepherd’s pie and Guinness Beer brownies. The big event, however, is a televised Irish cooking competition to be filmed on site. Unfortunately, someone’s luck has run out. Before the cameras start rolling, tough-as-nails producer Tara O’Hara Moore is found upstairs in her B&B room, a heavy cleaver left by her side. Now, not only does Robbie have a store full of festive decorations, she’s got a restaurant full of suspects . . .
In “Perked Up,” Barb’s novella in Irish Coffee Murder, it’s a snowy St. Patrick’s night in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. When the power goes out, what better way for Julia Snowden to spend the evening than sharing local ghost stories—and Irish coffees—with friends and family? By the time the lights come back, they might even have solved the coldest case in town . . .
Note: graphic by Jennifer McKee.