Long past due for Chapter Two…
Maggie Stellino was sitting at the counter, sipping coffee and watching Juliet LaChapelle – Jules to her friends – package up a to-go coffee and muffin and hand it to a customer. A blue scarf kept Juliet’s short bob of blond hair in place, a whimsical duck clip securing it, a nod to the improbably named café: The Duck. She was owner, chef, baker and hostess. Most mornings, business lined up out the door.
“Thank you, Don, have a great day!” Juliet said as the middle-aged man in a Red Sox cap took the coffee and bagged muffin from her.
“You too, Juliet. See you tomorrow,” he replied. He opened the door, and the little bell above jingled. He held it wide for a smartly dressed woman, then went on his way, sipping his coffee and humming as he walked down the sidewalk.
Maggie began to jot a few notes into a spiral notebook as she scanned the cards in front of her. These were some of Juliet’s favorite lunchtime recipes. Maggie was scaling them down from restaurant servings to family meal proportions. Next, she would test them several times and then select the best for her latest cookbook. Her third cookbook, it would feature comfort foods for busy families.
She loved working here in the early morning, arriving not long after Juliet, writing quietly at the lunch counter while Juliet and her assistant Carl prepped for the day. It was a much better atmosphere for working than her tiny converted gatehouse – with its efficient but equally tiny kitchen – behind her Aunt’s house.
Each morning, Maggie would pour herself a cup of coffee from the first pot of the day and then take her favorite seat in the predawn hours. Soon wonderful smells would drift from the amazing kitchen behind the bakery counter. Soups and breads competed with cookies and muffins for best café smell. And as the sun rose and the café opened, all manner of people from Duxbridge flowed through the doors.
The entire café had a homey feel, with dark wood wainscoting paired with paint the color of butter and a charming assortment of mismatched wood tables and chairs. In the mornings, sun streamed through the large front windows, adorned with tiered yellow-checked cabin curtains and the Duck logo painted on the glass above.
The long vintage lunch counter and a tall bakery case sat at the back of the café. The wall behind the counter was lined with shelves filled with knick-knacks, photos, and gifts from customers who felt like family. Behind the bakery case, through double swinging doors, was the restaurant kitchen. Stainless steel counters and industrial appliances surrounded an ancient butcher-block island used for rolling out pastries and breads.
A side door near the lunch counter led to a small patio. Walled on three sides by flowering vines on lattice, it was a peaceful spot to enjoy a mug of coffee. As the weather warmed, Juliet added planters filled with annuals. It was terrific for people watching. Maggie had spent many an hour there during the warmer months, editing and re-editing her cookbooks.
The bell over the door chimed as a customer entered.
“Kia ora, Maggie,” a tall, dark-haired man dressed in a denim jacket over a black tee and jeans greeted Maggie with a thick New Zealand accent. Her heart involuntarily skipped a beat. His gold-rimmed brown eyes captured her, and his smile lit up the room.
“Morning, Jake. Jules should be right out,” Maggie informed him. “How’s the remodel coming along?”
“Smoothly so far. But the buildings on this block are almost a hundred years old, so I expect to run into trouble at some point.”
“Don’t say that!” Juliet exclaimed as she popped out of the kitchen. “I can barely afford this expansion, to begin with.” She handed him a stainless steel travel mug and a white bag. “Flat white and bagel with cream cheese. Come back for lunch. I’ll make you a Sonoma chicken sandwich with a side of coleslaw.
“This is my favorite job. The employee benefits can’t be beat,” he said, flashing that smile again. “See you later, Maggie,” he said with a nod. And with that, he was out the door.
Jake was Juliet’s contractor. When the antique shop next door closed and the space came up for sale, Juliet decided it was the perfect time to expand. She had always wanted to own a venue large enough to host events, like small wedding receptions, parties and business conferences, and name it the Roost. This renovation would get her started on that goal.
“Jules, don’t take this personally, but I sure hope your expansion takes a very long time.”
Juliet laughed and handed Maggie a plate with a sesame bagel, a small ceramic container of cream cheese, and a few sliced strawberries on it.
“You spoil me,” Maggie told her. Juliet went to help a customer, and Maggie returned to her notes. She was working on a French Market Chicken recipe, trying to do the math to transform Juliet’s restaurant-sized quantities into workable portions for families. Proportions were tricky, which is why she would test each recipe after the initial breakdown.
Once she felt she had one that worked, she would put together a complete menu around it, including dessert. Then she would test the entire menu on friends and family. And because her kitchen was the size of a postage stamp, Juliet was kind enough to let her prepare them at the café. Juliet, her wife Bria Rhys, and Maggie’s brother Mike were her regular guinea pigs, often joined by other friends and family.
She would love to have them at her house, but since she had moved back to Duxbridge from New York City, she’d been living in her Aunt Carol’s gatehouse. It had been repurposed as a cute one-bedroom cottage, decidedly inadequate for a dinner party, no matter how casual. Eventually, she’d buy a small house, but for now, she was content to be a tenant. Besides, her Aunt could use the extra income, and Maggie liked the company.
“Need a refill?” Juliet interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes, please.” Maggie pushed her cup over. “It’s quiet this morning.”
“It has been,” she agreed. “I haven’t seen a lot of our regulars yet.”
The bell over the door rang, and they both looked up to see Maggie’s brother Mike breeze into the café. He was a Duxbridge police officer and was in uniform but looking more disheveled than usual.
“Morning, sis,” he said as he strode over and sat next to her. “Morning, Jules.”
“Coffee and a bear claw?” Juliet asked.
“Yes, and make it to-go, would you please?” Mike asked as he handed her his travel mug.
“I thought you were working days. You look like you’ve been out all night. Your uniform is filthy,” Maggie observed.
“Haven’t you heard? Big case. I’ve been over at Onset beach, helping work the crime scene. I’m heading out to get witness statements now.”
“Onset? That’s not Duxbridge jurisdiction. What’s going on?”
Mike looked around. The café was empty, so he felt he could safely give them the details. He wasn’t one to break protocol, but this was his sister, and he’d known Juliet his entire life, feeling she was more family than friend. He lowered his voice, “There was a murder, and he was from Duxbridge.”
“A murder,” Juliet gasped. “When was the last time we had a murder around here?”
“Right?” Mike continued, “The only one I can remember was when Old Man Barton pushed his brother down the stairs because he thought he was sleeping with his wife. Despite all of them being in their late seventies.” Mike took a sip of his coffee. “But this one is going to be big. The deceased is practically a celebrity. It’s Devon Friedrickson, and he washed up on the beach.”
“Oh, my God,” Maggie breathed. “Are you sure it was murder?”
“It looks like it. I think someone hit him in the head. Don’t know if that killed him or if he drowned. The coroner will let us know later today.”
“If it’s murder, your suspect list is going to be long.” Maggie shook her head, trying to absorb the information. She’d had her own run-ins with him.
“Wow, no kidding,” Juliet agreed. “He treated everyone like crap. Did anyone like him?”
“Are you working with Wareham on this?” Being a cop’s sister, Maggie was familiar with all the politics and administrative hassles when dealing with the various law enforcement agencies.
“Believe it or not, one of the teens who found the body was Lieutenant Carvalho’s daughter.”
“Tina?” Juliet looked alarmed. Tina worked for her on the weekends.
“Yeah, and she called Carvalho. When he realized who the deceased was, he convinced the Chief to ask Wareham for jurisdiction. Wareham’s Chief was more than happy to dump it on us. They have their hands full prepping for the summer season.”
“And Bennie’s got you running around doing his legwork?” Maggie asked, knowing that her brother was always first in line to request that duty.
“He handed it off to Joe Madigan. He didn’t want there to be a conflict. This one’s important, sis, and I’m not going to miss out,” he said emphatically. “Helping solve a high-profile case will only advance my career, so I told Madigan I’d do whatever he needed.”
Maggie tried not to sigh. She worried about her brother every day and wasn’t happy he’d be in the middle of a potentially dangerous murder investigation. However, she would stay silent and supportive. She knew he had long-term goals that would lead him far away from police work and into politics. And it was true, being associated with a successful investigation would only boost his profile and hasten his political aspirations.
“What’s your next step?” Juliet asked.
“I’m going to go talk with Tina, get her take on it. Hopefully, when I’m done with her statement, the warrant will be ready for Friedrickson’s house. I’ll join the crime scene crew there.”
“I hope she’s okay. What a horrible thing to discover.” Juliet worried.
“From what I heard, she’s her father’s daughter. Took over the entire scene, wouldn’t let anyone disturb the evidence. Made sure the party-goers dumped their contraband and stuck around for interviews.”
“Good for her,” Maggie said, impressed. She was sure she wouldn’t have that kind of composure in a similar situation.
“Well, I’ve got to go. Don’t go blabbing what I’ve told you.” He stood up and gave his sister a quick kiss on the forehead.
“Be careful,” she said as he walked to the door.
“Ten-four,” he replied as he left.
“Wow,” Juliet breathed, looking at Maggie.
Maggie knew they were thinking the same thing, Devon was a rat-bastard, but no one deserved this.
“Right?!” Juliet whispered. “I mean, who hasn’t he ticked off since he arrived in Duxbridge?”
“Me, included.” Maggie shook her head, feeling guilty because, with Devon dead, he would no longer be a thorn in her side.
“Me, too,” Juliet said, getting up to refill her and Maggie’s mugs.
“Wait? You? I don’t believe it. You’re the kindest person I know.”
“Yeah, well, Devon sure knew how to push my buttons,” Juliet explained. “He was demanding the de Lunas give him exclusivity so that no other local restaurants could buy specialty cheeses from their farm. Poor Bridie, she told him no, but he kept at her.” Juliet frowned at the memory. “I finally gave him a piece of my mind one day when he came storming out to their place. I was there, delivering Bridie and Johnny a batch of a new pastry recipe I made using one of their specialty cheeses.”.
“Oh, boy,” Maggie said, knowing that when Juliet went into mama tiger mode, no one was safe.
“Oh, yeah. It wasn’t pretty. But he stopped pressuring them, and Bridie was grateful, so I have no regrets.”
Maggie didn’t bother mentioning her own run-in with him. Juliet was already very familiar with it. A few weeks ago, Devon’s attorney served Maggie with papers. Devon was suing her, claiming many of the recipes in her first cookbook were his signature dishes, which was ludicrous. The entire theme of the cookbook was New York restaurant classics. She chose her favorite restaurant meals, went into her kitchen, and made her own versions. Devon’s place wasn’t even on her radar, except for the occasional night out with friends.
Nevertheless, his frivolous lawsuit meant she had to hire a lawyer and fork out a retainer she could hardly afford. She’d been seething about it ever since. But her very expensive lawyer assured her it would be settled quickly, so Maggie left it in her hands and focused on her newest cookbook. Recipe testing on friends was a great distraction.
“I sure hope Tina is all right,” Juliet said, bringing Maggie out of her dark thoughts about the dead chef. “I know Mike said she was a pro. Still, that had to be horrible to see.”
“It had to be. I know I wouldn’t have been as calm in her shoes.”
The little bell above the door chimed again, and Juliet left to attend to customers, leaving Maggie alone with her thoughts. There would be no more recipes today. All her energy was focused on who would murder Chef Devon.
Mike was not the only criminalist in the family. Maggie took great interest in even the inconsequential mysteries that came Mike’s way on the job. The same mind that deconstructed dishes down to their smallest ingredients and recreated them was also a mind completely engrossed by criminals and the crimes they committed. She devoured mystery novels and true crime stories. Duxbridge didn’t offer a lot of intrigues, but on the few occasions something beyond a petty theft occurred, Maggie had been known to entice Mike over for a home-cooked meal so she could get him to spill the juicy details and walk her through the persons of interest.
It wasn’t exactly proper procedure, but in a small town where every home had a police scanner in the kitchen, those in charge would most likely turn a blind eye if they knew Mike and Maggie were sketching out crime scenes on napkins and digging up possible suspects. They would probably be impressed that on more than one occasion, Maggie’s sharp mind would see a pattern that gave Mike a solid lead.
As happened when the bronze duck sculptures in the greenway were vandalized. The ducks, large enough for kids to climb on, were the centerpiece of the small park that sat in the town square. As old as the town, the square was surrounded on three sides by government buildings and on the fourth by the oldest church in the area. Countless families and high school seniors had their photos taken on those beloved waterfowl, and it was quite a shock to find them spray-painted in vivid fluorescent hues one morning.
An angry town demanded quick action. Unfortunately, there were no suspects and no leads. Mike sat dejected at dinner that night, telling Maggie that they would probably never know who had done it or why.
It was during that dinner that Maggie remembered a trip to Fellowes Hardware a few weeks earlier and seeing Roger Dawsey buying at least two dozen cans of spray paint. She overheard him telling hardware store owner, Gus Fellowes, that he was refinishing his patio furniture. She distinctly remembered that there were several cans of brightly colored fluorescent paints in the mix. At the time, she thought it odd, only because Mr. Dawsey didn’t seem the whimsical type. When she mentioned it to Mike, he scoffed at the idea of the retired plumber vandalizing public property, much less spray-painting it like some delinquent teen.
“I’m not saying he did it,” she defended herself. “Someone could have stolen it from his shed.”
“Mags, it was probably some high school kids who bought the paint from the Walmart in Taunton, got drunk, and did something stupid.”
“Could be. But it wouldn’t hurt to talk to him,” she prodded. “I mean, what better way to hide your criminal intentions than buying a ridiculous amount of spray paint in a variety of colors to hide the paint you actually wanted. Besides, who uses fluorescent paint on patio furniture?”
Mike relented, and the next day he went out to talk with Dawsey. The first thing he noticed was that the patio was full of almost brand-new rattan furniture, not a sign of any freshly painted pieces anywhere. He walked over to the shed and peeked in the open door. There was a shelf lined with a dozen or more cans of spray paint, but not one of them was fluorescent.
After Mike confronted Dawsey with all of this, he quickly confessed. Seemed he had been angry with the city council’s decision to rezone his neighbors’ large parcels for residential houses. Even though it was going to be a small development with five-acre lots, Dawsey believed it was the first step to being surrounded by fast food, gas stations and subdivisions.
“I ain’t living in no suburbs of Boston,” he hollered as he was handcuffed.
This time though, it wasn’t vandalism. A murder was serious, and Maggie thought to herself that she had no business even speculating on who might have reason to kill Devon. But it was all too scintillating. He was a detestable human being, and the list of people who would not mourn his passing was inevitably long.
She got up and bussed her dishes, then closed her laptop and put it in its case. She stepped around the counter to bid goodbye to Juliet and Carl, gathered her belongings, and was about to step out the side door when a horrendous crash stopped her in her tracks.
Chapter One can be found here.
Stay tuned…more to come…