Ginger stood there watching as Chief Foenapper rushed out of Coreyville Coffee Cakes, jumped into his car, turned on his flashing light, and sped away.
When she turned around, Elijah was walking toward her.
“What’s going on?”
“Navy Newcomb is dead.”
“Daniel—I mean the chief—wouldn’t tell me. All I know is that he took my cakes out to the nursing home and now he’s dead. I want to go out there.”
“I’ll drive you.”
“Thanks.” She walked over to Cheryl Iper, at the cash register. “I’ll be back in a little while.” Ginger walked away before Cheryl had a chance to ask any questions.
Elijah had parked halfway down the block. In the early morning hours, Ginger’s customers took up more than her store’s share of parallel parking slots. But most of the other shops were not open that early anyway.
Elijah’s old Ford sedan was roomy and comfortable. Pastors of small congregations learn how to live on meager salaries. One of the ways Elijah stretched his income was to buy his cars at auctions. This particular one had been a police cruiser in its previous life.
There was no way to know how many times the engine had been revved up for a high-speed chase. Or how many perps had ridden handcuffed in the back seat. None of that mattered to Elijah. After a thorough cleaning and a new paint job, he considered the vehicle ‘born again.’
They got in and Elijah backed out and drove toward the nursing home.
“I hope this isn’t my fault,” said Ginger, more to herself than to Elijah.
“What do you mean? How could it be your fault?”
“I think Navy stole my recipe book this morning.”
Elijah looked puzzled.
“What if somebody knew he was going to steal it? They might have tried to take it away from him. Maybe they fought, and—”
“—just how much is this recipe book worth?”
“Some other bakery might be willing to pay thousands for it. I don’t know. We get business from all over the area.” People travelling down Interstate 20 often made a detour through Coreyville just to get some of Ginger’s famous cakes.
“Okay. I can understand how valuable the book is. But I can’t believe people would kill for it.”
“I hope you’re right.”
When they arrived at Coreyville Country Home, Ginger asked Elijah to drive around to the back. They saw the chief talking to Justice of the Peace Harvey ‘Boot’ Hornamer. Two paramedics were loading a body into the ambulance in no particular hurry.
Ginger and Elijah got out of the car and walked up behind the chief just in time to hear the end of the conversation.
At 77, Boot was a product of his long-term habits. Sixty years of chewing tobacco had created a permanent protrusion in his left cheek. And these days, it never went away—whether the wad of chew was there or not. His love of the sun had turned his arms more leathery than his cowhide belt. The excruciating pain in his feet and back was exasperated by the cowboy boots. But he just wouldn’t be ‘Boot’ without them.
“So, I’m gonna order an autopsy.” Boot turned to the side and spit. The bullet stream of tobacco juice nailed a bullfrog right between the eyes.
“Okay,” said the young chief.
Boot walked over to his pickup and climbed in.
“Chief?” said Ginger.
He turned around.
“Y’all don’t have any idea what killed him?”
“I can’t discuss the case.”
Elijah jumped in. “So, you think it was murder?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well, what are you saying?” Ginger was getting annoyed.
“I’m not saying anything.”
Ginger noticed a woman standing near the back door of the building. Judging by the white outfit and apron, she figured the woman to be a cook. Perhaps she had seen or heard something. She would talk to her after she finished with the chief.
“Have you contacted his family?” said Elijah.
“I’m about to drive out to his mother’s house,” said the chief.
“What about his girlfriend?” said Ginger.
“I’ll go talk to her,” said Elijah.
“Thanks.” The chief walked to his car, got in, and drove away.
Two deputies watched as a tow truck drove away with Navy’s Corvette. Then they got into their car and left.
Ginger looked over at the building. The cook had apparently gone back inside.
“I’ll bet somebody in there saw what happened.” She began walking up the sidewalk, toward the kitchen door.
Elijah followed her.
One of the cooks opened the door. It was the woman Ginger had seen standing outside.
“Could we come in for a minute? I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
The woman hesitated.
“I’m Ginger Lightley.” She smiled and held out her hand.
The woman’s apprehension was suddenly gone. “Oh, Mrs. Lightley. I’m so happy to meet you.” She shook Ginger’s hand. “Your cakes are amazing. I’m a big fan.”
Ginger knew that people loved her coffee cakes, but she didn’t know she had fans.
The woman became even more excited. “Oh, would you mind tasting one of my cherry tarts. It’s my own recipe.” She rushed to the stove to get one.
Ginger looked at Elijah and shrugged. Then she saw her coffee cakes sitting on the counter. One of her trays was sitting beside them.
The woman came back with a tart and handed it to Ginger.
Ginger took a sniff and nodded. Then she bit off a small portion and chewed it carefully as she analyzed it with her tongue. She was like a professional wine taster—except for the spitting.
“I love the delicate flakiness. The cherries are almost too sweet—but they’re not. Ooh. And there’s a magnificent aftertaste. How did you do that?”
The woman grinned. “It’s a secret.”
“Well, of course it is,” said Ginger. “And don’t you tell a soul.”
“I won’t. Thanks, Ma’am.”
“You’re very welcome.” She handed Elijah what was left of the tart. “Try it. You’ll love it.”
Without waiting for Elijah’s verdict, Ginger turned back to the woman. “Are those the coffee cakes Navy delivered this morning?”
“Were you the one who let him in?”
“Yes. And he seemed fine. Then I got him to taste one of my cherry tarts and he started choking.”
Ginger glanced back at Elijah, who had just put the last bite of the tart into his mouth. He stopped chewing, and seemed to be wondering whether he should spit it out. But he was not choking.
“So, do you think the tart made him sick?”
“No,” said the woman. “I mean—I hope not. Oh, God. What do you think?”
“I doubt it.” She looked back at Elijah, who had finished his tart.
“I feel fine,” he said.
“Maybe it was the way he ate it,” said the woman. “He stuffed it in his mouth all at once.”
“That could be it,” said Ginger. “So, he started choking and then he just passed out?”
“No, Ma’am. I ran to get him a glass of water. But by the time I got back he had gone out the door. I went out to see if he was okay. He was in his car doing something. Then he got out and started walking back toward the building. So, I ran out to meet him. But before I could get to him, he fell down. I checked his pulse, but I couldn’t feel anything.”
“Then you called 9-1-1?”
“Yes. And I got one of our nurses to come out. She said he was already dead.”
Elijah said, “What do you think he was doing in his car? Was he looking for something?”
“He must have been. While I was waiting for the ambulance I went over and looked in the car. The glove compartment was open and everything had been pulled out and thrown on the floorboard.”
“Did he have anything in his hands when he got back out of the car?”
“No. So, I guess he couldn’t find whatever he was looking for.”
“Did you hear anything the justice of the peace and the chief were saying?” said Ginger.
“Yes. The justice of the peace said that he thinks Navy’s head hitting the sidewalk is what killed him. His head was bleeding. But he didn’t want to say for sure since Navy had been choking right before that.”
“So, they questioned you,” said Elijah.
“Did they say anything else?” said Ginger.
“That’s about it, I think.”
Ginger looked at Elijah. He didn’t seem to have any other questions. “Okay, then. Thanks. We appreciate it.”
Ginger and Elijah walked to the door and started to step out.
“Oh,” said the woman. “There was one other thing. I don’t know whether it’s important or not though.”
“What?” said Ginger.
“When the deputies were searching his car they found something under the front seat. They were joking around about it until the chief yelled at them.”
“Did you see it?”
“Yes. It was a pair of panties.”
Ginger was not at all surprised. Navy was known to be a swinging bachelor. Although she thought he had finally settled down. “Wonder why the deputies thought it was funny?”
“Probably because they were that kind that lace up on the sides. You know—kinda sexy. And they had lettering across the front of them.”
“What did it say?”
Ginger suddenly felt ill. She knew who the panties belonged to.
End of Excerpt
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