Thursday, February 13, 2020

Thursday's Fifth Scene Murder and Herbal Tea #MFRWAuthor #BWLAuthor #Cozy mystery #Hudson Valley

On Saturday, I drove Joyce to Herbal Haven and then returned to her house. I planned to cook dinner. As I drove, the uniformity of the small town struck me as interesting. Streets lined with white clapboard houses and a village commons gave a serene feeling. This was not like the polyglot assortment of homes found in my Hudson River village. There, the houses range from those built by the early Dutch settlers to ultramodern structures. The variety suits me.
     I sat at the kitchen table sipping mint tea and planning a menu. After studying the spice rack I jotted several I needed and didn’t find. Convinced they were available at Herbal Haven, I drove there. A half dozen cars lined the parking lot. Inside, the place buzzed with energy. Joyce and Brenda stood at the counter ringing sales.
     I paused. The shop was in a converted farmhouse. Joyce had removed many of the walls dividing the lower floor into rooms to create an open space. Behind the counter a door opened into the kitchen. A smaller parlor was now the office. Today, the area seemed cluttered with the multiple shelves forming precise rows, Brenda’s doing.
     After selecting the things I needed and a new spice grinder, I walked to the counter to pay. Hearing Brenda chastise a customer, I turned and stared.
     “Do not touch the displays. Ask for assistance.”
     I sucked in a breath and observed Brenda scurry from the counter to confront one of the woman shoppers.
     “I wanted to see this clever teapot.” The customer pointed to one of the pottery ones.
     “You do not want that ugly thing,” Brenda said. “We plan to remove them from the store.”
     The woman grasped her purse. “Don’t tell me what I want. Did you ever hear the customer’s always right?” She strode to the door. The bell clanged. One lost customer.
     Brenda spotted me. “Katherine, take my place. I must check the computer. There hasn’t been a moment since we opened, especially since Joyce insists on holding the tea brewing sessions. I’ve told her a dozen times they’re a waste.”
     Though I had no desire to act as a sale’s clerk, a glance at Joyce’s slumped shoulders told me she needed help. “I can give you an hour. I’ve a dinner to prepare.”
     The hour stretched to nearly three. The steady tide of customers ebbed. I left the shop, drove to the store and revised my dinner menu. With filled canvas bags, I drove to Joyce’s house, determined not to return to Herbal House today. Anger at Brenda would make me snap and say things the women wouldn’t like. Joyce didn’t need more stress.
     At six thirty Joyce arrived. Anger flashed in her eyes.
     “What did she do now?” I asked.
     “Decided to halt the Saturday morning demos. They interrupt her routine.”
     I pulled the prepared ingredients from the fridge and started the rice. “You need to buy her out. She refused to sell a customer a teapot. All because Brenda doesn’t like the piece.”
     “I know. When I mentioned that, she said we needed to elevate our stock.”
     Joyce shrugged. “I don’t know.”
     “Buy her out.”
     Dana strode into the room. “Mrs. M is right. Get rid of her. She takes half the profits and she lives rent free.”
     I gasped. “Rent free. That’s crazy.”
     “She paid for the changes in the apartment.” Joyce sank on a chair. “This afternoon I offered to sell my share to her. She refused but with sixty thousand she would sell to me. She only put in thirty. I offered thirty-five or forty.”
     What did she say?” I dropped the garlic and ginger into the wok and added the chicken.
     “She wanted to think about it but she felt she should make a profit.” Joyce moved to the stove and turned the heat under the rice to simmer and put a lid on the pot. “She won’t be at the shop tomorrow. She and her friend will be away until Monday.”
     Dana picked a snow pea from the bowl. “Who is he?”
     “No idea.”
     “Looks like she hasn’t changed,” I said.
     “Never will,” Joyce grinned.
     The peal of the doorbell broke the conversation. “What time is it?” Dana asked.
     “Six thirty or so,” I said.
     “Good thing he knows where I hang out.” Dana ran to the door.
     I added the scallions, bok choy, snow peas and cashews and stirred.
     Dana returned with a handsome young man. His hair was dark and his eyes blue. “Mrs. M, this is Zach.”
     I smiled. “Are you joining us for dinner?”
     He turned to Dana. “We planned to grab a bite before heading to the movies.”
     “Stay,” Joyce said. “Kate cooked for an army.”
     “Smells great. Dana?”
     “We’ll stay. Mrs. M is a fabulous cook.”
     I turned the burner off and transferred the mixture into a large bowl. Joyce put the rice in another while Dana added two place settings.
     Conversation flowed easily. Zach was a local police detective. He’d met Dana when he’d taken one of her classes. No one mentioned my crime-solving attempts and I relaxed.

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