“I’m dead on my feet. Honestly, whose idea was it to walk all the way into town? It doesn’t feel so far when you’re driving.” Eve Lloyd flipped the menu over, and continued her search for a tantalizing treat. There had to be some sort of reward for her efforts, and she’d decided she needed to put some in.
She’d been baking up a storm for her aunt Mira, a.k.a. renowned historical romance author, Elizabeth Lloyd, who loved to nibble on a cookie or two while writing. And Eve liked nothing better than cooking for her. However, cooking and tasting went hand in hand and it was beginning to pile up on her.
There weren’t any significant changes to her waistline… Yet. It had been a few months since she’d sold her restaurant and while her first attempt to relax had been sabotaged by a murder on the island, she’d eventually fallen in step with the slower rhythm of the small town. Hence her need for some extra physical activity…
A sugary treat, she knew, would defeat the purpose, but she wasn’t willing to sacrifice all just yet. Besides, the long walk really had left her deflated and in need of an energy boost.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Eve asked. “What’s the point of bringing you along if I’m going to talk to myself?” She set her menu down. “Jill?”
“Sorry, I got caught up in the collective silence.”
“The what?” Eve looked around them. The Chin Wag Café was filled to capacity doing its usual mid-morning roaring trade. It was always as busy as a bee’s hive with conversation buzzing…
Eve’s eyes narrowed.
Everyone had fallen silent.
“What’s going on?” She turned back to Jill who’d dipped her head behind the menu. “Jill?”
Grumbling lightly, Jill emerged from behind the menu and leaned forward. “Dead on your feet?” she whispered.
“Well, yes. Working as a chef, I’ve spent years on my feet. There’s nothing wrong with my stamina, but honestly, I must have stepped on every single loose pebble along the way from Mira’s house into town.”
Jill’s eyebrows curved upward. “Dead on your feet,” she repeated.
“Okay. You’re being blatantly obvious about something. What am I missing?”
Jill huffed out a breath. “The last time you talked about death, or murder or… killing… do I need to say more?”
Eve frowned. “Are you suggesting my choice of words had something to do with inviting a killer to the island?” It had been over two months since the unfortunate incident which had resulted in the untimely death—
Her eyes connected with Jill’s. Eve slumped back in her seat and glowered at her.
“What?” Jill asked.
“You’ve made me self-aware.”
“Were you thinking about killing, death… murder?” Jill asked.
“You brought it up. My mind was on my sore feet and what I could eat to replenish my strength. The thought of having to trek back to Mira’s on foot made me think this island needs a taxi service. But that was only a fleeting thought because now I’m thinking about…” she flapped her hands, “See what you’ve done? Now it’s all I can think about.” She scooped in a big breath. “All right. From now on, I will avoid all use of that word and all derivatives associated with it. Happy now?”
“You’ll burst,” Jill warned. “I give you an hour and I’m being generous.”
“It’s just a word.”
“If you say so, but when it comes out of your mouth, it seems to gather momentum.”
“You’re being ridiculous and far too pedantic in your observations. You’ll be the—” death of me, she finished silently.
“I can do this. I can.”
“Would you like to make it interesting?”
“A hundred dollars if I slip up,” Eve suggested.
“A hundred? That’s a bit steep.”
“It shows how serious I am. I can go an hour without mentioning anything related to—”
“You know very well what I’m referring to. And don’t try to trip me up.”
“Ready to order?” the waitress asked as she gave their table a brisk tidy up.
Eve hadn’t seen her around before. Her and Jill had become regulars at the café and Eve had made a point of being on first name terms with the staff. She looked at the girl’s nametag.
Eve slanted her gaze toward Jill in time to see her friend trying to stifle her laughter.
She could do this. Eve gave herself a mental nudge. No mention of that which she wouldn’t even think about… or any words associated with it…
“I haven’t decided yet,” Eve said, “Perhaps you can help me. What can you recommend as a sure-fire pick me up decadent treat?”
“Death by Chocolate Fudge Tart,” Di said.
“Can we have another moment to decide, please?” Eve leaned forward and lowering her voice, said, “How far does this moratorium on anything associated with that which I won’t mention because it’ll cost me a hundred dollars go?”
“Don’t mind me. Do and say as you please. I could do with an extra hundred dollars.” Jill shrugged. “I’ll have the blueberry pancakes and a double shot espresso, please.”
Eve drew in a big breath and looked up at the waitress who’d already returned to take their orders. “I’ll go with your recommendation and a double shot espresso too, please.”
“Double shot espresso,” Di wrote, “And…?”
“The tart you recommended.”
“Which one?” Di asked, “I’ve just served two customers and they asked for recommendations too.”
“I’d like the tart you recommended to me.”
The waitress raised her shoulders.
Eve slanted her gaze at Jill who was pretending to be distracted by the pattern on the tablecloth. “Do you have the tarts listed on a board somewhere so I can point to the one I want? I don’t see it anywhere on the menu.”
“That’s because it falls under the day’s specials.”
“Great, so you must have a specials’ board.”
“No, but I’ll suggest it to the owner.”
“Go ahead and order it,” Jill said, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
Eve bit the edge of her lip. “May I?” She gestured to the waitress’s order pad. “I’ll write it down for you.”
“If you can write it down, why not just tell me?” the waitress asked.
“It’s the chocolate tart.”
“We have several of those. Which one did you want?”
Eve threw her hands up in the air. “It’s the Death by Chocolate Fudge Tart, all right. There, I said it.”
“That was a quick hundred dollars. And I swear that was the sound of a second death knell,” Jill murmured.
“Don’t be so morbid. I’m going to change the subject and there’ll be no more mention of… you know what.” She drummed her fingers on the table trying to come up with something else to say.
She’d met Jill soon after arriving on the island to visit her aunt Mira who’d been away at the time, and they’d since become accustomed to each other’s company. In fact, not a day went by when they didn’t see each other or talk on the phone.
Jill was ten years younger than her but quite mature for twenty-four. Something they had in common. At her age, Eve had been doing double shifts at a couple of restaurants trying to work her way up the ladder and get ahead in the competitive cutthroat world where men seemed to excel and get ahead far quicker than women.
“How’s your painting going?” Eve rarely asked because she got to see her work-in-progress on a fairly regular basis, the house Jill shared with her parents’ only a short walk away from Mira’s beach house.
“I’m thinking of tackling something bigger than the usual picture postcard size.”
“I like small pictures,” Eve said, “There’s something intimate about the size. They can still make quiet a statement. You know the Mona Lisa is ridiculously small. And then there’s that Dutch artist… What’s his name? He painted mostly small pictures. There was a film made based on a book written about him.” She clicked her fingers. “Vermeer.”
“Oh, yes. The Girl With the Pearl Earring.”
Eve nodded. “Maybe I should open a gallery in town. Then I could display your work.” She’d come to the island to spend some time redefining herself. The restaurant she’d owned with her then husband had suffered a near death—
Eve sprung upright in her chair and focused on navigating her way around any mention of death and killing and murder…
She gave a firm nod and tugged her train of thought in another direction. She’d exhausted herself, revamping the business her ex had nearly sent bankrupt and had since sold it and turned her back on the food industry. She hadn’t exactly made a killing—
Eve pushed out a breath.
“What’s wrong? Your face’s gone all red,” Jill said.
Eve fanned herself with the menu. “I’m thinking it’s time I come up with a plan of action. I have some thinking time money, but I don’t want to wait until my funds dwindle away.”
“Why don’t you work in Mira’s bookstore?”
Eve had already considered that. Mira had purchased Tinkerbelle’s Bookstore as an investment but the existing staff knew the business inside out. She’d have nothing to contribute. “I don’t know anything about books.”
“What’s there to know?”
“What’s hot, what’s new.” Eve lifted her shoulder. “You know I’m not a big reader.”
Jill gave her a puzzled look. “There are days when I have to force myself to put a book down and get on with my painting, and that’s something else I can’t go a day without doing.”
Eve played with the salt and pepper shakers. “Customers would expect me to know what I’m talking about. They’d want my expert opinion.” Eve waved the idea away. “I’m not a complete philistine. I’ve made some headway with Mira’s books. In fact, I just finished reading her latest manuscript.” But only because Mira had said she wanted to base the swashbuckling hero on Detective Jack Bradford and Eve had been curious to see how he’d come across on the printed page.
She hadn’t been disappointed.
“Are you experiencing some sort of early menopause?” Jill asked, “Your face flashed a deep shade of crimson again.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Thirty-four year olds don’t get hot flashes.” Eve poured herself some water and drank deeply. “The more I think about it, the more curious I am about a gallery. I already like your paintings, so I shouldn’t have any trouble promoting them.”
“So you’ll be comfortable if a customer makes a reference to Andrew Wyeth.”
“One of my favorite artists. I have a poster of one of his paintings in my studio.”
“Oh yes, he does those figures and landscapes. Very atmospheric… which is what you do in your landscapes.”
“Who else do you like?”
“Reginald Bryant Burns.”
“He sounds stuffy.”
“He’s a recluse. Actually, he lives right here on the island.”
Eve gave a pensive nod. “Now that I think about it, the name sounds familiar.”
“He lives at the end of Old Coach Road.”
“That’s where the lighthouse is.”
“That’s the one. He bought it a few years ago.”
“I used to hide out there when I was kid.” Waiting for Frank Parkmore to go on one of his walks so she could sneak in and steal his roses to give to Mira. Eve fell silent and thought about Frank ending his days in a convalescing home after his stroke. Mira had visited him several times and had said his memory had gone. Just as well, Eve thought. It wouldn’t be pleasant to think about the killer who’d been at large—
“I’d give anything to see his studio,” Jill said.
“Hang on, I have heard of him.” She tapped her chin trying to remember the details. “It was a newspaper article. Something about him making a killing—” Eve looked away. “How long does it take to make a cup of coffee and serve a piece of tart? I’m famished.”
Jill laughed under her breath. “Those death knells are coming hard and fast.”
Eve racked her brain trying to remember what she’d read. Something about him selling a drawing. “That’s right. He sold a Picasso drawing. It was nothing but a scrap of paper and he got a mint for it. His grandfather had acquired it before Picasso had made a name for himself. Rumor has it, he has another drawing stashed away.”
“He comes in here at about this time every day to get coffee right after he gets his donuts from next door.”
They both looked up at the waitress.
“Sorry, I overheard you mentioning Reginald Bryant Burns.”
“Thank you for the heads up.” Eve turned to Jill. “This is exciting. Looks like you’ll get your wish after all.”
Jill shrunk back into her chair. “Wish?”
“You said you’d kill—”
“You said you’d give anything to see his studio. When he comes in, we can ask him for a tour.”
“So which part of recluse didn’t you get?”
“He’s an artist. He’ll be delighted to show us around. Artists are full of themselves and always out to get attention.”
Jill sighed. “He’s one of the top guns in the art world, not a street artist peddling his wares. He’s represented by one of the most prestigious art galleries in New York and has showings all over the world. The island is the one place where he can get away from it all, he said so in an interview.”
Eve shook her head. “It would be a nice neighborly gesture. I bet he’ll make an exception for us.”
An hour and a half later, Eve caught the waitress’s attention. “Another two coffees, please, Di.”
Jill chuckled and rubbed her hands in glee. “Not for me, thanks. I should go. Mischief and Mr. Magoo will be pacing by now. If they don’t get their midday walk, they’ll be restless in the afternoon.”
“It won’t kill you to wait another half hour—”
Jill laughed. “That’s four hundred dollars you owe me.”
Copyright ©2016 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved