A Burned Out Baker: Classic Diner Mystery #7 (The Classic Diner Mysteries)

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The First Time Ever Published!

The Seventh Classic Diner Mystery

From
New York Times
Bestselling Author

Jessica Beck

A BURNED OUT BAKER

Other Books by Jessica Beck

The Donut Shop Mysteries

Glazed Murder

Fatally Frosted

Sinister Sprinkles

Evil Éclairs

Tragic Toppings

Killer Crullers

Drop Dead Chocolate

Powdered Peril

Illegally Iced

Deadly Donuts

Assault and Batter

Sweet Suspects

The Classic Diner Mysteries

A Chili Death

A Deadly Beef

A Killer Cake

A Baked Ham

A Bad Egg

A Real Pickle

A Burned Out Baker

The Ghost Cat Cozy Mysteries

Ghost Cat: Midnight Paws

Ghost Cat 2: Bid for Midnight

Jessica Beck is the
New York Times
Bestselling Author of the Donut Mysteries, the Classic Diner Mysteries, and the Ghost Cat Cozy Mysteries.

To Agatha Christie, Charlotte MacLeod, and Carolyn Hart,

three ladies who started me on this lovely journey with their wonderful books that inspired me to try!

A Burned Out Baker by Jessica Beck; Copyright © 2014

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Recipes included in this book are to be recreated at the reader’s own risk. The author is not responsible for any damage, medical or otherwise, created as a result of reproducing these recipes. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure that none of the ingredients are detrimental to their health, and the author will not be held liable in any way for any problems that might arise from following the included recipes.

Chapter 1

“Moose, I’m not going to stand for this! You might not like what I’m doing, but there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”

I glanced up from the table I was serving to see Barry Jackson, a heavyset balding man in his late thirties, yelling. Why on earth was he shouting at my grandfather? That was unacceptable behavior coming from the baker, and not just because Moose and I were family. Barry was yelling at him in The Charming Moose Diner, my grandfather’s namesake and the business I now ran myself, along with lots of help from my husband, my mother, and at times, my grandmother, as well as Moose himself.

“Barry, you need to simmer down and watch your tone of voice with me,” my grandfather said in a controlled manner. I could see that he was fighting his own temper, and I wondered how long it would take for him to give in to it.

Knowing Moose, it wouldn’t be long.

Barry took a deep breath, and then he wiped his brow with his ever-present handkerchief. Though his face was still beet red, at least he wasn’t throwing punches.

Yet.

I decided that it was time to act before things escalated more than they already had.

I left my customers and approached Barry, putting myself between him and my grandfather. “What’s going on here?”

Before the baker could answer, my husband, Greg, came out of the back where he’d been cleaning up for the night. “Is everything all right out here, Victoria?” he asked. “I heard shouting.”

“It’s going to be,” I said confidently. “I’m handling it.”

“Call me if you need me,” Greg said, and then he quickly disappeared back into the kitchen. That was one of the many things I loved about my husband. He knew that when we were at The Charming Moose, I was in charge, and he fully respected it.

“I promise,” I said, and after he was gone, I turned back to the baker. “Now, take a deep breath and tell me why you are so upset, Barry.”

“Don’t try to use that reasonable tone of voice with
me
, Victoria,” Barry snapped. “I’m pretty sure that you put your grandfather up to it, so don’t even try to deny it.”

I looked at Moose. “Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?”

“I don’t have a clue,” my grandfather said a little testily, “but if he doesn’t develop some better manners, and I mean fast, I’m throwing him out on his ear.”

“Let’s at least wait and hear what he has to say first,” I said, doing my best to appease my grandfather. I was his biggest fan, but the man had a bite that was actually worse than his bark, and nobody in the diner needed to see him lose his temper with Barry.

“Fine, but he’d better do a good job of explaining himself. I don’t appreciate being attacked in my, er, your diner, Victoria.”

“Then you know exactly how I feel,” Barry said petulantly. “When I bought Iced from Francie Humphries and changed the name to Flour Power, I swore that I’d make it a success, and I’m determined to do it, no matter how hard you try to stop me.”

“Enough with the drama, Barry. Just tell us what’s going on,” I said. I was losing my patience with the man myself, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Moose must be feeling.

“This says it all,” he said triumphantly as he pulled a torn flyer out of his apron pocket and jammed it into my face.

“Let me see that,” I said as I pulled it from his clutching fingers. Barry Jackson had sausages for digits, and I wondered how he made some of the delicate pastries he produced in his bakery.

In a bold font, the flyer proclaimed, “Jacob’s Fork, Now You Can All Have The Breakfast You Deserve!!!”

Below that, the text read, “Flour Power is proud to announce that as of right now, we are offering a far better alternative to what’s been available for breakfast in town up until now. We are serving biscuits of all kinds for breakfast at the bakery, and we guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!!! Bring in a receipt from The Charming Moose for breakfast and get a free biscuit. If it’s not the best thing you ever tasted, we’ll give you another one, but one bite is all that it’s going to take!!!”

“What do you say to that?” Barry asked me with a smirk.

I frowned at the flyer in my hand. “I do have one question. If they don’t like the first biscuit, why would they want another one, whether it’s free or not?”

“Give that back to me. It doesn’t say that at all,” he said as he yanked it out of my hand, tearing it again.

The edge still in my hand fluttered to the floor as I released it. “As a matter of fact, it does, but I’m not going to argue with you about it. It still doesn’t explain why you are standing in my diner yelling at Moose.”

“He tore down every flyer I put up in town!” Barry said, his face reddening even more.

“That’s a straight-out lie,” Moose said, his voice turning into a growl.

This was starting to get ugly fast. “Gentlemen, let’s take this outside,” I said as I looked around the diner and noticed all the gazes centered on us. We had quite an audience, even though it was nearly closing time. I personally didn’t know how these folks could eat dinner at seven at night, but then again, I doubted many of them got to work at six AM like I did.

“You can’t throw me out!” Barry said. “I have as much a right to be here as anyone else.”

“Think again after you read the sign,” Moose said as he pointed to the sign under the register that reserved that exact right for us. It had saved me more than once during my time running the diner, and I was glad that Moose had started the tradition soon after opening the place all those years ago.

“Take it easy. Nobody’s throwing you out, Barry,” I said as calmly as I could muster. “I just think we could have a more civilized conversation without an audience.”

“What are you afraid to say in front of your customers, Victoria?” he asked accusingly. “What are you trying to hide?”

“Nothing, you nitwit,” I said, letting my temper slip out a little. “I’m just trying to keep you from making any more of a horse’s hind end of yourself than you already have.”

“Trust me, that ship has sailed,” Moose said as he put one of his own beefy hands on the baker’s shoulder. My grandfather, though a man of a certain age, was still strong and quite virile. I think it must have surprised Barry just how strong Moose really was, because he stumbled a little under my grandfather’s grasp. I reached out to steady him, but he kept sinking until he was on the floor.

“They both pushed me down!” he shouted out overdramatically. “Ow, my back. Somebody call an ambulance.”

“Get up, you big faker,” Moose said as he towered over Barry. He started to reach down and grab the baker when I pulled my grandfather back. He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Why are you stopping me, Victoria?”

“Moose, we can’t afford a lawsuit,” I said softly to him. “The premiums on our insurance policy are just about enough to put us out of business as it is. Call 911.”

“But he’s faking,” Moose protested, and then he looked wildly around the room. “You all saw what he did, didn’t you?”

There were a few nods from the crowd, but several folks avoided all eye contact with my grandfather and me.

It appeared that we might be in trouble after all.

Moose didn’t move, so I pulled out my phone and dialed 911 myself. After the dispatcher came on, I said, “It’s probably nothing, but we need an ambulance at The Charming Moose,” I said.

“Victoria, is that you?” a woman’s voice I instantly recognized asked me.

“Hey, Karen. Yeah, somebody at the diner claims he’s hurt.”

“Is he just trying to get out of paying his check?” she asked.

“It’s a little more than that, I’m afraid,” I said.

“I’ll send someone over right now,” Karen said, and then she hung up.

“They’re on their way,” I said to Moose more than Barry.

“I don’t know why you even bothered calling them, Victoria,” Moose snorted as he stared down at the baker.

“You both pushed me down,” Barry repeated, as though he were out of any fresh ideas.

“Keep saying it, baker man, and somebody might actually believe you eventually,” Moose said.

I decided that it was time to clear out the restaurant. The last thing we needed was for our patrons to see Barry loaded up on a stretcher and taken away. “Folks, sorry about the disturbance,” I said as I turned to our diners. “Tonight’s meal is on the house, but I’m afraid that we’re going to have to close the place early.” It was three minutes until seven and they were all getting a free meal out of us, but I still knew that there would be complaints, and there were indeed a few grumbles from the diners. “Go and have a good night.”

Everyone reluctantly left the diner, and the three of us were soon alone in the dining room. Greg hadn’t shown himself since he’d popped out the first time, much to his credit.

“Barry, do you honestly believe that I care enough about anything that you do to go around town tearing down your flyers?” Moose asked in a soft voice.

“I’m going to put you out of business, and you know it,” Barry said as he lay there. “Breakfast is just the beginning. I’ve got an investor with deep pockets, and we’re going to expand the shop until we’re three times as big as you are.” He waved his hand around the room, and then he added, “For what just happened to me, I’m going to sue the pants off of all of you. Moose, it’s going to give me great joy to take this place away from you, and then I’m going to laugh when they bulldoze it to the ground.”

“That’s never going to happen,” Moose said, but I didn’t like the hint of uncertainty in his voice when he said it. As the door to the diner opened, my grandfather added, “We’ll see you dead before we allow that to happen.”

We were all spared from hearing Barry’s reply to that comment when two paramedics knelt down and started examining him. Had they heard Moose’s last threat? I honestly hadn’t been paying attention. I was more than a little disgusted as they took great care to load Barry onto the gurney, though I realized that it wasn’t their fault. I knew that we hadn’t done anything to the baker, but it might be tough to prove. The two paramedics had just loaded the stretcher into the ambulance and driven away when Sheriff Croft came in.

Needless to say, I was not pleased to see him.

“Where did everybody go?” was the first thing he asked us as he looked around the empty diner.


Everybody
? Exactly who were you expecting to find here?” I asked.

“The eyewitnesses,” he said.

“Eyewitnesses to what?” I asked him. “There were several folks here earlier having a late dinner, but I sent them all home.”

“There was nothing for anyone to see here anyway,” Moose said.

“That’s not the way I heard it. I got a call from one of the folks who was here saying that you two accosted Barry Jackson,” he said. “Supposedly, you both knocked him to the floor.”

“That’s a load of manure, and you know it,” Moose said.

“That’s not for me to say, at least not right now,” the sheriff said as he turned to me. “Victoria, I need the names of everyone who was just here. Can you do that for me?”

“Sheriff, Barry came in here yelling from the start,” I explained. “When Moose and I tried to ease him outside so we could discuss his complaint with us in private, he slipped down to the floor of his own accord.”

“If you ask me, I think he planned the entire thing from the start,” Moose said, not helping matters any.

“Maybe so, but I still need those names,” Sheriff Croft said.

“I’ll do it right now,” I said as I pulled out my order pad and started jotting down the names of our previous diners. In my mind, I went from table to table, remembering the meals I’d served better than the folks who’d been eating them, but in the end, I named all but two single diners.

“There were two others I didn’t know,” I said.

He frowned at the list. “Were they at least together?”

“No, they were both flying solo,” I said.

“That’s just great,” Sheriff Croft said.

“Sorry, but we don’t ask for identification when people sit down to eat here,” Moose said.

“That’s why I was kind of hoping that no one had left yet,” the sheriff said. He took my list, folded it once, and then he stuck it in his shirt pocket. “Now, do you two want to tell me your side of the story?”

“Finally,” Moose said, and then we both started bringing the sheriff up to date on what had happened, and why.

“It’s not true, is it?” the sheriff asked when Moose got to the part about him supposedly tearing flyers down all over town.

“Of course it’s true,” he said sarcastically. “I did it all on my bicycle, and they’re still in the wicker basket hanging from my handlebars. What a ridiculous question.”

The sheriff shrugged. “I have to ask.”

“For the record, I didn’t even know about Barry’s new breakfast operation until he stormed in here less than half an hour ago,” Moose said.

“And you?” he asked me.

“I hadn’t heard one word about it,” I answered.

“Okay, now, tell me about his fall.”

“I told you before. He didn’t fall,” Moose said loudly.

“Just tell me what happened,” Sheriff Croft said.

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