Authors: Jessica Beck
Tags: #Cozy, #Foodie
Table of Contents
THE DONUT MYSTERIES, BOOK 25
Devil’s Food Defense
Donut Mystery #25 Devil’s Food Defense
Copyright © 2016 by Jessica Beck All rights reserved.
First Edition: May 2016
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.
The First Time Ever Published!
The 25th Donut Mystery.
Jessica Beck is the
New York Times
Bestselling Author of the Donut Mysteries, the Classic Diner Mysteries, the Ghost Cat Cozy Mysteries, and the Cast Iron Cooking Mysteries.
To my dearly beloved,
For never giving up on me!
When kindly old Gray Vincent is stabbed after Movie Night in the Park, everyone is puzzled as to why anyone would want to kill him, but when Gray’s past sins are revealed, it’s just amazing to the folks in April Springs that the man was able to keep his secrets so long, and so well. Or did he? Was Gray struck down because of his past, or because of something that happened more recently? With Jake away on family business, Suzanne and Grace are determined to find out as they dig into the past and try to discover who killed him, and why.
ovie Night in the Park was an annual celebration in my hometown of April Springs, North Carolina, held to honor the arrival of spring as well as the naming of our town. It was usually a time of fun and food, a chance to embrace the official end of winter and prepare for the eventual coming of warmer days, though we often had to bundle up for the outdoor movie showing.
Dial M for Murder
had been available as a free rental this year, and Momma, head of the committee, had taken advantage of the opportunity to save the town budget a little money. Besides, it was an old favorite of my mother’s, and I wouldn’t put it past her to force her taste onto the rest of the town in such an overt manner.
Unfortunately, murder was exactly what we got, and not just on the big screen.
Homicide had found its way back to April Springs, and once again, I was right in the thick of it.
can’t believe we’re back at the shop again already,” Emma said with a sigh as she started her dishwashing routine for the second time that day. We’d finished our normal run and had closed up Donut Hearts at eleven that morning, which was our regular schedule, but our break this time had been a short one, since we’d both come back to the shop three hours later to start it all again.
“Remember, it’s for a good cause,” I said. I was glad that I’d taken a nap during our time off. I knew that I’d need all of the rest I could get, and it hadn’t been too tough to find the time, given the fact that Jake was in Raleigh visiting his older sister and her children. Sarah had been raising Paul and Amy alone for most of their lives, and my husband made pilgrimages there every so often to give them a man’s influence in their lives. The kids loved him, and his older sister absolutely adored him. She’d been a big fan of Jake’s first wife too, and I constantly had the feeling that she would never think that I’d be good enough for her little brother. I did my best to accompany Jake to Raleigh every now and then, but I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t happy to have the movie night festivities as an excuse to miss this particular trip.
“Are we at least making a little money ourselves for the event?” Emma asked. Since she’d taken over the donut shop two days a week on a regular basis, she’d become much more interested in the financial aspects of running Donut Hearts. I wouldn’t say that we had a competition going about who made the shop the most money during our respective times at the helm, but it was a friendly rivalry that did nothing but help our bottom line.
“Yes, I won’t make the mistake of ever just giving them away again.” I’d made that error once in the past, and the cost of the supplies we’d provided had nearly wiped out two months’ worth of profit. I was all for contributing my services to a worthy cause, but I wasn’t going to give up my supply costs, too, and if we could make a little something for our trouble over and above that, I thought it only fair. “Our donuts, coffee, and hot chocolate will all be on sale at their regular prices, but we’re donating half the profits this evening to the Food Bank.” The bank was a relatively new group in town, and they provided meals for those who couldn’t afford them. It had helped me as well, since our overages went straight to them every day. I hated throwing out good donuts just because no one had chosen them that day, plus, it gave me a tax write-off, something that was dear to my heart, especially as April 15th approached.
“I’m glad the shop is getting something out of it, too,” Emma said.
“Do you mean besides that warm and fuzzy feeling we’ll get from helping out a good cause? Our expenses will be taken care of, and there will be a little extra as well. Don’t worry,” I said with a smile as I finished icing the cake donuts we’d be offering for sale that evening. We were making a less varied batch of donuts this afternoon, mostly just sticking with our bestsellers. “Are you ready to make a giant batch of your hot chocolate? It’s going to be chilly tonight.”
“I’ll be ready,” Emma said. She was usually in charge of the drinks at Donut Hearts, offering special blends of coffees, and on occasion, our famous hot cocoa.
I nodded as I started mixing the yeast donut recipe I used in our large floor mixer. The motor was loud enough to discourage conversation, but that was fine. Our break would be soon, and we’d have plenty of time to chat, with the added benefit of having daylight at our disposal instead of sitting out front in the dark. Once I had everything in the recipe nicely incorporated, I pulled out the dough paddle and covered the mixer’s massive bowl with cling wrap. Emma was already standing by the kitchen door waiting for me.
“Would you mind trying something for me before we take our break?” she asked me as we walked out into the dining and display area of the shop. There was a small urn set up out there that hadn’t been there when we’d come into the shop earlier.
“What have you been up to?” I asked. I noticed that she’d snuck up front a few times as I’d been working, but I knew better than to ask what she’d been doing.
“I’m trying a new hot cocoa blend,” she said.
I tried not to hide my surprise. After all, Donut Hearts might be known for the fried rounds we offered to the public, but our hot chocolate had a loyal following of its own, and I was no more eager to mess with the recipe than I would be to take lemon-filled donuts off the menu. “Are you thinking this will take the place of our regular recipe?”
“What? No! Of course not. We’d have a riot on our hands if we tried something as silly as that.”
I thought she might be overexaggerating, but I agreed with her assessment that folks would be displeased. “So, this is meant to be ‘served with’ instead of ‘replacing’,” I said to clarify.
“Absolutely. I’m not sure if I like it, though. I’ve been playing with recipes so much lately that I’ve lost my taste for hot chocolate altogether. Does that ever happen to you with donuts?”
I grinned and patted both hips. “Take one guess and tell me what you think.”
“You’re lucky,” she said.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I call it,” I said, laughing as I accepted the cup she offered me. I took a sip, trying to keep my expression neutral as my senses were overwhelmed with flavored extract.
“Well, what do you think?”
“It’s certainly minty, isn’t it?” I asked, forcing myself to take another sip once the shock to my taste buds died down a little. Honestly, it tasted as though she’d added more mint flavoring than cocoa powder.
“It’s too strong, isn’t it?” she asked, clearly worried about my lack of immediate endorsement. “I was afraid of that.”
“Why don’t you try halving the mint extract next time,” I suggested. “Or maybe cutting it to a third of what you used this time.”
“It’s really hard getting flavor proportions right, isn’t it?”
“Don’t get discouraged,” I said as I patted her shoulder. “You’ve seen how many donuts I try that never make it to the menu. You’re on the right track, so don’t give up when you’re so close.”
“Thanks,” she said, clearly grateful for the words of encouragement. Why wouldn’t I? What I’d told her had been true. I threw away far more new experiments than I ever added into the donut flavor rotation, and some of them still held memories of good ideas gone horribly, indelibly wrong.
“Remember that mint julep donut I tried last year for the Kentucky Derby? I get queasy just thinking about it, and it’s been nearly a year since I took a bite.”
“All I remember is that I thought you were exaggerating, so naturally, I had to take a bite to see for myself,” she said with a smile.
“You didn’t make that mistake again, did you?” I asked her, laughing.
“No, but who’s to say I won’t make it again?” she asked happily. “Would you like some regular coffee for our break?”
“No, I might just grab a bottled water,” I said.
“To help you get the taste of my hot cocoa out of your mouth?” she asked, laughing to show that she was only kidding.
“Actually, I’m trying to hydrate for this evening. You don’t have to work the shop with me, you know. Won’t your young man be disappointed?”
“We broke up yesterday. I swear, I’m having the hardest time finding a good guy. Where are they all hiding?”
“Don’t ask me. It took me forever to find Jake. All I can say is don’t give up yet.”
“I’m not about to. Anyway, I’d be happy to work the shop for the movie. You know what we should do?”
“What?” I asked. Emma needed a win after her hot cocoa disaster, and if I could make it happen, I’d do it. She wasn’t just an employee; she was also one of my best friends.
“We should go get our donut cart that we use for street fairs and station it out in the park.”
We had a pushcart that we used for sales away from the shop, but it wouldn’t hold a tenth of the cake donuts I’d already made, not to mention the yeast ones that were still to come. “Do you think there’s enough space on it?”
“Not ‘instead of,’” she said with a grin, “‘along with,’”
“I like it,” I said. “I’ll take the cart, and you can stay in here where it’s warm.”
“We’ll alternate,” she suggested. “That way neither one of us has to stay on their feet the entire time.”
“I like it,” I said. “The cart’s over at my rental building. Do you mind walking over there with me on our break to get it?” The building had been a last and surprising gift from my father, and so far, it had brought me nothing but bad luck. The attorney who’d first rented from me had been murdered inside, and understandably enough, I’d had a tough time getting anyone to lease it since.
“Sounds like fun,” she said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t mind stretching my legs.”
“Then let’s go get it,” I said.
It was a beautiful afternoon, crisp and clear, and at least for the moment, the pollen count was below normal, probably due to the heavy rains we’d been having lately. I knew the nursery rhyme mentioned April showers, but March had given us quite a few deluges already. As we walked past ReNEWed, Gabby Williams’s gently used clothing store, I glanced in through the window to see what was new. Gabby had positioned a mannequin in the window dressed for a formal evening in a shimmering green dress that probably cost more used than my entire wardrobe I normally wore in a week. After that, we passed Patty Cakes—the bakery building—and Burt Gentry’s hardware store, and then we turned off Springs Drive onto Viewmont Avenue—between the city hall and the town clock—past the police station, and then to my lonely little empty office building.
“Let me get my key,” I said as I found the correct one and unlocked the back door of the place. The cart was sitting by the door, so it was simple maneuvering it out. I was glad that it was so easy to push down the sidewalk back toward Donut Hearts. I was definitely running out of steam.
As we approached city hall on our return trip, I spotted Gray Vincent hurrying past. Gray was a good customer at the donut shop, but I hadn’t seen him around in the past few days. The man had to be in his seventies; more than a little bit portly, he sported a white beard and a thinning scalp, as well as a faded scar along one cheek. When I’d asked him about it, he said that he’d been kicked in the face once by a mule. I wasn’t sure if that was true, but it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it, so I’d dropped it. Our mayor, George Morris, had tried to get him to play Santa for the last Christmas parade, but Gray had predictably declined. He was a bit of a hermit, living in a cabin outside of town that to my knowledge no one ever visited. In the twenty years I’d known him, I hadn’t seen him out on a single date, or even have any legitimate good friends. Gray clearly liked to be by himself, plain and simple. I found him nice enough, though. He usually had a smile and a nod for me whenever he came into Donut Hearts. “Gray. Hey, Gray! Hang on a second.”
To my surprise, he sped up at the sound of his name being called, and before I could catch up with him, he’d vanished into city hall.
“That’s odd,” I told Emma as I turned to face her. As I did, I spotted someone ducking behind the building. Was someone actually following us? Or perhaps they’d been trailing Gray. Then again, it could just as easily have been my imagination.
“What is?” she asked. “Did you really expect Graybeard to stop and chat with you in the middle of town?”
“His name’s Gray, Emma, just Gray,” I corrected her.
“Sorry. Most folks in town call him that. I didn’t mean any disrespect by it.”
“It’s fine,” I answered, aware that I was being a little terse with her. I had a soft spot in my heart for the man. After all, who among us didn’t feel like being a recluse at some point in our lives? “You know, he told me once why his name was Gray.”
“I always just assumed it was a nickname,” Emma said as we pushed the cart past ReNEWed and to the front of Donut Hearts.
“No, it’s his actual legal name. Evidently his parents wanted to name him Gary, but the nurse misunderstood and wrote Gray on his birth certificate instead. They could have had it changed, but it would have cost five dollars to resubmit the form, and he said that his folks were notoriously cheap. By the time he could do it himself at eighteen, he’d decided that he liked that it was different.”
“Did he actually tell you that story himself?” Emma asked me with amazement.
“I just didn’t know that he could talk that long at one time,” she answered with a grin.
“I’ll admit that he’s gotten worse over the years. I heard the story when I first opened Donut Hearts. He wasn’t nearly as much of a hermit in those days. He pretty much stays to himself on his land now.”
“You don’t have to tell me. There are so many warnings and No Trespassing signs posted there, I doubt anyone has gotten past his perimeter defenses in years. His mailbox is at the head of the drive into his place, and just after that, there’s a gate that’s always locked, and a bend in the path that shows nothing of what’s beyond it.”
“How do you know so much about that?”
“When Mom was teaching me to drive, we drove down that way and used it as a turnaround. There’s never any traffic out that way, so it was perfect for practice. He’s even got security cameras posted at the gate, if you can believe that.”
“The man clearly likes his privacy.”
“I guess so, but does he have to lock himself away from the world?” she asked.
“We don’t know much about him. He could have had a hard life before he came to April Springs,” I said as we went back inside. The cart would be fine right where it was out in front of Donut Hearts. Not only could we keep an eye on it as we worked, but nobody was going to steal it in broad daylight.
As I got to work on the next stage of the yeast donuts, Emma asked me, “I just kind of assumed that he’d always lived in April Springs.”
“He has for as long as you’ve been alive,” I said with a laugh. “One day he just showed up after buying the old Parsons cabin. The gate went up before he moved in, but he said at the time that it was because he was at the end of nowhere, and he wanted to keep it safe and secure.”