Pickled an alex harris m.., p.1
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       Pickled (An Alex Harris Mystery), p.1
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           Elaine Macko
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Pickled (An Alex Harris Mystery)


  PICKLED

  An Alex Harris Mystery

  Elaine Macko

  Other Books in the Alex Harris series

  Smoked

  Mahjonged

  Flossed

  Poisoned

  Armed

  Copyright © 2014 Elaine Macko

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for brief quotations used in a review.

  This is a work of fiction and is produced from the author’s imagination. People, places and things mentioned in this novel are used in a fictional manner.

  Chapter 1

  I come from a close-knit family. I have a group of people in my life who are always there for me. I also have wonderful friends, but when it comes right down to it, the people I turn to most—the ones I run to with good news or bad—are the ones in my immediate family. This includes my parents, my sister and her husband and children, my husband and his parents and siblings, and my grandmother.

  Truth is my grandmother is probably the first person I think of when I need to talk and sort things out. Luckily, my husband is okay with this. He knows Meme, as everyone calls my grandmother, and I have an incredible bond. Nothing could ever break it, even my marriage. And if Meme ever needs anything, she knows she can count on me.

  So here I was on a cold January Saturday night enjoying a meal with a group of seniors because Meme needed my help. It started a couple of months ago, right after I solved the murder of my neighbor. After that ordeal I needed something fun to occupy my time and Meme and her group of cotton-haired friends had just the thing. They decided to put together a calendar featuring all the hotties in their community; hotties being a relative term. Did I mention my grandmother lives in a senior community?

  Meme talked her friend Sloth, the local tattoo-rosary bead artist, into taking the pictures, and I volunteered to format the calendar and coordinate things with a printing firm my temp agency, Always Prepared, had been using for years. And wouldn’t you know it, but the darned thing turned out to be really cool. If you saw the movie, Calendar Girls, you kind of get the idea, but think naked, or nearly naked, men, well past their expiration dates, saggy butts and man boobs, in provocative poses. It was a hoot and the community had embraced the calendar so much so that we were now on our third printing. And I’m proud to say that every cent we made was divided equally between the animal shelter and the food bank.

  Since the calendar came out, Meme and I had been like two traveling salesmen taking our product on the road, selling at Christmas bazaars, winter festivals, Elks Lodge suppers, and any other place that would let us in. Tonight’s venue was the Veterans Hall. The local pickleball league was having their annual supper and Meme and I snagged two tickets with the promise we could set up our table afterward out in the lobby.

  “I don’t think I ever had German food before,” Meme said to me, “but this stuff is real good. I guess that’s what happens when a man named Norbert Meyer is in charge of things.”

  Meme was right. The food started out with German potato salad, a warm apple and cabbage slaw, sauerkraut soup and some of the biggest pickles I had ever seen. After that we moved on to beef roulade with spätzle. I was stuffed and dessert hadn’t been served yet.

  “The beer has been flowing freely all night and according to the menu, the chocolate sauerkraut cake with boozy cherries is well fortified,” I said.

  “I hope these people aren’t going to be too drunk to buy our calendars, but that cake does sound pretty good. I heard someone say the cherries are covered in a rum, wine, and amaretto sauce and the ganache stuff inside is made with beer. In about a half hour this party’s going to be hoppin’.”

  After the dessert plates had been cleared, Meme and I set up our supply at the back of the room and immediately women flocked to our table.

  “I’ve heard a lot about this calendar, ladies. I’m Marie Dupre from the pickleball club over in Pirates Cove,” a pretty woman in her mid-sixties said. “I was told to take a look at Mr. June. May I?”

  I handed her a copy of the calendar and nudged Meme. So far the overwhelming reaction to Mr. June, aka Howard Wronkovich, was a full blush and the woman standing in front of us was no exception.

  “Oh, my,” Marie said as she turned the calendar a bit trying for the ultimate view. “I’ll take two if that’s okay.”

  Another woman peeked over her shoulder. “Marie, let me have a look.” She blushed on cue, and asked for three copies.

  Things progressed for the next fifteen minutes with brisk sales. All the liquor consumed during the evening seemed to have a wonderful affect on our ideal demographic—women on hormone replacement therapy.

  “That went really well,” Meme said a while later when things had calmed down. “Maybe we should start bringing a couple bottles of cheap wine with us from now on to get the women all hot and bothered.”

  Sounded good to me and I made a mental note to pick up some wine for our next event.

  “You about ready to go?” I asked.

  “I guess.” Meme looked out onto the floor where everyone was dancing wildly to Taio Cruz’s Dynamite. “We sold about all we’re going to tonight.”

  I listened to the music and started to dance. I have this song on my iPod and it’s got a great beat to get you moving. I took Meme’s hand and we moved over to the dance floor. We danced for a few minutes and then it was time to go. Meme was a spry thing for her age, but even she had her limits.

  I started to gather up the last of our calendars, looking forward to getting home, putting on my flannel pajamas and having a cup of tea, when I heard a high-pitched scream coming from the other side of the room.

  Chapter 2

  “What the heck hell,” I said, using a term created by my eight-year-old nephew. I left Meme sitting with our things while I made my way across the hall. “What’s going on here? Is everyone okay?”

  “Not if I have anything to say about it,” a man of about five-foot eight said. “I’ve warned him before about flirting with my wife and there he is out on the dance floor with his hand on her behind. I leave the room for one second and he can’t keep his hands off her.” The man’s color was pretty close to purple and I was afraid he might have a stroke.

  “Sir, why don’t you sit down? Someone, bring a chair over here,” I called out.

  “I don’t need to sit down. I need to punch Humphrey in the face.”

  “Please. Just calm down for a minute. Now tell me who screamed.”

  “That would be me,” Marie Dupre said, poking her head out from behind a tall, willowy woman who looked to be in her seventies. “I was afraid Sid, that’s my husband, was going to strike Humphrey. He didn’t do anything, we were just dancing.”

  “Marie, I know what I saw!” the purple-faced man, who I assumed was Sid, said.

  “And where’s Humphrey,” I asked expecting a big, burly beefy sort of man.

  “Here I am.” A man who stood chest high to me raised his hand. “And I wasn’t touching her behind. I was just guiding her around the dance floor.”

  “By pushing her behind! I warned you Humphrey. Didn’t I warn you?”

  “Okay. I think it’s probably a good time to call it a night.” I took a look at Sid. “Are you okay? Why don’t you and Marie head on home. I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding and things will look much better in the morning.”

  I left the group to go back to where Meme sat. “I think they probably had too much of that cherry dessert. We’ll just sit here until everyone is gone. I want to m
ake sure there’s no more fighting and that no one has a stroke or heart attack.”

  Meme sighed. “A real possibility at one of these events. Who was doing all the yelling?”

  “That Marie Dupre who bought a couple of the calendars. She thought her husband was going to defend her honor and she screamed out. All the dancing and liquor has them too hyped up,” I laughed. “Not to mention Mr. June.” I gave Meme a wink.

  I watched people slowly straggle past us. I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I hang out with my grandmother and her friends so I’m used to slow-moving seniors and I just sat back and let them take their time. There were a lot of people, and a couple stopped to pick up a calendar or two on their way out. All in all it had been a huge turnout and Meme and I did pretty well with the calendars.

  “Who died and put her in charge,” one man said snidely as he passed me. “I was just warming up the dance floor.” He gave me a look and I tossed one right back at him. Warming up the dance floor, ha. The man had to be one-hundred and was dragging an oxygen tank behind him. How he was on a pickleball league was anyone’s guess.

  Once everyone was gone the catering staff converged on the room and took down the tables and chairs. I made a trip out to my car with our card table and then came back for the rest of the stuff. “Okay, I think we have everything.”

  I helped Meme walk along the pathway to my car. Even though it had been cleared of the snow, which had fallen earlier in the day, I couldn’t be too careful with Meme. Once I got her tucked in the front seat, I put the rest of the things in the back and walked around to the driver’s side.

  “Miss. Oh, Miss. Hi, sorry to bother you,” the tall willowy woman I had seen earlier said, “but have you seen Humphrey, my husband?”

  Tall willowy woman was married to five-foot Humphrey?

  “No, I’m sorry. Did he walk out with you?”

  “No. He started to but then said he thought he left his glasses in the men’s room.”

  I shook my head. “Sorry. I never saw him walk by, so he must still be inside. Maybe he just had to use the restroom. Would you like me to go check?”

  “Oh, that would be so kind. I’ll go with you.”

  I told Meme I would be right back and made my way up the path. The last of the tables were just being taken down and I headed toward the back of the hall where the restrooms where located. Willowy woman trailed behind me. Despite her age, the woman had a long, quick stride.

  “This is really so nice of you. I don’t like being the last one. It’s so dark outside.”

  “It’s no problem at all. Here’s the men’s room. What’s your last name?”

  “Bryson. Humphrey and Sophie Bryson.”

  I gave the men’s room door a whack. “Mr. Bryson? Humphrey? Are you in there?”

  Sophie came next to me. “Humph, it’s Sophie. Are you in there?”

  I waited a few moments and then pushed the door open. Nothing. I looked in the two stalls. No Humphrey.

  A look of panic came over Sophie’s face. “Where could he be? Do you think we passed him and he’s back at the car?”

  “You stay here and I’ll go look.” Back outside there was only one other car besides mine in the main parking lot. I looked through the windows and no Humphrey. I stopped by my car and told Meme to keep an eye out and call me on my cell if she saw Humphrey out here.

  “Do you want me to call John?” Meme asked, referring to my husband, a detective with the Indian Cove police department.

  “Not yet, but keep your phone on.”

  I went back inside and found Sophie where I left her. “Any sign of him?”

  “No and I’m getting worried. Where could he be?”

  I checked the men’s room one more time just because and then I stood there thinking. There was another room without a sign and I thought perhaps it might be a storage room. I gave the door a shove. Inside I found what indeed was a storage room complete with a mop, bucket, a couple of brooms and a shelving unit with cleaning supplies and extra toilet paper. Next to this room was an exit door, but I didn’t know whether an alarm would sound if I gave it a push, so I didn’t. The only other door was for the women’s room. I stepped over to it and opened it with one hand while feeling for the light with the other. Sophie was right on my heels. We were in a tiny room with two sinks and a mirror and nothing, or I should say nobody, else. We took a few steps further into the room and I opened the next door. Inside this room were three stalls. Two short legs stuck out from the middle one. I tried to shield Sophie, but she stepped around me and let out a wail.

  “Hold on, maybe he just passed out or something.” I walked over to the stall and pushed the door. Humphrey Bryson lay on his back, his eyes wide open staring up at the ceiling. Something green and bumpy was protruding from his mouth. I squatted down for a closer look. Was that a pickle? It looked like Humphrey had one of the huge pickles served at the supper shoved down his throat.

  I made the sign of the cross. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” I pulled out my cell and pressed the speed dial for Meme. “You can go ahead and call John now. Humphrey Bryson is dead.”

  Chapter 3

  Of course the first thing my husband wanted to know was why I didn’t call him directly.

  “Because of exactly this,” I said.

  “Exactly this what?” John asked in exasperation.

  “All these questions. I couldn’t call you and answer all your questions, attend to a hysterical wife, and corral all the catering people all at the same time, John. Geesh. I’m just one person. I chose to help Sophie and keep potential witnesses-slash-murderers here instead.”

  John ran a hand through his thick hair. “And where might I find this Sophie and all these potential witnesses-slash-murderers?”

  “In the kitchen with Meme. At least that’s where Sophie is. I made them both a cup of tea. I think the catering staff is in a little break room off the kitchen.”

  “And how about all the other people who were here tonight? Where are they?” John looked at me with his stern face.

  “What do you mean where are they? They went home. I told everyone to go home after I broke up the fight.”

  Now John hung his head and I could almost hear him counting to ten.

  “Fight? What fight? Alex, start at the beginning, and God help me, don’t leave anything out.”

  So I told him everything including how the ladies blushed looking at Mr. June. “And then I found Humphrey in the ladies’ room and I had Meme call you. I even managed to keep the wait staff out. So now you know everything I do.”

  John turned to one of the police officers. “We’re going to need a list of everyone who was here tonight.”

  “I think I might be able to help with that,” I interjected. “There’s a guest list in the lobby. It was still there after everyone left so it must be there now. I know Meme and I signed in so I’m assuming everyone else did as well.”

  “Well, that’s a start.” John sent the officer to retrieve the guest book and then turned his attention back to me. “You can go ahead and take Meme home, but don’t leave town. I may have some other questions.” He finally gave me a smile.

  “What about Sophie, I mean Mrs. Bryson. Shouldn’t I stay here with her?”

  “Does she have any family in the area who we can call?”

  I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

  John looked at me with his stern face again. “Okay. You can go sit with her, but no talking about the case and I’ll have someone take Meme home.”

  A few minutes later I stood by the big industrial stove boiling more water.

  “John’s going to find someone to take you home, Meme. I’ll stay with Mrs. Bryson.”

  Meme turned to look at me. “No way, kiddo. I got nothing to do tomorrow. I can sleep all day.”

  I knew Meme wouldn’t go quietly. Who was I kidding? I managed quite nicely to finagle my way back to the kitchen where the victim’s wife sat quietly at the table, fingering a paper napkin.<
br />
  I made fresh cups of tea for Meme and Mrs. Bryson and took my cup to the table.

  “Mrs. Bryson, do you feel like talking? Do you have any idea why someone would kill Mr. Bryson?” I asked, totally disregarding John’s admonishment to not talk about the case.

  Sophie Bryson picked up the cup of hot tea and cradled it in her hands and I noticed they were still shaking. I was acting like a ghoul. The woman’s husband just died, murdered with a pickle. Of course she didn’t feel like talking.

  Meme reached over and patted Mrs. Bryson’s arm. “You just drink your tea, honey; the police will figure it all out soon enough. Let us know if you need anything. Maybe there are some cookies or something in one of these cabinets.”

  I was just about to get up to see what I could find, when Sophie Bryson put her cup down and looked at me.

  “You wanted to know if I have any idea why someone would want to kill Humph? You better get a piece of paper, legal size, and a pen. It’s going to be a long list.”

  Chapter 4

  Humphrey Bryson was a bully, at least to hear his widow tell it, which, unfortunately I didn’t because John walked in right after the word bully left her mouth, effectively shutting my investigation down.

  But that was last night. This morning I had other plans, but first waited for my husband to leave so I could get to work. Not work work. This was a Sunday, after all, and while I consider myself to be a dedicated businesswoman, I didn’t usually go into my office on the weekends. John, on the other hand, was a policeman with a fresh murder to solve and he had to work night and day, depending on the volume of crime in our fair city and some of the other small towns in the area, which were also policed by the Indian Cove department.

  Before I headed out, I had a few chores to finish. I stood at my kitchen sink rinsing off a plate while I looked out onto a white landscape. It had snowed during the night, and shortly after John left this morning, it started again. Being a New Englander, I love snow and since I hardly ever leave Indian Cove it wasn’t a big hassle as far as driving was concerned. Plus, our city had a great town council who made sure the roads were cleared quickly and often, and so I dried off my hands, gathered up my iPad and some anise cookies and headed over to Meme’s.

 
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