Wendy Meadows Cozy Mystery Gold Flake Chocolate Murder (EBOOK)
Maple Hills Mystery Book 6

Gold Flake Chocolate Murder (EBOOK)

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Nikki is in Fall Cliff, Vermont realizing that the prison break isn't so kosher and that something isn't right. She's struggling to get involved with another case, but after Tori gets into a little trouble, she takes on the case with Lidia while Hawk helps them from the sideline.

Nikki is in Fall Cliff, Vermont realizing that the prison break isn't so kosher and that something isn't right. She's struggling to get involved with another case, but after Tori gets into a little trouble, she takes on the case with Lidia while Hawk helps them from the sideline.

Chapter One

Nikki was glad Herbert was all right; he was grumpy, upset, and temperamental, but still alive. Sitting at a wooden picnic bench under the shadowy branches of a large oak tree that stood outside a small brick hospital, she watched Lidia fiddle with a gum wrapper with nervous hands. “He's okay,” Nikki assured Lidia, enjoying a cool breeze playing in her hair. The sky was dimming, allowing a stage of dazzling colors to dance across the eastern horizon; soft and bright shades were mingling together like old friends sharing a warm hug. The soft green grass surrounding the hospital was yawning and tucking itself in for the night as crickets chirped. 

Lidia slid the piece of mint gum out of its silver wrapper and tossed it into her mouth. Having Nikki with her helped, but the fact remained that her husband had been mugged by an escaped convict. Watching the wind play with the fabric of Nikki’s blue dress, she sighed. Nikki sat beautifully, as always. Looking down at the white shirt and tan skirt she was wearing, Lidia wondered how she appeared in Nikki's eyes. Age and worry sure took their toll. “Why are they keeping Herbert overnight?” her voice cracked as she asked Nikki.

Nikki smiled. Leaning across the picnic table, she patted Lidia's hands. “Honey, Herbert insisted they admit him for a one-night stay to observe him. You heard what Dr. Rewer said, Herbert is fine...mad as a wet hornet maybe, but fine. Dr. Rewer admitted Herbert only to avoid a lawsuit.”

“Herbert was being quite adamant, wasn't he?” Lidia asked Nikki and then smiled. “I guess that old fart is okay.”

“Sure, he is.” Nikki smiled back and then spotted Tori walking towards them. “There's Tori,” Nikki said and waved. 

Lidia spotted Tori. My, how beautiful the young woman looked in her yellow summer dress! No more baggy shirts and jeans. “Here we go,” Tori said, reaching the picnic table. She put down a cardboard drink carrier holding three strawberry and banana smoothies and sat down next to Lidia. “What have you two decided?” she asked. 

Nikki watched the breeze playing in Tori's hair. For a few seconds, she saw a young woman who was going to become a wonderful mother. “Well,” she said, picking up a cup from the drink carrier, “Herbert is going to remain in the hospital overnight for observation, so we will need to get a hotel room.”

“No,” Lidia sighed, taking the second smoothie and handing it to Tori. “You girls go on home. I'll stay with Herbert and drive him home tomorrow.”

“No way,” Tori objected. “We're staying with you.”

“That's right,” Nikki agreed. “Friends do not desert one another. Besides, considering those twenty-four convicts who escaped from the North Hill Prison, we're staying together.”

“Oh, honey,” Lidia said, “the police have this town on lockdown. I'll be fine, I promise.”

Nikki handed Lidia the third smoothie. “Lidia,” she said in a loving but stern voice, “we're staying together. If I left and something happened to you, I would never forgive myself.”

“Me, too,” Tori told Lidia. Dropping a straw into her smoothie, she took a drink. “We're staying with you, Lidia. Friends till the end. That's us, girls.”

Nikki looked at Tori. Noticing the young woman's eyes become troubled, she carefully eased into the question. “Sweetie, are you okay?”

Tori nodded her head. “I'm fine. Why?”

“You look a little...upset, all of a sudden,” Nikki cautiously answered.

Tori lowered her eyes. Staring down at her smoothie, she sighed. “I saw that awful man hit Herbert. Herbert was being brave, but the bad guy was the one with the gun. It makes me mad to see criminals hurt innocent people.”

“Me, too,” Nikki assured Tori. “On our last case, Hawk and I thought the bad guys had won. But then Hawk brought a newspaper to our cabin.” Nikki smiled. “Sweetie, sometimes the bad guys get exactly what they deserve...a punishment the law of this land just isn’t capable of serving.”

Lidia started to speak, but then held her lips together when she saw a man approaching the picnic table. “Ladies,” the man said in a pleasant voice.

Nikki put down her smoothie. Having a stranger approach after a prison break stiffened her nerves. “Can we help you?” she asked the man, quickly studying his features and clothing. The man was short, plump, and had a face that reminded her of the fat little man always promising Popeye he would pay him back if only Popeye would loan him money to buy a hamburger. He had fuzzy brown hair and a chubby face that held blue eyes and a stubby nose. A decent but modest brown suit covered the man, making him appear humble.

“My name is Mayor Brown. I'm here to offer my condolences,” he said, looking straight at Lidia. “I want you to know the town of Fall Cliff is going to cover your husband's hospital bills. I know our actions cannot begin to compensate for the physical, emotional and mental suffering that has been inflicted on you and your husband. I wish there were more that we, the community of Fall Cliff, could do for you.”

Nikki rolled her eyes. Here was a short, fat man, greasing the political wheels to prevent an innocent, upset woman from suing his town. Instead, she spoke for Lidia. “Actually, there is. We will be staying the night, Mayor Brown, and leaving as soon as Herbert can travel. Perhaps you can make accommodations for us at the Snow Flake Lodge I saw driving into town?”

Mayor Brown offered Nikki a greasy smile. “I don't think that will be a problem, Ms. Bates,” he answered. “As a matter of fact,” he continued, “I will call Phil over at the Steak House and make a private dinner reservation for you three ladies as well. Compliments of Mayor Brown.”

Nikki was surprised Mayor Brown knew her identity. He seemed eager to get her out of town while making sure he filled Lidia with enough fake kindness to choke out any intention she might have of suing his town. “The sun is setting, so perhaps we should eat first and then drive out to the Lodge?” Nikki suggested to Lidia and Tori.

“Well, Herbert is asleep,” Lidia said, biting down on her lip. “Sure, I'm hungry. Let's go. The pain medicine the nurse gave him will have him snoring until noon tomorrow.”

“Wonderful,” Mayor Brown said in a delighted voice. “Ladies, I will call Phil. You can go ahead and drive to the Steak House. The address is 318 Maple Street. Drive to the very end of the street and you'll see an old diner car sitting on the railroad tracks. You can't miss it. By the time you ladies finish eating, I will have your rooms waiting. All you have to do is drive out to the Lodge and speak with Thelma.” And with that, like a man riding on cloud nine—confident he had accomplished his selfish task by tossing a steak dinner and complimentary rooms onto the table—Mayor Brown hurried away. Nikki stopped him.

“Mayor Brown, what about the escaped convicts? Is the town still closed off? Have the state troopers said anything?” she called out.

Mayor Brown froze in his tracks. Like a man being hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat, he turned to face Nikki with a pained expression on his face. “The state police still have their roadblock set up, I'm afraid. But rest assured, ladies,” he forced a fake smile, “there are no escaped convicts in my town. I have spoken with the prison, and the warden there has reason to believe every convict who escaped is running toward Canada.”

“And they'll need money, of course,” Nikki added. “The bank in my town was robbed by a man who matches the description of one of the escaped convicts.”

Mayor Brown stared at Nikki. Uncertain how to proceed, he simply dropped into political mode. “Yes, desperate criminals carry out many desperate acts against innocent communities, I'm afraid. But rest assured, ladies, the law of the land will prevail. Well, I really must be going. I have many matters to tend to. Please, enjoy your dinner and have a restful night. Goodbye.”

* * *

Nikki watched Mayor Brown hurry away to the small guest parking lot, climb into a gray BMW, and drive away. “He knew who to speak to,” Nikki told Lidia. “I'm sure you’ve never seen that man before, have you?”

“Never in my life,” Lidia confirmed. “Maybe he got my description from the doctor inside?”

“Maybe,” Nikki agreed. Standing up, she looked around. “I think Mayor Brown had more on his plate than just feeding us ladies a few pieces of candy to please our sweet tooths.”

“What do you mean?” Tori asked. 

“What she means is,” Lidia explained, standing up and stretching her tired back, “is that the fat little man who just paid us a visit wanted to scope us out...especially Nikki.”

“Which makes me wonder how he even knew I was in his little town. Girls, listen, I've been thinking about this. Twenty-four convicts escaped, right?”

“Yes,” Lidia said. Tori nodded.

Nikki took a drink of her smoothie. Her eyes walked back and forth as her mind formulated a theory she would iron the wrinkles out of later. “The convicts, according to Hawk, all belonged to a gang of thieves; they were captured on Long Island...a place I never want to see again, by the way.”

“I'm not following you,” Tori admitted. 

“There has been a rash of assaults and robberies all through Vermont,” Nikki explained to Tori. “These convicts are desperately acquiring cash fast, and without worry about the law. Each assault and robbery has taken place in a small town, just like this one and the one we live in. And,” Nikki continued, “what puzzles me the most is how fast these guys seem to be moving. The prison break took place last night, but the bank in our town was already hit. That's awfully fast for a man who is running on foot.”

“Are you implying the prison break was staged?” Lidia gasped. 

Nikki took another drink of her smoothie and then shrugged. “How did these escaped convicts get guns so quickly?” she asked. “I would bet you our chocolate store that the warden is somehow connected to the prison break. But,” Nikki said in a careful voice, “I have no interest in fighting a public official who could be connected to more people who can put my life and the lives of those I love in danger. I want to play it nice and safe this time.”

Lidia glanced at Tori, who was staring at Nikki intently. “But dangerous criminals are loose, hurting people! Nikki, if you know how to help...”

“I know, Tori,” Nikki said with a gentle smile, “but I'm very tired of the fight. It's time to pass the torch on to someone else for a while. All I want to do is go home, make chocolate, write my books, and watch fall arrive while spending as much time as I can with the people I love.”

Tori picked up her smoothie and stood up. “I understand. Okay, who's hungry? I'm starving.”

“Me,” Lidia confessed, taking Tori's hand. “Nikki, you lead the way. I'll follow you.”

“It's great to have my SUV back,” Nikki told Lidia, trying to sound positive. Yet her gut shook its head at her in shame. Why had she even tossed her theory into the air if she had no intention of helping anyone? Wasn't that the purpose of her life? To help others in need, to fight for justice, and to slam prison bars in the face of criminals? She just felt so tired. Too much too soon, she tried to console herself. Also, she had her son to think about. “Come on, girls. Let's go eat.”


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