Wendy Meadows Cozy Mystery Death Over Spilt Chowder (EBOOK)
Chocolate Cozy Mystery Book 7

Death Over Spilt Chowder (EBOOK)

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 Escape to the sun-drenched Florida Keys, where Olivia Cloud and her investigator beau, Jake, are hoping to enjoy a much-needed vacation. But when a mysterious murder disrupts their seafood feasts and conch chowder, Olivia finds herself embroiled in another captivating murder mystery.

As Olivia and her friends embark on a haunted dinner crawl, the evening takes a dark turn when a homeless drifter named Joseph Pines is found dead. With connections between the victim and the other dinner guests, Olivia must put her sleuthing skills to the test to uncover the truth.

Whether she's indulging in the Keys' delectable cuisine or navigating the web of suspects, Olivia's knack for solving crimes follows her everywhere she goes. Join her on this cozy, page-turning adventure as she works to unravel the mystery and restore peace to the idyllic island community.

"Death Over Spilt Chowder" is a delightful blend of small-town charm, mouth-watering descriptions, and captivating suspense that will keep you guessing until the very end. Immerse yourself in the vibrant, tropical setting and discover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of this cozy mystery.

Chapter One

Candlelight flickered in the dining room, driving back the shadows along the table, but hardly any further than that. The diners sat on either side of the mahogany slab, their fists tucked under their chins or fingers toying with the silverware as they listened to the story being told by the man of the hour. 

Olivia creaked forward in her seat, her gaze fixed on their tour guide. 

“You see, the chef at this fine establishment was none other than the Butcher of the Keys. Back in the 50s, he was famous for his delicious conch chowder. What his guests didn’t know? There was a secret ingredient.” The tour guide wriggled his dark eyebrows. “Can you guess what it was?” 

“Yes, but I’m not sure I want to know,” Olivia whispered and gave Jake the eagle eye. For heaven’s sake, what had possessed him to choose a Haunted Restaurant Tour for tonight’s entertainment? 

They’d only been in the Florida Keys for two days. Surely, that was more of a second-week type of activity for a getaway. 

Olivia had always been practical, but there was something about ghost stories that, well, got right under her skin. Having them told over dinner made it worse somehow. 

“You see,” the tour guide, Timmy, continued, “the Butcher of the Keys was a very shrewd individual. He didn’t like competition of any sort. If he thought someone was moving in on his turf or had the potential to steal his customers, and therefore, his money, he’d get rid of them.” Timmy snapped his fingers. “Like that.” 

One of the other diners, a beautiful young woman, perhaps in her late twenties, shifted in her seat and shuddered. “I’m not sure I like where you’re going with this, tour guide.” She tossed back her long blonde hair then ran her fingers over a necklace of fine pearls. 

Karen! That’s her name. How could I forget? They’d been introduced to their fellow diners before the tour had begun, but their rich young compatriot had hardly batted an eyelid in Olivia and Jake’s direction. 

What a group of characters. 

Olivia catalogued them one by one in her mind. 

Karen was the proverbial rich girl, pampered and sweet. 

Albert, blustery, sure of himself and totally overwhelming. He wore a stained work shirt, with mostly green streaks, as if he’d rolled around in fresh cut grass. 

George sat beside his wife, not touching his food, but alive with excitement at the prospect of a ghostly tale. He was neat and well put-together, with wire-framed glasses and a shock of blonde hair atop his head. 

His wife, Belinda, was totally reserved. She was plain, the only wilting flower type in the room. 

“None of you will like where this is going, by the way.” Timmy’s grin was downright devilish. “Do you want to know how the Butcher captured his victims?” 

Belinda shook her head. She’d gone pale—well, paler, since she was already fair-skinned and clung to her husband, George, who wasn’t afraid at all. In fact, his eyes were practically alight. 

His grin mirrored Tim’s. 

“Go on,” Albert blustered. 

He was the only diner Olivia and Jake had met prior to this little journey down ghost lane. He was the owner of the local garden club, which was right down the road from their hotel. He was a nice enough guy, albeit a little rough around the edges. 

“Well? We don’t have all night. I’m starving, and the main course hasn’t even been served yet,” Albert said. 

The tour guide wriggled his nose. Apparently, he wasn’t accustomed to so many interruptions. He’d taken great pains to set up a spooky atmosphere in here, what with the strange pictures on the walls—black and white photos of folks staring down at the diners—and candles dripping wax onto their brass holders. 

“The Butcher would lure his enemies to a private dinner, much like this one,” Tim said, putting on a deep and gravelly voice. “He’d serve them his famous conch chowder.” The guide threw his arms wide and several servers appeared carrying bowls which were laden with—yep, conch chowder. “He would sit down, talk to them, then laugh and joke around.” 

A server set down a bowl in front of Olivia and she peered into it. It smelled delicious, of course. Albert had already tucked into his bowl, slurping and chewing enthusiastically. Belinda was more reserved—she dipped her spoon into the chowder, then lifted it to her lips and sipped, tentatively. 

“I don’t know how anyone can eat at a time like this,” Olivia whispered. “We’re listening to a horror story, for heaven’s sake.” Her stomach growled, though, and gave the game away. 

Jake chuckled. “It’s what we came for. Supposedly, being afraid will heighten our senses, and that means everything will taste better.” 

Olivia sighed and lifted her spoon but didn’t tuck in quite yet. 

“What would happen then? After he’d invited them?” Karen asked, and tugged on her string of pearls as if it were a rosary instead. She certainly hadn’t tucked into her meal. In fact, she wrinkled her nose as if she’d smelled something distinctly—off. 

Olivia lowered her spoon again. 

The guide’s eyes flashed. “Then, he’d watch them eat. And when the time was right, he’d shut off all the lights and—”

“Shut off the lights?” Olivia asked, because she could hardly ignore that small discrepancy. “These are candles.” 

Tim’s gleeful expression faltered. “I—well, back then he didn’t have candles. He just had regular lights. The candles are for ambience.” 

“Oh.” 

The spooky atmosphere deflated a little. 

“Oh, Olivia,” Jake muttered and laughed again. “You sure know how to steal the wind from a man’s sails.” 

“I’m a stickler for accuracy,” Olivia replied. If she wasn’t, heaven knew, she’d never have helped solve the murders she had in the past. It paid to be conscientious and aware, after all. 

“Ahem.” Tim gave them both a pointed stare from his place at the head of the table. “If I may continue? We have several haunted houses to tour, ladies and gentleman. This is simply your appetizer.” 

The servers filed from the room, but left the door open behind them. The hall was darkened, as was the rest of the creaky, carpeted house—done in the fifties style, with orange and olive green just about everywhere. It gave Olivia a headache. 

“Continue,” Albert said, gesturing with his spoon. He splattered the table cloth with chowder, and Karen grimaced, tugging on her necklace again. 

“At the exact right moment in the proceedings,” Tim said, leaning in, “the Butcher would click his fingers and all the lights would go out. Chaos would ensue.” The guide raised his fingers and snapped them once. 

The dining room was plunged into darkness. The candle flames puffed out.  

Karen let out a shrill squeak. 

Silence. Olivia grasped Jake’s hand and squeezed it tight. 

A chair scraped back. Footsteps. 

“Ouch.” 

“Who’s that?” 

“Tim, you turn on these lights immediately,” Karen hissed. 

A low chuckle. A bang. 

The slam of a door. 

Moments passed, and then a muted roar rang out down the hall, followed by another shrill squeal from Karen. 

“What was that?” Jake asked, beside Olivia. She squeezed his hand tighter, refusing the panic which coursed through her veins. It all had to be part of the act. Part of the tour guide’s silly show. 

Curses, Jake, why did you bring us here tonight?

“Remain calm, everyone,” Tim said, from the head of the table. A door creaked again, another scrape of a chair, then another. “Hold on, hold on. I don’t know what’s going on.” 

“What do you mean you don’t know what’s going on?” That was George’s voice. Or was it Albert’s? 

“Here.” A flashlight clicked on and illuminated the table and the cooling bowls of chowder. Tim shifted his grip and the beam of light passed over each of the diners seated at the table. “Is everyone all right?” 

“No,” Karen and Albert answered in unison. 

“What was that?” Olivia asked. 

Tim gulped audibly. “I—I don’t know. The candles were supposed to go out. That was just a scare, but the scream. I—just don’t know.” 

Olivia rose from her seat, and this time Jake squeezed her hand. “There’s only one way to find out.”

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