When I was a little girl—three or four years old—I believed that the hill above my grandmother’s house was the end of the world. The road was a dead end, and so I thought you couldn’t go any farther.
There was a young man who lived on that hill who was well on his way to becoming a “rough character.”
He would eventually get involved with drugs, be an enforcer for a drug dealer, go to prison. As a child, I’d stand in the front yard and wave to him as he sped up the road to his house. He’d wave and sometimes blow the horn. We were buds.
My best bud at that time was my cousin Bobby. He stayed with us while his mom worked. We were so close that we shared an imaginary friend named Miss Witch. Miss Witch lived in the basement and made us chocolate chip cookies. We loved her. And she loved us.
When I started to elementary school and had to ride that big, scary, yellow bus, I’d go all the way to the back and sit with a high school senior named Bo. Bo was a large young man, taking up very much of his seat. But I was small and there was room for me, and Bo would greet me with a gentle, tolerant smile. And I wasn’t afraid. I was sitting with the biggest person on the bus, and I felt confident that he wouldn’t allow anyone to be mean to me.
Now before you think this is a post about why I love men, it isn’t. It’s about society and how I perceive it. The man who lived on the hill has returned there, or so I’ve heard. My cousin and I are lucky to see each other once a year. And the last I heard about Bo, he’d tried to commit suicide. I was so very sorry to hear that—didn’t he realize how special he was? That he’d been a symbol of strength to a frightened little girl? What had scared him so badly that he hadn’t wanted to live anymore?
When I was that little girl growing up in rural Southwest Virginia, the only labels were those I put on people. That “rough character” was the boy who had a car and drove fast and waved back at me. My cousin was the only boy I’d ever love (well, yeah, that changed). Bo was the giant who was nice to me. My friend Jacky could wear shorts anytime she wanted to because her legs weren’t white.
As I grew up, my experiences taught me empathy and compassion. I learned to look beyond the labels and try to see the person. When I was in high school, there was a little girl who would get on our bus every afternoon and sit beside me. I would inwardly groan—probably much as Bo had done—but smile at her. She would smile and sometimes rest her head against my shoulder. That was okay—I had a debt to pay forward.
I have a lot of eccentric characters in The Calamity Café. But I can safely say, they’re probably more realistic than the “normal” people.
By the way, some of those lessons we learn when we’re young really do stay with us. I was in the airport in Chicago once. I’d gotten off the plane, bought a sandwich and drink, and went to the gate to wait for my connecting flight. As I sat down, I noticed sitting across from me the largest, scariest man I think I’d ever seen. His head was shaved and tattooed, and he was intimidating to say the least.
He glanced over at me.
I smiled. “Would you like half of this sandwich?” I asked. “It’s huge.”
When I boarded the plane, there was an older lady sitting beside me. “Did you see that man with the tattoos on his head?” she asked.
“I did,” I said. “I offered him half my sandwich.”
“Why?” she asked. “He probably thought you were hitting on him.”
“The way I had it figured,” I said, “he was either as frightening as he looked or the complete opposite. I decided that if he was a bad person and maybe planning on blowing up the airport or something, he might spare the one who showed him a kindness. And I really want to get home to my kids.”
By the way, wanting to see beyond the surface of people is one of my favorite things, which is why I fell in love with Humans of New York Stories by Brandon Stanton.
When Amy discovers Lou Lou’s body, she becomes a suspect in the murder…and looks even more suspicious when Lou Lou’s son Pete offers to sell Amy the café and she takes him up on the offer. She’s slowly trying to find out who killed Lou Lou and solve some other mysteries along the way.
I really loved this first book in what is looking to be a fun, foodie cozy series. Amy is easy to like and she’s smart. I loved the setting of the story and the food element was so much fun. The author kept me guessing. I was suspicious of quite a few characters until the very end. I look forward to the next book in the series.
The Calamity Café
– CHAPTER ONE
I took a deep breath, tightened my ponytail, and got out of my yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I knew from experience that the morning rush at Lou’s Joint had passed and that the lunch crowd wouldn’t be there yet. I put my letter of resignation in my purse and headed inside. Homer Pickens was seated at the counter with a cup of coffee. He was a regular . . . and when I say regular, I mean it. The man came to the café every morning at ten o’clock, lingered over a sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee, and left at ten forty. It was ten fifteen a.m.
“Good morning, Homer,” I said. “Who’s your hero today?”
“Shel Silverstein,” he said.
“Good choice.” I smiled and patted his shoulder. Homer was a retiree in his late sixties, and he chose a new hero every day.
You see, when Homer was a little boy, he noticed his daddy wasn’t around like other kids’ daddies. So he asked his mom about him. She told him that his dad had died but that he’d been a great baseball player, which is why she’d named him Homer. When Homer was a teenager, she’d finally leveled with him and said his father hadn’t been a baseball player . . . that he’d basically been a bum . . . but that Homer didn’t need a father to inspire him. Heroes were everywhere. Since then, Homer had chosen a new hero every day. It was like his inspiration. I looked forward to hearing Homer’s answer to my question every day I worked. When I was off from work, he told me who his hero was the day I asked plus the day I’d missed.
I could sympathize with Homer’s desire for a heroic father figure. My dad left Mom and me when I was four. I don’t really remember him at all.
“That apple tree? The one he wrote about? I have one like it in my backyard,” Homer said. “I cherish it. I’d never cut it down.”
“I’m sure the rain we’ve had the past couple of days has helped it grow. You bring me some apples off that tree this fall, and I’ll make you a pie,” I told him.
My cousin Jackie came from the back with a washcloth and a spray bottle of cleaner. She and I had waitressed together at the café for over a year. Jackie had been there for two years, and in fact, it was she who’d helped me get the job.
My mind drifted to when I’d come back home to work for Lou Lou. I’d just finished up culinary school in Kentucky. Nana’s health had been declining for the past two or three years, but it had picked up speed. As soon as I’d graduated, I’d come home and started working at Lou’s Joint so I could be at Nana’s house within ten minutes if I was needed. I was only biding my time at first, waiting for a chef’s position to come open somewhere. But, then, Nana had died. And, although I knew I could’ve asked her for a loan to open a café at any time, I wouldn’t have. I guess I got my streak of pride from my mother. But the money Nana had left me had made my dream a reality—I could open my café and stay right here at home.
“Morning, Amy!” said Jackie. “Guess what—Granny says she has a new Pinterest board. It’s called Things I’d Love to Eat but Won’t Fix Because What’s the Point Anyway Since I Don’t Like to Cook Anymore.”
I laughed. “I don’t think they’d let her have a name that long.”
“That’s what I figured. It’s probably called Things I’d Love to Eat, but she threw that last bit in there hoping we’ll make some of this stuff for her.”
“And we probably will.”
Jackie’s granny was my great-aunt Elizabeth, but Mom and I had always just called her “Aunt Bess.” Aunt Bess was eighty-two and had recently discovered the wonders of the Internet. She had a number of Pinterest boards, had a Facebook page with a 1940s pinup for a profile pic, and trolled the dating sites whenever they offered a free weekend.
Lou Lou heard us talking and waddled to the window separating the kitchen from the dining room. She had a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip. She tucked it into the corner of her mouth while she spoke.
“Thought I heard your voice, Amy. You ain’t here for your paycheck, are you? Because that won’t be ready until tomorrow, and you ain’t picking it up until after your shift.”
“That’s not why I’m here,” I said. “Could we talk privately, please?”
“Fine, but if you’re just wanting to complain about me taking half the waitresses’ tips again, you might as well not waste your breath. If it wasn’t for me, y’all wouldn’t have jobs here, so I deserve half of what you get.”
Jackie rolled her eyes at me and then got to cleaning tables before Lou Lou bawled her out.
We deserved all of our tips and then some, especially since Lou Lou didn’t pay minimum wage and gave us more grief than some of the waitresses could bear. That’s why I was here. Lou Lou Holman was a bully, and I aimed to put her out of business.
Speaking of daddies, Lou Lou had been named after hers—hence the Lou Lou, rather than Lulu—and according to my late grandmother, she looked just like him. He’d kept his hair dyed jet-black until he was put into the Winter Garden Nursing Home, and afterward, he put shoe polish on his head. According to Nana, he ruined many a pillowcase before the staff found his stash of shoe polish and did away with it.
Lou Lou wore her black hair in a tall beehive with pin curls on either side of her large round face. Her eyes were blue, a fact that was overpowered by the cobalt eye shadow she wore. She shaved her eyebrows, drew thin black upside-down Vs where they should be, and added false eyelashes to complete the look.
Today Lou Lou wore a floor-length blue-and-white floral-print muumuu, and she had a white plastic hibiscus in her hair just above the pin curl on the left. She shuffled into the office, let me go in ahead of her, and then closed the door. I could smell her perfume—a cloying jasmine—mixed with this morning’s bacon and the cigarette, and I was more anxious than ever to get our business over with. She sat down behind her desk and looked at me.
I perched on the chair in front of the desk, reached into my purse, and took out the letter. As I handed it to her, I said, “I’m turning in my two-week notice.”
“Well, I ain’t surprised,” she said, stubbing the cigarette into the ashtray. “I heard your granny left you some money when she passed last year. I reckon you’ve decided to take it easy.”
“No. Actually, I’d like to buy your café.”
Her eyes got so wide that her false eyelashes brushed against the tops of her inverted V eyebrows. “Is that a fact, Amy?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is.” I lifted my chin. “I’m a good cook—better than good, as a matter of fact—and I
want to put my skills . . . my passion . . . to work for me.”
“If you think you can just waltz in here all high and mighty and take my daddy’s business away from me, you’ve got another think coming,” said Lou Lou.
“If you don’t sell to me, I’m going to open up my own café. I just thought I should give you fair warning before I do.”
Lou Lou scoffed. “You’ve got some nerve thinking you can run me out of business. You bring on the competition, girlie! We’ll see who comes out ahead.”
“All right.” I stood. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be here tomorrow for my shift.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll mail you your final check.”
“I’ll be here,” I said. “I don’t want any of the other waitresses to have to work a double on my account.”
“Suit yourself. But don’t be surprised if I take the cost of putting an ad in the paper for a new waitress out of your salary.”
I simply turned and walked out of the office. I knew that legally Lou Lou couldn’t take her ad cost out of my pay. But Lou Lou did a lot of things that weren’t right. I figured whatever she did to me in retaliation for my leaving wasn’t worth putting up a fight over . . . not now. I’d pick my battles.
I’d also pick my wallpaper, my curtains, my flooring, my chairs, stools, and tables, my logo . . . My lips curled into a smile before I’d even realized it.
“Bye, Homer! Bye, Jackie!” I called over my shoulder on the way out.
“Bye, Amy!” They called in unison.
I went to the parking lot and got into my car. I glanced up at the sign—Lou’s Joint—as I backed out into the road. The sign was as sad and faded as everything else about this place. If I could convince Lou Lou to change her mind, I’d start with a brand-new sign . . . a big yellow sign with “Down South Café” in blue cursive letters. I wanted everybody to know what to expect when they walked into my café—Southern food and hospitality.
I could do so much with this little place. Sure, I could also build a new café, but if I did, I’d also have to buy all-new equipment, get the building wired and up to code, and basically spend a lot of extra money I’d rather save if at all possible. Besides, Lou’s Joint was one of only two restaurants in town, and it was really close to my house—a definite plus once winter rolled in.
When I got home, I went straight to the kitchen. Rory, my little brown wirehaired terrier, met me at the door and followed me. Princess Eloise, the white Persian cat, barely looked up from her post in the living room picture-window sill. I bent and gave Rory kisses and then I got his box of dog treats. We play hide-and-seek with the treats before he eats them. Of course, they’re in plain sight, but we act like they’re hidden.
I scattered the treats in the foyer, hallway, and living room, repeating the word “hide” each time I dropped one. When I placed the last treat on the marble hearth in the living room, I called, “Seek!” Rory sprang into action, backtracking to find all the treats.
This bought me a good five minutes to wash my hands and get started on an oatmeal pie. Oatmeal pies took a while to make—even when I had a frozen pie crust like the one I was using today—but they were worth it. Nana used to make them. Especially if I was feeling down, I could walk into her
house, smell that oatmeal pie baking, and know that everything was gonna be all right.
I took my pie crust out of the freezer and preheated the oven. I got a small mixing bowl, put four eggs in it, and set it on the counter while I gathered the rest of my ingredients.
Lou Lou was right about my nana leaving me some money. The estate had been settled for quite a while, but I didn’t want to rush to spend my inheritance. I’d wanted to wait until I was absolutely sure I knew what I wanted to do.
Nana had a fairly sizeable estate, or at least, sizable by Winter Garden, Virginia, standards. I’d always known my grandparents had money, but I hadn’t realized how much Nana did have until she was gone. Of course, she’d bought me my car when I’d graduated high school, and it was brand-new then. I’d been impressed, but I’d thought maybe she’d been saving up for that for a long time. I’d been driving that little car for ten years now, and it was still going strong.
I smiled to myself, remembering the day she’d taken me to buy that car. We’d had to go all the way to Johnson City, Tennessee, but the dealership had given us Virginia sales tax on the vehicle. And the salesman had nearly fainted when Nana had paid cash!
I cracked the four eggs into the bowl and beat them until they were frothy. In a larger bowl, I mixed together sugar, cinnamon, flour, and salt. I then added the eggs. As I was pouring in the corn syrup, my phone rang. I’d placed the phone on the counter and could see that it was Sarah calling. She was one of my best friends. I hesitated, but when the oven clicked, indicating that it had reached 350 degrees, I let the call go to voice mail. I’d get back to Sarah as soon as I got the pie into the oven.
Sarah and I had become close when we were in elementary school, and we’d stayed that way. Her family was like one of those perfect television families. I used to wish I had a big family like hers, and whenever I said something along those lines, she’d assure me that I did—I had her family.
And I had Mom and Nana. They were wonderful. Mom and I had lived in a smaller house on Nana and Pop’s property. Despite her parents’ abundance, Mom had taken as little from anybody as possible. She wanted to earn her own way, and she certainly had done that. And of course, Jackie and I had always been more like sisters than cousins, especially since Jackie had never known her dad and her mother had left her with Aunt Bess when Jackie was sixteen.
I poured the oatmeal mixture into the pie shell and slid it into the oven. Then I called Sarah.
“Hey, girl,” she answered. “Did you throw down on the Big Bad Boss yet?”
“Yeah.” I groaned. “Lou Lou was not happy when I offered to buy her café.”
“I’d have loved to have seen the expression on her face!” Sarah laughed. “So . . . plan B?”
“I guess so. I’m nervous about it. It’ll take longer than having a place that I only have to redecorate,” I said.
“But starting from the ground up, you can get exactly what you want.”
“That’s true . . . but it’s kinda scary.”
“I’m sure it is, Amy, but you’ll know what you’re getting every step of the way,” she said. “And you can afford to go with all-new stuff . . . good stuff!”
I laughed. “That’s true. But I have to be smart. I won’t have my salary to live on while the new place is being built. I gave Lou Lou my two weeks’ notice. She didn’t want me to come back at all, but I said I wouldn’t do that to the other waitresses.”
“Well, honey, it’s not like you were making a fortune in that place.”
“I know . . . but what will I do to keep from being bored out of my mind while I’m waiting for my café to be built?”
“You’ll help build it,” Sarah said. “I’ve known you all your life. I can see you jumping right in there with your hammer and nails.”
“You’ve got a point there. Plus, I’ll be getting my permits and all that. Do you think we can get the construction done before winter?” I asked. “How long does something like that take?”
“I’d say it’ll take four to six months . . . and it’s June . . . so, yeah, you can be ready by winter.”
I sighed. “Will people wait that long? I so wanted to go in, take over Lou Lou’s place, shut down for a week or two for redecorating, and then have a grand opening on Independence Day.”
“People won’t wait,” she said, “but they’ll gladly leave Lou’s Joint for something better as soon as that option becomes available to them.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Come over after work and have some oatmeal pie with me.”
“Is that what I smell?” she teased.
She giggled. “I’ll be there!”
“Want some fried chicken, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy to go with it?” I asked.
“I’d be satisfied with just the pie . . . but I wouldn’t hurt your feelings by not eating chicken and biscuits.”
“Good. I’ll see you after work, then.”
Sarah was Billy Hancock’s administrative assistant. In Winter Garden, that meant she was the secretary, bookkeeper, and paralegal to the town’s only attorney-at-law. Billy was about fifty-five years old and had taken over the business from his father, William. Being the only lawyer in town, Billy had plenty to keep him busy, but not so busy that he couldn’t play golf in Abingdon with his friends two afternoons a week. He handled just about everybody’s wills, estates, divorces, and misdemeanor charges. Not that everybody got divorced or had misdemeanors in Winter Garden, for goodness’ sake . . . but there were enough to earn Billy a darned good living, and by extension Sarah too.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. The aromas of the vanilla, cinnamon, and oatmeal were divine. I remembered standing on a chair at Nana’s side watching her make her oatmeal pie at our house one Thanksgiving morning. Nana was strong and sturdily built, and I must’ve been only around five years old, because I felt tiny at her side. She was patiently explaining the pie making step by step. At the time, all I cared about was “Can I lick the spoon?” Now I’d love to have the opportunity to live that day over . . . to take in every detail, every loving nuance of her oatmeal pie preparation. But as the author of Our Town warned, reliving a day gone by might prove to be too painful.
I opened my eyes and wondered briefly if Thornton Wilder had ever been Homer’s hero. I’d have to try to remember to ask Homer.
The pie still had a good thirty minutes to bake, so I went into my fancy room. My fancy room had once been my mother’s bedroom. After Pop died, Aunt Bess moved in with Nana. After Nana died, Mom moved in with Aunt Bess. And then when Aunt Bess started getting forgetful—as in, accidentally leaving the stove on—Mom left her job as a sales associate for a retailer in Bristol to look after Aunt Bess full-time.
Nana’s house was the biggest house in town, which wasn’t saying a lot for the rural community. There were houses in Abingdon and Bristol that would make Nana’s house look small in comparison. Most people in Winter Garden lived in farmhouses or small ranch houses. The people of Winter Garden were generally hardworking and proud. The majority thought it was beneath them to take handouts of any kind, and some lived a meager existence because of that.
Nana’s house was situated on a hill so that a person could sit on the wraparound front porch and see the entire town of Winter Garden. The house hadn’t been built until the early 1980s, when my grandpa had quit working in the coal mines and he and Nana moved here from Pocahontas.
After Mom had moved in with Aunt Bess, I’d remodeled her bedroom. Two of the walls were lined with oak bookshelves—not plasterboard, but real oak. My friend Roger was a construction worker, and he’d built them. There had always been the understanding that Roger would build my café if and when I decided to build. Before I gave my notice to Lou Lou, I’d spoken with Roger to make sure he could work me in.
Roger had been friends with Sarah, Jackie, and me since we were children. In fact, I’d always thought he and Jackie would make a good couple.
In the center of the fancy room floor was a white velvet fainting couch, and I grinned every time I looked at it. The piece was just so girly and luxurious, and I loved it. I kept the door closed and didn’t let Princess Eloise into this room at all for fear that she’d sharpen her claws on the legs of the couch. It was hard to slip off from Rory, though, so I’d wound up putting a doggie bed beneath one of the windows so he could visit if he missed me when I was in the room. He generally liked to be by my side always. Princess Eloise could take me or leave me. She was Mom’s cat, but Mom couldn’t take her to live with Aunt Bess because Aunt Bess was allergic. So Princess Eloise tolerated me. When Mom came over, she was like a different Persian.
Off to the side of the fainting couch, I had an overstuffed peacock blue chair with a matching ottoman.
There was a floor lamp beside the chair; and when I’d curl up on the chair to read, it was like its big old arms just wrapped around me. I kept a pink-and-blue paisley throw on the ottoman. I had one of those old-fashioned rolltop desks at the window looking out onto the side yard. It too was oak, and I kept stationery supplies in it. I particularly liked personalized stationery, and Nana had made it a point to get me some every Christmas. Ever since seeing the old black-and-white movie Rebecca, I’d thought personalized stationery was the pinnacle of class. So what if the title character had turned out to be less than classy? She still had nice stationery.
Rory had long since found all his treats and was in a blissful sleep in front of the living room sofa, so I closed the door behind me when I went into the fancy room. I slipped my sandals off and stretched out on the fainting couch with my laptop. I checked Aunt Bess’s Pinterest boards. One of my favorites was Lord Have Mercy. On that board, Aunt Bess pinned things that were, in her opinion, in need of grace: weird photos of celebrities, crime stories, strange phenomena, and multiple body piercings.
I’d been surfing the Web for several minutes when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number that came up on my screen.
“Yeah, Amy, hi. It’s Pete Holman. How you doing?”
Pete was Lou Lou’s son. He was several years older than I was, so I hadn’t known him until I started working at Lou’s Joint. Pete was nice enough, but he tended to be on the lazy side—did just enough to get by and didn’t take much pride in his work. He’d always kinda struck me as an overgrown kid. Pete was a skinny, balding man of forty who still lived with his momma and tried to pretend to her that he didn’t have a girlfriend . . . because Lou Lou would definitely not have approved of the thirty-year-old woman Pete had been seeing. In fact, I doubted she would have approved of anyone Pete dated. Lou
Lou liked keeping Pete under her thumb.
“I’m fine, Pete. How are you?”
“I’m all right. Momma told me that you offered to buy the Joint.”
“I did. I imagine she also told you that she flat-out refused to sell it to me,” I said.
“She did say that, but I believe I’ve got her talked into changing her mind.”
“Really.” It wasn’t a question. It more like a nicer way of saying, Fat chance.
“Yeah. You see, she ain’t as young as she used to be . . . and, well, I ain’t either, for that matter. I never did want to spend my life slinging hash. Uh, not that you wouldn’t enjoy it and all—that ain’t what I’m saying,” he said. “It’s just, I’m saying I’d prefer a life on the open road. I want to drive a truck.”
“Well, good for you, Pete. I hope that works out for you.” I had a hard time buying what he was saying, much as I would have liked to.
“Thank you. I appreciate that, Amy. I really do. But, of course, for everybody to get what they want, Momma has to sell the Joint, right?”
“Um . . . okay.”
“So I reminded her of how she’s always wanted to go to Hawaii,” Pete said. “She could take some of that money you’re paying her and take right off, couldn’t she?”
“I think that would be wonderful,” I said. For her and for everybody in Winter Garden . . . especially if Lou Lou decided to stay in the islands. I had a vision of Lou Lou eating pupu, and I had to stifle a giggle.
“So you come on to the Joint right after closing tonight. I’ll have Momma there, and the three of us will work out all the details. I’ll even try to have Billy Hancock there to draw up the contract.”
“Tonight at closing?” I asked, feeling my hopes rise even though I knew better. “Can’t we discuss the sale tomorrow morning?”
“No, Amy. We don’t want Momma to have the chance to change her mind.”
“I understand that, but—” The oven timer went off. “I have to go get my pie before it burns.”
“See you tonight, then?” he asked.
“See you then.”
It was a balmy night and, since it had stopped raining, I had my windows down as I drove to Lou’s Joint. I’d had my fill of good food and fun conversation, and I was feeling content. Sarah had stayed until just about an hour ago. We’d played a game of Yahtzee and had gone back to the drawing board on the existing café renovations, and we’d also dreamed about where I could buy land to build a new café and how it would look if tonight’s deal fell through.
Sarah and I both felt as if this deal was more about Pete’s hope that he could talk his momma into selling than any actual budging on Lou Lou’s part. I’d worked for Lou Lou Holman for just over a year. She didn’t budge. On anything. So I wasn’t particularly optimistic about Lou Lou selling to me, but I had a plan B.
I pulled into the parking lot. The only other vehicle there was Lou Lou’s old silver van. I wondered
why she didn’t get a nicer, more reliable car. The van seemed to be in the repair shop more than it
was out. Despite having money, Lou Lou was stingy. Nana had once said that if you were really quiet, you could hear all the little Lincolns screaming in Lou Lou’s pocket because the woman pinched her pennies so tightly.
I got out, locked the car, and walked up to the door. It was a cloudless night, and the moon was a waxing crescent. Nana used to tell me that when the moon looked like that, it was pouring out water . . . meaning it was going to rain again soon. A warm breeze blew, rustling the leaves of the sugar maples grouped on both sides of the café. I heard wings flap overhead. I shivered, wondering if it was a bat or a great horned owl. Either would scare the dickens out of me.
I quickly tried the door. The closed sign had been turned toward the glass, but the door was unlocked. Grateful, I slipped inside. All the lights were off except the one in the back.
“Lou Lou! Pete! It’s me, Amy!”
I waited for one of them to come out and wave me on back into the office. I actually hoped that they’d come out, flip on a light, and we could meet in here either at the lunch counter or at a table. I didn’t relish the thought of being confined in the stuffy, smoky office with Pete and Lou Lou.
No one answered, and no one emerged from the office. “Hello!” I headed toward the back. I’d simply suggest that we move into the dining area to give us all a bit more space. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Pete’s truck parked outside. Maybe Lou Lou had called off the deal, and he hadn’t even bothered to come.
When I reached the office, I saw that Lou Lou was slumped over the desk. “Lou Lou, are you all right?”
She didn’t look up.
I stepped closer and patted her arm. “Lou Lou?”
That’s when I noticed the blood dripping from the desk pad onto the floor.