Custard's last stand / Tamar Myers.
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- ISBN: 0451207823
- ISBN: 9780451207821
- Physical Description: 230 pages ; 23 cm.
- Publisher: New York : New American Library, 2003.
Series numeration from NoveList.
"When Colonel George Custard, the hotel tycoon who had selected her hometown of Hernia, Pennsylvania, as the site for his new five-star hotel, turns up dead, innkeeper and amateur sleuth Magdalena Yoder searces for a killer."--from NoveList.
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"You can't quit," I said.
She stared at me through lenses dusted white with cake flour. "I will not have that woman in my kitchen."
"It's my kitchen, Freni."
"Yah, but it is my denomination."
"I think you mean 'domain,' dear." Pennsylvania Dutch, not English, is Freni's first language.
"Whatever, Magdalena. I will not share this kitchen."
"I'm not asking you to share it, Freni. I'm simply suggesting you take a short vacation."
"Ach! So now you want to get rid of me?"
Besides being my cook, my kinswoman is also my friend. She is my departed mama's age. When Mama and Papa met a premature death, squished in a tunnel between a milk tanker and a truck full of Adidas shoes, it was Freni and her husband, Mose, who acted as surrogate parents to my sister Susannah and me. I no more want Freni out of my life than I want to get rid of my shadow.
"Freni, you have three little grandbabies that you claim you never get enough time to play with. Take that time now. Just for a few days. Now go home and enjoy yourself."
"Ach! To enjoy yourself is a sin, Magdalena!"
"I didn't mean that way," I wailed. "Just go home and relax. Your job will be waiting for you as soon as this eccentric bunch of guests leave."
Freni is like a stubby little milk cow, or a two-year-old. Take your pick. You push one way; she pushes back. You pull; she pulls. Now that I had given her permission to take a few days off, she had no interest.
"Better I should stay around to keep an eye on things. You don't want she should break your pots and pans, yah?"
"She brought her own, dear."
Even through the curtain of flour I could see her dark beady eyes assessing this information. "She brought from home?"
I shrugged. "She's a professional cook-not that you aren't too, dear. Anyway, no doubt she has these high-tech gizmos that cook without water, or whatever. I'm sure our stuff is safe."
"Then I stay."
"I beg your pardon?"
"So maybe I learn from this woman, yah?"
Freni, like myself, was born knowing everything. We started forgetting a few things around age twenty, with a slow progression in memory loss since then. We are not about to learn anything new, that's for sure.
"Freni, you will just be torturing yourself."
She crossed her stubby arms. "So?"
There was no point in arguing. Until the colonel and his entourage left, there would be two cooks in the kitchen. One would actually prepare food; the other would skulk about, clucking like a pullet who had just laid her first egg.
I must say that although Miss Anne Thrope didn't seem to particularly care for people, she certainly knew her business. This was the tastiest meal I'd had since my last trip to Pittsburgh. Never mind that I couldn't pronounce the names of all the fancy dishes, or even identify many of the main ingredients.
My culinary limitations are partly Mama's fault, and partly Freni's. Both women held strongly to the belief that there were four important food groups: meat, sugar, starch, and grease. Fruits and vegetables fall into a secondary category, suitable for garnish but not essential for nutrition. If served by themselves, vegetables must be cooked to the consistency of mush.
I've long since given up trying to convince Freni that cheese is not a fruit. To her, the hard-to-classify foods (eggs and dairy products) take on the category of the food with which they are commonly served. Because I insist on a slice of cheddar with my apple pie, cheese has become a fruit. By logical extension, macaroni and cheese is also a fruit dish.
At any rate, after serving us, Miss Thrope retired to the kitchen to rejoin the clucking Freni. Ivan Yetinsky, I was told, would eat his meal up in his room. That left just the very handsome Colonel Custard and me-and my daughter, Alison.
Well, Alison isn't really my daughter. She's the foster child I mentioned before. It's a long story that would bore you to tears, but the gist of it is that I was once briefly married to a bigamist named Aaron Miller. This wasn't my fault, you understand. I was duped. Anyway, he ran off to rejoin his legal wife up in Minnesota. After a year he returned, not to reconcile, but to dump off his twelve-year-old daughter. The girl, whose very existence was news to me, was too much for Aaron and his real wife to handle.
Being the dummkopf that I am, and probably doomed to forever be as barren as the Gobi Desert, I agreed to take the child in for a year. This decision came at a great personal sacrifice; Alison is highly allergic to cats, so I had to get rid of Little Freni, a purebred Siamese given to me by my latest suitor. A cat for a kid. Was it worth it? you ask. Well, the kid has driven me so far up the wall I now have footprints on the ceiling. But she's been a blessing as well. I'm forty-six years old, yet if I die tomorrow, I will have lived a hundred years. Who can ask for more than that?
Although I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man, it was still fun to pretend that Alison and the colonel and I were a nuclear family. What did one call a colonel's wife anyway? A coloneless? I'd certainly settle for Your Ladyship.
"Please pass the fancy-schmancy carrots, dear," I said. The orange roots, which had been doctored up with some incredible seasonings, were midway between Alison and George C. I held my breath to see who would respond to my request.
Alas, it was Alison who picked up the bowl. "These things are hard as rocks. I like Auntie Freni's better."
"Mind your manners," I said, but couldn't suppress a grin. I knew from experience that Freni would be in the kitchen with her ear pressed to a glass. I widened the grin into a friendly smile. "So, Colonel, what brings you to this neck of the woods?"
Before answering, he patted the corners of his mouth with a genuine poly-blend napkin. "I'm here on business."
"Really? But Hernia has no businesses-outside of my inn, a small grocery, and a feed store."
"Ah, but soon that's all going to change. And that's why I'm here."
"There's some kind of yucky sauce on this meat," Alison whined.
I gave her a loving glare. "How is it going to change, Colonel?"
"Do you know the Jonas Troyer property at the end of Main Street?"
"Yes, what about it?"
"I purchased it last month."
"Get out of town!" In retrospect, I should have meant that literally.
"Your inn was all booked up then, so I had to stay in Bedford. Used a rental car so as not to garner attention."
Bedford is the nearest city, and while it is twelve miles away, it may as well be twelve hundred. The Good Lord Himself could be staying in Bedford and we'd never know it.
"But I didn't even know the Troyers were in the market to sell."
The colonel winked. "They weren't. I made them an offer they couldn't refuse. They've decided to retire to Florida."
"And you'll be moving here?" My fianc is everything I could want in a man, but in the event he turned out to be a bigamist, it would be nice to have a backup.
"Maybe-I haven't decided. Fortunately I have enough good people working for me that I could work out of my home in Louisville."
I will be first to admit that I am easily distracted. "You said business. What kind of business?"
He dabbed his mouth again and took a sip of ice water. As a faithful Christian, I don't serve my guests wine. The colonel had brought his own, but I had insisted he keep it in the limousine.
"I plan to build a five-star hotel," he said.
"I've been to Lancaster County many times, Miss Yoder. I know what a draw the Amish are for tourists. But in my opinion that area has become overdeveloped. Just too many tourists and urban refugees. I've done very careful market research and concluded that Bedford County contains some of the best Amish ambience in the world. Your charming Hernia, of course, is the epicenter. I think the time has come to capitalize on that, don't you?"
Through the wall I heard the crack of Freni's glass hitting the floor.
"But you can't do that!" I cried. "It will ruin Hernia."
He cocked his silver head in amusement. Suddenly he didn't seem at all handsome.
"I'm not building another Amish World," he said. "This is a very small, but tasteful, hotel that will cater to the elite. The crme de la crme, so to speak. They know how to deport themselves."
"You mean like my hotel?"
"Not quite. My hotel will be a five-star operation."
"But I have Hollywood stars-well, usually."
"Yours is an inn, Miss Yoder. Custard Suites will have one hundred well-appointed rooms and all the best amenities, including a spa."
"But you'll be stealing my guests!"
"I don't think so. You draw mostly from the celebrity crowd, don't you?"
"Babs has class. You can't get any more elite than that."
"Yes, but I'm talking about real thoroughbreds. The Cabots, the Vanderbilts-"
"I beg your pardon."
"That's Pennsylvania Dutch for horse manure."
He looked taken aback. If only he'd taken himself back to Louisville, or wherever he came from.
"Why do you find this so upsetting?" he asked.
"Because you're going to put me out of business, that's why."
"Miss Yoder, I've already explained that we're not competing for the same customers. Your quaint little inn can just keep chugging along as usual."
"It doesn't chug! Why, I'll have you know I'm booked solid for the next year. You only managed to get in by lying."
"That was Ivan's doing, not mine."
"Maybe, but you're a snob. Thoroughbreds indeed."
"I'm a snob? You're the one who is in love with Hollywood."
If the truth hurts, mumble something even more hurtful. That is, of course, not the Christian way. But I can't be true to my faith all the time.
"Why, I doubt if you're even a real colonel," I said.
"I am. I'm a Kentucky colonel."
"Like Colonel Sanders?"
His face hardened. "What about you? Are you a real Mennonite, or is this some little charade you put on for the benefit of your guests?"
That shocked me to the toes of my heavy cotton hose. I patted my organza prayer cap.
"Of course I'm a real Mennonite. My family has been either Mennonite or Amish for the last five hundred years."
"Well, you could have fooled me. I thought Mennonites were supposed to be a kind, peaceful people."
"Maybe most are. But you, Miss Yoder, have a tongue that could slice Swiss cheese."
Alison, who'd been watching this discourse intently, jabbed the air with her fork. "Hey, you can't say that to my mom."
My heart burst with sinful pride. She may not have sprung from my loins, but she was as faithful as any daughter. At least when the attack came from the outside.
I flashed Alison a smile. "Colonel Custard," I said, "I feel it is only fair to warn you that I fully intend to inform the citizens of this community of your diabolical plan to destroy their way of life."
"I don't intend to destroy anything. But if you think you can stop me from getting a building permit, you're too late. I've already got it."
I gasped. "Melvin Stoltzfus! That miserable, menacing mantis who poses as our mayor."
Colonel Custard nodded. "He was actually a very pleasant man. I think I'll offer him a job in-"
I didn't stay to hear the rest of his sentence.
In addition to being mayor, Melvin Stoltzfus is our Chief of Police. This is only a temporary condition, mind you, due to the unfortunate incarceration of our previous mayor. But that is another story. Hernia is such a small community-just over two thousand souls-that a lot of its administration is done by consensus. While the mayor does have the power to issue building permits, if there is the potential for controversy, he or she must run the proposal past the town council. The council is composed of the owners of the top three businesses, which, incidentally, are the cornerstones for Hernia's tax base. And the PennDutch, I might add, provides the town with its single highest source of revenue.
When I was a year or two younger, and in a rebellious phase, I bought a sinfully red BMW. I now drive a very modest, and Christian, Toyota Camry. Pressing the pedal to the metal I arrived at Melvin's bungalow in less than ten minutes. I prayed for patience for another full minute and, finding it not forthcoming, decided that the Good Lord must have intended for Melvin to get a good scolding.
Before going further I must explain that the man is also my brother-in-law. He is married to my younger sister, Susannah, who is nothing like me. Whereas I still cling to the faith of my fathers, my sister's apple not only fell far from the tree, but it rolled into another orchard altogether the day she became a Presbyterian.
Although I have not been able to confirm the rumors that members of this denomination bathe in beer, my sister has confessed that she has personally had sex while in a standing position, an activity that is bound to lead to dancing.
At any rate, I marched to their door, rang the bell several times, and when no one answered, I tried the knob. The door swung open easily, and just as my sister was putting a dog down her bra. Perhaps I should explain this as well. But what can I say other than that Susannah, who lacks a discernible bosom, carries a pitiful pint-size pooch named Shnookums around in her undergarment as ballast? The miserable mangy mutt-Shnookums, not Susannah-usually goes undetected. This is due to the fact that my baby sister eschews conventional clothing, preferring to drape herself in fifteen feet of filmy fuchsia fabric.
"It was feeding time," Susannah said. For the record, she doesn't nurse the critter, but feeds him the most expensive dog food on the market.
"How come you didn't answer the door?"
"I had to finish burping him first, Mags. You wouldn't want him to have gas, would you?"
"He's taking a nap."
"Well, go wake him."
"No can do, Mags. He left strict orders not to be disturbed."
"Then I'll wake him. It's after supper, for Pete's sake. This is no time to be napping."
"Mags, I wouldn't go in there if I were you."
"I'm not afraid of him, Susannah."
"I know that. But"-she giggled-"my iddle-biddle Sugar Buns always sleeps naked."
I clapped my hands over my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to see my nemesis au naturel.
"Melvin," I hollered, "nap time's over!"
There was no response.
"Rise and shine, Mel! Your chickens have come home to roost and I'm the biggest hen of them all."
Still no repsonse.
"I'm counting to three, Melvin, and then I'm coming in.
Excerpted from Custard's Last Stand by Tamar Myers Copyright © 2003 by Tamar Myers. Excerpted by permission.
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