SATURDAY, The Day before Halloween
“Nothing like reading other people’s mail.” Flo Fairweather’s sky-blue eyes sparkled as she smothered a luscious hot fudge sundae with light-as-air whipped cream. “I hope we find some juicy gossip.”
Her sister, Gerri Hunt, huffed. “Reading the Collins family letters is historical research of first-person documents, not gossip.”
Flo topped the sundae with a cherry and winked at me as I stuffed a waffle cone with sweet candy apple crumble ice cream. I handed it to a young customer dressed as Dracula and hid a smile as he struggled to lick the cone through his plastic fangs. Since Halloween fell on a Sunday, Penniman was celebrating all weekend long with a two-day fall festival on the green, and many revelers had made their way to my Udderly Delicious Ice Cream Shop for a treat.
“So, Riley, you’ll do it? Organize and catalog the Collins family letters for us?” Gerri continued as Dracula’s family left the shop.
I was being roped in by an expert for the position of volunteer librarian at the Penniman Historical Society. I’d known Gerri long enough to know that resistance was futile but to be honest, I agreed with Flo. Reading somebody else’s letters, even two-hundred-fifty-year-old letters, would be fascinating. “I’ll have time after we close for the winter.”
That time was approaching fast. Udderly was decorated for Halloween with orange twinkle lights, scarecrows, and several jack-o’-lanterns. One of my teen employees, Brandon Terwilliger, had given me a pumpkin carved with images of ice-cream cones and a black cat in honor of my rescue, Rocky. All week, my staff and I had dressed in costume. Today Flo was a daisy, in a green sweatshirt with a hood ringed with white felt petals, a perfect costume for the sunny, retired kindergarten teacher. Gerri, the intimidating retired principal of Penniman High School, had opted for a faux-bejeweled crown—no delicate tiara for her. Instead the crown topping her jet-black bouffant was in the style of those worn by the Imperial Russian court. I sported a white cowboy hat embellished with rhinestones sent from an Udderly fan in Texas, who loved my peach ice cream so much he had me ship a gallon of it to him from Connecticut.
“I wonder why Diantha’s donating the letters?” Flo mused. “I heard she’d found some valuable ones.”
Gerri gave us a knowing look. “She’s sending us the dregs.”
“There may still be plenty of interesting stuff,” I said. “It’s nice of her.”
“I have another word for it,” Gerri scoffed. “Her family’s had the Inn on the Green since the Revolution, but she bugged out of Penniman after high school. Now she flounces back here after living in Los Angeles for forty years, all Lady Bountiful, because she’s expanding the Inn and opening a new restaurant. She wants to curry favor with the locals she abandoned.”
“As if there’s anything wrong with her giving us her papers and money,” Flo said, “though the real issue is Diantha made it known that she wants to be president of the Penniman Colonial Dames and she’s not even officially a member yet.” The Dames, Penniman’s version of the DAR, dressed up in colonial garb and organized an annual wreath laying at the war memorial. Flo said sotto voce, “And you know who’s president.” She mouthed, Gerri.
Gerri scooped a mint chocolate chip cone for a customer then turned to me. “Her application is under review.” I don’t know which was frostier, the ice cream or Gerri’s tone. “Obviously her family’s old, but she has to validate her pedigree, er, ancestry, to get in.”
Her slip of the tongue brought to mind my best friend Caroline Spooner’s spoiled Persian show cat, Sprinkles. Well, former show cat—she’d been kicked off the circuit for biting the judges, which just goes to show, pedigree isn’t everything.
“Hello, ladies!” a deep voice called from the kitchen workroom. I joined Rob Wainwright, a stocky middle-aged man with a steel gray crew cut. No Halloween costume for Rob; he was dressed in a bright teal-blue polo shirt and khaki pants. Inn on the Green was embroidered on the chest pocket of his shirt, and the short sleeves revealed dozens of tattoos Rob had gotten during his years in the navy. The anchors, palm trees, and other nautical images were usually covered by the tailored blue blazer he wore as manager of Diantha’s luxurious inn. His years in the navy had given him a variety of skills, and he also served as a handyman for the historical society.
Rob hefted a cardboard box onto the worktable. “Diantha sent me with the papers she’s donating.”
“Thank you for bringing them, Rob.” Gerri gave him a regal nod.
“You know I like to help, Your Majesty,” he chuckled and gave me a hopeful look. “And coming here means I can get an ice-cream cone.”
“If you don’t mind being a guinea pig, you can try the first batch of one of my new flavors, spiced eggnog.”
Rob rubbed his hands together. “Fire away!”
I wrapped a freshly made waffle cone in a napkin as I went to the shelf in the shop’s enormous freezer where I stored small batches of trial recipes. For the new recipe, I’d infused eggnog and cream with some grated nutmeg, allspice, and a bit of cinnamon for a spicy base, then added an extra kick of Madagascar vanilla. I scooped up a generous portion, pleased with the creamy consistency, and handed it to Rob.
“On the house,” I said.
His eyes lit up as he tried his first lick, then another. “Oh, this one’s a keeper. Many thanks.” He turned toward the door. “Sorry, I have to run. You ladies have a good day.”
“Before you go,” Gerri called, “did you fix the leaky faucet at the historical society?”
“I’ll head there next. But you can only coax so much time out of those old fixtures. That sink needs replacing, and soon.” Rob waved goodbye as he stepped outside.
“Another cost for the society.” Gerri shook her head, causing her crown to tip. “We’ll have to do another fundraiser.”
Copyright © 2023 by Meri Allen.