Halloween in the small town of Fallowbrook, Wisconsin, is the perfect season for Deputy Donut Café owner Emily Westhill to unmask a killer.
October 31st is just around the corner and Emily Westhill’s Boston cream donuts, carved with a scream, have made an indelible impression on local eccentric Rich Royalson. So much so that he’s ordered three dozen, with twice the fudge icing, for his 70th birthday—a special event in more ways than one. It’s to be held on fog-shrouded Lake Fleekom where, twenty years ago, his wife mysteriously drowned.
But the next day, when Emily arrives with her scrumptious screamers, she stumbles upon Rich’s corpse. The poor guy wanted a unique birthday bash—just not one to the side of his skull. With a guest list of possible perpetrators, and his last will and testament suspiciously left at the scene, Emily soon discovers that the Royalson closet is rattling with skeletons. As the fog thickens, motives mount, and the tricks outnumber the treats, Emily fears that Rich may not be the last one in Fallowbrook to go out screaming.
Even from the kitchen in the back of Deputy Donut, the three of us could hear the man at a table near one of our café’s front windows. “Boston is the best city on earth!” he boomed. “You can get fresh seafood anytime, day or night. And I mean fresh. Not like here in Wisconsin.”
Boston. I had to smile. Tom Westhill, Nina Lapeer, and I were making Boston cream donuts, but Halloween was only five days away, so we were calling them Boston scream donuts. Spreading fudge frosting on one, I mentally defended our town. Fallingbrook wasn’t on an ocean, but the north woods near the Great Lakes had other advantages. I muttered to Nina, “That new customer should try fresh Lake Superior yellow perch. Or whitefish.”
Nina cast a sideways grin down at me. With the rounded tip of a wooden spoon’s handle, she made indentations resembling frightened eyes in the fudge frosting on a Boston scream donut. “Who is he, Emily?” The longest eyelashes I’d ever seen framed her brown eyes. Her spiky dark brown hair was mostly hidden underneath her Deputy Donut hat, a police hat with a fuzzy donut where the badge would be on a real police hat.
“From the sound of things, he’s the Boston Screamer.”
She burst out laughing. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking coffee. I might have spewed it over an entire tray of donuts.”
I looked over the half wall separating the kitchen from the serving and eating counter and the rest of the dining area. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. What did he order?”
Pressing the end of the spoon handle down at an angle to make an oval in the fudge frosting, Nina gave the scared-looking donut a perfect screaming mouth. “Guess.”
“A Boston scream donut?”
Nina jabbed a skewer into the frosting twice, and the screaming face had nostrils. “You got it. Well, he said ‘cream,’ not ‘scream.’ But as you said, he’s screaming”—she made an air quote with her free hand—“about Boston.”
“About seafood in Boston. Does he want us to serve lobster and scrod donuts?”
Manning the deep fryers behind us, Tom chuckled.
Nina deftly used a knife to carve mitten-like hands cradling the sides of the donut’s screaming face. “When I took his order he was telling the other men at the table about duck boat and walking tours of Boston.”
Backlit by one of our two large front windows, the Boston Screamer was barely more than a silhouette. I asked Nina, “Do you think the retired men have recruited him to join them?” The retired men met at that table every weekday morning. They weren’t normally quiet. That morning, they were listening to the Boston Screamer instead of talking.
Nina gently placed the frosted top half of a Boston scream donut onto the filling-coated bottom half. “Do the retired men invite new members to their table?”
I spread filling almost to the edge of the bottom half of another donut. “I don’t know. They came here as a group when Tom and I opened Deputy Donut three years ago, and although other men have sat with them, none have become part of the group.” I raised my knife from the filling I was spreading. “I wonder if the Boston Screamer is Cheryl’s date.”
Nina opened her eyes wider than usual. “Cheryl has a date? I thought she was a confirmed bachelorette, or whatever you call a woman in her sixties who has never married.”
“Cautious. She’s trying one of those dating sites for over-fifties. She plans to meet the man here, where she’ll be surrounded by friends.”
“Isn’t she a little old for him?”
“She’s about . How old would you guess he is? You talked to him.”
“Listened. How old?”
“I can’t tell with old people.”
Behind us, Tom warned her, “Watch it.”
Nina turned toward him. “You’re not old. Policemen retire young, right? Even police chiefs?”
“Thank you.” Tom was sixty-two, but despite the hidden underneath his donut police hat, he looked younger, and I suspected that he was in much better physical shape than a lot of men thirty years his junior.
Nina pressed a screaming mouth into another fudge-frosted donut top. “You’re welcome. The Boston Screamer could be sixty-five or seventy, but don’t men who register on dating sites specify that they want to date women who are much younger than they are?”
I nudged a tray of filling-covered donut halves toward her. “I don’t know, especially about sites for over-fifties.”
“Have you ever tried a dating site? Like, for your age?”
“Certainly not!” Tom said. “I’m a happily married man.”
“I meant Emily,” Nina said.
“I haven’t.” I had married Tom’s son , Alec, when I was twenty-one. I’d been widowed six years ago when I was twenty-five, about the age Nina was now. I asked her, “How about you? Have you tried matchmaking sites?”
“Yeah, but everyone on them was probably as old as that guy yelling about Boston.” She looked toward the front door again. “Where are Cheryl and the other Knitpickers? It’s after nine.”
I glanced through our office windows toward the driveway leading to the parking lot behind Deputy Donut. My cat, Dep, who had given her full name to our coffee shop, stayed in our office. At the moment, instead of watching the kitchen and dining room through our interior windows, she was perched on the back of the couch and staring toward the parking lot behind the building. “They’re probably outside urging Cheryl to come in.”
While Nina and I had been talking, I’d heard the word “Boston” shouted at least five more times. I told Nina, “It must be time for me to go see if the retired men might need more coffee.”
With a teasing lilt, she accused, “You want to see if the Boston Screamer is good enough for Cheryl. You don’t want her to be hurt.” Although Nina looked all angles, elbows, and spiky hair, she was as softhearted as anyone could be.
I had to smile. “I don’t want any of our customers to be hurt, especially loyal regulars like the Knitpickers.”
Nina warned, “The Boston Screamer is going to call you ‘little lady’ in the first ten seconds of talking to you. He called me that, and no one has described me as little since about kindergarten. Plus, he was sitting down, and I was standing. Looming over him.”
I complained dramatically, “No one has ever called me tall, and no one is ever likely to.”
“Little and cute can’t be all bad.”
“Thanks.” Smiling, I carried a pot of coffee around the half wall, past the end of the eating and serving counter, and into the dining room.
We had made changes recently. We still had the wide-planked wooden floors and the white walls with their faint peach tint, we still displayed artwork from The Craft Croft on our walls, and we still had our chairs with their seats and backs upholstered in comfy coffee-brown leather, but we had replaced our sliced tree-trunk tables. Tom, his wife, Cindy, who was Alec’s mother, and I had painted the tops of plain round tables to look like donuts. No two tabletops were the same, and they were all cheerful. Glass protected our painted donuts and made cleanups easy. In corners around the room, friendly-looking ghosts and witches lounged on chubby pumpkins and twisty gourds.
The Boston Screamer was dressed as if for a date, in khakis and a white dress shirt. I decided that he must be about Cheryl’s age or older. He was shorter than the other men around the table, and muscular without carrying an extra ounce of fat. He held out his mug for a refill. He didn’t look like a dangerous desperado out to hurt his dates. His nose was well-defined, sharp without being pointy, and his chin was determined and square. His eyes were an extremely pale shade of blue as if they’d been bleached by the sun on boats off the shores of New England.
He asked loudly, “Are you the little lady responsible for this Boston cream donut?”
My smile widened. Nina had been right about the words he would use, but her time estimate had been about eight seconds too long. Refilling his mug, I answered, “Three of us—my partner, our assistant, and I—develop the recipes for our donuts, including the one you’re eating.”
“It’s pretty good,” he said. “Acceptable, actually.”
I managed not to laugh at the backhanded compliment. “Thank you.”
He pointed a finger at me. “If you double the chocolate frosting, your Boston cream donuts will be about perfect. And you need to be more careful. Mine looks like someone stuck their fingers into it.”
“We did that on purpose, with a spoon handle and a skewer, not our fingers. Before you bit into it, there was a face. It’s a Boston scream donut, because Halloween’s coming up.”
He looked down at his plate. “I get it. Very clever. Still, you could charge more for them with that one improvement, thicker frosting. I was a bank manager before I retired, and I know how small businesses can get themselves into trouble by skimping on quantity and substituting gimmicks for quality. There. That’s some free advice for you, little lady.”
I thanked him again.
“And I have to congratulate you and your colleagues on your outfits. The black slacks, white shirts, and white aprons with your logo on them are good branding. Do you know what branding is?”
He glanced at my head. “The fur donuts on your hats are a little over-the-top.” I grinned, but he didn’t seem to notice that what he’d said could be funny. He went on, “I get it. Deputy Donut. A donut on a deputy’s hat. And even the cat in your logo is wearing one. The tilt to the cat’s hat is a nice touch.”
“Thank you. The donuts on our hats are not real fur.”
“I knew that from the first glance.” He leaned forward and spoke, for once, quietly. “I was told that the people working here would know who Cheryl is.”
Start Reading BOSTON SCREAM MURDER Now
Our Past Week of Fresh Picks