What I’m writing – Vermont edition

I’m currently relaxing in a sitting area in the Killington Grand Hotel, watching the fire while my son and my husband are off skiing and snowboarding. With The Boy graduating from high school this year, we decided to give him a taste of a serious resort snowboarding.

Me, I’m treating myself to a three-day writing retreat. Me, the fire, a squashy couch and the manuscript for the second Homefront Mystery, which isn’t due until August, but to stay on schedule, I want the first draft complete by the end of June.

So for this month’s post, I present a snippet for your enjoyment (hopefully).

Pop once told me that people tell stories about themselves all the time. Who they are, where they come from, why they did a particular thing. It’s a way of coping, he said, and of making sense of their lives. I guess it works. I mean, I’ve done it. Why not other people?

’Cept sometimes the stories aren’t true.

Emilia Brewka, “Emmie” to us girls at Bell Airplane, set down her spoon, her soft brown eyes wide. “I just don’t think she died natural, Betty.”

I peered at her over my cup of coffee. Emmie was what Mom called “peasant stock.” Not that she was poor, least not any more than the rest of us. But she had a sturdy build and a rounded face usually wearing a broad smile. I always thought Emmie looked like a grown-up version of Shirley Temple with her curly hair, rosy cheeks, and big smile. Right now, that friendly face was creased, her eyes lit with worry, mouth in a definite upside-down U.

Emmie Brewka was not happy.

I set down my cup. “What do you mean?”

She sniffed. “They said she died of a heart attack. Baloney. Babcia didn’t have a bad heart. Back in Poland, she and Dziadek worked hard. Him in the fields, she as a maid up at the big house. When they came to the States, back in ’05, he got a job working the blast furnace at Bethlehem and she did laundry and cleaning for the rich folks. She raised seven kids and worked 12 hours a day. Does that sound like a woman with a weak heart?”

“No.”

“When I talked to her a week ago, she was all set to start the Christmas baking. Yesterday she has a heart attack.” Emmie shook her head, brown curls bouncing. “Not natural.”

“Got it.” I took another drink, mostly to give myself time to think. This stuff was better than the chicory I had at home, but I had a flash of memory, the wonderful roasted taste of the coffee at the German American club. Heaven. “Why’re you telling me?”

Her cup clattered against the saucer as she set it down. “‘Cause you’re the one who figures things out, ain’t ya? I mean, that’s the word at Bell.”

She had a point. Since October, I’d solved two murders, busted open some black-market activity, and uncovered sabotage at Bell. After than, girls had been bringing me all sorts of problems. For a small fee, I found missing jewelry, followed a couple sneaky boyfriends before they shipped out, even located a lost cat. This, however, smelled like a different thing. How was I supposed to prove a poor old lady hadn’t died a peaceful, God-fearing death? I didn’t know any doctors.

But I did know Detective Sam MacKinnon of the Buffalo Police. “Did anyone call the cops after your grandma died?”

“No.” Emmie finished her coffee. “I wanted to, but Mama said not to be silly, I’d just be wasting their time.”

Darn it. No cops prob’ly meant no autopsy. “Well, let’s say you’re right. Who would want to kill her, your grandma? She have any enemies?”

“Not that I can think of.” Emmie leaned forward. “But ain’t that what you’re s’posed to find out? As a detective, I mean.”

I drained my cup. Too bad I couldn’t take some home. “Well, yeah. But it would help if I had a clue or two to start with. Heck, that’s the first thing Sam Spade, or even the police, ask when someone’s murdered.”

“I’ll try and think, but far as I know Babcia got along with everybody. Well enough they didn’t want to kill her. I mean, I’m sure she argued with lots of people throughout her life. She was over seventy after all.” Emmie bit her lip. “But she gave cookies to all the kids in the neighborhood, ’specially at Christmas. She took care of babies and gave gifts to new mothers. Far as I know, everybody in our neighborhood liked her.”

“Emmie, this doesn’t sound like murder to me.”

“Betty, please. I’m telling you, it don’t feel right. She didn’t just die. Something happened.”

I blew out a breath. “Okay, I’ll ask some questions. Then we’ll see where we go from there.”

Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. She is the author of THE LAUREL HIGHLANDS MYSTERIES and THE HOMEFRONT MYSTERIES. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband, two children, and her retired-racer greyhound.

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