SM– I just woke up one morning and the idea and the characters were there. The whole thing was a pleasant surprise after my struggles in creating plot for my first two books. On the other hand, my characters insisted that the book had to take place in northern Michigan, which was not a setting that I knew.
SM– Finn Perry, from Fiercely Emma by J. Bengtsson, is one of my favorites. He is a stuntman with a dysfunctional family who meets Emma McKallister on his way to a rock music festival. When he gets there, he finds out that he has a counterfeit ticket. Emma, who he rescued when she couldn’t get her car started, gets him a pass that admits him to an unexpected wonderland. What he doesn’t realize is that her brother is the headliner for the festival. And Finn gets to meet the family, an encounter that changes his life. Finn is funny, charming, and the perfect foil to Emma, who is as fierce as the title implies. The story of his birth and the paintball scene in Perryland (the terrible house where most of his extended family lives) will have readers in stitches.
SM– The most surprising thing was that after decades of failure in trying to write a mystery, I actually finished this one, complete with plot twists, clues and red herrings. It is also the first book that I plotted completely before I wrote it and it came together much more easily than my earlier books.
SM– One marker of success for me is being able to complete books and feel that they are publishable. The most important thing is to have readers enjoy what I write.
SM– I always have classical music on when I write. Not sure that’s really quirky.
SM– I try to create an interesting problem and relatable characters. The story has to develop logically from beginning to end
SM– I think that Bay Bishop and I would spend our time watching TV cooking shows, developing recipes, and trying out new restaurants. We might also want to sit on a porch where she could plan restaurant menus and I could knit. And of course we would want to hang out with Greg’s dog, Ace.
SM– Cooking, knitting, theater and concerts, watching ice hockey, travel, trying new restaurants
SM– For Dead in the Alley, everything came together–plot, characters, and setting. Usually the characters come first.
SM– Pretty much the same things that I try to do as a writer. The setting is one of the things that will attract me to a story. I don’t like a lot of explicit violence.
SM– I love it when readers tell me that the books made them want to raid the pantry. I know my writing is descriptive if my readers are hungry when they get to the food scenes.
SM– I write books that I hope appeal to readers who want layered plot lines, complicated characters, and are happy to use their imaginations. I always hope they like older characters too.
SM– I have a blog and a newsletter and I am active on Facebook and Instagram. I have a presence on Twitter too.
SM– I’ve been reading since I was four, so coming up with one book or author is difficult. I would point to three authors who have influenced me as a writer. First, Jane Austen. No big surprise there. With her elegant, insightful writing, she managed to open up whole worlds while working on a small scale. Her mastery of character was second to none. Agatha Christie was a huge influence, both on my love for England and for mysteries. I read my first first Christie when I was eight and I devoured them, eventually catching up with her output and having to wait for each new book. I only wish I could construct stories as well as she did. I also like Dorothy Dunnett, who wrote very intricate historical fiction. Her House of NIccolò series is a masterpiece of plotting, character, and description. Creating a plot over eight books, where some of the mysteries from the beginning aren’t resolved until the end is a tour de force.
SM– I have a little stuffed fox named Max, in honor of the first book I published, At First Sight. The hero is a foxy former MI6 operative named Max Grant.
SM– When I started writing the first novel that I finished, my goal was to finish a draft. It wasn’t until later that I developed the confidence that I could actually publish it.
SM– Just start. If you don’t know where to start, take some classes. Craft books are great, but classes will give you feedback. And find other writers. Being part of a community encourages you to continue.
SM– I’ve just started the first in what I hope will be a cozy mystery series. I also have plans to write the third book in my Global Security Unlimited series.
SM– The only time I had writer’s block was when COVID started. I mostly wrote with other writers at coffee shops, and I somehow couldn’t manage to write at home. In the end, I decided to try writing one scene in first person rather than third and the feedback I got made me want to keep going. Mainly I just make myself sit down every morning and start writing something.
SM– I read so much that it changes by the day. Some books I have enjoyed recently are Amy Harmon, The Unknown Beloved; Louise Bay, Mr. Notting Hill; Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me; Marilyn Brant, The Secret Life of Maggie Blake
SM– The Bodleian Library in at the University of Oxford, just like it is pictured in The Discovery of Witches
SM– I’d want to do an updated version of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds, where four historical figures come together to talk about some topic that ties them together. For example, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon talking about world domination.
*I became a fan of bike racing when I lived in Paris in the summer of 2000, so making Greg a former pro was a fun way to put one of my interests into the book
SM– If the road trip could be in Italy, I’d ask Julie Moffett, who writes the Lexi Carmichael series, to go with me
When Bay Bishop’s husband was murdered in the alley behind their northern Michigan restaurant, she thought she’d lost the love of her life.
Now she’s a suspect.
And her high-school boyfriend, who left her broken-hearted years ago, is one of the detectives on the case.
Derrick Anderson walked out the back door of the restaurant kitchen, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and his lighter. His wife, Bay, didn’t like him smoking but he definitely needed one, or three, to be the genial host this evening.
He didn’t mind that his day started at 3:00 a.m. The quiet in the restaurant soothed him and he forgot everything while he baked all the bread and prepared the desserts for the evening, maybe even try out a new idea or two. Then he’d take a nap before helping Bay set up the tables for the dinner service.
Today had been fraught. When he got back late in the day, he’d had it out with Vince about the missing cases of wine and, despite the man’s protestations of innocence, gave him his notice. Then he had a call from Wally Volker, their financial backer. Derrick needed to break Wally’s stranglehold on his balls before he left for a new life in the Maldives. A friend there had offered him the chance to manage the four themed restaurants at a new luxury resort. Besides the career boost, diving and surfing made the whole package irresistible. Why had he thought that Michigan would be a good place to escape his New York problems?
Just now, he’d had an argument with the sous chef, Ellen Paschen, and needed to cool off. He dropped the cigarette butt and ground it viciously with his toe when he heard the roar of a motorcycle revving up…
New Eleanor, Michigan
The back door had slammed on the suffocating kitchen atmosphere. Derrick going out to the alley for a smoke, even though he knew I wanted him to stop. Ellen, our sous chef, glowered over a lemon sauce. Vince, our sommelier, leaned sulkily against the backdoor. Leaving them to brood on their own, I did a last-minute check of the fifteen tables for the first dinner service. We were booked for both seatings.
As the only fine-dining establishment in Sherburne, we realized early on that having set dining times worked better than a constant stream of customers. People from all over the area, both locals and tourists, had embraced the concept and our restaurant over the last two years. Our dream of creating a destination restaurant in my Northern Michigan hometown had become a reality.
We renovated a disused 1889 brewery located on the edge of town, close to the highway, creating the perfect space for our upscale restaurant. The venture cost more money than we planned, so we found a guy in Detroit who specialized in funding start-ups.
Rubbing my back as I straightened up for the last time, I looked with pride at the dining room. We had wanted an upscale but rustic feel. Snowy white tablecloths were covered with Inox hammered stainless-steel silverware; the handles designed to look like twigs. Handmade pottery that looked like the lakeshore in blues, greens, purple, and sand, came from Claybanks Pottery, down the road in New Era. Deep forest green napkins were folded into double stars, part of our signature look. In a few short years, Derrick and I had managed to make a success of our move from the frenzy of the New York City restaurant scene to my hometown of Sherburne, Michigan.
Above the dark paneled wainscoting, we had exposed brick darkened from years of brewing. Rough hardwood flooring stained black, and a pressed-tin ceiling enhanced the antique look. We festooned one exposed brick wall with enormous prints. Derrick matched his brilliance as a pastry chef with a natural gift for photography. His award-winning pictures illustrated our cookbook, Sherburne Bistro: American Classics.
Breathing deeply, I drank in the scent of grouse that permeated the space. Today marked the opening of grouse season in Michigan and our special prix fixe menu featured a British-themed dinner for tonight. Derrick’s friend, Jason, and my brother, Toby, went out hunting a couple of days ago, giving me time to hang them before plucking and cleaning them. I had brined them using a mixture of hard apple cider, fresh orange juice and peel, herbs, and spices for four hours. Then I put a sprinkling of bay leaves into the pan, giggling a little while I brushed olive oil over their fragrant flesh. My parents loved trees in the laurel family and named the three of us girls Laurel, Bay, and Olivia—guess they couldn’t stomach Olive. They told us that they expected all their children to be crowned with success, but maybe my capricious fairy godmother thought with a name like Bay, fate meant me to be a chef.
Looking at the array of oysters heaped up, ready to be opened, I reached for one and rubbed my thumb over the shell, admiring the geologic pattern. Then I picked up the curved oyster knife sitting nearby. Prying it open, I examined the flesh clinging to the pearlescent interior, then lowered my nose to inhale the scent of the ocean, briny and enticing. I loosened the flesh and slid the mollusk into my mouth, savoring the salty, mineral flavor. I had to walk away, before I ate them all.
We’d had a special menu printed up for the dinner, which I laid carefully on top of each plate, planning to offer it once a week through the end of the year.
The Glorious Grouse Dinner
Basket of Breads
Oysters with champagne mignonette
Rhode Island Moonstone ◾ Maine Glidden Point, Belon, Pemaquid ◾ Chesapeake Bay Olde Salt ◾ Washington State Shigoku, Kumamoto ◾ California Pacific Gold
Frisée with foie gras, pear, and cherries dressed with oil and sherry vinegar
Whole roasted grouse napped with a wild cranberry game sauce
Pilaf of rice and mixed mushrooms garnished with chopped hazelnuts
Sweet and sour red cabbage
Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake. Cambridge Burnt Creme.
Sticky toffee pudding. Cranachan. Treacle tart
White Stilton with mango and ginger
Colton Bassett Stilton
Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP
Water biscuits made in-house
Hearing Ellen’s bad-tempered instructions to the commis, I went back into the open kitchen with its Wolf range and two freestanding ovens—a deck oven for breads and a convection oven for pastry. When I heard the sound of a motorcycle revving up outside over Ellen’s harangue, I saw the door to the alley propped open. Vince must have gone out to join Derrick in a last cigarette. The skid, the scream, and the sound of breaking glass got my attention. Vince barreled through the door and grabbed me by the shoulders. “You don’t want to go out there, Bay.”
I tried to push around him. “Why not?”
“Oh my God. Derrick,” he choked out, eyes rolling. “It’s…it’s a hit and run. Call 911.”
He shook his head. “Too late for that. Just have the police come.”
Vince dropped heavily to a chair and clutched the sides of his head with shaking hands. When he finally looked up at me, his eyes were swollen, and rivulets ran down his cheeks. He kept clearing his throat, but no words came out.
I stumbled across the room to the phone at the reservation stand and dialed 911 and gave them the small amount of information I had. They told me to stay on the phone until someone arrived. Only a few minutes elapsed before I heard the sirens. I informed the dispatcher, hung up, then went back to Vince. He watched as a team of police officers exited the two squad cars. An ambulance pulled up behind them.
Putting a hand on his shoulder, I tried to shake him to attention.
When he turned to look at me, tears dripped from his red-rimmed, swollen eyes. “Hit by a motorcycle. When I got out there, the rider peeled out. Left him there, surrounded by trash, broken and bleeding. I rushed over but he… he… died. Never said a word.”
Tremors hit me. I sank to my knees as the sound of screaming enveloped me. “Dead, dead, no, no, no.” I wanted the voice to shut up, leave me to mourn. My voice. And I couldn’t stop the screaming or the tears as I curled on the floor in a ball of despair.
I don’t know how long I lay there, helpless to do anything more than cry. By the time the police swarmed in, Vince had helped me to my feet and got me into a chair. With the backdoor open, late afternoon sun lit the scene, but my vantage point didn’t allow me to see Derrick.
I looked down and my watch glinted back at me. We were supposed to open in a little over an hour. Vince hovered in the corner. I called out. “Vince, could you put a sign on the door and start calling people with reservations? Tell them we’re closed.”
He nodded and walked toward the reservation stand.
“Mrs. Anderson?” A policewoman stood in the doorway.
“Bishop,” I croaked.
She checked me out, her lips pursed, eyes narrowed. “O-kay, Ms. Bishop.” Her arms were folded across her chest. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Fresh tears welled but I wiped them away as I sniffled a few times. “Thanks.” I could barely push the word out.
“Did you see anything?”
My head bobbed a negative.
“I wouldn’t let her see, Macie,” Vince yelled from the dining room, sounding both protective and belligerent.
My head snapped up and I stared at her. Macie Collier had gone to school with my younger sister, Livvy. Even though I had been back for more than two years, I didn’t realize that Macie had joined the police force here. And how the hell did Vince know her?
“I thought you moved to Detroit.”
She flinched at my tone. “Didn’t like the big city life. I came back about a year ago. Guess you didn’t notice.” Hands on hips, she said, “You came back too.”
“Livvy didn’t say anything.”
She shrugged. “We don’t hang out much these days. Our lives kind of moved on different tracks after she went to Pratt.” She cleared her throat.
“Are you going to question me now?”
“Just waiting for Detective Fairchild. He’ll be in charge of the case.”
I stood and rolled my shoulders. “Do I need to ID the body?”
“Not necessary. The scene is pretty gruesome. Just as well that Vince kept you from looking.”
Gruesome. What did that mean? I slumped back into the chair, my lungs working hard to get in any air.
“I’m sure the detective will explain everything,” she said.
Macie leaned against the open kitchen door watching us, occasionally turning her head to look out as the police team scoured the alley for evidence. Then a man in a plaid sports jacket loomed up behind her. “Excuse me, Officer Collier.” She stepped aside. “Ms. Bishop? I’m Detective Fairchild.”
I looked past Macie as she moved to let Fairchild pass through. A few inches taller than my five five, shaven head, dark eyes, and stubble dotting his jaw. He closed the door, scratched his cheek, and leaned against the big worktable.
“Not a typical hit and run. Your husband looked like he might have been targeted. Whoever hit him deliberately ran over the body a couple of times.”
I could picture Derrick, lying in the alley, his body mangled, blood everywhere. My gag reflex kicked in, along with my overactive imagination, and I barely made it to the large commercial sink, pushing the dishwasher as I doubled over. When I wobbled to my feet, Ellen handed me a glass of water. Swishing warm water around cleared out the sour taste in my mouth.
I put down the glass and stared at the floor, my mind a whirl of conflicting ideas. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want him dead. True, he could be prickly, but that didn’t get you killed. People came to the restaurant for his desserts. None of that added up to being murdered by motorcycle.
“Could it have been mistaken identity?”
Macie snorted. “He’s dressed in his chef clothes, minus the tall hat.”
“Toque,” I said absently. Fairchild glared and her mouth snapped shut.
I stared at the grouse [k1] [SM2] and began putting plastic wrap over the pans. Seeing my sous chef, slack-eyed, leaning against a counter, I called out, “Ellen. Start putting these back in the cooler.” She jerked to attention, then robotically came over and picked up the pan, immediately dropping it on the floor.
“S-S-Sorry.” Her face drooped, a study in misery.
I motioned to the commis. “Just get it cleaned up.” Then I went back to covering the birds. Ellen picked up another pan and shoved it in the refrigerator.
Fairchild cleared his throat as he gazed around the kitchen at the small audience.
“Do you have an office?”
As we walked out of the kitchen and down a short corridor, he said, “Are you contacting your customers?”
I looked over at the edge of the desk, then nodded.
“Don’t give out any information. Just say unforeseen circumstances.”
“I’ll go tell Vince. He’s making the calls.”
When I got back, Fairchild sat behind the desk, fingers tented under his chin.
I bristled at the way he had co-opted my space. Then reality socked me in the eye. I collapsed into the chair.
“Did your husband have any enemies you know of?”
My lips pursed while I thought over his question. Derrick fit in surprisingly well for a big-city boy, learning to fish and hunt. He hung out with my brother and his friends. Joined Rotary and went to the lunches.
“Not here. We moved from New York to open the restaurant, but I don’t think he had any enemies who would have followed him.”
“Why did you choose Sherburne?” He leaned the chair back, his tone conversational.
“I’m from here. We wanted to open our own place, and Northern Michigan is much less expensive than New York. Less competition for fine dining too. We could see a better future.”
Fairchild’s phone beeped and he gave me a look that said get out. “Excuse me, but I need to take this.”
I walked out the door, leaving it slightly ajar, and leaned against the wall. He mumbled something, but I couldn’t catch the words.
Then he called out. “Ms. Bishop, you can come back in.”
He started to speak as I crossed the threshold. “The ambulance is going to take him now.”
Then the office door slammed against the wall as my dad walked in and glared at Fairchild. “Bay. You okay?”
“Why are you here, Mr. Bishop?” Fairchild asked with icy politeness.
“Vince called me. I’m going to take you home, Bay. You can find her at the Bishop Inn, Detective Fairchild.”
I almost laughed at that description. Bishop Inn hadn’t been my home for almost two decades. Even though I’d agreed to move back to Sherburne, our uneasy truce kept me on edge. My parents fell in love with Derrick; I felt like the outsider. My dad arriving on the scene threw me.
Fairchild’s lips twisted at my dad’s pronouncement, but he managed to say, “Fine. We’re still working the scene and the medical examiner has to look at the body. I’ll be at the Inn sometime in the next few hours. In the meantime, may I use your office, Ms. Bishop? I’ll let you know if we need to remove anything.”
My eyes searched the office, but I didn’t see anything incriminating. “What would you need to remove?”
“We’ll need to go through your business records and check the computer. I’ll need the password. I can have an officer work here, but we’d rather take everything back to the station.”
“Get it later, Fairchild. Can’t you see she’s in no state to talk to you?” Fairchild brushed past my dad. I tried to stand up again, but my legs wouldn’t hold me and I dropped back to the chair. Dad leaned down and kissed my cheek, then pulled out a handkerchief to mop my face. Deciding that today, my family could be my refuge, I stood and let him put his arm around me. “Let’s go, kiddo. Let your staff close the place up.”
I scanned the dining room. The kitchen had emptied out and everyone stood around, looking at me. Ellen, our sous chef, made shooing motions. “Go home with your dad, Bay. We’ve got this.”
I threw her a grateful look as my dad led me out.
A siren stuttered, then blared. The ambulance. I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat as I thought of Derrick, encased in a body bag, being loaded into the meat wagon. We’d been together for ten years, married for six. We were a team. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to go on without him.
Mourning had to take a back seat to business. When Derrick’s mother and father went back to New York, I breathed a sigh of relief at being able to go home. Three days had seemed more like three weeks. I let them stay at our place, and I stayed at the Inn, which made everyone but me more comfortable.
Helen and Frank seemed more interested in what would happen to the restaurant than the fact their son had died. Smiles morphed into frowns when they realized that they would not get a fat payoff. In fact, they had expected to inherit everything. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they hadn’t really believed Derrick and I were married, even though we’d invited them to join us at City Hall.
The empty feeling in the cute cottage Derrick and I had bought made me think of selling, but I needed to face the challenge of living by myself head-on. Family to roommates to Derrick, I had never lived alone. I looked around at the cream-colored walls, overstuffed couch, bookcases stuffed with cookbooks, and a big-screen TV in the corner. Maybe I’d get a cat.
An early morning meeting drove me out of the house to the restaurant. I picked my way down streets made unrecognizable in the morning fog. I pulled into the parking lot with relief and parked, not worrying about lines and spaces. I could move the car after the haze burned off. After a few days of being closed, the building smelled of dust and the faint reminder of hops and barley.
Empty filing cabinets and no computer greeted me when I opened the office door. I would have to call Detective Fairchild and find out about getting everything back. In the meantime, we’d have to use the backup laptop from home.
Food hadn’t been appealing lately but today hunger gnawed at me now. With no food in the cottage, I crossed my finger that I could forage something in the restaurant freezer. I thawed some of the sourdough bread Derrick made for the restaurant and grilled toast.
Nibbling on a slice slathered with rich butter and homemade cherry jam brought comfort as I remembered the two of us in the kitchen for hours before the staff arrived. Derrick kneading the bread in the big mixer while I planned menus. A faint hint of the yeasty smell of rising dough and the scent of freshly baked boules, as they came crackling from the specially built bread oven, had me hiccupping with emotion.
The memories warmed me, even as the sense of loss rolled over me like the tide washing up the beach. I wanted to cry out to Derrick. Who could hate you that much? How do I go on without you? I looked down at the plate of half-eaten toast and no longer saw any comfort.
My stomach turned and I quickly slid the remnants into a small plastic bag I retrieved from one of the cabinets. The jam jar shone like a jewel in the sun and the fat slab of butter mocked me as I thrust them into the small fridge. I tied the bag handles into a knot and slipped out the back door. The dumpster sat near our back door into the alley, the aroma of stale fat and decaying vegetables assaulting me when I tossed away my traitorous memories and my anger with the crusts.
As I turned back to the door, a rusty stain on the door sill caught my eye. Derrick’s blood. Scuttling back into the kitchen, I threw up the little I had eaten, then went back into the office for the cardigan I kept in the armoire that covered the wall behind the desk. Shivering, I wrapped my arms around myself, wishing for Derrick to hold me close. A sob tore through my chest. Derrick wasn’t here, and nothing would ever be right again.
A knock at the door alerted me to the arrival of our financier, Wally Volker. A Detroit venture capitalist, he specialized in financing restaurants. When we first decided to move to Sherburne and open our own place, Derrick approached several firms. Wally showed an interest in the concept, the location, and after sampling our food, he told us he could definitely help.
I spent a few moments staring at him through the glass paneled wood doors, then turned the lock and let him slip in before relocating it and pulling down the blinds. Even at 10:00 a.m. he has dark circles under his eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
Wally yawned. “Sorry. I picked up coffee before I left, and a donut, so I wouldn’t have to stop along the way. There’s a place down the road from me. Guess one cup didn’t really get my engine going.” He held out an empty cup, shaking it. I could hear the rattle of paper inside. I pointed to a wastepaper basket and he tossed it in like a basketball.
“Do you want more coffee? I can make some French press.”
“Nah. Let’s get this over with. Then we can go somewhere for lunch.” He put down a briefcase that seemed to bulge. Papers, maybe?
I looked at him, nonplussed. He had extended his condolences at the visitation that Derrick’s parents had insisted on and again at the funeral. Did he intend to condole me every time he saw me until the end of time? I sighed.
Now unencumbered, he clasped my hands in his and kissed me. His silvery white beard scraped against my cheek, and I drew back.
Voice surprisingly high, eyes like dark wells under the black brows that contrasted sharply with his shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, and a long, narrow, vulpine face reminded me of the big, bad wolf. Was I Little Red Riding Hood or would he huff and puff and blow my house down? For the last couple of days, dreams of fairy tales gone bad disturbed my sleep. The scowl on his face signaled more bad news. He opened the case and dumped a load of paper on the desk. “I picked up the paperwork from the police on my way over.”
“Why did I pick it up or what brought me to the police station?”
“The police called to let me know they found my stolen motorcycle.”
“Oh,” I said dully, not really interested.
“When I mentioned meeting with you, Detective Fairchild gave me the documents to bring over and said they’d return the computer later this morning.”
Rubbing my hands together on this chilly late September morning, I gestured toward the piles of paper on the table. “Have you looked through these?”
He shrugged. “I thought we could go over it together.”
I stalked back to the table and picked up a stack of documents, leafing through them, my jaw going slack as I took in the contents. “Unpaid vendor bills.” Checking another stack, I groaned. “A late notice on our insurance.”
My eye fell on several documents lying on the blotter. I blanched. My voice a cobra’s hiss, I said, “A missive from the bank, impressing on me the necessity discharging the outstanding payments on the house mortgage.
I picked up two others and waved them in his face. “Notices for nonpayment on the mortgage on the restaurant building.” I paused, gasping for air, picturing a Dickensesque scene with huge, uniformed men with mutton-chop whiskers carrying out all the furnishings.
Wally had been looking at yet another pile. He looked more basset hound than wolf, as his jowls slackened and drooped. “Your bank accounts are almost at zero. A few dollars in checking. Saving account empty. Investments cashed in.” My anger boiled up at his look of pity.
I threw the papers back onto the table, then slammed my fist into the hard wood before turning back to him, tears coursing down my cheeks.
“What’s going on here? Did Derrick know? Why didn’t you do something?” He came toward me, and I backed away, pushing a chair aside in my haste to move out of his reach.
“I’m sorry, Bay. All the paperwork Derrick sent me looked fine. My percentage payments arrived on time. But he must have known. Maybe there is another set of books? A lock box in the safe? Do you have a safety deposit box?”
“I didn’t find anything like that.”
Wally grabbed another fistful of documents, rapidly scanning them and sorting them into piles. “Late payments for supplies. But enough to keep the suppliers from cutting you off completely. Looks like he used cash advances to meet payroll. There were no indications of where the money went. The receipts looked healthy enough, assuming they were legit.” He tapped long, narrow fingers against the unpaid bill pile, rubbing his chin with his other hand. “Any signs of new accounts, Bay?”
New accounts? I twisted my rings around my finger over and over.
“Not that I know of.” My legs started to buckle, and Wally jumped up and shoved a chair against the backs of my knees before I could topple.
We stared at each other across the table. The silence stretched out and I thought our conversation might be over. My face dropped into my hands, and I fought not to cry, my swollen eyes almost closed.
The clatter of chair legs alerted me he had gotten up. His footsteps made a sharp, rapping sound against the wooden planks. His voice distant. “If he siphoned off money, he wouldn’t use a local bank. We’ll have to look through all the paperwork and the computer files. Maybe there will be a trail.”
“What do I do in the meantime?”
“Well, my dear, if we can’t find the money, I’m afraid you will have to close the restaurant and sell the assets.”
“Wha-wha-what about insurance?” I wiped my eyes with one of the pristine napkins still adorning the tables. Through swollen lids I peered at him. I could almost see the wheels turning.
Wally flicked one of the paper piles. “Since you owned the business jointly, insurance won’t cover this. As an owner, technically he had a right to the money. Besides, you don’t have any insurance.”
“You said he hadn’t paid the premiums.”
My heart sank as I reached for a jokey response. “Guess burning down the building won’t get me anywhere.”
Black humor that went nowhere. “You’ll have to sell the house too.”
His words pummeled me like a sudden fall of golf-ball-sized hail. My teeth chattered. I couldn’t help the hopeless moan his words wrenched out of me as a vision of crawling home to Bishop Inn rose in my mind’s eye. Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. Wrong, Tom. Sometimes you have no choice.
Pressure built in my chest, and I felt heat rising from my toes up through my trunk. Fire burned in my face and ears. Wally’s phone rang. I strained but couldn’t hear the whispered conversation. “Who?” I mouthed.
He turned off the phone. “The police. They’ll be by in a few minutes with your computer. In the meantime, call the bank and make an appointment for this afternoon to talk about your next steps. I’m afraid this mess won’t be resolved for a while.”
Sell my house. Lose the restaurant. Deal with betrayal. I wanted to mourn Derrick in peace but now I couldn’t mourn him at all. All remembrances of love, of happy times—gone. Bitterness at his betrayal filled my mouth with acid. I ran into the kitchen, filled a glass with water, and washed out my mouth over and over.
When I walked back out, Wally looked over and waved a sheaf of papers at me. “Go make copies of these. I’ll bring you the rest. After we consult with the bankers, I’ll take them back to Detroit and see if I can find anyway to fix at least some of this.”
I grabbed the papers and started backing toward the corridor that led to the restrooms and the office. He called after me. “After lunch, you can also forward me anything involving the business that’s on the computer.”
An hour later, two uniformed officers arrived and handed me the restaurant computer. One of the officers talked to Wally about the theft of his motorcycle.
“I reported the theft in Detroit,” I heard him say.
“We found an abandoned Yamaha that matches the description of yours.”
“The lab guys are checking it out. But we’re pretty sure it’s yours.”
“Why would someone steal a motorcycle in Detroit and dump it here?”
“You’d have to speak with Detective Fairchild about that.”
I had tried to believe in Derrick’s death as accidental. Wally’s motorcycle as the murder weapon? Once I thought it, the word became a chant in my head. Murder, murder, murder.
My guts clenched in agony. I ran to the women’s bathroom and vomited bile over and over, eventually collapsing on the cold tile floor. Wally found me there and helped me out into the dining room.
Then I took a deep breath and called my parents to ask if I could come home.
Excerpt from Dead in the Alley by Sharon Michalove. Copyright 2022 by Sharon Michalove. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Michalove. All rights reserved.
Sharon Michalove grew up in suburban Chicago. She received four degrees from the University of Illinois because she didn’t have the gumption to go anywhere else, and spent most of her career at the university, eventually earning a PhD, working in departmental administration, publishing and libraries. Her specialties are 15th-16th century European history, polar exploration, and food history. She may be one of the few people in America to never live outside her home state.
In graduate school, she met and married the love of her life. They shared a love of music, theater, travel and cats. He died in 2013.
Sharon also loves hockey, reading, cooking, writing, and various less elevated activities like eating cookies and sampling gins and single malts. After spending most of her life in a medium-sized university town she moved back to Chicago in 2017 so she could go to more Blackhawks games and spend quality time at Eataly. In 2021 she accomplished a lifetime goal by publishing her first novel. Unfortunately her other lifetime goal, to be English, is likely to remain unfulfilled.
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