With a month until her wedding, Lancaster Pennsylvania attorney Caroline Miller is furnishing her house. It is April, and antique fair time. Over a thousand dealers are due in town creating a gridlock, havoc, and a rousing good time to hunt for antiques. One of the highlights of the day is to be a benefit quilt auction, preceded by the largest antique auction of the season. Caroline has an expert helping her, her grandmother Hannah, fondly called “Granny Hanny.”
Hannah Miller is one of the best known quilt makers in the area. She has fulfilled her duty to the Amish community by raising a large family, and is now at the age where she is free to do what she wants. What she wants is to make quilts, the profits of which support the less fortunate in the community. Hannah wants to live quietly and have time to continue her love of mystery reading. Instead, she finds herself stumbling over dead bodies and getting drawn into helping to investigate crimes.
The main event of the auction turns out to be the discovery of the body of hoarder and sometimes antique seller, Denny Brody. Penny pinching, greedy Denny gets his just rewards in an 1800s pickle barrel with the sticky remains of a piece of shoofly pie still clinging to his mustache. It appears someone has had enough of Denny. The odor of almonds emanating from the body is not coming from any ingredient usually found in shoofly pie. A preliminary medical examination surmises Denny had been hit over the head with a brick and poisoned with cyanide laced shoofly pie. As Hannah looks around at a whole room full of suspects who would not be giving homilies at Denny’s funeral, she wonders why the overkill, and if there were one or two murderers . . . Still, she promises Caroline not to get involved.
When the shoofly pie is traced to one Hannah has donated, and the brick used to hit Denny turns up in a blanket chest Caroline has bid on, Hannah's good intentions to stay out of the investigation change quickly to active involvement.
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“Shoofly Pie to Die ”
When she thought back about that segment of the day, Hannah would have said she had been in the kitchen just a few minutes, only long enough to say hello. But, saying hello to seventy women took a while, even Hannah had to admit. When a person had to top the hello off with a sentence or two asking about each family (with the average number of children each woman had being eight), it took a few more minutes. There were Amish women along with the Mennonites and even a few English, as the Plain people referred to anyone other than Amish or Mennonites. She noticed Denny Brody’s former wife, Petula, was among them. Today, Petula was scurrying around with the other kitchen volunteers to ready their wares for hungry auction-goers. Pet Brody owned a small antique consignment business nearby. She didn’t handle Denny’s merchandise. He wouldn’t want to pay someone to sell his stuff anyhow, Hannah surmised. He was too cheap, despite all his family money. Living in the same area and in the same business, the Brodys were bound to run into each other. They had reached an accommodation; they completely ignored each other. Hannah never thought the Brodys looked like a couple who would have a mutual attraction. Physically, they looked like an odd couple. Petula was a head taller than Denny and her brassy blonde hair was cut in a wild Afro-style. As seemingly calm as Denny was frenetic, Pet’s small, brown eyes managed to take in everything going on around her. She knew everyone’s name and was unflaggingly friendly. Hannah had always liked Petula, who was also Copious Clay’s sister. In Chelsea Township, everybody was related in one way or another. Hannah could hardly keep track of them all. Hannah greeted Petula as warmly as the other women in the room. One place Hannah didn’t hurry was when greeting folks. It seemed downright unfriendly to dash in and dash out of a gathering of any kind. In actuality, Hannah had been in the kitchen well over an hour.
One section of the kitchen was devoted almost entirely to sweets. Pie after pie and almost as many cakes, had been sliced and displayed in their original containers with the name of the cook prominently displayed. And that was only half the number of sweets donated. The other half would be held back for the second day.
Mattie King made the best lemon sponge pie in town, and experienced auction gourmets wanted only Mattie’s pie. The same went for Lizzie Light’s strawberry pie and Hannah’s shoofly pie, to name a few of the favorites. Good cooking was one of the things no Plain person minded being proud of. Hannah thought of how fast her shoofly pie would go. She had seen one person buy a whole pie, and thought it a bit hoggish. After all, more than one person or family should have a chance to enjoy it. On the other hand, Hannah reminded herself, the idea was to sell the pie, not to allot it.
By the time Jennet arrived, the kitchen was about ready to open and a line of hungry customers was forming outside the long room. Hannah noticed that right at the front of the line, as he usually was when he wanted something, was Denny Brody, munching on a candy bar while he waited.
“Where does that man put his food?” Hannah whispered to Jennet. “He is always fressing, but he is as skinny as a hard working farmer. Not a spare ounce on him.”
“Maybe he only sleeps four hours a night,” Jennet answered, looking at Hannah who should know all about burning calories with activity. “I heard you prowl around at night.”
Hannah didn’t answer, but wove through the crowd until she spotted Caroline waiting in front of a beautiful hand painted trunk in the furniture section. Hannah looked it over carefully, and with help from Caroline and Jennet, tipped it up to look underneath.
“I would give maybe $1,500 for it. That would be a bargain. It has some age, but it is not real old, maybe 1900,” Hannah said, in an undertone. “It is a real nice piece, and out of Lancaster County, I think. Can never be positive; these things get faked. You would need some of those Antique Roadshow fellows to be sure.”
Jennet didn’t look surprised that Hannah knew about a television show. The Amish often saw television at the homes of non-Amish relatives and friends, or in stores. Even if they hadn’t seen it on television, the Antiques Roadshow was like elections. You didn’t have to vote to know about them.
“I would say leave an absentee bid; that way you will not catch auction fever and overbid. Besides, we might be here until tomorrow by the looks of this crowd. This area of furniture does not go up for bid until 7 tonight.”
“Sounds like a good plan, Granny. I have my eye on some small stuff and I’d like to stay long enough to bid on those pieces. I’d appreciate your thoughts, and Jennet’s, on the smalls.”
An hour later, Hannah glanced out of one of the long windows towards the parking lot. “That sky wants rain,” Hannah said. “It is getting uckly. I would like to make a sketch of the covered bridge a while. You and Jen stay here and bid. It should not take long for me to draw it.” Hannah picked up her large black umbrella and her bag. “I will be back in a bit.”
“You sure you don’t want me to come?” Jennet asked.
“Nope,” Hannah said in the direct way the Amish often have. “You would be bored, and maybe distract me. Nice of you to ask,” Hannah added, aware she sounded less than appreciative of Jennet’s concern. Hannah had always been independent and was not about to be anything less until someone had to hold her up or wheel her around. Hopefully, that was some years away.
As Hannah made her way to Spooky Nook Bridge, she glanced warily at the sky. It was darkening by the minute, but Hannah reckoned any storm was a half an hour away at least. It would be a good time for sketching the bridge against a lowering sky. Hannah envisioned the quilt she could make - a painting in stitchery. She would appliqué the pieces in grays and browns with the contrast of spring green. Then there was that odd color in the pale April sunset, beginning to streak the sky to the west with an almost tangerine-colored hue. The combination was almost too surreal for Hannah’s tastes. Maybe she would just incorporate the surging stream, making the boulders stand out with a trapunto technique, stuffing them to be slightly more three-dimensional than the other elements in the quilt. The covered bridge with its weathered wood and shingled roof was in desperate need of repair. Lancaster County had more covered bridges than any other place except for Indiana, and many needed reconstruction. It was a long list and Spooky Nook wasn’t at the top. For purposes of Hannah’s quilt, depicting the structure wouldn’t need more than
appliqué using several textures and weights of fabric to make it look realistic. She would leave off the sign at its entrance that said: “Bridge Out. Do Not Cross.” Bordering the quilt in a vivid sky blue would set it off nicely, she thought. As she always did, she could see the finished product clearly in her mind’s eye. It already pleased her.
By the time Hannah had made her way to the stream and walked down to where the old covered bridge spanned the water, the hint of color in the sky in the distance was being replaced by a tarnished silver wash that was darkening faster than Hannah had hoped. Soon, the sky would be the color of Hannah’s charcoal drawing stick. She was beginning to think she had misjudged the speed of the storm. Not to be lobbich, she chided herself. It was silly to worry about getting wet. Her commodious umbrella would keep her and her drawings safely dry. She found a good vantage point and took her sketchpad and charcoal stick out of her bag. Placing both the bag and the umbrella at her feet, she propped the pad in the crook of her left arm and quickly began her sketch.
She had caught most of the elements she wanted on the paper when it became too dark to see properly. She had a flashlight with her- one of the indispensable “modern” conveniences Amish were allowed to have. Good thing I do not have to deal with a kerosene lantern, Hannah thought. I’d need another hand, maybe two. She smiled, enjoying the ludicrous mental picture of herself as an octopus-like creature in Amish costume.
The sun, trying to get through the dark sky, broke through the clouds for an instant. It was then she spotted something. She blinked, not believing her eyes.
The stream, thawed by recent warm weather, meandered around a bend in the gully. Shoots of grass poked up along the bank. Under the bridge, burgeoning willow branches hung down to almost brush the water, which splashed and gurgled onto large rocks, and picking up speed, spilled downstream. Boulders lined the uphill side of the creek bed. It was there that the large wooden barrel was wedged on its side, caught between two boulders. Its contents were visible to anyone who focused on it. The body of a man was stuffed, head first, half-in and half-out; one leg, clad in tan trousers, was bent at an unnatural angle, and stained with the unmistakable red color of blood. The man was as still as Hannah’s breath.
“Gott im Himmel, not another dead body,” she gasped, dropping her drawing pad. Then she felt a sharp blow to the back of her head, and crumpled to the ground, still clutching her charcoal drawing stick.
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