If there's one thing that Corinna Chapman, baker extraordinaire and proprietor of the Earthly Delights Bakery, can't abide, it's people not eating well, particularly when there are delights like her very own, just-baked, freshly buttered sourdough bread to enjoy. So when a strange cult which denies the flesh and eats only famine bread turns up, along with a malnourished body, Corinna is very disturbed indeed.
On top of that, her hippie mother, Starshine, has turned up out of the blue, hysterical that Sunlight, Corinna's father, has absconded to Melbourne with all their money and a desire for a new young lover. Someone is poisoning people with weight loss herbal teas, and then odd things are happening at the nearby Cafe Vlad Tepes, which attracts a very strange clientele indeed. It's a delicious recipe for murder, mayhem, and mystery.
About the Author
Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than 40 novels and six non-fiction books. Among her many honors, Ms. Greenwood has received the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Australia. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates' Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
Read an Excerpt
A Corinna Chapman Mystery
By Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2006 Kerry Greenwood
All rights reserved.
It was one of the most horrible sound-effects I had ever heard. A thud, then a sick, wet crack, as though the victim's skull had been cloven, spurting blood and brains as liberally as a Patricia Cornwell first chapter. I sat up straight in bed, grabbing for my lover Daniel. He wasn't there. Then I grabbed for my cat Horatio, but he wasn't there either. So lacking anything else to grab, I grabbed my furry boots, dragged them on—all the while the dreadful noise was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up like a yard broom—took hold of my remaining courage in both unoccupied hands, and started downstairs.
I live over my bakery in Calico Alley, in the city of Melbourne, generally not a place haunted by head-chopping fiends. Not historically, anyway. I knew I shouldn't have watched that old Hammer horror movie before going to bed at my usual early time, ready to rise at the bloody awful hour of four am to make bread. My bakery is called Earthly Delights and up to this moment early mornings had been the only thing to fear in it. Or maybe it was that They Might Be Giants song 'Dead' echoing in my head. Or memories of the French Revolution as delivered by Mr. Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. He had described exactly how the severed head fell from the guillotine. I briefly wondered how he knew. Jesus, I was scared. But nothing was to be gained by staying where I was and being terrified. Meroe always said that the important thing about witches is that they didn't run away from what they were afraid of. Where was Horatio, my gentlemanly cat and attendant of my bedchamber? Had he, God forbid, been a victim?
That idea pushed me down another ten steps. Anyone who attacked my cats was asking for a Grimm fairytale fate, baked in an oven. Another sickening thud—how many people were being executed in my premises?—and I unlocked the bakery door with all the caution of a compassionate person opening the morning paper, the world being what it is at the moment.
The noise became louder and ever more disgustingly fleshy, and under it a male voice was muttering, 'Got you, you cunt!' The Mouse Police slunk to my feet and gave me that look which cats reserve for moments when they are finding the human world unbelievably trying and are about to call their union. Usually nothing worries the Rodent Operatives but this was clearly more than even they, ex-alley cats with very flexible standards, were willing to tolerate.
I relaxed a little because I knew the voice. Jason Lewis, my almost-apprentice, maker of the most glorious muffins to be unleashed on a morning-tea hungry world. But I wasn't entirely comforted, because Jason used to be a heroin addict and he did appear to be dismembering some unfortunate soul on my bakery floor. Which was also to the point, because bakery floors have to be really clean and how were we going to get the bloodstains off?
I found myself short of breath and cold as I pushed the door fully open to reveal the murder scene in all its horror. Body parts, indeed, were spread wide. Dark splashes decorated one of my pristine mixing tubs. Jason, dressed in his old trackie, was brandishing a short handled hatchet. His face was stained and distressingly organic fluids dripped from his adolescent cheeks and—erk—the blade.
'Oh,' he said, seeing me at the head of the stairs, dressed in furry boots, a heavy blue gown, and an expression of growing amazement. 'Corinna,' he added, as my expression hardened into anger. He decided it would be best to explain. 'I wanted to make some soup for the shop, see, to go with the herb muffins, and I thought I'd make some as a surprise, you know, to show you, and then '
'Enough,' I said, holding up a hand. I could see it all. Jason, poor innocent, had decided on a simple soup, which was sensible as his reading skills still weren't too flash and he had never made soup before. Pumpkin seemed obvious, only two ingredients, one of which was pumpkin. And knowing nothing about the vegetable, he had gone and bought a Queensland blue pumpkin. These are covered with a hide which, like a saltwater crocodile (another Queensland native), repels bullets. If the navy ever cracked the secret of the Queensland blue, they would have a true unsinkable.
Which explained the series of blunted cooking knives, the shards of destroyed pumpkin on a clean garbage bag, the axe, and the embarrassment. Also the noise of cracking skulls.
Somehow it is hard to stay cross with Jason. No one else would have done this. Make soup to show me it was a good idea, I mean, and when foiled by the thickness of the obdurate veg, have had enough initiative to use the fire axe.
'And no harm done, really,' I concluded. 'So if you will agree to take some advice on pumpkins in future, clean up the mess, and take all my knives down to the sharpener's at Maison before you knock off, we'll say no more about it. What time is it?' I asked. It was black dark outside and felt far too early to be early morning.
'Getting on for four,' said Jason, dragging in a deep breath of relief. He has failed so often in his fifteen years of life that he still expects every mistake to lead to instant expulsion.
'All right, I'm going to make coffee. You want to have a shower, get the pumpkin juice out of your hair.' He ruffled his fair hair with his free hand and said, 'Gross.'
'And feed the Mouse Police extra munchies, they've had a fright. Get on with it,' I instructed. Then I came closer and held out my hand. 'And, Jason?'
'Yeah?' he asked, tensing again.
'I think you might give me that axe.'
He gave me the axe. I let out a breath I had been holding and went upstairs to prepare to face the day, which meant that while I was dressing my coffee would be brewing. You may keep your energy drinks with their strange over-scent of curried grass. I am faithful to the superlative bean. No coffee, no baking. It's a simple rule.
I caught the alarm before it went off, put on the life-giving fluid, made my bed, dragged on some tracksuit pants in size Extremely Huge and a top in Forget It No Human Is This Big, my very own sizes. I am fat in the way that Kate Moss is thin. Definitively. Even defiantly. The only diet I am ever going to undertake is the one which says stop eating when you are full, and I always do. Except for raspberries.
There is always an exception to every rule.
Horatio emerged from under my bed. He sat down in the kitchen, paws folded, tail carefully disposed, the picture of a cat who has been far too deeply asleep to come to the aid of his human, even though no one expects cats to do that stuff anyway, it being the province of pack animals of low intelligence, like, as it may be, dogs. Had he been aware of my need, he would naturally have given the matter some thought.
Perfidious beast. His shirt front was so beautifully groomed, however, that I forgave him and handed over his breakfast as I was toasting my own. A good solid rye sourdough with raspberry preserve, for what was probably going to be a trying day.
Small rain scattered across the windows like handfuls of sand. The indestructible plants which Trudi has placed on my balcony in big blue glazed pots bowed their heads before the gale. Not a nice day. But here with the pleasant sound of a cat absorbing milk and the coffee tasting fine and the heat coming up from the ovens, my kitchen is not a bad place to be, especially since the bakery isn't infested with serial killers after all. I wriggled my toes in my sheepskin boots and drank and ate and got my mind around the day's tasks.
It was Monday. I had no Daniel because he had been out on some surveillance task and said he would sleep at his apartment.
Daniel is a gorgeous Israeli, dark, with a mouth as sweet as honey. He thinks I am beautiful. He's a private detective, specialising in finding lost children. Grandma Chapman, who brought me up, would have said that he was a gift from heaven and not to be too closely examined. Once she'd gotten over him being Jewish, of course, which might have taken a while. My own parents, shown up as incapable of raising a child, still lived in a hippie holdout enclave somewhere near Sunbury, whence they had moved from Nimbin some years before. I hadn't seen them for an age, not since Grandma died and left me enough money to abandon my career as an accountant and, with my own settlement and untiring effort, to start a new one as a baker.
I had bought this bakery, and the apartment which went with it, in Insula, an eccentric building erected at the wishes of a man who Professor Monk suggested had been beaten once too often for mistakes in his Latin homework. And had fallen and hit his head. Insula was eight storeys high, had a collection of fascinating tenants, and was a charming place to live. Here I had my best friend, Meroe, a jobbing witch who ran a shop called the Sibyl's Cave. Here was the delightful Professor, getting on a bit but sharp as a tack. Our newest arrival had brought forth complaints from Mrs. Pemberthy, who lives to complain, because she had a big loom and, if you listened very hard with your ear planted on a glass held against the wall, you might have heard it clacking to and fro. I never had and said so. No one else complained. Therese Webb had taken Arachne, the spinner of the gods, a very suitable choice for her profession, which was spinning and weaving. I had bought a length of her fine dark charcoal tweed to make a winter coat, and it was very good, strongly woven without puckering, though from the look of the weather outside I might have left my coat-making run just a tad too late.
Breakfast over, I took a platter of toast down to Jason, to stay his stomach until he could get some real food from Café Delicious. The Pandamus family offered very good odds on Jason's speedy consumption of their Trucker's Special and he never let them down, finishing mostly just over his record time of three minutes and seventeen seconds. Which isn't long for three eggs, toast, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and potato pancakes or hash browns, depending on who had drawn the early roster, Yai Yai Pandamus or Hungarian Kristina.
I descended the stairs carefully, balancing the plate. The bakery was clean. Heckle and Jekyll were eating kitty treats before going out into the alley and standing over Kiko or Ian at the Japanese takeaway for raw fish scraps, their invariable morning practice. Jason had cut up the pumpkin and put it in the biggest pot to boil down to its constituents. No trace of vegetable massacre was evident. He had even had time to put on the downstairs coffee machine and now fell on my toast with a cry of joy. My need to feed hungry things might have met its fulfilment in Jason. He is still very thin, though not the skeletal creature he had been. His hair has thickened and fluffed out into a blond curly halo strangely reminiscent of Harpo Marx. It is sternly confined under a cap during baking hours.
'Rye,' I said, scanning my list. 'We need to make egg bread— did we get the eggs? Good. And the usual pasta douro. Have you decided on your muffins for today?'
'Thought I'd try that rosewater one,' he said, mouth full. 'And apple and spice.'
I left the muffins to Jason. His are better than mine, even though we use the same flour, oven and method. Cookery is a form of magic, of course, and if there were specialised wizards, Jason would be the Muffin Mage.
Having demolished the toast, we began to measure, pour and bake. It was night outside, not a creature stirring except the Mouse Police, and it was very soothing, the swish of water, the bubble of rye-bread starter, the warm electric scent of yeast and the sweetness of Jason's rosewater. Machines rumbled into life. The 'snick-snick' of the dough hooks. The roar as the ovens were opened. I stretched. The day which had started so unfavourably was improving by the minute.
Jason opened the alley door at seven and fielded a thrown newspaper. The Mouse Police stalked out to their predestined appointment with Endangered Species of the Southern Ocean. That was also the signal for Jason to go and pit himself against the clock at Café Delicious and me to sink down on my baker's chair and drink my third cup of coffee. Dawn was breaking, muted grey with charcoal overtones. People were stirring. Lights, which in some cases had never gone off in those tall buildings, were lit again if they had. Persons in suits with briefcases passed, heads glued to shoulders as they whispered urgently on mobile phones—what were they saying that was so important that it couldn't wait until they got to a desk? In my opinion only imminent war, shipwreck or heart attack ought to need the use of a mobile phone. Hadn't the poor bastards noticed that once they had one of the pestilential things they couldn't call a single moment their own? Not when sleeping or travelling or even in the previously safe refuge of the ladies' room could those sharply dressed women know the giddying pleasure of being alone.
Still, I suppose it makes people feel important. Needed.
I had enough things needing me, like Jason and bread and cats, without adding an importunate mobile phone. Sooner or later it would have to go out the window or down the sink, and that would be expensive. Though not as expensive as this season's fashion, pink and white checked bouclé jackets cut out of what appeared to be horse blanket. With a spade. Recycling them would cost the wearers a packet once the glamour wore off. Still, in my old blue tracksuit I was hardly a feast for the eye.
First loaves out, next lot in, everything shipshape and Bristol fashion, as Grandpa Chapman had always remarked when Grandma and I finished cleaning up the kitchen. For remarking it once too often I had thrown a dishcloth at him on one rather overwrought day. But he was a sailor and when Grandma had to hand the kitchen over to him after breaking her arm, he just murmured, 'Out of the galley you go, old girl,' and shut her out while he cooked and dished up creditable meals. But she never forgave him for setting fire to her favourite tea towel.
I tend to free-associate at seven in the morning. But on with the dance. Loaves went into the oven pallid and came out brown and shiny. The egg bread rose beautifully and smelt divine. It drew a wandering Jewish hunk in from the cold.
'Challah,' said Daniel on one hungry breath, reaching for a loaf. 'But it's Monday,' he added, pausing for permission before tearing it apart.
'Here every day is Friday,' I said with a generous gesture which strewed flour all over the immediate area. 'Hello, Daniel.'
He kissed me with the kisses of his mouth, which were agreeably flavoured with challah. Beautiful Daniel with his trout-pool dark eyes and his hair growing out from its short crop. Lord, I am not worthy, but speak the word only.
He hauled out the sack of bread which I donate every day to the Soup Run, said, 'Later, ketschele,' and was gone, hoisting the sack easily onto his leather clad shoulder. I sighed and got on with taking Jason's muffins out of the oven while he counted the loaves for various restaurants. I sell most of my bread to the trade, but I like having a shop as well.
I went into Earthly Delights to open the door and take down the shutters which defend my cashbox from all those people with tyre-irons who are supposed to haunt Flinders Lane after dark. I've never noticed any of them but they must be there or what is Neighbourhood Watch for? Except to keep Mrs. Pemberthy glued to her window, binoculars in hand, searching for malefactors. And lovers. And dog walkers. And drunks who piss on walls.
Dead-heating the door opening was my shop assistant of the day, Gossamer Judge, known as Goss, and Sylvia Dawson, the best dressed retired hostess in the city. Goss was wearing a fluffy pink bolero thing with matching goosebumps on her bare belly, and Mrs. Dawson was clad in a dark chocolate leisure suit, complete with scarlet leather gloves. And a very fetching cherry coloured woolly hat and scarf.
Excerpted from Devil's Food by Kerry Greenwood. Copyright © 2006 Kerry Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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