Val Deniston loves the historic Chesapeake Bay town where she lives with her grandfather, the Codger Cook. Running the fitness club’s Cool Down Café—and salvaging the five-ingredient dishes Granddad messes up—keeps her busy. She’s used to his catastrophes in the kitchen, but not in the dining room…
Especially when one of his dinner party guests winds up face down in the chowder. The demised diner apparently scammed Granddad’s best buddy, and since the other dinner guests have suddenly clammed up, the police have all the ingredients to cook up a conviction for Granddad. With his freedom—and Val’s café job—on the line, Val is in a sweat trying to avert a catastrophe. But dredging up old secrets might just be a recipe for murder…
Includes 6 five-ingredient recipes!
About the Author
Maya Corrigan lives near Washington, D.C., within easy driving distance of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the setting for this series. She has taught courses in writing, detective fiction, and American literature at Georgetown University and NOVA community college. A winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, she has published essays on drama and short stories under her full name of Mary Ann Corrigan. Visit her at mayacorrigan.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Maya Corrigan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Mary Ann Corrigan
All rights reserved.
"Blech. Ugly appetizer. I could add chopped roaches to it, and no one would notice."
Val Deniston agreed with her grandfather about the look of the olive-walnut-raisin spread she'd just made. "No matter how bad it looks, it's yummy on pita." But maybe too exotic for Granddad's guests from Ambleside Active Adult Village. Tonight's other appetizer would probably go over better with the older crowd—cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbed cheese.
Granddad pointed to the olive spread, his furry white eyebrows lowering. "Can you whip up something real quick to replace this?"
"I'm busy with the chowder." She stirred the pan and breathed in the fragrance of sauteed onions. The most expensive perfume couldn't compete with it.
"Well, don't dawdle. You gotta be out of here in half an hour."
"I know my role." She would cook and run before the first guest showed up. Then he would do his star turn, add the final ingredients to the chowder, and claim credit for the meal.
He donned his khaki apron emblazoned with CODGER COOK. "Did you remember to move your car?"
"Three blocks away. Your guests won't know I'm here, unless one of them is Sherlock Holmes." A glance at Granddad's apron would tell Sherlock that the codger had never used it to cook. He wore it only for photo shoots promoting his "brand" as the local newspaper's food columnist. He'd wangled that job by submitting Val's recipes as his own. She wanted no part of his ruse, but she could hardly expose her own grandfather as an imposter. On the plus side, his celebrity status in Bayport put a spring in his step and made him less crabby than at any time since she moved into his Victorian house.
He pointed to the two large pots on the stove. "Let's go over what I'm supposed to do. I put cow juice in one of those pots and fish juice in the other. Which is which?"
"Put the broth in the light chowder on the left. Add the cream to the white chowder, the pot on the right." Val turned off the heat under the onions. "Don't forget which one goes in which pot. Repeat after me: light left, white right."
"Left, white—no, light—right?" Granddad scratched his ear. The fringe of ivory hair above his ear stuck out like a tiny wing. "Call it creamy chowder, instead of white chowder. Then we can't confuse it with light chowder. I don't even know why we're serving light chowder. "
"Because it's a traditional Chesapeake Bay recipe, and it gives your guests a choice. Some of them may be lactose intolerant or have to avoid fat and cholesterol." As Granddad was supposed to do.
"Nobody was lactose intolerant when your grandmother made her creamy chowder. The day you were born, she invited all the neighbors for chowder to celebrate." Granddad gazed out the window at the big oak tree he and Grandma had planted as a sapling. "Hard to believe that was thirty-five years ago."
"Thirty-two." If anyone had told Val on her thirty-first birthday that a year later she'd live with her grandfather, she'd have laughed. A woman with a fiancé and an exciting job in Manhattan relocate to a rural area like Maryland's Eastern Shore? Impossible ... until the fiancé and the job both went sour. Now, six months later, she had a new life in a tourist town near the bay and rarely thought about what she'd left behind. "You know when to put in the potatoes and how long they cook, right?"
"You told me, but I forgot." Granddad turned away from the window and peered into pots. "Can't you just sneak down the back stairs, finish the job, and leave me to entertain my guests?"
Given his track record, she'd like nothing better than to keep him away from the stove. Then she could stop worrying that he'd spill the chowder, scald himself, or blow up the kitchen. "I can do that, but if you're pretending you cooked dinner, you'd better excuse yourself and go into the kitchen once in a while. Even the great Codger Cook can't turn on the stove by remote control."
"Suppose someone wants to come with me? We need a signal so you have time to skedaddle up the back staircase." He snapped his fingers. "Remote control! I know what we can use." He opened the broom closet.
"What are you looking for?" She had visions of him creating an obstacle course of mops and pails to alert her of impending kitchen incursions.
He rummaged in a cardboard box and pulled out a gray plastic gizmo the size of a shoebox. "Our guard dog, RoboFido, will bark to tell you someone's going toward the kitchen."
She scratched her head. "How's that supposed to work? It's a motion sensor. Every time a guest moves, it'll woof, and you'll have to explain why you have a barking box in the house."
He pointed to his temple. "Use your noodle. Last time, we set up RoboFido inside the house and pointed it toward the outside. When it detected motion out there, it barked to discourage prowlers. This time, we'll set it up outside and point it toward the dining-room window." He reached into the cardboard box and pulled out something that looked like a car key fob. "And I'll carry this in my pocket."
She peered at the device. "I didn't know you had a remote control for Fido."
"Yup. When any guests pass through the dining room, Fido will bark. That's your signal to get out of here. They have to walk through the butler's pantry." He pointed to the cabinet-lined passageway between the dining room and kitchen. "That'll give you enough time to scoot up the back stairs."
She glanced toward the stairway. Within seconds, she could reach it and hide behind the wall that divided it from the kitchen. "Okay, but do your best to keep people out of here. When dinner's ready, I'll call the house phone from my cell phone, let it ring twice, and hang up. I won't come back in here after that, so you can turn Fido off."
"And if it's just me coming into the kitchen while you're still cooking, I'll turn off the sensor. Once I've gone past the dining-room window, I'll flip Fido's switch back on again."
She took the lettuce out of the refrigerator. "You know, hiding the fact that you can't cook is harder than actually cooking."
He grinned. "But it's more fun."
While she made the salad, he set up and tested his early-warning system.
He called to her from the dining room. "The remote works. Can you hear barking, Val?"
"Loud and clear." She looked up from scrubbing the potatoes as he came into the kitchen. "Who's coming to the dinner tonight?"
"Folks Lillian and I know from the retirement village, and a few others."
He used the words Lillian and I more and more lately. To attract Lillian, whose departed husband had been a gourmet cook, Granddad had hatched a scheme to prove that he too knew his way around the kitchen. Winning the contest to write the local newspaper's recipe column had apparently given him an edge over the other retired men vying for her attention. "Who else did you invite besides folks from the Village?"
"A woman who lives there is bringing her son. And a reporter from the Salisbury TV station is coming. The young, good-looking one. Junie May Jussup."
Granddad had a different definition of young than most people. The reporter with dark hair and thick bangs was pushing forty. "Why did you invite a reporter?" And why did she agree to come?
"She called me about doing a TV interview. She wanted to see my kitchen and sample something I cooked. So I asked her to join us tonight. She's bringing a guest too." The doorbell rang. Granddad couldn't have looked more shocked if a meteor grazed him. "Oh no. Someone's early."
"It's probably Ned, coming to help you."
"I didn't invite Ned."
Val nearly cut herself with the potato peeler. "You invited other people from the Village and not your best buddy?" If it weren't for Ned, Granddad wouldn't even know Lillian.
"It's complicated." Her grandfather left to answer the door.
Complicated summed up Val's life ever since he'd assumed the Codger Cook persona. Bad enough that she had to supply recipes for his column. Tonight's dinner party embroiled her more deeply in his hoax when she already had enough weighing on her. Business had slackened off at the Cool Down Café in the last few weeks. Unless it picked up, the Bayport Racket and Fitness Club wouldn't extend her contract to manage its café, and she wouldn't earn enough to help Granddad maintain this big house.
She heard her grandfather talking louder than usual. "Thank you for bringing the bread, Lillian. I'll take it into the kitchen."
RoboFido barked. Lillian was coming to the kitchen too.
Val wiped her hands on her jeans and zoomed to the staircase behind the wall. She sat on the fifth step, not daring to go farther up the creaky wood staircase until Lillian left the kitchen. Unlike the other walls in the old Victorian, the thin divider wall along the staircase barely muffled sounds.
"It smells wonderful in here," Lillian said. "And look at those lovely stuffed tomatoes. Can I sample just one?"
An image of the lovely Lillian with her short ivory coif sprang into Val's mind and morphed into a vision of a sleek white-haired cat.
"Sure. Go ahead and try the tomatoes," Granddad said. "They're from my garden."
His garden? Ha.
He'd done nothing with the garden in the six years since Grandma died. Val had dug it up in March, her first project after moving here. She'd planted the vegetables, weeded, and harvested without any help from him.
"Umm. Delicious. I'll just have one more," Lillian said. "And you've started the clam chowder. Two big pots just for the six of us?"
"Two different kinds of chowder. Instead of clam chowder, we should call it scam chowder."
Lillian laughed. "For our guest of honor."
"I hate to give that crook any more of my good food than necessary. Let's spring the trap over the appetizers."
Val pressed her ear to the wall. A trap for a crook?
Why would Granddad invite a crook to the party and leave his friend Ned off the guest list?
"You may get better results by waiting until after dinner," Lillian said with a gentle, cajoling voice. "The drinks, your delicious chowder, and a sweet dessert will soften him for the kill."
"And his mother might as well have a good meal before we lower the boom on him. If he doesn't do what I want, I'll get the cops after him. The chief of police is an old friend of mine."
"That rogue is slick enough to evade the law. If you want Scott to give the money back, you may have to promise you won't go to the police."
Val clutched the edge of the stair to keep herself from jumping up in protest. If Granddad had lost money to a crook, he should tell the police, not take Lillian's advice.
"Okay, I'll make a bargain with the Devil," he said.
How easily Lillian had persuaded him to do what she wanted. The plot to ambush a rogue named Scott at tonight's dinner made Val uneasy. She'd learned an important lesson about catching rodents during her ten years living in New York City—the trap could snap back on you. The same thing might happen with Granddad's rogue trap.
"I didn't see water glasses on the table," Lillian said. "Where do you keep them? I'll put them out and fill them up."
"Use the ones in the dining-room china closet. I'll bring you a pitcher of water. "
Val waited until she was sure the kitchen was empty and went back to cooking. She peeled the potatoes and cubed them. The doorbell rang as she added them to the pots. Could Granddad keep the latest arrivals out of the kitchen? Two minutes later, RoboFido barked, and Val had her answer. She raced to the stairs and ducked behind the wall. A woman's voice drifted toward her.
"Oh, I just knew you'd have a homey kitchen like this. Painted cabinets, butcher block counters. Nothing fancy, just what everyone would expect of the Codger Cook." Junie May Jussup spoke with a broadcaster's precise diction and honeyed tones. "I'm so glad you invited me tonight, Mr. Myer. This is the perfect place to interview you. We'll position the camera here for a shot of the whole kitchen."
"You should film him cooking a recipe from his column." The suggestion came from a woman with a starchy voice.
Val stiffened. That voice couldn't belong to anyone but Irene Pritchard. The sixtyish woman had hair like steel wool and an abrasive attitude to match it. Val wouldn't have invited Irene the Irate to any party she was giving.
"Irene has such good ideas, Mr. Myer," Junie May said. "You won't regret letting me bring her along tonight."
Oh yes he would, and Val regretted not telling him about Irene's accusations a month ago. Disgruntled at losing the recipe columnist job to Granddad, the irate woman had accused Val of writing the column for him and of withholding evidence in a murder.
"I thought you'd bring a young man as your guest, Junie May," Granddad said. "We have four women and only two men tonight."
"We have an extra man coming," Granddad's girlfriend said. "The son of an old friend just texted me. He's passing through town and wanted to meet me for dinner. I invited him to join us. I hope that's okay."
"Fine with me," Granddad said. "What's his name, Lillian?"
"Omar. I'll add another setting to the table."
Val ticked off the guests on her fingers. Four females—the lovely Lillian, the irate Irene, the reporter Junie May, and the mother of Scott, the reputed scammer. Three males—Granddad, Scott, and the late-arriving Omar.
"I'd like to watch the Codger Cook make tonight's meal," Irene said.
She wasn't above haunting the kitchen to make sure no one besides Granddad went near the stove, but he had enough riding on the Codger Cook hoax that he would keep her out.
"Not much to watch," Granddad said. "The chowder's just about done. Let's go to the sitting room and dig into the appetizers."
Val allowed two minutes for everyone to settle down in the sitting room and crept back into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and took out the clam liquor, the juice left over after Granddad shucked a hundred clams. He'd taken on the messiest part of making this meal.
Just as Val added the clam liquor to the pots, the doorbell rang. RoboFido barked a few seconds later. She rushed to her hiding place. She sat on her usual step, but this time couldn't hear anyone talking in the kitchen, only the floor creaking.
Someone must have gone into the kitchen while Granddad was occupied greeting new arrivals. Val stiffened, worried that a prying guest would catch her crouched on the staircase. She heard water splashing into the sink and then her grandfather's voice.
"Can I help you with anything, Irene?" he asked.
Luckily, Granddad had found Irene before she found Val.
"I just wanted a drink of water," Irene said.
Ha. Irene had spent a minute in the kitchen before turning on the faucet. Doing what?
Val returned to the stove only after she was sure Granddad had maneuvered Irene out of the kitchen. The doorbell rang one more time while Val finished making the chowders. She heard occasional laughter coming from the sitting room. The dinner party sounded as if it had begun well. But with Granddad and Lillian planning to trap a crook, and Irene trying to trap the Codger Cook, it might not end well.
Val turned off the burners and sampled a spoonful of creamy chowder. Good. The cream didn't overpower the taste of the clams. She filled a mug with the light chowder, figuring it would be less popular than the creamy one, and took it up to her room above the kitchen, the same room where she'd slept during the summers she spent here as a child. Intended as the maid's chamber when the house was built in the nineteenth century, the room had direct access to the kitchen, her favorite place.
She took out her cell phone, speed-dialed the house's landline number, and let it ring twice before hanging up to tell Granddad he was on his own. She shifted the cookbooks on the small table in her room to make space for her mug of chowder and James Michener's Chesapeake. Then she sat by the window overlooking the backyard and enjoyed the simple flavor of clams and brine. Whatever else happened at the dinner tonight, no one could fault the food.
Excerpted from Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan. Copyright © 2015 Mary Ann Corrigan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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