Read First-Degree Fudge: A Fudge Shop Mystery Online
Authors: Christine DeSmet
“An action-filled story with a likable heroine and a fun setting. And, oh, that fudge! I’m swooning. I hope Ava Oosterling and her family and friends take me back to Door County, Wisconsin, for another nibble soon.”
—JoAnna Carl, national bestselling author of the Chocoholic Mysteries
“The first in a new series set in the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest,’
is a lighthearted confection that cozy mystery readers will devour.”
—Lucy Burdette, author of
“As palatable as a fresh pan of Belgian fudge, this debut will delight candy aficionados and mystery lovers with its fast pace, quirky cast, and twist after twist. A must read!”
—Liz Mugavero, author of
Kneading to Die
“Christine DeSmet has whipped up a melt-in-your-mouth gem of a tale. One is definitely not going to be enough!”
—Hannah Reed, national bestselling author of
Beeline to Trouble
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA)
Copyright © Christine DeSmet, 2013
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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The Origin of Fudge in the United States
Cinderella Pink Fudge (with Diamonds) Recipe
was cutting a pan of Cinderella Pink Fudge into twenty-four bite-sized squares on the white marble-slab table near the window that fronted the docks when my friend Pauline Mertens burst through the door, rattling the cowbell hooked to the knob. Snow flurries and cold air rushed in to stir the chocolate-scented air.
“Ava, she’s here!” Pauline said, not bothering to take off her coat. “Can you believe it? Oh my gosh golly giddy-ups, I saw Hollywood’s voluptuous,
vixen vamp!” She whipped her long black hair back over her shoulders, acting the part herself.
Pauline is a kindergarten teacher, so over-the-top alliteration and other word games often spilled into our conversations.
But an excited tickle was running through me, too, because this was the day my fudge would debut for a celebrity. “You saw
Rainetta Johnson? Where?”
“At the Blue Heron Inn. Isabelle said she stayed overnight. Oh, that looks luscious.”
I slapped her hand away before she stole a piece of pale pink, cherry-vanilla fudge, which had my own mouth watering. The gustable air in the shop smelled like cotton candy and freshly made vanilla waffle ice cream cones combined. My little shop had already seen a dozen fishers and early-season tourists duck out of the unusual May cold because of the smell they said hit them yards away along the Lake Michigan docks of Fishers’ Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin.
“This fudge is for the party,” I said, “but here, I’ll give you a taste from the new batch. Tell me if it’s creamy enough.”
I moved to the next area of my six-foot marble table, where I’d poured warm but cooling creamy pink fudge straight from the copper kettle nearby. I’d whipped the pink confection fast for the last fifteen minutes with four-foot walnut wood paddles. My shoulders were still aching.
The next step was working the white chocolate with my small wood spatulas until it stiffened enough for my hands to take over in a process called “loafing.” I would then knead the pink pile of sugar crystals until they transformed like magic into just the right consistency for slicing. Fudge was all about chemistry—and the aromas emanating from melting sugar, butter, and Belgian chocolate. I found a clean spoon and carved into the pale pink cloud of fudge, handing the treat to Pauline.
Pauline set the smidgen of pink cherry-vanilla fudge on her tongue.
Her eyes melted like dark chocolate as an ambrosial smile curved onto her face.
I hopped on my feet like one of her kindergarteners. “Well?”
She blossomed in rapture, looking down on me. She was six feet tall—two inches taller than me, which bugged me when we played hoops over at the school.
“This is yummy, better than cherries jubilee!” She dipped the spoon into the fudge loaf again before I could catch her. “Once they taste this at Isabelle’s fund-raiser, they’re all going to descend on this place. Did you make enough? What if Rainetta wants to mail some right away to all her Hollywood friends?”
My head spun with sugarplum visions of grandeur and glamour for myself. “Can you stay and help? I’ve never made this much fudge so fast in my life.”
“I’m sorry. I have to get over to the school.” It was Sunday, and Pauline frequently prepped her classroom for the week on Sundays. “Isabelle was wondering why you weren’t at the inn yet with the fudge.”
“I’m waiting for Gilpa to get here. He took some of the inn’s guests on the lighthouse tour. And then this storm came up.” Gilpa was what I called my grandpa Gil Oosterling. He was the co-owner of my shop.
“He’s too crusty to let anything happen.”
I hoped Pauline was right. I returned to cutting the hardened Cinderella Pink Fudge into one-inch squares. “What’s Rainetta look like?”
“Aging well. Big boobs and bodacious at sixty-five. Rainetta’s already holding court like the movie star she is—or was. And after one bite of this, she’ll be recommending your pink treat for all the swag bags given away at next year’s Oscars.”
My hands shook with anticipation, so much that I thought for a second I’d cut off a finger in the pink fudge, but it was only a cherry popping up under the blade.
For Cinderella Pink Fudge, I’d married the best white Belgian chocolate with tart, red cherries that grow in the orchards surrounding our little town of two hundred or so permanent residents.
Rainetta Johnson now lived in Chicago, having retired from films years ago, but everybody my parents’ age remembered her movies with Elvis and Cary Grant. I’d spent a few years in Los Angeles before moving back to Door County recently, and I knew that Rainetta put money behind plenty of upstart indie filmmakers. So why not my Fairy Tale Fudge line? I’d never met her, but I’d heard she liked vacationing in quaint Door County, called the Cape Cod of the Midwest.
I felt bad about our inhospitable weather welcome for Rainetta. On this first Sunday in May, the day had started in the fifties. Trust me, it really did. Now, nearly noon, snow spit past my fudge shop windows. Tulips alongside buildings bent under the frozen betrayal. The sudden storm on Lake Michigan was churning our bay with wind gusts up to forty knots, enough to shred the flags outside on their posts. Whitecaps splashed foam and spray over the dock in front of my fudge shop.
My just-opened fudge shop was the last stop on the docks of Fishers’ Harbor before you boarded a boat or your first stop after you disembarked following a day spent sightseeing among the ten lighthouses dotting the shorelines of our peninsula county. Lighthouses attracted people who loved to buy souvenirs, including homemade, handmade fudge. I figured my location would give me a pretty good chance of success.
My place used to be called Oosterling’s Live Bait, Bobbers & Beer. In Wisconsin everything ends with “& beer.” But when I moved home a couple of weeks back, my grandpa let me tack up a temporary sign and share his space. He moved both his live minnow tank and the apostrophe on “Oosterling’s.” We’re now Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge. There wasn’t enough room on the building to keep “& Beer.” In these parts, beer is assumed to be on the shelves and in the coolers.
I said good-bye to Pauline, then tried Grandpa Gil’s number again. Still no answer. My stomach bottomed out. I took out my worry on the pink fudge cloud, working it with the wood paddles, watching for just the right sheen and mirrorlike look before the final loafing.
It was my fault Gilpa had taken the chance to go out today. He wanted to be out of the way so that I could have my fudge debut all on my own. I’m thirty-two, and he feels sorry for me not finding my “thing” in life yet. He was the first to warn me about my ex-husband, too. To say he doesn’t have faith in my fudge fantasies and judgment is an understatement.
My assistant, Cody Fjelstad, startled me by calling from across the small room, “Miss Oosterling, hurry up. We got only ten minutes! This isn’t La-La Land!”
Cody always called me “Miss,” which made me feel old or like my schoolmarm friend, Pauline, who was forced to wear thrift shop dregs that kindergarten kids could throw up on with impunity. I didn’t think I looked particularly like an old-maid “Miss.” Or did I? My brown ponytail put up in a twist with a wood chopstick hung half undone over one shoulder of my faded yellow blouse and my long apron. My jeans were ripped from the real wear and tear of fixing up my shop and not the fake tears you buy in the store. I always wore work shoes now—boots, really—with lug soles for safety’s sake, in case I needed to step out onto the wet docks or help Gilpa haul equipment onto a boat. And then there were my copper kettles—don’t dare drop them on bare feet!
Cody was eighteen and challenged with a mild form of Asperger’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to what Pauline knew. He’d worked long and hard on his speech patterns, eye contact, and his sense of humor and sarcasm. Calling me “Miss” made him happy, so though it made me feel old, I also knew it was a sign of him working on his goal to be a happy and well-adjusted adult someday. He was sweet and sincere and ten times as good as any intern I’d had to deal with in Los Angeles, or La-La Land.
Cody had red hair and freckles and liked to be called “Ranger” because he dreamed of being a ranger at a local park, particularly at the Chambers Island Lighthouse, where Gilpa was supposed to have taken those four guests of the Blue Heron Inn. That lighthouse was seven miles into the bay, smack-dab in the middle of the shipping lanes and this upstart storm.
“Sorry, Ranger. My mind is racing today.”
“You should race faster or you’ll miss your party and we won’t be famous after all.”
I sped up my fudge loafing operation. “How’s the wrapping going?”
Pink cellophane crinkled and squeaked.
He said, “I’m catchin’ up to ya. Hurry up, Miss Oosterling.”
He came over to take the pan of fudge I’d cut into pieces and moved it to the register counter, where he was wrapping. “I’m gonna make it beautiful for you. Fairy Tale Fudge is the best!” he crowed. “Divine, delectable, delicious!”
“Pauline would love those D’s. Go easy on the fairy dust.”
“You got it.”
He did a fist pump in the air to make an invisible exclamation point.
Fairy Tale Fudge was my girlie brand of fudge. I was also developing ideas for a Fisherman’s Catch Tall Tale Fudge line—male fudge (fudge with nuts!).
For the Cinderella Pink Fudge, I made tiny bite-sized and edible marzipan fairy wings and glass slippers, which Ranger and I placed atop each piece. Ranger loved sprinkling on the fairy dust—edible pink sugar glitter—before wrapping each piece.
I reached for my lightweight red spring jacket, already feeling chilly. I should’ve watched the weather earlier that morning and brought my winter coat and gloves, but that’s how I was about too many things—spontaneous. It’s not good advice for getting married, by the way.
Snow flew thicker now outside the big glass windows, obliterating the docks and bay. I called the Coast Guard; the guys assured me they’d look for Gilpa. The fishing season had officially opened yesterday in Wisconsin. Every year we had people overboard on the first weekend. They didn’t always come back alive. At this time of year, hypothermia developed in a person within minutes.
I forced such thoughts away as Ranger flipped the lid shut on the big box that held Cinderella Pink Fudge for fifty. He offered to carry it up the hill to the Blue Heron Inn.
After declining his offer, I said, “When Gilpa comes in, you take the people by the hand to help them off the boat. Wait until each one is steady before assisting the next one.”
I had to be exact and literal with Ranger. Sometimes he hurried too much with his tasks; a guest could end up being flung by him from one side of a pier into the water on the other side.
When I burst into the blustery outdoors, the wind nearly whipped the heavy fudge box right out of my hands. The coat I’d put on but failed to button flapped all over the place. Snowflakes stung my cheeks and pecked at my eyes, making me bend my head as I walked blindly up the narrow blacktopped street that threaded up the steep hill. The Blue Heron Inn was only a couple of blocks away, but with it sitting on a small bluff, the street had a pitch that made me step half sideways like a skier travailing up a snowy slope.
As I drew closer, my heart began to pump faster. Besides Pauling and Ranger, no grown-up had yet seen or tasted my Fairy Tale Fudge, each sumptuous, sugary piece dressed with slippers or wings and glitter. Was it too silly? Was it tasty enough? Would it impress Rainetta?
I had hopes after Isabelle Boone—owner of the Blue Heron Inn—had stopped by earlier.
“I can smell the vanilla all the way up the hill to my inn!” she’d declared.
I had shooed Isabelle to the back room, where she’d picked up her usual supplies for the next week of cooking at the inn for her guests. We shared the same delivery service, which brought bulk sugar, flour, and other ingredients to the bars and restaurants in the area. The drivers didn’t always like going up the steep, narrow, winding street to the inn when conditions were slippery. Even rain freaked out some drivers.
Ranger’s social worker, Sam Peterson, had also come by earlier, offering to help. Sam and I went way back; Ranger didn’t understand why we weren’t married. Sam had never liked my ex-husband, and I was still embarrassed from the experience even though eight years have passed since the debacle.
I had intended to marry Sam eight years ago, at the end of the summer, but the day before my wedding, I got cold feet and ended up with another guy I’d met in college. He was like a prince whisking me off to a castle. We did the Vegas wedding thing and settled in Las Vegas, where he pursued his career as a stand-up comic. I worked as a waitress at a casino, then got a job making the desserts for its buffet. It wasn’t but a month after our wedding when two women informed me that they believed they were also married to Mr. Dillon Rivers. Bigamy puts a damper on a marriage. I got a divorce and an annulment soon after. I had become enamored enough of the bright lights that I went to Los Angeles, where I worked as a waitress and then a baker in Jerry’s Deli while writing my experience with Dillon into scripts. After a year, I submitted a couple of scripts to a new TV series on a little-watched cable channel. I toiled at my writing craft, hoping for fame, but I worked for an anxiety-ridden executive producer. I wasn’t his favorite writer on the staff. Mostly he favored the guys and their ideas. I hung on to pay my college debt and to pay back everybody here for the wedding expenses, including Sam for his tuxedo rental.