Cover image for The chocolate clown corpse : a chocoholic mystery
The chocolate clown corpse : a chocoholic mystery
Carl, JoAnna.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Obsidian, [2014]
Physical Description:
227 pages ; 22 cm.
"Revenge is sweet for a killer on the loose-and it all started with the murder of Warner Pier's most hated clown.... Everyone who knew the bozo wanted him dead. Odd, then, that a complete stranger was accused of bursting Moe Davidson's balloons. But it's been a month since the miserable shop owner of Clowning Around was killed, and everybody's moving on, including Lee Woodyard. Her chocolate shop, TenHuis Chocolade, is next door to Moe's shuttered tourist trap, and it's giving her delicious ideas to expand. But over whose dead body? Moe's widow, Emma, and her two stepchildren list the property for sale, but when Lee tours the building, she finds Emma unconscious. Now Lee wonders whether Moe's real killer is still at large and is taking care of unfinished business. Unfortunately, since the town is celebrating Clown Week, there are so many potential suspects in grease paint and floppy shoes it's not even funny. For Lee, protecting Emma, freeing an innocent man, and rolling out hundreds of her clown-themed chocolates is a pretty tall order. But so is staying alive long enough to find out which one of her neighbors is a killer in disguise. Includes Tasty Chocolate Trivia!"--
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On Order



Revenge is sweet for a killer on the loose--and it all started with the murder of Warner Pier's most hated clown....

Everyone who knew the bozo wanted him dead. Odd, then, that a complete stranger was accused of bursting Moe Davidson's balloons. But it's been a month since the miserable shop owner of Clowning Around was killed, and everybody's moving on, including Lee Woodyard. Her chocolate shop, TenHuis Chocolade, is next door to Moe's shuttered tourist trap, and it's giving her delicious ideas to expand. But over whose dead body?

Moe's widow, Emma, and her two stepchildren list the property for sale, but when Lee tours the building, she finds Emma unconscious. Now Lee wonders whether Moe's real killer is still at large and is taking care of unfinished business. Unfortunately, since the town is celebrating Clown Week, there are so many potential suspects in grease paint and floppy shoes it's not even funny.

For Lee, protecting Emma, freeing an innocent man, and rolling out hundreds of her clown-themed chocolates is a pretty tall order. But so is staying alive long enough to find out which one of her neighbors is a killer in disguise.

Includes Tasty Chocolate Trivia!

Author Notes

Eve K. Sandstrom is the real name for novelist JoAnna Carl. Eve was born in Oklahaoma; she spends her time living between Oklahoma and Michigan. Her popular Chocoholic Series is set in a West Michigan resort town.

(Bowker Author Biography)



ALSO BY JOANNA CARL OBSIDIAN ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Chapter 1 I don't usually answer the telephone at the Warner Pier police station. Warner Pier is a small town, true, and my aunt is married to the police chief, true, and somehow I wind up at the station now and then. But the PD has staff--the chief, four patrolmen, and a clerical assistant. The 9-1-1 calls go to a county system twenty-four hours a day, and after the office closes at five o'clock, ordinary business calls are caught by an answering machine after two rings. They don't need a volunteer to answer the phone in Warner Pier, Lake Michigan's most picturesque resort. But that day I was sitting around the station at five fifteen, the only person there, waiting for my aunt and uncle and my husband so we could all go out to dinner. I had plopped into a chair next to the empty desk usually occupied by the secretary. When the phone rang my mind was in three other places, and after just one ring I automatically picked it up. "TenHuis Chocolade," I said. I'd not only answered a phone I shouldn't have, I'd answered it the way I do for my job. The caller, a woman, gasped. "Oh! I was calling the Warner Pier Police Department." "And you reached it. I'm not the regular person who answers the phone, so I said the wrong thing. But I'll try to help you." "Oh. Well . . ." The caller had an odd, whispery voice. "I wanted to ask about a crime that happened about a month ago." "I can refer your question to the right person." "It was a violent death." Hmmm. Warner Pier doesn't have all that many killings. Or did she mean an accident? "Yes?" "The murder of Morris Davidson. The clown. A month ago. Do you remember it?" "Oh yes. It caused quite a stir around town." I looked at the caller ID on the secretary's phone. The little screen held a number with an area code I didn't recognize. "Where are you calling from? I'm surprised the Davidson killing got any attention outside of Warner County, since it was not too unusual." She didn't answer my question. "Not unusual? Why do you say that?" "It was the proverbial break-in with the burglar reacting violently when surprised by the homeowner." The caller gasped. "Is that what people think happened?" "After the confession, there wasn't much else to think." "Confession? Confession! You mean someone confessed to the murder?" "Yes. He's now in jail." "Oh." I could barely hear her. The woman's voice was more than surprised. It was amazed. Maybe beyond amazed. "Who is this?" I asked. She spoke but again didn't answer my question. "In jail! But that's awful!" "It's pretty standard procedure," I said. "If you confess to killing someone, you are sent to jail. Can you give me your name?" The only answer was a click as the woman hung up. I stared at the silent receiver. "Weird," I said. There was a knock at the door, and I looked up to see my husband, Joe, through its window. I let him in and immediately told him about the phone call. "Isn't that strange?" I asked. Joe shrugged. "You say there was no name on the caller ID?" "Right. There was a number, but no name. Is that suspicious?" "Not necessarily." Joe is a lawyer who has some experience as a defense attorney. Plus, he served as city attorney of our little town for a couple of years, and his office was in the same building with the police station. So he's drunk a lot of coffee with cops. "The call was probably made from a pay phone," he said. "There are still a few around." "But the woman sounded so amazed to learn a burglar had confessed to killing Moe Davidson." "We were all astonished, as I recall." "I admit I was." Joe grinned. "Lee, when the guy everybody loves to hate is murdered, every single person in town is a suspect. So finding out that Moe was taken out by someone who didn't even know him--well, Agatha Christie wouldn't have approved." He sat down in one of the visitors' chairs and picked up a magazine. "So I tend to agree with your caller." "What do you mean?" "Just that the whole situation was astonishing. Not satisfying." Joe looked into space for a moment before he spoke again. "Frankly, I don't think the guy--Hollis? Is that his name? I don't think he has good representation. If I were his attorney, that confession would never have been made, much less accepted as true." He gave a short laugh. "Although he'd probably still be right where he is now. In jail. And he may yet be sent for a decent mental examination." My uncle and aunt Hogan and Nettie Jones arrived then, and the four of us went out to dinner. I told Hogan about the odd phone call, but he simply shrugged. "Some curious person. But Davidson's death was surprising all around. His whole life was surprising." "Surprising how?" "First off, how could such an annoying guy be so funny?" When the caller had called Moe Davidson a clown, she hadn't been slamming his intelligence or personality. Moe had literally been a clown. He'd dressed up in a comic hobo outfit and marched in parades under the name Hobo Moe. He had done pantomime jokes. He'd pulled quarters out of kids' ears. He'd walked an invisible dog. He'd bragged that his makeup--including the row of painted teardrops near his left eye--was registered with a national listing of clowns and could not legally be copied by any other clown. Moe had even run a clown business, Clowning Around, which happened to be located in the shop next door to TenHuis Chocolade, where I'm business manager. Moe's store offered clown paraphernalia and collectibles--dolls, games, costumes, DVDs, figurines, notepaper, and a million other items. He provided a clown act for parties. Anything to do with clowns was available at his store. But Moe was equally well-known in Warner Pier for his nonclown activities. When he wasn't being funny, Moe was one of the most annoying cranks in town. At one time or another--when he wasn't wearing his clown outfit--all of us could cheerfully have killed him, or at least yelled at him. As far as I know, Moe Davidson never hit, stabbed, shot, drowned, or otherwise physically attacked anyone. But, by golly, he hurt a lot of people. Moe's weapon was his tongue. He could figure out where anyone's sensitive spot was, and he knew just what to say to make that sensitive spot hurt. He whacked my ego with a verbal crowbar every time he walked into TenHuis Chocolade, and he seemed to walk in there a lot more than I wanted him to. I have this problem talking. I mix up my words. The highfalutin name for it is "malapropism," named after a Mrs. Malaprop in an eighteenth-century play by Sheridan. She made Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for describing a fellow character as "headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." I once remarked that an unusually kind person had "lots of apathy." Personally, I don't find Mrs. Malaprop very funny. To me the condition is embarrassing, not humorous. I control this most of the time; it comes out mainly when I'm nervous. And I never once spoke to Moe Davidson without feeling nervous. He laughed whenever he saw me. That made me nervous, and I misspoke. Once he came into TenHuis Chocolade for a pound of truffles, and I recommended the "Asexual Spice--I mean, Asian Spice!" Another time, he approached me with a formal document he wanted to present to the Warner Pier City Council, and I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I make it a rule not to sign petit fours--I mean, petitions!" Moe would laugh at me and tell everybody in town what I'd said. He became the only person in Warner Pier I actively tried to avoid. And I couldn't avoid him, since he worked next door. When he wasn't too busy with civic affairs to open the store. When Joe was serving as city attorney, he couldn't avoid him either. Moe Davidson was that annoying citizen who got up at every civic meeting and opposed something. He also frequently telephoned Joe to gripe, and he wrote letters to the local newspaper. He even gave money to the causes he supported. At a public meeting, the most maddening thing about Moe was that he always started out by saying, "My family has been in business in Warner Pier since my great-great-grandfather came here in 1845." Joe said he always had an awful time not breaking in to comment, "So has my family, Moe, and none of us was ever very successful either." Because despite the Davidson family's long history in southwest Michigan, no one in the clan ever became very prominent. They were farmers who didn't own much land, operators of barbershops and dry cleaning establishments, managers and clerks for small retail businesses. None of them was in "the professions"--law, medicine, theology, engineering, and such. Joe could never understand why Moe thought an ordinary middle- and working-class background--even one covering one hundred seventy-five years--qualified him as an authority on civic affairs. A civics class would have been more impressive, and Moe didn't even have that in his background. Both Joe and I also found Moe lacking in common sense. His positions on the city's doings seemed to come out of left field, or sometimes right field. One time he'd be strongly pro-environment. When the next issue came up, he'd take the position that government was putting environmental issues in front of individual rights. No one could ever predict if he was going to be pro or con on any particular issue until they saw his name on the list of donors. But despite his fanatic and sometimes fantastic views on how to run the city, Moe never ran for office; he lived outside the city limits. He remained simply an interested local businessman and public-spirited citizen who always got up and spoke his piece. By doing this, he managed to infuriate everybody at one time or another. Moe might have been run out of town if it weren't for his clown act. At every community parade, carnival, or celebration, he painted on a smile and a row of tears, put on his Hobo Moe costume, and made all the children--and most of the adults--laugh. As long as he kept his mouth shut he was hilarious. Moe Davidson was a strange combination of qualities, so maybe it was poetic justice that he died strangely and that his death led to a strange phone call. I probably would have forgotten the whole thing--call, killing, and clown--if three things hadn't happened. First, Aunt Nettie and Hogan took their dream trip to the South Sea Islands. Second, a For Sale sign went up next door. Third, Joe was dragged into the case. Or maybe he jumped in willingly. Chapter 2 In midwinter in Michigan, we all dream of the South Seas. Snow usually starts here in November. In December it's fun--skiing, snowmobiling, skating, and Christmas. January . . . Well, by then the winter routine has set in, and we can live with it. February is a good time to catch up with your reading and to watch a bunch of DVDs; plus, I'm usually busy then because Warner Pier holds its annual winter tourism promotion that month, and I serve on the tourism committee. But when March starts, and the snow and cold seem to have no end, that's when most of us are ready for the funny farm--as long as that farm is located someplace warm. Joe and I usually take a vacation in December or January. I need to check in with my parents in Texas, and from there we go on down to the Gulf of Mexico or over to Phoenix or someplace else that is warm and sunny for a couple of weeks. Then we can face February or March, when Aunt Nettie and Hogan try to get away. It's best for TenHuis Chocolade if Aunt Nettie and I don't leave town at the same time. This winter Aunt Nettie and Hogan had decided to splurge on Samoa and Tahiti--and they were going in late February. They were even booked for a week on a sailing ship, completely out of touch with civilization. No phones. Limited e-mail. Hogan found a retired sheriff's deputy to stand in as police chief, and they began to pack lightweight clothes in flowery patterns. As usual, TenHuis Chocolade and I were both up to our ears in the annual winter promotion of the Chamber of Commerce tourism committee. This year the theme was Clown Week, so our shop was full of foil-wrapped molded clowns and molded clown hats in one-inch, two-inch, and four-inch sizes. Not only was I heavily involved, but my best friend Lindy and her whole family had also been sucked in. Lindy and I have been friends for half our lives, and we're an example of how small-town lives can become entangled. Lindy and I worked together at TenHuis Chocolade when we were both sixteen. At eighteen she married Tony Herrera, who just happened to have a close friend named Joe Woodyard. Twelve years later I married Joe Woodyard. (It gets even more complicated.) Lindy and Tony have three kids. Tony's dad, Mike Herrera, is a successful restaurant owner, and Lindy is catering manager for her father-in-law. Mike was elected mayor of Warner Pier, and in the middle of his third term he married my mother-in-law, Mercy Woodyard. Anybody who can understand all this without drawing a diagram is a genius. And it largely came about because Joe and Tony both went out for high school wrestling. So I wondered what was going to happen when Lindy told me her son, Tony Junior, now in ninth grade, had signed up for the wrestling team at Warner Pier High School. "I'm almost surprised," I said. "His dad will be a hard act to follow, after competing on the team that won State . . ." "Oh sure. Haven't you and I heard about that glorious event a million times?" "At least half a million, anyway." I laughed. "Is Tony Senior excited about Tony Junior--" "Puh-leeze! There is no more 'Tony Junior.'" "What's happened to him?" "Now that he's a high school athlete, he's known as T.J." "Hmmm. It's a good enough nickname, but how is Tony Senior taking it?" "About like you'd expect. He doesn't say much, but he doesn't know whether he should be angry or hurt. Anyway, he accidentally pushed Ton--I mean T.J.--toward wrestling because they're having a long-term hassle." "What about?" "Wrestling! Professional wrestling." "I'm under the impression that all amateur wrestlers hate the pros." "You're pretty close to right. Tony--Tony Senior--froths at the mouth when he catches T.J. watching those shows. Uses words like 'stupid' and 'phony.' It's caused some homemade matches I haven't enjoyed. The kind that include yelling and pouting." "Doesn't Tony see that if he'd drop it, T.J. would probably lose interest?" "Heavens! I wish one of them would lose interest. They're driving me nuts. That's why I talked both of them into working on Clown Week. But not together." "What are they going to do?" "Tony has agreed to supervise the skating rink." "Oh good! Joe says he was always the best skater in their gang, growing up. And he's big enough to keep any rambunctious skaters in line." Lindy nodded. "And T.J. is going to work on the sledding hill." "Learning to handle the public, huh? His grandfather will have him working as a waiter PDQ." "Oh, Marcia's already going to work at the Sidewalk Café during Clown Week." Marcia was Lindy's older daughter, now sixteen. I laughed. "Send her around if she wants some hints on how to get good tips. Waiting tables saved my bacon several times before I landed in the chocolate business." *   *   * Between Clown Week and Aunt Nettie and Hogan's trip, I nearly forgot that odd phone call to the police station. A few days after it came, Joe and I drove Hogan and Aunt Nettie to the Grand Rapids airport and enviously waved as they lugged their carry-ons down to the departure gate. When they reached Sydney they e-mailed to let us know they arrived safely and were about to set sail. Their first day at sea was the day Moe Davidson's store went on the market. As business manager of TenHuis Chocolade, I had long lusted after the building next door. Moe Davidson had owned that building, but I didn't know who inherited it. He was survived by a wife, Emma, and he had two grown children from a previous marriage. The Warner Pier gossip mill reported that Moe and the kids had hardly spoken for years. Both son and daughter were in their early thirties. I hadn't ever seen Moe's daughter, but I had heard that her name was Lorraine. I had met the son, Chuck, briefly, when he visited the shop. Emma and Moe had been married about two years, and she had occasionally worked in the Clowning Around shop, but nobody in Warner Pier knew her well. The Davidsons hadn't spent the past two winters in Warner Pier; lots of tourist-oriented businesses close up in the off-season. Emma and Moe had gone to her home in Indiana. In addition, Emma hadn't taken much part in local affairs when she was there. I'd never met her, and I'd heard she didn't have much to say for herself. In September Moe had closed the store for the winter, though he had originally planned to reopen for Clown Week. None of us knew if that would work out now. The apartment over the store, a common facility in downtown Warner Pier, had been vacant for a couple of years. Even though I didn't know just who now owned the building next door, I knew I wanted to buy it from them. So the new For Sale sign got my attention fast. Nearly forty years earlier Aunt Nettie and her first husband, Phil TenHuis--my mother's brother--had spent a year in the Netherlands learning to make luxury, European-style chocolates. They then rented a shop in their hometown and opened a business catering to the tourists who visited one of Lake Michigan's prime resorts, Warner Pier. Due to Aunt Nettie's and Uncle Phil's hard work and expertise, plus the good business climate of Warner Pier, TenHuis Chocolade had prospered. As time went by they had bought the original building, the shop had expanded to fill its whole downstairs, and they had remodeled several times. Five years earlier Uncle Phil had been killed in a traffic accident. By then I was a five-foot-eleven blond divorcee with an accounting degree, so I moved up from Texas and joined TenHuis as business manager. I met Joe, got married, and settled into the community. I was proud of being part of TenHuis Chocolade and proud because we had tripled the mail-order side of the business. Today the business depends on mail order as much as on tourism. This keeps us busy year-round, unlike the Warner Pier merchants who depend solely on summer visitors. I thought TenHuis had lots of potential for even more expansion, and to expand we needed more space. I needed a larger office staff, but we had no place to put desks or people. We needed at least one sales rep out there calling on corporations and convention planners. We needed a larger shipping department. We needed a catalog and direct-mail department, a catering specialist, a larger workroom for producing truffles and bonbons, and a dozen other things that we couldn't have because we had no place to house them. So I'd had my eye on the store next door as an investment for TenHuis Chocolade ever since I came to work for Aunt Nettie. It would double our available space while keeping TenHuis in its prime location, in the heart of Warner Pier's picturesque business district. We could expand without the inconvenience of changing our address. However, I had always thought of the building as a purchase for TenHuis as a company. But the company couldn't buy a pricy piece of property--and I'm happy to say that downtown Warner Pier property is expensive--without Aunt Nettie's approval. She is president of the company. But if the building went on sale while Aunt Nettie was out of the country, and I had to move quickly to get it--well, I might have to buy it on my own. The thought was terrifying. I'd have to talk to Joe, of course, since he'd be linked to me as a purchaser. I'd also have to consult my banker. But a sale was probably doable. I fought down a panic attack, took two deep breaths, and called the Realtor. That the sign even went up showed how out of touch Moe Davidson's kids--or wife, or whoever was handling his estate--were. Warner Pier is small enough to rely on word of mouth. If a piece of property in the business district goes on the market, the rest of the business community gets advance warning in the post office line or the drugstore or the coffee shop. Rarely do we find out something's for sale by seeing a sign. At least the name of the real estate firm was familiar. I'd served on a Chamber of Commerce committee with the local agent, Tilda VanAust. I saw the sign at ten thirty and was on the phone with Tilda by ten thirty-five. "How did the Davidsons get the store on the market so fast?" I asked. "Actually," Tilda said, "Moe had signed the property over to Emma for tax reasons, so it didn't have to go through probate. Emma's signing it back to Chuck and Lorraine. She's here to help them close the building out, but she won't share in the proceeds." "Interesting. How much are they asking?" I held my breath. The asking price she mentioned was, of course, way too high, but I told her I'd definitely like to view the property. I tried to sound cool. "Of course, Tilda, you know that business was not so hot this year in Warner Pier. But my aunt and I would like to consider expansion at some future date. So we might look at it as an investment." "Lee, you know that this property is in a prime location. There's been a lot of interest in it already. I'm expecting an offer this week." Sure. As if I believed that, since nobody had known it was going on the market. But now that it was officially for sale, I expected Tilda would be getting some calls. I definitely wanted to be first in line, but I didn't want to act so eager that Tilda saw me as a sucker. Tilda said she had some time that very day, so we agreed to tour the building at three o'clock. As soon as I hung up I tried to figure out what time it was for Aunt Nettie and Hogan. Actually, I decided, it didn't matter. The best way to reach them was by e-mail. Hogan had said he'd check that whenever he had access to it. I fired off an electronic message. Then I sat back and faced facts. I was on my own. It was unlikely that I'd be able to reach Aunt Nettie to get her approval in the next few days. If I wanted advice, I had a perfectly good husband who had a law degree and also knew a lot about construction. Joe would be glad to advise me. Besides, if I had to act on my own, any buying I did would involve him legally, so he'd have to go along with it anyway. Joe works three days a week for an agency similar to the Legal Aid Society. It's located in Holland, thirty miles away, and specializes in poverty law. I picked up the phone and called his office. "Sorry, Lee," the administrative assistant said. "He had to go see a judge down in Warner County." "In our county? But nearly all his cases are in Holland." "I know. He was surprised by the call. But he went. You could call his cell." "I don't want to do that. Either he'd have it turned off or I'd interrupt something he doesn't want interrupted. I'll send him a text. But if you hear from him, ask him to call me." I hung up and began to chew my nails and consider the possibilities. I might not be able to talk the Davidson family down to a figure I thought was fair, and I'd have to give the whole project up. But even if we did reach an agreement, Aunt Nettie might not think it was a good idea. Or if I couldn't reach Aunt Nettie, I could decide to buy it on my own, only to find that Aunt Nettie didn't want it. Joe and I would wind up owning a downtown building we didn't really want. Then we could either resell it or rent it out. It might be a good financial investment. Or we could fail to find a buyer or a leaser and lose a lot of money we couldn't afford to lose. Looking at the purchase from several angles, it could be either a real winner or a serious loser. I bit another nail. When the time came to meet Tilda, I asked one of the ladies who make the chocolate to watch the counter. I also told her where I'd be and asked her to pass that news on to Joe if he showed up. Then I took a deep breath, put on my jacket, and headed next door. The entrance to Clowning Around was ajar, so I walked right in, then came to a complete stop. All I could see were clowns. Clown dolls, clown masks, clown puppets, clown pictures, clown books. They hung from the ceiling and were stacked in shelves along both side walls. They were piled on tables in the middle of the room. There were white-faced clowns, hobo clowns, even a mannequin of a dog wearing a clown costume. There were girl clowns and boy clowns. Harlequins and Pierrots. And the centerpiece was a large portrait of Moe himself, wearing his Hobo Moe outfit. Crazy colors and wild shapes were everywhere. The bizarre decor of the shop made the first sound I heard fit right in. It was a loud, piercing whine. The noise sounded like a siren, but I quickly realized it was a human voice of the high-pitched and annoying sort. "Honestly! The mess! This place is nowhere near ready to show to potential buyers. That agent must be crazy." A deep and melodious male voice replied, "Cleaning is our responsibility, Lorraine. It's not up to the Realtor. And I'm not getting rid of anything until we get through this Clown Week promotion and see if we can't sell most of the stock." "Nobody would buy those idiotic clowns! God! I've gotten to the point where I hate these things. They're just reminders of what a jerk we had for a dad. And nobody will be interested in the building in the shape it's in. It needs to be staged." "Staged?" The deep voice chuckled. "You've been watching too much HGTV." "You haven't been watching enough, Chuck. Things have to look attractive if they're going to sell." I'd apparently interrupted a family quarrel. I quickly slammed the door behind me, just to make a noise, then called out, "Hello! Anybody here?" I heard a gasp from the back room, and the face of a blond woman appeared between two clown masks. The light was so lousy I couldn't see her clearly, but when she spoke the voice was the one I'd heard earlier. "Hi, there! Are you Mrs. Woodyard?" "Yes, I'm Lee Woodyard, your next-door neighbor. I was supposed to meet Tilda VanAust." "She got held up, so she sent us to open up. I'm Lorraine Davidson." The woman edged out of a curtained door that obviously led to the back room. She hit a switch and light flooded over her. The effect was that one of the clowns had come to life. Lorraine was one of those women who apparently believe that if a little makeup enhances her appearance, then a lot will make her a raving beauty. She wore heavy blue eye shadow, and blush was slathered on in exactly the wrong part of her cheeks. Her eyebrows looked as if they'd been painted on with a Magic Marker. Her hair had been bleached until it would have tempted any healthy horse to have a bite, and she wore it in a fluffy, "big hair" style. In other words, her appearance matched her voice. Loud, brassy, and unpleasant. I blinked. Then I saw a man behind her and realized it must be the guy with the voice as melodious as Lorraine's was raucous. "Hi," he said. "I'm Chuck Davidson." Chuck matched his voice, too. He was tall, nice-looking, and neatly dressed, with dark hair and even features. He came forward and we shook hands. He had a pleasant smile. "And this," Chuck said, "is our stepmother, Emma." For a moment I couldn't figure out who he was talking about. There was no other person present. Then there was movement among the clowns, and a small woman came from behind the counter. Mrs. Davidson couldn't have offered a greater contrast to her stepdaughter. Lorraine was tall. Emma Davidson was short. Lorraine was thin, almost skinny. Mrs. Davidson was plump. Lorraine had long, bleached hair. Her stepmom's hair was a mousy brown and was short and straight. Mrs. Davidson didn't speak, but simply nodded. I hadn't come to talk to these people. I hope I greeted them pleasantly, but I was there to look around. So we looked. I told the three of them that I wanted to get an idea of the building and to visualize the changes that would be required if we expanded into that space. I led the way, looking at the shelving, then going into the back to judge the amount of room. I had brought a flashlight, and I investigated the basement, making sure there were no damp spots and taking a look at the furnace. Chuck accompanied me. I addressed questions to him, but he was vague about details such as utility bills and taxes. I'd have to get those figures from Tilda. I wasn't paying him much mind, actually, until he caught my attention with a strange remark. "Of course, I know that cost is no object to you, Lee." I turned to look at him, and I'm sure my amazement showed. But I tried to turn my reply into a joke. "Chuck! I'm an accountant! I assure you that even if my last name were Rockefeller, cost would matter to me." He smiled. "I know you and your husband are major benefactors of Warner Pier." For a moment I felt more amazed than ever. Then I got it. "Oh. Someone has told you that Joe donated the Warner Point Conference Center to the city." "It was a terrific gift." "Joe inherited that property unexpectedly, and he didn't want to own it. In fact, because of the taxes and upkeep he couldn't afford to own it. He says he gained financially by giving it away. And he donated it with the understanding that his name would never appear publicly in connection with the center." "I'm sorry! I didn't know the background." "That's quite all right. There's no secret about any of this. But I assure you that Joe and I personally are like most people. We live paycheck to paycheck. As for the possible purchase of this building, that would be a business decision for TenHuis Chocolade. I certainly have no interest in becoming a downtown landowner myself." I had to admire Chuck. Although I had tried to speak pleasantly, I had definitely told him where to get off. A lot of people would have been crushed by my little speech. Chuck didn't turn a hair. "I'm sorry I misunderstood the situation. I guess I'm used to my dad." "Your dad?" "Oh yes. I'm sure you know he was always giving money for community projects. But he would want full credit and a picture in the newspaper." I'd observed that particular trait in Moe myself. But I decided I'd better not comment. "I guess I'm ready to look around upstairs," I said. "Is the stairway near the rear entrance?" Chuck followed me to the back. I had stopped for a look at the staff bathroom when I heard the front door open. Good, I thought, it's Tilda. Now we can get down to cases. Instead, I heard Lorraine's raucous croak. "Of all the nerve!" The voice that replied to her was deep and familiar. "I beg your pardon?" "You've got gall, coming here to harass us!" "I'm sorry--I was told I would find my wife here." It was Joe, and for some reason Lorraine Davidson was angry with him. I headed for the front of the store. Chuck called out. "Lorraine! Calm down." Excerpted from The Chocolate Clown Corpse: A Chocoholic Mystery by JoAnna Carl All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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