Opera House Ops: The Morelville Cozies - Book 2 - Anne Hagan - ebook
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Murder and other sinister goings-on at a vacant 1800’s era opera house in Morelville and a modern day property developer that wants to raze the historic building for his own gain have the residents of the village all tied up in knots and Faye Crane trying to play savior to history.Faye Crane and Chloe Rossi are back in the latest Morelville cozy mystery. This time, sinister goings-on including the discovery of a dead body at a vacant late 1800’s era opera house in Morelville have the residents of the village all tied up in knots. When what first appears to be an accident turns out to be murder, the duo of meddling mothers quickly gets enmeshed in another round of crime solving. It doesn’t help that, everywhere they turn, a property hungry developer with more money than sense, wants the land the building sits on and he’ll seemingly stop at nothing to get it.All the grandmother's want is to focus on the store and getting Hannah's Bakery up and running. They don't have time for crime. There are deliveries to take and cupcakes to bake but now they're worried. Is there really another killer in their midst? Is the same person responsible for all of the strange occurrences? What will it take to make the crimes stop, make a developer go away and to save the historical building for future generations?Originally released as a serial mystery in ten episodes, this latest cozy crime drama from the Morelville Cozies series goes great together with Book 1 of the series, The Passed Prop. To get all of the Crane and Rossi families back story, you should check out that book but this book can also be read as a stand-alone mystery.

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Opera House Ops

A Morelville Cozies Serial Mystery

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Anne Hagan

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To Mrs. Rotunno for words of praise that sparked a lifelong passion for writing

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PUBLISHED BY:

Jug Run Press, USA

Copyright © 2016

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https://annehaganauthor.com/

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All rights reserved:  No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Copyright Page

Chapter 1 – Church?

Chapter 2 – Developer Shmeleper’

Chapter 3 – Bake Break

Chapter 4 – Bum Busted

Chapter 5 – Missed

Chapter 6 – Men’s Club

Chapter 7 – The Pits

Chapter 8 – Unknown

Chapter 9 - ID

Chapter 10 – Gross Out

Chapter 11 – Helter-Swelter

Chapter 12 – Moola

Chapter 13 – Up on the Rooftop

Chapter 14 – So Over It

Chapter 15 – Gimme!

Chapter 16 - Historic

Chapter 17 – Funding

Chapter 18 – Growing Pains

Chapter 19 – Cooked Books?

Chapter 20 - Fire

Chapter 21 – Loss

Chapter 22 – Fishing

Chapter 23 – What’s Cooking?

Chapter 24 – Money, Money

Chapter 25 – Community

Chapter 26 – Quinn Steps In

Chapter 27 – Resort?

Chapter 28 – ME’s Report

Chapter 29 – Cole’s Concerns

Chapter 30 – What about Doris?

Chapter 31 – Pastor?

Chapter 32 – Manhunt

Chapter 33 – Quorum

Chapter 34 – Kara Time

Chapter 35 - Bombshell

Chapter 36 – Fainting Spell

Chapter 37 – Grilling Lauren

Chapter 38 – Guilty!

Chapter 39 – Wayward Son

Chapter 40 – Coming Together

Chapter 41 – The Truth

Chapter 42 - Certified

Hannah’s Cupcakes

About the Author

Check Anne Out on her blog, on Facebook or on Twitter:

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Chapter 1 – Church?

Friday June 5th

The Morelville General Store

“Good morning Faye,” Marco greeted his daughter’s mother-in-law.

“Good morning yourself. Just getting in from your walk, I see?”

“Yeah,” he nodded and tapped his chest. “The doc says I gotta’ take better care of the ticker. We weren’t busy so Chloe sent me off to get a lap of the village in.”

Faye smiled. “What did that take you; ten minutes?”

“More like twenty. I got to talking to a fellow once and I stopped again to have a closer look at that old church down the street here too.” He jerked a finger to his right, toward the back of the store.

“Church?” Faye’s expression was puzzled.

“I think it used to be a church; the all-white building with a kind of steepled looking false front and stained glass windows?”

“Oh, you mean the old opera house.”

“The what?” He looked surprised.

“Opera house. It’s one of the oldest buildings left in the village. Back in the early 1900’s when it was built, I’m sure it was the place to go on Friday and Saturday nights for all the oil men that settled in the area.”

“Opera?” Chloe asked, interrupting, as she came up front from the back of the shop. “I just can’t see that kind of thing around here then or now.”

“Think of it more like a music hall and you’ll get the picture,” Faye said.

Husband and wife both nodded but then Chloe asked, “What’s it used for now? I mean, I never see anyone in or out of there.”

“I don’t rightly know, to be honest. Thirty years or so ago it was owned by one of the heirs to one of the founding fathers of the village and it was still used from time to time for programs and such. I know about twenty years or more ago, when someone was threatening to tear it down, old Papa Brietland convinced the owner to let him take out a 25 year lease on it and he was using it for storage and keeping it maintained but, heavens, he’s been dead for thirteen-fourteen years now.”

“Well, someone’s been in there,” Marco said. “That’s why I was looking at it. The bottom portion of those windows open out and one of them was propped with a rock wedged between the window and sill an inch or too.”

“That’s odd. Why would anyone do that?” Chloe asked, searching Faye’s face.

Faye shrugged. “Did you look inside?”

Marco’s face turned slightly sheepish and he stammered, “Actually, yeah. The window will open out about a foot. I could get my head up under there and look in a little. Couldn’t see much though...stained glass doesn’t let in a whole lotta’ light. The side by the windows looks pretty empty; just some theater type chairs in rows but they’re all pushed together.”

“Brietland never took anything out of there, least not that I know about,” Faye said, “but I know he stored an antique truck in there for a while. That’s why instead of a normal front door, it has that slider and that concrete ramp leading up to it.”

Chloe shook her head as she clucked her tongue. “Such a shame that a building like that is being used as a garage.”

“Maybe not anymore,” Marco replied, “but I really couldn’t tell.” He turned back to Faye. “Do you think we should let Mel know someone may be messing with the place?”

“She’ll be by after work to lend us a hand with the final touches for Hannah’s grand opening tomorrow. I’ll run it by her then. Don’t you let me forget!” She wagged a finger at him.

Chloe looked at her husband. “Not to change the subject but I really would like to get back there with Hannah. She’s gotten to fretting about this and that. Do you have this up here?”

“Yeah, yeah. Go, Go!” he waved a hand toward the bakery taking shape in an unused area off the back of the store his wife had originally intended to use as a nail salon before she threw herself into the store, village life, decorating homes and the whole nine yards of things she’d gotten herself involved in since their semi-retirement.

###

“Hannah, everything looks amazing!” Mel looked around appreciatively as the younger woman beamed and her mother and mother-in-law stood by doing the same. “It doesn’t look like you’ve left anything for me to do.”

Hannah blushed and then tipped her head toward Chloe and Faye. “They’ve worked really hard setting up out here over the last few days while I worked on the kitchen and, of course, Mr. Rossi helped with too, when he didn’t have any customers up there.”

“Did someone who’s supposed to call me Marco just speak my name in vain?” Marco Rossi asked as he came through the now shared stockroom from the store side of the building. “All closed up for the night,” he directed at Chloe before turning back to the young baker.

“Sorry...Marco,” she said.

Grinning, he waved her off and asked instead, “Why don’t I smell anything baking?”

His wife swatted his shoulder lightly. “First things first. Dana’s got dinner ready for everyone, you too, and then the three of us,” she said as she pointed at herself, Faye and Hannah, “are coming back to bake into the night when it’s cooler and so everything’s fresh for the opening tomorrow.”

“I volunteer to be a taste tester,” Mel replied.

“I second that!” Marco said.

Chapter 2 – Developer Shmeleper’

7:35 PM, Friday, June 5th

Sheriff Mel Crane’s Home

Morelville, Ohio

Marco pushed his plate forward, picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth. “Dana, he said, you’re really coming along – no offense – that was really good.”

Dana smiled at him but shook her head. “None taken but, frankly, I can’t take all the credit. Our resident chef here,” she held a hand toward Hannah, “put some of it together this morning and left me detailed instructions for the rest.”

“Ah, but you did the work, and all while taking care of an infant,” he reminded her.

Hannah laughed at their exchange as she spoon fed mashed rice to her son Jef. “I learn stuff at school and then I come home and practice on these guys a lot and Dana helps. She’s more involved than she’s saying.”

Jef beat his little hand down on the highchair tray to get his mother’s attention and everyone chuckled. The five month old was already becoming a real eating machine.

Jesse Crane looked across the big dining table at his own daughter. Never a man to mince words, he asked Mel, “What’s up with you?”

“What? Nothing.” She half shrugged a shoulder in her dad’s direction.

“You’ve hardly said a word.”

“If that ain’t the pot calling the kettle,” Faye admonished him.

He ignored her as Mel finished chewing the bite she’d taken in the meantime and responded, “Now that the weather’s finally broke, it’s just really busy, is all. Seems like everybody’s trying to pull some kind of con right now. We’re being overrun with petty crimes.”

“That reminds me,” Faye interrupted her daughter, “Marco found a window propped open at the old opera house this morning. We thought you out to know.”

“Probably just kids messing around,” Mel said as she pushed her own plate away. She missed her nephew Cole’s furtive glance her way before he dropped his eyes and feigned more intense interest in his own plate than he already had shown.

“Mrs. Stroud called us earlier in the week about seeing a couple of boys trying to get into that old, wooden Baptist church that’s mostly all boarded up. I’ll check it out in the morning before I head to the station.”

“Thanks sweetie.”

Mel nodded to her mother. “No problem.” She looked hopefully back and forth between Dana and Hannah and then back to Dana. “Is there any dessert or do I have to haunt the bakery tonight while they all throw down in there?” Both of the other women laughed.

“Your dad,” Dana said, “brought homemade ice cream.”

“Really?” Mel shot Jesse a look and, when he nodded, she rubbed her hands together with glee.

“Cole and Beth helped me churn. Ain’t up to cranking that old thing the way I used to be.”

“One of you two,” Faye pointed at her grandchildren, “need to run a plate up to your mom at the station. She needs to eat too.”

“Aww, Grandma, and miss the ice cream?” Beth whined.

“It’ll be here when you get back.

“I’ll do it Cole volunteered. I don’t want any ice cream right now.”

“Now I can’t go and guarantee there’ll be any left ‘later’ if that’s what you’re thinking!”

“It’s okay Grandma.”

Jesse shook his head. “What’s gotten into you boy?”

Cole knew better than not to answer. “Nothing Papa. I’m just full, is all.”

Chloe stood up then from her seat next to Marco. “Why don’t you all go out to the front porch? We’ll get this cleaned up and then bring it out and visit a few more minutes, then there’s real work to be done.”

###

“Not to be nosy,” Marco asked Mel, “but do you know who actually owns that opera house building?”

She paused with her spoon in midair and looked thoughtful for several seconds. “I really think it’s held in a private trust; probably something set up by Breece Lampert, before he died years ago.”

“Lampert? That’s not a name I’ve heard around here before.”

She shook her head, “It wouldn’t be. The Lampert family is old money from out of state. Came here for the oil boom and built half the town but none of them are around anymore.”

“Passed stuff down for a coupla’ generations but sold most of what they owned right after the last Lampert, Breece III died and then they moved on,” Jesse offered.

“Your mother seems to think a guy named Brietland had a lease on it,” Marco said.

“She’s right. Papa Brietland, as he was known, was another of the original settlers of the village. He did have a lease on it while he was alive but I doubt it’s still in effect. He’s been gone a long time. There isn’t anything any of the remaining Brietlands would want it for.”

“Seems a shame,” Marco shook his head.

“You want it for something?” Jesse asked him.

Marco shot him a look. “I’d think there’d be all sorts of uses for an old concert hall.”

“Naw,” Jesse said. “We turned that old school into a community center...got an auditorium in there.”

Chloe, Faye and Hannah filed out the door and onto the porch.

“What are you all getting up to out here?” Faye asked. “How’s the ice cream?”

“It’s good,” Mel said. “We were talking more about the opera house building, is all. Marco here wants to buy it.” Mel tossed her head his way and grinned.

“Oh no you don’t Marco Rossi!” his wife stood one hand on her hip while she waved the finger of the other hand at him.

“Now Chloe,” he backpedaled as he held up one hand while he clutched his bowl with the other, “she was just kidding.”

“Wouldn’t do you any good to try, anyway. If it’s for sale,” Jesse said. “I hear told that Kent Gross wants that property. He tends to get what he wants.” Jesse left it go at that but his expression showed his distaste for the man.

“Gross? What’s he want with that old building? That’s not his style at all.” Faye’s tone was indignant.

“I imagine,” her husband replied, “he’d tear it down. He keeps talking about putting a bed and breakfast or some such thing in town.”

“All he thinks about is development! He never stops to think that some of us like things here just the way they are. We don’t want to grow any bigger and, and...and, he can’t just tear a building like that down. It’s part of our history!”

Chloe put a calming hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I’ve really grown to like this little village over the last several months and I wouldn’t want to see that happen either. That building is historical. If it comes to that, I’m sure we can do something to make sure it’s preserved.” She drew in a breath. “Unfortunately, we have work to do for now and we best get to it.”

Faye nodded.

“Is Dana going over to help?” Mel asked the little knot of women still standing where they’d all stopped.

Hannah responded, “No. She’s giving Jef a bath for me and she’s going to put him down for the night.”

“If you don’t need my help, I think I’ll go and relieve her then.”

“No; you have to work early in the morning and that would be nice, give her a little break...you both have been so good to us.” Hannah gave Mel a small smile.

“He’s a good baby and no trouble at all. You just get yourself over there and bake some good stuff for your opening. I’m only pulling a half shift tomorrow. One of my Lieutenant’s is covering the rest. I’ll be by to buy up whatever’s left when I get off duty.”

Chapter 3 – Bake Break

10:47 PM, Friday, June 5th

Hannah’s Homemade

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“Whew! Thank goodness these are all done.” Faye slid the large loaf tray out of the convection oven and into a rack to cool. She mopped at her brow with the back of an arm. “I’ve never made so many loaves of, well anything, all at one time.”

“This is nothing,” Hannah said. “I mean, Dana and Mel bought me some really nice stuff to get started but you should see the set up at Adornetto’s. They have more ovens and racks and stuff than in my classroom at school!”

“Yes, but they have the restaurant, the bakery, they supply stores like mine...or they did supply mine, anyway. You know what I mean,” Chloe said.

Faye stood fanning herself, not really listening. “It’s so hot in here. I think I’m going to step outside for a minute if you two don’t mind; catch a breather.” She picked up her water tumbler and headed toward the rear exit.

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Faye stood in the shadows out away from the back door. A dim security light was on over it, its glow drawing in mosquitos and other summer insects. She didn’t want them getting any part of her.

As she breathed in the cool night air and sipped her water she was, at first, oblivious to anything else around her but then she heard the sound of gravel crunching under foot. She paused and stayed still and watched out toward the road that ran alongside the store and bakery building.

A man, walking slowly along the edge of the road, came into view. Seeing him clearly but only for a moment in the dim light from over the door that highlighted him briefly as he passed, she knew right away that she didn’t know him.

He was tall and thin and not at all dressed for the warmth of the early summer weather. Even though the air had cooled off with the fall of night, it was still over 60 degrees out; warm enough for most to go without any sort of a coat or even a long sleeved shirt but he wore a heavy wool suit jacket that had seen better days over a collared shirt. He also had on dark colored long pants and a ramshackle top hat that was only just perched on his head. His attire reminded her of what a professor or a doctor of old would have worn in a disheveled, dirty sort of way.

When he’d passed out of the light and continued on without even glancing her way, Faye craned her neck to try and make out his features again, this time from his profile but she still couldn’t place him. She stepped out of the shadows and walked toward the road, her eyes following him as he continued down the street.

He walked past the homes along behind the store that faced the road, past an alley that opened onto it and past a couple of more homes before he was almost out of her sight. She took steps to follow along but then thought better of it, not knowing if he might be dangerous to her or hear her and feel her to be a threat to him.

Almost gone from view, she’d nearly given up and turned back toward the bakery, when she caught a flash as he turned abruptly to the left, stepping off the road. She could just make him out as he made his way toward the side of the opera house and out of her view.

Now she was torn. Should she follow and see if it was he that was entering the structure or should she go back inside, call and rouse Mel from sleep to have her go and investigate.

In the end, she decided to leave it until morning. The vagrant wasn’t harming anyone and was probably only looking for a place to sleep sheltered from the winds and rains that could punctuate early June in Ohio. She made a mental note to herself to ring Mel up early about the man and remind her of her promise to check the building. It was better safe, than sorry.

Chapter 4 – Bum Busted

6:00 AM, Saturday Morning, June 6th

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“I didn’t wake you did I?”

“No mom, I’m up; almost ready to head out. What’s going on? Is everything okay? I’m surprised you’re up though...I mean, Hannah didn’t get in until after 2:00.”

“You always were a light sleeper. I didn’t wake the baby, did I?”

Mel let out a heavy breath. “No. Hannah came in and got him when she came home.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

“Mom! What is it? Tell me what’s going on.” She was getting impatient.

“Your father’s just heading out to the barn. He forgot something.”

“Who’s that?” Mel heard her father ask.

Without covering the phone, her mother lied to him, “It’s Mel. Hannah’s still asleep. She knew I’d be up; she was just calling to see how it went last night.”

The answer must have satisfied him because soon her mother said, “Sorry dear. He just left again.”

“You called me. Why did you lie to him?”

“Because I didn’t want him to worry.”

“About?”

“You said you were going to check the opera house this morning, remember?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well just be careful. I saw a strange man, a bum I guess you’d say, heading that way and then going toward the building while I was outside taking a little break last night. Don’t worry though, I don’t think he saw me.”

“Did you follow him?” Mel’s tone was accusing.

“No dear; I didn’t.”

Her mother’s answer didn’t placate her. “You let me handle it from here. Don’t you and Chloe go nosing around like you always do. One of these days that could get you two into a scrape I can’t get you out of.”

“I didn’t even tell Chloe. I didn’t want Hannah to hear and have anything else to worry about. The only one I’ve told is you.”

“Okay, good. I’ll take care of it.”

“Mel? Be careful. I just hate it when you’re in situations like this. I worry.”

“I know mom, but I’ll be fine. I’ll call for backup before I even go in if I think it’s warranted.”

Faye let out a breath like she’d been holding it. “That makes me feel a little better.”

Mel smiled, catching the implication. “I love you too, mom. I gotta get going.”

###

Mel drove past the opera house intentionally and pulled her pickup truck into the parking area of the old auto body shop next door. It was an empty building, sometimes used for storage, by Kent Gross, the developer that owned it. If the bum was in the opera house, she didn’t want to spook him and flush him out before she could catch him.

She approached the building carefully on foot. The right side was less than a yard from the left side of the old shop building. She could see down between the two buildings pretty easily, even in the dimness of the early morning. There was nothing and nobody there, just a gravel track separating the two structures where weeds poked through here and there.

As she passed along the front slowly, she looked at the big sliding door. It was fully closed. A heavy metal slide went from the door through a hole in a metal post attached to the building. A thick padlock, locked up tight, dangled from a hole at the end of the metal slide. The slide wasn’t going back through the hole in the post until the lock was removed.

Mel turned the corner and edged down along the left side of the building, checking the stained glass windows as she went. A palm sized rock lay on the ground under the second one; the one Marco had reported he’d seen propped open with a wedged rock. The window was closed but Mel was willing to bet it wasn’t locked from the inside. She picked the stone up and chucked it into the culvert nearby where she heard it splash into the thin stream of water that was always running through then she took her keys out of her pocket and, using a thin one, eased it under the edge of the old wood frame. It was loose and the window swung out enough for her to get her fingers under it. She eased it up carefully, stooped and peered inside.

The extra light the opening let in or seeing her looking in must have alerted whomever was holed up inside. She heard the scurry of feet back away from the concert hall area and her position but she couldn’t see anything in the murky interior.

Ducking back out quickly, she eased the window down, stood and then jogged in full gear to the back of the building where there was a single exit door.

Over the years someone had added a household screen door into the framing around the heavy wood back door, probably so they could get a little air circulation in the confined back area behind the stage. That door was closed and latched and it appeared the heavy door was too.

Mel jumped back to the corner so she could swivel her head and watch the door and the windows. They were the only ways out.

She didn’t have to wait long. Within moments, someone began fumbling from inside with the back door. She stepped completely around the corner to be hidden until the culprit emerged and waited.

There was a whoosh as the heavy wood door swung inward and then the metallic click of a thumb lock at the screen door catch was unlocked. She undid the snap catch holding her service pistol in the holster and eased the gun out. When she heard the screen door creak open slowly she raised the weapon, waited until she sensed someone had stepped out, then eased back around the corner.

“Police!”

A man of about 35 or so spun as if startled that someone might still be out there and then, seeing the gun trained on him, froze in place.

He was unarmed or he appeared to be. Mel extended her left arm and held her hand up. “Don’t move.” With her right hand she re-holstered her weapon quickly. 

“I won’t,” he said, his voice trembling.

“You got a name?”

“Moody; Douglas Moody.”

“Do you have an ID Mr. Moody?”

He shook his head.

“Any weapons on your person?”

“I...I have an old pocket knife in my right front pocket.” He had a bit of a southern accent.

“Any needles or anything else that might stick me when I pat you down?”

“No ma’am. Am I under arrest?”

“We’ll see about that. Turn around, face the building, put your hands on the wall over your head, and spread your feet.”

He did as she instructed and she patted him down, removing the knife he’d told her about and a small amount of change from his pockets. “You can take your arms down now and face me.” She studied his face as he turned.

“How long have you been holing up inside?” She tipped her chin toward the building.

“Only last night. It was getting late and...and I knew it would be the last village I came to for a while. I was going to try and find a barn or something like that to crash in but...” He paused.

“Go on. How’d you get inside?”

“The window...as I was passing, I could see it was propped open just a little. I could just make it out in the dark last night...thought it might be worth a look.”

“The window?” Mel’s eyes narrowed as she looked at him. Marco had said he’d made sure it was closed when he found it open.

Moody nodded.

“So you’re just passing through?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Leave anything inside?”

“No.”

“You’re traveling awful light.”

He didn’t respond.

“Where you headed?”

“Toledo.”

She was taken aback. “You’re quite a ways from Toledo.”

“I got a brother there. I lost my job, my apartment. He said he’d do what he could to help me but I had to get there. I was on a bus out of Parkersburg, fell asleep and my wallet got stolen with my ticket in it only I didn’t know it till I got off in McConelsville to have a smoke and couldn’t get back on. They changed drivers.”

“So you’re walking?”

He nodded. “For the last couple of days, yeah. I was just trying to get to Zanesville to a bigger bus station, see if I could talk them into reissuing my ticket...something...I dunno.”

Mel stepped over and opened the screen door, reached inside and set the lock on the wood door then pulled it closed and checked that it latched. She moved back over to Moody then and handed him back his knife and his change. “When’s the last time you ate?”

He shrugged. “I’m okay.”

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you to Zanesville. I’m headed into work that way anyway.”

“Um, uh thank you, officer...er, deputy. Er, what do I call you?”

“It’s Sheriff, but you can call me Mel. Now let’s go; I’m hungry, myself and I’ll bet you really are too.”

He followed along behind her and went around to the passenger side when she indicated her pickup. He almost forgot to take off his top hat when he attempted to enter, knocking it askew before he remembered it.

“What’s with the hat, anyway?”

“Found it...thought it was kind of cool.”

After buying him breakfast and a new bus ticket that would have him in Toledo by sundown and giving him a little meal money she hoped he didn’t spend on cigarettes, she left him at the terminal and went on to the station.

###

10:02 AM Saturday, June 6th

Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office

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“Yes mother, there was a man in there.”

“Did you arrest him?”

“No.”

“Oh...he didn’t break in?”

Mel sighed. “Yes but he didn’t hurt anything. He was just a guy down on his luck passing through. I helped him out and sent him on his way.”

“Good girl!” Faye was quiet after that.

Mel knew she really needed to get a little work done but she couldn’t help but ask, “How’s Hannah’s opening going?”

“Great. I’m actually at your house taking a turn with Jef so Dana could go up there. He’s asleep right now. When I left there about 15 minutes ago we were almost sold out of all the bread we baked last night and people are snatching up cupcakes like they’ve never had one before.”

“She does make those unbelievable red velvet ones and those carrot cake ones that’ll make you forget they have vegetables in them.”

“I’d hardly call them good for you, Melissa!”

“I know, I didn’t. I’m just saying they’re good. Now, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go if I want to get out of here at noon. Call Dana for me please and tell her to set aside a couple of each of those two, if I’m not too late.”

“Okay dear...and...”

“And what?”

“I’m thinking this isn’t over.”

“What isn’t?”

“People being in the opera house that shouldn’t be there. If he was just passing through...”

“I’m one step ahead of you. I told you before, I figure it’s kids. They’re getting in through a window and that’s how he did. Not a lot I can do to lock those up if they’ve found one with a broken lock. Those are old. I’m just going to have to catch them in the act and put a little fear in them.”

“Well do it soon. I’d hate for any of that beautiful stained glass to get broken down there or anything worse to happen.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to let anything bad happen there.”

Chapter 5 – Missed

Mel stopped at the opera house on her way home and parked conspicuously out in front of it. It was only 12:30. People were milling all about the village and Hannah’s little bakery appeared to be buzzing. She was sure word about her activities - that she was out and about, checking things out - would spread quickly in ‘Gossipville’, her secret nickname for Morelville. That’s what she wanted.

The first window, the one closest to the road, was closed and seemingly latched from inside. She couldn’t budge it by trying to pry at the frame at all.

She was prepared for the second window. When she opened it easily enough again, as she had in the morning, she got as far up inside of it as her broad shoulders and gun belt would let her to have a better look. There was a thumb latch and it moved but nothing happened with the spring loaded mechanism that was supposed to lock the window frame sides into the framing around the window opening.

After sliding down the wall and back out from under the bottom-opening window, she closed it as tight as she could and then took a roll of duct tape off her belt that she’d looped around her PR-24. She pulled off a long piece of the sticky tape and ran it all along the bottom edge of the window and along the sill. She repeated the action up both sides of the opening portion of the beautiful window. “Better to do a little paint damage to the frame,” she said aloud, “than to have the stained glass broken by fools.”

Satisfied with her work there, she moved along to check the other two windows and then she went around to the back of the building and pulled open the screen door to get a closer look at it. It was a standard model with only a thumb lock to secure it from inside. There was no outer lock. She tried the heavy wood door. It was still locked, as she’d left it that morning.

Wishing she’d have been able to take a quick look inside without the likes of Doug Moody in tow, she chided herself a bit but then closed the screen door, left and went down to the bakery.

###

“Hannah, these are delicious.”

The younger woman’s eyes sparkled. “These? But you’ve only tasted your red velvet one,” she teased.

“You know what I mean. I’m pacing myself but it’s a good thing I had mom call down here and have these two held back. I can see you’re almost out of all of your cupcakes.”

“Aren’t they just divine, Sheriff?” an older woman’s voice questioned her from one of the three tables that took up half the portion of the area of the little shop out in front of the display cases.

Mel turned to find old Lucy Sharpe, a lifelong resident of the village and the owner of an antique shop studying her, waiting for her response.

“Well hello Mrs. Sharpe,” she said to her. “That they are. You’re having the chocolate, I see. It’s my third favorite just barely edged out by the red velvet and the carrot cake.”

“Then you’re not a true chocolate fan, as I am. Red velvet has a cocoa base, you know.”

Mel’s head shot around and she eyed Hannah at the counter who laughed.

“It’s true, Mel. That’s how it starts.”

“I learn something new every day!” Hannah just grinned and began to help another customer.

Mel turned back to Lucy. “Who’s minding the shop while you’re down here eating treats?”

“My daughter’s in town. She took the store for me so I could go to the special meeting of our women’s group at the church this morning and, honestly, I was expecting Doris Procter to join me here. She must have got held up by one of the other ladies. We were talking about the community picnic, you know and,” she was about to ramble on but then something outside caught her eye and she changed course. “No wait, here she comes now.”

Doris, the long-time church secretary, breezed through the door and looked around. “Well isn’t this just quaint; just the cutest thing!”

Lucy caught her attention and patted the table across from her. “I saved you a seat. Good thing you got here when you did. Everything’s going fast!”

“I see that,” she said as she moved closer. Rather than sitting, she focused her attention on the display case closest to the cash register. “Give me two of the white chocolate, macadamia cookies to go for a little treat later,” she told Hannah once she’d finished with the customer before her, “and I’ll have one of those lemon with the cream cheese frosting cupcakes and a cup of coffee now,” she said as she pointed at the remaining cupcakes in the middle case. “Don’t you have any bread?”

“No ma’am, I apologize. It flew out of here today but they might have a loaf or two left up front in the store. Would you like me to check?”

“Oh, that would be just lovely! Thank you. White, if you’ve got it but whatever you have...except rye, if you don’t. I’m not picky.” She patted her stomach.

“One moment,” Hannah told her and then she scooted through the swinging door into the kitchen area and presumably through the store room to the store.

The door hadn’t stopped swinging behind her when Dana stepped through with a mixed tray of cookies and caught site of Mel. “Isn’t this crazy?” she asked. “I hope, for her sake, it slows down a little. She’ll go crazy trying to keep up between this place, school and Jef.”

Doris jumped in before Mel could reply. “It’s just new, is all. It’ll taper down a bit but, hopefully not much. There’s nothing like this anywhere close to here, after all.”

Dana started lining up cookies in the case. “This is the last of them,’ she told everyone in hearing distance. “When they’re gone they’re gone.” Focusing back on Mel and lowering her voice she continued, “Good thing she’ll be closed on Sunday’s; she can catch her breath.”

“I’m surprised you’re still down here,” Mel said. I figured mom would want to come back and be in the middle of all the action.”

“She’s pretty tired from last night’s marathon baking session and then getting up with your dad as usual this morning Mel. I’m sure she and Jef are having a nice nap.”

“And how’s Jef doing?” Doris interrupted, listening in.

“He’s great,” both women responded at once.

“A real trooper,” Mel said. “He’s adjusting to Hannah and all of us pretty well. She’s got him all settled into a schedule now and...”

Hannah returned then with a bagged loaf of her homemade white bread in hand. “Last one!” While she rang Procter up, the older woman focused her questions on her.

“We were just talking about that little boy you adopted. What are your plans to get him baptized?”

Hannah’s head shot up.

“You are planning on having him baptized aren’t you? I mean, he’s what; five months old now? It should have been done when he was a newborn.”

Mel intervened. “Unfortunately, when he was a newborn, that wasn’t Hannah’s decision to make but, now that he’s hers, I’m sure she’ll give that and more all the thought required.”

The secretary wasn’t placated. “Pastor Scott is wonderful, such a fine man and just so great with children. He’d be happy to do it anytime. We will be seeing you at services tomorrow?”

“That’ll be $7.93 altogether, ma’am, and no, not tomorrow. Jef’s grandparents will be picking him up this evening and keeping him tomorrow. I imagine he’ll go to services with them.”

Doris wrinkled her nose in distaste. “The Amish grandparents?”

Mel shot the older woman a look but Doris was so focused on Hannah, she didn’t see it.

Hannah, for her part, stood her ground. “Yes, the Amish ones. They’re his blood family.”

Movement caught Mel out of the corner of her eye. She turned to see Lucy Sharpe standing, unsteadily and she covered the two steps to her quickly to take her arm.

The situation diverted Doris Procter’s attention away from Hannah and toward her friend. “Are you all right dear?”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. At my age, I should know better than to sit so long, is all. It always makes me stiff.”

“Where are you going? I just got here and I’m sorry it took so long but...”

Lucy waved a hand to her. “It’s okay. No problem at all. I just really need to get back to the shop. I hadn’t realized the time.”

“Just give me a minute and I’ll help you out to your car, dear.” She turned back to Hannah, “I guess I’ll just take all of that to go.”

“You carry your stuff and I’ll assist Mrs. Sharpe; if that’s all right?” Mel offered, looking from Doris to Lucy.