According to my career plan, I should be in Dallas, lead paralegal for a young, smart lawyer—did I mention he’s charming and attractive? Well, I never went there because he was happily married. My Gram raised me with standards. But I had my own condo, a Lexus I bought myself for Christmas, a 401 K, and a killer social life. Literally, it might have killed me but I was the happy party girl, always ready for a good time, always with an eye out for a good-looking new man.
So now here I am running Gram’s café in the small, one-stoplight town I grew up in. It all started the morning my ditsy twin sister called to announce bluntly, “Gram’s dead.” I went from denial to overwhelming grief, hurried back to Wheeler, and discovered that Gram didn’t keel over in the mashed potatoes, like Donna said. It was much worse, and something about it was wrong—something that had to do with turnip greens that were, as Gram said, “off”. Then, with Gram speaking for or through me, I announced I was staying to run the café and live in Gram’s house next door. Every time I considered moving back to Dallas, Gram made it clear my job in Wheeler wasn’t done. She never answered my questions, and I seem to be the only one who heard Gram’s voice from the great beyond.
These days I’m in the kitchen kneading dough for sticky buns at six-thirty in the morning, and I’m here at nine at night counting the days’ receipts. I spend my days ordering supplies and checking the deliveries, supervising staff, planning menus and trying out some dishes—unlike Gram, I will not buy chicken and tuna salads from Sam’s Club. And I meet weekly with that weird duck of an accountant Gram hired to keep the books—Gram, who always said you should do it yourself! In between all those chores, I’m trying to start a garden, so I can serve fresh scallions and lettuce on salads and so I can have herbs for cooking. And reading? No time for all those books I loaded on my Kindle. Wynona the cat is lucky to get fed before I fall into bed exhausted.
Oh, there are a couple of single men in town—Dave Millican who runs the nursery across the highway, has come over and planted herbs for me, stayed for a beer, and seems inclined toward romance if I’d let him be, but I’m not there; besides, everyone keeps warning me that he’s trouble, there’s something mysterious in his background—with the clear implication that it’s not good. And Rick Samuels, the new police chief, come straight from Dallas with no understanding of small-town life nor liking for it, is a stiff, by-the-book kind. A couple of times he’s let me see his softer side, but not enough to convince me it would come out very often.
That’s where I am—single, alone except for Donna who is no help at all and is focused on getting enough money to open a B&B while she ignores her husband and children; working my butt off at the café, while worrying about how Gram really died; fighting off the lady mayor who wants to force me into bankruptcy and buy the café at a fire sale price. Who knows why? Am I miserable? Quite the contrary. I like my new life, at least for a while and feel no desire to return to my old ways in Dallas. But won’t this get old? I hope not before I figure out what’s rotten in Wheeler, because something definitely is.
“Yes, sir, we hand batter our chicken-friend steaks. They’re not frozen. Would you like mashed potatoes, French fries, or a baked potato with that? No, sir, we don’t serve turnip greens.” Not since my Gram died after tasting some she said were off.
You can read more about Kate in MURDER AT THE BLUE PLATE CAFÉ, the first book in the “Blue Plate Café” mystery series.
Meet the author
Judy Alter, author of Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, moves now from inner-city Fort Worth to a small-town café in East Texas with Kate Chambers’ story. The Blue Plate Café series is based on a café named The Shed, in Edom, Texas, where Judy and her family enjoyed many happy meals with friends who had a ranch nearby. “I’ve never forgotten The Shed,” she says, “and now I get to go back there for a signing. I’m excited.” Murder At The Blue Plate Café will be followed by a second Blue Plate mystery in 2014, and meanwhile, more Kelly O’Connell Mysteries are headed your way.
Kelly O’Connell Mysteries now available are Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. Due out in July 2013 is Dogs, Drugs, and Death.
Retired after nearly thirty years at a small academic press, twenty of them as director, Judy Alter lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her bordoodle, Sophie, and keeps her first-grade grandson every afternoon after school. She says writing a mystery is easier than doing his math homework. She is the mother of four grown children and has seven grandchildren.
Books are available at online booksellers.