(written as Olivia Matthews)
A St. Martin’s Press release
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Coconut Drop Dead: A Spice Isle Bakery Mystery, Book 3
The case is going to be a tough nut to crack.
Brooklyn’s annual Caribbean American Heritage Festival is finally here, and Spice Isle Bakery is thrilled to be one of the event’s food vendors. After all, the Murrays have been attending the festival for years. Co-owner Lyndsay Murray hopes their West Indian pastries and finger foods draw people back to the bakery in Little Caribbean. She’s looking forward to having fun, connecting with customers, and celebrating with her family.
The day’s festivities are cut short when Camille, lead singer of an up-and-coming reggae band, dies. The police think it may be a tragic accident. But Lyndsay’s cousin Manny was close to Camille, and he believes someone cut her life short. Now Manny needs Lyndsay’s help to make sure a killer faces the music.
Coconut Drop Dead: Excerpt
“Will we see you and Benny at the festival, Tanya?” My maternal grandmother, Genevieve Bain, sat at her dark wood folding table in Spice Isle Bakery, our family-owned business, early Friday morning. Her table stood between our customer service counter and the kitchen door, the busiest spot in the shop.
Her Grenadian heritage was in the cadence of the question she’d called across the waiting area to her longtime friend Tanya Nevis and Tanya’s beau, Benny Parsons. The retirees were always impeccably dressed. And came to our bakery in the Little Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, at least once a day.
Tanya’s dark brown eyes stretched wide. Her coral lips parted. “But Genevieve, how many years have you known me? You know I never miss a festival.” Her Grenadian accent threaded her words. Her tone was warm with pride.
It was the day before the Caribbean American Heritage Festival. The annual celebration took place in Prospect Park the last Saturday in June, Caribbean American Heritage Month. The park came alive with sights, sounds, and scents reminiscent of the islands. It was a wonderful tribute to our West Indian culture and traditions.
Thinking about this year’s event made my breath catch with excitement—and nerves. For the first time, my family and I would be more than attendees. We would be event vendors, selling our pastries and finger foods. It would be the realization of another of my childhood dreams. I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for tomorrow. But today, I had guests to serve.
The scents of confectioners’ sugar, baked fruits, warm butter, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon floated out via the pass-through window between the customer counter where I stood and the kitchen where my parents were cooking. “Midnight Magic,” one of the songs on the benefit CD by DragonFlyZ, a local, up-and-coming reggae/calypso/soca/ska band, spun from our speaker system. Several of our guests swung their hips and rolled their shoulders to the music’s irresistible rhythms as they waited in line. A few lent their vocals to the chorus, making up with enthusiasm what they lacked in talent.
Benny looked at Tanya as though she were the only one in the bakery. His deep voice rumbled with his Trini accent. “I haven’t missed a festival, either. And I’m looking forward to enjoying this one with you.”
What a romantic. The petite woman’s round brown cheeks darkened with a blush as she gazed up at him.
Beside me, my older brother, Devon Murray, smiled. He swayed to the music as he tallied Tanya and Benny’s breakfast order of fish bakes and mauby tea. Dev and I were dressed in sea blue Spice Isle Bakery T-shirts and baggy shorts. His black chef’s hat covered tight dark brown curls. Tall with a runner’s lean build, my brother looked a lot like our father, Jacob. He had the same spare, warm sienna features; and kind, curious dark brown eyes.
I favored our family matriarch. Looking at my grandmother was like seeing myself fifty-plus years into the future—if I was lucky. We were both petite, full-figured women. We had bow-shaped lips and wide dark brown eyes in heart-shaped sienna faces. My grandmother’s long silver hair was wrapped into a tidy bun on the crown of her head. I’d tucked my long ebony braids inside my black chef’s hat.
“All you holding up the line. Strups.” Grace Parke’s testy remark drained a bit of the joy from the room. Dressed in a pink top and ginger skirt with matching sandals, her tall, full figure was stiff with condemnation. I was certain the seventy-something-year-old woke up in a bad mood.
I added a few more wattages to my smile, hoping to take away at least some of the sting from Grace’s comment. “Thank you so much for coming in today, Ms. Nevis, Mr. Parsons.” I passed Benny the tray with their order. Having grown up in the United States, neither my brother nor I had a Grenadian accent.
Dev returned Benny’s credit card with a receipt for his purchase. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, you will.” Benny stepped back so Tanya could proceed him.
His words lifted my feet from the floor. My family and I were on a mission to encourage our customers to come to the festival tomorrow with their friends—and stop by our food truck. The event was an investment in our business. We needed to do better than break even.
Grace stepped up to the counter, pinning me with irritated dark eyes. Her annoyance sharpened her Jamaican accent. “I’ve said it before, all you shouldn’t be at the festival. You should be here. Instead you’re closing the shop and abandoning us. Is that how you repay customer loyalty? That doesn’t make good business sense.”
Beside me, Dev stilled. I sensed his temper stir at the hint of criticism directed toward me. I hurried to respond to Grace before Dev said something I’d regret later. “Ms. Parke, you should come to the festival. It’ll be fun.”
“Listen to my granddaughter, Grace.” Granny lowered the lavender-and-white afghan square she was crocheting. Her voice was tight with anger. “You need to get out more. And it’s free.”
Granny’s afghan was for one of the many Christmas gifts she was making for family and friends. Yes, my grandmother was making Christmas presents in June. Between extended family, godchildren, and friends, she had an extensive list, and someone’s feelings would be hurt if they didn’t get one of her handmade treasures.
Grace kissed her teeth. “I don’t like crowds, you know. Or standing in the heat.”
“My friends and I go to the festival every year.” D’André Greyson—aka the Knicks Fan—volunteered the information. He was two customers behind Grace in the line. Dev and I had finally learned his name from the credit card he used for his orders. “The parade, music, entertainment, and food make us feel like we’re in the Caribbean.”
“I know, right?” the Bubble-Gum-Chewing College Student, Carole Manor, called from the end of the line. “My friends and I always get there in time for the parade and stay until dark.”
D’André flashed a grin. “We’ll look for the mobile Spice Isle Bakery tomorrow.”
Dev’s tension seemed to ease. “Thank you.”
Grace harrumphed. “You’re making a mistake. Now, will you please take my order? I’d like a coconut bread and a mug of mauby tea. And, since you won’t be open for business tomorrow, I’ll take a loaf of hard dough bread today.”
“Eh, eh.” Granny cut her a look. “We’ll be back Sunday, you know.”
Grace gave Dev her credit card. Her voice was cool. “But I may not.”
I added a couple of currant rolls to her bag. Witnessing my actions, Granny rolled her eyes. Grace’s brow eased. Her lips softened. Her nod acknowledged the peace offering. She accepted her credit card and receipt from Dev before sweeping out of the bakery with her head high.
Granny returned to her crocheting. “How much d’you want to bet she comes to the festival tomorrow?”
“Despite everything she just said?” Dev gestured toward the space where Grace had stood. “What makes you think that?”
“Because Lynds gave her extra currant rolls.” Granny glanced at me before returning her attention to her crocheting. “Despite what Grace said, our Lynds has exceptional business sense. She knows how to sweet-talk sour people.”
Murmurs of agreement and good-natured chuckles rolled across the room. Embarrassment knotted my stomach muscles. Dev gave me a one-armed hug.
I raised my hands. “If Ms. Parke does come to the festival, will she allow herself to have a good time or will she be in a bad mood all day?”
Tanya spoke from her seat beside Benny. “How could anyone be in a bad mood during the festival?”
Granny shrugged. “There’s always at least one bad apple in the bunch, you know. One who wants to ruin the event for everyone else.”
“We can’t let anyone or anything dampen the event for us.” I already imagined my family in our food truck with a line of customers waiting eagerly to place their orders. “It’s our first festival as vendors, Granny. We need to make it a day to remember.”