Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Winter Trifle, Part 2 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 2 of my slightly ghostly mystery, Winter Trifle. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 2 starts now…
Winter Trifle
By Catherine Mesick
On Thursday, Hannah left school at one o’clock and went with her mother to Mrs. Mumford’s funeral. Hannah felt tears slipping down her face as she listened to Mrs. Mumford’s friends and neighbors paying tribute to her—Mrs. Mumford and her deceased husband had had no children, and no other family members appeared to be in attendance. As Hannah left the funeral, she thought she saw a girl staring at her from across the street. But when she met the girl’s gaze, the girl looked away and got into a nearby car.
Hannah had a fleeting thought that the girl looked familiar. Then she got in the car with her mother and forgot all about it.
On Friday, Mrs. Lynn did indeed leave for her trip, and Hannah went off to school as usual. Around lunch time, she received a text from her mother asking her if she would feel comfortable stopping by Mr. Schaal’s office after school. Mr. Schaal was an attorney and the executor of Mrs. Mumford’s estate.
“She left you something in her will,” Mrs. Lynn texted. “He said it’s something very small.”
Hannah texted back that she would go.
At the end of the school day, Hannah headed toward her car in the student parking lot. As she reached the car, someone stepped between her and the car door. It was the girl from the funeral.
“What do you know about this?” the girl demanded. She waved a newspaper clipping in front of Hannah’s face.
Hannah took a step back. “Who are you?”
“As if you didn’t know,” the girl said. “I’m Lisa McDonough.”
“Oh,” Hannah said.
“‘Oh’ is right,” Lisa replied. “And I know exactly who you are. You’re Hannah Lynn. You’re the one who stole my inheritance.”
“I haven’t stolen anything,” Hannah said.
“Then what do you call this?” Lisa waved the newspaper clipping once again.
“I don’t know what that is,” Hannah said shortly.
Lisa lowered the slip of paper, and Hannah glimpsed a headline: Local Woman Wins the Lottery.
Below the headline was a grainy photo of Mrs. Mumford.
“I don’t remember that.” Hannah frowned and reached for the clipping.
Lisa snatched it back.
“You can claim you’ve never heard of it because it was a multi-state lottery,” Lisa said. “And this state allows anonymity. But the state she’s from originally,” Lisa jabbed at the photo, “doesn’t allow it.”
“Okay, so why do you carry that around with you?”
“To show you that I know.”
“Know what?”
“Don’t play dumb,” Lisa said. “I know that my aunt won four million dollars, and I know you think you’re getting your hands on it.”
Hannah shook her head. “Mrs. Mumford didn’t have that kind of money. And if she did, she wouldn’t leave it to me.”
“She—won—the—lottery,” Lisa said slowly and distinctly. “I’m sure even you can wrap your head around that. And she told me that she disinherited me and my brother.”
“Did she tell you she left the money to me?”
“No. She didn’t. But she was always talking about how great you were and about how my brother and I should be more like you. I know you think you conned your way into that money.”
“That’s insane,” Hannah said.
“So you’re saying my aunt didn’t leave you anything?”
Hannah began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
“She left me something,” she said unwillingly.
“I don’t know yet. I was told it was something small.”
“Something small like a check?”
“Don’t be crazy,” Hannah said. “I can guarantee you it’s not a check. Now, please get out of my way. I’ve got some place to go.”
Lisa moved aside, and Hannah got into her car.
As soon as the door was shut, Lisa banged on the window. Hannah opened it just a crack.
“I want you to know you’re not getting that money,” Lisa said.
“Good to know,” Hannah said. She closed the window and drove off.
Hannah reached Mr. Schaal’s office in about fifteen minutes, and she was quickly ushered into the attorney’s presence. Mr. Schaal was a good-natured man with thick, white hair and even thicker black-rimmed glasses. Hannah knew him slightly, and he had been present at Mrs. Mumford’s funeral.
“Thank you for coming in today, Hannah,” Mr. Schaal said as Hannah sat down in a big leather chair.
Hannah waited politely, unsure of what she should do or say next.
“I’ve asked you here today because Mrs. Mumford left you a small item,” Mr. Schaal said after a moment’s pause. “Ordinarily, I would meet with your parents. When a minor receives an inheritance in a will, it is customary—in fact, it is correct legal procedure to give a copy of the will and the inheritance itself to the minor’s legal guardian for safekeeping. However, in this case the inheritance is so small that it really is negligible in terms of a dollar amount. And I would like you to have the will and your inheritance as soon as possible so that you can be out of this business altogether. I explained that to your mother this morning, and she agreed with me.”
Again, Hannah waited patiently.
Mr. Schaal regarded her for a moment through his thick glasses. Then he slid a manila envelope across the desk to her.
“This is a copy of Mrs. Mumford’s will. It is yours to keep, and you may read it in its entirety if you wish. Or, you may want to have your mom and dad look it over for you. What it says basically is this: Mrs. Mumford left her house and the bulk of her estate to the local library. And she left this to you.”
Mr. Schaal rose and took a white cardboard box off a shelf. He placed it in front of Hannah and removed the lid. Then he sat down again.
“You may take a look if you wish.”
Hannah peered into the box. Inside were three folders stuffed with dog-eared loose-leaf sheets. On top of the folders was one sheet of notebook paper all by itself.
Hannah lifted the top sheet out and looked it over. It was titled ‘Winter Trifle,’ and below the title was a recipe.
Hannah looked up at the attorney. “Mrs. Mumford left me her recipes?”
“Yes,” Mr. Schaal replied. “The actual cookbooks she owned she left to the library. But she left you her own personal recipes, including her famous ‘Winter Trifle.’”
Mr. Schaal paused, and his eyes seemed to twinkle behind his thick glasses.
“I told you it was something small.”
Hannah put the recipe back in the box. “So it was just the library and me?”
“Yes. You and the library are the only beneficiaries named in the will.”
“Does that mean Mrs. Mumford left her niece and nephew out of her will?”
“Yes, it does,” Mr. Schaal said. “She made a previous will in which they were the primary beneficiaries, and I expect they will contest the new one and possibly cause you some trouble. That’s why I wanted to see you as soon as possible and give you your inheritance. That way you can be out of this business completely.”
“Unfortunately, I’ve had some trouble already,” Hannah said.
Mr. Schaal looked at her sharply. “What do you mean?”
“I ran into Lisa on the way over here. She showed me a newspaper clipping. She said Mrs. Mumford had won four million dollars in the lottery, and that I had stolen her inheritance away.”
Mr. Schaal sighed. “I was afraid something like that might happen. I’ve actually emailed both of them a copy of the will, so they should know that you only got the recipes and the library got everything else. But sometimes when money is involved, people do crazy things—and it doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. I’ve seen people do awful things over much smaller sums.”
“Is it true?” Hannah asked. “Did Mrs. Mumford really win four million dollars?”
“Yes, she did,” Mr. Schaal replied. “But it does appear as if it’s gone. The money isn’t in her checking or savings account, and she didn’t invest it in her retirement fund either. The only other substantial asset she had was her house, and while that would fetch a decent sum if it were put on the market, it certainly wouldn’t be worth millions. Besides, even if we did find the money, it would go to the library and not to you or anyone else. But it’s easier to blame a person than an institution. I’m sorry you’ve been harassed already.”
“It’s okay,” Hannah said. She paused. “Mrs. Mumford’s death was natural, right? You said people do crazy things sometimes—”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Mr. Schaal said quickly. “Mrs. Mumford knew she was ill for a long time. Her passing was not at all unexpected. She had plenty of time to arrange her affairs exactly the way she wanted. You need have no fear on that account.”
The meeting concluded soon after that, and Hannah took her box of recipes out to the car and settled it onto the seat next to her. She sat for a few moments looking at the box. Then she opened the lid and took out the recipe for Winter Trifle. She read it over a few times and then folded it up carefully and put it into her bag.

“It’s been a weird day,” Hannah said. “Thanks for meeting me.”
“Yeah, of course,” Alex replied.
The two of them slid into their booth at the Chinese restaurant. It was Friday night, and the restaurant was packed. The night was dark and very cold, and the weather forecast said that snow was on the way. Hannah was glad to be in a warm, cheerful room full of people.
“So what’s been going on?” Alex asked.
Over spring rolls Hannah told him about her encounter with Lisa and her meeting with Mr. Schaal.
“Wow,” Alex said. “So you’ve got an angry ex-heiress searching for missing money who believes you’ve stolen it. But all you’ve got is a box full of recipes.”
“Pretty much.”
“Did you ever express any interest in those recipes?”
“Well, not really,” Hannah said. “I always tasted the dishes Mrs. Mumford made, though, and tried to be positive. I guess she thought from that that I liked them.”
Hannah paused as their dinner order arrived, and both of them sat back as plates and bowls were arranged in front of them.
“It’s kind of funny,” Hannah said once they were settled. “She gave me the recipe for the dessert I was telling you about.”
“The Winter Trife?”
“That’s the one. I’ve got it with me, actually.”
Hannah reached into her bag and pulled out a sheet of paper which she handed over to Alex.
He glanced over the sheet and then read it aloud:
“Whip cream.
Add strawberry jam.
Layer in this order: fortune cookies (crushed), jam, whipped cream.
Ladle powdered sugar over the top.”
Alex handed the sheet of paper back to Hannah. “That’s the weirdest recipe I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t great,” Hannah said.
“And that sheet of paper looks brand new,” Alex said. “It looks like she wrote it recently.”
“I know she made the recipe up a long time ago,” Hannah said. “Maybe the original got worn out, so she copied it over. She made it just about every winter while she was on her annual holiday shopping spree. She even used to take some to share when she went out to auctions.”
“I think you should be careful,” Alex said.
“With the recipe?” Hannah said. “I don’t plan on making it.”
“No, not with the recipe,” Alex replied. “I think you should look out for yourself. I’m not sure this Lisa believes you that you don’t know where the money is. And like the lawyer said, people do crazy things when money is involved.”
“What do you think she’s going to do?” Hannah asked.
“I’m not thinking of anything specific,” Alex said. “Just be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to the people around you.”
“You think she could be following me?”
“It’s possible. After all, she did find you in the high school parking lot. And there’s still this shadowy brother of hers out there somewhere. All I’m saying is just keep your eyes open.”
“I’ll be careful,” Hannah said.
They finished dinner, and when it was time to open their fortune cookies, Hannah paused with hers in her hand. Then she slipped the plastic-wrapped cookie into her bag.
“Aren’t you going to open yours?” Alex asked.
“Not at the moment,” Hannah said.
If Alex thought that that was unusual, he said nothing, and the two of them gathered up their things and went up to the cashier.
As they stepped out into the night, Hannah shivered and looked up at the sky—the heavy cloud cover made the night especially dark.
“Are you going to be okay?” Alex asked. “I know your parents are out of town this weekend.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Hannah said.
“If anything weird happens at your house,” Alex said, “don’t hesitate to call the police. And right after you call the police, call me.”
Hannah couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”
Alex turned and walked to his car. Hannah walked to hers, and as she settled inside, she paused with her keys in her hand. She’d intended to wait until she got home to open her fortune cookie, but something made her want to open it now. She reached into her bag and pulled out the cookie, which she quickly unwrapped and broke open.
The little slip of paper inside was smaller than usual, and it fluttered out of the cookie and onto her lap.
Hannah frowned as she picked up her fortune and read it. The only words on the tiny scrap of paper were these:
When the snow comes
The little slip of paper had been torn in half, and the rest of the message was missing.
Hannah broke the cookie open completely, looking for the rest of her fortune, but the cookie was empty. She turned the interior light on and searched in her bag next, but her bag was equally empty of paper scraps. Hannah turned the light off and settled back into her seat. Then she drove home.
As Hannah reached home and stepped out of her car, a light snow began to fall.

***Click here for Part 3***

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