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RECIPE FOR MURDER
As Minnesota housewives race to meet the deadline for the Times Register's meat loaf contest, an unsavory small-towner named Kirby Runbeck is blown to smithereens by a car bomb.
Days later, the town's former mayor, John Washburn, near death from a stroke, confesses to the killing. His wife and two children vehemently deny it, but when Sophie Greenway, food maven and friend of the family, happens upon an old snapshot, a bundle of letters, and a tattoo of a red-eyed snake, she wonders about Washburn's innocence. Unlike the recipe for a prize meat loaf, this murder is seasoned with spicy secrets and a generous portion of scandal, which Sophie dares to bring to a roiling boil. . . .
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Dial M for Meat Loaf
Rose Hill, Minnesota
“How could you do something so . . . so hideous!” declared Cora Runbeck as she stood in her kitchen, gaz- ing at the walls. She was utterly amazed. No, not just amazed more like dumbfounded. Tugging angrily at her apron, she whirled around and nailed her husband with her eyes. “It’s egg yolk, Kirby! How could you paint our kitchen walls egg yolk?”
Kirby, who had just come in with the afternoon mail, muttered something inaudible as he sat down at the kitchen table.
“For Pete’s sake, speak up. You know I can’t stand it when you mumble.”
“I said the color’s called Golden Sunrise. I like it. And you did, too. Before the damn cataract surgery,” he added as he swiped a hand across his mouth.
Cora adjusted her hearing aid, then peered down at him with her hands on her hips. “Land sakes, Kirby Runbeck. When I get my left eye done, what other horrors am I going to discover around this place?”
“A body in the freezer,” he said, snickering. He opened the water bill.
“Just chill, Cora.”
“Don’t use that kind of language around me. This isn’t NYPD Blue.”
He rolled his eyes. “Do I get some lunch, or what? Maybe I should take my truck and go visit Mabel Bjornstaad. She’s always more than happy to see me.”
“You just do that, you old goat. Maybe you’ll have a surprise waiting for you when you get home.”
Cora was a no-nonsense kind of woman. Norwegian to the core. She’d grown up on a farm near Le Suer. By the time she was ten, she’d been baking the family bread, feeding chickens, milking cows, washing clothes, taking care of her three younger siblings, and nursing an ailing mother. That was the late thirties and times were tough. She understood work and she understood responsibility.
Kirby, on the other hand, was a lazy man. Always had been. And he was cheap. He probably got the paint on sale. Or free from one of his buddies. Now that her eye was getting better, she would have to examine the entire house. It had been a good two years since she’d been able to see well. If there were other problems, she felt it was partially her fault. Being a Lutheran, Cora understood guilt. She should have had the eye surgery years ago. She was deeply embarrassed by the thought of what her friends must think when they sat and drank coffee in a kitchen with egg-yolk colored walls. She assumed they’d been painted a nice off-white. Tasteful. Understated. Cora admitted to a certain pride about her home.
As she busied herself making a pot of coffee, she heard Kirby mutter again. When she turned around, she saw that he was standing now, his hands squeezing the back of the chair. “What did you say?”
He cleared his throat. “I said, I want a divorce.”
She blinked. And then blinked again. “A what?”
“You heard me. I need passion in my life, Cora.”
She turned her hearing aid up to high. “For God’s sake, man, you’re seventy-five years old.”
For the first time in years, she was speechless.
“I don’t love you anymore. You can keep the house and the Chevy. I’ll give you enough money to make sure you’re comfortable. I just want my clothes and my truck. Oh, and my tools. You got no use for those.”
“Kirby, what are you saying? You don’t love me?”
“I’m not changing my mind.”
For the second time this morning, she was dumbstruck.
The coffeemaker began to gurgle and groan, adding a kind of vulgar background music to the marital trauma. Kirby glared at it. “I’m goin down to the Prairie Lights Cafe to buy me a meat loaf sandwich. When I get back, I’m gonna pack my stuff. I don’t want no scenes, Cora. Before I get old, I want to enjoy life a little. Kick up my heels.”
He held up a hand to silence her. Without another word, he turned and pushed through the screen door. His truck was parked under the carport next to the garage.
Cora closed her mouth. She turned to stare blankly at the flour canister on the kitchen counter. Her hearing aid was nothing but static this morning, so she turned it off. Divorce? The word flopped around inside her head like a wet sock in a dryer. Nobody in her family had ever been divorced before. The embarrassment would kill her. She’d never be able to show her face in Rose Hill again. She even suspected she might miss Kirby. After all these years, they were just a habit, but a habit was hard to break. And she did love him, in her own way, didn’t she?
Suddenly, Cora heard a thunderous roar. The floor rumbled so ominously beneath her pink terrycloth slippers that she had to grab hold of the counter to keep from falling backward. When the rumbling finally stopped, she rushed out to the back porch. There, where the carport used to be, was a huge smoking hole. The truck was gone. So was the garage. And so was Kirby.
Rose Hill Man Dies in Bombing
Kirby Runbeck, age 75, died yesterday at his home on the outskirts of Rose Hill, the result of a mysterious bombing.
According to the local sher- iff’s department, Mr. Runbeck had just left his house to drive into town when his wife heard a loud explosion. Authorities are still piecing together the facts, but preliminary evidence suggests that the ignition on Mr. Runbeck’s Ford truck had been wired with an explosive. When questioned later, the police had no comment about a motive for the murder.
In a statement given by Runbeck’s wife, Cora Runbeck said that her husband had been acting strangely yesterday morning. Pressed to give more details, all Mrs. Runbeck would say was, “Kirby once told me he loved his Ford Bronco so much he wanted to be buried in it. I guess he got his wish.”
Ellen Hart's novels include Slice and Dice, This Little Piggy Went to Murder, For Every Evil,and The Oldest Sin,as well as the Jane Lawless mysteries: Hallowed Murder, Vital Lies, Stage Fright, A Killing Cure, A Small Sacrifice,and Faint Praise. A two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Mystery/Detective Fiction, Hart is like her fictional heroine Sophie Greenway in two respects: both have had food-related careers (the author was a chef for twelve years) and both have college degrees in fundamentalist Christian theology. She lives in Minneapolis.