Cozy Mystery Chapter 1
“What time is Brenda supposed to stop by?” Sally asked me as I was firing up the coffee machine at the Read Wine Bookstore while she put pastries in the display case for the morning rush.
“She called me a little while ago and asked if I could come out to her place instead. Said something about being shorthanded and that she couldn’t leave.”
Sally grimaced. “The downside of being a business owner. If someone doesn’t show up for work, you still have to get the work done. No one tells you that when you’re going around thinking business ownership is all glamour and money.”
“Isn’t that the truth. I’m still waiting for the glamour and money to hit. Shouldn’t that happen soon?” I popped a mini cupcake in my mouth and as I savored the creamy caramel filling I reminded myself that I’d promised to limit my cupcake eating to one mini a day. “I’m just glad that I was able to tell her I could meet her at her winery. I feel that lately it’s impossible to get away from this place. Not that I’m complaining. It’s definitely a good thing business is booming.”
My friends, Sally and Cora, and I had opened our combination coffee shop, bookstore, and wine bar about a year ago and it had quickly become a go-to place in our little town. Business was good and we were finally feeling like we could breathe a little easier financially.
“Do you know what it is that she needs? Is something going on?” Cora asked, rubbing her back. She’d come in for the afternoon shift after her doctors appoint. She was due to have her baby any day now. That’s why she was working mostly afternoons, it was usually pretty slow until the happy hour timeframe. Mostly people took advantage of happy hour half-priced coffee drinks rather than the small wine selection we had. We hadn’t focused much on trying to sell wine. Something that was our next thing to learn about and conquer.
“I have no idea. I know she sounded distraught and made it seem urgent we talk as soon as possible. I’m hoping nothing major is wrong.”
Sally set a bag on the counter and slid it across to me. “I put a brownie and one of our red velvet cupcakes in the bag for you to take her. Between you and the treats, hopefully she’ll feel much better about whatever is bothering her.”
“Thanks. That’s guaranteed to cheer her up. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” I grabbed the bag with one hand and slung my purse over my shoulder with the other.
Sally and Cora chorused their goodbyes as I walked out of our cute shop. Situated in a prime location on Main Street, it was in the middle of the three blocks that made up Main Street and had great foot traffic. I had to walk down a block and around the corner to the parking lot where I got in my car, set my purse and the bag of goodies on the passenger seat and buckled up. I soon pulled out of the lot and headed to Brenda’s.
The winery Brenda and her husband Rob owned, Bramble Patch Winery, was about twenty-five minutes outside of town. Not only was it the location of their business but they lived on the property as well. It was a nice drive this time of year, late spring, and I had the windows on my SUV rolled partway down to enjoy the fresh air as I sped down the road, quickly arriving at my destination.
I parked in the guest parking area and wondered, not for the first time, why I’d never been out here before. I felt a small pang of guilt that I hadn’t been more supportive of my friends’ business. Bramble Patch Winery had been open a little over a year, which was about the same amount of time Read Wine had been open, so that was probably why. I’d been so busy with my own business that there hadn’t been a lot of free time to do anything else.
Now that I was here, I really wanted to sample the wine, because it would be great to carry local wines in the store to sell. Up to now, we’d been more focused on our coffee and pastry products, but in a small town such as Romero there weren’t any fancy wine bars. In fact, there weren’t any wine bars, fancy or otherwise. The only place you could get wine, besides a few restaurants, was at the two bars in town. While the food at both bars was good, the atmosphere was not what you’d be looking for if you wanted to meet a girlfriend for an after-work drink or a first date. Not to mention the selection wasn’t great.
The Read Wine Bookstore wasn’t fancy, but it was quiet and a little more private than the corner bar.
I made a mental note to ask Brenda about the possibility of partnering in some way that would be beneficial for both our businesses. After, of course, I found out what it was she needed.
I walked into the main building toward the sign that said customer entrance. It opened into a big space that had tastefully arranged cases of wine stacked up in pyramid shapes with colorful signage showing the different grapes used in the winemaking along with a bit of history behind the grape. I also caught out of the corner of my eye spices and pasta for sale on the far wall. Ideas started swirling in my head about different ways to work together when I heard someone call my name.
“Trixie, so glad you made it.” Brenda ran over and gave me a hug, which I returned. I had known Brenda pretty much all my life; we both grew up here together and went to the same high school. However, unlike me, Brenda had moved away for several years, and had just come back recently when she and her husband decided to settle down and open a winery.
“Your place is gorgeous. I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve been out here. I’m so sorry for that,” I said.
Brenda led me through the front of the store, back into her office, and motioned for me to have a seat. “You’ve had your own business to deal with and I know firsthand how busy a new venture keeps you. I feel sometimes like I’m on a hamster wheel and can’t get off. How’s the bookstore doing, by the way?”
“It’s a lot of work, but things are going great. Much better than I would’ve expected. Though every single time we have a day of slow sales, I freak out thinking we may never sell another thing and will end up losing everything.”
Brenda laughed. “Isn’t that the truth. I wonder if that feeling will ever go away or if twenty years from now, we’ll feel the same. Oh gosh, please forgive me, I’m being a rude host. Can I get you something to drink?”
“It’s a bit early for wine,” I said with a smile, knowing that probably wasn’t what she meant.
Brenda laughed again. “Hey, it’s never too early for wine, not in my line of business. Seriously though, I was thinking more coffee or iced tea. We also have sodas.”
“Iced tea would be great.”
“Give me just a second. Let me run out front,” Brenda said and left the office, walking back through the double doors separating the back room from the front.
This was such a cute setup. The scenery was beautiful, and I bet it was even more gorgeous in the fall, when the trees started turning. When I’d pulled in, I saw the wine store and, next to it, a covered area with picnic tables where people could take their wine and relax. Brenda and her husband, Rob, should be so proud of what they had accomplished. I knew all too well how hard it was to build a successful business, and they seemed to be doing a fantastic job.
Brenda came back, setting two tall glasses of iced tea on the coffee table before taking a seat in the chair opposite me.
“It’s been such hard work, and there are times when I severely regretted that we took this on. Some nights I’m so exhausted I can’t see straight, but it’s been worth it. I never thought about owning a business, much less a winery, until Rob started talking about it, but I love it. I love the industry and the business part.”
Brenda stopped talking as she opened a packet of sweetener, pouring it in her drink and stirring it with her straw. There was definitely something on her mind as she stared into her glass and I was sure it wasn’t because she was fascinated watching her sugar crystals dissolve.
“So, Brenda, I’m dying of anticipation. What did you want to talk to me about? I hope it’s about us partnering. I need to carry your wine at our place. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it until now, but we haven’t paid much attention to the wine aspect of the business. I think we’re finally in a place we can afford to expand our focus, though.”
“That’s a great idea and let’s definitely talk about that, but it’s not why I wanted to talk to you. It’s my sister. She’s in trouble.”