"Well, is it true?" Antonia asked. "I mean, before Gordon Haslett, did the other owners die of suspicious circumstances?"
Sylvia and Len exchanged a look.
"Well..." began Sylvia. But she didn't finish her sentence.
Len cocked his head to the side, as if he was thinking, and finally shrugged.
"It's kind of true," said Matt finally.
"Kind of?" asked Antonia. "What does that mean?"
"I guess it means yes. Some of the owners of the inn have died under suspicious circumstances."
"Great," said Antonia weakly. She needed a drink.
The Windmill Inn was finally quiet at midnight. The diners had almost all left by ten thirty, except for a last lingering couple who, judging from their body language, appeared to be on their third or fourth date. They stayed until eleven, after working out whether or not they would be retreating to their own homes or having a sleepover. Only three of the guest rooms at the inn were occupied and when Connie, the front desk receptionist, confirmed that everyone had retired for the evening, Antonia had locked all of the doors to the inn with the exception of the two in the kitchen.
It was Glen's responsibility to shut down the restaurant for the night, but Antonia usually helped him out, since it was still early days. It was important for her to establish a hands-on approach from the get-go so the staff would know that she was firmly in control. And it was always important to keep track of the money. Other restaurateurs had told her that it was crucial to watch out for skimming, no matter how much you trusted your employees. They advised her to get a sense of how much was coming in so that she could sense if anything was going out that should not be.
Antonia and Glen went over the books, locked up the bar, and looked at the reservations for the following evening. While he ducked in to the office to print out the next day's menu, Antonia went into the kitchen. Juan and Albert, the busboy/dishwashers, were just finishing up when Antonia went into the staff changing room to switch out of her high heels and into her Crocs. When she returned, they were leaving and she shut the back door behind them, pressing firmly to confirm the click of the latch. The staff had been having trouble with that door closing all the way; it was still warped from the summer heat. Often, it would blow wide open and bang loudly against the wall, startling anyone who was standing next to it.
When Antonia went back to the dining room, Glen had returned with a stack of printed menus, which he placed on the maître d' stand. He turned off the lights and shrugged into his soft leather jacket. She walked with him back into the kitchen so he could exit from the side door. When he opened the door, a gust of wind came flooding in.
"Wow, it's picking up out there," said Antonia.
"Yeah. You're lucky you don't have anywhere to drive to get to your bed."
"I know. Living at work does have its plusses."
"Oh, I forgot to mention, Antonia. This guy from a local microbrewery came by tonight. I told him to come during the day since we don't order during dinner hour."
"Good idea. I'll let Marty handle it. Goodnight, now." Marty was Antonia's sous chef and he was a lot tougher than she; she liked to let him deal with the vendors. Antonia firmly shut the door behind Glen and twisted the lock. She turned and glanced around the kitchen to make sure everything was in place. The glasses were drying on racks on the counter and all of the prep stations were wiped down. The pots and pans were hung neatly on their pegs. It was difficult to believe that just an hour ago this place had been buzzing. Antonia flicked off the big overhead lights and walked toward the pantry to do the same. It was quiet now, with only the hum of the two industrial dishwashers making a fuss. Antonia heard Glen start his car, then watched as his headlights flicked across the darkened ceiling when he drove away.
Antonia walked back through the dimmed dining room for one last proprietary glance. She thought of all of the people who had come through the door of the inn over the last hundred and fifty years. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the Windmill Inn had housed a tannery in the barn out back; guests stayed in the main building while their saddles were treated. Were any of their ghosts lurking there now? Antonia shuddered. All she needed was a headless horseman! She glanced around at the shadowed tables. Antonia had always thought that empty restaurants looked a little eerie, as if the ghosts of the people who had just dined there somehow dissipated into thin air. She wondered if she was particularly on edge tonight having just heard the news that Gordon Haslett's death was somehow suspicious. Had previous innkeepers really met untimely fates? She pushed the thought out of her mind.
Instead of heading straight across the dining room to the small staff hallway that led to her apartment, Antonia made a right and walked toward the front door. While she had taken special care to sand down the floors in the dining room, the floors in the rest of the inn had been left more or less in their original state. Over the years they had buckled under the extreme seasonal oscillation between temperatures, and were squeaky and uneven. Antonia had placed a few Oriental carpet runners along the way, but they did nothing to contain the noise and tonight it seemed as if the floorboards creaked particularly loudly under her feet. The chandelier in the front hall was lit, but dimly. Its light was the only one that seeped through the other public rooms.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the paperback edition.
Monday, June 15th, we begin the book An Exquisite Corpse by Helen A. Harrison.