Read Provence - To Die For Online

Authors: Jessica Fletcher

Provence - To Die For

Table of Contents
To my right, I heard the cat scratching behind the plywood panels leaning against the wall. Cats are born hunters. Domestication has barely changed that. She was probably on the trail of a mouse that had dared enter her territory. I turned to watch her. She’d found a brown-and-white cloth Martine probably used to wipe her brushes. It was folded up in a tight bundle, but as the cat hit it with her paw, it started to come apart.
I leaned over. “What do you have there, kitty?”
I picked up the loose end of the cloth. It unrolled and something fell out, clattering to the floor. I gasped. It was a large carving knife with a molded black handle. I knelt down. The blade was smeared with something, but I could make out the letters on the handle. They read:
I picked up the fabric that held the knife. It was a white T-shirt, or had been. The brown stains were not paint at all.
They were dried blood.
Wrote mysteries
Murder in a Minor Key
Blood on the Vine
Trick or Treachery
Gin & Daggers
Knock ‘Em Dead
Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch
A Little Yuletide Murder
Murder in Moscow
Murder on the QE2
The Highland Fling Murders
A Palette for Murder
A Deadly Judgment
Martinis & Mayhem
Brandy & Bullets
Rum & Razors
Manhattans & Murder
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First Signet Printing, April 2002
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eISBN : 978-1-440-67344-3

For Marisa and Ron
Billy and Jessica
Chapter One
madame. So nice to see you again,” said the pretty young woman in lightly accented English.
“Good evening,” I replied as I shrugged out of my warm woolen coat, handed it to her with my large case, and pocketed the coat-check ticket. “I’m happy to be back.”
Guillaume, the maitre d‘, smiled. “Madame Fletcher,
c’est un plaisir de vous revoir.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, too.”
“Monsieur awaits.” He led me across the brown-and-white-tile floor and up two steps to a table in the comer, where my agent, Matt Miller, had already risen from his seat.
“Jessica! Glad you could make it.” He gave me a brief hug, then stepped to the side so Guillaume could pull out the table. I settled into the leather banquette and tucked my handbag on the seat beside me.
Guillaume handed us menus and wished us
bon appétit.
“Let’s decide what to eat, and then we can chat,” Matt suggested. “A French meal can go on for hours, and I don’t want to make you late.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said, opening my menu.
Matt looked down at the list of specials. “How’s your French?”
“Pretty good, if I’m with someone who doesn’t speak too quickly. I’ve been taking lessons.”
I scanned the menu and decided on an appetizer and a salad. I wasn’t very hungry, and my stomach was still a bit shaky after a particularly turbulent flight. But this was the beginning of my vacation. I was going to spend eight weeks in France, focusing on my own much-needed three R’s: reading, resting, and relaxing. Just the contemplation of it slowed my pulse, loosened the tension in my shoulder muscles and, I was sure, lowered my blood pressure. Matt and I had selected the restaurant L’Absinthe on the Upper East Side of New York City. It had the perfect atmosphere to launch my holiday even though it was an ocean away from France.
I was coming off a particularly hectic summer in which friends, some invited and some not, had decided Cabot Cove was a great place to visit in July and August. That’s peak tourist season for every village along the Maine coastline, and even though my hometown is short on public attractions, the lure of the Atlantic Ocean, lobster dinners, and “quaint” New England architecture is enough to fill up our motels, inns, and bed-and-breakfast homes. One couple, cheerfully escaping the sweltering heat in Florida, had shown up at my door, suitcases in hand, without prior notice. I’d met them only once before. As it happened, I already had houseguests, and spent a frantic hour on the telephone trying to find these new arrivals a bed for the night. I can’t say whether or not I would have accommodated them even had my guest room been unoccupied. Presuming that people will welcome you without the courtesy of a call to see if they’re otherwise engaged is high on my list of inconsiderate behavior. But fortunately for them—and for me—I didn’t have to resort to my backup plan: spreading a sleeping bag on the living room floor. Seth Hazlitt, our local doctor and a dear friend of many years, responding to a note of panic in my voice, convinced a recently widowed patient of his, Mrs. Bloomquist, that her pool house would make delightful guest quarters. She could earn a bit of extra money, my unexpected visitors would have a roof over their heads, and Cabot Cove’s restaurants would benefit from two more mouths to feed. It all worked out in the end, and I heard recently that Mrs. Bloomquist has registered with a group that promotes New England’s bed-and-breakfast trade.
I didn’t know where September and October had gone. My hopes to fit in a few days of fishing before the season’s end went begging as various projects, some work-related and some community-based, seemed to vacuum up all the hours in the days, until I began to feel I would never have time to sit down.
But that was all behind me now, and the French countryside beckoned. While Matt studied his menu, I took in my surroundings. The decor in the elegant brasserie was just as you might imagine a Parisian restaurant to look. Warm wood paneling rose to meet cream-colored walls on which were displayed elaborately framed mirrors and advertisements for a variety of French events and products, including L’Absinthe, the notorious aperitif reputed to have driven Van Gogh to slice off his ear, and for which the restaurant was named. Crisp white napery covered the tables. Huge flower arrangements lent drama, but not fragrance, to the corners and center of the dining room. The only scents were the wonderful aromas that wafted behind the trays of food carried by the waiters coming from the kitchen.
I ordered escargots in puff pastry, a specialty of the house, and a green salad to follow. I’d learned to eat snails on a previous trip to France. Once I’d overcome my aversion to the idea, I’d discovered that I really enjoyed the mollusks, especially when they were prepared in the Provençal manner with lots of garlic. Matt opted for trout with braised endives and a side of
the Gallic name for what is perhaps France’s best-known contribution to the American diet and waistline—French fries.
“White all right with you?” he asked as he pored over the wine list. The sommelier, who’d been hovering nearby, came to Matt’s elbow.
“Are you sure you want to order a whole bottle?” I asked in reply. “One glass will be sufficient for me.”
“You’ll have to do better than that in Provence,” he said. He pointed to a bottle on the list and nodded at the wine steward.
“Très bien, monsieur.”
Matt turned to me. “When Susan and I were in Provence a few years ago, our host opened two bottles, a red and a white, every day at lunch, and at least four each night for dinner.”
“Yes, but your host owned a vineyard,” I pointed out. “Martine is an artist, and her farmhouse is next to an olive grove.”
“So that’s where you’re staying. Who is this lady?”
“Her name is Martine Devries. Her sister lives in Cabot Cove. Have I ever mentioned Elise Edman?”
Matt shook his head, tearing off a hunk of crusty roll and popping it in his mouth.

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