Lifestyles is delighted to feature this excerpt from Lily Barlow, the Mystery of Jane Dough, by Carla Vergot, Haymarket resident and longtime writer for our sister publication, The Piedmont Virginian. At Lifestyles, we have long appreciated Carla’s writing, which revolves around her garden as it helps her through life’s ups and downs in stories related with a dry humor and sometimes heartbreaking honesty.
Lily Barlow, the Mystery of Jane Dough is part romance, part mystery, and totally entertaining. It’s set in Marshall, Virginia, and stars Lily Barlow, a UVA co-ed who comes back home begrudgingly to deal with her family’s struggling bakery, her best friend Jack (who suddenly wants to be more than friends), a quirky landlord, and some aggressive chickens, all while trying to solve a mystery of an unidentified murder victim. We couldn’t put it down, and you won’t be able to either. It’s a great read and the perfect holiday gift.
I watched Miss Crazy start the arduous process of old bones standing up. “I have just what you’re lookin’ for, honey. It’s a fully furnished guest suite. Small kitchen, bath. You’ll be in your place, and I’ll be in mine. There will be no reason whatsoever for us to bother each other.” Was I mistaken, or was the implication that I shouldn’t bother her?
“How much are you asking?” Because at this moment, it all came down to cash money. “And will you accept a week-to-week commitment?” Nothing says I’m-not-moving-home like a short-term lease.
“Don’t you want a look-see first?”
I shook my head no. “If the door locks, it’ll be fine, but my budget is kinda tight right now. I may not be able to afford it.”
“You can afford it, honey child,” she assured me. “I want a person on the property more than money in the bank, as long as it’s the right person. You’re the sixteenth applicant in eight months and the only one I’ve bothered to interview.”
Smiling at what constituted an interview, my gaze landed on a pair of muddy men’s work boots, size huge, sitting on the top step of the porch. Hmmm. Did Miss Crazy Pants have a man around despite what she said? Unless the aforementioned murderous intentions of her human heart put an end to that poor bastard. Was he living on the property or buried under it?
Following my gaze, she offered an explanation, “Best home security system on the market. Four dollars at the thrift store. Mud not included.”
I nodded my appreciation. I liked this ol’ gal more and more…a little bit of moxie wrapped in a floral print tied with an apron string. “I’ll take it.”
“Woman who knows her mind. Good. Get yourself settled back in town, and we’ll come to a monetary arrangement. For now, feed the chickens and pet my dog when he comes around.”
Chickens? Mentally calculating how close I had to be to a chicken in order to feed a chicken, I noticed for the first time a lazy, mostly-black mutt lying under a shrub, guarding her collection of trowels. He honored me with one thump of his dusty tail before drifting back to sleep.
“Name’s Cro. Short for Velcro. Wandered into the barn five years ago, thin as a number two pencil. Hasn’t left my side since. He’s good company, and he don’t like many people, so the fact he hasn’t barked you up is your stamp of approval. Now come on.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw she was already halfway to the front porch. Quick for old. I took a few giant steps to catch up.
At the door she said, “Wipe your feet. Not just this time. Every time.”
The clatter of scissors and screw drivers being pushed around a junk drawer drew my attention. She rummaged with gusto and eventually fished out a key on a plastic key ring shaped like a starfish. Whatever it advertised had long since rubbed off, so just a translucent orange starfish at this point. Out the back door, we cut across the mowed lawn to a free-standing garage that matched the house.
“These steps get slick in the rain.” The exposed wooden staircase climbed diagonally up the outside of the garage to a small deck with two weathered Adirondack chairs and a low table between. Crossing the threshold, it became clear I would be renting my own little piece of the 1970s. Nothing too fragile or frilly. It was, however, heavy on the avocado section of the color wheel.
“I don’t care who you bring up here, but Cro might. The password for the internet is on the fridge. There’ll be no cookin’ meth. Any questions?”
The devil in me wanted to ask where in the hell I was supposed to cook my meth, but I stuck to my actual questions. “Two,” I said. “What should I call you? And where’s the chicken feed?”
“I’m Miss Delphine Walker, and the scratch is down in the garage. One scoop each mornin’. Throw it on the ground back by the coop.”
Without so much as a handshake, I had my apartment. Cleaner and more comfortable than I could have hoped.
Lily Barlow, the Mystery of Jane Dough is available at Amazon