A Tad Lee Mystery, Chapter 4

(<–Read Chapter 3)

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CHAPTER 4

Dina returned with a bucket full of fresh eggs, lined with hay, and a pile of cherries tucked up in the tails of her shirt. While she washed the cherries in a chipped cast iron sink that looked like it had been added to the farmhouse in the thirties, Tad scrambled the eggs over a gas stove she had to light with a match. The women filled tin plates enameled blue with white flecks and sat at the table under the front window.

“It’s a shame this place got so rundown,” Dina was saying. “This was one of the first orchards on Flathead Lake. The house was built in 1910.”

“You don’t say?” Tad glanced around the simple, timbered house. Every fixture and furnishing bookmarked a different era. The rocker on the porch could have been older than the house itself, transported by train and wagon to the still-new frontier of Montana. The radio by the fireplace might have been an addition of the forties; she could almost hear FDR reading his latest statements to a breathless nation. The smoke detector in the kitchen looked like a smart but long overdue addition from the eighties.

“You know,” said Dina, sipping coffee, “your aunt Maribeth bought this orchard because of you.”

Tad turned back to her, eyebrows high. “Did she?”

“Yes! After your uncle Henry passed away, she wanted to do something to challenge herself. She wanted to be independent and follow her curiosity, like you.”

“Curiosity Farm,” Tad said, the name of the orchard falling into place. “Well, darn, I was just following my own itchy feet. I had no idea I’d gone and inspired another member of the family.”

“Oh, you did.” Dina popped a cherry off the stem with her teeth. She ate it thoughtfully, twisting the stem between her carefully filed pink fingernails. “See, that’s the difference between Maribeth and me. When my hubby passed, I sold our orchard and kept the house and retired. I didn’t think I could run the orchard on my own. And just when I started to think I’d made a mistake, along comes Maribeth Lacey and buys this beat up old place. She didn’t know the first thing about cherries, and the orchard was such a mess.” Dina shrugged. “So I just stepped in and helped her.”

“That was right neighborly of you,” said Tad.

“It felt good to get my thumbs green again.” Dina’s eyes misted. “We got along so well, Maribeth and me. The two years she was here, she put everything into the trees. She planned on getting around to the shed and the house and the yard when the orchard was making enough money, but…” She looked away dolefully.

“How exactly did Aunt Maribeth die?” asked Tad. Roxanne Wexworth, the estate lawyer, had never passed that info along.

“Heart attack, they said.” Dina frowned. “Isn’t it funny how a thing like that can hit the last person you’d expect? Maribeth had been in for her annual just a few weeks before she passed. Her blood pressure and cholesterol were fine.”

“That is funny,” Tad agreed.

Dina turned her sad eyes on Tad. “I saw your for-sale sign on the gate. You don’t mean to stay?”

Tad shifted in her chair uncomfortably. “I like it here, I really do. But like I said, I’ve got itchy feet. Darn, I’ve hardly stayed on the same continent for more than a few months at a time. I don’t know how I’d fare being tied down to one spot. I don’t know that much about cherries, either.”

“They need to be picked soon,” said Dina. “Even if you do sell the place. These cherries need to come off, or they’ll rot on the trees. You can hire the migrant workers to harvest them for you and you can sell them to the co-op at Finley Point. Or you can let the tourists come pick their own.”

“What did Aunt Maribeth do?”

“A little of both. She loved having people come to the farm—the migrants and the tourists alike. She even got a booth at the farmer’s market in Polson.”

Tad nodded. “I guess I’ll have to sort that out. Thanks for the advice.”

Dina insisted on helping with the dishes before she left. Then she and her terrier Benny returned to their own house, leaving Tad to decide what to do with the cherry harvest—and the cherry orchard itself.

To be continued…


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