And here's Chapter 1:
A poet was threatening to skewer my freshly-painted ceiling, and I had no one to blame but myself.
“Die!” Professor Starke tossed his head, blond locks gleaming beneath Pie Town’s metal overhead lights. Again, he thrust his saber upward, and I tried not to cringe. “Die—”
This time I did flinch, and I twisted in my seat to glare.
In a pink corner booth, my seventy-something piecrust maker, Charlene, held a screwdriver in her fist. She raised it over an upturned pie tin.
The darkening sky made a black mirror of the window behind her and reflected her snowy curls. Her white cat, Frederick, lay draped over her shoulders. The two were inseparable, largely because Frederick was too lazy to perambulate on his own four paws.
Charlene punched the screwdriver into the center of the tin, making a hole. With a metallic squeak, she pulled it free and caught my eye.
“Sorry,” she mouthed, looking less than contrite. Charlene slipped the screwdriver into the pocket of her green knit tunic and folded her hands on the Formica table.
I narrowed my eyes at her and got caught in the intent stare of another of the visiting professors. Professor Jezek sat in the row of chairs between Charlene and me. His sunken, near-black eyes and lank gray hair and mustache gave him a Rasputin look. Beads of sweat dampened his domed forehead. His lips moved, soundless. He could have been spellcasting, praying, or reviewing his shopping list. Anything was possible with this crew.
I smiled weakly.
Jezek’s head twitched, and I realized he was looking past me, at the reader.
Grimacing, I returned to facing forward. I'd thought holding a poetry slam in Pie Town might be fun. Chalk that up to the had-I-but-known category.
The reader, Michael Starke, glared at us both. “Die,” he finished and jerked his saber for what I hoped was one last time toward Pie Town's ceiling.
But in spite of the flourish, his poem had ended with a whimper, not a bang. Not that I'd paid much attention to its beginning or middle. At some point, I'd gotten lost in the poetry professor's tangles of metaphors.
My employee Abril leapt to her feet and applauded, cheeks glowing. A lock of long, glossy black hair escaping escaped the young woman’s bun. She wore a Pie Town t-shirt, and I beamed with pride. After all, this was Abril's show. The budding poet worked part time in the Pie Town kitchen and studied English at the local community college.
Another college-age, olive skinned woman rose and clapped as well.
Others joined in. Belatedly, I followed along with the small audience's less-than-enthusiastic applause.
Professor Starke nodded and cleared his throat. Even in his tweed blazer, he looked more like a beach bum than an authority figure.
I smiled. The poetry reading might not have been a smashing success, but Pie Town was a hit. My insides warmed at the sight of the black-and-white floor, the glass display case (near-empty at this time of night), and the neon logo behind the counter. Its big pink smile was irresistible above our motto: Turn Your Frown Upside Down at Pie Town!
“The hole should be round,” Charlene muttered behind me, and I shook my head. I had no idea why my friend was defacing pie tins. As far as I was concerned, ignorance was bliss.
“Death in a Parking Lot,” Starke began.