RED VELVET REVENGE
“What are we going to do about the business?” Angie DeLaura asked. She was sitting across the table from Melanie Cooper, dishing up her 23 Skiddoo sundae while Mel sipped on her Camelback soda.
They had escaped their cupcake bakery, leaving it under the supervision of their two employees, and were sitting in the Sugar Bowl, Scottsdale’s landmark ice cream shop. Mel always had the Camelback soda, vanilla ice cream scooped into old fashioned soda with a pitcher of extra soda water on the side, it was her long time favorite.
She glanced around the pink and chrome interior and noted that the Sugar Bowl hadn’t seemed to age a day since it opened in 1958. Not that she had been around then, but her mother Joyce had been, and she remembered coming here when she was a little girl just like Mel remembered coming here with her father and her brother when they were kids. There was something about the thick glass ice cream dishes served on paper doilies on the classic white plates that was charmingly nostalgic.
Growing up, the Sugar Bowl had been a favorite hang out of Mel and Angie’s along with their other childhood chum Tate. The three of them had practically owned the table by the window, where Mel and Angie now sat enjoying the respite from the scorching hot July day outside.
Summer in the Valley of the Sun was as mean as an old man with sciatica. The sidewalk was so hot, Mel was sure the bottom of her flip flops were going to melt. Just walking around the corner from their shop Fairy Tale Cupcakes had made both Mel and Angie sweat like marathoners, which they clearly were not given that the relentless heat had them moving about as fast as a pair of desert tortoises.
“What do mean what are we going to do about the business?” Mel asked. She was staring out the window, watching the mid day heat rise from the street making everything shimmer as if it actually were melting under the ferocity of the mid day sun.
“It’s 114 degrees out there,” Angie said. “Our tourist business has completely dried up and the last special order we had was for the Levinsky bar mitzvah two weeks ago.”
Mel made a very loud slurp on her straw and reached for the pitcher to add more soda. She looked at Angie and said, “Your point?”
Angie blew out a breath, stirring the dark brown bangs that hung across her forehead. The rest of her long hair was piled up in a clip on the back of her head. She gave Mel a level look as she scooped up another gooey spoonful of her sundae.
“I think we should close for a week or two,” Angie said. Mel opened her mouth to protest but Angie barreled ahead. “Hear me out. It’s costing us more money to be open than to close, we can both take a vacation until monsoon season hits and then when we open, our regulars will be back and our tourists will slowly trickle on in again.”
“You know, if you want to go to Los Angeles to see Roach, you can just go,” Mel said. “We don’t have to shut down the bakery so you can go be with your boyfriend.”
Mel knew her tone was harsh, but sheesh! Close down the bakery? She couldn’t help but think that it would be the kiss of death for their small business.
Angie’s eyes narrowed and she plunked down her spoon with a plop. She looked like she was winding up to argue and Mel braced herself as Angie’s fiery temper was hotter than the desert sun and known for leaving scorch marks on the recipient of her ire.
Angie never got the chance to let loose her volley of mad. With a bang and a puff of blue smoke an ancient, oversized van/truck lurched into a parking spot on their side of the street. Mel and Angie whipped their heads in the direction of the noise.
“Is that…” Angie began but Mel was already rising to her feet.
“Yup, it is,” she said. “I’d recognize that shaggy mane and the other bald head anywhere.”
Angie began to shovel the last of her sundae into her mouth. She slapped her free hand to her forehead, and Mel knew Angie had just given herself a walloping case of brain freeze.
They hurried to the cashier’s window by the exit and paid their tab. Mel rushed back to leave their waiter’s tip tucked under her soda pitcher.
“But Oz and Marty are supposed to be watching the bakery,” Angie said as she followed Mel out the door.
Mel was pretty sure the blast of heat that smacked her full in face as she stepped outside singed her eyebrows. She tried to look on the upside as in no waxing or plucking but people without eyebrows just looked odd.
She ran her fingers over her brow bone just to reassure herself that they were still there and then felt positive that the acrid smell that was assaulting her nose wasn’t burnt hair but rather the noxious blue smoke coming out of the tailpipe of the decrepit van in front of her.
“Oz,” she called her young intern. “What are you doing here?”
The young man who had been the bakery’s paid intern since last spring turned from where he had his head under the hood of the van to look at her.
“Hey, Mel,” he said. He stepped back and opened his arms wide. “Check it out. Isn’t she a beauty?”
“That depends, is she a contestant in a demolition derby?” Angie asked. She was fanning the back of her neck with one of the thick paper napkins from the Sugar Bowl.
“Heck no,” Marty said, stepping forward. He was a dapper, older gentleman, who had come to work in the bakery several months before when Mel and Angie had discovered if they were to have any sort of personal life, they needed back up.
Oz and Marty exchanged excited glances and then spoke together, “She’s your new cupcake van.”
Mel looked at Angie and assumed her dumbfounded expression mirrored her own and then looked back at the van. She took in the oversized white behemoth, which reminded her off an old bread truck. It was covered in faded Good Humor and Blue Bunny ice cream stickers and she felt her powers of speech evaporate as she tried to form a response.
“I know it isn’t much to look at now,” Marty said. “But we could trick this baby out and it would be sweet.”
“Where did it come from?” Angie asked.
“Mi Tio Nacho, er, my Uncle Ignacio left it to me when he died last year,” Oz said. “It’s been in my cousin’s garage down in Tucson and they finally drove it up.”
“That’s great, Oz,” Mel said. “I’m so happy that you’re going to have some wheels.”
“No, it’s not just for me,” Oz said. “You two gave me my first job at the bakery and I want to give back. Marty and I are thinking we can motor around the hood and sell cupcakes.”
“In that?” Mel asked. She had visions of her carefully cultivated image for the bakery going up, well, in a puff of blue smoke.
“Come on,” Marty said. He took Mel and Angie’s elbows and half guided half dragged them toward the back of the van. “You just need to go for a ride and you’ll see the potential.”
“All right, I’m going,” Angie said and she shook Marty off. Oz hefted up the rolling door in the back and Mel and Angie climbed aboard. Vintage steel freezers lined both sides and Mel took in the scratched sliding window on the left side of the truck that appeared to have been retro fitted.
There was no seating. Angie plopped down on the floor and Mel sat beside her while Marty and Oz scrambled into the front. Mel wrinkled her nose. Something smelled bad like an expired dairy product. She suspected the smell lingered in the beige shag carpet but she didn’t want to get close enough to verify her suspicion.
It took three turns of the key and a punch to the top of the dashboard to get it going, but the van finally coughed itself back to life and Oz backed out of the parking spot, using the overly large side mirrors to guide his way.
The polyester shag carpet that covered the narrow strip of floor between the bank of freezers stuck to Mel’s sweaty legs and itched. She sat with her knees drawn up and noticed that Angie did the same.
They puttered around Old Town Scottsdale and then Oz headed out to the open road.
“Let me show you what she can do,” he said as slick as any used car salesman.
“Really not necessary,” Angie said. “Around the block will do.”
But it was too late. Oz took Indian School Road out toward the highway. They were idling at the onramp traffic light when a big pink van pulled up beside them. Mel got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Marty and Oz had their windows down, because in addition to the sour milk smell, blue exhaust and itchy shag carpet the van’s air conditioner didn’t seem capable of cooling the van to a temperature of less than one hundred.
Mel peered out the window over Marty’s shoulder and groaned.
“What is it?” Angie asked. She rose and moved to kneel beside her.
“Olivia Puckett from Confections Bakery just pulled up beside us.”
RED VELVET REVENGE debuted at #23 on the New York Times Mass Market Best Seller's List!
“Minor characters and romantic tension add flavor and depth to this foodie mystery. McKinlay, who authors several series under her own name as well as under pseudonyms Josie Belle and Lucy Lawrence, continues to deliver well-crafted mysteries full of fun and plot twists.”
-- Amy Alessio's review of Red Velvet Revenge BOOKLIST Issue: July 1, 2012
"McKinlay's fans are going to eat it up."
Avery Aames - Agatha Award winner of the Cheese Shop mystery series