Slashed Potatoes and Grave-y

Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
A pinch of murder, a dash of deceit, and a scoop of secrets!
First 10 Pages

"Hun Bun, don't be glum. This condo is your past. Look ahead to your future, girl!"

Was couldn't be. Gram Gram had been dead for months now. The smell of her fresh-baked honey pie permeated H.P.'s nostrils, nonetheless. Through the rain-covered window she swore the image of her second favorite person in the world smiled at her. The sound of Gram Gram's laughter, rich and warm, bubbling up from deep within her small frame, filled H.P.'s head and eventually, her heart.



Honeypie Sweetwater forgot momentarily about her grim state of affairs. Gram Gram's face, or whatever she conjured up, was gone now.

The rain was coming down in sheets, which was fitting for her current financial situation. With a sense of dread replacing the warmth of her grandmother's memory, she turned her head to face the stern woman sitting across the table from her.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Steam, I—"

"It's SIStine, like the chapel? And I'm Ms." She twitched her nose just like the old television show with the witch. Also fitting. The scent of Gram Gram's pies long gone, H.P. detected the strong odor of raw onions. Was this a tactic used to torture a lapsed homeowner? If so, it was working.

"This is your copy of the documents for the foreclosure on this property."

"It's my home. We're not talking about a lemonade stand. I raised my son here and started a business—"

"And that failed too, didn't it?"

Honeypie dug what was left of her fingernails into her palms, doing her level best not to lose her cool. "You just look at the numbers. You don't have any idea what my life has been like, or what it took just to put food on the table for my kid some months."

After a brief stare-down that Honeypie felt confident she'd won, the banker leaned back, causing the wobbly wooden chair to creak in protest. She flopped an arm over the back of the chair and stuck her tongue in her cheek before delivering the next blow.

"There is also the matter of your inheritance. The land and property in Washington State will also become our holdings after you sign the paperwork." She shuffled through her papers containing a collection of colorful stickers. "I hear great things about the museum in Misty Cove."

"The Chewseum? I didn't realize that was still open. It's a food museum. Kinda cheesy, get it?"

Ms. Sistine ignored H.P.'s attempt at humor and shoved the documents in front of her. "Please sign on the lines I've highlighted."

Clearly, she didn't understand friendly conversation either.

H.P. grinned. "I don't have a pen." It was a momentary reprieve before the family train wreck went to the gallows.


It was Honeypie's turn to lean forward. "I said, I DON'T HAVE A PEN!"

Two could play at this game. She should have felt silly for playing it, but her current status was that of an unemployed sous chef with nothing but a 2001 sedan with expired plates and Dexter's braces. Thank goodness she'd paid those off when she received her one and only bonus check at Flour That!

"That's ridiculous! Every home has a pen."

"You told me I had to be out by today. Everything I own is packed into my car. The alleged pen, if it ever existed, is buried under several pounds of cookware and Legos."

Ms. Sistine, apparently immune to humor, stood and shoved her chair backward, causing it to hit the wall and splinter into pieces.

"That was a family heirloom!"

It wasn't, but it was a nice way to stick it to the woman who was about to take her last shred of dignity. Luckily, Grandma Honeypie (her namesake), or Gram Gram, as she was affectionately known, left a fully furnished house. She and Dex would crash there for a few days until H.P. could figure out where to go next.

"I'm sorry." Ms. Sistine looked up from her purse, where she'd found numerous tubes of expensive lipstick and set them on the table, probably another slight. It was wasted on Honeypie though. She was a natural beauty who only wore lipstick she found at the gas station.

"I'm going to drive to the nearest quickie mart and get one. This has never happened before!"

Was she expecting sympathy? When she was ready to kick a struggling mom and her teen son out of their home?

"Is there one that's… safe?"

Honeypie suppressed a giggle. She'd worked hard to get into this neighborhood so that Dexter could go to a good school. Public school, but still a good one.

"You'll have to take your chances, I guess."

Honeypie listened until the harsh clacking of the banker's heels dissipated. She looked at her watch. 4:30. Dex should have been home by now. He was saying goodbye to all his buddies and promised he'd be back in an hour.

The accountant had called after Gram Gram's funeral, giving her a perfunctory, "Your grandmother left her diner to you."

H.P. took one last pass through their condo, thinking of all the memories, both good and bad: her culinary degree, Dex's birth, the disappearance of Dex's father, her meaningful conversations with Gram Gram… all of her life was contained within these walls.

Honeypie leaned her head against the wall in what was once her living room. She remembered when Dex was eight and she told him he could decide the color they painted the living room. He chose fluorescent green.

"Have fun with that, Mrs. Steam."

She leaned her entire body against it, trying to absorb all that she could from her last moments in the first home she'd ever owned. A shimmer of glass caught her eye, and she glanced over at the open hall closet, where a framed photo sat.

Shards of glass covered the floor, but by this point, what did it matter? Picking it up, she realized this was the picture she'd given Dex for Christmas. It was of the two of them on their one-and-only trip to Misty Cove. She smiled at her image, her chestnut brown hair parted to the left and cut at an angle that covered one grey eye. Honeypie was wearing a light pink lipstick that day and grinned as she hugged the only two people in the world she cared about—her Gram Gram and Dex.

"You don't look forty-two. Is that your brother?"

She'd heard that at least once and enjoyed the discomfort it brought her son, especially when he was irritating her. "I look too young to be your mom, kiddo."

The framed photo sat under his bed for a year and when she asked him to pack it, this is where it ended up.

Gram Gram, or Honeypie Lucinda Sweetwater as others knew her, was an eighty-year-old woman with a spirit as vivacious as someone half her age. With a silver mane of hair neatly tied in a bun and the same grey eyes as her granddaughter, men still clamored to date her.

She was grinning from ear-to-ear in the picture, probably thinking of her best off-color joke to tell them. Honeypie's heart skipped a beat. Oh, how she missed their talks.

"Go. Now. You have to solve my murder."

Honeypie jumped back. "What?" When no one answered, she decided it was a side effect of no sleep and dehydration. "Crying all the tears you can will do that to ya, Sweetwater."

The sound of—was it moving furniture?—above her head startled her. Nothing remained in their home, except for the table and chairs. Cautiously, she climbed the stairs. It wouldn't be farfetched to think that Dex was playing a trick on her. He tended to do that when he was angry with her.

The noise became louder until she reached Dex's door and now she was certain it was some trick of his. "If you'd spend as much time on schoolwork as you do on scaring the bejeebies out of me, we'd both be happier!"

Taking a deep breath, Honeypie turned the knob and threw the door open in one motion. The room was empty. She was relieved, but also, maybe a little disappointed? This was a connection they shared in an odd sort of way.

She turned to walk back down the stairs and bumped into something. Not exactly a "thing," as much as a feeling. It was warmth and goodness.

"Gram Gram?" Honeypie rubbed her hazel eyes. "You used to tell me that hallucinations ran in the family. I shouldn't have laughed so hard."

"Sakes, gal. It took a lot of effort on my part to be here. I told you they were hallucinations because you would have thought I was crazy if I told you I was seeing ghosts. And now, you are too. The least you can do is show me some respect!"

She took a moment to think before replying. "Dexie, I know you're angry about the move, but playing tricks on me won't change things." She directed her voice down the stairs, just in case he was having a good time somewhere she couldn't see him. It wouldn't be a stretch to think of him disguising his voice from a hiding place. His friends had all the latest in electronics that he could easily borrow.

"We don't have time for this nonsense, Hun Bun."

None of the other twenty-one grandchildren were graced with a nickname. Instead of feeling special, H.P., who was also her namesake, was teased mercilessly. Maybe they were angry because H.P. spent practically all of her childhood living with Gram Gram. Or maybe they thought (as she sometimes wondered) that kids whose mom ran off with the only doctor in town deserved teasing.

The next reason why she was teased, at least early on, was that she looked nothing like the rest of the Sweetwater grandkids. They were fair-haired and freckle-faced smilers, while Honeypie Chiffon, H.P., had thick, brunette hair, caramel-colored skin and no discernible smile. For all of fourth grade, she believed she was an alien who would be summoned back to the ship in the middle of the night. That cousin had to clean Gram Gram's toilets for a month when she found out.

There was another reason she was teased: her drunk father left for the bar one day and never returned. By the third day she'd grown tired of uncooked macaroni and knocked on Gram Gram's door, asking for one of her delicious pies. She never went home again.

"If it will end this crazy dream, I'll entertain the idea that you're real. Spit it out, Gram Gram."

"You need to get on outta here now. I want you in that car lickety blitz, before Miss Crankypants returns. Got my buddy, Abdul running interference at the Ten and Twelve Market, but he can only throw things off the shelves for so long."

"It's 'lickety split,' and we'll leave when the paperwork is signed. What's the rush anyway? Dex isn't even back from his friend's place yet."

"You can't let my restaurant go back to the bank. If you drive all night, you'll give yourself a few days. That should be long enough."

"Long enough for what?"

The ghost clucked her tongue in a very un-ghost-like way. "Land, child. To solve my murder!"

H.P. found a twenty-dollar bill in a coat pocket that morning. She took that as a sign that it was time to come clean with her son. This surprise money would buy her a dozen raised glazed peace offerings to soften the blow.

"Nosedive" was the term she'd used when explaining to Dex that they'd have to leave California. A skinny kid, Dexter Jenkins had his mother's thick, wavy hair, except his was chestnut in color, his father's deep blue eyes and a smirk that was all his own.

Dex sat hunched at the table in his vintage t-shirt with his dark curls drooping over his eyes. It was hard to tell whether he was mid-morning or mid-evening because of his perpetual state of wrinkle.

"So, like I was saying, we're going to move to Washington State. I found a bunch of skateboard parks." Honey shoved a rumpled paper in front of him. She had to give her electric can opener to their upstairs neighbor in exchange for two printed pages, which didn't seem like a fair trade.

"Those are in Seattle." He shoved the papers back towards her and slouched against the back of his chair, folding his thin arms across his abdomen. "NOT in Misty Cove."

H.P. bent down and kissed the top of his head, drinking in what was left of his little boy smell.

Ever since his fourth grade growth spurt, Dex smelled like a combination of Axe body spray and his lunchbox when he'd forgotten it in his backpack during spring break. Definitely rancid, but with sweet undertones.

"Don't!" He shoved her hand away.

"Look, bud. I know you're upset, but you never know what's waiting for you up there. You like adventure, right?"

Dex stood abruptly, allowing large chunks of donuts to fall onto the floor. "I wish I could live with Dad!" he spat. "At least Florida isn't stupid."

He'd wanted to move in with his father and his new wife in Florida, but their twins were only two and they "didn't have the energy" for Dex. The poor kid cried himself to sleep for almost a month and refused to talk to his dad on the phone ever since.

Honeypie cocked her head to one side, allowing her hair to flop in front of her eyes. "He did you dirty there. Lots of blended families have more than one kid."

She held her arms open wide and stared. Hard. "You know I'll do this all night if I have to."

Secretly, she feared one day her son would call her bluff, and then she'd be stuck, waiting endlessly for his show of affection. That wasn't today, though. With heavy feet, Dex surrendered to her motherly love.

She drew him in close, her heart attempting to leap out of her chest with each new breath. "How about I make you a deal? We'll give it a month, and if you're absolutely freakin' miserable, we'll come back to San Fran."

There was no possible way for them to come home. None. Honeypie Sweetwater skillfully burned every bridge she'd ever crossed; some on purpose, some just due to the nature of things. No one would hire her again. But she also knew her son needed a lifeline, and she was throwing one in his direction.

"Okay. I guess."

She drove her car over the curb, narrowly missing a fire hydrant and a butterscotch-colored stray dog. She'd broken the two rules of single parenthood: One, don't purposely embarrass your child, and, two, don't embarrass your child by accident.

"Get in! We're leaving now!"

Luckily, the combination of her surprise appearance and the unusual abruptness in her voice caught him off guard. He got into the car without an argument and San Francisco was in their rearview mirror by the time he spoke.

"Well THAT was humiliating! You told me I could say good bye, and now you're in a big hurry to leave? You know how hard it was for me to make friends."

"I do, sweetie."

Dex struggled keeping friends while in public school. Because H.P. worked odd hours, he rarely did extracurricular activities and found himself in the principal's office on a regular basis. "Your son has an attitude, Ms. Sweetwater. He'll only find trouble until he's rid of it."

She made the decision to enroll him in private school, no matter how many jobs she had to work. Though they hardly saw each other, at least Dex had friends. There was even a cute girl who hung around him.

"It's better to get going than to sit in those emotions, don't you think?"

She kept her eyes trained on the road, hoping he didn't ask anything more. He didn't.

As they reached the California/Oregon border, Honeypie glanced over at her sweet boy. His head rested against the window, and he was softly snoring. As much as he denied it, Dexter Jenkins was still her baby.

They'd been driving for nine hours with a brief stop for gas. On the way out of town, she'd stopped at a pawn shop, leaving Gram Gram's emerald necklace and her wedding ring to pay for their trip. She paused before handing over the necklace, but didn't need any extra consideration before handing over her wedding ring.

As her car sped down the glistening blacktop, her mind wandered. Though her grandmother must've been heartbroken that her older son disappeared, she never mentioned it around her granddaughter. Her other son, Sebastian, did his best to fill in.

That's because I love you more than all of my other grandchildren.

"Mom! Lookout!"

Her eyes darted back to the road just in time to prevent a collision with a refrigerated milk truck. "Sorry, Dex. Mom's got a lot on her mind."

She reached over and patted his leg, a gesture met with a low grumble of protest. "What do you say we stop for the night? I don't know about you, but I'm starving!"

"I thought we were broke! Isn't that why you dragged me away from my friends so fast?" It was unusual for his brain to overpower his stomach. "Don't try and pull one on me, Mom. I notice things."

The hurt in his voice was almost too much to take. "Yeah, it was, bud. But I sold some of Gram's jewelry on the way out of town, while you were texting your girlfriend. I notice things too."

When he didn't respond, she continued, "A burger and a hot shower tonight will fix everything. Tomorrow, we'll head out nice and early, and—"

"How early?"

Honeypie did the math in her head. "Seven." Alarms were a delicate balance; too early and the boy would pretend he was a corpse, let him get up on his own and the day.