Rocky Road (or how I got rich without trying…)
Van Foster – A Romantic Novelist to the nth degree. Obvs.
For Mahainian: you went to sleep when I wanted you to stay awake.
“So you have no idea what happened?”
Carie stared across the counter at Detectives Longbaugh and Schmidt. Longbaugh was the one who’d asked the question, but Schmidt seemed to be the one most interested in the answer. Longbaugh leaned against the counter, his back to Carie as he looked over the rest of the shop. Schmidt faced her, her eyes watching Carie’s reaction to the question.
“I’ve already told you everything I know,” Carie said. She didn’t have time for this. The grand opening was the next day and of course the two detectives had shown up while she was in the midst of putting everything together.
“I just find it interesting that the owner of the coffee shop dies, yet the shop keeps functioning as normal. If there’s no boss, how does it keep running?” Longbaugh asked.
“Maybe you should ask the people working there what happened,” Carie said.
Longbaugh turned around. “Tried it. No dice.”
“Well…” Carie held her hands palms up and spread them as if to say I don’t know what more you want from me.
“Do you mind if we take a look around the shop?” Longbaugh asked.
“Do you have a warrant?” Carie asked in return.
“Why are you making this so difficult on us? Difficult on yourself?” Schmidt asked, really mustering up a caring look on her face.
Carie didn’t answer, watching as Longbaugh began walking toward the back of the shop.
Toward the walk-in.
Toward the Freezer Amor.
Toward the still unopened package containing the man labeled Rocky Road.
Carie couldn’t bring herself to open the new flavor until she found out what happened to Tanner.
“What’s in there?” Longbaugh asked, nodding his chin in the direction of the walk-in.
“Ice cream. What else?” Carie asked in return.
Longbaugh shrugged. “Not sure. Want to show me?”
“Again. Warrant or nothing,” Carie said, watching as Longbaugh reached for the handle.
“Did you know that Angela had three children?” Longbaugh asked. Schmidt leaned in.
“No. Angela never mentioned them before.”
“Interesting. Did you know that there’s a will reading today? At Angela’s estate?”
Estate? Will reading? Carie hadn’t heard anything of the sort.
“I see it’s a surprise to you as well. Did you know that you’re on the list to be present at the will reading?”
“I… No, I wasn’t aware of that.” Carie frowned. She hadn’t really known Angela that well and was surprised to have been included on something like a will, especially if Angela had three children.
Schmidt shrugged. “It’s just interesting that you pop up out of nowhere and into Angela’s life, she comes up murdered, and now, not only is she bankrolling your shop, but you’re also included in the will?”
“Interesting probably isn’t the word I would use,” Carie said.
“I can certainly think of some other words.” Longbaugh smiled as he began counting off on his fingers. “Motive. Suspicious. Grifter. Con artist.”
“Con artist is two words,” Carie said.
Longbaugh’s smile soured. “Right. Well. I think we’re finished here for today.”
Schmidt looked at her watch. “Strange that your name is on the invitation list for the will reading, yet you’re here right now.”
“Why is that strange?” Carie asked.
“The will reading starts in about five minutes from now.”
“Gosh,” Carie said, bringing her hand to her chest in mock surprise. “It’s almost as though I wasn’t invited and this whole thing is just a big mixup.”
“Not really.” Longbaugh fished his hand into his coat jacket pocket and pulled out a green envelope. Carie saw that her name was emblazoned on the outside of it, in white script. “Angela’s lawyer asked us to deliver this to you.”
Longbaugh dropped the envelope onto the counter between them. Carie picked it up, noting the torn edges at the back.
“You opened it already?” Carie asked.
“No. It came like that,” Longbaugh answered.
Carie grunted, opening the envelope and removing a white card with green lettering from inside. She glanced at her watch: two and a half minutes until the will reading started and it was on the other side of Buttercup.
“Damn you,” Carie said. “Damn you both.”
Schmidt smiled at this, seeming to relish the fact that she and her partner had gotten under Carie’s skin.
“Let us know how the will reading goes,” Longbaugh said, walking away from the counter to the front door. Schmidt hung back for a moment.
“This doesn’t need to be this difficult,” she said.
“You’re right.” Carie glared at Schmidt. “It doesn’t.”
Carie shrugged as if to say you got me, and then headed to the front door to meet her partner. They walked out together, but not before Longbaugh turned back and gave Carie a jaunty little wave. Rolling her eyes, Carie headed to the front door to lock up behind the detectives.
She had a will reading to get to.
Carie drove to the address indicated on the card in silent introspection.
There had been no reappearance of Tanner since he disappeared. The container hadn’t magically reappeared on the shelf either, so what did that mean? Was Tanner still out in the world? Was he in another ice cream shop?
That last question popped in the Carie’s mind, bringing with it a small tinge of jealousy she was surprised to feel. They’d only been together twice that day, but the thought of him in another ice cream shop, with a different owner, bothered her more than she had expected it to.
And what about Rocky Road?
Longbaugh had almost stumbled across the new flavor. What would she have done then? How would she have explained that? Would Rocky Road have animated for the two detectives?
Carie had a ton of questions that she knew couldn’t be answered.
She also wondered how the coffee shop next door had been running since Angela’s death.
These thoughts, questions, and concerns, along with many others, kept Carie company on the drive to the will reading. She finally pulled up to a giant wrought iron gate with a little box beside it. She rolled down her window and pressed the only button on the box.
“Welcome to Rollingwylde. Name and purpose for visiting?” A disembodied voice asked through the box.
“My name is Carie. I’m here–”
Before Carie could finish, the door lurched away from her car, swaying as it opened.
“Proceed to the end of the drive and stop in front of Rollingwylde,” the voice said. “A valet will be on hand to take possession of your car.”
“Rollingwylde?” Carie asked, confused.
The voice on the other end of the box clear their throat, then explained, sounding embarrassed for Carie. “Rollingwylde is the name of the manor.”
“Manor? You mean Angela’s house?” Carie asked.
The box’s tiny speaker perfectly conveyed the frustration in the man’s loud sigh. “Yes. Rollingwylde, if you must describe it as such, is the name of Angela’s house.”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you.” Carie rolled her window up, color and heat both coming to her cheeks. She drove through the gate and down a long winding drive. On either side of the pavement were thick trees that looked hundreds of years old. The branches of the trees met in a sort of archway over the drive, making it almost seem as though it was twilight. It was a pleasant feeling that Carie had never experienced before, but wished she had.
The drive took one giant bend and then revealed the enormity of Rollingwylde to Carie. The house sat on a giant lot, fronted by an enormous circular drive with a fountain and topiary set in the center. Around the drive were already parked what must’ve been twelve vehicles. Mouth hanging open, Carie realized that most of the vehicles were from a price range that she probably hadn’t even made during a single decade of work.
The house itself dwarfed the giant circular lot. It was a two-story building, completely white except for the forest green shutters that edged each window. The house extended to either side of the lot, trees framing it on both sides.
Carie pulled up in front of the sprawling building that could only be Rollingwylde and a man in a green jacket and white pants approached the car. He walked in front of her vehicle and came to her driver-side door where he pulled on the handle. The door didn’t budge and he tried again.
When he realized that her door was locked, he leaned forward and pointed at the lock. Carie, already flustered, began swiping at the door, not realizing that her foot had let up some of the pressure from the brake pedal. The car rolled forward a foot before Carie firmly planted her toes down on the brake pedal again causing the car to lurch and sway forward and backward. She put the car into park and managed to unlock the door. The man opened it for her and waited.
Embarrassed with herself and wanting the whole situation to be over, Carie turned to step out of the car, managing to strangle herself on the seatbelt that was still buckled. Trying to be smooth about it, she unbuckled the seatbelt and the thick fabric of the belt slid across her throat with a heat Carie knew would end up looking like a carpet burn.
The valet said nothing, merely holding the door open and waiting for her to finish exiting. When Carie finally made it out, she took several steps toward Rollingwylde before she heard the valet clear his throat behind her.
The man held his hand out to Carie.
Realizing what the man was asking for, Carie felt her face flush again. “Oh, I don’t have any cash on me. I’m sorry I didn’t realize there be a valet service here.”
The man’s own cheeks filled with color as he spoke. “I just need your keys. To park your vehicle?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry,” Carie said, looking through her purse for her keys.
Where were they?
“Silly purse ate the keys,” she said, hunting through the bag as her face filled with more heat.
The valet said nothing, standing there waiting, making her more uncomfortable than she already felt.
Eventually she found the keys and pulled them out, handing them over to the valet. Unfortunately, in her excitement at finding what was once lost, she managed to drop the keys between them. She began bending down to pick them up, but the valet spoke sharply.
“No, Miss. I’ll take care of this. They’re waiting for you inside.”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you.” Carie said, giving the valet a sort of half bow/half curtsy before walking away.
What the fuck was she doing?
She was completely out of her element and off center.
“Ms. Flint?” A deep voice, much like the one she heard over the box speaker outside the gate, sounded from the front of the house.
A tree of a man stood next to the front door. He wore the same green jacket as the valet, but black pants. He also wasn’t wearing a green hat as the valet was.
“I’m Miss Flint,” Carie said as she approached the man.
“Everyone else is already assembled, if you would follow me?” The man asked, gesturing through the open front door.
“Everyone?” Carie asked.
“Yes. They’re all gathered in the Conservatory.”
“I’m sorry?” The man asked her.
“Clue. It’s a board game where you…” Carie quit speaking as she realized what she was about to say.
It’s a board game where you try to find out who murdered someone.
Yeah, that would’ve gone over really well.
“Well, as I said, if you’ll follow me,” the man said.
Carie nodded. Why was she like this? Why was she always so awkward?
“What’s your name?” Carie asked, trying to salvage something from this interaction. She’d almost referred to him as Jeeves but narrowly avoided bungling it by shutting her mouth instead.
“My name is Erik.”
“Erik. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Carie.”
So stupid, she thought. He knows your name.
Carie followed Erik through several halls and atriums, surprised at the level of grandeur in each one. Everything inside the house was made of dark wood or marble. Everything seemed as though it was several centuries old.
Knowing she might regret it based on how this whole experience had been so far, Carie opened her mouth again. “How old this is house?”
“Rollingwylde is 150 years old,” Erik said.
“I didn’t know there were houses that old here.”
“Rollingwylde is without a doubt the oldest manor in Buttercup.”
Erik eventually stopped in front of a set of two giant wooden doors. The wood was so dark it almost looked black.
“They’re waiting for you,” Erik said, gesturing to the door handles.
Carie paused for a moment, unsure if Erik was supposed to open the door for her or if she was supposed to do so on her own. Eventually she settled on opening the doors herself.
“Thank you, Erik,” Carie said as she reached for the handles. She turned them both at the same time and pulled. They whispered open and Carie sucked in a quiet breath as she stepped into the conservatory. The room was tiled with green and white marble and the roof was made almost completely of glass, allowing natural light to fall on the many potted plants in the room. A man stood at the front of a massive group of chairs. Almost every chair was filled and it looked as though there were at least forty people in the room.
Behind her, the heavy doors which had opened so quietly, slammed shut. A deep booming reverberation filled the room and the crowd turned to face Carie.
“Ah, fuck,” she mumbled, considering whether or not a fake smile would fit the strange moment rather than the somberness the crowd seemed to be regarding her with. Deciding to keep the gravity of the situation intact, she chose not to smile and made her way to an empty seat. Those gathered in the seats continued to stare at her.
That was when she realized how differently they were dressed than her.
The majority wore heavy garments made of thick, expensive cloth. Everyone’s outfits were in darker shades like black, gray, and navy.
Carie looked down at her own outfit and shook her head.
Bright red pants, yellow shoes, and a white T-shirt that said Honeybee Sweets ‘n Treats on the front with a smiling ice cream cone that a bee flew in dashed line circles around.
She must look like a clown to these people.
The man at the front of the group rapped a gavel on a lectern and everyone turned back around.
“If we’ve all composed ourselves now, I will continue,” the man said. “Now that all the smaller items have been dispensed, we will begin the dispensation of the major items of the estate. In regards to–”
The man, who Carie could only assume was Angela’s lawyer, quit speaking as a tinkling, yet muffled song began to play in the conservatory.
Carie looked around like everyone else did, then slammed her eyes shut and internally groaned.
She knew that song. It was familiar for a reason.
It was the haunting melody of her cell phone ringing from inside her purse.
Carie sat completely still, refusing to dig through her purse to find the phone. The call would end soon, and no one would be the wiser. Several of those gathered had already turned to look at her and Carie looked right back at them, refusing to break eye contact. She would win this battle if it was the last thing she did. She would win at least one battle this day.
Eventually the cell stopped ringing and she internally breathed a sigh of relief yet outwardly kept staring right back at those staring at her.
The lawyer cleared his throat and began speaking again. “Ah, as I was saying before I was interrupted, we’ve completed the dispensation of the smaller items and will now move on to the major items. In regards to—”
And holy shit if the phone didn’t start ringing again…
This time, Carie didn’t have a choice. She wasn’t about to stare down all these people again for a second time, and possibly a third time, if the person who kept calling her called back again.
Rustling around in her bag, Carie found her phone and turned it off, catching a glimpse of a number she didn’t recognize. Pushing this from her mind, she looked up to see that once again, the entire room was staring at her.
“Sorry,” she said in a small voice.
The lawyer at the front nodded and began speaking again. “Okay. I think that’s all sorted now so let’s try this again. In regards to the estate, Rollingwylde, as well as the various holding companies that administer the property and various other companies have been willed to a Miss Carie Flint.”
The room was silent. Had there been noise, Carie wasn’t sure she would’ve been able to hear it over the pounding of her own pulse in her ears. If she’d heard the lawyer correctly, and most of her believed that she hadn’t, Rollingwylde, and whatever else the lawyer had said, was hers and hers alone. When the pounding in her ears abated, Carie began to hear the muffled whispers of those assembled as they turned and looked at her again. This time was worse because she knew they were talking about her.
Carie turned around to look behind her, just in case they were all looking at something else. Longbaugh and Schmidt stood at the back of the room, watching her, but Carie knew that’s not what those assembled were staring at. They were staring at the new owner of Rollingwylde. There were staring at her.
Longbaugh and Schmidt were staring at her as well, but for different reasons. They were staring at a suspect who had just inherited a vast estate and who had only known the person willing that vast estate for several months before.
Frowning, a thought came to Carie. Did she now own the coffee shop as well? She turned back around to face the lawyer; she would need to speak with him after this whole thing was over.
“And that’s all,” the lawyer was saying. “Feel free to get in touch with my firm if you have any questions. Thank you all for attending. I’m sure Ms. Lansbrownie would’ve thanked you all as well.”
Carie stayed in her seat as everyone else stood up and began shuffling down the aisle, exiting the conservatory, but pausing for a moment to glare at her as they walked by.
Every. Single. Person.
When everyone in the conservatory had exited, save for Carie, the lawyer, and the detectives, Carie stood. The detectives and the lawyer approached.
“Congratulations,” Longbaugh said.
“Yeah. Congratulations, Carie,” Schmidt agreed. “You work fast, don’t you?”
“Don’t answer that,” the lawyer said.
Schmidt and Longbaugh both glared at the man, looking as though he’d stabbed them in the back.
“My client has nothing else to say to you,” the lawyer continued. “Further questions can be directed to myself or my firm.”
“Unbelievable,” Schmidt said, shaking her head as she looked at Longbaugh.
“Right?” Longbaugh agreed.
“If there’s nothing else, the door is right there. Goodbye,” the lawyer said, dismissing the detectives and turning to Carie.
“My name is Mark Griffinshield, Esquire,” the lawyer said.
“I’m Carie. Flint. But I guess you knew that,” Carie said.
Mark nodded, waiting for the detectives to exit the conservatory before holding his wrist up to his mouth. “David. The detectives are exiting.”
Mark paused for a moment, seeming to listen to thin air, and then spoke to Carie again. “The detectives have been gathered and are being escorted from the building. As I was saying, my name is Mark. You were saying that your name is Carie.”
Carie nodded, not really knowing what else to say.
“I’m sure this is all coming as a large shock to you,” Mark said.
“It is. I don’t really understand it all either. I just met her several months ago.”
Mark nodded. “We know. She kept detailed records of all of your meetings. She forwarded those meetings along to the firm so that in the event of her untimely death, there would be no question that you’d made an indelible mark on her.”
“Indelible… How though?” Carie asked.
“Her children all left at a young age and never returned. Not really sure why, but they did. Angela seemed to believe that you were a fresh chance to right her wrongs.”
“If she wanted to right her wrongs, why didn’t she just will her estate to her children?”
Mark shrugged. “No idea. For whatever reason she never seemed to trust her children. Something to do with the company.”
“Didn’t she tell you?” Mark asked.
And this was it. This was the moment when Carie would have everything taken away from her. When the lawyer would lay it on her that her ice cream shop was never really hers to begin with and that it would be taken away.
“No,” Carie said. “She never mentioned anything about a company. Are you taking the ice cream shop away?”
A small chuckle escaped Mark’s mouth before he regained his composure and spoke. “I apologize for laughing. You’ve actually inherited all of Angela’s companies.”
“I don’t follow. All of them? How many are there?”
“The coffee shop, the ice cream shop, and the crown jewel: the Amor Ice Cream Company.”
Carie felt as though the breath had been punched out of her lungs. Her head swam, but confusion also crept in. The Amor Ice Cream Company was supposedly bankrupt and no longer in existence, how could she be the owner of it?
“Amor Ice Cream Company?” Carie asked, trying to play it cool. “I’ve never heard of that before.”
Mark smiled. “For good reason.”
“What do you mean?” Carie asked.
“As far as anyone else knows, the Amor Ice Cream Company no longer exists.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Let me show you around Rollingwylde and I think you’ll begin to get an idea of what’s going on.”