Chapter One: Mystery with a Side of Maple Syrup CHAPTER ONE Mystery with a Side of Maple Syrup
THE AIRPLANE MADE A WIDE turn as it descended through the clouds toward Burlington International Airport. I pressed my face against the small oval window. All at once, I could see green hills, fields dotted with farms, and our ultimate destination: the clear blue waters of Lake Champlain.
“We’re almost there!” I said. It was my first trip to Vermont, one of the smallest and least populated states in the country. I couldn’t wait to explore, try the world-famous maple syrup, and of course, go sailing at my friend Megan’s new club and resort!
“Thank goodness!” George grumbled behind me. Our small commercial jet’s seats were grouped in twos. George had taken the seat behind me and Bess. She was using the empty space next to her to stash her computer, e-reader, and cell phone.
“Motion sickness?” Bess asked, dabbing on fresh lip gloss in preparation for landing.
“No, my e-reader is about to run out of charge!” George said with a groan. “And I’m right in the middle of a really good book! What sort of airplane doesn’t have power outlets?”
“Maybe the kind that’s built to fly, not charge all your equipment? I mean, I know which one I’d prefer,” I teased. George gave my seat a little nudge and we laughed.
Bess put the cap on her lip gloss and dropped it into her navy-blue purse. As usual, her outfit was perfectly themed for our destination. She wore a blue-and-white-striped shirt with a sailboat crest on the front, white linen pants, and a pair of navy Top-Siders. Her cousin George, on the other hand, was outfitted in cargo pants with enough pockets to hold all her electronics. (I don’t even want to talk about how long it took us to get through security back in River Heights!)
The intercom dinged and the captain came on. “Hello, passengers,” she said in a smooth voice. “We’re making our final descent into Burlington, where skies are clear and the temperature is seventy-five degrees on this beautiful June day. In preparation for landing, please return your seat backs and tray tables to their upright positions. We’ll be on the ground shortly!”
I folded the Sudoku puzzle I’d been working on, tucked it away, and clicked my tray table back into place. I sat up straight. The plane took a sharp turn and descended quickly, angling toward the runway. In a matter of minutes, the wheels touched down with a thump. We lurched forward in our seats as the plane slowed. I pulled out my phone and switched it off airplane mode. A text notification immediately filled the screen. It was from Megan.
Nancy! I’m so sorry, but I’ll be late picking you up. Had a little accident this morning. Nothing major! Will explain when I get there. Can’t wait to see you all!
Poor Megan! I wondered what happened. I told Bess and George about the delay, then quickly texted Megan back to let her know it was no problem, of course, and we hoped everything was okay. I never minded having a little time to explore, anyway. There’s always something new to see and learn, wherever you go.
The plane rolled to a stop in front of the gate and the seat-belt light clicked off. George, Bess, and I stood and grabbed our luggage from the overhead compartments. We followed the line of passengers off the plane.
“We have a little time to kill,” I said once we were inside the small airport. “What would you like to do?”
“Hmmm…,” Bess said, glancing around. “I’m not sure. Is there a gift shop somewhere?”
“Gift shop? No thanks,” George said. She was already following her nose toward a gate-side restaurant called the Skinny Pancake.
“You’re hungry again already?” Bess asked as we caught up with George. “We just ate two hours ago at the airport in River Heights.”
“Exactly,” George said. “It’s been two whole hours! And they didn’t even have pretzels on our flight. I’m starving! Besides, how big can a skinny pancake be?”
Bess and I laughed. George is basically a bottomless pit when it comes to food. She’s like her e-reader. Always needing to be charged.
We dragged our luggage to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter, and read the extensive menu written above the register on a large chalkboard.
“Wow,” Bess said, scanning the board. “Who knew there were so many ways to eat a crepe? Strawberries… egg and bacon… ham and cheese. How am I supposed to choose?”
“We could always get one of everything!” George volunteered.
“That would be, like, twenty crepes!” I said with a laugh.
“And?” George answered with a smirk. “Is that a problem?”
A middle-aged woman with long, shiny hair pulled into a ponytail stepped up to the register. “Good afternoon!” she said brightly. Her name tag read ELSIE. “What can I get for you?”
“Ah, it’s so hard to choose,” I said. “What do you recommend?”
“Depends,” Elsie answered. “Do you want sweet or savory?”
“Yes!” George responded, and we all cracked up.
After a few moments of deliberation, we placed our orders. Elsie typed them into the computer. “Great choices,” she said. Of course, I wasn’t sure there were any bad choices here. “Can I interest you all in a maple latte to go with your crepes?”
Bess’s eyes widened. “A maple latte? I didn’t even know that was a thing!”
“Oh, it’s a thing.” Elsie smiled. “A very delicious thing.”
“We’ll take three, right?” I said. Bess and George nodded.
A gate announcement sounded over the intercom as another plane arrived. Soon after, a few more passengers filtered into the restaurant, stepping in line behind us. I paid. Elsie handed me a table stand with a number 7 on top.
“Have a seat,” she said. “I’ll bring out your food when it’s ready.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Bess, George, and I chose a table close to the window, where we could watch the planes taking off and landing. Some people hate airports. Not me. I kind of love them. I enjoy all the coming and going. The possibilities are infinite, right? It’s a bit like solving a mystery. The journey could take you just about anywhere.
Elsie came over holding a tray full of mugs.
“So, are you arriving or departing?” she asked.
“Just arrived,” I answered.
“And what brings you to the Green Mountain State?” Elsie asked, placing steaming lattes with maple leaves etched in the foam at each of our places. Bess already had her mug to her lips before I could open my mouth to answer Elsie’s question.
“We’re visiting my friend,” I said. “Megan Cho? She’s opening an eco-resort and sailing club by the Gemstone Islands.”
“Ah, I’d heard someone had bought that old property and was rebuilding the resort,” Elsie answered. “Exciting!”
“So you know the place?” I asked.
Elsie cleared her throat. “Sure do,” she said. “Pretty famous around these parts. Nearly everyone of a certain age has memories of the old Gemstone Islands Resort. Had my senior prom there. Quite a time! The old resort was rumored to be haunted, you know,” she said with a wink.
“Haunted?” Bess’s eyebrows quirked up.
“That’s what people say,” Elsie answered. “Should have seen the looks on everyone’s faces at my prom when the power suddenly flicked off for two minutes. Never heard anything louder in my life than that shriek Jennifer Hutchins, our prom queen, let out.” Elsie laughed at the memory. “And when the lights came back on, one of the guys had put on this old pirate’s hat from a display in the dining room and jumped out at everyone. Jennifer screamed even louder!”
Elsie chuckled, and then her face went dark. “Of course, all that haunting talk wasn’t so funny ten years later when, well…” She paused and cleared her throat again.
“When what?” George asked.
Bess lowered her latte mug, a dollop of steamed milk clinging to her nose. She wiped it away with a sheepish grin, staring intently at Elsie.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Elsie answered. She shuddered slightly, then pasted a big smile on her face. “Nothing to worry about now, I’m sure! That was a long time ago. It’s not like the place is actually haunted. You know how people like to talk,” she said, a bit too brightly. Then she cocked her head as if she’d just heard something. “Oh, pardon me! I think that was the bell. Your crepes must be up.” She hurried away, green apron swishing against her legs.
“Huh, I didn’t hear anything, did you?” Bess said.
George shook her head.
“Interesting…” I turned and watched Elsie, who was standing at the very obviously empty counter between the seating area and the kitchen. Our crepes were definitely not up. There was a familiar tingle on the back of my neck. Call it my detective radar. I took a long sip of my latte, thinking.
“Oh no,” Bess said, shaking her head. “Really?”
George rolled her eyes. “Just one vacation, Nancy? One! Do you think we could have one trip without a mystery? You promised!”
I set my latte mug down on the table.
“Technically, I said I’d try. I can’t help it if intrigue follows me everywhere I go. Besides,” I added with a grin, “I thought that’s why you liked to hang out with me. It’s never boring, right?”
“Hmm, I don’t know about that. I’m just in it for the maple lattes,” Bess answered with a grin of her own. She slurped down the rest of her drink in one fantastic gulp. “That was delicious! Would it be bad to have one more?”
“Only if you want to spend the rest of the afternoon bouncing off the walls,” George said. “I’ve seen you after two cups of coffee, remember?”
“Ah,” Bess said with a sigh. “Water it is, then.”
A few minutes later, a bell actually did sound in the kitchen. The chef slid three plates across the counter. Elsie picked them up, flawlessly juggling all three on her left arm. She weaved through the tables and set the crepes and a silver container of maple syrup in front of us.
“Enjoy!” she said, before dashing off to help a weary group of travelers with rumpled hair and clothes who had slumped their way to the counter.
George speared a banana chunk covered in chocolate and fresh whipped cream and popped it into her mouth.
“Mmmmm,” she said, eyes closed. “Chocolate and banana. Nothing better!”
Bess and I dug in, savoring our mouthwatering crepes. Mine was filled with eggs and Vermont cheddar. Bess’s was smeared with hazelnut spread and strawberries. She still dumped half the container of syrup on it anyway. I sometimes wonder if the reason Bess is so sweet is that she’s 99 percent composed of sugar.
“What do you suppose Elsie meant about the old resort being haunted?” I said, taking another bite of delicious crepe.
“Are you still thinking about that?” George asked.
“Of course she is,” Bess said. “She’s Nancy Drew! Famous amateur sleuth. She can’t help herself!”
“I’m just curious,” I said. “That’s all.”
Curiosity is an itch. If I don’t scratch, all it does is itch even more. I continued to chew and think, gazing absentmindedly out the window at the planes taxiing on the runway. I figured Elsie was probably in her forties. So whatever happened at the resort must have been around fifteen to twenty years ago. Weird that it still made her seem so… jumpy.
“Earth to Nancy.…” George waved her fork in front of my face. “Are you done?”
“Oh!” I snapped my attention back to the table. Elsie had returned and was motioning toward our plates.
“Looks like you enjoyed your lunch?” she said.
“Yes, it was fabulous!” Bess said.
“Can I clear your dishes?” Elsie asked.
“Yes, thank you,” I answered.
“Thank you, too!” she said. “I hope you enjoy your visit!”
She stacked our plates and turned to leave. I was just about to stop her—I really wanted to ask her more about the old Gemstone Islands Resort and ghost rumors. But my phone buzzed before I could open my mouth and speak. I checked my messages.
“Megan is out front!”
“Phew! Saved by the bell,” Bess said. “Time to forget you heard anything about a ghost, okay?”
“Ha-ha,” I answered. We gathered our things and exited the airport, stepping into the fresh Vermont air. Megan was parked at the curb, standing next to a red Mini Cooper and waving.
More like, Megan was leaning on her Mini Cooper, waving—and wincing a little. All her weight was on her right foot.
Her left foot was wrapped in a brown elastic bandage and stuffed into a huge black stabilizing boot.