Title: The Map Quilt
Author: Lisa J Lickel
Genre: Inspirational Cozy Mystery
Death in rural Wisconsin is only the beginning to new chaos in Robertsville.
What do a stolen piece of revolutionary agricultural equipment, a long-buried skeleton in the yard, and an old quilt with secrets have in common?
Hart and Judy Wingate, who met in The Last Bequest, are back to solve the mystery of The Map Quilt. Hart’s new battery design could forever change the farm implement industry. But after the death of Hart’s most confrontational colleague in a fire that destroys Hart’s workshop, the battery is missing.
Throw in a guest speaker invited to Judy’s elementary classroom who insists she owns the land under Hart’s chief competitor’s corporate headquarters, and a police chief who’s making eyes at Hart’s widowed mother, it’s no wonder Hart is under a ton of pressure to make sure his adventurous pregnant wife stays safe while trying to preserve his company and his reputation.
Judy settled herself back onto her chair. “Let’s wait breakfast for a while, see if the men come back. I guess I’d better feed Pancho.” She heaved herself up again. “Hart said I should go to work. I have enough sick leave saved to take off, but I still have work to do on the Harriet Tubman program. I’ll go get ready after I finish my tea.”
Judy’s stomach rumbled. The piece of leftover strawberry pie she’d not had room for last night beckoned. No, be good. Stay good. You’re doing fine with your weight, Judy, girl, no reason to ruin it now. Judy watched Ardyth make herself at home in the big farm kitchen.
Ardyth spoke with her back toward Judy. “Imagine! Those men last night, coming all the way to Wisconsin to your workshop only to gripe at the last minute. I asked Mack if he was interested in being the first to show off a brand new invention at Robertsville Harvest Days on Labor Day. Now he may not get to. That John Harding is just plain trouble. Knew that from the start.”
“You didn’t tell Mack about Hart’s solar battery, did you? That’s company information!”
Ardyth folded her arms, making the loose skin above her elbows wiggle. “Of course not.”
Judy took as deep a breath as the baby would let her and willed her blood pressure back toward normal. “Hart said Harding’s job was to make sure everything worked right.” Judy didn’t know why she was defending the hateful company project manager. Except that she had no business hating him. She didn’t even know him. But he had hurt her husband.
While Hart had stumped her body language reading skills when she first met him after her great-aunt was poisoned to death, it didn’t take an expert to read disappointment, and maybe a little shell shock, in the slump of his shoulders and droop of his lips last night.
Ardyth set the kettle on and got out mugs. She looked in the refrigerator next, telling Judy, “That battery of ours is going to revolutionize farm machinery operation. Mark my words!”
“Of course. Haven’t we sweated and supported our men while they designed it?”
“Not everyone agrees that green energy is the way to go.” Judy held her breath in preparation for Ardyth’s response.
“Ha! If I was in Tim Crawford’s shoes, I’d be sleeping with a gun under my pillow.”
“Oh, Ardyth.” But Judy wondered if Ardyth had a point. Did everyone at the company have as much loyalty in producing equipment to meet new government standards as her husband and his partner? How about Harding? Could he have wanted to see the new design fail?
Hart’s only comment had been, “Harding couldn’t drop work issues after our afternoon meeting. It doesn’t make sense to me. The man stood right out there in the field and watched the battery power up that old tractor of yours. But, we are a team. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the company.”
“I see your piece of pie is still in here. Would you like it?” Ardyth asked, holding the plate in front of Judy.
Well, strawberries were a fruit, and fruit was good for you, and the crust was sort of like bread…Judy reached for it. “Of course. I’m glad you kept the strawberry patch going out by the office.”
A little later, while Ardyth set out more leftovers from last night, Judy prepared for work.
She heard the men tramp in while she was in the bathroom, brushing her hair. Their voices sounded deep and excited. Kitchen chairs scraped.
Judy set the brush down and went out to meet them. Ardyth must have started another pot of coffee. “Well?” Judy asked. “What’s happening? Is everything okay?” She wrinkled her nose. “Whew! You smell like smoke.”
Hart answered. “They found something in the wreckage.”
“Oh no! Wreckage? Your office? The barn? You don’t mean—”
“Calm down, Judy,” Bryce said. “It was the barn, not the office. We’re insured.”
“There was a body.” Judy watched Bryce put his hands on his wife’s shoulders. Ardyth turned her face up to meet his faded blue eyes.
They knew something, but what? Judy searched her husband’s grim, exhausted face for answers. “Body? As in dead person? Who—”
“John Harding.” Hart said. “That—”
“Hart. The man’s dead,” Bryce said.
“John Harding? Who argued right here at dinner tonight?” Judy swallowed the squeak in her voice. Hart’s direct contact at the home office of InventivAg had invented a whole new meaning to the word “pest” last night. She’d nearly spilled the gravy on him just to shut him up when he had lost control of himself earlier that evening at what was supposed to be a pleasant meal for company representatives. He’d vehemently argued that Hart and Bryce’s invention could not possibly work in mass production, even after he watched the battery power up Bryce’s old tractor perfectly fine. All her efforts to impress Hart’s boss had been wasted.
“I know why he was there,” Hart said.
“The police are going to question all of us,” Bryce said. “You can’t go speculating, Hart.”
“He came back here, last night,” Judy said. “After you two left, Bryce. To apologize.”
She watched Bryce’s knuckles turn white as he squeezed his wife’s shoulders. Judy poured her husband a cup of coffee and went to stand with him at the window where the golden rays of sunlight arrowed across the fence on the other side of their driveway.
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The Map Quilt is one of those cozy mysteries that has something for everyone: cats, small town Wisconsin, murder, a historical conundrum, and love is in the air. When Hart’s hateful colleague is murdered, and his revolutionary battery stolen, rumors of lost gold buried on the farm by travelers on the Underground Railroad is low on his list of priorities—the first of which is keeping his adventurous, pregnant wife Judy, safe.
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Winner will be drawn on October 23, 2020.
Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin author of inspiring fiction who loves books, collects dragons, and travels. She writes novels, short stories, feature articles, and radio theater, and loves to encourage authors through mentoring, coaching, and leading workshops. Lisa is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association, the Chicago Writers Association, and instructor for Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, Inc. She is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at www.LisaLickel.com.
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