It’s winter in Etonville, New Jersey, and I, Dodie O’Dell, restaurant manager extraordinaire, along with everyone else in town, is slipping and sliding on the ice and snow. While most people in the northeast would be content to spend their evenings before a roaring fire, hot toddy in hand, the town’s hardy citizens are braving the weather to attend rehearsals for the Etonville Little Theatre’s upcoming production. Inspired by the classic Our Town, written by the ELT’s own former artistic director Walter Zeitzman and titled, what else, Eton Town, everyone is excited to enter new play territory. Sort of. The cast isn’t sure about Walter’s playwriting skills. Maybe he should have done the original and left well enough alone instead of setting Eton Town during the American Revolution to honor Thomas Eton, founder of Etonville.
My BFF and current artistic director Lola Tripper decides to direct this one herself and has asked me to, once again, serve as her part-time cheerleader and go-to confidant. And I have a brainstorm: celebrate the 18th century founding of Etonville and build on my theme-food adventures at the same time. The Windjammer could stock the concession stand with colonial desserts whipped up by Etonville folks!
So. . .I am sponsoring a baking class with the locals, plus Sally, one out-of-town brave soul, to create apple pie and pumpkin bread. Rehearsals are finally underway while I hold Lola’s hand and Chief Bill Thompson, Etonville’s top law enforcement officer and my recent squeeze, holds mine. Lately, he’s been seen popping by the theater and the Windjammer on his nights off. . .
The whole town is getting in on the act. Mildred is teaching hymns to the onstage chorus; the Banger sisters play dead bodies in the town graveyard; Vernon delivers monologues as the Stage Manager—perfect since he frequently forgets his hearing aids and in this role won’t have to dialogue with anyone. Walter—actor, playwright, and producer—is a triple threat and has even installed a turntable on the stage. The ELT is now high tech!
We’ve been baking early American desserts for several Sundays now and today is our last session. Henry is glad since he balks at having to come to work Monday morning and find cake batter splattered on his oven. Today’ s recipe is for Swamp Yankee Applesauce cake and as long as everyone can follow the recipe, multiply and divide, and get the oven temperature correct, the concession stand should be good to go.
At the end of the afternoon, we have a dozen cakes ready for sale and it’s time to head back out into the winter night, where snow has begun to fall. Sally, my out-of-town baking volunteer, offers to stay and help me clean up. She’s a quiet, pretty, twenty-one-year-old transplant from New England. I’d met her mid-January when I’d given her some recommendations on a place to live and helped her with job-hunting. It wasn’t long before she ended up in the cast of Eton Town and joined the baking class.
I propose that I drive her to the rooming house where she is staying, but she declines the offer and says she’ll walk. She’s from Boston and used to the cold and wind and snow. The sun has set by the time we step outside and Sally turns to go. Then she freezes and catches her breath, staring across the street. Barbie’s Craft Shoppe, one of the only businesses on Main Street open on Sunday, is closing up, lights are being flicked off, and Barbie is hanging the Closed sign. I glance back to see what has disturbed Sally.
To the left of the shop, a man stands under the street light. Big, burly, filling out a camouflage coat, he wears a trapper hat with the ear flaps flipped up. A full beard sprouts out of a face that stares back at Sally. Then he opens his mouth as if about to shout something at us. Before he can say a word, an Etonville police cruiser, lights flashing, comes to an abrupt stop in front of Barbie’s Craft Shoppe. Officer Ralph Ostrowski jumps out. They talked briefly, then Ralph escorts the man into the back seat of his squad car. They drive off, but not before the man twists in his seat and presses his face against the window, still gazing intently at Sally.
She stuffs her hands in her pockets and backs up, looking around and checking our side of the street. Then she pulls the hood of her coat over her head and runs off. I watch her leave. Despite the fact that I am warm inside my down jacket and scarf, I shiver. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand upright. My radar system giving me a warning: something isn’t right.
You can read more about Dodie in Running Out of Time, the third book in the “Dodie O’Dell” mystery series.
Restaurant manager Dodie O’Dell’s themed food ideas have been called cute, clever, and delicious, but never revolutionary-until now. Dodie’s Windjammer Restaurant is stocking the Etonville Little Theatre’s concession stand with colonial-era desserts and drinks: Swamp Yankee applesauce cake, pumpkin bread, hot cider punch, and mulled wine to complement the latest production. A local playwright has adapted Thornton Wilder’s Our Town into Eton Town, shifting the story to colonial America and the founding of Etonville, New Jersey, shortly after the Revolutionary War.
On opening night, hours before the curtain rises, Dodie runs into an agitated actress backstage with blood on her hands. Then a stranger is found among the chairs set for a graveyard scene with a knife in his chest. The show will not go on-the theatre is now a crime scene. Hoping to clear the red-handed suspect, Dodie returns to the role of amateur sleuth to mull over the clues and beat the backstage stabber to the punch-before someone else becomes history . . .
# # # # # # # # # # #
About the author
Suzanne Trauth’s novels include Show Time, Time Out, and Running Out of Time. Her plays include Françoise, Midwives, Rehearsing Desire, iDream, and Katrina: the K Word. Her screenplays Solitaire and Boomer Broads have won awards at the Austin Film Festival and she wrote and directed the short film Jigsaw. She is currently a member of Writers Theatre of New Jersey Emerging Women Playwrights program. Ms. Trauth has co-authored Sonia Moore and American Acting Training and co-edited Katrina on Stage: Five Plays. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.
For more information, visit her website at suzannetrauth.com.
All comments are welcomed.