Author’s Introduction

Easy as Pie is a short story based on Harper’s Landing, a fictional town in rural Missouri where my first novel, Death Lives in the Water, takes place. The story precedes the incidents of the first novel. I am a newly published fiction author, having written scholarly non-fiction for years. At present, all my planned works, short stories and novels, will take place in Harper’s Landing. It is a community I would want to live in, given a choice, and people I would want to live with.

Originally Published in Grantville Gazette Volume 85, September 2019

“Two cups of flour, one-half cup of leaf lard, one teaspoon of salt,” muttered Maggie, “and ice water on hand, use sparingly.”

Maggie Farmington had been making pie crust since she was fourteen. Her grandmother had taught her how.

“Never, ever use anything but leaf lard,” said Grandmama, “and always use ice water. Also, don’t bother sifting your flour.”

Grandmama had used her hands to combine the lard and flour, and so did Maggie. Maggie knew that her fingers were good at judging the proper blending of lard and flour. She added the water, a few drops at a time, until she had a ball of dough that just barely held together. She popped it into the fridge to rest. Maggie was short, plump, and strong as an ox. She was rarely seen without a smile on her face, and she could cook like an angel.

It was a sunny June day, perfect for baking. Maggie pulled the pie crust dough out of the refrigerator and began to roll it out, setting aside a portion for the lattice tops. She glanced out the window and saw a black Cadillac limousine pull to stop in front of the diner. She paid it little attention as she rolled out pie crusts for the six pie pans, filled them with her special apple pie filling, and began cutting the lattice strips for the tops. She glanced up and saw a man dressed in black with wraparound dark glasses get out of the limo. His clothing and bearing screamed “bodyguard.” She finished the lattice tops and popped the pies in the oven. Then she hurried into the diner to see who would arrive in Harper’s Landing in a limo.

Morey spoke with the man in the dark glasses. It was obvious that Morey and the bodyguard were arguing. Morey came back inside, shaking his head.

“The nerve of some people,” he said in an angry tone. “He wanted us to empty the diner, just so his hoity-toity employer wouldn’t have to eat with the ‘common folk.’ ”

Morey continued to glare out the window, watching the man speak with the limo passenger. Finally, a tall man climbed out of the limo. He was dressed in a rumpled suit, and he had an unkempt look about him, as if his appearance had never mattered much to him. The man strode into the diner without looking at his bodyguard. Maggie hurried forward and greeted him.

“Welcome! We can provide you with a private table outside on our back patio,” she said. “However, it isn’t very nice out there, since we haven’t yet finished it. Or you can have a table to yourself right in front, next to the window.”

“The window table will be fine,” the man said.

Maggie looked up as the door opened. It was Jen Harper, their waitress. Jen hurried into the kitchen where she put on a clean apron and grabbed an order pad and pen. Jen was in her early thirties, slim, and blessed with thick, wavy auburn hair. She had the bright blue eyes that marked all the Harper/Haremchuk descendants.

“Sorry I’m late. I had to find a sitter for Bridgette, since Charity is occupied.”

Bridgette was Jen’s daughter, born shortly after her husband was killed in Afghanistan. Bridgette was now five years old and showing the signs of a power gift already. Jen was a diligent and loving mother.

“I’ll get right to work,” she said. “You better make more apple pie. Looks like we’re going to need it.”

She was correct. More and more people showed up, probably as much for the gossip as the meatloaf. Jen sent Morey to the back to work his magic with the gravy and potatoes. She got busy taking orders, the first from the man at the window table.

“What can I get you?” she asked.

“It’s about time,” said the man. “A person could starve to death waiting for service around here. That will have to change.”

Jen’s eyebrows went up a bit. She wondered what he meant by that.

“Today is Thursday,” Jen said. “We always have meatloaf special on Thursday, with mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and locally grown green beans.”

“I don’t suppose you have hamburgers,” said the man.

“Yes, we have wonderful hamburgers,” replied Jen. “Would you like a double or single? And with or without cheese?”

“I’ll have a double, extra thick patty, cooked very well done. American cheese please. And lots of fries. And a chocolate milkshake. I see you have a milkshake machine. Make mine extra thick. Oh, and pickles on the hamburger; no rabbit food.”

Jen gave the order to Maggie, who rolled her eyes.

“Who the hell eats their hamburger very well done? Especially an extra thick patty. Can you do the milkshake, Morey?”

Morey delivered the milkshake to the table. He was about to leave when the man spoke to him.

“Who’s in charge in this town?”

“I’m the mayor,” replied Morey. “The sheriff’s office is over there. John Hartley is our county sheriff, and a circuit judge comes around occasionally. That’s about it.”

“I want to talk to the person who owns the land just north of here, between the mill and the town. All the land, including the woods. Can you get word to him that I would like to speak with him as soon as we are done with lunch? Tell them Dietrich Freyhaph wishes to discuss business.”

“Well, sir,” said Morey, “that would be Charity Farmington. I reckon she owns just about all the land around here; except the land that Harve Sanders’ family owns down south. Anyway, Charity is old and doesn’t get about much. I can send someone to bring her down here, and we could all go over to the sheriff’s office to conduct business after you finish your lunch.

Lunch was delivered to the table quickly, and Freyhaph ate in silence. When he had finished, Jen set a piece of apple pie in front of him.

“What’s this?” said Freyhaph. “I didn’t order pie. And I won’t be paying for it.”

“All of our meals come with apple pie,” responded Jen, with a small smile. “Give it a try. If you don’t like it, it’s okay. But I assure you there is no extra charge.”

Freyhaph picked up the clean fork Jen had brought and speared a large piece of pie. He popped it in his mouth, and suddenly was still. His face, which had been pinched in impatience and anger, relaxed. After a few moments he swallowed.

“That is truly extraordinary pie,” he said. “I would like to take a pie home with me, a whole one please.”

He pulled a hundred-dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to Jen.

“I assume this will cover everything, including a pie for me to take home?” He said.

“Oh, yes,” said Jen. “Thank you. We will bake a fresh pie for you. And you may keep the glass pan it comes in.”

Freyhaph headed across the street where his bodyguard waited for him at the sheriff’s office. Charity Farmington was sitting in the most comfortable chair in Sheriff John’s office. She was a small, slender woman of indeterminate age. Her curly red hair had streaks of grey here and there but was still thick and gorgeous. Her bright blue eyes were beautiful and large.

She was highly respected for her ability to concoct healing salves and potions, and to grow wonderful apples which accounted for at least half of the goodness of Maggie’s pies. She was generous and kind. She had a laugh that could fill a room, and a tongue that could cut you to the quick. In sum, Charity Farmington was a powerful warrior woman, and Dietrich Freyhaph was about to find that out the hard way.

John Hartley sat at his desk, leaning back in his chair. As usual he wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans, but for the occasion he had pinned his seldom-seen badge to his shirt pocket. John was a big man with grey hair and a nearly white beard, which he kept closely trimmed. He often thought about retiring these days, especially the days when his chest and joints hurt. But first he had to find the right person to take his place. The office was almost barren. John’s desk sat in the middle with two straight back chairs opposite his side of the desk. There was an overstuffed chair in the corner and a small couch near the front window, with a table in front covered with out-of-date real crime magazines.

Morey opened the door, and Freyhaph pushed in before him, striding to the desk and pulling up one of the chairs. Morey and the bodyguard followed him. Morey took the other chair in front of John’s desk, while the bodyguard remained standing beside the door.

“You must be Charity,” said Freyhaph, leaning forward in his chair to glare at her.

“I am Ms. Farmington,” replied Charity, in a voice that would have frozen the balls off a penguin.

“I’m Dietrich Freyhaph. I develop land. I create places where people can relax, people who have lots of money and lots of time to relax. My two older children were up here a few months ago on a fishing trip. They told me I needed to see this place, that it would make a wonderful resort. They were right. And that pie! That alone makes it a perfect spot for a resort. We will of course hire that amazing cook.”

Charity continued to stare at him, expressionless. Freyhaph leaned closer, his voice rising in pitch.

“What this place needs is people! People with money. They can make you rich, make your town grow! Just imagine, people who don’t care about the price of things, coming to your town, buying Ms. Harper’s quilts and the wood crafts I saw in the window next to her shop. The diner could expand. The pie would become world famous!”

“What would bring so many people here?” asked Charity. “And why do you think we would want more people and more money?”

“Everyone wants more money,” said Freyhaph. “It’s natural to want more money, more things. As for what I have in mind. I’m going to buy your land, the part between where you live now and this little town. And probably the land that stretches all the way to the Martins Way River. Let me show you.”

His bodyguard brought out a tube he had been carrying. It contained a map of the entire area surrounding Harper’s Landing, which he thumbtacked to the bulletin board John kept in his office. The Grove was clearly marked, much to Charity’s consternation, and red marker outlined an area roughly 400 acres, starting on the west side of town, going north close to the Grove, and then heading due west to the Martins Way River, south along the river bank, and finally circling back to the edge of town.

“This is the area I’m going to purchase,” said Freyhaph. “All of this area inside the red outline. Now let me show you what I’m going to do with it.”

He pulled out another large paper, this one a mockup of his plans.

“Here is where we will put the main clubhouse and hotel,” he said, pointing to the area directly south of the Grove. “Of course we would have to remove most of the forest here. I am assuming these apple orchards are where you get the fruit for that marvelous pie. We would create walking paths, sitting areas, maybe even picnic areas, in the orchards; because of course we couldn’t take that away.”

“Of course not,” said Charity dryly.

Freyhaph seemed utterly oblivious to her tone of voice, the disapproval on her face, and the horror on John and Morey’s countenances. His attention was focused on the layout pinned to the board.

“This would be my flagship resort,” he said. “I’ve built a lot of resorts, all over the world—big, beautiful resorts that everyone wants to stay at. But this would be the best. It would have vacation opportunities for everyone, for people who just want to relax; for golfers. See this wonderful golf course they’ve designed? Nine holes only, but Amazing! Beautiful! And tennis courts next to the orchards. Of course we would build paved pathways winding through the forests down here to get the river for the people who want to fish. And perhaps we can expand further south, and even have hunting parties for deer and the like! Amazing! And the views!”

Freyhaph was now so excited that his normally ruddy face was turning an alarming shade of red. He paused, took a deep breath, and sat down.

“I will give you $60 million for the 400 acres, plus access to the river. And the contract I’ve brought for you to sign includes a guarantee of protection for your apple orchards. It also grants you and your heirs permanent access to the orchards and all the apples you will ever require.”

He started to push the papers toward Charity, but then paused.

“But perhaps Mr. Farmington would like to look at them?”

“There is no Mr. Farmington,” said Charity.

“Then perhaps you have an attorney or a banker who handles your financial affairs?” inquired Freyhaph, condescension written all over his face.

“I don’t require any help in saying no,” replied Charity. “None of the land is for sale. You will note that Harper’s Landing lies in the middle of a somewhat diamond-shaped land mass which starts in the north where the Martins Way branches off the Mississippi and ends in the south where the Martins Way rejoins the Mississippi. I and some of my relatives own all this land, and it will never be sold. Certainly not for the foul purposes you propose.”

She started to rise, but Freyhaph lifted the remaining papers in the briefcase to reveal stacks of hundred-dollar bills. Morey gasped; John leaned forward and took a deep breath; Charity stared at the bills.

“This is one million dollars. It is a deposit for the land. The remainder can be wired to an account, brought here in cash; however you want it.”

“I don’t want it,” said Charity. “What I want is for you to leave and never come back. For the last time, none of this land is for sale.”

“I am staying at the home of friends in Hannibal,” said Freyhaph. “I shall return there for the night,; but I will be back tomorrow. I and my associates will begin speaking with other residents in Harper’s Landing. Once they learn of my plans, of how much money will come their way, you will find yourself pressured and challenged in ways you have never encountered. Women are weak creatures, easily swayed. I promise you: I will own this land. You would do well not to resist me.”

Charity rose, with difficulty, from the overstuffed chair.

“John,” she said, “does that sound like a threat to you?”

“Yes,” John replied. “As Sheriff of Middlewood County, I am advising you, Mr. Freyhaph, not to make threats or take actions against Ms. Farmington you might later regret.”

“Morey, would you mind asking Jen and Maggie to drive me home? I’m suddenly tired and not up to the walk.” said Charity.

“I will see you tomorrow,” said Freyhaph, “with contracts in hand. I strongly advise you, Ms. Farmington, to be prepared to sign the contracts. You will regret not doing it. I promise.”

The cars drove away, with half the town now out watching them. People murmured amongst themselves, occasionally glancing at Charity, who was patiently waiting for Jen and Maggie to come take her home. Morey wandered over.

“I could take you home,” he said. “I don’t know what those two are doing that takes so long.”

“They are getting the things they need,” said Charity. “This trip is not for you. And it’s probably best that you don’t know anything about it. I think they have a fancy word for that.”

“Plausible deniability,” said John, who had been listening in. “Come on, Morey. I need a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, if any is left.”

The two men walked into the diner, just as Jen and Maggie came out, carrying notebooks. Maggie had a pie tote in her other hand. Morey kissed her, and wisely didn’t ask about the tote.

“Morey,” said Charity. “Don’t be worrying about them. They may be gone for a while.”

Charity, Jen, and Maggie sat in the comfortable chairs in Charity’s tiny living room. When her husband died, many years ago, Charity moved out of their home and into the stone cottage in the Grove that had once housed her great-uncle, Stephan. She took back her maiden name, added a few modern conveniences to the cottage, and retreated into the life of a hermit.

She hired Mary Harper’s husband, Bull, to build her a small barn, a paddock, and a cart that could easily be attached to a pony. She then purchased an Icelandic pony. The breed was known for its sturdiness, gentleness, and good health. She and the pony got along well. Charity would load the cart with apples, climb onto the seat, and ride to town to deliver apples to Maggie. She usually brought along a supply of salves and tinctures for various townsfolk on these trips and had earned respect as a gifted and compassionate healer.

Charity now held a large, leather-bound book in her lap. She opened the book and began to read aloud.

Once one has mastered the art of baking apple pie, it is possible to learn spells which will add additional benefit to a delight which is already magical if made correctly. As with all spells, those which can be added to cooking must be used judiciously and carefully.

There are, within these pages, spells which have only minor effects, such as the “We Really Like You” spell. Others, such as the “Go Away Now” spell must be cast only by those already versed in the arts magical. And finally, at the very last pages, dear reader, you will find a few spells which cannot be named and must be cast by a master and only under the direst circumstances.

Charity looked up and regarded her two students. Both stared at her, their mouths slightly open.

“We have never before had need of this. But that horrible man must be stopped, put in his place, and sent packing.” she said. “We must make sure he stays away. And I suppose it is time, Maggie, that you learn to cast spells to attack as well as repel people. I think it is inevitable that Harper’s Landing will grow with time.”

“This book stays here,” said Charity, “and neither of you may use or study it without me present. Swear it.”

“We swear,” both women said together.

“Now,” said Charity, “we need to choose spells wisely. I don’t think getting rid of this Freyhaph creature is going to be easy. We will cast one on each piece of pie, each spell increasingly unpleasant. Let us hope we don’t need the fourth spell.”

They cut the pie into four pieces. They then chose three spells, each more powerful than the last. The first was “You don’t want to be here.” The description was straightforward.

Anyone eating the ‘you don’t want to be here pie’ will find the quickest way to leave town. Generally they have no desire to return. If they do return, a more powerful spell must be applied.

For the second slice, they chose “Go away now.”

This spell may have some unpleasant side effects, such as stomach cramps and in the very sensitive even some nausea. For these reasons it should never be placed on anything a child or an elderly or sick person is eating. Additionally, it should not be repeated if it fails the first time, since reactions to a second dose cannot be predicted.

The women debated long and hard over what to do to the third slice. Jen and Maggie couldn’t imagine anyone returning after consuming the first two, but Charity assured them that the depth of Freyhaph’s sense of personal privilege and power was such that he might either be able to overcome the effects of the spells or simply ignore them. It was equally possible that he would not realize that there was any connection between his feelings and the pie. The women finally agreed on “Go away now or die.”

This spell does not really cause death. But if correctly cast will cause the target to experience an overwhelming need to get away from wherever they are at the time they consume the pie, accompanied by the firm conviction that if they do not leave, they will die. The reaction can be sudden and sometimes violent, thus making the spell one which should be cast only in the most urgent circumstances.

The fourth slice, which none of them believed would be required, sat there while they contemplated the unthinkable. Charity had shown them the spells at the end of the book. There were only three, each more horrible than the last. The book had said they should be cast by a master and only under the most dire circumstances. They could not imagine that casting any one of them would not reverberate back on the caster, requiring a long period of silent meditation and healing. Reluctantly, they decided that the risk was not worth it. They would have to hope that the three spells they had cast would be enough.

As the women cast each spell, Jen labeled each with its number. She closed the box containing the three slices, and Jen and Maggie drove back to the diner, where Maggie wrote on it, in large letters, “DO NOT SERVE – FOR JEN OR MAGGIE ONLY”. Jen put the box in the back of the refrigerator. The two women went to their beds, each wondering if she would be able to sleep that night.

The next morning, Jen arrived at the diner just as the customers began to trickle in. She started serving coffee that Morey had made when he arrived, leaving him to cook bacon and make sausage crumbles for the ever-popular biscuits and gravy. He made the biscuits. While Maggie might be the powerhouse behind the pie and the cinnamon rolls, Morey’s biscuits were a little bite of heaven.

There was a steady flow of customers until about nine. Maggie arrived and had just begun to make the pie dough for the lunch crowd when Dietrich Freyhaph’s limo pulled up in front. Maggie made certain the box with the warning was still in the fridge, untouched.

She took it out and removed the slice marked #1. She returned the remaining three slices, still in the box, to the back of the fridge. She then watched the limo while the freshly made pies baked. Freyhaph got out, straightened his rumpled suit jacket, and strode into the diner.

“Do you deliver?” he asked Jen, who was standing behind the front counter.

“Yes, within limits,” she replied.

“Good. I want that Charity woman down here within the next fifteen minutes. I have papers for her to look at. And I would like some coffee and a piece of that magnificent apple pie sent over to the sheriff’s office, with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream please. Surely the money I gave you yesterday will cover that.”

“Yes, it will,” replied Jen. “Would you like the coffee and pie now or when Ms. Farmington has arrived.”

“Now please. I am sure that Ms. Farmington will arrive without delay.”

In fact, Charity was already in John’s office, sharing coffee and eggs with him while they discussed the events of the previous day. Freyhaph crossed the street and entered the sheriff’s office. Jen called out to Maggie.

“#1, with extra ice cream. And coffee. If you put everything on a tray, I’ll take it over.”

Maggie came out of the kitchen with three small boxes. Inside each was a plate, fork, and a generous slice of warm pie, though none so generous as Freyhaph’s. And his was the only one with ice cream on it. Jen took them and walked slowly across the street, careful not to drop her precious cargo. Morey had insisted on helping her, carrying the coffee and cream and sugar. Once inside John’s office, Jen gave Charity a small piece of pie, then placed Freyhaph’s huge slice with ice cream in front of him on the desk, and finally a normal size slice in front of John. She refreshed everyone’s coffee.

While Jen was setting things up, Freyhaph was talking to Charity. He had brought the contracts, identical to the ones he left the previous day, and asked if Charity had a chance to discuss the provisions with her advisors.

“As I told you yesterday, Mr. Freyhaph, I have no advisors, financial or otherwise. I make my own decisions. I may be old, and I may be a woman, but it is my job to protect Harper’s Landing. The answer is still no. So you might as well go back to Chicago.”

Freyhaph took a huge bite of pie, followed by an equally large forkful of ice cream. He chewed briefly, pondering his next words.

“I really think you should reconsider,” he finally said. “I know that if the entire town could hear the details of my offer and the income it would bring, I am sure they would beg you to change your mind.”

He took a second bite of pie and chewed a bit more slowly. Suddenly he rose, reaching for his suit jacket which he had hung on the back of his chair.

“Keep those copies,” he said, pointing to the contracts. “Read them over. They outline the benefits of this deal to you and to the community. I really must get back to Hannibal. I have forgotten something, though I cannot remember what. Jenkins? Did I have a meeting today?”

“No, Sir,” replied the bodyguard. “Perhaps your assistant scheduled a video meeting over the Minsk deal?”

“That must be it,” said Freyhaph. “It’s about to close. At any rate, I really must go now. I’ll be back tomorrow, about this time, to discuss the contracts further. Please have some more of that excellent pie waiting for me,” he said to Jen. “It really is superb. But I must go. Now.”

He hurried out the door, nearly ran to the limo, opening the door for himself, and the vehicle left almost before Jenkins got into the front passenger seat.

“What the hell?” asked John.

Charity and Jen broke into a fit of laughter, doubling over in their chairs.

“Slob didn’t even finish his pie,” said John. “That’s gotta be a first. You want me to toss it or send it back with you?”

“We’ll take it,” said Jen, when she could finally catch her breath. “Do you think he’ll be back tomorrow?” she asked Charity.

“I’m thinking yes. It takes a lot to persuade a man like that.”

Jen took the pie and went back to the diner, where she was careful to put it all in the garbage, including the plate and fork, closed tightly in a plastic bag. She didn’t want to risk any possible contamination by sending it down the garbage disposal.

Charity, still seated in John’s office, asked him, “Do you have access to the internet on that computer of yours?”

“Sure do,” said John. “What do you want to do?”

“I’d like to learn everything I can about Dietrich Freyhaph,” she said.

“Me too,” said John. “Let’s look together.”

After an hour of searching and reading, the two leaned back, mentally exhausted.

“I need a drink,” said John, pulling a bottle of rye whiskey and two small tumblers from a desk drawer. He poured a small bit in each glass and watched in amazement as Charity tossed hers down in one swallow.

“Another?” he asked, and at her nod poured her a second, and added a bit more to his first.

The two sat in silence, mulling over what they had learned.

Dietrich Freyhaph was born in Poland in 1943, toward the end of WWII. His parents were Nazi sympathizers who had managed to amass a considerable fortune by selling stolen artworks, jewelry, and other valuables to upper-class Poles and Russians. They were arrested shortly after the end of the war, and Dietrich was left in the care of his two older sisters. The girls took the money their parents had managed to hide away and moved to America, where they lived with their aunt and uncle in Chicago. After high school, Dietrich enrolled in Columbia University where he majored in economics and business. He then returned to Chicago, where he and his sisters launched a real estate empire financed by members of the shady underground of Chicago politics.

When Dietrich graduated from Columbia, he managed to secure a position with a New York hedge fund where he swiftly gained a reputation as a shrewd if ruthless trader. He had little regard for the well-being of his clients, but a very sharp eye for his open pockets.

After a few years of successful trading Dietrich decided to branch out on his own. He moved to Chicago and began investing in the lucrative and volatile real estate market. He had learned over the early years of his employment that rich people, especially the very rich, loved to play at being rugged and courageous. He bought up land in various remote places, both in the United States and other countries, especially countries in Africa where the laws tended to be loose and the morals of the local politicos even looser, and established opulent hunting lodges complete with suites, private air strips, nine-hole golf courses, and guided “hunting” trips for trophy animals. He was ruthless, displacing whole villages in areas he especially desired, promising relocation and luxuries the villagers could only dream of. Of course these promises were never kept, the displaced villagers instead given scrub land, poorly built housing, filthy water, and no way to fight back for what they had lost.

Other allegations included providing young girls, and sometimes boys, to his wealthy clientele. And he had a reputation for never paying his bills, instead forcing the companies he had contracted with either to accept a fraction of the previously agreed upon fee or go to court, something most of them could not afford.

All in all, John and Charity agreed that Dietrich Freyhaph was a thoroughly reprehensible human being who should never be allowed to purchase anything from Harper’s Landing. In fact they both agreed that everyone would be better off if Freyhaph never entered the town again.

“Charity,” said John, “did you have anything to do with his inexplicable departure this morning?”

Charity gave him a long, penetrating look.

“I think you know better than to ask a question like that,” she replied.

John held up his hands, agreeing there would be no more questions. Instead, he ushered her out to his car and drove her home, where she found a lovely shepherd’s pie sitting on top of her wood stove, which had been fired up and stoked properly, all courtesy of Jen, she was sure.

Charity rose early the following morning, filled her small wagon with apples, and hitched Birget to the cart, and lightly flicked the reins. The pony obediently headed for town, He knew there would be warm mash and a carrot waiting for him at the back of the diner, where Charity left him while she did business in town.

Once Birget had been safely tucked away, the expected carrot and bit of mash in his feeding trough, Charity walked across the street to Sheriff Hartley’s office and sat in one of the straight-backed chairs. John was already there, coffee brewed and waiting, a couple of warm cinnamon rolls sitting on a plate on his desk. Charity accepted a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll without comment.

“Seems you think he’ll be back,” said John.

“Seems likely,” she replied.

“And there he is,” said John,

It was ten a.m. and Freyhaph’s limo pulled up in front of the courthouse. Freyhaph got out and strode into John’s office, pulled up a chair, and requested a mug of coffee.

Maggie glanced out her kitchen window, saw the limo, and sighed. She opened the refrigerator, retrieved the second slice of pie from the box in the back, and set it in the microwave for thirty seconds. Jen came into the kitchen with a small tote, took the plate out of the microwave, added a generous scoop of ice cream and headed across the street.

“My dear,” said Freyhaph, “you must have read my mind. I was just thinking of a mid-morning snack. This is perfect.”

Freyhaph was sitting at John’s desk sipping from his mug of coffee. He looked none the worse for wear after his swift departure yesterday. If anything he seemed even more determined to push through the purchase of the land.

“Did Mr. Morey there say that he is the mayor of this town?” he asked Jen.

“Morey Farmington is mayor, and my mother is the County Recorder,” replied Jen.

“Perhaps you would do me the favor of asking Mr. Farmington to come over?” said Freyhaph. “I would like him to hear what I have to offer. I have sweetened the original deal. I really want this purchase, and I want you all to know how it will benefit you.”

“I’ll see if he can get away,” said Jen. “He does have a business to run. Enjoy your pie. We warmed it just a bit so you might want to eat it soon before the ice cream melts.”

Jen hurried back to the diner.

“Did you read the contract I left behind?” asked Freyhaph.

Charity shook her head.

“Didn’t need to. I’m not selling no matter what.”

“I was afraid of that,” said Freyhaph, “which is why I decided to add a 10% share of all proceeds to you personally, plus a promise to build the town a library and a recreation center.”

He took a large bite of pie with ice cream and chewed slowly, letting Charity contemplate his latest offer. John seemed especially interested in watching Freyhaph, while Charity sat staring out the window, as if considering the offer.

Freyhaph suddenly grabbed his stomach, letting out a small grunt of pain. John was immediately on his feet, and Jenkins the ever-present bodyguard moved swiftly to Freyhaph’s side.

“Are you ill, Sir?” he asked.

“Just a slight stomach cramp,” replied Freyhaph. “Probably too many ribs last night.”

He sat back, waiting for an answer. He opened his mouth to say something, and a huge belch came out instead. He turned red with embarrassment, then clutched his stomach again in pain.

“I do apologize,” Freyhaph said, though he sounded anything but apologetic. “If I didn’t know better, I would think this town was trying to make me ill. But at my age, travel can be iffy. Jenkins, please call the helicopter and ask them to meet us on the way. I want to get back to Hannibal as soon as possible. I’ll rest for a few days, and then we’ll talk again.”

He left, Jenkins helping him to the limo, and they drove off, presumably to be met at some point by Freyhaph’s helicopter which would take him to his hosts in Hannibal.

John Hartley stared long and hard at Charity, after Freyhaph’s departure.

“I don’t want to know,” he said, “I just don’t want to know. But dammit, Charity Farmington, don’t you go doing something I’ll have to arrest you for.”

“No worries on that account,” said Charity. “It will all be fine. And now I think I’m ready to get Birget and go home.”

Two weeks passed, and Charity began to think that Freyhaph had been dissuaded by the second spell. She looked out her window and saw John Hartley pulling up in front of her cottage. She sighed, picked up a shawl, and went out to meet him. She climbed into the front seat without his help and asked, “He’s back, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yeah,” said John, “and this time with some fancy-pants lawyer at his side. They’re making noises about improper deeds and proving that you don’t really own the land. You got him running scared, though. He came in his helicopter this time. Landed on the football field.”

They drove to town and parked in front of the courthouse. Charity saw Jen in the diner, waiting for her signal to bring out piece number three. It had been in the freezer, and when Freyhaph’s helicopter landed, Maggie got it out and popped it into the microwave.

Jen prepared thermoses of hot coffee, mugs, cream, sugar, and spoons for stirring, which were delivered to John’s office, along with cinnamon rolls. Charity saw that both Freyhaph and the lawyer were eating the rolls. This was good, since it meant Freyhaph had not made the connection between the pie and his sudden ailments. She also noted that there were several stacks of papers on John’s desk, and some old documents that looked like land title deeds. She entered and sat in the high-backed wooden chair John had gotten for her.

“Since you have chosen to be so stubborn,” said Freyhaph, without any preamble, “my lawyer here, Mr. Layton, has located some documents which might make you change your mind. Michael?”

The lawyer cleared his throat, then pulled over some of the copies of old land deeds, which he placed in front of Charity.

“These are deeds from the mid-1800s and early 1900s for the areas in question. As you can see, the last time any land was transferred was to Miss Charity Anne Farmington, in 1920, when Stephan Farmington died, leaving the land to his grandniece. This is 2016, which, if you were the Charity Anne Farmington in question, would make you at a bare minimum ninety-six years old. And since Missouri law at the time required any land recipients to be at least twenty-one years of age, that would make you, at a minimum, one hundred seventeen years old. I do believe that would stretch the credulity of any judge, Ms. Farmington.”

Charity sat comfortably, sipping at her mug of coffee, a small smile on her face.

“Oh do go on,” she waved her hand. “This is most interesting.”

“I am prepared to ignore these deeds,” said Freyhaph, “if you consent to the original deal I offered. Of course, all of the additional concessions I so generously offered are now off the table.”

“Of course,” said Charity. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you. I will need to call a meeting of the town officers,” said Charity suddenly. “While I am gone arranging that, please enjoy some pie and more coffee.” She noted with pleasure that Jen had brought two regular pieces of pie for John and the lawyer, and Freyhaph’s with his usual large scoop of ice cream.

“Michael,” said Freyhaph, “you are going to love this pie. I insist you try some.”

The three men dug into their pie as Charity left the office, headed for the diner. She had barely reached the door when she heard loud noises from John’s office. Freyhaph came stumbling out, sweating profusely.

“Michael, I’m having a heart attack. I must be. God, get me out of here and back to Hannibal. I’m going to die. Hurry. Hurry.”

He sat heavily in the middle of the street. John, Jenkins the bodyguard, and the attorney had all they could do to carry Freyhaph to the waiting helicopter.

“Get me out of here,” yelled Freyhaph. “I have to leave! I’m going to die. Get my doctor to fly to Hannibal and meet us. Leave! Now!”

The chopper took off immediately, heading north. John stood staring in disbelief, Charity, Maggie, and Jen standing beside him, waving goodbye to the helicopter.

“I hope that’s the last we see of them,” he said.

“Oh, I rather think so,” said Charity.

“How did you do it?” he asked. “How did you get him to leave so suddenly?”

“It was easy,” said Maggie. “Easy as Pie.”