Authors: Leslie Meier
Lucy was just finishing her dessertâa thin wedge of very rich chocolate cake sitting in a pool of raspberry sauceâwhen a man stepped to the microphone in the front of the room and asked for silence. The program, he said, was going to begin in a few minutes, as soon as the waiters finished clearing.
Hearing this news, Junior got to this feet and left the hall, presumably in search of his father. It was only a moment or two later that he returned in some agitation.
“We need an ambulance,” Lucy heard him say to the man in charge of the program. “My father's collapsed.”
Several people hurried out of the room, along with several members of the Read party. People from the other tables, however, began drifting to the door, curious to see what was going on. That brought the emcee back to the microphone.
“Please stay in your seats,” he said. “We're going to start the program with a short film, a biography of Luther Read.”
It was eerie, thought Lucy, watching the images of Luther Read flicking across the screen. Maybe he was dead or maybe he was fighting for his life, but in the darkened room he was an enormous, living presence. Then the film ended. The final image of Luther Read's smiling face had hardly faded when the announcement came.
“Luther Read, our Newspaperman of the Year, is dead.”
That was incredible enough, but an even more shocking announcement followed.
“Remain in your seats, please, as the police will be collecting information from everyoneâ¦”
TIPPY TOE MURDER
TRICK OR TREAT MURDER
BACK TO SCHOOL MURDER
CHRISTMAS COOKIE MURDER
TURKEY DAY MURDER
WEDDING DAY MURDER
BIRTHDAY PARTY MURDER
FATHER'S DAY MURDER
STAR SPANGLED MURDER
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Lucy Stone Mystery
Kensington Publishing Corp.
ouldn't you like to kill him when he does that?” Phyllis was referring to her boss, Ted Stillings, editor-in-chief and publisher of the weekly Tinker's Cove
who had just announced his arrival in the office by throwing his head back, pounding his chest, and yelling like Tarzan. Behind him the little bell on the door jangled merrily, and dust motes danced in the stripes of afternoon sunlight that streamed through the old-fashioned brown-wood Venetian blinds covering the plate-glass windows.
“Only if I can torture him first,” replied Lucy Stone, the paper's investigative reporter, feature writer, listings editor, and photographer. “Quick, pass me the handcuffs and the duct tape.”
Phyllis, whose various job descriptions included receptionist, telephone operator, and advertising manager, smoothed her pink beaded cardigan over her ample bust and began searching in her desk drawer.
“Darn. I must have loaned them to somebody,” she said, shaking her head. Not a single tangerine lock escaped from the hair spray she'd liberally applied that morning.
“Enough with the sarcasm,” admonished Ted. “I've got big news.”
“Uh-oh,” said Phyllis in a resigned tone. “That probably means more work for us.”
“Not today it doesn't,” insisted Lucy, who as the mother of four had learned early on the importance of setting limits. “I have to get Zoe to ballet, and Sara has horseback riding. I absolutely, positively have to leave at three. Not a minute later.”
“Will you two shut up?” demanded Ted. “I have an announcement to make.”
Phyllis rolled her eyes. “So what's the problem? Cat got your tongue? Spit it out.”
“We're waiting,” said Lucy, drumming her fingers impatiently on her computer keyboard.
“I get no respect here,” fumed Ted. “I might as well be home.”
He sat down at the antique rolltop desk he'd inherited from his grandfather, a legendary New England newspaper editor, and put his head in his hands.
“This is the biggest thing to happen to the
sinceâ¦well, I don't know when, and nobody's interested. Nobody cares.”
“We care,” chorused Lucy and Phyllis.
“Please, pretty please,” cajoled Lucy. “Please tell us.”
Ted lifted his head.
“Only if you're really interested.”
“We're really interested,” said Phyllis with a big sigh.
“You don't sound interested.” Ted was pouting.
Lucy checked her watch. “I don't have all day, Ted,” she reminded him.
“Okay.” Ted straightened up. “Drumroll, please.”
Lucy tapped two pencils against the edge of her scarred wooden desk.
“Today,” began Ted, making a little bow and displaying a sheet of paper with an impressive engraved letterhead, “I have the honor of informing you that the Tinker's Cove
has been named âCommunity Newspaper of the Year in Category Five, Circulation Less than Five Thousand' by the Trask Trust for Journalism in the Public Interest.”
“You've got to be kidding,” said Phyllis, raising the rhinestone-trimmed reading glasses that dangled from a chain around her neck and holding her hand out for the official letter.
“Wow,” said Lucy, honestly impressed. “Congratulations.” She knew how Ted had struggled through the years to keep the
which had a lineage reaching back over a hundred years to the yellowed and crumbling
in the morgue, a going concern. Only someone with a genuine dedication and commitment to local news would have continued to soldier on in such a difficult economy against TV, the Internet, and numerous slick and sophisticated competitors.
“It gets better,” said Ted, passing the letter to Phyllis. “The award includes a grant to attend the Northeast Newspaper Association conference in Boston.”
“It's true,” said Phyllis, lowering her glasses. “Just my luck, the conference is for editorial staff only.” She sucked in her heavily powdered cheeks and pursed her Frosted Apricot lips. “I suppose that leaves me out.”
“Sorry,” said Ted, not bothering to sound too sympathetic. “Someone has to watch the store. But Lucy, I think you should definitely go. It's a great opportunity to polish up your writing and reporting skills and to meet other journalists. Opportunities like this don't come along every day, you know.”
Lucy knew. She couldn't remember the last time she'd left the little Maine town. And she'd hardly ever left her family for more than a day, and then only to give birth or tend to her ailing parents.
“Where is it? And when is it?” she asked.
“Boston. The second week in June.”
“Oh, I'd love to go to Boston,” she admitted. “But June? I can't get away in June. Elizabeth and Toby will be home from college. Sara and Zoe will be finishing up the school year. It would mean missing the middle school awards ceremony and the ballet recitalâ”
“That's not what I call a problem,” said Phyllis, cutting her short. “I'd call it a gift from God.”
In spite of herself, Lucy laughed, recalling long hours spent perched on uncomfortable bleacher seats in the stifling gymnasium watching an endless procession of students receive awards for everything from perfect attendance and positive attitudes to the Zeiger Prize for Improved Penmanship.
“It means a lot to the kids,” she said lamely.
“They have a father, don't they?” continued Phyllis. “He can go.”
“You're right,” said Lucy. “Bill will go.” She sighed.
“There's some problem with Bill?”
Phyllis was sharp; there was no denying it, thought Lucy.
“It's just thatâ¦well, you know Toby is going to be working for his father when he gets home from college.”
Bill Stone, Lucy's restoration carpenter husband, was still recovering from a nasty fall. It had been decided that Toby, who was struggling in college, would take a year off from his studies and assist him on the job.
“Well, I don't have a good feeling about it,” said Lucy, voicing a thought that had been nagging her for some time. “They're both pretty strong personalities.”
“Both stubborn as hell, you mean,” said Phyllis.
“I'm worried they might have a little trouble adjusting.”
“Probably fight like cats and dogs.”
“Exactly. But if I'm there I can be a buffer, smooth things out.”
“Honey, you can just forget that idea,” said Phyllis, fixing her with a level gaze. “They'll work things out a lot faster if you're not there.”
“I was hoping to keep it in the family and out of the courtroom,” said Lucy darkly. “And then there's Elizabeth.”
Phyllis cocked her head expectantly.
“Well, you know she didn't much like working as a chambermaid at the Queen Vic Inn last summer? I've got to help her find a new summer job.”
“You mean make sure she gets a summer job.”
Phyllis shrugged. “No work, no spending money, it's that simple.”
“I wish I had your confidence,” said Lucy, staring at the calendar photo of scullers on the Charles River, with the Boston skyline in the background. Flipping through the pages she saw a shot of the swan boats in the Public Garden, street musicians performing in Copley Square, and a nighttime photo that transformed Storrow Drive into swirling ribbons of red and white light.
“How would I get there? I've never driven in the city. Besides, Elizabeth will need my car to get to the summer job she doesn't have yet.”
“Go with Ted,” suggested Phyllis.
“No can do,” said Ted, looking up from his computer. “Pam and I are going a few days early, kind of a mini-vacation.”
“Take the commuter jet.”
Lucy considered this. “That's a good idea, but I bet it's awfully expensive.”
“All your expenses will be paid,” snapped Phyllis. “Right, Ted?”
“Well, within reason. Workshops, registration, lodging, meals, transportation.” He paused. “No jets. Bus.”
“Bus?” Lucy hadn't traveled by bus since she was in college.
“Sure. There's two or three every day. And the bus, unlike the plane, takes you right into town. To South Station.”
Lucy studied the June calendar photo of a narrow street on Beacon Hill lined with rosy pink town houses. She wanted to walk down that street, perhaps the very same street where Paul Revere or Louisa May Alcott or Robert Lowell had walked. She flipped a page, revealing a photo of the fashionable boutiques and outdoor cafÃ©s on Newbury Street. In the foreground, a fashionably dressed couple were strolling arm in arm. She was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the blue jeans and polo shirt she was wearing, her usual outfit for work.
“I have nothing to wear,” she wailed.
Phyllis raised an eyebrow. “Girlfriend, then you better get off your fanny and go shopping.”
“You win,” said Lucy, laughing. “I'll go!”
That night at dinner Lucy could hardly wait to share the good news.
“Guess what?” she began as she unfolded her napkin. “Ted wants me to go to a newspaper convention in Boston. All expenses paid.”
“Boston?” Zoe, seven years old and in second grade, was suspicious. “How long will you be gone?”
“How come we don't get to go?” demanded Sara, who had just turned fourteen and had a permanent chip on her shoulder.
“Exactly when is this shinding?” inquired Bill, scooping mashed potatoes out of the bowl and piling them on his plate.
“It's a week long, the second week in June, and Elizabeth will be home then so she can help out.”
“Elizabeth never does anything,” complained Sara, pretty much hitting the nail on the head. A year at Chamberlain College in Boston had done little except convince Elizabeth that she was disadvantaged because her parents had refused to fund a trip to CancÃºn for spring break and had insisted she come home to look for a summer job. A search that had been far too halfhearted to be successful.
“A whole week?” Zoe scowled, pushing her peas around on her plate.
Lucy was beginning to think the convention wasn't a very good idea as she watched Bill consult his pocket calendar.
“Do you know what this means?” he asked, tapping the calendar.
Suddenly Lucy knew exactly what it meant. An entire week without household responsibilities. No loads of laundry, no suppers to cook, no family crises. No complaints and no reproaches. No explanations. A week with no one to answer to but herself. Freedom.
“What's the problem?” she demanded. “I'll only be away for five nights, five weekday nights. The kids aren't babies anymore; they'll all help out. You go away, to restoration carpenter's workshops and antique house conferences and buying trips and I don't know what allâ¦.”
“It's the week before Father's Day.”
This was news to Lucy.
“I bet you never even thought to check.”
Lucy looked at the wilted lettuce leaf remaining on her plate.
“They call it Father's Day, but this year I guess it will be Passover.”
This was a favorite complaint of Bill's, who always feared he would be “passed over” and ignored on birthdays and holidays.
“I hadn't realized,” admitted Lucy. “But Father's Day is always on Sunday, and I'll be home Friday or Saturday at the latest. It will be the same as always. Even better. The best Father's Day ever.”
“I promise,” said Lucy.