Authors: Shawn Reilly Simmons
Tags: #female detective, #food mysteries, #murder mystery books, #Women Sleuths, #mystery books, #cozy mystery, #culinary mysteries, #murder mystery series, #murder mysteries, #amateur sleuth, #british chick lit, #english mysteries
Praise for the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series
MURDER ON A SILVER PLATTER (#1)
“Delicious! A great read written by someone who knows the behind the scenes world of filmmaking...A winner!”
– Kathryn Leigh Scott,
Author of the Jinx Fogarty Mysteries
“Loved this book! The characters are well-drawn and it’s cleverly plotted. Totally engrossing…I felt as though I was actually on a movie set. The author is well-versed in her setting and she is able to keep the reader in suspense. I can’t wait for the second book in the series.”
– Marianna Heusler,
MURDER ON THE HALF SHELL (#2)
“This nicely woven drama once again gave us an insight into catering (what a hard job) while keeping me intrigued in a mystery with some twisty currents that was hard to put down. With a nice island flavor, a nice puzzling mystery and a great cast of characters, this was a very enjoyable read.”
– Dru’s Book Musings
“The writing is fun, quirky and engaging. The character development between the lead character and her love interest is well done and believable. This book has several of my favorite things at the forefront: movies, murder, and food prep.”
Books in the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series
by Shawn Reilly Simmons
MURDER ON A SILVER PLATTER (#1)
MURDER ON THE HALF SHELL (#2)
MURDER ON A DESIGNER DIET (#3)
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MURDER ON THE HALF SHELL
A Red Carpet Catering Mystery
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection
Trade paperback edition | February 2016
Henery Press, LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, LLC, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2016 by Shawn Reilly Simmons
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-943390-61-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-943390-64-9
Kindle ISBN-13: 978-1-943390-63-2
Digital epub ISBN-13: 978-1-943390-62-5
Printed in the United States of America
For My Mom
Thanks to everyone who supported me during the writing of this book, especially readers whose feedback and excitement has pushed me forward on this journey. It really is a dream come true, which wouldn’t be possible without all of you.
I have to thank my mom for moving us to South Florida from Indiana when we were just babies. That showed us that big moves are possible, and a lot of times things turn out for the better if you just take a chance.
Thanks to the entire mystery writing community, and everyone at Malice Domestic for all the love and encouragement. Knowing you all have my back makes it easier to stay in the writing chair.
Thanks to Ildy Shannon for being my first reader, and for all the valuable input and suggestions.
Heartfelt thanks go out to Kendel Lynn and Art Molinares at Henery Press. None of this would be possible without you, and I’m so happy to be a part of your team. I can’t say enough about the positive guidance from Rachel Jackson and Erin George: your work on the books is invaluable and I’m forever grateful.
As always, without the love and support from Matthew and Russell, I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I do. Their love and patience push me through.
Arlena Madison sprinted down the beach towards the sea, strands of her long black hair pulling away from the intricate set of pins holding it in a twist at the nape of her neck. When she came to the edge of the water, she stopped and glanced fearfully over her shoulder. Her chest heaved, pressing against the ribs of her corset. She shielded her eyes from the sun and caught a glimpse of the man at the top of the dune. She began to run again, parallel to the shore, the skirt of her long purple dress and petticoat soaking up the warm salt water. The wet sand sucked at her bare feet and her dress pulled at her shoulders, her steps becoming more difficult with each step. Foamy waves slapped her calves as she struggled to stay upright.
“Jane, stop this instant!” the man yelled from behind her as he slid down the dunes in his shiny black dress shoes, the tails of his morning coat flapping behind him.
At the sound of his voice, Arlena paused. She gazed out at the sea, refusing to turn and look at him. Sweat beaded her temples and dampened the hair now clumped around her shoulders.
“Darling, what has gotten into you?” he pleaded as he ran towards her.
She closed her eyes. After a moment of hesitation, she set her shoulders and began walking into the water.
“Jane, don’t,” the man called out with exasperation. He tripped in the sand and fell to his knees, reaching out for Arlena, who moved determinedly into the water.
Arlena gazed out at the horizon, squinting against the bright sun as the waves lapped against her, darkening the fabric of her dress up to her waist.
The man pulled himself to his feet, awkwardly running the rest of the way to the water. “Jane, Thomas and I need you.”
Arlena’s shoulders caved. She placed a hand over her mouth and turned to him. “John, please help me.” She struggled to turn back towards the shore.
He quickly pulled off his jacket and shoes and waded into the ocean as Arlena struggled towards him, gathering up her heavy skirts beneath the water. He hooked an arm around her waist as a tall wave crashed over them.
Sweeping up Arlena’s slender frame, he made his way back to shore, the waves ushering him along from behind. Collapsing onto the dry sand, he crushed Arlena to his chest and brushed a few strands of hair from her face. “What demons have possessed you, my blessed little goose?” He kissed her quickly on the lips then gazed out at the ocean as he rocked her.
“Cut!” a man’s voice shouted loudly behind them. The camera loader slapped the digital clapperboard that read “
The Yellow Wallpaper
, Beach Scene 4: Take 8” in front of the nearest camera lens.
Arlena’s eyes popped open. “Nice ad lib with the kiss.”
“You liked that one, huh, love?” Gavin McKenna said, smiling down at her. He held her in his arms a beat longer, then helped her into a seated position next to him.
Arlena sighed and settled onto the warm sand. Untangling the heavy skirts from her legs she said, “Sure. We’ll see what Shane thinks of it.”
“Speak of the devil,” Gavin said as the director approached them. He straightened his legs and attempted to brush the wet sand from his wool dress pants without success.
Shane crouched down next to his stars, his carrot-colored hair barely contained by his baseball cap. “Nicely done, you two. Let’s reset and do it again from one.”
Shane jumped up without another word and shouted at the cameraman standing at the edge of the water in yellow wading pants. The camera on his shoulder had been draped with a clear plastic bag to protect it from the waves.
“Again?” Gavin said after Shane was out of earshot. “Maybe he’d like to tell us what he wants us to do differently, eh?”
Penelope Sutherland, head chef on the movie set, stepped outside the catering tent and saw Arlena and Gavin chatting together on the sand. She’d watched them roll through the last take, the eighth one for this scene. They’d been filming variations of it all morning, spending hours going from dry to wet and back to dry to capture what would amount to a few minutes of screen time. Penelope and her team were ready to serve lunch after prepping and cooking for six hours, ever since they’d served and cleaned up after breakfast.
“We’re going again,” a faint voice sputtered from the walkie-talkie Penelope had clipped on the front pocket of her apron. “Everyone back to one.”
Penelope, hands on her hips, raised her palm to her sweaty forehead and turned around. The tent was filled with salads, desserts, roasted fish and chicken, vegetables and hot and cold sides. Her four chefs had all changed into fresh white jackets,
Red Carpet Catering
stitched in bold red letters on their chests, after sweating through the ones they’d worn during prep. They were lined up in a row, ready to serve the one hundred and thirty-seven people scheduled to eat that day.
She unclipped the walkie-talkie from her apron pocket and pressed the button.
“Catering to production,” she said into the little black box.
“Go catering,” a thin voice scratched back at her.
“Lunch is ready, at the time requested. Are we breaking?” A bead of sweat slid down her spine underneath her chef’s coat.
“Nope, doing another take. Shane says to put everything on ice,” the voice came back.
Penelope squeezed the walkie-talkie tightly in her hand and blew out a loud sigh. Pressing the button again she said, “What’s the ETA on breaking?”
“Maybe twenty. We’ll let you know.” The voice snapped off with a loud chirp. Penelope squinted into the sun and tried to see who she had been talking to on the other end. She couldn’t tell which assistant director or production assistant was speaking on behalf of the director. It definitely wasn’t Shane. His high-pitched voice was very distinctive.
Penelope turned around and stepped back into the large white tent. “They’re going to be late,” she said, attempting to hide the frustration in her voice.
“Again? The ice is melting already, Boss,” Francis said, nodding his head in the direction of the salad bar. Frosted bowls filled with cut fruit, vegetables and a variety of cold salads perched on top of chipped ice inside large tubs lined the edge of the tent. The ice would keep the food fresh and safe to eat during service, as long as it stayed frozen, but she could see the ice was already glassy looking. It didn’t stand much of a chance against the heat.
Penelope eyed their setup, proud of how perfect everything looked before the crew would come through scooping and grabbing at the food. “Let’s wait five minutes, drain off the water and fill the bins back up with ice. Try to keep things looking good until they get here.”
Quentin slapped a white service towel over his shoulder. “Why do they bother giving us a break time if they never come close to it?”
Francis chuckled. “There’s worse things in life. We’re in paradise, right?”
Quentin sucked his teeth. “Whatever. I didn’t know paradise would be so humid.” The other chefs murmured in agreement behind him, all of them hot and cranky.
“We do the best we can,” Penelope broke in, attempting to get her team to refocus. “If something looks like it’s dying, just pull it off and walk it back up to the refrigerator on the truck. Where are the girls?”
“Break area, I think,” Francis said.
A few minutes later, Penelope walked around to the rear of the tent to look for her servers, a couple of high school students she had hired to waitress part time on the set. They were in the designated break area, a half circle of folding chairs and a large piece of driftwood they had fashioned into a table. It was partially shaded by the eave of the tent. The girls sat with their heads touching, a single set of earbuds shared between them, staring at the phone in Rebekkah’s palm. Rebekkah rubbed Sabena’s back lightly, drawing lazy circles in the center. They didn’t notice Penelope approaching until her shadow fell across their legs.
Rebekkah looked up first, clicking her phone off quickly and placing it upside down in her lap. “Miss Sutherland, are you ready for us to come in?” she asked, pulling the bud from her ear.
“No, they’re running late. Again. What are you two up to?”
Sabena blinked behind her pink plastic sunglasses, leaving her earbud in place. Her expression was flat, either grim or bored, Penelope couldn’t tell. Rebekkah pulled her hand slowly from Sabena’s back and placed it limply in her lap, palm up, glittery pink nail polish chipping her fingernails.
Rebekkah cut her eyes at her friend. “Nothing. Listening to music.” Sabena turned to watch a wave roll onto the sand. The girls sat with their legs crossed towards each other, perching on the edge of the hot metal chairs, not seeming to mind the sun baking their thighs.
“No phones inside during service,” Penelope said. “We’re getting started in twenty, hopefully.”
The girls gazed at her silently.
“Have you seen Regan?” Penelope asked, glancing up the beach where her catering trucks were parked.
They shook their heads in unison. Penelope turned to go, taking a look back at them after a few steps. Rebekkah had replaced her earbud, and they were focused on the phone again.
Penelope walked up the dunes to check on her newly hired helper. She blinked several times after entering the kitchen truck, willing her eyes to adjust to the dark interior. Regan was in the front corner, scrubbing a sheet pan in a sink filled with sudsy water. The kitchen was clean, the counters had been wiped down and a stack of dishes was drying on the counter. Regan looked over his shoulder at her, breaking into a grin as she approached.
“Kitchen looks good,” Penelope said. “When you’re finished, come to the tent. We may have to run food back and forth.”
“Sure, Boss,” Regan said, turning off the water and drying his hands.
“Would you like to stay on with us through the rest of the shoot?” Penelope asked, leaning her waist against the counter and crossing her arms. “You’re a good worker, and we can use the help.”
“I’d love to,” Regan said. “I can cook on the line too, if you need extra hands in the kitchen.”
“Let me know your availability and I’ll put you on the schedule,” Penelope said, turning to leave.
Back on the beach, Penelope watched Gavin McKenna undressing Arlena on the sand as various members of the crew rushed around them, resetting the beach scene.
“Someone radio wardrobe to come and help me with this,” Arlena called to a passing PA, her dark red curls tangled in earphones. The girl stopped short and looked at Arlena’s wet dress lying in the sand. She said something into her headset and hurried away.
Gavin patted Arlena’s shoulder from behind. “Your corset as well, my lady?” he asked, glancing at the cinched top piece and white underskirt that was soaked midway up Arlena’s chest. An unlit cigarette bounced from the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
“Please. Get this thing off of me,” Arlena said gratefully.
Gavin unlaced her bodice and it fell to the sand, revealing Arlena’s flesh-colored Spanx body suit. Wardrobe had given her one made from moisture-wicking material, so she was relatively dry under her wet costume.
Gavin glanced down at his leading lady’s tightly fitting undergarment. “You look much more comfortable now.”
Arlena punched him playfully on the arm. “I know. Everyone is so worried about how comfortable we are. You’re lucky Spanx for Men isn’t a thing.”
“It’s a cruel world, isn’t it?” Gavin teased as he lit his cigarette.
“You know those things will kill you, right?” Arlena asked, stepping away from the smoke.
Gavin winked at her. “Not right away. Besides, I have to smoke these or I’ll end up needing Spanx for Men.” He glanced behind him towards the catering tent farther up the beach. “I thought we’d be eating by now. Weren’t we supposed to break for lunch already?”
Arlena shook her head and shrugged. She shielded her eyes, sweeping them towards the catering tent and catching a glimpse of Penelope ducking back inside.
“Why aren’t they in wardrobe?” Shane stormed up from behind them, waving wildly at Arlena and Gavin. Everyone jumped a little, except Gavin, who had the advantage of seeing him coming.
“They’re going now,” the young PA stammered, her already red face darkening even more. “Right this way, Miss Madison…Mr. McKenna,” she said, pointing urgently towards the wardrobe tent at the edge of the dunes.
“Arlena, you’re doing great,” Shane said in a gentler tone of voice. “Everything is almost perfect. I need the shot again to cut in a different angle, and I need the same light as the last one.”
Arlena smiled. “Of course, Shane, whatever you say.”
“It’s Friday, and I’ve got a big surprise for everyone tonight,” Shane said, ushering Arlena toward the dunes. “We just have to push through and get this shot.” The wardrobe and makeup teams would slip Arlena and Gavin into exact copies of their clothes, re-pin Arlena’s hair and touch up their makeup in less than ten minutes.
“Gavin, are you coming?” Arlena asked over her shoulder as she began walking up the beach.
“Right behind you,” he said, waving his cigarette.