Organized for Homicide (Organized Mysteries Book 2) (2 page)

For color designations, the father and son were coded to black and blue, respectively, and the daughters, older and younger, as green and pink. The mother
's things had been removed months before. "Lila asked for a couple of paintings and a rug Collier isn't planning to take with them. He hasn't decided yet, but anything left over can go when the movers take Sydney's things."

"
She's the older daughter, right?"

"
Yes, and she's staying here to finish high school." Kate chewed her lip. There had been a tension the last time she'd talked to her client, and she thought she'd picked up the vibe Collier might be having second thoughts about splitting up his kids. Not that it was any of her business, but…

Meg interrupted Kate
's thoughts, asking, "Is her stuff going ahead of the big move?"

"
No, the transport company has subcontracted the smaller part of the job out to an area firm. The local truck will take everything to the mother's condo the same day as the big move."

"
So, they hug goodbye here, and Sydney doesn't see her siblings until summer break."

"
Thanksgiving, not summer. Lila said Sydney was picked for some great pre-Olympic program in Boston. Has a world-class coach signed on to train her and everything. She'll be spending the summer figure skating on the indoor ice rink and learning strategy to reach Olympic potential."

"
Ouch. Goodbye family, then goodbye everyone. She's okay with that?"

Kate sighed.
"Who? Mother or daughter?"

"
Both, I think."

There was no good answer to Meg
's question—or any of the others that floated around the issue. She'd met the teen a few days ago, and Kate had felt an immediate connection. The young woman's story was too close to Kate's own, with a parent wrapped up in environmental issues, and responsibly raising herself and finding her own way in life. Sydney at least had siblings and a father who lived the corporate life, but too many things the teen said told Kate the mother was a huge concern to her. Like when she said, "Dad doesn't need me in Malibu. He'll have lots of help for Dara and Dustin. But Mom tries not to rely on anyone, and she needs to have someone around to watch her back. And make sure she eats."

The comment touched too many memories for Kate, and she knew she was already getting too personally invested in this job. But thoughts like that one made her believe it really would be better for the teen to move first, give everyone a small transition ahead of the big break, and offer the older daughter a little time alone with her mother before leaving next month for her own temporary move.
Sydney had too many changes ahead to feel obligated for her mother's well-being, too.

Lila had even suggested something along those lines in the earlier meeting Blaine Collier
had arranged so Kate could scope out the project. As expected, however, his autocratic personality immediately cut off the discussion. He interrupted and said, "I'm still not completely on board with Sydney staying here at all. Don't even think about trying to separate her from her brother and sister before the move, Lila."

Kate rubbed her hand along the edge of her notebook, trying to erase the tense emotions she remembered from the three Colliers in those very different meetings. These people were hurt and still searching for
a middle ground. She said, "This is their family business, Meg, not ours. We're just supposed to pack and make sure everything gets shipped in one piece. Send the California stuff with the movers and the stuff Lila gets to her condo in Bennington."

"
I heard Collier tried to have her ruled unfit as a mother." Meg's face lost its soft lines and took on a stony expression. "Hard to believe a judge would let him have custody
and
move the kids three thousand miles away from their mother."

"
Rumors only tell part of the story. These are family members who love one another, even if the parents can't stay together. No one can cause friction like family." Kate chewed her lip, her heart going out to the ex-wife she'd only met the one time, but whose sad and sordid soap opera script had been the fuel for every gossip maven in town. And as she feared, Meg was just getting started.

"
Collier is a corporate guru who's used to winning. According to all the scuttlebutt, he gathered up any little thing in Lila's past that even hinted at instability or danger, really pushing how her strong stances on social issues make her fitness as a parent register on the questionable side. It's so unfair, penalizing her for protecting rights and the environment and for sticking to her principles."

"
I know but—"

"
You aren't taking Collier's side in this, are you?" Meg stood with her fists on her hips, the stance that made Kate give her friend the Wonder Woman nickname.

"
No, just…" Kate couldn't completely feel Meg's sympathy. Her own parents had been environmental activists whose actions had always kept their family life anything but steady. She agreed with Meg's point and believed no parent should be separated from her children without real cause but also recognized the risk of talking about the subject in this location. She needed to shut down the conversation. If anyone walked in and heard them, it could be her reputation. "We need to get started on today's tasks. Honestly, we'll talk about this later when we know more."

"
Know more about what?" A voice asked from behind them.

Both women made tiny
eek
sounds and whirled. Kate's worst fears were realized. Lila Collier, ex-wife of her client and exactly the person they'd just been discussing, stood in the doorway. The woman's very erect posture made Kate worry their conversation had been overheard, but the deep vertical lines between Lila's eyebrows and the obvious shadows under her eyes spoke about worries far beyond gossip.

"
I'm sorry—I didn't mean to scare anyone. I'm Lila Collier." The tall, trim, dark-haired beauty moved closer, cotton skirt swaying as she walked, and extended a multi-bangled hand toward Meg. She had a calm aura about her that seemed resigned and hopeful at the same time. Once again Kate marveled over the way opposites attracted. This time in the form of bohemian Lila and buttoned-down Blaine Collier,

"
Please, don't apologize," Kate said and motioned toward her neighbor. "This is Meg Berman. She helps me with my business."

"
Nice meeting you," Meg said. Kate held her breath to see if her friend would say anything more and almost sighed in relief when Meg stepped back after the handshake.

"I…" Lila said, waving a hand in the direction of the house's interior. "I'm probably intruding, but I had some things for Dustin and Dara. A kind of picture scrapbook for each of them to take in the move. I finished the two books last night." She half-turned and motioned back toward the other end of the house. "I left the books in their rooms."

Kate smiled.
"I'll make sure they get packed in the boxes they'll be carrying with them. So the kids can look at them along the way."

Lila
swallowed and nodded but didn't speak for a moment. She looked off in the distance and took a deep breath before she said, "I know this is an inconvenience for you, all this sorting and packing for two different locations. But…well, it may not matter. Blaine and I need to talk again and…" She moved back to the doorway, then stopped for a moment and almost whispered. "Thank you for understanding. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to work."

I wonder what that
's about.
Kate hoped they weren't changing their minds again about Sydney staying, but she could understand wanting the kids to stay together, too.

Kate watched Meg
's face get almost as red as her hair, but no words came from her mouth until they saw Lila's car drive away. Even from the distance, they had no difficulty reading the word
bitch
scratched deeply into the paint.

"
That's awful." Meg pointed at the car. "Does she know who damaged the door?"

"
Someone with a sharp key or knife who doesn't want her speaking out on hot-topic issues."

"
And I supposed Collier used this as a means of trying to prove her unfit."

Kate shook her head.
"I think things were long past the point of needing new examples for him. When I met with Lila yesterday we walked out together. She caught my surprised look, I guess, when I saw the scratches, and she explained they'd been left behind a couple of weeks ago when she and Sydney went out to dinner together. Unfortunately, Sydney was the one who first discovered them."

"
People can be so mean."

"
But the marks do help prove up Collier's concerns, whether we like it or not. And given the cryptic way she just spoke, Lila may be coming around to the same idea. Let's hope Sydney goes for it, if that is indeed the case."

"
All because she's taken strong stances on feminism, the environment, and civil rights issues. Anyone else would be pleased his wife climbed the environmental corporate ladder to her level." Meg had a full head of steam and plowed on with her rant, "He had a detective comb every police blotter and newspaper morgue, looking for anything violent that occurred at any demonstration he could prove she or her group participated in. He even claimed her work as a watchdog to monitor voting booths across the northern states during contested elections showed politics was more important to her than the children. Then his attorney argued before the judge and found witnesses to back up the bogus claims that if the kids were left with their mother they ran the risk of being bombed in their home or car by some activist opposed to one of her causes." Meg ended by making a hrumph sound deep in her throat. "If that woman killed him and I was on the jury, she would walk."

Oh boy!
Time to divert Meg's attention. "Okay, here's the outline for us to use to keep the tasks we need to do in order and to stay on schedule. One thing we still need to consider, however, is moving Dustin's terrarium. Since your boys have the bearded dragon, I thought you might be able to figure out a couple of options for us."

"
I know what you're doing." Meg cocked an eyebrow.

"
Never doubted it." Kate looked her friend in the eye and smiled. Now that the subject was officially changed, she turned attention back to the notebook. "Dustin says he wants his iguana to stay with him during the move. The lizard is a baby, and transporting it shouldn't be difficult, but the terrarium will be unwieldy. In case the dad overrides the son's decision—"

"
Like he seems to do everyone else's choices."

"
We need alternative shipping ideas. Just in case," Kate emphasized the last and raised her own dark blonde eyebrow in response to Meg's tweezed brow going even higher.

Meg blew out a big breath.
"Okay, I'll climb down off my soapbox. I'll make sure all the pets are taken care of. Okay?"

"
I think the Labrador will be fine."

"
You never know. Even the nicest dogs can become biters if they get anxious about a move."

Kate couldn
't help laughing. "Just make sure you don't take a bite out of Collier."

"
Moi
?" Meg's expression was all innocence. "I would never take that pleasure away from Lila."

"
Come on—let's go in," Kate said, "I just brought you out here to see the view."

"
And it really is a nice one." Meg walked back to the railing and squinted, cocking her head to one side so her short fiery curls bounced with the movement. "You can't see it from here, but we used to climb Mount Equinox when I was in high school." She pointed to the north. "We've been talking about taking the boys camping again sometime this summer. We should all go when school's out, both our families. This job will be completed by then."

"
Well, we'd better get a move on if we want to get finished on time." Kate clasped the project notebook to her chest. "I want to show this balcony to Keith before the house sells, too. I don't know if we could add a balcony on our house and make it look right, but I'd love something like this outside our master bedroom."

"
I like this over-high railing, too," Meg said, running her hand along the polished wood resting atop the steel bars that put everything at nearly chest level. "Anything waist-high and you run the risk of someone still accidentally going over the side. At least with boys like mine, that is. Something this high makes such a thing less likely."

Kate took another cleansing breath and smiled.
"I could get used to this."
The two women reentered the house, and Meg commented, "My feet just disappear in the carpet pile. Do you think Collier would mind if I worked barefoot?"

"
Probably." Kate rolled her eyes. "Let's keep our shoes on just in case, Ms. Troublemaker."

"
Spoilsport."

"
Sticks and stones, my friend."

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