Authors: Ritter Ames
Oh, that's sweet. She wanted to better see pictures of her grandkids."
Nope." Meg said, then laughed. "She wants to be able to take photos of things with small print, like menus in restaurants and product information on medicine bottles, then enlarge the section she needs to read, so she doesn't have to carry her big magnifying glass everywhere she goes."
Brilliant idea. Bet we'll soon see all of her friends swap out their phones and start using that trick too."
Meg moved her arm out and back, like she was trying to focus on something held in her hand.
"May need that little seeing aid myself before very long. I'm not yet to the bifocal stage, but I've found myself stretching my arms out sometimes in order to read tiny print."
Kate smiled. Her friend was probably still ten years away from bifocals but had begun worrying over the
"character lines" in her forehead.
In the meantime, everything needing to be put away was wrapped, washed
, or wiped off, and Meg's errand dovetailed nicely with the reason Kate planned to trek back to the job site before the Collier family returned from dinner.
And running errands with a friend is always preferable to going it alone.
She smiled again when realizing she probably wouldn't have even considered the thought the year before. Life was changing for the better. The move to Vermont was definitely helping with her long-term trust issues. Kate scooped her keys from the wall hook and grabbed her purse.
We don't have to go right this minute," Meg said, waving her free hand. "I don't want to take you away from your family time."
Kate shook her head.
"I was planning to go there soon anyway. I forgot to put all of the kitchen blinds back the way I'd found them. Probably not a big deal, but I like to leave things the way the client preferred. Besides, Keith left early for work and dropped the girls off to bake cookies with his mom. That's why they haven't been in here already telling me they're hungry again. Until you came, I was almost to the point of calling time and temperature so I could pretend someone was talking to me."
Meg took a final swallow before rinsing her cup under the faucet.
"I must have been driving by the Colliers' when Keith and the girls left. But I know what you mean. It does get quiet pretty quickly, doesn't it?" She jingled her key ring. "My car is in our driveway."
A couple of jackets and sweaters hung on hooks in the mud room, and Kate grabbed her favorite cotton candy pink hoodie.
"It's not like a front is moving in," Meg said, holding open the back door. "The temps only dropped a little."
Just call me 'thin-blooded Katie.'"
The car was still warm, and Kate snuggled into the heated passenger seat. Daylight savings time meant it wasn
't quite dark yet but getting shadowy, and Meg switched on the lights.
The girls must really like having a grandmother nearby," Meg said as she turned east toward the Colliers' neighborhood.
Yes, having Jane and George close fills a void we always experienced in the past."
's own parents had died together in a car accident her second year of college. The depression had almost been too much, feeling she'd let them down somehow by leaving to go away to school. She had always felt responsible for her parents, who would get so wrapped up in the latest passions they'd take chances and cut corners. This made the small family grow apart during her teen years, when she felt their environmental activities and the constant moves took precedence over the family's and her needs. Keith's parents had always been such polar opposites of hers, Kate hadn't put up any argument when he left pro hockey and took the job as an on-air personality in his hometown of Hazelton. "It's really been a great transition, but who knew things would go so smoothly when we moved here last fall. Well, if you discount the fact that between Keith's and my new careers we had to contend with a couple of murders in the last month."
Have to say, you were pretty good at solving the murders, Kate."
Only because I stumbled into the murderer and almost got myself kidnapped, and likely worse." Kate crossed her arms. "I am so out of the murder solving business. From now on the only crime solving I'm going to tackle are crimes against organization."
They rounded the turn into the
development, and Kate glanced up to the master balcony, loving the way the solar lights set along the perimeter of the house lit the back with a soft glow. She was surprised to suddenly realize someone was leaning over the balcony. The illumination wasn't strong enough for her to tell who it was exactly, but with knowing the family was out and seeing all the inside lights were off, she got an uneasy feeling. She pulled out her phone and dialed 9-1-1.
Just as the operator answered, a
second person, this one wearing a hoodie, stepped onto the balcony. The 9-1-1 operator answered, but before Kate could get any words out, the shadowy figure on the balcony snuck up on the person leaning on the railing from behind, grabbed the person by the hair, pulled, and ran a hand under the face of the person at the railing. The one in the hoodie then grabbed the torso of the first person and pushed the body over the side, where it landed on the stone patio and didn't move.
Check Every Nook and Cranny
Whether cleaning, moving, or just organizing, try to group rooms together, then move through systematically. When boxing up items don't forget to check out the tops of closets and pantry and the seldom used drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, like the ones under the stove. Also, scan past the floor of the attic and garage; check the rafters for infrequently used or seasonal items to take with you, like skis and fishing poles.
* * *
Meg and Kate screamed simultaneously. The person in the hoodie turned their way, but the fabric around the face and the darkening sky made identification impossible from that distance.
Quick, we need an ambulance and police!" Kate gave the operator the address and information as Meg hurried toward the still body. From her vantage point in the drive, Kate heard the front door crash open. She ran to better see the front of the house, and watched the tall, thin, hooded person pause for a moment then leap the side hedge and quickly disappear down the street. No way she or Meg could have caught the mystery person. More importantly, given the situation it didn't seem prudent to even try. The visual impression she'd gotten as the runner streaked out of the front door told Kate the hooded perp was taller than she was so could still outweigh her.
Relief flooded through her system when the sound of sirens erupted from the direction of the community
's entrance. A boxy ambulance pulled up behind the first squad car.
That way!" Kate pointed, and Meg waved to the EMTs. Constable Banks jumped out of the black and white. She thanked the emergency operator for staying on until help arrived and pocketed the phone. Neighbors started stepping out into their front yards.
't until she was at the actual scene of the crime that everything suddenly hit her, and she started shaking. Meg moved in for a comforting embrace but was shivering as much herself. One of the neighbors ran to fetch a blanket for them.
Everyone stayed back and let the emergency crew have room to do their job, so Kate didn
't see the victim when they turned her over. But she had gotten a glimpse of long dark hair splayed across the back of a pink shirt. She turned away when the visual of all the blood on the stonework hit her. However the shirt and jeans left little doubt in her mind about who lay motionless beneath the balcony. The bigger question was why the real estate woman returned to the house after the afternoon altercation with Collier. Also, why so much blood surrounded the body.
One of the emergency team hurried forward pulling the compressed gurney, and another member raced by to grab more supplies from the back of the vehicle.
Constable Banks gave voice to Kate's thoughts, "Lot of blood from the fall—must have cracked her head. Though I can't understand why she came back. Would have just been arrested."
We saw someone in a hoodie push her over the balcony," Kate explained. "Someone tall."
Meg shook her head and tried to speak,
"No…" She coughed and got some of the tension out of her voice. "I could see when I got close. She didn't just fall…" A tear snaked down her cheek. She started bawling into Kate's shoulder. "Oh, Katie!" Meg hiccupped a couple of times, then said, her voice muffled, "Her throat was cut."
What was that?" Banks took a step nearer.
She said Erin Parker's throat was cut," Kate said. "Do you think Collier could have been defending his home?"
No!" Meg pulled back, trying to talk but unable to.
I thought that was what you said," Kate apologized. "I'm sorry, I—"
Meg held up a hand, then took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure. She spoke slowly,
"Yes, I said her throat was cut. But it's not Erin Parker. It's Lila, Blaine Collier's ex-wife."
What about Mom?"
Everyone turned and found
Sydney behind them, dressed in dark running clothes. Her hood lay back against her shoulder blades, but her outfit was much like the one the mysterious person wore.
A second later, Blaine Collier
's silver BMW screamed into the driveway, and he was out almost before the engine was off. "What's going on here?" Blaine Collier strode up to Banks but stretched to try to see what the emergency crew was doing.
Don't let his kids get out of the car," Kate warned.
My kids? Why?" Collier glared at Kate. "Dara and Dustin are coming home with the Harper family. They wanted to go to their house and play video games. Bob Harper was fine with it. Now, what's going on here?" He wrapped an arm around his daughter's shoulders, and she clasped her father at the waist.
Everything became clear a second later, when the gurney was raised again, and the body wheeled to the ambulance, a sheet covering the victim from head to toe. Collier took a couple of blind steps backward, and Constable Banks grabbed his arm to steady him.
Banks turned then and waved to the other officer. "Can you take these two ladies into the house and put them in separate rooms until I can get their stories?" Then he turned to Collier. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I have some bad news."
The officer motioned for the women to follow, and they did so quickly, still sharing the blanket wrapped around their shoulders. The last thing Kate wanted to see at this point was the reaction of Collier or Sydney when they finally absorbed the news. She was still having difficulty processing it herself. Not just the fact she
'd assumed Erin from the jeans and pink T-shirt, but because she couldn't fathom why Lila would even be at the house when the family wasn't there. Could she have come back to get something that had sentimental meaning for her? Something Collier wouldn't let her have when she asked? And who had been the hooded person? Someone dressed like Sydney. And the teen was tall, but…
She and Meg had watched Lila
's head get pulled back by the hair and the hoodie person run something across her throat just before pushing her over. When Kate flashed on the image of the object, she realized the person in the hood took the object back into the house and likely carried it when sprinting away from the scene. What was it?
If only the hour wasn
't so late. If they could have had more light they might have seen exactly what transpired and what was carried away… No, she couldn't beat herself up over this. The details weren't distinct enough because the killer chose this hour for that specific reason.
Officer, there's something you may need to know sooner than later."
The group stopped on the front porch, and Kate told the officer about the object the murderer carried off.
"My concern is the weapon was taken away and may have been discarded as the person ran."
But you can't describe the object?"
Maybe," Meg said. "It reflected light for just an instant while the murderer stood on the balcony, so I assumed it was made of metal. Maybe four or five inches extended past the person's hand, so likely there was a handle on some sort of knife. But that's just a guess. I only truly saw the weapon when the person used it on the balcony. When the killer ran away, I only saw an inch or two below the fingers, so I don't know exactly what shape it really was." She shook her head, then added, "No, forget that. I really don't know. I'm probably just trying to fill in blanks with guesses."
The officer pushed open the door with an elbow and ushered the women inside.
"That's one of the problems with these kinds of events. People start thinking about them and then imagine how things might have been, instead of what everything really was."