Authors: Ritter Ames
Another snake?" Meg jumped. "We just got rid of the last one. Isn't the bearded dragon enough reptile for one household?"
He thought you'd appreciate it. Said you said you liked the way the way Beanie the dragon grins at you through the terrarium, and you've 'been so sad since Slither died.' Your outstanding acting talents got you into trouble again."
They tell you in the unofficial mommy manual to show compassion and support," Meg groused. "Look where it gets me."
Kate sat very still, thanking her lucky stars this wasn
't her life right then. Her twins kept asking for a dog, and she kept putting them off on the acquisition. She was probably a little short on the empathy scale, but she knew who would ultimately be responsible for any new lovable beast that came into the McKenzie home. However, her neighbors' conversation made her realize she'd better figure out some kind of compromise soon or the girls might go small game hunting in the woods and find their own pet. As much as she'd tired of her first Vermont winter, Kate almost wished for a brief return. More than the landscape hid beneath the months-long blanket of snow.
Did you set it free, or is it caged in the back?" Meg asked.
It wasn't a poisonous variety, so I took it to the end of our fence to escape Tigger's clutches."
Tigger was the Berman
's ornery yellow tabby, and Puddin' was their twenty-five pound tuxedo cat who just wanted to be everyone's friend. The family also had two rescue mutts, Ralph and Rowdy. Kate enjoyed all the animals but especially appreciated being able to send her daughters over to play with them whenever Samantha and Suzanne tried once more to wheedle a pet of their own out of her. Worse, Keith had begun taking the girls' side and making noises like he would be less than supportive before too long. Yes, circumstances definitely called for some overtime thinking. She snapped the rubber band on her wrist to stop herself from obsessing about another ongoing worry.
Anything wrong, Katie?" Meg asked, as the band settled back against Kate's skin.
She shook her head.
"No, just keeping my thoughts on the subject of tonight's incident. Maybe once Gil hears everything he'll notice something you and I missed in all the excitement."
Gil took out a pen and his pad, and said,
"Give me a minute here."
Filled coffee cups sat steaming, and both women eyed the package of chocolate chip cookies Meg opened and placed in the center of the table. Gil was already in reporter mode and made a quick scan over the notes he
'd made during his and Meg's earlier phone call. The wait got to be too much for Meg, and she grabbed a cookie then pushed the package closer to Kate. "Try one. I'm famous for my store bought desserts."
That got her husband
's attention. He snorted and looked up from the page. "No truer words were ever spoken."
I don't like your attitude, bub." Meg used her forearm to slide the package farther away. "No cookies for you."
All I really want are more details."
We'll try our best. Bring out those award-winning Gil Berman interviewing skills," Meg said.
's best efforts, and even some Pulitzer prizewinning prodding by Gil, however, it was soon apparent no new information was forthcoming.
It all happened so fast," Kate said, twisting her almost empty cup round and round on the tabletop. "I didn't even get the victim right. I thought all along it was Erin Parker."
Gil set down his pen.
"Okay, this is not something I'm going to take notes on for print. I don't want the crazy woman suing me. But why did you think it was her instead of Lila Collier?"
Because of her clothes and probably the whole look."
I don't get it." He cocked an eyebrow.
His wife nodded and clarified
. "We'd been talking about it earlier." She waved a finger between herself and Kate. "After I spoke to you on the phone this afternoon, and you said Erin and Collier had dated with disastrous results. In simple basics of height and looks, the women were very similar. Kate even called it 'Collier's type.'"
But it was the clothing that really nailed my mistaken assumption," Kate added, catching herself as she twisted the rubber band round her wrist. She folded her hands into her lap. "Lila wasn't wearing what she had on when she met Meg and me earlier on the deck. When she was pushed over, she was dressed in jeans and a pink tee, just like the real estate broker wore when she crashed the scene in the afternoon."
Gil resumed his note taking and said,
"They were both working to set up for the big book sale to raise money for the library. Today was the event's pseudo dress rehearsal, so everyone was set to come this afternoon wearing what they expected to wear for Saturday's event. They start all the real setting up in the morning, and we have a reporter and photographer scheduled to check things out. Lila was helping coordinate the bake sale, and Erin, as far as I can tell, was supposed to help with set up. But the word is that Erin is more interested in buttonholing people to talk to them about herself and her business and has been quietly 'let go' from her volunteer management position. There was some kind of blow-up there just before I left the office this evening, and the social reporter said Erin was out."
So the shirts and jeans were their uniform," Kate mused. "Their clothes didn't have to match exactly but had to be the right colors and combinations. Makes sense now. I couldn't figure out why Erin had paired a silk tee with such high dollar jeans. And why Lila changed into her outfit later, when it was so obviously not her taste and style."
It helps everyone to quickly know who is on the floor and working during the prep and the sale," Meg added, rising to grab the coffee pot and refill mugs. "It's the way the event has been run for years. I forgot that you didn't know yet."
Kate put a hand over the top of her cup as Meg moved closer.
"Please, none for me. I'll be up all night worrying as it is."
A knock sounded at the front door.
"Wonder who that is." Gil rose and moved toward the living room and foyer.
As he disappeared from sight, Meg said,
"With the Collier house off-limits while the state police do their investigation, why don't we volunteer for the book sale and see what we can find out. I know we both can find pink shirts in our closets. Tees or polos will work fine."
Meg." Kate leaned closer. "We aren't involved this time. You heard Lieutenant Johnson. We need to keep our noses out of his active investigation. His words exactly."
Oh, you're right. Okay. I was just curious." When Kate opened her mouth to speak, Meg held up a hand and added, "No, don't say it. I was being nosy. Darn my mother and that 'just gotta know' gene she passed on to me. However…" Meg scooped up another cookie and let it waffle its way toward her mouth. "They will need someone to replace Lila at the cupcake table. They make more money off the bake sales some years than they do books."
Four-dollar cupcakes versus one-dollar used books."
Makes sense," Kate mused, nodding and taking another sip of coffee. "But no. No, Meg. We don't have any reason to get involved in murder this time, and if we do so it will just make Lieutenant Johnson give us those mean looks he's so expert at delivering. We need to let the authorities do their own work, and stay far away from it."
Keith entered the kitchen and greeted the women. Gil followed close behind, talking on his cell phone.
"Gil filled me in." Keith kissed Kate on the forehead. "You okay? You should have called me."
We skated by this time." She moved her hands through the air. "Questioned as witnesses. Mostly nothing but a lot of time spent waiting."
How did Mom take it when you called?"
Oh, boy. Kate thought back to their conversation and the quiet way her mother-in-law telegraphed concern.
"Her voice was very, very bright. Like it was filled with forced smiles."
"Yep, you experienced her 'I'm worried but pretending I'm not' voice. She probably thought the police might be tapping your cell phone or something."
Gil finished his call and slipped his phone into a shirt pocket.
What?" Kate and Meg asked in unison.
He grabbed his notepad and scribbled as he spoke,
"Seems the police are questioning the victim's teenaged daughter. The police found a leather crafting knife thrown in the bushes several houses down from the Colliers that still showed trace amounts of the victim's blood. The daughter's prints were the only ones identifiable on the murder weapon. They've pulled the teen in for questioning."
But that doesn't mean she did it," Meg said.
No, and it doesn't even really mean she's a suspect," Gil responded, scribbling notes as he talked. "The fingerprint means she'll have to be questioned. It's her knife, so an obvious conclusion can be reached, and if she does become a suspect her lawyer will use exactly the same argument."
's purse and accessories design business. She'd been so proud of her unique products, produced from and remade into recycled designer accessories. Kate flashed on the young woman, so confident in her dreams and goals, seeing opportunities in her athleticism and her small business. A young woman who not only lost her mother, but now could risk losing her future as she became the scope of the investigation. Suddenly, Kate realized she did have an interest in seeing the outcome of this case quickly solved.
You know that bake sale table we were discussing for the library event?" she asked Meg.
I think we do need to volunteer to replace Lila after all. If you need to borrow a pink shirt, just let me know."
Get quotes from several moving companies before deciding who gets your business. Give extra credit when someone from the company comes out to give you their bid, so they can use the opportunity to look at any stairs and doorways and check out the kind of furniture you want moved. Ask for references, their license, and insurance information. And regardless of the company you choose, make sure to ask about their claim process. If anything goes wrong, you don't want to find out too late that the business doesn't have a standard claims process. Finally, try to get everything in writing, from estimates to the names of the guys on the van moving your stuff.
* * *
Book tables and sale shelves were everywhere on Friday and by the next day would spill out the library's front doors. Orientation was like old home week to Meg, with her stopping to talk at every turn. Volunteers were still pulling books from boxes at every table, wiping off dust when necessary, wiping other volumes with used dryer sheets to add a fresher smell to old and musty editions. Their mentor for the moment, April Stephens, breezed in at the last minute and was systematically peppering Kate and Meg with the information needed and tips they should try to use, all in a patient but very busy way. She was a broker at the national franchise realty company in town, direct competitor to Erin Parker, so was used to smiling through clients and keeping the focus on the details. But each time Meg stopped to talk to someone else, April's smile grew a little bit tighter.
Nevertheless, Kate knew Meg was on a quest, weaving through the books on an abbreviated greet and no-retreat tour. Subtly substantiating anything they already knew, while hoping to elicit more. And do all of this without falling into the rumor trap. Gil already learned
Sydney was released after questioning the previous evening, but until a real suspect was found the obvious risks to the Collier family remained.
At one point April was called away by one of the volunteers with a message
that the head librarian needed to speak with her. Meg wandered away to another table, striking up a conversation with an older man stacking a bunch of paperback westerns.
The volunteer who momentarily interrupted their orientation was a woman of about forty and medium height. She wore her brunette curls shoulder length and bangs almost in her eyes, and she stayed near Kate even after April strode off with a promise to return in a moment. The woman offered her hand to Kate and said,
"I'm sorry to take April away. The librarian won't keep her long. But while I have the chance, I want to take the opportunity to introduce myself. I'm Lee Ann Miller, Erin Parker's assistant. I'm so sorry about the horrible experience you had at the Collier house."
For a moment, Kate almost responded with a comment about how sad the murder was, then realized Lee Ann
's remark might refer to the confrontation between Erin and Blaine Collier. She kept her response noncommittal. "Thank you for your concern and kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to introduce yourself, too. I've heard your name, and now I can put a face with it."