Authors: Ritter Ames
Lee Ann grimaced.
"I'm sure you heard my name a lot when you were around Erin. I hope I have the chance to let you see me in a different light than what she likely portrayed me as. My boss doesn't have much of an opinion of most people, and even less for those she works with at the agency."
Sounds like a kind of hostile environment."
Yes, and the natives are getting restless," Lee Ann replied, and laughed. "Well, it was good meeting you, Kate, and I hope to see you again soon. I knew your name, of course, from reading the story last month in the paper about catching Amelia Nethercutt's killer."
Like you, I hope you can get to know me for something other than that kind of sensational occurrence."
Lee Ann sharpened her gaze.
"But you were at the Colliers' when the murder took place."
I really didn't see anything."
But you did see when Sydney and Blaine Collier arrived afterward. Right?"
Soon after the emergency personnel, yes."
I'm glad you were there. You never know when something like that may be important. Blaine Collier can often be a bit brittle," Lee Ann said, taking a few steps away as she added, "You'll like working with April. She's nothing like Erin."
With that, Lee Ann took off at a brisk pace, and April moved back into view, asking,
"Where's your partner?"
Oh, she's here somewhere." Kate glanced around. Meg hoped to small talk her way into some clues, and Kate hoped she succeeded. Her neighbor's insider knowledge to the town was like a superpower. Everyone the women talked to that day received extra questions and attention from Meg. She always gave Kate a tiny nod whenever she spotted someone who looked promising. Despite the Colliers having only lived in Hazelton four years, Lila was originally from Burlington according to Gil, so the women were trying to determine how far back any of her Hazelton connections reached. They needed this information to determine who among their suspects looked more worthy than the rest, or if there were others they hadn't yet considered.
Meg also hoped to dig up intel on Erin Parker, because as she put it
"I really want her to be the baddie in this." Kate agreed up to a point. There was no love lost between her and Erin either, and frankly she preferred the idea of someone keeping the bat-crazy woman away from society. What Lee Ann had just said only confirmed their previous suspicions.
I'm here, I'm here," Meg said, stepping close again as they walked toward the room where the baked goods would be stored.
The large room did double duty, as it also served as the location for each of the visiting authors to use for their presentations throughout the day. After a brief look inside, April checked her watch.
"Oh, I do need to run. I have an out of town client coming, and I must prepare for an early breakfast meeting. He's only in town a few days, and I'm working to squeeze my schedule around his. Do either of you have any questions before I go?"
I'm fine. How about you, Kate?"
I think we're good. Thanks so much for showing us the ropes," Kate said.
Well, if you think of anything later, here's my card." April pulled two business cards from a side pocket of her purse. "Call me any time. I'm used to it. Also, Valerie James will be happy to answer any questions you have as well."
Kate knew if she looked at Meg she would laugh.
Kate, and Meg had a tumultuous history with Valerie, and Kate figured she would be the last person who wanted to help them.
As April hustled away, Kate and Meg scoped out the area they would man for the bake sale portion of the next day
's event. They shifted tables, chairs, and decorations to create the best use of the space, and planned out how to put on the best face for the bake sale corner. They stood in an open box configuration of three tables with long white cloths. The squared off U-shape would not only be their volunteer location at the book festival but also hold the cupcakes and baked goods for sale on top, and the surplus food items would go underneath in their sealed plastic containers until needed to refill emptied space above. They had also made detailed notes of who they wanted to try to catch the next day, to share a cup of coffee with while trying to get a little dirt dished their way.
In the meantime, though, Meg had a dental cleaning appointment she hadn
't been able to cancel last minute and needed to go. Kate was going to stay and see what finishing up of their station she could still tackle before time to pick up the twins.
Are you sure you're okay with me leaving you with this?" Meg asked for about the twelfth time.
Kate pushed her toward the exit.
"Go, I'll be fine. All this spot needs is a little organization, and that's my specialty. Food is trickling in now, so I'll be able to get it all categorized from the beginning to help us reload as we sell out of different items tomorrow. April already gave Valerie the all-clear on our orientation credentials, and we'll have a student helper tomorrow. Go. Everything will be fine. I'll meet you after school in the pick-up line."
And you promise to tell me if I need to come back and help you with anything else." Meg raised an eyebrow for a skeptical expression.
I promise. Now, go before you're late."
As Meg disappeared from sight, Kate spotted Valerie James, decked out in a faux hot pink cheetah vest she wore over her regulation
T-shirt, moving in a direct path toward the bake sale area. There was nowhere to hide, so Kate told herself to smile and not worry. Then she snapped her wrist once with the rubber band.
We're going to need one of these tables for textbooks," Valerie said, waving over a couple of helpers and pointing to the bridging table that connected the other two. "Move this one to the back corner, over there," she directed.
Kate slammed her hands against the table top.
"Wait! We need this for the bake sale."
You still have two, McKenzie. You'll be fine."
But I'll be much better with three." Kate stared her down.
Valerie hugged a clipboard
, covered in a complementary cheetah print to match the vest, to her chest. "Don't make me pull rank here. This is a book sale. The books need to be off the ground and already out in the open and ready for sale as soon as the book fair opens. The bake sale with its sugary treats may keep them in the library, but the books are what keep them coming in the first place. I need this table, and you can make do with two."
But this configuration gives us our working area. It delineates the customer side from the volunteer side."
Kate, I know you have no design background, but is it too difficult for you to see that you can simply push the two remaining tables together like this?" Valerie dragged the middle table several feet back, then walked around it to pull the remaining two together. "There, now you'll work within a V instead of a U. It will be fine."
The two helpers departed with the table as Valerie instructed. Kate knew she probably couldn
't win it back but decided to try one more plea. "We lose all the storage space we had under the third table."
Valerie waved a multi-ringed hand.
"Organization is what you do. Organize your product."
Look, Valerie, I—"
Please stop." Valerie held up her hand. "I know you want your table. Everyone needs another table, or more space, or another chair. My absent
promised she could provide more of everything, but her promised supplies are as invisible as she is at the moment."
You mean, Erin—"
Parker. Yes. Miss 'I Can Run Everything until Someone Really Needs Me for Something.'"
Okay. Obviously no love lost there. I
'm beginning to see how a volunteer got fired.
Valerie went on, the volume of her voice dropping a little as she continued to grouse,
"Thank goodness I don't have to work with her on the Collier house."
You were going to work on the Collier house? How?"
I'm doing the staging for the resell."
Kate felt her heart drop to her knees.
Wait! How could she not work with Erin but do the staging?
The murder and the hullaballoo Parker caused yesterday afternoon was enough to give Collier the ammo he needed to get the woman's contract revoked," Valerie continued, almost as if she knew what Kate was thinking.
But she didn't kill Lila. She wasn't even there."
She came right after the murder. Showed up going on and on about how Collier had texted her to come by and how she was sorry she was late and all. He apparently blew up, and the police had to stop him before another murder occurred."
It must have been when Meg and I were segregated in the house.
'd have to see if Meg could get Gil to ask about this new information.
So, who's the new real estate agent?" Kate asked Valerie.
April Stephens. I gave her the job to do the orientation for you and Meg. As you could probably tell from your orientation, she's a real pro. After I get through with that house, she'll have it sold within a week. By the way, when will you have everything packed up and moved out of there?"
Kate sighed. The million dollar question.
"It mostly depends on when the police let us get back in. But for now, I'm assuming the moving date will stay the same, even if I'm packing overnight the last night to get everything done ahead of the movers' arrival."
Sounds good." Valerie gave a satisfied nod, oblivious to the true tone of Kate's last statement. "I have Jess Baldwin down as your student helper for tomorrow."
What? No! Valerie, he plays tackle on the football team. The kid is huge, and you just reduced my space by at least a third."
"Big guys can be graceful. Don't worry."
It's not his grace I'm concerned with, but rather his mass. We don't have space for someone that big back here."
He'll be able to carry heavy stuff if you need it."
We won't need it."
Valerie chewed on her lower lip, then dropped her clipboard onto the table in frustration.
"I don't have anyone else to offer you. If you don't take him, you and Meg have to go it alone."
Kate almost agreed with the designer
's last statement, until her gaze lighted on the clipboard and she read the line noting who Valerie's assistant was. "Why don't you take Jess, and give us whoever is your assistant. You'll be more likely to need some heavy lifting than we will."
But Tiffany is my—"
Great. Tiff is already a pro at food handling, given her experience working weekends at the ice cream shop. The trade will be perfect."
Valerie stood for a moment with her mouth opening and shutting a couple of times. Then she gave
sound and gathered up her clipboard. "Fine. You can have Tiffany, and I'll take Jess."
* * *
"Don't hate me, but I believe I successfully negotiated us a pay cut." An hour later Kate McKenzie sighed and rested an elbow out the open driver side window of the van. She squinted into the sun to see Meg standing in the drive of Hazelton East Elementary. They both still wore their pink, short-sleeved shirts and jeans.
Kate had helped a bit more with decorations and set-up after Valerie left their area. The rest of the event areas, both inside and outside the library, seemed filled and nearly ready for the public. Though the fundraiser was set to start at eight a.m. the next day, decorations, as well as last minute changes and ideas, were still time consuming for those signed on to help. Especially when only half the crew showed during the set-up preparations. As much as Valerie irritated her on so many levels, Kate had to hand it to the take-charge chair for jumping in and pulling all the tangled threads together so beautifully.
First, however, she needed to convince Meg that things were still on track. Despite the changes made during the time she was gone for her dental appointment.
Meg swung her right arm and rubbed a stiff muscle.
"I think I have permanent nerve damage from having to hold up those banners so the crew behind me could come through and staple this morning."
I have a bruise the size of a half-dollar on my foot where a weighted bar fell on it," Kate commiserated.
Guess they should have added steel-toed boots to the dress code." Meg grinned and leaned against the open window frame. "Who knew a library could be so dangerous."