Authors: Karen Chester
Throw a Monkey Wrench
(an Emma Cassidy Mystery Book 1)
Event planner Emma
Cassidy has returned to her hometown to rebuild her life. She’s hired to
organize a housewarming party for the brash and arrogant Tony Barnet, who’s
eager to impress the big end of town. But when the party ends in disaster, Tony
is quick to blame Emma, and the subsequent rumors spell doom for Emma’s business.
Thank goodness she
still has the job of planning Sean and Madison’s wedding. Sean, one of the
notorious McCluskey clan, is about to marry Madison, the beautiful daughter of
the rich and powerful Whites. But when Tony Barnet is killed, the police swiftly
arrest Sean McCluskey. Though the evidence is damning, Emma is convinced her
friend is innocent. With Sean facing prison, the wedding in jeopardy, and her
fledgling business in danger of tanking, Emma must unravel the mystery and
expose the real killer before it’s too late.
The Emma Cassidy
Book 1: Throw a
Book 2: Pushed to
the Limit (available on
Book 3: Murder Most
Likely (coming in 2016)
Copyright © 2016 by Karen Chester
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or
dead, is coincidental.
Cover design © 2016 Karen Chester
Cover photo © santa43 / Bigstock.com
guests filled the great room, the light from crystal chandeliers shimmering on
jewelry and cufflinks and tanned skin. A string quartet played quietly in a
corner. A soft breeze drifted into the house from the lake just outside, where
a full moon shimmered over the tranquil waters.
Emma Cassidy, sole proprietor of A Perfect
Party and organizer of tonight’s housewarming party, cast a professional glance
over the scene, observing that the dessert buffet was well stocked, that the
bar tender was busy, and that everyone appeared to be having a good time. For
the first time that evening, she allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction.
The hard work was done, and all was going well. Maybe she could reward herself
with a glass of wine—
A slim, elegantly dressed woman toppled
into the dessert buffet, sending platters of cream puffs crashing to the floor.
Conversation paused as the other guests turned to see the cause of the
commotion. Then, a portly man in a white suit collapsed onto a sofa, groaning
and clutching his stomach, and then, one by one, more guests went down,
crumpling into the chairs and couches scattered around the great room.
Emma dashed to help the woman who had
fallen so gracefully into the dessert buffet. Concerned murmurs rose in the air
as the string quartet creaked to a halt.
“Poisoned!” someone shrieked. “We’ve all
The murmurs swelled. Another woman
staggered out of the room, hand clapped over her mouth.
“It’s the oysters,” a man declared. “I
thought they smelled weird.”
“No, it’s the potato salad. That dressing
was just plain wrong.”
Emma assisted the woman to a chair and
found a napkin to wipe up the blobs of cream stuck to her hair.
“Emma! What’s going on?” Jordan Kozlowski
hurried toward her, wringing her jewel-encrusted fingers. “Why is everyone
“I don’t know.” Emma shook her head,
helpless and uneasy.
“Oh my God. Why did this have to happen
tonight? I wanted everything to be perfect.”
Jordan, a glamorous
thirty-something-year-old, was the much younger girlfriend of Tony Barnet, the
owner of this newly constructed, opulent lakeside property. A few years older
than Emma, she was often seen zipping around in her red Miata convertible,
blonde hair lifting in the breeze, as she met friends for lunch or went to yoga
classes, and always in eye-catching skintight clothing guaranteed to draw
attention to her curvaceous figure.
Tonight she was dressed in a rather more
conservative cocktail dress without the plunging necklines and short skirts she
usually favored, and her makeup and jewelry were also more subdued. A
calculated attempt to fit in with the established wealthy set here at Shamrock Lake,
Emma had realized, which was also why she’d hired Emma to organize this
Emma had leaped at the opportunity. She’d
only been back in Greenville, California six months, and her fledgling event
planning business needed all the help it could get. She’d worked so hard to get
every detail of the housewarming party right. A lot was riding on this event, both
for her and Jordan.
Tony Barnet was relatively new to
Greenville, having moved here only two years ago, and despite his money he
wasn’t quite accepted by the upper echelons of local society. His five acre
estate on the lake shore might not be in the right neighborhood, being
surrounded by apple and pear orchards, but the house, which had taken just nine
months to build, was a spectacular palace, designed to impress. This
housewarming party was supposed to knock everyone’s socks off, to show that
Tony was a force to be reckoned with, and that Jordan could be a successful
This party was important to Emma, too. A
business like hers relied on referrals, and tonight’s guest list included many
potential new clients. Like Jordan and Tony, she needed to be accepted by this
crowd and only had one chance to create a good first impression.
And what a disastrous first impression this
was making. The great room of Tony Barnet’s multi-million dollar lakefront
mansion was an impressive, soaring showpiece of affluence. Travertine marble
floor tiles, enormous crystal chandeliers, a towering stone fireplace. No
expense had been spared. But now it looked like a field hospital, with half a
dozen afflicted people scattered about, concerned friends hovering nearby, while
others argued over the cause.
The woman Emma had helped suddenly bent
forward and threw up on the rug. A very expensive-looking Persian rug.
“Oh, my goodness.” Jordan teetered on her heels,
hands fluttering uselessly. “Mrs. Pemberton, I’m so sorry…”
“It’s quite all right.” Emma patted Mrs.
Pemberton’s shoulder. The woman was looking quite distressed. “Jordan, I think
we should call for the paramedics.”
“Paramedics?” Jordan bit her lip. “Are you
“These people need help. Look, I’ll do it,
and I’ll fetch some water for Mrs. Pemberton, too.”
Jordan nodded, pale with worry. Emma
hurried toward the kitchen, pulling out her phone from the pocket of her dress.
She made the call, explained the circumstances to the dispatcher, and hung up
just as she ran into the caterer.
“Alvin, what’s happening? Any idea what
the cause is?”
Alvin ran a successful restaurant and
catering business in Greenville. He was a friend of Emma’s dad, and she’d known
him all her life. She knew he was a professional, someone she could trust,
someone who wouldn’t cut corners in order to save a few bucks.
He shook his head, his brow creased with
concern. “People think it’s the oysters, but I’ve been buying them from Joe’s
for decades and never had a problem. At this moment I don’t know what’s the
“Okay. Well, we need to help those people
out there. Can you get your servers to start handing out bottles of water and
“Sure thing.” Alvin nodded. “I’m sorry,
Emma. Want me to talk to Mr. Barnet?”
“No, I’ll talk to him.” Her stomach muscles
tightened at the prospect of fronting up to Tony Barnet. But she was the
organizer of this party, and that meant she had to deal with the fallout
“Thanks.” Alvin looked relieved. “That
guy’s a mean bastard—excuse my language.”
Emma made a noncommittal sound. Even if she
agreed with him, she couldn’t bad-mouth clients behind their back.
“We’ll need some cleaning supplies, too,”
she said. “People are throwing up. On Tony’s new carpets.”
“Oh, jeez.” He ushered her to the utility
room where Emma armed herself with a bucket, a roll of paper towels, and a pair
“This isn’t good for business,” Alvin
muttered as she picked up a bottle of water for Mrs. Pemberton together with
her cleaning paraphernalia. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Neither can I
, Emma thought as she hurried back to the great room. But this was
the life of an event planner. Always be prepared, was her motto. Her trusty
tote bag was filled with things to deal with every emergency, but she wasn’t
sure she was equipped for mass poisoning.
The great room was noisier than ever, and
no one appeared eager to depart, even the unaffected guests who weren’t
assisting anyone. In fact, these people seemed to be almost ghoulishly enjoying
watching the disaster unfold. Did they find this entertaining? Emma sighed
under her breath. She was being too uncharitable. Maybe her years in New York
had made her too cynical. That, and her failed relationship, and her bombed
She hurried over to hand the bottle of
water to Mrs. Pemberton, who was looking a little better now that her body had
rid itself of the unknown toxins. The remains of that poisonous material lay in
a puddle on the Persian carpet, while the woman had moved to another chair, no
doubt to get away from the smell.
Emma glanced down at her outfit of black
shift dress and black medium-heeled shoes. As the party organizer she had to
look smart and professional but also unobtrusive, somewhere between being a
guest and a staff member. Her current ensemble had taken her through many
grueling parties, but she couldn’t remember one where she’d been required to
clean up someone else’s sick. Donning the bright pink gloves, she bent to her
task, trying not to breathe too deeply.
Heavy footsteps thumped on the marble floor
tiles, growing louder until a pair of shiny dress shoes stopped just short of
“You!” a furious voice shrieked above her
head. “Hey, you! I’m talking to you.”
Emma’s heart sank at the sound of the
familiar voice. She slowly rose to her feet, a wodge of soiled paper towels in
one hand, and looked at Tony Barnet.
Tonight her client, a medium-height,
squarely built man, was spick and span in a dove gray double-breasted suit
teamed with a navy ascot and gray leather shoes. In his mid-fifties, he
possessed a thick head of black hair and a craggy, Romanesque face that was
currently puce with outrage.
“Mr. Barnet, so glad to see you’re all
right,” Emma said, trying to inject confidence into her voice.
He didn’t seem to hear her at all. “What
the hell are you doing? You’ve ruined my party, you stupid girl,” he ranted,
clenching and unclenching his hands.
Emma swallowed as she tried to cling onto
her self-composure. She’d only met Tony Barnet a couple of times before
tonight, and both times he’d been dismissive and impatient. So she shouldn’t be
too surprised that he was yelling at her now, but couldn’t he at least wait
until the people who were ill were taken care of?
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” she replied.
“Please be assured that I’ll do everything I can to get to the bottom of this.”
She dropped the dirty paper towels into the
bucket. Tony’s gaze followed her action, and when he saw what she was cleaning
up, his cheeks began to puff up.
“My Goddamn Persian carpet!” he shrieked.
For such a beefy man he had a surprisingly falsetto voice, and when he grew
angry it seemed to rise in pitch too. “It’s ruined!” He fumed at her so
venomously she found herself faltering back a step, anxiously wondering if the
man was about to attack her. He jabbed a pudgy finger at her. “You’re going to
pay for this, or I’ll sue the pants off you.”
Nausea rolled in the pit of Emma’s stomach.
“We can discuss that later,” she said, uneasily aware that Mrs. Pemberton was within
earshot. He wouldn’t start badgering an ill woman, would he?
“You’re in charge of all the food and
drink. You planned it all. You’re responsible, girlie, and I’m going to make
damn sure you don’t forget that. Not for one single minute.”
Oh God, this was becoming excruciating. The
room had fallen silent as everyone watched on, and she could feel her cheeks
getting hot as Tony berated her in public.
“Oh, Tony, come on.” Jordan sidled up to
them, her big blue eyes pleading at her much older boyfriend. “Please don’t
take it out on poor Emma. She’s doing the best she can.” She made to touch his
arm, but he flung her off petulantly.
“It’s your fault too, Jordie,” he fumed. “I
told you it was a waste of money to hire a party planner, but noooo. You had to
have one. As if you don’t have time to organize a little get-together for a few
of my friends. All you do every day is work on your tan and spend my money on
your goddamn shopping trips.”
Jordan bit her lip and her cheeks paled,
making her blusher stand out in pink blotches. “Oh, Tony,” she murmured,
hanging her head. “I only wanted to make you happy. I know how much this party
means to you.”
“Yeah? And I suppose you call this a
stunning success, do you?”
Tony moved forward, waving his arms at his
guests who were all staring at him. “Don’t worry, everyone. I’ve got everything
under control,” he blustered, puffing out his chest. “I’ll get to the bottom of
this, don’t you worry. No one makes a fool out of Tony Barnet and gets away
with it, I can assure you. I’m good friends with Chief Putnam. He’ll sort this
out, pronto. I’m calling him right now.” Pulling out a cell phone from his suit
pocket, he stomped off.
He’s calling the chief of police? Emma’s
head spun. Maybe Tony was right. Maybe this was more suspicious than she’d
first thought. Oh, heavens. Was this all her fault? Had she been careless and missed
something important? Was she going to be arrested and taken down to the station,
and would her dad have to bail her out? Poor Dad. She couldn’t do that to him.
She grabbed the bucket and hurried back to
the kitchen where she told Alvin what had happened. He didn’t seem all that
“I’ve made sure all the food is set aside
and secured. The authorities will want to take samples for testing. You should
probably let Scott know. If it’s not the food, it might be the alcohol.”
Scott owned the liquor store that had
supplied all the drinks and glasses for the party. Emma tracked him down to his
van parked at the rear entrance of the house and told him what was happening.
“Whoa, you can’t think it’s something one
of us did,” Scott protested. “I know Tony Barnet can be difficult, but he’s a
good customer. We didn’t sabotage this party. Well, I hope it wasn’t one of our
guys.” Scott had brought a bartender and a server to help him tonight.