Authors: Karen Chester
Sean withdrew his arm from Madison and sat
up straight. For a while they all concentrated on finalizing the menu. Sean and
Madison hadn’t given Emma much time to organize the wedding, but they didn’t
want to wait for months on end. They wanted the wedding soon, and Emma had been
more than happy to accommodate them. She’d only got the gig because Madison
frequented Lulu’s Salon and had seen Emma’s brand new sign at the front door.
The wedding, to which all the Whites’ friends and relatives had been invited,
would be Emma’s biggest event to date, and she was determined it would go off
without a hitch. Even more so after Tony Barnet’s housewarming.
The door to the library suddenly flew open,
and the harried-looking housekeeper lurched inside, clutching a tray of coffee
Cynthia’s head jerked up at the commotion.
“Maria? What on earth’s the matter?”
The housekeeper hurried forward, her eyes
wide and anxious. The silver tray rattled in her unsteady hands, and Sean took
it from her just in time.
“Have a seat,” he said, pressing a hand to
her shoulder to guide her to the chair next to Cynthia.
The housekeeper sank into the chair without
protest. She must be in shock, Emma thought, because she was pretty sure the
woman would never normally sit in the library in front of her employer,
especially when Cynthia was frowning at her.
“What’s wrong, Maria?” Sean asked, his tone
Madre de Dios
…” the woman muttered
before she collected herself. “I just heard from Stanley, the delivery man. He
told me about it. Oh, it’s too shocking…”
“Told you what?” Cynthia retorted, clearly
“About—about Mr. Barnet.” The housekeeper
flapped her hands at her flushed cheeks.
“Barnet? Tony Barnet?” Emma broke in before
she could help herself.
, Mr. Barnet, the man who owns
the big new house on the other side of the bay.” She nodded in the direction of
the French doors that led out onto the terrace. Following the direction of the
housekeeper’s gesture, Emma realized that Tony’s new house could be seen from
the Whites’ place. Mature trees shaded the outdoor terrace, but beyond them lay
the blue waters of the lake, and on the far side of Wineglass Bay sat Tony’s
house, sparkling like a sugar cube under the sun. Maria pressed a hand to her
chest as she continued in a breathless tone, “Stanley says the police are
there. Lots of police, Chief Putnam, too.”
Emma tensed in her chair. Had they found
the source of the poison? After the mass poisoning, samples of all the food,
drink, and utensils had been taken away for testing, but as far as she knew no
results had come back. Maybe now they had, and something was pointing them back
to Tony Barnet’s house. Oh dear. She had a terrible feeling about this. Somehow
Tony would find a way of putting the blame on her.
Before she could help herself, she uttered
a groan, causing everyone to look at her. “The food poisoning,” she sighed
gloomily. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about it by now.” Although none of them
had alluded to it.
“Poisoning?” Maria shook her head in
confusion. “No, no, no poisoning. He was hit over the head.”
Hit over the head? What was she talking
Maria sat up and stared at the people
around her. Her voice dropped to a harsh whisper. “He is lying in the garage
with a big dent in the back of his skull.”
Madison gasped. “You mean he’s—”
“Yes.” Maria nodded solemnly. “Mr. Barnet
is dead. Someone murdered him, God rest his soul.”
in the library as everyone reacted differently to the news. Emma sat in stunned
silence, while Sean cried out “No!” and jumped to his feet to stride away to
the farthest corner in the library. Madison hurried over to him, her face pale
and puzzled. She tried to talk to him, but he barely seemed to listen as he
paced back and forth in that far corner, his face strained, lines of worry
pulling at his eyes and mouth.
As Emma recovered from the shock of the
news, she was puzzled by Sean’s reaction. She couldn’t help wondering what the
connection was between Sean and Tony Barnet, except for Sean’s auto repair
shop. Perhaps Tony had had a car fixed there, but that hardly accounted for
Sean’s extreme reaction.
She glanced at Cynthia, whose reaction was
the polar opposite of Sean’s. Instead of exclaiming and pacing, she had grown quite
still in her armchair, her profile Sphinx-like, barely even breathing as she
gazed through the French doors in the direction of Tony’s house, her eyes heavy
and shuttered. But her emotions were betrayed by her hands digging into the
padded armrests, her fingers like claws, and the slight, barely perceptible
flexing of a muscle in her jaw. She looked like a woman who refused to be ruled
by her emotions, no matter what the cost.
But why was Cynthia upset over the news of Tony
Barnet’s death? Emma was pretty sure the Whites weren’t counted among Tony’s
friends, because anyone who was friends with the Whites would have invited them
to a housewarming, surely. And Emma couldn’t see the refined and socially
superior Cynthia feeling friendly toward the brusque, Johnny-come-lately Tony.
Maria, the housekeeper, was still babbling
on about the incident, undeterred that Emma was her only audience. According to
her source, the police had arrived early this morning before seven, Maria said.
Crime scene tape surrounded the garage where the evil deed had taken place.
Someone had been wailing in the house, possibly Miss Kozlowski, Mr. Barnet’s
lady friend. It was not known exactly when the killer had struck, but it was a
fact that a cold-blooded murderer was on the loose, most likely in the
Greenville area. Maria was petrified.
A muffled ring of the front doorbell
sounded, but the housekeeper chittered on, seemingly too upset to remember her
“Maria, there’s someone at the door,” Cynthia
suddenly snapped out of her stupor as the doorbell chimed again. “Go and answer
“But, madam, what if it is the killer?”
“Oh for goodness sakes. The killer wouldn’t
be foolish enough to hang around. He’s most likely hundreds of miles away.”
Looking slightly mollified, Maria toddled
off to answer the door. Seconds later, she came rushing back, her face whiter
than ever. Behind her were Chief Bob Putnam and another policeman.
The library fell silent as the police
officers entered the library.
“Morning, Mrs. White.” The chief tipped his
hat at Cynthia, who had risen to her feet. “Sorry for bothering you; we’ll be
out of here soon enough.”
He turned to Sean, who was standing rigidly
still by the fireplace.
“Sean McCluskey, we need you to come down
to the station with us.”
Madison gasped and grabbed at Sean’s arm,
but Sean’s gaze never left the chief’s.
“Why? What do you need me for?” he
“To answer a few questions, clear up a
situation.” Chief Putnam’s casual tone deceived no one.
“A situation?” Perspiration sprung up on
Sean’s brow, and his face was a bony mask. “You mean Tony Barnet’s murder,
don’t you, Chief?”
Chief Putnam jutted out his chin. “Yes.”
Madison shrieked. “No! He didn’t do it.”
Everyone ignored her, even Sean. He stood
stiffly as the other police officer cuffed him, and he didn’t resist or look
back as the two policemen led him away.
Crying, Madison stumbled after them,
followed by her mother. Helplessly drawn, Emma trailed after them just in time
to see Sean bundled into the back of a police cruiser. Two other cruisers sat
in the driveway, Sherilee at the wheel of one of them, looking grim and
distant. The police had come in strength, expecting resistance, but Sean had
When the convoy had left in a cloud of dust,
Madison whirled around. “Mom, what’s happening?” But Cynthia was as white and
still as a marble statue, and Madison seemed to realize that her mother
couldn’t give her the reassurance she sought.
Madison ran to Emma and grabbed at her
“You’ve got to help Sean.” The poor girl’s
face was streaked with tears. “Please, Emma. Sean didn’t do this. Please, help
him. Help us. Please.”
Emma put an arm
around Madison’s shoulders. “I’m sure it’s all a mistake. Sean will be back in
“But the chief has it in for him. He hates
all the McCluskeys,” the girl sobbed.
Emma didn’t know what to say to that,
because it was true. Chief Putnam and most of the Greenville Police Department
had had too many run-ins with the McCluskey clan, including Sean. Small towns
had long memories.
Cynthia stood off to one side, lost in
thought, apparently blind to her daughter’s distress.
Just then, Howard White, Madison’s father
came striding out of the house, no doubt alerted by the disturbance.
“What’s going on? What were the police
doing here?” he asked irritably. He was a tall, upright man, always impeccably
attired, with a thick head of silver gray hair and a commanding presence. “Why
didn’t anyone call me?”
“Tony Barnet has been murdered,” Cynthia
said, her voice suddenly hard and brittle, her eyes focused on her husband.
“Murdered!” A dark flush mottled Howard’s
face. “Are you certain?”
Cynthia let out an unexpected hiss. “No,
Howard, I’m not certain. Do you want me to go over to the morgue and check that
the corpse is his?” Scorn wrinkled her brow, marring her fine features. “The
police took Sean away for questioning.”
She stalked back into the house. Howard
turned to Emma with a questioning lift of his eyebrows.
“It’s true,” Emma said. “Chief Putnam was
“He’s got it all wrong.” Madison pulled
herself away from Emma’s arm, her expression fierce as she faced her father.
“Sean is innocent, Daddy!”
Howard sighed. “We’ll just have to see how
things pan out.”
“But Sean’s not a murderer!”
“Maybe not, but he’s not exactly a choir
“Oh, how could you?” Madison practically
stamped her foot. “I know Mom is an unbearable snob, but I thought I could
count on you, Dad. It seems I was wrong.” With that, she ran off, choking back
Emma was left with Howard. “Well, I guess I
should collect my things and leave. I’m sorry about this,” she said, feeling
“You’re hardly to blame for that hoodlum
Sean a hoodlum? That was so far from the
truth, but the comment showed Howard’s true feelings toward his daughter’s
fiancé. “Sean hasn’t been arrested yet,” she felt compelled to say. “The police
just want to ask him some questions.”
“So you think he’s innocent?”
Howard looked at her with an air of disdain.
Emma wasn’t sure how to respond. On the one hand, she’d known Sean since ninth
grade, and he’d never struck her as a violent person. On the other, she’d been
away for almost a dozen years, and people changed, and Sean did have a criminal
record. He’d been convicted of receiving stolen property and had served six
months in jail, but that had been ten years ago. Since then, as far as she
knew, he hadn’t put a foot wrong.
She met Howard’s forceful gaze. “Until he’s
proven guilty, then yes.”
Howard grunted. “You sound like a lawyer.”
Speaking of lawyers, she wondered if Sean
would call one. Since he’d faced the courts before, she assumed he had one.
She walked back into the house, with Howard
beside her. She wasn’t sure if he was just being polite, but he followed her
into the library. The room was empty. Her tablet lay on the coffee table, and
she quickly packed it back into her bag.
“Do you know what happened at Tony’s
house?” Howard asked.
“Just what I’ve heard third-hand. The
police arrived at his house early this morning. Apparently, he’d been hit in
the head, and his body was found in the garage, by whom, I don’t know. That’s
He smoothed his silk Hermes tie and
adjusted his onyx cufflinks. “They must have some evidence that links Sean to
the crime, or they wouldn’t have picked him up so quickly.”
The same suspicion had been lurking in the
back of Emma’s mind. Chief Putnam wouldn’t have pounced on Sean without having
a strong reason. Even he wasn’t that blinkered. Something pretty damning must
have pointed the finger squarely at Sean.
“I suppose I should warn you that the
wedding probably won’t go ahead now,” Howard said.
The bag almost slipped out of Emma’s hands.
“Well, we can hardly have a wedding if the
groom-to-be is under suspicion of murder.”
“But—but Sean hasn’t even arrived at the
police station. You’re jumping to conclusions.”
Howard’s mouth compressed into a thin line.
He looked mightily irritated. He wasn’t used to underlings questioning his
judgment, she realized. And, in his eyes, she was definitely an underling.
“We’ll contact you when your services are
required again, Ms. Cassidy. Good day.” With a barely civil nod to her, he
walked off, his wingtip shoes clicking on the polished parquet floors.
Helpless exasperation boiled in her. Why
was Howard so quick to think the worst of Sean? Unless he detested his
daughter’s choice of fiancé and wanted any excuse to call off the wedding. Yes,
of course. How could she be so obtuse? Madison’s parents hated the thought of
her marrying a McCluskey ex-con. They had probably only gone along with the
wedding arrangements to prevent Madison from eloping. And most likely they had
been wishing and praying for something to throw a wrench in the works. Well,
being arrested for murder would be a huge wrench, no doubt about it.
The drive back to
Greenville was frustrating. Her little car coughed and shuddered and refused to
go more than ten miles per hour. It was turning into a geriatric just when Emma
was desperate for reliable horsepower. She should take it to a mechanic soon
before the car broke down somewhere inconvenient. Or isolated. With a killer on
the loose, that wouldn’t be very smart.
She wondered what was happening to Sean at
the police station. Surely he would be freed soon? Madison’s anguished face
haunted her. At the back of Emma’s mind, she couldn’t help worrying about the
effect Tony’s murder might have on herself. Madison and Sean’s wedding was to
be the star event that would put A Perfect Party on the map. Emma had been
counting on posting glowing testimonials and glamorous photos on her website,
and adding it to the top of her portfolio. People would seen what a fantastic
event she’d created and be clamoring for her to plan their next wedding,
engagement, bar mitzvah, whatever.
Now, all that was in jeopardy because
someone had bashed in Tony Barnet’s skull.
By the time she got back to Greenville, she
was strung out and ravenous, too. She’d skipped breakfast this morning, and now
it was past one in the afternoon. Instead of going to her office, she headed to
the squat, unpretentious, cream-and-brown brick building across the street that
housed Becky’s Diner.
As the door jingled on her entry, she
paused to inhale the comforting scent of coffee and bacon that lingered in the
warm air. The place was humming. All the popular window booths were taken, and
many of the stools at the counter, too. With summer just around the corner, more
and more tourists and visitors were visiting, and come July the town would be
bursting at the seams.
Emma walked to the end of the counter,
hitched herself onto an empty stool, and let out a long exhale.
“What’s the big sigh for, honey?” On the
other side of the counter Becky glided into view, already pouring Emma a tall
glass of water.
Becky Lundy, proprietress of Becky’s Diner,
was tall and beautiful and graceful. With her creamy skin, full lips, and
generous curves, she was a true kitchen goddess. Many men had wooed her, but
none had managed to marry her. She and Emma’s late mom had been great friends,
and Becky had always been a sympathetic audience to Emma’s adolescent woes.
Now, Emma swallowed a deep gulp of water
and let out another sigh. “Thanks, I needed that. It’s been a rough morning.”
Becky picked up her coffee pot and filled a
cup for Emma. “Not as rough as Tony Barnet’s morning, I’m sure.”
Emma grimaced. “I suppose that’s what
everyone’s talking about.”
“Well, sure. We haven’t had a murder here
in Greenville for five years.” She glanced over Emma’s shoulder. “Faye here has
been telling us all about it, haven’t you, Faye?”
The person standing behind Emma pushed
forward and took the seat next to Emma. In a town with its fair share of
gossips, Faye Seymour was the undisputed queen. A mouse couldn’t steal a piece
of cheese without the sixty-something-year-old knowing.
“That’s right.” Faye nodded at Emma,
clearly relishing the chance to regale her story to a new listener. “Heard it
was the girlfriend who raised the alarm this morning. Apparently she’s
hysterical and Doctor Merriweather had to give her a sedative.”
Emma poured cream in her coffee and took a
sip. “Poor woman. Jordan’s a nice person.” Though why she’d taken up with a
bully like Tony, she couldn’t fathom.
“Tony Barnet was killed some time last
night, and no one found out until this morning. Can you believe it? The body
must have lain there all night.” Faye shook her head and eyed Emma as if
expecting her to share her disapproval.
“But why didn’t the girlfriend discover the
body earlier?” Becky asked.
“She must’ve been out the whole night.”
Faye paused for effect, her eyes gleaming. She was a round, compact woman with
plump hands and a small mouth that always bore bright lipstick, like a lure to
gossip. “Maybe she was seeing another fellow on the sly. Someone like Sean
McCluskey. Maybe that’s why he did it. A crime of passion.”
A shiver ran down Emma’s spine, part
apprehension and part revulsion. “You don’t know that Sean did it,” she
“But he was seen arguing with Tony
yesterday afternoon.” Faye’s beady eyes widened as she pressed a doughy hand on
Emma’s arm. The elderly woman was clearly enjoying herself. “In Tony’s garage,
where the body was found. That’s why Chief Putnam arrested Sean. He doesn’t let
the grass grow under his feet, our chief.”
“But Sean hasn’t been arrested yet,” Emma
felt forced to say. “The police only took him in for questioning.”
Several heads swiveled toward her. It
seemed she had half the diner’s attention.
“How do you know?” Faye leaned forward, her
mouth slightly agape as if she couldn’t wait to suck up more details.
“Because I was at the Whites when the
police arrived,” Emma replied.
A babble of questions and comments arose,
and Emma regretted speaking out. She didn’t want to gossip about the Whites. It
was a terrible incident for Madison, especially with those unfeeling parents of
hers, and Emma didn’t want to add fuel to the scuttlebutt already burning. But
she couldn’t stand by and let Sean be maligned either. Faye fired several
questions at her in rapid succession, but Emma refused to feed her any more
tidbits. Eventually losing interest, Faye spied another newcomer in the diner
and wandered off to repeat her story.
“Why is she insinuating that there was
something between Sean and Jordan?” Emma quietly fumed to Becky. “Sean is
devoted to Madison; I’m convinced of it.”
“You know Faye.” Philosophical, Becky wiped
the already clean counter. “I suppose the wedding will be on hold until this is
“Yes, but even if Sean is released right
away, I don’t think he’ll be able to breathe easily until the murderer is
Becky grimaced. “That might take a while.
Our police department doesn’t have a lot of experience with murders. Of course,
the chief might ask the sheriff’s office for help. Your Deputy Sheriff Fletcher
might come to the rescue.”
“He’s not my anything,” Emma replied a
little too quickly. Ignoring Becky’s smile, she asked, “Do you know if the
Whites were friends with Tony Barnet?”
“Cynthia and Howard White? I don’t think
so. Tony only arrived about two years ago, and he’s a bit too brash and vulgar
for people like the Whites. When he first moved here, they went to a few of his
boat parties and such, but they dropped him pretty quickly.”
Emma didn’t question the veracity of this
information. Becky might not mix with high society, but rich people hired housekeepers,
gardeners, cleaners, drivers, and those workers liked eating at her diner, and Becky’s
sympathetic ear was open to everyone.
“What are you having for lunch?” Becky
asked. “You look like you could go for a BLT today.”
Yes, that’s exactly what she needed. Emma
nodded. “I’ll have some potato wedges and ranch dressing, too, thanks.”
Becky went off to give the order, then did
a circuit of the other customers at the counter, refilling coffee, handing out
checks, and cutting pie.
“Why did you ask about the Whites and Tony
Barnet?” she asked when she returned to Emma.
“I’m not sure.” Emma played with a sugar
sachet as she pondered the question. “I guess now that I’ve had time to think
about it, I found their reactions to the news of Tony’s death a bit…strange. It
seemed as if he was more than just a passing acquaintance to them, and I sensed
some kind of tension between Cynthia and Howard over him.”