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Authors: Vanessa Gray Bartal

Tags: #cozy mystery

Class Reunion of Murder (9 page)

BOOK: Class Reunion of Murder
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“My room smells like paint,” he said.

Kimber nudged her again. This time she had been caught up listening to his voice. Her memory insisted that his tone was mellow and low, a Barry White wanna be. The man before her had a nasally whine that grated her nerves. “We just painted, but we used a low VOC paint. The contractor promised me there would be no fumes.”

“Well, the contractor was wrong, wasn’t he? My room definitely smells like paint, and I want another one.”

Did he have a receding hairline in high school? Were his eyes always so beady? What had happened to him? Maybe this wasn’t him. “You’re Chester Campbell, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “And I want another room.”

Lacy resisted the urge to reach out and poke him, to make sure he was real. He was nothing like she remembered. “There are no more rooms. The hotel is filled because of the reunion.”

“Then I want a refund.”

“What?” She was still staring, perplexed.

 

“A refund,” he enunciated.

“Did you know we were in band together all four years?” she said.

 

“If I say yes, will you give me my money back?” he asked.

“I’m going to have to think about it,” she said, mostly because she had no idea what he had just said. She had been too busy staring at the bald spot on the top of his head. How had this guy maneuvered a tuba all over the football field for an entire halftime? Specialized suspenders? That must be the only plausible explanation.

 

Chester sighed and wandered away.

“Well, there were some definite sparks,” Riley said. Kimber laughed. Lacy ignored them.

 

“What?” Jason said.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know,” Riley said, although she knew perfectly well that Jason didn’t know about Lacy’s multi-year crush on Chester. “That was Chester Campbell, Jason.
The
ChesterCampbell.”

“Should I know what that means?” Jason said. “He looked vaguely familiar.”

“He looked vaguely familiar to me, too,” Lacy muttered. He looked nothing like the boy of her dreams, though.

“Oh, come on. How can you expect me to believe you two are dating if you haven’t told him about Chester?” Kimber said. “I was fed such a steady diet of Chester indoctrination during college that I began to believe
I
had a crush on him.”

Jason glanced at the spot Chester had been. “You had a crush on that kid?”

“You catch on quick, detective,” Riley said.

 

“Did you guys go out?” he asked.

“No,” Lacy said. Chester hadn’t known she was alive. Her ill-fated crush had been unrequited. Now, seeing him in person, she realized how sad that was for her high school self. She had set her sights low, but they had still been too high.

 

Jason stalked away.

“Where are you going?” Lacy called.

 

“I’m going to see where he was last night during the murder,” Jason called without turning around.

Kimber and Riley looked at each other and burst out laughing.

 

“You guys, it’s not funny,” Lacy insisted.

“Jason Cantor is jealous of Chester Campbell,” Riley said when she could breathe. “It’s hilarious.”

Lacy sputtered a laugh and clapped her hand over her mouth. She didn’t want to make Jason jealous, and she shouldn’t laugh at it when he was. Then her brain gave her a mental image of them side by side, Jason, as beautiful as any of Michelangelo’s sculptures, and Chester, the ill-tempered bantam rooster. Her resolve broke, and she joined Kimber and Riley who were now bent over the checkin counter for support. When Tosh found them a while later, they were still laughing too hard to tell him why.

 

Band practice was the perfect opportunity to question people about Summer. While the field marshals from a few generations duked it out to see who would lead, Lacy sat in the stands with Tosh. He reached for her clarinet and played a perfect scale.

“Pretty good,” she said.

 

“Trumpet is my first love. I wanted to be field marshal so bad when I was a kid, I could taste it. But I wasn’t cool enough even for that. Now my wife is a cheerleader.” He gave Lacy her clarinet and waved at Riley who was assembled with the other cheerleading alumni. She waved a pom-pom at him.

“Which part is the most surprising: wife or cheerleader?” Lacy asked.

 

“It’s a tossup,” Tosh said.

“I didn’t try out to be field marshal because I didn’t want to compete with Chester. That’s the kind of clear thinking that goes on when you think you’re in love.”

“I can’t believe you had a crush on that guy,” Tosh said.

“He’s not so bad,” Lacy said.

 

“I’m pretty sure I saw him under the bleachers scratching for worms not more than ten minutes ago,” Tosh said.

“Yeah, well, at least I didn’t marry him,” Lacy blurted, then squeezed her eyes closed. “Sorry.”

“It’s not what you think,” Tosh said.

“Then what is it?” Lacy asked. She pressed her palms over her ears. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be involved.”

“Bad news: you’re my best friend and her sister. You’re already involved.”

“I don’t want to be involved more than I have to be,” she clarified.

 

“How’s it going with him?” he asked.

“I think there’s something wrong with him,” Lacy said.

 

“Like what?” Tosh asked, frowning.

“He didn’t say anything about this.” She swept her hand up and down the length of her body.

“Why should he?”

“Because I look like this.”

“A bad hair day and a pair of glasses don’t change who you are. It’s not high school anymore,” Tosh said.

“Isn’t it? Then why are you sitting here with me instead of mingling with Riley’s friends?”

“Because they’re mean and they scare me,” he said. “But it’s not the same as being in a committed relationship with someone who cares about you. He and I have had our differences, but he’s not in this for the surface stuff. Give him some credit.”

Lacy’s eyes filled with tears. She turned her head so he wouldn’t see. “I don’t want him to be embarrassed by me, and right now I’m not at my best. I worked so hard to shed the baby fat and overcome this image. I don’t want to go back.”

“But it’s all a part of who you are. That chubby weird girl is still hiding in there somewhere, and until you make peace with her, you’re never going to be able to let go and move on.”

She dashed at her eyes and sniffed. She was crying not only because of his words but because she missed him. For the last year, Tosh had been her closest confidant and friend. Now he was gone, taken by Riley. Maybe that was Riley’s master plan because Lacy couldn’t imagine anything that could hurt more, except perhaps losing Jason.

 

“Lacy,” Tosh started. She stood. She didn’t want to talk to him about the impossible gulf named Riley between them.

“I should go. We’re warming up,” Lacy said. She dashed down the bleachers, being careful to hold on to the railing. If she tumbled down the stairs and broke her arm, it really would be like high school all over again. She had marched her entire junior season with her arm in a sling.

 

Band practice was so much fun that Lacy forgot to ask questions. She had missed marching and playing her clarinet but, more than that, she had missed being a part of something. Not until they sat in the bleachers sipping water and trying to cool off did she remember Summer’s death. The somber mood of the cheerleaders jogged her memory. One of theirs had been killed. Was it by one of hers?

Jody, Carter’s former girlfriend, had finally shown up last night and was sitting nearby. “Hey,” Lacy said.

 

“Hey, Lacy,” Jody said.

“Did you hear about Summer Ridgefield?”

“Yeah, gross. I hope they drain the pool. Can you imagine what oozed out of that body and into the water?”

Lacy pressed her hand over her mouth and fought her gag reflex. She was pretty sure she had inadvertently swallowed some of that water.

“Sorry,” Jody said with a sheepish smile. “I’m a forensic pathologist. I get a little caught up in the gory details.”

“No problem,” Lacy lied. She would definitely be taking another shower or five when she got back to the hotel. “Did you talk to her last night?”

Jody laughed. “Me? Why would I talk to Summer? I think the most I ever said to her was, ‘Excuse me, you’re standing on my foot.’”

“She could be kind of mean,” Lacy said.

“She was a waste of humanity. I know that’s harsh and I should probably pretend to say something nice, but that’s not who I am. She was a horrible, horrible person. I’m not glad she’s dead, but neither am I sorry.”

“Yeah, she was pretty horrible. She made my life a nightmare a lot of the time. Did she ever do anything to you?”

Jody shrugged. “Probably. She hated me and Carter, but we had each other, so we didn’t care.” Her tone faded, her mouth drooped. She glanced helplessly at Carter in the percussion section.

“Why did you guys break up?” Lacy probed.

 

“He got rejected for the forensic pathology program. It was our dream together. He couldn’t stand it that I made it and he didn’t. Fragile male egos, and all that,” Jody said. She tried to smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

Lacy thought of Jason and his difficulty with her money. “What is that about, anyway? You would think they would be happy their women are doing well.”

“I suppose it’s better than the alternative,” Jody said.

“What’s that?”

“Being with a mooch who wants to sponge off your largess,” Jody said.

“That’s true,” Lacy laughed. “We should hang out sometime before you go.”

“I would like that,” Jody said. “I always wanted to hang out with you more when we were in school, but I had Carter, and you had…” she broke off, wondering what Lacy’d had.

“Books,” Lacy supplied.

“Right,” Jody said. “I had those, too. They just came second after Carter.” The sadness and longing flitted over her face before being quickly replaced by a smile. “I guess that explains why I’ve been reading so much since college.”

Lacy, on the other hand, couldn’t remember the last time she read a book. Definitely not since before she and Jason started dating. “Great, I’m going to get stupider,” she muttered.

“And I’m going to be a genius,” Jody said. They laughed together and several heads turned in their direction, Carter’s included. Lacy couldn’t help but notice the sadness in his eyes, too. Maybe if she had time, she could work a little matchmaking magic before the weekend was over. “You’re being watched.”

“Hmm?”

“Under the bleachers. Tony Rico is watching you.”

Lacy turned and locked eyes with Tony Rico who was indeed watching her through the slats of the bleachers and wearing the same smile from earlier. She smiled and waved and he eased away. “That’s a little bit creepy,” she said.

“That’s a little bit Tony. I feel bad for saying this, but we liked having him around to make ourselves feel good. At least there was someone lower on the totem pole than us, right?” Jody said. “If you want to talk to someone who had good reason to hate Summer, you should talk to him. I don’t know what she did to him, but whatever it was, it was epic.”

“You don’t know what it was?”

“No, but I heard Summer’s death wasn’t an accident.” She leaned closer to whisper. “Do you think Tony might have killed her? He definitely gives off the serial killer vibe.”

“I don’t know,” Lacy said, but now she definitely wanted to talk to Tony Rico.

“Can you believe Jason Cantor is a cop?” Jody continued. “That’s so funny.”

“Why is it funny?” Lacy asked.

“Because he was one of the party people.”

“Jason didn’t party in high school,” Lacy said. She realized she sounded defensive and took a breath. “I mean, he was so busy with so many sports. How would he have had time to party?”

“Yeah, I guess. And Cindy wasn’t much of a partier, and they dated forever. I wonder if they’re still together. I always sort of thought they would get married.”

“No,” Lacy said. “They’re not together. I know them. No.” She sat on her hands for something to do.

“Okay,” Jody drawled. “Still, a cop in our small town. It’s kind of a letdown. I pictured him playing ball in school and then becoming a sports announcer or something. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing him on TV every week, you know? I wonder why he stayed here.”

“I’m sure he had a good reason. And he’s not just a cop; he’s a detective. That’s pretty impressive for someone our age.”

“How hard is it to be a detective here? Nothing ever happens here.”

“Except murder,” Lacy blurted.

Jody flinched. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would ever get killed here, but my mom said some old woman was stabbed to death last year, and now Summer. It’s like nowhere is safe anymore.”

The old woman in question had been Lacy’s biological grandmother, but Lacy didn’t offer up that information. She was already teetering on the edge of making a fool of herself by her overly emotional reaction to any conversation about Jason. She wanted to explain to Jody Jason’s complex and selfless reasons for remaining in their town, but she didn’t. Jody didn’t know him, and she probably wouldn’t care about his reasons. All she knew was that hunky Jason Cantor was a small town cop. Perhaps high school stereotypes worked both ways. Was Jason forever pigeonholed into being one of the beautiful people, a dumb jock whose brains were in his biceps?

 

Did the assigned roles of high school ever fade away completely? She didn’t see Jason as just a jock; to her, he was so much more. But she knew him, really knew him. And he knew her. That was why he was able to overlook the misfit she had been. He didn’t dwell on the past. He never got out the old yearbooks, flipped to her picture, and thought,
Geez, I’m with that now?
Did he? She bit her lip and stared blearily onto the field. Jason said he didn’t care about the differences between them; she would have to trust him that he meant it.

Chapter 7

Lacy could barely keep her eyes open. The late night with Kimber, early meeting with Jason, morning ordeal at the pool, and hot afternoon band practice had taken their toll. She sat in her office at the hotel, attempting to do payroll, but the numbers kept jumbling together.

BOOK: Class Reunion of Murder
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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