Authors: Shelley Freydont
“Good Lord, Henny, What have you done?”
Henny Higgins pushed to his feet. He was small and skinny with bandied legs that looked like a Popsicle sticks the way they stuck out from his jacket.
“Weren’t me,” Henny said in a voice much lower than Liv expected. “Somebody got to him first.”
“Is he . . .” Fred began.
“Sure is. Must be one of your marathoners. Looks like a damn ballerina, if you ask me.”
“Dead?” Liv managed. “Fred?”
Fred looked back at her. “I’d better call an ambulance and Bill.” He reached for his walkie-talkie.
“Did you check his pulse? Try CPR?”
Henny scowled at her. “Didn’t need to. I know dead when I see it. You another one of them marathoners?”
“Liv Montgomery. I’m Celebration Bay’s event coordinator.”
Fred was talking on the walkie-talkie.
Liv moved toward the body, willing him to be alive and trying to remember the steps of the last CPR class she’d taken. At least they had a no-indemnity clause in case of situations just like this. Heart attacks, embolisms could happen anytime, anywhere.
And it just went to prove the commercials about silent killers. The man looked fit. He’d been boasting of it just before the race began.
“Sir, can you hear me?”
“Fred, what’s she doing?” Henny asked.
Liv didn’t hear the answer. She’d knelt down by the man and saw what she hadn’t seen before. This was no heart attack or stroke. There was a big ragged mess of flesh, blood, and polyester where his heart had been. Definitely dead.
Liv gagged, forced water and bile back down.
Don’t mess up the crime scene.
She staggered to her feet. Turned to Fred, who was looking a little green himself.
“Bill’s on his way.”
Liv nodded, oddly disconnected from the scene. “Who did this?” she asked. The three simple words wobbled out.
Henny shrugged, looking totally unruffled. “Don’t know. Don’t care. Shouldn’a been on my property. That goes for you, too.”
Fred pushed the walkie-talkie back into his orange vest pocket. “You better be telling the truth, Henny, ’cause Bill won’t take it kindly that you murdered a man who was a visitor to our town.”
Liv was amazed at how calmly they were taking this. She knew she’d moved to a place where hunting and fishing were widespread pastimes, where people weren’t queasy about deer carcasses slung over the roof of a car or about skinning the animal and cutting up parts for the freezer. Hunting was one thing. This was . . . well, this was awful.
Fred put a comforting arm around Liv’s shoulders. “You okay?”
She nodded. She felt better with Fred’s arm around her. He was only a few inches taller than she was. Roundish, good-natured.
Fred’s radio crackled and he stepped away. Bill’s voice came on. “I’m turning onto the track now. Everything under control?”
“Yes,” Fred said and signed off.
Two minutes later, the sheriff’s SUV pulled into the clearing. Bill climbed out, stretched his back, and started toward the group. He was moving slowly. Either Liv was going into shock or the sheriff’s sciatica must be acting up again.
she thought. At least he didn’t have to chase any suspects. The only suspect seemed to be standing right here—Liv glanced uneasily at Henny—standing right here and still holding his shotgun.
Bill acknowledged Liv with a lift of his eyebrows, then flicked his fingers for them to move back. Fred and Liv took a giant step backward; Henny stood his ground and scowled.
Bill looked down at the fallen man, stiffly lowered his weight until he could rest his elbow on his bent knee. Then he felt for a pulse. Stood up again. Sighed deeply.
“I think it would be best if you hand over that shotgun.”
Henny held the gun tighter.
“Just so there aren’t any more accidents.”
“Who says that was an accident?”
“Did you shoot him on purpose?”
“I didn’t shoot him at all.”
“You sure about that?”
“Of course I’m sure. I oughta know whether I killed a man or not. I mighta if I had seen him first. Come traipsing through here when the sign clearly says No Trespassing.”
“Then who shot him?”
“Dang if I know. I heard a shot, came out to investigate. Fired off a warning shot. In the air in case you’e wondering.” Henny smiled, showing a row of white dentures. “Found him lying there. Nobody else was around.”
“Hmm.” Bill scratched his head, scanned the ground, then walked around the body and peered into the trees. “Guess this is as far as you two came?”
“That’s right.” Fred said. “When we saw Henny here leaning over the body, we stopped. I should think we know better than to contaminate a crime scene.”
Bill looked toward heaven, then at Liv.
“I just went close enough to ascertain he wasn’t breathing. I was hoping that he’d had a heart attack,” she added lamely.
“Heart stopped, all right,” Henny volunteered. Flashed his obviously new dentures at them.
“Does anyone recognize the, uh, victim?”
“He was one of the runners,” Fred volunteered.
Bill sighed. “I figured that out.”
“Ted and I saw him standing with three other men before the race,” Liv said. “None of them were familiar. I got the impression they were from out of town.”
“Once we get an ID on him, can you point out the others when we get back to town?”
“I think so.”
The sound of another vehicle arriving made Henny level his shotgun.
“Dammit, Henny. That’s the ambulance.”
“Dang it, Bill. Don’t a man’s property mean nothing anymore?”
“Not when it involves the police and other emergency vehicles.”
Bill held up a hand to stop the EMT van. The back doors opened and two men and a woman jumped out carrying bags and electronic equipment. Another vehicle pulled up to the side of the ambulance and came to a stop. A rusty jeep that Liv recognized. She sighed.
Chaz Bristow, the laziest newspaper editor in the world, must have been listening to his police band this morning.
Liv began to shiver. The day was cold and crisp. She was dressed for exercise, not standing in the woods with a dead man and a possible killer.
The three EMTs passed by them. They all stopped dead and looked down at the body.
“Good grief,” said the youngest of the guys. “Where the heck do we put the electrodes?”
The other man shook his head. He squatted down and felt for a pulse, listened for breathing. Stood up. “Oh, man. Too late for this one.”
“Told them he was dead. I’d oblige you to get him and yourselves off my property.” Henny gestured with his shotgun.
“Sorry, Henny, but I’m going to have to confiscate your shotgun.”
“How am I supposed to protect myself and my property if you take my gun?”
“Actually,” Bill said, “I’m going to have to ask you to come along, too.”
“The heck you will,” Henny said just as Chaz Bristow sidled up to Liv.
He whistled. “You sure seem to have a knack for—”
“Don’t even say it,” Liv snapped between chattering teeth.
He smiled down at her, the smarmy smile that he knew made her angry. Probably the most handsome man in town, like a misplaced California surfer: tall, svelte, blond hair, blue eyes. Looks aside, he was lazy, obnoxious, and Liv’s nemesis.
“What are you doing here anyway? Don’t you have some fishing news to report?”
“I was going to report on the winners of the Turkey Trot.”
Liv gave him a sardonic look. “Really.”
“Well, it’s an idea, but mainly I just came to see you in your little running outfit.” He was wearing a torn University of Michigan sweatshirt and a plaid hunting jacket. He shook his in-need-of-a-haircut head. “But I gotta say, I was hoping for a little more spandex. So who’s the stiff?”
Liv shouldered away from him. For a man who only cared about fishing and sleeping, he sure managed to know what was going on. The fact that he’d been an investigative reporter in L.A. before inheriting his family’s newspaper might have something to do with it.
But he wouldn’t be interested in pursuing the investigation; he never was. Something she just didn’t understand. He just liked to hang around and make smarmy comments, mainly to annoy Liv.
And she didn’t understand that, either.
He walked past her and stopped to talk to Bill, though Liv could see him eyeing the body until the EMTs covered it with a tarp to wait for the coroner. Then his focus moved to the woods beyond.
Liv couldn’t help herself, She looked, too.
He turned abruptly and caught her looking. “Come on. I’ll give you a lift back to town.” He grinned, flashing white teeth in what should be a killer smile but just managed to make Liv angrier.
“I’ll even let you off a couple of blocks from the finish line. Don’t want to ruin your reputation.” He winked at her.
“Oh, go away.” Liv turned back to Bill. “Do you still need me? I thought I would finish the race. Keep things as normal-looking as possible.”
“Go ahead. I’ll talk to you back in town. And keep an eye out for his friends.”
“I will. Thanks.”
“But don’t say anything to them—or anybody else.”
“I’ll have to tell Ted in case we need to make contingency plans..”
“But no one else.”
“Right.” Liv started back the way she had come.
“You’d be better off following the drive here. It lets out on the county road. Turn right and it will swing you back on course right before you get back to town.”
“Thanks.” She started toward the parked cars.
She thought she heard someone chuckling as she broke into a jog. It didn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to know which of the men it was.
She was sure of it when, a few minutes later, Chaz drove past her and tooted his horn. He turned off at the first side street and Liv made a final burst for the finish.
Ted, Edna, and Ida were waiting for her at the finish line. Whiskey started jumping at his leash as she slowed to a cooldown.
“We were beginning to get worried,” Miss Ida said.
“Guess I’m more out of shape than I thought,” Liv said, kneeling down to rub Whiskey’s back. “Hey, buddy.” He rested his paws on her knees and licked her face.
“But you made a very nice showing,” Miss Edna added. “There are quite a few people who still haven’t finished.
And one who won’t finish at all
, thought Liv and shuddered.
“Here, put this on.” Ted slipped her down jacket over her shoulders and handed her a pair of sweats to go over her running pants. “We need to get over to the award presentations.”
Liv nodded and shrugged into her jacket and sweats, though she didn’t think either would stop the chill that had permeated her bones after finding the runner dead in the woods.
“You two go on ahead,” Miss Edna said. “We’re going over to the bakery to pick up some scones for a nice tea. And one of Dolly’s new doggie treats for you-know-who.”
Whiskey jumped and twisted in the air.
“I think a certain little Westie knows who you-know-who is.”
Whiskey barked and pointed his nose toward the bakery. The sisters waved good-bye and hurried across the green to the Apple of My Eye with Whiskey leading the way.
“So,” Ted said. “Don’t tell me it took you that long to finish a few measly kilometers. I saw Bill hightail it out of town in that direction. Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
Liv leaned close. “I’m afraid one of the marathoners has met an untimely end.”
“Anyone we know?”
“One of those guys we saw this morning.”
“One of the goon squad?”
Liv nodded. “The one they called Max.” She zipped up her jacket, and while she and Ted walked toward the band shell where the awards would be given out, she told him about the shot and finding the runner in the woods.
“And Henny said he didn’t shoot him?”
“That’s what he said. Do you think he’s telling the truth?”
“Oh, he generally does. So if you’re worried about the town getting a bad reputation . . .”
“I’m more worried that it might not be safe.” She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “What was he doing in the woods anyway?”
“The runner? I don’t know, taking a shortcut?”
“What’s the point of running a race if you’re going to cheat?”
“Maybe he was hedging his bets. We heard him bet the other guy he could make it back first.”
“We did. But two things are bothering me. One, how would he know that would be a shortcut?”
Ted shrugged. “Beats me. And the second thing?”
“If Henny didn’t shoot him, who did?”
While they waited for the award ceremony to begin, Liv scanned the crowd for the three runners she’d seen with the dead man. To no avail. The crowd was large and people were pressed closely together in the area in front of the band shell.
“Do you see them?” Ted asked.
“No. But I remember Max”—she lowered her voice—“the dead man, saying he’d beat them back to the hotel when they were making the bet. Maybe they weren’t planning to come to the award presentations at all.”
“Hmm,” Ted said. “What Max said was that he’d be waiting in the bar.
“I wonder if they’re staying at the Lakeside Inn. None of the B and Bs have a bar, do they?”
“Nope. I wonder if Bill knows.”
The microphone squealed. “Welcome to the Annual Celebration Bay Turkey Trot,” the mayor said. “You’ll be pleased to know that this year’s events raised four truckloads of food, and an additional four thousand dollars to be donated to the Celebration Bay Youth Program.”
Cheering and applause followed the mayor’s announcement. Awards were handed out and the crowd began to disperse, heading for cars, shopping, or one of the several eateries in town.
“Not bad for a morning’s fun,” Ted said as they walked across the green toward town hall.
“Not bad at all, except for that one thing.” Liv shuddered. “We’ll have to figure out a way to enforce that no hunting rule before next year’s race. Or choose another route.”
“Like running in a circle around the square two hundred times? You worry too much. You can’t control everything.”
“I’m paid to worry. It’s my job to make sure things like this don’t happen.” Event organizers had to be on the alert twenty-four/seven. Which is why it was a burnout business. Liv would have been among the casualties if she hadn’t left Manhattan for a calmer way of life. Not that she’d had a spare moment to relax since she arrived in town.
So far, her new job had turned out to be much more challenging than dealing with the most demanding executive, mother of the bride, or sweet sixteen in all of Manhattan. It was also way more satisfying.
“Stuff happens, and even you, my dear, can’t prevent every little mishap.”
“This wasn’t little.”
“Well, no,” Ted agreed.
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Liv knew Ted was right. She couldn’t control everything. Huge, open venues like this were an event planner’s nightmare, impossible to prepare for every snafu. And most of the events were town-wide, sometimes county-wide.
Bill was waiting for them outside their office.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Liv said. “I didn’t see Max’s friends at the ceremony. It was really crowded.”
“Don’t worry about it. They shouldn’t be too hard to find.”
Ted lifted his eyebrows at her.
Bill unbuttoned his police jacket. “Why don’t we go into your office? Ted, you might as well come, too.”
Bill coughed a laugh. “You’ll find out anyway.” He turned to Liv, who had stopped halfway to her chair. “And I don’t mean you can’t keep a secret. Ted always has the latest. Don’t know how he does it.”
“It’s a gift.”
Bill sat down. Ted pulled up a chair and sat next to him. Liv waited.
Bill cleared his throat. He was a tall man, except when his sciatica was acting up. Big boned with grizzled gray, curly hair. Friendly enough not to scare children, tough enough to deter misdemeanors.
Still Liv felt like she was on the hot seat. “I know. It’s the second suspicious death since I’ve been here. It’s a coincidence.”
“Absolutely,” Ted said. “And if Janine opens her mouth and tries to blame you or the Events Office, I may just make mincemeat of her.”
Bill and Liv both looked at him, astonished.
“In keeping with the holiday.” He grinned.
Janine had been the volunteer events coordinator before they hired Liv. Now she was a successful real estate saleswoman, but she still hadn’t forgiven Liv for what she saw as Liv having taken her job.
Bill got out his notebook. “Tell me what happened.”
Liv went through the events from hearing the shot to finding Henny kneeling over the body. “We heard two shots. Henny said he heard the first shot and fired a warning shot to scare the trespasser away. I guess he told you that.”
“Yes, but you just tell me again,” Bill said patiently.
Liv went through the events of that morning. “Ted and I saw him, Max, with three other men before the race.”
“That’s what they called him. One of them was Pudge.” Liv described him. “And two others, um . . .”
“Joe and Eric,” Ted volunteered.
Bill scratched his head. “You two are something else.”
“Devil’s in the details,” Ted said, appropriating one of Liv’s favorite sayings. He smiled at her. Reassuring.
“They made a bet that Max would beat Pudge back to the hotel.”
Bill’s eyebrows lifted at that.
“Not major, just a few dollars. I told them they should donate the proceeds to the community center.”
“Good for you. That’s the last thing we need, betting on events. Gambling in general. I live in dread of one of the tribes opening a casino nearby. I don’t have enough troopers as it is.”
“Perish the thought,” Ted said.
“So they’re staying at a hotel?”
“That’s what Max said. Actually, he said he’d meet them in the bar at the hotel, which must mean the Inn.”
Bill’s pen paused over his notebook. He looked up from under his bushy eyebrows. “Possibly.”
“I mean, none of the B and Bs have bars, and if they were going to drive to the highway, he would have said motel, wouldn’t he?”
Ted smothered a grin. Bill shook his head but kept writing.
“Did you find any hunters? Everyone around here had to know there was no hunting today.” Liv slumped back in her chair. “There are thousands of acres of woodland. Why did they have to come to the only place where they weren’t supposed to be? They had to see the signs. They were everywhere.”
“Good hunters go for a clean kill. A hunter who only wounds an animal will follow it to finish the job. It’s the only humane thing to do. Maybe when he realized he hadn’t killed his quarry he tracked it so he could finish the job. Got in the ‘zone.’ And just didn’t notice where he was.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Liv said, ignoring the fact that she’d been in her own running zone just a couple of hours ago and hadn’t noticed anything around her . . . until she’d heard the shot. “Even so, he had to have noticed that he’d shot a man instead of a deer. Why didn’t he call for help if it was an accident? And where is the deer?”
“Could still be running.”
“Or dying a horrible death,” Liv said.
Liv frowned. She didn’t know anything about hunting but it seemed weird to mistake a runner for a deer or even a bear. She warned herself to keep her mouth shut, but didn’t listen. “Are you sure it
“You mean did Henny kill him after all?”
“Yes. Or someone. The guy was wearing red-and-black spandex and walking upright.”
Bill winced. “Trigger-happy. It’s important to have quick reflexes in hunting.”
“Well, I think it’s—”
“Don’t say it,” Ted warned. “Hunting is very popular in”—he lapsed into a hillbilly twang—“these here parts.”
Bill scowled at Ted. “I remember the day when you weren’t averse to taking out a gun and having some sport.”
“That’s before—before I left town and got me some culture.”
Liv’s ears pricked up. Ted never talked about himself and she was on the alert for any morsel he dropped. But he didn’t say more.
“I take it you’ve got men combing the woods for clues,” Ted said, deftly turning the subject.
Liv crossed her arms. The hardest part about being new in a close-knit town was the inevitable lack of trust. She was slowly becoming accepted, but it was a hard-fought battle. “Clues for what?” she prodded.
“For something that can tell us more about what happened,” Bill said.
“The deer? The hunter?” The lightbulb went off. “The shell casing? I didn’t see one. Of course, I wasn’t looking for one. But shotguns expel casings, right?”
“You have been doing your homework,” Ted said.
“Are you sure Henny didn’t shoot him? Maybe it wasn’t a hunting accident. The guy was trespassing.”
“Well, let’s put it this way. If Henny Higgins shot a trespasser, he’d be more likely to brag about it than lie about it, even if he had to go to jail for it.” Bill pushed to his feet. “I’ll check out the Inn. Do you have a list of the participants in the race?”
“Sure, unless they were last-minute entries. I won’t get those names until the committee hands them in, but I’ll make you a copy of the preregisters.”
Liv pulled up the Turkey Trot folder, opened the entry spreadsheet, and clicked Print. She heard the printer in the outer office warming up. She got up and went out to retrieve the papers, expecting Bill to follow her, but he didn’t. She couldn’t hear them talking over the noise of the printer, and she had no doubt that Bill was giving Ted details that weren’t for the public.
And Bill wondered how Ted always knew things. Really.
When the papers were printed, Liv stapled them together and was quickly perusing them when Bill came to the outer office, buttoning his jacket. She handed him the list.
“Thank you, Liv.”
Ted grabbed his own jacket. “I’ve got to run out to Dexter Kent’s to check on the pumpkin-growing contest. I’ll walk you out. See you later, Liv?”
“Of course,” she said and gave him a look that said she knew what he was doing and she expected him to tell her everything. “I have to run home and change, but I’ll be back to get a little work done.
“No rest for the weary.”
“Not when there’s another holiday around the corner.”
Ted and Bill left and Liv began turning off lights. She’d go home, shower, have a quick lunch, and be back within an hour.
She strolled down the sidewalk, where the stores were decorated in the burnished oranges, yellows, and golds of autumn. The shops looked busy. Even the few vacant stores had been decorated, and Liv was optimistic that they would soon be housing permanent businesses.
A Stitch in Time, the fabric and quilt store, displayed a festive Thanksgiving quilt. Books and puzzles were sprinkled with paper leaves in the window of the Bookworm. Pumpkin incense wafted into the air as a customer left Bay-Berry Candles. There was a line out the door of the Buttercup Coffee Exchange and another one at the Apple of My Eye Bakery.
Liv wondered if the townspeople ever got tired of holidays. Liv didn’t; what she had gotten tired of was the demands of spoiled clients. Here, everybody pulled their weight. Offered to help. Looked out for one another. Well, almost everyone.
It was a great place to live and work. The only unfortunate thing was that the huge influx of visitors brought more accidents, more arguments, and sometimes violence. They needed more security than the county sheriff’s department and a volunteer traffic patrol could provide. Which was why Liv had begun interviewing private security services.
She cut across the green and was just crossing the street toward home when she saw Pudge, Eric, and Joe getting out of a parked Humvee that took up nearly two parking spaces. Pudge beeped the lock and the three started off down the sidewalk.
Liv crossed the street and followed.
“I still say we should wait for Max.” This from either Eric or Joe.
“He knew we had an appointment this afternoon,” Pudge said.
“He must have a good reason for not being here. Do you think something happened to him? Especially since he bet you all that money. Ten thou isn’t chunk change.”
Ten thousand? Liv thought they meant ten dollars. These guys were something else.
“Eric, are you accusing me of anything?”
“No, Pudge. That’s not what I meant.”
“You mean he might have turned tail and run?”
“No, but where is he?”
They obviously didn’t know that their friend was dead. Liv certainly wasn’t going to be the one who broke the news to them, but she might help Bill figure out who they were.
“He’s unreliable, and that’s a liability.
may have to rethink his position in this endeavor. Ah, here it is.” Pudge opened at door and they went inside Harper Realty.
They were looking for property? A vacation home? Ski chalet? Somehow they didn’t look like people who enjoyed small-town living. Pudge had called it an “endeavor.” Maybe they were looking for an investment property.
Outside investors. The old double-edged sword situation. They could be a boost to the economy but it was a crapshoot whether they’d stay within the town’s idea of quality of life.
And now what? Should she leave them to it and give her nemesis, Janine, a call and pump her for info, or should she leave it to Bill?
The least she could do was get the license plate number. That would be helpful in identifying them.
She backtracked to the Humvee and entered the license plate number in her phone. Then she called Bill. It went to his voice mail. She told him where the men were, then gave him their license plate number. She’d done her duty.
But curiosity got the best of her and she peeked in the window of the real estate office. The door opened and the men walked out, accompanied by another man. Liv ducked her chin into her coat.
“We’ll take my car,” said the agent, Jerry Harper. “Easier than trying to follow.” The men walked around the corner to the parking lot behind the stores.
Okay, Liv knew it was none of her business, but the more she could learn, the more helpful it would be to the investigation. And besides, she needed to know what was going on. The devil’s in the details. A good event planner noticed details, fit them into a system so nothing would come back to bite you in the butt. She didn’t know how any of this could affect her events, but she did know that four men, two of whom were only barely athletic and one of whom was totally out of shape, had run the race. Now the only really athletic one was dead and the other three were looking for real estate.
Liv deliberated, then turned around and nearly ran into Janine Tudor. She was dressed for success in an autumn-colored power suit and heels. Her shoulder-length hair, which everyone knew she had colored and cut in Albany every six weeks, swung over her face as she came to a startled stop. Her nose automatically lifted.