Authors: Shelley Freydont
The lobby was empty when Liv reached the Inn. Liv dinged the registration bell, and as soon as Corrine appeared at the desk, Liv pulled her back into her office and shut the door.
“What’s going on?” Corrine asked as the color drained from her face.
“I think Pudge and Co. are about to check out.”
“Well, two of them are. Mr. Clegg, the one they call Pudge, just called down and asked for his bill to be prepared. And for the widow’s, too.”
“And the other two?”
Corinne shook her head. “They just came in and went into the bar.”
“They just finished coffee at the Buttercup,” Liv said.
“Well, Mr. Sattler, Eric, wanted to go right upstairs, but for some reason the other one held him back and told him to cool it. Then he pulled him into the bar, which is open for lunch but empty so far.” Corinne finished her statement with a disapproving look.
“They’re still there?”
“As far as I know.”
Now what? How could she keep the two men from finishing their drinks and bolting while she stayed on the lookout for Pudge and the widow? And how could she possibly stop all of them if they tried to leave before Bill arrived?
“Don’t give them their bill.”
“Just don’t give it to them, tell them the printer is jammed and tell them to have a drink on the house while it gets fixed. No, that won’t work, they may just have you send it to them.” Liv bit her lip. “Take their credit card and then keep it.”
“Bill wants to talk to them and he can’t if they leave.”
“Oh my— Is one of them the murderer?”
Liv knew immediately that she shouldn’t have said anything. Corinne stepped back and knocked over the desk lamp. “Look, don’t think about it. If you’re afraid, just don’t come out of your office. In fact, that would be better. They’ll have to wait.”
Liv started for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“To sit in the lobby.” And hope like hell Bill was on his way.
Liv cracked the door open and peered out. Seeing that the coast was clear, she straightened up and walked sedately, she hoped, out of the office. A sound on the stairs destroyed her cool. She grabbed a copy of the
Celebration Bay Clarion
that Corinne kept on the desk and threw herself at the nearest wing chair.
She’d barely gotten the paper open and up hiding her face before Pudge and Eileen came downstairs. They crossed straight to the reservation desk. One of them hit the bell to summon Corinne.
Liv was dying to look over the edge of the paper to see what was happening, but was afraid of giving herself away. For a brief moment she realized the ridiculousness of her situation: hiding behind a newspaper like a ditsy blonde in a thirties detective movie.
But it was too late to worry about that now. All she could do was listen while she stared at an article on the habitat of the striped bass.
The bell tinged again. Good. Corinne was following instructions. She might be too nervous to even show her face. Liv slid her hand into her coat pocket and turned off the ringer on her cell phone. She would feel the vibrations if Bill called. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to answer it, but at least she wouldn’t draw attention to herself. She’d learned the hard way how a cell phone could be your undoing.
“Where is the woman?” Pudge’s voice. “Hey, anyone around?”
“Let’s just go,” Eileen said petulantly. “They have our card numbers.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Pudge grunted. He must be picking up their suitcases.
A door opened. Corinne’s voice. “Sorry. Did you ring?”
“Yes we did. We’re checking out. Are the bills ready?”
“Well,” Corinne said slowly, “that’s why I didn’t get here right away. We’re having trouble with our printer. Silly thing is all jammed up. That happens sometimes. But usually I can fix it without too much trouble. Not this time, it’s taking longer than usual to fix.”
“That’s okay. Just send the final bills to the address you have on file.”
There was silence. They must be handing over their credit cards.
“I’m sorry for the delay. Why don’t you two go into the bar and have a drink on the house. These machines can be so annoying.”
Liv bet they were thinking innkeepers could be pretty annoying, and she blessed Corinne. You had to love this town and its inhabitants, Liv thought. They all embraced finding a murderer with the same enthusiasm they’d embraced tourism when the cannery closed years before. They never let you down in a pinch.
The front door opened, bringing with it a draft of wind and a tramp of feet.
“Sheriff,” Corinne squeaked.
Liv let out her breath. But she didn’t put down the paper, because suddenly she felt silly sitting there like Miss Marple.
The front door opened again, bringing another gust of wind that rattled the newspaper.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Joe’s voice. They must have come out of the bar.
“I was just about to ask that myself.” Pudge, sounding haughty and bored. “Do you have more questions, Sheriff?”
“Actually . . .”
The sound of several heavy footsteps passing through the lobby and up the stairs. Bless Bill. He’d brought reinforcements.
“What is this all about? I’m a busy man and I have been cooperative. But enough is enough.”
“Have you no feelings?” That from Eileen.
Liv felt someone come to stand beside her. Not Bill. And hopefully not Pudge; she didn’t think she’d like him when he was angry. She clutched the newspaper and willed whomever it was to go away.
Fingers appeared at the edge of the paper and pulled it down a few inches. Slowly Liv turned her head.
“Busted,” Chaz Bristow said, trying not to laugh.
Liv flushed. She knew she did. He always managed to make her feel ridiculous.
She put down the paper. Everyone turned to look at her. Bill, Pudge, Corinne, Joe, Eric, and three uniformed policemen.
Bill turned away but not before Liv saw the flash of his eyes. She was in for a big lecture.
“Eric Sattler, you are under arrest for the murder of Max Bonhoff. You have the right . . .”
Eric threw a panicked look at Eileen, who was looking horror-struck.
Bill flicked his head and two of his men escorted Eric out of the building.
“No! I didn’t do it.”
“That’s what they all say,” Chaz said and sighed.
Eric struggled against the two officers. “Eileen. Tell them.”
On cue, Eileen broke into tears. “Oh, Eric. How could you?”
Eric’s mouth dropped open as disbelief filled his eyes. Slowly he shook his head. And they led him away.
“Looking like a pretty nasty lover’s triangle,” Chaz said under his breath.
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
“This is just terrible,” Pudge said. “I suppose you have proof.”
Bill looked up the stairs. “Oh yes.” Two more officers were carrying a tagged duffel bag down the stairs.
“Found this in his room, sir.”
“Sure they did,” Chaz said under his breath. “You gotta love it.”
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“Sort of. I mean, I figured it had to be him. He’s been favoring his right shoulder since after the race. I’ve been told a shotgun can leave a pretty nasty bruise if you’re not used to it.”
“Clever of you.”
Liv narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you being sarcastic?”
“No.” Chaz looked genuinely shocked. Liv didn’t buy it for a minute.
“Not to sound callous, Sheriff, but are we free to go?”
Bill gave Pudge an appraising look. “Yes,” Bill said. “Quite free.”
Eileen turned to Corinne. “Can I have my card back now?”
Corinne hurried into the office.
“I’ll have the Canadian authorities contact you about the body. I have to make arrangements at home.”
Bill nodded to her, to Pudge, then to Joe, who had watched the proceedings in openmouthed astonishment.
The other officers filed out the door. Bill motioned to Liv and Chaz and the three of them left the Inn.
“I’ll give you both a ride.”
Liv was about to tell him thanks but no thanks, but Chaz took her elbow and pushed her into the front seat of the sheriff’s SUV. He climbed into the back.
“Are you really letting the rest of them go?” Liv asked as soon as Bill started the engine and heat began pumping into the backseat.
“Nothing to hold them on. Yet.”
“I thought Chaz told you about the scam.”
“He told me.”
Bill grinned. “As soon as they walk out of that hotel, they’ll be picked up by the Feds waiting in those two cars over there.”
Liv looked at the two cars parked by the front of the hotel. They looked innocuous enough, except for the men sitting inside.
“We may be able to get them on conspiracy to commit murder, but the Feds have first dibs. I can wait.” Bill turned to look over the console at her. “But you’re giving me gray hairs. Do you know how dangerous that could have become?”
Liv sat back and let him lecture her. She deserved it. But she didn’t see how she was different from any of the other Celebration Bay-ites. Willing to pitch in for the good of the town.
Her cell vibrated. It was Ted.
“Excuse me. Hey.”
“Where are you? Are you still at the Buttercup?”
“Not at the moment.”
“Are you planning on getting back in time for the Pilgrim’s Feast? I think we should make an appearance.”
“Pilgrim’s Feast? I had no idea it was so late.”
“Pilgrim’s Feast?” Bill echoed. “Jeez. Tell him you’ll meet him there.”
Bill flipped the siren and took off. Liv was thrown against the seat.
“Meet you there,” she yelled as they sped away.
Bill barely slowed down enough to dump Chaz and Liv off at the front of the hall before speeding around the corner and out of sight.
“That was weird,” Liv said. “Do you know what it was all about?”
Chaz shook his head.
“And I had questions.”
“Maybe that’s why he was in such a hurry to get rid of you.”
The VFW hall was packed with people sitting at long rows of rectangular tables. They were being served apple cider by period-clothed “Pilgrims.” The fact that the Pilgrims, who originally meant to settle in New York, had only made it as far as Massachusetts didn’t deter Celebration Bay from having a reenactment feast.
The lights dimmed, and the sound of tom-toms gradually quieted the crowd. A voice-over began the local version of the first Thanksgiving. The dusty curtain that had hidden the small stage lurched open to a scene of Pilgrims dressed in black and white with tall black Pilgrim hats, which the actual Pilgrims probably never wore, huddled over a pulsing campfire. They chafed their hands and hugged themselves as the narrator told of the hardships they faced.
An old woman, the local librarian, hobbled onstage and showed an empty basket. The Pilgrims were out of food.
Ted came up beside them. “How did you beat me here?”
“Tell you later.”
A trio of Native Americans, good-naturedly played by members of the county Native American Heritage Arts Council, entered stage right. The Pilgrims cowered in fear except for their fearless leader, who stood and raised his hand in welcome.
“Is that Bill?”
Chaz snorted out a laugh. “No wonder he was in such a hurry.”
Bill Gunnison, head of Celebration Bay’s finest, slapped the chief on the back and invited him to share their fire. The chief in turn ordered his underlings to bring the feast, and a good time was had by all.
As soon as the lights came on, platters of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauces, and potatoes were passed down the tables.
Ted, Chaz, and Liv were joined by a very tall Pilgrim.
“Whew,” Bill said, pulling off his Pilgrim hat and taking the long wig with it. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
They all filled plates and took them into one of the smaller meeting rooms where they could have some privacy while Bill filled Ted in on the arrest of Eric Sattler.
“It started with an anonymous tip.” Bill flushed slightly. “I know, pretty lame, but in this case . . .”
“You knew who the tipper was?” Liv asked.
Bill shrugged. “No. It was distorted, called in from a landline, and didn’t last long enough to be traced, even if we had the equipment to do it. The usual anonymous call. It tipped us off to the shotgun we found in his hotel room.”
He stopped to cut turkey and piled it on a fork with a dab of cranberry sauce.
The others waited impatiently for him to finish chewing.
“It was obviously a setup, somebody wanted us to catch him. I’m pretty sure they’ll find Eric’s fingerprints on it. They were clever enough to plan this, they would make sure there was plenty of evidence to get rid of Eric.
“They?” asked Liv.
“But why kill Max in the first place?” Ted asked. “He wasn’t the mastermind, was he?”
“No.” Bill chuckled and wiped his mouth. “The oldest motive in the book.”
“Greed?” Ted guessed.
“Revenge?” Liv asked.
“Lust,” said Chaz.
Liv gave him a look.
“Yep, the old love triangle, except if what my deputy just called in is true, it was more of a rectangle.”
“I take it Eric is talking,” Ted said.
“As soon as they got him in the squad car. He’d been Mirandized so my deputy let him talk, right into a voice recorder.”
“Can you tell us what he said?”
“Can I keep you from wheedling it out of me?”
All three of them shook their heads.
“From what I understand so far, it goes something like this. Eileen wanted a divorce, but she also wanted Max’s money. She must have convinced Eric to kill him so they could be together. So they made up this story that Pudge had planned to meet up with Eric while Max was running the race because Pudge wanted to cut Max out of the deal.”
“I did hear Pudge say Max was becoming a liability because of his gambling.”
“Pudge was never planning to meet anyone, but Max played right into their hands. He told Eric he would take his place in the woods. Which was just what they knew he would do. But when he got there, there was no Pudge, just Eric and a shotgun. Eric shoots him. Probably hands off the shotgun to Eileen, who’s waiting in a car on the county road at the entrance to Henny’s car track. She drives away, waits for the call about Max’s death, then drives back, pretending to have come all the way from Canada.”
“And bringing back the gun to frame Eric with. Oh, that’s nasty,” Chaz said and reached for a huge helping of pumpkin pie.
“Nasty?” said Liv. “It’s evil. She left the Buttercup calling Eric ‘sweetie,’ but made a call to someone else she also called ‘sweetie.’ Pudge? She and Pudge planned to get rid of Max and blame Eric?”
“Looks that way.”
Bill shook his head. “I’m sure there’s more to it than this but that’s what I got from my deputy before I had to make my entrance onstage. Frankly, I’ll be glad to let the Feds have this one.”
“But what about Joe? How does into fit into this?”
“If I were Joe,” Chaz said, pushing his empty plate away. “I’d be thanking my lucky stars the Feds showed up.”
“He was probably going to be next,” Chaz said. “Anyone going back for seconds?”