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Now available !

Hardback cover of I'd Kill for ThatI'D KILL FOR THAT

From the best-of-the-best in female mysery authors comes a highly enjoyable, rollicking tale of murder and mayhem.

Paperback cover of I'd Kill For ThatContributing Authors: Gayle Lynds, Rita Mae Brown, Marcia Talley, Lisa Gardner, Linda Fairstein, Kay Hooper, Kathy Reichs, Julie Smith, Heather Graham, Jennifer Crusie, Tina Wainscott, Anne Perry and Katherine Neville.

A whodunit in the tradition of Naked Came the Phoenix

Talley, Marcia, editor. - I'D KILL FOR THAT - St. Martin's Minotaur.
Hardcopy: 2004, $25.95, ISBN: 0-312-29057-8.
Paperback: 2005, $6.95, ISBN 0-312-93696-6.

-- READ CHAPTER 3 --

On the banks of the scenic Truxton River, nestled in rolling woodlands just minutes away from our nation's capital, lies Gryphon Gate. Drawn to its breathtaking view of the Chesapeake Bay, Henry Drysdale selected this waterfront location to create a premier gated community where the affluent and privileged residents live, work and play. Tempers flare when Vanessa, Henry's ex-, decides to build Forest Glen, a 300-unit condominium development on an adjoining tract of land. The Gryphon Gate town meeting disintegrates into a free-for-all as environmentalists, developers, residents and the media clash. Then the violence turns ugly -- a body is found in a sandtrap off the 6th tee. Called in to head the investigation, Police Captain Diane Robards races against the clock to sort her allies from her enemies, as together she and an odd-ball cast of characters attempt to uncover the secrets behind the serene facade of Gryphon Gate and unmask a dangerous and ruthless killer.

From KIRKUS REVIEWS, April 1, 2004: " ... Each contributor plants the seeds of skulduggery and suspicion so generously and harvests the earlier crop so conscientiously that the story miraculously avoids the besetting sin of such productions: contradiction and incoherence. ... ."

More Information at Gayle Lynds web site


CHAPTER THREE
by
Marcia Talley

“Damn it to hell!”  Parker Upshaw snatched a copy of the Washington Post off his desk and sent it sailing across the room where it settled into an untidy heap on the Yagcibedir carpet.  His great-grandfather had haggled for that carpet in Constantinople, rolled it up, lashed it to the outside of his satchel and after a week-long, trans-Atlantic voyage, it had graced the office floor of every CEO of Upshaw, Tracey and Associates since Roosevelt was president.  The first one.  If the Upshaw men had been given to pacing -- which they were not -- the carpet would have been threadbare.

This is not a crisis.  Parker repeated the phrase like a mantra, chair tilted back at a comfortable angle, his fingers drumming a soft tattoo on its padded leather arms.  Black Monday was a crisis.  So was the tech meltdown of 2000.  And Enron?  It made his head throb to think about the chunk of his portfolio that had gone south with that gang of white-collar bandits.  No, this was just an annoyance, like a biting fly.  And he’d deal with it.  Then, back to business as usual.

Upshaw, Tracey and Associates rescued companies.  Turned them around.  When you file for Chapter 11, the first call you make is to your lawyers  The second, to U.T. and A. 

His own damn fault, really. He’d actually volunteered for this headache, volunteered to run for president of the Gryphon Gate Homeowners Association, never dreaming he’d be elected.  Parker sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose.  Only six more weeks until the end of his term, then those fanatics at the American Wildlife Confederation would be Jerry Lynch’s problem.

Parker leaned across the blotter and pressed a button on the intercom.  “Kris?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Get Manny on the line, will you?”

“Sure.  Right away.”

“And Kris?”

“Yes?”

“Hold all my calls.  If I have to dance the two-step around one more tree hugger, I think I’ll blow my brains out.”

As if to add insult to injury, the sun suddenly emerged from a cloud, shot across the Potomac River and through his window, fixing the offending front-page article in its beam like a spotlight – Activist Group Speaks Out on Mute Swan Proposal.  “Tell them I’m on safari.”  Parker suppressed an insane urge to giggle. 

“Not to worry, sir.”  Kris said.  “I’ll say you’re busy.  Up in the Arctic, clubbing baby seals.”

Parker laughed nervously.  “Bad girl!  You will die and go to hell.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Let me know when you locate Manny,”  Parker continued.  “The least the SOB can do is hear our side of it.  Frankly, I’m surprised.  The Post is usually a bit more balanced in its reporting.  We’re not going to kill the swans, for Christ’s sake, just neutralize their eggs.” 

“Who’s his source, then?”

“Damned if I know.  It could be anybody in the Gryphon Gate community.”  Parker stood, his free hand toying with the loose change in his pocket.  “Legally, there’s nothing these folks can do to stop us, but they can definitely make our lives miserable.”

“I’m sure.  And sir?”

“Yes?”

“Can I get you anything?  Coffee?  A martini?”

“No thanks, Kris,” Parker chuckled.  “You’ll just spoil a perfectly good sulk.”

 A few minutes later the telephone warbled like a strangled turkey.  Nothing in the way Parker stood, hands jammed in his pockets, gazing out the window over the rooftop of the Kennedy Center toward Roslyn, Virginia, gave any indication he’d heard it.  He was staring at the USA Today building, wondering when they’d pick the story off the AP wire and spread it to every airport and hotel room in the nation.  Eventually the phone fell silent.  Thank God for PAs.

 When the intercom buzzed a few seconds later, Parker sighed and picked up the receiver, not surprised to discover it was still warm.

“You got Manny?”

“No, sir.  But I think you better take it.  It’s your wife, and she sounds upset.”

Parker punched the blinking green button. “Lydia.  I was just thinking about you,” he lied.

“Oh, Parker!  It’s just so awful!” his wife began.

“I know.  It’s all over the front page of the Post.”

On the other end of the line, Lydia snuffled, then drew in a quick breath.  “The Post?  What are you talking about, Parker?  They just found him this morning.”

Parker stopped fiddling with his paperweight, suddenly alert.  “Found him?  Found who?”

“Sigmond!” she wailed.  “He was lying on the 6th tee.  Oh, Parker, Sigmond’s  dead!”

In the background Parker heard one of the twins begin to tune up.  In another minute, the other would join in and Parker’s chances of getting a straight story out of his wife would shrink to nil.  While he waited for Lydia to pacify the children, he tried to process the information she had just given him.  Sigmond Vormeister.  Golf.  It didn’t compute.  Sigmond hung, if he was said to hang out anywhere, at the marina.  Sitting on a bench facing the Truxton River, with his ever-present leather-bound notebook.  What the hell was Sigmond Vormeister doing at the golf course?

“I don’t know why I’m so upset,” Lydia sniffed.  “I hardly know the man.  It’s just … oh, poor Rachel!” Lydia’s voice died out. 

“I know.  I know,” Parker soothed.  What he knew was that as founding members of the Gryphon Gate Garden Club, his wife had worked closely with Rachel Vormeister.  They often played tennis together, at least until the twins had arrived to happily complicate their lives. 

Parker waited while Lydia blew her nose.  “Nobody seems to know what he was doing on the golf course,” Lydia continued, control returning to her voice at last.  “But the worst of it is this.  Laura got it from Peter who got it from Bill Oberlin.  The police think Sigmond’s been murdered.”

“Shit!”  Across the Potomac, Parker visualized platoons of reporters pouring out of the USA Today building, cameras at the ready, piling into company cars and heading north up I-395 into Maryland.  “Shit, shit, shit!”

“Exactly.” 

“Any suspects?”

“If they have any, they aren’t saying.  Laura says Diane Robards has taken over the Wild Goose Room and is using it to conduct interviews.  Laura’s been keeping Diane and her two acolytes, Ford and Carnegie, supplied with croissants and coffee.”

“You mean Mutt and Jeff?”

Parker was pleased to hear Lydia laugh.  “Seems Mutt is quite fond of Krispy Kremes.  Laura’s not happy about it.”

Parker considered for a moment.  “I wonder if we should call off tonight’s town council meeting?”

“Parker, you can’t!  I’ve spent almost a year putting it together.  I’ve already squandered enough of my maternity leave working on this case.  Next month I’ll be back at work and anything I take on pro bono will have to have the blessing of Messieurs Matthews, Jacobs and Reed.”

“If we don’t line up enough public support to demand a new environmental impact statement,” Lydia chugged on, “nothing short of Hurricane Floyd will stop Vanessa from developing that parcel any way she damn well pleases.  You’ve seen the plan!”

Parker had.  Vanessa Drysdale proposed to strip the parcel clean of offending trees, back fill the wetlands and contract a New Jersey firm to construct wall-to-wall condos that looked like they’d been designed by a student at Chesapeake Community College as a class project.  It was obscene.  “Okay.  Okay.  Do me a favor then, would you?  Call Laura at the club and tell her to put out the word that the meeting will go on as scheduled.”  He paused.  “Who’s doing the web page?”

“Temple Flynt’s son, Ray.”

“Right.  Ask him to post it there, too.  And Lydia?”

“Yes?”

“See if you can’t persuade the Colonel to put off the report from the deer committee until next month.  Tell him I’ll explain later.”

“Any dragons you want slain while I’m at it?”

Parker grinned and promised himself that after this was all over, he’d buy Lydia that diamond tennis bracelet she’d admired at Alan Marcus.  “I’ll love you forever,” he whispered.

“Hah!” Lydia snorted.  “That’s what all my boyfriends say.”

* * *

Lydia hung up the phone.  It was well past lunch time and the twins, sitting side by side in their bouncy seats, were quietly fussing.  She’d already wasted one nutritional opportunity by feeding them shortbread cookies full of empty fat and sugar calories.    With a damp paper towel, Lydia wiped the evidence off their chins.  Where were the wholegrain, fruit juice sweetened muffins when you needed them?  Lydia loved her children, was crazy about them, actually, but sometimes she felt that if Working Mother gave an award for Uninspired Parenting, she’d definitely be on the short list.  Lydia couldn’t imagine what she had been thinking when, today of all days, she had given Nicole, their au pair, the afternoon off. 

Lydia plugged a pacifier into Todd’s mouth and distracted Amy with a Baby Mozart video while she made the phone calls she had promised.  Laura answered at once, but neither Ray Flynt nor Col. McClintock was home, so she left detailed messages on their answering machines, secretly praying that neither man would call her back.

After the twins were fed and down for their nap, Lydia plopped a fresh Lady Grey teabag into a mug of water and set it on the turntable of the microwave.  While waiting for the ding, she rummaged in the pantry until she found a box of Girl Scout cookies she had optimistically hidden from herself.   Tea and Thin Mints in hand, she sat down at the kitchen table and considered the orderly piles of documents that were stacked there among a jumble of half-empty baby food jars and a scattering of Goldfish crackers:  environmental impact statements, minutes of zoning board meetings, piles of EPA and Maryland state regulations and a copy of HB278 dotted with strained squash.  Nibbling a dainty circle around the edges of a cookie, Lydia reviewed her strategy.  She planned to claim that Vanessa’s building permit had been approved on the basis of misinformation supplied by the developer that vastly underestimated the effect of the proposed development on the infrastructure of the area.  Thus, they would need to reevaluate requirements for power, water, and sewage; revisit issues of traffic and public transportation; not to mention looking closely at the schools. 

Lydia sometimes worried that she had pressed her sources too hard.  She would willingly confess to being a NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard – but hoped not to be thought of as a BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. 

Yet last night her persistence had borne fruit.  Cheryl Madsen, her mole at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, had discovered that the Forest Glen marshland was home to helonias bullata, an endangered flower popularly known as the swamp pink, and to hyla sanguinea, a red-toed tree frog as cute as any character out of a Walt Disney cartoon.  Now Vanessa and her developers would be up against the Federal Endangered Species Act.  Lydia smiled.  Bulldozers had been halted by smaller creatures than a tree frog.

As she sat there, leafing through the papers and taking notes on a yellow legal pad, she had the nagging feeling she’d forgotten something.  Rachel!  If Lydia had been any kind of friend, she would have been over there by now, homemade casserole in hand and the offer of a comforting shoulder to cry on.

Lydia hauled a turkey tetrazini casserole out of the deep freeze in the garage and set it on the hood of her Volvo station wagon. 

Ignoring the fax machine, which was noisily churning another page into the tray with several others Lydia had also ignored, she changed, freshened her makeup -- such as it was -- and roused the twins from their nap.  With Todd squirming on one hip and Amy calmly straddling the other, Lydia stood in the garage and considered her options.  The Peg Perego double stroller, imported from Italy and a gift from her in-laws, was sporty as all get out with its double yellow canopies, but considering the inches she’d put on her thighs since the children were born, she settled for the twinner baby jogger, instead.  Maybe someday neighborhood heads would turn for her the way they did for the jogging Yummy Mummies. 

Lydia belted the children into the jogger, set the casserole in the mesh basket underneath, punched the automatic garage door opener with her thumb, and when the door yawned wide, shot out the door and down the tree-lined drive, her raven hair flying and the children shrieking in delight.

The Vormeisters lived ten two-acre lots away in a three-story, nouvelle Tudor set well back on an aggressively landscaped lot.  So many trees dotted the lawn, in so many varieties that Lydia couldn’t help but think of it as the Vormeister Tree Zoo. 

There were no cars in the driveway, so Lydia was surprised when her knock – on an ornate lion’s head the size of a dinner plate – was answered, not by Rachel, but by a pale woman of Germanic sturdiness, her graying blonde hair caught up at the crown by a pink plastic DayGlo butterfly clip.  Lydia recognized the generous nose and cupid’s bow lips and knew who this must be.  Rachel’s mother. 

“Mrs. Kaplan?”  With her toe, Lydia set the brake on the baby jogger and extended her hand.  “I’m so sorry to hear about Sigmond, Mrs. Kaplan.  I’m Rachel’s friend, Lydia Upshaw.  How’s she doing?”

“She’s in shock, poor child.”

Lydia lowered her head.  “We all are.  It’s terrible.”

Suddenly remembering her mission, Lydia bent and wrestled the casserole out of the basket.  “I’ve brought this.  It’s not much, but I wanted to do something.  Please tell Rachel that if there’s anything she needs, or if I can help in any way …”  In her own ears, the words rang hollow.  Would a stupid noodle casserole make her feel any better if something awful were to happen to Parker? 

 “Why don’t you tell her yourself?”  Holding the casserole dish in both hands, Rachel’s mother gestured toward the entrance hall.  “Rachel’s in the kitchen.  I was about to make some tea.  I hope you’ll join us?”

Lydia thought that if she swallowed one more ounce of tea her bright blue eyes would turn muddy brown.  Besides, she had the children with her.  She had just opened her mouth to refuse when Mrs. Kaplan shrieked, “Aaron!” 

Lydia shook her head to clear the ringing from her ears as a whey-faced youth with cheeks sprouting a fine crop of pimples materialized, seemingly from nowhere.  “Aaron, take the children around the jogging trail a couple of times, will you, while I give Mrs. Upshaw some tea.” 

A smile split Aaron’s face and Lydia caught a glimpse of the handsome man he would be in another four or five years.  Like his sister, Rachel, Aaron’s cap of hair was blond all the way down to the roots.  “Sure thing,” he said.

Lydia watched, without a single pang of concern, as her children disappeared into the woods in the custody of someone she had never met.  Shouldn’t she worry?  Even a little?  But what could one expect from someone whose own mother would have plopped her down in a playpen and gone off to smoke another Lucky? 

            The two women found Rachel seated at an enormous white oak table, idly spinning a teaspoon around on the polished tabletop.

            “Rachel,” Lydia began.  “I’m so, so sorry.” 

            Rachel regarded her with red and swollen eyes.  “Oh, Lydia, I don’t know what I’m going to do!”  Her lower lip quivered and her shoulders began to shake.   

            Lydia pulled up a chair and sat down next to her friend.  Taking Rachel’s hand in hers, she soothed.  “It’ll be all right.  I’m here.  Your mom’s here …”

            “Bill Oberlin came and got me,” Rachel sobbed.  “They needed me to identify …”  She took a deep, ragged breath.  “… to identify poor Sigmond before they took him away to, to …”

            The morgue.  The word hung, unspoken, in the air.  Lydia rubbed Rachel’s hand gently.

            “Oh, Lydia, he looked so peaceful lying there, as if he were asleep.  I can’t believe …”

            Mrs. Kaplan set cups of hot tea on the table in front of them.  When Rachel made no move to pick hers up, her mother added a heaping teaspoon of sugar to the cup, stirred briskly and pushed it toward her daughter.  “You have to drink something, darling, or you’ll get all dehydrated.”

            Rachel wrapped her hands around the cup, but didn’t drink from it.  “Things were finally turning around for Sigmond,” she said.  “He was wrapping up his research and he had made some sort of revolutionary breakthrough.”

            “Finally!” Mrs. Kaplan huffed.  “Although what anybody can make of all those Martian runes, I’ll never know.”

            Rachel leaned toward Lydia, a slight smile creasing her face.  “Sigmond wrote in shorthand.  He’s got hundreds of notebooks, Lydia.  One day he’s going to publish them.”  Suddenly her voice cracked.  “Oh, Mother, I won’t even know where to begin!”

            “Why don’t you worry about that later, Rachel?” her mother suggested.

            “We were so happy!”

            “I know.”

            “Everyone told us it wouldn’t work out.”  She squeezed Lydia’s hand.  “Sigmond was older than me, you know.”

            Lydia nodded.

            “And Sigmond so wanted children.  We tried and we tried and we tried.  Sigmond was so patient with me.”  She managed a slight smile.  “When he decided we needed help, we went to the best fertility doctor in the state.  Dr. Jefferson said …”

“Dr. Charles Jefferson?” Lydia interrupted. 

            “Yes.  Why?  Do you know him?”

            “Of course I know him!  He helped us conceive Todd and Amy.”

            Across the table, her eyes bright behind a pale, untidy fringe of bangs, Rachel’s mother grinned.  “Tell her, Rachel.”

            Rachel pressed her hands together, as if trying to contain her excitement.  Crimson patches appeared on her cheeks which were otherwise pale from crying.  “Sigmond wanted to keep it secret, until we were sure.  But, I’m pregnant, Lydia.  The baby’s due in December.”

            Then her face crumpled.  “Sigmond hoped it’d be a girl,” she sobbed.  “Next month we were going to do the ultrasound.  And now he’ll never know!”  Rachel leapt to her feet and rushed from the room.  Flashing a nervous smile of apology, Mrs. Kaplan bustled after her. 

Lydia sat.  For want of something better to do, she sipped her tea – a sprightly ginger concoction -- and stared at the wallpaper.  Tendrils of ivy snaked under the windows, over the doorways, twined around the copper pot rack, crept across the stone floor, wound themselves up the table leg, curled over her hand and around her neck …  Lydia shook herself.  She was having a Stephen King moment.

Lydia had decided to head out to the jogging trail in search of Aaron and her children when Rachel returned carrying a large manila envelope.  She leaned against the stove, the envelope clasped to her chest.  “Can I share something with you, Lydia?  That police woman,” she continued, without waiting for a reply, “Diane somebody.  She really annoyed me.”

Mrs. Kaplan stood in the doorway, nodding vigorously.  “Not a compassionate bone in her body.”

Lydia smiled reassuringly.  “We’ve never had a murder at Gryphon Gate before.  Capt. Robards is probably just being careful.  You wouldn’t want her to make a mistake, would you, and have Sigmond’s murderer go free on some technicality?”

 “Of course not!  But, she’s in over her head, if you ask me.”

Rachel’s mother nodded. “Not a job for a woman.”

Although sorely tempted, Lydia kept her mouth shut.

“That’s probably why I didn’t tell her about the baby,” Rachel mused.

Lydia forced a smile.  “No reason you needed to, Rachel.”

Rachel shrugged, then crossed to the table.  She lifted the flap on the envelope and dumped its contents onto the tabletop.  “These are Sigmond’s things.  Except for his notebook.  The police are still looking at that.”

Lydia stared as Rachel lovingly touched each item.  A Seiko watch with a silver, basket-weave band.   A black leather wallet.  A monogrammed handkerchief.  A ballpoint pen, a handful of loose coins and a fistful of keys.  “I didn’t tell Diane Robards about the baby,” she repeated almost dreamily.  “And I didn’t tell her something else either.”

“What was that?” Lydia asked.

“Sigmond’s Palm Pilot.  He took it with him everywhere.  It’s missing.”

* * *

Lt. Colonel Lance J. McClintock, USMC, Retired, a cigar clamped between stubby fingers, fanned out his cards with elaborate care.  “One diamond.”  His bushy eyebrows, shot with gray, settled over his horn rims like awnings.

            Across the table, Camille frowned, whether at her husband or at the cards she held it was impossible to tell.  Without looking up she said, “Christ, Lance.  I wish you’d throw that damn thing away.”

            “What?”  Lance screwed the wet end of the cigar into his mouth and lounged back in his chair.  “It’s not like I’ve lit it or anything, sweetheart.” 

             “No fighting, no biting!”  Roman Gervase chided cheerfully. “Pass.”

            “Don’t pay any attention to them, Gervase,” Mignon said.  “It’s a clever ruse.  Meant to throw us off our game.”

            “Ha!”  Camille squinted at her cards through her half glasses.  “One spade.”

            “Pass.”  Mignon twiddled an earring, but if it was a secret signal to her husband, he must have missed it.  His eyes were glued on Barbara Blackburn who had sashayed into the bar wearing an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse, electric blue capri pants and high-heeled sandals. 

Lance noticed Barbara, too.  “Nice buns.”

            “Your bid, Lance darling,” Camille drawled, “If you aren’t too, how shall I say, busy?”

            Lance grunted and returned to his hand.  “One no trump.”

            Roman winked in the direction of Babs’s remarkable backside.  “Nice scenery,” he muttered, “but I miss playing in the Wild Goose Room.”  He glanced at his watch.  “It’s six o’clock for heaven’s sake!  When do you think they’ll be finished in there?” 

            “Haven’t the faintest, Ro baby,” Lance commented.  “What’s your bid?”

            “Sorry.  Got distracted for a minute.  Pass.”

            Camille straightened in her chair, smiling broadly.  “Three no trump.”

            “Pass,” said Mignon.

            “Pass,” said Lance.

            “Pass,” said Gervase.

            “Well bid, sweetheart,” Lance began to arrange his hand face up on the table.  “Do you need me, or may I wander over to the bar for a bit?”

            Camille scowled at her husband.  “If I didn’t know better, Lance, I’d say you actually planned to be dummy.”

            Lance, who took his card playing as seriously as he had the command of his regiment in Kuwait, tapped the ace, queen, eight and seven of diamonds into a neat cascade.  “Cards is cards is cards, my dear.  Can I get you anything?”

            Camille shook her head.

            “Single malt,” said Mignon as she led with the jack of hearts.  “On the rocks.”

            Lance observed the play in silence until Camille finessed Roman’s king of diamonds and he knew they’d make their contract, with a trick or two to spare.  “Carry on,” he said.

             “It doesn’t seem right for us to be going on like this, as if nothing had happened,” Mignon remarked, leading a ten of hearts.

            Lance laid a hand on Mignon’s shoulder and squeezed it gently.  “Nothing we can do about it, anyway, Mignon.  We’ve told Capt. Robards all we know.  Life goes on.”

            Gervase considered his next play, nibbling on a well-chewed thumbnail.  “It’s Rachel I feel sorry for,” he said, sluffing a three of spades.  “Those two were like Ron and Nancy Reagan.  Inseparable.”

            “I saw Rachel this afternoon,” a new voice said.  Lance turned to see Lydia approaching from the direction of Michener Auditorium, looking radiant in a bright yellow pants suit, her thick, dark hair intricately and attractively braided.   “She’s taking it very hard.  But her mother’s with her now.  And her brother.”

            Camille gathered up the last winning trick, jotted down the score and stood.  “Why don’t we call it quits for tonight?  I can use a drink.  Lydia?  Will you join us?”

            “Thanks, but I need to talk to Lance.”

            Lance smiled.  “What about?” 

            “Didn’t you get my message?”

            He shrugged.  “Don’t think so.  I haven’t been home today.”  He gestured toward the Wild Goose Room where, presumably, Diane Robards was still holding forth with Ford and Carnegie.  “Ned Carbury and I were last on the links last night, so Robards kept me in there for quite a while.  She’s still talking to Ned.”  Lance waved an arm toward a vacant table.  “Let’s sit.” 

Lance eased himself into an upholstered chair and flagged down a passing server.  “Another gin,” he said.  “And the lady will have …?” 

“White wine.  Something crisp and cold.”  Lydia leaned forward, her elbows resting on the table.  “I have a favor to ask.   Parker wants to know if you can delay your report on the managed deer hunt until next month.”

Lance felt as if he’d taken a blow to the solar plexus.  “No, ma’am.  No can do.” If Lydia was upset by this news, she didn’t show it.  “Why not?”

“I’ve got people coming in to testify, that’s why.  George Carroll from Sea Pines, Georgia, for one.  And a guy from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  Carroll’s going to recommend that we make it a bow and arrow hunt,” he continued, warming to his topic, “and open it up to young folks.  A father and son thing.”

Lydia winced.  “Don’t push your luck, Lance.”  She slid a notebook out of a pouch in her handbag and turned to a fresh page.  “I’m setting up the agenda for Parker.”  She uncapped her pen.  “Do you want your guys on before or after we talk about Vanessa’s Forest Glen development?”

“After, I think.”  Their drinks had arrived and he took a generous sip, savoring the coolness of the alcohol as it lingered on his tongue, enjoying the tart twist of lime that had decorated the glass. 

Lydia scribbled something in her notebook.  “Good.  So we’ll put Vanessa on first.  Then I’ll bring on my experts.”  She reached for a bowl of mixed nuts that sat on the table between them, picked out a handful of roasted almonds and tossed a few absent-mindedly into her mouth.  “I think I’ve found a way to stop Vanessa cold.”

Lance smiled around his glass.  “May I ask?”                       

“Oh, I think you’ll want to be surprised, along with everybody else.”

“Does it involve weapons?”  Lance hooted.  “The only thing that will stop Vanessa cold is an elephant gun.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”  Babs Blackburn shouted from a nearby bar stool.

“Babs, baby!”  Lance waved his drink high in the air.  “Come over and join us!”

“Sure thing, honey.  Anybody trashing that trashy Vanessa is definitely a friend of mine.”  Holding her drink, a tall pink concoction, in one hand and a column of paper-umbrella-skewered fruit in the other, Babs wriggled off her stool, weaved across the carpet and plopped herself down in the chair across from Lydia.  In the dimly-lit bar, something flashed across the ceiling.

“Gorgeous ring, Babs,” Lydia said.

Babs extended her hand and waggled her fingers over the table.  “It is gorgeous, isn’t it?  Henry gave it to me.”  Plump, crimson lips closed around her straw and Lance watched in fascination as the liquid rose, like a thermometer, into her mouth.  “Vanessa is going to be so pissed when she sees it!”

“I wouldn’t mention it if I were you,” Lance suggested.  Married or divorced, if he ever gave a three carat diamond to another woman, Camille would have reduced him to smithereens. 

Babs shrugged.  “She’ll find out soon enough, anyway, Lance.  We met with Peter Armbruster at the chapel yesterday.”  Even in the subdued lighting, her face was radiant.  “The wedding’s set for June.”

“Congratulations!”  Laura Armbruster elbowed her way through the crowd that had been gathering around the bar and bent to kiss Babs on the cheek.  “Peter told me about the wedding yesterday.  I’ve been dying to tell someone, but … well, you know.  Seal of the confessional!”

Babs beamed up at the club manager.  “We’ll want to have the reception here, of course.”

“Of course.”  Laura patted the bride elect’s shoulder.  “You and Henry come in next week, say Wednesday or Thursday, and we’ll start talking details.”

“Oh, Henry’s leaving all that to me,” Babs said.

Laura’s eyebrows disappeared under her bangs.  “I see.  Well, give me a call.  Soonest.  We’ve no time to lose!”

“I’ll want you to get that ice sculpture guy …” Babs began.  She tipped her glass and sucked on her straw until the liquid remaining in the bottom of the glass gurgled.  “… and whoever you got to do the music for the Steinberg bar mitzvah.” 

“No problem,” Laura called over her shoulder as she turned and headed toward the auditorium.  “I’ve got to check to make sure Ray’s set up the projector for tonight.  See you later.”

“Speaking of tonight,” Lydia said, checking her watch.  “I wonder where Parker is?  He said he was planning to take off a bit early.”

“Traffic,” said Lance.  He gestured toward the large-screen television that hung from wrought-iron brackets over the bar.  On the screen Wolf Blitzer was silently mouthing the latest news from Afghanistan as closed captioning crawled across his tie.  “If Laura kept that damn set tuned to anything other than CNN, maybe we’d get the local traffic report.”  Lance stood and waved over the cluster of heads that separated him from the bar.  “Tiffany!”

The young bartender looked up from the blender where, judging from the pink liquid sloshing around inside, a refill for Babs was being prepared.  She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes with the back of  her hand.  “Yes, Colonel?”

“Switch to Channel Two, will you?”

“Okay,” Tiffany shouted.  “But if Mrs. Armbruster asks, I’ll tell her you forced me to do it.”

 “Fair enough,” Lance shouted back.  “And Tiffany?  Another for me, when you get the chance!” 

“Make that a light one,” suggested Camille, neatly extricating herself from a conversation with two women wearing designer jogging suits in which, Lance was sure, they’d never broken a sweat.  Camille carried an Irish coffee topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  She kissed the air next to her husband’s cheek.  “Careful, Colonel.  You have to speak tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah.”  He offered the chair he had just vacated to his wife, then stood at attention behind it, arms folded, his eyes on the television.

“Ummmm,” cooed Camille, squirming more deeply into the cushions.  “Nicely warmed.  Thank you, darling.”

Somewhere a cell phone chirped. 

Lance reached for the instrument attached to his belt. 

Camille rummaged in her fanny pack.

Babs patted her pocket. 

Lydia bent over to retrieve her purse. “Mine, I think.  I set Parker’s number to the William Tell Overture.” 

“When my mother calls, Camille’s phone plays The Dead March from Saul,” Lance muttered cheerfully.

“Get out!” Babs giggled.

“Guilty!” Camille laughed.  “Dum dum de dum, dum de dum de dum de dum.  It’s a hoot.”

Across the hall from the bar, the green baize door that led to the Wild Goose Room burst open.  As they watched, open-mouthed, Leland Ford spilled out, his hand resting on his weapon as he sprinted down the hall toward the lobby.  Next came John Carnegie, moving slowly, but deliberately, in the same direction.  Behind John, Diane Robards paused to speak into the two-way radio that crackled from a clip attached to her left shoulder.  “Tell them not to let anybody in until I get there.”  And then she, too, was gone, leaving Senator Ned Carbury sitting in a leather armchair, framed in the open doorway like a prisoner on death row.  Carbury unfolded his long legs, shook them as if to get the circulation going, wandered out of the Wild Goose Room and into the bar.

“What the hell?” Lance asked the Senator.

“Damned if I know,” Carbury replied.  “She got this call, then they took off.”  Carbury whomped Lance on the back.  “’Scuse me while I get a drink, old friend.  I certainly deserve one.”

Meanwhile, Lydia had located her cell phone and flipped it open.  “Hey, ho.”  She listened for a while, her face morphing from cheerful anticipation, to puzzlement, to astonishment and finally, to disbelief.  “Switch to Channel Four,” she shouted to Tiffany behind the bar.  “And turn up the sound.  Parker says there are TV cameras and mobs of demonstrators at the gate.  He can’t even get his car through.”

Lance watched as, one by one, heads turned in the direction of the TV and fifty-some pairs of eyes focused on a reporter wearing a bright red blazer and sporting a hairdo reminiscent of the seventies.  Babs pointed with her glass.  “Call Channel Four and tell them that Barbie wants her hair back,” she jeered.

Camille poked Babs with an index finger.  “Shhhhh!  I want to hear what she’s saying!”

“ … also the scene earlier today of the mysterious death of Dr. Sigmond Vormeister, a prominent sociologist and scholar.” 

As they watched, the reporter turned and, with a broad sweep of her arm, indicated the crowd behind her.  The camera followed, panning the line of demonstrators, three deep in places, that blocked the drive leading to Gryphon Gate.  Some carried signs: Speak Up for the Swans! and Stop the Slaughter! and S.O.S. -- Save Our Swans! 

Camille gaped at her husband.  “Thank God they don’t know about the deer, Lance.” 

 The reporter paused to interview an untidy woman holding an S.O.S. sign, who had it on good authority that the Gryphon Gate Town Council was planning a mass slaughter of the mute swans living and breeding within its community boundaries.  As the reporter moved on to the next demonstrator, those watching in the bar could see John Carnegie and Leland Ford holding back the crowd to allow Parker’s dark green BMW to ease through the gates, followed by a limousine and a car bearing the distinctive logo of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. 

“That’ll be my guy,” said the Colonel.

“And mine,” said Lydia.

“How about the fellow from Georgia?” asked Camille.

“Henry’s at BWI, picking him up in the helicopter,” said Babs.  “He called about an hour ago.  They’re on their way.”

“And now,” the reporter with Barbie’s hair was saying, “we switch to John Mann, on the scene inside the exclusive Gryphon Gate community.  John, I understand you’ve talked to some of the residents.  What do they have to say?”

“Thank you, Jean.  I’m standing outside the Gryphon Gate Community Recreation Center and I have with me here Toni Sinclair and her daughter, eight-year-old Miranda.”  The reporter, fresh-scrubbed and gently moussed, thrust his microphone toward the little girl.  “Miranda, please tell the people why you’re holding a lighted candle.”

“What the hell!” Lance erupted.  While Miranda patiently explained to the 350,000 viewers tuned into Channel Four’s seven-o’clock news about the bad men who were going to murder Bambi’s mother, the camera followed a train of Gryphon Gate residents, all holding candles and singing something to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree

“How did that reporter get in?” Babs sputtered.  “Henry will be absolutely furious!”

Oh forest deer, oh woodland deer, how lovely are your antlers …” Miranda sang in a high, clear voice. 

Lance was already on his feet.  “I’ll take care of this,” he said.  “Either someone invited the bastard in,”  he waved a finger at the television screen where Toni, holding her candle high, was beaming at her daughter, “or, he climbed over the wall.  Either way, he’s toast!” 

* * *

Freed at last from the clutches of the mob, Parker Upshaw escorted the little caravan of cars up the tree-lined drive that led to the Country Club, circled around the parking lot, pulled under the antebellum-style portico that protected the lobby from the capriciousness of the Maryland weather and cut off his engine.  He was just wondering when the nightmare was going to end when Lance McClintock, with Camille on his heels, spun through the revolving glass doors and erupted onto the driveway.

As he passed, Lance rapped on the hood of Parker’s car.  “C’mon,” he shouted.  “There’s a reporter loose outside the Rec Center!”

Parker was weighing whether to follow Lance or see to his guests when Senator Ned Carbury burst through the door, followed by half a dozen stalwarts of the Gryphon Gate community, some with drinks still in their hands.  “Go get ‘em, Tiger,” Parker called as Jerry Lynch flew past, comb-over flopping and ice cubes rattling.  Parker didn’t know what reporter they were talking about, but he felt sorry for the guy if that drunken mob ever caught up with him.

By then, his companions had stepped from their vehicles and were watching, wide-eyed, as what must have seemed like half the population of Gryphon Gate streamed past, making a hullabaloo like sixth graders on the last day of school.  “They’re racing to the Rec Center,” Parker explained, thinking fast.  “Probably playing Catch-the-Pig and somebody lost.”

“Catch-the-Pig?”

“A bar game.  Uses dice.”

Cheryl Madsen gazed at the pack receding in the distance and laughed, “Where do I sign up?”

Ray Flynt, wearing tan pants and a red jacket, came loping up the drive from the direction of the parking lot.  “What the hell?  Not another murder, I hope?”

Parker handed Ray his car keys and indicated that the other drivers should do the same.  “Just a few high-spirited citizens, is all.”  He turned to Cheryl and to Glenn Gibbs, Lydia’s expert from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We’ve been under a bit of pressure, lately.  One of our residents has been killed.”

Glenn paled.  “How terrible!”

“Yes.  It’ll be all over the Post in the morning, I’m afraid.”

Parker deposited his experts in the bar and went to find his wife.  After a hasty consultation with Henry Drysdale, who had just arrived via go-cart from the helipad with George Carroll in tow, they decided that the meeting would go on.  And if Lance hadn’t returned with his posse by the time they were scheduled to begin, tough.

When Parker thought about it later, he chided himself for not seeing it coming, for not doing something, anything to prevent the tragedy.  In hindsight it seemed so predictable, like a B-movie script with characters straight from Central Casting. 

At the meeting, Vanessa pulled out her biggest gun – the head honcho of the Chesapeake County Zoning and Planning Board -- but was pole-axed by Lydia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, a little pink flower and a frog the size of a ping-pong ball.  She left the meeting early, in a huff.

Poor Lance never knew what hit him.  Before he could even introduce George Carroll, he was drowned out by Toni and her organized band of saboteurs.  Time and again, he’d straighten to his full six-feet-four, crew cut bristling, and wait, steel-gray eyes drilling into the crowd as if they were a platoon of raw recruits.  Gradually the heckling from the back row would die down, and he’d open his mouth, only to have his words drowned in a new wave of protests.  Finally, he’d had enough. “I’ll be back!” he muttered like a latter day Arnold Schwartzeneger as he hopped from the stage, strode down the center aisle and retreated to a dark corner of the bar.

Much later, Parker and Henry found him there, sprawled in a chair, balancing a long-neck Corona on his six-pack abs.  In the chair next to her husband, Camille was babbling amiably to Babs about the tickets she’d snagged for the The Producers.  At the St. James Theatre! In New York!

“Sorry, Lance,” Parker began.

Lance raised his bottle in a mock toast.  “To bitches everywhere.”

Camille shot her husband an anxious glance.  “Lance is taking this deer business very personally.”

“Well, the deer aren’t going to go away,” offered Henry philosophically.  “A few more collisions, a few more tomato plants nibbled down to the roots, an outbreak of Lyme disease …”

Camille patted her husband’s knee.  “See?  I told you that Henry’s on our side.”

Lance set his empty bottle on the table and stood up.  “That’s just what we need,” he said.  “Fuckin’ Lyme disease.”  With two long strides, he stepped around his wife’s chair and headed for the door.  “I’m going for a walk,” he said, easing a cigar out of his pocket. 

Camille’s eyes followed her husband’s broad back until it disappeared around the corner.  She shrugged and drained her wine glass in a single, long swallow.  “Just wait until next time.”  She centered her glass carefully on a square of napkin.  “Ladies room, I think.  Lydia?  You coming?”

Lydia shook her head.

“Another round?” asked Henry.  Camille waved affirmatively and disappeared down the hall. 

Ten minutes later, just as Tiffany was signaling that their drinks were ready, a terrible scream paralyzed her arm in mid-wave.  Everyone in the bar looked up, stupefied. 

“It’s from out back!” someone shouted.  “By the pool!”

Parker scrambled to his feet and raced down the hall -- past the newsstand, past the pro shop, past the billiard room and into the snack bar -- with Henry wheezing right behind.  Parker shoved aside the sliding glass doors and stepped onto the concrete apron that surrounded the pool.  He squinted helplessly into the dark, scanning the shadows, as the screams turned to moans and then to sporadic whimpers.  “Somebody get the lights!” he shouted.

  One by one, the lights came on, gradually illuminating the area around the pool:  the tiki bar, the towel hut, the outdoor spa, gently gurgling.  Suddenly, near the shrubbery by the cabanas, a dark shape stirred. 

Parker rushed forward to find Camille kneeling beside the body of a man, his muscular arms limp at his sides, his long legs akimbo. 

“Oh, Lance, Lance,” Camille crooned, cradling her husband’s bloody head in her arms.  “You just had to go and smoke that damn cigar, didn’t you?”


Copyright 2005 Marcia D. Talley. All rights reserved.

URL: http://www.marciatalley.com/IKFT.html
Last updated: 3 April 2006

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