Laura Durham

Better Off Wed

[cover]I pushed through the crowd of wedding guests and headed toward the front door. I needed fresh air.

"Whoa, there, ma'am."

I'd run headlong into a man in a wrinkled, blue button-down shirt. Obviously not a wedding guest.

"Sorry." I stepped back, sizing him up. Dark hair, broad shoulders, and hazel brown eyes with that held mine without faltering. I sucked in my breath. Wow.

"Are you in charge here?" He'd apparently given me the once over and then decided that I didn't look like a wedding guest, either.

"Well, I'm the wedding planner, so I guess..."

"I'm Detective Mike Reese." He held out his hand and I shook it. "You're the one who found the body, right?"

"My assistant and I both found her. My name's Annabelle Archer."

"Would you mind coming back to the body with me? I have a few questions for you."

I followed him up the stairs to the back galleries. The sculptures that were so eerie in the dark seemed harmless with all the lights on. Detective Reese led me to the rear stairway and down to the middle landing. Several uniformed officers blocked the remaining stairs and another snapped pictures of the entire area. I waited at the landing while the detective went down the staircase and knelt beside the body. Two men in tuxedos followed a police officer down to the body and began examining it. One of the advantages to having lots of doctors as guests. A few minutes later, the paramedics rushed by me down the stairs.

Mrs. Pierce hadn't improved any since we'd last seen her. The blue of her dress cast a purplish hue on her skin and her contorted mouth had become pale and waxy.

"Not bad looking," Kate walked up to me.

"What?"

"He's hot." Kate pointed at Detective Reese. "Who is he?"

"A detective."

"You know, I've never dated a cop," Kate watched the officers working around her. "There are some cute ones here, too."

"And here I viewed this whole 'mother of the bride dying' as a negative thing." Kate didn't hear me. She'd wandered over to talk to one of the officers. My next assistant would be a little old lady with cataracts.

"Annie." Richard hurried up to me. "I've been searching all over for you."

"I'm waiting to be questioned by the detective." I motioned to the only person clustered around the body not in a uniform.

"Well, lucky you," Richard gave me a nudge, and then became serious again. "I'm not sure if I can keep these guests calm much longer. They want to know what's going on."

"Have you told them anything?"

"Well, I couldn't exactly make an announcement that their hostess is twisted up like a human pretzel, now could I?"

"I'll have one of my men make an appropriate announcement." The detective joined our conversation. He turned to Richard. "You must be the caterer who placed the 911 call."

Richard winked at me. "Well, we know why you made detective so young."

Detective Reese ignored Richard's comment. He wore latex gloves and flipped open a small notepad. "We found this on the body. Do either of you have any idea what these names and notes mean?"

"Those are Mrs. Pierce's recorded infractions." My stomach tightened at the sight of the familiar spiral notepad. "She always had it with her."

"Infractions?" The detective looked confused.

"Mrs. Pierce was... how would you put it? Well, particular about the way things were done." Richard gestured to the notebook with a wave of his hands. "If she didn't like what someone did, she would write their name down in that notebook. We called it her 'hit list.'"

"Interesting." Detective Reese glanced up at Richard. "What did she mean by writing the words 'skewers too sharp' next to your name?"

"Oh, heavens." Richard tossed his head back in a manufactured laugh. "She wanted me to dull the skewers I used on the Indonesian satay station so she wouldn't poke herself in the roof of her mouth."

"Did you?"

"Have you ever seen a blunt skewer?" Richard tapped his foot on the ground. "Defeats the purpose."

"Who's Maxwell Gray?" The detective turned to another page in the notebook. "And how would he have 'taken the wrong side?'"

"The photographer." I noticed that my palms were getting sweaty, and I tried to wipe them on my pants without anyone noticing. "Mrs. Pierce was compulsive about being photographed from her right. She had me remind him a dozen times."

"So what did you do to upset her?" Detective Reese's eyes met mine as he opened to the page where Mrs. Pierce had written my name in big, scrawling letters.

"I wouldn't let her rearrange the guest table assignments at the last minute."

"I'm afraid I'm not following."

"She felt that some guests weren't dressed well enough, so she wanted them moved to the back."

"Naturally." Detective Reese cleared his throat. "When did this altercation between you two occur?"

"It couldn't have been more than ten minutes before we found her." I picked at a loose thread on the sleeve of my jacket. "But I wouldn't call it an altercation. I mean, she was pretty drunk, so I didn't take it too seriously."

The detective's eyes widened. "She appeared drunk when you last saw her?"

"The woman could barely stand up." Richard leaned close to the detective and gave him a nudge. "I'm surprised she could remember Annabelle's name, let alone write it down." Reese turned to me and took a small step away from Richard. "Did you see her argue with anyone else tonight?"

"My assistant, Kate, mentioned that Mrs. Pierce had an issue with the sushi chefs, but I don't think it was serious."

"Why all the interest in the hit list?" Richard rested a hand on the detective's arm and lowered his voice. "Do you suspect foul play?"

"Just getting all the information." Reese returned Mrs. Pierce's notebook to the plastic evidence bag and backed away from us. "Excuse me for a second."

"He seems nice." Richard's eyes followed the detective. "Don't you think, Annabelle?"

"Richard." I grabbed him by the shoulders. "He's a cop."

"I know."

"Nice or not, I get the feeling he considers us suspects."

"Why would he even be thinking this is anything but an accident?" Richard ran a hand through his choppy bangs and they fell back into place. "The woman was clearly drunk and took a spill down the stairs. End of story."

"Not exactly." Kate walked up and motioned for us to follow her away from the group of nearby police officers. When we moved out of earshot, she lowered her voice to a whisper. "They think it may not have been an accident."

"How do you know?" Richard's face drained of color, despite all the hours he'd put in at the tanning salon.

"Do you see that cute uniformed officer?"

Richard stared over my shoulder. "Mr. Biceps?"

"Wait." I held up my hands. "Let me guess where this story is going."

"We were having a nice little chat until another officer pulled him away." Kate kept her voice low. "I overheard them talking about an odd rash that the doctors who tried to revive her found. The ME will most likely do a tox screening."

"The ME?"

"Medical Examiner, Annabelle," Kate sounded exasperated. "The guy with the body now. Get with the program."

"They think a rash killed her?" Richard made a face. "What a horrible way to go."

I groaned. Kate wasn't always the most reliable source of information. Especially if it came from a man.

"She didn't die from a rash." Kate looked at us like we were idiots. "You guys aren't that brightest balls in the box, are you?

"Does she mean brightest bulbs?" Richard asked me out of the corner of his mouth.

Kate ignored him. "The rash apparently would've been caused by a medication overdose."

"So she overdosed on Valium or something." Richard shrugged his shoulders. "Not surprising in this crowd."

"That's not what the police are saying." Kate shifted her gaze from Richard to me. "They're saying this might have been intentional."

"Murder?" Richard went completely white and leaned back against the wall, his hand clasped against his heart.

"Murder." Kate nodded vigorously. "Poison."

Richard gave a tiny gasp before going limp and sliding down to the floor.

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All content ©2005-09 by Laura Durham.

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