PERILS AND LACE
A murderer outwitting a quirky flapper ghost? Seams unlikely!
Budding retro fashion designer and entrepreneur Amanda Tucker is thrilled about making costumes for Winter Garden High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But when the play’s director Sandra Kelly is poisoned, Amanda realizes there’s a murderer in their midst. She’s determined to keep herself and the students safe, so when her ghostly fashionista friend Max suggests they investigate, Amanda rolls up her sleeves and prepares to follow the deadly pattern…
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Reese Cranston had been promoted to detective for his involvement in solving the murder of Mark Tinsley. I didn’t know about Connie, but I was happy to see a familiar face.
His blue eyes deepening his crow’s feet when he smiled, Detective Cranston greeted us warmly. “Ladies, nice to see you again. Sorry it’s under similar circumstances to the last time I saw you.”
“See?” Max gave me a smug nod. “I knew Sandra Kelly had been murdered.”
“We don’t know that.” I hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Max had a way of making me discombobulated.
Cranston inclined his head. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”
Looking from Cranston to me and back again, Connie asked, “Could Amanda be there too? I’m still shaken up from finding Sandy last night.”
“That’s fine. This is an interview, not an interrogation.”
I could see that Cranston was using what I’d describe as Chris Voss’s “late-night FM DJ voice.” Was he merely trying to reassure Connie? Or did he think she might be guilty of something?
“Let me put a note on my door telling customers I’ll be back in—” She spread her hands. “—fifteen minutes?”
He nodded. “That should work.”
“I’ll do the same,” I said. “We can meet in my atelier. Detective Cranston, would you like some coffee or tea?”
The three of us went into the atelier and sat at the workroom table. Connie and I sat on one side, and Cranston sat on the other. He removed a notebook and pen from his jacket pocket.
Max sprawled out in the center of the table, and Jazzy jumped up to lie beside her, rolling over first one way and then the other.
“What’s up with the cat?” Cranston asked.
“She doesn’t want to miss anything.” I picked up Jazzy but glared at Max. “She needs to find a more appropriate place from which to eavesdrop.”
“Oh, pooh,” Max said. “You’re no fun.” But she moved onto one of the sewing machine chairs near the table.
After I placed Jazzy on the floor, the princess joined Max on the chair. When I returned to my seat, Cranston was addressing Connie.
“Tell me what led to your being at Sandra Kelly’s home last night.”
“Amanda called to let me know that Sandy hadn’t shown up for play rehearsal, and she didn’t know what to do,” Connie said. “Amanda has only been involved with the play for the past few days—she didn’t know who else was in charge or any of the particulars. Since my daughter Marielle is in the play, she called to ask my advice.”
“Amanda called to see what she should do?” He scribbled as he asked her to clarify.
“Connie is more familiar with Winter Garden High than I am,” I said. “And I didn’t want any of the other parents or volunteers there to think—well, know—that I didn’t feel comfortable proceeding without Ms. Kelly’s guidance.”
“Is he raking us over the coals?” Max demanded. “Because I feel like we’re being raked.”
I managed to both avoid looking at Max and answering her question. I felt proud of myself. But I did also feel a little heat off those coals myself. What was Cranston getting at?
“When Amanda called, I was getting ready to leave here and head toward the school, so I offered to go by Sandy’s house and check on her,” Connie said. “When I got there, I saw Sandy’s car in the driveway. I went to the door and knocked, but she didn’t answer. Concerned, I turned the doorknob. It was unlocked.”
“And did you go inside then?” Cranston asked.
“Not right away.” Connie glanced at me, and I tried to look reassuring. I’m not sure whether I did or not, but she went on. “My intention was to open the door and call out to Sandy, but when I opened the door, I saw her lying on the living room floor.”
“What did you do at that point?” he asked.
“I called her name. She didn’t respond, so I ran inside.” Connie placed a hand on her chest. “I bent down and checked to see if Sandy had a pulse. I couldn’t find one—I hoped so much that it was merely my inexperience and that Sandy would be fine—so I called 911.”
“Do you recall the instructions you were given during the 911 call?”
“I don’t know. It’s all pretty much a blur. The operator asked me to stay on the line, and she asked me questions. She wanted to know if Sandy was breathing, and I said I didn’t know.” Shaking her head, Connie said, “I don’t know what all she said. It’s recorded, isn’t it?”
“Of course.” Again, with the late-night FM DJ voice. “I just wanted to see what you could remember. Did you see anyone who might’ve been leaving the area? Any cars speeding away?”
“No. But I was focused on Sandy at the time. I only wanted to get her some help. I told all of this to the officers last night, Detective Cranston. That’s all I know.” She squeezed my hand. “I could tell when I saw Sandy up close that she was dead—I mean, I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew. Her eyes were…” She bowed her head, and her shoulders shook as she sobbed.
I hopped up to get Connie a tissue, and Max moved over behind Connie’s chair. She couldn’t physically comfort the woman, but she was offering her emotional support. I came back to the table with a box of tissues, placed the tissues in front of Connie, and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. My look at Detective Cranston implored him to go and leave Connie in peace. He didn’t heed it.
“I’m sorry for making you go over all these minute details again, but I really need to know everything. Anything you can offer might help,” he said. “Were there signs of a struggle inside the house?”
“N-no.” Connie dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “At least, there weren’t there in the living room—that’s the only room I went into.”
“Signs of a struggle?” I asked. “Are you saying Sandra Kelly was murdered?”
“That appears to be the case.” He spread his hands. “The medical examiner notified us that the body showed indications of having been poisoned. He’s running the tox screens today.” He leaned forward. “I’m asking you both to keep this in the strictest of confidences, at least, until we make an arrest. Can you imagine how panicked the Winter Garden community would be if they believed their children were attending school with a murderer in their midst?”
Gasping, Connie asked, “You believe Sandy was murdered by someone at the school?”
“Most murder victims are killed by someone known to them,” Cranston said. “We can’t rule out the fact that Ms. Kelly’s killer is affiliated with the school where she taught.”