Liv Montgomery slapped at her cheek. “Ugh. This might be my least favorite thing about summer in Celebration Bay.”
“Told you to spray on some deet,” her assistant, Ted Driscoll, told her. “Not to brag, but in July upstate New York is the capital of biting bugs. The mosquitoes here are so large—”
“I get it,” Liv said. “Please hand me that bug spray.” She traded him her clipboard for the spray.
“And it only gets worse around sunset.”
“Great.” Liv spritzed the vile-smelling spray on her hands and patted it on her face. She handed it back to Ted, who slipped it in his pocket. “What about later, when it’s dark? Or will we all be eaten alive while we watch the Battle of the Bay reenactment and fireworks?”
Ted shrugged. “Hopefully this will be the last of them. The county sprayed already. That got most of them, and we have volunteers whose job is to eliminate any standing water and to keep the lakeshore cleared so people can enjoy the reenactment without being constantly assaulted by the little bloodsuckers.
“They probably disturbed the last hangers-on while clearing out this underbrush.” He motioned to the edge of a thick wooded area where teenagers from the local community center were hauling out underbrush.
“Do they get paid to do that?” Liv asked.
“No, they’re all volunteers. Henry gives a contribution to the teen program. And they clear out debris for the reenactment and become lunch for the mosquitoes they stir up.”
The two of them surveyed the wide lawn of Henry Gallantine’s mansion, home to the Revolutionary War patriot as well as the current Henry Gallantine.
The original Henry had been hung as a traitor, though he was exonerated years later. The imaginative residents of Celebration Bay, New York, had gleefully appropriated the ghoulish story for its Fourth of July celebrations.
Liv had looked up the Battle of the Bay when she’d taken over as event coordinator for the quaint destination town. The closest battle she’d found was the Battle of Valcour Island, which had taken place farther north and hadn’t involved any cannonading of British ships.
But heck, what was a little reinvention with your reenactments when it attracted tourists from all over the Eastern Seaboard?
Liv slapped at her face again and scratched her ankle with her other foot.
“You must have missed a place . . . or two.” Ted smiled complacently, his blue eyes twinkling. He was wearing a tasteful red, white, and blue plaid sports shirt, navy slacks, and a lot of bug spray.
Ted loved his holidays. The whole town loved their holidays. Even Liv loved their holidays, but she hadn’t quite perfected the art of theme dressing.
As a Manhattan event planner, Liv had worn basic black with four-inch heels; here she opted for Topsiders in fall and spring, snow boots in winter, and colorful flats in the summer. Though today she was wearing a pair of running shoes. Not that she thought she’d get any running in today or at all until the Fourth of July weekend was over.
Until then she would be running errands, running resistance, and running her committee heads crazy with last-minute checks and double checks.
She had dressed down in lightweight slacks and a boat-neck T-shirt and pulled her hair—which Dolly Hunnicutt, the local baker, had once compared to the color of burnt sugar—back into a high ponytail, finished in a messy bun.
Not exactly a corporate look, but then neither was she—not anymore. Her desperate housewives, mad men, and overspent fathers of the bride had been replaced by bakers, quilters, nurserymen, and farmers, who had their moments of less-than-stellar behavior but who were, for the most part, great neighbors and friends.
She was still getting used to the theme attire that everyone seemed to favor. Today, the only thing about her that remotely resembled red, white, and blue were her eyes, which were blue and bloodshot from lack of sleep.
“There’s old Jacob Rundle coming this way,” Ted said. “Ignore his charming manners. He’s been gardener and dogsbody for Henry Gallantine forever. He’s not the friendliest man in town, but then, neither is Henry.”
“But Henry lets the town use his property for the reenactment.”
“Just because he’s a crank and a recluse doesn’t mean he isn’t a good citizen. Plus he leaves town for the whole summer as soon as it’s over so he won’t be bothered by the tourists.”
“I just met him the one or two times when we were confirming the event. He was perfectly charming.”
“One-on-one with a beautiful woman.”
“Why thank you, Ted. Are you saying that Henry is a womanizer?”
“Just the opposite. Women fall over themselves when he’s around. Another reason he keeps to himself. He was a child star in Hollywood. Still a good-looking guy, keeps fit and well groomed.”
This from a man who had to be in his sixties—though Ted had never admitted to any age—and looked pretty darn good himself.
“He has a gym and a lap pool in the house. The only people invited in are his hairstylist and personal trainer, who always come to him.”
“In case of making a comeback?”
“Don’t laugh. I think, for Henry, hope springs eternal.”
“Anything I would have seen him in?”
“Only if you watch reruns of fifties movies or television.”
Liv hardly had time for television of any decade.
While they were standing there, a slightly stooped, raw-boned man ambled toward them. He was wearing khaki pants and an old button-up shirt. Stringy hair was topped by a gimme hat bearing the logo of a local machine shop. Obviously the gardener and not the dapper Henry Gallantine.
“Ted,” he said in a gravelly voice. “Ma’am.” He touched the bill of his hat but didn’t take it off. Which was just as well; his hair looked like it might not have been washed in a long time.
“This is Liv Montgomery, the new event coordinator,” Ted said. “Liv, Jacob Rundle.”
“How do you do, Mr. Rundle.” Liv didn’t offer her hand, since he was holding a nasty-looking pair of secateurs.
“Heard someone took Janine Tudor’s job.”
Ted stifled a grin. Liv gritted her teeth. She hadn’t taken Janine’s job. Janine had been a volunteer and not a very efficient one. The town council saw the need for hiring a professional, and Liv had applied for the job. But after nearly a year, Liv had stopped trying to explain this to people. She just smiled back at the gardener.
“How’s it going?” Ted asked.
“Looks like you’ve got a good crew.”
“Dang kids. That pastor over at the Presbyterian church got Mr. G to let them take over the cleanup. Half of them don’t have an ounce of sense. Gotta tell them every dang thing. Faster to do it myself.”
He looked around at the workers. Most of them, teenagers from the community center, carried cut branches and brush and leaf clippings out to a line of big barrels.
“You there, what the heck are you doing with those?”
The teenager, who had been carrying an armload of branches, stopped. Looked warily at Rundle, saw Liv and Ted.
“Hiya, Miss Montgomery.” He raised his hand in greeting, dropping half his load of weeds. “How’s Whiskey?”
Liv recognized the young man who’d entertained her Westie terrier, Whiskey, while she’d attended the Christmas Messiah sing-along. Leo was “a gentle soul,” according to Pastor Schorr. Gentle and slow, though no one had mentioned that he had any neurological problem. “He’s fine, but he’s staying with Miss Ida and Miss Edna today.”
“I like him.”
“He likes you, too.”
Rundle raised his fist. “What’s the matter with your brains, boy? Look what’cha done. Now stop jawing and pick all that stuff up. And take it over to the blue barrel. Blue. You know what color blue is?”
Leo nodded and quickly knelt down to gather up the weeds again. Liv was about to go help when Roseanne Waterbury, another teenager who sometimes volunteered at the center, ran over and began to help Leo collect his bundle.
Rundle turned back to Liv and Ted. “Boy don’t have good sense.” He pointed to his temple.
“Well,” Ted said. “We won’t keep you; just came down so I could show Liv the schematic of the battle.”
Rundle nodded slowly. “Seen the ghost last night.”
“Did you?” Ted said. “That makes four sightings so far.”
“’Cause he ain’t happy.”
Liv narrowed her eyes. Was he playing a part? Who actually played the ghost each year was a well-kept secret, which was nearly an impossibility in Celebration Bay. And her assistant, who was Gossip Central, had sworn for months that he didn’t know, not that she believed him. Ted knew all the gossip, but he also knew how to keep a secret.
Liv figured the ghost had to be the current house occupant, Henry Gallantine. After all, it was his ancestor who’d given the signal. It was so obvious, but it had taken months to get anyone to let her in on the secret.
“Why isn’t he happy?” Liv asked. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Leo stop gathering up his branches and stare at the gardener.
“Things going on.”
For the first time, Ted actually looked concerned. “What kind of things?”
“Bad things. People comin’ round asking questions. He was wandering down by the lake. Looking for something. The treasure maybe.” Rundle shot an ominous look at Roseanne and Leo.
Leo’s eyes rounded and more twigs and leaves fell to the ground.
Roseanne frowned at the gardener. Today her cinnamon-colored hair was stuck under her cap, and she was wearing a long-sleeve shirt to ward off the deer ticks. “Don’t pay any attention to those stories about ghosts, Leo. It’s just somebody dressed up in a costume for the reenactment. Like at Halloween.”
“He was looking for the treasure,” Rundle said, taking, Liv thought, a malicious pleasure in scaring the boy.
Roseanne stood up. “If he was looking for the treasure, he wasn’t the ghost, because the ghost would already know where it was. Only there is no ghost. Come on, Leo, let’s get this trash thrown out.” She pulled Leo to his feet and hurried him away.
“Girl don’t know nothing.” Rundle’s mouth curved into a smile that Liv wished she hadn’t seen. There was nothing friendly about it. “Nothing at all.”
“Let me guess, gold stolen from the British ships?” Liv said.
“Or the document. It weren’t never found,” Rundle said mysteriously. “The blue barrel! Dang kids.” He jogged off toward Roseanne and Leo.
“Document?” Liv asked, keeping an eye on Rundle. Roseanne seemed to have things under control, but Liv didn’t like the way the gardener treated the volunteers. Someone should ask Pastor Schorr if he was aware of how Rundle was acting.
Ted was looking, too, and he said distractedly, “Some people persist in the belief that there’s a chest of gold; others are positive there’s a secret document that either truly exonerates Henry and names the real traitor, or proves he really did the dastardly deed they claim he did.”
Rundle stood over Leo and Roseanne while they dumped their trash, then, after a few more orders, he walked away.
“Which was warning the British about the attack?” Liv asked as she watched Rundle disappear around the far side of the house. “Are you sure this is a good environment for the community center kids?”
“He’s gruff but not usually this mean with the kids. He just doesn’t seem to like Leo. Had a little dustup last month when Leo was delivering some groceries. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have the kids here with only Rundle to oversee their work. I think I’ll give Phillip Schorr a call when we get back to the office.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Anyway, rumors have always circulated about treasures and secret documents.” He broke into a grin. “Over the years the truth, or what they thought was the truth, got mixed up with speculation and imagination. Gallantine was hanged as a traitor and later exonerated, but it wasn’t about gold. Or a battle. It was worse. He informed on a group of patriots planning a proclamation against King George.”
“The Declaration of Independence?”
Ted shrugged. “Let’s just say it might have turned into the Declaration of Independence if any of them had lived to complete it. But they were slaughtered on their way to meet with other revolutionaries while they were secretly bivouacked with an army patrol.”
“Ugh. I think I prefer the parade. Let’s do this and get back to the office.” Liv took the clipboard that held the map of the reenactment.
She turned so she was facing the river. “So the bleachers will be behind us over there,” she said, pointing to a flat piece of lawn between her and the street. “And the ships . . .”
Out on the lake, the wooden depictions of the British ships floated on the water. They weren’t actual ships at all but mock-ups attached permanently to docks, from which the fireworks would be discharged.
“This is perfect,” Liv said. The trees that lined each side of the property were thick enough to hide the boathouse, the garage, and the neighboring houses, and made the tableau on the water look just like a stage set. “We’re lucky Henry Gallantine is so amenable to letting us use his property.”
Ted nodded. “We’ve been holding it here in one form or another for the last ten years. There was never a question of holding it anywhere else.”
“I can definitely see why.” Liv turned to the right and peered up the façade of the old stone house. It looked more like a gothic castle to Liv, with a turret on one side and a huge chimney on the other. Various sections were stacked like building blocks made of stone, until the last one rose in a peak toward the sky. Dark windows gave it a sinister feel even in the daylight.
“Where does Henry, the ghost, stand to give the signal?” Liv asked.
Ted pointed about a third of the way up the three-story mansion, where a wide flat roof was surrounded by a stone parapet. “Henry G stands facing the crowd and flashes the signal with a lantern. Well, to be accurate, with a powerful LED lamp that can be shuttered and opened so he can ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ it in style.”
“I think that was Paul Revere.”
“Whatever works. Ours is more elaborate; a virtual light show of ‘the British are coming.’”
“And this is already rehearsed?”
“For years. Rufus Cobb and Roscoe Jackson have been in charge of the patriots for at least a decade. Rufus is the left flank and Roscoe the right. They have their teams rehearsed and ready to go by the middle of June.
“Daniel Haynes, scion of General Delmont Haynes, who was a Revolutionary War hero, no question, leads the attack on horseback, just like he did at the Battle of Ticonderoga.”
“Which you neatly appropriated for the Battle of the Bay.”
Ted grinned. “If it works . . .” He shrugged. “Actually they should be showing up soon. Tonight’s dress rehearsal.”
“Are you participating?”
“God no. I’ll be sitting in the bleachers with a hot dog and a root beer.”
“And which unfortunate souls have to play the British?”
“Well, we don’t have any British. We used to when we first started doing the reenactment. But after a few drinks people forgot it was just playacting and the punches started flying. That’s when we came up with the idea of the ships.”
“Good thinking. Seriously, is it safe? There’s no chance of the ghost falling over the parapet?”
“Relax. They all can do this in their sleep. You have to earn your place in this patriot army. And the fireworks are handled by the same company that we’ve hired for the last five years. You worry too much.”
“It’s my job. Anyway, I don’t worry exactly, I just try to make sure all my bases are covered.”
Though Liv had to admit, she’d pretty much let Ted oversee the reenactment without her while she prepared for the parade and made the final security arrangements for the weekend. They were expecting record crowds, and her new security team would be out in full force.
A.K. Pierce, the head of Bayside Security, ran a tight-but-friendly ship. He’d hired extra personnel to cover the grounds and waterfront for the fireworks and would continue to supplement the police during the rest of the weekend. EMTs and ambulances were in position.
As for the safety of the fireworks, they were professionally rigged and set off behind the “British” ships moored out in the lake and couldn’t be reached except by boat. Ted assured her that none of the pieces would come near to falling on anyone’s head.
Liv had double-checked with the fire department anyway.
The entire event was ready to go.
The only thing, or rather person, who was missing was Chaz Bristow, the editor of the local paper, an avid fisherman who took out fishing parties to supplement his journalistic income.
He’d left town without warning right in the middle of his busiest fishing season. Not to mention the middle of the town’s tourist season. So instead of theClarion publishing features and schedules of events, Liv had to print posters to display in the windows of restaurants and stores, and flyers to be handed out by volunteers at information booths at each corner of the village green.
Other than that, Liv didn’t miss him, exactly. He was obnoxious and lazy. He had the attitude and looks of a landlocked surfer dude: muscular, blond, really handsome—with a big attitude that needed some serious adjustment.
He could be annoying as all get out, but in spite of his outward laid-back persona, he still had the mind of the investigative reporter he’d once been in Los Angeles. Unfortunately he was very reluctant to get involved in any of the recent wrongdoings in Celebration Bay.
Maybe she did kind of miss him.
“Huh? Oh yeah. No, wait. Are those two men in uniform Rufus and Roscoe?”
“In the flesh.”
The two council members strode toward Liv and Ted. They had to be sweltering in the top boots and breeches and the woolen coats of the American patriots. Each was wearing a black hat and had a powder horn slung across his chest. Roscoe also wore a heavy cape that he’d thrown behind one shoulder and held a musket that ended with a serious-looking bayonet. Rufus held a long gun that was almost as tall as he was.
“You two look great,” Liv said enthusiastically, though she couldn’t stop herself from casting a dubious look at their weapons. “Is that bayonet real?”
“Absolutely,” said Rufus, brandishing the musket over his head. “But we’re trained to use them safely.”
“Good,” Liv said, not entirely convinced.
Rufus chewed on his mustache. “It used to be that the first line actually shot.”
“With real bullets?” Liv asked, thanking her lucky stars there would be no real shooting that night.
“Not anymore,” Ted assured her.
“They didn’t use bullets in the Revolutionary War,” Roscoe said, “but powder and ball. . . . You see, you keep the powder in this horn, and when you’re ready to load, you pour the powder into the . . .”
“You had to ask,” Ted said under his breath. “Ah, here comes Daniel Haynes. I wanted Liv to meet him before tomorrow.”
Roscoe looked a little disappointed.
“But some other time I would love to learn how to load a musket,” Liv said, and turned to wait for Daniel Haynes to reach them.
He looked like a military hero, tall and lean, with longish dark hair graying at the temples and a neatly trimmed goatee streaked with white. Liv knew he was a local lawyer, though she’d never met him.
His uniform was a cut above the others, with tan breeches and shiny black boots. He wore one of those military hats whose shape always reminded Liv of a taco. He also wore a sword at his side rather than carrying a musket, though he might have one of those, too.
Ted made the introductions. Liv and the “general” shook hands. Daniel Haynes had a deep voice that Liv could imagine mesmerizing a courtroom—or leading an army of patriots. But he seemed distracted. Probably concentrating on getting into the part.
“Have you seen Rundle?” he asked. “He was giving the driver from the stables a hard time about where to park the horse trailer. We park it in the same place every year. And every year he complains. I don’t know why Henry keeps him on. Oh, there he is. I must get this cleared up now. So nice to meet you, Ms. Montgomery. Gentlemen.” He touched his hat and strode across the lawn toward the gardener.
“And we should be getting back, too,” Ted said. “Have a good rehearsal.” He took Liv’s elbow and steered her toward one of the gates in the wrought-iron fence that fronted the mansion.
Once on the sidewalk, he slowed down. “Sorry, but if we didn’t get out of there, Roscoe would have finished his lengthy explanation of musket loading. Trust me, now is not the time.”
Liv laughed. “They take this so seriously.”
“That they do.”
They both looked back at the lawn. Roscoe and Rufus had split up and were walking to their opening positions, but Daniel Haynes and the gardener were standing toe to toe and almost nose to nose.
“Do you think we should go referee?” Liv asked. “After all, I am the coordinator.”
Ted grabbed her elbow again. “Absolutely not. This happens every year. Rundle complains about the horse’s hooves tearing up the lawn, about the tire tracks the trailer leaves. He rants and raves.
“And Daniel gets his way—every year. Nothing ever changes. Nothing much can go wrong.” He grinned. “But the parade tomorrow. Now, that’s a nightmare.”
Out on the street, food and souvenir vendors were already setting up their vans and trucks. The lighting truck that was responsible for all the special effects until the fireworks took over was cordoned off by a barrier of orange sawhorses.
Liv and Ted walked back toward town down streets with houses decorated for Independence Day. The whole town had been festooned in red, white, and blue since the day after the strawberry festival.
The one-day festival had been a piece of cake—literally—and lots of fun. The day began with the Miss Strawberry pageant, a milder and pinker version of the beauty pageants that were shown on television. Afterward, there was strawberry ice cream, cakes, pies, shortcake, pancakes, Belgian waffles, jams, syrups, and ices. And when you tired of eating, there were strawberry-themed things to buy: pot holders, aprons, hats, and jewelry.
But on the day after the Strawberry Fest, all the stores around the square pulled the pink from their windows and changed over to red, white, and blue. And the town became the epitome of the American Way.
A Stitch in Time displayed freedom quilts, needlepoint flags, and eagle pillows. Bay-Berry Candles was all decked out in vanilla, cherry, and blueberry candles. The Bookworm New and Used Books displayed histories of the revolutionary period for all ages, from recent biographies for adults to classics for children, like Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
The tables outside the Apple of My Eye Bakery were covered by red-checked tablecloths topped by a centerpiece of carnations and little American flags.
The square was filled with people. School had been out for several weeks, and families had poured into the area, staying at the local inn or the several bed-and-breakfasts in town. Others made day trips from nearby vacation spots.
The weather was humid but not too hot and, if it weren’t for the mosquitoes, life would be perfect. Though Liv really couldn’t complain. She spent most of her days and nights inside working.
Ted and Liv waved to locals and smiled at visitors as they walked along the east side of the village green. In front of Town Hall, a construction crew was building the grandstand where the parade would pass, and where the floats would stop long enough to be judged: Best All-Around, Most Patriotic, Most Colorful, Most Inventive.
Everyone won something.
The front door of Town Hall was draped in bunting of stars and stripes. As they climbed the steps, they met Mayor Worley coming down.
Gilbert Worley had been mayor for three terms. He was short, fat, and friendly—especially in an election year—with graying brilliantined hair and a gold tooth that flashed when he smiled, which he did a lot—especially in an election year.
Unfortunately it wasn’t an election year, and the mayor was frowning.
“Afternoon, Gilbert,” Ted said
“Ted, Liv, glad I caught you.” He glanced past them as if he was looking for someone else.
He pursed his lips and stretched his neck, but since he was wearing a plaid shirt unbuttoned at the top, it couldn’t be that his collar was too tight. But he was definitely on edge.
“It seems we have more than one ghost this year, and the latest one is causing trouble.”
“What? More than the usual pranks?” Ted asked. “We have some fake ghost sightings every year,” he told Liv.
“This wasn’t a prank. Evidently someone broke into Gallantine House last night.”
“Mr. Rundle didn’t mention it when we saw him this morning,” Liv said.
The mayor shot her an impatient look. “It was the housekeeper who reported it. She has rooms on the first floor. She called Bill Gunnison and he went over there. He didn’t find any evidence of a break-in, but Hildy swears things were missing. Some eggs or something.”
“Eggs?” Liv asked a bit incredulously. Her neighbors liked a good tale and a bit of exaggeration, but to call the sheriff over eggs?
“Maybe the ghost was hungry,” Ted said with a perfectly straight face.
“Hildy thinks it was the kids who were helping clear out the underbrush. But Rundle says he saw the ghost running from the house.”
Ted snorted. “You know you can’t place any dependence on anything Jacob Rundle says. If he’s not drunk, he’s just plain ornery. He told us he saw the ghost down by the lake.”
“It’s a bunch of hooey, but Hildy’s on her way over here to complain about the sheriff not taking her seriously. Awful woman.”
“And you have urgent business elsewhere?” Ted asked.
“Yes. Oh Lord, here she comes now.” The mayor practically jumped to the sidewalk and took off down the street in the opposite direction.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him move so fast,” Liv said as she watched the mayor sprint around the corner.
“We should have joined him. And we don’t even have the intrepid Westie to warn her off. Tomorrow you bring Whiskey to work.” He turned and smiled. “Hildy. What a pleasant surprise.”
“Well, I never.” Hildy Ingersoll was several inches taller than Liv, at least five nine or ten, built along Valkyrie lines, with gray hair tied back so tightly that Liv was surprised the woman’s face moved at all. She was dressed in a gray cotton dress and orthopedic shoes. She held a black purse clutched tightly in the crook of her elbow.
She took a moment to suck in several quick breaths. “Government officials drinking on the job. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I have a good mind to report you to Mayor Worley, but don’t think I didn’t see him running off down the street.”
“He had to see to some urgent business.”
“And you heard Ted saying I should bring Whiskey to work,” Liv added.
Hildy shook with indignation and turned to Ted. “That’s what happens when you start bringing sinners from the big city into town. We’ll all be going to hell in a handbasket before you know it.” She glared at Liv. “You mark my words.”
Ted didn’t make a move to explain.
“Whiskey is my Westie terrier,” Liv explained. “He’s a sweetheart. We, of course, would never drink on the job.”
Hildy sputtered, not at all mollified. “Stupid, heathen name to give to a poor, defenseless animal.”
Liv had to force herself not to roll her eyes. Sometimes she wished she’d named her dog Snowball instead of Whiskey. But in Manhattan, no one blinked at the name. It was a fine Scottish dog name and a fine Scottish liquor.
“What brings you here?” Ted asked. “I heard about the break-in last night. There’s been no more trouble, has there?”
“Nothing but.” Hildy pulled her purse closer, as if she thought Liv might snatch it and run. “It’s those kids. Have to keep an eye on them every second or they’d rob Mr. G blind. I told him. I said, ‘Mr. G, those kids will rob you blind while you’re not looking.’
“But did he listen? No, he did not. And now look what’s happened.”
“What has happened?” Ted asked innocently.
“One of them Fabergé eggs Mr. G thinks are so pretty is gone. Keeps a whole row of them on the parlor mantel. They were all there when I was cleaning the other day. Now one of them’s gone.” She shook her head. “Mr. G took great store in those eggs. If you ask me, they may cost a lot, but they’re just plain gaudy. Them kids stole one of ’em right off the mantel.”
Liv and Ted exchanged looks. Eggs. Of the Fabergé variety.
“Are you sure it was the kids?” Ted asked. “It doesn’t sound like something they would take. Maybe it was the ghost.”
For the first time Hildy hesitated. “Why would any ghost want one of them eggs?”
Ted shrugged, looking serious. “I don’t know, but Jacob Rundle told us he saw the ghost down by the lake looking for . . . something.”
Hildy frowned, chewed on the inside of her cheek as she thought. “Can’t believe anything that Jacob Rundle tells you. Half drunk most of the time. Probably got the DTs or something. Got them pink elephants mixed up with the ghost. Don’t know why Mr. G lets him stay on.
“It weren’t no ghost. I caught two of them kids red-handed in the larder yesterday. Ran off with two of the pies I was saving for the bake sale. They’ve been stealing stuff for I don’t know how long, but Mr. G, he just let’s them keep coming. Especially that Leo. The two of them act like a couple of children, all the time playacting. It ain’t healthy.”
“Can we help you, Hildy?” Ted asked.
“You can’t. I came to see the mayor to tell him that Bill Gunnison’s next to useless, but he goes running off. And the two of you standing here doing nothing. Not even five o’clock and already there’s nobody working.”
Liv forced herself not to tell Hildy Ingersoll just how hard they worked. That event coordinating wasn’t a nine-to-five, five-day-a-week job, but weekdays, weekends, all hours.
“Would you like to leave him a note?” Ted asked.
“I. Would. Not. I would like our elected officials to do the work our tax dollars pay them to do. And you can tell Gilbert Worley I’ll remember that in the next election. And it weren’t no ghost,” she repeated, only this time she didn’t seem too sure of herself. “This is just the beginning, you mark my words.” Then with a sharp dip of her chin, she turned and stormed off the way she had come.
“Shades of Mrs. Danvers,” Liv said.
Ted chuckled, and they went inside.
The telephone was blinking in the Events Office, and Ted sat down at his desk to listen to the messages. Liv put her bag on the floor and perched on the edge of his desk to listen.
Nothing seemed urgent, although there was a call from Bill that asked Ted to call him at his convenience.
“Tell me more about the ghost-sighting situation.”
Ted leaned back in his chair and stretched his hands behind his head. “Let’s see. Every year between the Strawberry Fest and the Fourth of July, people start seeing the ghost of Old Henry Gallantine. Some of the sightings are in the eye of the beholder—figments of over-imagination or too much hooch on a Friday night. Some are kids playing pranks. Harmless, and makes the ‘real’”—he made air quotes with his fingers—“sightings all the more thrilling.” He shrugged.
“The real ghost?”
“The official ghost,” Ted amended.
“Then there are others that are unaccounted for.”
He reached just the right tone to make goose bumps break out on her arms. Probably the air-conditioning.
“So, does Jacob really believe in the ghost?” Liv asked a bit incredulously. Her neighbors liked a good tale and a bit of exaggeration. And Ted was the master of drawing out a story.
“Well, I’m guessing he was just trying to scare Leo and the other kids. But there are people who do believe. And there are others who would take advantage of them.”
“I take it that the current Henry Gallantine doesn’t dress up in a sheet and run into town scaring people.”
Ted shook his head. “Cuts out as soon as the signal is given and before the crowd disperses.”
“Does every generation of Gallantines name someone Henry?”
“I haven’t really looked into it, but my guess is that each had at least one, sometimes more than one. Don’t forget he was exonerated, and he was—before and after the scandal—a hero.”
“And does the current Henry have any offspring?”
“None that we know of. An old bachelor, though as to offspring . . .” Ted shrugged. “The Gallantines have always been a prolific bunch. Another trait they evidently inherited from the original Henry, who was the welcomed guest of many ladies up and down the thirteen colonies.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Probably saw it as his patriotic duty,” Ted said, fighting to keep a straight face. “Doing his bit to add to a growing country, and he probably convinced the ladies it was their duty, too.”
“That’s a come-on I haven’t heard before.” Not that Liv had been hearing any come-ons lately. She was a dedicated workaholic, even in idyllic Celebration Bay. She did get a little flutter whenever A.K. Pierce walked into her office, but since she’d hired him and she never, with a capital N, mixed business with pleasure, that was out of the question.
Her mind took a stupid turn toward Chaz Bristow before her good sense could stop it. But that would go nowhere. And really, did she have the energy or the patience to deal with the newspaper editor’s slovenly, complacent, lazy, unhelpful, snarky, annoying self?
But there was that smile. And that kiss at Christmas.
And the fact that he was missing in action. He’d left town sometime in the spring and hadn’t returned. The town had been without a local paper or a fishing guide ever since, and as much as she complained about the snail’s pace of getting things scheduled in the newspaper, it was worse not having it at all. She had no idea where he was and when or if he was coming back. If anybody knew where he was and why, they weren’t telling . . . her at least.
“So,” she said, drawing her mind back from that treacherous subject. “We have the reclusive Mr. G, the angry, avenging Hildy, and the rascally Jacob Rundle. Why on earth would people like that put up with hundreds of strangers on the grounds, plus a good fifty musket-toting reenactors, and someone on the roof wielding a lantern, not to mention all the fireworks?”
Ted gave her his driest look.
“Wait. I know. It’s their patriotic duty.”
• • •
It was six o’clock before they finally closed up for the day. Liv had learned no more about who the “official” ghost was. It was one of the best-kept secrets in Celebration Bay, where normally secrets made the rounds faster than the Indy 500.
Ted didn’t seem to be worried about the extra ghost sightings, so Liv let it go.
It was a warm but not uncomfortable evening, and she cut across the park on her way to her home, a delightful little carriage house behind her landladies’ big Victorian, several blocks from the center of town. Miss Ida and Miss Edna Zimmerman were retired schoolteachers, and they had lived their entire lives in their childhood home. Rumor had it that both their fiancés had died in the war—which war was rather vague—but Liv guessed the Korean one. Neither had ever married.
They were excellent dog sitters and loved Whiskey to the point of spoiling him. But tonight was their potluck night at the Veteran’s Hall, so Liv knew they would have left Whiskey in the carriage house, fed, pampered, and sleeping off a day of fun.
Liv was looking forward to a little sleep herself. Right after dinner. And for once the fridge was semi-stocked. Thanks to the 4-H’s July kickoff barbecue, there were leftover spare ribs, potato salad, and rhubarb pie in her fridge, as well as a bottle of crisp, chilled pinot grigio, not from 4-H, but from the local wine store.
As soon as Liv opened the front door, a white whirlwind shot past her, ran a maniacal circle around her feet, and raced back inside.
“Good to see you, too,” Liv said, and followed the excited Westie inside.
Whiskey was sitting by his bowl when Liv entered the kitchen. There was fresh water and a cleanly licked food bowl.
“Nice try,” Liv said. “I’m going to have to change your name to Roly-Poly if we don’t start getting more exercise.” It was still early, but Liv had no desire to drag on jogging clothes and spend the remaining daylight pounding the pavement.
She yawned. “You get a reprieve tonight. But Saturday morning—no, Sunday morning, right after church—you and I are going for a run.”
Whiskey’s ears flipped up to alert. Muzzle down, tail up, and ready for flight.
Liv laughed. “Not tonight. Tonight I put my feet up.” She reached into the fridge for the platter of ribs.
• • •
Miss Ida was out sweeping the sidewalk the next morning when Liv and Whiskey left for work. She was the slighter of the two sisters, with white hair that she kept pulled back in a bun. She had a penchant for twin sets and floral dresses, and today she was wearing a shirtwaist of tiny blue flowers and a lightweight red sweater.
“Morning, Liv.” Miss Ida slipped her hand into the pocket of the sweater, and Whiskey sat at her feet. “Just a little bit of biscuit,” she told the attentive Westie and handed him a morsel. “Everyone will try to feed him today. And Dolly has the cutest little flag d-o-g b-i-s-c-u-i-t-s,” she told Liv.
Whiskey stood, barked, and gave Liv a reproachful look.
Miss Ida laughed. “I’m afraid he may have learned to spell.”
Great, Liv thought, a singing, spelling dog. What would be next? “Have a nice day, Miss Ida. I’ll see you later.”
Whiskey pulled on the leash.
“Heel,” Liv commanded.
“Arf.” Whiskey started down the street, dragging Liv with him.
“Edna and I are helping with the DAR float this morning,” Miss Ida called after her. “We’ll pick him up and bring him home with us after l-u-n-c-h. And keep him for the fireworks. All that noise can’t be good for his little ears.”
“You’re not going to the reenactment and fireworks?” Liv asked, walking backward as Whiskey pulled her toward town.
“We never do, too many mosquitoes. And we can see well enough from an upstairs window.”
“Thank you-u-u-u,” Liv called back as Whiskey picked up speed. “Heel,” she commanded again. “Unless you want to go back to obedience school.”
Whiskey sneezed, shook his head, and slowed down.
There was already a line out the door to the Apple of My Eye Bakery. Dolly must have been watching for them, because she ran out with a bag of goodies for Liv and Ted and a rectangular American-flag doggie biscuit. It even had the thirteen stars made of some kind of icing, which Liv knew would be healthy. Dolly’s recipes had passed inspection by Sharise over at the Woofery, who now sold Dolly’s Doggie Treats from her grooming business.
Next door, BeBe Ford, proprietor and barista of the Buttercup Coffee Exchange, was doing a brisk business. All lush curves and dry wit, BeBe was also Liv’s best bud in Celebration Bay.
“Crazy weekend,” she said as she steamed the milk for Liv’s coffee.
While she waited, Liv looked around at the small area where a coffee bar lined one wall and a few small tables crowded every inch of non-pedestrian space.
“You and Dolly should combine forces and get a larger place.”
“We’ve talked about it a hundred times. Can’t find one that suits our needs for a price we can afford. And then outfitting new surroundings—ugh.” BeBe slid a cardboard tray with Liv’s latte and Ted’s tea across the counter. “No time to talk. Maybe tomorrow. No, I can’t. Dinner next week?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Liv said.
Ted was waiting for Liv and Whiskey at the door to the office. He was wearing a bright-blue buttoned shirt and a red striped vest.
“How’s my favorite da-a-awg today?” Ted crooned and leaned over to scratch Whiskey’s ears.
“Well, I’m so glad you feel that way. But if we’re going to sing at the parade tomorrow . . .” Ted sighed dramatically and gave Liv a look reminiscent of the one Whiskey had shot her while she was conversing with Miss Ida. “We’re woefully under-rehearsed. Yankee Doodle went to town . . .”
“Aar roo roo roo aar roo roo-o-o-o-o.”
Liv groaned, hurried into her office, and closed the door. So far Ted had taught him to sing “Jingle Bells,” the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and “Danny Boy” for St. Patrick’s Day, all of which sounded very much the same. “Yankee Doodle” promised no surprises.
But it entertained the both of them. And there were some people in town, namely her landladies and Dolly Hunnicutt, who thought it was a clever trick.
Liv spent most of the day at her desk making last-minute phone calls and double-checking everyone’s schedules. For the first few hours, she jumped every time a firecracker went off, but gradually became inured to the sound.
Miss Ida and Miss Edna picked Whiskey up at four, and Ted and Liv walked to the Gallantine House early to triple-check that everything was in order, the fireworks were set up, the troops were ready, the boats were in position out on the water. But when Liv suggested they double-check with Henry Gallantine about manning the lantern that night, Ted dug in his heels.
“Already done. You worry too much.”
“Your job, I know. But everything is fine. Spray yourself with bug spray and let’s go get some lemonade.”
Liv held her breath and sprayed. There were few times when she missed the city, but mosquito season was definitely becoming one of them.
The crowds were already milling around the street vendors, loading up on food and drink. At six o’clock, security opened several designated entrances in the gates, and people flooded through only to be stopped by volunteers who searched their bags and took their tickets.
As soon as they were inside the gates, veterans rushed to get the prime seats on the bleachers. Within the hour, most of the seats were taken, and the standing-room area was shoulder to shoulder.
Liv and Ted took their seats on the bleachers one row below the mayor, Jeremiah Atkins—local banker and one of the town trustees—and Janine Townsend, the ex–event coordinator, who still managed to put herself wherever the action was.
It was a perfect summer night with a sliver of moon just appearing as the afternoon turned to dusk. As it grew dark, glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets competed with the fireflies and turned children into shadowy aliens.
Only the mansion was spotlighted from below, which cast eerie shadows against the stone and ramparts, making the old mansion look like a movie set. Liv was sure she could see Henry Gallantine’s hand in the presentation.
The ships looked like black silhouettes against the water.
The crowd became quiet. Children strained forward to see what would happen next. Anticipation rippled through Liv.
A voice worthy of reciting the Declaration of Independence began the story of the Battle of the Bay: “It was on a summer night when General Haynes received word that the British had begun moving ships toward the fort of Ticonderoga, but they were never to arrive. For from the roof of his house on the lake, Henry Gallantine signaled the British approach and called the patriots of our great state to arms. Here is the story of those brave men who preserved the freedom of all New York.”
It was thrilling, if mainly hyperbole and a good deal of imagination.
Just as the sun completely disappeared behind the crowd, someone cried, “There. It’s the ghost of Henry Gallantine. Up on the parapet.”
All eyes turned to the roof of the mansion.
A figure hovered behind the stone parapet, perfectly framed in an eerie light that made him look otherworldly. Liv was duly impressed. And she let herself be pulled into the action as the figure lifted the lantern. It blinked once, twice, and again. Then the light went out, and the lantern and figure disappeared.
From the shadows of the trees, the patriots crept stealthily onto the lawn. The lights rose just enough to see their uniforms, swords, rifles, and deadly bayonet-tipped muskets. First the left flank, then the right, until fifty men met in the middle of the lawn, waiting for their leader.
“You’re positive none of those rifles and muskets work?” Liv asked.
“Authentic, but not loaded. We used to fire them but it was a pain in the butt. Sometimes literally,” Ted whispered. “Another reason we added the British ships,”
Out on the lake light rose on several “British” ships.
And as the American army joined as one and turned toward the lake, a rider and horse galloped from behind the mansion. Daniel Haynes reined in before his troops and brandished his sword as the stallion rose on its hind legs.
There were exclamations of delight and awe from the bleachers. Liv had to admit it was pretty spectacular, and the fireworks hadn’t even begun.
With the general leading the way, the patriots rushed to the lakeshore, where the general rode out of view—to dismount at the horse trailer, Liv supposed. The others dispersed, climbed into boats and started to row.
All the lights went out. Even those of the vendors across the street. Only the ships were backlit from some unseen source, and the silent black boats fanning out around them were silhouetted by the moon.
As they rowed closer to the ships, the final light blinked out, leaving total darkness except for the starlit sky as the patriot boats disappeared into the night.
Where, Liv knew, they would be tied up at neighboring docks until the next morning. The men would return to the Elks’ hall and hand in their uniforms. They’d change back into street clothes to enjoy the rest of the fireworks with everyone else. But for now it was magical.
“Good timing,” Liv whispered to Ted.
“Got it down to a science,” Ted said as the first spray of brilliant red fireworks lit the sky.
The crowd aahed. A baby started crying.
Liv leaned toward Ted. “Now, that is very effective.”
But Ted wasn’t watching the fireworks. He was looking back at the roof, where the figure with the lantern had reappeared. The light was flashing. In short and long bursts.
“Is that part of the show?” Liv asked.
Ted shook his head.
“What is it?” Liv demanded, suddenly alarmed.
“It’s Morse code for SOS.” He was already climbing down the bleachers.
Ted jumped down from the bleachers and reached back to give Liv a hand, but she was already on the ground and running toward the house.
“Liv, wait,” Ted called, jogging after her.
She slowed long enough for him to catch up.
“Do you have a plan?” he asked, only slightly out of breath.
She shook her head.
“Then follow me.” He led her around the side of the house to the front door, where two security people were posted to prevent tourists from bothering the inhabitants.
They stopped Liv as she ran toward them. “Sorry. The house is off-limits to visitors. If you’re looking for a bath—”
“I’m the event coordinator,” Liv said, reaching for her ID card. She had to yell over the exploding fireworks. The sky was lit up in reds, greens, yellows, blues. “There’s a problem with the production.”
The guard looked at the card, looked at her.
“Please hurry,” Liv said, then caught a glimpse of a very large man striding down the street. He passed beneath the light of the street lamp, and Liv recognized the shaved head and wide shoulders of A.K. Pierce, head of Bayside Security, whom Liv had hired as additional event security. “Mr. Pierce. A.K.! Over here!”
A.K. looked up, zeroed in on her, and strode through the wrought-iron gates to meet her.
“Ms. Montgomery? Is there a problem?”
“There might be. Ted saw an SOS signal coming from the parapet where the ghost signals the patriots to attack.”
“Isn’t that a part of the show?”
“The first signal, but the second SOS signal didn’t start until after the fireworks began,” she explained, then looked to Ted for confirmation.
“That’s right, someone is up there flashing an SOS. I think we should see what the situation is.”