When her part-time reporting gig gives Lucy the opportunity to attend a Boston newspaper conference, she looks forward to the vacation from domestic bliss. But upon leaving Tinker's Cove, she quickly discovers that alone time can be kind of. . .lonely. And in between libel workshops and panel discussions, Lucy takes a guilt trip. She feels terrible that she won't be home to help her husband celebrate Father's Day.
But when Luther Readhead of a nearly bankrupt newspaper dynastysuddenly drops dead, Lucy has other things to think about. Murder, for instance. She's not buying the theory that Luther died of an asthma attack. The man just had too many enemies. Always the intrepid snoop, Lucy vows to investigate. But she can't help wondering if her name will end up on a bylineor in an obit. . .
"I like Lucy Stone a lot, and so will readers." Carolyn Hart
Leslie Meier writes with sparkle and warmth." Chicago Sun-Times
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FATHER'S DAY MURDERA Lucy Stone Mystery
By Leslie Meier
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Leslie Meier
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Wouldn't you like to kill him when he does that?" Phyllis was referring to her boss, Ted Stillings, editor-in-chief and publisher of the weekly Tinker's Cove Pennysaver, who had just announced his arrival in the office by throwing his head back, pounding his chest, and yelling like Tarzan. Behind him the little bell on the door jangled merrily, and dust motes danced in the stripes of afternoon sunlight that streamed through the old-fashioned brown-wood Venetian blinds covering the plate-glass windows.
"Only if I can torture him first," replied Lucy Stone, the paper's investigative reporter, feature writer, listings editor, and photographer. "Quick, pass me the handcuffs and the duct tape."
Phyllis, whose various job descriptions included receptionist, telephone operator, and advertising manager, smoothed her pink beaded cardigan over her ample bust and began searching in her desk drawer.
"Darn. I must have loaned them to somebody," she said, shaking her head. Not a single tangerine lock escaped from the hair spray she'd liberally applied that morning.
"Enough with the sarcasm," admonished Ted. "I've got big news."
"Uh-oh," said Phyllis in a resigned tone. "That probably means more work for us."
"Not today it doesn't," insisted Lucy, who as the mother of four had learned early on the importance of setting limits. "I have to get Zoe to ballet, and Sara has horseback riding. I absolutely, positively have to leave at three. Not a minute later."
"Will you two shut up?" demanded Ted. "I have an announcement to make."
Phyllis rolled her eyes. "So what's the problem? Cat got your tongue? Spit it out."
"We're waiting," said Lucy, drumming her fingers impatiently on her computer keyboard.
"I get no respect here," fumed Ted. "I might as well be home."
He sat down at the antique rolltop desk he'd inherited from his grandfather, a legendary New England newspaper editor, and put his head in his hands.
"This is the biggest thing to happen to the Pennysaver since ... well, I don't know when, and nobody's interested. Nobody cares."
"We care," chorused Lucy and Phyllis.
"Please, pretty please," cajoled Lucy. "Please tell us."
Ted lifted his head.
"Only if you're really interested."
"We're really interested," said Phyllis with a big sigh.
"You don't sound interested." Ted was pouting.
Lucy checked her watch. "I don't have all day, Ted," she reminded him.
"Okay." Ted straightened up. "Drumroll, please."
Lucy tapped two pencils against the edge of her scarred wooden desk.
"Today," began Ted, making a little bow and displaying a sheet of paper with an impressive engraved letterhead, "I have the honor of informing you that the Tinker's Cove Pennysaver has been named 'Community Newspaper of the Year in Category Five, Circulation Less than Five Thousand' by the Trask Trust for Journalism in the Public Interest."
"You've got to be kidding," said Phyllis, raising the rhinestone-trimmed reading glasses that dangled from a chain around her neck and holding her hand out for the official letter.
"Wow," said Lucy, honestly impressed. "Congratulations." She knew how Ted had struggled through the years to keep the Pennysaver, which had a lineage reaching back over a hundred years to the yellowed and crumbling Couriers and Advertisers in the morgue, a going concern. Only someone with a genuine dedication and commitment to local news would have continued to soldier on in such a difficult economy against TV, the Internet, and numerous slick and sophisticated competitors.
"It gets better," said Ted, passing the letter to Phyllis. "The award includes a grant to attend the Northeast Newspaper Association conference in Boston."
"It's true," said Phyllis, lowering her glasses. "Just my luck, the conference is for editorial staff only." She sucked in her heavily powdered cheeks and pursed her Frosted Apricot lips. "I suppose that leaves me out."
"Sorry," said Ted, not bothering to sound too sympathetic. "Someone has to watch the store. But Lucy, I think you should definitely go. It's a great opportunity to polish up your writing and reporting skills and to meet other journalists. Opportunities like this don't come along every day, you know."
Lucy knew. She couldn't remember the last time she'd left the little Maine town. And she'd hardly ever left her family for more than a day, and then only to give birth or tend to her ailing parents.
"Where is it? And when is it?" she asked.
"Boston. The second week in June."
"Oh, I'd love to go to Boston," she admitted. "But June? I can't get away in June. Elizabeth and Toby will be home from college. Sara and Zoe will be finishing up the school year. It would mean missing the middle school awards ceremony and the ballet recital-"
"That's not what I call a problem," said Phyllis, cutting her short. "I'd call it a gift from God."
In spite of herself, Lucy laughed, recalling long hours spent perched on uncomfortable bleacher seats in the stifling gymnasium watching an endless procession of students receive awards for everything from perfect attendance and positive attitudes to the Zeiger Prize for Improved Penmanship.
"It means a lot to the kids," she said lamely.
"They have a father, don't they?" continued Phyllis. "He can go."
"You're right," said Lucy. "Bill will go." She sighed.
"There's some problem with Bill?"
Phyllis was sharp; there was no denying it, thought Lucy.
"It's just that ... well, you know Toby is going to be working for his father when he gets home from college."
Bill Stone, Lucy's restoration carpenter husband, was still recovering from a nasty fall. It had been decided that Toby, who was struggling in college, would take a year off from his studies and assist him on the job.
"Well, I don't have a good feeling about it," said Lucy, voicing a thought that had been nagging her for some time. "They're both pretty strong personalities."
"Both stubborn as hell, you mean," said Phyllis.
"I'm worried they might have a little trouble adjusting."
"Probably fight like cats and dogs."
"Exactly. But if I'm there I can be a buffer, smooth things out."
"Honey, you can just forget that idea," said Phyllis, fixing her with a level gaze. "They'll work things out a lot faster if you're not there."
"I was hoping to keep it in the family and out of the courtroom," said Lucy darkly. "And then there's Elizabeth."
Phyllis cocked her head expectantly.
"Well, you know she didn't much like working as a chambermaid at the Queen Vic Inn last summer? I've got to help her find a new summer job."
"You mean make sure she gets a summer job."
Phyllis shrugged. "No work, no spending money, it's that simple."
"I wish I had your confidence," said Lucy, staring at the calendar photo of scullers on the Charles River, with the Boston skyline in the background. Flipping through the pages she saw a shot of the swan boats in the Public Garden, street musicians performing in Copley Square, and a nighttime photo that transformed Storrow Drive into swirling ribbons of red and white light.
"How would I get there? I've never driven in the city. Besides, Elizabeth will need my car to get to the summer job she doesn't have yet."
"Go with Ted," suggested Phyllis.
"No can do," said Ted, looking up from his computer. "Pam and I are going a few days early, kind of a minivacation."
"Take the commuter jet." Lucy considered this. "That's a good idea, but I bet it's awfully expensive."
"All your expenses will be paid," snapped Phyllis. "Right, Ted?"
"Well, within reason. Workshops, registration, lodging, meals, transportation." He paused. "No jets. Bus."
"Bus?" Lucy hadn't traveled by bus since she was in college.
"Sure. There's two or three every day. And the bus, unlike the plane, takes you right into town. To South Station."
Lucy studied the June calendar photo of a narrow street on Beacon Hill lined with rosy pink town houses. She wanted to walk down that street, perhaps the very same street where Paul Revere or Louisa May Alcott or Robert Lowell had walked. She flipped a page, revealing a photo of the fashionable boutiques and outdoor cafes on Newbury Street. In the foreground, a fashionably dressed couple were strolling arm in arm. She was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the blue jeans and polo shirt she was wearing, her usual outfit for work.
"I have nothing to wear," she wailed.
Phyllis raised an eyebrow. "Girlfriend, then you better get off your fanny and go shopping."
"You win," said Lucy, laughing. "I'll go!"
That night at dinner Lucy could hardly wait to share the good news.
"Guess what?" she began as she unfolded her napkin. "Ted wants me to go to a newspaper convention in Boston. All expenses paid."
"Boston?" Zoe, seven years old and in second grade, was suspicious. "How long will you be gone?"
"How come we don't get to go?" demanded Sara, who had just turned fourteen and had a permanent chip on her shoulder.
"Exactly when is this shinding?" inquired Bill, scooping mashed potatoes out of the bowl and piling them on his plate.
"It's a week long, the second week in June, and Elizabeth will be home then so she can help out."
"Elizabeth never does anything," complained Sara, pretty much hitting the nail on the head. A year at Chamberlain College in Boston had done little except convince Elizabeth that she was disadvantaged because her parents had refused to fund a trip to Cancun for spring break and had insisted she come home to look for a summer job. A search that had been far too halfhearted to be successful.
"A whole week?" Zoe scowled, pushing her peas around on her plate.
Lucy was beginning to think the convention wasn't a very good idea as she watched Bill consult his pocket calendar.
"Do you know what this means?" he asked, tapping the calendar.
Suddenly Lucy knew exactly what it meant. An entire week without household responsibilities. No loads of laundry, no suppers to cook, no family crises. No complaints and no reproaches. No explanations. A week with no one to answer to but herself. Freedom.
"What's the problem?" she demanded. "I'll only be away for five nights, five weekday nights. The kids aren't babies anymore; they'll all help out. You go away, to restoration carpenter's workshops and antique house conferences and buying trips and I don't know what all...."
"It's the week before Father's Day."
This was news to Lucy.
"I bet you never even thought to check."
Lucy looked at the wilted lettuce leaf remaining on her plate.
"They call it Father's Day, but this year I guess it will be Passover."
This was a favorite complaint of Bill's, who always feared he would be "passed over" and ignored on birthdays and holidays.
"I hadn't realized," admitted Lucy. "But Father's Day is always on Sunday, and I'll be home Friday or Saturday at the latest. It will be the same as always. Even better. The best Father's Day ever."
"I promise," said Lucy.
Chapter TwoMaybe going to the newspaper convention wasn't such a good idea after all, thought Lucy, carefully folding her best dress and tucking it in her suitcase. It was a flowery-print silk sheath that she'd bought at Carriage Trade's end-of-season sale last August. It was perfect for an occasional summer theater show or cocktail party, the sort of event she was likely to attend in Tinker's Cove, but she wasn't convinced it would do in Boston. It screamed summer resort wear rather than urban sophistication.
Too bad, she told herself firmly; it would have to do. According to the schedule Ted had given her, there would be only one dress-up occasion at the conference: the awards banquet. She was certainly not going to buy a new outfit for one event, especially when she had a perfectly good dress in her closet. A lovely dress. A designer dress. A dress splashed with gaudy pink and fuchsia and orange blossoms.
Lucy gave her hair a good brushing, studying herself in the mirror. She saw an average sort of person-average height, average weight, not as young as she used to be and not as old as she hoped to be-someday. Her shining cap of dark hair was her best feature, she thought, mostly because she didn't have to do much with it. She got it cut once a month, rinsed in some hair color now and then to cover the gray that had begun to appear, and that was it.
Lucy gave her reflection one last look and decided she looked presentable, dressed for comfort on the bus in jeans and an oversize white shirt. She slipped the brush into the suitcase and was zipping it up when she heard a thunderous crash outside.
Involuntarily, her stomach clenched. What now? she wondered, as she ran to the window to see what had happened. At first nothing seemed different, only that the backyard looked rather empty. Then she realized that the toolshed, which had been covered with climbing rambler roses, had somehow collapsed. The roses were still there, still in bloom, but not as high as they used to be.
Bill and Toby were standing in almost identical positions, arms akimbo, examining the damage. Kudo, the dog, was running in circles and barking furiously.
"Shut up!" yelled Bill, advancing at the dog.
Kudo gave a protesting yelp or two, then scooted off in search of safer ground. Toby was thinking of following him-Lucy could tell by a slight shift in his weight and a definite angle toward the house-but Bill had him in his sights. She'd better get down there fast, she decided, before things got nasty.
Bill had already worked up a good head of steam when she stepped out onto the back porch.
"Why'd you say it was all set when it wasn't?" he yelled at Toby.
Toby shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and held out his hands. "I thought it was set."
"How could you think that? There was nothing to hold it up once I took out the corner post. How stupid can you be? Did you think the air would hold it up? Did you think Newton's laws have been repealed? Dr. Gravity took the day off?"
Toby's face was red, and Lucy knew he was struggling to keep his temper.
"I didn't understand," he said, shaking his head. "I thought you'd done something. I thought you had it under control."
It sounded reasonable enough to Lucy. Kids expected their parents to take care of things for them. There was a roof over their heads, dinner on the table, clean clothes in the drawers. Dentists' appointments got made; all they had to do was show up and open wide. That dynamic had changed, of course, when Toby started working for his father. Now he was supposed to earn his keep.
"No!" barked Bill, pointing a finger at him. "That was your job."
Excerpted from FATHER'S DAY MURDER by Leslie Meier Copyright © 2003 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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