Chintz unloaded groceries and put them away, then made herself a quick salad for lunch. She’d finished that and settled on the couch with the new foodtv magazine that had come in the mail when her phone rang. Maybe Callum was getting off early. But when she answered the call, the woman who’d given the party where she’d met Shayla said, “This is Patrice Kovac. I’m disturbed by rumors I heard about my last party. Can you meet me at my house so that we can talk?”
It was the last thing Chintz wanted to do, but she might learn something new. “When would you like to get together?”
“I’m chilling a bottle of wine right now if you can make it.”
Patrice only served the best wine. She amended that. Patrice only served the best everything. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”
She thought about changing into slacks and a dressier shirt, but decided against it. This wasn’t a business meeting and she was doing Patrice the favor. It took her longer than usual to drive to the exclusive gated community where Patrice lived. Weekend traffic was heavier than usual.
The gates were open, so she turned toward the sprawling Spanish house tucked away out of sight. When she pulled into the driveway, Patrice stepped onto the deep front stoop and motioned her inside. She frowned when she saw Chintz’s shorts and lack of makeup, but smoothed her expression into a smile as she ushered her into the kitchen.
“Thank you for coming at such short notice. I appreciate it.” Patrice wore white capris and a short-sleeved silk blouse. Her bleached blonde hair was smoothed into a knot, and her makeup was perfect. They sat at the breakfast table near the bay window. Patrice poured them each a glass of rose’ and waited for them to take a sip before she started.
Her red lips turned down at the corners. “I’ve heard that that mousey girl Brock Royl brought to our party got herself murdered and people are suggesting that my party had something to do with it.”
Chintz chose her words carefully. “Two people have died after they attended big parties, and that seems to be the only incident that connects them. No one’s blaming the party for their deaths, though.”
Patrice let out a frustrated sigh. “That other girl Brock brought to a few events—Rochelle, I think—isn’t much better, but at least she understands how to circulate with fellow guests. The little office girl stood around like a wallflower. She was completely outclassed.”
“She didn’t know anyone, and no one made introductions. I got a chance to talk to her and found her really interesting.”
“Really?” Patrice sounded surprised. “What did you talk about?”
“Books we’ve read. Recipes.”
Patrice gave a sniff, dismissing those. “Fine for a friendly get-together, but not party talk. No wonder she ended up spending time with the help.”
Chintz frowned, and Patrice hurried to say, “Please don’t take offense at that. I only meant that you came here to serve food, not make friends.”
Chintz let that ride. She wondered what people discussed at upscale parties. The majority of what she’d heard was gossip.
Patrice went on to explain. “Our guests have traveled widely. They share trips abroad and current events they’ve attended. I don’t think the office girl had ever left the United States, maybe not even the state.”
“Her name was Shayla.” Chintz took another sip of wine. Patrice was annoying her and she needed a moment to calm herself. “She moved here two years ago.”
“For an office job? How sad.”
“Everyone who worked with her liked her a great deal.”
“Of course they did. They were all similar in status, weren’t they?”
Chintz really wanted another sip of wine but was afraid she might not be able to swallow it. A lump formed in her throat. Indignation? What did Patrice say about her? How well the little caterer served parties?
Patrice didn’t notice her discomfort. But she wouldn’t, would she? Instead, she gave a tight smile. “I know that I hired you to cater the party we give every Labor Day at our lake cottage, but you’ll understand if I try to find someone else, won’t you? People loved your food so much at our last soiree, they associate you with that party. And I’d just as soon we separated ourselves from that girl’s death.”
“No problem. I’ll cross you off my books. I always get lots of calls for events over that weekend.” As a matter of fact, a woman had called three days ago, desperate for someone to cater a family gathering at their home that overlooked a huge pond. Her daughter had intended on hosting everyone, but her husband had just asked for a divorce. Chintz had felt sorry for her, but couldn’t manage both parties on the same day.
Patrice’s brows pulled together in a frown. “What happens if I can’t find someone else?”
She wouldn’t. Any caterer worth her salt was already booked.
“I’m sorry,” Chintz said. “But if I hold the day open for you, I’ll lose business. You called me first, so if you want me, I’ll cater your event. If not, I’ll have to sign someone else.”
“I see.” But she didn’t sound happy. “My husband insisted on my letting you go, though. You do understand, don’t you?”
“Of course.” She understood perfectly. Patrice was soon to be an ex-client, and Chintz intended to be busy for any other event she called about.
Patrice finished the last of her wine. “I’m glad we settled that. Now I should be able to put this nasty gossip behind us.”
Chintz rose when she did. She left the rest of her rose’ untouched.
“You can see yourself out, can’t you?” Patrice asked.
“I know the way.” And she walked out, then closed the door behind her, for what she knew was the last time.
P.S. I just wanted to say that I'm going to try to put up a new scene every Tuesday and Thursday, if you want to watch for them. I hope you're enjoying the mystery.