Chintz thanked Jane Bradley again for helping her pack up her food and supplies and carry them to her van. Chintz had backed the van up to the pavilion to make it easy to load, but the trips back and forth had already winded Jane. It wasn’t the gray hair or her short, stocky build that made her out of breath. In the last hour they’d spent in the pavilion, the woman must have gone through a half dozen cigarettes.
“I’m going to walk you to your car,” Chintz told Jane. “If we take the shortcut through the trees, we’ll be there in no time.”
Covering her mouth to cough yet again, Jane gave a quick nod. “I have allergies,” she said. “They’re acting up today, and when I smoke, I make them worse.”
“Then the sooner you get home in air conditioning, the better. Let’s go.” Chintz was tempted to slide a hand under her elbow but didn’t think Jane would like that. She might have gray hair, but she came off as sharp and independent. Instead, Chintz walked next to her. The tall trees protected them from the hot sun. The river drifted alongside them. It was cooler here in the shade. Jane’s breathing came a little more easily.
They took the turn where the river curved and stopped abruptly. Both stared at the body dangling on the end of a rope. Jane gasped, then clapped a hand over her mouth. Chintz’s heart plummeted into her stomach. At least, it felt like it. Her stomach protested. She swallowed hard. She would not get sick. What did Callum always tell her? Don’t panic. Keep a clear head. A wasp walked across his wide open, staring eyes. A fly flew into his mouth. She grabbed Jane’s hand and they both turned away from him. She’d purge that image from her mind. She hoped.
She reached for her cell phone. Must keep voice calm. Don’t babble. “Callum? A man’s hanging from a tree by the river. He’s dead.” That might have been obvious after she used the word hanging, but she wasn’t sure.
“What do you mean hanging?” His voice was sharp, his detective tone.
“From a rope. A noose. There are insects.” She broke off, taking a deep breath.
Callum didn’t rush his words. He gave her time to process what he wanted to tell her. “Get someone to help you block off the area. Don’t let people trample any clues we might find. And don’t let anyone leave until we get their names and can question them.”
His instructions gave her something to focus on. He’d told her over and over again how cops secured crime scenes. How they tried to preserve evidence. “I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all you can do. I’ll be there soon.” His phone went dead.
Chintz looked at Jane and sighed. How many people had attended the picnic? They were all spread out, doing different things. She repeated Callum’s instructions to Jane.
Jane punched the first name on her cell phone. “Ken? We need help.” And she explained what had happened and what needed done. That finished, she turned to Chintz. “You have a cop on your call list?”
“He’s my husband, a homicide detective.”
Jane patted her shoulder. “You’re a brave girl. My husband’s a dentist and I hear enough gory stories.” Another cough doubled her over, and Jazzi patted her back.
“If you want to go ahead and leave, I’ll tell Callum about your allergies. He’ll understand. He can question you later.”
“I’m staying. I’d rather get it over with.” She rummaged in her purse for a nasal spray. “It helps sometimes.”
By mutual agreement, they remained where they were, backs turned to the body. After a while, Ken hurried toward them. “Everything’s under control. People have spread out to keep everyone away from here.” He was about to say more when he glanced past them and the words died on his lips. His jaw dropped and his face went pale. “Oh my god, is that Garnet Klavan?”
He quickly looked away. More footsteps hurried down the trail. Landon, in uniform, led three cops toward them. He stopped in front of Chintz.
“Are you okay?”
“As okay as I can be after finding a body.” What was the deal? This was the second party she’d catered where one of the guests ended up dead. More steps approached and Callum hurried to her, sweeping her into his arms.
“Sorry you had to see this, hon.”
Jane cleared her throat. “Is this your Callum?” She looked him up and down. He wasn’t heavy, but he was big. And at the moment, he looked intimidating.
Callum released Chintz and reached for his wallet to show Jane his ID. “Callum Calhoun, homicide detective. Were you with Chintz when she found the body?”
Things turned official then. After Landon took their statements, he let Chintz escort Jane to her car. Chintz could leave, too, but didn’t want to. She returned to Callum and quietly asked, “Is there a list in Garnet’s pocket?”
He held up a plastic evidence bag with a piece of copier paper, cut to be three by five, inside. She frowned at the names. Katy Metterick, Jane Bradley, Joan Johnson, Marshall Mooney, and Garnet Klavan with a checkmark next to it.
She said, “Katy Metterick helped me set up this morning and Jane Bradley just left. They both worked with Garnet. He came to the party late and Katy ate with him. When he left the pavilion, she told me that no one liked him. He went out of his way to annoy people in the office.”
Callum returned the list to the notepad he kept in his pocket. “I’m not sure if it means anything, but we’ve gone from a victim whom everyone liked to one whom no one liked.”
It always surprised her when he used the word whom, but then his mom was a high school English teacher. She’d probably beaten it into him. Chintz still constantly confused lie and lay.
Landon motioned for Callum to join him, and Chintz waved him off. “I’ll leave you to it,” she told him. “I have everything loaded and I’m heading home. I’ll see you whenever you get there.”
On the drive to the southwest side of town, she thought about the different people she’d met in the pavilion. Most of them came and went, but a few had lingered at the picnic tables in the pavilion, shaded from the sun, to chat with each other. The only person she could vouch for, who couldn’t have killed Garnet, was Jane Bradley. She’d been with her for the last hour she served food. So many people moved from one event to the next, she had no idea how Callum would be able to narrow down his list of suspects. And then she realized she was assuming whoever killed Garnet attended the picnic, but that didn’t have to be true. The park was public. Anyone could have dropped that noose over his head. But why would someone risk being seen when so many people were coming and going?
She went to pour herself a glass of wine and opened the container that held the leftover cupcakes. No one ate celery when they were upset. She took a big bite to deliberate more.
It might be easier for a killer to go unnoticed when there were people milling everywhere. Whoever did this could just blend in. And wait. With a rope. With a noose. She carried her goodies to the sitting area and turned on the TV. She’d wait for Callum to come home before she thought about Garnet any more.