As promised, here’s the rest of Chapter One of Organized for Homicide (it was a really long chapter–LOL!), and I will post Chapter Two very soon. If you haven’t read the earlier post, you can Click Here for the first part of Chapter One. This is the book that comes next in the series started by Organized for Murder (and that book, Organized for Murder, is still on sale for 99 cents this weekend in all e-formats). The book this excerpt is taken from, Organized for Homicide, will be released this coming Monday, Sept. 8th. And now, here’s more Kate & Meg :)
The Rest of Chapter One–
“Come on, let’s go in,” Kate said, “I just brought you out here to see the view.”
“And it really is a nice one,” Meg walked back to the railing and squinted, cocking her head to one side so her short fiery curls bounced with the movement. “You can’t see it from here, but we used to climb Mount Equinox when I was in high school.” She pointed to the north. “We’ve been talking about taking the boys camping again sometime this summer. We should all go when school’s out, both our families. This job will be completed by then.”
“Well, we’d better get a move on if we want to get finished on time.” Kate clasped the project notebook to her chest. “I want to show this balcony to Keith before the house sells, too. I don’t know if we could add a balcony on our house and make it look right, but I’d love something like this outside our master bedroom.”
“I like this over-high railing, too,” Meg said, running her hand along the polished wood resting atop the steel bars and put everything at nearly chest level. “Anything waist high and you run the risk of someone still accidentally going over the side. At least with boys like mine, that is. Something this high makes such a thing less likely.”
Kate took another cleansing breath and smiled. “I could get used to this.”
The two women reentered the house and Meg commented, “My feet just disappear in the carpet pile. Do you think Collier would mind if I worked barefoot?”
“Probably.” Kate rolled her eyes. “Let’s keep our shoes on just in case, Ms. Troublemaker.”
“Sticks and stones, my friend.”
They were grinning when they reached the hall. “Come on into Dara’s room. I’ll show you how we’re going to start on the closets,” Kate said.
The youngest daughter’s bedroom was a fairy tale setting, with mountain top castles painted high on the walls, and wildflower meadows near the baseboards to merge with the thick carpeting. Kate knew her daughter Suzanne would love the room, but was equally aware that twin Samantha would roll her eyes unless it was tied somehow to soccer or Barbie. She sighed. Right now the twins preferred sharing a room, but the battles for style were becoming more frequent. A compromise, and probably new room assignments would be coming soon.
“Something wrong, Kate?”
She shook her head. “Nothing a look in ‘The Great Big Book on Parenting’ won’t cure.”
“Well if you ever find a copy, I want a peek, too.”
“Deal,” Kate said, and grinned. One of the things she liked best about Meg is how her parenting style was just as make-it-up-as-you-go as the McKenzies’ efforts. “The closet is over here.” She slid away a section of an alpine mountain, and revealed an almost wall to wall enclave of clothing and accessories. “I asked Collier and Lila to help the kids sort out the clothes they wouldn’t be wearing before the move, so we can pack them ahead.”
Meg looked in the closet and around the room. “I don’t see any boxes.”
“We’re just doing the clothes now. We don’t need boxes.” Kate reached for a high shelf and pulled down a box of extra tall garbage bags. “I put these here last night. There are several boxes of trash bags in each closet.” She shuffled clothes around on the rods, so like items, in this case winter clothing, hung together on the rod closest to the door.
“I’m confused,” Meg said. “Why would you want to just toss them in the sacks? Won’t the client get mad if clothes are a wrinkled mess when they unpack?”
Kate winked. “No wrinkles, no folding. Watch this.” She pulled out a bag, then moved to the section of the closet holding Dara’s winter dresses, and took a second to shake the bag open. With one hand, she pushed back neighboring clothes and held them back with one shoulder, so a collection of dresses about a foot wide now hung separately. The opened garbage bag was placed around the hem level of the dresses, and then moved up toward the hanger hooks. When the bag completely enclosed all of the dresses, Kate cinched the top tight around all of the hooks, wrapped the plastic drawstrings around the hanger tops for extra support, then tied everything together.
“Now, we can lift this bag in one piece,” she explained, using one hand to grasp the hidden hangers and remove all of the dresses at one time from the closet rail. “The movers can hang up the bags in the moving van, or they can be laid down flat. But either way, wrinkling is minimized, and unpacking clothes is nothing more than hanging everything in the new closets and pulling off the sack.”
She pulled a stack of adhesive-backed pink labels from her pocket and slapped one on each side of the bag. “There. Now the preprinted pink label will highlight for movers that it needs to go into Dara’s room in the California house.”
Meg’s eyes were wide. “That is an amazing idea. I knew you were clever, but your bag of tricks never fails to amaze me.”
“Thank you, all accolades are truly appreciated.” Kate moved back into the middle of the room and spun slowly to take in the scope of the area. “This room doesn’t look too hard, but we’ll probably have to do all of the packing ourselves. Dara is helpful, and likes to do things herself, but she’s only eight. She’ll probably need a little guidance, and we’ll have to double check any of the boxes she does pack.”
They turned as both heard running footsteps on the stairs. Sydney, the Colliers’ oldest daughter, moved into sight, backtracking when she passed the doorway. The teen’s long hair, brunette with highlights, flowed down the back of her green and white Hazelton High t-shirt in thick, layered curls. “Oh, sorry to disturb. I needed to come home and grab a hoodie for my run tonight. It’s supposed to turn cooler with a chance of rain, and coach won’t let us leave after practice if we aren’t dressed for the weather.”
“You didn’t disturb us,” Kate said. “It’s nice seeing you again. This is Meg Berman. She helps me in my business.”
The teen came into the room, a soft smile lighting her face. She shook hands with Meg, then cupped hands around her elbows in an almost protective measure. “Nice meeting you.
“So what’s your sport?” Meg asked.
“Competitive figure skating. Individual. You know, like Michele Kwan.”
“You have Olympic dreams?”
“Definitely.” Sydney started backing out of the room. “I hate to be rude, but I only had enough time to run here and get back to school.” She offered a quick wave. “It’s good seeing you again, Mrs. McKenzie.”
“You too, Sydney. If you’re driving, be careful,” Kate said.
“I have a friend waiting for me outside. Bye.”
Less than a minute later her footsteps again hit the stairs, this time heading down to the first floor and out the front door.
“Professional hopes, I suppose?” Meg mused. “I know from reading the paper she’s an honor roll student.”
“And promising entrepreneur as well. Come on, and let me show you her workshop,” Kate said, and led the way to a small room tucked away a few doors down the hall. A long cherry wood table filled up the middle space, holding an astounding collection of jaw-dropping purses, totes, belts, and even boot toppers. Another smaller table standing against the closet wall displayed knives and curved tools, along with a high beam lamp and a wheeled chair. The whole back wall held bins filled with a variety of leather, fabric, beads, buttons, and bindings of every sort. A dull black, heavy-duty sewing machine sat under the only window. “This is Sydney’s business. And she told me in no uncertain terms she would pack all of this herself.”
Meg wandered over to the work table and touched a wooden handle of a tool whose looks implied it poked holes in leather. “This is pretty astounding.”
“What’s astounding is how much she gets for all of these pieces.”
“What’s the average price?” Meg asked.
Kate quoted a figure high enough to make her friend gasp, then added, “She hooked up with a New York designer who added them to her collection. The items are all made from natural materials, and Sydney uses as many recycled pieces as she can. People have really been drawn to the line.”
Fingering one of belts, Meg asked, “I wonder what she would charge me directly if I ordered one of these for Gil.”
“If she gives you a price break, let me know, because I want a tote like this one.” Kate held up a leather bag with flowers worked into the grain, each petal individually tinted with muted shades. Copper wire finished off a kind of frame to most pieces, coiling through the sewn edges around the outside. On the tote Kate favored, antiqued brass closures offered function as well as fashion for anyone not wanting to leave the top completely open.
She started to look at the finishing inside, but heard the doorbell chime.
“That’s what we get for gawking. We had no idea someone had driven up.” Meg said, following Kate back into the hallway. “At least this time the person didn’t just pop up behind us.”
As the women moved to the stairs, Kate said, “This house is so spread out, it makes it easy to miss things, unless you’re on the back deck or where we were earlier on the master bedroom balcony. If we hadn’t been talking so much and looking out toward the national forest, we’d have noticed Lila’s arrival, since out there is the only direct view to the driveway because of the trees.”
At the bottom step, the flooring transitioned to parquet, and Kate’s heels clicked as she hurried across the foyer. The skinny two-story sidelights showed someone at the door, but the person stood too close, and all Kate could make out was a lustrous head of chestnut hair. At first, she thought Lila may have returned, but realized this visitor wasn’t wearing a full skirt.
“Can I help—”
Kate was tossed aside, as a tall brunette with a phone sandwiched between her right shoulder and ear shoved the door farther open and stepped inside. Dressed in what was probably her work clothes, a pair of jeans with the Dolce and Gabbana logo emblazed on a pink leather patch on the back pocket and a matching cotton candy-hued silk tee, the woman took aim with a laser device to shoot off points while talking into her iPhone. She used her free hand to rummage blindly through a D&G labeled handbag. “That’s right, Lee Ann, twenty-four foot ceiling in the foyer, some kind of antiqued brass and lead glass craftsman type hanging light. Nice, but not pricey enough. Be sure to make a note. We’ll want to change it out for the viewings. Need to go high end here. The corporate sellers want this turned quickly, and I want the commission to be worth it.”
“Excuse me—” Kate tried, but received only a face-out palm in reply.
“Yes, someone let me in, and I’m heading for the interior rooms now. Just stay on the line and I’ll keep feeding you measurements and notes I want documented.” The woman withdrew a business card case from her bag and flipped it open, extending it as if offering a cigarette. Kate frowned and pulled a card from the pack. Erin Parker. Broker, Vermont Views Real Estate. There was a local office number, followed by a cell number, and a full gamut of social media connection options.
Kate tried again. “Can you—”
“Oh, for heavens sake! Hold on a minute, Lee Ann.” Erin pulled the phone from her ear and faced Kate. Meg moved closer in a show of support. “What are you, the cleaning people? Yes, we’ll keep you contracted until the house closes. But right now I have work to do. I have a primo prospect flying in within two days, and I have to transform this house in the interval.”
“We are not the cleaning people.” Meg looked ready to blow.
“We’re organizing the Colliers’ move.” Kate extended her right hand, so she could not only offer a handshake, but could cut off the direct path between Meg and the real estate pro.
Erin returned the handshake, shook Meg’s hand as well, and before turning back to her phone said, “You two look like soccer moms. I realize it’s nearly time for all of you to line up to retrieve the kiddies at school. If you leave, put the key on that table over there and I’ll lock up.”
She and her rapid laser measure resumed producing measurements for the off-site Lee Ann, and Erin’s long legs took her around the corner to disappear in the hall toward the media room and Blaine Collier’s office.
“I’ll call Collier’s personal assistant and figure what to do next. You go see if you can help her,” Kate told Meg.
“Keep an eye on her. Got it!”
The foyer felt too open for a phone call, so Kate moved into the great room and seated herself on one of the cushy patterned sofas, tapping her phone against the padded, earth-toned arm. The floor to ceiling south-facing windows not only offered a lovely green view, but allowed gentle heat from the sun to warm the room. She took a moment to calm herself, and sent up a quick prayer for Collier to be tied up in meetings so she could speak with his assistant, Timothy, instead. Then she dialed.
Luck, for once! “Hello, Timothy, it’s Kate McKenzie.”
“Sorry, Kate, but Mr. Collier is in a meeting.”
“That’s probably okay. I have a feeling you might be able to help. An Erin Parker is here now, and she wants me to leave her my key. Thought I’d better—”
“No! She’s to have no unsupervised access to the house, by Mr. Collier’s direct order.”
Kate pinched the sharp crease that ran down the left leg of her twills. “Okay. My associate, Meg Berman, is with her now, and I’ll make sure one of us stays with her at all times. But really, we don’t have the extra time to work as monitors too.”
“I completely understand. I’ll make Mr. Collier aware of this as soon as possible, and do what he suggests to remedy the situation. I know you have kids to pick up soon from school.”
If she hadn’t known how efficient Timothy Oakes was, Kate would have been a little creeped out that he knew her schedule. But she did know, and was grateful he was handling the situation and knew the time constraints. “Thanks so much, Timothy. I know Mr. Collier has to be as grateful for your loyalty as I am.”
She heard a sound like a snort, then, “Yes, he says he’ll sign whatever letter of recommendation I need before he leaves.”
“You’re leaving the company, too?”
“It’s a standard corporate policy to let any supporting staff go when a chief executive leaves to take a position with a new company.”
The Collier family had moved to Hazelton four years before when Blaine Collier left a Florida recreational company to head up Green Mountain Boards, an up-and-coming snowboarding business. He was a corporate wunderkind whose expertise made every business he touched a worldwide name. A month ago, Techno-Cal hired Collier to basically do the same to one of their subsidiaries, a company making small yachts and sail craft.
“For some reason I thought you were at Green Mountain Boards before Blaine Collier started working there.”
“I was. Three years longer. Seven in all.”
“And they’re still letting you go?”
“It’s company policy. I understood the risks when I accepted this position.”
“Still…Is Collier helping you find another position somewhere? Has he even asked if you want to go to the West Coast with him?”
“Mr. Collier is doing everything to meet his professional responsibilities in the matter.”
In other words, Kate thought, he’s doing little more than saying “write a letter of recommendation for me to sign and I’ll sign it.” She also recognized that Timothy’s word choice was putting a halt to this conversation.
“I’ve had a few interviews scheduled,” Timothy cut into her thoughts. “Don’t worry, I’ll land on my feet.”
However, she wondered how many of the open positions were at the pay level he likely enjoyed as Collier’s assistant. She was willing to bet the young man would have to relocate out of the Hazelton area. She had no idea who might be able to overhear the conversation at his end, and hoped their discussion and her questions hadn’t compromised him in any way. “Well, I won’t keep you, Timothy. Especially after I’ve given you something else to do. Thanks so much. And we’ll work to maintain a close watch on our visitor. In the meantime, I would appreciate if you called in the cavalry some way, please.”
The doorbell chimed again, and Kate ended her call. When she opened the door, a courier stood on the other side.
“This is for Sydney Collier.” He held a large heavy duty envelope atop his delivery clipboard.
“She’s not here right now.”
“I only need a signature.” He stuck the envelope under his arm, and turned the notepad to face Kate. “Just sign here.”
She grabbed the pen attached to the clipboard and signed her name in the space he pointed to, then accepted the envelope. As she closed the door, she noted the Boston address, and realized it was probably paperwork for the summer Olympic-training program Sydney was looking forward to attending. Kate slipped it into the back of her project notebook, to keep it safe until she could give it to the teen later in the afternoon.
Kate found the women in the media room, Meg standing guard duty at the door, arms crossed and eyes sharp. Erin paced the front of the room, counting the dark blue seats out loud, noting a wear spot in the carpet, and barking dimensions into her phone to the poor invisible Lee Ann.
“Anything suspicious?” Kate whispered, her head angled close to Meg’s.
“Everything. Well, technically annoying instead of suspicious. But nothing that appears criminal.”
“Collier’s PA says he’ll work on the situation. But she’s not supposed to have access to the house unsupervised.”
“So, do we add babysitting services to our cost estimate?”
The women hushed when Erin Parker breezed past them and strode down the hall.
“Appears the kitchen is her next destination.” Meg offered a crooked smile.
“We need to start building our game plan in there anyway.” Kate shrugged. “Let’s go, Wonder Woman.”
“Right behind you, Batgirl.”