I stood beneath a tall oak tree on the Ballantyne Foundation’s back lawn. Two long tables stretched before me. White table cloths, china place settings, crystal glasses and dainty tea cups. Sixty chairs draped in fabric, tied with sashes. Glorious pink peonies and white roses in squat glass vases adorned the tables, one for every four guests.
I straightened two forks, three napkins, and an off-center centerpiece as I walked between the tables. We were hosting a luncheon for the volunteers who helped with our sponsored production of The Nutcracker at the Community Theatre.
Standing pretty smug, I enjoyed the perfection of it all, when I realized something was off. The flowers looked lovely. The menu cards properly calligraphied. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, and the faint scent of the salty ocean swirled around. A wonderful December day with temps in the low seventies. Oh how I loved living on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina during the winter months.
I checked my outfit, my hat (worthy of the Kentucky Derby), my shoes (actual ballet shoes in honor of dance troupe). I looked down at my hands and remembered a game I played as a child with Vivi Ballantyne. Simple, and fun, and it always made me laugh. You put your hands together, fingers clasped. Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.
There were no people at my party.
Not a single patron, volunteer, friend, donor, or staff member. I checked my watch. Five past one in the afternoon. Five minutes past the time when guests would be greeted, seated, and served.
I walked inside the Big House and found Carla, the Ballantyne’s head chef, in the kitchen with a multitude of staff.
“We’re almost ready,” Carla said. She stood behind a long steel island lined with china teapots and three-tiered trays decked with finger sandwiches, cranberry scones, and chocolate truffles.
“It’s Thursday, right?” I asked and snuck a chipotle chicken salad on croissant with cotija cheese from the closest tray. “No one’s arrived.”
The helper filling teapots with hot water paused while Carla handed me a small plate with sandwiches. “And you’re surprised by this? You know Zibby arranged transportation for all the volunteers.”
“Transportation? The theatre is all of two miles away,” I said. “And we offer valet.” I popped another sandwich (truffled egg salad on sourdough toast). “Keep filling. I’m on it.”
I dialed the theatre on my way out the front doors. It took seventeen rings, but someone finally told me the caravan left a half hour ago. A long time for a two mile drive. I sped down Cabana Boulevard in my Mini Coop. I kept the top down and tried not to drive too fast. I love wearing hats in my convertible, but this one had feathers.
I’d barely gone a mile when I saw two gigantic buses parked on the opposite shoulder. They were enormous custom cruisers, bumper to bumper, and surrounded by five cop cars, a paramedic’s truck, and an ambulance. Lights flashing, doors open.
With a u-turn, I parked behind the spectacle and rushed over to Corporal Parker of the Sea Pine Police. She was tall, lanky, and looked about fifteen years old. But she was tough. She could totally take me if push came to shove.
“Parker, what happened?”
“Fender bender,” she said and pointed her notebook toward the intersection of buses. We walked while we talked. “Seems the antenna antlers on the lead bus flew off and blinded the driver of the second bus. He hit the gas, not the brakes, and slammed into his counterpart.”
Zibby Archibald, the oldest member of the Ballantyne Board at eighty-seven, but with the most personality, toddled over. She wore a hat so large, I could barely see her eyeballs.
“Poor Alvin needs seven stitches,” she said. “Is lunch ready, dear?”
I glanced at Parker. “We’re done here,” she said, tucking her notebook in her pocket.
“I’ll just get everyone loaded back in,” Zibby said. “Alvin already gave me his keys.”
“You can’t drive that bus,” I said to Zibby.
“You’ll need a commercial driver’s license for that,” Parker said.
“Of course. It’s in my pocketbook,” she said and walked to the side of the bus. As she dug through her wallet, she mumbled something about it being stuck between her taxi license and motorcycle license.
With a tip of her gigantic hat, Zibby climbed into the driver’s seat. The police cars pulled away behind the ambulance and the paramedics. Then I followed the buses toward the Ballantyne Big House.
Everything was back on track. I hoped with this tiny snafu, we’d have nothing but smooth sailing ahead. Opening night of the beloved Nutcracker was next week, followed by the Palm & Fig Ball. And then the Ballantynes themselves would be home for the holidays. It would be joyous and fun and I couldn’t wait.
Looking back, I should never have thought those things.
I’m pretty sure I jinxed us.
You can read more about Elliott in Swan Dive, the third book in the “Elliott Lisbon” mystery series, published by Henery Press. The first two books in the series are Board Stiff and Whack Job.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 p.m. eastern on March 24 for the chance to win a signed copy of Swan Dive. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. Make sure to check your SPAM folder.
Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. She read her first Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the age of seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, was an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. It features Elliott Lisbon, a mostly amateur sleuth who has a slight aversion to all things germy and is only five thousand hours away from getting her PI license. Along with writing and reading, Kendel spends her time editing, designing, and figuring out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner. Visit Kendel at her website.