The patio of the Ballantyne Foundation manse overlooks seventy-five acres of lush Sea Pine Island landscape. Majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss mingled with sweet blooming magnolias, winding amongst tennis courts, croquet lawns, formal gardens, and a sparkling pool not ten feet from my chair.
I took a slow drink of lemonade, trying to make my five minute break feel like ten. It had already been a hectic day, though as director of the Ballantyne Foundation, I’d yet to encounter a day that wasn’t.
“Oh, Elli, what am I to do?” Zibby Archibald, the Ballantyne Foundation’s oldest board member, and truly the most interesting, teetered across the patio and plopped into the chair across from me. “Someone stole my piñata. Right from my house!”
I tried to hide my dismay, lest I start a piñata panic. A missing paper party accessory isn’t usually cause for panic, but our Cinco de Mayo celebration was in five hours, and Zibby’s piñata was the showpiece.
“Start at the beginning,” I said as I passed her an icy glass of fresh lemonade.
“I went inside to get my good tweezers. There was a sticky sliver of wood on my sledgehammer and it kept poking my palm. Thought I better pluck it out before I finished beating the hook for the pig’s hat.”
I choked down a giant gulp of lemonade, nodding as she showed me the offending splinter, wrapped in a tissue she pulled from her pocket.
She tucked it up her sleeve, then stirred her drink with a fork. “As soon as I returned to the garage, it was gone. They were gone, really. My piñata and the sledgehammer. My dear, Elli, who steals a sledgehammer? You can get them at the hardware mart.”
Four stagehands walked across the patio toward an elevated platform behind the pool. The setup crew for the mariachi band. They moved around a soaring moss-covered maypole in the center of the back lawn. Where the piñata would hang.
“Did you call security?” I asked.
“Barney tuttled out and took a full report. He said not everyone appreciates a paper mache farm animal. I agreed. Now it’s been two days. She’s still missing.” Worry cracked her voice and she leaned forward. “Should we call the police?”
I contemplated the thought, but not for long. My director duties sometimes required me to help board members with discreet investigations, such as a missing piñata. Along with said investigations, I’m earning my way toward my PI license, with the guidance of the Sea Pine police department. It’s a win-win. Our members enjoy absolute discretion and the police enjoy not having to find piñatas.
“Not yet,” I said. “Let me see what I can find.”
“Dandy, me, our Elliott Lisbon is on the case!” She tucked the fork into her purse and waved goodbye.
I slugged down the last of my lemonade and headed to my office. Before I inspected Zibby’s garage, I wanted to check the obvious. After two discreet calls to the local headmasters, I crossed obvious off the list. Teenagers, feisty with upcoming proms and graduations, had not absconded with the piñata. No surprise. Kids wouldn’t hide it, they’d show it off. Stick it on top of the lighthouse or balance it on the bridge to the mainland.
I grabbed my hipster handbag and hurried out, directing two volunteers with colorful balloon bouquets to the patio and the grocer with seven hundred avocados to the kitchen.
The drive to Zibby’s took less than a blink, since her gorgeous southern beach house was just down the road. Her four-car garage stood open, so I parked my Mini Cooper in the circular drive, then gaped.
The entire space was covered in fresh blooms, reams of paper cut in strips, and enough chicken wire to start an egg co-op. A straw hat larger than my convertible sat to the side, covered brim to brim in yellow daffodils, red zinnias, and green mums. It was as stunning and intricate as any Rose Parade float.
If the hat was that large, then how big was this pig? I knew from the original sketches Zibby was constructing a potbelly pig, using a sunhat to represent the South, and the colors of the flag to represent Mexico.
That’s one mad crazy sized piñata pig. It could not have gone far.
And based on three lone blooms trailing to the edge of the driveway, it didn’t.
Feeling like a character out of a second-grader’s first mystery, I quickly gathered a smattering of lost flower heads as they trailed from the curb to the end of Zibby’s street. I stood before three houses and didn’t need another Nancy Drew clue to know which one held our piñata.
I knocked on the door of Blanche Grimes. The only person to ever despise the Ballantyne Foundation. She’d been trying to shut us down after she fell face first into the dessert table at the Palm & Fig Ball ten years ago. She blamed the faulty flooring and never returned.
Mrs. Grimes answered my knock with a scowl. She stared at the cheery blossoms in my palms. “In the garage,” she said and slammed the door.
After the stagehands kindly hauled the pig (and its hat) over to the Big House, I admired the most gorgeous piñata we ever had as it presided over the back lawn, like a princess on her throne.
“It looks perfect, Elliott,” Carla Otto, Ballantyne head chef said from behind me. “But have you seen the avocados? Can’t find a one. They were here earlier…”
Kendel is giving away one (1) copy of BOARD STIFF. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. The book will be shipped directly from the author. Contest ends May 2 and US entries only.
You can read more about Elliott in Board Stiff, the first book in the new “Elliott Lisbon” mystery series.
Meet the author
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 age seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, won several literary competitions, including the Zola Award for Mystery. Along with writing, she spends her days editing, designing, and figuring out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner. Catch up with her at kendellynn.com.
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