“Eve,” Jill leaned in and whispered, “I had to pull a lot of strings to get you into the town meeting. Please… I’m begging you, if you have any opinions, try to keep them to yourself. I know you value our friendship.”
Eve pressed her hand to her cheek. “Jill, I’m shocked.” Actually, she still felt numb.
Eve had been living in Rock-Maine Island for several months but had only recently discovered the town held regular meetings.
At first, she’d blamed herself for the oversight but then she’d accidentally discovered Jill had been under strict orders from the entire township to keep Eve away from these meetings. Even her aunt Mira had agreed it would be best for Eve to stay away. Annoyingly, she hadn’t explained why.
Jill nibbled the edge of her lip. “I’m almost afraid to ask why you’re shocked.”
“Well, that you would think I’d say something to embarrass you in public and that you’d use our friendship as a bargaining chip.” A low blow, Eve thought but suspected Jill had come under a lot of pressure from the town. “You might as well put a muzzle on me.”
Jill grinned. “If only I could.”
“I really don’t understand what you’re so worried about. I promise I’ll behave and I won’t hold any of it against you.” Eve brushed an imaginary crumb away. The entire town had been in on it. If Eve hadn’t accidentally seen the text message on Jill’s cell phone reminding her about the meeting, or overheard the conversation Jill had had at the bakery… and at the café, she would still be none the wiser. The moment she’d found out, she’d badgered Jill, pushing her to get her an invitation thinking that as a business owner in town, she should show an interest.
Eve shook her head, her tone forcefully casual, “I still don’t understand why you went to such great lengths to keep me away. My character is above reproach,” she said and struggled to keep a straight face. “I’m such a nice person I even brought cupcakes. You must agree it was a thoughtful gesture on my part.”
Jill chortled. “You brought cupcakes to show us what we’ve been missing out on.” Shifting in her seat, Jill stared at Eve. “Hey, did you put something in the cupcakes?”
Eve gaped. “What?”
“Did you intentionally or accidentally put something that will give everyone, including me, the runs as payback for conspiring to keep you away from the town meetings?”
So it had been a conspiracy.
Eve bit back the remark. “I can’t win with you. Remind me again why we’re friends?” Eve asked in jest. Despite the ten years’ difference in ages, they had clicked right from the start. In all fairness, Jill had stuck with her through the most testing times.
Eve sat back and remembered first meeting the twenty-five year old local artist at her aunt Mira’s house, the setting for Eve’s first crime scene. In only a few months, they had both been through thick and thin. This was nothing but a bump in the road. Actually, not even a bump. Just a pebble. Eve couldn’t make a big deal out of it.
She leaned in to whisper, “Why is Roger McLain referred to as the town elder? He’s my age. He can’t possibly be older than thirty-five.”
“The wielder of the gavel has always been referred to as the town elder, regardless of age.” Jill pressed her finger to her lips. “Hush, he’s about to call the meeting to order.”
“Isn’t that what the gavel is for?” Eve asked.
Jill shrugged. “Roger is rather sensitive to noise. He has a nervous disposition.”
“Is this where you spare my feelings by not telling me he thinks my voice is too loud?” Eve whispered.
“It does carry and you do have a tendency to yelp.”
“Yelp?” Eve yelped.
Everyone around Eve hushed her.
Roger McLain cleared his throat. Repeatedly and, for some reason, he stared at Eve. “I would like to call this meeting to order and begin by extending a very special welcome to our newest Rock-Maine Island resident.”
Eve pressed her hands to her cheeks and broke into a sincere smile of surprise.
So this was the reason why Jill had kept her away all this time. Everyone had been secretly planning this moment.
A proper welcome to Rock-Maine Island.
If she’d known, she would have baked champagne cupcakes. Although, who needed champagne when she already felt bubbly inside? Eve grinned. She’d initially come to Rock-Maine Island to visit her aunt, Mira. Having arrived at a crossroads in her life, she had also been pondering the idea of spending some time here to sort herself out. She’d been happy to take one day at a time. In the end, deciding to stay and make the island her home had been a no brainer.
She’d never thought about having an official welcome, but it made sense. This was a small town. Everyone knew everyone, if not by name then by sight. Of course, now that she was on the verge of finally opening her inn, it stood to reason they would all want to give her a special welcome, the occasion inscribed for perpetuity in the town documents.
However, being a new arrival wasn’t the only reason for the special mention. She’d had a hand in catching a few killers. In a roundabout way, she had become a keeper of the peace. Some might even see her as a force to be reckoned with.
“So without further ado, would you all please join me in welcoming William Hunter the Third.”
In deference to Roger’s sensitivity to noise, everyone clapped softly. Everyone except Eve who didn’t want anyone to think she felt even a smidgen of jealousy or disappointment, so she clapped until her hands stung.
Eve couldn’t help wondering about this William Hunter the Third person and why he had merited so much attention.
As she searched the audience, Jill jabbed her in the ribs and gestured to Eve’s hands. “Please, Eve. Clap softly.”
Roger McLain raised his hands and called for attention. “No doubt you will all want to introduce yourselves to William Hunter the Third, but we have some other business to get through…”
Sitting back, Eve continued to search the crowd for the new island favorite. She recognized almost everyone present, mostly by their clothing but also by their poise and physiques. Her eyes bounced along broad shoulders, bony and narrow ones… even twitching shoulders.
When she came across a figure she didn’t recognize, she decided it had to be William Hunter the Third.
Her gaze narrowed. She’d never trusted people with hyphenated names or numbers. She’d bet anything he’d added the appendage to further emphasize his lineage and importance.
Eve decided it had to be him, sitting two rows ahead of them. His head almost blocked her view of Mrs. Jorgen, the local historian and retired librarian, and she was a statuesque woman. Also, the way his shirt collar was pulled around his neck, she’d bet anything he was wearing a tie. What sort of person wore a tie to a casual town meeting?
A showoff, that’s who!
Someone who considered himself above everyone else.
That was something no one could accuse her of being.
She was regular Eve. Eve of the people.
Some might even say, “Unique Eve. Fabulous Eve,” she whispered under her breath. Although, she could be, “Eve Lloyd the First.”
Jill jabbed her again. “Hush. People will hear you.”
Eve sunk low in her chair and murmured, “Eve the innkeeper.” Despite denying it, her aunt Mira had written a character based on her. A mad innkeeper who’d turned out to be a spy. She’d been good enough to be portrayed and forever immortalized in fiction. Yet her arrival on the island hadn’t earned her the privilege of a special mention or attention.
Eve rolled her eyes. Well, perhaps she had received some attention. Fate had actually played a hand, making sure everyone became acquainted with her.
Within a couple of days of her arrival she’d come under police scrutiny and been suspected of killing her aunt and her ex-husband. How much more attention did she want?
Tucking her feet under her, Eve decided Willie the Third walked a straight and narrow path, always staying on the right side of the law. He’d probably moved to the island because he enjoyed long walks and quiet nights sitting by the fireplace reading the right books. Leather bound, no doubt. She’d bet anything he’d be the type to denigrate Mira’s books and label them bodice rippers. In fact, he’d probably already catalogued all the islanders, slotting them into neat little boxes, none worthy of his attention.
Why would someone like him bother attending the town meeting? He had to have known about the special welcome, which meant he thrived on attention, which he would then shun by keeping to himself, while on every other weekend, his wealthy friends would descend from the city. They would murmur among themselves and point at the locals…
Point at her and say, “Oh, yes. There goes the mad innkeeper.” The murmured remark earned her another elbow in the ribs from Jill.
Shifting in her chair, Eve put an end to her conjecture about the new island resident and tuned into Roger’s next announcement.
“As discussed in our previous town meeting, Eleanor Parkinson has been engaged to chronicle town life for a month as a lead-up to the spring festival. Needless to say, we must all join forces in representing our little island. This is our moment to shine, people.”
A few heads turned Eve’s way.
“Did you see that?” Eve murmured.
“What?” Jill asked.
“Clarence Hill just threw me a warning look. What does he think I’ll do?” As if to further emphasize whatever point he’d been trying to make, the town optometrist pushed his glasses back.
“Eleanor Parkinson will be interviewing everyone and observing us as we get on with our daily activities,” Roger continued, “Needless to say…”
“If it’s needless to say, why is he saying it? And why is he looking at me again?”
“…We want to put out best foot forward. Needless to say, that means no shenanigans.”
Eve cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, “That’s a pointed look if ever I saw one. I can’t believe this. He’s singling me out.”
Jill groaned under her breath. “Eve, please…”
Once again, Roger raised both hands as if about to deliver a sermon. “I can sense everyone is eager to introduce themselves to William, so we’ll keep tonight’s meeting short. Refreshments have been set up in the back of the hall. Once again, we’d like to thank Beverley Wales for her time and meticulous attention to detail…”
* * *
Eve crumbled one of her cupcakes and searched the crowd for a friendly face. She knew she shouldn’t feel slighted. Her aunt had lived on the island her entire life and she’d admitted to sometimes feeling like an outsider.
Sighing, Eve nibbled on a crumb. She’d been waiting to introduce herself to the new arrival but every time she approached him, someone beat her to it.
Once again, she edged toward him only to be intercepted by Helena Flanders.
“Hello, Eve.” The travel agent smiled warmly.
“Helena. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to keep me away from William.”
Helena chuckled. “Would I do that to you?”
“In a heartbeat. Were you in on it too?”
“What on earth are you referring to?” Helena asked.
“Keeping me away from the town meetings.”
Helena gave a breezy wave of her hand. “Oh, don’t take it to heart. No one thought you’d be interested in attending.”
“You’re being polite, Helena. What you really mean to say is that everyone hoped I wouldn’t be interested.”
“Well, are you?”
Eve shrugged. “As a matter of fact, yes. After all, I am opening up a business here. Contributing to the island’s economy has to mean something. Surely.”
“Yes, and that’s what swayed everyone to change their minds. By the way, when are you opening your inn?”
“The workmen are putting the finishing touches to Jill’s apartment over the stables. We’ll be opening next week with an afternoon tea for everyone.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t advertised it.”
“Notices will go up tomorrow. Jill is still working on them. It will be an open house.” Spotting Elsie McAllister, Eve smiled. “One of the local book groups has already secured a spot for their regular meetings.”
“Elsie McAllister’s Sisters in Crime?”
“You know about them? What am I saying? Of course you do.”
Helena nodded. “She has a soft spot for you. In fact, she was the first to vote for your inclusion in the town meeting, jumping to your defense by saying your involvement in so much murder and mayhem could only add color to island life. Then again, she’d say that.”
“Bless her heart. I’ll name a cupcake after her.”
The way she’d been feeling tonight, anyone prepared to stand up for her deserved a good gesture. “Sure. She’s earned it.”
Helena bit her lip. “I feel dreadful.”
Eve scooped in a big breath. “Why?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way…” Helena leaned in and whispered, “I was specifically assigned to keep you away from William Hunter.”
Eve waited for Helena to laugh. When she didn’t, she set her crumbled cupcake down. “You’re serious?”
“Sorry. Roger McLain made it a condition. He sees William as a big fish and is afraid someone will scare him away. You see, William bought the Wiltshire house from Roger’s cousin. It’s been on the market for years because few people can afford to buy such a large monstrosity. You understand that. If you hadn’t purchased Abby’s house, it would still be sitting vacant.”
“What exactly does this doyen of all that is acceptable and worthy of a special welcome do?” Eve asked.
“Are you saying you haven’t heard of him?”
Eve shook her head. “At the risk of being perceived as indifferent and insulated from the wider world, no… I haven’t.”
“His family is in the international newspaper business. Along with the house, he also purchased The Island Bugle.”
The wealthiest resident had always owned the island’s newspaper or had had a stake in it. “And here I was harping on about contributing to the island’s economy with my little inn.” Eve looked around the hall. She’d never seen everyone so animated and tuned in. Like bees in a hive.
Deciding it would be best for everyone if she changed the subject, Eve said, “By the way, thank you for organizing the cruise. I’m surprised you haven’t asked about it.” It had been several weeks since her return from the cruise she’d taken with her aunt. Eve had since hit the ground running, focusing on getting her inn ready to open for business, and had been so busy she hadn’t had time to socialize.
Helena smiled. “The Bugle kept us all up to date. In fact, there was a special daily column devoted to your trip. Didn’t you know?”
Eve managed to blink, but no words came to mind. No one had mentioned it. Not even Jill.
Helena gave a small shrug. “There I was having my breakfast and reading the Bugle when your name popped up.”
“Front page. It covered your arrival and first day on the cruise.”
“But… how?” Had Jill passed on the information?
“Circulation went up on the second day,” Helena continued, “We had people coming in from the mainland to buy it. And those who couldn’t get a copy, queued up at the Chin Wag Café to read it there. Cynthia did a roaring trade. Rumor has it, William read about it and paid the island a visit. Within a few hours, he’d purchased the Bugle.”
She’d been used as bait to catch the big fish and…
He’d received the warm welcome.
“I feel cheated,” she mouthed the words.
“Pardon?” Helena asked.
“Oh, nothing. Here comes Jill.” Eve guessed it was her turn to chaperone her.
“So, any opinions about the town chronicler?” Jill asked.
Eve frowned. “Are you actively encouraging me to express my opinions or are you testing me? It’s hard to tell.”
Jill gave her an impish smile. “I had no idea you were so sensitive.”
“I could say the same about the entire population of Rock-Maine Island.”
“Touché. Are we friends again?” Jill asked.
“That depends. Did you know about the Bugle running a daily column reporting my trip?”
Jill shook her head. “I was too busy doing research for you.” Jill looked askance. “Fine… Yes. I might have heard something or other.”
“And did you also happen to mention anything to anyone about my experience on the cruise?”
Jill gave a small shrug. “I might have let something slip. Everyone wanted to know how you were faring on your trip. They care about you, Eve.”
“Admit it, they’re only interested in the entertainment I can provide. Well, no more.” Eve raised her chin and smiled brightly. “I’ll be far too busy running my inn. Which reminds me. We have our first staff meeting in a couple of days. Also… I should get going.” She raised her voice slightly, a part of her wanting to let everyone know she hadn’t been affected by their behavior toward her because she was far too busy. “I promised Mira I’d be back in time to… to discuss a dinner party she’s planning… for her editor. Her New York editor.”
* * *
“You’re back early, Eve.”
Eve strode into the sitting room and smiled at Mira. “I would have returned earlier, but that would have been rude. Especially after all the trouble everyone went to, holding a town meeting to decide if I should be allowed to attend a town meeting.”
Mira chuckled under her breath.
She joined her aunt on the couch. The book-lined room, with its comfortable chairs and plump cushions, had become her favorite room in the house. The sun had set and the table lamps cast a soft light. The windows offered an uninterrupted view of the beach, not that she could see much of it now, but she had enjoyed many nights gazing out to sea and the twinkling stars.
Eve stretched her legs out and yawned. “By the way, you’re having a dinner party.”
“I am? Did I forget to make a note of it?” Mira asked.
“You might have. You know how you get when you’re in your writing cave.” Eve inspected her fingernails. “Also, you’re inviting your editor.”
Mira’s eyes widened slightly. “Why would I do that?”
“Because… because I need to do a practice run at the inn and that requires some special people. The type I might want to impress. She can stay at the inn.”
“She? I could have sworn my editor was a man.” Mira set the book she’d been reading down and picked up her diary. “Yes. Here it is. Monday, call Jordan.”
“Fine, it’s a man. I always thought Jordan was a woman. You never specified. In fact, it’s always been Jordan this and Jordan that.”
“Remind me again why he’s coming to dinner?”
Eve kicked off her loafers. “Oh, never mind all that. If you must know, I’m a bit…” she clicked her fingers, “What’s that word your mad innkeeper always uses? Cross. Yes, that’s it. I’m a bit cross with everyone for thinking I’m incapable of behaving in public.”
“And did you… dare I ask, behave in public?” Mira asked.
Eve leaned back on the couch and rolled her head from side to side. “Sort of.”
“And what did you think about our new arrival?”
“You know about him?”
Mira nodded. “I bumped into him at the Chin Wag Café. Roger McLain introduced us and we sat down for a coffee.”
“I see the embargo doesn’t include you.” Eve folded her arms across her chest. “I wasn’t allowed to talk to him.”
“Why would I be banned from talking to him? I’m perfectly normal.”
Eve grabbed a cushion and pressed it against her face to stifle her groan.
“Don’t take it so hard. You haven’t missed anything. He’s just a run of the mill billionaire. Too much money and time on his hands. The Bugle is nothing but a hobby for him. I remember thinking he’d be a perfect candidate for murder.”
“I’m only making conversation. It’s fine when it’s just the two of us.” Mira picked up her mug and inspected it.
“What are you drinking? I’ll make you another cup,” Eve offered.
“Tea, thank you. Chamomile. I need a good night’s rest.”
“Is your new book giving you trouble?”
“Oh, no dear. Thinking about William Hunter the Third and how long he’ll last will keep me tossing and turning all night, I’m sure of it.”
“He should be fine. Everyone is circling the wagons around him,” Eve said as she strode out of the sitting room.
“Something tells me that won’t be enough.”
“I heard that.”
* * * * *
Copyright ©2017 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved