Excerpt: Independence Slay

Chapter 1

Liv Montgomery slapped at her cheek.  “Ugh. This might be my least favorite thing about summer in Celebration Bay.”

“Told you to spray on some Deet,” her assistant, Ted Driscoll, told her. “Not to brag, but in July upstate New York is the capital of biting bugs.  The mosquitoes here are so large—”

“I get it,” Liv said.  “Please hand me that bug spray.” She traded him her clip board for the spray.

“And it only gets worse around sunset.”

“Great.” Liv sprayed the vile smelling spray on her hands and patted it on her face. She handed it back to Ted who slipped it in his pocket. “What about later when it’s dark?  Or will we all be eaten alive while we watch the Battle of the Bay reenactment and fireworks?”

Ted shrugged.  “Hopefully this will be the last of them.  The county sprayed  already.  That got most of them and we have volunteers whose job is to eliminate any standing water and to keep the lakeshore cleared so people can enjoy the reenactment without being constantly assaulted by the little blood suckers.

“They probably disturbed the last hangers on while clearing out this underbrush.” He motioned to the edge of a thick wooded area where teenagers from the local community center were hauling out underbrush.

“Do they get paid to do that?” Liv asked.

“No, they’re all volunteers.  Henry gives a contribution to the teen program. And they clear out debris for the reenactment and become lunch for the mosquitoes they stir up.”

The two of them surveyed the wide lawn of the Henry Galantine mansion, home to the Revolutionary patriot as well as the current Henry Gallantine.

It was a ghoulish story, one the imaginative residents of Celebration Bay, New York, gleefully appropriated for its Fourth of July Celebrations. The original Henry had been hung as a traitor, though he was exonerated years later.

Liv had looked up the Battle of the Bay when she’d taken over as event coordinator for the quaint destination town.  The closest battle she found was the Battle of the Isle of Valcour, which was farther north and didn't involve any cannonading of British ships. 

But heck, what was a little reinvention with your reenactments when it attracted tourists from all over the eastern seaboard.

Liv slapped at her face again and scratched her ankle with her other foot.

“You must have missed a place . . . or two.”  Ted smiled complacently, his blue eyes twinkling. He was wearing a tasteful red, white and blue plaid sports shirt, navy slacks and a lot of bug spray.

Ted loved his holidays.  The whole town loved their holidays.  Even Liv loved their holidays but she hadn’t quite perfected the art of theme dressing. 

As a Manhattan event planner Liv wore basic black with four inch heels, here she opted for Topsiders in fall and spring,  snow boots in winter, and colorful flats in the summer. Though today she was wearing a pair of running shoes. Not that she thought she’d get any running in today or at all until the Fourth of July weekend was over. 

Until then she would be running errands, running resistance and running her committee heads crazy with last minute checks and double checks.

Along with her shoes, she had dressed down in lightweight slacks and boat necked tee shirt and pulled her hair, which Dolly Hunnicutt the local baker had once compared to the color of burnt sugar, back into a high pony tail, finished in a messy bun.

Not exactly a corporate look, but then neither was she—not any more.  Her desperate housewives, mad men, and over spent fathers of the bride had been replaced by bakers, quilters, nurserymen, and farmers, who had their moments of less than stellar behavior but who were, for the most part, great neighbors and friends.

She was still getting used to the theme attire that everyone seemed to favor. Today, the only thing about her that remotely resembled red, white and blue, were her eyes which were blue and blood shot from lack of sleep.

“There’s old Jacob Rundle coming this way,” Ted said.  “Ignore his charming manners.  He’s been gardener and dog’s body for Henry Gallantine forever.  He’s not the friendliest man in town, but then neither is Henry.”

“But Henry lets the town use his property for the reenactment.”

“Just because he’s a crank and a recluse doesn’t mean he isn’t a good citizen.  Plus he leaves town for the whole summer as soon as it’s over so he won’t be bothered by the tourists.”

“I just met him the one or two times when we were confirming the event.  He was perfectly charming.”

“One on one with a beautiful woman.”

“Why thank you Ted.  Are you saying that Henry is a womanizer?”

“Just the opposite.  Women fall over themselves when he’s around. Another reason he keeps to himself. He was a child star in Hollywood, still a good looking guy, keeps fit and well groomed.

This from a man who had to be in his sixties—though Ted had never admitted to any age—and looked pretty darn good, himself.

“He has a gym and a lap pool in the house. The only people invited in are his hair stylist and personal trainer who always come to him.”

“In case of making a comeback?”

“Don’t laugh.  I think for Henry, hope springs eternal.”

“Anything I would have seen him in?”

“Only if you watch reruns of fifty movies or television.”

Liv hardly had time for television of any decade.

While they were standing there, a slightly stooped, raw-boned man ambled toward them. He was wearing khaki pants and an old button up shirt.  Stringy hair was topped by a gimme hat bearing the logo of a local machine shop. Obviously the gardener and not the dapper Henry Gallantine.

“Ted,” he said in a gravelly voice.  “Ma’am.”  He touched the bill of his hat but didn’t take it off.  Which was just as well; his hair looked like it might not have been washed in a long time.

“This is Liv Montgomery, the new event coordinator,” Ted said. “Liv, Jacob Rundle.”

“How do you do, Mr. Rundle.”  Liv didn’t offer her hand, since he was holding a nasty looking pair of secateurs.

“Heard someone took Janine Tudor’s job.”

Ted stifled a grin. Liv gritted her teeth.  She hadn’t taken Janine’s job.  Janine had been a volunteer and a not very efficient one.  The town council saw the need for hiring a professional and Liv had applied for the job.  But after nearly a year, Liv had stopped trying to explain this to people.  She just smiled back at the gardener.

“How’s it going?” Ted asked.

“Slow.”

“Looks like you’ve got a good crew.”

“Dang kids.  That pastor over at the Presbyterian church got Mr. G to let them take over the clean up.  Half of them don’t have an ounce of sense.  Gotta tell them every dang thing.  Faster to do it myself.”

He looked around at the workers. Most of them, teenagers from the community center, carried cut branches and brush and leaf clippings out to a line of big barrels.

“You there, what the heck are you doing with those?”

The teenager, who had been carrying an armload of branches, stopped.  Looked warily at Rundle, saw Liv and Ted.

“Hiya Miss Montgomery.” He raised his hand in greeting, dropping half his load of weeds. “How’s Whiskey?”

Liv recognized the young man who’d entertained her Westie terrier, Whiskey, while she’d attended the Christmas Messiah sing-along. Leo was “a gentle soul,” according Pastor Schorr. Gentle and slow, though no one had mentioned any neurological problem he might have.  “He’s fine but he’s staying with Miss Ida and Miss Edna today.”

“I like him.”

“He likes you, too.”

Rundle raised his fist. “What’s the matter with your brains, boy? Look what’cha done. Now stop jawing and pick all that stuff up. And take it over to the blue barrel.  Blue. You know what color blue is?”

Leo nodded and quickly knelt down to gather up the weeds again. Liv was about to go help when Roseanne Waterbury, another teenager who sometimes volunteered at the center, ran over and began to help Leo collect his bundle.

Rundle turned back to Liv and Ted. “Boy don’t have good sense.”  He pointed to his  temple.

“Well,” Ted said. “We won’t keep you; just came down so I could show Liv the schematic of the battle.”

Rundle nodded slowly.  “Seen the ghost last night.”

“Did you?” Ted said.  “That makes four sightings so far.”

“Cause he ain’t happy.”

Liv narrowed her eyes.  Was he playing a part?  Who actually played the ghost each year, was a well kept secret, which was nearly an impossibility in Celebration Bay. And her assistant, who was Gossip Central, swore for months he didn’t know, not that she’d believed him.  Ted knew all the gossip, but he also knew how to keep a secret.

Liv figured the ghost had to be the current house occupant Henry Galantine. After all, it was his ancestor who gave the signal. It was so obvious, but it took months to get anyone to let her in on the secret.

“Why isn’t he happy?” Liv asked. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Leo stop gathering up his branches and stare at the gardener.

“Things going on.”

For the first time, Ted actually looked concerned.  “What kind of things?”

“Bad things. People comin’ round asking questions. He was wandering down by the lake.  Looking for something.  The treasure maybe.” Rundle shot an ominous look at Roseanne and Leo.

Leo’s eyes rounded and more twigs and leaves fell to the ground. 

Roseanne frowned at the gardener.  Today her cinnamon colored hair was stuck under her cap and she was wearing a long sleeve shirt to ward off the deer ticks.  “Don’t pay any attention to those stories about ghosts, Leo. It’s just somebody dressed up in a costume for the reenactment. Like at Halloween.”

“He was looking for the treasure,” Rundle said, taking, Liv thought, a malicious pleasure  in scaring the boy.

Roseanne stood up.  “If he was looking for the treasure  he wasn’t the ghost,  because the ghost would already know where it was.  Only there is no ghost.  Come on, Leo, let’s get this trash thrown out.” She pulled Leo to his feet and hurried him away.

“Girl don’t know nothing.” Rundle’s mouth curved into a smile that Liv wished she hadn’t seen. There was nothing friendly about it. “Nothing at all.”

“Let me guess, gold stolen from the British ships?” Liv said.

“Or the document.  It weren’t never found,” Rundle said mysteriously.  “The blue barrel!  Dang, kids.”  He jogged off toward Roseanne and Leo.

“Document?” Liv asked, keeping an eye on Rundle.  Roseanne seemed to have things under control, but Liv didn’t like the way the gardener treated the volunteers. Someone should ask Pastor Schorr if he was aware of how Rundle treated them.

Ted was looking, too and he said distractedly, “Some people persist in the belief that there’s a chest of gold, others are positive, there’s a secret document that either truly exonerates Henry and names the real traitor, or proves he really did the dastardly deed they claim he did.”

Rundle stood over Leo and Roseanne while they dumped their trash, then after a few more orders he walked away.

“Which was warning the British about the attack?” Liv asked as she watched Rundle disappeared around the far side of the house. “Are you sure this is a good environment for the community center kids?”

“He’s gruff but not usually this mean with the kids.  He just doesn’t seem to like Leo.  Had a little dust up last month when Leo was delivering some groceries. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have the kids here with only Rundle to oversee their work. I think I’ll give Phillip Schorr a call when we get back to the office.”

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

“Anyway rumors have always circulated about treasures and secret documents.”  He broke into a grin.  “Over the years the truth, or what they thought was the truth got mixed up with speculation and imagination. Gallantine was hanged as a traitor and later exonerated, but it wasn’t about gold. Or a battle. It was worse.  He informed on a group of patriots planning a proclamation against Kind George.”

“The Declaration of Independence?”

Ted shrugged.  “Let’s just say it might have turned into the Declaration of Independence if any of them had lived to complete it. But they were slaughtered on their way to meet with other revolutionaries, while they were secretly bivouacked with an army patrol ”

“Ugh. I think I prefer the parade. Let’s do this and get back to the office.” Liv took the clip board that held the map of the reenactment.

She turned so she was facing the river. “So the bleachers will be behind us over there,” she said, pointing to a flat piece of lawn between her and the street. “And the ships . . . .”

Out on the lake the wooden depictions of the British ships floated on the water.  They weren’t actual ships at all but mock ups attached permanently to docks from where the fireworks would be discharged.

“This is perfect,” Liv said. The trees that lined each side of the property are thick enough to hide the boat house and garage the neighboring houses, and made the tableau on the water look just like a stage set. “We’re lucky Henry Gallantine is so amenable to using his property.”

Ted nodded.  “We’ve been holding it here in one form or another for the last ten years.  There was never a question of holding it anywhere else.”

“I can definitely see why.” Liv turned to the right and looked up the façade of the old stone house.  It looked more like a gothic castle to Liv, with a turret on one side and a huge chimney on the other.  Various sections were stacked like building blocks made of stone, until the last one rose in a peak toward the sky.  Dark windows gave it a sinister feel even in the daylight. 

“Where does Henry, the ghost, stand to give the signal?” Liv asked.

Ted pointed about a third of the way up the three story mansion, where a wide flat roof was surrounded by a stone parapet. “Henry G. stands facing the crowd and flashes the signal with a lantern.  Well to be accurate with a powerful LED lamp, that can be shuttered and opened so he can ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ it in style.”

“I think that was Paul Revere.”

“Whatever works.  Ours is more elaborate; a virtual light show of “the British are coming.”

“And this is already rehearsed?”

“For years.  Rufus Cobb and Roscoe Jackson have been in charge of the patriots  for at least a decade.  Rufus is the left flank and Roscoe the right.  They have their teams rehearsed and ready to go by the middle of June.

“Daniel Haynes, scion of General Delmont Haynes, who was a Revolutionary hero, no question, leads the attack on horseback, just like he did at the Battle of Ticonderoga.”

“Which you neatly appropriated for the Battle of the Bay.”

Ted grinned.  “If it works . . .” He shrugged.  “Actually they should be showing up soon.  Tonight’s dress rehearsal.”

“Are you participating?”

“God, no.  I’ll be sitting in the bleachers with a hot dog and a root beer.”

“And which unfortunate souls have to play the British?”

“Well, we don’t have any British. We used to when we first started doing the reenactment.  But after a few drinks people forgot it was just play acting and the punches started flying.  That’s when we came up with the idea of the ships.”

“Good thinking.”

“Seriously, is it safe? There’s no chance of the ghost falling over the parapet.”

“Relax. This they all can do this in their sleep. You have to earn your place in this patriot army.  And the fireworks are the handled by the same company that we’ve hired for the last five years. You worry too much.”

“It’s my job.  Anyway, I don’t worry exactly, I just try to make sure all my bases are covered.”

Though Liv had to admit, she’d pretty much let Ted oversee the reenactment without her while she prepared for the parade and made the final security arrangements for the weekend.  They were expecting record crowds and her new security team would be out in full force.

AK Pierce, the head of Bayside Security, ran a tight, but friendly ship.  He’d hired extra personnel to cover the grounds and waterfront for the fireworks and would continue to supplement the police during the rest of the weekend. EMTs and ambulances were in position. 

As for the safety of the fireworks.  They were professionally rigged and set off behind the ”British” ships moored out in the lake and couldn’t be reached except by boat. Ted assured her that none of the pieces would come near to falling on anyone’s head.

Liv had doubled checked with the fire department anyway.

The entire event was ready to go. 

The only thing, or rather person, who was missing was Chaz Bristow, the editor of the local paper, an avid fisherman who took out fishing parties to supplement his journalistic income. 

He’d left town without warning right in the middle of his busiest fishing season. Not to mention the middle of the town’s tourist season.  So instead of the Clarion publishing features and schedules of events, Liv had to print posters to display in the windows of restaurants and stores, and flyers to be handed out by volunteers at information booths at each corner of the village green.

Other than that, Liv didn’t missed him, exactly.  He was obnoxious and lazy. He had the attitude and looks of a landlocked surfer dude, muscular, blond, really handsome—with a big attitude that needed some serious adjustment.

He could be annoying as all get out, but in spite of his outward laid back persona, he still had the mind of the investigative reporter he’d once been in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately he was a very reluctant to get involved in any of the recent wrongdoings in Celebration Bay.

Still she did kind of miss him.

“Seen enough?”

“Huh? Oh yeah. No, wait.  Are those two men in uniform Rufus and Roscoe?”

“In the flesh.”

The two council members strode toward Liv and Ted.  They had to be sweltering in the top boots and breeches and the woolen coats of the American patriots.  Each was wearing a black hat and had powder horns slung across their chests. Roscoe also wore a heavy looking cape that he’d thrown behind his shoulder and held a musket that ended with a serious looking bayonet.  Rufus  held a long gun that was almost as tall as he was.

“You two look great,” Liv said enthusiastically, though she couldn’t stop herself from casting a dubious look at their weapons.  “Is that bayonet real?”

“Absolutely,” said Rufus brandishing the musket over his head. “But we’re trained to use them safely.”

“Good,” Liv said, not entirely convinced.

Rufus chewed on his mustache.  “It used to be that the first line actually shot.”

“With real bullets?” Liv asked, thanking her lucky stars for that apparently unpopular ordinance.

“Not anymore,” Ted assured her.

“They didn’t use bullets in the Revolutionary War,” Roscoe said.  “But powder and ball . . . You see, you keep the powder in this  horn, and when you’re ready to load you pour the powder into the . . .”

“You had to ask,” Ted under his breath. “Ah, here comes Daniel Haynes.  I wanted Liv to meet him before tomorrow.”

Roscoe looked a little disappointed.

“But some other time I would love to learn how to load a musket,” Liv said and turned to wait for Daniel Haynes to reach them.

He looked like a military hero, tall and lean, with longish dark hair graying at the temples and a neatly trimmed goatee streaked with white. Liv knew he was a local lawyer though she’d never met him.

His uniform was a cut above the others with tan breeches and shiny black boots.  He wore one of those military hats whose shape always reminded Liv of a taco. He also wore a sword at his side, rather than carry a musket though he might have one of those, too.

Ted made the introductions. Liv and the “General” shook hands. Daniel Haynes had a deep voice that Liv could imagine mesmerizing a court room—or leading an army or patriots.  But he seemed distracted.   Probably concentrating on getting into the part.

“Have you seen Rundle?” he asked.  “He was giving the driver from the stables a hard time about where to park the horse trailer.  We park it in the same place every year.  And every year he complains.  I don’t know why Henry keeps him on.  Oh, there he is.  I must get this cleared up now.  So nice to meet you, Ms. Montgomery.  Gentleman.”  He touched his hat and strode across the lawn toward the gardener.

“And we should be getting back too,” Ted said.  “Have a good rehearsal.” He took Liv’s elbow and steered her toward one of the gates in the wrought iron fence that fronted the mansion.

Once on the side walk, he slowed down.  “Sorry, but if we didn’t get out of there, Roscoe would have finished his lengthy explanation of musket loading.  Trust me, now is not the time.”

Liv laughed.  “They take this so seriously.”

“That they do.”

They both looked back at the lawn.  Roscoe and Rufus had split up and were walking to their opening positions, but Daniel Haynes had the gardener were standing toe to toe and almost nose to nose.

“Do you think we should go referee?” Liv asked. “After all I am the . . .”

Ted grabbed her elbow again.  “Absolutely not.  This happens every year. Rundle complains about the horse’s hooves tearing up the lawn, about the tire tracks the trailer leaves.  He rants and raves.

“And Daniel gets his way—every year. Nothing ever changes. Nothing much can go wrong.”  He grinned. “But the parade tomorrow.  Now that’s a nightmare.”