Best Laid Plans
A Lake George Mystery
wasn’t the first trouble I’d found myself in as mayor
of Emerald Point, but it could easily have been the last.
than a year after the election, I was still proceeding—as
the sign at our town’s entrance advised visitors—with
caution. I’d softened the take-no-prisoners style I’d
honed during my years in New York, survived a run-in with a secret
consortium of area businessmen trying to advance its own plan
for the town and adapted myself to the laid back atmosphere of
our sleepy little community. At least I thought I’d adapted.
Emerald Point struggled to rebuild after a freak tornado the
summer before, I immersed myself in filing grant and loan applications
and investigating every kind of financial aide available to us.
That winter with more funds still needed, I reactivated a plan
the town had kicked around for some time—a community center,
designed to help us attract a larger share of the lucrative Lake
George tourist trade.
blustery March night I proposed an updated version of the idea
to our local Chamber of Commerce. “John Roberts has agreed
to let us use a building on his hotel grounds for a nominal fee,” I
told the members. “This will give us an excellent location
for a center and adequate parking. With a little redecorating,
we’ll be able to showcase cultural activities, celebrate
the area’s history and—here’s the bottom line—lure
tourists away from better-known vacation spots on the lake.”
always, luring tourists proved the magic phrase. The Chamber
members responded with enthusiasm. I organized a committee and
hit the ground running. No laid-back approach for me this time.
Convinced this was our last best hope of competing with other
communities on the lake, I raced full speed ahead into micromanaging
a warm May afternoon, with the summer season hurtling toward
us at full throttle, I was perched on a stepladder, painting
a wall in the center’s anteroom, when I looked down to
find Don Morrison staring up at me.
you realize it’s almost five o’clock? Quit for the
day before you work yourself to death and I’ll take you
for a pizza,”
in public? Like this?” I pointed to my paint-splattered
jeans and shirt.
clean up great. You always do. And if you don’t… Well,
you look good to me, paint and all.” He offered the slow,
sexy smile which had the power to melt my firmest resolve.
caved immediately. Don, in sharply pressed khakis and a green
Polo shirt which accented his dark blond hair and beard to perfection,
was a guy any woman in her right mind would hang up her paint
brush for. “Okay. The rest of the workers have taken off
anyway. Let me finish this section and I’ll quit too.”
me something I can do to help, preferably a job which doesn’t
involve wet paint or dirt.”
surveyed the entrance area with distaste. The inside renovations
were nearing completion, but the place looked like garbage central.
Brown paper wrappings, empty paint cans, discarded drop cloths,
even boxes the supplies had been packed in littered the floor.
jobs were in short supply, but I came up with one. “Take
a look at the computer on the admissions desk. There appears
to be some kind of glitch, and we need it ready for the opening.”
Don fussed with the computer, I dabbed paint onto the last remaining
section of the bilious green wall I was transforming into a masterpiece
of taupe and ivory and pronounced my work done for the day. I
closed the paint can, threw a rag over it and tapped the cover
down—a trick an experienced painter had taught me after
he saw me splashing paint all over myself as I struggled to close
a lid. I tucked the can and my drop cloth into a corner and carried
the brushes to a nearby bathroom for cleaning. Water-based paint.
I’d discovered, proved a godsend to the unskilled.
me ten minutes,” I called to Don.
I’d washed the brushes, I went to work on myself. The special
soap I’d bought quickly dissolved most of the paint from
my hands and arms. I shed my work clothes, hung them on a hook
and slipped into the fresh shirt and slacks I’d brought
with me that morning. My short, brown hair, already curling from
a day of slaving over a hot brush, fell easily into place. A
few swipes of lipstick and I was ready.
That’s what I call a change.” Don, impressed by the
transformation, upped his offer to a more elegant dinner at one
of the town’s classier restaurants.
at Mario’s is exactly what I’ve been thinking about,”
I assured him.
cheerful little pizzeria provided a home away from home for most
of Emerald Point. Food—consistently good. Ambiance—delightful.
Patrons—friendly. Even my most disgruntled constituents
usually shelved their complaints about my mayoral shortcomings
while under Mario’s spell.
suggested wine with our pizza. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t
shake a bad case of center-mania. “Tommy Porter. Can you
tell me why I believed that man could paint and get other people
to paint? As far as I know he’s never managed to do anything
guy’s a screw-up, I’ll grant you that,” Don
said with a smile.
thought when Tommy and his Monty Python crew volunteered we wouldn’t
have to cut into our dwindling reserves to hire professionals.
How difficult could it be to slap a coat of paint on a wall,
I asked myself.”
you learned the answer to that the hard way?”
when they arrived this morning. Understand, I took it all in
stride for a while. I overlooked spills, goofy jokes, even a
damaged section of carpet. But by afternoon, I’d had it.”
they quit or did you send them packing?” Don asked.
seized a sausage-topped slice of pizza from Don’s side
of the plate and gobbled it down. “They left around three
o’clock. I didn’t have anything to do with it except
to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving as they went out the door.”
cut yourself some slack. It’ll all work out.”
for you to say. You’ve got a much longer fuse than I have.”
I reached for another slice of Mario’s specialty.
when somebody eats from my half of the pizza I don’t.” He
grinned and tapped the back of my hand.
I do seem to be in a state.” Don and I had long since established
that when we split a pizza, he ordered sausage on his half and
I asked for mushrooms on mine. No crossovers.
must be upset if you can eat hot sausage without noticing. The
work will get finished sooner or later,” he said.
don’t have until later, remember. It’s almost the
end of May. If we’re not ready by Memorial Day…” I
didn’t have to go on. Everyone on the lake understood the
importance of being up and running when the summer tourists arrived.
The Lake George season was short. Businesses had only three months—even
less time in cold or rainy summers—to take advantage.
will work out, Loren. You’ll be having the grand opening
before you know it,” Don said.
wish I had your confidence.”
of that, my brother and Elaine want to join us at the opening
night party. That okay with you?”
although I can’t imagine why. This party won’t be
in the same league as most of their activities,” I said.
brother Stephen and his wife lived sixty miles south of us in
Albany and, although we got together with them occasionally for
dinner, they usually preferred the kind of elegant social life
Don and I both tried to avoid.
not sure why myself, but for some reason they’re dying
to come. My brother’s brought the subject up several times.”
them they’re more than welcome.” I pushed my plate
aside. Too much thinking about the center even affected the taste
of Mario’s pizza.
you’re finished, why don’t we go to your house? I’ll
make you a cup of decaf, rub the kinks out of your neck and have
you in bed and totally relaxed in no time. How does that sound?” Don
sounds great.” And it did. So I was almost as surprised
as he was when I begged off. “But I’m really beat
tonight. Can I get a rain check?”
acted appropriately disappointed; I appeared properly contrite;
and we left Mario’s on good terms. At least, I thought
so at the time.
we both had our cars, we exchanged a casual good-bye outside
the restaurant, and I headed home. More accurately, I intended
to head home. On impulse, I swung north toward the center, thinking
I’d sleep better if I made sure Tommy and his gang hadn’t
returned for more painting.
then, it was almost dark. I did a double take when I saw a light
in one of the windows, a light I hadn’t meant to leave
on. As I parked next to the building, I noticed the front door
was ajar. I must have failed to shut it tight.
the shadows of the anteroom, I could see the ladder and paint
cans tucked in the corner where I’d left them. I skirted
the contour map and a display of artifacts and switched on the
light at the entrance to the main room. On the wall opposite
me a large glass case contained life-sized figures of our local
hero, Major Robert Rogers, and three of his Rangers. The Rangers,
wearing the gray-green homespun our research confirmed was their
traditional garb, stood with muskets raised, prepared to fire
into the simulated forest at the edge of the display. A placard
explained they were waging a new kind of warfare against the
combined forces of French and Indians as they struggled to secure
the lake and its environs for the British.
the dim light the four figures looked no different than usual,
but something had been added to the diorama. A body, dressed
not in a Ranger uniform but in shabby denim, sprawled motionless
on the floor of the case a few feet from the other figures. The
face was turned away from me, partially obscured by a tangle
of thick, dark hair.
the hell?” I hurried over for a closer look. Reggie Collins
and the other re-enactors who’d planned the exhibit had
spent hours debating the merits of including figures of wounded
or dead from either side.
who portrayed Rogers himself in the re-enactments, had opposed
the idea. “Not what we want. Too scary for the kids,” he’d
why shouldn’t they know folks got killed around here since
so many of ’em did?” George Tyler, always the dissenter,
Reggie had the clout to win the field. No bodies. At least, no
bodies until now.
moved closer and cupped my hands on the glass, struggling for
a better look. The body hadn’t been part of the diorama
when I left the building that afternoon, I could swear to that.
Had Tommy or one of his buddies with a warped sense of humor
come back and played a practical joke?
this wasn’t a joke. The man lying in the display case looked
dead, or close to it. I planted my hands on the glass and shoved
hard, trying to slide open one of the panels. The glass wouldn’t
budge. When I leaned in close, I could see the dowel in the lower
track which kept the panel from moving. I hustled around to the
door which led to the hallway behind the case. No luck there
either. The door was locked tight. Reggie and his crew prided
themselves on leaving everything shipshape when they quit for
the day. The body must have been put in there somehow after they’d
ran back into the entry and grabbed the telephone off the admissions
desk. No dial tone. Lee Daniels, one of the committee members,
had assured us two days ago he’d completed arrangements
to have the phones hooked up. Apparently, something had gone
wrong. If only my cell phone wasn’t sitting home on my
yanked open the door and rushed outside. Darkness crept out from
under the trees and obscured the narrow road. No sign of cars
or walkers. A hundred yards up the hill toward the Inn, faint
lamplight shone from a small roadside bungalow. Faster not to
take the car, I thought, and took off for the house.
man who answered my frantic knocking on his front door was short,
middle-aged, one of the Patterson brothers, I thought, but I
couldn’t come up with a first name. He listened to my breathless
explanation of a body in a display case, registered surprise,
disbelief, then eventually, willingness to help. He called 911
and handed the receiver to me. I took a deep breath and calmed
down enough to describe what I’d seen.
go back inside the building,” the 911 operator advised. “I’m
notifying the sheriff’s department. Wait for them near
for your help,” I thrust the phone back into my Good Samaritan’s
hand, wheeled around and took off down the hill toward the center.
It was after nine now, pitch black, no glimmer of light anywhere.
I raced along the road, anxious to be at the center when the
sheriff’s car arrived. I knew I was moving too fast, taking
chances I shouldn’t have taken, but I kept going. I felt
the tip of my shoe catch on a root or branch which reared up
at the edge of the pavement. I tripped, pitched forward, tried
to slow down, but my momentum proved too strong. Powerless to
stop, I staggered a few steps ahead, then sprawled flat on the
rough macadam. My head hit against something, cracked against
it hard enough to send flashes of light exploding behind my eyes.
I wanted to get up, but I couldn’t seem to move.