Background to ‘Murder for a Worthy Cause’
The trick to writing a second installment – or the fifth or sixth – is to create a new, compelling story line with the same characters, but without giving away any of the ‘spoilers’ from an earlier book. Ideally, though, there ought to be enough references to that first story that someone picking up the second book without having read the first one will be compelled to seek out the series debut.
I didn’t know any of that when I started Murder for a Worthy Cause. All I knew was, I had an interesting cast of characters who more or less demanded that I use them in another story. It took awhile, but I dreamed up a plot worthy of Liz and Detective John Flynn.
But in creating the story, I also felt compelled to lay down some ground rules for myself: like Garden Club, the story would be told with alternating points of view over a five day period. I also placed the action two months after the first, the better to allow a natural evolution in the relationship of Liz Phillips and John Flynn. Also, some characters get better roles, like Felicity Snipes, who made a fleeting appearance in Garden Club, while others stay in the background. The result is, to me anyway, a very satisfying second installment.
The first two chapters of the book are available just below the synopsis. Enjoy the preview!
Liz Phillips and Detective John Flynn are back! And they’ve got just five days to solve a murder before the evidence disappears.
In the suburban Boston community of Hardington, all anyone can talk about is that the cast and crew of the hit TV show, Ultimate House Makeover, have come to town to help 500 volunteers build a home for a family in need.
But on the morning construction is to begin, the body of selectman Fred Terhune is found at the site. Detective John Flynn doesn’t lack for suspects or clues: cameras recorded the previous evening’s party where two men threatened Terhune and a woman showed her displeasure with him in spectacular fashion. And, as a selectman, Terhune had enemies.
Meanwhile, Liz Phillips thinks her only role is to keep volunteers on the project busy. But the more she sees and hears as she works on the project, the more she understands that she may hold the key to solving the murder.
A Murder in the Garden Club introduced garden club president Liz Phillips and the town’s new detective, John Flynn. Set two months after the events of that book, Murder for a Worthy Cause continues to explore the community in which it is set and the relationship between these two compelling people.
MURDER FOR A WORTHY CAUSE
Liz Phillips slammed her fist on the table, as much an act of frustration as to get the attention of the bland-faced man across from her, whose eyes had increasingly wandered toward the blinking, red LED of his phone.
“Do you have any idea of what ‘Hardy to Zone 7’ means?” she asked, pushing a four-page-long bill of lading across the table. “It means that these plants will thrive somewhere inNorth Carolina. It means that inMassachusetts, we’ll plant them today and they’ll look pretty for about a month, but they’ll freeze and die this winter. A mild winter here is Zone 6. If you want things to live for a couple of years, you plant for a Zone 5.”
Barry Zimmerman, the 26-year-old associate producer of Ultimate House Makeover, said nothing. He also appeared fearful that if he glanced at his phone again or even down at the papers that had been placed in front of him, the aggravated woman across from him, old enough to be his mother but with a demand for attention that rivaled his fifth grade teacher, would again slam her fist on the flimsy table. He had absolutely no knowledge of what she was talking about and had never heard of these ‘plant zones’ she was so angry about. He lived in Santa Monica in a houseplant-free apartment building.
“Let’s look at it another way,” Liz said, more softly, but keeping firm eye contact. “We’re all here to give the Cardozo family hope. You’ve got five hundred people who are giving up a week of their lives to build a house for a family. Fifty of them are members of my garden club. Trees, shrubs and flowers are all part of that hope. Living trees and shrubs. What kind of hope are you giving them if the Cardozos walk out of their house next April and see that half the plants in their yard are dead?”
“But the plants were donated by our sponsor. The sponsor’s experts picked them out,” Zimmerman protested. “And the stuff is already on its way.”
Liz glared at him. “Then you need to tell them they’re sending the wrong ‘stuff’. And tell them that their free ‘stuff’ is going to look pretty pathetic when the reporters come around for their follow-up story next spring.”
It was a warm, humid August morning and the temperature inside the Winnebago where they sat was already uncomfortable. Who was this blonde dragon lady and why wouldn’t she go away? Zimmerman looked quickly at his volunteer list, afraid of the slamming fist.
“Hardington Garden Club, right?”
Liz shook her head, incredulous that Zimmerman had no inkling of why this conversation was taking place.
“Are you saying you won’t plant the stu… the bushes and trees?” he asked.
“I’m saying you have five days to correct your sponsor’s mistake.”
Zimmerman breathed a sigh of relief. Dragon Lady wasn’t bailing on him. Like every volunteer group he had dealt with in the past year, she and her garden club biddies would do anything to get on camera. He forced a smile and turned on the sincerity, just as he had seen the senior producers do. “I think we can straighten this out before Friday. You just have your group here at….” He pulled a spreadsheet from the top of a pile. “Eight a.m. sharp on Friday. The sod will already be in place. You’ve got until three. That’s when we start shooting the reveal. Can’t disappoint the Credozas.”
“Cardozo, Mr. Zimmerman,” Liz said pointedly. “Their name is Cardozo.”
Zimmerman looked at the vacant table next to his. Where was this Terhune guy, the volunteer coordinator? He was supposed to have been here before 7:30. Terhune had assured him last night that he would be in the office before the first volunteers arrived. To protect Zimmerman from people like this woman. Whoever she was.
Liz rose. Zimmerman instinctively did the same. “By the way,” she asked. “Who is this landscaping sponsor?”
Zimmerman didn’t have to look at any list for this one. “National Home Centers,” he said proudly.
“And they’re based in….?”
“Dallas, Texas,” Zimmerman said promptly.
Liz nodded. “I’m sure they know all aboutNew Englandlandscaping.”
“We’ll make it right,” Zimmerman said, using his most reassuring manner.
Liz said nothing. Right. In two minutes you’ll have forgotten this conversation ever took place. And in four days, you’re going to say, ‘gee, I asked them to fix it’ and expect us to put in whatever shows up on the trucks. Which means I have four days to make it right.
Once outside the motor home, Liz tried to relax. Inwardly, she still seethed at the condescension of the associate producer. Associate producer, her husband, David, had told her this morning. That’s the title these shows give out instead of ‘junior woodchuck’. The guy you’re meeting is a glorified gofer. Let him know that you know. She had let him know. The question was whether it had done any good.
She looked around her at the sea of tents and trailers that had sprouted seemingly overnight. Ultimate House Makeover had come to Hardington. People in town had spoken of almost nothing else for weeks. Jenny and Mac Cardozo were going to get a new home, and on network television. Their application to the program had stressed the family’s genuine need: an electrical fire had destroyed their modest home three months earlier, forcing them to live with Jenny’s parents. But the true hardship was on the children, and especially on eleven-year-old Jackie, who had been diagnosed with leukemia just before the fire.
The producers of Ultimate House Makeover had come back with a challenge: if Hardington could supply the volunteer labor, the show would pay for a new home. It would all be done in a week. When the program’s staff had come to town in July to sign up volunteers, a thousand people had crowded the high school gym to offer their time and skills – fully a tenth of the town’s population.
As president of the garden club, Liz had gotten the call from Fred Terhune, the Hardington town selectman who had helped the Cardozos assemble their application and had been asked by the Ultimate House Makeover producer to coordinate the town’s volunteer workers. “Could you get fifty able-bodied people – members, husbands, sons, daughters – all to come plant a yard in one day?” he had asked Liz.
Liz was initially dubious and had said so, but she made a few calls to club members and explained what was needed. The combination of an opportunity to do good and to be seen on a popular television show was overwhelming. She had called Terhune an hour later. “Fred, are you sure all you need is fifty?”
She had heard the audible sigh of relief on the other end of the telephone.
Now, all around her she could see the beginnings of what was to take place in the next five days. She was on the grounds of the old Hardington State Sanitarium, a Victorian relic of a Victorian idea. A century earlier, it had housed more than two thousand people. As the science of mental health progressed, the need for such facilities faded and its population dwindled. Closed for the last decade, its spacious lawns were a delight for walkers and families.
Over the weekend, three enormous tents had risen and nearly a dozen trailers had been set in a grassed area a few hundred yards from the main campus and its 150-year-old red sandstone buildings. Across the access road, a dozen cars were parked in a newly mown field. Flags and ropes indicated that, at full production, as many as 200 cars would fill the site.
There was as yet no sign of a house; it would be delivered in modules later this morning. The Cardozo’s property – the old house and foundation had been razed Saturday and a new, pre-fabricated foundation dropped into place on Sunday – was a mile to the south of the staging area where Liz now stood. The modules would be prepped here at the sanitarium, then trucked to the foundation where they would be assembled on site.
There was already activity at this early hour. In one of the large tents less than 50 feet from where she stood, Liz could see three women setting out coffee and pastries. To her left and right in other tents, there was the whir of power saws as volunteers and production staff began preparing for work. Liz watched as one of the women lifted the lid of what appeared to be a large wooden crate or footlocker.
The woman immediately dropped the lid and screamed. And continued to scream.
Liz broke into a run and quickly covered the distance. She was there in time to see a second woman whom she vaguely knew from the town’s tennis courts lift the cover of what was indeed a large wooden crate labeled ‘supplies’.
Inside the crate was a body that Liz recognized as Fred Terhune. His shirt was red with dried blood that appeared to emanate from a head wound. There was no question but that he was dead. The woman quickly dropped the lid.
The first woman’s scream had brought half a dozen people to the tent. Only Liz, who had been the first to arrive, and the three women, had seen the body. The first woman was still sobbing, the other two appeared too shaken to move. One man, wearing a black tee shirt with an Ultimate House Makeover logo, started to lift the crate’s lid.
Liz instinctively said, “No, don’t do that. And I think we want to stay well away from this area. There’s a body inside the crate – I’m pretty sure it’s Fred Terhune.” At the mention of the name, the volunteers collectively gave a little gasp. “It looks like someone hit him on the head. There’s a lot of blood. I think we need to call ‘911’ and not disturb the scene.”
Three cell phones came out of three purses and she heard the ‘beep-boop-boop’ of 911 being called. Liz marveled at her own coolness and her ability to effectively stop everyone from looking inside the crate. Then she realized that she, too, ought to be making a call. One that she knew from memory. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and punched a ten-digit number. It was answered immediately.
“John, this is Liz Phillips. In about thirty seconds, all hell is going to break loose in the police department. I’m up at the staging area for the TV show they’re shooting. We’ve just found Fred Terhune’s body in an equipment chest. It’s pretty bloody.”
“You’re at the sanitarium?”
“The big tent closest to the volunteer parking area.”
“Give me five minutes. And try to keep people away from the area.”
* * * * *
Detective John Flynn of the Hardington Police Department had arrived that morning, as was his custom in the three months since he had joined the department, at seven o’clock. He had already gone through the weekend reports, looking for anything that required the services of a detective. Except for a lone domestic dispute at WashingtonGardens, the low-income project in the center of town, every report had been associated with the Ultimate House Makeover program. More than a thousand people had been on hand to watch the Cardozo house get razed on Saturday, and their cars had jammedHospital Road and every side street for half a mile, prompting dozens of homeowner complaints. More than just an opportunity to see a house get torn down – something that had long since lost its novelty in Hardington – it was a chance to perhaps be seen in the background as film crews recorded the event.
And more than a few of the onlookers were there to catch a glimpse of Whit Dakota in person. Whit Dakota, the carpenter turned star. Flynn vaguely remembered Dakota’s antics from his stint as handyman on one of the cable quick-and-cheap-home-renovation shows. Dakota had come up in the world, either because of his ham-it-up carpentry advice or because women apparently found him irresistible. Flynn suspected the latter, noting from the police log that five Hardington residents – none over the age of twenty and all female — had received warnings after they attempted to cross the barricades separating the crowd from the house and Whit Dakota.
The crowds had returned on Sunday when the foundation for the new home was put into place, except that now the reports showed that Hospital Road had been closed to all except local traffic. This had resulted in complaints from residents of two other neighborhoods about being parked in, and a rash of twisted ankles as everyone walked to the Cardozo home site.
There had been a party Sunday evening for the volunteers in one of the big tents set up at the sanitarium grounds. Liquor had apparently been served. There were three alcohol-induced fender-benders in the hospital parking lot and two more DUI arrests onHospital Road. A fifteen-year-old girl last seen at the party had been reported missing, though she apparently returned home before 1 a.m.
This is what I have to look forward to this week, thought Flynn, glumly. Traffic duty.
Which is when his cell phone rang. And Liz Phillips said there was a body up at the sanitarium. She didn’t say ‘a murder’ but she did say the body has been found in an equipment chest and that there was a lot of blood. The ‘Terhune’ name he had written down meant nothing to him.
Liz Phillips. My God, he thought.
Together, two months earlier, they had solved Hardington’s first homicide in more than fifteen years. The murder of a woman who had been pushed down her basement stairs. A murder that, within five days, had triggered two more deaths. A case he knew he could not have solved on his own because he did not yet know the community, and because one detective never has the critical benefit of a second point of view.
Liz Phillips. Mid-fifties. His age, he now knew. Very attractive. The kind of woman who made you wish your life could have gone differently. He pushed the thought out of his mind. The dispatcher was yelling for him.
“Old state sanitarium. Somebody’s found a body in a chest…”
“I just got the call,” Flynn said. “Get two squad cars up there and tell them to start sealing off the area. Call Chief Harding at home and have him call me on my cell. I think he’s going to want to know about this one.”
* * * * *
Five minutes, he had said. Liz watched the crowd growing as each new arrival gravitated toward the tent. “Please stay away from the tent,” she implored. “This is a crime scene.”
It was then that Liz heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of two police cars, preceded by a third car that she knew belonged to John Flynn.
John Flynn. In hindsight, those five days had been exhilarating. Afterward, she had stayed carefully and consciously away from the limelight as Hardington briefly was in the news spotlight. She declined all requests for interviews, though her name appeared in a number of articles about the murder and her photo – apparently supplied by someone in the garden club – ran in the weekly Hardington Chronicle. People in town had looked at her differently ever since. As people talked, which they inevitably did, her role in solving the murder became generally known and then that role grew. The cashiers at the supermarket greeted her by name; the man at the dry cleaners inexplicably gave her a handful of half-off coupons. Attendance at the July garden club meeting had doubled.
John Flynn. With the kind face but the sad eyes. And a keeper of secrets about himself she had not divined in their time together. Her efforts to draw him out had been rebuffed, politely and even apologetically, but rebuffed nonetheless. She had thought many times since of calling him, inviting him to lunch. But each time she had backed away.
And now, here he was, striding toward her, a broad smile on his face.
“Seems like old times,” he said. And held out his hand.
Liz took his hand, and put her other hand over his.
Flynn quickly pulled his hand away and barked orders to the two police officers. Liz felt her face redden with embarrassment. “Let’s get tape around this entire area,” Flynn said to two policemen standing nearby. His arm traced a wide circle around the tent.
“So tell me what happened.” His attention was back to Liz.
“I was here for a meeting with one of the associate producers at eight o’clock. About ten minutes later, I came out of that trailer and happened to see these three women setting up coffee and pastries.” Liz pointed to the Volunteer trailer and motioned with her chin at the women, who were standing together. “One of them lifted the lid of this supply chest, saw the body, and started screaming. I ran over as fast as I could and was here when another woman lifted the lid. No one has touched it since, and I’ve tried to keep everyone away from the area.”
“You said a name – Terhune.”
“Fred Terhune. He’s the person who is coordinating all of the volunteers.”
“You’re certain it’s Terhune?” Flynn asked. “Do you need to take a second look? I ask because I’m going to pass that name onto Chief Harding.”
“I’m certain it’s him,” Liz said. “I don’t know him well but we’ve met on a dozen occasions. He’s a town selectman.” Liz was surprised by how calm she was. Two of the three women who had found the body were still crying.
“Town selectman – is that like a town council?”
“Close enough. I’ll explain later. It looks like he was hit on the side of his head. There’s a lot of blood.”
“Head wounds bleed a lot. Did you check for a pulse?”
“I know a dead person when I see one.”
Flynn nodded. “Liz, stay close for a while. And thanks for keeping the crowd away from the tent.” He walked over to the chest, took latex gloves out of his pocket and put them on. He lifted the lid. Liz saw him spend several minutes examining the body. Then he pulled out his cell phone and made a call.
* * * * *
Several things were immediately apparent to Flynn. First, Fred Terhune had died elsewhere and been placed in the trunk. So, somewhere else in the area, there was a lot of blood. Second, Fred Terhune had been hit with an object, probably metallic given the extent of the damage to the skull. Judging from the angle, the assailant was almost certainly right handed. Death had not been instantaneous. Whoever did this had allowed Terhune to die. This ruled out an accident. Either the object was fairly heavy or it had been swung by someone with a fair degree of strength. That someone had then dragged Terhune’s body to this spot and had gotten it into the chest. That someone would likely have blood on their clothes. There was a smear of blood on the side of the chest.
Looking beyond the tent, Flynn thought he discerned a path where the grass was bent as it would be if a body was dragged. The faint bent-grass path ended at the yellow tape put up by the two policemen, where a crowd now numbering more than fifty — including a woman with a shoulder-mounted video camera – followed his every move. If the body had been dragged to the tent and if this bent grass was the trail used by the killer, then he or she had come from the little village of trailers and other tents, not from the area beyond the staging grounds.
He took out his phone and called the dispatcher. “First, I’ve got a tentative ID on the body as Fred Terhune. He’s a town selectman. Pass that along to Chief Harding as soon as possible. Second, I need another policeman up here. Third, call the Norfolk County medical examiner’s office and tell them I have a homicide. I want an ME on site within the hour. Tell them if they aren’t here by nine thirty, I’m calling for support fromBoston. And fourth, as much as I hate to, call the state police, fill them in and make certain they get a fingerprint and crime scene team out here.”
Flynn called over the two Hardington officers. He showed them the possible trail. “See if you can trace it back. It isn’t likely with all of these people, but it’s worth a try. And walk every inch of the area. Somewhere around here is a pool of blood from where this guy was bludgeoned; I’d like to find it.”
Flynn walked over to the three women. “This must have been a terrible shock for you.” Two of the women were still wet-eyed and were being comforted by the third. Flynn brought chairs from the tent for them to sit. “What time did you get here?”
The oldest of them, easily 75 years old but clear-eyed and erect, answered for the group. “We drove together because of the road restrictions. We got here right at eight.”
“What did you do when you got here?” Flynn asked.
“We started setting up for coffee and refreshments. The tables were already here, the coffee pot was in a box. We brought about five cans of coffee and enough pastries to feed a hundred people. But we didn’t have the cups or the napkins. Geraldine saw the chest, which was marked ‘supplies’, and thought they might be in there. She lifted the lid and started screaming and pointing. Aliceasked what was wrong and Geraldine said someone was in there. SoAlicelifted the lid and we all saw it was Fred Terhune. That’s when Liz Phillips came running. She saw Fred, too.”
“You’re parked in the parking lot?”
“That’s Geraldine’s car right there.” The woman pointed at a minivan just across the roadway in a gravel parking area. He saw the familiar shape of Liz’s green Jag next to it.
“Were there other cars in the parking lot?”
“Ten or twelve.”
“Could you identify them?”
The woman nodded. “I’m pretty sure.”
“Did any of you walk in the grass out here?” He motioned to the area between the tent and the closest of the trailers.
“I don’t think so. We had everything we needed in the tent. Except the cups and the napkins.”
Flynn asked the woman to write down her companions’ names and addresses. “I’d like you to walk through the parking lot with one of my police officers and identify the cars that were already here. After that, I’ll try not to keep you; I imagine this isn’t a place you want to hang around.”
The woman looked at him with surprise on her face. “We’re not leaving. I mean, it’s awful with Fred, but we’ve got work to do.”
Flynn nodded. The lure of celebrity. Point a camera at someone and they wanted to perform.
Point a camera! Flynn walked over to the woman with the video camera. “Who’s in charge here?”
The woman clicked off the camera. “Don Elwell. He’s the executive producer.”
“Is he here?”
“That’s him in the black shirt.” She pointed at a tall, heavy-set balding man.
He asked the woman with the camera, “Were you filming at the party last night?”
“Two cameras. Mostly for B-roll and motivation.”
“Background. The more you shoot, the more excited the volunteers get and the harder they work. We know that the only part of it we’re going to use is about thirty seconds of Whit’s ‘let’s do it for the family’ speech, and a few seconds of the crowd applauding, but they don’t. They assume if we shoot it, there’s a good chance we’ll use it. Those are the instructions: Keep the cameras rolling; it’s what motivates the volunteers.”
“I’ll want to see your footage from last night.”
“You clear it with Don and you can take home a copy with a bow on it.”
Flynn walked over and introduced himself to Don Elwell. Elwell looked to be around sixty, with leathery, well-tanned skin. “We had a murder here last night,” Flynn said. “A town official who is also the person who was your volunteer coordinator. Fred Terhune. He was bludgeoned and dumped in one of your storage bins.”
Elwell shook his head. “I barely met him. I don’t do the parties.”
A little too quick for an answer. And a little too comprehensive. What are you hiding, Mr. Elwell? “I’m going to need someone from your staff to show me around and to run interference.”
Elwell grimaced. “We’ll do all we can, but you can’t slow down our schedule; we’ve got to build a house by Friday at 3 p.m.”
“And I’ve got to find a murderer, Mr. Elwell. You give me the cooperation I need and I’ll do everything in my power to stay out of your way and not hinder your schedule. Can we agree on that?”
Elwell looked directly at Flynn. “You’ll get cooperation. And if you hinder our production by even an hour, you’ll regret it. Do we understand each other?”
Flynn ignored the threat. “I need two things immediately: the person in charge of that storage chest, and a place to look at the video you shot last night at the party.”
Elwell nodded. He took a flip phone from his pocket, pushed a button, and spoke into it. “Sam, get over to the food tent right now. And tell Joel I want last night’s video set up in the screening trailer in ten minutes.” A voice at the other end of the phone said, “Consider it done.”
“Did you have security here last night?” Flynn asked.
Elwell again nodded. “We have a million bucks worth of tools, cameras and equipment on site. Of course we have security. I’ll have Sam – that’s Sam Hirsch — get you their name.”
Flynn watched a third Hardington police car pull into the parking lot, and saw the familiar face of Eddie Frankel, the young African-American cop who had been instrumental in carrying out the legwork of the Sally Kahn murder.
Flynn motioned over Frankel. “I need a couple of things,” Flynn said. “In about an hour the state police are going to come in and tell us to go back to handing out parking tickets. We’ve got to work fast. First, there are three elderly ladies over there who found the body. They said there were about a dozen cars in the parking lot when they got here at eight. Make sure they agree on the cars, and then run the names of the owners. I want to know who was here before 8 a.m.”
“Second, a guy named Sam Hirsch from the TV show is going to be here in a few minutes. I want to know everything about how that chest got there; whether it belonged there; how it came to have enough room in it to contain a body; who set out the coffee equipment and the tables. I want a timeline of how everything in that tent came together.”
“Third, there was some kind of security patrol here last night. Hirsch is going to give you their name. Get hold of them and let them know they’ll be hearing from me this morning. Fourth, someone from theNorfolkME’s office is coming out here. I’m going to be looking at videotape. Get the ME started and then give me a call. When the clowns from the state police show up, be polite but don’t tell them where I am. Make sure they get prints for the two ladies who touched the equipment chest, and try not to let their tech crews destroy too much evidence.”
“Finally, get a list of the TV show people and find out when each of them left last night. Someone should have seen Terhune after the party.”
Frankel grinned. “Good morning, Detective, and it’s nice to see you, too. I’ll give you a full report.” He was already walking briskly toward the group of elderly women.
Flynn turned back to Elwell. “Can you show me the screening trailer?”
“I’ll show you the whole layout,” Elwell said, and started walking into the group of motor homes. “This is our fifth season and we’ve pretty much got it down to a science. We do one house or major renovation in a week and twenty-two projects in a year. Hardington is our eighth project of the season. We were in Rochester last week, we’ll be in New Jersey next week, then we break for two weeks and everyone goes home.”
“How many of you are there?” Flynn asked.
“The road staff is fifteen,” Elwell said, ticking off people on his fingers. “Three associate producers, three construction supervisors and three assistants, two camera people, a sound engineer, video engineer, Whit, and myself. We travel with eleven specially outfitted Winnebagos with contract drivers plus an equipment trailer. The tents, we arrange for ahead of time. We flew in Friday night, the tents were already up; the Winnebagos were here when we came back from the demolition. We spent Saturday demolishing the old structure and Sunday putting in the foundation for the new one. The camp stays together until Friday afternoon when it goes to the next location. We shoot the ‘reveal’ Friday afternoon…”
“What’s the ‘reveal’,” Flynn asked.
“The grand finale,” Elwell said. “When we show the people their new home. It’s the highlight of the show. Viewership goes up by as much as twenty percent during those last ten minutes. The DVR stats show people look at that segment four times on average.”
“Does the staff live in the trailers?”
“Nobody lives in the Winnebagos,” Elwell said. “They’re outfitted with beds but they’re really designed as mobile offices and editing suites. Later on in the week – when we’re going eighteen hours a day – some of the staff will likely stay here just because it means an extra half hour of sleep. Each producer and construction supervisor has a different area of responsibility; the camera, sound, and video people share the production trailer, which is where we’re headed.”
They stopped in front of a long Winnebago. Elwell walked up the three steps and opened the door without knocking. Inside, the trailer was dark and cool, the air was dry. One wall contained racks of electronic equipment. A twenty-something man in tee shirt and jeans hurriedly stood up.
“Detective, this is Joel,” Elwell said. “Joel will walk you through last night’s video and copy out any segments you want to take with you. Joel, give the detective whatever he needs.” And with that, Elwell left.
“My name is John Flynn,” Flynn said to Joel, offering his hand. “I take it your boss isn’t keen on remembering names. But he is right, and I’m with the Hardington police. Do you know why I’m here?”
Joel took Flynn’s hand. “Joel Silverstein. I get sound and a live feed from any active camera we’re using. Actually, I got some good close-ups of the body if you need them. Peggy got a good position to be able to see inside the equipment chest.”
“Do you have last night’s video?”
“I got three hours each from two cameras. You’re looking for the dead guy?”
“We keep one camera pretty much on Whit and whoever he’s interacting with. That’s the duty Peggy draws – she’s the girl you talked to out at the tent. It’s kind of an ego thing for Whit, and keeping Whit happy is high priority. The other camera circulates among the volunteers. If your guy talks to Whit, we’ll switch to that stream; otherwise, we’re probably best off staying with Camera 2.”
Joel tapped buttons on a console. A date and time stamp ran in one corner. “We started shooting at seven o’clock. We were just getting to critical mass in the tent, maybe two hundred people.”
The monitor was a flat-panel one, probably a forty-inch screen, Flynn thought, and the resolution was superb.
Joel saw Flynn’s reaction to the screen. “This isn’t videotape,” Joel explained with obvious pride. “We’re shooting digital video in high resolution. Everything goes directly into the computer’s hard drive for faster editing. Everything is hi-def now, and this is our second generation of gear, maybe six months old at most. Don – Mr. Elwell – sprang for the equipment. Hardington is episode 96 of UHM. By the end of this season we’ll be past the magic number – one hundred episodes – needed to sell the show into syndication. Syndication is where the real money is, and having everything in high-def should make the sale a lot easier.”
The video opened with a long shot of the tent, seemingly already filled with people. Except for the small production team in their black tee shirts, the two hundred people were Hardington residents, dressed for a casual party on a warm summer evening. The crowd was a representative cross-section of Hardington as Flynn had come to know the town. Mostly Caucasian, a handful of African-American faces and perhaps ten percent Asian ones. Flynn saw only one couple he would identify as Hispanic.
It was a catered party, with a bar and a long table heaped with trays of food. Waiters and waitresses circulated with trays of drinks. There was sound: music, laughter, and the din of two hundred voices.
The camera operator moved slowly into the tent, the picture remaining smooth.
“Do they teach camera operators how to walk without jiggling the picture?” Flynn asked.
“I said this is digital video, and it’s also being shot with a state-of-the-art smart camera. It’s all computer-stabilized. No bumps, no jiggles. Let’s find your guy.”
The camera was panning the crowd. “There!” Flynn said, and pointed to the screen.
Joel froze the screen and zoomed in so that Terhune filled the frame. The picture was still crystal clear. “That him?”
“Let’s paint him.” Joel touched a control on the console and pulled back slightly on the image. Using a touchpad, he highlighted Terhune in red. Another control filled in Terhune’s outline so that there was a red cutout of a man amid the crowd. “Now comes the magic.” Joel touched a few keys on the console. The video started again, but now, Terhune stayed in the center of the frame.
“I’m guessing the camera operator didn’t plan this in advance.”
“The camera is smarter that the eye,” Joel explained. “You look at me, and your brain focuses on me, even though your eye takes in far more. Your brain throws away the information you don’t need. Not so the camera. If the aperture is 150 degrees, the camera records everything in that zone. As long as your guy is within 75 degrees of where the camera is pointed, we’ll stay with him.”
“And if he’s outside of that frame?”
“Then the video skips ahead to when he comes back into view.”
“Then let’s look at the party from Mr. Terhune’s view.”
The first hour was dull and Flynn asked Joel to fast-forward the footage. As an elected town official and the volunteer coordinator, Terhune knew virtually everyone in the room, and he was continually being greeted. For the most part, there were smiles all around. After a while, Flynn could read Terhune’s body language. There were people he was genuinely pleased to see and others about whom he was neutral. A few were clearly not friends, though Terhune kept smiling through these encounters.
There were especially warm greetings from several women and, from the overt smiles and touching, Flynn concluded that Terhune was not married. Several women took his hand in both of theirs, just as Liz had done when they met earlier. Flynn winced at how he had reacted, pulling his hand away quickly to avoid the contact. Why had he done that?
And then another woman approached, and Terhune’s face said this was an encounter he would rather avoid. He could only see the woman’s back. She was wearing a strapless sundress, very tasteful and, Flynn assumed, very expensive. Terhune tried smiling, tried getting the attention of other people to defuse this encounter. But the woman was guiding Terhune toward the edge of the tent and into the darkness beyond.
“Slow it to normal speed,” Flynn said.
The encounter took place about fifteen feet outside of the tent and the video – bless the technology – stayed with them. By now, Terhune and the woman had turned so that Flynn could see her in profile. Age, maybe late thirties. Very attractive and very well built. She put her arms around Flynn’s neck and pulled him to her to kiss him… and then kneed him in the groin.
“Ow, that smarts,” Joel said.
Terhune doubled over and the woman slapped him. Hard. She then turned and walked back into the tent as though nothing had happened. The time stamp showed 8:17 p.m.
“Can you mark that footage?”
“I already did.”
The camera stayed with Terhune, who remained bent over. But then the camera swept elsewhere and the time stamp jumped to 8:33. Terhune was walking slowly and painfully to the bar where he asked for a drink. Whiskey, by the look. To that time, he had stayed with the white wine.
Other people continued to greet him, and slowly Terhune recovered. By nine o’clock, he was back to being himself, with only an occasional wince to give away the pain he had endured earlier.
To this time, the sound had been a jumble of noises. At 9:03, the crowd went silent as someone tapped on a microphone. Terhune sipped his whiskey and looked attentively in the same direction as everyone else.
It was the voice of Whit Dakota, and this was his motivational speech. “Excuse me, everyone. Hi, I’m Whit Dakota.” There was applause and Terhune clapped politely. “I hope everyone is enjoying themselves. The drinks are on me tonight because, starting tomorrow, I’m going to ask you to work very hard for a worthy cause. Five days from right now, Jennie and Mac Cardozo are going to see their new house. And Jackie and her brother Sam are going to have a great yard to play in. And we’re going to make that happen!” More applause. “In case you’re wondering about the Cardozos, we’ve sent them toFloridafor the week. We did a video conference with them yesterday afternoon when we knocked down what was left of their old house. I’ve got to tell you, Mac looked a little nervous. He thinks he’s going to be spending the winter in a tent.” Polite laughter. “But tomorrow morning, you’re going to see the parts of that new house right where we’re standing. And in five days – thanks to you – the Cardozo family is going to have a brand new home.” Lots of applause. “I want to introduce the construction team to you and let them explain what you’re going to be doing…”
“You can fast-forward through this,” Flynn said. Joel dutifully tapped a key and the time clock began to scroll quickly. Fifteen minutes later, the party resumed. Joel tapped a key and the video went back to normal speed. The crowd was starting to thin out, though Terhune seemed in no hurry to leave.
At 9:35, two Hispanic appearing men approached Terhune. The look on Terhune’s face was one of apprehension coupled with concern. Clearly, he knew these men, had not expected them to be here, and he made no attempt to hide his displeasure at seeing them.
“This looks interesting,” Flynn said. “Mark it and slow it down.” Joel nodded.
The three men began an animated discussion.
“Can you narrow the audio?”
“There are still a hundred people in the tent. Sorry.”
“Pull back and let’s see if anyone would have been close enough to eavesdrop,” Flynn asked. The scene cut to a longer shot. Several people were within hearing range, though none appeared to be attempting to overhear the conversation.
The men’s appearance stood out for its inconsistency with the party’s other attendees. They were Hispanics in jeans and tee shirts in a tent full of people whom only a handful were non-white and everyone was well-dressed. The men appeared to be in their thirties, were heavily muscled and towered over Terhune, whom Flynn judged to be about five-seven. One of the men held up two fingers. The look on Terhune’s face passed beyond concern to fright. After about three minutes, the conversation seemed to conclude. The man who had held up the two fingers shoved Terhune as they departed.
“Wow,” Joel said. “That was serious.”
“Are they part of the television program?”
Joel shook his head. “Never seen them before.”
Terhune was alone now. He went for another drink and looked at his watch. At 9:50, something seemed to catch his attention on the other side of the tent. Terhune made no move to go to that side of the tent, but there was a look of worry on his face that seemed to grow with each minute.
“Show me the other camera starting at 9:50.”
Joel tapped keys on the console and shook his head. “Camera 1 stopped at 9:45. Whit usually gives Peggy a high sign a little while after the speech.”
“Then show me the last few minutes of what you have on that camera.”
More tapping of keys. The crowd was dense at that end of the tent. Whit Dakota was surrounded by a crowd of mostly young women and he was clowning around for them, an actor with an appreciative audience. Flynn scanned the crowd: the woman in the sundress was at that end of the tent, chatting amiably with a couple. Could that have been what drew Terhune’s attention? Then Whit Dakota motioned to the camera and drew a finger across his throat. The video ended.
Flynn thought for several moments. For a detective, this was a gold mine. These are the last hours of a man’s life, captured for posterity. In all likelihood, someone in that tent is a murderer.
“Give me a print of Terhune, the woman in the sundress, the two men in jeans, and the crowd closest to Terhune when the men were threatening him.”
“Piece of cake.” Keys were tapped and a printer hummed. Thirty seconds later, Joel handed Flynn the prints. “Good luck, Detective.”