Chapter 3

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The August sun was baking bricks from the clay in my front yard. Only the weeds were green, but my lawn had plenty of them. The month-old asphalt patches in my driveway smelled fresh and grabbed my shoes with each step, letting go with soft sucking sounds.

On the wraparound front porch, I kicked off my shoes to avoid tracking in tar. I hurried inside to escape the heat, feeling good about my decision to run early. I checked the bottoms of the shoes—clean. After dropping keys on the kitchen counter, I hit the play button on the answering machine, wondering what Paddy had been calling about.

You have three messages. First message.

“Hi, Seamus. This is Skyler Weaver. I was hoping to catch you before I went out. Can you please call and let me know how things went? Thanks. I should be home this evening. Bye.”

The second message was also from Skyler. Same message, nothing to ease my concern about Paddy.

Next message.

“Seamus McCree, this is Robert Rand. Please call me at your convenience concerning a situation of which I have recently become aware. Thank you.”

Good grief. Hastings must have called Rand to see if the offer was legitimate before talking to her captain. Why hadn’t I thought to call Rand and get his approval? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I grabbed a pen and pad of paper and dialed my boss’s number. “Robert, this is Seamus. I’m sorry I didn’t call you earlier.”

“Perfectly all right.” He spoke in tones I associated with private northeastern schools and Ivy League colleges. “Are you cognizant of the Memorial Day picnic disaster in Chillicothe?”

With relief I crumpled into a chair, my execution stayed. I smiled at cognizant and wondered if he knew about the pool among CIG employees for the first person to catch him using a contraction. Probably.

“I recall the story on NPR.”

Thirty-seven had died in Chillicothe. Roughly hundred and fifty hospitalized. The picnic, in a park overlooking the Scioto River, was the annual outing of union retirees of Chillicothe Machine Company.

“The public story,” Rand said, “is botulism came from the green beans. They did not report that the potato salad was also contaminated.”

“So murder,” I said.

“Correct. According to Ross County Sheriff Lyons, the picnic occurred outside the Chillicothe city limits, which is why they are lead. They know what was done, but not why or by whom. They have requested our assistance in trying to determine a financial motive. I know you have been hankering to get into the field. I thought this might be a good match to test whether you like it. Interested?”

“Sounds like a puzzler, and Chillicothe isn’t far from here.”

“Do I understand that as agreement to undertake this assignment? Your contact at the sheriff’s office will be Detective Albert Wright. Once you two talk, let me know what resources you will require. Questions?”

“Our standard contract, I assume? Have we ever worked with them?”

“This is our debut. The sheriff is an elected position, which may be the impetus. Wright heads their taskforce on corporate crime. That is the mechanism they are using to contract with us.” A short pause. “Anything else?”

“See any land mines?”

A quick laugh. “No, I do not anticipate any, but who knows what you might find on your path. Remember, our function is to assist. You will be deputized, but that has more to do with liability than anything else. I look forward to your report. And Seamus? Thank you.”

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