𝗜𝘁’𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝘄𝗼𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗿𝗳𝘂𝗹 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘆𝗲𝗮𝗿… 𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁 𝗱𝗼𝗻’𝘁 𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗰𝗼𝗼𝗸𝗶𝗲𝘀.
What is supposed to be a joy-filled awards ceremony for the Romero Boy Scouts turns out to be anything but when Jean Sartor, Scout co-leader, drops dead on stage.
Trixie lands herself on the suspect list since she baked Christmas cookies for the ceremony. Trixie knows she didn’t poison Jean, but someone has been very naughty – can she figure out who killed Jean?
I balanced a tray of homemade Christmas cookies in one hand while I threw my purse over my shoulder, closed the car door with my foot, and used my free hand to hit the door lock on my key fob. I then placed my hand back onto the tray of four dozen painstakingly frosted and decorated Christmas cookies, lest they fall to the floor. Cradling my burden, I carefully walked into the community room at Romero Community Church, where the end-of-year Boy Scout awards were being held.
“Hey, Trixie, let me help you with that,” Jean Sartor, the troop co-leader, said, reaching for the tray.
“Thanks, Jean. I wouldn’t want to drop these cookies. The boys would kill me,” I said with a laugh. I was so impressed with myself that I had carried them in without dropping them.
“That’s probably true. The boys love their sweets, and I know they’ve been looking forward to these cookies since you made them last year. Can’t say the same for Patricia’s brownies. I had one earlier and well, you know…” Jean trailed off, eyeing my cookies like she might run off with them, which made me laugh.
I went around the table that held the snacks and set my things down. Tonight, all the boys in the Scout troop would be awarded the badges they had earned throughout the year. Cody, my ten-year-old son, had been a Scout for several years. It was an activity he loved to do with his dad and grandfather, who had both been Boy Scouts before him.
“Anything you need me to do to help set up?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips, ready to roll up my proverbial sleeves and get to work.
Jean set the tray of cookies she had taken from me on the table. “I need to go find out where Dean is. He was supposed to be here an hour ago. If you could uncover your cookies and the brownies that Patricia dropped off, open up the bags of chips and dump them into a bowl, and mix up the punch, that would be great. I would hate for people to start getting here before the food is ready.”
“You don’t want to keep the boys from their snacks, especially right after school. That might be dangerous,” I laughed.
Jean walked away to track down Dean, and I readied the dessert and snack table. Soon, boys and their parents started coming in. I knew everyone since Romero was a small town and most of the boys had been Boy Scouts together for multiple years. I got so engrossed in talking to one of the other mothers, I didn’t realize it was fifteen past the hour, which was when the awards were supposed to start, until Jean rushed in with a panicked look on her face.
“Jean, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I still can’t get hold of Dean. His phone goes to voicemail. They said he already left work, and there’s no answer at the home phone. This isn’t like him. You know how devoted he is to these boys. What if something’s happened?”
I knew Jean to be a little bit dramatic and highly strung, but it was very unlike Dean to not show up without telling someone, especially his wife. Plus, Jean was right. Dean was committed to his duties as Boy Scout leader. Dean had been the troop leader for as long as Cody had been a Boy Scout, and I hadn’t seen anyone as passionate about Scouts as Dean, not even my ex-father-in-law, Steve, which was saying a lot. He had been a troop leader for ten years himself when Jared, my ex-husband, was in Scouts.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” I said, trying to reassure Jean. “He could’ve gotten a flat tire on the way here and maybe his phone died. Why don’t you let me get everyone seated, you take a minute to calm yourself, and let’s get the award show started. You know that’s what Dean would want. He wouldn’t want everyone to wait for him.”
Jean took a deep breath and looked a little calmer. At least she had stopped waving her arms around and pulling at her hair.
“You’re right. Dr. Branson keeps telling me I need to stop overstressing. My blood pressure has been high. He has me on medication and keeps trying to get me to meditate or try yoga to relax, but neither of those things seem like me so I haven’t tried them.”
“You should. Yoga is very relaxing and it’s a great workout. You could go with me, Sally, and Cora some time to try a class at the yoga studio. We usually go for a glass of wine after,” I said enticingly, wanting Jean to calm down even more now that I knew about her high blood pressure.
“Thank you, Trixie. I just might do that. Now, if you can go up on stage and get everyone to take a seat and make sure they have a cookie, I’ll review my list of recipients. The badges are already up on the stage,” Jean said, smiling briefly, although it didn’t quite make it to her eyes.
I walked up to the makeshift stage. The room was small, which meant there was no need for a microphone, so I just raised my voice.
“Everyone, if you could have a seat, we will get started. Please make sure you grab a cookie or brownie first, and I see Judy brought her scrumptious chocolate-covered caramel corn. I need you guys to eat all of it before I get a chance,” I said, and the crowd chuckled. Although, I wasn’t joking about the chocolate-covered caramel corn. Ever since Judy Colton had brought it to a Scout banquet a few years ago, everyone clamored for her to make it for every event, and it was usually the first thing to go.
In a few short minutes, the Scouts and their parents were sitting and happily munching away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my ex-husband, who had brought Cody to the event. As usual, Jared was late. I stepped offstage, squeezing Jean’s shoulder as she came up to take her place. Jean looked much calmer, almost blissful, and I felt happy that I’d been able to help in even a small way. I had to hand it to her, she had really settled down in the few minutes she’d been gone.
“Thanks, Trixie, for getting everyone settled.” She turned to the room. “I’m Jean Sartor, although you all probably know who I am.” She laughed nervously from her place on stage. “I’m the co-leader with Dean, and I’m also his wife. Dean is unable to make it, so we are going to go ahead and get started. The first badge I want to award is for Backpacking.”
Over the next thirty minutes, Jean went through the list of the boys and their badges. The room was full of excitement, and I was thrilled to see the proud looks on the boys and their parents’ faces, including my own son Cody, who got his Archery merit badge. I’d been incredibly nervous when he told me he wanted to achieve that one. I felt like he was a little too young for a bow and arrow, but he’d turned out to be very good. And more importantly, very careful.
“And we have one last award. Whew, all this standing is getting to me. Let me just grab this chair,” Jean said as she struggled to move a chair to the center of the stage and sat down. She all of a sudden looked exhausted. “Okay, that’s better. Now, this isn’t an official Scout badge per se, but an award Dean started a few years ago for the most improved Scout. Oftentimes our boys get frustrated because they don’t feel they are catching on as quickly as their peers. But what they learn, and what Dean tries to preach, is that through hard work and focus, anything is possible. So, I would like to recognize Tyler Henley for most improved Scout.” Jean stood from her chair, beaming, a trophy in her hand, as scrawny ten-year-old Tyler started to make his way up to the stage. He had a contagious grin from ear to ear, and everyone started clapping. I was too, until I noticed that Jean had just dropped the trophy with a loud thud. The crowd reacted with a collective gasp as Jean fell to the floor. Since I was closest to the stage, I rushed to Jean.
“Jean, Jean!” I said, and shook her lightly, but Jean was completely unresponsive. “Someone call 911. I don’t think she’s breathing.”
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