by C. Hope Clark
A man in his forties, decked out in dress khakis, white shirt and a blazer in blue that Callie now understood represented the Indigo Plantation brand, appeared from a hallway connecting the restaurant to the main house. Their waitress pointed him toward the two uniforms.
“Here we go,” Callie said.
“Yeah, he asked about you earlier.” Raysor wiped his mouth on a napkin before grinning and rising from his chair.
“What’s his name?” she whispered while pushing out a smile.
She reached out a hand first, and the gentleman swallowed it up in his. “I’ve heard so much about you, Chief Morgan. I’m Swinton Shaw, the manager of Indigo Plantation, but call me Sweet.”
She grimaced. “And you say that without joking.” She gripped and made him shake her hand, indicating strength behind the demure, preferring the former to the latter when meeting fresh people.
He winked. “My mother’s doing. We can’t run far from our mothers, can we?”
“No matter how hard we try,” Callie said, withdrawing her hand. “I heard you met mine, and no doubt she left an indelible mark.” She motioned to the table. “Congratulations on the turnout. Sit, unless you’re too busy.”
“I can spare five minutes,” he said, eyes straying over to a waiter, then back to the hostess podium before allowing his consideration to rest at their table.
Callie got a good measure of him before he slid up a chair. A full foot taller than her, not that she wasn’t accustomed to being dwarfed, but in her career, size had proven more of a handicap to the criminal element as they underestimated her. She rather enjoyed the ability to catch people off guard with her size four stature and unspoken history of detective in a major city. Not that it mattered here. Mr. . . um . . . Sweet, held all the traits of a Southern gentleman.
His outdoorsy tan married well with the colors he wore, his dark, peppered hair long, slightly waved and brushing his collar. Dignity atop an ability to maybe captain a boat or fish the creeks. “You have a reputation of your own,” he said, waving for the waitress to bring him whatever it was he normally wanted when he greeted guests. “The first woman chief of Edisto Beach. You command respect, and I hear nothing but good about how you keep this place safe.”
“I’m still employed,” she replied, noting what sounded like a Georgia accent.
Raysor crossed a booted foot over the other knee, bumping the table. “Don’t let her size fool you. Last year she solved a serial killer case we’d overlooked for six years.”
Sweet’s cordiality paled. “Serial killer?”
“Don’t listen to him,” Callie said, and welcomed the cup of ice cream from the waitress then watched the lady set a water and lime before the boss. “So, Sweet. . . how far are you booked out for the B&B?”
He playfully stared down his nose at her. “Meaning how long do we think we can keep this concept afloat? Trust me, we researched the B&B business before breaking ground, and our goal is to surpass anything conceived, much less attempted, on this island. A place to harbor overnight guests without competing with the house rentals on your beloved beach, yet attract your visitors with our other attractions. A small dock for our guests to catch your existing boat charters. A festival for indigo in the summer and the Hoppin’ John Festival for New Years.”
Pausing, he seemed to wait for all that to sink in. Admittedly, they’d chosen prime times to hold their festivals. Little else happening in both cases.
He continued. “Our indigo doesn’t just stop at our little shop either, as we attempt to supply dyes to businesses and textile entrepreneurs up the coastline. Natural cotton doesn’t mean anything without the natural dye. And we’ll have seasonal classes on sweetgrass baskets, thanks to one of your local residents, as well as textile arts that vary from month to month. We’re attempting to marry with the natives rather than compete with them.”
Callie raised a brow at Sweet’s allocution and took another bite of ice cream to hide a smile.
“A little thick?” Sweet asked.
“Maybe a pinch,” she said. “But I like it. Let us know how we can help. While I don’t have jurisdiction over this part of the island, I might be closer than calling the mainland. We get along that way.” She pointed her spoon at Raysor. “Don here is from Colleton County, by the way, so I’m sure he speaks for them, too.”
Sweet’s gaze hung on her. “Very nice to know.”
A silence passed between them. Callie juggled her thoughts, a tad unsettled at the apparent intention.
Raysor cleared his throat. “Mind if we walk around?”
Sweet seemed to snatch his attention back to the present. “Don’t mind a bit.”
He reached out to shake Raysor’s hand, then did the same in a slower, softer manner toward Callie, holding onto the grip. “I’d love to chat again. Learn about more than textbook history of Edisto. When this week’s chaos settles, I can reach you at the station? Or maybe meet you someplace for dinner?”
As long as it’s work related. “Sure,” she said, then motioned to Raysor. “I really need to get back to my own seasonal chaos. August is crazy at the beach.”
“Come on, doll…Chief.” The deputy tripped over the casual reference, his nickname going back to when they first met and didn’t exactly like each other. Their feelings changed, but the moniker stuck. “I’m curious, and like Mr. Shaw said, we can give the grounds a once-over.”
Sweet tipped his chin. A noble, mannerly gesture Callie couldn’t help but appreciate. Then she watched him leave from whence he came. When she looked back at her partner, he smirked from ear to ear.
“Oh, shut up,” she said, and headed to the door.
The wet, briny heat slammed them back to reality, with minimal breeze to cut the effect. Short sleeves did little to cool an officer wearing a vest, leather belt, and the gun, magazine, cuffs, and assorted other tools weighing it down.
Shades on, they walked around the exterior of the house. “Damn,” Raysor said as they faced toward the South Edisto River and frontage that cost a ridiculous penny or two. Paths meandered in several directions with signs blending into the landscape, but Callie led her partner to the edges of the indigo field. They soon strolled through the modernized showplace and barn, grateful for its air-conditioning.
“If he asked you out to dinner, would you go?” Raysor asked, leaning against a post, not in the least bit interested in how the worker behind the gate made blue dye.
“Day to day works for me, Don. I’m not into forecasting.”
“Maybe it’s time you looked farther down the road, Doll.”
She scoffed at him. “You’re like an old maiden aunt with your matchmaking.”
“As one of his oldest friends, I imagine Seabrook would want you to be–”
Her stop-sign hand in his face halted him. “Don’t. . . please.”
So he stopped and watched the throng around them instead.
She preferred not to discuss Mike Seabrook. The wound wasn’t oozing after ten months, but it wasn’t healed yet either.
Instinctively she turned away from the conversation toward the dye exhibit. The representative spoke as he stirred the process. “Indigo is not as cheap a dye as what already goes on your blue jeans,” he said. “But your current dye,” and he pointed to the various pairs of denim on the tourists, “comes from overseas, mostly the Orient, because United States laws prohibit the use of cyanide in making the dye you’re wearing in most of your jeans.”
Gasps rolled through the people.
The comment caused Callie to tip-toe and strain to see, but her height prohibited seeing over the other visitors. So instead she moved to the side of the group and, like Don, watched out the picture window. People came and went, not a one of them without sweat on their brow.
The quicker motion of one immediately caught her attention. Amongst the ambling strollers, a tall, bearded man in his late forties stood out, trotting, scanning the people while bee-lining it toward the house. A controlled urgency in his face, his stride.
Callie pushed through the door and headed toward the guy. “Can I help you, Sir?”
“Yes!” He made a pivot, reached her, then continued fast-walking, taking her by the arm back inside the barn.
She wasn’t fond of being handled and shrugged him off. “Want to tell me your problem?”
“Not here,” he said in a rush.
Raysor approached, and the stranger muttered from behind a taut jaw. “You too. Come with me, please.”
A few people paused seeing a stern man and two cops. Unspoken, the three of them moved further into the building with this new stranger trying a couple of doors before finding one open.
They entered, and after shutting them inside, he turned. “I need your help. My girlfriend found a body near the water.”
Raysor cocked both brows. “Say what?”
“Wait a minute,” Callie said. “Are you sure?”
The tall man in cowboy boots reached in his pocket and drew out a federal badge. “Senior Special Agent Wayne Largo.”
Son of a bitch. Just what this island needed, another death.
BIO: C. Hope Clark deems herself a regular on Edisto Beach, having visited since she was a teen. Some of her dearest friends are here, and she returns regularly to sign her books at the Edisto Bookstore. Hope is author of The Edisto Island Mysteries and the award-winning Carolina Slade Mysteries, both set in her home state of SC. This excerpt is taken from Dying on Edisto, the fifth Edisto Island mystery, and a crossover story where Chief Callie Morgan of the Edisto series crosses paths with Carolina Slade from the Slade series, joining forces to solve yet another Edisto Island crime. When Hope isn’t making appearances or strolling the beach, she’d on the banks of Lake Murray in central SC. www.chopeclark.com