“Senator Lizer, don’t look so serious,” Aileen said as she looked through the shudder of her digital camera. “It isn’t every day that your only granddaughter gets married. Smile!”
The wedding party loosened up and relaxed for the photoshoot in the garden of the Governor’s Mansion. Aileen suppressed a sigh as she continued to position and photograph the posh group. So this is my breakthrough, she thought. I retired from working in the Senator’s office to take pictures of his granddaughter’s wedding for the society news outlets.
“Outstanding!” she said as she clicked through the assorted photographs. The four o’clock garden wedding ceremony had just ended, and they were doing the family and wedding party photographs before the formal six o’clock dinner and reception. It was a stressful assignment, but this would be the publicity she needed to start her photography business. She wanted to do more than weddings. Maybe this would open doors to a wider variety of assignments.
No idle retirement for me. I’m on my way to living my dream of being a photographer!
She gestured to the outdoor bar set up outside of the mansion. “That’s a wrap. Go join your guests for drinks while I set up to photograph your entry to the reception.”
The group dispersed as she folded her tripod and stashed her equipment. She rubbed her neck, trying to massage out the tension and perk herself up for the rest of the evening. Something swinging in the woods behind the garden caught the periphery of her vision. She gasped and dropped her camera.
“Aileen, what is it?” Senator Lizer asked.
She pointed silently at the body dangling from a tree limb just inside the shadows of the tree border of the garden.
Senator Lizer cursed under his breath. “I’ll get the Coroner and Sheriff.”
Coroner Gravis stared at the man’s body hanging from the tree limb. He was a consummate professional, discretely motioning for Sheriff Nazzary to follow him and discretely leaving the bar at the Senator’s whispered summons. Aileen envied his steady hand as he took pictures of the scene. Her own hands were shaking so badly that she was sloshing the champagne glass he handed her all over the ground.
“Obviously, he isn’t a member of the wedding party or his absence would have been noted,” Sheriff Nazzary said. “Who is he?”
“His name is Reid Sones,” Senator Lizer said. “He was an aide in my office six years ago.”
“He introduced me to my husband,” the bride said, sobbing into a silk handkerchief. “They’re cousins. He killed himself! He did it on purpose to ruin my special day. He always wanted to be with me, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
“Cassidee, you shouldn’t be here,” Senator Lizer said. “I told you to stay in the mansion until I got back.”
“I appreciate you trying to protect me Granddaddy, but I already knew,” she held out a paper. “I found this note in my bridal suite. It’s a suicide note.”
“It’s evidence,” Sheriff Nazzary said, taking the paper with a gloved hand. “When did you find it?”
“Just now, when I went to freshen up before the reception.”
“Did anybody else touch this?” Sheriff Nazzary asked.
She shook her head and blew her nose.
Coroner Gravis turned to Aileen. “Can I see the pictures you took of the wedding party?”
Senator Lizer put his arm around Cassidee. “Come on, honey. We can’t let anybody know this happened or your wedding will be overshadowed by scandal, just like Reid wanted. Let’s get you cleaned up and back to your wedding. You have dirt on your dress.”
Coroner Gravis motioned Aileen and Sheriff Nazzary to a black SUV in the parking lot. “Let’s plug your camera into my tablet and see what we can find.”
They set up the equipment in the tailgate of the vehicle. Several minutes of scrolling and zooming yielded nothing but green leaves and colorful roses until the last image, where she had zoomed in on a casual shot of the bride and groom holding up their arms in a gesture of joyful triumph. She zoomed in on a dark spot under the bride’s right arm that resolved into a small line of bright red drops.
Coroner Gravis tapped a few keys to save the image, unplugged the USB cord, and ran to the scene where his team was gently lying the body in a bag. “I need to see the body!”
His technicians handed him gloves, which he put on before carefully lifting the victim’s head to reveal a bloody wound. He turned to Aileen. “How would you like to make headlines for a different reason today?”
She hugged herself, despite the warm day. “Why not? I didn’t want to be typecast as a wedding photographer anyway.”
“What's this?” Cassidee sobbed as she opened the door to the bedroom converted into a bridal suite in the mansion. “I’m not ready for dinner.”
“Cassidee Lizer, you are under arrest for the murder of Reid Sones,” Sheriff Nazzary said.
“What?” Senator Lizer asked. “This is an outrage. There’s no way she could have committed murder. Besides, Reid shouldn’t have been here. He wasn’t invited. He and Reece have been estranged for five years since Reece took over his father’s real estate business.”
“You can’t have confirmed his identity yet,” Cassidee said.
Coroner Gravis held up his tablet. “Reid Soames had a subdermal hematoma playing intramural soccer his sophomore year in college and has scars from the surgery on his head. I felt them when I was checking for the source of blood that we saw on the bridal gown in the wedding pictures.”
Cassidee stood up and twirled. “What blood?” She lifted her arm. “See? No blood.”
Sheriff Nazzary pulled handcuffs from his belt and snapped them on Cassidee. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.”
“How can you believe I killed Reid!” Cassidee shouted.
“We never told you where we saw the blood on your gown,” Coroner Gravis said.
“I’ll have your head for this, Gravis!”
“My dear, you’ll have nothing but hard time. If you’re going to commit murder, you should have worn red.”
Nobody laughed at the joke as Sheriff Nazzary led Cassidee to his patrol car.
“Talk about a bridezilla,” Aileen said as she finished her sangria at the bar. “I thought being a wedding photographer would be boring. This turned into a full-blown expose! I had three reporters hand me their cards and ask if I want to freelance for their news outlets.”
“Are you going to take any of them up on it?”
She smiled as she motioned for the bartender to bring her another drink. “Of course, but I want to research them to decide which one is the best fit.” She shook her head. “It’s ironic. What was supposed to be the happiest days of two lives ended in an exposed scandal, and gave me a breakthrough in ways I never could have imagined. I feel bad for benefitting from Senator Lizer’s family drama.”
“Don’t feel guilty,” Coroner Gravis said. “This drama was happening right under all of our noses for years, and we didn’t realize it. Reid and Reece Soames were smooth operators. They pretended that they were estranged, but remained silent partners in Reece’s real estate business to launder drug money. Their downfall was a powerful woman. Cassidee wanted in on the business and wanted Reid out. She turned them against one another and helped Reece kill his cousin before the wedding. There was blood on his shirt too, but his tuxedo jacket covered it.”
“I thought it was strange that he insisted on keeping the jacket on, but he said it was for the pictures.” Aileen laughed. “They both should have worn red.”
He chuckled. “Coroners work with the living and the dead. I filled in the blanks from things I remember seeing and hearing on other cases. Properties that Reid handles are linked with a lot of the bodies that have come through my office these past five years. Now Sheriff Nazzary and I have our missing link in those cases, too.”
Aileen shook her head as the bartender brought her another drink and deftly removed her empty glass. “Life is strange.”
“So is death,” he raised his glass in a toast. “Here’s to your outstanding wedding pictures! They broke this case and several others.”
“Here’s to not wearing red,” she raised her glass to his toast as the lights flicked on over the empty bar and dance floor.