Beth's friend Evelyn Doyle was a well-heeled former client who'd already thrown Beth an engagement luncheon, an early bridal shower, a formal dinner party to honor the couple, and had given Beth a forty-thousand dollar car that had belonged to her late husband.
'Thanks, but I think I'll pass. I'm sweaty and tired. Please give my regrets to Michael and Mrs Doyle.'
'Absolutely not! Hose yourself off, put on a party dress, and climb into that fast Mustang. Evelyn has sold her Tybee beach house to a family from Beaufort. Movers arrive tomorrow to start packing her up. Don't miss your last chance to munch on catered food under the stars, surrounded by priceless artwork, as waves lap the shore in perfect rhythm to the reggae combo she hired for the night.'
'Oh, good grief. Is there no limit to that woman's entertaining budget?' Kate scrubbed her face with one hand. 'If you're not careful, you'll turn into a younger version of Mrs Doyle.'
Beth issued another burst of laughter. 'That would be fine with me. Too bad Michael's and my pockets aren't deep enough. Please say you'll come. I want to show off my protege. I'm so proud of how quickly you learned the PI trade.'
Praise like that wasn't easy to ignore. 'OK, as long as you promise not to treat me like a trained poodle, I'll come. But I have no party dress and my 'fast' Mustang only fires on three cylinders. Can I wear long shorts and a silk shirt?'
'Absolutely. Put on a studded dog collar and arrive any time after seven.' Beth recited an address she knew by heart and hung up.
Staring out at an alley lined with trash and recycle receptacles, Kate smiled. I'm going to a party. Just like a normal person in America. Tonight, she would eat steamed jumbo shrimp caught off the coast of Georgia and chargrilled oysters, along with salads and appetizers without a thought to the cost of the food. No burgers, hot dogs, and macaroni salad for this crowd. Maybe someday her life would be normal like Beth's and Evelyn's. Then she would throw a party for her friends and neighbors and not check over her shoulder one time. Even if it was only burgers and hot dogs.
Kate glanced at her watch and jumped in the shower. Within ninety minutes she had applied makeup to the best of her ability, ironed her blouse, and added curl to her straight hair. Then she assessed her appearance in the mirror: Medium height, medium weight, medium brown hair and eyes—average, in every way. Ordinary, just like hot dogs and macaroni salad. But maybe that would make it easier to disappear.
Kate climbed into her car, programmed her GPS with the address, and headed for the Island Expressway. At least the road could live up to its name since the earlier traffic snarls had combed themselves out. Rolling down the windows, she tuned the radio to a country station. Nothing like country music to get a person in the mood for a party. Either a guest could drown their sorrows at the bar, or in her case, at the dessert table.
With Savannah's city limits behind her and a salty sea breeze wafting through the open window, Kate relaxed for the first time that day. She felt confident she hadn't been followed from her gentrified, Forsythe Park neighborhood. There were only so many times you can check the rearview mirror. Perhaps the gorgeous pink and gold sunset had lulled her into a false sense of security, but Kate's anticipatory good mood didn't last long.
Just as she pulled into a turnout to send a message to her boss, Kate received a text from tonight's guest of honor: Where are you? You better get here before Michael finishes off the mini chicken kabobs. Just wait until you see the reggae drummer. If ever a man looked like your type... Beth ended her message with a series of heart-shaped emojis.
Kate rolled her eyes and slipped the phone into her back pocket. Beth thought every single man was her type even though Kate couldn't describe her type if her life depended on it. In order to develop romantic discernment, a person needed to date more than a handful of times in five years.
Perhaps it was her concentration on her lack of romance that caused Kate to pull on to the pavement without thoroughly checking traffic. Luckily, she caused no crashes or near-misses, but a car was approaching at high speed. Stomping on the accelerator, Kate switched on her hazard lights in case the speeder hadn't seen her in the eastbound lane. A long string of oncoming headlights ruled out the other side as an escape route. Yet still the vehicle in her rearview mirror wasn't slowing down one iota.
When the vehicle was only a few yards from her bumper, Kate whispered a short prayer, jerked the wheel to the right, and pulled on to the narrow shoulder. Braking hard, she waited for the crazy driver to go around her. Maybe the idiot would shout a warning or offer a rude hand gesture as he sped by. But instead the driver also rammed on the brakes, squealing his tires to slow down. With the black van matching her speed, Kate couldn't pull back on to the highway. Was this some sort of lesson for her inattention?