In this first book in the Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series by Diane Marquette, Jill McCormick works as the night security guard at an exclusive, high-level conference center on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. When the drowning of a prominent guest begins to look more like murder, Jill and her lover, deputy Mitch Garrett, conduct an investigation of their own, even though it may implicate both their bosses in murder.
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In Over My Head is the first book in the Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series by Diane Marquette.
The prestigious Chesapeake Conference Center is situated on a secluded parcel of 200 wooded acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Despite its rustic setting, the Center offers its guests four-star accommodations and is one of the top-rated meeting facilities in the United States. Highest-level government groups from nearby Washington, D.C. meet here on a regular basis, as do international organizations regarding finance and technology.
The body of Dr. Roger Henderson is found in the guest swimming pool on the first morning of a weeklong medical conference. The Center’s employees and the Doctor’s colleagues are stunned by the accident. The following day, the coroner’s report indicates the possibility that the doctor died a more violent death than originally thought, and he died at midnight, not during an early morning swim as everyone had presumed.
During the investigation by the Bridgewood Sheriff’s Department, evidence is obtained that suggests that the General Manager of the Center, Ted Savin, may have been involved in the Doctor’s death. Like most employees at the Center, Jill McCormick, a security guard, and Sandy Pearce, a Conference Assistant, don’t particularly like their boss. Manager Ted Savin is certainly an inconsiderate and self-centered individual, but Jill and Sandy can’t believe that he could be capable of murdering Dr. Henderson.
When Jill and Sandy learn from one of the housekeepers that Ted may have been having an affair with the doctor’s wife, they begin to feel differently about their boss. As eyewitnesses come forward and the evidence mounts up, Jill and Sandy believe that Ted may indeed be guilty. In spite of the substantial information, Sheriff Lyndon Clark quickly dismisses it and refuses to suspect his good friend Ted in the murder.
Frustrated, Jill enlists the help of her lover, Deputy Mitch Garrett, who is as puzzled as she and Sandy are to explain the Sheriff’s refusal to implicate Ted. As Mitch joins Jill and Sandy in their own investigation over the next several days, he realizes that the Sheriff must be guilty as well. Jill and Mitch are faced with having to prove that their bosses are guilty of killing Dr. Henderson.
Alice, one of the housekeepers at the Center, presents Jill and Sandy with piece after piece of evidence that supports their theory of why and how the doctor was murdered. When another housekeeper disappears after being questioned by the Sheriff, everyone realizes that Ted and the Sheriff are probably becoming desperate to silence the witnesses. After Ted threatens Alice, Jill and Sandy know that they must use creativity and determination to see that those responsible for the murder are apprehended before anyone else gets hurt.
Mitch questions the Sheriff about Ted’s possible guilt and is warned by the Sheriff to back off or lose his job. Mitch feels that his hands are tied in trying to figure out a way to prove the Sheriff’s guilt.
Later in the week, during a violent evening thunderstorm, an irrational Ted keeps Jill, Sandy, and Alice at the Conference Center, trying to convince them of his innocence. The Sheriff arrives to confront Ted and brings with him the Doctor’s widow, who has admitted that she and Ted were having an affair, and that together they killed the doctor. Realizing that the Sheriff has tricked him and is going to arrest him for murder, Ted holds everyone at gunpoint. Jill manages to escape and contacts Mitch.
Mitch tells her that has discovered that the Sheriff has only been laying a trap for Ted and is in no way himself guilty of any involvement in the murder. Mitch is unable to come to their rescue because the storms have toppled trees across the only access road onto the Conference Center property. When Jill learns that no one is able to come to help them, she knows that she alone must save the others and detain Ted.
In Over My Head
Book #1 in
The Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series
by Diane Marquette
The cold chlorinated water revived the doctor. He instinctively gasped, inhaling water, not air. The pressure on the top of his head was released and he felt himself rising. When he broke the surface, he gasped again. This time he filled his lungs with damp air.
His head was still pounding from the blow he’d sustained. The figure leaning over him was silhouetted against the security light mounted on the roof. The doctor’s eyes couldn’t bring the face above him into focus.
His lungs burned and his heart hammered in his ears. Suddenly he felt pressure again on the top of his head, and just before he was forced down for the final time, he heard his wife’s voice saying, “Hurry! Someone’s coming!”
Tuesday’s glorious sunrise made me think it was going to be a good day. There was no way then I could have known that by the end of the day I would have been questioned by the police, had a fight with my friend, and ticked off my boss. I don’t even know if there was a beautiful sunset that evening. By then, I really didn’t care.
For the most part, I like my job. I don’t mind the hour-long commute each way or even the fact that I work the graveyard shift. I’m friendly with some of the people who work there; well, okay, just Sandy. Most of us agree that our boss can be a first class jerk, but I try not to let him get to me.
The Chesapeake Conference Center where I work is on 200 wooded acres along the eastern shore of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. In the fall, winter, and spring months, the buildings of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis can be seen from the Conference Center’s west deck. The haze and humidity that hang in the air throughout the summer months though only gives a blurry view of the Bay through a sticky white mist.
The Center is less than an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., and regularly hosts meetings for many high-level government agencies, as well as businesses and corporations from all over the world. Occasionally we even get a visit from the President or other world leaders. What I like best about my job is its diversity. I work as a security guard on the campus, and every day is different, which helps me stay sane. In any given week, we may host a conference whose attendees are discussing national security issues, world peace, or international finance.
Tuesday’s sunrise was finding me in a particularly sour mood, but I was hoping to could blow off steam to Sandy when she came in at seven. Sandy’s a Conference Assistant and says she loves her job. But I have trouble believing it when I see how awful Ted is to her.
I knew Sandy would probably have a lot to do for the group before their meeting, but hoped she’d give me a little time to vent.
The group was made up of forty prominent doctors from all over the world. They’d been coming to the center for the past two years. Their coordinator has always been Dr. Roger Henderson, a cardiologist from Philadelphia, and based on what Sandy had said, more than a little bit neurotic. She said that he was very particular about all the arrangements for his meetings, and could be pretty demanding. The group had arrived the day before, and was supposed to have a welcome cocktail party and a poolside barbecue that evening. They were all in bed by the time I came in to work at midnight.
The job of everyone who works at the Center is to make the guests happy. It’s that simple. And if an employee can’t find a way to do that, help is usually just a phone call away. With a support staff of over sixty people working around the clock seven days a week, there’s always someone available who can respond. The confidence level runs high that we can control everything but the weather.
That’s why we’re one of the highest rated conference facilities in the eastern United States. And that’s why I work there. I figure it will look great on my resume.
I walked along the gravel path to the Conference Building, a rustic building with wooden shingles that have weathered to a smoky gray. I could see the white haze already hanging over the Bay that was off to my right about a hundred feet. I detoured to the parking lot to see if Sandy was there yet. She was just getting out of her car. “I need some therapy,” I said in greeting.
“Good morning to you, too,” she said. “How come you and your truck are still here? You haven’t hurt anyone, I trust?” *e asked, curiously eyeing the clipboard I was carrying.
“Not yet,” I answered, as we headed for the building.
It was warm and humid for May, and the air conditioning that greeted us when we let ourselves in through the service entrance door felt refreshing. The draperies were drawn and only a few lights were lit in the main lobby, making the computer screen that Alan was watching seemed unusually bright in the semidarkness. “Hey,” he said without looking up. “Is it seven already?”
He closed the program he had been working in, rolled his chair back and swiveled to face us, stretching and yawning. “Oh, hello, Jill,” he said when he finally noticed me.
“Beautiful sunrise out there, Alan,” Sandy said. “You might still be able to see it if you hurry. Anything I need to know for today?” She went into the small kitchen to put her purse in her locker, and then walked around the lobby area, turning off lights, and opening drapes.
“Not really,” he said, stifling another yawn. “According to the Food and Beverage Department’s head count, they served fifty dinners last night, so all the doctors must have made their flights, and gotten themselves here on time. Looks like about half of them drove here. The rest took cabs or the Airport shuttle. Dr. Henderson came in after dinner last night to say hello and have a quick look at the setup in the conference room. He requested a few last minute changes — hey, big surprise, huh? But I’ve already taken care of them. All you have to do when they arrive at nine o’clock is smile. I know you can handle anything else that might come up; you always do, Sandy.”
“Thanks. I appreciate your confidence. I’m sure everything will be fine. Their breakfast is at…” she asked, scanning some pages in a notebook.
“Eight,” Alan answered. “But you know you may get a few showing up here early. Other than that, there’s nothing else to tell you. I guess I’m outta here,” he said, now standing and stretching with his arms overhead. “See you tomorrow, Sandy. Have a good one. How come you’re here so late, Jill?”
“You don’t really want to know, do you, Alan?” I asked.
“Probably not,” he said.
I went to the front door to turn off the outside lights and looked down the long gravel path towards the dining building. The low gray dwelling was completely illuminated in the early morning haze, giving an impression of busyness inside. One wall was lined with tall windows, which spilled yellowish light onto the newly trimmed grass below. Those wonderful folks in the Food and Beverage department had been hard at work for hours preparing breakfast for the guests.
I turned towards the third building in the vast triangle of lawn. I could see that there were several lights glowing from the windows of the second and third floors of the guest room building. There were a few early risers walking down the path that connected the guest quarters and the dining building. Tuesday was off and running.
Walking back to the front desk, I plopped into one of the chairs. I tossed the clipboard I’d been carrying onto the desk, and massaged my temples. “This has been the longest damn night,” I said. “And it was all our wonderful boss’s idea.”
“How so?” Sandy asked.
“Well, yesterday Ted asked me to do a ‘special assignment’ for him. He wanted me to go over some new security checklists he’d made up. He said I could come in later last night, and that it should only take a couple of hours, and then I could leave. Yeah, right. I got here a little after midnight and I’m just finishing up now. I’ve never seen so much paperwork in my life. It kept me sitting behind a desk most of the night. This ‘special assignment’ was a lot harder than jiggling doorknobs and chasing raccoons away from the Dumpster, which is what I usually end up doing most nights. I don’t know what this checklist is all about—Ted didn’t really say. Have you heard anything about the corporate office having a problem with the security here?”
“No, nothing,” she said. “You know I would tell you if I had. Want some coffee?” I followed her into the tiny kitchen off the front desk area. We leaned on the counter, each taking a tentative sip of coffee that Alan had made probably eight hours earlier. “I’m going to make some fresh coffee. This stuff’s horrible,” Sandy said. We dumped the contents of our mugs into the sink, and I watched Sandy empty and rinse the coffee pot.
“Thanks, but I’ll get some at home,” I said. “I need some sleep. Call you later.” Before I could reach the door, my pager went off. “Aw, Jeez, I was almost out of here.” I squinted at the number being displayed. “It’s the kitchen. Now what’s their problem? Toaster jammed again? Maybe I should just ignore it.”
“You know better than that,” Sandy scolded. “If it’s Maureen calling, you can be sure she knows you’re still here. Don’t take a chance. It would get back to Ted in a heartbeat.”
I grabbed the receiver from the wall phone and punched in the three-digit extension for the main kitchen. “This better be good,” I said when Maureen answered. Her words came fast, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Say that again,” I said, my eyes opening wide. “Be right there,” I barked and bolted from the room without saying anything to Sandy.
I pushed through the front doors and sprinted down the path towards the dining building. Maureen was waiting for me on the back porch that led to the kitchen entrance.
She was pointing to the fenced area surrounding the nearby pool. “Over there, Jill,” was all she said. I turned in the direction of the pool, picking up my pace.
When I cleared the open gate, I could see some people in the pool. It was hard to determine how many, but it was obvious there was indeed something wrong. I tossed my pager and watch onto one of the lounge chairs, and waded down the steps at the shallow end to meet them. Kitchen staffers Ricky and Warren were steering a man’s floating body towards me. He was on his back, dead eyes staring at the heavens. I grabbed one of his outstretched arms and helped navigate him towards the edge of the pool. We awkwardly carried him up the steps, struggling to maintain our grip on his wet skin. We set him down as gently as we could on the rough concrete surface. I looked up to see several people standing just inside the gate.
“Has anyone called 911?” I asked, breathing hard.
“I did. Right after I paged you,” I heard Maureen’s voice say from somewhere in the crowd. “It’s Dr. Henderson, isn’t it?”
I didn’t know. I’d never met the man. I looked at Ricky and Warren, who were both nodding yes.