A shot ripped through the Steak Grill, shattering the ornate mirror behind the bar. A man wearing a shiny, blue suit grabbed Victoria and dragged her, and the couple standing next to her, to the floor. She struggled to free herself, but blue suit held a firm grip on her.
“I’m with security,” he growled. “Keep your head down until we determine who fired the shot.”
The small restaurant evolved into a state of mass confusion. Tables were overturned and drinks spilled as guests of the engagement party scrambled for safety.
Then, dead silence. The other couple stood and the man offered his hand to Victoria.
“I’m Sean Casey. Let me help you.”
Victoria jerked her arm away. “I’ll get up by myself, thank you.”
The last thing Victoria Gillette had in mind was to attend was a party honoring Olivia McDougle and Dr. Mitchell James, but her mother insisted.
“Hold your head high. Show everyone you can rise above their petty gossip.”
Easy for Mom to say; she wasn’t the one jilted. Well, not jilted really. Mitch never displayed any interest in Victoria, no matter what she did. He had eyes only for Olivia.
Victoria had reluctantly offered her best wishes to the happy couple. A lump swelled in her throat when she glanced at Mitch. She should have been holding on to his arm instead of Olivia. She appraised Olivia’s outfit and unconsciously smoothed the skirt of her new dress, which stretched tightly over every curve of her body. Before she could peruse the crowd for any single men, the shot rang out.
Now, Victoria found herself at the bottom of a pile of struggling guests. A large blot of red wine ruined her dress and the band holding her hair broke, allowing her blonde tresses to fall in a tangled mess around her face.
After several agonizing minutes of shocked silence, the entire room energized. The few people still standing stepped aside when Hamilton Bowers, Rexford’s Chief of Police raced to the front of the room and confronted the woman holding the weapon.
“Drop the gun, Mrs. Gleason.”
“What?” Mary Margaret’s eyes widened. Her hand shook uncontrollably.
“We don’t want any more trouble.” Ham, quiet but determined, reached out and removed the revolver from the trembling woman.
One of the guests pushed his way toward the police chief. “She wasn’t the shooter. The lady over there fired the weapon.” He pointed to a white-faced Dorothy Gillette held by two bystanders. “Mrs. Gleason hit her hand just as she fired and then grabbed the gun,” the witness continued.
Victoria disentangled herself from the group on the floor and shouldered her way through the crowd to reach her mother, who had collapsed in a chair, her arms dangling loosely at her side.
“Mom, are you okay? Mom?”
Dorothy’s eyes lids fluttered, her gaze empty, vacant. Her head drooped to the side and drool saturated the collar of her black-silk suit. She babbled to Judge Gillette as if he stood beside her, although her husband had been dead for over a month.
The once quiet restaurant exploded into bedlam. A few guests rushed to gather their coats and leave the chaos, while others crowded around Dorothy and Victoria to observe the drama. Victoria couldn’t help but overhear their slanderous opinions, including a rehash of the Gillette family’s history of scandals. She clapped her hands over her ears in an attempt to block out accusing voices as personal nightmares from the past resurfaced.
The police called for an ambulance, and while they waited, Chief Bowers interrogated Victoria. Fighting hysteria, she explained she and her mother arrived in different cars.
“Mom said social protocol demanded we make an appearance. She planned to congratulate Dr. James and Miss McDougle and then go home. She didn’t want to be seen celebrating so soon after the judge’s death. I intended to stay for dinner and drinks.”
“Does your mother usually carry a gun?”
“What? Mom? No, she hates guns. I just don’t understand.” Victoria buried her face in her hands. Uncontrollable tears gushed from her eyes.
When the ambulance arrived, Chief Bowers steered Victoria aside to allow the EMT team space to attend to her mother. After they checked Dorothy’s vital signs and did the usual work-up, they told Chief Bowers they planned to transport her to the psychiatric ward at St. Marks in Lima for further evaluation.
Sorrow turned to horror as Victoria’s mother lost touch with reality. The crowd avoided Victoria as if she were responsible for the incident. She tried to ignore the hurtful barbs and whispers, instead focusing on her personal dilemma. Why had this happened? What could have caused her mother to react so violently? She looked around the almost empty restaurant and considered her future.