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Authors: Kate Carlisle

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1 A High-End Finish (9 page)

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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•   •   •

Thanks to my brilliant, nosy pals, motives for killing Jerry began to spring up all over town. Jane even went to the trouble of making up a detailed spreadsheet of all of them to give to Chief Jensen. I hoped he fully appreciated her diligence.

Marigold’s customer Susan had called Jerry selfish, narcissistic, and manipulative. And those were nice terms compared to what some of the other people had used to describe him. Susan had confessed to Marigold that she had bought into his song and dance and succumbed to his questionable charms. He’d been rather cruel afterward, but she refused to go into detail, despite Marigold’s less than subtle questioning.

It was alarming to discover just how many women were being serviced by the phenomenal Jerry Saxton, many of them concurrently. The women were married, single, old, young, rich, poor—you name it. Jerry was an equal-opportunity womanizer.

If the number of Jerry’s sexual encounters was shocking, something equally alarming cropped up in our investigations. Through one of Lizzie’s business connections, we found out that several unwarranted home foreclosures had occurred as a direct result of Jerry’s allegedly shady dealings.

I remembered on the night of our date, Jerry had talked about some of the property deals he’d handled in Lighthouse Cove, but I hadn’t realized there were so many. And I’d certainly never thought he might be doing anything illegal with them. Then again, I didn’t really know the man at all.

I was beginning to think it might be easier to find someone in town who
didn’t
have a motive to kill Jerry.

By the end of the week, there were still too many questions in my mind. But now I knew exactly who to talk to in order to get some answers.

Chapter Six

Friday night I finally showed my face at the pub. Jane and Emily flanked me as I walked inside and was greeted by many of the friends and neighbors I’d been avoiding all week. There was plenty of good-natured ribbing, but nothing too outrageous. Jerry’s death had clearly put a damper on any teasing I might’ve received for kneeing him that night on the beach.

We left our name with the hostess and found a spot at the bar to have drinks while we waited for a table. I glanced around to see if my dad was here, but didn’t spot him. I saw plenty of other people, though. Penny was sitting in a booth with two people I recognized from the bank. Joyce and Stan Boyer sat across from each other at one of the bar tables, talking animatedly while they drank cocktails and shared an order of French fries. I would’ve loved to get close enough to listen in on their conversation, but they would probably notice and shoo me away.

Police Chief Jensen stood at the far end of the bar, talking to Tommy and another cop. I figured the three of them were off duty, given that they all had beer bottles clutched in their hands.

Jane waved to Chief Jensen, who grinned at her and then acknowledged me with a somber nod. I smiled at Tommy just as Whitney approached him and whispered something in his ear. He chuckled at whatever she said and gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek. She turned and looked directly at me, smiling smugly. I rolled my eyes and gazed in another direction. The woman was relentless in her need to prove to me how much Tommy adored her. I simply didn’t care, but I would never be able to convince her of that.

A minute later Whitney was joined by Jennifer Bailey and their friend Trina, another member of their rich-girl posse from high school. All three women were overdressed for a night at the pub, but that was typical. Whitney wore a sleeveless baby blue beaded top to show off her tanned, perfectly toned arms, along with white skinny jeans and terrifyingly high stiletto heels. Her sleek dark hair was tucked coquettishly behind her ears. The other two women were both dressed in shimmering black from head to toe, including the requisite stiletto heels. Tommy ordered drinks for the women, and when the cocktails arrived the three of them moved away from the cops to talk more privately.

“She’s still a piece of work, isn’t she?” Jane murmured, shaking her head.

“Yeah.” I glanced down at my clean blue jeans, navy sweater, and black ankle boots and wondered briefly if I should start wearing clothes with sparkles on them. I’d probably get laughed out of the pub.

“She’s scared to death that Tommy is still in love with you,” Emily said.

I blinked at her. “That’s crazy.”

“No, it’s not,” Jane said. “It makes perfect sense.”

“Except for the fact that Tommy is deliriously happy with both his marriage and his family.”

“That may be true,” Emily said, “but she’s too insecure to see it.”

I glanced over my shoulder at Whitney, then turned back to my friends. “Possibly,” I hedged.

“Let’s change the subject,” Jane said. “How’s your chef hunt going, Emily?”

Emily regaled us with the disastrous results of her search for a second cook for the tea shop. “Needless to say, the past few days have been a complete fiasco. But I have prospective cooks coming in every day next week, so please pray that none of us gets food poisoning or a knife shoved into her gut.”

“That’s a lovely picture,” Jane said, laughing.

I shivered at the thought. I guess it was too soon for me to find jokes about murder funny.

I took a sip of my wine and gazed across the room in time to see Wendell Jarvick saunter imperiously into the bar and collide right into Whitney. Her drink, some cranberry-and-vodka concoction, splashed all over the front of Wendell’s crisp white dress shirt and dripped down his perfectly creased khaki pants.

“You stupid bitch!” he shouted, his facing turning as red as the stain.

“It’s not my fault,” she yelled back, outraged. “You weren’t looking where you were going.”

“You saw me and deliberately got in my way.”

“That’s ridiculous.” She set her empty glass down on the nearest surface. “You owe me a drink.”

“Oh yeah?” In an instant, Wendell grabbed a ketchup bottle off a nearby table and shook it. Whipping the top off, he flung the contents at Whitney, leaving thick red blotches spattered across her sparkly top. She gaped at her top for a second or two, then screamed and grabbed for his throat.

Wendell shoved her away from him.

I flinched. “Oh, my God. He’s horrible.”

“You’ll pay for that,” Wendell said in an ominous tone as he brushed the excess liquid off his shirt.

“You’re going to die!” Whitney screamed, and leaped at him again.

“Hey, hey,” Tommy said, grabbing Whitney around the waist and pushing Wendell back a foot. “That’s enough.”

Chief Jensen stepped into the fray. “You okay?” he asked Whitney, who nodded silently. He turned to Wendell and pointed to the door. “You. Out.”

“Why should I go?” Wendell demanded. “She’s the one who threw her drink at me.”

“I did not!” Whitney cried. Tommy wrapped his arm supportively around her shoulders. Whitney breathed heavily, her face pale from the shock of Wendell’s attack.

Wendell glanced down at his stained shirt. “This is a two-hundred-dollar handmade shirt and it’s ruined. I demand that she pay for it.”

“Good luck with that,” Jensen said dryly. “Everybody saw you run into her, so it’s your own fault. Now do yourself a favor and get out of here before I decide to let her throttle you after all.”

Wendell’s teeth were clenched and he was trembling with anger. He had to know it would be folly to continue arguing with someone as big as Eric Jensen, even if he didn’t realize the man was the chief of police. So after a long, charged moment, he pivoted and stomped out of the bar.

The room erupted in applause.

Trina handed Whitney a clump of paper napkins and she began to wipe the ketchup off her top. She looked so numb, I actually felt sorry for her.

“Wow,” Emily whispered. “That man is pure trouble.”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling a little shell-shocked. “He’s also my tenant for the next two weeks.”

“If he lives that long,” Jane muttered.

•   •   •

Saturday morning I called the person I most wanted to talk to about Jerry Saxton. She couldn’t meet me until noon, so in the meantime I took a walk over to the Cozy Cove Diner to have breakfast with my dad and Uncle Pete. The two men met there every morning unless they were away on a fishing trip, which was more often than not lately.

“Morning, Shannon,” Cindy the waitress said. “I’ll bring you some coffee.”

“Thanks, Cindy.”

“There’s my girl.” My dad waved me over to the booth he was sharing with Uncle Pete.

“Got time for breakfast with the old man?” Dad asked.

“Of course.” I gave them each a smooch on the cheek and slid into the booth next to Dad. “What are you two rovers up to?”

“Going fishing,” Uncle Pete said, and checked his watch. “Leaving in an hour.”

“I’m shocked.”

They both chuckled as Cindy poured coffee into my waiting mug.

Once I’d moved back to town from San Francisco and Dad’s health had improved, I’d taken over the house and the business and he’d bought the massive Winnebago he’d always wanted. It had long been the plan for him and my mom to raise us kids and then take off to see the country in their RV.

With Mom gone, Dad had still been determined to hit the road. Halfway to the Oregon border, though, he’d realized he wasn’t so keen to leave his hometown and see the world after all. Not by himself, anyway. Besides, the Winnebago was huge and he didn’t feel comfortable driving it much over twenty miles an hour. So he turned it around and headed back to Lighthouse Cove.

Most often he parked it in my driveway and that was fine with me. Dad liked living in what he called his Rolling Man Cave with its big-screen TV and comfortable furnishings. His construction-crew buddies and Uncle Pete met there once a week to play poker, watch football, and share their opinions about what I should be doing with my life. Every month or so, Dad would indulge his wanderlust by driving the Winnebago up to the river or down to the beach to go fishing with Uncle Pete or one of the other guys.

I ordered the hash and eggs and listened to Dad and Uncle Pete talk about the two lovely ladies they’d met at my uncle’s wine bar the night before.

That was something else in which my dad and uncle shared an abiding interest: the ladies. And why not, since they were both good-looking, eligible bachelors? They were sweet men and always treated women nicely, but it was funny to hear them talk about their strategy as though they were planning a reconnaissance mission into enemy territory.

I told Dad about Wendell parking in the driveway and Dad brushed it off. “We’re leaving this afternoon to go fishing so I’m not worried about a parking space.”

“Probably be gone a week or so,” Uncle Pete said, after taking a big bite of bacon.

“Will you be okay while I’m gone?” Dad asked.

“I’ll be fine. I’m hoping for a lot less excitement than we had last week.”

“Damn straight,” Dad said, then lowered his voice to add, “But if that police chief comes sniffing around, accusing you of anything again, you call me. I’ll race back here and give him a piece of my mind.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Dad.”

•   •   •

At noon, I drove over to meet Penny at her house. My main objective was to find out more about Jerry Saxton and the rumors about the foreclosures he might’ve manipulated. But I hadn’t mentioned that subject when I spoke to her on the phone, hoping I might bring it up more casually at some point. Instead, I’d told her I had the samples I’d gathered for her counters, floor, and backsplash. I had wood-grain samples, too, from which she could choose her cupboards and drawers.

“I’m sorry I have only an hour to spend,” she said, slinging her suit jacket and purse over the back of a dining room chair. “It’s crazy busy at work today. And I just realized I’ve been saying that a lot lately.”

“I guess being busy is better than the alternative.”

“Absolutely,” she said with a grin. “I should be used to it by now, but I’m always surprised at how many people like to bank on Saturdays.”

I checked the clock. “I think we can get through all of this with time to spare.”

“Sounds good.” She sat down at the table and pulled an apple out of her purse. “I hope you don’t mind if I munch while you talk.”

“Please do.” I placed the heavy box of samples on the table and pulled the tiles out one by one. I discussed the pros and cons of each floor tile and counter sample, weighed the benefits of travertine versus ceramic tile, and discussed prices. I laid the tiles down on the kitchen floor for her to imagine how they might look. “I’ll leave all of these with you for you to play with during the week.”

“Thanks.” She pointed to one of the squares on the floor. “I love that rust-colored travertine, but I’m not sure the color will go with everything else I like.”

“I brought another book with additional colors for you to look through.”

Her eyes lit up. “You think of everything.”

“That’s my job,” I said with a smile.

We went through the same process with the marble and granite samples for the kitchen counters. She picked out a beautiful black-and-red-speckled granite that I knew would go perfectly with the vertical-grain Douglas fir she’d chosen for the cupboards and drawers.

“If you’re not happy with something, I’ll keep looking,” I assured her.

“I’m happy, I promise.” She stood and pulled her jacket on.

“Okay, but you can always change your mind.” I stood, too, and grabbed my purse. “I’ll give you another week to go through the books, and if you’re still happy with these choices, I’ll start ordering.”

“Sounds great.”

As she led the way outside, we talked some more about a tentative schedule for the work. Then I broached the real topic I’d wanted to discuss with her. “Hey, do you mind if I ask you a question about Jerry Saxton?”

“Ugh,” she said, making a face. “No, I guess not. Have the police talked to you yet?”

“Oh yeah. Two hours the other night at the police station, plus a few minutes the next day. I doubt it’ll be the last time they question me.”

“Unfortunately, you’re probably right,” she said. “They talked to me for a while, too. I’m glad they’re being thorough, though. It’s creepy to know there’s a killer on the loose.”

Very creepy,
I thought, barely suppressing a shiver.

“Anyway,” I said, getting back to the subject, “I heard a rumor that Jerry pulled some shady maneuvers with some of the bank loans. I’m worried that a few of my clients might’ve been affected.”

“Oh, God.” Her shoulders sagged slightly. “It’s all true, but you didn’t hear it from me. I’m not at liberty to discuss it, but, believe me, if Jerry wasn’t already dead, my bank president would gladly kill him.”

“That sounds bad.” I grimaced, wondering if the bank president should be considered another suspect.

“It’s beyond bad,” she assured me with a serious frown. “Besides being a jerk and a womanizer, the guy was a crook.”

“That sucks for the bank,” I said, then added, “But on the bright side, at least you didn’t date him.”

She began to laugh. “No, thank God.”

I sighed. “I guess I’d be laughing, too, if I didn’t have the cops breathing down my neck about it.”

She gave me an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry. They’ll figure out you’re not guilty and move on to someone else pretty soon.”

“Hope so.”

She opened her car door, and with a wave good-bye I headed for my truck.

“Oh, wait,” she said. “I wanted to ask you something.”

I turned. “What is it?”

“I think we go to the same gym. Flex-Time over on Old Cove Road?”

“Yeah, that’s the one I go to.”

“I just joined last week and I thought I saw you driving out of the parking lot a few nights ago.”

“Probably so,” I said. “It’s a nice facility.”

“Do you want to meet there sometime and work out together? We can spot each other.”

I thought about it. I could never get my friends to go with me. Penny was new in town and probably didn’t know a lot of people, so I was happy to say yes. “That sounds great.”

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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