Read Lead a Horse to Murder Online

Authors: Cynthia Baxter

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Private Investigators, #Women Veterinarians, #Long Island (N.Y.), #Horses

Lead a Horse to Murder (8 page)

BOOK: Lead a Horse to Murder
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I remained silent, not mentioning that I’d had the same impression the first and only time I’d seen Eduardo Garcia on a horse, just a few days earlier. MacKinnon appeared to have gone into a sort of trance.

“At that moment,” he went on, “it was as if I had the ability to look into the future. I could actually see the polo player Eduardo was going to be. And I was right on. Three years after I brought him up here, he was rated a ten-goal player.

“In the simplest terms,” MacKinnon went on, “Eduardo was one of the best polo players in the world. And the man won a lot of games for me. But that was only part of it. The chance to play with someone of that caliber, to watch his mastery of the game so closely, out on the polo field amidst all the excitement, the speed, the power . . . well, I feel privileged that I was able to have an experience like that.

“As for Eduardo,” he continued, “when he agreed to come to this country, he left behind everything and everyone he’d ever cared about. His village, his family, his childhood friends . . . Sure, he was dirt poor. Still, he abandoned the old Eduardo to become someone new. A new place, new friends, a new career . . .

“But he handled it all with amazing ease. The man was truly one of a kind. In fact,” MacKinnon went on, his voice becoming strained with emotion, “he was like a son to me. Of course I love my daughters. Peyton and Callie are the center of the universe, as far as I’m concerned. But Eduardo . . . Eduardo was something special.”

He shook his head slowly. “Losing him would have been a great loss to the game.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, confused.

MacKinnon glanced up, looking surprised. I got the impression he’d been thinking out loud. For the moment, at least, he seemed to have forgotten there was someone else in the room.

“I said, ‘Losing him is a great loss to the game.’ ” His gaze traveled back to the polo player’s photograph. “Damn shame,” he muttered. In a few hearty gulps, he emptied his glass, then rose to get himself a refill.

“Can I offer you another drink?” he asked politely, without looking up.

“I’m fine.” I glanced at my glass, which was just as full as it had originally been. I put it down on one of the tables, hiding it between two framed photographs and hoping that someone would dispose of it later. “In fact, I should really be on my way.”

I hesitated, wondering if our conversation had come to an end. But MacKinnon had picked up the photograph of Eduardo and was holding it in his hand, just staring at it. I slipped out of the room, not wanting to disturb him during what was obviously a private moment. Or maybe it was that, for the moment, at least, I’d had about all of the MacKinnons I could handle.

As I came out of the study, I nearly ran smack into the man who was striding down the hall.

“Excuse me!” I cried. “I didn’t see—”

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Dr. Jessica Popper. You sure have a way of showing up in the most interesting places.”

I blinked, caught off guard by the sight of the small, wiry man with the piercing dark eyes. But I immediately realized I shouldn’t have been at all surprised that Lieutenant Anthony Falcone, Chief of Homicide, was among today’s attendees. Still, seeing him here confirmed that the police believed that Eduardo Garcia’s death hadn’t been accidental, after all.

“Dare I ask what you’re doin’ here today?” he asked in his thick Long Island accent.

“If you’re asking if I’m here because of Mr. Garcia’s suspicious death, the answer is no. I happen to be treating one of Andrew MacKinnon’s horses.”

“You sure get around, don’t you?” Lieutenant Falcone folded his arms across his chest. He reminded me of Napoleon—with a New York attitude. He was short, not even as tall as I was, and slight of build. His blue-black hair was slicked back, held in place by some substance so shiny I could have used the top of his head as a mirror.

“I hope you’re not planning on gettin’ involved in this investigation,” he warned. “Murder is dangerous business.”

“So I’ve learned,” I replied coolly. “Although I seem to recall that the last time you and I met, even you had some complimentary things to say about how I handled myself.”

I watched with no small sense of satisfaction as his mouth dropped open.

“Besides,” I couldn’t resist adding, “it seems to me that this investigation should be a cinch.”

“Yeah?” Falcone’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And why, may I ask, is that?”

“Apparently the medical examiner’s office believes the man was poisoned. So all you have to do is find out who had access to his food right before he died and you’ve got your murderer.”

“Sounds simple, doesn’t it?”

“Like I said, a cinch.”

“Except for one small problem,” he growled. “The night before Eduardo Garcia died, he was one of three hundred guests at a party at the Old Brookbury Country Club, a celebration of the club’s seventy-fifth anniversary. During the autopsy, the partially digested food that was found in his system indicated that the last time he’d eaten had been twelve to fourteen hours before his death—meaning that the last time he ate was at this fancy party and that it’s therefore most likely where he was poisoned.

“In other words, Dr. Popper, at the moment we have two-hundred-ninety-nine individuals who could easily have slipped something in the guy’s drink—including just about everybody you see here at Andrew MacKinnon’s estate today.”

“I see,” I said evenly, not willing to give him the satisfaction of admitting that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t quite the expert I’d pretended to be. Tossing my head, I said, “In that case, I’d better let you get to it. I guess it’ll take you quite a lot of time to interview two-hundred-ninety-nine murder suspects.”

I stalked off in the direction of the front door, determined to get out of there. In fact, by that point, there was nothing I wanted more. Which was why I was dismayed to find that the two women I’d seen come in right after me, the ones I’d immediately labeled trophy wives, were blocking the doorway.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, expecting them to move out of the way.

Instead, one of them leaned forward and peered at me. “You’re that . . . that animal doctor, aren’t you?”

It sounded more like an accusation than a question. “Guilty as charged,” I replied.

“Did I hear someone say that your name is Dr. Pepper?” the other one wondered aloud.

“It’s Dr. Popper,” I informed her through clenched teeth.

The second one, who was shorter, rounder, and louder, giggled. “That’s a relief. Although I
was
wondering if you were a soft-drink heiress.”

“Don’t be silly, Viv,” the taller woman chastised. “The Dr Pepper heiress lives in Texas. She’s got a polo team of her own.” Turning back to me, she added, “By the way, I’m Diana Chase. My friend here is Vivian Johannsen.”

“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled, hoping I sounded at least a little sincere. I had to admit that the two of them did make an interesting pair. Diana Chase was built like a model, so tall that her spiky high-heeled shoes seemed like overkill and so thin that the various bones that protruded almost looked like accessories. Sleek, dead-straight blond hair swooped down over her eyes. She had a breezy, confident air that advertised the fact that, thanks to her beauty, she was used to being admired and treated as someone special.

Even though this was supposed to be a somber occasion, she was dressed in a dangerously short white dress made from slippery fabric, with a complicated network of straps crisscrossing the tanned skin of her back. I wondered if she was unaware that we could all see the outline of her lacy white thong underwear—or if that was the whole point.

Her pal, meanwhile, was as curvy as Diana was angular. Vivian Johannsen had the classic hourglass shape, with hips as round as dinner plates, a tiny waist, and voluptuous breasts that threatened to pop out of the low-cut beige minidress she’d donned for the occasion. While Diana’s jewelry was minimal, Vivian was decked out in large gold hoop earrings, an ostentatious necklace studded with glittering stones, and a diamond ring that was so big I was surprised she was able to lift her hand.

“How do you know the MacKinnons?” Diana asked casually. “Or were you friends with Eduardo?”

“I came here today to treat one of Mr. MacKinnon’s horses.”

Diana looked surprised. “Is that how it works? You mean people don’t bring their animals to you?”

“Most horse vets make house calls,” I explained patiently. “But I specialize in making house calls for all kinds of animals. Dogs, cats, even exotics like lizards. I have a van that’s pretty much a clinic on wheels.”

“How absolutely marvelous!” Diana cooed, suddenly interested. “You mean you actually go to your clients’ homes—just like my personal trainer and my masseuse and my hairdresser?”

I forced a smile. “Same deal.”

“Harlan would love that,” Vivian interjected with a smirk. “Just think of all the pennies you’d save on gas!”

I blinked, wondering if they were joking. Diana hardly looked like a woman who had to worry about making ends meet.

As for Diana, she pointedly ignored her friend’s comment. “In that case, when can you come by to take a look at Fleur? She’s a Chartreux. I’m terrible at keeping track of schedules, but I don’t think she’s been to the vet in ages. She’s probably due for some shots or something.”

“Let me check my schedule,” I told her, pulling my appointment book out of my bag.

“Me, too!” Vivian piped up. “I have a Himalayan named Liliana. Can you take her on as a patient?”

“I’d be happy to come by and check her out.”

“See if you can fit me in, too!” she demanded, stepping in front of Diana and nearly crunching down on her foot.

Scheduling appointments wasn’t easy, given all the tennis lessons, massages, and luncheons at Babbo, Bolo, and Nobu in New York City we had to work around. But both women managed to squeeze me in the following Monday—meaning I’d have to make the trip to this part of Norfolk County only once. After Diana Chase and Vivian Johannsen had punched me into their Palm Pilots, I was free to gather up my dogs and get on my way.

It wasn’t until I was driving away from Heatherfield, with Max and Lou beside me, that I recognized what a bizarre morning I’d had. Here I’d expected to make a simple house call, examining Braveheart’s tendon and then checking in with Mr. MacKinnon. Instead, I’d nearly run over one of the most obnoxious young men I’d ever encountered, learned that Eduardo Garcia had been murdered, attended his wake, and met some really peculiar people who’d actually made me glad I wasn’t ridiculously wealthy.

I couldn’t wait to tell Nick all about it.

Of course, that would have to wait. He was at school and I had a full day of appointments ahead of me.

As soon as I got home that evening, I took a few minutes to give every member of my menagerie a proper greeting. Then I reached for my cell phone. As I dialed the number of Nick’s apartment, I replayed the events of the day in my mind, trying to figure out how to tell him all about it in a way that made sense.

“Hello . . .” I heard him say.

“Nick, it’s me. Today was the craziest day—”

“. . . You’ve reached Nick, but I’m not able to take your call right now. Please . . .”

I hung up, then immediately punched in his cell number. But the phone kept ringing, and I realized he wasn’t going to pick up.

“Damn!” I cried.

“Damn the torpedoes,
awk
!” Prometheus screeched. “Full speed ahead!”

“Hardly,” I mumbled. Unable to reach Nick, I was suddenly hit with a tidal wave of loneliness. Wasn’t Friday night supposed to be a date night—at least for someone who’d had the same boyfriend for four years, more or less?

I was still feeling sorry for myself when I heard a knock at the door. I flung it open—and was confronted by the biggest mass of flowers I’d ever seen in my life. The bouquet was so huge that it completely concealed the head and torso of whoever was carrying it, making it look like a creature from a science fiction movie who was half floral and half corduroy-covered legs.

I couldn’t be positive, but I thought I recognized those legs.

“Nick?”

The face that poked itself out from behind the bouquet did, indeed, belong to Nick. It wore a big, apologetic grin.

“Are you still talking to me?” he asked sheepishly, pushing back the lock of straight brown hair that was always falling into his eyes.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because I’ve been ignoring you.”

A wave of guilt immediately rushed over me. “Oh, Nick, I know how busy you must be. After all, law school just started last week!”

I wasn’t the only one who was happy to see Nick, though. Max and Lou shot over, yelping with joy and leaping up on him. He was suddenly surrounded by a flurry of white fur—some fluffy, some sleek and dotted with black—and eight paws sliding around on the floor.

“Hey, guys! I missed you, too!” Nick cried. “But you’ve got to let me put these down.”

“Here, I’ll take them,” I offered. “Wow, these are really beautiful.”

I relieved Nick of the shrub-sized bouquet, freeing him to crouch down and lavish attention on the dogs. His arrival had also prompted Cat to give up her warm, comfortable spot and amble over to say hello. Prometheus just shrieked, happy to be in the midst of any form of commotion.

The sweet fragrance of the yellow roses that were mixed in with half a dozen other varieties of colorful blossoms was already filling the cottage. “Thanks, Nick,” I said. “That was really sweet of you.”

He paused in his ear-scratching duties long enough to leer at me. “I have an ulterior motive. I expect to be thanked in a really big way.”

I laughed. “One week of law school, and you’re already depraved!”

“One week of sleeping alone, and you have no idea how depraved I can be!”

“No, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Let me just put these in a vase, and you can show me.”

I went into the kitchen and stuck the bouquet into the biggest vase I could find. Then I grabbed two wine-glasses, along with a bottle of red. On impulse, I picked up a couple of candles and a book of matches.

BOOK: Lead a Horse to Murder
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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