Steeped in Evil (A Tea Shop Mystery) (5 page)

Theodosia studied him carefully. “It sounds to me like you might be looking for another job.”

Grady ducked outside into the sunlight. “Let’s just say I’m going to keep my options open.”

Theodosia followed him out. “Just a couple more questions,” she told him.

He put up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “Yeah?”

“How well did you know Drew?”

“We got along okay.”

“Do you know what else was going on in Drew’s life? Was he worried about something? Was he in any sort of trouble? Financial or otherwise?”

“Not that I was aware of,” said Grady. “But you could probably ask his girlfriend—she might know.”

“Is she here right now?”

“Should be. She’s usually hanging out at the cottage.”

“That’s right. I understand Drew lived right here on the property.”

Grady nodded.

“So he was close to his work.”

This time Grady offered a grunt. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

“Drew wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations?” Theodosia knew Pandora’s take on the matter; now she wanted to hear Grady’s opinion.

“Let’s just say Drew preferred to deal with what he called the aesthetics of the operation.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” said Theodosia.

“Drew enjoyed drinking wine and designing wine labels. Pretty much in that order. Although I have to say his designs weren’t half bad. I guess he might have put in a year or so at the Charleston College of Art and Design.”

“Hmm,” said Theodosia. She gazed at the grounds, so lovely with the sun angling down upon the leafy vines, neat rows of peach trees nearby, and a sliver of shimmering pond off in the distance. “And Drew’s cottage is where?”

“Back that way,” said Grady, gesturing a paw. “You take the path past the big white house, where Mr. Knight lives.”

“But not Pandora?”

“No,” said Grady. He gazed off into the distance. “She never liked it out here. She’s always stayed in town.”

• • •

The cottage Drew
had been living in was ramshackle cute. A compact, one-story building with a peaked roof whose wooden exterior had been weathered into a lovely silver-gray by the elements. A tangle of morning glories and honeysuckles swarmed up the sides, and a pro forma picket fence defined the entry.

Theodosia stepped onto a small front porch and rapped her knuckles against the door. “Hello? Anybody home?” she called out. There was no answer, no movement inside. She peered through a dusty triangle of window, saw no one, waited a decorous minute or two, then reached down and turned the knob. The door wasn’t locked so it swung open immediately with a low creak. She took a step inside. “Hello?”

The cottage was basically set up like a small apartment. A living room with a faded red-and-gold Chinese rug covered the hardwood floor, a pair of high-backed chairs, and a leather sofa faced a stone fireplace that was flanked with bookshelves. A galley kitchen was on the opposite side of the room, and through a doorway, Theodosia could see a small bedroom. A suitcase was open on the bed.

Just to the left of a small dining table was a contemporary-looking desk that held a large iMac. Theodosia wandered over and saw a pile of papers along with a stack of white foam core squares that had been cut into a ten-by-ten-inch size. Having worked in marketing and design for a number of years, she knew exactly what these were. They had to be the wine labels Drew had designed. Printed out from his color laser printer and mounted individually. Undoubtedly for presentation purposes.

She picked up one of the label designs. It was a label for a wine called First Blush, and the design featured bouncy type above a loose sketch of a woman with rosy round circles of pink on her cheeks. Cute. Theodosia shuffled through the rest of the stack. There were also labels for wines called Summer Sangria, Red Zone, and Knight Music. Theodosia balanced this last label in her hands, studying it. It was simple and elegant, a line drawing of a small lion crouched atop a violin against a sepia-tone background. Fine, copperplate typography spelled out
KNIGHT MUSIC
and, in a smaller font,
KNIGHTHALL WINERY
. She knew this was the biggie. This was the wine Jordan had said he was betting the farm on.

Theodosia set down the labels and let her eyes rove across the top of the desk. There were dog-eared issues of
The Wine Spectator
and
Wine
Enthusiast
, a Mason jar filled with corks, a jumble of papers, and a spiral-bound desk calendar. She pushed aside some of the loose papers so she could study any notes or notations on what she presumed was Drew’s calendar. She glanced at today’s date as well as last Sunday’s date and didn’t see any notes at all. She turned back to the previous week, found only a yellow Post-it note with the words
green alien
scrawled on it.

Just as Theodosia was about to search the desk drawers, the front door flew open, footsteps pounded across the floor, and an angry voice screeched, “What do you think you’re
doing
in here!”

5

Theodosia’s initial impression
of the woman was a tangle of honey blond hair, flashing amber eyes, and impossibly long legs.

The model
, Theodosia decided.
This has to be the model.

“Who are you?” the young woman demanded in a strident tone. She took three more quick steps and, hands planted firmly on her nonexistent hips, crowded up against Theodosia. “How
dare
you paw through my things!”

Theodosia stood her ground impassively. “Your things? Are you sure about that?”

The girl pressed her full pouty lips together and gathered her anger into a burst of kinetic energy. “I don’t know who you are but I want you to get out!” For added emphasis, she flung out an arm and indicated the door.

“I’m Theodosia Browning,” Theodosia said, not budging an inch from her spot. “Jordan Knight asked me to drop by and talk to you.” She offered a faint smile. “I’m guessing you’re Drew’s girlfriend.”

The girl, who must have been used to intimidating people because of her beauty or tall stature, sputtered in frustration. “Yes, I’m his girlfriend. Of course I’m his girlfriend.”

“You are . . .” Theodosia fished for her name. “Trisha?”

“Tanya,” said the girl. “Tanya Woodson.”

“My condolences,” said Theodosia. “This must be a very difficult time for you.”

“Yes, it is,” said Tanya. Although she still seemed to be more angry than grief stricken.

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

Tanya rolled her eyes and let loose a heavy sigh. “You’re just like that stupid Pandora—you want me to play nice.”

“That might be helpful.”

“So what do you want?”

“Tell me,” said Theodosia, “this past Sunday . . . when was the last time you saw Drew?”

Tanya stared at her. “I don’t know, I don’t remember,” she said in a petulant tone. “Look, I’ve been through all of this with that rather unattractive sheriff.”

“Try to recall the time if you can,” said Theodosia. “It could be a great help.”

Tanya wrinkled her pert nose. “Maybe . . . two in the afternoon?”

“And you saw Drew where?” asked Theodosia.

“I went outside to take a look at the tables and tents and everything, then I ducked behind the barn to come back here and get ready for the party.”

“Um . . . Drew was standing next to the barn talking to one of those Japanese guys.”

“Was it Mr. Tanaka?”

“I guess that’s his name.”

“And that’s the very last time you saw Drew alive?”

Tears suddenly swam in Tanya’s eyes. “Yes,” she said in a small voice.

“I realize you may not be able to answer this,” said Theodosia. “But could you tell me anything about Pandora’s relationship with Drew?”

“Of course I can,” said Tanya. “They hated each other!”

Theodosia tried to mask her surprise. “Are you sure about that?”

“From the moment I first started seeing Drew, Pandora was always on his case. She was always harping about him not doing an honest day’s work, telling him he really had to pitch in and help.”

“And did he?”

“That’s what’s so weird,” said Tanya. “In the last couple of months, Pandora backed off totally. It was almost as if she
didn’t
want him involved in the winery.”

“And how did Drew feel about that?”

“I think he talked to his father about it, but . . .” She shrugged. “Not much came of it. I think the old man’s kind of browbeaten by Pandora, too. Lately, she’s been a lot more involved in the winery. I guess she feels like it’s her show.”

Theodosia looked past Tanya at the plush surroundings of the cozy apartment. “I take it you’re going to continue living here?”

“In this dump?” said Tanya. “Not hardly!”

“You
are
here by the good graces of Jordan and Pandora Knight,” Theodosia reminded her.

Tanya’s look of anger turned to one of scorn. “Good graces?” she spat out. “Hah!”

Her curiosity heightened now, Theodosia stared at the girl. What was going on? Could there be even more turmoil?

Turned out there was.

“A couple of hours ago,” said Tanya, “I had a rather one-sided discussion with the evil stepmother. She of the brassy blond hair, dark roots, and too much Botox.”

Theodosia barely nodded.

“And then,” said Tanya, her face suddenly contorted with rage, “she threw me out!”

• • •

Theodosia strode anxiously
toward the back door of the tasting room. Nothing seemed to add up thus far, and she was still anxious to get some answers. Correction, she was going to demand some answers!

As she pulled open the screen door, she literally ran smack-dab into Jordan Knight.

“You!” said Theodosia. “You’re just the person I need to talk to!”

Jordan stared back at her blankly. His face was slack, his hair was unkempt, and his gestures seemed slow and wooden.

“I didn’t mean to bark at you,” Theodosia told him quickly. She was shocked at how bad he looked. Did he even remember that he had begged her to come out here? Because he looked completely dazed. Just . . . very out of it.

Then Jordan shook his head and seemed to pull himself back to the here and now. “Why don’t you come in here,” he said, gesturing toward a doorway. “Come into my office.”

Jordan led Theodosia into a good-sized office that had a large wooden desk, comfy leather visitors’ chairs, and an antique parson’s table that held dozens of bottles of wine. Overhead, crystal wineglasses sparkled in a custom-built wooden rack. Settling herself in a chair, Theodosia waited as Jordan eased himself down slowly behind his desk.

“I think it’s really just hit me,” Jordan said in a strangled voice. “That Drew is truly . . . that he’s gone.”

Pity welled up inside Theodosia. She’d lost both parents herself, her mother when she was young, her father when she was in college. And she knew firsthand how the death of a loved one could leave you feeling shaken and orphaned.

“Again,” said Theodosia. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” said Jordan. “And I do appreciate your coming here today. I hope you’ve been able to view our operation and develop some initial impressions.”

“Somewhat,” said Theodosia. “Though I can’t say that I’ve picked up any concrete facts or answers. Truth be told, I keep running into situations that lead to more questions.”

Jordan’s brow furrowed. “Such as?”

“For one thing,” said Theodosia, “I wish you’d have been more forthcoming about your divorce from Pandora.”

Jordan waved a hand. “Our problems have nothing to do with—”

“Don’t say that,” Theodosia snapped. “You don’t know that at all.”

Jordan rocked back in his chair. “What are you implying? That Pandora had a hand in Drew’s death?” He seemed shocked and more than a little angry. “No.” He shook his head. “That would never happen! No matter how much the two of them were at loggerheads, she’d never put Drew in jeopardy.”

“But there could be an indirect influencer,” said Theodosia. “Some strange twist or permutation that we don’t know about.”

Jordan looked stunned. “I can’t imagine what that could be.”

“Look, relationships around here seem awfully strained. Between you and Pandora, Pandora and Tanya . . . why, even your manager, Tom Grady, is nervous and on edge. And what I’d really like to know is—what is going on with Mr. Tanaka?”

“Nothing’s going on,” said Jordan. “He’s a distributor. Here to lock down a business agreement. Hopefully we’ll have that hammered out and signed by the end of this week.”

“So he’s still here?”

“Of course he’s still here.”

“I understand Mr. Tanaka pitched you and Pandora on the idea of becoming an actual partner?” said Theodosia.

“That was brought up only in passing,” said Jordan. “There was never a serious discussion about it. If you’ve learned anything about me so far, you know that I’d never turn this place over to someone else. Knighthall Winery is my passion!”

“I was under the impression that Higashi Golden Brands was willing to give Knighthall a much-needed infusion of cash.”

“They’re a very successful company,” said Jordan. “But I assure you, they’re never going to own a piece of this winery.”

“Mr. Knight,” said Theodosia, almost formally now. “Were you and your son at odds over this deal?”

“Not at all.”

“What about you and Pandora?”

Jordan drew breath. “Pandora did like the idea. But even though we’ve had a troubled marriage, she understood that I was against selling out. So it was really only ever dinner table chatter.”

“How would you characterize your relationship with the people at the Plantation Wilds golf course?”

“With Donny Hedges, the owner? Fairly amicable.”

“But they’ve been trying to buy you out,” said Theodosia.

“No,” said Knight. “They’ve been trying to buy my land. Big difference.”

“And you don’t want to sell.”

“Absolutely not. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this winery. Do you know how difficult it is to cultivate grapes in this kind of heat and humidity? It’s a viticulturist’s nightmare. But now, with Knight Music, we’re on the verge of having a breakout wine . . . so no, I don’t want to sell. I
never
want to sell.”

• • •

Just as Theodosia
was about to climb into her Jeep, a black-and-tan cruiser slid into the space next to her. A few moments later, Sheriff Allen Anson climbed out. He was a big man. Barrel-chested, square-jawed, and flat-footed. He wore a khaki uniform, black boots, and a modified Smokey Bear hat. He was fully armed, and his gold star shone like he’d just polished it that morning. Anson stood there for a few moments, looking around, casually adjusting his belt. Then, like the periscope on a U-boat that was sighting in on its prey, he turned to look at Theodosia.

With a start, Theodosia decided this might be a lucky break for her. She scrambled out of her car, came around the back, and said in her friendliest manner, “Good afternoon, Sheriff.”

Sheriff Anson peered at her from behind his mirrored sunglasses. “Who are you?” He wore both a pistol and a Taser on a belt that sported an enormous silver buckle embellished with what could either be a cicada bug or a cootie.

Theodosia stuck out a hand. She figured maybe she could disarm him with her friendliness. Or at least worm a grudging smile out of him. “I’m Theodosia Browning. Jordan Knight asked me to come out and look into things around here.”

“Look into things,” Sheriff Anson repeated in a flat tone. “What the Sam Hill is that supposed to mean?”

Theodosia decided she’d get further with the good sheriff if she didn’t utter the word
investigation.
So instead she said, “Just try to get a handle on who might have murdered Drew.”

Sheriff Anson’s lips twitched. “That’s funny,” he said, his voice a gravelly rumble. “I thought that’s what
I
was supposed to be doing.”

“I don’t mean to step on any toes . . .”

Anson frowned at her. “No?”

“Would if be possible to ask you a few questions?”

This time he managed a faint smile. “No.”

• • •

Driving back to
Charleston proper, Theodosia called the Indigo Tea Shop on her cell phone.
Be there, somebody
, she muttered to herself.
Please an
swer.

Luckily, she managed to catch Haley just as she was getting ready to lock up.

“Hey!” said Haley in her usual upbeat fashion. “How’d it go at Knighthall? Did you solve the murder mystery yet?”

“Hardly,” said Theodosia. “But I do have a quick question for you.”

“Shoot.”

“Do you know anyone who works at Virtuoso Staffing?”

“I’m guessing they’re the one who provided the servers and bartenders for the illfated wine event?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, sure,” said Haley. “I know Linda Hemmings, the manager. You know her, too. Don’t you remember? Linda’s the one we worked with when we needed a couple of extra warm bodies for that swanky party we catered at the Heritage Society last winter.”

“Okay, now I remember,” said Theodosia. “So Virtuoso’s office is where?”

“Not that far from the tea shop,” said Haley. “On George Street, a few doors down from Gilder’s Art Supply.”

“Got it,” said Theodosia.

• • •

Linda Hemmings remembered
Theodosia and Haley quite favorably. But she was understandably upset. “We talked to one of Sheriff Anson’s men yesterday,” she told Theodosia. “And two investigators from SLED who dropped by this morning.” SLED was the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

They were standing in the outer office of Virtuoso Staffing. Photos of smiling black-coated waiters serving food and drinks at wedding receptions and formal garden parties lined the walls. Theodosia decided the waiters looked like they were having a much better time than the guests. Although to be fair, the pictures had probably been staged.

“The people you sent out to Knighthall Winery,” said Theodosia. “These were all people that you know and trust?”

“Sure,” said Linda. “They’re all good people.” Linda was medium height, skinny as a rail, and had a sharp nose and long brown hair with a couple of blue streaks in it. She looked like she might have been a sort of hippie in her younger days.

“So they’re basically your employees?” said Theodosia. She wasn’t sure how the arrangement worked. If they were employees or freelancers.

“Not really employees per se,” said Linda. “More like contract help.”

“So the waiters and bartenders don’t work for you full-time.”

Linda shook her head. “Most of the personnel we place have jobs elsewhere in the hospitality industry. This is just a way for them to earn a little extra cash.” She studied Theodosia with some intensity. “And it’s good for us, too. That way we don’t have to stress over payroll.”

“Were you present at the winery on Sunday night?”

“No, I wasn’t,” said Linda. “But Janet was there.”

“Is it okay if I talk to Janet?” asked Theodosia.

“Sure,” said Linda. “No problem. Come on.” They walked down a short hallway where two offices, really cubicles, were jam-packed with computers, printers, copiers, and all the other equipment a small business can’t live without.

Janet D’Lisio turned out to be the office manager. A red-haired dynamo with a quick smile and an extra twenty pounds on her.

“So you were at Knighthall on Sunday night,” said Theodosia. “You saw the barrel crack open and—”

“And that poor boy come flopping out!” exclaimed Janet. She shook her head and put a hand to her forehead as if reliving the memory, of recalling Drew’s dead body, was just too painful for her. “It was awful! Just a terrible shock to everyone.”

“Especially to his family,” said Theodosia. “Which is why I’m asking questions,” she explained. “I’m looking into things on their behalf.”

“Oh, okay,” said Linda.

“And you had how many people working there that night?” Theodosia asked.

“I can tell you exactly,” said Janet. She hit a few keys on her computer, studied her screen, and said, “Fourteen contract workers. Six bartenders, five servers to handle the hors d’oeuvres, two car park valets, and me to supervise.”

“And everyone was hard at work doing their job?” said Theodosia.

“Pretty much everyone was working their buns off that night,” said Janet. “Except for . . .”

“Who?” said Linda. “What?”

Janet rolled her eyes Linda’s way. “Carl. He was . . . what would you call it? A little off his game that night.”

Linda frowned. “Really? Carl Van Deusen? He’s usually a pretty good worker.”

“What happened?” Theodosia asked.

“For one thing,” said Janet, “he disappeared for a while.” She grimaced, as if she really didn’t want to tell tales out of school. “I think he might have been drinking.”


That’s
certainly against policy,” said Linda.

Janet shrugged. “Well, it was a winery and there were, like,
hundreds
of open bottles of wine floating around. You know how tempting something like that can be.”

“What’s the background on this Carl person?” Theodosia asked.

“Carl Van Deusen,” Linda repeated. “He normally works as a waiter at Smalley’s Bistro. But he likes to freelance with us every once in a while. I think he’s hoping to make some contacts and score a better job.”

Theodosia pulled a notebook out of her purse. “What’s his number?” she asked. “Where exactly does he work again?”

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