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Authors: Ellen Crosby

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #General

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BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
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“There’s no ‘apparently’ about your father’s guilt, Ms. Montgomery. And my wife has already answered—”

“Put yourself in my place,” I said. “You’d want to understand what happened, too. You’d want some closure…some peace, wouldn’t you?”

There was a long silence and I wondered if I hadn’t been on a speakerphone all along, so that Annabel had heard everything I’d said.

“One moment, please.” Sumner sounded brusque. When he spoke again, I realized I’d been right. He’d turned off the speaker and now it was just the two of us on the line.

“My wife says she will see you,” he said. “It would not be my decision, but I respect her wishes. Let me warn you before you get here. I will not tolerate any accusations or threats against her. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.”


Like many of the buildings in Middleburg and Atoka, the Fox & Hound had been built in the early 1800s. Over the years it had gone through numerous changes, including joining the separate kitchen to the main house and adding double-tiered verandas that overlooked Grace Jordan’s lush English gardens, until it evolved into the graceful, rambling estate it was today. The grounds possessed many outbuildings, some of which had been enlarged and converted into guesthouses, which were now the more sought-after lodgings.

Sumner Chastain answered the door to Devon Cottage when I knocked. Taller than I expected, I guessed him to be around six foot two. He wore an open-necked dress shirt, well-cut slacks, and a double-breasted navy blazer, radiating authority and the craggy
bonhomie of a good fellow who belonged to all the right clubs and sat on boards of numerous charitable foundations and civic organizations. His eyes lingered on my cane as he looked me over and it seemed to surprise him.

He turned away and called to the bedroom. “Annabel, she’s here.”

It bothered me that he didn’t use my name. I wondered if it was deliberate or if I genuinely didn’t register with him as someone of any consequence. After this conversation, we’d have no further reason to speak with each other.

Annabel Chastain—or Annie Kinkaid, as my father knew her—seemed tense and nervous when she walked into the elegant sitting room, which Grace had furnished with fine English antiques and oil paintings of pastoral settings, mixed in with hunting scenes. Like her husband’s attire, Annabel’s clothes spoke of understated wealth and good taste. Cream-colored slacks, matching open-toed heels, bottle-green silk tunic, and the same oversized choker pearls I remembered from the Internet photograph.

She examined me with undisguised curiosity and also appeared startled by the cane as her eyes darted between it and my face. I knew then she’d never met my mother. If she had, it would be like seeing my mother’s ghost nearly thirty years later. But there was no flicker of recognition when she looked into my eyes.

“A car accident,” I said.

She colored faintly. “I apologize for staring. You’re just so young…” Her voice trailed off.

“Are you all right, darling?” Sumner asked.

“Yes, of course. Won’t you sit down, Ms. Montgomery?” she asked.

“No, thank you. I won’t take much of your time.”

“As you wish.” Annabel walked over to a carved button-back chair and sat on the edge as though she were poised for flight.

“Would you like your tea, Annabel?” Sumner asked. “I can bring it from the other room.”

“No, thanks, darling. I’m finished.” She fluttered a hand.

He came over and stood behind her chair, resting his arms on the rosewood frame as he leaned forward, a tender gesture that made it
seem like he was physically shielding his wife. Annabel reached up and stroked the sleeve of his blazer, fidgeting with one of the buttons on his cuff.

“Forgive me for being blunt,” I said, “but I understand you and my father were having an affair at the time your ex, rather, Beau Kinkaid, was killed. I wondered how it started.”

It didn’t appear to be the question she was expecting. Or maybe she was expecting denials or accusations first.

Annabel’s eyes grew wide and she briefly tilted her head in Sumner’s direction, as though he had an answer for her. For a moment, I thought he was going to be the one to do the talking.

“Beau and…your father…met each other through a mutual friend,” Annabel said finally, her voice breathy and her words rushed. “Some business deal. Sorry, but I don’t remember the details. There were so many with Beau, always something. Your father came down to Richmond for a meeting. On his own.”

She stroked her husband’s sleeve again. “Leland, Beau, and I went out to dinner. Beau’s club. A private place with a top-floor restaurant that had a splendid view of the James River.”

“That’s how you met?”

Annabel shrugged. “Things happen. It was obvious he was attracted to me and I won’t deny I was attracted to him. I’ll spare you the details, but the next time he came to Richmond, Beau was out of town.”

“How long did your relationship go on?”

The litany of questions seemed to pain her. I wouldn’t be able to ask many more.

“Six, maybe seven months. Then Beau found out. There was a horrible scene. He threatened to kill your father. Left our house in an awful state and took a gun so I knew that’s exactly what he intended to do. I managed to call Leland and warn him.” She looked down and stared at her perfect manicure, but her hands were trembling. “For all these years it’s haunted me that I might have signed Beau’s death warrant, telling your father Beau was on his way.”

“Darling, we’ve been over this. You mustn’t blame yourself.” Sumner put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and massaged them gently. “You’ve been through too much.”

“Or perhaps you saved Leland’s life,” I said.

My comment seemed to surprise her. “Perhaps.”

“Did you know my mother was pregnant with me that summer?” I asked. “My cousin remembered Beau visiting my father the day she went into labor with me.”

Sumner’s eyes darkened, but Annabel nodded and said in that breathy voice, “Yes. I did know.”

“Why didn’t you report him missing?” I asked. “Didn’t you speak to my father when Beau didn’t return home? I don’t understand how you could not have known what happened. Or not cared to find out.”

She sat up straight like I’d yanked a puppeteer’s string. “You have no right to judge me.”

“I’m not judging you. But I don’t understand how you know for sure that Leland killed Beau unless my father told you so himself.”

“I believe Detective Noland has been over all that with you.” Sumner’s voice held a warning that I’d crossed a line and his tolerance was wearing thin. “There’s nothing further to discuss here.”

I asked, anyway.

“Please, Mrs. Chastain. What happened between you and Leland after Beau died?”

Sumner looked like he was ready to come around from behind the chair. I ignored him and focused on Annabel.

“Please,” I said to her again. To him I added, “My last question. I promise.”

“I didn’t want to know what happened.” Her voice was still tight with anger. “I was glad Beau didn’t come back. You can’t possibly understand how it was.”

“Show her, Annie,” Sumner said. “Then she’ll understand.”

Annabel slowly raised her hands and tried to unhook her pearls.

“Help me,” she said to Sumner.

When he removed them, I saw the large red welt—an enormous slash that girdled her neck—that had been hidden by her jewelry.

“Beau did that,” she said. “I nearly died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Let me tell you something.” She gripped the arms of the chair and this time I could see the bones of her fingers sharply defined against her thin, taut skin. “I never asked Leland if he did it, but we both knew he did. Afterward your father wouldn’t let go of me, and
that terrified me. If he could kill Beau, what could he do to me? Especially because I could link him to Beau’s murder. Your father called constantly, hounding me until I would no longer answer the phone. One time he drove to Richmond. I left my house by the back door and ran away to spend the night at a friend’s place. Then there were the letters. So many letters.”

“Some of which you kept as blackmail.”

She drew back. “I prefer to think of it as insurance. They were the only proof I had that Leland killed Beau.”

“All it proves is that you were having an affair.”

“Motive,” she said. “It gave him a motive. Leland knew Beau abused me and he probably saved my life by killing him. But I couldn’t bring myself to continue the affair, once I knew what he’d done.”

“You wrote him letters.”

“Asking him to leave me alone.” Her eyes swept over me. “You seem like a nice young woman, Ms. Montgomery. Believe it or not, I admire your spunk and your courage in coming here today. It may surprise you, but I hoped your father would return to your mother and his new daughter. You have a brother, too, I believe?”

“And a younger sister,” I said. “You said my father was crazy about you. Did you take advantage of that and set him up to kill Beau?”

“This is
Sumner said. “I will not allow my wife to be subjected—”

“No,” Annabel’s voice cut through his. “No, I did not. At least, I never asked him outright. I told you he was madly in love with me. He would have done anything for me. Anything to have me. Anything to save me. Your father knew if I stayed with Beau, I would end up dead. The beatings were growing more savage.”

“How did it end with Leland?”

“Badly. I left him. Finally ran away and hoped I’d never see him again. I moved to Charlottesville and tried to start my life over. Later I married my Sumner. He’s given me a wonderful life.” She patted Sumner’s hand and he smiled. “That part of my old life is over now. Except for one last thing. Something I’d like you to do for me.”

I hadn’t expected the request. “What is it?”

“I would like to see the place where your father buried Beau.”

“Annabel!” Sumner chided her, stroking her shoulders. “My
darling, you don’t want to do that. Let me send one of the company photographers—”

“I’d be glad to take you there,” I said. “But it has to be today. We have a Civil War reenactment on the farm this weekend. There’ll be hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, people attending.”

“What time today?” she asked.

I looked at my watch. “Noon. Meet me in the winery parking lot. And I suggest changing your clothes, or at least your shoes. We have to walk and it’s muddy out there.”

After I left, I heard their voices rise and fall behind the closed door. Sumner didn’t want her to see the grave site. She wasn’t giving in.

I drove back to the vineyard and wondered why Annabel wanted to do it. What if she were lying about not seeing Leland again after Beau was murdered? Suppose she killed Beau and then got Leland to help her bury the body? She seemed like the sort of woman to go over the edge if someone pushed her too far and maybe that’s what Beau had done. If Leland were besotted, it wasn’t hard to imagine him agreeing to help her out. That made him an accessory to Beau’s murder, but not a murderer. Nevertheless, it had made it easy for Annabel to shift the guilt solely to my father, absolving herself. He’d been involved—just not the way she said.

After the brutal beatings Beau had inflicted on Annabel, I couldn’t say I blamed her for killing him. Maybe in her shoes, I’d do the same thing—or would I?

But why revisit Beau’s grave? Unless she hadn’t come along when he was originally buried there, so she’d never seen the site and now merely wanted to satisfy a morbid curiosity. Gloat to herself and to Beau’s memory that she’d managed to get away with murder.

Maybe at noon she’d tip her hand and I’d find out. Maybe this was the instance of Locard’s principle Officer Mathis had tried to explain to me—that a killer either takes something away or leaves something at the scene of the crime.

Annabel Chastain was finally leaving something behind by visiting Beau’s grave nearly thirty years later.

Her guilt.


When I took over running the vineyard, I stopped believing there are six degrees of separation between people before they find a connection with one another. Maybe it’s the Internet and social networking. Maybe it’s because everyone travels so much that sooner or later someone bumps into someone whose brother dated a college roommate’s sister and that conversation happens to take place at an outdoor café in, say, Salzburg, Austria. I figure we’re now down to about four degrees of separation among all of us. In Atoka, however, it shrinks to two.

For that reason I’m not often surprised when two individuals with no apparent connection discover a quirky or circuitous link that moves them inside the same circle. Today was an exception.

Sumner and Annabel Chastain’s burgundy Mercedes with its vanity license plates pulled into the parking lot at twelve sharp. Through the villa window I caught sight of Sumner helping Annabel out of the car and hollered to Gina, who was fixing lunch in the kitchen, that I’d be back in half an hour. The Chastains were dressed casually in brightly colored polo shirts and khakis. Both of them wore boots.

Ray Vitale’s Honda Accord drove up as I came down the walk to greet the Chastains. Vitale parked next to the Mercedes and Sumner swiveled his head to look. When he turned back to Annabel, I recognized the don’t-ding-my-car expression my brother often wore
anytime someone with an unworthy clunker parked too close to the Jaguar.

“Hey, you!” Vitale said. “Are you Chastain?”

He was dressed in a full Union officer’s uniform: navy wool jacket with gold braid, Dresden blue trousers, blue kepi, and a fringed scarlet sash around his waist.

Sumner turned around again, this time to see who was talking. He looked startled by the uniform.

“I am,” he said. “Who are you?”

“Raymond Vitale.”

Sumner’s expression was suitably bored. “I meet a lot of people.”

“And you don’t give a damn about most of them or what you build. That’s because you employ the shoddiest construction crews and you bribe inspectors to sign off on crap that isn’t up to code.” Vitale’s querulous voice cracked with pent-up anger. “A few years later the problems start. Take my buildings, for instance. Cracks in the foundation. Faulty wiring. Heating systems that don’t work. In a nursing home.
people live there with wheelchairs and walkers. Want me to go on?” As Vitale talked, he moved closer to Sumner, who looked askance but showed no sign of being intimidated.

After yesterday’s episode with Chance and Quinn, the last thing I wanted was another fistfight. Of the two men, Sumner had the physical advantage. But he didn’t have Ray Vitale’s scrappiness or his bottled-up fury. Sumner stepped forward until he and Vitale were well inside each other’s comfort zones.

“I don’t know who you are, but you’re out of line.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, as if Vitale were mentally challenged. Sumner poked a finger at his chest. “I run one of the best construction companies in the world, sir. We win awards every year for our projects. You make any further unsubstantiated accusations in public and you’ll hear from my lawyers.”

Vitale laughed. “Your lawyers can’t protect you from everything, Chastain. You can’t buy everyone off. If you don’t believe me, wait and see.”

Sumner balled his hands into fists, but before I could move, Annabel caught her husband’s arm.

“Don’t,” she said. “He’s just goading you. Probably some con
struction worker with an axe to grind who’s come here for that reenactment.”

Vitale looked her up and down, a curious light in his eyes. “The missus, right? I’ve been reading about you. Your ex-husband’s body was found here on this farm. Something shady about that, too. Figures why you’d be hooked up with this fellow.”

“Why you son of a—” Sumner began.

“Stop it!” I stepped between the two men as Annabel yanked harder on Sumner’s arm. “That’s enough.”

I always wondered what kind of guts and nerve it took for referees at sporting events to put themselves between two gladiator-sized men who had arms like tree trunks, legs thick as wine barrels, and testosterone-fueled egos. Ray Vitale and Sumner Chastain weren’t that big, but they were bigger and stronger than I was. Both of them stared down at me with incredulous expressions, but at least they stopped threatening each other.

“I don’t care what beef you have with Mr. Chastain,” I said to Vitale. “Take it somewhere else.”

“If you lived in one of his buildings, you’d be thanking me,” Vitale said. “Chastain Construction was supposed to build five assisted-living homes for my company. They hadn’t even finished the second one before the problems started. Once this goes to court, people are going to find out about the corners he cuts and the bribes he pays to get his jobs signed off by the building inspectors.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sumner said.

“Sumner,” Annabel said. “Let it go. He’s not worth it.”

I was grateful for the distraction of more tires on gravel, particularly when I saw B.J.’s sleek black Lincoln pull in and park next to Vitale’s Honda. B.J. climbed out and straightened up, stiff limbed but elegant in a Confederate officer’s uniform. I’d heard at reenactments he donned a plumed hat like Colonel Jeb Stuart. Today, though, he was hatless.

“Howdy, folks. What’s going on here?” His eyes darted from Vitale to the Chastains to me. He zeroed in on me. “Everything all right, Lucie?”

“Just fine. Let me introduce you to Annabel and Sumner Chastain.” I nodded at the Chastains. “B. J. Hunt. He’s in charge of
the reenactment this weekend. B.J., I’m about to take Mr. and Mrs. Chastain over to visit the grave site. Would you and Mr. Vitale mind waiting at the villa so they can have some privacy? I wasn’t expecting you this early, but we’ll be back in a few minutes and the site is all yours.”

By now B.J. had figured out our little group wasn’t Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but he smiled like we were all friends and nodded at me.

“Of course. You folks take your time. Ray and I’ve got some paperwork to go over, anyway. Don’t we, Ray?”

When Vitale didn’t answer, B.J. jostled his elbow. “We’ll just get a move on.”

They left and I shepherded the Chastains over to the red Mule, which was parked in the lot behind my car. Sumner helped Annabel into the front passenger seat and climbed in back.

“So this Vitale fellow.” Sumner’s breath was warm near my neck and his voice held quiet anger. “What does he have to do with your reenactment?”

“He’s the commander of the Union troops,” I said. “I apologize for what happened. I didn’t realize he would be here when you arrived.”

“It wasn’t your fault, but I appreciate that. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll steer clear of me. I can make his life miserable.”

I had no doubt.

I felt Sumner’s weight shift and saw in the rearview mirror that he was now sitting against his seat with his arms spread in a grand manner across the back. The Chastains were silent as I headed out of the parking lot and turned onto the south service road, passing one of our apple orchards. The dull, sallow day seemed to mute all colors and sounds, matching the increasingly gloomy mood of my passengers.

I wondered if Annabel regretted suggesting this expedition. She was fidgeting with the handles of her pretty fabric handbag, twisting them in a knot around her fingers. Sumner, from what I could see in the mirror, looked restless and impatient, and it seemed to feed on Annabel’s jangled nerves.

Now that the grave site had been scavenged by Bobby, his deputies, and Savannah Hayden, the place was nothing more than dis
turbed earth. The tornado’s destructive path, however, was still as vivid as a new scar. I parked and everyone got out.

“Where is it?” Annabel asked.

For a second, I hesitated. After all the digging and excavating, the place looked different from the day I’d found the grave. I couldn’t let them know I wasn’t quite sure.

“It’s right over there.” Our feet sank in as we squished through the mud.

“It’s so isolated.” Annabel sounded disappointed. She fumbled in her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “No wonder he wasn’t found for so long.”

She shook out a cigarette and put it between her lips, turning to Sumner for a light.

“I thought you wanted to quit, darling,” he said.

“Not today.” Her voice wasn’t strong.

He lit her cigarette and she smoked with stiff, jerky motions, inhaling deeply and closing her eyes as though she were breathing in something heady and intoxicating like incense.

“The only people who come here are hunters,” I said. “The Goose Creek Hunt rides through here, and during deer season, I let a few men who used to hunt with my father use my land.”

“So how did you find—I mean, what was it that—” Annabel stumbled over the question.

“The, uh, his skull,” I said. Had anyone informed her the bones were scattered? That the mandible had been missing?

I didn’t want to tell her if she didn’t know, nor that what was left of his mouth had reminded me of a scream.

“They said he’d been shot through the temple,” she said in a faraway voice. “He probably died right away.”

“Come on, Annie.” Sumner slipped an arm around her waist. “This isn’t doing you any good. You’ve seen the place now. Let’s go back to the cottage so you can rest.”

I cleared my throat. “If you’d like to put a marker out here, a cross, maybe? Or something else—”

“No,” Sumner said at once. “We wouldn’t.”

“Thank you, but it won’t be necessary,” Annabel said. “He didn’t die here and he’s no longer buried here.”

“Do you know where he died?” I asked.

She dropped her cigarette and ground it out under the toe of her boot until it disappeared into the mud. Then she looked up and said in a calm voice, “I do not.”

No one spoke until I pulled into the parking lot.

“Thank you very much, Ms. Montgomery. We appreciate what you did.” Sumner’s smile was tight.

“Lucie.” It was the first time Annabel had called me by my first name. “This has been painful for me and I know it has also been difficult for you.”

She paused as though she expected me to agree, but I folded my arms and waited for her to continue. They say when you’re in a hole, it’s time to stop digging. Annabel, it seemed, didn’t plan to stop.

“I want you to know this chapter is finally closed for me and I bear Leland no ill will.” Her voice had taken on a slight patronizing tone. “You seem like a good person, a decent person, and I’m glad, in the end, your father found his way back to his family where he belonged.”

I stared at her. She was
Leland? Her whole story hinged on my father’s lust for her—a passion so strong it motivated him to commit murder so he could have Annabel to himself. And that’s what I couldn’t buy. Leland was a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. The only constant in his life was my mother. He always came back and she always forgave him.

That was the flaw in Annabel’s carefully stitched together story—at least as I saw it—that my father carried a torch for her and never got over her. It was a lie but I couldn’t prove it. And I sure as hell didn’t need her forgiveness for something my father didn’t do.

“I appreciate your compassion,” I said, “but there were plenty of women in my father’s life. He loved my mother in his way. He just couldn’t help getting involved in other relationships.”

Annabel drew her head back and I knew then I’d hit a nerve. She hadn’t known what a serial womanizer Leland had been and that she had been one of many passing flings rather than the great, unrequited love of his life. No woman, especially a vain one, wanted to discover how easily she had been replaced—and forgotten.

“It’s time to go, Annabel.” Sumner put his arm around his wife. “We’re done here.”

He emphasized

The Mercedes drove off as I walked up the stairs to the villa. A light rain began to fall, as fine as mist. Maybe I had punctured a tiny hole in Annabel’s account of what happened between her and Leland and Beau, but it was too little, too late.

I may have won that skirmish, but she had won the war.


B.J. and Ray Vitale stood in front of a hand-drawn map of their battle plans, which they’d unrolled on the oak trestle table at the far end of the tasting room.

“We’re finished,” I said. “The site’s all yours.”

“Why’d you take that blowhard and his wife out to see that grave?” Vitale asked. “I wouldn’t have given him the time of day.”

“Let’s go, Ray,” B.J. said, rolling up the map.

“Do you think Chastain actually spends time checking out any of the projects he builds?” Vitale persisted. “You should have read the letters I got from his lawyers—
when I wrote about the foundation cracks in my buildings and the leaks and the shoddy construction practices I found out about later.” His voice rose with memory and anger. “Sumner Chastain is a contemptuous, greedy bastard who believes his wealth and power set him above the law.”

“Ray, I’m sure Lucie needs to get back to work,” B.J. said. “Thanks for letting us spread out here, Lucie.”

“No problem. It’s starting to rain again,” I said. “Call me if you need anything.”

BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
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