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Authors: Ellen Crosby

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

The Riesling Retribution (9 page)

BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
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I laughed and eased him back in the chair. “Calm down. You’ve got more hair than a Chia Pet.”

He chuckled and let me finish rinsing the shampoo out of his hair. When I was done, he sat up and I handed him my towel.

“Sorry it’s so wet. I only brought one.”

“It’s okay.” His eyes held mine. “I don’t mind at all.”

At the far end of the barrel room, the outside door opened and closed. A woman’s voice said, “Knock-knock? Hello?”

“Sorry, we’re closed,” Quinn said. He threw the towel on the workbench and headed toward the front door, trying to pull on his shirt, which had gotten tangled up in itself. I shoved the shampoo under the towel and followed him.

A waiflike blonde with a boyish haircut, jet-black eyebrows, and exotic cheekbones waited by the door, hands in the back pockets of jeans that looked like she’d painted them on. Red high-top sneakers and a bright yellow tank top that didn’t meet the waistline of her jeans. She looked about sixteen. Her gaze traveled from Quinn to me, taking stock of our wet hair and water-stained clothes.

Quinn still hadn’t managed to get his shirt completely untangled. I reached over and tugged on it as our visitor watched, an amused smile creeping into her eyes.

“We’re, ah, definitely closed,” I said.

“I apologize for…interrupting,” she said. “But a blond woman in the other building told me I could find the owner here. And I didn’t come to buy wine.” She zeroed in on me. “Lucie Montgomery?”

“Yes?”

She held out her hand. “Savannah Hayden. I work for the medical examiner. I need access to the site where those remains were recovered. Thought I’d stop by and let you know I’ll be out there for a while.”

I froze, with my hand half outstretched toward hers. “Is something wrong? Detective Noland told me last night they were finished.”

Her voice was cool. “Maybe Detective Noland was finished, but I’m not. I need to take another look around and resurvey the area.” She clasped my hand and shook it. “I trust there’ll be no problem with that.”

“Are you a doctor, Savannah…Miss Hayden?”

“Not an MD,” she said. “But it is Dr. Hayden. I have a PhD in forensic anthropology.” She looked over at Quinn, who had not taken his eyes off her since she’d introduced herself.

“What did they miss?” he asked. “It must be important or the medical examiner would be doing this. They wouldn’t have sent a forensic anthropologist.”

Savannah’s smile was tolerant, but it looked like she appreciated the shrewdness of Quinn’s remark. “I’m sorry, Mr….?”

“Quinn Santori.”

“Mr. Santori. I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation. But I need to see the site so I can put things in context.”

“I’m not sure how much context you’re going to get,” I said. “The bones were already scattered when I discovered the grave the other day. That was before Bobby Noland and his deputies spent all day yesterday digging the place up.”

She folded her thin arms across her chest. “I understand. Still, it’s possible to learn a lot from visiting the site.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m looking for different things than they were.”

“Like what?” I asked. “Generally speaking, that is.”

“Generally speaking, you’d be surprised what can be determined by knowing the orientation of a body in the surroundings where it’s found. Was it on a hill or in the woods? Facing which way? How deep was the grave? You look for clues that help you determine whether he or she had been killed somewhere else.”

“So why didn’t you come out here with the others to begin with?” Quinn asked. “Since you’re asking all the good questions.”

Another smile, this one revealing dimples in both cheeks. She was cute in a tomboyish way.

“Money. I’m a luxury. I get brought in only when they can’t find everything they need and they hope I’ll uncover something new.”

“Need a ride out there?” Quinn asked. “I can take you in one of our ATVs.”

“Thanks. I’ve got a map and a Jeep.” She rocked back and forth on the outsides of her red high-tops, a sweet, self-conscious trait that reminded me of my younger sister, Mia. “I’d better get going.”

On her way out the door, she looked over her shoulder. “See you around.”

She was talking to Quinn. He cleared his throat as the door closed behind her. “Interesting kid,” he said.

“She may look like a teenager, but she’s no kid.”

“You all right?”

“Fine.”

He patted me on the back. A brotherly gesture. “Don’t worry about her, Lucie. They’re just covering their asses sending her back to check the place out. Nothing’s going to happen.”

The prototype for every girlfriend he’d had since I knew him had just walked through the door and she was here to find something at that grave site that Bobby had missed. Savannah Hayden seemed to have her eye on Quinn and she also seemed sure she wasn’t going out to the grave site on a wild-goose chase.

Plenty was going to happen.

CHAPTER 9

Frankie reached me on my cell phone, which I’d charged in the barrel room, while I was pulling leaves in the Seyval block just before noon.

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” she said. “Power’s back on.”

“Hooray,” I said. “When?”

I stripped off my gardening gloves and sat down in the shade of a large, leafy vine. A yellow jacket buzzed near a grape cluster that oozed sugary juice. I swiped at the wasp with my gloves and it flew off.

“Fifteen minutes ago.”

“Great. Now we won’t have to change our plans for the weekend.”

“I called your cousin and told her. Thanked her for offering to bail us out with generators and anything else we needed.”

“Thanks. What’d she say?”

“Her exact words?” Frankie said. “That it’s been her experience in catering that ninety-eight percent of the time you never need to go through with your backup plans. But it’s always good to be prepared for the other ten percent when things fall through.”

I smiled. “Sounds like Dominique. She did save our bacon, though.”

“She mentioned that. Told me that when it came to family she was always ready to stick her neck out on a limb.”

Though she’d been in the country for more than a decade, Dominique still found American idioms challenging. Her interpretations could be baffling, but we always understood her perfectly.

“She means it,” I said.

Frankie chuckled. “I know.”

I stood up. “I am going home to enjoy a long, hot shower. I’ll be by the office later to check e-mail and catch up on what went on in the world during the past few days now that my computer’s back online.”

“Do you want to tell Quinn we’ve got power since he’s out there with you?”

““Sure. He’s working in the Malbec block. I’ll stop by and let him know.”

But when I pulled up in the Gator to where Benny, Javier, and Jesús were making a bonfire-sized pile out of what had once been thriving Malbec vines, Quinn wasn’t around. We hadn’t planted much of that grape, but it had been a particular favorite of his because of its deep plummy color, rich tannins, and the complexity it would add to our Cabernet Sauvignon blend. We’d taken the biggest hit here and I knew he was upset about losing nearly almost all of those vines.

“Where’s Quinn?” I asked.

The three men all wore baseball caps under which they’d draped towels to protect the back of their necks against sunburn. The effect always reminded me of something out of
Lawrence of Arabia.
Benny took off his cap and wiped his perspiring face with his towel. He had a thick black mustache and luxuriant black hair. Of the three, his English was the strongest.

“Queen went to see the señorita,” he said. “Left a little while ago.”

“Which señorita?” I asked. But I knew which one.

“La rubia.”
He gestured in the general direction of the creek and the reenactment site. “The blonde.”

“I see.” I fiddled with the Gator key, nearly dropping it. “Thanks.”

Benny’s lively eyes rested on me. His expression was respectful, but his face softened with understanding. “Can I tell him something for you, Lucie?” His voice was kind.

“No, that’s okay. You don’t even need to mention that I stopped by. I was heading back to the house so I just thought I’d see how it’s going.”

Benny glanced over his shoulder at the growing pile of debris. “Going good. We’re getting there. Maybe we can start replanting soon.”

He pulled a flattened pack of Marlboros out of the pocket of his mud-stained jeans and lit up.

“I hope so,” I said. “One more thing.”

He exhaled smoke. “What?”

“Is Quinn…is everything okay with you and Quinn? I mean, with all the men and Quinn?”

Benny’s eyebrows came together and he seemed surprised by the question.

“Okay?” he asked. “How do you mean, ‘okay’?”

“Are you getting along?”

“Sure. We get along real good.”

“Has he been…well, impatient lately?”

“¿Cómo?”

“Mad?”

“Sure, mad. When things break or we can’t find something.” He shook his head and made a clicking sound with his teeth. “And we got some new guys coming to work. They don’t know nothing. He gets mad at that.”

“Is he too hard on those men, do you think? Does he get very mad?”

Benny took a drag on his cigarette and blew out a long stream of smoke. He stared at the horizon while he seemed to consider my question.

“I think he’s more mad at himself, sometimes. You know how Queen can be.”

“Look, Benny, if there are any problems, you come tell me. You hear?”

“Sí, sí.
I’ll tell you.”

“How about Chance? Everything okay with him?”

“Chance?” He expelled smoke. “Sure. Everybody likes Chance. He laughs. Jokes a lot. Doesn’t yell at anyone.” He shrugged. “Queen doesn’t like him much.”

“I know.”

He finished his cigarette and dropped it to the ground. I watched him pulverize it under the toe of his heavy work boot. “Can I ask something, Lucie?”

“Sure.”

“Something going on between you and Queen?” His eyes searched my face. “You two okay?”

We both knew what he was asking and that it had to do with a blond señorita. I didn’t want to talk about it, so I put on my best poker face.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, “but everything’s fine.”

When I called Quinn’s cell phone after I finished talking with Benny, it went straight to voice mail. I left a succinct message about the power being restored. On my way home, I took a different route so I didn’t have to pass the grave site.

 

After showering and doing a load of laundry, I drove over to the villa. Frankie was on the phone at the tasting room bar, so I waved and headed to my office without stopping to talk. Quinn and I had adjoining offices off a corridor that could be reached through the small wine library that was just off the tasting room. Besides our offices, there was a back entrance to the galley kitchen we used when we had parties and dinners in the villa.

He was at his desk, staring at his computer monitor when I stopped in the doorway. His office, like his house, was half monastic cell, half locker room.

“I got five hundred and fourteen e-mails in the past four days.”

He propped a foot on his trash can and leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. Like me, he looked like he’d also gone home, since he’d changed his clothes and shaved.

“Are you serious?”

He sat forward and frowned at his monitor. “I bet I could delete about four hundred of ’em. You know how many people want me to buy prescription drugs in Canada? And, uh, take advantage of other life-enhancing opportunities?”

“Try setting your spam filter on something more restrictive and you won’t get so much garbage.”

He glanced up. “You all right? You seem kind of touchy.”

“I’m fine.”

He picked up a corkscrew on his desk and began spinning it around with his index finger. “We ought to be done cleaning up the tornado damage by next week. I think we’re at the point where we can split up the crew so some are back on canopy management. And I’m considering picking the Riesling early.”

“How come?” I folded my arms and leaned against the doorjamb.

“After what we lost in the tornado, I don’t want to take any chances. Hurricane season’s gearing up. Did you see that new one over the Atlantic? ‘Bill.’” He grinned. “Who picks these names?”

I didn’t feel like grinning back and I was annoyed with myself—and him—for being irked because he’d gone off to see Savannah Hayden this morning.

“The National Weather Service. They use a six-year rotating list from the World Meteorological Organization and retire the devastating ones.” It came out sharp.

“Oh.” He rubbed his chin. “You are touchy.”

“Look, they have no idea whether that storm is going to turn into a hurricane, stall out at sea, or what it’s going to do. We’ve never picked the Riesling this early before. The more hang time those grapes have, the better,” I said. “Why don’t we see what Bill has in mind before we jump the gun? No offense, but our weather’s a little different in Virginia. When’s the last time California had a hurricane? I grew up here.”

“California has fires and earthquakes.”

“Then you get to call the shots first time we’re dealing with either of those. Okay?”

He made a face. “I’m willing to wait twenty-four hours, but I don’t want to be out on a limb with a saw because it’s too late to get a crew in.” He set the corkscrew down and leaned back in the desk chair again. “By the way, I stopped by the grave site. I think Savannah might come by tonight for a beer after she’s done out there.”

I kept my expression bland. “You invited her?”

He cocked his head and squinted at me. “Sure. Why not? Don’t you want to know if she found anything new?”

“Of course I do. But she’s as likely to talk as those bones are. You heard her this morning.”

“A beer or two might loosen her up.”

“Her? I doubt it.”

“Okay, sorry. I’ll call her and tell her it’s off.” He unclipped his cell phone from his belt.

So he had her phone number already. Probably even on speed dial. Maybe the real reason for getting Savannah to lose a few inhibitions had nothing to do with seeing if she’d talk about what she’d uncovered at the grave site today. Quinn sure hadn’t wasted any time, but he’d also turned the tables so I looked churlish asking him to uninvite her.

“Don’t call. It’s fine you asked her. I just don’t think anything’s going to come of it, that’s all.”

“We’ll see.” He put his phone away and I thought I saw a glint of something in his eyes.

Maybe anticipating the possibility of a new romance? I went next door to my own office and closed the door. Quinn’s personal life was his business and I’d been a damned fool for believing there’d been a change in our relationship and our feelings for each other.

Something could come of Savannah’s happy hour visit this evening. But it wouldn’t have anything to do with sharing information about whatever Bobby had missed finding out in that field. She was attracted to Quinn and now it seemed the feeling was mutual.

I turned on my computer and, with a heavy heart, began wading through my own clogged in-box. I was not looking forward to tonight.

 

Savannah showed up at the villa just after five. The knees of her jeans were stiff with mud and she had a smear of dirt across one cheek in the shape of a crescent moon. Her nose and the tops of her shoulders were bright pink with sunburn.

“Want to wash up?” I asked. “We might have some aloe for that burn.”

“I forgot my sunscreen. Can you believe it?” She sounded rueful. “And I thought I had washed up. I’ve got hand sanitizer in my car.”

“You missed a spot on your face.”

Quinn arrived while she was still cleaning up in the bathroom. Since I’d seen him a few hours ago, he’d found time to change yet again. This time into one of his favorite Hawaiian print shirts, the blue one with fish swimming all over it. If at some time during the course of our drinks he mentioned to Savannah that it was a vintage shirt—and quite special—then he’d dressed to impress her.

“Savannah’s here,” I said.

“I know. She called and said she was on her way over. Want a beer?” His dark eyes met mine and I saw no spark of the affection or attraction I’d imagined I’d seen before. Just a friend, waiting for the reply to a question.

“Lucie? You all right?”

“Sorry. I’ll have wine. I’ll get it.”

“I got it. White or red?”

“I don’t care.” Why hadn’t I figured out some last-minute chore to do?

“I hate it when you say that. Go sit on the terrace and wait to be surprised.”

I went outside and sat at one of the tables next to the railing, staring out at the mountains. Though it was only the beginning of August, already the shadows were less harsh than they’d been a few weeks ago. We still had nearly two more months of summer left—technically—but I always felt let down when the sunlight lost its sharp clarity, becoming milky and viscous as it was now. Nature sent better signals than the date on the calendar.

Savannah’s laughter, bright and heedless, floated through the open French doors, followed by the sound of Quinn’s deep voice murmuring something else that made her giggle. She came outside first, carrying a tray with a bottle of Riesling in an ice bucket and a wineglass. Quinn held two beers splayed between his fingers and a bag of chips. I’d gotten used to his preference for consuming his food in its most natural state. Beer from the bottle, chips from the bag.

“Great shirt,” Savannah was saying.

“Thanks. It’s vintage. See here? You can tell the quality of the print by how thin the fish lips are.”

“No fooling?”

Too bad I hadn’t bet somebody how fast he’d use that line. They sat down across from me. Savannah reached over and grabbed the bottle opener while Quinn poured my wine. She popped the cap with well-practiced ease and took a swig.

BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
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