Throw a Monkey Wrench (an Emma Cassidy Mystery Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Throw a Monkey Wrench (an Emma Cassidy Mystery Book 1)
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“The reception?” Emma wasn’t sure she’d
heard right.

“Yes, the post-funeral reception. I want
Tony to have the best send off, but I’m just…I’m just too upset to think
straight. That’s why I need you, Emma. I know you’ll put on a great party for
him.”

Tony would be spinning in the mortuary or
wherever he was at the moment if he could hear Jordan singing her praises. But
clearly his girlfriend didn’t hold the debacle of the housewarming against
Emma, and Emma found her heart warming toward her.

“I’m free this morning if you’re up to it.”
Apart from the Kaupers’ anniversary, her appointment calendar was sadly wide
open.

“Oh, you are? That’s excellent. Please come
over as soon as you can.” Jordan’s tears had stopped, and she sounded almost
excited.

Emma clicked off the phone and hauled
herself out of bed. This was a promising start to her day. Funeral receptions
weren’t her usual line of business, but she was confident she could pull it
off, and it would be good to have some extra cash flow. Plus, Jordan had just
given her the perfect excuse for visiting the crime scene. She couldn’t waste
this opportunity. She’d have a quick shower, grab something to eat, and get
going.

Hurrying out of the bathroom after her
five-minute shower, she almost bumped into her father.

“Oh, hi, Dad.” She stopped short, suddenly
remembering his ‘non-date’ with Janet last night. Yesterday evening she had
made herself a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, then she’d spent the night
updating her website and trying to think up new marketing ideas. At ten-thirty,
she’d heard her dad return home and the murmur of voices, but shortly after
there’d been silence, and she’d assumed her dad had turned in for the night.

Now, he blinked owlishly at her as he
readjusted his spectacles. “You’re up early. Going somewhere?”

“Yes. A client appointment.” She hesitated,
then plunged on. “So, did you have fun last night?”

Andrew’s cheeks turned the lightest shade
of pink. “Ah, yes.” He cleared his throat. “Do you, ah, want pancakes this
morning?”

Hint taken, Dad
. She didn’t want to pry, but judging by his blush, her father had
enjoyed his evening with Janet, and that heartened her. “No, thanks, Dad. I’ve
got to rush out. I’ll just make myself some toast.”

“Okay.” He hesitated again. “See you later,
pumpkin.”

***

Widowhood suited
Jordan Kozlowski. The black silk designer dress hugged her curves, the dark
color making her skin glow like alabaster, and even though her eyes were red
from crying, they were rimmed in waterproof eyeliner and mascara. Her black
stiletto heels click-clacked on the marble tiles as she ushered Emma into the house.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Emma repeated
the standard condolences as she squeezed Jordan’s ice-cold hands. “Do you have
anyone staying with you? A friend or relative, perhaps?”

Jordan shook her cascading curtain of
blonde hair and pressed a snow-white handkerchief to her nose. “No. Friends
offered, but I want to be on my own, to remember my Tony. He was a good man.
Oh, I know he wasn’t very nice at times, and some people were jealous of his
success, but he was good to me.”

Not always, he wasn’t
. But Emma held her tongue. Death had a strange effect on some, and
maybe blocking out the less than pleasant memories was Jordan’s way of coping,
because anything else made her feel guilty.

Because she had something to do with
Tony’s death?

If Sean didn’t kill Tony, then Emma had to
consider Jordan as a suspect, no matter how heartbroken she appeared. Jordan
might be a very good actress. Jordan might stand to inherit some money—maybe a
lot— from Tony’s estate. Jordan might have secretly resented the way he treated
her and had finally snapped.

“I can see he meant a lot to you. How did
you and Tony meet?” Emma asked.

With a sigh, Jordan sank onto one of the
white leather couches in the great room and gestured to Emma to take a seat.
“We met at a boat show in San Diego. I was a rep at one of the stands, and he
was shopping for a new boat. It was love at first sight.” She sighed again,
growing quite misty eyed. “That was just over a year ago. A few months later,
Tony brought me here to Shamrock Lake. He’d been living in Wineglass Bay, but
he wanted to move out of there. He wanted a new house for us, something unique,
so he bought this piece of land and had this house built. He paid extra to get
it built in time, and he spent so much effort getting every detail right.” The
tears welled up again but didn’t quite spill over. “Only the best for you, he
used to say to me.”

“I didn’t realize this house belongs to
you.”

Faint spots highlighted Jordan’s sculpted
cheekbones. “It will be mine as soon as his estate passes probate.” She lifted
her head higher. “When we moved in here, Tony told me he’d make sure I get the
house. I’d always have a roof over my head, he said. And he hinted I’d get
more, but I never pressed him on the details.”

“Oh.” Emma wasn’t sure if she was meant to
congratulate Jordan. “That’s good.” To be honest, she was surprised by the news
because Tony had never struck her as a particularly generous person. But then
again, perhaps he had no other family to bequeath his riches to and no wish to
give his wealth to charity.

Jordan made a face. “Yes, but I’m not
looking forward to Pamela finding out.”

“Who’s Pamela?”

“Tony’s ex-wife. They have a son, Kyle.”
Jordan swept her hair over one shoulder, her hands not quite steady. “You know,
I’d only been in Greenville a month when Pamela stopped me in Main Street and
called me a gold-digging tramp.”

Emma couldn’t help gasping. “That’s very
aggressive.”

“She’s an aggressive woman.” The frown
deepened on Jordan’s face. “She’s always been mad at Tony because she thinks he
bilked her out of millions in the divorce settlement, and she’s not very subtle
about showing her feelings.” Jordan shivered delicately. “To tell you the
truth, I’m a little scared of Pamela.”

“I never knew about Pamela or Kyle,” Emma
confessed.

“Then count yourself lucky. I didn’t
realize they still lived on Shamrock Lake until Tony had already started this
house, otherwise I might have persuaded him to move somewhere else.”

“They live here in Greenville?”

“No, thank goodness. Pamela has a house on
Fisher Island. Kyle is a student at Lakeside College. He’s twenty-five and the
way he parties all year round, it doesn’t look like he’ll be graduating any
time soon. Tony’s been paying his tuition and supporting him all these years.
It’s not like he neglected his obligations.”

Obligations. Was that all Kyle had meant to
Tony? It didn’t sound like father and son had been all that close. From
Jordan’s description, Kyle sounded like a typical spoiled college frat boy.

“Pamela has always been jealous of me.”
Jordan was getting worked up again, but this time she was angry rather than
sad. She grabbed a soft pillow and squeezed it as if it were Pamela’s head.
“She even had the nerve to call me yesterday and tell me I had no business
organizing Tony’s funeral. Can you believe it? I called Tony’s lawyer, and he
assured me that I had every right.” Once more she dabbed her handkerchief at
her eyes. “When they—they finished the autopsy yesterday, I called the
undertakers straight away to collect…Tony.” Hauling in a breath, she straightened
her shoulders. “And I’m going to make sure he has the best send off he could
have wished for. The funeral will be next Tuesday at St John’s, with
refreshments afterward here.”

Emma took out her notebook in preparation.
“How many people do you expect?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe eighty to a hundred? I
suppose I can’t turn away people I haven’t invited.”

“Tony’s made all the headlines. I think
it’s inevitable you’ll get some rubberneckers at the service, and some of them will
definitely come here, too.”

“Yes. In fact, someone turned up yesterday
with a casserole. Can you believe it?” Jordan shook her head. “A little old
lady. Faye Seymour.”

Of course Faye wouldn’t miss an opportunity
to gather more information. “I know Faye. She’s just trying to be neighborly,”
she said diplomatically.

“Actually, I was quite touched.” Jordan
smiled briefly. “So, let’s cater for a hundred to a hundred and twenty. I don’t
want people thinking Tony was stingy. Now, about the food…”

Jordan wanted hot and cold canapés, and not
ordinary cheese puffs or spring rolls, but wasabi shrimp, salmon mousse, and
stuffed mushrooms. She wanted petit fours, five kinds of coffee and tea, and
masses of flowers everywhere. She wanted a large chocolate mud cake decorated
with an edible icing picture of Tony. She wanted a live band to play some of
Tony’s favorite tunes—this was to be a celebration of his life not a mourning—
and she wanted several enlarged pictures of him mounted in frames and displayed
in the great room where the reception would be held.

Emma couldn’t help wondering why Jordan
felt the need for such a public display of grief. Perhaps she was simply a
generous heart and wanted to smooth over Tony’s less than perfect public image.
Or perhaps she felt it was expected of her. Either way, Jordan had a very good
motive for wanting Tony out of the way, seeing as she was about to inherit an
expensive house and maybe more.

They moved to the study so that Jordan
could download the photos she wanted enlarged and mounted as well as a photo for
the cake. As she sat at the computer, she took out her handkerchief and
fastidiously dusted the keyboard.

“I really must get a new cleaner. The college
students I’ve had are so slipshod. Look at the dust around here.” She gestured
at a side table that held several handsome wooden boxes, and then pointed at a
display cabinet opposite the desk. “I think they may even have taken a few
things from Tony’s collection, though I can’t be certain. There might be a
couple of pieces missing, but I’m not sure because I don’t often come in here,
and Tony did sell some of them on occasion.”

Moving to the cabinet, Emma cast her gaze
over the contents. “Wow. Lego?” The top shelves held dozens of minifigures as
well as ships and buildings.

“It was his way of relaxing.” A small, fond
smile touched Jordan’s lips. “He collected all sorts of things.”

“Are any of these worth stealing?”

“According to Tony, some collections are
worth hundreds of dollars, but individually, probably less, I’m guessing.”

“But still a temptation,” Emma murmured. A hard-up
college student might know the value of Lego minifigures, and with so many in
the cabinet, he or she might assume the theft would go unnoticed for a while.
And selling one or two on the sly would be an easy way of topping up a low cleaner’s
wage.

“We used to have a very reliable
housekeeper, but she had an accident, and since then I haven’t found a good
replacement.” Jordan sighed as she tapped on the keyboard. “Oh, here we go.”

Jordan’s lips began to quiver as she
flipped through photos of Tony on the screen.

“If only I’d been home that night,” she
wailed, breaking down again. “I might have saved my Tony.”

“You were away?” It was a question that had
been nagging at Emma. Tony had been killed sometime between six pm and eight
pm, but his body had only been discovered the following morning, by Jordan.
Where had Jordan been all that time?

Jordan nodded, sniffing back her sobs.
“Yeah. Girls’ night out in La Quinta. I stayed over at Tammy’s place. I drove
back early the next morning and found the garage door open, which was a bit
strange. I parked my car inside the garage. When I got out, I saw Tony. He was
lying between his Porsche and his SUV. At first I thought he’d fainted or had a
stroke, but then I saw the blood. He was lying on his stomach, and the back of
his head was all messy.” She rubbed her arms, shivering but not distraught, and
Emma thought she must have repeated this account to the police several times
already, and so the impact was lessened, though the shock still lingered.

“And the wrench? Was that near Tony?”

“I didn’t see the wrench at all. The police
found it later under the SUV.” She pulled out a fresh handkerchief from a
pocket and carefully dabbed at her eyes. “I can’t believe Sean McCluskey would
do such a terrible thing. He was always nice to me when I brought my car to his
workshop. Just shows you, doesn’t it? You never know who could be a killer.”

Chapter Eight

An hour and a half
later, the meeting was over. Jordan had spent a long time choosing photos of
Tony including the one she wanted for the cake, and then she went through an
extensive list of Tony’s favorite music. Finally, she downloaded the photos and
music onto a memory stick, which she gave to Emma. She also gave Emma a
document containing the funeral service booklet and instructed her to have a
hundred and fifty copies printed.

Emma’s mind was busy with all the tasks to
be done in the four days before the funeral. High on the list of priorities
would be finding the right band that could project a suitable
atmosphere—uplifting but not too festive. She didn’t know a lot of bands in the
area, so this might be a challenge.

As she walked toward her car, she noted the
triple garage leading off the sweeping driveway, and her thoughts returned to
the murder. One of the garage doors was open, and before she had second
thoughts, she walked into the garage.

Inside, were three cars—Jordan’s red Miata,
Tony’s yellow Porsche, and his black Cadillac SUV. The garage was large, well
lit, and clean. She walked over and stopped between the Porsche and SUV. So
this was where the murder had taken place. She paused and waited to be assailed
by a sinister atmosphere, but all she could detect was a faint whiff of motor
oil. There were no chalk outlines, no police markers, not even a stain on the
concrete floor. If there’d been blood, someone had mopped it up. The cars were
spotless, too. She assumed they would have been dusted for fingerprints, but
someone had washed off all traces.

A door at one end of the garage looked like
it led into the house. Just outside the garage was a row of oleander shrubs
forming a hedge that separated the driveway from the garden. Given the door and
the hedge, it would be quite possible for someone to either come in through the
house or hide behind the oleanders and ambush Tony in this garage. Tony wasn’t
a particularly tall man, and he was of average build. According to Jordan’s
description of the scene, he’d been attacked from behind, so his assailant
could have been female. Jordan could have heard the argument between Sean and
Tony. She could have waited in the house until Tony was alone, sneaked into the
garage, hit him over the head, then gotten into her car and driven off to La
Quinta. She had mentioned taking her car to Sean’s workshop in the past, so
she’d had the opportunity to steal one of his wrenches.

Emma frowned at the concrete floor. It made
her uncomfortable to suspect Jordan, especially as she was turning out to be a
good client, but if Sean was innocent, then someone else had to be guilty.

“Hey, you!” A gruff voice startled her out
of her reverie.

She faltered back a step as an
angry-looking man in rough worker’s clothes stomped toward her. Suddenly the
garage seemed far too empty and isolated. The man blocked her path, and her
heart began to knock against her ribs.

“This is private property!” The man loomed
closer. “What are you doing snooping around here?”

There was something familiar about the
man’s bristling moustache. Emma squinted more closely at the man threatening
her.

“You’re Mateo Crespo, aren’t you?” she
said, quickly recovering her composure. “I’m Emma Cassidy. My father and I
visited you the night before last to talk about your son, Daniel.”

The man paused, but the suspicious scowl
remained. “Why did you follow me to my work?”

“You work for Tony Barnet?” She spoke
without thinking, then realized what she’d said. “I mean—”

“Yes, I was Mr. Barnet’s gardener and
caretaker, and now I work for Miss Jordan.” His shoulders stiffened. “Did you
come here to make more trouble for me?”

“No, no, of course not! I didn’t even know
you worked here. I came because Jordan asked me to. I’m organizing the
reception for Mr. Barnet’s funeral next Tuesday.”

Mateo’s gaze remained cold and critical.
“But you made everyone sick at Mr. Barnet’s housewarming party.”

“That food poisoning is still under
investigation.” She huffed out a breath. “Anyway, I’m here on legitimate
business. I’m not ‘snooping’ around.” Although she was searching for clues, she
had to admit.

Mateo didn’t buy her story either. “But why
are you here in the garage? Did you think there would be a lot of blood? Tuh!”
He made a scornful sound. “I cleaned everything up. There’s nothing to see.”

Don’t let his belligerence get under her
skin, she ordered herself. “So you worked for Mr. Barnet a long time? He was a
good employer?”

Dark color seeped into his cheeks. “A lot
of people are unemployed these days. I was lucky to get this job.”

So, not exactly a ringing endorsement,
then. But then she recalled that Mateo had to work long hours to pay for his
wife’s medication and that Daniel was missing school in order to nurse his
recuperating mother, and she felt bad for the Crespos.

“I’m sure Jordan will want you to stay on,”
Emma said.

Mateo jutted out his chin, rejecting her
attempt at friendliness.

Emma decided to risk another question. “So did
you hear Mr. Barnet and Sean arguing here in the garage?”

“No.”

“No?” Was it another staff member who’d
overheard the argument?

“They weren’t arguing here. They were out
there.” He gestured to the driveway outside. “Where Mr. McCluskey parked his
truck.”

“Right. And where were you?”

Mateo fingered his moustache. “Why do you
want to know?”

“Er, just interested.”

“You think I wasn’t doing my job, is that
it?” A threatening noise rumbled in his throat. “I was trimming that hedge.” He
jabbed a finger at the oleander shrubs just outside. “But when them two started
yelling, I moved to another job on the other side of the house. I don’t need to
get involved in their fights. But I was still working, so don’t you go spreading
lies about me to Miss Jordan.”

“What?” Emma shook her head in
bewilderment. “I would never do something like that.”

The man’s shoulders eased a fraction.
“Okay,” he dubiously replied.

Maybe she could ask him one more question.
“So you didn’t hear Sean McCluskey leaving?”

Mateo shook his head. “I worked on the far
side of the house until five. Then I locked up the tools in the shed and went
home. I never went near this garage.”

From the housewarming party Emma knew of
the separate service lane that Mateo would have used. He wouldn’t have gone
past this garage, wouldn’t have noticed whether Sean was still there or not.

“Thank you, Mr. Crespo. You’ve been a big
help.” She edged past him, anxious to get away from the garage and Mateo’s
brooding presence.

“Miss Cassidy!” he barked out just as she
was climbing into her car.

Her nerves jerked. She rolled down her
window. “Yes?”

“Tell your father to stop interfering with
my son.”


Interfering?
” She couldn’t help
gasping. “What exactly are you implying?”

“He told Daniel he would drop off some
schoolwork for him to do at home.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“It isn’t.” Once more Mateo’s face
darkened. “I don’t need your father sticking his nose into my business. Tell
him to stay away.”

“For goodness sakes, he’s only trying to
help!” From the relative safety of her car, Emma’s patience began to fray.

“We don’t want his help.” Mateo marched
away, his heavy work boots clomping on the driveway.

Emma glared indignantly at his retreating
back before she started the car and drove off. If it wasn’t for his sick wife,
she would have liked to include Mateo in her list of suspects. He could have
returned to the garage and killed Tony before leaving for home. But he didn’t
seem to have any motive. Tony might have been a tough boss, but Mateo appeared relieved
to have a job and unnecessarily anxious about losing it. No, the gardener
didn’t seem to be guilty of anything except being surly, stubborn, and
ungrateful.

***

As Emma headed back
to Greenville, she wondered about Madison and her non-appearance at Sean’s
court appearance yesterday. The turn off to Wineglass Bay where the Whites
lived was just ahead of her, and she made a snap decision to check in on
Madison.

Five minutes later, she arrived at the
Whites’ mansion. Madison’s sparkly blue Mini Cooper sat on the driveway,
indicating that she must be at home. Emma climbed out of her car and breathed
in the fresh air. Low stone walls marked the boundary between driveway and
garden. Beyond them, a timber pergola supported a wisteria, its abundant mauve
blooms perfuming the air with a light bouquet.

Drawn to the flowers, Emma walked over to
the pergola and plucked a spray of blooms from the climber. As she held the
flowers to her nose, a blur of movement in the garden beyond caught her
attention. A slender woman in a bright yellow sundress darted through the
bushes some distance away. She had her back to Emma, but the long, shiny fall
of brown hair was instantly recognizable as Madison’s.

Threading the wisteria bloom through the strap
of her tote bag, Emma started after the disappearing figure. It would probably
be better to meet Madison away from the house, since her parents wouldn’t be
too happy to hear about Sean. Ducking under a low tree branch, Emma peered
around the garden. She had lost sight of Madison, and the grounds sprawled in
several directions, with paved paths winding through banks of shrubs and
ornamental trees.

A muffled noise behind a stone wall caught
her attention, and she moved toward an arched opening in the wall. At the
threshold, she paused for a moment as she took in the enclosed garden with a
rectangular pond in its center flanked by clipped shrubs and bronze statues.

Madison was on the other side of the
garden. And she wasn’t alone. A man stood near her, talking in a low, earnest
voice. The furtiveness of the couple struck Emma at once, causing her to
freeze, feeling vaguely embarrassed as if she’d interrupted an intimate moment.
The man was about the same age as Madison and suavely dressed in tan pants and navy
blazer. An expensive-looking watch glinted on his wrist, while a jaunty straw
trilby hat shaded most of his facial features. Judging by his clothes, he
appeared to be from the same moneyed background as Madison. A friend of hers?

The man pressed a hand to Madison’s cheek.
Emma expected Madison to pull away, but instead she touched his hand and
murmured something back.

Emma slid back out of sight. Confusion
overwhelmed her. Was Madison cheating on Sean? She couldn’t believe it. Madison
was crazy about Sean, so crazy she was willing to go against her parents’
wishes, so crazy she was still supporting him even after he had been charged
with murder. So why would she go to such lengths if she didn’t truly love him?
And why had she pleaded with Emma to help Sean if she was seeing someone else
on the sly? It didn’t make sense.

Emma retraced her steps. She had just
reached her car when the front door of the house opened and Cynthia, Madison’s
mother, came out.

“Hi, Mrs. White,” Emma said, wondering if
Cynthia was aware of the young man Madison was with. Cynthia would probably
approve of him; he seemed more what the Whites would approve of—sophisticated
and wealthy—than rough-and-ready Sean.

“Oh, hello,” Cynthia greeted her listlessly
as she drew closer.

The woman looked awful, Emma thought with a
pang of surprise. She was as elegantly dressed as always in a soft blue dress
and matching heels, a blue leather clutch purse tucked under one arm. But there
were dark shadows beneath her eyes that no amount of make up could hide, and
her cheeks looked dry and sunken.

“Are you all right, Mrs. White?” Emma
couldn’t help asking.

The woman waved a hand that looked too
frail for the heavy diamond ring weighing on her finger. “I’m fine,” she said,
looking anything but. “Are you here to see Madison?”

“Uh, yes. Um, is she at home?”

“I suppose so, since her car is here.” It
appeared Cynthia was unaware of Madison’s male visitor. She toyed with her
pearl necklace, clicking the pearls through her fingers in her usual distracted
fashion. “You do know that the wedding’s been cancelled, don’t you?”

“Well, I haven’t had official confirmation
from Madison—”

“Take it from me, it’s cancelled.”
Cynthia’s voice firmed, and her expression hardened. “There is no way on God’s
green earth that I will let my daughter marry a cold-blooded killer.”

“But Sean hasn’t even faced trial yet.”

Cynthia shook her head vehemently, her
pearl earrings flashing in the sunlight. “A cold-blooded killer,” she repeated.
Her lips drew back, revealing sharp white teeth, and Emma had an image of a
snarling fox.

“I’ll talk to Madison,” Emma said, refusing
to concede.

“You do that.” Cynthia walked away, leaving
behind a trail of Chanel No. 5 in the air. She disappeared into the nearby
garage, and moments later she reappeared behind the wheel of her metallic
silver Mercedes Benz, driving off without another glance at Emma.

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