Authors: Lesley A. Diehl
Table of Contents
A Deadly Draught
By Lesley A. Diehl
Copyright 2010 and 2013 by Lesley A. Diehl
Cover Copyright 2013 by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the distributor (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 2010 by Mainly Murder Press.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Other Titles by Lesley A. Diehl
(the second book in the Microbrewing Series)
Grilled, Chilled and Killed
A Secondhand Murder
(book 1 in the Eve Appel Mysteries Series) out Sept 15, 2013
A Deadly Draught
Lesley A. Diehl
For my cowboy
I am a beer drinker, not a beer brewer, so I want to recognize the people who contributed to the information on microbrewing that went into creating this book. Any mistakes are solely mine. My thanks to Ed Canty, Partner at Orlando Brewing and founder of the Florida Brewers Guild, who kindly and patiently answered every question I asked about making hand-crafted brews and never even hinted a question was stupid (although I truly believe many were); to Fran Andrewlevich, Brew Master at Brewzzi at City Place, West Palm, the first brewing guru who allowed me to pick his brain (and what a brain it was); to Randy Thiel, previously with Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, now Director of Quality Control at New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin, who taught me how special ales can be; and to Chuck Williamson, Owner/Operator of Butternuts Beer and Ale, a city boy now settled in upstate New York, growing hops on his land and enjoying life as a brewer right down the road from me (convenient when I want good beer!).
I cannot forget the support and input of several writers also: Jan Day, creator of children’s books and my critique partner without whose eye my writing would suffer greatly; Deb Sharp, author of several humorous books set in what I consider my second home, rural Florida, whose unflagging energy inspires and exhausts me.
And of course, the person who first encouraged me to write, my partner, Glenn. He saw something in my work and said others would, too.
Lesley A. Diehl
The nutty smell of cracked barley and the warm milky aroma of yeast enveloped me as I walked through my brew barn. It was an illusion, I knew, but I could almost taste the bitterness of hops on my tongue. I paused next to a fermentation vat, wrapped my arms around the old vessel, and laid my cheek against its copper coolness. My heart seemed to beat in time with the gurgle of the developing brew within. Mr. Ramford would not take this away from me. This was mine. This was me.
“Get over here. Now.” His midnight call had come unexpectedly, sending a surge of hope through my heart but setting my stomach somersaulting with fear. I could feel his hands reaching out for my business, twisting my product into his image of beer, mediocre beer, not the carefully crafted ales and lagers I envisioned. I’d meet with him, because he had the money, and I had nothing except my skill as a microbrewer. I needed to make that work to my advantage.
I gave a final look around my small barn, rushed out into the spring night, and jogged along the spruce-covered ridge separating our two properties. My approach led me to the back of his brewery, where I stopped for a minute to catch my breath, then pushed through the rusty gate.
The only light in the barn came from the gift shop. I entered expecting to find him, impatient, waiting for me.
The room was empty.
, insisted a voice in my head, but I clamped my jaw tighter, determined to negotiate what I could.
“Mr. Ramford? It’s Hera. Where are you?”
Someone must have been restocking shelves. Half-emptied boxes of mustards, pretzels, and salamis littered the floor. I slipped through the rear door of the shop and hesitated. The smells of chaff and yeasty wort greeted my entry into the cavernous brewing room.
Through the dim light from the small, high windows, I could make out the fermenting tanks, looming over me like metal sentinels. I felt around on the wall to the right of the door for a light switch but could not locate one. A soft whooshing noise, as if someone was out of breath, came from the other side of the vats.
“Hello?” This time my voice reverberated off the tanks and walls. I was certain someone was in the room and playing hide-and-seek with me.
I began to pick my way through the barn, over the hoses leading from tank to tank and from the water purifier, careful to avoid stepping into one of the sunken grates covering the drains. A shaft of light penetrated the dimness as the far door opened and then closed, enough light to warn me I was about to trip over someone lying on the floor.
“Mr. Ramford?” I knelt in the darkness and touched a body. It felt warm to my fingertips but didn’t move. As I leaned in closer, my nose caught an unpleasant collection of odors, none of which had anything to do with brewing beer.
Oh, God. This must be what death smells like.
I pulled back my hand and whirled around, my eyes searching the darkness of the barn. I thought I could sense a presence in the room.
“Someone there?” I called. “I need help.”
A hissing from behind startled me. I ran for the gift shop door and slammed it shut, then laughed at my fear. Silly me. That was only the sound of carbon dioxide escaping from an out-take valve in a fermenter.
But the body was real.
I grabbed the phone on the counter and punched in the number eight.
. I hung up and tried again. This time, I got it right.
I wanted to run away, but I knew I had to wait for help to arrive. I needed something to keep my shaking hands occupied and a focus for my shocked mind.
Get a grip, Hera
, I told myself. I looked around the messy gift shop, desperate to seize on anything that might blot out the memory of the body.
By the time the ambulance arrived over ten minutes later, I had finished restocking the shelves and was stacking the boxes behind the counter. I was feeling calm again.
Sure I was.
The first EMT to enter the barn shined his flashlight on the body but did not touch it. I stood close to the gift shop door to avoid looking at the figure on the cement.
“Put a call in to the sheriff’s department,” he called over his shoulder to his buddy. He then did a quick examination, and retreated.
“Is he … ?”
“Definitely dead,” he said. “Now we wait for the sheriff. His head’s bashed in.”
“An accident? He tripped?” I took in a quick breath. “Suicide? It could be suicide.”
“Not unless he bludgeoned himself to death. Do you know him?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know if I know him. I didn’t get a good look at his face.”
“Lucky you, then. Not much of a face left.”
I retreated into the gift shop and paced back and forth between the shelves. My stomach lurched, and I had difficulty getting my breath. Who would be in the brew barn at this hour other than Mr. Ramford? Perhaps one of the workers was doing a night check on the fermentation process. Unlikely. He never paid overtime, and no one would volunteer to work at this hour. It had to be Mr. Ramford’s body, unless … unless he sent his son into the barn to check on something. I shook my head and continued pacing.
Of course not. It couldn’t be Michael. Not Michael. Let it not be Michael.
One of the EMTs interrupted my thoughts. “Cops are here. And the medical examiner.”
A man dressed in the brown and tan uniform of the sheriff’s department strode past me and into the barn.
If he was surprised to see me, he hid it well, while I struggled to keep the shock of his appearance off my face.
“I hope I’m not here to arrest you,” was all he said to acknowledge my presence. The medical examiner and the EMTs smiled at his words, whether out of embarrassment at the rudeness of the remark or at the absurdity of my being a murderer, I couldn’t tell. I tried for a smile and failed. Jake turned his head before I could determine the expression on his face.
I said, “I haven’t seen you since …”
“Since law school. What’ve we got here?” He stooped down to examine the body.
Since law school. Since Jake and I tumbled hot with passion in tangled sheets. Since Daddy died and I came home out of guilt toward a father I couldn’t save from himself. The truth was, I came home to brew beer, my first love, and the hell with my lover and my father.
Since then, I had tried to tell myself I was happy.
I suffered a sleepless night, much of it spent with my old lover, who interrogated me with a tenacity I remembered was his forte in our criminal law class. By the time Jake dropped me back at my place, I felt wrung dry. He, on the other hand, seemed pleased with the experience. With each question, his blue eyes shone with almost electric light.
“You’ll need to come into the office and sign a statement, and I’ll be in touch with more questions. Stay available,” he said, then drove off in his cruiser.
I dragged myself up the back steps, turned on the kitchen light, and decided to brew some coffee. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. Besides, I wanted to be up early so I could visit the Ramfords. I hoped my presence could do something to lessen the shock of having cops on their steps informing them a next-door neighbor had found their husband and father dead.
I looked into the bathroom mirror at the dark circles under my eyes. I didn’t much like Ramford, Sr., but his son and I were good friends. Nothing more, just friends. I threw my hairbrush into the sink. Friends. I’d always wanted more.
Michael answered the door when I knocked early in the morning. He looked no better than I felt. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hair lay flat on one side of his head as if he’d just gotten out of bed. I reached out to embrace him.
“You come to join the vultures circling the body? At least you haven’t brought a dish to pass.” He rejected my outstretched arms, turned his back, and stalked into the house, leaving me alone to search out his mother.
I found Claudia seated at the kitchen table, chewing on her nails. Several of her cuticles were bleeding. At my approach, she dropped her hands and hid them in her lap. Strands of silver hair stuck out from her usually helmet-like coiffure. She gazed without focus upon the large number of pies, cakes, casseroles, and salads neighbors had dropped by the house.
“I’m so sorry, Claudia,” I said.
I heard a door slam. Claudia started and looked at me with despair in her eyes.
“He’s been like that since last night when we found out about … I’m worried about him. Has he said anything to you?”
I shook my head no.
“I thought he might at least have talked with you. He’s like another person now. I hate to say it, but more like his father. Please see if you can do something.”
Claudia arose from her chair and swayed slightly, grabbing the corner of the table to steady herself. “Doctor gave me some pills to calm me.” She swept her arm toward the food surrounding her. “There’s not enough room for all of this in the fridge.”