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Authors: Earlene Fowler

Seven Sisters (9 page)

BOOK: Seven Sisters
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“I’m scared, Benni,” she whispered so softly I wasn’t sure I heard her right. She didn’t look over at me, but continued to stare at the dark hills.

I reached over and took her hand, squeezing it gently. “I know.” What else could I say to her at this moment? Take heart? Things will work out? You’re stronger than you realize?
I know.
The only thing we can truly tell another person who is afraid or in pain. I know the unknown is terrifying. I know what fear is. I know what pain feels like.
I know.

What I didn’t realize until much later was she wasn’t talking about Sam or the baby.

6

WE WERE STILL sitting on the bench when the urgent clanging of the dinner bell reverberated through the valley. I didn’t think anything about it, assuming Cappy was calling everyone back up to the house for dessert, until Bliss jumped up, her face twisted with panic.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Without answering, she took off running up the gravel road toward the house.

I caught up with her, my heart pounding, and asked again, “Bliss, what’s going on?”

“She only rings the bell in an emergency. I know a shortcut through the fields.” She took off running through the rows of grapes. I followed her, keeping my eyes on her blonde hair bobbing through the lush green vines. Prickly branches caught at my silk blouse, snagging it in places that would irritate me later, but at that moment my only mission was to keep up with Bliss.

My side felt splintered when we reached the front porch. Bliss dashed in ahead of me, calling out for Cappy. Her grandmother appeared, followed by Etta and Willow from behind the closed doors of the living room we’d occupied a few hours before. She closed the doors behind her and said calmly to me, “You’d better find your husband.”

Her serious tone caused Bliss and me to glance at each other in apprehension.

“Why?” I asked.

“There’s been an accident.”

“Who?” Bliss asked.

Her grandmother’s face was sober. “It’s Giles. He’s dead.”

Before she could elaborate, we heard a mixture of voices out on the porch—Gabe, Dove, Lydia, Sam, Daddy. They were laughing at something, obviously unaware of the dinner bell’s ominous purpose. They entered the hallway, and Gabe’s smiling face turned instantly serious when he saw us.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Sam went over to Bliss, who was standing motionless as a trapped fawn, her hand grasping her side as if searching for the weapon that wasn’t there.

“It’s my grandson-in-law, Giles,” Willow said. “We need to find my granddaughter, Arcadia, and—”

“She was down at the tasting room with us,” Dove said. “Until about a half hour ago. She said she was coming back up to the house.”

Cappy’s face looked troubled. “Gabe, you’d better handle this.” She opened the door, and Gabe entered the room. We all pushed forward, stopping only when Gabe commanded us to stay where we were.

Lying on the floor in front of the fireplace was Giles in a rapidly spreading pool of blood. A .38 revolver lay a small distance from his body. He lay on his back, the gun above his outstretched hand, as if he were reaching for it. The entry point of the bullet could barely be seen, but I knew the force of a .38 bullet. If we turned him over, half his back would be splayed open, his insides a tangled mess. Gabe bent down and pressed his fingers to Giles’s neck. I watched my husband’s face, trying to gauge by his reaction whether Giles was actually dead. Behind us we heard Susa’s soft exclamation.

“Let me by,” she said. “He might be alive.” She pushed past us and ran over to Giles. She kneeled down next to him, her eyes rapidly surveying his chest wound.

“He’s dead,” Gabe said quietly, pulling his hand back and standing up.

She ignored his words and gently pressed her fingers in the same spot Gabe had. Moments later, she said in a choked voice, “Oh, no.”

Gabe looked over at Cappy. “Where’s the nearest phone besides this one?” He nodded at the phone on a side table.

“My study,” she said, pointing down the hall. “Last door on your right.”

He looked over at the rest of us, which now included Chase, Jose, and Jose’s son, who seemed to have appeared from nowhere. “I need all of you to go out on the front porch and stay there.” He walked over to me and said in a low voice, “Benni, I left my cell phone in the car. Go into Cappy’s study and call nine-one-one. I don’t want to leave the scene.”

Arcadia picked that moment to walk up to the crowd. Her soprano voice rang out. “I was upstairs powdering my nose when I thought I heard the dinner bell. What’s going on?” When she moved around the crowd and saw Giles lying on the blood-soaked carpet, a strangled cry came from her throat. We all stared at her, morbidly compelled to watch her reaction. She started toward Giles’s body, but Gabe gently blocked her way. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to stay back.” He nodded over at Willow, who took his cue and rushed over to her granddaughter.

“Grandmother?” Arcadia said, her voice strangled. “What happened? Who did this?” Willow put her arm around Arcadia’s shoulders and murmured softly in her ear. Arcadia started sobbing, her slight body convulsing.

“Benni, nine-one-one,” Gabe reminded me. He turned and looked at everyone and said firmly, “Everyone out on the porch, now. And no talking, please.”

As everyone started slowly moving toward the porch, I went to the study and made the phone call. The dispatcher replied that sheriff’s deputies would be there in a few minutes, that an officer was only a few miles away. When I came back into the hallway, the hallway was empty, and Gabe had closed the living room’s double doors.

Gabe walked over to me. “What’s the deputies’ ETA?”

“The dispatcher said a few minutes. I told them you were here.”

He nodded his approval.

“So, what do you think?” I asked in a low voice.

The skin around his prominent cheekbones tightened. “I think my son has picked one heck of a family to marry into.” He put his hand on my shoulder and massaged it gently, more, it seemed, to comfort himself than me. “Why don’t you join them outside? I’ll be out after I talk to the sheriff’s deputy.”

Out on the porch, I went over to Dove, who was sitting at the far end in one of the Adirondack chairs. Daddy stood next to her, his face subdued, holding his white dress Stetson in his hands. “Are you all right?” I asked.

“Just fine, honeybun. What’s Gabe got to say about this?”

“All he said was he wasn’t thrilled about Sam marrying into this clan.”

On the other end of the porch, on a padded bench, Willow sat next to her granddaughter, Arcadia, who was quietly sobbing into a small lacy handkerchief. She rubbed Arcadia’s back, whispering into her ear. Bliss stood next to Arcadia, her face ashen. Sam, his face fighting panic, bent down, murmured something in Bliss’s ear, then lay his hand tentatively on her back. Her face relaxed slightly, and a small shudder ran through her. Lydia stood on the top porch step, her expression uncertain.

“Bliss, honey,” her mother said. “Why don’t you sit down?”

“I’m just fine,” Bliss replied, her face going stiff again.

The sharpness in her tone surprised me, but Susa’s genial expression didn’t change. She just patted her daughter’s arm and went over to where her mother, Cappy, sat on the other side of Arcadia.

A few seconds later two sheriff’s patrol cars pulled up behind Gabe’s Corvette. A uniformed officer stepped out of each and, after a brief talk, strode up to the porch, heading toward Lydia, who would be the first one they’d encounter. I moved around her and met them, informing them I made the 911 call and that Chief Ortiz of the San Celina Police Department was inside.

We silently watched them enter the house. A few minutes later Gabe came out and said, “The detectives and the investigative team are on their way. They’ll need a statement from everyone. Please refrain from talking to each other until they’ve had a chance to question you.” He went back inside the house.

In about fifteen minutes, another vehicle arrived. A truck, actually. A big red Dodge. The man who stepped out appeared to be in his late thirties and wore a tan cowboy hat, sharp-pressed Wranglers, a Western-style sports jacket, and golden brown ostrich cowboy boots. When he came up the porch steps, he nodded at us genially, then walked into the house without a word. About a minute later, one of the uniformed deputies came back outside, probably assigned to keep an eye on us and discourage talking. I leaned my head against a wooden post and sighed, knowing we were in for a long night.

Ignoring the deputy’s presence, Lydia walked over to me and asked in a low voice, “You seem to understand my son. Should I go over to him?”

I stared at her, surprised. Asking my advice about her son was the last thing I expected.
Oh, geeze, don’t turn out to be nice,
I thought.

“He’d probably deny it with all his Latin machismo,” I whispered back, “but I’d say having his mom stand next to him right now would definitely make him feel better.”

The sheriff’s deputy frowned at me and Lydia, shaking his head. I felt like a school kid caught passing a note.

“Thanks,” she murmured. Pointedly ignoring the deputy in a way I couldn’t help admiring, she walked across the porch, said something in Sam’s ear, then lay her hand on his shoulder. Sam’s tense face eased at her touch.

By the time Gabe and the cowboy detective came back out on the porch, more cars had arrived, and soon the yard and house were full of crime scene personnel. Gabe came over and stood next to me while the detective cleared his throat to get our attention.

“Excuse me, folks.” His voice had a soft Texas twang, like an electric guitar slightly out of tune—not enough to be unpleasant, but enough to notice. “I’m Detective Hudson. I know this has been a hard night on all y’all, but please bear with us a little longer. Since we don’t really know what happened yet, we’re going to have to question each of you on an individual basis. Just some standard questions so we can try and figure out what happened. There’s three of us, so it shouldn’t take too much of your time.”

His voice was so friendly and easygoing it was almost easy to forget that this wasn’t an accident, but was most likely homicide, and there was a good chance that someone standing on this porch had committed the crime.

After a quick consultation with Gabe, the two other detectives asked Dove and Daddy to step into the house. The rest of us waited, a deputy still watching us. About a half hour later, Dove and Daddy were given permission to leave, and they came over to me to say a quick good-bye.

“Call me tomorrow first thing,” Dove said, hugging me hard.

“I will.”

“See you soon, pipsqueak,” Daddy said, kissing my cheek.

Probably because they knew I was with Gabe, I was one of the last to be questioned. My interview, almost three hours later, took place in Cappy’s office off the front hallway. The Texas detective had placed two deep-green leather visitor chairs side by side in front of Cappy’s large oak executive desk, slightly turned toward each other in a nonintimidating way, as if he and the witness were just having a pleasant chat.

“I’m Detective Hudson, Mrs. Ortiz,” he said, reaching out to shake my hand. His palm was smooth, warm, and a little damp. “I’m sorry this has taken so long.”

“It’s okay. You can call me Benni,” I said, not wanting to go into the fact that although I was officially married, I wasn’t officially an Ortiz.

“Great, Benni, then. Please have a seat.” He gestured to one of the green chairs. After sitting down, I tried to get my bearings, by glancing around Cappy’s office. It was a mixture of funky cowgirl kitsch, Native American elegance, and colorful Mexican folk art, organized in a way that looked straight out of a magazine spread. A brown-toned framed poster of a Pendleton cowgirl riding a bucking bronco shared wall space with a bright acrylic painting of an Indian warrior and a folk art cross painted with happy scenes from a Mexican wedding. A loveseat upholstered in a tan, brown, deep green, and red Pendleton blanket fabric sat between floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases. In a corner, a burnished mahogany-colored tooled sidesaddle rested on a fancy oak saddle rack. Above it was a gallery of framed win pictures, Cappy smiling proudly in each one, and an oil painting of Seven Bars Jewel. Behind the desk hung the Churn Dash quilt—made of brown and gold calicos and pale muslin—that Rose Jewel Brown had created and was the inspiration for the name of the two-year-old colt I’d seen earlier.

The detective cleared his throat to get my attention. “Excuse me, ma’am. Can we get started now?”

I jumped slightly, felt myself flush. “Oh, I’m sorry. The room distracted me.”

He nodded and glanced around the office. “It is some-thin’ else. My mama would love it. She’s an interior decorator in Dallas.” He looked down at the palm-sized wire-ring notebook in his hand. The front was decorated with the characters from
Beauty and the Beast.
When he looked back up, he caught me staring at it and smiling.

He turned it over and scrutinized the cover, laughing himself. “It was all I could find,” he said, sitting back in his chair and crossing his legs, ankle to knee. His golden brown ostrich boots had deep brown shafts. “I think it was left over from my daughter’s last visit. I reckon I should have just torn the cover off, but as my dear old daddy would say, if a man can’t act like a girl sometimes, then he ain’t a real man.”

I thought about his comment for a moment, trying to decide if it was insulting to women.

He grinned at me, an amused twinkle in his dark brown eyes. “Now, why don’t you tell me everything you saw and heard and what you were doing, say, the half hour before y’all heard the dinner bell callin’ you to the house.”

While I talked, he made notes in his cartoon notebook, his smooth-shaved, country-boy face screwed up in a concentrated frown. He reminded me of the type of boy in school the teacher always picked for Tom Sawyer’s part in the class play. The kind who would pull your braids, then look so cute and wide-eyed innocent when accused that the teacher glanced back at
you
with suspicion.

BOOK: Seven Sisters
12.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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