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Authors: Gina Cresse

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BOOK: Sinfandel
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Pete laughed, then spit something out on the ground—most likely a tooth.

“She was just as nosy as you are.”

“And the Zuckers?  Was that you?”

“The two of them together didn’t have the brain cells of a lemur.  Stupid kid saw me dump the girl’s stuff in the pond while she was out watering her marijuana.  She told her old man and he came up with the brilliant idea to blackmail me.  Idiot.”

“So you’re going to kill me, too?”

“I am, and let me tell you, that ain’t no easy task as it turns out.  You gotta be the luckiest little gal I’ve ever run across.”

Funny, but at the moment, I didn’t feel lucky.

“First I missed you in the orchard, then I missed you on the bridge, and how you escaped getting electrocuted I’ll never know.”

“And the snake?” I said.

“You got an angel on your shoulder, kid.  But not for long.”

By this time, he’d gotten close enough for me to smell his sweat and aftershave.  I slipped around the tree behind him and swung the shotgun, making contact with the back of his head.  Thud. 

Pete stumbled forward, tripped over something that made a screeching sound, then fell onto his hands and knees.  I could just make out a pair of masks and ringed tails scurrying away in the dark and realized he’d tripped over a pair of raccoons—my raccoons, no doubt.  When he finally stopped cursing, I heard a strange sound, like a tree limb cracking.  I hoisted the shotgun on my shoulder, ready to strike once more before he got back to his feet.

I took a step toward him and heard the sound again.  It wasn’t coming from overhead, but rather from under Pete.

“Sh—!” he screamed as another loud crack pierced the air and he disappeared into the ground.

I stopped short, confused by what had just happened.  Then I heard a muffled splash and I realized he’d fallen into one of the old abandoned hand-dug wells that dotted the hillsides around this area.  Rather than fill it in, Zucker must have just covered this one with a sheet of plywood that had rotted over time.

I slid down onto my hands and knees and crawled slowly toward the well and peered over the edge of the deep, dark hole.  “Pete?  How long can you tread water?”

There was no response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine

 

B
y the time I limped home, called Detective Obermeyer and waited for help to arrive, Pete had drowned.  As the rescue crew pulled his lifeless body out of the well, the sun was just peeking over the horizon.

A medic busied himself cleaning the gashes I’d gotten jumping out of my bedroom window and tripping over the disc harrow.  Obermeyer turned a bucket over and sat down on it next to me.  “You know how lucky you are?”

“I thought you said I was jinxed,” I said, wincing at the stinging pain as the medic treated my wounds.

“No, I said all the incidents you’d been involved in couldn’t have been the result of bad luck.”

“That may be what you meant, but you said—”

“I’m gonna need a full statement,” he said, redirecting me away from another argument.

I nodded, trying not to speak, which might lead to blubbering tears.  Obermeyer didn’t need to see that side of me.  Nobody did.

 

At least the check Pete had given me before he tried to kill me was good.  As soon as the bank opened, I drove to town to deposit it before they put a freeze on his account.  Later, I’d pay off what I could, and the whole process would start all over again.

The final I.O.U. came in from the State and I saved it with the rest of them, hoping they’d actually be honored as Quinn Adamson promised.

When I returned from the bank, my answering machine light was flashing.  I pressed the ‘Play’ button.  It was a message from my real estate broker, telling me an offer had already been accepted on the Zucker vineyard.  Turned out the Zuckers never bothered to go through a proper divorce—since they never went through a proper wedding in the first place—and Clarice Zucker’s name was still on the title.  In fact, hers was the only name on title after some scheme Dash cooked up to avoid paying property taxes.  She never even knew about it, according to my Realtor, until a broker called her with an offer.  Bottom line, I would not be buying the vineyard. 

Disappointed, I slid down in my glider and scratched Tony’s ears.  I could never afford it anyway.  Who was I kidding?  Maybe it was time for me to find a full-time job again, at least until the vineyard was producing at its full potential.  I tried to remember if I’d need to update my resume.

The sound of a horn honking jerked me out of my funk.  I looked out the window.  It was Andy waiting for me to let him in.  After a small self-debate, I finally opened the gate and walked outside with Tony to meet him.

“I brought you something,” he said as he climbed out of his pickup, Maybell in his arms.  He set her down and she raced as fast as she could with her little leg still in a cast, wagging her stub-tail to greet Tony.  Andy reached into the back of his truck and hoisted a sack of feed onto his shoulder.  “Raccoon Chow,” he announced, grinning.

“If you can’t beat ‘em?”

“Feed ‘em!” 

We both laughed as I followed him up to the barn where he dropped the fifty-pound sack in the corner.

“I think they may have saved my life, so I have no problem feeding them now.” 

His face turned serious. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I lied.  “Just a little sore.”

“So it was Pete all along.  What a shocker.”

“Yeah.  I wonder what I should do now.”

We sat down on the porch swing and watched Tony and Maybell play tug-of-war with one of his toys on the lawn.

“You don’t really need a broker.  I can help you get your crop sold.”

“Yeah?  What’s your commission?”

He smiled at me, a day’s growth of stubble failing to hide the dimples in his cheeks.  God he was handsome.  “Friends don’t charge friends commission.”

“But I’ll always feel like I owe you.  I don’t like that.”

“Then you can help me out with something.  I just bought a new vineyard and I’ll need a hand.”

I shot him a startled look.  “You what?”

“Yeah.  I think you know the place.  Zucker’s vineyard?  Next door?”

“You sneak,” I said, giving him a soft-but-not-too-soft punch in the arm.  “I don’t know if I’ll have time to help you.  Tony and I have decided I need to get a full-time job.  Gotta buy dog cookies and stuff, you know.”

“Oh, right.  I forgot about the rising cost of dog cookies.”  He looked off into the distance.  “What if…”

“What if, what?”

“Well, I was just thinking.  I really need a partner to keep up with both places.  You’re so close.”

“Oh, so I’m geographically convenient,” I said.

He turned his gaze back to me.  “You’re more than that.”

“Really.”

“Yeah.  You’re opinionated, stubborn, obstinate—”

 “Stubborn and obstinate mean the same thing,” I said.  “Can’t you think of another adjective?”

“Beautiful…  All good qualities to have in a partner.”

“I see.”  Now it was my turn to gaze out into the distance.  “Can I have some time to think about it?”

“Take all the time you need.”

He didn’t know it yet, and he wouldn’t for a while, but I’d already made my decision.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Gina Cresse is the author of five other mysteries:

 

A Deadly Change of Course—Plan B

A Deadly Bargain—Plan C

A Deadly Change of Heart

A Deadly Change of Power

A Deadly Change of Luck

 

You can find out more about these titles at www.GinaCresse.com.

 

BOOK: Sinfandel
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