Authors: Gina Cresse
ndy was uncharacteristically quiet on the drive back home. He kept glancing over at me as if he wanted to ask a question, but something stopped him.
“What?” I finally asked.
He squinted, clenched his jaw a couple times, then smiled. “Nothing.”
“Did I do something wrong with the gun?”
He shook his head.
“Spinach in my teeth?” I noticed a black smudge on his right cheek. “Gunpowder on my face? What?”
“Okay. I just wondered why you didn’t have your boyfriend show you how to use the shotgun.”
“Yeah. He opposed to you protecting yourself or something?”
Watching Andy’s profile as he drove, I thought back to the morning he had knocked on my door and saw Obermeyer eating breakfast, and me in my robe. At the time, I didn’t care that he got the wrong idea because he was so irritating, but now… “He’s not my boyfriend.”
He studied my face like he was looking for any hint I might be lying. “No?”
“No. You misunderstood.”
Another five minutes of silence, then Andy looked over and smiled. “Hungry?”
The place we stopped to eat wasn’t very busy since it was still early. We were seated in a booth next to a window with a view of the river. The greenish-blue water was low and not moving very fast, and a line of willow trees grew along the opposite bank, leaning over the river as if the long draping branches were trying to touch the surface. A pair of Mallard ducks paddled close to the shore and every so often one of them would dunk its head under the water and leave its rear end bobbing like a buoy as it latched on to some unlucky fish. Flitting just above the surface, a shiny blue dragonfly hunted for its lunch.
While we waited for our sandwiches, my conscience finally nagged me enough that I pointed toward Andy’s right cheek. “You have a smudge there.”
Wiping the side of his face with a napkin, he said, “Did I get it?”
After a brief inspection, I nodded. “Yeah. Must’ve been gunpowder.”
“Thanks for telling me. I hate walking around like a Bozo.”
We exchanged a warm glance and it seemed like we were finally on the road to being nice to each other. We talked about the grape harvest progress and were just moving on to the subject of horses when the waitress brought our food.
“I better go wash my hands,” I said, then got up and glanced around for the restroom.
“Down the hall, on your right,” the waitress said, pointing over my shoulder.
As I walked away, I heard Andy tell the waitress he’d left something in his truck and would be right back. The restroom was at the end of a long hallway. I pushed through the heavy door and passed a woman with a small child as they came out.
The little girl pointed at me and said, “Look, Mommy.”
“Shhh.” her mother said, and smiled at me as they left.
When I stepped in front of the mirror, I realized what she was pointing at—the end of my nose was black with a gunpowder smudge. I looked like a Cocker Spaniel. “Two can play this game,” I said under my breath as I scrubbed my nose clean. The fact that the two of us
played the game and he was just better at it annoyed me more than the embarrassment.
When I returned to the table, my hands and face freshly washed, Andy smiled.
As I slid into the booth, I smiled back. “The next time you get sprayed by a mad skunk, don’t come knocking on my door.”
Without saying a word, he placed a gift on the table in front of me. “Peace offering.”
I recognized it from the day he’d seen Detective Obermeyer at my breakfast table. It must’ve been riding around in his truck ever since.
“What is it? Bozo suit? Spring loaded exploding snakes?”
He shook his head.
“‘I’m With Stupid’ T-shirt?”
“Just open it.”
Cautiously, I tore a corner of the paper off. It was a book, as I’d previously suspected. Tearing the rest of the wrapping off, I recognized the cover. It was a book about organic grape growing that I’d been trying to find for months. Every time I tried to order it, I was told it was out of stock or out of print, but it was supposed to be the ultimate reference for organic farming.
I turned it over and glanced at the back cover. “Thanks.” I set it down on the seat next to me like a doggie bag. The feud was back on as far as I was concerned and there was no way I’d show any weakness by letting him know how much the gift meant to me.
“You’re welcome,” Andy said. “That one’s hard to find.”
“Is it really?”
“The author’s a friend of mine.”
“Huh,” I said, trying very hard to not look too impressed as I picked up my sandwich and started to eat.
By the time we got back to my place, the divers had apparently finished searching the pond, but they’d left their tell-tale yellow crime-scene tape strung up all around the pond, leaving me to wonder what they’d found.
Pete’s pickup was parked along the road in front of a grape truck and he waved to us as he talked to the driver, handing him a field tag to take along with the grapes to the winery. Andy drove up to my house and let me out near the carport. I hoisted the shotgun out of the rifle rack and rested it on my shoulder.
“Don’t forget your book,” Andy said, handing it to me, along with my purse.
“I guess I’ll need to buy more ammunition,” I said.
“And we’ll have to practice a few more times, at least until you’re more comfortable with it.”
“Comfortable? I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.”
As I took my things in the house, Andy walked down to the road to talk to Pete. Glancing out my front window, I saw Detective Obermeyer’s car pull into my driveway, so I put my things down and walked out to meet him.
“So, what’d they find in the pond?” I asked, offering him the porch swing while I hoisted myself up on the railing.
“Cell phone. Laptop. We sent them to the forensics lab to see what they can find.”
“You think they belonged to the dead girl?”
“Probably, unless your beavers are more technologically advanced than they’re letting on.”
I laughed. “How many times do I have to tell you? They’re not
“It would really help if you could remember something about that white pickup you saw.”
“I know. I wish I could tell you more, but—“
“Sometimes witnesses just need a little help to recall details they think they’ve forgotten.”
“Hypnosis. There’s a woman we work with who’s pretty good.”
“The problem isn’t that I don’t remember. It was dark. I couldn’t see anything.”
“You might be surprised.”
After mulling it over, I finally said, “I guess it couldn’t hurt. But I don’t think I can be hypnotized.”
“Everyone thinks that, but when they see the video of themselves singing like Elvis—“
“I better not!”
“Just kidding,” he said. “You’ll be completely aware of what you’re saying and doing. It’s not like in the movies.”
“Oh, you’ve done it before?”
“No. Someone I used to know went to one of those past-life regression hypnotists years ago. He told me all about it.”
Obermeyer rolled his eyes. “I don’t buy into all that past-life business.”
“I didn’t either, but Roger recalled being hung as a traitor during the Civil War, and if you knew him, you’d reconsider.”
Late that night I put on jeans and a black T-shirt and headed over to the neighbor’s vineyard again, this time to retrieve stems and leaves for Andy to inspect. The moon was full and I didn’t really need the flashlight to find my way, but I used it anyway in case the skunks were out and about. I crawled through the fence and headed for the closest vine. My shears were too small for the job and I struggled to get them to cut through the cane I’d chosen, but I wasn’t about to go back to the tool shed for another pair. The sooner I could get out of there, the better.
Just as the metal blade snapped through the tough wood, I saw a streak of white out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to see what it was, the flashlight I’d been holding under my armpit slipped and fell in the dirt. I didn’t need the light to see it was a dog running straight for me. Judging the distance between me and the fence against the distance between me and the dog, I was pretty sure the dog would get to me before I could make the fence. Besides that, the dog could get under the fence just as fast as I could get over it.
The dog looked pretty big—I guessed it was a Yellow Lab. I’d known a few labs in my life, and they were all friendly dogs, so my instinct was to act like we were long lost buddies.
“Hey, there. What a good dog,” I said, sounding as confident as I could. By the time he reached me his tail was wagging and I felt the tension in my body relax. I bent down to pat him and pick up my flashlight. “What’s your name, huh?”
There was a strange sound like the rustling of leaves in the distance and the beam of my flashlight washed across the source of the noise for a brief instant. I waved the light in that direction again until it landed on what I could only describe as a wildly erratic ball of hair, teeth and eyeballs racing straight at me, growling, barking and spitting all at the same time.
“Crap,” I whispered. From the size and color, I guessed it was a Jack Russell Terrier. Again, there was no way I’d make it to the fence in time. I was familiar with the breed and figured my only hope was to convince him I was not to be crossed. I took a step in his direction, pointed a steady finger at him, stomped my foot, and in my sternest voice, yelled, “No! Bad dog! Go home!”
He just barked louder and faster and kept right on coming. I braced myself for the attack and hoped the gentle lab would be in my corner.
“Bobby! J.R.!” a voice hollered from the dark.
The Jack Russell stopped about three feet away. The hair on his back stood straight up and his lip curled so tight I could count his teeth. With every breath, he snarled his hatred for me.
A tall, dark figure appeared from behind a distant grape vine. “Who the hell are you?” he growled.
“Your neighbor. Can you call off your dog?”
After a long pause, he finally yelled, “J.R.! Get your rotten ass back here!”
With a flashlight in one hand and a rifle resting on his shoulder, Dash Zucker walked next to the little dog and nudged him with his foot. “Get back!” The Jack Russell turned on him and clamped on to his boot with determined jaws.
Dash shook his boot hard until the dog finally let go. “Damn dog.” Then he pointed in the direction he’d come from and addressed the lab. “Bobby, take J.R. home and—eat him or something.”
The big lab loped away and the animated little terrier followed.
I finally let out the breath I’d been holding.
“If he bit you, it’s your problem, being on my property and all,” Dash said. I got the impression he hoped the dog had drawn blood.
“No, I’m fine.”
My brain kicked into overdrive trying to come up with a plausible reason why I’d be in his vineyard, taking cuttings from his vines—in the middle of the night. Nothing came to me right away, so I just stood there.
“What are you doing on my property?” he finally asked.
It would’ve been easier to come up with something if I didn’t have a pair of pruning shears in one hand and a cane from his vine in the other. I was looking for my cat? I thought I saw flames coming from your windows? I was in the middle of an Ambien-induced sleep-walking episode?
“Uh, well, okay. You caught me.”
He stepped closer until he was in my face. His breath was hot and reeked of whiskey and tobacco. “Caught you doing what?”
I wondered if taking a step back would show weakness. I could hold my ground, but if he lit a cigarette, I might lose my eyelashes from the flash explosion. “Um, I was taking a cutting from one of your vines,” I finally said, holding up the smoking-gun shears as evidence.
Dash reached for my hand but I pulled away.
“I, uh, I’m trying to get my vineyard certified organic by the U.S.D.A.” I moved toward the fence.
He moved along with me. “Yeah?”
“And I need to know what you’re spraying on your crop that might disqualify mine if it drifts over onto my vines.”
“Huh,” he said, scratching his chin with the back of his hand. “You wanna know what I spray?”
I nodded and took another step toward the fence.
“None of your damn business,” he growled. “I came out here to shoot rabbits that keep chewin’ up my irrigation system and find you tresspassin’. You’re damn lucky you didn’t get your head blown off.”