A Touch of Death Ch. 06byWine_Maker©
Ty piloted a slow course to the marina. When we docked, I gathered my things, making sure the gold was safe in my purse, and helped with the picnic supplies.
We walked slowly back to Ty's car and I considered my options while he stored everything in the trunk.
He smiled at me as he closed the trunk. "Did you have a good time?" he asked.
I nodded without hesitation. "I did. Thanks for inviting me out. I hope we can do something like it again soon."
Edward Stanton was pacing impatiently back and forth like a caged tiger in the lobby of the lodge when Ty delivered me home. His eyes darkened as he saw the two of us and he stormed right over, waving a finger in my face.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Stanton demanded.
That called for my professional face so I schooled my features. I'd had to deal with irate guests before. No matter how hard you tried, there was always someone who couldn't be satisfied.
"Good afternoon, Mister Stanton. What's the matter?"
He glared at me. "You know damned well what's the matter. How dare you come to my house and harass my wife like this? You virtually called me a murderer in front of her and I deeply resent it. You can't go around accusing upstanding citizens like Wallace and myself of murder."
"Are you one?" Ty asked without inflection.
Stanton purpled with rage. "Screw you," he snarled at Ty before returning his attention to me. "Stay away from me and my family. If you don't, I'll sue you for everything you have."
It was a struggle to keep from losing control of my temper but I somehow managed. "I never told Alison you killed anyone. I just said that there was some question about Steven Armstrong's death. I apologize if there was some kind of misunderstanding."
"There are no questions about it," he sneered. "The Sheriff told me personally it was an accident. He and I go way back so don't fuck with me." He poked his finger into my chest to make his point.
Ty grabbed the offending hand and twisted it behind Stanton's back with the wrist twisted almost double and shoved him almost face down on the floor. It all happened so quickly that I wasn't sure exactly what he did. Ty's movements, though lightning fast, seemed almost casual.
"Hasn't anyone told you it's not nice to touch a lady without her permission?" Ty asked in voice that sounded as cold as a glacier. "Apologize."
"Let... Me... Go," Stanton gasped in pain.
"Apologize to Miss Kane. Now. And it better sound sincere because a few more pounds of pressure and unfortunate things might happen to your wrist."
A quick look around showed me that both staff and guests were gaping at us. "Let him go, Ty," I hissed.
My emotions about Ty's actions were wavering between anger at being treated like I couldn't handle myself and pleasure at being defended. I know it wasn't logical to feel that way about the same act, but I did. I'm a woman. Sue me.
Ty's eyes were dark and hooded as he briefly met my gaze. "Not till I hear an apology from Mister Terrific." He forced Stanton's arm higher and got a grunt of anguish from him. "What are you waiting for? Simon says? Let me help you start. I'm..."
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Stanton squealed.
"See? That wasn't so hard," Ty said as he released Stanton's arm and stepped back beside me as though nothing had taken place.
Stanton straightened, rubbing his arm and glaring at both of us. "You'll regret crossing me." His delivery was ruined when Ty reached up to scratch his own chin and Stanton flinched.
With one more withering glare at us, Stanton beat a hasty retreat out the front door.
I whirled on Ty, ignoring the continuing stares from the observers. "I could've handled him myself," I said in a low voice. "Don't you think that was a bit over the top?"
He smiled, unrepentant. "I know you could have. As for being over the top, well, I do have a reputation as a wild man to maintain."
I rolled my eyes. "Now he's going to be much harder to deal with. What if he calls the Sheriff's Deputies?"
He looked down into my eyes. "Then I'll deal with them. He wouldn't have been very cooperative at this point anyway."
Would arguing about this do any good? Probably not. I sighed to display my frustration. "I suppose not."
Ty glanced at his watch. "I need to go meet with the boss for a few hours. Stay out of trouble. Okay?"
I almost gasped in outrage. "After that display you have the gall to tell me to stay out of trouble?"
I thought for a moment that he was going to kiss me but he didn't. I watched him saunter out with his hands in his back pockets and lusted in my heart.
* * * * *
A long, hot shower let me settle myself down. I selected a long-sleeved blouse to go with a fresh pair of jeans instead of a tee shirt. It was going to start getting cool before I got home, after all. Welcome to Lake Tahoe.
I slipped into one of the rooms on the first floor reserved for family storage and stashed the gold nugget in a box of knick-knacks that had belonged to my grandfather. There was no reason for anyone to be in here at all, much less looking through a box of stuff that hadn't been opened in a decade. It would be safe here, just in case someone came looking for it. That done, I got in my car and got busy.
Ty wouldn't approve, but I drove around Jake Wallace's block anyway. His car wasn't there and the house was dark. I considered slipping back inside but after nearly getting caught by someone last time I didn't think that was the best idea I'd ever had.
My cell phone rang just as I was getting clear of the neighborhood.
"This is Candy."
"Hey, this is Zach. I have some information, but it's going to cost you."
I smiled. "Hey, big man. Do you take barter?"
"Dinner? Sure, but I pick the place," he responded.
"Deal. Spill it."
"Nope," he said with a grin in his voice. "I'll reveal all over steaks."
I raised an eyebrow even though he couldn't see it. "Sounds like you've got something good. Where and when?"
"Well, I wouldn't say it's good but it's important. Meet me at Tahoe Inn in half an hour. I have a reservation."
"The Inn?" I asked in dismay. "Zach, you know I can't stand Calvin and Dora. Can't we go somewhere else?"
"And that's why you jog right to their front door every morning? I thought you liked tweaking their noses."
He had a point. "I can be obnoxious?"
"I've known you for years," he assured me. "You certainly can be."
"I meant that as a request for permission rather than an appraisal of my character," I said dryly. "If I can yank their chains I might consider it. Still, why there?"
"I already had a reservation and the steaks are killer ," he admitted. "You have my permission to escalate if they show up and start taking potshots," he allowed judiciously. "
I sighed and gave in. "Fine. You win. I'll see you there in half an hour." With any luck at all I might be able to get a table that was out of the way and avoid Satan and his woman.
* * * * *
The dining room at the Inn was arrayed along the lake-side of the building and had a series of plate-glass windows overlooking the water. This close to dark, the eastern peaks were ablaze with light and the western ones already overcome by shadow. In just a little bit the lake would fall into dusk.
Crisp, white cloth, silver, and crystal covered the crowded tables. Wait staff in almost formal black glided around the room seeing to the guests with admirable dispatch. Not that I wanted to, mind you, but I had to give the devil his due. Since I refused to believe that Calvin or Dora were capable of this level of class, they had to have hired someone with real talent.
The rear wall of the dining room was a bar with lots of shine and mirrors. A few patrons were scattered on the stools, some watching the pending sunset and some not.
One of them, a woman, was so striking I had to give her a second and third look. She wasn't just beautiful, she was gorgeous. Flawlessly tanned skin, perfect features, brown hair that was anything but ordinary, and dressed to kill in an expensive black sheath dress that barely contained her assets, she was a man-killer. Every man in the place was staring at her, though you'd never know that from the notice she took of them. I pegged her at somewhere around my age.
I'm as straight as an arrow, but that didn't stop me from feeling the waves of raw sensuality the woman was putting off, seemingly without effort. I hoped Zach and I could get a table that was turned so Zach was facing away from her. If not I'd have to order him a bib.
My hopes of a discreet seat were shattered when the maitre d' led me to a table near the bar. It was in plain sight of anyone that wanted to look. I had trouble believing they actually had a maŒtre'd. As far as I knew, the Inn didn't have a rating, four star or otherwise. When I considered Dora's snoot factor, though, it made sense. Who knows? If they went this far they might have food to match and be going for a rating.
Zach was already seated, thankfully with his back to the sex goddess, poring over the wine list, his bulk dominating the diners scattered around him. I sat down and shook my head at him when he looked up.
"Could you possibly draw more attention to us?" I asked waspishly. "You know, hire a mariachi band or something?"
"The polka guy with the accordion will be by when we get to dessert." He grinned at my discomfort so I rolled my eyes at him.
By the time the waiter arrived, we were not only ready to order drinks, we ordered our salads and main courses. He took our order and disappeared into the back. I might have to take some notes. I loved Karen and all, but the wait staff at the Lodge might take some pointers from the crew here.
"Spill," I told Zach after our wine had been brought out.
"I was able to find out a few things from various people I know. Doc Mathews is keeping his mouth shut but I know a guy in his office. He's examined the body and has a preliminary cause of death. He won't make an official ruling until the lab has finished checking for drugs and stuff, but it looks like Steven Armstrong had a massive blow to the left side of his head. Among other things."
I already knew all this, but I had to 'officially' learn it before I could safely use it. "Did that kill him?"
Zach tilted his head back and forth ambivalently. "Sort of. It fractured the skull and might have killed him if the broken neck hadn't. He was already dying when he hit the water since the lungs were clear."
I didn't have to fake a shudder. "How horrible. Does he think it was an accident or something more sinister?"
"I think he's leaning toward accident. The grease on the dock fits right into that line of thinking. Armstrong walks out after dark, steps on it and goes down hard, snaps his neck, and rolls into the drink. I bet the Fletcher's insurance company will love that."
I grimaced. "Believe me, I'd love to find fault but it's a freaking dock out in the open. Water, grease, oil, and more get spilled by boaters. I saw the dock. It was hardly defective. There's a limit on what owners can do to protect people on their property."
"Tell that to the lawyers," he said with a grin. "you know they'll be all over this like white on rice."
In today's 'sue everyone' environment, I had to concede. "It couldn't happen to a nicer couple. So the Coroner is probably going to decide it was an accident unless something unexpected turns up in Armstrong's blood. What else?"
He held his answer as the waiter brought out our salads. A quick bite revealed they were crisp, fresh, and tasty. My satisfaction with the food warred with my disappointment at seeing Dora's place so sharp. The fact that a snooty restaurant would be out of place in a town like Angel's Point was, well, beside the point.
"The next bit of word comes from a pal of mine in the Sheriff's Department. It looks like Deputy Cooper is leaning the same way as Doc. He's told more than one person how he thinks this all went down."
I ground my teeth in frustration. "Why does everyone just leap to that conclusion? Did he even have the dock looked at by whatever passes for a CSI department around here? Did he even question the people that were here for the dinner last night?"
Zach raised an eyebrow at me. "The evidence so far seems to be bearing their opinions out. It looks like you've come to the opposite conclusion. What do you know that they don't?"
That was a subject I had to change fast. "I watched Cooper start right in on his theory before they'd even taken Armstrong off the beach," I said, waving my arms a bit. "I just have a feeling, that's all. Women's intuition." I fixed him with a gimlet eye. "And you better not laugh at that, either."
He raised his hands in mock surrender. "I'm not going there. If you want to crusade for justice against the man, who am I to argue? Go for it."
I took a calming drink of my wine. Getting pissed off wouldn't help me.
"As for the rest," he continued, "I did hear they had someone specific out to collect evidence on the dock and the beach. I can't speak as to his training. My man in the department said he questioned a few people that were at the dinner. I couldn't tell you who, though."
"Perfect," I muttered to myself. Unless I could generate some information I could explain, someone was going to get away with murder.
Zach raised his hands in apology. "Sorry. I didn't write the script."
I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down. "No, I'm sorry. This isn't your fault and I owe you big for asking around. I really appreciate it. I can't explain why, but I think Steven Armstrong's death was anything but an accident. I've got zip to back it up. Nada. Nothing."
Zach smiled. "You don't owe me. That's why you're buying dinner. It's no skin off my back if you think something funky went on."
I nodded and moved the conversation to safe trivialities until our food arrived. Damned if the steak wasn't melt-in-your-mouth delicious and the baked potato was done to perfection. I was going to have to do some serious re-evaluation of the Lodge's kitchen. I could do without all the decoration, but I couldn't let such a disparity in the food slide. Someone should've told me. We needed to kick it up a notch. Zach, wisely, made no comparison.
Come to think of it, maybe this was his way of politely showing me what Dora was up to. The irony that I was paying for the lesson wasn't lost on me either. I wasn't sure if that was in his favor or not. That would teach me to underestimate Zach Zoboroski.
I was counting my lucky stars when we were left sitting back contentedly looking over the remains of our meal without having been found by Dora or Calvin. I had to sigh in contentment at the experience and decline the offer of desserts, though they sounded wonderful.
Zach discreetly looked at his watch. "I hate to eat and run, but my brother wanted me to stop by."
I waved my hand negligently. "You've taught me my lesson, Master. You may now leave the student to digest your insight, so to speak."
He grinned and rose to his feet. "Call me if you need anything." With a mock salute, he sauntered out the door. Smug bastard. He was a good friend.
"Excuse me," an airy contralto voice interrupted my musings. "May I join you for a moment?" I looked up and found the sex goddess standing behind Zach's chair. Up close she was even more devastating than I thought. Christ, she was like a non-anorexic supermodel. Her eyes seem to smolder and her voice had just a hint of huskiness.
"Excuse me," she said again, making me realize I'd just sat there like a moron staring at her. She smiled slightly. "May I join you for a moment?"
I snapped my mouth closed and flushed with embarrassment. I hadn't realized it was open. "Wow, I've sure made a good first impression. Please, join me."
The woman slipped into her chair with a kind of sensuous grace and held her hand out to me. "Thank you. I'm Ginger."
"Candy Kane." Her hand was smooth and soft, with long, slender fingers capped with short nails coated in a pale red. Her grip was firm without being crushing.
Her smile kicked up a notch and her eyes twinkled a bit mischievously. "You must've gotten quite a lot of teasing in school."
"It could be worse. Dad might've named me 'Sugar'."
She threw her head back and laughed for a moment. "Oh, yes, that would've been hard to deal with, I'm sure. Either one risks having people ask how sweet you are to the taste. Have you ever considered changing it?"
I shook my head, wondering if that was sexual innuendo. "Not really, though I have threatened to." Time to see what this was all about. "What can I do for you, Ginger?"
"May I call you Candy?" At my nod, she continued. "Thank you. Candy, I couldn't help overhearing you and your large friend talking. Particularly, I heard you talking about Steven. You don't think it was an accident?"
I wondered how many times I would end up telling people that. Sooner or later, if it hadn't already, the murderer was going to hear about it. And, as Ty said, he might be annoyed.
I nodded. "I think someone wanted it to look that way but, no, I don't think it was an accident. I just can't tell people why I'm so sure. I have no proof."
Ginger leaned forward, unconsciously exposing a breathtaking expanse of cleavage to me. "I believe you," she said softly.
With another flush, I yanked my eyes back to her face. Jeeze, I was just as bad as a guy. "You do?" I asked, more than a bit surprised.
She nodded, apparently ignoring my wandering eyes. "I've been thinking something similar all day. It's all too convenient. Especially with the viper right there that night."
I sat up straight in my chair. "What viper?"
"His ex-wife's new husband," she said in a low voice. "He would really like to see Steven taken down. They had issues, like doing the new guy doing her while she was still married to my brother, but Steven refused to leave the Yacht Club just because they were there."
I savored the taste of that. "I had no idea he'd been married before. What's her name?"
The corners of her mouth twitched upward. "Are you investigating Steven's death? I never asked, but are you a cop or something?"
I shook my head. "I'm not a cop or anything like that. I'm manager and part owner of Kane Lodge, right up the beach. I found Mister Armstrong on the beach the morning after he died. I feel that I owe it to him to see that no stone was left unturned in finding out what happened to him. All I have are my suspicions."
"Good," she said, visibly relaxing. "I'm not a huge fan of law enforcement. Steven's ex-wife's name is Alison."
My mouth dropped open again. "Alison Stanton?"
Ginger nodded, surprised. "You know her?"
I ground my teeth together in poorly suppressed anger. "I talked with her just this morning and that little jewel of information was somehow overlooked."
Ginger shook her head but remained smiling. "Alison's usually good at keeping her cards close to her vest. Especially since her marriage to Steven. She was less than discreet in the case of her affair with Edward."
She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Steven found out, of course. It wasn't the infidelity that enraged him. It was her brazen disregard for keeping it under the table, so to speak. Edward wasn't the first man she'd had while they were married. He didn't seem to care about that."
"So he divorced her for being indiscreet, rather than infidelity?" I asked.
She nodded. "Exactly. He found out she was openly flaunting Edward, so he convinced her to go picnicking on their boat and tied up at the island in Emerald Bay. He got her naked and they had one last screw before he stranded her there alone, naked."
My expression must've been priceless because she laughed at me. "Yeah, I reacted the same way. At least he left her a picnic basket full of food, though not with the table cloth. It was still warm out and he called the police before dark. In the meanwhile, he piled all her expensive clothes in her car, drove it into the lake, changed all the locks on the house, and filed for divorce."