Savannah would never be able to recall whether she was awakened by the insistent hammering on the front door to her cottage or Scout’s distinctive basset hound baying in response thereto. What she knew at the time was that it had been the first decent night’s sleep she’d had since Vince walked out on their sixteen-year relationship nine months before. It had occurred to her the previous evening that the death of the last of her feelings for him had taken the same amount of time as it had for his child bride to deliver their first offspring.
Neither the insistent pounding nor Scout’s loud bark seemed to be abating. “Argh!” she said swinging her legs to the floor as she sat up on the edge of the bed. The spinning room and throbbing head immediately reminded her why she’d been able to sleep through the night. Vince may have been able to force her to part with the vineyard as part of the settlement, but Savannah would be damned if he and his new trophy wife were going to get the best bottles of wine.
Savannah could hear Scout leaving the front door and heading back to the bedroom. “I know, baby, I know. Mama’s coming.” She grabbed a pair of sweat pants and pulled them on to go with the t-shirt in which she had slept. Opening the small window in the front door, she was a bit shocked to see Ben Hastings, the local police chief and ex-friend. Vince had taken him in the settlement as well.
She opened the door. “What the hell do you want Hastings? I don’t have to be out until the end of the month. Tell your buddy that he and his new wife and baby will just have to wait until my time is up. Now go away.” Without waiting for a reply, she slammed the door. Scout jumped up on his mistress’ legs and wagged his tail for all it was worth. “Yes, I know. I’m up and that means you get breakfast.” She started towards the kitchen when the knocking on her door started again. Whirling around she threw open the door “What?” she asked angrily.
Ben at least had the good grace to appear a bit sheepish. “It’s not about Vince or about you leaving. I have to tell you something. It’s not good, Savannah. Please, can I come in?”
“Whatever,” she mumbled as she headed to the kitchen. “You’ll have to wait until I get Scout his breakfast. Just sit down and I’ll be with you in a minute.” Ben did as he was told and Savannah proceeded to take her time getting Scout’s breakfast put down and making a single cup of coffee for herself. She leaned against the door jamb between the kitchen and the living space. “So what is so important it couldn’t wait until a decent hour to come and disturb my peaceful existence?”
“Any chance I could get a cup of that coffee? Sure smells good.”
“Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Next?” Savannah knew she was being a bitch, but didn’t much care. That’s what happens when you and the popular county prosecutor break up – he gets the land and all the friends. She had to remind herself that she got what was most important to her – Scout and her goats and then what was most important to Vince — most of the furniture, artwork and cash.
“You know, Savannah, you don’t have to be quite so—”
She interrupted him, “Oh, but I do. Well, I guess technically I don’t have to be, but frankly I can’t seem to find a reason not to be. Now are you going to tell me what it is you want or am I going to have to involve the state police again?”
All of the color left Ben’s face. He knew she wasn’t bluffing. He also knew there would be serious repercussions if she followed through. “I’m here in an official capacity.”
“Oh, for Christ sake Hastings, spit it out.”
“Geesh, no wonder he left you. Chloe is always so nice and sweet to everybody.”
“That would be because while Chloe was going to grade school, I was working my ass off building a life and this vineyard for Vince and me. Now, she gets most everything I built and I have to find a place to move seventy-five goats that will also support a new vineyard that I will have to build. So you’ll forgive me, or you won’t, when I say that being ‘sweet’ to everyone who turned a blind eye to his cheating and their backs on me when he had to ‘find himself’ with the bimbo is not a top priority for me. Now, either tell me why you’re here or get the hell out and prepare for a visit from the State cops again.”
“There’s no easy way to say this, but I got word from the North Carolina State Police that your sister was found dead yesterday morning.”
Hastings started to get up as Savannah stumbled from the door way. She waved him off and pulled out one of the dining room chairs and sat down. Scout, sensing her disquiet, joined her putting his front feet in her lap and rubbing his head against her. Savannah put down the coffee mug and rubbed Scout’s long ears as much to comfort herself as him.
“Augusta is dead?”
“Yeah. I’m afraid so.”
“What happened? Did she fall? Have a heart attack? What do you know? Tell me.”
“We don’t know much, but it looks like she was murdered.”
Savannah felt as though someone had punched her in the stomach. The pain Vince’s betrayal had caused her was nothing compared to the blow of losing her sister and hearing she’d been the victim of foul play. “How? Do they know who?”
“She was killed in the wine vault. Looks like someone put a cork screw through her jugular vein. At this time there are no real suspects, but it’s early in the game.”
“You’re calling my sister’s death a game? A woman is murdered, and you think this is a game? You are one sick bastard, you know that?”
“Jesus, Savannah. I didn’t mean it that way. You know me better than that. I just meant it’s too early to focus on anybody or to rule anybody out.”
“Who do I call to get more information?”
“I have a number. I can give them a call.”
“I don’t need or want anything else from you. Just give me the name and number and I’ll take care of it. I don’t trust you, Hastings, and if I never have to talk to you again, that’ll be just dandy with me. Now give me the information I requested. And then get the hell off my property.”
“Okay. I’ve got the detective’s name and number written down. I’ll leave it here on the coffee table.” Hastings got up to leave. He opened the door and then stopped and turned to look at her. “Whatever you may think of me, I really am sorry to hear about your sister. And if I can help in any way, I hope you’ll let me.” He closed the door quietly behind him.
Savannah snorted. “That’ll be a cold day in hell.” She got up and headed back to the kitchen. Pulling on her barn boots she headed out to her goats. There was some comfort to be found in the routine of normal things. After she’d finished feeding the goats, she opened up the barn into the pastures so the goats could forage and enjoy the mild California climate.
She headed back into the house and called the name and number Hastings had left behind. Detective Miller wasn’t in but the dispatcher offered to put her through. Savannah was somewhat surprised when a woman’s voice answered. “Detective Miller? This is Savannah James. I understand you’re heading up my sister’s murder investigation.”
“Let me first express my sincere condolences to you. Augusta talked about you frequently. I want you to know that even though we weren’t close, I won’t rest until I bring her killer to justice. I hope Chief Hastings let you know that other than the unofficial cause of death, we don’t know much at this point. Will you be coming back to arrange her funeral?”
Savannah smiled. Not only was their comfort in normal routines but in normal social conventions—especially in the hills of North Carolina. “I really hadn’t thought that far, detective.”
“Please, call me Rebecca, or Becky, or Becca. I answer to most anything.”
“What do you prefer?”
“Rebecca. I’ve never liked it when people just shortened my name. It was something your sister and I had in common.”
“Yeah, she never much liked being called Gus or Gussie, but who can blame her. Rebecca it is, and please call me Savannah. I suppose I should come. Is there any kind of time limits? I’m sorry I don’t really know much. Augusta handled the arrangements when our folks died.”
“Not really. And we can’t release the body until we’re much further along in our investigation. I hope that won’t cause you too much distress.”
“Not at all. My sister is gone. What’s left is just a shell—her mortal coil if you will.”
Rebecca Miller decided she liked Savannah James. She liked her no-nonsense, practical way of looking at things which was much like her own. “I promise shell or not, we’ll take good care of her.”
“I appreciate that. I suppose I’d best arrange for dog and goat care and then head your way.”
“Do you think you’ll be here tomorrow? Why don’t you give me a call when you get in and we can meet and I’ll bring you up-to-date.”
“Sounds good. Thank you, Rebecca. I feel better having talked to you.”
“I’m glad I could be of any consolation. See you tomorrow.”
Savannah hung up and arranged for a flight first thing the next morning and called her best friend, Holly, to come and stay at the vineyard to take care of the goats and Scout Then she went into her bathroom and threw up.