Getting through security and flying, even first class, was a major pain. Savannah was old enough to remember when flying across country seemed like a great adventure. As she became older, flights more crowded and the cost prohibitive, she did it less and less. In fact, the last time she’d gone “home” was to attend the funeral of her parents four years earlier. Augusta had done them proud. The whole town had turned out and they were buried in the family cemetery in the middle of the family vineyard.
Augusta had flown to be at her sister’s side when Vince had left. Augusta’s own marriage had ended when her soldier husband, Robbie, had been killed overseas. Savannah had envied her sister’s relationship. For one thing, Robbie had cared enough to marry her in fact had insisted on it. But more importantly, he’d never been unfaithful. Savannah and Vince had never seemed to want to get married at the same time. After he cheated on her the first time, Savannah had never wanted legal ties to him, thinking the vineyard she’d built from just a couple of vines would be protected. What she’d forgotten was California’s palimony laws and how the State looked at relationships that lasted more than ten years.
After they landed, Savannah made her way to baggage claim and then headed for the car rental agency. She treated herself and rented an exotic sports car. Her life in California meant she needed either a pick up or an SUV. The few times she’d been back to North Carolina she’d always rented something fun in which she and Augusta could play. She got off the interstate and onto the state highways, enjoying the beauty and serenity that were the North Carolina byways. As she headed up into the hills, she felt as though she was rising above. Above what she wasn’t yet sure.
She was glad the car had Bluetooth technology with which she could pair her cell phone. She hit the speed dial for Detective Rebecca Miller.
“Detective Miller. Can I help you?”
“Hi, Rebecca. It’s Savannah James. I’m here in North Carolina and headed your way. Airline food sucks. I’m starving. Want to meet for lunch?”
“You need to adjust your time zones, girl. It’s time for supper. But yes, I’d be happy to sit down with you. Any place you’d prefer?”
“Casual and good food works for me.”
“That lets out Colony then. Great food, but a bit too snooty for my taste. How about Lola’s?”
“Lola’s is still open? That would be perfect. I’ll see you there. I’ll be the redhead in the sports car.”
“I’m sure I’ll recognize you. There are pictures of you and Augusta all over the vineyard.”
Savannah hung up, put the top back on the convertible and turned on Mary Chapin Carpenter. Listening to Rhythm of the Blues she was reminded again, that she needed to think about what to do next. She was fairly sure the vineyard would come to her and as MCC sang “I want a place to call my own that you have never been,” she thought, Oh, God, Gus. I miss you already. Whoever did this to you, I’ll see them pay. I swear I will.
The small town she’d grown up in hadn’t changed much and yet it wasn’t the same at all. It was still small and quaint, but it had definitely been gentrified. Spillage from the great Biltmore Estate had certainly brought money into the town. Augusta had said that even though there were a lot of new people, the town remained very much the same, just a little spiffed up.
Savannah smiled as she pulled into a parking spot right outside the front door. She put the top up on the car. North Carolina weather was known for its ability to change in the blink of an eye. She had barely entered Lola’s when she was enveloped in a hug from Lola herself. Lord, did the woman have some kind of Dorian Gray picture? She never seemed to age.
“Oh Savannah. I’m so sorry that it’s Augusta’s death that’s brought you home. Nobody can believe it. It has to be an outsider. There’s no one here in town that didn’t love your big sister. I can’t imagine how this must be affecting you. And so soon after your marriage broke up.”
“We weren’t married Miss Lola, and it’s been a while. Vince has moved on and I am doing the same.”
Lola wrapped her arm around Savannah’s waist and led her towards a woman with dark, short-cropped hair. “Detective Miller is in her usual booth in the corner. I swear that woman has to have her back against the wall.”
Standing, Rebecca extended her hand. “Nice to meet you Savannah. I just wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Thanks, Rebecca. I feel the same.” They both sat and made small talk while they ordered. As the waitress left, Savannah leaned forward. “So, anything new?”
Rebecca shook her head. “Not really. The medical examiner hasn’t even begun his exam. I do feel that I need to ask you where you were the day before yesterday.”
Savannah smiled. “I wondered if that would come up. Fact is I was tending my vineyard and feeding my goats before killing a bottle of really good wine.”
“Any witnesses? I’m really sorry, but I have to ask.”
“Don’t apologize for doing your job.” Savannah reached into her purse and pulled out a list with names, email addresses and phone numbers. “These are the folks that work on the vineyard with me. They can account for my time on the day of her death. If you need a different time span, just let me know.”
Rebecca looked over the list. “Given that we believe your sister died about nine give or take an hour either way, this certainly alibies you out. And that’s without figuring in the travel time. Again, I’m sorry.”
“Rebecca, if you apologize to me again for doing your job, I swear I’ll bitch slap you into next week.”
Rebecca laughed almost spitting her water. “You certainly have the red hair in the family, don’t you?”
Savannah had to laugh. “Yes, it really was a pain in the ass sometimes to be little Miss Perfect Blonde’s gangly, red headed sister. I swear there were times, I wondered if I wasn’t adopted. I even looked through my father’s papers after they died to check for legal papers.”
“No, anyone can see you were family. Coloring is different and body type, but you have very similar faces. Your eyes, although a different color, are shaped the same, as is your nose and mouth. Even without the pictures of you at the vineyard, I could have picked you out of a line-up as Augusta’s sister.”
“So now that we both know I didn’t do it. And I’m going to assume that neither did you. And there was no butler, so where does that leave us?”
“You know I’m not really supposed to comment on an open, ongoing investigation, but we’re a small town and we don’t really have much experience with murder. I figure you’re going to be of enormous help, if you wouldn’t mind me asking a lot of questions.”
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but if y’all don’t have much experience, should the State cops be called in?”
“No offense taken. This is a pretty quiet little town, but I wasn’t born and raised here. I worked the major case squad up in Baltimore before coming here.”
“Then I really do apologize. What brought you here?”
“Not many murders. So, when your sister was found, the Chief felt I was the most qualified to take it on. He wanted me to let you know that I have the full weight of the Department behind me and any resources I need, he’ll make sure I have.”
“Please extend my thanks to him. Anything other than time of death and cause?” Rebecca looked at her questioningly. “Chief Hastings told me she was killed with a cork screw?” Savannah shuddered. “That sounds like such a grisly way to die.”
“I won’t sugar coat it for you. At this point we don’t know enough about how she died to know if it was ‘grisly’ or not. What we have is about a two-hour window for her death. We know she was found in the wine vault. Her throat had been punctured, there was a lot of blood, and there was a corkscrew on the floor. And unfortunately, that’s about it.”
“I just hope she didn’t suffer and that she wasn’t scared.”
“As soon as I know more, I promise I’ll let you know. Do you know where you’re going stay?”
“I was hoping I could stay out at the vineyard. If she was killed in the wine vault, is the main house a crime scene?”
“No. I suppose that would be all right, but the vault is off limits. In fact, we’ve sealed the entire building.”
“I have no desire to see where my sister was murdered. I just think I’d like to be home.”
“Do you know how to arm the security system?”
Savannah nodded. “And I plan to get one of the handguns and keep it loaded next to my bed, with the bedroom door locked.”
“Keep your cell phone close and call if anything even seems a bit off.”
“Do you think whoever did it might come after me?”
“Not really. But I don’t want to see you get hurt or wind up next to your sister in the morgue. I’d like it if you stayed here in town, but I can also understand wanting to be at home.”
“Not sure it’s home any more, but I don’t need to think about that tonight.”
They paid their checks and Rebecca agreed to call if and when she learned more. Savannah thanked her again and headed out to the stone farm house she and her family had called ‘home’ for more than two centuries.