A Sip Before Dying - Chapter Eleven

I thought a really dirty word, ducking back down behind the desk again as the flashlight beam made another sweep our way. I wasn't sure what he was looking for, but I knew what I didn't want him to find…two snooping blondes.

"Is that who I think it is?" Ava whispered to me, peering out from behind the file cabinets where she'd taken refuge.

I nodded. "Detective Grant."

I wondered if Grant was investigating suspects beyond Jenny, or if he was only here to find evidence to support his disgruntled former-employee/sister as the killer theory.

"What do we do now?" I whispered, hearing the soft fall of footsteps as Grant moved around the floor.

"Confess and ask for mercy?" Ava asked.

I snorted. "Clearly you don't know Grant as well as I do."

That earned me a raised eyebrow and a smirk from my friend.

"Not like that," I said, waving her off. "He's just not the mercy type."

"Agreed," she whispered. "So plan B?"

I peeked out the glass wall, scanning the room for any escape routes. Unfortunately, Grant was still standing directly in front of the elevators. To our right was what looked like a small break room. To the left, a restroom.

"There," I decided. I crossed my fingers, hoping that Grant hadn't brought any female officers who'd had one too many coffees this shift.

I still had the little black book in my hand, but I didn't dare risk standing erect to put it back on the shelf. Instead, I shoved it under the desk, hoping my sleeve did the trick to obliterate any prints. I glanced out the glass wall again, waiting until Grant's attention was focused on the other side of the room. Then I quickly opened the office door and duck-walked beneath the short cube walls as fast as I could in three-inch heels toward the ladies' room, Ava a waddling step behind me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grant's flashlight beam cut across the room toward Chas's office, his shadowy figure following it in that direction. But I didn't wait to see more, quickly slipping into the ladies' room.

As soon as the door shut silently behind us, Ava and I leaned against its safety. My breath suddenly seemed loud enough to echo off the walls, coming out in a ragged pant that matched my best friend's.

"That was close," Ava mumbled.

I nodded. I could hear footsteps outside the door, drawing closer to Chas's office. "What do you think he's doing here?"

Ava shrugged. "Same thing we are?"

I wondered. Had Grant found out about the illegal poker games too? Maybe the detective deserved more credit than I'd previously given him.

We waited and listened, though once we heard the sound of Chas's office door opening and shutting there wasn't a whole lot more to be heard. Whatever Grant was doing in there was too muffled to pinpoint. We waited some more. Then some more. Then more, until we got so tired of standing, we sat down in stalls next to each other, with the doors open. Then we waited some more. After a further hour by my watch, I opened the restroom door a crack to survey the sixth floor. I strained to hear anything, but all that came back was the steady hum of computer equipment. No light shone from Chas's office. No sign of life anywhere.

"Is he gone?" Ava whispered at my back.

I nodded. "I think so."

Gingerly we exited the ladies' room and did a tiptoe run toward the elevator doors. I let out a sigh of relief as they closed, hugging us into the relative safety of the brightly lit carriage.

Ava leaned her head backward against the elevator wall, and I could see the anxiety draining off her as well.

"Think Cagney and Lacey ever got stuck hiding in a restroom?" I joked.

Ava smirked. "Alright, I give up. We're totally Lucy and Ethel."

I chuckled as the elevator doors slid open at the lobby, and we power walked as nonchalantly as we could back toward the parking garage and Ava's 1970s getaway car.

* * *

Possibly due to a guilty conscience over our near miss with the law, Ava drove just under the speed limit the entire way back to Sonoma, which added a good half hour onto our return trip. By the time she dropped me off at my car, and I'd made the trip to the top of the Oak Valley driveway, I was exhausted, drained, and could think of nothing more wonderful than the big, fluffy white comforter on my bed, beckoning me like a pillowy beacon.

Unfortunately, as I pulled my keys from my purse and approached the door to my cottage, there was just one obstacle between me and said fluffy comforter. And he stood about six feet in black boots and tight jeans.

I licked my lips. "Uh, Detective Grant?" I asked.

His broad shoulders leaned against my doorframe in a casual posture that said he'd been waiting awhile. "Late night?" he asked.

Instinctively I glanced at my watch. It was past two. "Uh, yeah. I, uh, had a date," I lied.

One eyebrow rose. "Really?"

I mentally crossed my fingers behind my back as I nodded. "Yep. A really nice date."

"Went kind of late, huh?"

I put one hand on my hip, trying at indignant. "What exactly are you implying?"

Grant shook his head. "Nothing. Your private life is none of my business."

"Darn right it's not." Though something about the whole conversation was making me distinctly uncomfortable. And not just the fact that I was fibbing so hard I expected my nose to grow like a birch branch from my face. "Exactly what are you doing here?" I asked, crossing both arms over my chest.

"New evidence has come to light, and I wanted to ask you some questions."

"At two in the morning?" I challenged.

A challenge he ignored, going on as smoothly as silk. "There was a break-in this evening at Price Digital."

My heart froze. In fact, my entire body froze even as my brain when into overdrive, quickly trying to anticipate what he'd say next and to come up with an appropriate lie to cover it.

"Oh?" I said, with what I hoped was enough surprise to sound genuine.

"You don't sound too surprised."

Drat. I was a really lousy liar.

I shrugged. "They're a big company. Lots of competitors. I imagine break-ins happen all the time."

Grant nodded. "I suppose that could be true."

"How do you know someone broke in?" I asked, praying we hadn't left a trail of evidence.

"A silent alarm was tripped on the sixth floor."

I thought my second R-rated word of the night. Jenny hadn't mentioned anything about a silent alarm system. Though, it's possible she hadn't known anything about it.

"Anything taken?" I asked, fishing for what he knew.

He took a beat to answer, slowly shaking his head. "No, but items were disturbed. It looked like we caught the thieves in progress."

If he only knew.

"Well, nothing taken. No harm done, right?" I said, hoping to gloss over it all.

Though that hope was probably in vain. Grant's eyes hadn't left my face since the whole date comment. Probably waiting for any sign of guilt. They were staring me down as if the longer they looked, the deeper into my psyche they could see. I watched the little gold flecks dancing, almost hypnotizing me.

"You don't happen to know why someone would be looking through Chas Pennington's office, do you?"

"Me?" I squeaked out, my voice high enough to audition for a role in the next Chipmunks movie. I cleared my throat. "Uh, no. I mean, why would I?"

Grant shrugged. "You seem awfully close to this case."

"Do I?" I asked on a shaky breath.

He nodded. "Friends with Jenny. Wooing Mrs. Price-Pennington as a client. Not to mention that your winery was the scene of the crime."

"You're not blaming me for someone killing Chas at my winery, are you?"

"No," he said slowly. "But I'd like to think you aren't withholding any information from the authorities."

I'd like him to think that too.

"Look, I have no idea who killed Chas Pennington"—sadly, totally true—"but I know it wasn't Jenny"—okay, I was 90% sureish—"and I have total faith that you'll find whoever did." I was 50/50 on that one. But I hoped he'd take to the flattery.

"Oh, I will," he promised. Though instead of sounding flattered, the comment came out more like a threat. I suddenly felt a teensy bit sorry for whoever had murdered Chas. The wrath of Grant was not something I ever wanted to experience.

He took a step away from the door, no longer blocking my entry. "But until I do catch the perpetrator, I'd appreciate it if you stayed away from the Price-Penningtons." He added, "And Price Digital."

I swallowed. "Of course. Why would I have any reason to be at Price Digital?"

He pinned me with a hard look. "I wonder."

I waited for the interrogation to follow, but instead he left it at that, turning toward the paved walkway to the drive without another word.

I watched until the darkness swallowed him up before moving to unlock my door. My hands were shaking, making my keys jingle in the silence as I pushed inside. It wasn't until I heard the sound of a car engine start up and fade toward the main road that I felt I could breathe again.

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