A Sip Before Dying - Chapter Fourteen

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed by the court."

The words came out in a blur of Ava flapping her arms and shouting in protest, Jenny dissolving into sobs, and Grant's booming voice going on in a flat monotone as he recited the warnings we'd all heard a thousand times on cop shows. I might have found it amusing that it was happening in real life if it hadn't been so horrific that it was happening in my real life.

Sure, Jenny had made some bad decisions and left out some vital information. And had a serious blind spot where her brother's shortcomings were concerned. But that seemed to be an overarching theme with the women in his life. And I still didn't see her as a cold-blooded killer. Grant might have the murder weapon, but he hadn't seen Jenny's grief over the last few days. Anyone who had would realize how real it was and that there was no way Jenny could have hurt Chas.

"This is an outrage," Ava yelled as Grant gently eased Jenny off the sofa and led her by the elbow toward the front door. "This is nuts. Jenny didn't hurt anyone. This is…this is…wrongful arrest! This is going to cost the sheriff big bucks."

While I admired Ava's loyalty, I couldn't see wrongful arrest sticking. As far as I could see it, Grant had every right to arrest Jenny based on the evidence. The only problem was, Grant's current evidence was wrong. Or at least, it was pointing him in the wrong direction.

I promised Jenny I'd have my accountant, Shultz, track down an attorney for her and have someone meet her at the station to post bail. I wasn't sure she heard me through her sobbing, but I hoped it at least made her feel less alone. Where said bail would come from, I wasn't sure. I suddenly wondered how quickly one could unload a Lamborghini.

"Jenny didn't do this," I told Grant, trying one last time to appeal to his sense of decency. "I know it looks bad, but…but there were other shady characters in Chas's life."

He paused, giving me his attention now. "Shady?"

I nodded. "He-he was organizing illegal poker games," I said, glancing briefly at Ava, hoping I hadn't just tipped our hand.

But apparently Grant was one step ahead of us, as usual, as he just nodded. "I'm aware of his gambling habits."

Drat. Okay, I tried again. "Are you aware he was also having an affair with Sadie Evans and she wanted him to leave his wife?"

That one got him. Two dark eyebrows rose toward his hairline. "Really? And how do you know this?"

"Jenny told me," I said.

The eyebrows fell. "Jenny told you," he said flatly.

Okay, maybe his prime suspect wasn't the most credible source in his eyes.

"Well, well…what about Trask!" I didn't know why I blurted it out except pure desperation. I could feel Ava tense behind me. It was a huge shot in the dark, as we had no idea who he was to Vivienne or if he even knew Chas.

But apparently the name meant something to Grant, as his features went dark. "Joe Trask?"

Sure, Joe. Let's go with that. "Yes," I said defiantly, lifting my chin with false bravado.

"What does he have to do with this?"

"I saw him arguing with Vivienne Price-Pennington. Threatening her," I amended.

His eyes softened with something akin to genuine concern. "Stay away from Trask, Emmy," he told me.

I licked my lips, the sudden use of my first name unnerving. "Why?" I countered.

He shook his head. "He's not the type of guy you want to get involved with."

Nothing about this murder was anything I wanted to get involved with. But there I was—involved up to my neck.

I opened my mouth to ask just what type of guy this Trask was, but Grant ran right over me.

"I'll be in touch about Jenny's bail."

And with that, he was gone.

Ava slammed the door behind him with more force than was strictly necessary. "That smug, arrogant, ruthless, sonofa—"

"He was just doing his job," I stopped her.

Ava turned to me, her eyes wide, her mouth stuck in the open position. "Emmy Oak, don't tell me you've fallen for that bad boy charm and taken his side!"

"I haven't fallen for anything!" I protested. Maybe a bit too loudly. "And there are no sides." I shook my head, sinking into the sofa Jenny had just vacated, suddenly feeling as if my every limb was made of lead. "He's just following the evidence."

"But Jenny didn't do it!" Ava yelled.

"I know." I paused. "But it looks bad for her."

Ava plopped down beside me. "It really does, doesn't it?" She sighed. "So who do you think this Joe Trask guy is?"

I shook my head. "I don't know." I replayed the look in Grant's eyes, the genuine concern hidden behind his gold flecks as he'd warned me off the man. "But I think we should find out."

* * *

After calling Shultz, who promised to send a defense attorney to meet Jenny at the precinct, we spent the next hour with our good friend Google. And by late afternoon, we had the lowdown on one Joseph Trask. Or as he was known, Mr. Fast Money—at least according to his website.

The same bushy brows and oversize nose stared back at me from Ava's laptop screen, his stocky frame standing behind a glass case filled with gold and silver jewelry, gemstone-encrusted rings, and various antique weaponry. Fast Money was a pawn shop located in the East Bay, where Trask promised he'd turn over grandma's silver into cold, hard "fast" cash on the spot. According to the reviews online, it looked like Trask was a tough negotiator, earning several disgruntled one-stars from people who felt they'd been bilked once they went home and found the going rate for their treasures on eBay. I wondered if pawnbrokers cared much about online reviews.

However, the deeper we dug, the more it looked like the pawn shop was just one part of Mr. Fast Money's business…the legit part. According to a few insinuations on My Nosey Neighbor dot com, and a quick browse of the county court records, Trask's real business was not so much in trading your gold high school class ring for a Benjamin, but in loaning money with no questions asked, with a healthy interest rate attached, and a very strict payment-due policy. One that might include a couple of kneecaps as late fees.

"Grant was right," Ava decided as she finished reading a Sonoma Index-Tribune article out loud. "This guy is bad news."

I nodded. The column was all about how usury charges against Trask had been dropped when the witness with the wonky kneecaps had disappeared just before the trial. I shuddered, hoping he'd taken a long vacation to the Midwest and not to the bottom of the Bay.

"So what is a woman like Vivienne Price-Pennington doing mixed up with a loan shark?" I asked.

Ava shrugged. "Maybe her finances aren't as healthy as everyone has been led to believe?"

I nodded. "Possibly. But I can't imagine her being turned down for a loan from a regular bank. Or not being able to raise funds from investors or a VC firm, for that matter. Her name alone carries that much weight."

"True." Ava nodded. "Okay, well maybe it wasn't her debt they were discussing. Maybe David is the one Trask lent money to?"

I liked the sound of that. "David was gambling at each of Chas's games. Robby said he was a winner, but maybe he was mistaken. Or, maybe David lost more often than he won. Robby wasn't at every game," I told her. I'd checked. While she'd googled, I'd scrolled through all my photos of Chas's records to see how often the R.B. initials had shown up, and it had only been a scant few times—nothing in the last three weeks. I couldn't tell if he'd owed money to Chas at the time of his death, but the figures next to his name had been minimal compared to others. Like David's.

"So, David loses big at Chas's poker games," Ava said, thinking out loud. "He needs cash to cover his losses, so he turns to Joe Trask, Mr. Fast Money. Only, he can't pay Trask back, because he just keeps losing. So he offs Chas to erase the debt there, and has Mom try to work things out with Trask in an effort to keep his kneecaps intact." She paused, nodded. "I like it."

I had to admit, I did too. It was a solid theory. But at the moment that was all it was—theory. What we needed was proof. At least enough to refute Grant's proof that Jenny was his man. Or woman.

"I think we should visit Trask."

Ava turned to face me. "Did you not hear Grant?"

I shrugged. "Since when do I take orders from Detective Grant?"

A slow smile took over her features. "Good point. Okay, I'm right behind you, Lacey."

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