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A Sip Before Dying - Chapter Thirteen



I took a step closer to the pair, flattening myself against the pro shop building as cover, and strained to hear more. But the threat must have had the intended effect, as Vivienne lowered her voice, and I couldn't make out anything other than a murmur.

I edged closer to the corner to get a better look at the guy who dared threaten Price-Pennington royalty. I quietly slunk around the side of the building…

And almost ran straight into Trask.

He sidestepped me just in time, giving me a deep scowl. "Watch it," he warned. His bushy eyebrows drew down over a pair of dark eyes. A nose that looked a size too big for his face sat above a mouth that was creased with lines on both sides, giving it a downward turn that was intensified by the surly look on his face.

"Sorry," I mumbled, quickly backtracking toward the clubhouse before Vivienne caught me. Something in the stocky guy's demeanor—not to mention the way he'd threatened Vivienne—spelled danger, and I didn't want to be anywhere on his radar.

As I trekked back up the wooden staircase, I wondered just what the argument could have been about. Possibly Chas? Had Trask had something to do with his death, and Vivienne found out? The guy looked like he could have fit right into any gangster movie. All he needed was an Al Pacino accent and I'd believe he was hiding a "little friend" in his coat.

Of course, if Vivienne had found out he'd been involved in Chas's death, wouldn't she be the one threatening him—not the other way around? Could it be that Vivienne had actually had something to do with her husband's demise, and the gangster looking Trask was threatening her about it? Possibly with blackmail?

I had just reached the end of the terrace, when I spotted another member of the Price-Pennington royal family at a table overlooking the 9th hole—Alison Price.

Alison Price hid under a wide-brimmed white hat, wearing matching white blouse and slacks—no black mourning attire for her. She sipped a glass of rosé and glanced up as I approached. At first, I'd swear she didn't recognize me, her face a complete blank. But as I waved, her mouth strained to curve into a small smile, and she nodded her hat in my direction.

"Emmeline Oak, yes?" she said as I approached her table.

I nodded. "Please, call me Emmy."

She forced a smile again but didn't amend her previous moniker. "I didn't realize you were a member here?"

"I'm not," I confessed.

"Oh?" It was phrased as a question, but I had a feeling she was well aware of my membership status already.

"I was here having lunch with a member. Ken Barnett."

"Ah." She nodded, sipping her rosé. "Yes, I know Ken. Mediocre golfer but a pillar of the community."

I wasn't sure Ken wouldn't rather be a referred to as a great golfer and mediocre pillar, but I nodded and smiled anyway. "How are you holding up?" I asked.

She blinked at me as if trying to recall what I could possibly be talking about.

"I'm sure Chas's passing has been hard on all of you."

"Oh. Yes. That tragedy." She sipped her drink again, neither confirming nor denying my assumption.

"I, uh, saw Vivienne just now," I ventured, watching her reaction.

"Yes. She's making arrangements."

"I noticed her chatting with someone. A man named Trask. Do you happen to know who he is?" I asked.

Alison frowned at me "Name doesn't ring a bell. But there are so many new members here. They're getting lax with the requirements these days."

I had a feeling whatever Vivienne's argument with the stocky man had been about, Mother was blissfully unaware. Of course, if I had killed my husband, I wouldn't go bragging to my mom either.

"I met one of Chas's golf buddies earlier," I said, changing the subject. "It seems Chas was very popular here at the club."

Alison let out a short bark of laughter. "Yes, well, I'm sure he was popular wherever he went. He was good at that." She sipped at her glass again. Though, this time the sip might have veered into gulp territory, which emboldened me to ask my next question.

"Say, you wouldn't happen to know if your grandson, David, has a prescription for Xanax, would you?"

She frowned into her wineglass. "Yes. David has anxiety. I believe the Xanax helps."

I felt my heart speed up. David had motive, opportunity, and now it turned out ample means to the murder weapon.

My excitement at a solid lead must have shown on my face, as Alison lifted her eyes to meet mine, squinting up at me. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, uh, no reason," I lied. "I just…he seemed jittery last we spoke. Glad he's finding some relief. Well, please give my best to Vivienne," I said, edging away from the suspicion in her eyes before she could ask anything more.

But Alison put up a finger, beckoning me to wait as she set her glass down on the tabletop. "Speaking of Chas's untimely demise," she began.

Uh-oh.

"Vivienne is making arrangements to have the memorial here on Thursday," she continued. "Perhaps you'd be free to cater the event?"

"Me?" I asked, caught off guard.

"Yes. Why not? The food here is too pretentious." She wrinkled her nose and shook her head.

While I'd had the same thought myself, I wasn't sure how the club would feel about me stepping on their toes that way. "I don't know…"

"And of course, you'd supply the wine. Lord knows it would be fitting. Chas did enjoy that Petite Sirah of yours." Alison barked out a sardonic laugh again.

No way would I be serving my Petite Sirah at the memorial for the man who died drinking it. However, with all the cancellations, I could use the work. And the Links set were exactly the type of client I was trying to court. As morbid as a memorial was, any chance to get my food and wine in front of guests was a good one.

"If Vivienne would like me to cater the event, have her call me. I'd be happy to," I told Alison.

She nodded and gave me a satisfied smile as if that was settled, and went back to her glass.

I mumbled a farewell and made my escape. I had a feeling not many people said no to Alison Price, and I wasn't about to be the first.


* * *


By the time I got back to the lounge, Ava was saying her goodbyes to her father, and I filled her in on the fact that David had a prescription for the drugs that killed Chas and the exchange I'd witnessed between Vivienne and the Godfather reject as we waited for the valet to bring our cars around.

"Seems suspicious. This heated argument right after her husband dies," Ava said, nodding as if she liked this new angle.

"Agreed." Though I had no proof the exchange had anything to do with her husband's death.

"Any idea who this guy is?" Ava asked.

"I think Vivienne called him Trask." I paused. "But I have no idea if that's a first or last name."

"Okay. Stocky guy named Trask. That's a start."

I shot her a look. "Are you being sarcastic?"

"Who me? Never." She winked at me.

"Maybe Jenny knows who he is," I decided as my Jeep came up to the curb.

"Follow me home, and we'll find out," Ava offered, exchanging her own ticket for the keys to her GTO.

I did, my head churning with theories, ideas, and way too much imagination on the ride to Silver Girl.

We found Jenny upstairs in the loft, feet tucked up under her on the sofa, wearing an oversized T-shirt and sweats that looked like she'd slept in them. The red rimming her eyes hadn't improved much, and the perpetual sniffling of grief was still her constant companion. I felt for her. I remembered the days after my dad had passed away as a blur of tissues and tears too.

"Trask?" she repeated after I described the guy to her. Then she shook her head. "Doesn't sound familiar."

"Maybe he worked at Price Digital? Or was a friend of Chas's? Or Vivienne's?" I prompted. Though the exchange I'd witnessed had seemed far from friendly.

But Jenny shook her head. "Sorry. I don't think I ever met him."

"It was worth a shot," Ava said. She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen. "Tea anyone?" she called.

"No thanks," Jenny mumbled. "I'm kind of tea'd out."

I watched Jenny as Ava brewed a cup of chamomile for herself. Jenny seemed so genuinely grief stricken. I phrased my next statement carefully.

"I met with Sadie Evans," I told her.

She sniffed, her eyes meeting mine. "He was sleeping with her, wasn't he?"

I nodded slowly. "Sorry."

She shrugged. "I had a feeling he was." She paused. "Look, I know my brother was no saint. But he was a good person. Deep down."

Way deep down, if what I was hearing from everyone else in his life was any indication. I hesitated to tell her that it was her brother who'd wanted her fired from Price Digital to keep his affair a secret.

"Sadie said she ended it with him before he died," I told her instead.

Jenny frowned. "That's odd."

My radar pricked up. "What's odd?"

"Well, just that she said she ended it. I…" She paused, looking sheepish for a moment. "I kind of overheard something. I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure it meant anything."

"What did you overhear?" Ava asked, suddenly back in the living room, kettle abandoned now on the stove.

"Well, it was just a conversation between Chas and Sadie. Like I said, it didn't really mean anything to me at the time. Even if he had been sleeping with Sadie, which I wasn't sure of, well, I just took it as a lover's spat, you know? But I didn't know anything for sure, you know?"

No, I didn't know. She was talking in circles. "What did you hear, Jenny?"

She licked her lips, looking guilty again. "It was the day before Sadie fired me. Chas was in Sadie's office, and I was really just walking by. I was taking some paperwork to HR. But Sadie's door was open, and I heard them talking."

"What did you hear?" Ava asked for the third time.

More lip licking. "They were talking about a divorce."

That was the bombshell I was waiting for. "Divorce? You mean between Chas and Vivienne?"

She shrugged. "I kind of assumed so. Sadie was asking what was taking so long, and Chas said he needed time."

"How did Sadie respond to that?" I asked, envisioning the slinky power-hungry woman. If she'd been pressuring Chas to divorce Vivienne, it didn't sound like she'd tired of his company like she'd told me.

"Sadie wasn't happy," Jenny told us. "She accused him of stalling and said it wouldn't wait forever."

"It? What 'it'?"

"I don't know. She didn't say."

"And then?"

She shrugged. "Then Chas saw me, and I left and took the forms to HR." She paused again. "Sorry I didn't say anything before. I just…well, I figured if things were rocky between Chas and Vivienne, that was his business, you know? I don't even know if Vivienne knew he was contemplating divorce. And I still thought it was possible that Sadie was just a sympathetic ear in it all, you know?"

Jenny seemed to have a habit of seeing the best in people. It was a trait I didn't share at the moment, suddenly seeing motives for murder everywhere. If Chas had refused to divorce Vivienne, had Sadie gone woman scorned on him in a fit of anger? Or, had Vivienne gotten wind of Chas's plans and ended the marriage on her terms instead of in a messy public divorce?

Of course, I realized this new development didn't look all that great for Jenny either. Vivienne and Chas had had a prenup. If Chas left her for Sadie, he was likely to get very little—no more expensive gifts and no more funding for Jenny and her ailing parents either. And at the rate Chas purportedly burned through money, what little he had wouldn't have lasted long. But if Chas died first and Jenny was the sole heir of his estate… well, something was better than nothing.

I shook that thought out of my mind. This whole thing was making me way too suspicious. Of everyone. I much preferred Ava's optimistic outlook.

"That's a fabulous motive for murder!" Ava said, eyes shining.

So much for optimistic.

"What is?" Jenny asked, turning her attention to Ava.

"The other woman whose lover won't leave his wife."

"You're forgetting that Sadie wasn't at the Spanish party," I reminded her.

Ava waved that off. "She could have hired someone to do it. The woman's loaded."

I was about to point out that murderers for hire weren't exactly taking out billboard ads along the highway, when a knock sounded at the door. A loud one.

I could see Jenny almost physically jump at the sound.

My eyes cut to Ava. "Expecting someone?"

She shook her head and crossed to the front door, checking the peephole.

I could tell from her body language that it wasn't good, even before she uttered the words. "It's Detective Grant."

Jenny looked from Ava to me. "W-what does he want?"

I shrugged. "I don't know."

The knock sounded again, more insistent this time, and Ava pulled the door open, allowing the detective entry.

"Ms. Barnett. Ms. Oak," he said, nodding to each of us in turn.

I nodded back. "Detective Grant. Don't tell me you have a search warrant for Ava's stemware too?"

He shook his head, not even the slightest hint of humor on his face. "No, I'm here to talk to Miss Pacheco."

"Me?" Jenny tucked her feet in closer, almost as if shrinking into the sofa to avoid being seen.

He nodded.

"Has there been a new development?" I asked, fear collecting in my belly.

He pulled his attention away from Jenny to meet my eyes. The gold flecks in them were still today, almost as if whatever news he had was so sobering that even his eyes were dulled by it. "The CSI team has finished processing the contents of Mr. Pennington's car."

"The Lamborghini?" Ava asked.

He nodded again. "I'd like to ask Jenny a few questions about it."

"I-I don't know anything about Chas's car," Jenny said, her voice small.

"You rode to the winery in it the night of the party, correct?"

Jenny nodded. "Yes, I-I came in with Chas. He was held up at work, so he picked me up on the way. We were late."

"Did he drive you often, Ms. Pacheco?"

I narrowed my eyes, trying to figure what he was getting at.

"No, actually," Jenny answered. "I mean, I think I'd been in his car once or twice but not regularly."

"Once or twice. When would this have been?"

"What is this about?" I cut in, stopping Jenny from answering. It was clear Grant was trying to get her to say something, and whatever it was, I had a bad feeling Jenny might want a lawyer present.

Grant turned toward me, his expression unreadable. "We found alprazolam in Chas's car."

Ava scoffed. "Not surprising. Chas was into all sorts of drugs. Coke even!"

One of Grant's dark eyebrows arched her way.

"So I heard," Ava mumbled, shooting me a guilty look.

"Xanax is a common drug," I argued. "Tons of people have prescriptions for it. Including his stepson," I pointed out.

Grant paused. "David Allen?"

I nodded, feeling a lift of pride at supplying that tidbit of information. "Yes."

"How do you know that?" Grant asked, his face a granite slab of zero emotion.

"I know lots of things you don't know," I countered.

Grant narrowed his eyes at me. "I knew about David Allen's prescription. We've looked into everyone close to the victim with legal access to the drug. What I wanted to know was how you knew."

"Oh." I bit my lip feeling sheepish. Right. Of course Grant already knew. Not much got past him. "So what does this have to do with Jenny?" I asked, quickly deflecting.

Grant switched his focus, giving Jenny a hard look. "The pill found in her brother's car is the same concentration as Jenny's prescription."

My eyes shot to my friend who was still trying to be invisible on Ava's sofa. "You had a prescription for Xanax?" I blurted out before I could stop myself. Why had Jenny withheld that from us?

"I-I-I guess. I mean, yes, I take Xanax. For my anxiety. I-it's not something I like to talk about. It's embarrassing."

I closed my eyes and let out a long breath, wondering if Jenny had any idea how guilty she looked.

"And you knew this?" I asked Grant.

He nodded. "As I said, we looked into several people's prescriptions."

"Several?" I jumped on the word. "Who else?"

"I'm not at liberty to share that information."

I had a feeling it was his favorite phrase.

"Well, just because Jenny's Xanax was in Chas's car, that does not mean it was her Xanax that killed him," Ava reasoned.

Grant didn't say anything. And that fear in my belly grew into a gnawing ball.

"There's more, isn't there?" I almost hated to ask the question.

He turned those dark eyes my way again, this time a hint of sympathy in their depths. "Jenny's gotten prescriptions from four different doctors this year."

Jenny looked down at her feet. "So? I'm anxious a lot."

Grant ignored her, continuing. "I'm guessing the first doctor wouldn't refill your prescription so soon. That he suspected you were overusing the drugs."

"I wasn't!" Jenny protested. "Honestly!"

"You were giving them to Chas," I said, pieces falling into place.

Jenny was quiet, her eyes going from me to Grant. Finally she looked back down at the floor. "Yes," she said softly.

"Oh Jenny," I let out on a sigh.

"I'm sorry!" she said, tears on her cheeks again. "Look, I didn't mean to. At first I noticed some pills missing here and there, but I thought maybe I'd just forgotten about taking them. But then I found Chas going through my medicine cabinet one day when he was at my place, and he confessed that he'd taken them. He said he was just too anxious around Vivienne and her friends—that he didn't feel like he fit in. It wasn't his fault! He didn't want her to know, so…well, so I agreed to supply them for him."

Knowing he had a stash of cocaine in his office, Chas was more likely abusing the Xanax as a quick way to come down when he needed to. A dangerous practice.

"Wait—does this mean that Chas took the lethal dose of Xanax on his own?" Ava asked. I could see confusion etched on her face.

I looked to Grant, thinking that would be too easy. And wouldn't explain why he was here.

He shook his head. "No. The ME thinks he likely took a regular dose of the drugs that afternoon, before arriving at the party. Then, someone who knew he already had alprazolam in his system administered a further lethal dose later that evening."

"Which would explain such a high quantity," I mused out loud.

Grant nodded.

"Anyone could have known Chas was taking Xanax," Ava protested.

"But Jenny did know. And it was her fingerprints in his car and on the glass he was holding, which contained residue of the alprazolam. And she's the one who benefits from her brother's will. All of which leads us to just one place." He paused.

If I had to guess, it was not for dramatic effect as much as a reluctance to go forward. Reluctance that he apparently got over, as his voice forced out the words, "Jennifer Pacheco, you're under arrest for the murder of your brother, Chas Pennington."

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