TWENTY-ONE – MORNING AFTER
The phone rang just as Grant stepped out of the shower. He toweled off his hair and picked up the receiver.
“Ivy?” he said.
“You wish,” answered Rick Christopher’s voice on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, hi, Rick,” said Grant. “Ivy and I are going out for breakfast. I thought she might have gotten hung up or something.”
“Well, maybe she did,” Rick said, “I don’t know. But I’ve got a feeling you’re going to get hung up pretty soon. Have you seen the news?”
“No. Why? What’s happened?”
“You sitting down?”
Grant sat down on his bed. “Okay, enough with the mysterious cop stuff … Give. Is Ivy okay?”
“So far as I know. This call isn’t about her,” said Rick. “But your boy out at Green Hills got himself killed last night.”
“What? Jesus! Joe Rathburn?” Grant said incredulously. “What happened? Was it an accident?”
“Not likely. He got cut up pretty badly. Our boys found him this morning when they went out to close up the crime scene. Needless to say, the tape will be staying up a while.”
“Jesus,” said Grant, the impact of what Rick had told him finally sinking in. “I should call his wife… tell her… No, I should go over there. Tell her in person.”
“We got someone doing that already. Look, Grant, we need to talk to you about this. You want to come downtown, or you want me to stop by?”
“Drive up if you can,” Grant said. “I’ll try to call Ivy, but I should be here in case she’s left already.”
“Fine by me. See you in a couple of minutes. And keep an eye out for reporters. They’re swarming around this like flies. Surprised you ain’t seen any yet.”
“Well, I just got out of the shower.”
“Mr. Winslow, that’s more information than I needed to know. See you in ten.”
Grant hung up the phone and dressed quickly, his mind numb from the news. Who would want to kill Joe Rathburn, and why?
When Ivy rang the bell, he opened the door and almost yanked her inside.
“Well, hey,” she said. “Nice to see you, too.”
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean to be so rough. Did you hear the news?”
She shook her head. “No. I played a cassette on the way over. What’s up?”
“One of my workers got killed out at Green Hills last night.”
“Oh, Grant, no.”
“Yeah. Joe Rathburn. He’d been with the firm a long time. Rick’s coming over to talk to me about it, but I’m expecting a swarm of reporters at any minute.”
“Grant, the police don’t think you had anything to do with this, do they?”
Grant laughed at the idea, then stopped short. “I don’t think so,” he said. “But now that you mention it, I don’t really know.”
She put her hand on his back. “Oh, don’t let me worry you. We Frosts are naturally suspicious.”
“Anyway,” said Grant, “I guess we’ll have to postpone going out for breakfast. I’ll have Violet whip something up for us in the kitchen.”
“Lead on, Macduff,” she said.
On their way to the kitchen, Grant and Ivy ran into Curtis Hall, the Winslow butler.
“Don’t let any of the press in,” Grant instructed him. “And see if you can keep them off of the bushes.”
“Shall I ready the shotgun, sir?” Hall asked wryly.
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Curtis. But Rick Christopher will be stopping by as well. Make sure he gets in.”
Hall nodded. “As you wish, sir.”
Grant and Ivy were about halfway through breakfast when Hall entered the kitchen. He found Ivy and Grant perched on chairs at a table usually reserved for the servants, chatting quietly. Violet bustled about in the background, preparing new things for the couple to taste. It all seemed so happy, domestic, and informal, Hall paused before interrupting.
“The sharks have begun circling, Master Winslow,” he said. “And Officer Christopher has arrived.”
Grant put down his utensils, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and stood. “Show him in. I’ll speak with him in the front parlor.”
Hall nodded and headed for the door. Ivy began to stand.
“Ivy, no, don’t,” Grant said, motioning her to sit. “One of us might as well enjoy breakfast.”
Ivy shook her head. “Are you kidding,” she said around a last bite of English muffin with orange marmalade, “and miss a real interrogation?”
Grant smiled and motioned with his head toward the front room. “C’mon, then.”
As they arrived in the parlor, Janelle White and Zelda Baker skidded into the room. Zelda had her camera on her shoulder.
“Mr. Winslow,” Janelle began breathlessly, “do you have any comment on last night’s murder at Green Hills?”
Grant shook his head. “I don’t even know if it is a murder yet,” he said good-naturedly. “I haven’t talked to the police. In fact, I thought you were them. Janelle, this isn’t usually the way you operate, is it? I don’t remember inviting you in.”
Hall strode quickly into the room. “I’m sorry, sir. They slipped past when I went to fetch Officer Christopher.”
“No problem,” Grant said, holding up his hand. “Bring Rick back, I’ll only be a moment.” He turned to Janelle again. “Now, after our interview last week, I think you’d know this is not the way I operate. I’ll be happy to talk to you if you set up an appointment with my assistant, Ms. Bailey.”
“I’m sorry,” said Janelle. “It’s just that we were here first, and we didn’t want to get scooped. Is it true your assistant, Ms. Bailey, didn’t come in to work yesterday? Do you think it might have anything to do with the murder?”
“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You’ve got the carriage way before the horse now. Kay wasn’t in yesterday, but we’re pretty certain she just had some personal business. Whatever happened at Green Hills last night is an isolated incident—to the best of my knowledge.”
“Then what about the bones last week? Is it true they were gnawed the same way as the murdered man?”
Grant crossed his arms over his chest. “Ms. White, I think you and your camerawoman have abused my hospitality enough for one morning.” He turned to Hall, who stood in the door just in front of Rick Christopher. “Curtis, show them out, please.”
“This way, ladies,” Hall said firmly, motioning toward the front door.
“You can’t dodge the press,” warned Janelle.
“Call my office,” said Grant. “We’ll set something up.”
Hall stepped toward the women, and they turned and went to the door.
“And, Curtis,” Grant called after them, “move all the reporters back outside the main gate and lock it, please. If any of them resist, we’ll have Rick arrest them for trespassing.”
“Very good, sir,” Curtis Hall replied.
Rick Christopher walked into the room shaking his head. “Damn straight,” he noted. “Man, the smell of blood just drives reporters crazy. Everybody wants to be the next Woodward and Bernstein.”
“Just so long as I’m not Nixon,” said Grant.
“Looks like you’re in the Oval Office for today, at least,” Ivy quipped.
“Rick,” said Grant, pulling out a chair for his friend, “take a seat. Can I get you anything?”
“No thanks. I’ll stand.”
Grant took a deep breath. “That official, eh? I’m not under suspicion of anything, am I?”
“Nah,” Rick said. “I just need to keep this on the record and businesslike.” He flipped open a small notebook, turned to an empty page, and took a pen out of his breast pocket.
“So, tell me what happened,” said Grant. He took a seat on the couch. Ivy sat beside him.
“First, tell me what you know about Joe Rathburn.”
“Not a lot, really. He’s been with the firm for a long time, at least fifteen years, I think. He is, or was, a good concrete man and a fair tractor driver.”
“He had any trouble you know about?”
“Well, he’d had some problems with alcohol when I first came home—but lately he’d seemed clean. I think he and his wife were having a bit of trouble, but we never talked about it much.”
“Any enemies that you know of?”
“Look, you said on the phone his death wasn’t an accident. So, was it murder or suicide?”
“We’re trying to cover all the angles,” said Rick. “You answer my questions, and, in the end, I’ll answer yours. Fair enough?”
Grant nodded. Ivy sat, leaned her elbows on her knees and perched her hands on her fists, listening intently.
“Okay,” Rick continued, “do you know anybody that might want to hurt Joe?”
“Not really. He was pretty easy to get along with. He’d had some trouble with Byrd lately, but then who hasn’t?”
“Randolph Byrd, the brother of the guy who owns Byrd’s Automart?”
“Yeah. That’s him. He was my uncle’s foreman, and I’ve kept him on.”
“Doesn’t sound like a decision you’re too happy about.”
“Byrd isn’t an easy man to get along with, but I try to give everybody a fair shake.”
Ivy patted Grant’s knee. “Grant’s due to be canonized next week—if the Pope is free.”
The cop smiled at her but turned back to Grant. “What about you?” he asked. “Rathburn’s drinking cause you any problems?”
“No. Like I said, he seemed to have it under control. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have given him the night watchman job. I felt I could trust him to look out for the best interests of the company.”
Rick closed his notebook. “Okay, I guess that’s about it, then. You’ll come down to the station if we need you, though. Right?”
Grant nodded. “Right.”
“And you’ll call me if you remember anything else?”
“Sure thing. Now, you want to tell us what happened?”
“Well, apparently somebody pulled Mr. Rathburn under his car and cut him to pieces last night, sometime between midnight and dawn.”
“Jesus,” said Grant.
“The reporters said something about the body being gnawed,” Ivy commented. “And that being like the bones we found last week. What’s that about?”
Rick scowled. “Don’t know how they got ahold of that one, but it’s true. Rathburn’s body looked like something, or things, had been chewing on it. Some kind of animal, probably.
“The coroner found similar marks on the bones of Jill Collins. We’re still checking into it.”
“Shit,” said Grant, rubbing his hands through his blond hair. “What a way to go. You have any other evidence?”
“Just a couple of empty six-packs. One of ‘em was smashed up pretty good. The lab’s checking them for prints. Some brush had been beaten down, too, but we couldn’t get any usable tracks from it.”
“You think it could be gangs or wild teenagers?” asked Ivy.
“They’d have to be pretty wild to do this kind of damage. But none of the machinery or anything was touched. They even left the police tape up. That’d be pretty unusual for some kind of teen rampage—even if they were high on drugs.”
“So, I guess this pretty much kiboshes opening up Green Hills,” said Grant.
Rick nodded. “For a while, anyway. You might check with your insurance man—see if the company has coverage for this kind of thing.”
“Yeah. I’d want to check the policy for Rathburn’s widow anyway. Shit.”
“Well, I gotta be going,” said Rick. “More leads to check out. A cop’s work is never done.” He turned to go, then looked back over his shoulder.
“By the way,” he said, “what did you two do after dinner last night?”
“I took Ivy back to her car and then came home,” said Grant.
“No need to ask what you and Cassie did,” noted Ivy.
Rick merely smiled, tipped his hat, and left.
“Well,” said Grant, letting out a deep breath, “I suppose you need to get to work.”
“I’ll call in,” said Ivy. “Maybe stick around and keep you company if you want.”
He gave her a peck on the lips. “Thanks. I need to check in at the office, look into that insurance stuff, but then maybe we can do something to take our minds off all this.”
“Any ideas on how to avoid the sharks?”
Grant smiled. “I’ll send Wells and Violet out in the Bentley. She’d wanted to do some shopping anyway. With the tinted windows, and a little acting by Hall, the newshounds will think it’s us.
“When the buzzards follow, we can slip out quietly in my Honda.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Ivy. “Mr. Winslow, I never knew you were so devious.”
Grant smiled. “It runs in the family.”