P i a n d O
“Oh? Sorry, I’ll drop the subject.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves, Ross. If Greg saw us together he’d probably take a shot at you just for being with me.”
“Friendship alone is not what he’s about?”
“He has the hots for me and I know it. Apart from that, if he’d found us at the back paddock today, we wouldn’t be sitting here now. You might have noticed that Dad is not a particular fan of the Consalvi family.”
“That I’ll have to agree with.”
“Let’s have a coffee and something to eat. I think we’re safe now and it is a beautiful view.”
Without turning my eyes away from Frances, I felt I had to say something. “From what I see it could not be better.”
I dodged a second before her open hand just missed my face. I started to roar with laughter. “See, I have learned something. The police prosecutor never had enough sense to duck.”
The response was not expected and when Frances hit me with the full force of her body, I had no time to dodge or even take a sly grope. I was next to breathless. Seated across my chest, she grinned mischievously, waving a clenched fist in my face just to convince me I should not take any liberties or for that matter, even think about it.
We had coffee and a pile of sandwiches with a tiny Tupperware container each of grapes to follow. The grapes had been marinated in what I think was the desert wine, Noble Riesling. I couldn’t bring myself to even leave the dregs of fluid in the almost empty container and drank to get the last of the flavor.
“You like that?”
I nodded appreciatively, but this time I was looking at the empty bowl.
We relaxed in the shade for another hour then made our way slowly back to the quarry. The only change to our course was to avoid going anywhere near the Consalvi vineyard.
On returning to the Morrison’s, the rest of the day was taken up with an inquisition by Charlie and his wife. I don’t think they had the slightest doubt I would take advantage of their daughter. They were terrified by the fact that Frances had been so close to the crop the Consalvi’s were growing.
“I would never be able to convince the police of what we have seen,” I told them.
For a moment Charlie hesitated. “Maybe, just maybe, you would not have to. It’s possible your reception would be much the same if Greg Consalvi had found you there today.”
I left the Morrison farm that evening in no doubt that if news of Frances’ and my experience were to get out, our lives would be like the candle Elton John sings about.
My drive from Morrison’s winery to the hotel was at a snail’s pace. There was more on my mind than the events of the day but nothing seemed to be coming together. Either my thought functions were slowing with age or I was losing touch with something that was once second nature to me. If I had achieved anything by taking the fair maiden for a walk in the woods, it was to establish without doubt that the speculation and innuendo so rife in Harbour Vale were spot on. The difficulty in making it known to the townspeople and, more importantly, to the police, was another thing. Greg Consalvi did not regularly patrol the vineyard on trail bike with a rifle slung over his shoulder merely to keep vermin at bay. His Dad had been cleanly shot by an unidentified gunman. I couldn’t see that it mattered much, now, who the assassin had been. After all, I had been charged with the crime and acquitted by a jury so I could never be re-presented. The police desperately tried to label me as the killer of Sergeant Schultz. In his wisdom, the coroner decided it was not I but, with the added proviso, that we can’t tell at this time.
Someone had deliberately killed the sergeant. It was likely the same person who had taken a pot shot at me, taking care not to hit me. Whoever it was had decided I was a threat needing careful attention but I was still too valuable to kill. While I was alive the police would always consider me their prime suspect. What a joke. Police integrity might be doubted when the skeptical public was told the investigation was proceeding according to plan with all leads being followed up. If they had a prime suspect, it went down much better.