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His father had been murderedtwice.
Peter Walsh ground his back teeth together and shifted uncomfortably in the front seat of his truck. Stakeouts were tedious enough without nagging concerns over a crime that should never have happened. His father had been killed fifteen years agoor so his family had thought. But then, just a few months ago, Mark Walsh's body had been found in Honey Creek. All evidence pointed to murder. A recent murder.
So where had Mark Walsh been for the last fifteen years if he was not dead? Who had known Peter's father was still alive and hated him enough to murder himagain?
Explaining to his son, Patrick, that Grandpa Walsh had been murderedfor real this timehad confused and upset the impressionable ten-year-old. Peter could see the strain all of the turmoil was causing Patrick. He'd become withdrawn, sullen. One more concern to keep Peter awake at night.
Peter rubbed warmth into his cold hands. The November morning was brisker than average thanks to the cold front that had dumped several inches of snow overnight. The first signs of winter had come to Honey Creek, Montana, with a snowfall in October. But that snow had been followed by unseasonably warm weather, a tornado and then more cold air. Peter shook his head, musing over the crazy seesawing weather.
Raising his camera with its telephoto lens to the open truck windowa necessity for a clear view despite the frigid temperaturesPeter focused on the front porch, then the barn door, of the Rigsby residence. Still no activity. Still no proof that Bill Rigsby was defrauding his insurance company with false injury claims.
With his surveillance of Rigsby's farm yielding little evidence to take back to his client, Peter's thoughts returned to the numerous troubling events his family had dealt with in recent months, the most glaring being the shocking reappearance and murder of his father. Peter's stomach rumbled, and he lifted his travel mug to sip coffee that had long ago gotten cold. Maybe he should pack it in, get some lunch and head to the hospital to visit Craig.
When a woman stepped out on the Rigsbys' porch to feed a pair of mutts, he lifted the camera again. He clicked a few shots, just because, as his thoughts mulled the latest hit the Walshes had taken.
Craig Warner, the man who had been more of a father to Peter than Mark Walsh had ever been, had suffered his own mysterious attack in the last few weeks. The stomach virus Craig thought he had turned out to be arsenic poisoning. Lester Atkins, Craig's assistant, had tried to kill the CFO of Walsh Enterprises within months of Mark Walsh's murder.
Then his sister Mary had been blatantly run off the road after visiting Damien Colton in prison. Coincidence? Not likely.
Peter's gut tightened. He smelled a conspiracy. The Walsh family, the people he cared about, were under attack. Someone in Honey Creek had viciously
Peter froze as the pumping sound of a shotgun filtered into the open truck window.
"Who the hell are you and what are you doin' on my land?" a low voice growled.
Peter turned slowly, his hands up, and stared down the barrel of a Remington 870. Silently he cursed the distracting thoughts that had allowed this armed farmer to approach his truck without Peter noticing. That kind of inattention could get him killed. An unsettling thought when the Walshes and their business associates seemed to be the target of a murderer.
Peter took a slow breath that belied the speed of his thoughts as he analyzed the best way to diffuse this situation. "Is that a Wingmaster?"
The armed farmer lowered the muzzle an inch or so to narrow a curious gaze on Peter. "Yeah."
Peter smiled. "Man, I've been wanting to buy a Wingmaster for years. Remington sure knows how to build a beauty of a shotgun, don't they?"
The farmer hesitated then snarled, "I asked you who the hell you were! What are you doin' out here?"
Peter's pulse kicked. The last thing he needed was an irate farmer with a twitchy trigger finger blasting a hole in his truckor his head. Palms out in a conciliatory gesture, Peter tried again to calm the man. "If you'll put the gun down, we'll talk. I don't want any trouble."
The man shifted his weight nervously. "Get out of the truck."
Hell. If he got himself killed, who'd raise Patrick? His motherless son had already lost too many people in his short life. Peter gritted his teeth. Screwups like this weren't like him. Proof positive that he needed to get the disarray of his private life in order before he could be effective for his clients.
He nodded his compliance before he reached down to open the driver's door of his truck. As he stepped down from the cab, he resisted the urge to stretch his stiff muscles. Better not give the jittery farmer any reason to shoot. As he slid out of the truck, he pulled his identification wallet out of the map pocket and flipped it open.
If people didn't look too closely, his private-investigator license looked pretty intimidating.
"I'm Peter Walsh, and I'm here on official business." The vague statement usually made people think he meant police business, which won their cooperation.
The farmer looked skeptical. He wouldn't be bluffed. "What kind of official business?"
Peter wasn't about to show his hand until he could determine whether the farmer was likely to report to the Rigsbys on Peter's surveillance operation. If Rigsby had a heads-up that the insurance company was on to his fraud, he could cover his tracks. Peter needed to catch the man who claimed to have a disabling injury in the acthorseback-riding, snowmobiling, shoveling his front sidewalk. Anything that would prove he wasn't bedridden with a back injury as he claimed.
"Lower the gun, and we'll talk."
Farmer tensed. "I'm giving the orders here, buddy. You've been sittin' out here on my property for hours, and I want to know why. Now!"
Technically the road was county property, but Peter didn't feel quibbling over that point was wise, given the man's mood. And his weapon.
Peter's priority was getting the shotgun barrel out of his face. He was already plotting his next move as he asked, "We had reports of some suspicious activity at your neighbors' house. When was the last time you saw Bill Rigsby?"
"Bill Rigsby? What kind of suspicious?" Peter made his move.
While the farmer's attention was focused on answering the baited question, Peter swept his arm up, knocking the shotgun away from his face, then followed through by grabbing the gun by the barrel and yanking it from the startled farmer's grip.
"Hey!" the man shouted.
Peter tossed the weapon on the front seat of his truck and slammed the door. "I asked you to lower the gun. You didn't, so now we'll do things my way. You'll get the gun back once you answer my questions."
The farmer stepped closer, glowering, but his nose only reached Peter's chin. "You sonofa"
"Answer the question!" Peter barked, seizing the upper hand. He loomed over the shorter man, squaring his broad shoulders and narrowing a hard stare. "When was the last time you saw Bill Rigsby?"
The farmer's Adam's apple bobbed. "Yesterday."
"What was he doing?"
The farmer shrugged. "Nothing. Just out riding, checking his fence."
The man gave him a no-shit-Sherlock look. "Yeah. Horseback. Why?"
Peter kept his expression blank, although he sensed the farmer could prove a wealth of information. The sooner he finished the Rigsby case for his client, the sooner he could look into the questions surrounding his father's murder. "Does Rigsby ride often?"
The farmer cocked his head, sending Peter a dubious frown. "He has to. Got a farm to run."
Peter catalogued the information, then hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets. "Ever see him shoveling snow?"
The farmer snorted. "There a law against that?"
"No. Does he shovel the front walk or does his wife?"
"He does. Why does that matter? What kind of suspicious activity is he into?"
To keep Rigsby's neighbor off balance, Peter asked, "You ever see a black van parked in front of Bill's house?"
The farmer took a step back and squinted at Peter with deep creases in his brow. Lowering his voice, the farmer asked, "Is he dealing drugs?"
Deflecting the question and turning it to his advantage, Peter responded, "Why? Have you seen evidence that Rigsby has acquired a large unexplained sum of money recently?"
The other man folded his arms over his chest and frowned. "Well, he did buy a new four-wheeler a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were puzzling over how he afforded it, what with the economy being the way it is and all." He shook his head, his scowl darkening. "Are you telling me Bill Rigsby is a drug dealer?"
Peter raised a palm, keeping his expression neutral. He'd feed the farmer's paranoia without outright lying if it would get him the information he needed. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. My investigation isn't finished." He glanced meaningfully toward the Rigsby property. "Do you have any idea where I might find Bill Rigsby now?"
The man lifted one shoulder. "Can't say for sure, but I think I heard him and his son leave by snowmobile at first light this morning. My guess is they headed down to the south pasture for the day."
Peter blew out a deep breath that clouded in front of him in the chilly November air. "So Bill's still able to drive a snowmobile since his injury?"
The farmer looked confused. "What injury? Did that good-for-nothing liar tell someone he was laid up again?"
"Again?" Peter eyed the man carefully. "He's pulled a scam before?"
"And brags about it." The farmer glared in the direction of the Rigsby farm. "I hate cheaters."
"If you knew your neighbor was involved in the kind of insurance fraud that means you have to pay higher premiums, would you be willing to testify at a deposition on behalf of the insurance company?"
The man arched an eyebrow. "Testify?"
"That you've seen him shoveling snow, horseback-riding and snowmobiling."
The farmer jerked a nod. "Damn straight."
Peter turned and took the shotgun out of his truck. He handed it back to the farmer. "Is there a road that will take me to the Rigsbys' south pasture? I'd like to get a few pictures of Bill Rigsby snowmobiling."
The farmer gave Peter a gloating grin. "There sure is."
An hour later, Peter drove toward the hospital in Honey Creek to see Craig Warner. He had a dozen or more incriminating photos of Bill Rigsby and his son riding snowmobiles, chopping wood and loading hay bales in the south pasture. More than enough evidence for his client to prove that Rigsby's disability claim was false. With that matter behind him, Peter focused his attention on the problems that had kept him awake at night in recent weeksthe attacks on his family.
While he hadn't been close to his father before Mark had disappeared, believed to be dead, Peter took personally the recent discovery of Mark Walsh's body and apparent murder. Any ill will he had for his father because of his numerous affairs and his desertion of the family didn't offset Peter's hunger for justice. Mark Walsh was his father, bad one though he'd been, and his murder cut too close to home for Peter to rest easily. Was the murderer's vendetta just against Mark or was there a broad conspiracy at play? Knowing that Craig, the man who'd run Walsh Enterprises for years and been like a second father to Peter, had been deliberately poisoned made the conspiracy theory more valid to Peter.
After parking in the hospital lot, Peter slammed his truck door as he headed inside.
Craig was alone in his hospital room when Peter arrived, which suited Peter just fine. He really didn't want to have the conversation he intended to have with Craig in front of his mother, who had been hovering by her lover's bedside since he'd been admitted.
"Afternoon, Craig. How's tricks?" Peter worked to keep his smile in place when he saw how pale and drawn Craig still looked even after several days of chelation therapy to rid his body of the arsenic in his system.
"Peter, good to see you. I was just about to call you." Craig rearranged the tubes that fed fluids and detoxifying agents into his blood and tried to sit up.
Seeing Craig, who'd been the picture of strength and virility before his poisoning, laid low by the arsenic sent a chill deep into Peter's bones. We could have lost him.
"Looks like I saved you a call then, huh? What can I do for you?" Peter removed his coat and took a seat beside the narrow bed.
"Keep an eye on your mother for me. She's still so upset over this poisoning mess. I've told her I'm going to be fine, but you know how she worries. She's wearing herself out dividing her time between me and all her regular responsibilities with the company and her family especially that son of yours. Her grandson is the world to her."
Guilt kicked Peter in the shins. He'd long known he depended too heavily on his mother for babysitting Patrick after school, but Jolene insisted on watching her grandson rather than hiring someone else. As a single father, Peter was grateful for the help and didn't argue the point.
"Come on, now, Craig. I thought you knew by now, no one tells Jolene Walsh to slow down. She's happiest when she's taking care of her chickadees." Peter forced a grin. He, too, had seen the strain his mother was under. Who could blame her? Having her husband's body discovered and her closest friend poisoned
"Are you calling me a chickadee?" Craig said weakly, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
Peter laughed. "Never. But you know what I mean."
Craig nodded. "So what brings you around today?"
"I can't stop by to see how you're feeling?"
Sinking deeper into the stack of pillows behind him, Craig sighed. "I know you better than that, Peter. Something's on your mind, so spill."
Peter rubbed his temple and stared at his boots. "Have you heard anything else from the sheriff about who is behind your poisoning?"
"Lester Atkins is the only arrest the sheriff's made."
"Yeah, and we both know he didn't act alone. Someone paid him. Someone supplied the arsenic."
Craig nodded. "Sheriff Colton said he'd look into the possibility Atkins had help."
"Sheriff Colton is first and foremost a Colton," Peter scoffed. "I'd bet anything the Coltons had a hand in this. Maybe Damien was wrongfully convicted fifteen years ago, but I wouldn't put it past his family to have arranged my dad's real murderand your poisoningas revenge. Or to cover some other crime. Or hell, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the Coltons."
Darius Colton and his offspring knew how to wield power and intimidate the right people. They'd been a thorn in the Walsh family's side since before Mark disappeared and Damien Colton was accused of his murder.