In her cashmere sweater, suede pumps, and pearls, Lilly Bennett hardly looks like a hard-boiled private detective. But Lilly, a federal marshal and part-time P.I., has a sharp eye for shady doings among the Wyoming moneyed circles in which she moves. And her Glock .26 makes the perfect accessory with any outfit....
Even Lilly admits that the week of her wedding is not the ideal time to take on a case, but this one's a little personal. During a round of prenuptial parties, a gunshot cuts down the hostess at her own soiree--just minutes after Lilly left her side. Lilly is determined to catch a killer and make it to the church on time. The only question is whether she'll be sporting a wedding veil...or a satin-lined casket.
From the Paperback edition.
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SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 12
Number one: I never thought I'd actually ever get married. And Number two: I never thought if I actually did, that I'd spend the morning of my wedding day standing at a pair of side-by-side graves, the bodies being exhumed to be tested to see what, if any, kind of poison had been used to murder them. I had to attend the exhumation; there wasn't anybody else left who cared about the deceased, Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Rutherford. The rest of the Rutherford family--their two daughters, Mercedes and Alma, and one son-in-law, Wade Gilhooly--were either dead, dying, or in jail.
I watched quietly while the backhoe's grave-width shovel cut quickly through the soft September ground, digging like a child's toy until it got close to the slab of cement that sealed the vault of Mr. Rutherford's grave.
"I still don't see why you're here," Jack Lewis, Roundup's chief of detectives, crabbed. The early sun glinted off his Ray-Bans and bathed his narrow, eaglelike face in golden light. "You look like hell. Aren't you getting married today? I can't believe this guy's seen you in the morning and still wants to go through with it. Talk about reality."
I laughed. "Shut up, Jack."
"Don't you think you'd better get some ice or something on your face? Go home. This case is over."
"I'm here because whether it's over or not, Wade Gilhooly is still my client. I owe him this."
A team of men jumped down and began shoveling the dirt from the top of the vault and then around its sides, making way for the heavy chain that would be used to haul it out. The noise was loud, grating, like snow shovels on a sidewalk.
"Do you think she murdered them?" Jack asked.
The backhoe's powerful engine screamed as the cumbersome load rose unwillingly from its deep home, its eternal sleep violated and betrayed, and then was settled surprisingly gently on the ground, where the men went to work with sledgehammers. It was brutal, heavy, muscle work, and the men were sweating in spite of the morning chill. Finally, like an Easter piñata, the vault cracked, revealing a massive bronze casket.
No one spoke as the coroner stepped forward to witness the funeral director unscrew the small glass identification tube and remove the tiny sheet. "Bradford Rutherford the Third," he announced to the stony group as though he were presenting the deceased to St. Peter at the pearly gates.
The coroner gave a nod of confirmation and the mortician replaced the tube, uncranked the casket's lid, which gave off a breathless hiss when the seal was broken, and then with his blank-faced assistant, removed Mr. Rutherford's remains into a body bag and laid it gently in the back of his black coach. Mr. Rutherford, the founder and chairman of Rutherford Oil, one of the most successful, delightful, and powerful men in the world, was now just a bag of bones in the back of a Cadillac station wagon. Talk about reality.
Then the backhoe went to work on Mrs. Rutherford.
Did I think she murdered them? Well, I would be lying if I said I didn't feel like killing my mother sometimes--my fiancé described her once as being about as much fun as a cinnamon bear who lived in a cave with two rattlesnakes as her best friends--but if it turned out this woman had actually murdered her own parents, it would be one of the most remarkable cases of my career.
Wyoming stretched uninterrupted from the mesa-top where the Wind River Cemetery lay surrounded by a fence that kept out coyotes and tumbleweeds, but not the wind. Even on this crystal-clear September morning--Richard's and my wedding day--you could feel the slice of winter coming, almost smell the contracting of the permafrost tundra and bogs, hardening up like Arctic Jell-O.
I turned up the collar of my canvas jacket, dug my hands deep into my pockets, and looked at the panorama of our lovely city of Roundup at the foot of the Wind River Range. I could see everything, all of downtown and the river. I could even see out south, where the trees were smaller and the houses bigger. I could see all the way to the deep green of the Wind River Country Club golf course and the Gilhoolys' ridiculously massive house, dwarfing the tenth hole along which it lay like a big, gray slug.
That's where it had all begun, just last Sunday. When we went to meet the Russians.
SUNDAY EVENING, SEPTEMBER 6
"I certainly hope Alma isn't planning to wear that cheap pink caftan arrangement again tonight," my mother said over the phone. "The fabric's so shiny you can practically put your lipstick on in it."
"Mmm," I agreed, trying not to talk so my mascara could dry. I stared out the window of my dressing room, across the dark, flat ribbon of the Wind River to the pastureland where a handful of Black Angus grazed quietly before a backdrop of golden aspen.
"Well, what can you expect after spending thirty years in Billings?" Mother buzzed along. I knew she was lying on the chaise in her bedroom, CNN muted, slicing open the mail as she talked. "But, my goodness, with all that Rutherford Oil money--you know it's one of the largest independent producers in the world--Alma could fly to New York or Paris every month and pick up a few things, and instead she goes around looking like someone's poor cousin in from Nebraska. I'll tell you, ever since she married that disgusting Wade Gilhooly, she's sunk to his level."
She paused for a breath and a sip of Darjeeling. "Her poor parents. I guess it's just as well they're dead, Alma made them so miserable. I'm so delighted, Lilly, darling, that you decided to wait and have such an outstanding career. You were so smart. That Richard Jerome is the most divine man I've ever met. Since your father, of course. I hope you don't gain any more weight before the wedding."
Well, there were about sixty things I could have responded to in that discourse, starting with . . . well, I'm not really sure which one to start with. It's a draw between the weight deal and how delighted she is that I decided to delay getting married.
Number one: I'm practically staring fifty in the eye and she has been in a state of full-blown hysteria at my unwed condition since I was twenty-two, the outer limit for a young woman to remain single. In her opinion.
Number two: She has yammered and yapped against my outstanding career since the day, almost thirty years ago, when--during my third Junior League Introductory Provisional meeting, where I was the only unmarried, unbabied member of the entire class--I rose to my feet, looking every inch the young matron in my black-patent pumps and pale-yellow, nubby-wool, Nan Duskin suit with a boxy jacket and straight skirt, and ceremoniously peeled off my white cotton gloves, laid them on my chair, announced, "I'm sorry, girls, but this just isn't me," and walked out, caught a plane for California, and enrolled in the police academy in Santa Bianca, two hours and millions of light-years away from my hometown of Roundup, Wyoming.
Since that day--in spite of the fact that I was the first female chief of detectives in the country, or that I'm now a successful security consultant (twenty-first-century-speak for private investigator) and a U.S. Marshal--until Richard Jerome and I announced our engagement in late June, I had never accomplished one worthwhile thing. In her opinion.
And furthermore, on that particular subject. There have been plenty of guys I could have married, but since I discovered the Pill when I was about eighteen and adopted the same philosophy as well-adjusted, happy bachelors, I never felt the need to get married. Until I met someone I really didn't want to live without.
As to the weight deal. I started smoking when I was thirteen and quit when I was forty. That's twenty-seven years of hopped-up metabolic bliss. And then, two months after I quit smoking, I started taking estrogen. Well, forget it. The metabolic bliss turned into a meltdown from which it looks like I'm never going to recover. The truth is: I still look fine. Good enough to lasso Richard Jerome, and he's not exactly what anyone with a brain would call ready for the glue factory.
Whatever. Things are on a sweet course now, and it's a sign of my increasing maturity that, unwilling to wreck my makeup, I did not rise to Mother's bait, but waited patiently and quietly while she carried on over the phone. Mother didn't scare me anymore. I could see right through her. She was just the opposite of those steel magnolias who are all sweet on the outside and tough as nails inside. Nope. Mother was a jelly-filled cannonball.
"What are you wearing tonight, darling?" She took a ladylike drag of her cigarette. She was somehow able to limit herself to ten a day. I had struggled to keep it down to forty.
"The black gabardine Saint Laurent Richard bought for me in Paris last week," I said, clipping on a diamond earring.
"I don't think I've seen that. I'll bet it's lovely."
"Yes, it is. What are you wearing?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'll dig up something. Your father has come up with a dozen excuses why he doesn't want to go to this shindig tonight, even though he's on the board. I know it's because of the proxy fight. I guess it's turning vicious."
"What proxy fight?"
"Rutherford Oil. That's what this party is all about, Lilly. It's Rutherford Oil stockholders. Their annual meeting is on Wednesday. That's why you were invited, because you're a stockholder. I thought you knew that."
"No, I just thought we were invited to meet the Gilhoolys' houseguests."
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call them houseguests. They're Russians."
And we all know Russians could never be houseguests.
"The proxy fight has something to do with Russia. Well," Mother said, bringing our conversation to an abrupt conclusion, as though she were the only one with anything to do and she'd just spent more than enough time talking to a complete imbecile, "I've got to scoot if we're going to get there. Don't be late."
Alma and Wade Gilhooly's dinner was one of the few parties we'd attended lately that was not in Richard's and my honor, and that was before the out-of-town guests, including all of Richard's family, arrived on Wednesday, when all the stops would really get pulled. I hadn't been the center of so much attention since I got caught in bed with the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. It was terrific.
Our wedding was in six days.
From the Paperback edition.