NO MATTER HOW MUCH I HAD TOLD MYSELF THAT I deserved a break, that the retreaters were all adults, and that the activities for the day were all basically over, I still felt guilty about leaving. I was glad it was dark and the walkway was empty as I headed for the parking lot near the Asilomar entrance. Still, I walked off the edge of the path, staying in the shadow. Mason was leaning against his rental Explorer as I approached. I was sure I heard him chuckle.
“C’mon, the coast is clear,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper as he slipped around to the passenger side and opened the door.
“So you saw me,” I said in a disappointed tone. Here I thought I’d done such a good job of hiding. He was quick to reassure me that even though I was visible on the way to the car, probably nobody was paying any attention, and even if they were, would they really care?
“What if something happens while I’m gone?” I opened the car door and started to get out. “I better not leave. Already there’s been a fog emergency and a death. Haven’t you ever heard that things travel in threes?”
Mason put his hand on my arm. “It’s only for an hour or so. Besides, you missed dinner. Have you eaten anything since the first night?”
My stomach rumbled in answer and I pulled the SUV’s door shut.
I must admit that as we drove out of the Asilomar gates, I felt my shoulders unhunch. Sheila was right about me having tension in spades. As we got a block or so away, I started to feel a giddy sense of naughtiness. Dinah had promised to keep an eye on things and I had my cell phone.
Mason knew his way around the area and pulled up to an entrance gate. Once we’d paid the fee, we entered the Seventeen Mile Drive, which was in the privately owned town of Pebble Beach; hence the gate and entrance fee. At night there wasn’t much to see besides spots with clear views of the dark ocean and lights in the mansions set back from the road.
I knew more than saw that we were passing through the Del Monte Forest, and somewhere out in the darkness the Lone Cypress sat on the edge of a rock, catching the constant breeze.
“Well, here we are,” Mason said, steering the car in a driveway. Before he’d completely stopped the car, a man in a white uniform stepped out to open the door and take care of the car.
We walked under a large overhang and into a low building.
“Nothing against Asilomar,” Mason said. “I like the rustic quality and camplike atmosphere, but a little luxury is nice, too.”
No pool or Ping-Pong tables here. The lobby we walked through was all thick carpet and lots and lots of comfortable chairs and sofas. The clothes were all high-end casual. No sweatshirts or baseball caps. Mason had explained that the resort had a world-famous golf course attached to it and any kind of spa facility you could imagine. “And the rooms all have telephones and televisions,” he said with his trademark chuckle.
Mason took my arm and led me to the back of the lobby. A wide doorway opened onto a restaurant. The lights were low and the walls all glass. Floodlights on the roof illuminated the area outside, and I saw the edge of the golf course. I knew the beach was on the other side.
I was enjoying the surroundings, but the sense of guilt about leaving was still hanging on my shoulders like a shawl. At least if I talked about Izabelle’s death, it would make the occasion seem work-related rather than fun.
As soon as the host seated us, I started talking about Izabelle. Mason looked up from his menu and rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to justify being here. I’m sure Mrs. Shedd wouldn’t mind. She took off on a cruise. It’s okay to be off duty,” he said. “See, me too.” He pointed to the line on the menu that said no cell phone conversations were allowed in the dining room, and took out his phone and shut it off.
“I’m not supposed to be having any fun,” I said in a serious tone. “I’m not sure I like being the boss. I miss fun.”
Mason picked up his menu. “It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone if you enjoy yourself.”
“But I’ve only got the weekend to figure out who killed Izabelle,” I said.
“I thought you didn’t want it to be murder. Remember how I said it would be impossible to get somebody to eat a s’more against their will and it was just what you wanted to hear.”
I sighed. “Okay, I didn’t want it to be murder, but I can’t ignore the facts just because a murder makes me look bad.”
“Even the local cop is only interested in finding out if someone was on the beach with her. He’s investigating it as an accident,” Mason said.
I leaned forward. “Did he question you?”
Mason nodded. “He hung around all day, grabbing people. I’m surprised you didn’t see him. But then I guess he was done with you.”
“So, what did he ask you?”
“Probably the same as everyone else. What did I know about Izabelle Landers and did I meet her on the beach. He seemed to be going the direct question route. I suppose he was looking for reactions. You know, not being able to look somebody in the eye if you’re lying. I had nothing to tell him, but I did get a little info out of him.” Mason seemed pleased with himself. “Want to know what he said?” It was just a tease. Mason knew I wanted to know.
“French is only looking for someone who was on the beach with her, and if the retreat ends and everybody keeps denying they were the one, he’ll probably close the investigation since he’s convinced it wasn’t foul play.”
The waiter came by, and I waited while Mason ordered a stuffed mushroom appetizer and a bottle of wine.
“French thinks either she was so crazed for chocolate, she ate the s’more without realizing it had peanut butter on it, or she had a mad craving for peanut butter and gave in to it. Apparently her ex-husband said she had a thing for chocolate. French seems to think she met somebody on the beach about something else. And that person left the beach before Izabelle got sick. He thinks the pouch bag just fell off her arm on the way to the beach and she didn’t realize until too late that she didn’t have it.”
Mason leaned back in his chair. “Sunshine, I hate to say it, but it sounds reasonable. She seemed so controlled about everything, not even reacting when Adele accused her of stealing her work. Sometimes those supercontrolled types come unhinged.” The waiter brought the wine and had Mason taste it. Once he’d given his okay, the waiter poured us each a glass and left.
“Molly, why not just accept it was an accident? It lets you off the hook. An accident doesn’t have near the stigma a murder does.”
“I can’t help it.” I paused and sighed. “It happened on my watch, and I feel responsible.”
Mason’s eyes lit with a warm smile. “That’s what I love about you. Someone with scruples even when they’re not in your best interest.”
The waiter took our dinner order, and when he left, Mason looked at me intently. “So, Sherlock, who are your suspects? Maybe your compadre Adele?”
“My compadre?” I said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t exactly call her that.” I agreed that Adele had the most obvious motive, but while she was lots of things, I was sure she wasn’t a murderer.
I brought up Spenser Futterman and the reappearing pages. “There’s certainly something fishy with him and the woman who he claims is his niece or his cousin.”
“Did you tell Sergeant French that the maid ID’d him?”
“No, and I’m not going to. After his amateur sleuthing comment, I’m sure he wouldn’t pay any attention.” I mentioned the connections that Izabelle had with some of the others. Jeen admitted knowing her from before, and Jym had seemed to know her as well. I mentioned Commander Blaine’s postal center and the social events he planned for his customers. “Maybe there was more to their relationship than he said. Maybe he tried to be friendly and she blew him off. Maybe he took it badly,” I offered.
“What about the ex-husband?” Mason suggested.
“Interesting,” I said, brightening. “I was going to say that when I talked to him, he was in Tarzana. But who knows if he really was? I could have been calling him on his cell phone and he could have been anywhere. Even up here.”
“He certainly would have known about her peanut allergy,” Mason added.
The trouble was, there were a lot of possibilities, but nothing pointing to any one person. I reached for my wine-glass, and as I did, something appeared in my peripheral vision that made me almost drop it. I suddenly bent forward in the chair, doing my best to hide. Mason reacted, and I pointed toward a table by the windows. The host pulled out the chairs for Nora and Bennett.
“They can’t see me here,” I said under my breath. “How would it look after the number I did on her, trying to convince her how great the food is at Asilomar?” I could feel my shoulders hunching as I spoke. “That woman has done nothing but complain all weekend. She’ll make an issue about me leaving Asilomar to eat, and tell the others. I’ll never hear the end of it. Look, she even made a problem with your tai chi. What was that about?”
Mason waved his hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Molly, take a breath,” he said in a reassuring tone. “They’re not paying any attention to you. They’re so wrapped up in themselves, they won’t notice you. The thing at the beach was nothing. She said something about the damp sand bothering Bennett, so I moved us.”
I stole a look and realized he was probably right about them not noticing me. Nora had a pleased smile, no doubt because the waiter appeared to be fawning over them. At last they were getting the treatment she thought they deserved.
“She’s been so angry all weekend. Why did she even agree to come?”
Mason reminded me that I’d said something that made it obvious it hadn’t been her choice and that Bennett had agreed without consulting her.
“Okay, then why would he do it?”
“I don’t know, but I bet there’s something in it for him,” Mason said.
It sounded possible, and I started to nod in agreement when my cell phone began to ring. I’d recently adjusted it so it went right to ring and turned the volume up as high as it would go. I was afraid that otherwise I’d miss calls during the weekend. My ring of choice was a royal flourish that kept playing while I searched in my bag for it. It slipped out of my hand and landed on the floor before I finally retrieved it.
I hastily flipped it open to stop the noise.
“Hello,” I said in a low voice, praying that it wasn’t Dinah with a catastrophe. It was worse. It was Barry.
“Don’t hang up,” he said right after his initial hello. Several times before when he’d called, I just said I couldn’t talk and clicked off.
“This isn’t a good time,” I said, but Barry got my attention by saying it was something about my house. I sensed people coming from the side, and when I turned, the waiter and host were approaching.
“I’m sorry, but no cell phones in the dining room,” the host said in a low voice. I gave him an apologetic smile and flipped the phone shut. But before I could put it away, it began to ring again, and I noticed that I now had the attention of most of the diners.
“I’ll have to ask you to step out into the lounge,” the host said firmly, taking my arm in a helpful but determined manner.
I answered the phone to stop the ringing and accidentally hit the speaker phone button as I did. Barry’s voice blared out, demanding to know what was going on and not to hang up. I caught sight of Nora’s expression as I rushed toward the exit. She didn’t look happy to see me.
I slumped into one of the easy chairs in the lobby. “What is it?” I said, looking over my shoulder toward the dining room. Only a few people were still looking in my direction.
“What’s going on?” Barry said. “What were all those voices?”
Mason came out a moment later and said our dinner had just arrived.
“Who’s that?” Barry’s voice squawked as I tried to shut off the speaker phone feature.
Mason was chuckling as he headed back to the table after I told him I’d be there momentarily.
Detective Barry by now had figured out who the voice belonged to, and when someone from the bar came by and asked me if I’d like a drink, he made an educated guess that I wasn’t at Asilomar.
He sounded hurt, and I rushed to tell him about being too tense to eat, that being in charge was turning out to be more than I thought, particularly with Izabelle’s death, which I now believed was murder. “Mason was just trying to help release some of my tension.”
“I just bet he was,” Barry said in a low voice. “I can help you release some tension, too. Leave the investigating to the Pacific Grove PD.”
“How’d you know?” I finally asked him.
“I know you, Molly, and if you think it’s murder, you’re getting in the middle of it. Babe, it’s not your responsibility.” His voice softened. “I bet your shoulders are all hunched up. If I was there, I’d get the knots out.” I knew that Barry was clenching his jaw and probably pacing. “I don’t mean to add to your concerns, but when I stopped by your house, the dogs barely ate and didn’t care about going outside to play. It was almost as if they’d already been fed and someone had played a lot of fetch with them.” I pleaded ignorance and got off the phone quickly. Who knew Barry and my sons would all do their job?
When I finally came back to the table, Mason looked far too amused. “I never have fun like this with my other friends.”
I noted with relief that he didn’t say his other girlfriends. Even though technically I’m a girl and a friend, I’m not what the words used together connote. I knew Mason well enough to know his choice of words was no accident.