Barbara Ellen Brink is the author of nine published novels. She grew up on a small farm in Washington State but now lives in the mean “burbs” of Minnesota with her husband and their mutts, Rugby and Willow. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Savor. Courtesy: Barbara Ellen Brink.
“You surely can’t expect the bank to give us another loan based on this.” Billie shook the copy of the financial statement her brother had printed out for her. “Didn’t you even try to make us look good? I mean, really… the government puts out statements all the time that don’t divulge the entire truth. They just skim the surface. Can’t you do that for Fredrickson’s, or are you too busy playing musician every night?”
Any man of mine, better walk the line, better show me a…Shania’s twang burst from Billie’s cell phone sitting on the desk across the room, but she was too caught up in her argument with Adam to pick up. Handel would understand she was busy and leave a text like he always did.
Adam slammed open the file cabinet. He’d been growing a scruffy beard for some reason and looked more like a deer hunter than an accountant, but apparently it was what all the happening musicians were sporting these days. “Don’t come down on me because your numbers are in the tank. You’re the one who thought you could go from being a little known lawyer to running a little known winery without any little known expertise.”
“Whoa!” Sally stepped between them, eyebrows and hands raised in self-defense. “Let me exit gracefully before you come to blows, please. I don’t want to be a witness in the trial to whatever is about to happen.” She pulled open the door and escaped down the hall.
“Thanks a lot!” Adam huffed. “Now you’ve scared Sally away from her desk and I’ll have to answer the damn phone.”
“As if! When’s the last time it rang?” She threw the papers down on Sally’s desk and crossed her arms, blowing an angry breath through her nostrils. “We are sinking here, Adam, and this is not going to help.”
He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “I can’t change the numbers. You know that. Either the bank gives us another loan based on our forecast or they refuse based on our past. There’s no magical number crunching I can do to change their policies. We just have to hope they see a future for Fredrickson’s.”
She was silent, staring at a coffee stain in the carpet at her feet. All the anger had drained away in her tirade, but her shoulders drooped at the weight of responsibility she felt for the winery’s employees and their futures. Sally. Margaret. Even Loren and Ernesto had become good friends and were like family to her now.
“Billie,” Adam reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. “It’s going to be all right. If the bank won’t give you the loan, I’m sure Handel would love to invest in Fredrickson’s. He even – ” He broke off at the look on her face.
“You didn’t tell him that we needed the money, did you?” she demanded.
“Are you delusional? I don’t need to tell him anything. He already knows we need the money. Just because you refuse to speak with him about it, doesn’t make the problem disappear. You’re married now, Billie. Try acting like it.” He turned to open the door but she jumped in the way.
“How dare you tell me how to act! You don’t know anything about my relationship with Handel. Fredrickson’s has nothing to do with our marriage and I intend to keep it that way.” She glared at him, arms crossed.
He just looked at her for a long moment, his face softening despite her attitude. “You might believe that, sis, but I’m pretty sure Handel sees it differently. If you can’t even share the ups and downs of your life with the man you married, then what’s the point? Fredrickson’s is a big part of you now and it’s still a big part of who Handel is, whether he’s monetarily invested in it or not. He wants to be a part of your life, not just the man who shares your bed. If you can’t see that, then you need a heart transplant.”
He reached around her for the handle of the door and she automatically stepped away. A tight ball of fear and guilt twisted her insides, but she fought to tamp it down. Adam didn’t understand. He didn’t know how hard it was to stay in control, to keep the different aspects of her life separate. She didn’t want to worry Handel with her business woes. He had enough of his own problems with a client he was trying to save from a murder conviction. Besides, he didn’t need her input on his court case anymore than she needed his on the winery.
And yet… Handel did share his work with her. He often asked her opinion and discussed aspects of his cases in a general sort of way without infringing on his attorney/client confidentiality clause. He cared what she thought.
Why couldn’t she do the same? Sometimes she had whole conversations with him in her head, but then face-to-face she struggled for words and many times things went unsaid. As if not saying something took away its power to hurt them.
Just this morning he’d called to talk before he went into court. He chatted about the weather, his client’s terrible new haircut, and randomly announced that when or if they had children, he knew they would be extraordinary. She’d gone all quiet, unable to get past the glibness of the comment to what lay beneath. Knowing how much he loved Davy and spending time with the boy, she was confident he would make a wonderful father, but… she wasn’t so sure about being a parent herself. She barely passed as an adult, much less an example to small clones.
She drew a deep breath and slowly expelled, loosening the knot around her chest. They really needed to talk when he got home. She missed him when he was gone to the city overnight. This case had been taking him away far too many nights already. It would be a relief when it was over. She never slept as well when he was gone. Wrapped secure in Handel’s arms, her nightmares no longer stood a chance.
Sally pushed the door open. “All clear?”
“Everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” Billie said, retrieving the papers she’d thrown on the desk.
“Look,” Sally said, taking her arm and gently turning her around. “Everyone around here knows that things aren’t fine. The economy sucks. Why should Fredrickson’s have it easy?” She sighed. “You should give your brother a break.”
“I know,” she said, “and I’m sorry you were forced to witness another one of my meltdowns.”
“Meltdown? That was nothin’.” She waved a hand as though shooing away a fly. “You should see the fights my family get into at Christmas. Since there’s no snow to pelt each other with, we just run the hose in the backyard and mud wrestle.”
Billie shook her head, grinning. “Someday I’ve got to meet your family. For some reason I keep imagining you as a foundling left on the doorstep of the winery.”
“Not far from the truth,” she said, slipping back into the chair behind her desk. “I’ve been here nearly that long.”
“And?” Billie asked, knowing there was always more to Sally’s stories.
“Adam’s right. Handel’s already invested in Fredrickson’s because he’s invested in you. He married you, didn’t he? So talk to him. Let him help, even if only as a listening ear for you to vent. He needs you to trust him, to confide in him.”
“Why? Did he say something?” Billie asked, suddenly afraid her perfect world was about to crumble.
“No. He doesn’t have to. Billie, he’s your husband!” Sally dropped her head on the desk and bumped it repeatedly against the surface, auburn curls flopping.
“I suppose that’s your way of saying I’m really dense.”
She straightened, a small smile of satisfaction on her lips. “Now don’t go putting words in my mouth.”
“Right.” Billie pulled open the door but glanced back. “Thanks, Sally. If anybody needs me, I’ll be down in the cellar.”
Handel pulled into traffic and sped up, eager to be home and spend what was left of the evening with Billie. The jury had been excused for the night after another stern lecture from the judge about not discussing any part of the trial with anyone or he would rethink his position on sequestering. Handel wasn’t due back in court until late morning. He had a whole night to remind his new wife just whom she was married to. The past couple of weeks they had slept apart more than together, him spending lonely nights in the city working. He would be happy when this trial was over and he could take time off. Maybe they could get away to Maui for a few days or take a few weeks and visit all the islands – if Billie would trust her staff at the winery and leave it all behind.
Traffic slowed to a crawl on the freeway and he flipped the radio on as a distraction from the boredom of his commute. Smooth jazz played softly over the speakers, soothing the edginess he always felt sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Thunderclouds rolled in from the bay, but there was little chance of rain this time of year. All the hovering clouds managed to do was keep the stench of pollution at ground level. He wrinkled his nose and turned on the air-conditioner, glad he hadn’t already put the top down on his convertible. It had climbed to eighty degrees in the heart of the city, but once he got out into the country the temp would drop into the low seventies. This time of year in the valley was usually pleasant, with gentle breezes and clear cerulean skies.
Cars began to move forward in the lane beside him and soon his lane moved as well. He changed the station on the radio to the evening news and listened to the drone of the newscaster with only half his attention. A familiar voice interrupted his wandering thoughts. The Deputy District Attorney, Alec Melendez, usually spoke in a blustery sort of way that put his listeners on the defensive. But today he sounded calm and sure of himself as he’d answered the reporter’s questions outside the courtroom earlier.
“Mr. Kawasaki has maintained his innocence through these proceedings,” the reporter said, “even going so far as to testify in his own defense tomorrow. Do you think that will be enough to sway members of the jury to his side?”
Melendez gave a short laugh. “Mr. Kawasaki’s attorney, Handel Parker, is a well-seasoned litigator, so I have no idea why he would allow his client to testify. No matter the smoke screen they throw up, I will prove to the jury without a shadow of a doubt that Sal Kawasaki is not only guilty of illegal business practices and money laundering, but he was also an abusive husband who planned the murder of his own wife, and then proceeded to personally follow through with that murder even after a failed first attempt by a hired thug. Jimena Alvarez-Kawasaki deserves justice and I plan to see that she gets it.”
From the sound of it, the deputy DA was getting a head start on his closing statement – or running for office. Other reporters yelling out further questions faded into the background as the newscaster tied up the story. “That was Deputy District Attorney Melendez outside the courtroom this afternoon after Judge Matthews called a recess for the weekend.”
His cell phone buzzed over the speakers and he pushed the Bluetooth answer button. “Handel Parker here.” There was silence for a moment and he thought maybe he’d been disconnected. “Hello?”
“I have information for you about your murder case.” The man’s voice was deep and raspy, with a definite Mexican accent.
“Who is this?” he countered, eyes narrowed as he glanced in the rearview and changed lanes. “If you know something about Jimena Kawasaki’s murder, I am obligated to tell you to take it to the police.”
“That’s not going to happen. I don’t talk to no police. Only to you.”
Handel’s mind raced. “Fine. Talk to me. What do you know?” He didn’t want to scare off a potential witness. If the man wouldn’t go to the police then he should at least hear him out. He was probably a crackpot. They’d certainly attracted plenty of them during the discovery phase.
“I don’t want to say over the phone. Can you meet me by the dock…”
Handel cut him off. “No. That’s not going to happen,” he said, repeating the man’s words back at him. “Tell me what you know and I’ll decide whether it’s worth my time.”
All four lanes of cars came to a dead stop and Handel slammed on the brakes. He breathed a sigh of relief when the cars behind him managed to stop in time as well. Just what he didn’t need was to be in a freeway pileup.
The man sniffed. “Look, I need money. I’ll tell you everything for two grand.”
Handel laughed. “I’m hanging up now.”
“No! Please. Listen. I’m telling the truth. I know who killed Jimena.”
The way the man said her name… it was personal. Intimate. Like he’d actually known her. Maybe he wasn’t a crackpot. “All right. I’m listening. But I need something from you before we can go any further. I’m not going to meet you or give you two-thousand dollars without a compelling reason.”
He heard traffic noise and a car horn over the speakers. “I loved her,” he said, his voice so quiet Handel had a hard time hearing. “Jimena was going to leave Kawasaki and go to Mexico with me. But her brother told her I was a heroin addict.”
“Sí.” The small affirmative was filled with raw anger. “He didn’t want her to go. Said she had to stay married to that chapete,” he spit the word like a curse, “because she had made a vow.”
Handel suddenly had a heroin addict thrown into the mix of his trial. Not exactly someone above reproach, but that wouldn’t stop the prosecution from using him to prove Kawasaki had motive for killing his wife. Why hadn’t Manny mentioned this person before? Especially if the man was seeing his sister romantically and he knew about it. He rubbed a hand over his stubbly five o’clock shadow, thinking. “So you want me to believe that Jimena, a beautiful woman married to a rich man, would leave all that for you, a drug addict?”
“I quit eight months ago! I promised Jimena I was done with the life.”
“And what were you doing at the Kawasaki residence the night of the murder?”
“We were leaving for Mexico. She finally decided it was time. I went to pick her up but he…”
A guy on a Harley flew by his door, riding between lanes, and passing everyone with devil-may-care nonchalance in a leather vest and red bandanna. The loud thumping of the exhaust pipes drowned out the man’s words.
“… and when I woke up she was dead,” he finished.
Red taillights flared on the pickup in front of him as it suddenly came to a complete stop. Handel slammed on the brakes. His dream of a getaway with Billie evaporated with a glance in the rearview mirror. A truck was bearing down and there was no way it could stop in time to avoid rolling right over him. He twisted the wheel hard to the right and pulled into the next lane without knowing for sure if there was enough space between vehicles. The screech of metal on metal as he slid past the edge of the pickup’s bumper drowned out the last of the man’s words. Handel was flung forward against the steering wheel when the truck slammed from behind. An explosive sound reverberated in his head as glass exploded around him.
“Mr. Parker? Mr. Parker?” He thought he heard a voice calling and then it faded away.