An Unholy Alliance
BOOK EXCERPT Chapter 2
When we arrived at Tina’s an hour later, the first person I saw was my ex-husband Dwight McCourt. He was sitting on a bar stool eating a salmon filet, a bottle of StoneGate Reserve Pinot Noir at his left elbow. Dwight was notorious for showing up at a restaurant with his own wine. His wine glass was half-full, or half-empty, depending upon how you choose to look at it.
He nodded in our direction, sizing up the entourage. “Hi Emmy, long time no see,” he drawled when his inventory was complete. I walked over to him and we exchanged a half-hearted little hug. It always felt weird, but we did it anyway. We get along most of the time. I really do like the guy despite the things we’ve both pulled over the years. Dwight is big and burly, and I noticed during that quick hug that he had gotten a bit burlier around the midriff. Things were starting to sag a little here and there, but sagging is an equal opportunity nuisance to those of us in our late prime. His red hair and beard showed flecks of silver and his eyebrows had grown very bushy, giving him a fiercer than normal look. He had gotten himself a good haircut, and the beard was neatly trimmed. He was still a very handsome man.
“What brings you to wine country?” he asked.
“I’m running the Westerly for Melody and Dan while they are on vacation,” I told him. “And I’m writing a book.”
“It’s about time!” he said, and his enthusiasm was real. “When’s the deadline?”
“February, and it will be out by next November.”
I introduced Frank and Henry. A large group of people came in the door behind us and it was time to move out of the way. “I need to talk to you for the book,” I told him. “And by the way, do you know Ted Maxell?”
“Of course I know him,” Dwight sputtered. “He tried to steal a couple acres of my North Ridge property. He’s an asshole. Ask anyone.” He paused for breath, then jerked his head in the direction of the new arrivals. “That’s him talking to Jake,” he said just loudly enough that only I could hear him. “The fat bastard.” I looked in the direction of Jake, the host, to see him addressing a stout man with a great mane of white hair. Ted Maxell was talking emphatically and gesturing with his hands.
Jake said something to him, then picked up menus and motioned to us. “Thanks for the heads up,” I said to Dwight, then followed Jake and the boys into the dining room.
Henry and Frank were consummate entertainers, keeping my glass topped with Perrier and regaling me with gossip and tales from the City. We barely could hear each other due to the din the Maxell party created in the small dining room. I watched enviously every time one of the wait staff delivered a bottle of wine to their table. Ted Maxell was sparing no expense to impress whoever his guests were.
The blonde sitting next to him was at least a generation younger than everyone else in the group. I would have guessed she was his daughter except for the fact that she wore an enormous diamond and was great with child. And he kept kissing her on the neck. Once I caught her shudder and pull away from him, but for the most part she sat stiffly at his side, a bright smile on her face.
Henry intercepted my observation and touched my arm. “That’s his wife, Tara,” he said, leaning into me so only I could hear. “Ted married his granddaughter.”
I chuckled and allowed myself the luxury of feeling mean. Ted appeared to be in his mid-fifties, while Tara was probably early-twenties. “She may look like a cream puff, but she has some street smarts,” Henry continued. “She wanted to marry money and she did. One of my former lovers is her financial adviser. She wants to be well taken care of down the line when beauty fleets, as it always does, alas.”
Interestinger and interestinger. This was not the kind of information I could put in the book, but tasty nonetheless. “I hope your friend does a good job for her,” I said.
“Oh, he does.”
“And the ta-tas are not her own. I know the guy who did them,” Frank chimed in. These two were a fountain of information. Henry busied himself with his duck breast in green peppercorn sauce, but he wasn’t missing out on the conversation. An amused smile played at the corners of his mouth.
I observed that Tara was in dire peril of bursting the part of her cocktail dress that held her enhanced breasts in bondage.
“What don’t you know about the Maxells?” I wondered between mouthfuls of salmon.
“Well,” Frank continued, “we know that Ted’s kids had a fit when he brought this one home. His daughter Tiffany is the same age as Tara, and Axel is only a couple years older.”
“Axel? Axel Maxell? That’s his son”
“What were those people thinking?”
“Ted liked the name. And he does have his funny side.”
I looked again at the table. Ted was leaning back in his chair, head tilted back, laughing. His hands were splayed across his large belly; his face had turned very red. He looked as if he might burst something before his wife did. A blood vessel perhaps. His lips were full and sensuous. At one time he would have been an attractive man. But now he was not. Age and dissipation were taking their toll. I glanced toward the bar in time to see Dwight get up, toss some cash next to his half-finished bottle of wine, and walk out the door.
“Where’s the ex-wife and mother of Ted’s children?” I wondered this for no particular reason save nosiness. Writers are the nosiest people on earth. We clamor for details whether the details matter or not.
“Oh, she still lives in the Bay Area part of the year, but she has a place up here so she can be near the kids. They both work for Ted, poor things,” Henry said between bites of duck. “We knew them when.”
“So he’s got the whole damn family, past, present, and future, very close at hand.”
“Yes,” Frank observed. “It’s thoroughly nauseating. All of it. You’d think after the things he’s done they’d want to be as far from him as possible.”
“And what has he done?” I was dying to know.
“Oh, you’ll find out, darling.” Frank patted my hand and took another sip of his wine. “Not to worry. You’ll find out.”