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Authors: Cynthia Hamilton

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Event Coordinator - P.I. - Revenge - California

Cynthia Hamilton - Madeline Dawkins 02 - A High Price to Pay

BOOK: Cynthia Hamilton - Madeline Dawkins 02 - A High Price to Pay
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Cynthia Hamilton - Madeline Dawkins 02 - A High Price to Pay
Madeline Dawkins [2]
Cynthia Hamilton
Woodstock Press (2014)
Tags:
Mystery: Cozy - Event Coordinator - P.I. - Revenge - California
Madeline’s dual professions as event coordinator and private investigator cross paths during the most lavish affair of her career—a weekend-long 40th birthday extravaganza for the wife of a famous film director. As the party draws near, a simple background check after the disappearance of precious family jewels quickly turns into a murder investigation, and before Madeline and Mike can put the pieces together, another body turns up
Adding to Madeline’s already overflowing plate, the D.A. informs her that Rick Yeoman, one of the men who had abducted her three years earlier, has been prematurely released from prison after cutting a deal with the Feds. Besides fearing reprisals from the man she helped to convict, his parole also triggers the reappearance of soulless Lionel Usherwood, lured out of his hideaway by the call of revenge. When Yeoman’s body surfaces in Lake Cachuma, Usherwood moves on to the next target—Madeline.

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, businesses, events or locales is coincidental or used with permission.

Copyright © 2014 by Cynthia Hamilton

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.

First Published 2014

Woodstock Press

ISBN: 978-0-9776278-6-8

Cover design by Barbara Boros

Formatting by Six Penny Graphics

For my family

I wish to thank Teri Coffee McDuffie for her inspired and patient tutelage in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, and Philippe Sautot for his memorable feasts. My heartfelt gratitude to both for lending themselves to this story.

PROLOGUE

Conrad Adams greeted Madeline and closed the door behind her. She hadn’t been in the D.A.’s office for three years, but the memories of the time spent there enveloped her like a vapor. She felt light-headed and sick to her stomach and had to fight the urge
to flee.

“I’m guessing you didn’t call me here to talk over old times,” Madeline quipped nervously, returning the D.A.’s hesitant smile with a tentative one of her own.

“I’m sorry, but I wanted you to hear about this from me, and the phone just didn’t seem appropriate.”

Madeline felt the sting of perspiration under her arms and wished she had brought Mike along for moral support. Now that she was sitting in the same chair she’d occupied after escaping from her own wine cellar, she knew she was about to be given news pertaining to her loathsome ex-husband, who was languishing in prison on a life sentence. That he would somehow wangle an early parole was a fear that kept her awake at night.

“Please just tell me…” Madeline said, unconsciously sinking her fingernails into the fleshy part of her hand, bracing herself for
the worst.

“It’s not about Steven,” Conrad said, sensing her anxiety. Madeline let out the breath she’d been holding and groaned with relief. “Not directly, anyway. The point is, it’s better news for you in the long run,” the D.A. said, as he rose and moved to the window overlooking the courthouse. He turned toward Madeline and rested against
the ledge.

“Rick Yeoman just cut a deal with the Feds.” Madeline’s heart sank. Her face turned pale as the image of Yeoman holding a knife to her ribs flashed before her eyes. Olfactory memories flooded her system, instilling the same sense of debilitating terror she had felt when she came to from the chloroform and discovered she’d been bound and gagged and left for dead.

Her hand trembled as she ran it through her hair in an attempt to steady herself and feign nonchalance. But the dank smell of the wine cellar—with its overtones of wooden crates and lead foil—along with the sensation of the cold, hard tiles against her face, took her right back to that moment when Steven Ridley closed the door on her, sealing
her fate.

“What do you mean…Yeoman’s going to be released from prison?” she asked in a voice she
scarcely recognized.

“Next week.” Conrad Adams poured a glass of water from a carafe and set it in front of her. He knew the look on her face; he’d seen it the afternoon she nearly collapsed in his office, battered and dirty, with bloody ligature marks on her wrists and ankles. He sighed as he sat down at his desk.

“He served up Lionel Usherwood on a platter, giving them new evidence that ties him to three other homicides, one of which also implicates Steven. It all
checked out.”

“So they’re just going to let him walk?” Madeline rasped, holding her fist to her mouth to keep
from crying.

“He’ll be on parole for five years, which means he’ll have to meet with his parole officer once a week. And if Usherwood ever pops up, Yeoman will have to testify against him. He was originally holding out for the witness protection program, but his ex-boss doesn’t rate high enough on the scum ladder to warrant a new identity and relocation. But after Yeoman’s last stabbing, he figured his odds of survival were greater outside the big house. I guess he’s more afraid of your ex than he is of Usherwood, who for all we know is either dead or living on the other side of the
world now.”

“According to his sentence, Rick wasn’t even eligible for parole for another five years,” Madeline said, her agitation growing as the news sank in. “What about Burt’s family, what about me? Don’t we get to go before the parole board and voice our concerns?” Madeline argued, her hand still shaking as she reached for the glass of water. Conrad shrugged apologetically.

“It’s out of my control, I’m afraid. I did petition the State to release him in the Sacramento area, keeping him close to the prison and the State parole agent. But even that was shot down.”

“You don’t mean he’s coming back to Santa Barbara?” Madeline asked incredulously. The look on Conrad Adams’ face gave her
the answer.

“I made sure he was restricted to North County.”

Madeline’s hand shook as she took a sip of water. Lionel Usherwood, Rick Yeoman, Lance Rombach, Terry Linbald and her former husband, Steven Ridley, had been characters in her recurring nightmares for years now. The only way she had kept her sanity was by reassuring herself that Usherwood was gone for good and the others would be incarcerated for many years.

“I don’t see this as being an imminent threat to you, given Yeoman’s state
of mind.”

“How does his state of mind make me any safer?” Madeline asked, clearly not reassured by Conrad’s confidence.

“Going back to prison is a guaranteed death sentence. Steven’s lawyers have been trying to offer up anyone’s head in order to get him paroled, but Yeoman’s info was better. That’s probably why there’ve been three attempts on his life. Steven didn’t have a chance at any kind of a deal with the dirt Yeoman has
on him.”

“What about Usherwood? If he’s out there, won’t Yeoman have another target on his back?” It didn’t take long for the double threat to her safety to
hit home.

Conrad pursed his lips. He understood the Fed’s logic of throwing the rat to the cat; what did he care if they sacrificed Yeoman for a chance to draw Usherwood out? But he also understood how the thought of having two of her captors out there somewhere would terrify Madeline. Especially with Rick Yeoman in her
own backyard.

“I don’t doubt they’re using Yeoman as bait. But they want Usherwood badly, and so do I. He has a lot of crimes to answer for in this county. If we caught him, he would get a minimum of life without the possibility of parole. I guarantee it. I think it would offer you more of a sense of closure if he were in prison where he belongs,” the D.A. offered hopefully.

Madeline huffed as her gaze turned inward. She knew the people who cared about her wanted to make the nightmares end. But it really wasn’t as simple as that. The whole group of cheating, murdering monsters could die in a prison fire and it still would be hard to believe she was really safe
from them.

“So…” she said, rising from the chair. Conrad followed her lead, but waited to see if she was going to finish the thought. “I suppose you’ll be notified if Yeoman breaks
his parole.”

“Absolutely. And he’s got to remain at least 35 miles from your residence.”

Madeline laughed harshly. “Oh, really? Is he going to wear a shock collar, like a dog?” she asked, her tone hard and cynical. She didn’t have as much faith in fairytales as the D.A. pretended to. “What do I do if I run into him ‘in
my zone’?”

“Contact me immediately. If he breaks the terms of his parole, he goes back inside.” Madeline tried to hold onto this hopeful thought. “I’ll keep you informed, I promise,” Conrad said as he walked her out to
the lobby.

“Thanks. I’d
appreciate that.”

As the D.A. watched Madeline cross the street, he had to admit she was too much of a realist to buy his spin. He regretted most of all that she wouldn’t carry a firearm. Nobody could anticipate what would happen once Yeoman was released, and there just wasn’t the money or manpower to shield her at all times. But he also doubted that Yeoman would come after her; the real threat to her safety was that
sociopath Usherwood.

He broke away from his unpleasant thoughts and headed back to his
overburdened desk.

Lionel Usherwood stared out at the Gulf of California from the deck of his ramshackle house in Baja California, disposable cell phone to his ear. He listened without saying a word as the caller gave him the news he’d been expecting. He ended the call and set the phone on the stone ledge and smashed it with a rock. He gathered up the pieces and dropped them down a cistern, watching them sink to
the bottom.

After three years of lying low, living off the proceeds of various illegal enterprises, it was time to take care of the past. He walked up the dirt path to the shed his German lady friend had converted to an art studio. Erika glanced over at him and returned to her work. Usherwood leaned against the doorway and watched as she smeared cobalt blue paint across the canvas with a palette knife.

Usherwood had never had the slightest inclination towards sentimentality, a trait he had in common with Erika. He’d had countless one-night stands, but she was the first woman he’d ever lived with. As he regarded her, he wondered if he’d ever see her again. He figured it probably wouldn’t matter to him one way or
the other.

“I’ve got to drive down to La Paz,” he lied, not that any excuse was necessary. They were both as independent as cats.

“Okay,” Erika replied, her eyes not leaving the work in progress.

Usherwood left the studio without another word. He went back down to the house to pack. Most of what he would need he’d buy once he crossed the border at Mexicali. He put a few personal items in a small duffle bag, then pushed aside the armoire to access his stash. He took out his pocket knife and pried the 12-inch Saltillo floor tile loose. He removed four packs of fifty one-hundred dollar bills and a second forged passport and spread them out in the false bottom of his bag, then restored the tile and moved the armoire back.

He activated a new disposable phone before leaving the house, then headed out to the old Renault. By this time tomorrow, he’d be in Santa Maria, California. He shifted into neutral to let the car ease down the steep, rutted road, then started the engine on
the fly.

ONE

Madeline hung her freshly-framed private investigator’s license next to Mike’s and stepped back. Three long years of training and preparation had gone into obtaining these certificates: over six-thousand hours of fielding Russell Barnett’s less than glamorous assignments, some tedious, some unsavory, a few harrowing. As they stood there marveling at the fruit of their labors, broad smiles spread across their faces.

After briefly savoring the moment, Madeline checked her enthusiasm. She was not comfortable letting anyone know just how important this milestone was for her. She abruptly turned away from the wall and crossed through the doorway to her side of the combined office suites.

“Hey, come back,” Mike said, a look of disappointment unseating his former euphoria. “You haven’t checked out our
website yet.”

“I can’t right now—I’ve got too much on my mind,” Madeline said, her face averted while she reviewed her agenda for the day on Lauren’s computer. She was experiencing a sudden surge of conflicting emotions that reaching this seemingly unattainable goal had produced. She was on the verge of crying and she couldn’t
understand why.

“Oh, come on—it will only take a minute,” Mike chided her, frustrated by her lack of esprit de corps. “I spent a lot of time and effort on this site. The least you could do is take a look at it.”

Madeline silently berated herself. There was no accounting for her reaction. She should be ecstatic with her achievements. She had run herself ragged the last three years, working full-time for Russell and still managing to forge a successful event planning business. She had a lot to be proud of, and she deserved to take a bow and enjoy her accomplishments before entering the next phase in
her life.

But the truth be told, she was scared. Filling every waking moment with work and classes was the only way she had managed to hold onto her sanity. She still had plenty on her plate with Current Affairs, but she was coming to the conclusion of two major events, both of which had consumed a great deal of her time for the better part of a year. With those gone, along with Russell’s assignments, what was she going to do with herself? The thought of having room for personal reflection scared the hell out of her.

Plus, there was Rick Yeoman’s imminent release from Folsom State Prison. She hadn’t even told Mike about that yet. She was uneasy enough without him coming unglued for her sake. She’d been so busy, she hadn’t given it much thought until now—except in
her dreams.

“I want to see it,” Lauren called out to Mike. Madeline coughed away the catch in her throat and tried to adjust her attitude.

“I just sent you the link,” Mike said. “See if you can get your grumpy boss to check it out too,” he added, his tone petulant. Madeline let out a wheezy snort and looked over Lauren’s shoulder as her assistant pulled up the site.

“M.D. Private Investigators,” Lauren intoned, her voice filled with pride and delight. “I still think we should have your photo on here too,” she said, looking up at Madeline, who was watching as Lauren navigated the website.

“No thanks. One of us has to maintain a low profile,” Madeline replied, as she picked up her ringing cell phone.

“Let it go to voicemail,” Mike said as he joined the huddle. Madeline checked the caller ID and groaned.

“I have to take this,” she said, bracing herself for another conversation with Cherie Alexander. “Hi Cherie. What’s up?” Madeline walked into her private office, taking a large sip of coffee to
fortify herself.

“It’s almost over,” Lauren said to Mike, as the latter watched with consternation as his partner disappeared
from view.

“Can’t be soon enough to
suit me.”

“I know, but at least we’re making a killing on this one,” Lauren said, hand automatically reaching for the phone on the first ring. “It’s coming in on line three,” she said, looking up at Mike in astonishment. “M. D. Private Investigators,” she said in her most professional voice while she questioned Mike with her eyes. Mike nodded and went back to his office to take
the call.

“Mike Delaney speaking. How may help you?” Lauren eavesdropped on Mike’s end of the conversation, dying to know if they had their first
official case.

“What are we still waiting on for the Alexander party?” Madeline barked from
her office.

“I emailed you an update this morning,” Lauren hollered back. Mike got up from his chair and closed the door between the two offices.

“I can’t find it,” Madeline said, her patience thinning.

“I’ll resend it.” Lauren heard Madeline murmuring softly into her phone, a tone she reserved for her most high-maintenance clients. Seconds later, Madeline was peering over her
shoulder again.

“I will be so glad when this is over,” she said, rounding the desk and dropping into the chair across from
her assistant.

“I resent
the email—”

“Just tell me what we’re still waiting on,” Madeline said wearily, massaging her neck, trying to ward off
a headache.

“The chairs, sofas and tablecloths arrived since you were last there, so somebody will have to inspect those. I spoke to the upholsterer and he said the cushions for the amphitheater will be delivered by noon. So, all that is falling into place. The only other things that haven’t been checked off yet are the flowers, which won’t arrive at the house until Friday morning, and the food. But you’re on top of both those things and they’re in
capable hands.”

“You’re sure that’s it? There’s not something huge we’re overlooking?”

Lauren regarded her dubiously. “Like what? We are so far ahead on this one,” she said, flipping through the corkboards until she found the event in question. It was neatly covered in notes and photos of every facet of the upcoming event, an over-the-top 40th birthday party for the wife of a prominent film director.

“See, the only things that don’t have the final check marks on them are those I just mentioned—and the stage, but you said that would be finished
by tomorrow.”

“It damn well better be. I guess that’s what’s got me the most stressed out. What about the
swag bags?”

“Alice confirmed they were dropped off at the house yesterday at 5:30.”

“And the ID bracelets from Tiffany’s?”

“They were delivered an hour ago. I’ve got the bags right here,” Lauren said, lifting up two oversize turquoise bags
as proof.

“Are you sure they got the
order right?”

“Yep. They’re all here. I checked each name against the guest list. Want me to run them over to Cherie’s?” Lauren
asked hopefully.

“No, I have to go over there anyway. She’s in one of her moods. Apparently, she’s having second thoughts about her wardrobe. She and her third stylist have been on Hot Couture all morning.”

Lauren smirked sympathetically. “Tell her I’ll gladly take the rejects off her hands,” she joked, getting half a smile out of
her boss.

“Okay, so that gives me a bunch of stuff to check on,” Madeline said, hoisting herself out of the chair.

“Don’t let that woman drive you crazy,”
Lauren said.

“Easier said than done. She’s not happy unless everyone around her is in
a panic.”

“Well, we just got our first case,” Mike said, clasping his hands together as he sauntered back into the event planning side of
the office.

“How’d that happen?” Madeline asked, clearly stunned by
the news.

“What is it?” Lauren asked, face lit up
with anticipation.

“It’s just a service of process,” Mike said, watching Madeline’s
expression carefully.

“Did he find us online?”
Lauren asked.

“Yep. Landlord with a delinquent tenant. Not the sexiest assignment in the world, but it might turn into a skip trace, which wouldn’t be so bad.” Madeline slid past him and went into her office. For reasons she couldn’t explain, his gloating was grating on her nerves. She blocked out the details as she collected
her things.

“Hey, where are you going?” Mike asked, miffed at his partner’s lack
of enthusiasm.

“To little Hollywood, where else?” Madeline replied as she slipped on her sunglasses and picked up the
Tiffany bags.

“Want to go out and celebrate tonight?” Mike whispered
to Madeline.

“We have class tonight,” she reminded him. It was not the answer Mike was
looking for.

“We could skip it this once.” Madeline shot that down with a shake of
her head.

“I need it. I’ve got a lot of pent-up frustrations to take out on somebody,” she said, moving toward
the door.

“Wait!” Lauren called out. “Might as well take the place cards with you,” she said, handing Madeline a cardboard box that had been delivered by the engravers.

“Oh, thanks,” she said, shifting her load so she could peer at the contents. “Twenty-four karat gold leaf,” she said for Mike’s benefit as he leaned over to have a look. He shook his
head disdainfully.

“Someone is in for a big letdown,” he said as Madeline exited the office. It troubled him that he didn’t know which woman was going to take it the hardest: the birthday girl or Madeline. Something told him they were both in for an
emotional hangover.

BOOK: Cynthia Hamilton - Madeline Dawkins 02 - A High Price to Pay
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