We’re hoping to get our first Michelin star this year. We were cash flow positive after eighteen months. Our reputation has really grown. People come from Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina.”

“And no coal mines around?”

“This is one of the few counties in West Virginia that has no coal.” She looked around. “What you do have is unspoiled land. Mountains, rivers. I spent a long time looking for just the perfect location and this is it. I did business plans and demographic and marketing studies. I wanted to fill a need. That’s the best way to build something that’s lasting.”

“I didn’t know you were a businesswoman.”

“Probably lots of things about me you don’t know. You want to find out more?”

“Why not?”

They went inside and were shown to a private book-lined room where a table for two had been laid out. Puller knew little about decorating, but he saw that the interiors had been put together with an experienced eye. Everything was good quality, comfortable, nothing overdone. He had been to Italy many times, and this was probably about as close as one could come to it in West Virginia.

The server was dressed in a white jacket and black bow tie and attended to them with quiet professionalism. They scanned their menus, but Puller finally let Jean order for him. The bottle of white came first and two glasses were poured out.

She said, “I know you’re technically on duty, but I’m especially proud of this Italian Chardonnay and I’d like you to try it.”

He took a sip and let it go down slow. “Has significantly more body than one associates with an Italian white.”

She clinked her glass against his. “It’s called Jermann Dreams, 2007. But an Army man who knows his wines. How did that happen?”

“My father took my brother and me overseas a lot when we were younger. Had my first taste of wine in Paris when I was nine.”

“Paris when you were nine,” she said enviously. “I was in my late twenties before I even left the country one time.”

“Some people never get to go.”

“That’s true. Now I go every year, months at a time. I love it. Sometimes I almost don’t come back.”

“So why do you? Come back, I mean?”

She took a sip of wine and dabbed her mouth. “This is my home, I suppose.”

“Any place can be your home.”

“That’s true. But my family is here.”

He looked around. “Is Roger a partner in this?”

“No. This is all mine.”

“Pretty expensive proposition.”

“He didn’t bankroll me, if that’s what you mean. Bank loans and sweat equity.”

“Still, I’m sure being married to him didn’t hurt.”

“It didn’t,” she admitted. “So he’s back in town?”

“I had a cup of coffee with him at the Crib.”

“Why?”

“To talk about those death threats. For the record, I don’t think Randy is behind it this time.”

She put down her wine. “Did Sam tell you about that?”

“Yeah, she did.” He paused. “I guess Roger’s business is doing great.”

“I’m not really involved in it.”

“He relies on Bill Strauss a lot.”

“He’s the COO. That’s his job.”

He hesitated, pondering whether to mention the pipeline. He decided that was too risky. Noting her suspicious look, he said, “I’m asking more questions than you are. Sorry, it’s just how I’m wired.”

“We’ll see what we can do about that later,” she replied.

Their food came and Puller spent a few minutes digging into it. As he swallowed his last bit of fish he said, “I think you’ll get that Michelin star.”

Her face brightened. “I appreciate the confidence.”

“Not easy to carve something like this out of the wilderness.”

She finished the wine in her glass. “Are you plying me with compliments for some particular reason?”

“Just being honest. But you invited me to lunch. You said you had some questions. Why don’t you get started?”

“But you only offered opinions instead of answers.”

“I can’t promise what I can’t deliver.”

“Would you like some coffee? We get our beans from Bolivia. They’ve started to turn out great product. A special blend.”

“I hardly ever turn down coffee.”

“Have you been to Bolivia?”

“No.”

“South America in general?”

“Yes.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“I don’t travel for pleasure. I travel with a gun.”

The order was placed and the coffee arrived promptly. It was served in delicate-looking cups with a flower and vine pattern. Puller knew instinctively that Jean Trent had personally picked them. She just seemed the type to want to control things, no matter how small.

“Good coffee,” he said.

She nodded and said, “Now to my questions. Well, I really only have one. Based on what you’ve found out so far, do you think Roger’s really in danger?”

“I have no way to know if he is or isn’t. I came here to investigate the murders of an Army colonel and his family. I did tell him to take them seriously.”

“Why?”

“Just my gut.”

“I know you thought I was being very cavalier about my husband’s personal safety, but I can assure you that I think about it a lot.”

“But also like you said, he takes precautions.” He finished his coffee and set the cup down. “Do you have any reason to believe that your husband is in danger? Or that he might be connected in some way to the murders that have taken place?”

“Well, one of the victims worked at his company. But I doubt that Roger even knew her. I can’t believe that he has any connection to those people getting killed. I mean, what would be his motive?”

“Don’t know. Is Roger involved in any litigation right now?”

“He’s always involved in litigation. Usually with the EPA or some environmental group. Occasionally with a wrongful death action because of a workplace fatality.”

“So what kind of environmental lawsuits?”

“I don’t know the particulars. Generally speaking, surface mining is pretty bad for the environment. You can’t quote me on that, but it is. People get upset and they sue. If the government thinks Roger hasn’t lived up to his legal obligations or has run afoul of some regulation they come after him. He keeps the lawyers gainfully employed. Why do you ask?”

Puller was thinking of the soil report, but he wasn’t going to tell her that.

She said, “Okay, I lied. I do have another question.”

“Shoot.”

“Why are you really here?”

“I thought that was pretty clear.”

“Dead colonel? Off post? I checked you out. You’re from the 701st. They could have brought in CID from Fort Campbell. The 701st is special. So why you?”

“You know the military well, do you?”

“My father was in the Navy. Lots of men from around here were in the armed forces. And like I said, I checked.”

“Who’d you talk to?”

“I have my contacts. That’s all you need to know. And from what I found out, it seems that sending someone like you out here sends a pretty clear message. This is not just a routine murder.”

“No murder is routine in my book.”

“So you won’t tell me?”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com