Page 18 of Already His

“They’re trying to sink my business,” Kelleigh said desperately. “I mean, targeting my ships? Both of my biggest earners? No one’s going to want to go on tours where people have died!”

Privately, Laura had a different view of things. She knew well enough that people would pay good money for so-called ghost tours, seeing the places where people had died grisly deaths. But that wasn’t the point right now. “You believe that someone is killing people in order to victimize…you?”

“Yes!” Kelleigh said. “Look, they’re going to put me out of business. It’s the off season as it is, and now no one’s going to book. We’re going to lose all our profits from the summer!”

“Okay,” Nate said, sitting back in the chair beside her. “Let’s say you are the target. Why would someone want to do that to you? And why would they use such a drastic method?”

“People around here have been against me since I started getting more boats,” Kelleigh said. His eyes were wide and wild. “They want to stop me from being so successful. They don’t see. It was just a bunch of ragtag cowboy operations before my father started taking over. Now it’s all coordinated. It runs smoothly. There are options for the tourists. I’m helping to build up this whole area!”

“If your presence is so beneficial to everyone, then why would they be angry enough with you to want to ruin your business and undo all that good work?” Laura asked. She wasn’t getting it. Unless, of course, they weren’t getting the whole story.

“Well, some people objected to the fact that I started to own more of the businesses around here,” Kelleigh said. “They didn’t like my methods. They wanted to stay independent.”

“What were your methods?” Laura pressed. She had a feeling that they were getting to the meat of the issue now.

Kelleigh looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I had more capital than the others around here, so I was able to set up my business however I wanted,” he said. “If people didn’t want to sell, I didn’t push it. I just moved in a different direction.”

Laura was starting to get it now.

“So, let me put that in other terms and you can tell me if I’m right,” Nate said. “You would offer to buy someone’s business, and if they said no, you would open a competing tour and run it yourself with lower ticket prices and a bigger marketing campaign so that they would go under. And when their business hit rock bottom, you could buy it at a fraction of the price. Am I close?”

Kelleigh shifted in his chair. “It’s not illegal,” he said.

“That doesn’t make it right,” Nate said, his voice halfway to a growl. “People here are pissed off with you for taking their livelihoods. Tell us about Elias Makks.”

Kelleigh cleared his throat slightly. “He was one of my tour operators.”

“We were under the impression that he owned his own boat, but he didn’t, did he? You own it,” Laura said.

“I bought it a couple of years ago,” Kelleigh said. “Makks was a very reasonable man. He made a deal with me. I would own the boat, but he would run the tour. He was in trouble, you see. The boat belonged to his father, and he no longer had enough income coming in to support his family. He could have sold it to me and kept his tour running, bringing in a salary, or he could have sold it for scrap and gone somewhere else to get a desk job. He wasn’t the desk job type.”

“You were able to increase the revenue of the boat tour enough that you could both pay him a living wage and make a profit?” Laura asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“I consolidated two of my tours,” Kelleigh said.

Nate half-laughed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “So, the start of the story is you first tried to run him out of business on purpose so that he wouldn’t be able to support his family. It didn’t just happen on its own.”

“You had another pirate tour,” Laura said, picking up on that detail. “Who was operating it? Another one of your employees on one of your boats?”

“No,” Kelleigh said. “I helped a local man start up his own business with an investment.”

“And what does he do now?” Laura asked.

“He runs pirate tours,” Kelleigh said, having the moral sense to at least look slightly abashed.

“At a good profit?”

Kelleigh brushed a hand down over his tie. “I don’t know. I withdrew my investment a couple of years ago.”

Laura and Nate both chuckled in disbelief. The gall of this man! He had essentially pitted two local businesses against one another, then bought the one that had been around longest and had the most chance of success, dropping the other to focus all of his marketing abilities on the one he owned. Now the person he had talked into launching their own tour was no doubt struggling to stay afloat while he raked in profits from a business that had had nothing wrong with it other than artificially introduced competition.

No wonder he thought there were people who wanted to discredit him as a businessman. Even kill him, maybe. People got desperate when it came to money and livelihoods.

“How about Dina Grey?” Laura asked.

Kelleigh’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “Why do you need to know about her?”

“Who is she to you?”

Tags: Blake Pierce Suspense
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