Doc Osborne relished the final swallow of his fourth cup of coffee before pushing his chair back from the kitchen table. Time to get down to work. He had insisted Lew hurry off to her morning meeting and let him take care of the dishes.
Nothing better than a slow start to a sunny summer day, he thought, especially after sharing a good night’s sleep with the woman who had changed his life. He leaned over to stack the breakfast dishes before standing up coffee cups in one hand and plates in the other with knives and forks on top. He turned back toward the kitchen sink.
Whoa. Startled, Osborne dropped the cups, which shattered across the tile floor. A man, his face framed in the window over the sink, stood staring at Osborne. It took a moment for Osborne to realize he knew the face.
“Chuck?” he asked, his voice hesitant as he wondered how long the man had been there: silent, watching.
Setting the breakfast plates down, Osborne hurried through the mudroom to hold open the back door. Chuck Pelletier was standing among the waist-high forsythia bushes Osborne’s late wife had painstakingly planted along the back of their lake house.
“Chuck? Are you okay? How long have you been standing there? Why didn’t you knock? For heaven’s sake, don’t just stand there—come in. Please.”
Chuck Pelletier was the lead accountant for Northern Forest Resorts (NFR), a real estate development project owned by a hedge fund out of New York City. The project was an ambitious effort to turn ten thousand acres of woods and water into a luxury bird hunting and fly-fishing preserve modeled after New Zealand’s Huka Lodge. Millions of dollars had been poured into purchasing the land, and now the hard work of stabilizing riverbanks and restoring spring creeks along with building lodges, cabins, and service buildings—not to mention a first-class wine cellar—was under way.
But Osborne had gotten to know Chuck through a very different venue, one having nothing to do with water, woods, and certainly not wine. Once a week the two met behind the door with the coffeepot on the glazed glass window: they were members of a private club dedicated to keeping the names of its members secret: Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Thank you,” said Chuck, his voice low and serious as he walked past Osborne into the kitchen, where he sat down at the table, which still held juice glasses. Osborne took a moment to kick shards of the broken coffee cups to one side before taking the chair across the table from his visitor, who was sitting with his back straight, hands resting on his knees as he stared down at the tabletop. Osborne sensed Chuck was bracing himself to speak.
“Hey, bud,” said Osborne, urging in an understanding tone. “What is it? Are you drinking?”
“Do you feel you need a drink?”
Osborne waited, watching. Chuck was casually dressed in crisp khaki fly-fishing pants and a long-sleeved light gray-and-blue-checked shirt. He might have been on his way to a Trout Unlimited meeting.
“Well, what . . . why—”
Chuck raised his head, his eyes meeting Osborne’s as he said in a matter-of-fact voice: “My wife and Gordon Maxwell tried to kill me this morning. I was walking up my driveway after checking for the mail when the two of them in his SUV tried to run me over.”