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Authors: Jessica Fletcher

Blood on the Vine

BOOK: Blood on the Vine
Table of Contents
In the hot seat
The temperature of the mud bath continued to rise, and I realized it was reaching a dangerous point. My flesh was on fire, and my head pounded.
“Could you make the mud cooler?” I asked.
“That’s not possible,” she said. Her bitter, angry expression said she had no intention of doing that, and it occurred to me that she was the one who had turned up the temperature.
“I have to get out now,” I said, attempting to sit up, but the mud blanket was too heavy. Mary Jane placed her hands—strong hands—through the mud on my shoulders, holding me down. “Let me up!” I snapped. “I’ve had enough.”
“What do you know about Louis’s death?” she hissed, continuing the pressure on my shoulders.
“Nothing, just that he was murdered.” I now yelled, “Let me out, damn it!”
If she pushed down any more, I would drown in the boiling mud, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it....
Other Murder, She Wrote mysteries
Trick or Treachery
Gin & Daggers
Knock ’Em Dead
Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch
A Little Yuletide Murder
Murder in Moscow
Murder on the QE2
The Highland Fling Murders
A Palette for Murder
A Deadly Judgment
Martinis & Mayhem
Brandy & Bullets
Rum & Razors
Manhattans & Murder
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, April 2001
Copyright © 2001 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Murder, She Wrote is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
eISBN : 978-1-440-67348-1
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For David B. Agus, M.D.,
who gives medicine a good name.
Chapter One
“... and this Ladington Creek has always been one of my favorite cabernet sauvignons. I’m sure you’ll agree that its sweet jammy nose, its big, rich, black-cherry aroma and lingering presence on the palate are extraordinary.”
I glanced at Seth Hazlitt, who sat next to me in the single-session wine-appreciation course being taught by John St. Clair, a professor of business law at Cabot Cove Community College. John taught business to earn a living. His passion in life, however, was wine, and he’d been acknowledged for years as our town’s most erudite connoisseur. A small man fond of tweed jackets and floppy bow ties, whose tortoise-rimmed glasses were round and oversized, he had an enthusiasm for the subject that was contagious. He’d started conducting the course ten years ago, and it was always fully subscribed, as it was this particular early October night.
“It is good,” Seth said, savoring the wine’s flavor.
John, who tended to be dramatic when discussing wine, threw up his hands.
he mimicked. “Seth, it is heavenly, a gift of the gods, a supreme affirmation of nature.” He looked to me. “Don’t you agree, Jessica?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, suppressing a smile. “Definitely a gift of the gods. But will it help me get over this cold I’ve been fighting for weeks?”
“Absolutely,” John said. “Better than any antibiotic.”
“The Ladington of Ladington Creek vineyards,” I said. “Is he still alive?”
“Very much so,” said John. “Men like William Ladington never seem to die, and I hope he lives forever, as long as he turns out cabernets like this one.”
The William Ladington we were discussing had been a larger than life character in years past. He’d made his fortune in Boston real estate, then gone to Hollywood where he bankrolled—which meant he produced—a succession of movies, the early ones receiving good reviews, later efforts pretty thoroughly trashed by the critics. Then he packed up and headed north, to California’s vaunted wine country in the Napa Valley, where he bought a vineyard and started turning out Ladington Creek wines. Unlike his Hollywood experience, his early efforts weren’t well received by those with the power to judge the relative worth of the product. But he continued refining his approach to turning grapes into wine and eventually produced vintages that met the approval of the leading critics, including Robert Parker, who never failed to praise Ladington Creek’s output.
But it was Ladington’s personal life that delighted the gossip columnists. He was known as a hard drinker and had been arrested for drunken driving on more than one occasion. He ran with Hollywood’s macho crowd; he had his own “Rat Pack,” it was said, all of them carousers and womanizers. Adding to his controversial image was an incident early in his career in which he was charged with the rape, and death, of a Hollywood starlet, a more contemporary replay of the Fatty Arbuckle case. Charges against Ladington were dropped for lack of evidence, but that dark shadow became a permanent part of his legacy.
Unlike some men on the Hollywood fast track, Ladington seemed to have a need to be married. The last thing I read, which was a few years ago, he’d taken his sixth bride, a failed Hollywood actress one-third his age.
“How old do you figure he is?” I asked.
“Got to be eighty,” Seth said.
“Like fine wine, he improves with age,” John added. He ended the evening by handing out a list of his current favorite wines, and urging us to upgrade our taste when purchasing. “A fine wine is priceless,” he said as we filed from the room. Then he added a favorite quote of his from the Bible: “ ‘Like the best wine that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak.’ ”
Seth had driven me to the course, so he took me home.
“It’s still early,” I said. “Would you like a nightcap? Tea?” “Ayuh,” he said. “Cup of tea sounds fine.
“Glad you went tonight?” he asked after we’d settled in my living room to wait for the water to boil.
“Yes. One night won’t make me a wine expert, but at least I have a heightened appreciation for the subject. I thought it made sense to attend John’s course before I leave for California.”
“Lot of damn nonsense.”
“What is?”
“John’s fancy descriptions of the way the wine tasted. ‘Sweet jammy nose,’ indeed. Tasted like any other wine to me.”
I laughed. “Not according to John, and I must say he is inspirational. I never think much about the wine I buy, but I probably should. As he said, we should upgrade our taste.”
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