I was thinking I should follow Brenneke’s advice and let the cops deal with it. I left the newsletters on the table, pulled James Crumley’s
The Wrong Case
from the shelf above my bed, lay down, and read a few pages, but I was restless and couldn’t concentrate.
I returned to the front of the trailer, sat down again, and leafed through Feldman’s newsletters. Janie was right: The whole project was patterned after the
, right down to the regional headings, the breakdown by varietal and vineyard, the scoring system, even the buff-colored stock. Wilson had written Feldman’s name, elaborately, at the bottom of his calendar. But Janie thought that they weren’t talking to each other. Their falling-out had to have been bitter, yet Feldman had left a message at Wilson’s apartment. There was a phone number on the back page of his newsletter with
the subscription information. I figured I might as well try Feldman myself to hear his version of the story. There’s always a story.
A machine picked up. “
You have reached the office of
American Wine Review
. We regret that we are not able to answer your call. Mr. Feldman is currently traveling in Europe in order to bring you the most up-to-date information on the coming vintage. Please leave your name and telephone number after the beep, and we will return your call at the earliest possible time. For subscription information, press 1 or visit our website. Thank you for your interest
Europe, huh? How convenient.
I walked back to the trailer and prepared a simple omelet to cheer myself up, brewed a second pot of espresso, and let Yo-Yo Ma soothe my soul. As I carried the pan to the picnic table, my cell trilled its idiotic ditty. I set my breakfast on a plank, pointed my finger at Meow, who had followed me outside, to warn him off, and trotted back to the trailer. My phone informed me that it was the St. Helena Police Department.
“Tell me you’ve got a break in the case,” I said.
But it wasn’t Brenneke. It was Jensen.
“The only thing I want to break is your balls, but Ciofreddi’s going to do that for me. He wants your ass in his office at ten o’clock. Sheriff’s department in Napa. Have fun.”
He slammed the phone down. I wandered back to my breakfast. The Chairman had polished off a corner of the omelet and was stretching and purring in satisfaction.
“Damn it!” I said. “I told you not to touch that!” He bent to lick his paw, the feline equivalent of giving me the finger. It even looked like he was giving me the finger.
I decided it was just late enough to try Meyer. Unlike me, he was probably ensconced in his room, enjoying an elaborate room-service breakfast.
“Jordan Meyer.” His enunciation was clipped.
“Mr. Meyer, my name is Babe Stern. We met years ago. In Seattle.”
“Yes, Babe.” I knew the name would get him even if he couldn’t put a face to it.
“I’m investigating the disappearance and murder of Richard Wilson
on behalf of his sister.” I heard him suck air. “I’m living in Napa these days. Is there any chance we might get together? Have dinner or a glass of wine? I’d be happy to come to the city.”
“Actually, I’m doing a piece on the new crop of French bistros. I have a reservation this evening at Bouchon. I’d be delighted to have company. It gets so lonely dining alone.”
I’m sure it does
, I thought.
“That’ll be fine,” I said.
“I’ll call Tom. My reservation’s at six thirty. I apologize for the early hour, but I need to get back to the city.”
“No problem,” I said.
, then,” Meyer crooned.
All I could hope was that he’d live up to his reputation as a world-class gossip and that the dinner would be quick, as he’d indicated.
In the empty
and echoing foyer of the Napa sheriff’s department, an unprepossessing old coot with a jaundiced complexion, strands of greasy hair combed over a sweaty forehead, leaned into the reception window and froze me between his one good eye and the other, which wandered to three o’clock.
“Yeah? Can I help you?” he said.
“I’m here to see Lieutenant Ciofreddi.”
“You have an appointment?” He exhibited all the charm and hospitable bonhomie of a civil servant confronted by one of his employers, otherwise known as a member of the taxpaying public.
“As a matter of fact, I do. At the lieutenant’s invitation.”
“Wait here,” he said.
Where did he think I was going? Down to the Napa River to do a little fly-fishing? He disappeared into the back and emerged a few moments later.
“Okay,” he conceded. “Go around to the side.” He met me at the door and led me through the office, handing me off to a lovely young woman whose tall and slender frame was accentuated by a pink oxford shirt and black slacks. Short brown hair framed a pretty and intelligent face. She smiled as she extended a delicate hand.
“Hi, I’m Joan, Charlie’s secretary. Come on back.”
Open file cabinets, their shelves crammed with color-coded folders, banked the walls. We passed into another set of offices, and she directed me to the waiting area.
“He’ll be with you in a minute.”
A pair of inspirational posters extolling the virtues of teamwork and momentum adorned the walls. MOMENTUM read IT IS OF NO IMPORTANCE WHERE WE STAND BUT IN WHAT DIRECTION WE ARE MOVING. Good advice, since, as far as I could tell, I was currently nowhere. Maybe I should hit the road, I thought, follow Eric Feldman to Europe. I certainly wasn’t getting very far on my home turf.
I sat down to flip through a magazine but was distracted by another poster on the wall, bearing the department’s mission statement in the form of a list: LOYALTY INTEGRITY COMPASSION FAIRNESS LEADERSHIP. I wondered why the Napa boys had never bothered sharing these noble dicta with their brethren in Oakland or on the LAPD. Under INTEGRITY I read WE ARE DEDICATED TO HONESTY AND TRUTHFULNESS IN OUR ACTIONS AND WILL UPHOLD OUR ETHICAL BELIEFS REGARDLESS OF THE CONSEQUENCES. I made a mental note to pass this along to Brenneke, who appeared to have lost his own somewhere between the upper Klamath and Mount Shasta.
My meditation was interrupted by the appearance of Lieutenant Charlie Ciofreddi. He was a big guy, standing six-one and weighing in at two twenty. I was surprised by the tasteful style of his olive green shirt and matching suit but was brought back down to earth by the tie selection. He sized me up, must have seen something he liked, and offered his hand.
In his office, he took off his jacket and casually tossed it over his shoulder holster, which itself had been unceremoniously plunked on a cabinet behind his desk.
“So, you’re a pal of Brenneke’s?”
“You could say that.”
“Thought you’d pay him back, help him out on this one?”
The twinkle in his eyes blended equal parts curiosity and impatience, his nose a giant question mark of skepticism stitching them together. A cop’s cocktail of a face.
“Janie Wilson is my ex-wife. She asked me to poke around after her brother disappeared. I was simply keeping Russ posted on what I dug up.”
Ciofreddi riffled through a stack of papers on his desk and pulled out a sheet.
“In that case, let’s go through it from the beginning. I want to hear all about it—when Wilson appeared at your bar, what he said, how he seemed to you, the whole shot. And please don’t leave anything out,” he added, looking up from the report Brenneke had passed along.
I replayed everything that had transpired from the moment Richard had walked into Pancho’s until I had arrived at Norton the morning they discovered his body. Then I described my returning to the winery and my conversation with the French intern.
“Jean . . . Pie-tot? How do you pronounce his last name?” Ciofreddi asked, pointing to the place on the report.
,” I said, leaning forward to read it.
“And you said he left to visit his sister.”
“That’s what he told Norton. We were all in the tasting room, and he stopped by to say he was leaving.”
“Well, the sister verified his alibi. They live in Healdsburg. Go on.”
I told him about my call to Carla Fehr and her pique over Wilson’s failure to show up for dinner.
“Why did you think they were having an affair?” Ciofreddi asked. “Did Wilson say anything?”
“No. But when I called her, she didn’t realize it was me, at first. She thought it was Richard. It was pretty clear.”
“Why did you suspect it at all? Why’d you call her in the first place?”
“Have you seen her?” I said, smiling.
“I see. And then you went back to Norton?” I nodded. “Why?” he said.
“I still didn’t know where Richard was. I wanted to ask Colin if he knew anything.”
“And he didn’t.”
“No. He said he’d left Wilson at the winery.”
“Isn’t that unusual?” Ciofreddi asked, setting the report down. “Seems pretty strange to me,” he added, narrowing his eyes.
“I thought so, too,” I said. “Norton said he had to leave and asked Wilson to lock up.”
“Odd,” he said, shaking his head.
“I suppose so. But I can tell you, having read the last ten years of Wilson’s newsletters over the past couple of days, that he had a long, and very favorable, history with Norton. My guess is that Norton trusted him with the keys to the castle, so to speak.”
“All right. We’ll let that go, for the moment. Tell me about Teukes. He’s a friend of yours?”
I described my relationship with Biddy, how he’d looked me up when I first arrived at Pancho’s, and that we respected each other’s experience in the industry, as different as they were.
“You ever read Wilson’s reviews of his wines?” Ciofreddi said.
“From what I can tell, Wilson never wrote about Tanner Cellars,” I said.
“I mean, before Teukes went to Tanner.”
He could tell from the look on my face that I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I thought you just said you’d read all of Wilson’s stuff?” he said.
“I’m missing a few issues.”
He fished a manila folder from the stack of papers on his desk, pulled out two issues of
The Wine Maven
, and handed them to me.
I looked at the covers. Both issues were titled “California.” I checked the dates. They were the copies missing from Biddy’s archive.
“Go ahead,” Ciofreddi said. “Where the paper clips are. The relevant passages are highlighted.”
The first, dating back four years, was a review of Tucker Winery. Wilson opened it with an apology for printing it at all but justified its inclusion by describing the expense lavished by Andrew Tucker on the vineyards and winery and the fanfare attending the release of their wines. The descriptions of the wines themselves were some of the most scathing I had ever read, and the scores—in the low to mid-sixties—assured that no one would pay the prices Wilson had printed in parentheses.
I looked up at Ciofreddi.
“Keep going,” he said.
The second issue, published two years later, had a third of a page
devoted to Clos de Carneros: three bottlings of Chardonnay and another three of Pinot Noir. Ciofreddi had highlighted the whole passage in bright orange, and the words—Wilson’s language was, if anything, even more incendiary than his review of Tucker—seemed to burn on the page. This time he mentioned Teukes by name. The scores were in the fifties.
I handed them back to Ciofreddi.
“You ever seen these before?” he asked.
“You say you and Wilson were out of touch for a while?”
“Ten years, probably.”
“Your wife ever tell you about a death threat he received?”
“Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe it. Ciofreddi leaned back in his chair.
“Teukes was the winemaker at both places when they got those reviews. I was a sergeant at the time. We thought it might be him, but we could never prove it.”
I didn’t know what to say. No wonder Teukes had edited the selection of old issues he’d brought over. It explained why he seemed so curious about, even obsessed with, finding out what had happened to Wilson.
“The only person Biddy said might harbor a serious grudge over a review was Michael Matson,” I said.
“Whom you also visited,” Ciofreddi remarked, glancing at the report. “Daniel Hauberg called Jensen this morning and told him that Matson was at his winery the whole day and night. He said he’d testify, if he has to.”
“I guess Biddy was trying to deflect attention from himself. Sent me off on a wild goose chase.”
We were both quiet for a while. I didn’t know what Ciofreddi was thinking, but I was trying to formulate what I was going to say to Biddy the next time I saw him.
“So, who’s your money riding on?” he finally said, looking at me with genuine interest.
“What money?” I said.
He smiled. “It cuts pretty close to home, after all.”
“Well, certainly not Fornes,” I said.
“I honestly don’t know. That’s your job.”
“Good, I’m glad you understand that. So do me a favor: I can’t prevent you from talking to people in your bar, but you’re in over your head. Stay out of this and let us do our work. But pass along anything you think we ought to know about, anything you hear at the bar or from your wife or from your friend Teukes. This is a high-profile case. Way too much publicity. Too many theories and insufficient evidence, at least for the moment. I don’t know, maybe it’s too much evidence. Boot prints, tire tracks, rubber gloves—a winery’s a messy place for a murder. Anyway, we’re close. We haven’t found a print that didn’t belong there. You have to have motive, and you have to have opportunity.”
Ciofreddi stood and handed me his card. “Stay in touch,” he said.
“No problem,” I said, standing, grateful that he hadn’t scolded or ridiculed me.