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Authors: Peter Lewis

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BOOK: Dead in the Dregs
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He paused. “Her husband said that he failed to arrive for an appointment that they had, but ‘these wine writers, they run from meeting to meeting, tasting to tasting, what can one do? They arrive late, they cancel.’ She is not wrong, you know.” He looked at me pointedly. “You Americans are
fou, non
? You work incessantly. You don’t know how to rest, how to enjoy life. Have dinner, have a glass of wine, relax a little.” It was a lecture, and he glanced at me to see how I was taking it. “Now you are making us in Europe live the same way. It is a slow death,
mon cher.
A slow death from too much speed.” He made a little explosion of air through his lips.
I didn’t mind. I understood his frustration, and, frankly, I agreed with him.
We entered the walls of Beaune and were immediately stuck in traffic.
“Okay,” he said, “You will be better walking. You have your ticket, yes? And your
tastevin
?
Bon.
” He gave me directions to the Hôtel-Dieu and rolled the window down as I got out of the car. “Remember to spit.”
24
An endless sea
of people milled through the streets. As I entered the plaza in front of the magnificent edifice of the Hôtel-Dieu, I confronted an unbelievable scene. It was as if the entire town had shown up for the grand event: old and young, couples and families, mothers and fathers and children—a public infatuated with wine. The mood was festive, the air electric.
There was no way I was going to find Rosen. People were pushing and shoving, trying to make their way through the doors into the tasting. I stepped into the crowd, clutching my ticket and program.
Tables lined the perimeter of the stone-walled, low-ceilinged room, and the crush before the tables was frenzied, people hoisting their
tastevins
and calling out for a sip of wine. I was sandwiched on all sides, pushed to and fro by the mass of humanity. I tried to scan the room for Rosen, but it was hopeless. I spotted Jean Pitot, who averted his eyes when he caught sight of me, and just caught a glimpse of Monique before the crowd blocked my view.
By the time I reached her table, she was gone. André Guignard had taken over. He was laughing, rosy cheeked and jolly, but he dropped the façade when he recognized me. He dutifully poured a dram of raspberry-hued Pinot Noir in my
tastevin
and diverted his attention to the next customer.
I decided to approach Carrière’s table. Lucas Kiers was standing
there next to a short, humorous-looking fellow dressed nattily in an unseasonal seersucker suit and bow tie, his small, birdlike eyes peering out through perfectly round, clear-rimmed glasses.
“Stern!” Kiers greeted me. “Do you know Tad Peck? The most influential barrel broker in Burgundy.”
“I’ve not had the pleasure.”
Peck and I shook hands. Carrière reluctantly poured me a little wine. When I looked up, Jean Pitot had reappeared behind the table.
“My assistant, Jean Pitot,” Carrière said to Peck.
“So, this is the young man I arranged the
stage
for at Norton?” Peck said. “Nice to meet you, finally. Sorry I missed you in Napa. How’d everything work out? I can’t believe you were there when Richard Wilson was murdered. I’d love to hear about it.”
Pitot didn’t respond. Peck hardly seemed to notice and turned to me without losing a beat.
“Who are you with?” he inquired. “Do you purchase barrels from Frossard? I don’t think I’ve ever heard your name.”
“I’m here with Freddy Rosen. I own a bar in Calistoga.”
“He’s being modest,” Kiers said. “Babe was considered one of the finest sommeliers in America before he dropped out. But he’s not here for the Hospices. He’s investigating Wilson’s murder.”
Peck pushed his way forward to get closer to me. I was incensed that Kiers had revealed the purpose of my trip so casually, and I turned my back on both of them.
“I’d love to have a chat,” I said to Jean. “If you can take a break.”
He looked at Carrière, who wasn’t about to agree to anything, least of all a conversation with me. It was obvious that Carrière, not Pitot’s father, had arranged the gig at Norton through Peck.

Pardon
, Monsieur Carrière,” I said, “I just wanted to make sure that everything was fine at your
cave.
I’m sorry for what happened. That was terrible.”
“What happened?” Peck asked, insinuating himself into the conversation.
“We had an accident in the
cave.
Some barrels fell. He was almost injured,” Carrière said, never taking his eyes off mine, his voice all but lost in the din.
Unsure what Carrière had just said, Peck suggested that we have a drink after the tasting. “You’ve got to tell me all about this.” Then he picked up where he’d left off with Kiers.
Carrière leaned across the table. “You should be more careful,” he said.
I could tell from where I was standing that Kiers and Peck, were, in fact, following my exchange with Carrière, who looked as if he wanted to murder me on the spot. I could see him working his clenched jaw. An artery was throbbing on the side of his neck.
“What did you say? The barrels just came loose?” Peck suddenly said, turning to face us. Carrière grunted, then shrugged.
“Were you hurt?” Kiers asked.
“My knee’s a little sore, but nothing serious,” I said. Peck and Kiers resumed their conversation, but I could see Kiers glancing at me out of the corner of his eye.
“You will feel worse if you don’t stop,” Carrière whispered, leaning across the table again.
“Stop what?” I asked.
“You know what I am saying,” he said. He stood up and, putting on a smile, poured an old woman a taste of his wine.
Kiers watched me as I turned to go, and called, “I’ll see you later at the hotel.”
“I moved,” I said. “I’m staying with Freddy Rosen in Saint-Romain,” but I wasn’t sure if he could hear me in the crush of people clamoring for wine.
I wandered aimlessly through the tasting. It was an exercise in futility. No matter how much I might once have enjoyed it, sampling another thirty or forty wines now held no interest. I searched the crowd for the unmistakable figure of Smithson Bayne, but if he and Rosen had made it to the event, they were long gone. Probably on to another appointment. Jean Pitot refused to leave Carrière’s side and seemed to be hiding behind his threatening presence. And Monique hadn’t returned by the time I made my way back to Domaine Beauchamp’s table. There was no reason to stick around.
I caught a taxi back to the house in Saint-Romain. I was exhausted, but it was impossible to sleep. I walked down the street, past an old house framed by walls that lay in ruins, to the
parc
Sackheim had
mentioned. The sun lay obscured by the lacy branches of a willow. Vineyards stretched below me, glazed with ice, the fields silvered by mist. On the drive to Nuits, Sackheim had said that the villagers deconstructed an old Roman town to build their own. As I descended a narrow path through the broken walls, a mourning dove cooed from an elder, “Who, who, who?” and I remembered the owl I’d heard that evening on Howell Mountain. It seemed so long ago now, but I seemed no closer to being able to answer the question.
Off the path I read a sign that had been mounted for tourists, explaining that in ancient times, wolves came down from the hills to hunt men. The villagers had to fight them off, but the wolves always took a few people each winter. The path bottomed out at a well.
LEGEND HAS IT THAT IF YOU THROW A STONE DOWN THE WELL AND WAIT FOR IT TO HIT THE POOLS OF THE UNDERWORLD, YOU’LL HEAR THE VOICES OF THE DEAD, another sign read.
I picked up a pebble and tossed it into the gaping blackness. I put my ear to the lip of rock. The stone seemed to descend forever.
Not a ricochet, not a plop. Either the dead hadn’t yet made it to Hades, or they were tongue-tied.
I walked back to the
gîte.
Rosen and Bayne hadn’t returned. I built a fire, found some pâté in the refrigerator, pulled a hunk from a stale
baguette
, and ate a simple dinner by myself in front of the fireplace.
I felt as though the trip to France had been a great and expensive mistake. I was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe Pitot wasn’t a murderer, just a troubled young man whose family was a disaster. No wonder he’d gone to work somewhere else. Who would have wanted to slave away in that dungeon I’d seen chez Pitot? Feldman might not have been missing at all. He was, as Rosen said, too busy to spend time with the likes of me. He had two dozen growers to see in Burgundy alone, wines to review, and a newsletter to get out. And being in Beaune during the Hospices, he probably had receptions and events he was obligated to attend as well. Just because he’d missed an appointment at Domaine Carrière or hadn’t picked up messages at his hotel didn’t mean he’d disappeared. I didn’t much care for Jacques Goldoni, but that was neither here nor there. He’d have to figure out how to manage without Richard. I gave him a
year, at most. I felt terrible for imposing on Sackheim, who had more important things to do.
I thought I’d call Gio. I needed to hear a tender voice. It was nine o’clock in the morning in Napa, and November.
No problem
, I said to myself, and it wasn’t.
“How are you?” she asked sweetly.
“Fine, I suppose. I had an accident in a cellar, but other than that, it’s been a nonevent. I should probably never have left. It’s a waste of time. I think I’ll call it quits and come home.”
“Babe, there’s something I need to tell you. I almost called you yesterday, but the time difference . . .”
“Is something wrong?” I said.
“No, nothing’s wrong. In fact, it’s great. My father’s opening a new winery with an old friend of his. He wants me to run it, or at least be his representative.”
“That’s fantastic, Gio. Is it anybody I know?”
“You’ve never met him. It’s not here.”
“Where is it? Down south? Paso Robles? Santa Ynez? I’ve always wanted to see it down there.”
“Much farther south.” She paused. “It’s in Chile.”
“Chile?”
“The Colchagua Valley. It’s gorgeous. The operation’s incredible. I don’t think I can afford to pass it up.”
“No, of course not. You should do it,” I said, my heart sinking. “When do you start?”
“That’s the thing. My father wants me to leave right away. He wants me to see the entire growing cycle. I already missed bud-break.” She hesitated. “I’m leaving the day after tomorrow.”
“I don’t think I can get home that fast,” I said, but my attempt at irony fell flat.
“I’m sorry, Babe. I really wanted to see you before I left.”
“When do you think you’ll be back?”
“They usually harvest in March. I should be home by Easter.”
We told each other how much we missed each other. She asked again how it was going, and I repeated that it was going nowhere. Our good-byes were stilted.
Rosen and Bayne got back late. They’d visited a couple more
domaines after zipping through the public tasting and had attended a party that Frossard had thrown at his
tonnellerie.
I asked Rosen why they hadn’t waited for me before going on to the party, but he chided me for taking off without saying anything and didn’t seem to care when I explained I’d searched for them at the tasting. I decided not to make any wisecracks about his having slept with Monique and left the two of them sitting in front of the fireplace, discussing where they were going to go once they left Burgundy.
 
It was barely
light out when the phone exploded through my dreams. I hoped that Rosen would pick it up, but no one answered, and it kept ringing. I pulled myself out of bed and staggered downstairs.

Oui
?” I said, yawning.
“Babe,
c’est toi
?”
“Yes. Colonel?”
“Get up!” Sackheim ordered. “Get dressed! Hurry! Meet me in the little square of Aloxe, just before you get to Le Chemin de Vigne.
Vite
!”
The roads had iced over. I drove slowly, slower than I wanted. The fields looked as if they’d been carved out of crystal, and the sky glowed in the morning light, a dome of polished mother-of-pearl.
Sackheim was waiting impatiently in the car, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, the motor idling.
“What took you so long?” he asked irritably as he turned out of the tiny square.
“I drove as fast as I could. What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer me.
The road ran up through vineyards and paralleled a paved irrigation ditch and past a cistern set into the earth that looked like a subterranean bomb shelter, a series of narrow chimneys giving vent to the gray, fog-laden atmosphere. Low walls, constructed of tightly set, perfectly cut stone, girdled the terraced vineyards.
“His dog found the body. Carrière. He was hunting” was all he finally said. Then, after a moment’s silence: “He called the station on
son portabl
e, and Ponsard called me.”
“Who?” I asked, unsure what had happened, who had found what body.
“Kiers.”
I turned in the seat to stare at him. “What? What are you talking about? Lucas Kiers is dead?”
He looked at me for an instant and kept driving.
The road turned over a culvert and switchbacked past a
cabotte
, a hut built into the slope where workers would huddle for warmth in the old days. The vineyards, stepped into the hillside, curved gracefully, rising progressively to the edge of a forest, all but the tips of its woods sheathed in fog.
“Le Bois de Corton,” Sackheim announced.
The paving ended abruptly, the track continuing on, deeply scarred, its ruts puddled with muddy water. The car bumped and scraped as Sackheim hopelessly swerved to dodge the potholes. He came to a stop as we reached the border of the wood. Two police cars had pulled in at the end of the track, parked beside a dark blue Mercedes-Benz. I did a double take. It looked like the same car that had chased me down the
nationale
after my first visit to Domaine Carrière. Sackheim flung his door open and hurried up the path. The air was fragrant with the perfume of rot.
BOOK: Dead in the Dregs
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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