Read The Riesling Retribution Online

Authors: Ellen Crosby

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The Riesling Retribution (7 page)

BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
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“Thanks, but I’m not going home yet,” I said. “B.J. and some guy who’s the Union commander want to see the site. They’re worried about the reenactment. The Union guy heard about the body and he’s really anxious. B.J. needs to calm him down.”

“You don’t think they’ll cancel, do you?”

“Nope. They just want to know if they need to adjust their plans.”

“Want me to come along?”

“I can handle it, but thanks anyway. Go home and get some rest. You sound beat.”

“Yeah, guess I am.” He paused. “All right. Wait a minute. Tyler wants to know if he can come, too. He wants to meet the Union guy.”

B.J. once explained to me the three main reasons people got involved in Civil War reenacting. Either they were so fascinated by a period in history they wanted to experience it as fully as possible, something akin to time traveling, or they were like boys with toys—men who liked shooting guns and playacting war. The third reason fell somewhere between the first two and had to do with teaching the next generation about a time in our history when America had gone to war with itself. It also was a way of honoring those who had given their lives for what they believed was a worthy cause. Tyler got involved for reasons one and two. He became interested in the Ball’s Bluff reenactment soon after he started working at the vineyard and signed up with B.J’s home unit, Company G of the 8th Virginia Infantry.

“If you don’t need Tyler—” I began.

“Oh, believe me,” Quinn said, “he’s done here.”

I decided not to pursue that. “Tell him to meet me in the parking lot in fifteen minutes. I’m on my way to the equipment barn to get one of the Mules.”

“I think Chance is over there,” he said, “fixing a broken weed whacker. Do me a favor and tell him he needs to start answering his phone. I’ve been trying to reach him for the last hour.”

“Maybe he doesn’t get service there.”

Quinn snorted. “We’re missing the
and I want to do the
tomorrow on the Cab and Merlot. Tyler says he has no clue what happened to it. Maybe Chance stashed it somewhere.”

was a stirring paddle used to move around the lees, or sediment, in wine barrels and looked like a long metal pole with a small propeller attached at the bottom. Once it was lowered inside the barrel it whirred away, stirring up everything much like shaking a carton of pulpy orange juice after it sat in the refrigerator for a while. Quinn believed in frequent
or barrel stirrings,
for both reds and whites. He said it yielded better results, softening the red tannins, deepening the aromas and flavors, and making a creamier, smoother wine.

A broken weed whacker and a missing
Was Quinn right that we had more than our usual share of bad luck and trouble?

“I’ll speak to Chance.” I sighed. “How could something as big as the
go missing?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.” His words were clipped. It sounded like he blamed Chance again.

“Okay,” I said, but he’d already disconnected.

The simmering headache behind my eyes began to throb. When I got nearer to the equipment barn, the thudding bass from a boom box turned up loud enough to make the ground pulse beneath my feet mirrored the pounding in my head. Chance didn’t notice me until I tapped his arm. Bruja, improbably, was sound asleep but her front paws covered her ears.

“Can you turn that down?” I mouthed at him.

He went over and hit the power switch. The silence seemed to fill the space between us and Bruja raised her head, her tail thumping.

“Now I know why you didn’t answer Quinn’s phone calls. Next time, at least set your phone to vibrate.”

He smiled his mesmerizing smile and pulled the phone out of his pocket. “Battery’s run down. I forgot to recharge it last night. What does Quinn want?”

His eyes held mine, friendly, questioning, with a hint of suggestiveness in them. I needed to get the conversation directed back to business.

s missing. He’s wondering if you know where it is.”

I pawed through the key cabinet until I found the key to the red Mule. It wasn’t on the hook where it belonged. Nor were most of the other keys. I began moving them to the correct hooks.

“That barrel stirrer? Sorry, no idea,” he said. “I haven’t seen it for a couple of days.”

“What’s wrong with the weed whacker? Whoever is using these keys needs to put them back properly. You can’t find anything here. It’s a mess.”

“I’ll talk to the guys. And the weed whacker needs a new string. I’m replacing it.”

I finished sorting the keys. “You’d better see Quinn before you leave tonight.”

“I’d just as soon avoid him when he gets like this.”

“Like what?”

He was still smiling, but now his face showed genuine puzzlement. “Come on, Lucie. Don’t tell me you don’t know. I figured you’ve just been turning a blind eye to it all this time.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The way he treats the crew. Me. How do you work with someone who’s so…” He shrugged.

“So what?”

He stared at his feet for a while, then looked up. “Abusive. That’s the only word I can think of to call it.”

It stung like a slap. Quinn could be abrasive, even irritable and ornery. But I would never characterize him as abusive. That implied cruelty.

“Quinn’s a good winemaker,” I said. “Sometimes he can be curt and maybe he’s short-tempered when the pressure’s on during harvest. But he’s harder on himself than he is on anyone else.”

Chance shook his head like I didn’t get it.

“Sorry. Not true. He’s really tough with the crew when you’re not around. You don’t see or know everything that happens.”

I ran my finger over the notched edge of the ignition key.

“I’m not blind to his faults. But in the two years he’s worked for me, I’ve never had a single complaint.”

“You really want to take his side over something like this? Come on, Lucie.”

He sounded almost jocular, as though he were trying to cajole me into something as innocuous as joining him for a drink, instead of indicting Quinn for violent behavior toward the men.

“I just can’t believe—”

“The guys won’t speak up about it, either. They’re scared of him.”

My phone rang and “Hunt & Sons Funeral Home” flashed on the display. “Hang on, I’ve got to take this.”

I opened my phone. “Hey, B.J. Yes, I’m on my way. Is Ray Vitale with you? He is? Give me two minutes…Right…’Bye.”

I closed the phone and said to Chance, “Look, this is a pretty serious accusation. I’ve got to go, but we need to finish this conversation another time.”

He stood there, holding the new line for the weed whacker, a flat, unreadable expression in his eyes. Disappointment in me? Disgust?

Actually, it seemed like something else.

“Sure,” he said. “We’ll talk whenever you want.”

“Chance,” I pleaded with him. “I’m sorry but B.J. wants to calm down the guy in charge of the Union reenactors because he’s all freaked out about that grave. I need to take them out to the site.”

“You’re the boss.” He picked up a rag and wiped grease off his hands.

“You want me to tell Quinn you don’t know where the

“That’s okay. I’ll talk to him. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

“Don’t worry. He won’t bite your head off.”

“Unlike the day laborers, I can handle myself with Quinn.”

He was still wiping his hands with the rag, no longer looking at me. I wanted to say something to end this conversation on a better note, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything.

Instead I turned and left, clenching the key until the hard edges dug into the palm of my hand.

It was true that Quinn had become increasingly exasperated with the inexperienced day laborers who worked for us. Many had never worked in agriculture before and often didn’t seem to know what they were doing out in the field when it came to some of the tedious but necessary chores like leaf pulling or dropping fruit. Had the never-ending series of accidents and mistakes along with an erratic and inept crew caused Quinn to cross the line into abuse as Chance suggested?

If the men were too terrified to complain, Chance had just put another problem on my overfull plate, in addition to the tornado damage and Bobby’s investigation. Right now, this one crowded out the others.

Sooner or later, I would have to confront Quinn. I got in the Mule and drove over to the parking lot. It was a conversation I dreaded.


Tyler, B.J., and a third man, who had to be Ray Vitale, made an incongruous-looking trio waiting for me in the parking lot. B.J. and Vitale looked as though they were posing for a daguerreotype, each with one arm across his breast and a soldier’s erect bearing. Both had longish hair—B.J.’s was the color of snow, Vitale’s chestnut brown—along with beards and muttonchop sideburns. Put them in their uniforms and you’d swear you were looking at Lee and Grant in the flesh, with their somber bearing and unsmiling faces.

Tyler, by contrast, towered over the older men at six foot four, still possessing the gangly awkwardness of a kid newly adjusting to his height and long limbs. Unlike the others, he smiled and waved, his cherubic red-blond curls blowing in the light breeze as he pushed wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose with an index finger. His pale skin, which refused to tan, had turned strawberry colored from so much time working with the vines.

I pulled up and idled the engine. Tyler waited for Vitale to climb into the backseat before hopping in behind him with a well-worn copy of Marcus Aurelius’s
B.J. got in front and introduced Vitale to me.

I reached over the seat and held out my hand. Vitale pumped it once and released it. “How do you do, ma’am?”

His voice was high-pitched and querulous. He gave me a cursory glance before settling back in his seat and focusing his attention on the
scenery, ignoring me as though I were no longer of any consequence.

I turned back to B.J. sitting next to me. He wore an I-told-you-he’s-eccentric expression and waggled his eyebrows, so I had to stifle a laugh.

On the drive out to the field, B.J. kept up a one-sided explanation of the vineyard for Vitale’s benefit, talking about how successful we were as a small family business now run by the next generation. To hear B.J. tell it, I was on a par with the top women in the California wine dynasties. But by the time we reached the reenactment campsite, Ray Vitale’s monosyllabic comments had deflated BJ.’s well-intentioned patter and we all fell silent.

I reached for my cane as the others climbed out of the Mule.

“I don’t imbibe spirits, myself,” Vitale said in that reedy voice as I stepped down. “You know what the Bible says. ‘For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty.’ I’m glad to see that this site is well removed from your vineyard, Miss Montgomery. It’s not good to have temptation too near our young people. We do not allow any alcohol on the campground premises during the reenactment, you understand. I presume you will not be serving anything to those who come to watch, nor encouraging folks to visit your winery. We cannot have drunkenness marring these events.”

His prissy choice of words was right out of another century, uncharitable and stinging. I was about to make a sharp retort when B.J. intervened.

“What Ray means,” he said, in the soothing voice he used to comfort the bereaved, “is that it’s just common sense not to allow anyone to bring alcohol to the camp around guns and bayonets and the like.”

“I certainly appreciate that,” I said. “But I’d just like to say, Mr. Vitale, that there’s a difference between drinking and drunkenness. As we all know, Jesus turned water into wine and even imbibed himself, since you bring up the Bible. I’m sure the adults who attend the reenactment can make their own decisions about whether they’d like to visit my vineyard or not.”

B.J. placed a hand on my shoulder. “How about if Ray and I take a little walk so I can show him the campsite?” Under his breath he said in my ear, “Let me handle this.”

He caught up with Vitale, who was striding over to take a look at the tornado damage. B.J. pulled a couple of cigars out of his breast pocket and offered one to Ray Vitale. They bent their heads and went through the ritual of slowly rotating the match flame until the tips glowed like early evening fireflies.

Tyler showed up at my elbow as I watched the silhouettes of the two men, backlit by the setting sun, talking through a haze of smoke.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“Checking out that grave.”

“You didn’t go inside the crime scene tape, did you?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t touch anything.”

“Tyler! What were you thinking? It’s not there for decoration. Bobby Noland will give me hell if he finds out you were there.”

“Don’t tell him.”

“You mean lie if he asks?” I shook my head. “Just stay away from it, okay? I don’t want to catch you there again.”

“All right. Sorry.” He bowed his head, repentant. After a moment he said, “I guess you told that Vitale guy, huh, Lucie.”

“Trying to sweet talk me now, are you?” I said, as he reddened. “I didn’t tell him anything. You can’t persuade people who stand on the moral authority of the Bible to change their mind. They’re too self-righteous.”

Tyler waved his book. “Read this and people like him won’t bug you so much.”

“He doesn’t bug me.”

He looked at me over the top of his glasses.

“Okay,” I said. “A little.”

“Then stop letting him. Deny your emotions and you can free yourself from the pain and pleasure of the material world.”

“Where’d you get that? You sound like a television evangelist.”

“It’s Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. They were into all kinds of denial not to feel things.”

“Sorry, a painless world would be nice, but not one without pleasure. Besides, what’s the point of living if you don’t feel anything?”

Tyler tapped the book’s cover with its hollow-eyed bust of the philosopher set against a stark black background. “Vitale got under your skin not because of what he did, but because of how you
reacted to him. Same with you getting mad at me just now. What I did was no big deal.”

“I don’t agree it was no big deal, but what’s your point?”

“Aw, come on. I’m just a harmless kid.” Tyler grinned a rogue’s grin and indicated the crime scene tape. “I’ve heard things, Lucie. I know it’s none of my business but you need to stop letting everything that’s going on get to you. Don’t worry about what other people say. It doesn’t matter.”

I wanted to ask him what other people were saying, but perhaps it was better that I didn’t know. Instead I said, “Maybe I’ll have to borrow that book.”

He pushed his glasses up his nose. “Anytime. Too bad I can’t talk Quinn into reading it. He’s the one who could really use it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means Quinn isn’t someone who stifles his emotions. Especially when he’s mad.”

“Quinn’s got a lot on his mind right now.” I studied Tyler. “Are you trying to tell me things aren’t good between the two of you?”

He shrugged. “I guess they’re okay.”

“You guess they’re okay?”

Tyler bent his book back and forth into a U-shape. “He got mad at me when we were topping off the barrels and I overfilled one of them.”

“How mad?”

“He yelled a lot. Plus he thinks Chance or I lost that stirring paddle. The

Was it my imagination or did Tyler seem uneasy discussing Quinn? Funny thing was, I would have pegged Quinn as a Stoic like Marcus Aurelius, someone good at keeping his emotions bottled up. What had changed? Was he losing his temper at Tyler and the other men because those pent-up feelings finally were boiling over?

“Hey, Lucie.” Tyler kept his voice low. “Here come B.J. and Vitale.”

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble working around that tornado damage, Lucie,” B.J. was saying. “We’ll have to move some of the campgrounds into the woods, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Depends, of course, on how many people show up.”

“How many do you expect?” I asked.

Vitale puffed on his cigar. “We cut registration off last weekend. Four hundred total.” He gave me a stern look. “How much longer will that area be a crime scene?”

“I’m sure the tape will be down by next week,” I said. “The remains that were found there were removed today.”

I saw one of B.J.’s eyebrows go up, but all he said was, “Why don’t we head over to the battlefield? I’d like Ray to see it before it gets too dark.”

“It’ll be faster if I drive you,” I said.

“No one’s going to drive us on the day. I’d like to get an idea of the terrain,” Vitale said. “We’ll walk.”

“Be my guest,” I said, and caught Tyler’s eye. “Whatever suits you.”

Vitale exhaled a cloud of smoke and Tyler coughed.

“Confederate bug spray,” Vitale said. “Better get used to it, son. The whole camp’ll be smoking cigars all weekend to keep down the mosquitoes.”

“Except the ladies,” B.J. said. “They use lavender.”

“Lavender doesn’t work for beans,” Vitale said.

By the time they climbed into the Mule fifteen minutes later, I had to turn the headlights on. All that was left of the sun was a bright line of light illuminating the undulating curves of the Blue Ridge. A few stars glittered in the blue-black sky, but everything else—bushes, trees, rocks—was now absorbed into the velvety dusk of a warm summer evening. A few tree frogs sang, accompanied by the usual serenade of the cicadas.

“Pity we’re not really going to take full advantage of that creek,” Vitale said from the backseat as I drove down the south service road. “I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a farby event, B.J. If we were doing it hard-core, you can bet a lot of soldiers would get wet.”

“What’s farby?” I asked.

B.J. swallowed and I could see his Adam’s apple bob. “It’s reenactor jargon. Stands for “far be it from me,” and it refers to reenactors who do or wear something that isn’t correct or isn’t period. “Far be it from me to criticize that inauthentic whatever—jacket, trousers, shoes, even eyeglasses—since they didn’t wear that in the early 1860s.’”

“It’s amateur.” Vitale’s voice rose like it was a punishable crime. “I personally don’t participate in farby events.”

“This one’s going to be unique, Ray, and you know it,” B.J. said over his shoulder. “It’s never been done as a water-based reenactment around here before. We’ll attract hundreds of spectators.”

“What are you going to do about the creek?” I asked. “Are you going to have Union soldiers swimming downstream after the battle?”

“Too dangerous, plus it’s hell on everyone’s uniform and equipment,” B.J. said. “Though we will be demonstrating the Union panic as their soldiers retreated down the bluffs to the river.”

“And we will be using boats,” Vitale said. “Three canoes.”

“Why only three?” I asked.

“That, Miss Montgomery, is historically accurate,” Vitale said. “Two eight-man wooden skiffs and a sixteen-man metal lifeboat.”

“That’s why so many died or drowned,” B.J. said. “It’s why the Union lost Ball’s Bluff. Not enough boats.”

My headlights caught Ray Vitale’s car in their wash as I turned into the winery parking lot, illuminating a pair of bumper stickers: “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers” and “Gun control is using two hands.”

No mistaking the man’s politics.

After everyone climbed out of the Mule, Ray Vitale shook hands with B.J. and Tyler, then bowed to me.

“I’ll be back in a week to finalize those battle plans, B.J.,” he said.

“That’d be fine.”

Vitale saluted B.J. “The Union forever.”

“The South shall rise again.”

“They don’t call it the “Lost Cause’ for nothing. Be seeing you.”

After he drove off, I said, “Do you always say things like that to each other?”

“Aw, there’s plenty of back-and-forth that goes on. Besides, the Union guys are jealous of us.”


He looked surprised at the question. “Because everyone wants to be a Confederate, that’s why. We’re gentlemen. The whole ‘romance
of the South’ thing. Who wants to play the role of a Yankee? That’s why there’s always more of us at these events.”


B.J. nodded. “Thanks for being a good sport. I know Ray’s a little tough to take.”

“Far be it from me to criticize.”

B.J. grinned and then turned solemn. “When we were out there talking alone, he told me a few things. Both his wife and daughter were alcoholics. Wife died awhile back and he doesn’t know where his daughter is.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I had no idea.”

“Then a couple of years ago he nearly lost his business and almost had to declare bankruptcy. Says he trusted someone he shouldn’t have. He’s still dealing with it.” He shook his head. “That’s why he probably seemed bitter.”

“At least now I know why.”

B.J. pulled his key ring out of his pocket. It looked like he had enough keys on it to open every store in a major shopping mall. “Need a ride home, Tyler?”

“I’ve got my car. Thanks, anyway.”

“I guess I’ll get going, then. Emma will have dinner waiting. I’ll be in touch to go over the logistics, once we sort out the tactical matters,” he said. “I almost forgot. The Virginia Fiddlers are coming.”

“The who?”

“You don’t know the Fiddlers?” He searched the ring and plucked out what was presumably his car key. “Lordy, child. They’re probably the best Civil War camp string band around. Made a couple of CDs. Been in a movie or two. They’re famous. They’ll be a huge draw for the spectators, plus they’ll be playing for the camp dance Saturday night.”

BOOK: The Riesling Retribution
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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