With two suspects on the list and more to interview, Detective Mickey Holmes is determined to find the killer of wine master Samuel Kingston…
“Can I keep this?” I asked Samuel’s brother, thumbing through it quickly.
“Sure. Be my guest. Any questions, just let me know.” David stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked me in the eye.
“You said the Cork and Bottle wasn’t Samuel’s. Want to fill in the blanks?”
“Teresa’s grandfather owned this vineyard. Teresa was the only surviving child and quite business savvy, so rather than sell it, her father left it to her when he died. Samuel was a vine tender of note. His grapes won awards. Her wedding present to him was this vineyard, with no pre-nuptial agreement. Foolish perhaps, but it’s what she did. A month later, she was little more than a lovely companion for his award banquets and dinner parties.”
I finished my notes and stood. “Where can I find your sommelier?”
He shook his head. “That would be my wife, I’m afraid. And she hasn’t come in yet. I ran the morning tour myself. I called the house and was told she would be here later.”
I got Stella Escondido’s phone number and address and thanked him for his time. I shook my head as I got in the car. All this money and the only thing with class was the grapes. Jeesh.
The five-mile drive to the Escondido farms was beautiful enough, but I had a feeling this case was about to be closed tighter than a ten-year old vat of Cabernet. I pulled up to the massive colonial mansion, parked and got out of the car. I picked up the brass grape cluster and knocked three times. The white plantation-style doors swung open and I was greeted by a young Latino woman who I figured must be the hired help.
“Senor? May I help you, please?”
“I’d like to see Ms. Escondido. Tell her Detective Holmes is here to see her. It’s important.”
I was invited to stand in the grand entry, so I did just that. Another four-thousand square foot mausoleum with more art on the walls than the Met. Wine sure paid well, these days. Of course, we weren’t talking about the wine I bought for the occasional in-home dinner party.
I probably stood there ten minutes. Just as I was about to start hollering at the top of my lungs, Stella Escondido came through the hallway by the winding staircase. Eyes the color of burnished pennies looked at me like I was an insect. I made sure to look her over good, from the top of her head to the toes of her brown suede pumps. Her olive complexion colored just a bit. Another gorgeous redhead. Just great.
“Can I help you, Detective? I was getting ready to go over to the Cork and Bottle. I had such a headache this morning, I couldn’t get going.”
She had a bruise on her cheek, too. Oh, the expensive foundation did a nice job, but I know bruising when I see it. And she knew I saw it. She dropped her gaze and looked at the maid. “Bring coffee, Angelina.”
I noticed a black leather case on the marble side table and recognized it from the wine magazine. The sommelier’s case would contain her tastevin and sommelier knife…
“How’d you get the black eye, Ms. Escondido?”
Her fingers flew to her face and she paled. “I stumbled last night leaving the winery. I can be very clumsy when I am tired and have had too many tours.”
“I see. Pretty nasty bump, for sure. Looks like it hurts.” I looked around. “What time did you leave the winery?”
She shrugged, but I noticed the trembling fingers before she slipped her hands into the slash pockets of her white linen slacks. We were moving toward the parlor to the left of the entryway.
“Around midnight, I think. Samuel and I had some business to discuss after the Romenelli tour left.”
“What sort of business, Ms. Escondido?”
“Private business. Why do you ask?”
I decided to ignore her question. “Can anyone vouch for your whereabouts after midnight last night?” I cleared my throat. “Your husband, perhaps?”
“I have no idea what you’re getting at Detective. And I’m sure you already know that my husband and I are in the process of divorce. We do not spend our evenings together. However, if you’re quite finished, I need to get to the winery. There is no one to do the tours if I don’t get there.”
“Actually, I’m not finished. And your husband did the only tour there is today. The winery is closed, Ms. Escondido. Mrs. Kingston closed it about an hour ago. In honor of her dead husband.”
A gasp escaped the maid who almost dropped the coffee service on the floor. She placed the tray on the coffee table and stepped out of the room. Stella however, remained cool and composed, though her clutched hands were shaking like a drunk with the DT’s.
“Teresa wouldn’t bother closing the winery. Or opening it either, for that matter. She doesn’t care that much about the grapes or Samuel.”
I looked at her a long time. “How do you feel about the winery, Stella? How did you feel about Samuel?”
She shot me a look that would have pinned a lesser man to the wall, but I worked the streets of Brooklyn a lot of years. “The winery is the best in the state. I helped to make it that way. My blends created one of the finest wines in the country.”
“Like the million-dollar bottle on the cover of Wines Unlimited magazine?”
“That was my creation. Neither the million dollars nor the award belonged to Samuel. I made that point very clear last night.” She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and dared me to disagree. “He was unhappy, but alive when I left him, I assure you.”
I’ll just bet…
Part 4: August 3rd. See you then!