Babe Stern 01 - Dead in the Dregs by Peter Lewis

By Peter Lewis

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When I didn’t answer, she said, “Listen, Babe, I don’t want people talking. ” I said. ” “No, you’re right. It’s just that . ” “I mean, I worry about him. ” “They don’t hate him. They’re afraid of him,” I corrected her. But she was right, and I knew it. Wilson could make or break a wine, make or break a fortune. There had to be at least a dozen people who would happily stuff his face in a barrel, and that was just between Napa and Sonoma. I’d heard plenty of winemakers say so at the bar, even some he’d treated fairly.

By the time I’d driven the fifteen miles to Norton, the parking lot was awash in red, white, and blue flashing lights that pulsed like a frayed neon flag in the fog. The Chevys and Fords of the St. Helena police and Napa sheriff’s departments were parked at odd angles, as if in near collision. An ambulance had pulled in closer to the entrance of the winery, its rear doors left open, expectant. The gurney had been removed. A white van was parked perpendicularly to the ambulance, its side door wide, its contents splayed on the asphalt as if it had been disemboweled.

As we got into Bandol, I thought about heading home but decided to pay one last visit to Norton. I wanted to ask Colin how their tasting had ended and where Richard had gone. “One stop,” I said to Danny. “Promise. ” “That’s okay,” Danny shrugged. ” My paternal enthusiasm failed to elicit any response. “Your mother worked very hard to get you there. ” He wouldn’t look at me. He gazed out the window and set his arm at an angle like a sail to catch the wind. ” “Orientation’s next Friday. School’s on Monday,” he said out the window.

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