Welcome to my two-part murder mystery, an October short story full of Merlot and murder!
I love the crisp autumn season, brimming with stunning fall colours of crimsons and golds, brilliant blue skies, and the spooky Halloween season. I also love an entertaining, short murder mystery for my short attention span. Indeed, writing this was an amusing diversion from work. I hope you enjoy this pulpy, whimsical read. 😊
A Taste for Merlot and Murder
Kali Kessler paused atop her vineyard breathing in the sweet scent of Okanagan Ponderosa pine trees. The aroma delivered her back to hiking the mountains of San Diego, California. The Christmas she had vacationed there with her boyfriend at the time had been a wonderful gift, in spite of feeling homesick. They enjoyed taking pictures together on a whale watching tour and wandering the Old Town Farmers’ Markets with artisans selling unique and beautiful artworks. They happily dined on spicy fresh seafood paella in an expensive restaurant and visited authentic Mexican food carts for savoury burritos and tacos. And yet, her heart ached for her family’s traditional Canadian turkey dinner. The genial family meal was typically served with garlic mashed potatoes and apple stuffing, accompanied by her mom’s delectable homemade gravy, paired with wines from the family winery.
She pulled herself away from the curious memory to absorb the breathtaking vista from Pele Winery, nestled high in the west hills of Kelowna, BC. Since her parents had been gone for a few years, the winery remained her focus and sole ambition to make it succeed among so many new wineries popping up like champagne corks along the valley.
The hour was early with the sun peaking over the hilly horizon on a new day late in July. It was a blessing to see the sun since it had been unusually cool and rainy so far this summer. This would surely affect the acidity of the grapes, but there was hope for a warmer harvest by fall. As she approached the back entry of the winery, Kali sensed something was amiss even before she saw the door ajar.
Jake, her right-hand man, would have locked up the night before. Reliable and hard-working, there was a slim to none chance he forgot to key in the code before he left. Instantly wide awake, Kali cautiously pushed the door open to a sight she wouldn’t soon be able to erase from her memory.
Kali’s cherished winemaker Jake lay sprawled on the hard cement floor, his left arm stuck over his head at an awkward angle. A large gash sliced angrily across his forehead, with blood drying and congealing to an eerie rust colour. Her eyes took in the rest of the horrifying scene – the blood pooled out from the body and two wine bottles smashed to jagged pieces a few feet away. Her breakfast came up surprisingly fast and with a nauseating intensity.
Three hours later it seemed she’d been at what was now officially a crime scene for days. Police officers, emergency personnel, yellow tape, and blue and red flashing lights permeated what was supposed to be another ordinary day in BC wine country. And at the height of tourist season besides! Denied access, a steady stream of tourists from Alberta and Vancouver, in addition to a handful of locals, continuously drove away with confused and bewildered expressions on their faces, wondering what the heck had happened at one of the top wine tasting destinations in the area.
After what seemed like hours of questioning, Kali was left to clean up the gory aftermath once Jake’s corpse had been removed and the crime scene thoroughly investigated. Charles and Lola, her two wine servers, quietly helped alongside her, for which she would be eternally grateful. Who could have done such a terrible thing to strong, kind-hearted Jake, and why? Questions swirled in her head.
Potential suspects paraded through her mind as she realized all had not been smooth sailing the previous two years. With competition running rampant between wineries, her falling out with her brother Kalvin over their parents’ will, and the terrible altercation with the wine tour company, a sick feeling of dismay began a slow boil in Kali’s stomach.
There was the firing of Kim Stankinowich, a former employee of the winery who presented herself as cheerful and kind on the outside, while proving entirely two-faced in reality. Kali had caught her gossiping on more than one occasion about important clients to her staff. Her toxic personality was having a negative effect and Kali dealt with her swiftly and professionally. She certainly fit the description of a disgruntled receptionist but since she was less than capable at anything other than gossip, her poisonous presence was no longer required.
There was the confrontation with the winery owner from Sparkling Glass Vineyards last spring. Stefano Astor was known for his German stubbornness and blazing temper. Their heated discussion about varietals in her gift shop had led to a yelling match and a glass of bubbly being hurled dangerously near her tasting room staff member. Characteristically, he had insisted his depth of knowledge about grape varieties best used for a Meritage blend was by far superior to hers. Now, Kali wondered if he was furious enough to kill.
Next she wondered, her brother Kalvin wouldn’t hurt Jake, would he? They were once close friends until Kali inherited the entire winery and vineyard. Kalvin received her parent’s beloved vacation property, a million-dollar waterfront home in Tofino on Vancouver Island no less, so Kali still couldn’t understand the sullen silent treatment he was giving her. She was shocked at the blatant greed that erupted from him after the will was read, but to go to these jealous lengths for revenge against his own sister? It seemed unlikely.
The wine tour disaster was another story. Grape Expectations Wine Tours was a new company, one among many, and Kali had hoped they would turn out to be one of the best. Unfortunately, their tour guide turned out to be lazier than her dog Max on a rainy day. He basically let the tourists self-guide themselves through all the wineries, and while Kali welcomed all the visitors she could, the small fee she paid the tour company covered a proper history of her winery, which was not being conveyed by Mr. Lazy Pants. She had words with the tour operator, but since the guide was his brother, it fell on deaf ears. Was he bitter enough to cause her grief by murdering her winemaker because she banned the tour bus? Anything was possible at this point.
Kali was still experiencing nasty nightmares two weeks after the horrible slaying and Jake’s sad memorial had taken place. Regardless of intense efforts, the police seemed no closer to solving the crime. The peculiar thing was that they had found multiple puncture wounds on Jake’s body. This made no sense to anyone. She discussed this over a brief winery lunch with her best friend Stella, but they only came up with more questions.
Intense interrogations continued with RCMP investigators; Kali was questioned on three more occasions. Sleepless nights and a slow-down in production as she raced to find a new winemaker put her on edge. She began smoking the occasional Frank Correnti cigar with her evening glass of juicy red to calm her frayed nerves. Her usual hikes in Bear Creek Provincial Park with her dog Max weren’t giving her any peace of mind like they normally did. Sipping and watching thunder and lightning storms crackle down the valley from her home offered no solace either. Instead, racing thoughts invaded her mind all night long – who killed Jake and why? And when was it going to stop this infernal raining so her vineyard wouldn’t be ruined?!
Paranoid thoughts began seeping into her mind. Was she next? Only last week, Max began barking frantically at 3:45 am, but Kali couldn’t make out what was causing the commotion in the gloom of another rainstorm. Yesterday, she had opened the winery only to discover a Riedel wine glass had seemingly been knocked down off a display shelf in the gift shop and smashed on the floor. She chalked it up to one of her staff’s clumsiness, but still…
Desperate for answers, Kali began her own detective work since nothing seemed to be moving forward with the police. Shakily, she dialed the number of Stefano Astor to see if she could finally gain some peace of mind. When she went through to his voicemail, she left a hasty message with her name and number to please call at his earliest convenience. Deciding she’d be more effective in person, Kali climbed into her Lexus and drove the twenty-minute drive to downtown Kelowna, over the William R. Bennett Bridge spanning Okanagan Lake. She steered straight to the office of Grape Expectations Wine Tours.
Stay Tuned for Part Two (the Conclusion), Coming Next Week!