Author: Eli Ring

Death of a Wine Snob (Part 5, The Conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a short story set in Oregon’s wine country about the murder of a wine expert. The previous four parts are found here:

Part 1 Part2 Part 3 Part 4

“People around here take wine very seriously.”

Truman went off to give instructions to the Sargent on duty. I headed for the oversized cubical that served as our office.
“What now?” she said after she returned and sat down.
“I am not sure. Gretchen missing worries me.”
“If it is a setup, Dave Cooper seems solid as a suspect, and that causes me to wonder if a Maserati has enough truck space for a body?”
“Interesting point,” I said. The thought depressed me. “I want you to do the paper to get Werner processed, so they can arraign him tomorrow. Then go get some sleep. I will go look at some things and take some time to think. When you get in, in the morning, keep trying to get in touch with Gretchen. Plan on going to the autopsy tomorrow afternoon. I will call you when I need you.”


I left ten minutes later with the keys to the winery and Peter Joseph’s house and the wine glass from the evidence box. Werner’s comment about drinking Pinot from a flute bugged me, and I needed to check a few things to ease my mind. The first stop was Joseph’s house and then the winery.
I left the winery a little after midnight and, thirty minutes later, pulled up a couple of houses down from Cooper’s place, and parked.
Cooper lived in a nice older neighborhood on the south side that was transitioning into newer construction. The lawns were well-kept, and the street was lined with big trees. The neighborhood was quiet and looked deserted. No lights showed in his house, and no cars were in the driveway. If he was home, the Maserati was likely in the garage.
The case was puzzling, and Truman’s comment about trunk space concerned me enough to want to keep an eye on Cooper. A couple of hours earlier, it looked like we had our guy–Werner, but now I was not so sure.
A host of unanswered questions were bothering me. The big one was, why weren’t there two wine glasses at the scene of the murder if Peter Joseph was serving wine to his murderer? The obvious answer is that the murderer didn’t want to leave something with their prints and DNA behind, so he took it? Did Werner get confused and take the wrong glass? The flute left at the scene didn’t match Joseph’s other glasses in his kitchen cabinet. I checked. It was similar to the flutes used at the winery.
It could be that Werner was being set up. Someone took a glass and a wine bottle that he had handled at the winery and left it at the murder scene to point the police at him. The two likely candidates were Cooper and Gretchen. It could be Gretchen. Maybe we could not find her because she had fled, but I didn’t think so.
If Cooper was the guy, what was the motive for all this murder and mayhem? Was he afraid of losing his job because of Joseph’s article? That was an excellent question to ask Werner.
Cooper was attracted to Gretchen. Maybe he thought he could get Werner out of the way, save his job, and have a shot at wooing Gretchen, but then he found out about the Saturday night tryst and the alibi. Gretchen would be a loose end to tie up if he wanted the plan to work.
What would happen if Werner went to prison for murder? Would that give Cooper job security? Someone would have to run the winery while Werner was doing time.
I pondered Cooper’s mysteries until his garage door rose at about 7:30. Then I followed the sports car to the winery, where he got out and walked up to the front doors of the tasting room and let himself in with a key. After that, I drove home and got some food and a few hours of sleep.
The phone woke me up around 11:30, and I talked with a deputy DA to set up a meeting. She told me that Werner had been arraigned that morning and that a bail hearing was scheduled for Friday.
I got up and showered, and dressed. Then I called Truman, who was on her way to the autopsy. She still had not located Gretchen. I hung up, got in my car, and returned to the winery.
I parked where I could see him come out of the winery driveway and waited to pick up his trail.
While I waited, I called Truman again and got the lowdown on the autopsy. No surprises. It was her first, and she got through it without throwing up. I told her she had the evening stakeout shift at Cooper’s house and that I would relieve her at 10 PM. A little after five, Cooper drove out, and I followed him back to his house. Truman was already in position, so I drove home to eat and get a little rest.


I was back in his neighborhood by 9:45. I parked around the corner and walked to where Truman was parked. I knocked on a window and startled her.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was sitting here creeped out thinking about that autopsy, and you do that.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Anything happening?”
“No. A few people walked by. The only times I have seen Cooper was when he pulled into the garage and later pushed his garbage and recycling bins to the road. I tried calling Gretchen again, but no answer.”
“Okay. Consider yourself relieved. Go get some rest.”
I got out and walked back to retrieve my car. I pulled into the space Truman had just left and settled in to watch. It was another quiet evening without much activity. A few dog walkers passed, and two or three people pushed garbage bins to the street. By 11:30, most of the houses were dark, including Coopers, and I was pondering how to close out the case. It was getting close to midnight when the idea occurred to me. I grabbed my phone and called Truman, and she answered at once.
“Still thinking about the autopsy?”
“Yes,” she said. “Can’t sleep. Anything going on?”
“Just in my magnificent brain,” I said. “I was trying to think of a solution. The Best case would be to get a search warrant. That would be great if we could, but I don’t see enough probable cause here to get a judge to sign it. Another approach occurred to me that might work.”
“What’s that?”
“Meet me at Cooper’s house at 4 AM tomorrow. Wear some old clothes and bring a headlamp if you have one.”
“You are not going to tell me what the different approach is, are you.”
“Nope. Bonus points if you can figure it out before 4 AM.”
“Okay, see you then.”


At a little before 4, she tapped on the passenger side window of my car, and I unlocked it to let her in.
“We are going to toss his trash, aren’t we?” she said. “We don’t need no stinking warrant to do that.”
“Truman, that sounds vaguely obscene, but yes, we will search his garbage. Some gloves and evidence bags are in the back seat.”
We began collecting and bagging the contents of Cooper’s trash bins. I was working on the recycling bin, pulling out bottles, reading the labels, and putting them in one of our bags.
“Well, looks like we have a winner,” I said, holding up the empty bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951.”
We finished quickly, without alerting anyone, and we were back at the station by 4:45. Truman began typing out the arrest and search warrants.
We needed help. I called the Chief and told him the situation. He said he would get our designated entry team moving. Then I called Steve Ward and asked him to watch Cooper’s house.
By then, it was nearly 5:30, and Truman had finished the warrants. I proofread them, suggested some changes, and started calling around to find a judge. Judge Grant Vine was an early riser. I told him the situation and e-mailed scanned copies of the warrants. A few minutes later, he called back, hemmed, and hawed about probable cause. We discussed it for a few minutes, and then he said he would sign them and fax them back to me. They arrived at the fax machine a few minutes later. By then, the entry team had arrived, and Steve reported that Cooper was still at home.
We were ready.
Thirty minutes later, our teams were set up at Cooper’s house. The entry team was stacked at the front door, and others covered the back and sides of the house.
Knock and announce. The lead man pounded on the front door and yelled, “Police. Open up. We have a search warrant.”
No response.
A moment later, someone’s radio crackled, and one of the guys covering the back said, “Runner,” and then, “We got him.”
The entry team guy with the ram hit the door once, twice, and it splintered and sprang open, and everyone rushed in.
Gretchen was in a back bedroom. She was tied up, with her mouth duct taped, but she was alive and uninjured. Once the house was cleared, I chased everyone out and secured it to wait for the crime scene techs.
We had apparently caught Cooper as he was dressing for work. When they arrested him, he was scooting out the back door in his underwear, carrying clothing and shoes. We sent Gretchen off to the hospital to be checked. Cooper was off to the police station for questioning and processing. Truman and I were left sorting out the case, directing the investigation at the scene, and collecting and analyzing the evidence.


By late afternoon, we were back in the office doing the paperwork.
“How did you know the bottles would be in the trash?” Truman asked.
“People are creatures of habit,” I replied and told her about when I had first visited the winery and cooper had been moving the empty bottles from the garbage to a recycling bin.
“Why didn’t he kill Gretchen?”
“Who knows. I think partly because one of his motives for killing Joseph was to win Gretchen. He didn’t kill her because he was torn between his plan and his attraction for her.
He would have had to kill her eventually. I think he was putting it off.
When I talked to Werner, he said he and Cooper had some heated words after leaving the wine shop on Saturday. He had said things he regretted later that may have led Cooper to believe his job was in jeopardy. Cooper isn’t talking, so we don’t know exactly what happened, but it looks like this. Cooper had a thing for Gretchen, who resisted his advances. Cooper apparently found out that Werner and Gretchen had a thing going. Cooper was worried about losing his job. He is angry and resentful at Joseph because someone he viewed as a dilettante was sitting in judgment over his professional standing.”
“So, he goes over and murders Joseph to solve three problems. He keeps his job and gets a clear field to pursue Gretchen by getting Werner out of the way, and he gets revenge on Joseph for the professional slight.”
“He got a bottle and a glass that he knew Werner had handled from the winery, as well as Werner’s gun, and goes over to Joseph’s house and murders him and plants the evidence. The Gretchen alibi derailed his plan. His big mistake was taking the Penfolds.”
“Why did he do it?”
“It could have been that he wanted to make it look like a robbery. I think it was an act of contempt. Drinking Joseph’s expensive bottle of wine was the equivalent of dancing on his grave. People around here take wine very seriously.


Death of a Wine Snob (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a short story about the mystery of the murder of a wine expert. You can find parts 1-3 here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I looked back at Werner as I went out and said, “You’re right. You should have an attorney.”

Part 4

Thirty minutes later, I was back at the crime scene, leaning against the hood of Truman’s squad car in front of the house, comparing notes.
“What did you find out on the canvass and the about the inventory?”
“We didn’t get anything from the neighbors. Nobody heard the shot or saw anything unusual except for a guy three blocks down the street who said the Batmobile was parked across the street in front of his neighbor’s house.”
“Some kind of European sports car. He didn’t know what kind. The neighbor in question wasn’t home, so we couldn’t ask him about it.
“Huh. Look at this,” I said. I pulled my phone out and showed her the picture of Cooper’s car.
“Shoot it to me, and I will run it by the witness.”
“What about the wine inventory,” I said as I e-mailed the picture.
We haven’t finished the inventory of the wine. I did verify that three of the most expensive wines are gone, including the Penfolds Grange. Other than that, the coroner’s guess for time-of-death is between 12 and 2 AM. The cause is the gunshot to the head. It is probably a .380 or 9mm, but they were still looking for the round when I left.”
“So, someone showed up to Joseph’s house late, shot him in the head, desecrated his corpse, and stole some of his expensive wine. Robbery?”
“It doesn’t feel like a robbery. The scene is too orderly. The place wasn’t ransacked, and the whole wine bottle thing makes it look more hinky, like revenge or something.”
“You’re right. If it were a robbery, it was focused on the expensive wine.”
“Wouldn’t that be kind of pointless?”
“How so?”
“How would they profit from stealing the wine. If it were someone who knows enough about wine values to focus on the Penfolds, then they would also know that it would be impossible to sell it to anyone knowledgeable without them alerting the authorities. With only twelve bottles in circulation, it is big news when one of them sells.”
“You may be right, although it could be sold to a private buyer with a secret wine cellar. The murderer cannot be someone who doesn’t know about wines; they knew enough to find the most expensive ones. If it were someone who knows their wines, the motive was probably not financial gain, which points back to Dobson, Cooper, or both.”
“Did you get anything out of them when you interviewed them?”
I told her about the visit to the winery.
“So, Dobson has a mystery alibi, and Cooper has no alibi, and they both have some motive and opportunity.”
“That pretty much sums it up. The problems are that Dobson’s alibi might be solid, and secondly, his motive seems too weak to lead to murder. Everyone I talked to seemed to think Joseph’s article would not have that big an effect.”
“Who do you think did it?” she asked.
“I like Cooper. He had the most to lose from Peter’s column. Dobson could fire him whether the bad vintage was his fault or not if that column had been printed. He would do it just to save face for the winery. There was also a current of hostility in Cooper that I did not see in Dobson.”
“Why don’t we bring him in and sweat him?” she asked.
“We would be wasting our time. To sweat someone, you need some leverage, and we don’t have any.”
“What do we do now?”
“We wait. The crime scene guys may give us something. Meanwhile, finish the inventory and run that photo of the car past the guy up the street.”
The following day, we were both in early. Truman had worked for me before and knew my rule on murders. Get the paperwork done before ten in the morning. We spent three hours writing and organizing reports into the murder book. I called Sid Arthur at the state crime lab at eleven to see if they had anything yet.
“There are a couple of things that may help you,” he said. “He was shot with a .380. We were able to recover the bullet from the wall. We also got prints from the wine glass in the living room and off the bottle in the victim’s mouth. There is a definite match on a guy named Werner Dobson. His prints were on file since he served in the Marines. His criminal background is clean.”
“Nice. We happen to know Werner. Anything else?” I said.
“No. Just the obvious. He was murdered where we found the body. The wine in the glass came from the bottle shoved down his throat. The only other prints we found were the victims.”
“That’s kind of weird,” I said. “Let me know if anything else comes up.”
“It’s not likely,” he said. “But I will if it does.”
My next call went to the State Medical Examiner to determine when the post-mortem was scheduled. They had him booked for Wednesday afternoon. Truman or I would have to be there, but I wasn’t expecting much in the way of new revelation. We already knew the cause of death and a rough time. After I got off the line, I went in and gave the Chief a briefing on our progress and then told Truman where to meet me for lunch.
The day was warm and sunny, so we ordered at the counter and grabbed an outside table.
“Give me the highlights from the canvas and inventory?” I said.
“Nothing new,” said Truman. “I ran the picture of the car by the witness, and he said it looked like the same car. The neighbors where the car was parked are out-of-town, so it doesn’t look like they were getting a late-night visit. The three most expensive wines I told you about yesterday were the only ones missing from the pantry. Now your turn.”
I smiled at her. She knew something was up, and she was being notably patient. I told her about the fingerprint match and the murder weapon. Then the waiter came out with our food.
After a few bites and a drink of iced tea, she said, “That kind of sucks. I was starting to believe it was Cooper.”
“So was I,” I said. “But that is why it’s best to wait for some evidence.”
“What now? Drag Werner in and grill him? Search his house and business? That’s it. His mystery alibi worries me, but the print match is compelling. We have to jump on it with both feet.”
“Any idea who the alibi is?” she asked.
“Five bucks says it’s the gracious and lovely Gretchen.”
“You sound jealous.”
“I am,” I said with a smile.
“Well, you are on,” she said. “Five bucks. Dobson is too old for her.”
“Well, you are about to learn about the seductive power of wealth. Anyway, you handle the warrants, and I will put together a plan to roll him up late this afternoon and get a couple of teams in to search his home and the winery.”
We finished lunch and headed back to the police station.
By seven that evening, an annoyed Werner Dobson sat in our interview room at the station, waiting to be questioned. The search of his home in Dundee had been completed without finding anything to help make the case. The winery search continued. It had already turned up an S & W .380 hidden under some files in his desk. It was starting to look like we had our man. Truman returned with the bagged and tagged gun at a quarter to eight, and we went in to see what Werner had to say.
Werner looked up when we came in but said nothing.
Truman set the evidence box on the table, and we sat across from him.
I put the file on the table and thumbed through it to let the tension build and then looked at him and said, “You have been read your rights?”
“Yes,” he said with an irritable tone. “We can clear this up if you check my alibi for that night.”
“Okay, where were you Sunday night?”
“I was entertaining a friend of mine, a woman. We had dinner at Jory’s restaurant at the Allison Resort. We finished at around ten and then returned to my house in Dundee. She spent the night with me.”
“You were together all that time?”
“I would say so, yes,” he said with a hint of a smile.
“I hope you will be discreet. This would be an embarrassment to us both.”
“We will. Who was it?”
His face reddened a bit, and he said, “Gretchen Rudnitsky, my receptionist.”
Truman muttered, “Damn,” and pulled a five-dollar bill from her pocket and slammed it on the table in front of me.
I smiled at her and said, “Check it out. She was at the winery watching over the search. Get her on the phone.”
She stood and left the room, and I slid the evidence box into the empty seat next to me, took off the lid, and pulled out plastic evidence bags containing a wine bottle, a wine glass, and the gun we found earlier that day at the winery. I set them on the table.
“Here is the problem we have, Werner. This is the wine bottle that was forced into Joseph’s mouth,” I said as I held up the bag with the bottle.
I put the bottle down, held up the bag with the glass, and said, “We also found this at the scene. We pulled clear fingerprints off both items, and they matched your prints on file with the FBI.”
He tried to look impassive, but his face had reddened, and his eyes narrowed like he was trying to make sense of what I was saying. Then he blinked at the bag and said,” It figures Peter would drink Pinot from a flute.”
“A flute. You use them for sparkling wines, not reds.”
I shrugged off his comment and held up the last bag containing the gun.
“We also found this in your desk at the winery. It’s the same caliber as the gun used on Joseph. We haven’t done ballistics or checked for fingerprints, but we will.”
“I think I should have an attorney….” he started to say when the door opened, and Truman came in and indicated, with a nod, that I should follow her outside to compare notes. I put the evidence back in the box, picked up the box, and rose to leave.
I looked back at Werner as I went out and said, “You’re right. You should have an attorney.”
Truman looked worried.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We can’t find her. She doesn’t answer her phone. I sent a patrolman by her house, and no one was home. I called the winery, and no one was there. I called Dave Cooper, and he said the last time he saw her, she was leaving the winery after the police were finished.”
I didn’t say anything. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me and crossed her arms, and said, “What?”
“I am not panicking yet, but this has been too easy,” I said. “Murder investigations are chaotic and disorderly. Murders like this, in particular, do not solve this easily unless the murderer is stupid, and Werner doesn’t strike me as stupid.”
“Okay,” she said, “what you are thinking.”
“I feel like we are being spoon-fed the evidence. First of all–fingerprints. We get solid matches off the bottle and the glass but no prints elsewhere. Why would he be so careful but not think to wipe down the bottle and glass.”
“He was nervous and in a hurry?”
I continued, “Then there is the gun. He kept it and put it back into his desk drawer? He should have hidden the thing. The guy has a hundred acres of farmland and a bunch of buildings, yet he puts the gun back into his desk. It makes no sense.”
“Guilt can make you do weird things. Maybe he wants to be caught?”
“Then he comes up with an alibi, and the person who can vouch for him is suddenly missing. It feels like something is happening here that we don’t see. It’s like we are being manipulated.”
“All we got is what we got. Should I book him?”
“Yes. Book him. There is no real reason not to.”
“You’re the boss,” she said.

Death of Wine Snob (Part 3)

This is the continuation of a short story about the murder of a wine expert. Parts one and two can be read here and here.

“Nice job perk,” I said as I circled the car and admired the lines and the rich interior. “What does one of these cost?”

Forty-five minutes later I pulled into the parking lot of the Timber Ridge Winery. The building was large, with a modern design with lots of steel and glass. I followed a sign to the front door that led to a reception area and tasting room. The place smelled like wine and wood polish. The room was spacious, with wood paneling and floors, and a long bar. Some nicely finished wooden tables and chairs dotted the space. One wall had an interpretive display of photos and text under a big headline that said ‘How Wine is Made’.

A stunning, tall blond in an expensive dress and high heels near the bar spotted me and walked over. She had a small brass name tag pinned to her dress high on her right breast that said ‘Gretchen’.

“May I help you?” she said with a vaguely European accent.

“Yes, thank you,” I stammered. “I am a Detective from the Newberg Police Department. I am here to see Mr. Dobson.”

She moved closer and laid a hand on my arm. She smelled good and I began to feel as awkward as a 7th grader at his first school dance.

“Is Mr. Dobson expecting you?”


“May I tell him your name?” she said.

“Yes, it’s Detective Manley.”

“Really,” she said with a wry smile. “The name suits you. If you would follow me.”

She motioned to a door at the back of the room and led the way. The door opened into a large room lined with shelves and counters. At one end, near French doors that opened into a garden, was a large desk with a couple of side chairs in front of it. Wine racks, stuffed with hundreds of bottles of wine took up most of the shelf space. Other shelves held a variety of wine glasses of different shapes and sizes.

As we walked in, she said, “This is Mr. Dobson’s workroom. We call it the lab.”

To our left, a man stood in front of some trash containers pulling bottles out of one and dropping them into another marked “Recycling”. He gave us a baleful glare and then left through the door we had come through.

She watched him go and said, “Can’t have glass in the regular trash. It drives Dave crazy. He is so adamant about recycling.”

“That was Dave Cooper?” I said.


“Could you tell him I would like to talk to him after I am done with Mr. Dobson?”

“Yes, I will,” she said.

She led me over to the desk and offered me a seat and said, “Werner will be right with you Detective Manley,” and then glided out of the room the way we had come in. I watched her go. Couldn’t help myself. Then I sat and looked around the room and a few minutes later the door opened and Werner Dobson made his entrance.

Werner was an intense-looking, middle age man, a bit below average height and a bit above average weight, with thick, well-barbered dark hair and handsome, dignified features. He greeted me politely enough but there was no friendliness in it. He sat down behind his desk.

“What is this all about, Detective?” he said.

“I am investigating the homicide of Peter Joseph. He was murdered last night, and we are trying to interview those who may have had contact with him recently to see if they know something that might lead us to a killer. Do you know Mr. Joseph?”

“Peter is dead?” He seemed surprised but not particularly saddened by the news.

“So, you know him?” I said.

“Sure. Not well, but everyone in the local industry knows Peter. He writes about wines, sometimes well, so he was one of those on the edge of the wine industry around here that it paid to know and to suck up to from time to time. “

“Sounds like you didn’t like him,” I said to see if I could get a reaction.

“I didn’t dislike him enough to kill him if that’s what you are looking for. I would say I was more ambivalent when it came to Peter. I had some respect for his opinions, but he was often a little wrongheaded and reckless.”

“Have you been in contact with him in the last few days?”

“You know I have, Detective. Why else would you be here? You have probably been talking to Boyd Schantz.”

I acknowledged it with a nod and a shrug in hopes he would keep talking.

He did, “Peter came out here last Friday. He would showcase local wineries in his column, and he came out to take a look at our operation. He came. He got the tour. Then we met with Dave Cooper and tasted some of the stock from the cellar. He arrived after lunch and left around 4:00 PM. Then I talked to him on the phone Saturday and then ran into him at a tasting room in downtown Newberg that night.”

“What was the phone conversation about?”

“He was basically letting me know what he was going to say in the column and wanted to get my reaction.”

“Is that what led to the confrontation at the tasting room that night?”

He smiled for the first time, “So that’s it. You think I am a suspect because he was going to pan my wine in his column. Well, you are wrong. Sure, we disagreed about what he was going to write about the latest vintage, but it was nothing to murder someone over. More of a difference of opinion. He had influence but not that much.”

I told him about the circumstances of Joseph’s death and his face went pale.

“That’s horrible,” he said, looking shocked. “If that were to get out…”

“Any ideas on who might have been angry enough to do something like that?” I asked. “Or why they would pick a wine from your winery?”

“No idea. I assure you it wasn’t me. Maybe it was someone who overheard our discussion at the tasting room, and they want to embarrass me. I don’t know.”

“Where were you last night?” I asked.

“At home. All night. With a friend.”

“Does this friend have a name? I might need to check your story.”

He pursed his lips and looked at the floor for a moment, thinking. Then he said, “She does, but I would not want to embarrass her unless I have to. If it comes to the point where I need an alibi, I will tell you who it was.”

“Fair enough,” I said. I didn’t like it. I would have preferred to strike him off the list of suspects sooner than later if I could.

“Okay,” I said as I rose from the chair. “Thank you for your time. If anything occurs to you, give me a call. Here’s my card. I’ll find my own way out.”

He took the card and I turned and left.


I left the room through the same door that I came in. Gretchen and Dave Cooper were standing near one of the front windows talking. He was tall and slim, wearing work clothes, and boots. He had a full head of longish dark hair. He moved closer to her and tried to put his arm around her waist, and she brushed it aside and moved away. I walked toward them, and they both turned as I approached.

“Ah. Detective Manley. This is Dave Cooper.”

The man looked disconcerted, offered a handshake, and said, “I am Dave Cooper. How can I help you?”

I shook his hand and then badged him and said, “Detective Manley with the Newberg Police. I am investigating the death of Peter Joseph. He was murdered last night in his home. Do you know him?”

“Sure, I know him,” he paused and blinked absently for a moment as he seemed to process the news. “What? He was murdered?”

“Yes. Someone shot him in the head.”

“Good God. Why would someone kill Peter?”

“Well, that is the question isn’t it, or at least one of them. When was the last time you saw him?”

“It would have been Saturday night. I was at a tasting room downtown with Werner, and we ran into Peter there. Werner and Peter got into a little verbal altercation over something Peter was writing about the winery.”

“Do you remember what it was about?”

“Sure, I do,” he said, his voice becoming a little more strident. “Peter came to the winery on Friday for a tour and a tasting, and he apparently didn’t think much of our latest Pinot. He planned to write about it in his column as if his opinion counts for anything.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“What do mean?”

“You don’t seem to think much of his opinion. How did it make you feel that he was taking that slant on a wine that I suppose you were at least partly responsible for producing?”

“Well, it made me angry,” he said, his face reddening. “The man was a dilettante—a poser. He seemed to think that since he owned a forty-thousand-dollar bottle of wine, he was an expert. In fact, he didn’t know squat.”

I said, “Did it make you angry enough to kill him?”

“Good heavens no,” he said without hesitation. “Sure, he could sway the opinions of some weak-minded people but certainly not enough to make a difference, or enough to make it worth killing him.”

“Where were you last night?”

He gave me an insolent look and said, “At home. I got home early and read until around ten and then went to bed. No, no one was here with me if that is your next question.”

“Okay,” I said. “I think that covers everything. If you can think of anything that might help the investigation, please call me.”

I handed him a card.

“I will,” he said, “but I can’t think what that would be.”

I shrugged and nodded at the card in his hand, and said, “Well just in case. By the way, someone I talked to said you and Werner drove off in a Maserati. Was that your car?”

“Yes, we were driving mine on Saturday. Werner also has one. They’re company cars. They are supposed to promote an affluent image for the winery.”

“Do you have one here?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Do you want to see it?”

I nodded yes, and he led me out to the parking lot and over to a dark blue, convertible sports car parked in a reserved space nearby.

“Here it is,” he said. “A Maserati GranTurismo convertible. The winery owns two of them. This is mine and Werner drives the other.”

“Nice job perk,” I said as I circled the car and admired the lines and the rich interior. “What does one of these cost?”

“About $150,000. They make great chick magnets, but they also tend to attract traffic cops and door dings.”

“Mind if I take a picture?” I said holding up my phone.

“Go ahead.”

I did and then thanked him for his time and left.

Link to Part 4

Death of Wine Snob (Part 2)

This is the second installment of the short story about the murder of a wine expert. Part one can be read here.

…this was a robbery by someone with good taste in wine.

My first stop was the office of the local paper, the Newberg Journal Republic. They had just remodeled and the place smelled like new carpet and burnt coffee. Schantz was in, and the receptionist ushered me into his office at once.

“Detective, have a seat. Thanks for coming in,” he said when I entered.

He was fiftyish, big and burly with greying dark hair and dark eyes. He was usually the pushy, arrogant newsman that often plagued my existence. Today he was subdued and looked worried.

“Boyd. You heard about Peter Joseph?” I said.

“I heard he had been murdered. I am stunned. He was a good friend. “

He was quiet for a moment, and then the reporter emerged from his gloom, “I have a reporter up there, but what can you tell me?”

“Not much Boyd. He was likely murdered. Off the record, it looks like it may have been related to his job. Do you have any ideas about who he might have aggravated enough to kill him.”

“Man. That’s a hard one,” said Boyd. “There were so many. A lot of passion and tradition is wrapped up in winemaking. Peter tended to be an iconoclast. In some ways, he was traditional in the way he evaluated wines, but in other ways, he was also open to using new approaches like data analysis. Big data techniques he called it. He did an article where he used some weather data analysis to predict that the Yamhill County 2017 Pinot’s would have an off year. This was before any of it was bottled. It turned out he was right, and a lot of winemakers still have not forgiven him.”

“Anyone, in particular, come to mind?”

“No, not really. I mean to give you an example. I was at dinner with Peter at the Chehelem Tasting Room on Saturday.”

“That the place downtown that just opened?” I asked.

“Yes—well one of them. So, we were sitting there enjoying some finger food and a nice Pinot from the Harkness Winery, and Werner Dobson comes over with his winemaker in tow and sits down at our table without so much as a howdy, and he begins to berate Peter about an article he is writing on Werner’s winery. It got kind of loud and awkward. It was pretty typical. I can think of a half dozen times I have been out to taste wines with him where he would get into it with someone, and he wasn’t the one who would start the arguments. Peter was pretty laid back and mild-mannered, but stubborn in his opinions.”

“Who’s Werner Dobson?”

“He’s a heavy hitter in the industry around here. He came up from California, five-six years ago and bought a winery, and re-named it Timber Ridge Winery. He has bought a lot of vineyards since and hired some good people. His stuff has a pretty good reputation.”

“Any idea what his beef was on Saturday?” I asked.

“Yeah. Peter told me about it since it was newspaper business. He had been out to Werner’s winery taking a tour and tasting some of the new wines coming out this year for an article he was writing. From what I gathered, he had called Werner on Friday and gave him a heads up that the article would not be flattering.”

“How big of a problem would that be for Werner?”

Boyd stopped to think for a moment, shrugged, and said, “Probably be a bit of a hit on his reputation, but every winery has bad years, so it wouldn’t be that big of an issue. Also, there are plenty of wine hacks who would tout his wine in return for a paid junket. It would mainly affect local opinion in the industry.”

“Huh…were there any other witnesses to this exchange?”

“Just about everyone in the shop at the time, but most of them were pretending to ignore it. The only other one there, by our table, was Werner’s winemaker, Dave Cooper. He was standing there, near Werner, the whole time.”

“How did the argument end?”

“The manager came out and told them they would have to quiet down. Werner got up and walked out in a huff leaving Cooper to bring up the rear. They got in one of the company’s Maseratis, parked out front, and drove off. “

“One last question. Do you know anything about a $35,000 bottle of wine that Peter bought at an auction? “

“Sure. Everyone knows about that. He used his savings to buy it as an investment. It’s a famous Australian wine. Apparently, only 12 bottles of the vintage still exist. He did an article about it.”

“Anything or anyone else you can think of that might help?”

“Just the consequences of Peter’s article.”


“The one guy that might have been most affected is Dave Cooper. Werner is not known for his patience with employees. If the wine was poor, he might pin the blame on Cooper. Loss of the job and the fancy car might be a motive.”

Interesting, I thought and then said, “Thanks Boyd. Let me know if you think of anything else that might help.”

When I got back to my car, I called Truman to get a report. She still had more neighborhood to canvas and had not come up with anything. I asked her to go back to the crime scene and do a quick check on the wine inventory, to see if the pricey bottle was still there, and to call me back as soon as she knew. I also told her to remind the crime scene people to dust the pantry for fingerprints. I hung up and called the dispatcher and got contact information and addresses for Werner, and his sidekick, Dave Cooper. I was starting to like them both for the murder but Cooper intrigued me more than his boss.

I left a message at the winery for Werner, and he called me back and agreed to meet me at the winery offices. I got a text from Truman as I drove to the winery. Three of the most expensive wines were missing from the pantry. Apparently, this was a robbery by someone with good taste in wine.

Link to Part 3

Death of a Wine Snob

A Short Story, Part 1

Author’s Note — I have not been posting to this blog for some time, for various reasons. To remedy that, I will be posting a couple of short stories I have written. They are rather long reads, so I will break them down into segments that can be read in five to ten minutes and post a segment a couple times each week.

The first story is a murder mystery involving the violent death of a wine critic. The story is set in my hometown, Newberg, Oregon, which is situated in the heart of Oregon’s wine country.

Death of Wine Snob

By Eli Ring

The scene was taped off and secured when I rolled up. I parked down the street, pulled some latex gloves from the crime scene kit in my car, got out, and walked up to the house. A patrolman checked me in and I found the watch supervisor, Sargent Steve Ward, waiting inside the door.

I caught a familiar whiff of blood and human waste that accented the air as I went in and found myself comparing it to memories of dozens of other crime scenes I had been to over the years, to gauge what I was facing. 

“It looks like a homicide,“ said Steve.

“We have a name for the victim?”

“It’s a guy named Peter Joseph. You need to see it for yourself. I called the techs and the state medical examiner. This one’s a doozy.”

 “Peter Joseph?” I said. “I know him. I went to school with his mother.”

“You went to school with everyone’s mother,” said Steve, and then he pointed toward the back of the house with a thumb and said, “In there.”

As I followed him down a short hallway, to the living room, he said, “Since you know his Mom, you can do the notification?”

“She died,” I said. “Cancer, five or six years ago. I think his brother lives in Seattle. I’ll call him.”

 The victim was on his back in front of a blood-splattered stone fireplace.

“Well that’s interesting,” I said.

“Not something you see every day,” said Steve.

“Not necessarily murder. He could have fallen on his face while he was taking a swig from the bottle.”

“Well sure,” said Steve wryly. “Not necessarily murder, if you overlook the bullet wound in the middle of his forehead and the pool of blood under his noggin.”

“There is that,” I said as I paced around the corpse, being careful not to mess up any evidence.

I pulled on the latex gloves and squatted down next to the corpse. It was Peter Joseph alright. There was a bullet wound in his forehead. Dark blood matted the blond hair on the back of his head and had spread in a pool under him soaking into the rug. His blue eyes were open. They were clouded and carried a surprised look. He was a tall man in his thirties, wearing a green and yellow University of Oregon football jersey, skinny blue jeans, and no shoes or socks.

The oddest thing about the body though was the wine bottle that had been shoved into his mouth and deep into the back of his throat forcing his mouth to open wide and his head to tilt back. Wine had dribbled down his face, adding to the pool of gore under his head and staining the football jersey. I bent down and read the label on the bottle—Timber Ridge Winery, Pinot Noir, 2018.

“Somebody was sure pissed at him,” I said.

“People around here take wine seriously,” said Steve.

“You must be thinking what I am thinking. “

“I don’t know,” said Steve. “I am just a patrol Sergeant. I will leave you to it, Detective.”

He left the way we had come in.

I called the Chief on my cell and told him I would need some manpower. He gave me instructions and I called my sometime assistant, Julie Truman, a rookie patrol officer who was occasionally assigned to help me. I told her she was on temporary duty with me for the investigation and that her day off was canceled, and I told her where to meet me. I spent a little time making notes and thinking about what I knew about the victim. I didn’t know him well but I knew he was a sommelier for a local resort hotel and he wrote about wine in a column for the local newspaper. Why would someone kill him? Maybe a robbery that went bad?

     Julie Truman arrived twenty minutes later. She was big for a woman. Nearly six feet tall and solid. She had attractive features with brown eyes and black hair pulled back and arranged in a bun, a style she had picked up during a stint as an MP in the Army. The other thing she had picked up as an MP was a taste for mixing it up with suspects when needed. She had been with the department for nine or ten months and had already gained a reputation for competence and intelligence.

“What the hell?” she said as she stepped up to where I was hunkered over the body and caught sight of it.

“This guy is Peter Joseph,” I said. “He worked at the hotel as a sommelier and wrote for the newspaper.”

“What’s a sommelier?” she said.

“That’s the person in a restaurant that helps you order wine. His job is to beguile wine snobs into handing over their wealth for overpriced fermented grape juice.”

“Eric, you hang out in better eating establishments than I do because they have never offered me a wine menu at Burgerville.”

I ignored her crack and continued, “He also writes a column for the paper where he reviews wines grown here in the area. From what I’ve heard, he had a pretty good following and wielded some influence in the local wine-growing community.”

She said, “Huh… I wonder if he gave someone’s wine a bad review and it came back on him?”

“A fine theory. I was thinking the same thing. I am going to go talk to Boyd Schantz, at the paper and see what he thinks after I get the crime scene guys going. I want you to get a statement from the woman who found the body and then grab a patrolman and canvass the neighborhood to see if anyone heard or saw anything.”

“I am on it,” she said and headed for the door.

The crime scene techs arrived thirty minutes later. I used the time to snoop around the place. The house was nice, but not too big. The living room, where the body lay, was tastefully furnished and neat. A single wine glass, with a splash of what was probably red wine in it, sat on the coffee table. The house had three small bedrooms and two baths. One of the bedrooms served as an office, where he probably did his writing. An explosion of paper and books covered every flat surface. I poked around the papers but didn’t find anything promising.

His kitchen was well-equipped with expensive-looking appliances and what looked to me like professional-grade cookware and utensils, although I am a poor judge. I opened a few kitchen cabinets. They were stocked with china and glassware. One cabinet held stemware, probably wine glasses, of different sizes and shapes. I went through all the drawers but didn’t find anything interesting.

The door to the pantry in the kitchen stood open. It had been converted for wine storage, with racks built-in, floor to ceiling. He had quite a collection of wines, some with names even I recognized as local wineries. The door had a heavy deadbolt. I wondered why.

Inside the door was a rack holding a thick ledger. I pulled it out and thumbed through the pages. Peter apparently logged the wines he bought and stored, including details such as the price and where he bought it. When he had opened the wines, he had noted the date and made notes about his impressions. He probably kept a similar log at the hotel where he worked for their cellar. The ledger answered one question. Some of the wines listed were expensive—hundreds, even more than a thousand dollars a bottle. One notable bottle was listed as Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951 which he had purchased at an auction in San Francisco, with a price tag of $35,000. No wonder he kept the pantry locked.

When the techs arrived, I pestered them with instructions on what to photograph and at what angles, what to fingerprint, and how I wanted evidence handled. They started getting irritable with me for telling them how to do their jobs, so I left them to it and headed for the car. Truman and a patrol officer were walking down the street doing the canvas. I pulled up next to them and told her about the wine log and the bottle of Penfolds, and told her to do an inventory when she got a chance.

Link to Part 2

Here are Five Thing You Absolutely Don’t Have to Worry About

The now cliche bit of “wisdom” coined by Winston Churchill near the end of World War II and revived by Rahm Emanuel is “never waste a good crisis.” They are great for the ruling class because they use crises to move radical political and social agendas, and they use them to divert attention from their mal and misfeasance. Here are five “crises” that you can ignore because they are bogus, manufactured problems, or don’t affect you.

The Will Smith Slapping Incident. If ever there was an event that should cause the universe to breathe a collective sigh of who cares, it is this one. This silly incident has absolutely no significance to the lives of anyone. The test is if you didn’t know about it, would it affect your life. The answer is no. So quit worrying about super-rich Hollywood movie star Will Smith and his poor, traumatized family. They will likely do better the most of the rest of us.

Climate Change. Climate change, as I have written before, is undoubtedly occurring. That is the nature of climate. Is it a crisis? It could be. Many civilizations on planet Earth have risen and fallen due to weather. Are we in one of those periods now? We don’t know. As the Hoover Institute article (here) points out, temperatures may have risen .8 degrees C since 1850, but that number is well within the measurement margin of error. Statistically, one cannot reject the hypothesis that there has been no temperature rise. Also, if there is a “crisis” with carbon emissions, why are politicians not building nuclear plants, the cleanest, most efficient, and safest form of energy generation.

Never waste a good crisis.

White Supremacists. I don’t know where this whole “white supremacists are the biggest threat to America” narrative started, but it is stupid. It was not “white supremacists” that caused hundreds of millions in damage, burning down American cities in 2020. Radical leftist organizations like the BLM and Antifa did that, goaded on by Democrat politicians. The most absurd example is when Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took office and ordered a stand down in the US military to weed out white supremacy. A Pentagon study later showed that about a hundred out of 2.5 million US military members participated in that white supremacist activity. One wonders if the Afghanistan fiasco would have occurred if the defense officials were spending more time on defense instead of chasing mythical KKK members in the ranks.

Covid-19 Omicron. First of all, Omicron is pretty mild. I had it at the beginning of March. I had a slight fever, a cough, and a little fatigue. A few days and it had passed. I realize that some may suffer more, and I didn’t because instead of worrying about the Covid, I did something about it early in the pandemic. It was clear from the beginning that the effects of the illness were pretty stratified. It was not pleasant to catch it, but almost everyone who did catch it survived. Those who didn’t were nearly all in particular categories. This included the very elderly (who likely would have been finished off by the flu anyway), the obese, people with low vitamin D3 levels, and those with metabolic disorders like diabetes. I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and to make sure my immune system had a fighting chance, I took D3, zinc, got some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, and I dropped 20 lbs. of excess weight. Notice that I did not say anything about the vaccine. I am not a test animal for Big Pharma, and the risk of an inadequately tested vaccine is higher than the risk of the disease for me. Maybe not you. Quit worrying. Get informed. Accurately assess the risks. Do something positive to protect yourself.

Voter access. In some counties, the number of people voting in 2020 exceeded the number of registered voters. The rolls of registered voters are bloated by those who had moved before the election, including some who moved on to their eternal reward. It seems like access is not the thing that should worry us.

Five Existential Threats to Humanity to Worry About This Week

Here are the five top things to worry about this week if you are concerned with the continued existence of humanity.

America’s Political Crisis. America’s political crisis began during the 2016 Presidential campaign and has since morphed into a variety of troubling aspects that threaten the whole world. The three most important right now are the lack of accountability for those in the ruling class for their incompetence and illegal activity, the fight for election integrity, and the likelihood that the President of the United States is a cognitively-impaired dotard. The problem here is that when America is weak, the bad guys come out to test its resolve. Look no further than Putin’s adventure in Ukraine, the stepped-up Communist Chinese rhetoric regarding Taiwan, and North Korea ramping up missile testing for examples.

World War III. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought us to a place we have not been for a long time, which is staring into our collective grave while the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations wag their nukes like two gangbangers flashing their Glocks in a dispute over the drug sales rights on a local street corner. This one has been building for a long time and the fault is mainly that of Clinton, Bush, and particularly Obama and their horrible foreign policy regarding Russia over the years. President Biden hasn’t helped with his incompetent handling of the crisis. While Putin has casus belli, invading another country is so 20th century. Putin could have accomplished so much more with just the invasion threat, and at little risk. It makes you wonder what’s really going on. In any case, if the Ukrainians keep kicking the Russian’s butts, this crisis may resolve itself.

…when America is weak, the bad guys come out to test its resolve.

Control of Personal Information. Two threats are involved here. The first is what has been termed “Surveillance Capitalism”. When you interact with the internet, information is collected about you and your activities. You leave tracks that show who you are, what you like and dislike, what sorts of websites you visit, what do you look for on search engines, and a lot of other things. For example, often I have searched for a product on a website and then later noticed that ads on other sites relate to that same product? The data collected is a commodity that has tremendous value to companies and marketers, and it is used to alter your behavior. In the past, (it is assumed), this has been a rather benign, even beneficial thing that helps connect us with things we need or want. Now we are not so sure that the data is not being used for more insidious purposes. It’s clear personal data is used for suppressing unpopular opinions, social engineering, and for manipulating elections. The second threat is the dissemination of personal medical information. The most nefarious example of this was a report by CBS News about China collecting the DNA data of Americans. The link is here. Why would the Chinese want our DNA? Maybe it is just a way to boost their pharmaceutical industry, or maybe it can be used to genetically tailor bioweapons.

Response to the so-called “Climate Change Crisis” Is there climate change, or not? The answer to that is yes because the climate has always changed. In Charles Mann’s book, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”, a book I highly recommend, he discusses the effects of climate on Pre-Columbian civilizations over the 12,000 years since Asians migrated and settled in the Western hemisphere. The fact is that civilizations have long risen and fallen because of the weather and that is just life on the beautiful blue ball we live on. The current “crisis” is a fat brouhaha over .6 degrees C of temperature rise over 150 years, which is how long we have been keeping records. Is that a big deal? Probably not. The measurement margin of error is higher than .6 degrees, so who knows. Unfortunately, a crisis is a path to power and money and I believe that is really what is driving it. The existential threat from this is that there are a lot of people who have a great deal of certainty about things they can’t know. Some of them, like Bill Gates, are proposing solutions, such as geoengineering projects, that have the potential to be disastrous.

The Loss of a Judeo/Christian consensus in the West. I can assure you that I am under no illusion that Christians or anyone for that matter is perfect. I am a Calvinist and firmly believe that the notion that human depravity is universal and pervasive is exhaustively supported by empirical data. However, when the Judeo/Christian consensus reigned in the West, the world made sense and most people were to varying degrees self-regulating in the way they behaved. We are now in the so-called post-Christian era and the world has stopped being rational, and people no longer seem to understand the concept of good and evil. Humans are no longer viewed as autonomous individuals with free will, made in the image of God. In a deterministic/materialistic world, man is viewed as a skin sack of biochemicals, a commodity to be bought and sold, manipulated, and controlled. In a materialistic world, the mass extermination of humans is no longer a moral problem in the twisted logic of tyrants. We saw this in the last century and this century in China. It is also not just megalomaniac tyrants that are the problem. This insane attitude has become ingrained in society as a whole. Just look at the way we treated one another during the pandemic.

I guess we will see how all of this plays out. Don’t worry too much. God is still on the throne.

Back in Twitter Jail-Second Appeal

I am still faced with the heart-wrenching dilemma of getting the suspension of my Twitter account lifted without compromising my support for free speech and my opinion that the suspension is nonsense. The easy path is to just delete the tweet, but in doing so I tacitly admit to violating their rules. I didn’t violate their rule. Engaging in “hateful conduct” would require that I actually hate the subject of my tweet. I don’t. I pity him in the same sense that I pity someone who is delusional and thinks he is George Washington or Gandhi, or like in the case of Joe Biden thinks he is President of the United States.

In any case, I have not yet rationalized enough to hit the “delete” button that is my get out of jail card. On a positive note, Elon Musk, who is very pro-free speech bought 9+% of Twitter and was added to the company’s board of directors. This may benefit stubborn old bastards like me who are trying to get accounts reinstated without compromising.

“Wokeness gives them a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue.”

Here is my second appeal.

I again disagree with the suspension of my account for “hateful conduct.” First, my post was entirely accurate. I rechecked the facts, and there is no dispute regarding their accuracy. Facts are stubborn things, but they exist and sometimes conflict with the wishful thinking of weak-minded people who can’t face the truth.
Secondly, the whole concept of “hateful conduct” presupposes that Twitter enforcers can unfailingly discern the emotional state of people posting tweets. In this case, I do not hate the subject of my tweet. If I did, how would you know? In fact, I am indifferent concerning Levine. I am not indifferent to insidious lies that threaten the fabric of a well-ordered society. I don’t apologize for being pro-civilization.
Finally, let me express my concern about those at Twitter engaged in opposing free speech. There is just something morally and socially twisted about someone who seeks to suppress the truth at this stage in history. Your new boss, Elon Musk, refers to them as “mean people”. He said, commenting on them, “Wokeness gives them a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue.” I recommend that you examine yourself in light of his comment.

Buy my book, “Trail to Peril” on Amazon. It is a mystery, action, thriller set on the Pacific Crest Trail.

A Brief Review of Stephen Cohen’s “War With Russia?”

A very interesting and thought-provoking book by Russian historian Stephen Cohen. It provides a clear analysis of US and NATO policy toward Russia since the fall of the Soviet empire. It also offers an answer to the important question of why we are now and have been sitting on the brink of World War III for the last four weeks of the Ukrainian invasion by Russia.

Available here at Amazon.

The author is clearly not the sort of pro-Ukraine cheerleader that so dominates the western media right now. Instead, he provides a thoughtful account of the history of relations between the US-led NATO countries and “Putin’s Russia”, and explains the origin of the new cold war and why it is far more dangerous than the old one. In much of the book, Cohen seems sympathetic to the Russians who he argues were badly treated by the west and particularly by successive US Presidents starting with Bill Clinton. He seems to have a grudging admiration for Putin or at least rejects the widely held notion that Putin is the root of all evil.

One of the really interesting topics Cohen discusses is how President Trump sought to mend relations with the Russians, and reverse the contentious relationship that had prevailed for decades. This so threatened the status quo that American political elites such as President Obama and Hillary Clinton and willing accomplices in the intelligence community and Congress used the collusion allegations to attempt to delegitimize President Trump and derail his efforts at detente with Putin. The so-called Russiagate allegation was eventually debunked, but the consequence is the real threat of war between superpowers.

Twitter Appeal Denied

Twitter denied my appeal. Looks like I stay in Twitter jail indefinitely unless I buy into their reality by deleting my tweet. Here is the communication I received:


Thank you for your patience as we reviewed your appeal request for account @SteveAshby, regarding the following:

Our support team has determined that a violation did take place, and therefore we will not overturn our decision.

You will not be able to access Twitter through your account due to violation of the Twitter Rules, specifically our rules around:

[sic]In order to restore account functionality, you can resolve the violations by logging into your account and completing the on-screen instructions.



Meanwhile, as the impasse continues, I am exploring some other social media options and using the time I have been wasting on Twitter writing and otherwise being productive. So, Thanks, Twitter.