Tag: Short Story

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 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