Plastered in Stonington [Kate Bart Mysteries, Book 3]
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by Rosemary Goodwin
Description: Sour grapes are the least of their problems? Kate Bart Mysteries, Book 3 The new skill decorating Kate's resume--licensed PI--officially qualifies her to be Dutch's partner in crime fighting. Unofficially, their personal relationship has grown well into serious territory. Both halves of her life are called into service when Kate is hired to redesign the tasting room at Fiona and Cameron MacPherson's winery. It doesn't take long to figure out all is not sunshine and roses at Goose Pond, and Dutch agrees to look into some serious safety issues that have led to a string of mishaps. When another incident results in a death, and it's clear that this time it's no accident, Kate and Dutch dig deeper to zero in on who's responsible. The neighboring vintner who covets Goose Pond's winery? The tasting room totsie seen skulking about with the MacPhersons' sulky son? As their investigation comes closer and closer to bearing fruit, the bullets start flying--and it seems that whoever's pulling the trigger wants them all to pay the piper--in blood. Warning: Contains an interior decorating PI with a talent for finding trouble, and her tough-and-tender PI boyfriend who can't wait to get his hands on her. If only it's to pull her out of harm's way.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: June 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [187 KB]
Reading time: 110-154 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
They walked toward the winery's three-storied main house. Built in 1860, it had been faithfully restored to its former Victorian Italianate glory. Its low-pitched roof with wide, overhanging eaves was supported with double brackets and topped with a square cupola resembling a bride and groom on a bridal cake. The house itself looked like a fussy confection.
A porch surrounded the house, shady and cooled by several ceiling fans which swayed the hanging baskets of ferns, with white rocking chairs lined up like bridesmaids. Sliding doors opened up onto the porch where the family could relax in the evening breezes. Instead of screened doors, large doors of shutters, similar to those found down south in the U.S., kept insects at bay. They reminded Dutch of Louisiana plantation homes he'd seen years ago.
"There's Fiona at the front door," Kate said. She pulled her hand free and adjusted her shoulder bag. She climbed the steps to the porch while Dutch made sure that she didn't trip and sprain her knee again.
"Welcome to my home," Fiona said in greeting them. "Come in. Let's go through to the dining room."
In the foyer, Kate stood in one spot, turning around to get a 360-degree look at the foyer. "This is amazing. It's like a page out of a design magazine."
"It is beautiful," Dutch added, trying to sound knowledgeable.
"Especially the wallpaper--William Morris, isn't it?" Kate added.
"Thank you. You're correct. Reproduction, though. Even repro is frightfully expensive, but it's worth every penny."
Fiona led the couple through to the dining room where the table had been set for serving lunch. Kate gazed up at the elaborate chandelier. "Please excuse me. I'm gaping like a country girl let loose in the big city. Your home is lovely. I should have visited you before now. I hope I can design the tasting room to your satisfaction."
"I'm sure you will. I love to decorate my own homes but not commercial spaces. I'm glad you're here to help me, dear. Please sit."
Dutch pulled out a chair for Kate. She slid down onto the tapestry seat.
"Cucumber gazpacho?" Fiona hovered a large ladle over a soup bowl.
"Yes, please." Kate leaned away from the ladle. "Do you still have a housekeeper to help you?"
"Oh, yes, dear. I couldn't possibly take care of this place as well as help run the winery. It's hard work in the warehouse."
"I remember the last housekeeper." Kate turned to face Dutch. "Hannah didn't speak English very well and she got phone messages all mixed up. She was so funny."
"It was a comedy of errors at times." Fiona laughed.
While eating cold smoked salmon and spinach salad peppered with pomegranate seeds, Fiona and Kate caught up with the latest news, since they hadn't seen each other for more than a year. Kate's family in England was friends with Fiona's Scottish family. Fiona firmly believed that the area in New Jersey around Kate's home was a perfect place in which to settle. She loved the hills, the horse farms, the sleepy villages, and the friendly local people. She was stunned at their good luck when the Goose Pond Winery outside of Stonington came on the market. She and Cameron, her husband, snapped it up immediately, foregoing negotiations on the price.
Dutch listened to Kate and Fiona for a while before he interrupted. "I'm amazed at how much women chatter." Kate kicked him under the table. Recovered from the kick and a glare, he apologized and soon turned the conversation around to a discussion on what was occurring at the winery. It was then that Cameron joined them.
"Fiona tells me that we had a bloody ranting maniac in the tasting room," Cameron said in his Scottish burr. "Have you told Kate and Dutch what you believe is going on?"
"No, dear." Fiona flourished the knife she held after cutting wedges of carrot cake--their dessert. "Why don't you begin? You're better at telling stories."
"To start at the beginning." He coughed to clear his throat. He paused for a full minute as he seemingly tried to take hold of his emotions. Kate thought he looked about to cry. "One of our workers drowned two days ago. He was found dead in one of the vats in the warehouse. Not enough oxygen in the air, so he passed out into one of the vats of fermenting grapes and apparently drowned."
Audible gasps escaped from Kate and Dutch.
"The County Medical Examiner came out from Stonington, and they took the body away. He said it looked like an accidental death, but there'll be an autopsy."
"Of course. How sad. But what are in the vats?" Kate asked.
"It's the juice and pulpy residue left after crushing the fruit--before it becomes wine." Cameron gulped down a glass of white wine. He set the glass down on the tablecloth and played at spinning the glass around. "I'll tell you more about the accident when I'm not so torn up about it."
"Was he a family man?" Dutch asked.
"Yes, he was, and I had to go and break the news to his wife. It was heartbreaking. They have a little boy--three years old. He was laughing and playing with a puppy." Cameron had a catch in his voice. "It was so hard."
"It must have been very difficult." Dutch took a sip of water. Maybe it'll get rid of the lump in my throat--that's a sad picture he described.
"Yes, he was a good worker, and he died too young. Apparently there's a drowning in a winery every year somewhere in the world. The work is fraught with danger."
"The police came and did a thorough investigation," Fiona added. "They'll let us know the results."
"There's been some strange events happening here lately. We haven't made any enemies as far as we can determine, but we're being harassed every day now."
"Harassed? In what way?" Dutch needed more information in order to find out the culprit or culprits.
"Well, you saw how that man in the tasting room accused us of being unsanitary. That's purely inaccurate. Fiona told me that you were given the background of brett which is accepted in Europe in some wines. But we don't have brett in any of our wines. Totally untrue."
"Yes, she explained that to us," Dutch answered.
"But it upset the other people tasting at the counter and most left without buying any wine," Kate added.
"Exactly. They've come in to try to put us out of business. I'm expecting an OSHA inspector to pay us a visit soon. OSHA is short for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Part of the federal government. They deal with the enforcement of safety of jobs, et cetera. New Jersey has their own OSHA, but that only covers their public employees. That's why I've hired a safety consultant. I want you and Dutch to note safety problems you find as you investigate the death. Forgot to ask you to do your own investigation. Hope you will." Cameron, with furrowed brow, absentmindedly fiddled with his cutlery.
"And that OSHA visit could close us down for the minutest problem--like a frayed electric cord, or something simple like that." Fiona sighed.
"Do you have any idea who is behind all of this?" Dutch asked.
Fiona glanced over at Cameron. He raised his eyes to hers with a look of confusion.
"Well," Fiona began and then hesitated. "Cameron is an excellent vintner--he has a discriminating palate--and has won several gold medals for our wine."
"And so we've heard that it's the neighbor winery, Stony Rhoads--about a mile down the street--who's to blame." Cameron took a sip of his cold water. The ice cubes jiggled in the glass. "The owner, in our opinion, is the driving force here. He's told people that he should have won the gold medal for last year's Riesling, and not me."
Fiona patted her husband's hand. "Of course, that's ridiculous. He's just a bad sport. We won fair and square, but he still resents us winning. In his opinion we're damned foreigners and shouldn't even be living here. Preposterous."
"Outrageous little man. Has Napoleon syndrome--must have. He's trying to put us out of business. That's what Fiona and I think anyway. We have a great reputation. We don't make plonk, as they say in Britain, we make handcrafted award-winning wines. This whole thing is pissing me off."
"Sorry," Dutch asked, "what's plonk?"
"Super-cheap, low-quality wine."
"I'm so sorry you're having these problems," Kate said to the couple. "As you know, Dutch is a private investigator, and I just got my license, too. Did you know that?"
"You may have mentioned it to me, but it didn't sink in." Fiona turned to Dutch. "Now I know you're both private investigators, I hope you'll point out possible safety problems as you investigate the accident around here. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there'll be no more accidents."