Wine, Women, and Wrong
By Maggie King
“Ah! Sweet, bursting with berry flavor.” Lanie Jacobs mimicked the sales pitch of the wine merchant who’d poured the Ruby Port.
“Yet firm.” Rhonda Reay sipped and actually moaned in ecstasy. “Powerful.”
Lanie rolled her eyes. Was the woman having a sexual experience in the middle of a wine tasting party? Rhonda was her best friend but she could be embarrassing.
“Well, it’s good, but it’s not that good. Let’s see how it pairs with this chocolate mousse.”
Lanie set her glass on the table beside her and picked up a dish with the chocolate confection. She almost moaned like Rhonda just had but stopped herself. An appreciative “Umm” sufficed when the rich chocolate and silky creaminess merged on her tongue. “Oh, it’s truly decadent.”
The servers from The Vineyard, a local wine store in Richmond, Virginia, smiled at Lanie’s pleasure. Finished with their duties, they packed up their paraphernalia and left.
“The silent auction is now closed,” a voice rang over the noise of the crowd.
“Shit!” exclaimed a statuesque woman who stood with pen poised over a bidding form.
Lanie and Rhonda turned to see who’d blurted out the s-word. “That’s Camille something. She’s a new member,” Lanie whispered. “I hear she’s a professor. Business Management, I think.”
“I’d so hoped to win the weekend in Nags Head,” Camille fumed to no one in particular as she walked toward Rhonda and Lanie. “But someone outbid me!”
Lanie held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Lanie Jacobs and this is Rhonda Reay. We’re sorry you didn’t win the getaway package.”
Camille’s cloud of dark hair added to her height. She smiled as she first took Lanie’s hand and then Rhonda’s.
“Camille Pettit. Sorry for my little outburst. But I really wanted to win. A special treat for my boyfriend Tommy. He’s been so sweet to me.”
“Did you bid on anything else?” Rhonda tossed back her mass of auburn curls.
“Yeah, that mystery basket. I think I did win that.” Camille didn’t sound enthusiastic as she pointed toward the cellophane-wrapped basket holding a number of paperback mysteries, a Miss Marple T-shirt, a Nancy Drew wine stopper, and a box of Earl Grey tea.
“Nice gift items. Great for stocking—”
Shrieking cut through the din and broke off Rhonda’s gift suggestions.
The crowd in the fellowship hall of St. Ambrose’s Episcopal Church swarmed toward the entrance where a rail thin woman stood, screaming.
A man approached the woman and put his arm around her. “There, there, sweetheart. What’s got you so upset?”
In the man’s calm embrace her screams subsided to gasps. “Someone . . . someone . . . ” She shivered in her knit dress. “There’s a dead man out there in the parking lot!”
♦ ♦ ♦
Tommy Bradshaw had two items on his bucket list: to solve a murder mystery and to marry Camille Pettit. Not necessarily in that order.
Camille was a tough one. The woman adamantly refused to marry Tommy—or anyone else. “Been there, done that,” she proclaimed whenever Tommy pressed her. She had told him little about the father of her twenty-year-old son, Jeremy. And she’d confided to her closest friends that Tommy was amazing in bed. As long as he continued to service her, why marry him?
“We have such a good thing going, Tommy Boy,” she would coo as she unbuckled his belt. And Tommy would forget all about marriage as he lost himself in Camille’s carnal delights.
Finding a murder mystery to solve was no easy task, either. Tommy did many ride-alongs with the Richmond police where he learned that most murders in the city were motivated by one guy not liking the way another looked at him. No mysteries there.
Then Tommy got his chance to play one of the Hardy Boys. Specifically Frank Hardy—the logical, rational brother, not Joe, who was quite impetuous. The brothers made a good team. Camille and I would make a good team, Tommy thought. In oh so many ways.
About eight o’clock one Friday evening, Camille called in a panic. “Tommy, you won’t believe what happened over here. Someone found a body in the church parking lot.”
“Camille, that’s awful. Where are you now?”
“At the church. The police are holding everyone for questioning. I won’t be home for a while.”
“Call me when they let you go. I’ll come and drive you home.”
“Thanks, Tommy.” Her voice was small.
“Love you, Baby.”
“Love you, Baby.” They exchanged kisses through their phones.
Camille had just joined the local chapter of Every Woman’s Village, a national non-profit organization that held an annual wine tasting fundraiser at a church near where Tommy and Camille lived in Richmond. Tommy opted out of the fundraiser, figuring Camille could go and socialize with her new friends. Wine tasting seemed snooty to Tommy. He figured that if he wanted a bottle of wine he could drive to Kroger’s and buy one. But Camille said the “Village” raised money for scholarships and grants so women could pursue their educational goals. And Camille’s happiness was all Tommy cared about.
At home, Camille told him the story of the murder. Only there was no murder.
“This woman—I haven’t met her yet—started shrieking outside the fellowship hall. She went outside for a cigarette and found this guy lying on the ground. She thought he was dead.”
Camille paused and took a deep breath. Tommy put his arm around her and pulled her close as she went on. “She found him under a tree. She turned on her flashlight app and saw a knife stuck in his stomach.”
“That must have been awful for the woman. I’m sure glad you didn’t find him.”
“Me too. Anyway, people tried to leave the church, but this huge man blocked the door. Said we had to wait for the police. No one dared challenge him.”
“He was right. You can’t contaminate the crime scene.”
“Except for the woman finding the body, we didn’t learn a thing. Once the police arrived, they separated us. And had someone watch over us so we couldn’t talk to each other.”
“Did you find out who the guy was? The victim?”
“No. I guess they have to contact his next of kin and all that. But I heard one of the wine servers grumbling about some f-ing Paul, leaving them to clean up. There was a guy there earlier. I think he was the manager of The Vineyard. Kind of unpleasant. Maybe he’s the one who got stabbed.”
“Let’s turn on the news.”
According to the news anchor, Paul Wakeman, the thirty-two-year-old store manager of The Vineyard, was found stabbed in the parking lot of St. Ambrose’s Episcopal Church during a wine tasting fundraiser. The camera shot showed a couple of EMT workers sliding a stretcher into an ambulance. The anchor continued. “If anyone has information on the stabbing please contact the Richmond Police or Crime Stoppers.”
Camille’s eyes widened. “Oh, Tommy. It could have been one of us. I don’t know if I want to stay with this organization.”
“Camille, it couldn’t have just been members of the organization who were there. I’m sure they sold tickets to friends.”
Camille allowed that Tommy had a point.
“And it could have been an outsider. Some random person walking through the parking lot. Or someone in another part of the church.”
Camille smiled. “Maybe the priest did it.”
Tommy grabbed the remote and turned off the TV. “I think you could use a nice massage.”
Camille responded hungrily to his kiss as she raked his sandy locks with her fingers. “Let’s go to bed.”
Hand in hand, they walked upstairs.
♦ ♦ ♦
The next morning over coffee and bagels Tommy said, “I’m going over to that Vineyard place. Maybe I can get some information on this guy Paul.”
Camille paused as she slathered cream cheese on her bagel. “Why?”
“Well, I’ve told you I’d like to solve a mystery. Actually I wanted it to be a murder mystery, but this thing with Paul is still a mystery.”
Camille rolled her eyes. “I thought that was all just a fantasy. Besides, you don’t know that it is a mystery. And investigating can be dangerous. Let the police handle things.”
“I’m just going to ask some questions. Want to come and protect me?”
“Don’t joke, Tommy.”
“I’m not joking. I figure if anyone messes with me, you can give them a wallop with that suitcase of a purse that you haul around.”
“You are joking.” Camille gave Tommy a measuring look with her brown eyes. “But, okay, I’ll go with you.”
As they entered The Vineyard, Camille whispered, “There’s one of the servers from last night.” She pointed out a tall, attractive woman with a blond braid trailing down her back, busy stocking shelves.
“Excuse me,” Tommy said as they approached her. “I’m Tommy Bradshaw and this is my fiancée, Camille Pettit.” Tommy sensed Camille bristling at the word fiancée.
“Gina Mobray.” She shook our hands in turn. “I remember you from last night,” she said to Camille.
“Camille’s pretty shaken by the whole thing with your colleague. Paul, I believe his name was?”
Gina gave a short laugh. “Paul Wakeman. Yes, well, hopefully he’ll be out on medical leave for a good long while. At least until I graduate and get to leave here.”
“He gives us all a hard time. Very critical. And he used to come on to me all the time. He is attractive, I’ll grant him that, but so obnoxious. My brother came in here one day and threatened him. He didn’t bother me after that.” Gina paused and looked toward a small woman approaching us. “But then he started picking on Marina here. We try to protect her from him. She doesn’t have a big brother.”
Marina joined us and Tommy repeated the introductions.
“Why didn’t you just leave and get jobs elsewhere?” Tommy asked.
“Jobs are hard to get. And this one was fine till Paul showed up,” Gina said.
“How long has he been here?”
“About two months or so.”
“Is he married? Girlfriends?”
“A woman with lots of tats comes in here and flirts with him. We can’t have friends visit but she can stay for an hour. Sometimes she has this bratty kid with her. They go outside and smoke.”
“The kid smokes?” Camille looked startled.
“No, no, no, no, no.” Gina waved a hand back and forth. “Paul and Ms. Tat.”
“What’s Ms. Tat’s name?”
Gina rolled her eyes. “How would I know? Paul isn’t into social niceties, like introductions.”
“Was there anyone at the wine tasting who didn’t seem to like him? Angry with him?” Tommy asked.
Gina and Marina burst out laughing.
“Sorry,” Gina said when she saw Tommy and Camille’s surprised expressions. “But Paul probably pissed off half the people there, likely more. He scowled, spilled wine while serving, and wouldn’t answer questions about the wines. He yelled at us for filling the glasses too full.”
“But you don’t try to kill someone for those reasons,” Tommy said. “Do you?”
Gina and Marina looked at each other. “I don’t know. You tell me.” Gina’s tone was playful.
Marina spoke for the first time. “He kept leaving to go outside for a cigarette. After serving the cab he didn’t come back. So Gina gave the spiel about the dessert wine, and she and I poured it. When Paul didn’t return to pack up, we just took care of it and left.”
“You weren’t alarmed that he didn’t come back?”
“No. It was just like him to leave all the work to us,” Gina said. “We figured he was hooking up with Ms. Tat. Or someone else. One of the women at the fundraiser looked like she had the hots for him.”
“Which woman was that?” Camille asked.
“She has this great auburn hair, a ton of it,” Gina said.
“She was still there when we served the dessert wine,” Marina offered. “I poured her glass.”
Tommy prompted, “So I guess you’ll have to find someone to fill in for Paul while he recovers?”
“I guess. The owner’s here temporarily. That’s him up front.” Gina gestured toward the front of the store where a man with a graying buzz cut and an apron with “The Vineyard” emblazoned across the front rang up a sale on the register.
“Thanks for your time, Gina and Marina.” Tommy flashed them a toothy smile. Camille echoed Tommy’s thanks with a closed-mouth smile.
“Maybe he can get Humphrey to come back. That’s the manager we had before,” Marina explained. “Great guy.”
By now the owner was stocking shelves. As Tommy and Camille drew closer, Camille whispered, “Tommy, isn’t that Fred Burroughs? The one who lost the election for Congress?”
Tommy regarded the man. “I think you’re right.”
“Hello, Mr. Burroughs.” Tommy went through another round of introductions, including the fiancée word. This time Camille jabbed Tommy in the elbow. “We’re a couple of your constituents and we’re sorry you didn’t win.” Tommy wasn’t sorry at all but figured that investigating called for a certain amount of lying.
Fred Burroughs smiled as he shook their hands. “Why, thank you for your support. And call me Fred.”
“Okay, Fred. We didn’t know you owned this store.”
“I own two Vineyard stores in the area.”
Tommy repeated what he’d said to Gina about Camille being traumatized by the previous night’s events.
“I can believe that,” Fred said. “We’re all in the state of shock here. To be truthful, we’re upset by the stabbing itself, not the victim. Paul turned out to be very unpleasant, both to employees and customers. He fooled me during our interview. Frankly, I was about to let him go but I was holding off till after the holidays.”
“Where did he work before you hired him?” Tommy asked.
“He managed a small ABC store outside of Charlottesville before he moved to Richmond.”
“Why did he relocate?”
Fred shrugged. “Maybe he had a girlfriend here. I didn’t get into his personal life. Look, I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I have to find a new manager.” The store was filling up with shoppers. “Wait, I’ll give you some coupons.”
♦ ♦ ♦
At home, Tommy and Camille sat and speculated about Paul and what amounted to his attempted murder.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those women at the store—Gina or Marina—did it,” Tommy said. “Do you remember what time they left? And what time that other woman found him? Maybe they had time to stab him and take off.”
“I wasn’t really paying attention to the time.”
“They sure had an ax to grind with him.”
“Yeah, they did. But is that motive enough? I mean, we’ve had problems with our department heads, but murder?”
Tommy gave a half laugh, thinking of his own department head at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College—J. Sarge to the locals. Shaking his head, he said, “Maybe Gina and Marina didn’t tell us the whole story. Maybe Paul was even worse than they described. And there could be other employees who despised him.”
“I wonder if Marina acquired a big brother—one who did more than threaten.”
When Camille didn’t comment, Tommy went on. “And there are your organization members and guests. If Paul was so attractive maybe one or more of those women had an affair with him and it didn’t work out.”
“It sure didn’t for him.” Camille smirked.
“Who’s the woman with the ton of auburn hair who had the hots for him?”
“Rhonda something. I met her last night right before the drama started. She’s very glamorous. And, from what I hear, man hungry.”
“And then there’s the woman who found him under the tree.”
“She’s so thin.”
“Thin people can kill.”
“Yes, but she didn’t look like she could lift anything heavier than a cigarette. I would think that wielding a knife would take strength.”
“Let’s not forget Ms. Tat.”
“How are we supposed to find someone named Ms. Tat?”
“We can stake out the place. She’s bound to show up.”
“Right. With our teaching schedules? And likely she already knows about Paul and won’t bother going to the store.”
“Not if she doesn’t watch the news. But you’re right, let’s focus on better possibilities first—people with names.”
“Maybe Paul was blackmailing someone. Like Fred Burroughs,” Camille said. “He was a politician and they’re always hiding something. Maybe he hired illegal immigrants. Or embezzled money and Paul found out somehow.”
Tommy looked at Camille with admiration. She had a head for this detecting. She could be Nora Charles to his Nick. Husband and wife detective team. Tommy especially liked the husband aspect. Maybe if they solved this case together . . .
Camille interrupted Tommy’s musings. “Some of the guests had already left before all the excitement. I guess the police will have to figure out who they were. One of them could easily be the stabber.”
“I know. But we have to start somewhere, and the easiest place is with Every Woman’s Village. I know, let’s have a party. We can invite some of the members of your organization, see if anyone knows anything. December is fast approaching so it’s the perfect time.”
“Well, I’m always up for a party. But not for the investigating part. It’s dangerous, Tommy. It’s all well and good for us to sit here accusing people, but if the wrong person finds out we’re sticking our noses where they don’t belong, we could be the next victims.”
“Oh, the investigating would be very smooth and casual. Just questioning. It’s natural for us to be concerned and curious since you were there.”
“Well, you are quite the smoothie, Tommy. Seriously, be very careful. Why don’t you just write a crime story?”
“I’ve thought about that. A historical one. Just haven’t gotten to it. But I’m touched by your concern and I’ll be extra cautious. Now for the party. We need to find out who frequented the wine store and may have known Paul. Who has a daughter, or even a son, who could have had dealings, sexual or otherwise, with him? If we have plenty of wine on hand, it will loosen tongues a bit.”
Camille rummaged through her capacious purse until she produced the member directory for Every Woman’s Village. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. I saw your friend Dave last night. He was there with one of the members. He asked where you were. I’m so glad you gave him that rifle of yours.”
“Yes, well someone stole his. And you don’t want me to hunt.” Tommy spread his hands in a what-could-I-do gesture.
“That’s right, I’m really against that.”
Tommy didn’t want to get Camille started on the hunting subject, so he said, “Let’s have the party during the week. This coming week.”
“No, Tommy. We need to give people notice. Get as many folks to come as possible.”
They compromised on the following Sunday, agreeing to keep the guest list to organization members and a few colleagues from J. Sarge. Camille went off to create an online invitation.
“You should see all the e-mails I have,” Camille called from her office. When Tommy appeared in the doorway, she went on. “Everyone’s just stunned about last night. The president, Lanie Jacobs, says it was Adele Simpson who found Paul. Lanie’s getting a list together for the police.”
“A list of what?”
“Of everyone who attended. Oh, and the woman who ran the silent auction is going to get the items to the winners and collect the money.”
Tommy went to his own office and considered his options for getting on with this investigation. The options were few—amateur detectives were much more limited than the police.
What he needed was a police connection. Amateur sleuths in books always had a love interest in law enforcement—or someone with a way to access information on cases. Tommy thought of Rockie Perkins. Once upon a time he and Rockie had a hot and heavy relationship. Rockie dumped him for someone else, but it wasn’t long before she came running back to Tommy. By that time he and Camille were living together. And Tommy wasn’t about to let go of Camille.
He and Rockie remained friends. When they ran into each other at the gym they were cordial. But, according to Facebook, the woman was currently in Costa Rica. Each day she posted something like I’m at the Atlanta International Airport with Lou Vitale, or I’m in Tortuguero with Lou Vitale. Tommy guessed that Lou Vitale was Rockie’s newest love interest. She’d been in Atlanta two days before, so she might be gone for at least a week. Tommy sighed and resigned himself to checking each day until Rockie posted that she was at the Richmond International Airport.
Tommy looked up Paul Wakeman on Facebook. The man projected a cocky self-assurance as he stared into the camera. His black T-shirt revealed well-developed biceps. With his shaggy black mane and vibrant mustache Paul Wakeman likely had no trouble attracting women. He hadn’t posted a status update since August.
Paul and Tommy had a mutual friend, Kathy Quinn. Kathy and Tommy were colleagues in the history department at J. Sarge.
Tommy considered calling Kathy, but he didn’t have her number. He could email her or send a personal message on Facebook. What did she know about Paul? How well did she know him? But Tommy figured this information was best obtained in person, so he reluctantly put off his inquiry until he saw her at school.
Tommy was eager to investigate and bristled at all this waiting. In books it seemed as if sleuths got more immediate gratification.
Later, Tommy found a basket by the front door with a Post-it note attached. “Doorbell doesn’t work? Just mail a check for twenty dollars to Mary Anders, made out to Every Woman’s Village.” Dang, thought Tommy. He remembered the doorbell ringing while he and Camille were in the bedroom enjoying an interlude. They’d missed a chance to exchange gossip with someone from the previous night’s event.
On Monday, he buttonholed Kathy Quinn in the hallway between classes. He explained about Camille being at the fundraiser where Paul Wakeman had been stabbed.
Kathy sighed. “Yeah, I saw that on the news.”
“Did you know him? I looked him up on Facebook and saw that you two were friends.”
“We went to high school together in Charlottesville, but I never knew him well. I’m Facebook friends with lots of my former classmates. I didn’t even know he was in Richmond.”
“What was he like in school?”
“Nasty as all get out. Hot, though, really sexy. That angry young man thing, you know. He got into lots of trouble at school, drinking, drugs, stealing cars. He had many female admirers. Male admirers, not so many. Parents of female admirers, even fewer.”
“Did he ever marry? It didn’t say anything about a wife in the paper.”
Kathy shrugged. “I don’t know. Don’t think so. I heard he found his live-in girlfriend in bed with someone else. He threw them out the door with no clothes on. Lucky for them it was warm out.”
“Hmm. Did they press charges? Once they found some clothes, that is.”
“So, besides those two, who’d want to kill him?”
“In Charlottesville alone, probably lots of people.”
It occurred to Tommy that Paul might have recognized his attacker and would retaliate once he recovered. All the more reason to solve this whodunit—and fast.
♦ ♦ ♦
“What is all this stuff, Camille?” Tommy waved his hand at the food-laden table. Camille had insisted on catering the party.
She pointed at each dish as she described it. “Porcini mushroom phyllo cups. Goat cheese tarts with olive, tomato, and roasted garlic. That one is . . . oh, figs with lavender and gorgonzola mousse.”
When Camille finished her seemingly endless litany of strange-sounding items—the only ones he recognized were the meat balls—Tommy said, “Whew! This investigating business is expensive.”
“Well, the guy at The Vineyard gave us those discount coupons so the wine didn’t cost much. Some of these people are oenophiles.”
“Yes, oenophiles. Wine connoisseurs. You’re a history professor and you don’t know that?”
“We didn’t cover wine connoisseurs in my history courses.”
Camille laughed. “I know you’d have been happy with Velveeta and crackers.”
“Velveeta’s great stuff. But whatever makes you happy, dear.” Tommy wondered if Camille would marry him if he became a—what was the word? Eenofile? Surely then she would realize what great husband material he was.
Fifteen minutes later Tommy and Camille’s guests filled their small house.
When Camille introduced Tommy to Lanie Jacobs, the president of Every Woman’s Village, Tommy began with an ice breaker. “What’s your favorite wine?”
The woman rattled off a list of names that meant nothing to Tommy. He listened politely before introducing the subject of Paul Wakeman.
“I guess you all had quite a shock last week.”
Lanie smoothed her already smooth cap of silver hair. “It’s something we’ll never forget, that’s for sure. I can still hear Adele screaming.”
“Is she here today?”
Lanie looked around. “I don’t see her yet.”
“Do you have any ideas about who stabbed the guy?”
“Surely not one of us. At least I hope not. Probably one of the employees at The Vineyard.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He was so nasty. One time when I was there I heard him yelling at one of the women. And she was there last night. A tiny girl.”
Marina, Tommy thought. “So do you think she did it?”
“But wouldn’t the person have had blood on herself. Or himself?”
“Not according to my neighbor whose son is an ER nurse. He says if a knife is stabbed deep into the abdomen and not removed that there will probably be little blood spatter. More likely blood will just drip. And Adele said it was in that man’s abdomen.”
Tommy recalled Camille saying Adele saw the knife in Paul’s stomach, not his abdomen. But many people didn’t know the difference and thought the stomach sat much lower than it in fact did.
“But you know, those servers from the wine store left before the rest of us did. They just may have had time to stab the man and take off before Adele found him.” With that provocative statement, Lanie said, “Excuse me, I must go and powder my nose.”
As she moved away, Camille came by and whispered, “That’s Rhonda over by the table.” Tommy spotted a woman with masses of auburn hair and sky-high heels. “She’s the one who had the hots for Paul. But watch out, don’t let her seduce you.” Was Camille jealous? Tommy glowed at the thought. He approached Rhonda and introduced himself. She appraised him with a full body sweep as she offered a hand decorated with diamonds and two-inch red talons.
“These meatballs are amazing. They’re simply amazing.” She popped one in her mouth. Tommy interpreted the coy look on her face as inviting. “What’s in this sauce?” she asked.
Tommy tried to remember what Camille had told him. “I believe it’s a pomegranate currant sauce.”
“It’s amazing,” she repeated. “And it pairs beautifully with this cab.” Rhonda drew her shoulders back and lifted her glass as in a toast. “A graceful cabernet with generous flavors of cranberries, blackberries, and light baking spices. Full in body with a velvety smooth finish that coats the palate in soft tannins and lovely fruit.”
Rhonda stopped and waited, looking like a child expecting praise from her teacher.
Tommy obliged. “Very good. They should hire you at The Vineyard.” Then, before Rhonda went off again with rapturous descriptions and exclamations on the amazingness of the food and wine, he asked, “So what do you think about that stabbing last week at your wine tasting?”
“Most unfortunate. Such an attractive man. Hot stuff!”
“Did you see anyone who looked suspicious?”
“Well, no, but I wasn’t really looking for suspicious-looking people.”
“I guess a lot of people were going in and out.”
“Probably some of the women went out to their cars for purses and such. Better than hauling them around.”
“Did you know this Paul?”
“Unfortunately not. I shop at his competition. But when I saw him at the wine tasting I resolved to start going to The Vineyard. One stop shopping, you know.” Again, she gave Tommy that coy look as she leaned closer to him and confided, “One of our members went to the store with her daughter. The daughter started going out with him.” She winked. “Her daughter tells her everything. Our Paul liked his sex on the kinky side.”
“Huh. So do you think the daughter—”
“Stabbed him?” She shrugged. “Now there’s a thought.”
“Is the daughter here today? Or the mother?”
“No, they couldn’t make it. You in the market for some kinky sex, Tommy?”
Tommy gulped. How far was he prepared to go for information? He cast a nervous glance in Camille’s direction. She was talking to a thin woman who gestured nervously.
Rhonda laughed. “I have to go. Another party.” She sighed as she gave Tommy a longing look. “Here, Tommy, take my card. Call me anytime. Anytime.” She took a card from her undersized shoulder bag and slipped it into Tommy’s pocket before gliding away. A tall man helped her into her coat.
Camille approached Tommy, the thin woman in tow. “Tommy, this is Adele Simpson. She found Paul, you know, the man who was stabbed at the wine tasting.”
Tommy tried a compassionate tone. “That must have been a terrible experience for you.”
Camille moved away. Adele shared a story that Tommy suspected she’d told and retold countless times, emitting tobacco fumes with each breath. She’d gone out to the parking lot to have a cigarette. When she saw something strange down toward the street, she went to investigate. And found him. The man.
“Did you see the knife?” Tommy knew that she had but wanted to see her reaction.
“Yes! Oh, I’ll never get over the shock of it. I’m having nightmares!”
“Maybe counseling for post-traumatic stress would help.”
Adele placed a hand on his arm. “Yes, you’re right, Tommy. You’re such a nice man.”
Was Adele a nice woman? Had she stabbed Paul? She had opportunity. She didn’t look as if she had the strength to swat a fly, but maybe she had help. But what about motive? Had she had an affair with the victim?
“Do you shop at The Vineyard?” Tommy asked.
“No. I don’t drink.”
When everyone left, Tommy and Camille sat and debriefed each other on their findings. They’d found out pretty much the same scant information. They were still nowhere.
“Lanie had the same idea I did about the servers leaving and having time to stab Paul before Adele found him.”
“You could both be right, Tommy.”
“Our best bet at this point is the mother/daughter duo that Rhonda mentioned. Any idea who they could be?”
Camille thought. “No. I still don’t know a lot of people.”
“So our suspects at this point are the mother and daughter, The Vineyard employees—”
“And Fred, the owner.”
“Any number of people in Charlottesville.”
“And any number of people in Every Woman’s Village and anyone else who bought a ticket to the wine tasting.”
Tommy and Camille looked at each other and laughed ruefully.
“We need to narrow the field of suspects, Camille. And get some proof. It looks like a lot of folks might have wanted him dead. But we need just one person. Unless a gang swooped down on him in the parking lot of St. Ambrose’s Episcopal Church.”
Camille yawned. “Look, we had this party and we’re not any the wiser. Just let the police handle things.”
Camille was right, Tommy thought. He was a flop as a detective. His only hope was Rockie Perkins. When was she getting back? Tommy had checked Facebook that morning and she was still in Costa Rica. Fictional sleuths never had to wait. He decided to seriously consider writing that mystery. That way he could have things the way he wanted them.
At last Rockie posted I’m at Richmond International Airport with Lou Vitale. Tommy forced himself to wait a couple of days for Rockie to get caught up from her vacation before calling her. After preliminary chitchat and a rundown on the wonders of Costa Rica, Tommy broached the subject of Paul Wakeman.
“Camille, my fiancée, was there when it happened.”
“Oh, so you’re engaged. Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Rockie. We’re very happy.”
“Well, Tommy, if things don’t work out with Camille, you know where to find me.”
“What about Lou Vitale?”
“Lou? Lou’s just a friend. He’s gay.”
“Oh.” After a couple of beats, Tommy asked, “So, do you have any suspects?”
“Not that I’ve heard. They’re trying to trace that hunting knife. It’s a beautiful handcrafted piece, probably one of a kind.”
“Oh, a hunting knife was the weapon?”
“Um hmm. You’re a hunter, right, Tommy? Missing a hunting knife?” She sounded playful, but Tommy heard the edge in her cop voice.
“No, I just saw mine the other day,” he lied.
Tommy looked for his hunting knife but couldn’t find it. The only person who had access to it was Camille. And her son. But Jeremy was away at college.
When Camille came home, she went to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea. Tommy came up behind her and got right to the point. “I can’t find my hunting knife, Camille. Have you seen it?”
“No, Tommy.” She opened the cupboard where she kept the tea.
Tommy closed the cupboard door. “Have you seen my knife?”
Camille’s eyes widened in alarm. “I said no.”
“Funny. Apparently whoever stabbed Paul Wakeman used a handcrafted hunting knife. It’s a good thing I bought mine second hand. I sure wouldn’t like to have the police trace it back to me.”
Camille looked down at the floor and up at the ceiling. Everywhere but at Tommy. After a few deep breaths, she began. “I thought it was him. I really thought it was him that night.”
“You thought who was who?”
Camille frowned. “Shouldn’t it be who was whom?”
When Tommy ignored her correction, Camille explained, “Paul Wakeman. I thought he was . . . I thought he was my ex.”
When Camille fell silent, Tommy said, “And?”
“He deserted me. He left me in the delivery room when Jeremy was born. He was always an asshole, but I never expected him to desert me. Especially not when I was giving birth to his son. Said he had to pee and never came back. Our lawyers handled the divorce.
“I hadn’t seen him in twenty years and had almost managed to forget about him. Until that night at the wine tasting. He didn’t recognize me, just scowled and slopped wine into my glass. His not recognizing me put me over the edge.”
Camille took another deep breath. “I’d left my purse in my car, so I went out to get money for the silent auction. I saw Paul near my car, smoking in an unlit area of the parking lot, and I confronted him. He claimed not to know me or remember me. ‘I don’t go for old hags,’ he said and laughed. I remembered that I had your hunting knife in my purse.”
“What! So you did have my knife.”
“I took it one day so you wouldn’t go off hunting again. It looked valuable so I was going to have it appraised. But I hadn’t gotten around to it.”
“You stole my knife. Were you going to pocket the money you got for it—” Tommy broke off, perhaps realizing that he was straying from the matter at hand. “So go on, Camille. What happened next?”
“He took his phone out of his pocket and started to turn away from me. Then he turned toward me again and I stabbed him. I left the knife there in his stomach and wiped the handle with a napkin I found in my purse. Then I went back inside.”
“Camille, I don’t know how to say this, but—” After a pause, Tommy started, “Paul Wakeman is thirty two years old. Twenty years ago he would have been twelve.”
“I know, Tommy. I realized that when I heard his name and age on the news.”
Camille looked pensive for a few seconds. “But he’s forgiven me.”
“Who’s forgiven you?”
“Paul? Forgiven you? How did that happen?”
“I visited him every day in the hospital and at his home when he got out. He’s changed.”
Tommy just stared at this woman whom he thought he knew.
“Tommy, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, well, I’m going to move in with Paul.”
“And we’re going to start going to church at St. Ambrose’s, since that’s where we met.”
“Camille, what if the man’s lying and he really means to seek revenge and hurt you?”
Camille gave Tommy a look of pity. “Oh, Tommy. I’m sorry you’re hurt. But you’re not being nice.”
After an uncomfortable moment of silence she said, “Well, I have to start packing.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Tommy sat, stunned. Looking at the bright side of the situation, he’d solved a mystery. But it looked as if he’d have to strike marrying Camille from his bucket list. Should he turn her in to the police? Would they do anything if Paul didn’t press charges? Rockie would know. Plus Rockie was waiting in the wings to reenact her role as Tommy’s lover.
Tommy picked up his phone and redialed Rockie’s number.
“Wine, Women, and Wrong” appeared in 50 Shades of Cabernet (published by Koehler Books in 2017).