|Mystery and Crime Fiction posted July 28, 2020||Chapters:||-1- 2|
Every sip is to die for
A chapter in the book Uri's full bodied wine
Uri's full bodied wine
by Brad Bennett
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
The story is broken into two chapters representing the span needed for a wine to reach proper maturity.
“Uri Alexia Bablonski," came a loud yell. "I know you are in here. Answer me now, Uri, or there will be hell to pay.”
"Go away, Honrich Golonovich, I have no time for you.”
The echoing reply resounded from somewhere deep within the building's interior.
“You cannot hide from me forever Uri. We talk now, damn you.”
Banging footsteps soon indicated the caller had found the steel stairs leading up to the big open fermentation tank.
“What do you want, Honrich?” I am working now. You cannot get paid if I do not work.”
The heavyset man reached the top of the stairs. He paused to grab the railing and catch his breath.
“Paid? What have you paid? I have not seen one dime from you.”
Uri set down the big metal wrench he was holding, and took up a rag to wipe his greasy hands.
“See this piping system Honrich,” he said to the man. “It took weeks to install, and I still need to tune all the gauges. Making wine takes time.”
Honrich came forward on the catwalk, pointing angrily to the big vat.
“The wine still sits in the tank. Nothing has changed since I last saw you.” He took out his cell, waving it up in Uri’s face. “Six times, I call you, and you do not answer. We need to have some wine bottled, ready to ship, and ready to SELL.”
Uri batted away the phone. “I’m out in those fields, sweating in the hot sun, minding the grapes, working myself to death. And that’s all you have contributed, calls?”
Honrich shook his finger in Uri’s face. “You haven’t accomplished anything. You fall behind the payments to me we had agreed on.”
"The weather sets the schedule Honrich. You know from nothing of grape growing.”
"I see your sales figures. They are sales failures. I see three big tanks here, and you still do not bottle. Now I see you are even further behind. You are losing me money.”
"You see nothing, Honrich Golonovich, I spit in your face. You are nothing but a hindrance to me. You get no money today. Leave my winery now, or I throw you out like I throw out the slag that rots in the runoffs!”
"Oh, you think so!” Honrich’s voice was loud and mocking. “Have you checked the agreement you signed?” He reached into his coat pocket and waved the contract in Uri’s face. “I own Fifty One per cent! I'm selling this winery and deducting all the expenses you owe me. You will have nothing when I get through with you,” he roared. “NOTHING!”
Honrich turned and headed for the stairs.
“YOU WOULD SELL ME OUT!” Uri screamed in rage. He grabbed the steel wrench and swung it as hard as he could.
Honrich turned, but it was too late—the heavy wrench struck him square in his chest. He staggered backward, tumbled over the railing, and fell headlong into the huge vat.
Uri dropped the wrench in shock as Honrich’s body disappeared into the swirling liquid. He staggered and collapsed onto the grated steel platform.
“God in heaven,” Uri stammered. “What have I done?”
Katerina had heard the shouting from the back yard of the house. She quickly ran to the wine barn.
"Uri, where are you?” She called out from the winery’s floor. ”What is happening? Answer me!”
“I am up here, Kat,” Uri answered. “Come quick, there’s been a terrible accident. ”Katerina made her way up the steep stairs. She found Uri lying on the platform. She looked around—where was Honrich?
“What accident?” She demanded. “What do you mean?”
Uri stood up, his face pale and gaunt. “Katerina, Honrich is down there.” He pointed into the wine tank.
“Holy shit Uri. He fell into the vat? How?”
Uri didn’t answer. He slumped back down and sat on the floor, shaken, struggling for an answer.
“My god Uri, what happened? What in the hell did you do?”
Uri was trembling as he spoke. “Kat, he was going to sell the winery, take away everything we have worked for—I had to stop him—I hit him. Kat. He fell into the wine tank.”
Katerina reached over and grabbed the rail for support, shaking her head in disbelief.
“That’s not an accident, you fool, that’s murder. What were you thinking?”
“It all happened so fast, I had no control. We will lose everything now, the winery, our livelihood." He paused, raising his head, his face in grief. “Katerina, I will go to prison.”
“No,” Katerina replied. “It has to be an accident. Come now Uri; let us go to the house. We sit down. We’ll have some wine. We find a way."
The little oak table by the bay window was usually where Katerina and Uri rested after a long day working the fields. Now they had much more urgent matters.
Kat went to the wine cabinet. “I will pour you our best today; it will calm you. We must put this behind us."
Uri slumped his long-limbed frame into a chair, his head in his hands. “How can we put this behind us? We have a body—police will come when he is missed.
Kat brought the wine. “It’s getting dark now, its Sunday, all the staff is off. We can hide the evidence.” Kat's voice turned calm and measured; she carefully poured two glasses.
“First, we remove the body," she said straight out.
Uri took a drink; he sat it down. “How? The body is in 3,000 litres of fermenting wine?”
“We hook it with a dragline and pull it out.” Kat coldly replied.
“Uri shook his head, the thought was chilling. “But his car, how do we get rid of that?”
"We drive it to someplace far away, and ditch it."
“But there will be evidence he came here, they will know.”
Kat scratched her nose. Uri knew she always did this when she wasn’t sure of something.
“We take that chance,” she finally replied. “But think about it, what can they prove? If they come, and they ask us, we say he came by, and he left.”
“The ownership of the winery," Uri reminded her, "Honrich is the half-owner. There will be legal issues. Others will come, and they will ask questions.”
Kat leaned back in her chair; she picked up her glass. “Let them ask Uri; they have nothing. And think of this, now we are sole owners. No more Honrich and his nagging questions. Drink up, Uri Bablonski. We are the sole owners of Liquid Lust Winery now.”
Uri parked Honrich’s car on a dark, late-night city street in nearby Penticton. Kat had wiped clean the steering wheel and dash with alcohol. Honrich had left his briefcase, but Uri had removed it, and any other reference to the winery.
Kat had reminded Uri that they should drive the car much farther than just the distance from Oliver. This would suggest the vehicle was driven to other places after leaving the winery.
Uri wore a long coat and a hat pulled over his face when he exited the car. He then walked to meet Kat, who was parked some blocks away. They quickly left the scene.
After they returned to the winery later that night, Uri and Kat began partaking of two more bottles of Merlot. Uri brought up the problem of removing the body again.
“If we take the body from the tank, where do we get rid of it?” He posed. “Also, Andre, will ask—why we empty tank?”
Kat didn't answer right away. She scratched her nose as before. Uri waited.
“It’s an issue but not a problem,” she reasoned. “We tell Andre we think the wine is too acidic, and ask him to seal the tank. Later down the road, we bury Honrich in some far off place in the woods.”
“You’re a master conspirator, my Kat,” Uri blurted out, mockingly. “Who’s next? Me?”
"Hah, you think so, my babooshka?“ she laughed. ”You are my champion, my partner in danger.”
Uri laughed. They drank more wine.
Andre Leshan wondered why the boss needed him out in the field? As Cellar Master, he had chores to tend to in the tank area. But Uri insisted he check the grapes in the far section to see if they were next for picking? Andre argued that was a task for a field hand, but Uri was insistent.
After Andre left, Uri began walking all around inside the vintner building. He was looking for any trace of last night’s event. But everything was okay, no blood, or anything that might reveal Honrich’s demise. He thought of Kats reasoning. Outsiders may have suspicions, but there was no indication of wrongdoing.
Uri smiled, he felt better now. Without Honrich’s meddling, he was the absolute boss now. This was his winery.
Kat had now settled into organizing their business affairs. It would be a while until any authorities came. She would have everything ready for prying eyes. Yes, they had paid Honrich little, but they had also taken little for themselves—paid bills meant survival. Katerina also knew Honrich had few family connections in Canada after they came over from the old country. But that was good, the less snooping the better. She set about preparing the ordering papers to take the cellar barrels of Lot-2 to bottle.
The sun was growing hot. Andre wiped his brow. He was getting frustrated. The grapes were ready for picking in the north section—he’d told Uri that. He needed to get back to the tank room, that was more important. “Ignorant Slav,” Andre cursed Uri under his breath, on his way back to the wine barn. How dare this Czech Bohemian question his knowledge? Blending Cabernets and Merlots were his specialties, an art form. Uri knows only Pinot Noir. He’s a bo-hunk, a Slavic grape picker. Every time Uri comes to the wine building, he causes problems. He should stay out in the vines where he belongs.
Andre parked and quickly headed for the fermentation tanks. He read the survey meter on tank one for the PH levels. The reading was low, meaning the acids were actually high. But not a problem, he would stir the must, (juices) which had formed the surface of the fermenting grapes, and then add more calcium carbonate. Also he should check to inoculate for a malolactic fermentation to reduce the acid. He started for the stairs when he spotted the Action Notice sheet taped on the steel tank. He read Uri’s directive…
Andre, seal this tank and set the wine aside, it is spoiled.
Andre was dumbfounded. The wine was only high in acid—not gone bad? The wine could be brought to level. This was outrageous. This full tank represented acres of picked grapes, months of work. It would be insane to dump it.
Andre tore the notice up and threw it in the trash.
By now, a week had gone by since the incident. Yet, there had been no calls or any indications regarding Honrich’s whereabouts. But every time a car that looked official came up their road, Kats heart would race with dread. But so far, all was safe. Kat's primary concern, though, was over-seeing the cellar. They had many aging barrels ready. It was important they get them bottled and out to market. She called her distributor Ann Smith, but Ann was not bearing good news
"Kat," Ann began. "Your wine is not well known yet. The retailers are not clamoring for your brand.”
"This is not acceptable, Kat replied. “Cabernet is popular now. Why the problem?
Ann tried to frame her words carefully. “Your wines were too early last year. Look, I know you just started up, but you need a good aged brand on the shelf.”
“Ann, our next wine, Lot-2, is older. I know it will sell.”
Ann hesitated a bit. “Okay, we’ll try 100 cases, see how that goes.”
Uri was in the vineyards, hauling a load of grapes up for crushing, his cell rang. He stopped the tractor and quieted the engine. "Yes, Kat?"
“Uri, our first batch, isn’t selling well. Those three-year-old kegs in the cellar, Lot-2, are they ready? Do you think they are better?”
“Oh yes, much better. We had bottled the first year too early because we were cash short. But this is good wine.”
“Okay, that is good news.” Kat clicked off her cell.
“That god damn Honrich,” Uri cursed, spitting out the dead man’s name. It was Honrich who had forced him to bottle early. “It is good he is gone.” He spat again.
The purple mass of crushed grape in the second tank needed tending. Andre reached for the long-handled stir stick, and began punching down the crust over the mixture.
Suddenly Uri’s loud voice resounded throughout the wine building.
“Andre Leshan. Come down here!”
“Damn, what now?” Andre muttered. He dropped the stick and clamored down the catwalk stair to the winery floor.
"What is it now, Uri? I’m busy on the other tank."
Angered, Uri pointed to tank number one’s green light.
“This tank is still active, did you not see my directive? I want this tank shut down!”
“Listen, Uri, I have good news,” Andre told him. “This wine is good.” He produced the readout paper from his pocket. “Look, the ph levels are normal.”
Uri’s anger was growing.” I don’t care about the readout. I think this wine has gone bad. It’s cat's pee. I want it shut down now.”
“But I’m ready to clarify this wine and fine it. “Andre explained to him. “Soon it will be ready to go to barrel.”
Andre held up a sample he’d drawn in a small glass. “Look,” he told him. He took up the sample and sipped it. "It's smooth.” He held it up to Uri. “Taste it.”
Uri's face grew deathly pale. “NO!” he gasped. “Get it away.” He recoiled back, and ran from the building.
Andre stood there dumbfounded—what had just happened?
Kat was startled by the sound of the screen door banging against the wall. Uri barged in—ran to the bathroom. Next, she could hear him gagging behind the closed door.
“Uri, are you okay?” He didn’t answer. She decided to sit and wait.
Finally, Uri emerged his face pale and gaunt.
“I want Andre fired,” he blurted.” He sat at the table, and said no more.
Kat hovered over him. “Now what have you done?” She was in no mood for any more trouble.
“Andre disobeyed me,” Uri answered. “He didn’t turn off the tank, he wants to keep its wine.”
Kat sat down. “Oh God, what did you say to him?”
“I told him to do as I asked, but he argued that the wine was good. Kat, he…he drank from the tank. It was too much. I ran.”
“Alright, now stop this panicking, it’s not a big deal. I’ll go and talk to Andre, no more talk of firing. Dammit, we need him.” She got up and left.
Kat found Andre quietly sitting in the tank room. She put a smile on her face and quickly approached him.
"Are you alright, Andre?"
“No,” he answered directly. “What’s wrong with that man, he’s driving me crazy!”
Kat sat down next to him on the bench. “Uri is under pressure. This growing season is especially hard on him. Could you bear with me for just a while?” she pleaded.
Andre rolled his eyes. "He gets in my way on everything, and lately, he's gotten worse. I can’t work with that man anymore.”
“I will talk to Uri, I need you to stay.” Kat tried to be as convincing as she could. “Andre, you’re in charge of the cellar production. If you say the wine is good, then we keep it. I’ll remind Uri of that. I promise you this time it will work. Are we agreed?”
Andre nodded. Kat had fixed things as usual, but this time her promise had better hold.
“Okay, Just keep him away from the tanks. I can save the wine Kat, but I need control.”
“You have it.”
Kat left. Hopefully, she had patched things up. But she knew she had only put out one fire, and started up another.
It had been a good two weeks before Katerina was to be confronted with a dreaded inquiry on Honrich. But it didn't come up the road. It was a phone call. Her cell said it was from Toronto. She answered.
“Hello, Katerina," an older woman’s voice was on the line. “I’m Ilsa Golonovich, Honrich’s sister. I don’t know if he ever mentioned my name to you?”
Tension started to swell up in Kat's throat. “Yes, he’s mentioned you, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”
"Oh, no, that’s not why I’m calling. I can't seem to locate Honrich, he was coming out to visit, but he never showed up. I called his home number and office, but no one there has seen him either.”
Kat paused, then answered. ”When was he expected, Ilsa?”
“Well it has been several days now. I’m wondering if you knew anything. Has he been out to see you?”
Kat hesitated again. This was the big question, “Um, ah, Ilsa, he was out here two weeks ago on Sunday, but we’ve heard nothing from him since.”
“Well, okay then, Katerina, thank you. But if you do hear anything, please call me at this number. We are anxious here, and it's not like him just to disappear."
"Of course, Ilsa. Sorry I couldn’t help you.”
That night, Kat informed Uri of the call. She broke it to him as gently as she could. "Ilsa will file a missing person report now,” she began. “We need to sync up our stories, the police will soon want to talk to us.”
Uri nervously set his wine down. “Did you ask her if Honrich had said anything about us, anything about him selling?”
“No,” Kat came back. “That’s the worst approach Uri. Never ask questions that hint a motive. Never give information until you’ve heard it from the questioner first.”
“How you know all this stuff?“ Uri accused her. “You talk like a master felon?”
“It’s common sense, just remember it.”
“All I know Kat, is we must get the body from the tank soon. Police will be here; they will search with special equipment. They will find evidence.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that,” Kat assured him, “and I have a plan.”
"You have a plan? I have a plan too. We tell Andre we are boss, we empty tank. He stays out of it." Uri sat back, his arms folded.
“Listen, Uri,” Kat knew this was going to be rough. “We need Andre on our side. Let him barrel the tank as Lot-3. When the tank is near empty, we send Andre away on a mission or something. Then we can dispose of evidence, and all is good.”
Uri said nothing. Kat could see his face redden. Suddenly he brought his fist down hard on the table, the cabinet dishes rattling.
“NO,” he bellowed. “I do not want that wine barrelled. It is poison. It keeps Honrich’s ghost alive. He will haunt me from the cellar. We must destroy all trace of him."
Kat sat back, she crossed her arms, her eyes fixated on Uri. The only sound, was the old clock ticking in the hallway.
“Did you hear what you just said, Uri Bablonski?" Her voice accusing, “do you want to go to prison because you believe in ghosts? Are you ready to send me there too?”
Uri shook his head, “Andre is only an employee. He must do what we tell him."
“He is Cellar Master Uri, he believes that wine is good, and he will make trouble. When the police come, they will focus their suspicion on that tank. Do you want that?”
Uri, calmed a bit. “No, but there must be another way, this is too scary for me.”
“After the wine is drained and filtered, it will sit for three years in barrels, ”Kat replied. “We will have all that time to see if it stays good. If not, we still have the other tanks for the rest of Lot-3. It will not be so big a loss, we can survive."
"I must have time to think, Katerina; I do not like this."
“Nor do I Uri, but we must stay calm on this, and focus. Do you agree or not?”
Uri finally nodded, but Kat could see he wasn’t convinced.
The plastic hose from Tank-1 ran a cloudy red. But that was good. Andre knew the filters would solve it. Wine is always cloudy at early pull. He shut off the drain spigot when the smaller settling tank topped. He capped it and smiled; it was done. This full tank signified Lot-3, the cellar's first wine of the year. In another week, he would have the entire batch ready to barrel.
That night Kat informed Uri of Andres near completion of the draining of Tank-1.
“We need to empty that tank now, Uri. Andre will be draining down to where the body is soon.”
She studied Uri's reaction; he was apprehensive. The removal of the body was starting to be an issue with him.
“Uri, we’re running out of time, Kat reminded him. We discussed this. The long weekend is coming; it will be perfect. Most of the staff will be gone, except for Andre and Gwynn Williams, the storeroom worker.”
Uri nervously nodded. “Ok, we can ask, Gwinn, to leave early, but how do we get Andre away from the tanks? He’s always in the fermentation room?”
“There’s a wine seminar in Kelowna this weekend," Kat noted. "I’ll ask him to represent us at the meetings. He’ll like that, all the other Cellar Masters will be there.”
“I need time to think.”
“Uri, I need your commitment on this, I can't do this by myself. You must drop this fear you have.”
“Kat, I am bothered by that tank, I’m afraid to go near it?”
“Honrich’s ghost again? Dammit, I was hoping you were over that?”
“Kat, Honrich is in that tank, he’s in those bottles.” Uri was obsessed. "I had nightmares last night. He hovers like death over me from that tank.”
“Okay. Okay. I believe you, Uri." She sat in thought for a moment.
“Maybe I have something that can help you.”
Kat arose and went to her desk drawer. She opened it and brought out a small wooden box.
“Take this Uri,” she said, handing it to him.
The box was latched with a little catch. Uri snapped it open. Inside was a silver object. He took it out and examined it.
“It’s a Domovoy,” Kat informed him. “My Grand-Mama gave it to me when I was a little girl in the old country.”
Uri studied the little elfish figure dangling from a leather strap. A long curving moustache framed his fierce-looking face. A pointed hat sat on his head, surrounded by symbols of stars.
“Yes, I’ve seen this in the old country," Uri mentioned. “My mother also had one.”
“It’s a Czech talisman Uri. The Domovoy is the deity that protects our household. With it, you are safe from demon spirits. It will drive them all away.”
Uri nodded his head in approval. He held the talisman in his hand.
“Thank you, Katerina Bablonski,” his face brightened. “This is good.”
“Okay, Saturday, is it then?” Kat asked him. “We do it. Yes?” Kat searched his face for an answer…
Uri placed the talisman strap around his neck.
“Yes, my Kat, we do it.”
Kat smiled. She had bought the little figure on EBay for $24,95. Better a lie that heals, she thought, than a truth that harms.
The weekend began with the threat of rain. Kat and Uri walked to the wine barn, the air turning colder. Kat looked to the darkening sky, Uri had suggested they bury the body on the western mountain slope. It was dense with thick brush, rarely visited. But she didn’t like the possibility of trudging in mud, packing a wine-soaked corpse.
Uri went up to the big tank and peered inside. The tank was still one-quarter full, but it was mostly pulp now—fortunately, with the body still unexposed. A few more days of draining, and Andre would have seen it.
Uri looked away from the tank. He would have to prepare himself now. He must enter the vat. He took hold of the grappling hook rope. Luckily there was a crane hoist on a rail above the tanks; it would make the lifting easier.
He was wearing a clumsy rubber bodysuit and a breathing mask used for tank cleaning. He grabbed the rope, and Kat pushed the hoist button to lower him down. Uri fished around with his hands until he found the sunken body. He positioned himself and wrapped the rope around it until he could fasten the hook.
“Lift!” Uri yelled, Kat hit the UP button.
From the vat came a gruesome, shriveled purple mass, bringing an overpowering stench of escaping gasses with it. The corpse rose until it was swinging high above the tank, dripping down wine and falling waste—a scene right out of a B grade horror movie.
When the body had finally drained off, Kat lowered it down over a heavy tarp lain on the floor. They would wrap it up in that for carrying away. Kat locked off the tank room door, and they left.
Luckily there was no rain yet, and the road up the mountain was dry. Uri knew this area; he had driven through this old abandoned dirt road before. Uri found the cut off he remembered, and edged the 4-wheel drive truck into the brush. The rest of the way would be by carrying. Kat wasn’t a big woman, but she was stronger than most, and somehow they traversed the body to their hidden digging site.
They commenced digging. Hours went by until Uri felt it was deep enough. They rolled in the body and emptied two bags of lye over it. The lye would kill any smell that might attract animals, plus dissolve away the corpse.
As darkness fell, a silent full moon lit the valley, revealing deep shadows in ghostly detail along the winding road down. Uri drove with one hand on the wheel, holding the talisman tight in the other. At last, the deed was done. The ghost was gone.
Even at five in the morning, the summer sun, in the South Okanagan Valley shines hot and bright, stealing back the night too soon. By six o'clock, Uri would be out somewhere in the winery working.
Kat always used this time to tend to her flowers behind the house. She had trellises all around the back patio, covered with climbing roses and purple morning glory. It was here she could listen to the gurgling water fountain as she tended to their cuttings. This was the perfect place to usher in the winery’s visitors to sit and enjoy a tasting. She wouldn’t expect any visitors this early; most tourist and wine enthusiasts didn’t arrive till later. She had this quiet time for herself.
The slam of two car doors startled her—she hadn’t heard the car drive up. She set her trimmings down and quickly walked inside to the front desk. A tall man in a grey suit stood in the doorway, another man was behind him. He looked around, saw, Kat, and came forward.
“Hello,” he greeted. “I’m looking for Uri and Katerina Bablonski.”
“I’m Katerina.” She answered. “My husband is out in the winery now.”
“Katerina, if you don’t mind, we’d like to speak to you both. Please inform him to come up to the office.”
“Just routine questioning.” He motioned to the other man. “This is officer Dean, I’m Inspector Dexter Mallory, Penticton RCMP. We can wait outside.”
“You can take a seat out on the trellis if you like,” she told them, pointing to the patio. “I’ll call him.”
Uri soon brought his tractor up the hill. He parked near the office. Kat met him before he reached the house. He was obviously tense.
"Be calm; they just want to talk," she whispered. “No big deal."
The two officers greeted Uri, and then they all took a seat on the patio. Officer Mallory opened his notebook, and looked at up Uri.
“I understand you and your wife share this property with another owner, a Honrich Golonovichi, is that correct, sir?”
"Yes, he's a half-owner,” Uri replied. “But he hardly ever comes around. Kat and I run the place full time.”
“When did you see him last?”
“Why?” Uri suddenly blurted out.
Kat came in quickly. "It was about four weeks ago," she answered.
Malloy glared at Kat. “Let Uri answer please." He looked back at Uri. “What was the nature of his visit?”
Uri began stammering a bit. “I, um, well, he just came by to see us. He sometimes comes to visit, see how we’re doing. Check up on things, you know.”
Mallory looked over at Kat. “And what times did he arrive and leave, Mrs. Bablonski?”
“He was here on Sunday the first of the month” She quickly replied. “Uri had shown him the cellar storage. Then he left about two hours later, around six pm.”
Mallory stared intently at Uri. “How do you get along with Honrich? Any angry confrontations with him? Any trouble that way?”
Uri put his hand to his forehead. His first reaction was to lie. He looked at Kat, but she was trying to reveal little emotion.
“I…I wish I could say we got along officer, but I can’t.” Uri hesitated then collected his thoughts. “Yes, we had our differences. Honrich was a novice in wine growing. He made life difficult for us, we both had to put up with him.”
Mallory nodded, he looked to Kat. "Has anybody else called you asking about him?”
Kat immediately realized they’d talked to Ilsa. "Yes, his sister called about three weeks ago, she was looking for him. He was missing.”
“That didn’t cause you any alarm?”
“Yes, of course, and I was sympathetic to her. But we have a winery at peak season.”
“Okay, that will do it for now,” Mallory concluded. “I just have one more request. I would like the names of your key employees. We would like to talk to them now also.”
Kat froze. This was unexpected. “Officer they’re busy in the day time. Can’t it be later?”
“I have a schedule also Katerina,” Mallory reminded her. “We’ll try not to disrupt your people too much, just give me the names.”
“Is Honrich now an official missing person?”
“Yes, Katerina, he is our top priority right now.”
That night, Kat and Uri were at their little table by the window. They were worried; they had much to do. Now the police would be a concern. Kat poured the wine. Uri was quiet.
“Look, Uri, the cop was just fishing, he didn’t know anything,” she consoled him. “He was just looking for reactions. You handled it well, I thought.”
"Somebody talked," Uri mumbled. "The cop was suspicious. He went around talking to the staff, taking photographs. What’s he looking for?”
“He’s got a missing person case, Uri. He has to question everybody.”
Kat picked up her glass. "We have to patch things up with Andre, treat him good, ok?”
Uri tapped his glass on hers. “Okay, agreed."
With the added workload, Kat decided Gwynn Williams, who had been with the Bablonski's for a year now, should be promoted and take on new responsibilities.
He had been a sommelier at a restaurant when Kat had first hired him. Andre had trained him well in his job as Assistant Cellar Master. Plus, his knowledge of wine marketing was a valuable asset at any winery. Now Andre assigned Gwynn to the cellar, and he would soon be responsible for bottling as well as barrel samplings.
The following morning an article appeared in The Penticton Herald when it arrived in the mailbox.
Part owner of Oliver winery missing. Police are seeking the whereabouts of Honrich Golonovich, first reported missing by his sister Ilsa Golonovich last week. Honrich was last seen in the Oliver area over a month ago at the Liquid Lust Winery address. His vehicle, a 2015 Toyota sedan, was recently found abandoned on a city street in Penticton. Police suspect possible foul play. If you have any information regarding Honrich, please call Inspector Dexter Malloy, at Penticton RCMP…
Now there were more drop-by visitors at Liquid Lust. Kat and Uri gained some degree of notoriety in the wine valleys small circle. They had a tantalizing mystery going. A member of the local wine establishment was missing, provided intriguing tid-bits of chatter.
Kat shielded her eyes; the sun was unusually hot, even for late August. Below the property, she could see Uri tending to the lower vineyard sprinklers. Just as she was about to turn back to the house, she saw the black Mercedes winding its way up the slope. It wasn’t a supplier—she knew all their cars. This could be trouble. She quickly went back into the house.
The driver stepped from the car. He was tall, with a dark complexion, wearing a black leather sports jacket. He stood in the lot, looking over the property, noting the vintner building. He turned and walked towards the house.
“May I help you?” Kat greeted him, standing up from her front desk.
“Yes, I’m looking for the owner of this property, his voice and manner friendly, but firm.
“I’m Katerina Bablonski,” Kat answered. “My husband and I own this property.”
“Very good then, can I talk to you?”
Kat motioned to her small office chair, “of course."
"Well, Katerina, he replied, taking a seat. “May I call you that?”
“Everyone calls me Kat. And you are?”
Jorge Blackmore, I’m a business associate of Honrich Golonovich. I believe he’s a co-owner of this property.
“He’s a silent partner,” Kat immediately came back, somewhat concerned. “What business do you have with Honrich, may I ask?”
Jorge frowned. He reached into his coat pocket and produced a folded sheet of paper. “This is an agreement signed by Mr Bablonski regarding a certain loan he and I entered into." He handed the paper to Kat. “In that agreement,” Jorge went on, “he placed his holdings as collateral.”
Kat unfolded the paper. It was a typed document, not exactly official looking to her. "I've heard nothing of this," Kat replied. "Precisely what holdings are you referring too?"
Jorge raised his arm and made a sweeping motion. "This property, he gestured. Read the document, this winery is mentioned at the bottom.”
A wave of both fear and anger swept across Kat. She took a deep breath. “Just why are you here, Jorge? We accept no agreement made separately without our knowledge.” Kat kept her cool, “I think you should find Honrich. This is not our concern.”
"Oh, but it is now Kat. It seems my business partner—your ex-partner, is incognito.” He gave Kat a little smirking smile. “So now I have only you.”
Kat disregarded him. “If you’re looking for some wine, I can help you, otherwise, I have work to do. Please leave."
Jorge leaned in close, his voice now menacing. “You won’t get rid of me that easy Katerina.” He laid a card on the table. “Call me soon, or maybe I have a little chat with your new friend Mallory. We both know I won’t find Honrich. Don't you Katerina."
He turned and quickly left.
A pang of dread tingled down Kat's spine as she watched the Mercedes drive away.
That night Kat poured Uri a glass of the good stock. She sat quietly as he sipped. Then she mentioned Blackmore and showed him his card.
Uri's face reddened, "Who is this bastard? He has no claim on us!”
“I think he knows something the police don’t.” Kat replied sitting her glass down. She framed her words carefully. “He says that with Honrich probably dead, and no way to be paid, the winery should cover his debt. He’s trying to force a deal somehow?”
Uri winced. “What do we do?”
Kat held up the card. “Let's find out what he knows.”
Jorge Blackstone parked his Mercedes and came to the winery office at 8:30 pm as Kat had requested. She ushered him into the big tank fermentation room. All the staff was gone now except for Uri, who was above on the platform stirring tank number two. Kat motioned to Jorge to climb the steel stairs. Jorge didn't like this; he was in an alien environment. He climbed, and walked cautiously along the platform.
Uri kept stirring the wine pulp—pungent fumes spewing out. He noticed Jorge approaching, he took out the stick and set it aside.
"Okay, you've got your meeting." Uri said to the man, taking off his gloves. "Just what do you want?"
"It seems, your ex-partner owes me a great deal of money." Jorge answered. "I think we can come to some agreement on settling that debt."
“I doubt that, why should we settle any debt with you?”
“One reason,” Jorge said. “To keep my knowledge in this whole affair confidential.”
Uri’s face reddened. “What affair?”
“Your little visit with Honrich, the police will be very interested in that.”
Kat quickly came in. "You know nothing of our meeting with Honrich. How could you? You weren’t even here!”
Jorge’s eyes tightened. “He came up here to see you Sunday night, August 1, at precisely 9:17 pm.”
Kat recoiled back in surprise. She had not revealed that time to anybody. “How do you know that?”
"Because I was waiting for him down at the pub after he dropped me off. But he never came back. He never left this winery. Did he?”
Kat tried to speak, her voice cracking. “He left. He went home!”
“No, he didn’t! He came here to get money from you, to pay me. That’s why I was with him. I waited for three hours in that Goddamn pub. But he never returned.” Jorge’s voice turned calm and measured. “You killed him, didn’t you?”
“He's not dead. He's a missing person.” Uri stammered.
"Oh, he's dead alright. The cops suspect foul play now."
"Then, if you believe that,” Kat challenged him, “why haven't you gone to the police?"
"I figured he'd flown the coop, but when they found his ditched car, I knew then you bastards had done him in. How about I go to the police with that?”
"What do you want?" Kat, said coldly.
“He owed me $150,000.”
“Bull shit, you’re lying. Besides, we won’t pay that.”
“Oh yes you will, plus $25,000 interest. You'll take over his installments. I’m your new silent partner,” he sneered.
“You bastard thief!” Uri shouted. He came forward menacingly.
Blackmore yanked open his coat, revealing a holstered pistol. “Go ahead,” he warned. “Did you think I would come unarmed?”
Suddenly Kat lunged forward. She slammed into Jorge, knocking him back to the edge of the rim of the tank. He stood awkwardly dangling over the edge, desperately flailing his arms, trying to keep from falling. Kat hit him again. He screamed, plunged into the tank, and sank into the dark liquid, his arms reaching out, fingers grasping at thin air. Then he was gone.
Kat looked over to a stunned Uri.
"Let's let him soak for a while. We need to hide the car now."
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