by Michael J A Tyzuk
Part 1 appeared in issue 91.
The owner of the vineyard, Alexander Martin, met us at the front gate and cooperated readily with us once we told him what we were up to. He lead us to the storage facility and turned us loose, then stood back out of the way.
The storage facility was pretty large, and there were a lot of bottles to check out, but it didn’t take us long to find the first poisoned batch. It didn’t take us long to find any of the others either. All in all the final count showed that out of some seven hundred bottles of Château de Martin currently in stock, some two hundred and thirty of them were laced with aurapine.
We seized the poisoned bottles for evidence and called for uniformed constables to visit the liquor stores and take custody of their poisoned bottles as well. Then we left the constables to do their work, and Mr. Martin to start reassuring his distributors, and went back to the station.
Kevin shook his head when we told him of our visit. “That number is too high to be a mere coincidence,” he said. “This has to be a deliberate act.”
“I agree,” I said. “But who would have a motive to do something like this?”
“What I want to know,” Jeremy cut in, “is what kind of motive could justify taking action like this. I mean, you don’t just get out of bed one day and decide to inject several hundred bottles of wine with aurapine. That’s the kind of action that takes malice and forethought, and that means there has to be a reason behind it. I think if we figure out what the reason is then we’ll find the person who did it.”
I shook my head. “Why whoever did this did it isn’t important,” I said. “Besides which, that’s the kind of thing that we can find out in interrogation.”
Jeremy leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees. “Okay, so how do you think we should go about catching this wonderful specimen of humanity?”
I leaned back in my chair, crossed my legs, and thought for a moment. “Well, it seems to me that there’s only one place where that many bottles could be poisoned all at the same time, and that’s at the vineyard itself. That means this has to be an inside job, and that points to a disgruntled employee.”
“That employee would have to be some honked off to do something like this,” Kevin pointed out.
I shrugged. “So, it might not even be an employee,” I allowed, “but it will be someone with some kind of tie to the vineyard.”
“That settles is then,” Kevin said. “Tomorrow you will begin investigating the vineyard.” Then he turned to Jeremy. “Would you excuse us for a moment?” he asked.
Jeremy shrugged and left the room.
Kevin turned and looked me in the eye. “You really aren’t up to this, are you?”
I smoothed out a wrinkle in my skirt. “Let’s just say that I don’t exactly feel like a fully functioning human being right now,” I allowed.
Kevin smiled. “I can understand that. The last couple of months haven’t exactly been easy for you. And now this happens. Sometimes it seems as if trouble is attracted to you.”
I shrugged. “God knows enough of it has found me over the years.”
Kevin looked down at his desk, studied the open file folder in front of him. “The last thing that I want to do is take you off the inactive list and drop you into the middle of a case,” he explained, “especially when it’s a case in which you have a personal stake. Under normal circumstances I think that I can trust you to behave like a professional and keep your personal feelings from interfering with your investigation, but since Alan died I’m not all that certain that’s the case anymore.”
“Then don’t make the decision and let me go home,” I told him.
Kevin’s smile became somewhat wry. “I would in a heartbeat,” he said, “if I thought that there was even the slightest possibility that you would stay still. But I think that both of us know that would never happen. If I told you to go home and keep your pretty little nose out of this investigation you would just find some way to stick your pretty little nose where it doesn’t belong. In so doing you would probably also solve this case for us, and then you would go off and resume your sick leave until the next rotten thing happens to you.”
I smiled a wan smile. “What can I say? Everyone has a talent.”
Kevin shook his head. “For the purposes of this one investigation I am taking you off the inactive list,” he told me. “I’m assigning young Jeremy to you as your new partner. The two of you are tasked with solving the mystery behind these poisoned bottles and the death of Tanya Brown.”
I nodded my understanding of my orders and stood up, headed for the door. Just as my hand touched the handle Kevin called out to me so I turned to face him. He was standing up and wore an expression of concern on his face. “Don’t make me regret doing this, okay?” he pleaded with me. “Just tread carefully, go by the book on this one. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”
I stared down at the floor for a long moment and asked myself if I could really do that for him, but in the end there was only one honest answer I could give. I looked back up at Kevin and shook my head. “I wish that I could make you a promise,” I told him, “but I can’t.”
Kevin nodded sadly. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “Give it a try anyway, okay? I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.”
* * *
I suppose it was a good thing that Kevin was as concerned about me as he was. I knew that he had been receiving regular reports from the therapist I was seeing, and I knew that those reports weren’t all that good in spots. How do I know this, you ask? Self-honesty, of course. How can those reports be anything but rotten when the only thing that I have any real interest in doing is crawling into a bottle and pulling the cork in after me?
This whole thing with Tanya Brown was like pouring salt in an open wound. The last time I was intimate with someone I ended up having to kill him to protect the lives of innocents, and this time my chosen lover ended up dying in my bed. That isn’t exactly good for improving ones outlook on life and love. In fact one could easily start developing a complex from such traumatic events. It would be easy for me to become convinced that the fates just plain hated me and that nothing I could ever do would allow me to get ahead in this life, so what’s the point in trying? That’s what we have alcohol for, isn’t it, for those occasions when you just don’t feel like trying anymore?
Of course, intellectually I knew that the only way I was going to get through this giant bump in the road that was my life was to get out there and start living again. My therapist had been telling me so often enough, and as much as I was getting tired of hearing it from him I knew that it was true. But I couldn’t find a reason to do it. I couldn’t find one single reason to make me want to start living my life the way I used to. What do you do when sheer inertia is the only reason you’re still living and breathing? What do you do when you can’t find a reason to care whether or not you wake up the next morning? Do you turn your face to the wall and close your eyes and accept the inevitable, or do you draw a line in the sand and make your last stand against the darkness within you?
And what do you do when you can’t answer any of those questions, when you can’t see the forest for the trees?
Jeremy was waiting for me as I walked out the front doors of the station and climbed down the steps. He smiled and theatrically opened the passenger door of his speeder. “Milady, your chariot awaits,” he told me.
I couldn’t help but smile. “What are you doing, Jeremy?” I asked.
Jeremy just shrugged. “I just thought it would be a good thing for me to give my new partner a ride home,” he told me.
I folded my arms across my chest and cocked my head at him. “How did you know that you and I are partners?” I demanded.
Jeremy blew on his knuckles and buffed them against his chest. “Well, I am a detective, am I not? Logical deduction is supposed to be my stock in trade, and it just seems logical that His Nibs upstairs would assign you and I to work together on this one.”
I snickered. “His Nibs, I like that. I’ll have to call him that next time I see him.”
“It was either that or Lord High Mucky Muck.”
“You’re right, His Nibs is so much better.”
Jeremy gestured to his speeder. “So, do you want that ride or not?”
So I let Jeremy hand me into the speeder, sat quietly looking out the window while he drove me home. The courtly behavior continued when we got to my place; he opened the speeder door for me, handed me out, and escorted me to my front door. He even followed me inside.
We were in my entrance hall when I turned to face him. “You know, you really don’t need to do this?”
“Don’t need to do what?” he asked innocently.
I smiled a wry smile. “You don’t need to treat me like I’m some kind of invalid,” I told him. “I’m a big girl and I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“I know you’re a big girl,” he said with a wicked smile and deliberately looked down. “Believe me, the evidence in favor of that proposition is most striking.”
I grinned and wrapped my sweater a little tighter around myself. “You’re not supposed to be looking down there,” I chided. “Anyway, they’re not that big.”
Jeremy shrugged. “Big ones are overrated,” he answered. “Personally I think that anything more than a mouthful is a waste of perfectly good flesh.”
I shook my head, reached out and put my hand on Jeremy’s chest. “Jeremy, you don’t want me, not like that,” I told him. “I’m damaged goods.”
Jeremy smiled at me and took my hand, gave me a squeeze. “Hey, I know that. And yeah, I’m coming on to you like gangbusters, but it isn’t because of any desire to separate you from your panties. I just wanted to see if I could lift your spirits a little.” He gave me another squeeze and let go of me, started to turn for the door. “And now I will get out of your hair for a while. I’ll be by to pick you up tomorrow morning.”
“I do own my own speeder,” I reminded him. “And I am perfectly capable of driving myself to work.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I know. But why should you have to when you have a perfectly willing servant at your beck and call.” He turned away from me and reached for my front door.
I don’t know what made me do it. Maybe I had a sudden attack of hormones or something of the sort. I just had this impulse and before I knew that I was doing I was acting on it. I grabbed Jeremy’s arm and pulled him around to face me, melted against him and buried my face in his chest.
Jeremy sighed and curled his arms around me, buried his face in my hair and nuzzled me. We stood that way for a long moment before we let go of each other, and then he left.
I went into my bedroom and changed into my traditional lounging clothes, found my gaze drawn to the bed. The sheets were in a state of disarray, just the way they had been when I had awakened that morning to find Tanya in bed beside me, very much dead. She wasn’t there anymore, but somehow in my minds eye I could still see her laying there the way she had been that morning, pale and cold.
For that reason and others I decided it would probably be best if I slept on the couch that night.
* * *
I decided to dress a little more professionally the next morning. I met Jeremy at my front door wearing a black pinstriped pantsuit and a white silk blouse. My service sidearm was at my hip and my badge and ID were in my right hand jacket pocket.
Jeremy smiled at me and said good morning when I climbed into his speeder, but otherwise the trip to the vineyards was quiet and uneventful.
Alexander Martin saw us in his office within minutes of our arrival. He offered us drinks as we sat down in the guest chairs on the visitor side of his desk but both of us declined. After the pleasantries were satisfied we got down to business.
“Mister Martin,” Jeremy began, “you are aware that we found a rather large number of bottles of poisoned wine in your storage facilities yesterday.” Martin nodded. “There are aspects of this case which cause us to believe that the poisoning was an inside job, that it was accomplished with someone who works for you.”
Martin’s eyes widened at that one. “Please forgive me, detective, but I have a difficult time believing that,” he said. “I personally interview each and every person who comes through the front gate before they are hired on, and none of them strike me as the kind of person who would be willing to commit wholesale murder.”
“Mister Martin,” I cut in, “each bottle of wine was poisoned using the same method: the poison was injected through the cork after the bottle had been filled, corked, and stored. Each bottle was contaminated with the same poison: aurapine. Given these two facts and the sheer number of poisoned bottles that were found in your storage, it becomes impossible to envision that sort of thing happening at a distributors warehouse, or even in a retail setting. Under normal circumstances that kind of act can get you noticed, start people talking about you behind your back. However, it is just within the realm of possibility to see that kind of thing happening in your own storage, which is guarded on the outside, but not the inside. Thus, it becomes an inside job.”
“Besides which, most killers don’t look like killers,” Jeremy told him. “They look like you and me and Tamara, and they act like normal human beings. That’s what makes it so difficult to identify a killer after he’s struck.”
“Well, you people would know more about it than I would,” Martin conceded.
“Have you had any kind of employee problems of late?” I asked.
Mister Martin leaned back in his chair and thought for a long moment, then shook his head. “No, nothing that I can think of,” he answered. “I mean, we have the odd minor disciplinary problem, but that’s about it. I can have my human resources people release the pertinent files to you, if you would like.”
“That would be a tremendous help,” I admitted.
“Mister Martin, have you or your business been threatened in any manner?” Jeremy wanted to know.
Martin shook his head. “No, nothing that I’m aware of, and I assure you that my security people would tell me if there were such a threat.”
“How much do you think this little fiasco will cost you?” I asked.
Martin grimaced at that. “My accountants are still going over all the numbers,” he explained, “so it’s tough to come up with a concrete answer just yet. However, we estimate that the net loss will be in the millions of credits.”
“That has to hurt,” I commented.
Martin nodded and smiled grimly. “Oh, it does. Believe me, it does.”
After we talked to Alexander Martin, Jeremy and I went on a walking tour of the vineyard. We had a look at the distillery, the storage warehouses, and we strolled down the rows of vines, watching the grape pickers do their work. I will give the Martin Vineyards staff this, they were all very polite and friendly. Everyone smiled at us, including the security people, and no one gave us a hard time. No one even asked to see our ID, they just smiled and waved us through.
“This is quite the operation they have here,” Jeremy commented after a while.
I nodded. “It is, isn’t it?”
Then Jeremy looked over at me and his brow arched. “What are you thinking about?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately,” I explained, “and so I’ve been reading the news. A lot. The whole time we were in Martin’s office I had the feeling that I had seen a news story about him recently, and since then I’ve been trying to remember what it was that I saw. I keep coming up blank.” I smiled a wry smile. “I guess the old memory isn’t what it used to be, is it?”
Jeremy dragged his fingers up and down my spine. “Sometimes the memory just plays tricks on you, is all,” he soothed.
I smiled. “This wasn’t some kind of memory trick, Jeremy,” I told him. “This was a real memory trying to peek to the surface. I distinctly remember seeing something about Alexander Martin in the news, and recently too. “
Jeremy shrugged. “That settles it, then,” he said. “Let’s go back to headquarters and sign on to the data nets and see what we can see.”
An hour later I was sitting behind my desk using my terminal to search the data nets for recent news stories about Alexander Martin. It didn’t take long to find the one that I had remembered seeing.
The story was dated a month and a half before. It seems that the good Mr. Martin had been caught with his pants down, literally. His wife had walked into his office one day just in time to catch him in the act of doing the nasty with his executive secretary. Of course she had filed for divorce, and as part of the settlement she had demanded that Alexander pay her fifty percent of the net worth of the Martin Vineyards. Normally the courts would have been more than happy to grant that kind of demand, but in this case a prenuptial agreement had been signed before the couple had been married, and under the terms of that agreement Mrs. Martin wasn’t entitled to a single credit from any of her husband’s business interests. The court had decided in favor of the agreement and Mrs. Martin had walked away from the hearing with next to nothing.
So she had liquidated what few assets she had and booked passage on a transport liner, the Merrimac, which was bound for Blessed. Unfortunately the Merrimac suffered a catastrophic failure in her reactor containment systems before she had reached the outbound jump point. A Navy destroyer had been dispatched from Proxima Station to rescue the crew and passengers but they arrived too late. The breach had accelerated and gone critical before the destroyer could get there. The Merrimac was lost with all hands.
After seeing that we dug a little deeper into the records and discovered that the Martin’s had a son, Gabriel, who was the Chief Financial Officer of the Martin Vineyards, as well as a member of the board of directors.
Jeremy brought his chair around from his desk and the two of us started to kick around what we knew so far. He started off. “Okay, this whole thing starts with a single bottle of poisoned wine, only it’s not a single bottle it’s actually several hundred bottles. The method used to poison them clearly points to an inside job, yet the vineyard doesn’t have any disgruntled employees. In fact, from what you and I could see everyone is almost obnoxiously happy there.”
“Despite that fact it has to have been an inside job,” I insisted. “The only way that someone could have gotten that close to that many bottles of wine for the amount of time that it would take to poison them would be if he was an employee of the vineyard. Otherwise people would question him and security would bounce him.”
Jeremy rose from his chair and called up the Medical Examiner’s report on Tanya’s autopsy. “Look at this, though,” he said. “According to this the only thing that killed your friend was the sheer amount that she had consumed. So let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s assume that the reason people buy wine is to share it amongst a group of people. Each person in such a group may have one or two, perhaps as many as three glasses out of a bottle. According to this report if the wine had been consumed in that manner, the most that would have happened to Tanya is that she would have gotten sick.”
I could see where Jeremy was going with this. “That may have been the intent of the perpetrator all along,” I said.
“Which would imply an objective that we’re not considering, wouldn’t it?” Jeremy said.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk