The Case of the Murderous Merlot
By Cathy Ornburn and Jim Ellis
Special thanks to CiCi B. and David M.
It was a warm spring night and the Diners were settling in for a cozy Mexican feast at the Crossing The Border in Bolingbrook. The Margaritas and Dos Equis had arrived. As they raised their glasses in a toast, Kim broke into tears.
“She’s worried about her sister Kate,” Suzi explained. “Kate’s been arrested for murdering her boyfriend, Antonio!
“Kate doesn’t even kill bugs! She loved Antonio, we all did. but the police aren’t listening. we’ve got to find the truth. Katie’s innocent and we have to prove it. ”
“Well, I was a Military cop before I went to work at the bank,” Pete said. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Kate and Kim met Antonio Caputo at a charity dinner for the Humane Society at the Ritz Carlton. She began by bidding on a bottle of 1976 Merlot from the Scarpini winery in Sycamore. just west of St Charles. The Scarpini vineyard had been growing grapes in Illinois since 1900. The Caputos arrived in the 30s, and built another vineyard nearby. Antonio outbid her for the Merlot, but was pleased she had won the Pinot Noir he had donated. They had good fun with the bidding, and Kate and Kim joined Antonio and his younger brother Tito at their table. She discovered during dinner that Antonio and Michael Scarpini had been trying to buy each other’s vineyard for the past several years, but they were both refusing all offers.
At the end of the night, there was a mix up with the auction items and they each ended up with each other’s wine. Negotiations over the exchange of bottles had led to coffee, lunch and eventually the beginning of a fun relationship for the next 3 months. Last week, Kate invited Antonio over to share “their” Merlot. After pulling the cork, he swirled it in his glass checking its legs, sniffed to get a feel for the body and then took a sip.
“Kate said he shook his head and said it tasted odd; then dropped to the ground and began to twitch. Kate called 911, but by the time help arrived Antonio was dead – the autopsy revealed cyanide poisoning.”
Diner Kim asked the Diners to help solve a murder involving her twin sister
Lawyer Suzi, was startled to find Kate had washed the fatal glasses.
“They didn’t tell me he was poisoned. I thought it was a heart attack or something. I went home and had to do something… then the police arrived.”
“The bottle?” Pete asked.
“It was in the trash. I just couldn’t think of drinking it without him.”
“Saved your life. It had to be tampered with at the winery, right?”
Scarpini has an award winning café,” Kate said.
“Sounds like a fun road trip.”
They began with a winery tour, then sat down to eat. No surprise the café specialized in wine and food pairing. It was a 2017 Chardonnay paired with Cauliflower Soup followed by 2016 Pinot Noir paired with Paella a La Marinera. They were on the final course, a 2015 Port paired with a Coffee Hazelnut Truffle, when Michael Scarpini came by the table with his sister, Rachel.
“You’re Kate’s sister, aren’t you? I’ve seen her at the track a couple of times. How’s she holding up.”
“Sycamore Speedway, just over the hill. Tony and I used to race cars over there. We were both racing this Saturday, the Sycamore Cup, a fundraiser for Homeless Veterans.”
He accepted the invitation for coffee. He also thought Kate was innocent and was amused they thought of him as a suspect. When questioned about poisoning the wine bottle, Michael admitted it was possible. “But even I would run the risk of somebody spotting me here. it would make more sense to do something like that off site and then switch bottles. Getting someone to buy poisoned wine at an auction seems like a pretty awkward way to kill him. And the motive is tough too. Everybody I know liked Tony.”
“Sure. We grew up together, rivals not the enemies. The wineries are miles apart, but our vineyards are side by side. The winery is doing ok but would benefit from expansion. they are the same. We even talked merger a few weeks ago, but we both liked running things.”
As Michael left the table, Kim thought she spotted Antonio’s brother Tito at a table in the other room.
“Michael has a point,” Suzi said. “How do you make sure somebody wins an auction?”
“Not as difficult as it seems. “You’ve got a competitive guy who likes to win. And it’s tax deductable. He’d keep bidding, and if the wrong person bids, you just would outbid him or her.”
“But Kate was the one bidding with him.”
“That just meant he, Michael, didn’t have to bid.”
“He wasn’t there.” Kim thought for a moment. “But I think the sister was.”
Suzi caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. “Call of nature, ” she said, heading out toward the restrooms.
Diners investigating a murder find the victim’s brother at the winery that may have produced the poisoned wine.
Suzi found Tito had slipped into the office and was kissing Rachel Scarpini.
“I fixed the car,” He said when he came up for air, “but I’m not sure it’s a good idea…”
“It’ll be fine,” she answered. “It would have been better if he had cracked that bottle 6 weeks ago, but the police are happy with Antonio’s bimbo girlfriend, nobody’s going to connect that with Michael’s car racing accident.”
“What if he isn’t killed? I mean the wine thing didn’t work out at first either.”
“If he’s in the hospital, all kinds of things could go wrong. I trained as a nurse, remember? Or maybe he gets linked to the poisoned wine. All I need is a chance to take control.”
“Then we sell to the Casino developers and it’s back to Jamaica.”
“Can’t wait. I already put our down payment on the beach house. Listen, Mike will by busy on the floor for a while… close the door and we can celebrate.”
Suzi hurried back to the rest of the group.
“It won’t convince the police,” Pete argued, “and it’s a shame they didn’t read today’s Sun-Times.”
“Sycamore Casino is a scam. They just indicted one of the developers.”
Michael found it hard to believe that his brother, Tito would try to kill him, but agreed to have his car checked out. With help from the Speedway’s security cameras, Police confronted Tito, who folded quickly, implicating his girlfriend. Michael was grateful to the Diners for their detective work. He invited the whole club to hold their next dinner at his restaurant. He promised an amazing seven course meal and wine pairing. They all knew it would be a delightful evening.