Monday, July 20, 2020

Divide and Concord - Sneak Peek First Chapter

 We'd love to get readers acquainted with our Wine Trail Mysteries, set in New York's Finger Lakes and what better way to do it than to share the first chapter of a book. So, hope you can sit back and enjoy DIVIDE and CONCORD.

Hang on while screenwriter and reluctant winery manager, Norrie, deals with a temperamental film crew, a demanding director, and a body found floating in her neighbor's irrigation pond. Oh, and did we mention wine? There's lots of it at Two Witches Winery!



I glanced at the mud Charlie tracked in from his doggie door but instead of grabbing a mop, I popped another K-cup in the Keurig and plopped myself back in the kitchen chair.

“Did you mill around the Ipswich’s little pond this morning?” I asked the dog.  “Remind me to thank Stephanie and the rest of her crew at Gable Hills for adding that feature to their winery.”

 True, it was needed for irrigation and water to mix for spraying, but as of late, it became Charlie’s favorite pastime to skirt around the muddy edges looking for frogs. He was too lazy to make the trek to our pond on the south side of the property.

The dog shook and scattered water all over the kitchen and it mixed with the mud on the floor. I ignored it and waited for my coffee to brew. The mud would still be there after I finished my morning cup. It was an ungodly hour. Seven something. Normally, I’d still be sleeping but the late-night phone call I got from Renee, my producer, kept me tossing and turning all night.

Usually I toss and turn from winery business. Like yesterday when Cammy, the tasting room manager, asked if she should reorder the business cards with my name on them – Norrie Ellington, owner and interim manager, Two Witches Winery. I said only if she put the word interim in bold caps with a larger font. I don’t plan on babysitting here much longer. I happen to enjoy a wonderful life writing screenplays for a Canadian film company and I intend to keep it that way. I’m only here on a temporary basis because my sister’s husband, an entomologist at Cornell, received a grant to study some godforsaken insect in Costa Rica. The moment I can return to being the silent partner can’t come soon enough. 

 My sister, Francine said the place would practically manage itself. What she didn’t say, however, was that it was a magnet for murders. No sooner did I arrive when a body was discovered in our Riesling section. As the months went by, it got worse. More bodies cropped up on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail than in my entire New York City neighborhood. As if that wasn’t enough to send me packing, I wound up investigating them. Not officially, but somehow I got roped into it, much to the chagrin of our local Yates County Sheriff’s Deputy, Gary Hickman, aka Grizzly Gary.

At least March was coming to an end this week and in late June, Francine would be home. I started to cross off the days on the calendar. I still had three months ahead of me. Three months of supervising the tasting room, the bistro, the vineyards, and the winery. Of course we had professional managers for all of those areas but still, they needed someone to complain to if things went south.

Too bad I had no one to complain to when I got Renee’s call last night. Her voice was even more chipper than usual and she spoke a mile a minute. A dead giveaway she wanted something.

“Norrie, we need to move the filming of our final scene in Windswept Love to a winery farther south than the Niagara corridor. Winter’s been brutal and there’s so much snow and ice on the ground it would be impossible for our crew to manage. Then I thought of your winery. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before but it would be perfect. Absolutely perfect. We can film the final scene in one of your vineyards.”

My stomach churned and I reached for the water on my nightstand. “Um, uh, gee, we have winter, too. The snow doesn’t really melt until late April. May sometimes.” I’d say June but she’d know I was lying.

“Our location manager did all the research. The snow in your area this time of year is wet snow and it melts on those fifty-degree days. We can get the two actors and a filming crew in and out of there in no time.”

“Like a day or so?”

“More like a week. Maybe eight or nine days.”

Eight or nine days? It’s one short scene with two actors, not something Anton Chekhov wrote.

“Uh, well…”

“I know. I know. It’s serendipitous, really. The fact your family owns a winery. Trust me, Norrie, you’ll hardly know we’re there. It’s only the actors, the director, the director’s assistant, and the film and video technicians. Seven people in all. And speaking of serendipitous, we managed to get three rooms in Geneva at the Ramada Inn.  Someone will have to double, or, should I say, triple up. Last minute cancellation. What’s going on there? Everyplace was booked solid.”

“When? What dates?”

“Three weeks from today, beginning on Friday.”

I didn’t need a wall calendar to tell me what would be going on three weeks from now. It was the annual Wine and Cheese Festival on Seneca Lake. According to Cammy Rosinetti, our tasting room manager, it was the final hoorah before the summer season began.

The longer Renee babbled, the queasier I felt. “There’s a huge wine festival going on at that time on Seneca Lake. Everyplace will be crowded.”

“Oh, I doubt that will bother us. All we need is a nice, secluded vineyard with a view of the lake. We’ll take it from there.”

“I, um—”

“And you’ll get to meet the actors. This is the first film where we’ve paired up Priscilla McCoy and Gavin Chase. They seem to have a certain on-screen chemistry. Goodness, I don’t mean to take up so much of your time, especially so late at night. Mind you, I wanted to call earlier but I was swamped. Completely and totally swamped. Anyway, I’ll be in touch about the details, and as I said, we’ll be in and out of there in no time.”

In retrospect, I should have gotten that in writing. But in all fairness, how did she know there would be another dead body to contend with. I gulped the rest of my coffee and cleaned the kitchen floor as Charlie devoured his kibble. Then, I took out my laptop and focused on a new screenplay. One whose setting didn’t include any vineyard or winery scenes.

Three hours later, with my stomach grumbling, I trudged over to our tasting room. More specifically, our bistro. My culinary skills were no match for Fred and Emma’s, and since a warm quiche sounded better than cold cereal, it was a no-brainer. Besides, I had to break the news to everyone that we were about to be besieged by a film crew as well as scads of tourists for the wine and cheese event.

Our farmhouse sat at the top of Two Witches Hill and overlooked the winery building and our wine production lab. Farther down the hill sat the Grey Egret, the winery run by Don and Theo, good friends of my sister and brother–in-law, as well as my confidants and partners in amateur sleuthing. Emphasis on the word amateur.

Both of our wineries were part of a slightly larger klatch – The Wineries of the West or as we called it, WOW. Six neighboring wineries who shared resources as well as gossip. We met monthly at Madeline Martinez’s winery, Billsburrow. Sometimes to share information, but most times to chew the fat. After last night’s phone call from Renee, there would be lots of fat to chomp on.

It was less than a half mile from our house to the winery, and since it wasn’t snowing or blowing, I hoofed it rather than starting up my old Toyota. The usual tasting room crew was scurrying about since the door just opened for tastings and a few visitors were already inside.

I spotted Cammy headed into the kitchen and followed her. Her loosely gathered bun was secured by a bright green ribbon that off –set her curly brown hair. Slightly stocky and in her mid-thirties, Cammy exuded a certain warmth that seemed to draw people to her.

“Hey there!” I said.

She jumped. “Geez, you all but scared me half to death. I didn’t know you were right behind me. Good thing I wasn’t carrying a tray of wineglasses for the dishwasher.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time someone dropped them,” I laughed.

Cammy chuckled. “That someone was you, Norrie. So, what’s up? Don’t tell me you decided to help us choose the cheese dish for the event. We’ve got to make our decision pronto so we can get the ingredients.”

“Um, not the cheese dish, but something related to that event.”

“What? I didn’t see any emails from Henry Speltmore about changes to the venue. And believe me, the guy emails us about everything. You’d think as president of the Seneca Lake Wine Association, he’d have better ways to spend his time other than sending all the wineries his latest thoughts. Two weeks ago it was about engaging tourists in conversation, and only yesterday we got one about the glacier that formed New York’s Finger Lakes.”

“Yeesh. Nothing like that. Listen, I got a phone call last night from my producer in Toronto. They want to use our vineyard to film one of the scenes in the movie they’re shooting. It’s from a screenplay I wrote.”

“Wow. That could really put us on the map. When do they want to do it? This summer sometime?”

I grimaced. “Three weeks from now. Smack dab in the middle of Wine and Cheese. And before you say anything, I tried to talk her out of it, but it was too late. Something about a brutal winter in Canada and better snow here. Or was it softer snow? Oh, what the hell. They’ll be filming and it will be a disaster.”

“Relax. It won’t be all that bad. You said they will be filming in the vineyard. That means they’ll be out of our way in the tasting room. And Franz won’t want them anywhere near the winery lab or the tanks. Not to mention those winemaker assistants of his. Rest assured, Alan and Herbert will do their part to make sure no one gets near the wines in production.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that. I’m freaking out about the whole production thing. You know how people get when actors are within a twenty-mile radius. I’m scared to death those tourists will be trampling the vines to get a better look at Priscilla McCoy and Gavin Chase.”

“Priscilla McCoy and Gavin Chase?” Cammy was practically shrieking. “Those are the actors? Oh my gosh, I’ve got to let my aunts know. And my mother. I’d better call her, too. They watch those sappy romance movies all the time. No offense, Norrie. Oh my gosh. Priscilla McCoy and Gavin Chase. Right here in this winery.”

“Cammy, I—”

Just then, Glenda burst through the doorway. Her usual bluish green hair had morphed into shades of mauve and lavender but her oversize earrings that hung to her shoulders remained as steadfast as ever. “I sense a certain energy in the air. A seasonal shift. I’m getting more crackers. Seasonal shifts make people hungry.”

“Then send them to our bistro,” Cammy looked back at me. “Can we tell her? Can we tell the crew?”

I shrugged.

“Tell me what?” Glenda asked.

“A film crew, well, actually a movie production company, will be sending a film crew to our winery. It’s for one of the screenplays I wrote.”

Judging by Glenda’s demeanor, I was surprised her feet were still planted on the floor. “I knew it! I felt something in the air. I’m never wrong about these things. When? When should I be prepared for my appearance?”

“They’re not filming our winery,” I said. “They’ll be here to film a love scene in one of our vineyards. With paid actors. Not our tasting room staff, or any of our workers, for that matter. Paid actors.”

Glenda looked as if she’d dropped an ice cream cone to the floor. “Won’t they need background people?  Crowd scenes?”

I shook my head. “Nope. Priscilla McCoy and Gavin Chase are the only people they’ll need.”

At that point, Glenda grabbed my arm and shook it. “Priscilla McCoy? The Priscilla McCoy who allegedly broke Jay Herandez’s heart?”

“Yes, her,” I muttered.

“Then we have our work cut out for us. We’ll definitely need to cast a purifying spell on the winery. My friend Zenora has more than enough sage sticks at her place.”

“No spells! No sage sticks!” Heat rose in my cheeks at the thought of spells and sage sticks. So far, I’d been able to dodge Glenda’s wacky ideas. “They’re not filming in the winery building. They’ll be outdoors. If it makes you feel any better, we can ask John Grishner to have someone from his vineyard crew rake the soil or something.”

“We’ll need more than soil raking,” Glenda said. “I sense Two Witches will be on unsteady ground until the summer solstice.”

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