Podere Fedespina NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE(an investigation by Enrico Radeschi)
by Paolo Roversi ♦
Deputy commissioner Loris Sebastiani drove his powerful SUV up a country road lined by cypress trees leading to Podere Fedespina, an estate in the beating heart of the Lunigiana region. Luckily enough, after two days of torrential rain, the weather seemed to be holding up.
Enrico Radeschi observed the thick vegetation surrounding them and shook his head. Since leaving Milan, a couple of hours earlier, he had not opened his mouth. He saw that out of town trip as a sort of punishment. After all, his cop friend had invited him at the very last moment, as filler. He knew that the deputy commissioner had originally planned that wine tour with his latest lover, Genny, a young travel journalist who collaborated with several online newspapers. But since their story had run out of steam prematurely – for the usual reasons, with Sebastiani being an unrepentant and intermittent womanizer – the cop had not only called Radeschi with the usual threats, like “You either come or no more news!”, but had also made him promise he would have reported the experience in an article. After all, they were about to participate in an exclusive event, reserved for only a very select few of the wine world, which included the deputy commissioner himself, thanks to his passion and a well stocked and refined wine cellar. With them, a handpicked, small circle of experts would have taken part in the exclusive tasting of the prestigious Fedespina cru.
Enrico did not understand anything about wine tasting, finding it rather boring. That is why he had asked for something in return: to exchange his presence and skills for a dinner with the deputy commissioner on the next day, Sunday, at his expense.
“Don’t make that face, you’ll love it” Sebastiani said in a cheerful tone while parking the car. “Look at this place! Plus, you’ll drink great wines, like an excellent one they produce right here: the Fedespina, a red just as good as the Tuscan wines…”
“I like craft beer…”
Sebastiani rolled an unlit cigar in his mouth. He would have loved to smack Radeschi for the heresy that just came out of his mouth, but the other one was not listening anymore. He had already gotten out of the car, grunting and stretching his arms after many hours spent completely still. He had to admit that the place was truly magnificent: it was a farmhouse, surrounded by green and vineyards, perched on top of a hill. The view was impressive. If only it had been a little warmer, they could have enjoyed a swim in the pool. But seeing as it was November they had to be grateful just for their teeth not chattering.
There was a shy sun peeking through the clouds. The grass, wet but still green, glistened under the afternoon sun. What caught their attention, though, were not those rural marvels, but a young woman dressed in leather boots and fustian pants coming towards them.
“Hey Loris, hi!” she said, waving to Sebastiani, who moved just slightly the unlit Toscanello between his lips.
“Is this your new flame?” whispered Radeschi.
“Oh please, it’s Katia Ritter, the enologist who today will guide us in tasting the wines of Podere Fedespina!”
“Wow, nothing gets past you, uh? Did you think only men could become enologists? She is very good and also happens to be very pretty”.
Radeschi had noticed it.
Katia walked towards him, to introduce herself and shake his hands.
Blue eyes and long curly hair. She looked like one of Charlie’s Angels.
“Welcome Enrico. Are you also a wine enthusiast?”
“But of course! I was just telling Loris that some people dare saying they prefer beer to this nectar of the Gods! I just don’t get them!”
She smiled, while Sebastiani moved his cigar from one side of the mouth to the other.
“Would you like to take a look at the cellar before the tasting, or are you too tired? They have beautiful wood barrels and vitrified cement tanks…”
“Vitrified cement, Enrico. Food vitrification, of course: inside they are treated with special paints for storing wine. Seems like they’re made in Livorno, and the process for making them resembles that for ships’ holds… Here they use them for aging the Spinorosso. Now that they have just bottled it, they will remain empty until maintenance. You can put your head in one of them if you want to.”
“I can’t wait. Let’s go!” the journalist replied enthusiastically, grabbing the enologist under his arm.
At that point Loris could only follow them, starting to tensely chew on his Toscanello cigar like a gum.
During the tour, Radeschi clung to Katia like a fish on a hook. The two guests were then assigned a room inside the large estate.
“We’ll all stay here” she explained, smiling. “My room is the first one near the stairs”.
Enrico registered the information and, as soon as he entered his room, took a frozen shower to cool off. His teeth still chattering, he threw himself on the bed to rest. That place put him in a good mood: beams and wooden ceiling, stone floor and, from the window, a panoramic view of the vineyard. Definitely relaxing.
At seven o’clock the journalist and Sebastiani went downstairs for the tasting.
Katia was wearing different clothes: a very chaste dark suit with a skirt below the knee. Radeschi found her beautiful even in that professional outfit.
Antonio, the winemaker and owner of Podere Fedespina, together with his wife Mirta and son Matteo, welcomed all the guests in a large hall where, on a wooden table in the center of the room, there were rows of bottles and glasses.
“Welcome” he greeted them, warmly shaking hands with everyone.
The others arrived in dribs and drabs.
“Do you know them?” Radeschi asked Loris, pretending to write down the names for his article.
“Of course. I have already met them on other occasions”.
“Tell me their names, please”.
“So let’s see: the bald one is a small Piemontese wine producer, Dario Giraudo. The stiff one who looks like a British lord is Piero De Angelis, a critic of a prestigious enological guide. The woman with that hideous evening dress is Sarah Wilson, a wine buyer for some American chain, I don’t know”.
“And that big guy who keeps looking at me like a serial killer?”
“Oh, that is Giovanni Landi, a lawyer and wine enthusiast from Florence…”
“Yeah, and also Katia’s ex-boyfriend. He must have noticed you crushing on her too”.
“I’m not crushing on…”
Radeschi was cut short, Antonio had started distributing the glasses.
“While looking for wine, we found a great love” he began. “Ours is a niche production, we consider our vineyard a garden, and we take care of it as such. You must know that all our wines, the Fedespina from Pinot Noir grapes, the Ca’ from Merlot grapes and the Spinorosso, a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Ciliegiolo, are all produced in a natural way, without any kind of chemical fertilizers or herbicides…”
Enrico stopped listening and focused on the enologist. Her tight skirt was like a second skin.
“… the yields are low, we select healthy, rich grapes and create wine with the lowest level of sulfites. A structured, fresh, elegant wine. With these wines, our goal was to convey the uniqueness of this land, the Upper Lunigiana region, of its micro-climate, with the utmost respect for nature…”
Her cleavage looked promising too, albeit a bit chaste.
“… the pursuit of quality in every detail is for us the basic principle of the entire supply chain: for example, from drying wine lees we obtain pigments from which Matteo himself extracts the colors to print new labels… But now, Katia, if you want to start uncorking…”
“Would you mind if I did that?”
It was Wilson. She had taken a corkscrew out of her bag and was proudly showing it.
“You see, this is my personal golden corkscrew: my initials are also engraved on it, SR. I always carry it with me to uncork the best wines in the world!”
“Why, of course!” Antonio agreed, offering her a bottle of Ca’. “Please, take a seat”.
While the wine was breathing, Katia began to list its characteristics in a very professional manner.
After tasting the first two, we finally arrived at the Fedespina.
“This is a wine of great value, according to experts” Landi noted. “Worthy of the best Supertuscans…”
“Supertuscans are great wines, but also the result of successful marketing,” said Giraudo.
“True” agreed De Angelis. “And, in fact, the Fedespina has always gotten flattering results during blind tests, above 90 points, excellence. Even better than many of its more famous rivals”.
When everyone was served, Ritter began to speak about the wine.
“The Fedespina is made in purity from a vine of more than forty years with a French Burgundian method…”
Radeschi was paying attention to her, but not to her words. He was picturing what it would be like if, after drinking that marvelous wine, the two of them…
“Enrico, are you okay?” she asked at one point seeing him hypnotized.
“Su… Sure! Actually, I wanted to say that mine tastes like vanilla and pistachio!”
Everyone stared at him, a couple of people nervously giggled. The sommelier blushed slightly.
“Idiot, there’s no vanilla here!” Landi silenced him sarcastically. “Indeed, if there were it would be a serious flaw! As for pistachio, it’s hard to understand how you caught it”.
De Angelis laughed under his mustache. Even Wilson looked very amused by that gaffe. Sebastiani loved the scene too, his friend acting like a fool: good old bastard!
Enrico wisely decided to keep his observations to himself and to be quiet for the rest of the wine tasting. He ended up chugging several glasses. While the others were savoring, tasting and leaving half-full glasses, he was committed to finishing his glass in large sips, often asking for a refill, and sometimes another to “better judge the bouquet of perfumes”.
The end of the tasting was followed by a dinner of freshly picked porcini mushrooms. At that point, Enrico was almost drunk.
“After all that rain, dozens of them sprouted” Antonio informed them. “And my wife Mirta has cooked them for you!”
By the end of the meal Radeschi thought he was in some sort of paradise, his head clouded by alcohol: there was excellent wine, delicious food. If only the enologist could pay some attention to him…
“How about a breath of fresh air?” he asked her.
Katia stood up, headed outside. They put on their coats. Radeschi offered to make a hand-rolled cigarette with his tobacco.
“It’s French, I have it sent especially from Paris. Good quality, with a nice smell”.
She smiled and accepted the offer. Radeschi lit her cigarette with a chivalrous gesture. Right when he was about to tell her about his job as an investigative journalist and hacker, a bolt of lightning ripped the sky in half, and it started to heavily rain.
The two quickly ran inside to take cover. Radeschi told himself they would have resumed their chat the following morning. Pity that by then Katia would have been dead…
The enologist’s body was found after more than one hour of searching. They were all supposed to meet at eight for breakfast, after which they would have gone home. They waited for Katia until eight twenty before Antonio decided to go check in her room, accompanied by a worried Landi and followed by Radeschi. Since she was not answering, the owner of the estate opened her door with the master-key.
“Her things are still here” noticed the lawyer. “That’s her travel bag, and the toiletry bag is in the bathroom”.
“Her car is parked in the same spot as yesterday” observed Antonio, sticking his head out the window to check.
“Couldn’t she have walked away?” Radeschi asked.
“Impossible” Antonio said, somberly, “the main gate is still closed. I’m the only one with the keys and I haven’t opened it yet”.
“Then we have to go look for her!” Landi yelled running out of the room.
The news of the sommelier’s disappearance reached the breakfast room immediately, and everyone went out of their way to look for her.
The poor woman’s body was then found inside one of the glass block barrels, in the cellar.
It showed a deep neck injury that had almost certainly caused her death. There was blood everywhere. It was horrible.
Enrico, white as a sheet, looked away. Landi, on the other hand, first began to despair, then threw himself head-on against the journalist.
“It was you, bastard!”
“Me? Are you insane?”
The lawyer grabbed him by the collar, lifting him off the ground.
“She rejected you and you killed her! She wanted to come back with me, I know it. But you wouldn’t let us!”
De Angelis and Sebastiani had to intervene to divide the two before they beat each other up.
At that point, Radeschi would have liked to run away to avoid the problem, but his cop friend, obviously, was of the opposite opinion. He took out his badge and got the ball rolling.
“From now on, nobody touches anything until the police gets here from Pontremoli. While we wait for them, we will gather in the hall and I will guard all the people here: if the main gate has never been opened, it means that the killer is one of us”.
The marshal of the Pontremoli police station was called Maurizio Calcaterra, a smart thirty year old with a barely visible mustache and an impeccable uniform. Corporal Esposito and the coroner Rosario Iannone were with him.
Operations ran smoothly, fast. Sebastiani, as deputy commissioner, was now part of the whole investigation.
The suspects, including Radeschi who had been seen flirting with the victim all evening, had been locked up in the hall of the estate under Esposito’s all-seeing eye. In the meantime the deputy commissioner and the marshal were listening to the coroner’s response.
“The victim died around midnight. She was hit several times with a sharp object at the base of the neck. First her carotid artery was severed, consequently the bleeding led to her death”.
“Did they put her in here while still alive?”
“Yes, marshal. The poor woman agonized until she bled to death. Given the particular glass block structure, I would say that even if she had screamed – although given the conditions she was in, I doubt she did – nobody could have heard her”.
“What can you tell us about the murder weapon? Is it a knife?” Sebastiani asked, nibbling on his cigar.
“I don’t think so. Actually, the wound is very strange. If I had to make a hypothesis, however absurd, I would say that she was hit with some sort of big screw”.
The deputy commissioner, at that point, didn’t need further confirmation: he had a lead.
“Let’s go” he ordered the young marshal who, confused, excused himself and followed him obediently.
“Where to?” he asked once far enough.
“We have to search the rooms and personal belongings of all the guests: if we find the murder weapon, we find the murderer”.
“Why do I have the feeling you already know how Mrs. Ritter was killed?”
The cigar spun in the deputy commissioner’s mouth.
“Let’s say I have a theory: the people who are here are all wine experts, they would have killed using a corkscrew! I bet my badge on it”.
“Yes, like that of a sommelier, with the self-tapping screw that you insert in the cork to extract it… And guess what? Last night one of the guests bragged about his personal corkscrew. Let’s start the search with him. Or actually her, seeing as it is a woman: Sarah Wilson”.
Room searching complicated the investigation, instead of simplifying it. A lot. There was one positive note: Radeschi’s room had no compromising clues and he, pushed by Sebastiani, was able to join the deputy commissioner and marshal Calcaterra in the investigation.
Their base of operations was the small kitchen of the estate. The policeman was pacing back and forth, shaking his head.
“This makes no sense”.
“It does, because the murderer is trying to mess with us” commented Sebastiani, sticking a new Toscanello in his mouth. The previous one had ended up in the trash after he nervously chewed it.
Only Radeschi had a clear picture in the absurd situation they were facing. His head looking down on his laptop, he seemed very interested in what he was reading.
“We started looking for one suspect, now we have three!” snapped Calcaterra.
“Let’s reconsider everything calmly” Sebastiani urged him.
“Now, we have determined that the murder weapon is Wilson’s corkscrew, since the victim’s blood is on it. Which would lead us to suspect her”.
“No argument here”.
“Exactly. It’s a pity that we found it in De Angelis’ room and not in the American lady’s, which leads us to assume that he was the one who killed Katia Ritter. Except that…”
“…in Landi’s room we found a large bloody towel, which would make us think that the lawyer is also involved in the crime”.
“A nice puzzle indeed!”
“Enrico, what do you think?” Sebastiani finally asked, grimly.
“I have a theory” replied the journalist, closing his laptop. “There is a pattern”.
“They want us to believe that it’s all what it looks like, but nothing really is”.
“I don’t get it” Calcaterra confessed.
“All right, then I’ll ask you a simple question: why would Landi or Wilson or De Angelis have killed Ritter?”
Loris moved his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other while he thought about it.
“For the usual motives: jealousy, envy, lust for power…” replied the marshal.
“Exactly. And they offered us all these reasons on a silver platter, as if we could choose the right one…”
“So, we shouldn’t be deceived by how it looks, but start asking ourselves what’s the real motive”.
As he said it, Radeschi took a book with a red cover from a shelf.
“What is it?” Sebastiani asked.
“Don’t you recognize it? It’s the most famous wine guide out there. There’s a copy in every room since there’s a wonderful review of the Fedespina. I browsed it online earlier”.
“How would this help us?”
“It allowed me to find our motive, Loris”.
“Who was it of the three then?” Calcaterra asked impatiently.
Radeschi shook his head.
“None of them”.
“Actually, everything fits: our assassin first took Wilson’s corkscrew, making sure she was our first suspect. He could have made us think of some rivalry between women… Then, he killed Ritter, but not before wrapping a big towel around his body: everyone knows you get a ton of blood on you when you stab someone… So, after hiding the body in the glass block to save time, he left the towel in the room of Landi, the ex-boyfriend who could have killed the woman in a fit of jealousy. Finally, and this was his real goal, he made sure that the bloody corkscrew was found in the room of De Angelis, the sacrificial lamb”.
“I don’t understand” the marshal interrupted. “Who could have devised such a diabolical plan?”
“The only one we obviously didn’t suspect: Dario Giraudo”.
“The small Barolo producer? And why would he have done it?”
“For revenge, Loris. As it often happens. Look on the guide: they ripped his last vintage to shreds. And guess who made that slandering review?”
“The critic, De Angelis himself!”
“Exactly: Giraudo killed Ritter to put the blame on the critic and permanently take him out… The motive is the oldest in the world: revenge!”
“This world keeps scaring me…” the marshal commented.
“It will scare Giraudo even more once we arrest him and grill him until he confesses” Sebastiani said.
The two went out to the living room, while Radeschi was left alone in the small kitchen. He found a bottle of Fedespina left open from the previous evening tasting. He poured himself a generous glass and, before drinking it, raised it for an imaginary toast to the memory of the poor sommelier.