Fiction

Preview of “The Gossip Murders”

Prologue

 

September 2017

 

The forecast had predicted a thunderstorm, a worrying situation for the local winegrowers who were just a few weeks away from harvest. The second week of September should have seen a cooling off from the heat wave that had engulfed the last two weeks in August, two weeks of temperatures that had spiked at 41, keeping locals and tourists indoors in the old stone houses that worked as natural air conditioners or where possible in a shaded pool during the hot afternoons.

Despite the menacing aspect of the approaching storm the sky it produced was beautiful and dramatic, the storm clouds dark grey and rolling in slowly to cover a lighter sky and where the two skies met a soft golden spotlight shone down on the ancient farmhouses that sat alone surrounded by the vineyards.

Taylor Moore parked her car on the gravel driveway in front of Chateau XX, locked the door of her beloved blue deux chaveau and paused to admire the storm light on the grand building in front of her. She reached into her handbag and pulled out her iphone to take a photo, shaking her head at having left her real camera, a digital SLR, behind. “I must remember to find a waterproof camera bag so I can bring it with me,” she thought, not for the first time. Her work as a caterer and her part-time wine studies had her driving many kilometers in southwest France, through the Lot-et-Garonne and Dordogne departments on a daily basis and often further afield into the Bordeaux wine region. She was often struck by the scenery and always regretted it when she had not brought her proper camera with her.

Twenty minutes later she was standing at the very far limits of the vineyard, ready to test the grapes. This was homework. She was testing the sugar content of the grapes, the brick measure that would tell the vineyard owner when it was time to harvest. She pulled her refractomer out of her bag and carefully calibrated it. The device gave a reading called the Brix measurement of the sugar level in the grapes and would help the vineyard owner determine when harvest would be.

The rain started after she’d recorded the third measurement. She had come prepared though, wearing her waterproof hiking boots and a bright yellow gortex running jacket that had a hood and protected her to mid-thigh. The rain was bad for the refractomer and she put it away just in time; when she closed up her bag the ain began pelting down and she began to look into the forest beside the vineyard for a place to shelter. She quickened her pace to a trot when she felt the first hail and then ran to a ruined hut made of stone and wood that the hunters sometimes used and which sat on the edge of a small lake a couple of hundred meters down the forest path.

The hut was missing half its tile roof and there was no front wall. Taylor just managed to get under the side with the roof when the hail began to get bigger and after a few minutes was golf ball sized. The noise on the roof was tremendous and she worried for a few minutes about whether the roof she was standing under would hold. But it was even worse to think about getting outside and being hit with the hail.

After the longest five minutes she’d ever experienced, the hail began to subside. She made her way out of the hut, stepping over piles of old stone and terra cotta-coloured broken roof tile.

She looked down to the lake. The path was strewn with fallen leaves and small branches and covered with the white hail.

It was then that she noticed something odd, something out of place. There was some colour in the lake that shouldn’ t have been there, something orange. “I sure hope that’s not a bloody plastic bag,” she thought.  People could be such asses. She walked up the path to see if she could reach it.

Afterwards, when she was telling her Aunt Julie, she said she really believed her heart stopped for a couple of seconds.  It wasn’t a plastic bag, it was an orange windbreaker. It’s owner was dead and it looked like he had been there for sometime.