1. Wine Theft

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Friday 28 March 1986

David stopped scanning and focused on the newspaper report:

Wine Theft — The Gendarmerie nationale in Gevrey-Chambertin is investigating the disappearance this week of nearly four hundred barrels of wine from a cellar in Morey-Saint-Denis. The proprietor, who values the missing Burgundy at over three million Francs, discovered the theft Thursday evening when he returned from a business trip to Paris. No further information has been released.

He abandoned his breakfast and rushed up to his room, taking the steps three at a time, rather than waiting for the elevator. That can be none but Louis... The quantity, the value, the Paris trip. His phone call was answered before the beginning of the second ring.

"Oui. Allo?"

"Catherine, it's David. I've read the news. Is Louis there?"

"No, he rushed out in a rage last night after the Gendarmes left. He was cursing Grotkopf. Hasn't come back. They're now searching for him." She hiccoughed. "David, I'm so worried."

"You okay? Is anyone there with you? Murielle?"

"Murielle's gone home for Easter; not back until Monday. I'm so afraid something has happened to Louis... I'm worried sick, David. What do I do?"

"Stay there, I'm in Chagny. I'll be there in less than an hour."

David phoned the front desk as he packed, asking to have his account ready. Four minutes later, he strode across the lobby, relieved to see the receptionist holding up his bill.

"Bonjour Monsieur Michaels, you have slept well?"

With a glance at the total, he pulled four notes from his wallet. "Yes, thank you. Keep the balance for my next visit."

He ran to his car, tossed his luggage onto the passenger seat and headed north, not having finished plotting his route. My instincts will guide me.

Forty-three minutes later, he crunched to a stop in the gravel courtyard and bounded from the car toward the open kitchen door as Catherine ran down the stone steps. "David! Thank God!" She trembled as she reached out. "Hug me. Hold me. Give me strength. I've none left. I'm so worried."

He wrapped her in his arms, she laid her cheek on his shoulder, and he gently stroked the back of her head as she shook with sobs. Don't know what I should do here. Never handled a distraught woman — rarely handled any woman. Hope this helps.

They held the hug as David quietly spoke, "Everything will be fine, you're safe, and Louis is also." He continued with other calming comments as they came to his mind while he stroked the back of her head. She gradually relaxed as her sobbing abated. This seems to be working. Probably best to keep holding...

Then Catherine began sobbing more deeply again, blubbering out, "Murielle — a few minutes ago, just before you arrived. A phone call from Murielle's mother — asking for her."

"She's not there? Wasn't she was going home for Easter?"

"That was her plan. I checked her room, then called the Gendarmes. They'll be here shortly to expand the investigation."

Her sobbing subsided as she talked. She seems to be regaining her strength. They maintained their hug and David continued holding the back of her head with a gentle pulse of his hand. This appears to help.

Catherine continued to relax, and after a long quiet interlude, she said, "I must go up and compose myself before the Gendarmes come again." 

She led him inside and along to the second salon, where she pointed to the fireplace. "I'm cold, David. I'd appreciate it if you started building a fire. I'll be down shortly to help."

He had finished when she returned, and she motioned him to a wing-back chair. They sat silently for a long while, watching the flames turn from yellows and reds into greens and blues as the fire took hold and warmed.

She had just begun recounting the events when there was a knock on the door.


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