Spilled Wine, a murder mystery, in short.


Spilled Wine

A murder mystery, in short – by Sha’Tara

The wine glass was tipped over on the soft white carpet and a dark red stain had spread away from it.  Beside the bed lay a man in later years, casually dressed, his shoes off, looking for all the world as if he’d just gone to sleep.  His face was towards the window and it had a slight smile.  Half closed blue eyes seemed to stare at something outside.  Despite the fact that he was very dead, in fact that he’d been dead for several hours, perhaps as long as a day, he seemed to be in a state of complete repose.  To the police investigator staring at his prone body he seemed to say, “Please don’t disturb me; this is the most peaceful I’ve been in my entire life.”

Police detective Josh Erwin took in the scene and after consulting his procedure manual and talking with Rose Whitecliff at the station, put on his gloves and stepped into the bedroom where the dead body of John Marshall lay in his unprepossessing and very quiet way.  Forensics medical examiner, Doctor Donald Signals was on his way from Bonnerville so Cpl. Erwin’s job was to look at the scene of the incident and write a preliminary report, take some pictures and secure the scene from prying eyes, meaning from Vicky Spears from “Good Morning Hamersley TV.”  She had managed to discover the “situation” even before the cops heard anything.  Cpl. Erwin thought she was creepy, the way she always seemed to ferret out a crime before the police did, and how accurately she could re-construct a scene on her i-pad. 

“C’mon Josh, let me have a look.  I can help you figure this out before Signals gets here with his paraphernalia and head-scratching propositions.  I bet I can tell you what happened, when it happened and maybe even why it happened.”

 “Sorry Vicky but this could be a real murder here and I’ve got to protect the integrity of the scene.  I can’t let you in here.”

 “Ok, but it’s your funeral.  I’m just going to go to my car, drive down to Starbucks, get a great cappuccino, come back here, park in the driveway and write my story while you wait for someone else to tell you the facts you should be able to put together yourself.  I’ll have the story ready to air before your expert gets his stuff together and comes up with his usual platitudes and long shots.  I know what happened here, Josh.” 

He tried to sound angry but it was all exasperation.  He knew she’d guess, and he knew with even greater certainty that she’d be right… again. “Not this time Vicky.  I’m serious.  Get lost, and I don’t care if you can guess the nature of what we’re looking at here because it will still be nothing but a guess.  Enjoy your cappuccino.”

She shrugged and went to her car.  The H-RV spun around with a slight squeal of angry tires and disappeared around the curve heading to Main Street.  Cpl. Erwin glanced at the scene once more and began to scratch his head so hard his cap went flying.  While he bent down to retrieve it, he saw something dark under the only dresser in the room.  Should he reach for it, or wait?  He was smarting from Vicky Spears’ mocking and he decided then and there to break a rule.  He reached under the dresser with his gloved hand and grasped the black item.  It was a very light, very strange looking handgun that looked like a Beretta.  He looked at it in the light from the window and realized it was a clever imitation.  It was in fact a water pistol. 

 If anything, one could not call Cpl. Erwin too intelligent, let alone bright.  He was a true cop; a by-the-book kind of cop who was actually quite out of his depth in temporary charge of Hamersley’s police department consisting of himself and two well-meaning deputies who also volunteered as Hamersley’s five volunteer fire department brigade.  The sheriff was away south and on holidays, and incommunicado.

Anyway, Cpl. Erwin was looking at the water pistol and wondering how that could tie in with the death of John Marshall.  Then he smiled to himself as he carefully put the toy back where he’d found it.  Kids.  Obviously Marshall’s grandson had been around recently and had been playing with the water pistol.  Not wanting to be punished for spraying water on the furniture or the carpet he’d quickly hid the gun under the dresser when John Marshall came into the room.  That made sense.  Let Vicky Spears come up with something better. 

True to her words, Vicky returned and parked in the Marshall driveway, far enough back so she wouldn’t be forced to move when the forensics team arrived, which it did a couple of minutes later.  Vicky sipped on her coffee and watched, all the while writing her story, “John Marshall was found dead in his home this morning.  Foul play is suspected although the only sign of anything out of the ordinary is a tipped over wine glass beside the body in the bedroom.”  Let’s see what the numbnuts from Bonnerville come up with this time.  Just for a laugh she continued, “…a UFO was seen rising from the roof of Marshall’s house by old Mrs. O’Connor.  “It was shaped like a button,” she said, “and it spun like crazy.  I sure wouldn’t want to be riding in that kind of contraption, it’d make you so dizzy you’d get sick for sure.  Seems kind of retarded technology to me.  But who can tell with aliens?  Now what was I saying?  Oh yes, young John Marshall, he was always going on about aliens and UFO’s, well I’m one up on him now, aren’t I?  And right up over his own house too.” 

There was a hard tap on her window and she looked up to see Josh Erwin motioning her to roll it down.  She did.  

“Sorry but you’re in the way.  We got an ambulance coming in and more people to check over the place.  You’ll have to move out onto the street.”  

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack being so serious Josh.  I’ll move, don’t worry.  I’ve got my story anyway, no thanks to you.  What did your expert come up with: aliens with ray guns?  Drone attack with subsonic weapons?” 

“I shouldn’t be sayin’ but they suspect poison.  Murder.  No motive, no suspect yet, but we’re moving on that.  We’ve contacted the FBI.”

 “The FBI no less.  My, my, this is becoming absolutely fascinating.  Let me get my headline here:  Retired bird watcher and dog trainer, John Marshall was murdered in his house.  Police suspect poison was used.  They have no idea what kind of poison, how it was administered, who the suspect or suspects are, nor any motive whatsoever for killing him… The scuttlebutt is that he was involved in the drug trade.  The FBI is being brought in to look for more bodies buried about the place.”

“Come on Vicky, that’s not fair.  We’ve just started here.  In a day or two we’ll have some real evidence and then I’ll let you in on it.  Hold your story for 24 hours, OK?”

 “18 hours, Josh.  Just for you.  But I already know exactly what happened to John Marshall.  I know who killed him, or maybe I should say, what killed him.”

“I’m not buying it Vicky, this is serious stuff.  Move your car back onto the street or I’m having you towed.” 

“OK, but that’s not the way to go here Josh.  I was trying to give you a leg up the chain of command.”  Again the shiny black H-RV spun around with squealing tires and parked on the street overlooking the Marshall driveway.  Vicky spoke into her phone recorder, then continued typing on her i-pad.

To make a long story short, Dr. Donald Signals insisted that John Marshall’s death was not accidental; that some sort of subtle poison had been administered causing heart failure.  Preliminary analysis of the wine revealed no foreign substance.  No evidence was found that anyone other than Marshall had been in the house for at least a week before his death.  He was last seen walking to his truck and driving back in the direction of his house.  He had been carrying a shopping bag according to a witness who’d waved at him from Marie’s Emporium.  He hadn’t waved back.  The witness said he appeared preoccupied and had a “worried” look on his face.  A day later a couple of FBI agents came to the house to investigate.  Cpl. Erwin stated he was not at liberty to reveal what the agents discovered.  Investigations are on-going.

Meanwhile Vicky Spears had been unspooling her own story and version of events, much to the chagrin of the Hamersley police squad.  Here’s the gist of the last of her TV broadcasts on the John Marshall murder.

“Good morning folks.  It’s another lovely day in Hamersley today and I hope all of you get to enjoy it.  As you all know by now, we had a death in Hamersley a few days ago.  Our very quiet and reclusive Mr. John Marshall was found dead in his house and the police and apparently the FBI all insisted, without any evidence by the way, that Mr. Marshall was murdered.  Poisoned in fact, said Dr. Donald Signals, Bonnerville’s forensic expert and coroner on loan to our investigative team.  Was any poison found?  No.  Were there any signs of anyone but Mr. Marshall having been in the house at the time of his death, or previously, as far back as a week ago?  No.  Oh, they did find a hidden weapon in the house.  Are you ready for this?  They found John Marshall’s grandson’s water pistol hidden under the dresser in the same bedroom where Mr. Marshall’s body was found.  Did the water pistol, then, contain any liquid with poison in it?  No.  It was quite dry and quite empty and all it had ever had in it was tap water. 

 Oh, but wait, that’s not all.  There was a wine glass fallen over on the floor next to the body.  Red wine had spilled into the carpet leaving a bit of a mess.  OK, was there any residue of some exotic poison in the spilled wine?  No.  After much wrangling with our own very dedicated by-the-book Cpl Erwin I was finally allowed to have a look a the bedroom where the “murder” took place.  Except for the purple stain in the carpet there really was nothing to see.  Quite an ordinary room laid out in quite an ordinary way. 

Now folks, I don’t want to come across as some know-it-all and I don’t want to make our police look silly, or the boys from the Federal Bureau of Indiscretion either… but, really, murder?  So I did my usual woman’s intuition thing and you ladies are going to enjoy this, went about looking for the obvious.  You know, the kind of evidence which generally shakes the truth out of the tree after our professional investigators have climbed all over it and seen nothing but suspicious fruit dangling from it? 

I won’t deny it, I dated John a few times.  He was a really nice guy but a bit too reclusive for the likes of lil’ ol’ me, if you know what I mean, (“wink”) so I know that John had a very serious allergy to certain types of pectin.  Usually when we went out and had a drink, John would drink beer and I, red wine.  I love a good red wine, well, who wouldn’t?  But John was careful about his drinks.  He’d drink wine only when absolutely sure of what it contained. 

 Now you’ll remember that the police witness from Marie’s Emporium, no other than our beloved librarian, Josie Archambeau, said that John had appeared preoccupied and had a worried look on his face.  Also you will remember that she said he was carrying a shopping bag.

So, let’s just thread the needle and start sewing here.  John is “worried” about something, and I’d be willing to bet it’s about a dog he’d trained that had misbehaved and he felt terribly responsible.  I knew John and I can sense this.  He walks into Harvey’s Liquor Barn and grabs a bottle of wine.  It is red wine but as I said before, John knew his brands.  So he grabbed a bottle he “knew” to be safe without asking any questions, paid for it, and took it home.  He had a glass that evening just as he was getting ready for bed.  But that wine was from a batch produced by a different winery and it happened to contain a trace of the very pectin John was allergic to.  The murderer, folks, is that bottle of wine. 

 I’ve already told our great investigators this and indeed they found the pectin in the left over wine.  They also contacted our dear Dr. Wells and he confirmed that the pectin found in the wine could cause cardiac arrest in someone like John.  And that, folks, is a case closed.  And for you girls who were hoping that our esteemed FBI agents were going to be around through the weekend and maybe invite them to the dance or your wild midnight parties at the lake, well they’re heading back to the office.  Sorry about that.

Here’s to you, friend John.  For a quiet guy you sure chose a noisy departure.  What a way to go! 


5 thoughts on “Spilled Wine, a murder mystery, in short.

  1. Sara

    I like the twist at the end, but the opening seems, well, unnecessarily racist. I kept waiting for one of the white church goers to be found out as the murderer, but when I found out it was just an accident, I wondered why it was so significant to show the town as so segregated and imply that murder doesn’t happen in “white” towns.


    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Hi Sara. (I did write a reply comment – disappeared!) I totally agree with you. When I first drafted the story, it had an angle on racism and bigotry, then the plot somehow “twisted” on me and new ideas flowed in. I try to keep my stories short, so to include the original idea, all to do with Vicky Spears’ uncanny “abilities” in her reporting, would have meant a much longer piece. The solution, of course, would have been to delete that second (?) paragraph entirely. An obvious flaw. I think I’ll go and edit that out right now, even if the horse is long gone from the barn. Thanks for pointing that out, much appreciated!!!


  2. Phil Huston

    Some of your dialogue descriptions are worth the price of admission. Silly factor is always good but getting double bang for your buck with exasperation disguised as anger was a good one and built you a caharacter in a phrase. Cool!.


    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Hi, and thanks Phil. The story doesn’t deserve that high a praise but I’m glad you enjoyed it despite its flaws. Check out Sara’s comment.



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