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THE DETECTIVE WHO TALKED TO HIS WINE

I have a host of favorite detectives, but let me mention just two. The first is Lisbeth Salander, of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the most interesting characters to come along in a long time. Some may quibble and call her a “researcher,” but to me she is very much a modern day sleuth, capable of solving mysteries using the latest computer technologies.

And then there’s the second detective, who has yet to see the light of day in book form. He is my very own fictional detective, Jeremy Wolf, a middle-aged widower, would-be author, principled voyeur, and lead investigator who not only loves cheap white wine, but carries on conversations with each bottle in its uncorked moments. Nero Wolfe had his Archie; Jeremy Wolf has his “Bob White”(a popular name for Robert Mondavi’s sauvignon blanc).

If you’d like to learn more, here’s an excerpt from his first appearance in SKELETON: A BARE BONES MYSTERY.

* * *

When Inspector Jeremy Wolf arrived at the scene, his first thought was, this will make a great opening for my book. Two patrol cars, lights flashing, blocked access to the rear of Blockbuster, and two uniforms—Jack Saltry and DeVonn Jones—turned cars and curious customers away while Officer Kate McCormick, arguably the most beautiful woman on the force, circled the pond with crime scene tape, her blond ponytail bouncing playfully with every move. She reminded him of Reese Witherspoon, especially her insouciant perkiness.

KATE THE PERKY

Kate McCormick, age 23, three years on the force, had never looked back on her decision to drop out of college in the first semester of her freshman year. Her parents had protested, but in the end had given in to their only daughter’s wishes. This is just a phase, they thought, a phrase repeated as Kate moved from at-home sofa slug, to fast-food worker, to enrollment in the police academy, to graduation with honors.

Once she sees what the life is like, they thought, she will change her mind and return to college. But Kate loved the life. Nothing made her happier than making a collar, the adrenaline rush of it, the machismo of it. And the fact that she was a woman, a beautiful woman, made the feeling all the richer. At times, she felt like a cheerleader intercepting a pass and running for a touchdown.

Inspector Wolf, had he thought of it, would have loved this image of her running in a short cheerleader skirt. But he was just trying to memorize her every move at the crime scene. He would have to remember all this so he could get it all down on paper later this evening. The hardest part would be trying to describe TV reporter Paige Pataki’s approach to his car: the way her high heels clicked on the pavement as she attempted a halting run in a khaki mini-skirt too tight even for walking; the color of her face, a clownish orange designed to fool the camera; the jiggling of her breasts under a powder blue blouse opened one button short of revealing; her scarf, a riot of blue and beige blotches, whipping in the wind, while her hair, preternaturally stiff with hair spray, didn’t; and most of all, the look on her face, a mix of urgency and professional glee that made him wonder about the wisdom of getting out of his car.

But he did, and she and her trailing cameraman were upon him.

“Inspector Wolf,” she said, “Paige Pataki, Eyewitness News. Can you give us any information about the skull?” She thrust her microphone toward him.

“You probably know as much as I do at this point, Pataki. A young clerk here discovered what she thinks is a human skull and, well, our job now is to figure out if she’s right, and if so, who that unfortunate person might be.”

Paige pulled the microphone back quickly, her second question already rolling out. Inspector Wolf continued to walk toward the pond, so she had to trot to keep up.

“Could it be Lauren Dyson, the girl who disappeared last year?”

Inspector Wolf had anticipated this question. Dyson had vanished last October, leaving little if any clues to her whereabouts. The last person to see her, the English professor she worked for, Ronald McDormand, had said she had become progressively distraught and withdrawn during the first few weeks of the semester, but he didn’t know why.

“And then one day,” he had said, “she just didn’t come in.”

Wolf had not been the principal investigator on the case but understood from the reports and briefings that McDormand was less than forthcoming about his sexual relationship with the young woman. Natural enough, Wolf thought, but McDormand’s alibis for his whereabouts during the 72 hours immediately before and after her disappearance were just too perfect. He seemed to go from public place to public place and, except for bathroom breaks, seemed to be with one or more people every moment of the day and night. Some of his colleagues recalled being startled seeing the normally remote, standoffish McDormand sitting in the faculty lounge. And some were even more startled when he spoke to them.

Professor Rubenski, a fellow English professor, was blunt: “He’s an odd duck. Never spoke to me the first two years, not even so much as an acknowledging grunt. And then, here he comes, a hale fellow well met, going on and on about his schedule for the day and how good it was to run into me. Run into me? He practically tackled me!”

And yet despite this behavior, the investigation had not turned up a single clue that would link him to the girl’s disappearance. Until now, perhaps, Wolf thought.

He stopped to answer Pataki’s question, and she ran into him, her breasts bumping into his arm. Oh, Miss Pataki, I could just eat you up. And perhaps I will in my book.

“Oops, sorry.” She backed off slightly and put the microphone under his chin. He ignored her remark and got right to the point.

“Anything’s possible, Pataki, we’ll just have to see. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to check out the scene.”

And with that he strode away, lifted the crime scene tape, ducked under, and disappeared down the slope to the pond, leaving Pataki and her cameraman behind.

The cameraman followed Wolf’s departure and then panned back to the waiting Pataki.

“We’re on the scene live at the overflow pond at Dobbin Center, where earlier today a young Blockbuster employee on a break found what is believed to be a human skull—and perhaps, just perhaps, we are near the end of the long search for Lauren Dyson, who disappeared without a trace last October. This is Paige Pataki, Eyewitness News.”

The cameraman clicked off the camera and gave Paige a thumbs up. The studio would now be rerunning the tape of Paige’s interview of Karen Cutter.

“We’re clear,” he said. And then Paige exploded.

“That bastard! Did you see the way he just walked away from me? And calling me Pataki like that rather than Paige. Asshole!”