IN VINO VERITAS

Chapter 14

Sam passed the town sign for Mount Vernon just after 11pm. He’d burned rubber the entire way from Rising Sun, gunning the Impala down the freeway at illegal speeds and abusing the old girl in ways that would give Dean a conniption fit. He made the journey in five and a half hours flat. Mount Vernon was in Posey County on the other side of Indiana; one of the state’s prime vine growing regions so it made sense that Pine House be located there.

He’d called Castiel every hour and invariably gotten voicemail. He’d given the address of his destination every hour as well, imploring Cas to get his ass over there and locate Dean. The radio silence implied that wasn’t happening but he hadn’t given up hope. Cas had ways of surprising him when he was least expecting it.

Bobby was on speakerphone constantly for the final leg of the trip, giving Sam directions like a super grouchy GPS system. Pine House was a few miles outside Mount Vernon and the road leading there didn’t get much use. It was full of potholes, flooded in places and didn’t seem to go anywhere. It wasn’t something you’d travel by accident but Bobby was confident it was leading somewhere. Sam drove for two miles, certain the Impala’s suspension was about to give out before finding the turnoff Bobby described. He’d never have spotted it if he hadn’t been looking. It resembled a hiker’s track leading into a forest but once he was on it, it turned into a narrow but well-kept road. Dense pine growth flanked it either side and it was dark as pitch. In spite of that Sam kept the headlights dipped, acutely aware that anybody keeping lookout would see him coming if he went to high beam. According to Bobby the road ran for a mile before reaching Pine House and he drove slow and careful.

Sam’s head was spinning with the amount of information he’d taken in over the course of the journey. Once Pine Housewas established as the prime location, Bobby had gotten busy digging. He’d discovered the estate was owned by the Fitzgerald family, who bought discreet quantities of Casa de la Cosecha wine, which is how they’d shown up on Portland Wine Company’s client list.

The family also owned several vineyards in Posey. By following an elaborate and well-disguised trail, Bobby established those vineyards grew a boutique, blended grape which was sold to a company called Ikarios Inc. He reminded Sam how Ikarios was an ancient Greek who taught Dionysus the art of wine making, so it came as no surprise to learn this company produced the Casa de la Cosechagaragewine. Dennis Yates was its controlling shareholder.

The Portland Wine Company was merely a distributor and one of their biggest clients was a company called Attika Wine. They bought the lion’s share of Casa de la Cosecha on a wholesale basis. It was registered out of state but its CEO was a certain Dennis Fitzgerald.

It didn’t take much to figure out why the Fitzgeralds were buying back their own product from their own distributor; they wanted to limit supply, raise demand and create status for the brand. Once other buyers came to realise the scarcity of the product, they’d pay crazy money to get their hands on a bottle. Bobby suspected the Fitzgeralds were taking advantage of the sky high pricing and supplying direct to customers who couldn’t source from Portland. This was proven correct when he dug up evidence of Attika Wine selling its wholesale stock at top dollar prices.

The fact Attika was a town in southern Greece which spawned the original Dionysus cult sealed the deal neatly. Everything seemed tied up with the obscenely wealthy Fitzgerald family, who liked to discreetly reference the god of wine.

At first Sam couldn’t understand why the family didn’t hold back supply from the get go, then realised greed was involved. Why stockpile a quality wine when you could sell the entire stash at hugely inflated prices? It was an elegant scam which depended on a consistently good grape supply. One bad harvest would be catastrophic for business and that’s exactly what happened back in May.

If there was a connection between an ancient god, ritual sacrifice and shady business deals Sam didn’t see it; not until Bobby called back with more intel. He’d discovered Pine House hosted regular black tie events for an exclusive club. The Minoan Wine Societymet twice a month, its logo was the Dionysus symbol and its chairman was Dennis Yates.

Sam whistled as the complex pieces fell into place. “So the wine club’s a front. They meet to blow smoke up Dionysus’ ass, keep him onside and keep the grapes growing. Just so they can make a shit load of money?”

Bobby snorted. “There’s other advantages to buddying up with the party god; drugs, booze and sex to name a few. I doubt they’re in it just to get rich.”

“How many bad harvests have they had, Bobby? How many blood sacrifices have gone down?”

“I’m working on it, son. In the meantime, let’s make sure the one tonight don’t happen.”

Sam belatedly made another connection. “Dennis Yates and Dennis Fitzgerald have got to be the same guy, right?”

“You think?”

Something wasn’t making sense to Sam. “How does Dean figure in all this? Joolz said they were luring someone special to Rising Sun, which was Dean, right? But why him?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line before Bobby spoke. “No clue, Sam. I’ll keep digging but don’t hold your breath.”

Sam found a turning point in the road and parked the Impala. He’d formed a basic plan on the drive over and gathered some items in a duffel bag. He was anticipating dealing with humans so he’d packed a pump action shotgun, a mace pistol, full-face breathing mask, a bunch of road flares and a tyre wrench. He had a switchblade and flashlight in his pockets and he stuck a pistol with a silencer down the back of his pants, just in case he met the dogs.

If Dionysus showed up things could get complicated. Bobby was eighty percent sure old gods could be weakened by mortal weapons, though not killed outright. Sam was putting a lot of faith in that.

He left one final voicemail message for Cas; told him he’d reached Pine House and was going in alone. He explained that if the rescue mission went sideways, it was unlikely he’d see either Winchester in this life again. It sounded dramatic but might just be the motivation Cas needed; if it didn’t spur him into action, nothing would. Just as Sam was about to pocket the phone it rang, sounding loud as a church bell in the closed-in silence of the forest. He was expecting Bobby but Joolz McGuire’s ID popped up and the kid sounded anxious.

“You can’t go into that house, man. There’s a basement full of people and some of them have got guns. You need to call for backup and...”

Sam interrupted. “Slow down, Joolz. You’ve seen all this?”

“Damn straight. This Zippo’s lit up like the Fourth of July.”

Sam digested the information for a split second. “Dean’s in a basement?”

“It’s not exactly a basement but it’s underground. It’s full of bottles and there’s some kind of party going down.” Joolz’s voice dropped. “These wrinkly old dudes are making out with hot chicks and it’s grossing me out.”

Sam tried again. “Is Dean with them?”

“He’s in a room next door, some kind of weird-ass temple. That symbol you showed me is everywhere.”

Sam’s heart rate picked up. “Is he okay?”

Joolz hesitated. “He ain’t in great shape but he’s alive.”

Sam felt queasy; fought to keep it contained. “If you see anything else you text me okay? I’m putting the phone on mute.”

“You’re still going in? After everything I told you?”

Sam put as much stern authority into his voice as he could muster. “Listen to me, this is a federal operation and I’ve got it covered. If you call the cops you’ll see the Marshals Service from a whole new angle, do you understand?”

Joolz wasn’t buying it. “You need somebody to watch your back, man. You can’t do it alone.”

“Thanks for the concern, Joolz; but I’ve got this.”

Sam disconnected and muted the phone. He slung the duffel across his shoulders and checked his watch. It was 11.20pm and Joolz had seen something bad going down at midnight. That gave him forty minutes to locate Dean. It didn’t seem long enough but at least he knew which part of the house to focus on now. He set off at a loping run; after three days sitting on his ass and worrying it felt good to be doing something physical. Half a mile later the house came into view and the size of it took his breath away. Light spilled from the ground floor windows while spotlights illuminated the wide gravel driveway and expansive lawns which sloped away to the forest. Desirable cars were parked up everywhere but the grounds appeared deserted.

To get near the house without being seen meant staying inside the tree line. Sam began moving through the firs; quietly working his way round the perimeter and alert for dogs at all times. He moved quickly but it was 11.45 when he reached the back of the house. It was mostly in darkness, only a few windows lit and he made a fast dash across the lawn, taking cover in the shadow of the building. He scoured the walls for CCTV but couldn’t see any cameras. That didn’t mean they weren’t there though…

He peered through the lit up windows and saw a cavernous kitchen with catering staff wiping down surfaces. The next few revealed storerooms, a small office and a shabby rest area where two guys lounged on ratty couches and watched TV.

He crept along the wall until he found a section in darkness then used the tyre wrench to jemmy a window. He scrambled into a room which smelled of bleach and polish and, turning on the flashlight, discovered he was a janitor’s cupboard. He opened the door quietly and moved quietly along the dimly lit passage outside. There was cheap carpet on the floor, which muffled his footsteps and the space stank of microwaved food. Clearly every expense was spared for the workers at this country pile...

Sam worked through a maze of corridors, looking for a way into the basement and soon found a set of stairs. He put his ear against the door at the bottom and listened hard. If there was a party going on inside it was the quietest in history so he opened the door a crack and peered through.

The cavernous cellar was just as Joolz described; full of barrels, wine racks and bottles. The guests had been partying hard until recently; plates, bottles and glasses were strewn about, candles still burned but the place was deserted. Sam drew his gun and moved quietly through the shadows; alert for danger, ready for action and heading for the doors at the other end of the cellar. They bore the mark of Dionysus and Sam figured that’s where the ritual was going down. He checked his watch again and his pulse quickened. It was five minutes to midnight.

He approached the doors cautiously, heard voices on the other side but couldn’t catch any of the dialogue. Sam’s gut told him he was in the right place though so he took cover behind some barrels, stuffed the pistol into his pants and unzipped the duffel. The plan was simple enough; he’d use the shotgun to draw attention and road flares to create panic. A few rounds of pepper spray would add to the confusion; clear out the cellar and in the chaos he’d locate Dean and get him clear.

He was reaching for the flares when he heard a scrape behind him. He surged to his feet, fumbling for his pistol and found two men standing right behind him. They were large, pissed off and one of them aimed a punch at his face. Sam raised an arm to block it and the fist collided with his shoulder instead. The impact knocked him off balance; he stumbled against a barrel at the same moment something slammed into his head and Sam saw stars.

A second later he hit the deck.



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