IN VINO VERITAS

Chapter 9

Sam was climbing the walls of the motel. It had been two days, almost to the hour, since he’d last seen Dean and he was nowhere in the vicinity of a solid lead. He’d broken into Jake Matthews’ house and spent a full two hours trawling through receipts, mail and phone bills; even Jake’s ancient desktop computer. All he’d come away with was a brief list of names and phone numbers which he’d cross-referenced back in his room. There was only one which panned out and for all the wrong reasons. Each time he punched the name Dennis Yates into a search engine, it returned a bunch of results for the horror writer Dennis Wheatley. More digging revealed the author’s full name to be Dennis Yates Wheatley, which seemed like somebody flipping him the bird and making a point at the same time. Sam took it as a challenge, but it didn’t help that the cell number scrawled against the name was out of service. The number itself was linked to a pay as you go SIM, available over the counter in any store, and there was no user information attached at all.

Another dead end; Sam felt like banging his head against the table. He could only hope Castiel had more luck tracking down his brother in dreamland. Cas had taken his sweet time replying to Sam’s voicemail message but he’d come through in the end. He’d been gone for over half an hour now and Sam decided he needed a beer; he almost jumped out of his skin when he discovered the angel standing right behind him.

“Dammit Cas, can’t you come through the door like everybody else?”

Cas stared at him in silence. His eyes looked red.

“Did you get anything?” Sam knew he was being pushy and rude but Cas only shook his head. He seemed confused.

“It was a strange experience. Dean was not himself; he says he’s been drugged.”

“Dammit.” Sam’s stomach twisted. “What else did he say?”

Cas was distracted, gazing round the room slowly. His eyes flittered everywhere but settled on nothing.

“Cas?”

Cas pulled it together with an effort. “He drew a symbol. It might be helpful.”

He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, passed it across and Sam studied it eagerly. It was an odd design, obviously drawn by Dean but shaky looking and surreal. He sighed with frustration.

“I don’t recognise it. It could be occult.”

He got straight back on the laptop, picture searching magical and demonic symbols but the banging noises coming from behind him were distracting and eventually he turned to look. Castiel was rummaging through drawers and cupboards, shaking down the motel room efficiently and Sam tried several times to get his attention without success. When Cas finally turned round he was clutching a king size bag of potato chips and stuffing them into his mouth.

Sam frowned. “What are you doing?”

Cas spoke round a mouthful of food. “I believe it’s called the munchies.”

Half an hour later Castiel had given Sam a perplexed, drawn out report of his experiences in Dean’s dream. He’d also cleaned out Dean’s supply of junk food before vanishing. His account had done nothing to alleviate Sam’s concern; Dean was being drugged, was somebody’s captive and there was probably sex involved. He didn’t want to speculate on what it might add up to; instead he threw himself into the research. To save time he called Bobby, emailed him the drawing and gave him Dean’s description of the bottle. Bobby said he’d do some digging into the wine.

Two hours later Sam identified the symbol. At least, he came across another symbol which looked something like it. Further investigation revealed it was an archaic icon for the god Dyonisus and he almost laughed. He wasn’t sure if it was to relieve the tension or push away the absolute dread he suddenly felt. Now he’d made an initial connection, pieces began falling into place. Dionysus was the Greek God of Wine, the Party God to take it more broadly, and here they were bang in the middle of wine country. At harvest time.

Sam checked out ancient rites and feasts. There was nothing specifically linked to Dionysus but plenty of festivals and rituals connected to the various harvest deities: Modron, Eona, Persephone, Demeter, Pamona, Morgan… The list was impressive. These gods had been big news, back in the day.

Sam kept coming across something called Mabon, which turned out to be modern day, neo-pagan crap but had its roots in something older. The Feast of Avalonwas a powerful Sabbat and one of four annual equinoxes. It involved a celebration to give thanks for a successful harvest and offer inducements that the earth be similarly fertile and accommodating for next year’s crop. Things went sideways when the crops failed, however. That’s when ritual sacrifice joined the party and Sam was getting a bad feeling. Years of experience and several near misses informed his hunch with clarity. Not to mention the patented Winchester brand of shitty bad luck…

His cell phone rang and caller ID said it was Bobby. He grabbed at it, eager to exchange intel. “What you got?”

“And good freakin’ evening to you as well.” Bobby sounded pissed off and tired.

Sam felt a pang of remorse. After all, Bobby wasn’t his personal research assistant.

“Sorry man. I’ve been at this all night and there’s not a single lead I can use. Dean could be anywhere.”

Bobby’s voice softened. “I hear you, son, but I think I’ve got something on that screwy wine.”

Sam’s heart rate picked up. “Great. Let’s have it.”

Casa de Concheta sounds like a Mexican whore house so I figured your genius brother got the name wrong. I made a stretch and discovered a little garage wine called Casa de la Cosecha. It means House of the Harvest.”

Sam knew that; he could also understand Dean’s mistake. “Concheta and Cosecha sound pretty similar…”

“If you’ve got a crank shaft instead of a brain…” Bobby sounded sardonic as hell. “I emailed you a picture. Look familiar?”

Sam picked up the email and opened the attachment. The bottle in the picture was coloured gold and had a cat embossed on the glass, just as Dean described. Sam enlarged the file. He thought the cat was probably a leopard but noticed the bottle also had a flared neck which incorporated a pine cone. The label was decorated with fruiting vines. Dean hadn’t mentioned any of this but Sam realised, with a jolt, they were all attributes of Dyonisus.

Bobby had more. “It’s a local brew and the prices’ll make your hair fall out. It comes from a place called The Portland Winery, a few counties up from you in Jay. They got offices in Portland itself; you could be there in a couple of hours.”

That sounded like a plan and it gave Sam something positive to focus on. He could check out the company’s client list for starters. Something else occurred to him.

“Any idea why it costs so much?”

There was a pause before Bobby replied. “It’s a boutique wine; a licence to print money from what I can tell. Why? You found something?”

Sam wasn’t sure. “That picture Dean drew turns out to be an old symbol for the god Dyonisus. Leopards, pine cones and fruiting vines are part of his logo.”

“And they’re all on the bottle.” Bobby sounded exasperated. “I’ve been at this thing way too long. I should have spotted a connection that size.”

Sam tried to appease him. “You weren’t looking for it, and you did great with the wine…”

“Don’t patronise me, boy.”

Sam’s face burned as he continued. “There’s a whole bunch of modern festivals based round the harvest, like this thing called Mabon, but centuries ago…”

Bobby interrupted. “…Those things were heavy duty. The harvest gods had serious mojo but they were petulant, demanding little bitches. It took all kinds of tributes and sacrifices to keep ‘em happy.”

Sam felt queasy. Sacrifice was a word he didn’t want to acknowledge; but he also had to admit it was a real possibility. “Blood sacrifice only happened when the crop failed, right?”

Bobby was silent for a spell. “I think we’ve got to assume the worst, Sam. The timing’s damned near perfect, ain’t it?”

Sam didn’t get it. “Timing?”

“Tomorrow night’s the autumn equinox, the Feast of Avalon; the Queen Mother of harvest festivals.”

Sam cursed. How had he not made that connection?

“You’d best get a wiggle on.” Bobby’s voice was too calm and Sam knew it was purely for his benefit. “Head over to Portland first thing and tell me what you get.”

Sam didn’t get much sleep. He worked on the laptop until his eyes were too blurry to focus, searching for anything related to The Portland Winery. His findings were not encouraging. In May this year late frosts destroyed many of Indiana’s vines and even though prices were at an all-time premium, supply was virtually tapped out. They clearly couldn’t afford another bad year but were they really prepared to commit murder just to be sure?

Sam didn’t think so. The company, its owners and affiliates checked out, the whole business was legitimate and properly registered. There was no Dennis Yates on their staff and nothing in the press or marketing to suggest Casa de la Cosecha was anything more than a highly successful gimmick. Their client list was offline, to protect customer integrity. On a hunch he pulled up some county maps, looking for large tracts of forest. No luck there either; most of Jay County was given over to agriculture.

It took several hours to drive up to Portland next day. Traffic was bad and it was gone eleven when he finally pulled up to the Portland Wineryoffices, stressed and anxious. He’d put on a suit for the occasion and posed as Deputy Marshal Cogburn again in order to requisition their client list. The office manager wasn’t happy about passing it over, even to aid a federal investigation and insisted on checking with his manager before he released the records. The whole thing got referred upwards several times for approval, nobody willing to take responsibility and it was close to 1pm when Sam finally got the paperwork.

The list was longer than he’d expected; nearly two thousand clients with over two hundred in the state of Indiana alone. The office manager confirmed they were all regular buyers of Casa de la Cosecha and Sam commandeered the office fax machine in order to get the pages over to Bobby. He called on the drive back, telling Bobby to focus on addresses in Indiana and cross-reference them against locations with forests and mountains nearby. A mountain range might explain all the rain Dean mentioned. At this stage, anything was worth a try.

Sam floored the accelerator. If he drove hard he could make it back to Rising Sun by 4.30. His first port of call was Joolz McGuire; the kid was supposed to find people but Sam had deliberately left off visiting until he’d exhausted all other possibilities. If Joolz was a fake he’d be truly stiffed and, with the way his luck was running, he’d be lucky if the kid could find his own ass with two hands and a flashlight.

The autumn equinox was here. Sam could feel time ticking away perceptibly.



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