Napa Valley’s crisp air provided a comfortable beginning for the day. Hank Carson was fortunate to find a parking space at the Wine Train depot. He strolled through the station building checking out the photos and displays. The rehabilitation work included repairs to the exterior woodwork, restoration of the original doors and windows, refinishing of wooden floors, installation of new heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, painting and landscaping. Many of the photos showed the original 1920′s structure before and after renovation a few years ago. Confident about the oncoming event, he joined the line of guests boarding the train.
A young female employee took his ticket, “Welcome, Mr. Carson. I hope you enjoy your trip with us today. Please enter the Silverado car,” she said directing Hank to the car in the center of the train.
“Thanks.” Hank smiled at her and weaved through the crowd of men in business attire and colorfully dressed women as the animated conversations and laughter filled the train car.
As he approached the bar for a taste of the offerings, a familiar voice bellowed out, “Henry Carson! So good of you to join us.” Charles Beaumont, promoter of the event, always called Hank by his given name. The sophisticated, wealthy philanthropist whose business activities involved board positions with several Fortune 500 companies, Charles’ jovial nature surprised some people. At six feet, Hank wasn’t much taller than his friend’s five-foot-eleven stature. His husky body, thinning white hair, neatly trimmed white beard, flushed cheeks, along with a cheerful smile, brought to mind the image of Santa Claus. Except for today when he wore a tuxedo with a burgundy tie.
“Charles, good to see you again,” Hank said.
“You’re looking good, my friend,” Charles replied, pulling his friend into a bear hug.
He’d forgotten how strong Charles was. Hank smiled as he felt the air in his lungs being pushed out. “You, too.”
Charles released the hug and stepped back leaving his hands on Hank’s shoulders. “I haven’t seen you in a suit since you left the police department. You fit right in with this crowd. Handsome as usual.”
“Thanks for the compliment. You’re right I haven’t worn a suit in six years. Glad I got this assignment, it gives us a chance to catch up. How’s the turnout?” Hank asked.
The smile on Charles’ face showed his pride at the event’s success. “Over two hundred people made contributions netting $85,000 to cover part of the expenses for students who qualify for the SEAP apprenticeship programs at the six wineries represented here. An additional eight wineries are participating. Other fundraising events are scheduled for the future.”
The train jerked as it moved from the station. Charles glanced at his watch. “Eleven-ten, right on time. What do you say we head to the bar and try out Silverado’s Beaujolais Nouveau?”
After receiving their first tasting, the men stepped away from the antique-style bar with wine glasses hanging overhead. Proudly, Charles pointed out the unique features of the train. “Each car has been authentically restored reflecting their original decor from 1914 through 1929.”
“Impressive. This wine is also impressive. I like the fruity taste and smooth aroma. Who all are here for this event?”
Charles cheerfully elaborated on the chefs, wine connoisseurs, and renowned restaurant owners who sought out these new wines.
There was a buffet table, resplendent with a variety of treats. “I assume the food offerings complement the wines.”
“Yes, the chef has worked with the wineries to create an assortment of food to enhance the taste of the wines.”
“I’m not a wine expert, and although I like the French Nouveau’s, I admit this Silverado is fantastic,” Hank said. “Can we try another label?”
“Of course. Let’s sample the Mondavi.” Charles turned to the bartender. “Two glasses of the Mondavi, please.” The bartender prepared two glasses and placed them on the counter.
Indulging in wine tasting, the guests enjoyed themselves and conversation flowed for the next hour, as the train traveled past the vineyards and wineries.
Hank and Charles received their third glass of wine. Before tasting their choice, they took the glasses with them to mingle with the crowd.
A young man dressed in a staff uniform dashed behind the bar and whispered into the bartender’s ear.
The bartender surveyed the coach, scanning the crowd until his eyes rested on Charles. His look was grim as he came from behind the bar and walked to Charles and Hank, with a young man in tow.
“Mr. Beaumont, I must speak with you privately. Something terrible has happened,” he said, his eyes darting between Charles and Hank.
“That’s okay, Mr. Crow. Henry is a close and important friend. Tell us what this is about,” Charles said in a soothing tone.
“Stan here found what looks like a dead body in the wine cooler.”