On this beautiful Sunday morning, I’m sharing another taste of California Wine Country mystery. Here is part of the evacuation chapter from Wildfire.
Tara stuffed her laptop into her duffel bag and grabbed a couple of other personal items. As she followed Greg and Alex to the winery, she hit her parents’ speed-dial on her phone.
Her phone issued a strange tone. She glanced at the screen. Damn—cell service is out.
The big Ford F-150 pickup stood outside the winery. Roberto looked up as he put a cardboard box into the back, while the other two winery employees, Mark and Amy, each carried something else.
Alan was on the landline’s cordless handset, pacing between the winery and the gate to the vineyard, Charlie following. “Just get them here,” Tara heard him say. “We’ll all leave together. We’re not leaving anyone behind.” He shoved the phone back in his pocket as he strode to the garage.
A minute later he drove a smaller Toyota pickup truck out, stopping in front of the winery. “The wait and kitchen staff can go with Veronica—Miguel, Antonio, Tara, Greg … and Alex.”
“Wait a minute, Alan,” Roberto interrupted. “Will they all fit in her SUV?”
“Okay, whoever doesn’t can go with you and the winery staff. The pickers will go with Rosa, and I’ll take whoever’s left.” As if on cue, a big old flatbed truck with wooden railings around the bed pulled up, emerged from the smoke roiling in the vineyard. “There’s Rosa and the picking crew.”
The truck halted behind Alan’s Toyota. The pickers, men and women that Tara had seen once or twice over the past week, sat in the beds, looking grim but not frightened.
Two winery staff who were carrying items out to the trucks. “Never mind any more stuff,” Alan growled at Mark and Amy, who were headed back to the winery. “Just people.”
“I have 21 people, including you, me and Veronica,” Roberto said.
“There are still two of my people to come,” said Rosa, stepping out of her truck. “Gabriela and Toby. They were heading to the south end of the vineyard, last I saw them.”
“I’ll pick them up,” said Alan. “Every vehicle have an FRS radio? Tune to channel 7-12.” Roberto adjusted dials on his hand-held radio, and Rosa held hers up to indicate she was ready.
Veronica’s red SUV pulled into the lot. Alan strode to it and opened the back door. “Shoes? Really?”
“Just two pairs. Along with the laptop, the backup hard drive and the photo albums. Irreplaceable stuff.”
Alan sighed. “You’re right. Fine, you take Charlie.” He pointed at the SUV and bent toward his dog. “Go with Veronica, he said.”
Charlie sat on his haunches, tail swishing on the dirt. He sneezed. “No, get into Veronica’s car,” Alan insisted.
Charlie yipped and rolled onto his back.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Alan groaned. He took Charlie by the collar and pulled him to the SUV. “All right, I think that’s everything. You guys get moving. Head to Monte Rio on the Russian River.”
“I turned on the water in the irrigation system,” said Mark, one of the winery employees. He was short and stout with thick black hair and a neat beard. “There’s not much pressure, and it’s just coming in a trickle, but it should help a little.”
“That’s fine, Mark. Thanks,” Alan answered, coughing as he got back into his small truck.
“One last sweep,” said Roberto. “Greg, check the mansion. Mark, the garage. I’ll look in the winery.”
Three men ran in three different directions. Mark returned first. “No one in the garage.” He coughed.
Is that snow falling? Impossible. Wait—it’s ash.
Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.
The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?
You can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.