Blood On Vines
In New Zealand’s Martinborough, an ex-wine maker is murdered. The precise planning and execution by the unknown assailant begins a series of vile attacks. Meanwhile north of Auckland, the long, hot summer is over and the tourists have left the Matakana wine country. A tranquil atmosphere descends and warm autumnal winds sweep across the grape-laden valleys. With the harvest due, grapes sit bursting upon the manicured vines awaiting the pick. Within this vista of peace, a rampage of death is about to rock the local community to its core. Will it be their shared history that sees the four friends being picked off one by one?
THE CHARMING DEMEANOUR, the talk about life insurance and the smart suit had convinced Peter to let him in. They never made it as far as the kitchen. The initial punch at the top of the stairs caught him by surprise. Before he could get his hands up, the second blow connected with his nose and mouth. He fell backward like a rag doll, hitting each step of the narrow stairs with a heavy thud, until it all came to a stop in the basement. The man from the bank said nothing.
As Peter came to, gone was the man’s smile and dark suit. Instead, he was wearing disposable overalls and blindingly white gumboots. A blue sports bag sat on the floor. From the corner of his eye he could see a discarded syringe, but had no memory of it being used. Peter’s legs were spread at an uncomfortable angle; it was as if they no longer belonged to him. A multitude of jagged tears covered his jeans, each leg blood-soaked from rage inflicted stab wounds.
Waves of pain rolled over him and he had lost control of his bladder.
The cold damp seeped into him from the grey schist floor.
His right arm was heavy and numb, hanging down by his waist like a dead tree branch. He just wanted to close his eyes and drift into the serene peace he knew was inevitable.
Lurching forward, the man pushed a pneumatic nail gun in Peter’s face before grabbing his left arm, slamming the hand to the wall and squeezing the trigger.
Peter’s screams echoed in the basement as a six-inch nail was pushed through the middle of his palm, penetrating just below the third finger, splintering ligaments on the way. As his left hand was fixed to the wall, the world went black.
Peter had no idea how long he had been sitting there. Was it still Friday? The small windows in the basement didn’t let in much light. He had meant to trim the hedge in the flower bed, but like a lot of things in life he hadn’t got to it. His failed relationships and lack of motivation for most things were going through his head. Not that it mattered now.
He’d had a funny feeling that someone had been in the house a few days ago, his things subtly rearranged, but had shaken it off as nonsense.
Slipping in and out of consciousness, Peter could just make out his attacker, his cold eyes full of hate. He could see the man’s lips moving but all he could hear was the swooshing in his ears. Shaking his head, trying to focus, he could just make out, “I’ve got what I came for.”
Peter’s nose throbbed, broken and swollen shut. Breathing through his mouth was difficult, globules of blood making him gag. Thick saliva dribbled down his shirt in long pink strands.
The man pulled a carving knife from the sports bag and launched himself at Peter again. Blood splattered against the wall and pooled on the already sticky floor. Peter’s femoral artery was severed; a cascade of blood squirted rhythmically.
“You should have kept your nose out.”
Peter rested his head on his arm. Crushing tiredness overtook him. He didn’t care anymore, his body beyond repair, and a deep cold spread through his body.If I just close my eyes for a moment, he thought, as his heart pumped the last drop of life from his battered body. His head fell forward, and he was gone.
LEXI WAS ENJOYING the early morning peace in the garden, clasping her cup of Earl Grey with its scent of bergamot and citrus. The warmth of the sun caressed her bare legs. A light breeze rolled over the gently undulating hills of Matakana wine country. A rogue gust caught her nut-brown tresses, and Lexi remembered she ought to book an appointment to have a cut, and the odd grey hair eliminated. Sweeping it off her face, she reached for the elastic band around her wrist and tied it up. The haircut would have to wait until after the harvest anyhow.
It was early; the family was still sleeping. She loved the quiet contemplation and appreciated the surrounding beauty, highlighted by the morning sun shining through the treetops, making the dewdrops in the garden sparkle like diamonds. The sweet, pungent smell of late summer fruit in the warming air was comforting, the gentle buzzing of honeybees flitting from flower to flower. Her mind was wandering. She glanced over her shoulder at her childhood home, the grand old homestead that held so many fond memories, and took another sip of tea. It had been a tough year for the entire family. Their vineyard was doing well, the operation had expanded a lot in the last few years, but with that came the stress, not the least on her and Avery’s marriage. Gabriel, their eldest, had mixed with the wrong crowd at school and got into some trouble which hadn’t helped either.
The soft yellow two-storey villa’s crisp white trim had been looked after over the years. The large front porch, framed by beautiful fretwork, was used only for special occasions. It was easier to use the side entrance straight through to the kitchen. Gabriel had just been a baby when they’d moved to Matakana and taken over the family property sixteen years ago. Since then, the two girls had come along, Samantha was now fourteen and Evie nine.
With the development of the motorway and the tunnel from Auckland, the range of cafés, restaurants, art galleries and the famous Farmers Market on Saturdays, the Matakana Valley was flourishing. Being on the main road to Matakana Village helped, and the influx of visitors during weekends and holidays benefitted their cellar door and farm shop.
In the early days, Lexi’s father had grown vegetables and kept a herd of dairy cows, like his father and grandfather before him. Thankfully, in the 1980s, Bob had the foresight to join a few of the progressive farmers planting the first grapes to produce wine. The valley’s cool maritime climate during the winter months, combined with a pleasant prevailing north-easterly during the warm summer, made it ideal for growing cabernet-based reds, chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling.
Avery planted more vines when they bought the property, putting his heart and soul into the business, expanding production from a relatively modest operation to a label respected locally and overseas.
The first few years had been tough, with a lot of work and not much money coming in. The area produced some award-winning reds, and even their Matakana Valley Wines had won accolades. They had dreamt big, been full of ideas and enthusiasm. Lexi still had the odd night of insomnia, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. Avery was always calm, not at all like her — prone to stress out about the minor things around her. The kids, the homestead — there was always something.
Now it seemed they had drifted apart, especially after what happened last year. Not that it had gone as far as Avery sleeping with that woman, but it had been close. Avery had been full of remorse and had tried to make it up to her. Even though it was a year ago, it broke her trust, not helped by having a couple of moody, hormonal teenagers around and a prepubescent tween in the house. It had been much easier when the children were small, she thought and sighed.
Beau, their black Labrador, stirred at her feet and stood up, looking her deep in the eyes, tilting his head while his right paw gently tapped her leg. It was time for breakfast, he intimated. Lexi smiled and gave him a scratch behind the ear. In the distance, she could hear the faint alarm of the bread maker she had set the night before.
Pulling her cardigan across her chest and taking the last sip of the now lukewarm tea, she closed her eyes for a moment. It was seven thirty, and the family would soon be awake. Lexi grabbed her empty cup and walked towards the house, the dew making her feet slip around in her jandals. She paused by the row of white iceberg roses at the front of the house, reaching forward, smelling the pleasant scent of her childhood summers and smiled. Planted by her mother, the brilliant white blooms set off perfectly against the warm yellow weatherboards and had a special place in her heart. She climbed the stairs and kicked her jandals off in the small but welcoming entrance. The delicious smell of freshly baked rye filled the kitchen, and she wondered what the day would bring.
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