Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chardonnay is murder: Wine in a noir story

Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman wrote the first short story in the 2006 collection "Baltimore Noir," and Chardonnay is an accessory to murder.

Lippman, who is married to The Wire creator David Simon, has published 11 novels about reporter-turned-detective Tess Monaghan. This story, "Easy as A-B-C," is a one-off not about Monaghan; it's a mere 11 pages in the paperback version.

Our unnamed narrator is a married building contractor who has an affair with a younger woman who buys his dead grandmother's house and hires him to renovate it. After they start getting it on, he begins putting some of his own money into the work. Here we set the tone:
One twilight -- we almost always met at last light, the earliest she could leave work, the latest I could stay away from home -- she brought a bottle of wine to bed after we had finished. She was taking a wine-tasting course over at this restaurant in the old foundry ...

"Nice," I said, although in truth I don't care much for white wine and this was too sweet for my taste.

"Viognier," she said. "Twenty-six dollars a bottle."

"You can buy top-shelf bourbon for that and it lasts a lot longer."

"You can't drink bourbon with dinner," she said with a laugh, as if I had told a joke. "Besides, wine can be an investment. And it's cheaper by the case. I'd like to get into that, but if you're going to do it, you have to do it right, have a special kind of refrigerator, keep it climate controlled."

"Your basement would work."

And that's how I came to build her a wine cellar, at cost.

A month later, the job is finished; our narrator has stretched it out as long as he could, but, "I had to move on to other projects, ones where I would make money."
Our last night, I stopped at the foundry, spent almost forty bucks on a bottle of wine that the young girl in the store swore by. Cakebread, the guy's real name. White, too, because I knew Deirdre loved white wines.

"Chardonnay," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"I noticed you liked whites."

"But not Chardonnay so much. I'm an ABC girl -- Anything But Chardonnay. Dennis says Chardonnay is banal."


She didn't answer. And she was supposed to answer, supposed to say: Oh, you know, that faggot from my wine-tasting class, the one who smells like he wears strawberry perfume. Or: That irritating guy in my office. Or even: A neighbor, a creep. He scares me. Would you still come around, from time to time, just to check up on me? She didn't say any of those things.

She said: "We were never going to be a regular thing, my love."
But they both agree to one last time. And then:
When I moved my hands from her hips to her head, she thought I was trying to position her mouth on mine. It took her a second to realize that my hands were on her throat, not her head, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing. She fought back, if you could call it that, but all her hands could find was marble, smooth and immutable.

He puts her body in a trash bag, walls it up behind the wine cellar, and:
The last thing I did was grab that bottle of Chardonnay, took it home to Angeline, who liked it just fine, although she would have fainted if she knew what it cost.
But don't worry, there's a happy ending:
And I'm glad now that I put in the wine cellar. Makes it less likely that the new owner will want to dig out the basement.

I love this story. Don't you hate snobs flaunting somebody else's opinion? Dennis is entitled to his ignorance, but Deirdre could have at least tried the wine.

But the rest of the Baltimore Noir collection is so-so, so you might consider instead picking up Lippman's 2008 short story collection "Hardly Knew Her," which also includes this story. And be careful about dissing Chardonnay. The consequences can be fatal.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

No comments: