I’m not the sort of schmo who buys into the whole fate thing, but I’ve had a long and peculiar relationship with bad luck. Why else would I find myself holed up at an international convention of wine bloggers when I don’t know a WTF from an OMG?
I’d been hired by a blogger from Chicago who was getting cryptic e-mails. His name was Leroy Baldwin, and in the past five years he’d gone from a wine nobody to the biggest name in wine blogging. Of course that and a hundred pennies will get you a dollar, but Baldwin paid me well, so who cares what I think? Besides, I’m old fashioned: I still read the morning newspaper.
“Someone wants me dead,” Baldwin said, “and the convention is the ideal place. I’m the keynote speaker, and I’ll be out in the open.” Baldwin didn’t look like the sort of guy anyone would waste a bullet on. He was short and sulky and was covered with enough hair for two guys. His website was duller than Grandma’s house on Saturday night, and his favorite topic seemed to be Leroy Baldwin. I figured his followers had to drink wine just to survive him.
On the day of the convention keynote, I was scouting the hall for suspicious types. They certainly weren’t a group that risked a lot of sunlight. It was a nerdy mix of men and women, mostly young but some with gray hairs. A few of them had a healthy look that suggested they had outside pursuits beyond wine blogging. A lot of them—eyes squinting—pecked away on smartphones or computers. The event lacked only a few Klingons or it could have been Comic-Con.
The morning seminars were almost over, and I stopped to check out the topics:
“Blogging for Bloggers: Know Your Audience”
“Maximize Your Navel Gazing”
“Quit Your Day Job: Pairing Wine with Ramen Noodles”
One seminar caught my eye—“Flaming Your Way to a Wider Audience”—so I stepped in. A tall blonde with chunky jewelry was speaking to a group of about 20 bloggers. “Create controversy! Attack your competition in your blog—flame them! Make fun of natural wines and your page views will double. Announce that you will no longer review California wines above 14.5 percent alcohol and your page views will be off the charts.”
Later, once it was almost time for Baldwin’s speech, I took a final cakewalk around the stage. Everything checked out, but I sighed as I remembered his theme: “Sparkling Reds of Latvia.” Try and out-obscure that, fellow wine geeks.
Baldwin was introduced by the blonde from the seminar, and they stopped to pose together for photos. She was attractive, maybe laughed too loud and was trying very hard to look 35 when 45 was more like it. After the applause died down, I escorted her off stage, gave her a wink, and then walked back to stand behind Baldwin at the podium. As he spoke, I scanned the faces of the audience. It wasn’t easy since most of them had their heads down, typing.
Suddenly, I heard a glass break and turned to see Baldwin choking, his wineglass shattered on the floor. Within seconds, he collapsed on the floor with a thud. The crowd swarmed around him, but I was in no hurry. There wasn’t much I could do about it now. Baldwin had already paid me, and I knew who the culprit was.
Stepping aside from the crowd surrounding Baldwin, the blonde gave me a curious look, so I walked over to her slowly.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” she asked. She didn’t seem that upset. I grasped her gently by the arm and eased us through the crowd to the limp, still body of Baldwin.
“Take a good look, honey,” I said, gesturing toward Baldwin. “Do you know who’s responsible for that?”
The blonde took in a quick breath as she shook her head from side to side. The crowd hushed. I winked at her again and then kicked Baldwin swiftly in the ribs. He screamed like a first grader and opened his eyes.
“Get up, you dumb SOB!” I yelled at him. “You’re not fooling anyone.” I yanked him off the floor by his collar.
“That hurt, you moron,” he said, holding his side.
“Shut up or I’ll kick you again,” I told him.
Then I turned to the blonde. “He’s faking. He wasn’t poisoned. I tasted all the wines first. Besides, I did a little research beforehand. His readership has tanked, and he’s been trying to sell his website on the QT for months. When you said ‘Create controversy’ in your seminar, it suddenly all added up.”
The grumbling of the crowd grew loud. Baldwin began to look panicked and told them, “It was just a little joke.”
It was time for me to make my final move. Smiling at the blonde, I asked, “Your wine cellar or mine?”