ast deadline on a story for a New York wine rag and late for a meeting at Cronaca Nera Italiana, I climb three floors and huff in the door to Johnny’s office.
“Where you been, Pescatore?” He fishes a mezzo toscano from a pocket.
“Just back from the lawyer downtown,” I say. “Old money, arty furniture, secretary built like Monte Carlo.”
He lights up, waiting.
“Fast track, all curves.”
He laughs, coughing up smoke. “I could live with that.”
“So I get past the babe and I’m in with the kid. Call me Ricky, he says. You believe it? Ricky.”
“Get to the point, Pescatore.”
I press on. “The dead doc at the clinic? He was a client. Cops can’t find the wife, but Ricky? — get this — Sicily, he says. Etna.”
“Just like that? He knows where she is?”
“Ricky says she makes wine on Mount Etna, north slope.”
Johnny’s sucking faster, getting ready to say no.
“For the murder story, Johnny. I figure I do some research on the island. Go see the widow, get the tour, taste the wine, like I’m writing about it? Except I’m checking her out.”
Johnny’s not buying. No way will he send me to Sicily.
“Let me take you to dinner.” He’s on his feet. “Place across town, Sicilian. They got lots a good wine.”
“Just you and me?” I toss a nod down the hall. “What about Stazz?”
“I thought you two weren’t getting along.”
“I can handle it.” I whirl away, exit and chug down the hall.
Johnny’s the boss at CNI Milan — Cronaca Nera Italiana, Crime News Italy. He fills the pages with crime every day, him and a handful of hacks and me. Plus Anastasia, the ex-Bolshoi dancer runs the CNI web site.
“Stazz —” I call out, poke my head in the door. “You up for Sicilian with me and the boss?”
“Who pay?” She looks up from the keyboard.
I turn my pockets inside out. Nothing falls to the floor.
“Got it,” she says. “What exactly you want, Pescatore? Hmn?”
Half hour later we’re sitting at this table, white linen, waiter in a monkey suit trots out the wine card. I scan it. “White? Red? Stazz?”
“I don’t care, so long is good,” she says. She’s working her way down the menu with Johnny.
“You’re the expert, Pescatore.”
Waiter takes the orders. Steak for Anastasia, breaded veal for the boss, grilled octopus & chickpeas for me.
I pick up the card again and ask him straight out. “I’m thinking Etna. You got anything by Lo Porto, Lucia?”
“No.” He knows all the wines like the back of his hand, but never has he heard of Lo Porto, Lucia. Wants to know where the crus are.
“Randazzo,” I say. “Or close by.”
“Then may I suggest you the American. Tenuta delle Terre Nere.”
He nods again, puffs himself up. “The better years remind one of Burgundy. Complex. Strutturato.”
“Burgundy?” Stazz looks up. “Is France, yes?”
I give her that.
“Better we go for Sicily.”
“Sicily it is.” I go over the list again, stab a finger at the name. “Notti Stellate 2010.”
“Excellent choice,” says the waiter, then lets me see the sadness in his face. “I have no more.”
“Don’t tell me.” I let him apprehend the disappointment in my own.
He points out another one from the same maker. “Also very good, but of course you must give it time to air.”
“All right. Time we have.” I fold the wine card shut. “And hold the octopus, I’ll go with the steak.”
“So,” said Johnny, wiping his mouth with a linen napkin. “Tell me again why you need to see the doc’s wife.”
“Get to her before the cops, that’s a story right there. Eye-witness report when they arrest her.”
“She’s a suspect?” says Johnny.
“Of course,” says Anastasia. “She run, she know something.” A hint of a smile as she turns to Johnny, drops a hand on his. “Good story for CNI web. We must send Pescatore to Sicily.” Turns back to me, winks.
Johnny scowls, digs out another Tuscan cigar. “You two mind if I smoke?” Takes back his hand, hauls himself to his feet and thumps to the door.
Anastasia turns back to me. “I do good, Pete?”
“Perfect, Stazz. You’re an angel.”
“So you go for it. Go for wife.” Another cool smile. “And come back with story.”
I reach for the bottle and pour us the rest of the Etna Rosso. Not exactly a Burgundy, but plenty of character to go around.
The excellent red we drank that night: Anatema Etna Rosso 2013, from Davide Bentivegna. Eight-five percent Nerello Mascalese, 15 percent Nerello Cappucio, aged in chestnut, no added sulfites.