Before everything else, I just want to point out JB’s outfit at the start of this episode.
That man giving JB side-eye is Marco Gambini, son of Salvatore Gambini and heir to the Gambini wine empire that he and Jess have been surveying. Jess is in town to celebrate Sal’s 75th birthday, who she appears to know after tutoring his grandson Paul in English so he could pass and get a football scholarship but never mind that because someone’s just pulled up in a fancy car…
Jess is unmoved.
Billy Zane is the younger brother of Paul Gambini, and a compulsive gambler (and heartbreaker). His aunt informs him that he’s had a phone call from Johnny in Tahoe and he excuses himself while JB goes in to see Salvatore.
Salvatore has been selecting wine for dinner, and asks JB her opinion.
Sal is feeling a bit maudlin in the face of his 75th birthday. He tells JB that soon Marco and his kids will inherit the vineyards but he worries that they won’t appreciate them the same way Sal and his late wife did. JB asks Stella, Sal’s daughter, what’s going on and she tells JB he’s stressed out because a company from back east is trying to buy the vineyard but Sal doesn’t want to sell, and while Marco loves the vineyards, his wife would prefer to live the fancy life in San Francisco. At that moment, Marco’s daughter Michele turns up with her latest man candy, a bloke from work called Ben Skylar who is as dumb as he looks.
After a night of feasting and toasting, Sal is a little bit weary the next morning when Your Friend Billy Zane Tony wakes him up to tell him that he has to go to Tahoe on business but will try to get back for the party. Sal agrees and asks Tony to go down to the wine cellar and decant the 68 Bordeaux. Unfortunately, on the way down one of the stairs snaps and Tony goes tumbling.
It’s okay though, he’s fine. While his aunt tries to dress the cut on his head and he fights with his father about going to Tahoe, Jess goes to investigate the Step of Death, which Paul is replacing. Jess thinks it’s been sawn through. Before JB can elaborate Tony and Marco argue their way to the front of the house, where Tony is getting in his car and heading to the airport on his way to Tahoe.
That night Sal’s party is in full swing, despite the absence of Tony. While his girlfriend dances up a storm, Ben Skylar tells JB all about his childhood on a farm in Illinois, and how he used to write stories to escape the boredom. He’s been in California writing a thing about lost gold mines, and asks JB for advice on writing a novel and she tells him to “Read, read and read some more.” (Life Lesson #55). Jess mentions that she’s reading a great new novel from PD James and Ben says that he loves his work. JB explains that PD is a woman, P is for Phyllis. Ben shamfacedly goes to find his girlfriend.
While loading up at the buffet table, JB bumps into Thaddeus Kyle, Police Chief and friend of the family (an awesome name if ever I heard one). He’s heard about JB’s theory about the step being tampered with, and asks her if she has any suspects. JB’s got nothing, but is given food for thought when Thaddeus asks her to consider the possibility that someone in the family got annoyed at Sal’s rejection of the sale offer from back East. He excuses himself and goes on his way, leaving JB to watch Michele argue with Ben and flounce out.
The next morning Sal takes JB down to the wine cellar but finds the body of Ben Skylar on the floor. Literally the last person I expected to die in this episode to be honest.
While Thaddeus orders his men to stay on the property, at least for the time being, JB gives Michele her condolences, but Michele says she’d only known Ben for a couple of months. Thaddeus draws JB aside for a quick word and tells her the theory is Ben was poisoned. JB suggests going through Ben’s belongings and finds a receipt for a petrol station in Long Island City, New York which kind of contradicts the whole being in California for the last few months thing although Thaddeus points out that it’s not proof of anything. I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with the Thad to be honest. Thad is sticking to his theory that someone inside the house had something to do with it all, and despite JB’s attempts to prove otherwise, she has to agree.
While she’s investigating outside, Jess runs into Sal and tells him her suspicions about Ben – he wants to be a writer but has never heard of PD James? Inconceivable!
“Sure,” says Sal. “But there are even some people who’ve never heard of you.”
JB is also suspicious of the fact that Ben said he had no money, and yet drove a high-falutin sports car and wore expensive clothes. Sal thinks maybe he had a wealthy family, but JB remembers him saying he grew up on a farm in Illinois, so no. All further theorising is cut short by the arrival of Tony back from Tahoe. While father and son resume their argument, JB gets a call from Thaddeus (seriously, I love that name) to let her know that it was definitely poison, but that Ben Skylar wasn’t Ben Skylar – he was actually Benito Soriano a mob hitman.
Well this has taken a unexpected turn.
Thaddeus invites Michele down to the precinct and she tells him how she only met Ben at work 8 weeks ago when he came in looking for a job and one thing led to another. JB asks her if Ben quizzed her about any of her family but she claims no more so than usual. Marco, fed up with the questioning takes his daughter home and leaves JB and Thad to mull over the situation. Thad is convinced it’s one of the family and has started looking into Your Friend Billy Zane Tony’s interests in Tahoe but JB is starting to think that Ben(ito) was sent by the company trying to buy the Gambini vineyard.
Back at Casa Gambini Paul has received a visit from “investment advisor” Stephen Ridgely and has whisked him off for a chat while inside Sal and Marco are giving Your Friend Billy Zane Tony the third degree – seems someone has been writing cheques his bank account can’t cash. Marco is furious but Sal shoos him out and writes Tony a cheque, telling him he’s the one who should be running the vineyard. As Tony leaves Sal calls Jess in for a chat and yells at her for meddling in Gambini business, and to get the next plane home. Rude.
Upstairs, Jess spots Stephen Ridgely pawing through things and Paul tells her the truth – Stephen Ridgely is a special investigator hired by the football commissioner to investigate match fixing in Paul’s team. When news got out about the mob hitman’s death they panicked that it was related, although it made no sense to target Paul at his grandfather’s house. He was a sitting duck.
Exactly, Jess exclaims. And so is Tony. So they can’t be the target.
Salvatore found out his granddaughter was bringing a hitman to his birthday and was going to let Ben kill him, but when Tony was injured instead Sal decides the only way is out. Before Jess can stop him he drinks more of the poisoned wine that he gave Ben(ito) and collapses. He’s rushed to hospital where the doctor says he’ll pull through, the family commits to keeping the winery and JB informs Thaddeus that if Salvatore confessed to killing anyone she certainly can’t remember it.
The bad guys lose, the good guys win. I think that seems fair enough. Listen to your friend JB Fletcher, she knows what’s up.