The Whiskey Thief: A Serialized Novel, Part 12

Read from the beginning

The note simply said “Call me. Flora,” and there was a number. Coldwater unlocked the door to the inner chamber of his office, sifted through some envelopes that had been pushed through the mail slot, and browsed his modest liquor cabinet trying to decide what he was in the mood for. He kept about a dozen bottles in a sideboard that Gustie gave him when she moved out of the big house in Hoover and into the old folks’ home downtown, including bourbon, scotch, rye, dry gin, old tom gin, aged tequila, aged rum, white rum, and a few various liqueurs for mixing. In a mini fridge next to the sideboard, he had sweet and dry vermouth, lemons, limes, a soda siphon, and some syrups. The ice compartment held ice in various sizes and shapes. On top of the sideboard, he kept a Boston shaker, a mixing glass, bar spoons, strainers, straws, and a selection of glassware. He had restroom where he could wash dishes, and a Bunsen burner he sometimes used for cooking at the office if he was bored or hungry.

What could he say? He liked what he liked, and he enjoyed being able to mix a nice drink for a client. He decided to make himself a Brooklyn, a fancy-pants variation on a dry Manhattan. The dash of maraschino liqueur gave it a velvety texture, but it was the French amer he’d ordered over the internet that lent the drink its distinctive pungency. He stirred the rye whiskey, vermouth, and other ingredients carefully and strained the drink into a coupe glass. After a long sip of that nectar, he leaned back in his chair and dialed the widow’s number.

“This is Munford Coldwater”

“Mr. Coldwater. We met at the poetry reading last night.”

“Yes, of course I remember. Can you come by in the morning?”

“Can’t I see you tonight? The memorial service is tomorrow morning, and I’ll be tied up with family all day…”

“Sure, sure. What time can you be here?”

“Is ten o’clock too late?”

“Absolutely not. I’ll see you then.”

Coldwater checked his watch. It was only half past six still. Perhaps he could go down to Collins Bar and see what was what. But he wouldn’t be able to confront Feizal until he had more information, and he didn’t want to do it on a Friday night in a Feizal’s own bar. Too many people around. However, if he did show up there for a drink or two, maybe some of that information he was looking for would just sort of float in his direction.

He downed the rest of his Brooklyn and put on his hat. For a place where a murder had happened on Tuesday, they were doing pretty well. About twenty people milled around the bar, and most of the tables were full. It was about time for the after-work happy hour crowd to dissipate, and then there would be a lull until the after-dinner party crowd started showing up.

Angel, Josh, and Feizal were all behind the bar, doing their constant dance of shaking and stirring. Rachael waved to him unceremoniously as she delivered a tray of drinks to a table outside. A second cocktail waitress, a lanky black-haired girl who Coldwater didn’t know, came up to the bar and asked Angel for a Ramos gin fizz. Coldwater sidled up to the bar in a space that had just opened up next to this new waitress. Angel cracked an egg and gently cradled it so the white slipped into the mixing tin, and then he discarded the rest with a graceful motion. While he was adding the other ingredients to the mix, he greeted Coldwater and asked what he was drinking.

“I’ll have a Brooklyn,” he said, deciding to continue on in the same direction he’d started at the office. The usual 80s-inspired party music wafted into Coldwater’s consciousness. He didn’t often drink the same thing twice in a row, but Angel would use a different brand of rye and a different amer. It would be more like a cousin to the Brooklyn he made for himself.

“I hear you’re on the case,” Angel said, while giving the Ramos a dry shake. He was tall with a shaved head, not quite as swarthy as Feizal, but definitely not as lily white as Josh or Coldwater himself. By training, Angel was a classical saxophonist, which to Coldwater was kind of like putting Scotch in a cocktail; you can do it, but only if you know how to properly balance everything else against it.

“Not officially on the case, meaning, nobody is currently paying me to be on it. But since I was here when it happened, and I have a relationship with the cops… you know. Let’s say I’m cooperating with them.”

Angel now added ice to the fizz and started building Coldwater’s Brooklyn in a mixing glass. With his musician’s sense of ambidextrous coordination, he shook the fizz again while simultaneously stirring the other drink.

“I didn’t realize you were here that night. That must have been… shocking?”

Coldwater shrugged. There didn’t seem to be much else to say about it. Everything important that had happened went down while he was in the john. It couldn’t have taken more than five minutes, maybe only three. He kept looking at the seat in the middle of the bar where the professor had been sitting, then looking to the back of the bar where Feizal had, according to Joey, hidden away Ashley Rose either just before or just after the professor had been stabbed. He still didn’t know how Feizal was connected to Ashely Rose, or why he would try to protect her, or at least go through the motions of protecting her. So he asked Angel’s opinion.

“Did you know that girl, Ashley Rose?”

“Only a little bit. She came around Lou’s on Sundays and Wednesdays for a while when we first started doing Church night. Do you think she did it?”

He wasn’t sure how much Angel had heard, and he didn’t want to show quite all of his cards, so he played it safe. “It’s possible. Did she ever have any sort of business relationship with Feizal, as far as you know?”

“No idea. I don’t ask about stuff like that.”

Angel passed a gleaming, beautiful, brown Brooklyn across the threshold, and that ceased Coldwater’s questioning for the moment. He had to admit it was better than the one he’d made at the office, but he couldn’t quite finger the reason. Angel was a magician of balancing flavors, and Coldwater noticed he was now mixing three different drinks at once, with doubles in two of the tins. It was a bit like watching an acrobat in a French circus.

Coldwater peeled his eyes from the spectacle and wandered semi-aimlessly toward the back of the bar, past the restrooms, to the storage room where he had sat vigil the night before. He was about to try the doorknob when suddenly the door swung open, and Feizal was standing there.

“Can I help you find something?” Feizal said.

“I was just trying to retrace my steps to see if I’ve missed anything. Any luck with your whiskey thief?”

“Oh that,” the thin man replied. He put his finger up to his mouth in a gesture that implied thoughtfulness. “Well, I’m sorry if I wasted your time. I found the missing stock. It had simply been misplaced.”

“Just glad to hear you got it straightened out.” Coldwater made like he was getting ready to go back to his seat, but then he turned around again. “Say, did you know that Ashley Rose girl well at all? Shame about what happened to her.”

“I was sorry to hear about it, but no, we were barely acquainted. Are you of the opinion that she… had something to do with the incident here? The police seemed to have dropped that angle.”

“I think she had something to do with it, but I’m not ready to say what just yet.”

Coldwater said goodnight, paid his tab with Angel, and left the building. He went down the street to John’s City Diner, where he wolfed down a slab of meatloaf alongside a martini that was made according to his strict instructions. In a couple of hours, he was going to meet the widow at his office, and it seemed to him advisable that he go home, shower, shave, and feed the cat before then, so he did just that.

Read Part 13.

This entry was posted in novel.