The Whiskey Thief: A Serialized Novel, Part 16

Read from the beginning

IMG_20151215_110009Within microseconds of entering Gustie’s apartment, Coldwater asked her what she had to drink around there. He had already drained his flask on the way over.

“You know where everything is.”

Coldwater opened the door of the pantry where Gustie kept her liquor. A respectable showing of a dozen or so bottles, including your big four base liquors: whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila—plus a selection of liqueurs. She had a big bottle of vodka, which she used for making tinctures, the only real use he had for vodka himself. There was an ancient bottle of pisco that she had picked up on a trip to South America back in the sixties and never actually opened, to her credit. Coldwater had never met a pisco he liked, or a cachaca for that matter. If he was ever going to drink moonshine, it would have to be the American variation. A few mason jars of her homemade bitters and other herbal concoctions sat in the back corner, protected from harmful sunlight.

Coldwater made himself a rocks Manhattan because he didn’t feel like looking around for a mixing glass and spoon. He added an extra helping of Angostura because her vermouth was an inferior brand and hadn’t been refrigerated.

“Damn, Gustie. How many times do I have to tell you to keep your vermouth in the fridge?”

“I go through it so fast, what’s the point?” she yelled back from her perch by the window where she was chain smoking again. There was no way her nurse didn’t know about this habit of hers. He sat down next to her with his glass. “What’s got you drinking before noon?”

“Funeral for the professor who got murdered. Just got back from there.”

“It must be an epidemic. Mrs. Manley upstairs has a son who was just found murdered.”

“Manley?” He drank the Manhattan in one big gulp and stood to make himself another.

“Don’t tell me this was another friend of yours,” she said. “You do know him, don’t you? Just what are you mixed up in, son?”

Genuine concern cast a gray shadow on her face, making her look even older and more frail than she actually was. Her mouth turned down, causing tiny lines to fracture and fragment into a river map that spread across her forehead. He took her icy cold trembling hands into his own.

“Don’t worry, Gustie. I know what I’m doing. And if what you’re telling me checks out like I think it will, it’s almost over.”

He pointed to the glass to communicate that he would explain when properly lubricated. If the authorities know about Manley now, he thought, it would be safe enough to follow up on his hunch about it with Detective Gatlinburg. Or maybe he could just take the widow’s money and make up a story that would protect her. He couldn’t believe he was considering it, but then he couldn’t shake off the way she had held onto his hands at the funeral. It was like she was hypnotizing him.

“I only met young Manley once,” he finally said, after taking his time in the pantry with an Old Fashioned. He added a little allspice dram to it for no particular reason. “But that one time was very informative. He is suspected of killing the professor, but he didn’t do it.”

“Who did?”

“I’m still working on that, but I have at least two viable ideas. Have the cops been here to talk to Mrs. Manley?”

“Yes—a detective was here early this morning.”

“Did you see him? Short, squat fellow that smells like a honey-baked ham and constantly sucks on an unlit cigar like it’s a pacifier?”

“Perfectly describes the man I saw.”

“Well, a’ight then,” Coldwater said, satisfied.

Probably why Gatlinburg wasn’t at the funeral, he thought. Gatlinburg was here following up on Manley. He leaned back on the sofa, satisfied that he’d wrap this thing up neatly, maybe even this afternoon, and deliver it to the cops on a silver platter. Unless they’ve already wrapped it up themselves, but that didn’t seem likely. There were still one or two stubborn little puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit in the picture.

Gustie seemed to relax then too. She pulled a pint glass down from the cabinet and stirred herself a martini. She’d been the one who taught him how to make it properly, even though it had been her generation that had bastardized it in the first place, first by adding olives and secondly by using vodka instead of gin.

“What else is new around here, Gustie?” He took a sip of his own drink, decided it needed a touch more bourbon, fixed it, and sat down again.

“Oh, you know how it is at my age. I have a new pain in my back every day, but other than that, nothing changes. When are you gonna get yourself laid, young man?”

“When are you?”

She laughed. “Boy, you’ve got no idea what kinds of fun your old grandma gets into in this monkeyhouse. You’d be scandalized.”

“Alright, alright. I probably don’t want to know. Oh, by the way, I was going to give you your keys back, but I think I need your car for another day or two.”

“Ah,” she said, waving at him. “Just make yourself a set.”

He didn’t mention that he already had.

Read Part 17

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