Monday, December 14, 2009
The M.S. Conspiracy
A HoseMaster of Wine Pulp Fiction Classic
Chapter 8 The Wounded and the Slain
I've been a dick for years. Many would argue my whole life. But I'd never seen two dead bodies in one day. I felt like I was at a reunion of my ex-wives. First, there was Lorna at Les Mars Hotel, her neck broken like the Three-Tier Distribution system. Now I was looking at another young lady, apparently in town to take the M.S. exam, dead in her bathtub in the Hotel Healdsburg. It might have been an accident--most accidents take place in the bathroom, unless you count the ones I'd had in my bed as a kid that had been intended for the bathroom, though now, as an adult, I usually had a different three sheets to the wind--but for all of the corks floating in the tub with her. Which Jessica was putting into a trash bag.
"Maybe you should let me take a look at those corks, Jess, they might be clues."
Jessica shot me a sarcastic look, and, well, she was a crack shot. Which reminded me of my view of the victim. "Clues? I don't know, Hoseapalooza, I think you're barking up the wrong Quercus suber."
Wow, I thought, a cork joke. Maybe Jessica knew more about wine than she was letting on. "Just let me look through them."
Chief Jokes handed me the bag of corks. It was an impressive collection. Corks from many of the finest wines in the world. Chave, Rayas, Margaux, Leroy, Opus One... Opus One? How did that cork get in there? Man, I'd forgotten that turds float sometimes.
"Every one of these corks is from a great bottle of wine."
"So? She's been studying for her M.S., Hosedope, you don't exactly learn anything about wine drinking the slop they serve by the glass. They're probably all the corks she'd collected from her M.S. study group."
Everyone studying for an M.S. would form a group with other M.S. candidates, pool their resources, and get together weekly to taste wines from all over the world. Maybe Lorna and our still unknown victim had been in the same study group. That was an intriguing possibility. Which, among other things, meant that there were probably a few more members of that group around. Yet more sorry souls who had traded in their young lives for a longshot chance in the sommelier sweepstakes, trying to win an M.S. as if it were the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Grand Prize and Ed McMahon would show up at their house and award them a gigantic cartoon tastevin, only Ed McMahon was dead, floating in his own bathtub gin of disappointment. I needed to find out who the victim was.
The victim's body, and a lovely body at that, like the silky smooth body of a fine Vosne-Romanee, though the only Romanees I'd been able to afford had come not from Vosne but from Safeway, had been discovered by a Hotel Healdsburg maid. The room was supposed to have been empty; it hadn't been registered to anyone. The last people to have occupied it were an elderly couple from Albuquerque who'd been in town celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. A much slower death. There were no clothes to be found anywhere in the room, no purse, not a single clue to the victim's identity. But Jessica had known she was an M.S. candidate. That's what she'd told me in the square when she'd gotten the call. It wasn't like her to jump to conclusions. She usually limped to them. But I decided to let her think I hadn't noticed. And, besides, the corks sort of proved her point. But how had she known?
"Sure was a lovely young woman," I said.
"Yeah, Hoselimp, you've got a real eye for the dead girls. Married several, didn't you?"
"I have an idea for how we can ID her. May I use your cellphone?"
I dialed Veronica's number from memory. 1-800-38D2436. I'd found a way to commit it to mammary. When she answered I asked her to come to the Hotel Healdsburg right away. She asked why, but I wanted to surprise her, see if I could tell anything by the look on her face. It was a bad idea.
When Veronica walked into the hotel bathroom she let out the kind of blood-curdling scream I hadn't heard since I'd asked Jessica to our high school prom. OK, I didn't mean to scream, it just came out of me. Veronica rushed over to the dead girl, her tears flowing like Korbel Brut at a low-rent wedding, her beautiful face contorted in agony, like she'd just judged the under $12 Chardonnay category at the Livermore Valley Harvest Fair, and plunged her arms into the cold water and around the lifeless sommelier, if lifeless sommelier isn't redundant. Jessica and I stood by silently respectful.
"Oh, God," Veronica cried, turning her lovely face to stare angrily at me, "she's my sister."