A HOSEMASTER OF WINE PULP FICTION CLASSIC
CHAPTER 1 Dead Smile
It always starts with a babe. Hell, it usually ends with one, too. But isn’t that life in a nutshell? We squirt out of a babe the day we’re born, and one drives us into our grave. The circle of life I think they call it. They being morons.
The wine business is my specialty. I’m famous. I’m the biggest dick in the wine business. I go by HoseMaster. That’s not the name on my birth certificate. That’s Squirt. Not really, but it seems like a joke. There’s a lot more death in the wine business than you’d think. Most of it goes unreported. A cellar worker dies cleaning a stainless steel tank. A wine critic is murdered for a lousy review. A woman dies of cirrhosis, sometimes of the liver, sometimes from sleeping with Australian winemakers. It happens all the time. You just don’t hear about it. But I do.
I’ll never forget the gloomy day she first walked into my Healdsburg office. It was one of those dark winter days when vineyard managers pray for rain and depressed winery owners think about tossing lit winery cats at the propane tank and waiting for the insurance money. I’d just finished doing Avril Cadavril on the slab at the local morgue so I was tired. Avril, our local coroner, and I had been having a torrid affair. When we had sex at her office I always felt like there were several pairs of eyes on me—because there were. She was a sloppy coroner. But she was a perfect lover for me. She knew how to handle dead things. I was asleep at my desk reading wine blogs. They give a lot of insight into disturbed minds. And vacant ones. I was awakened from my snooze by a gentle tap at the door. I composed myself, quickly putting a bottle of Silver Oak on my desk to appear sophisticated and overpriced, and asked my visitor in.
“Hello,” I quipped, “what can I do for you?”
“Are you the HoseMaster?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“My name is Crystal. Crystal Geyser.” I liked the sound of that. She’d Peaked my interest.
“And why are you looking for me?”
Crystal seemed nervous. Her beautiful brown eyes, the color of old Madeira, were darting from the door to the window. I told her to put them back in her head. There was a slight sheen to her forehead, more charlie than martin, and she seemed out of breath. At least her chest was heaving, and after my session with Avril I was close to heaving myself. I wish Avril didn’t insist we make love in the morgue. It was the only way she could climax, surrounded by a bunch of stiffs. Yeah, stiff, I remember that. Crystal was bringing my meat thief back to life.
“A friend of mine was murdered,” she blurted out, “and the cops won’t believe me when I tell them he was murdered. They say it was an accident, but, really, how do you accidentally cut your own throat with a Riedel Pelaverga Piccolo glass? It’s not like they break easily. I know he was murdered. I know it!”
“Wait,” I told her, “slow down. You’re talking nonsense. There’s a Riedel Pelaverga Piccolo glass?!”
“Not any more. I just told you. Someone broke it and slashed my friend’s throat.”
“And you want me to find out who.”
Crystal just stared at me with those gorgeous brown eyes. I tried to guess her age, but she wouldn’t let me look at her rim. She had begun to compose herself and for the first time since she’d walked into my office, that day I’ll always regret, always remember, never tell the whole truth about, like judging at a wine competition, she smiled. I felt unnerved. Crystal was a woman who had always had her way with men. Had her way and then discarded them, like Wine Advocate employees. Something was starting to smell funny, and it wasn’t the formaldehyde on my stripper pole.
“I think if you find out who murdered my friend, HoseMaster, you’re going to learn a lot about your precious wine business.” She continued to smile that smile. That smile still haunts my dreams, like a Cheshire cat that wants me dead. “He wasn’t the first of my friends to be murdered, just the one who meant the most to me. It seems a lot of my friends end up dead.”
“Just friends, or lovers?”
“Is there a difference?” she said in a flat tone. “Is there a difference between organic and biodynamic? Is there a difference between unfined and unfiltered? Is there a difference between Jordan Cabernet and that Silver Oak on your desk? Sure. But the difference is about lies. Like the wine business, like M.W. exams, like all of it, this whole crummy life.”
She had a point. And that dead smile. And like the augur on a corkscrew for dimwits, I was headed down the RabbitTM hole.