A HOSEMASTER OF WINE™ PULP FICTION CLASSIC
Chapter 9 Yeast the Size of Nerf Balls
It had been a while since I’d last lost consciousness. I’d forgotten how much I liked it. The way you wake up and your mouth feels like you could dry Moscato in it and make Passito di Pantellaria. And how you also Passito a little bit in your own Pantellarias. I think the last time I’d lost consciousness was reading Lettie Teague. Which will teach me not to read the Wall Street Journal in the car. Damned air bags save your life, but they smell like James Suckling’s blow dryer. Funny how a nasty blow to the head makes your mind wander. I was wondering what wine went with head trauma and wanted to call Alice Feiring because I knew she’d know. Her work sounded like she had been trying to find out through trial and error. Maybe a nice red blend of Barbaresco and something from Croatia. A nice, big CroBar. That’s what I’d been hit with, I thought. And why does it take so long for wine to ferment? Wouldn’t you think it would just take three or four days? Maybe we need bigger yeast. Like the size of Nerf balls. Though it’s getting harder and harder to find Nerfs that will drop their pants. Whoa. Who hit me?
It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts. One of them was way in the corner covered in dust. But I wasn’t surprised; I have a lot of dirty thoughts. Mallory was gone. The look in her eyes right before somebody did a punch down on my skull cap told me that she knew the person. It wasn’t just fear on her face, but also recognition. Like when you see Silver Oak on a wine list. My hunch was that whoever had cold-cocked me had also taken Mallory O’Lactic. Or had she gone along voluntarily?
I used my desk to help raise myself from the floor, and, there, right in the middle of my blotter, right next to my autographed picture of Veuve Clicquot (“HoseMaster, You put the Yellow in my Yellow Label. Love, Veuvie”), was Avril’s bracelet. Just to make sure it was Avril’s I checked for the inscription I had had engraved in it. It was there alright. “Avril—Happy Trails to You, Till We Meat Again.” Still made me tear up.
The bracelet left behind was clearly meant to deliver a message. I was getting the bracelet back, but not Avril. At least, that’s what they thought. Whoever they were.
A shadow appeared beneath my office door. Someone was outside. After several minutes, there was a knock.
“Come in,” I quipped.
She was a knockout. So I knew I was in trouble. Beautiful babes bring trouble like Santa brings gifts, and Pancho Campo brings cash. You think they’re going to be worth the trouble, but they never are. Like opening a wine with a waxed capsule. Sure, you can get in, but when you pull out it’s a big mess. But I had been having nothing but trouble since Chapter 1, so more wasn’t going to make much difference.
“How can I help you?” I was looking her up and down, reading her like a wine country map. I’d already figured out a few places where I wanted to stop and taste.
“Are you the HoseMaster?” Even her voice was sexy. She had a very slight lisp, so the “s” slipped out with just the slightest hiss, like uncorking a great Champagne, or when Tim Fish walks into a winery.
“I am. But I’ve just awakened from a blow to the head from my previous visitor, so you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a bit dazed. Who are you?”
“My name is Biola Dynamic.”
“So you’re a natural blonde.”
“Yeah. Look, HoseMaster, I don’t have a lot of time. There are some men after me, bad men, men who want to hurt me. I need your help.”
“I’m sorry Ms. Dynamic, I don’t have the time right now. I’ve got more problems than a one-armed sommelier with his corkscrew in the wrong pocket. You know I knew a one-armed sommelier once. Lefty Zraly, M.U. Bastards wouldn’t give him a W. Worked at Hemingway’s Bar and Grill. His nickname was Farewell to Arm. Better than the ugly waiter, For Whom the Bell Troll. But I digress. I’m pretty sure my girlfriend has been kidnapped, my last client was murdered, and I just got a free concussion. I wish I could help, but…”
“Did you say sommelier? That’s why I’m here, in Healdsburg, to study for my M.W. But everything’s gone wrong. Those people are evil, HoseMaster. If they think you’re going to pass their exams on the first try, they kill you! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. They’re the most powerful people in the wine business, and the power has driven them insane. And if you do pass the first level, somehow avoid being murdered beforehand, maybe because you’re a gorgeous blonde and they think you’re stupid, then they want you to kill for them. You have to help me. They want me to kill an M.W. candidate. And if I don’t, they’ll kill me. Please, HoseMaster, I’ll do anything.”
I didn’t like where this was going. But I knew that somehow it would lead to Avril Cadavril and Mallory O’Lactic and the stink at the center of an M.W. I didn’t see that I had a choice.
“OK, Biola, I’ll help. Tell me who they want you to kill. We have to warn him.”
“Mallory,” she said. “Mallory O’Lactic.”