A HOSEMASTER OF WINE™ PULP FICTION CLASSIC
Chapter 11 The Wine Ecdysiast
It must have been a root day for Biola Dynamic. She was urging me to plant my seed, anyway. My office was a mess. I hadn’t had sex on a desk since my last appointment at the DMV. I was confused about Organ Donation. Biola was something of a wildcat. Her claws left scratches on my back that looked like Chinese tasting notes of counterfeit Margaux. Her screams of pleasure set off the smoke alarm. Her sexy lisp saying, “Oh HosthMaster, oh HosthMaster, you’re so thick…” briefly confused me. Then I remembered--I can be sick.
A few hours later when it ended, Biola lay in a puddle on the floor. Damn, I needed to see a urologist for that bladder thing. As she slept, the trace of a smile on all her lips, I sat at my desk and stared guiltily at the photograph of Avril Cadavril. Where was she? And what would she think if she found out I’d buried my testosterone horns in Biola Dynamic? Would she know the truth? That I’d done it for her? I knew that in order to get inside the murders of MW candidates, I had to get inside MW candidates. Judging from Biola, I’d passed the service part of the exam.
It was time to go looking for Tiny. I tossed my coat over Biola to keep her warm while she slept. I’d gotten what I needed from her, a free ride on the sommelier Slip ‘n’ Slide. From what she’d told me, people were out to kill Mallory O’Lactic; and it was probably the same killers who’d put Crystal Geyser in an early recycling bin. Biola would be safe in my office. I locked the door behind me, and headed down the stairs.
When I came to at the bottom of the stairs, having forgotten that my pants were still around my ankles, I tried to figure out where Tiny might have gone after leaving Avril’s office with some of her paperwork. He couldn’t have gone far. Tiny moves about as fast as Lodi Zinfandel by-the-glass, and with the body type of a concrete egg, I knew he’d find a place to stash those mysterious papers as quickly as he could. So I knew that even if I found Tiny, and that wouldn’t be hard, about like finding a haystack in a needle, he probably wouldn’t have Avril’s papers on him. And he’d most certainly lie about it. But Tiny knows just about everything that goes on in the underbelly of Healdsburg. His own underbelly provided shade for six Mexicans on a hot harvest day.
There was a time when Tiny was one of the most powerful wine critics in the country. He didn’t talk about it much now. But twenty years ago, a high score from Tiny meant your wine would sell out quickly. As it turned out, Tiny would sell out quickly, too. In his newsletter, The Wine Ecdysiast, Tiny awarded wines from one to five Pasties. Five Pasties guaranteed a wine would become highly collectible. Two Pasties? Well, two Pasties were for boobs. At first, Tiny had been incorruptible. He paid his own way, he was completely independent. He tasted every wine he rated completely blind. He worked sixteen hour days tasting wine—he put the “fat” in indefatigable.
But Tiny got greedy. He was working long hours and not really making that much money. Yet everywhere he went, he’d see people selling wine off his reputation. Pasties were everywhere, but Tiny was still broke. The Wine Ecdysiast began to sell advertising. At first, it was just for wine novelties. Wine gizmos, wine vibrators, wine ben wa balls, wine ticklers, things like that. Then the big boys started advertising in The Wine Ecdysiast. Spending thousands of dollars for full-page ads. A busty woman working the pole with the caption, “We think you’ll like our Treasury chest of wines.” A shot of the night sky over Napa Valley, only the stars were sparkly Pasties, and the caption just read, “Constellation.” And deep in his congestive heart, Tiny must have known that the big boys expected tit for tat.
It wasn’t long before an intrepid investigative reporter working for Juggs uncovered the whole scandal. Tiny was taking money for Pasties. When the news broke, The Wine Ecdysiast was finished as a wine publication. Tiny had a big following, and a loyal fan base. They spent most of their time on Tiny’s chat room, colloquially called eBoob. At first, most of them refused to believe what was apparent to everyone. Tiny was corrupt. Pasties inflation had been growing. More and more wines were getting four, and even five, Pasties. Wines from Constellation. Wines from Treasury. Even Bronco had to change the nickname of their biggest selling wine to “Three Suck Chuck” to honor its Pasties. But Juggs brought Tiny down. He put on weight, and a lot of it. He wasn’t welcome at any winery in the world. He became a figure of scorn. So, normal stuff for a wine critic. It had been twenty years since The Wine Ecdysiast folded. Tiny was bitter and defeated. He still drank wine, but, as far as the business was concerned, he no longer stayed abreast.
It was approaching the dinner hour, so I knew Tiny would be hungry, and probably headed to one of his usual places to eat. I started walking around the Healdsburg Square glancing into all the restaurants to see if I could see Tiny taking up a table for six. Hell, he was a table for six.
When I’d first moved to this wine country town, the restaurant scene was pretty dismal. None of them had any Michelins, though they almost all had skid marks. Now the place was overrun with fancy eateries featuring organic local ingredients, extensive wine lists, sommeliers, and other rodent infestations. I knew Tiny wouldn’t go anywhere near those joints. He couldn’t afford them. He’d be at a more local hangout, or maybe one of those new, trendy Food Wagons. Food wagons. Where I come from, food on wheels is called a dumpster.
Across the square I spotted Tiny. There were four men around him, and they were gesturing frantically, and it appeared angrily. Tiny was just shaking his head. I watched for a few minutes, ready to intervene if the discussion became violent. Just as it seemed the argument was beginning to escalate, a limo pulled up to the group. A woman got out of the limo, her long legs first, a brief flash of panties as she emerged from the limo hurriedly, without the help of the invisible driver. Everything began to move in slow motion, like the service at a Napa Valley tasting room. With my eyes locked on her panties, I almost missed the gun she was holding. I screamed out a warning. Two shots rang out, a bullet whistled past my ear, and I took off running toward the woman.
She glanced at me as she got back into the limo. She seemed to recognize me. I shouted for her to stop, but the limo was already speeding off. I was momentarily in shock.
Whoever she was, she had a beard.