Thursday, March 1, 2012



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.

When she walked into my office you could have used her buttocks to destem Cabernet. She had perfect legs, two of them, and where they met seemed like the perfect place to plant Pinot Noir. I know I badly wanted to check the soil. My eyes ran up and down her body like Kobe Bryant on a basketball court—only, unlike Kobe, I knew I’d try to make a pass. The skirt she was wearing was tight enough I could see her Geneva Double Curtain, and her blouse could barely contain her. If most women sport barriques, this woman was packing foudres. I finally remembered to look at her face.

“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.


Andy Perdue said...

Picturing you dressed as Bogey might cause nightmares, but this was brilliant.

Marcia Macomber said...

Whoohoo! Love the title. So many fab zingers one after another I couldn't possibly pick a favorite.

However, this one: "If most women sport barriques, this woman was packing foudres" shall forever be emblazoned in my mind.

Can't wait for Chapter 2!

Mockingbird said...

Wait, wait, wait.... Is this the prequel or a sequel to the MS Conspiracy? It kinda sounds like it, but I just checked and that story line was never resolved....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Andy, though I prefer William Powell in "The Thin Man," I'm closer to Sydney Greenstreet.

Marcia Love,

I KNEW you'd be the most excited about the return of HoseMaster Pulp Fiction. I had to skim "The MS Conspiracy" just to remember all the characters names. Except Avril Cadavril. Her I remembered. And Tiny. Had to look up the midget's name, and I may have killed the great Larry Anosmia, MS. So it goes.


Oh, trust me, MS Conspiracy never would have been resolved. It's a shaggy MS story to be sure. And I returned to the gumshoe bit at the behest of my wife, who loves it. Once the title came to me, I was off and running... I haven't decided whether it's a sequel or a prequel. Maybe more like a parallel universe.

It's the most fun for me to write, and, as a bonus, it won't get many comments!!

Samantha Dugan said...

Had to take at my Kobe....asshat.
I love you!

Jim aka Jimmie said...

Mr. Sydney Master

Just get to the part of "her creamy white thighs wrapped languidly around your hot vermillion charger..."
But seriously, that photo wasn't taken last week @ a Writer's Symposium, was it? And the girl looks strangely familiar. almost like someone who posts comments here...

Steve Heimoff said...

I can see where this is going. Someplace ugly. Someplace you don't wanna end up. But somehow, you know you will. Not because you want to. Not because you have to. But because you don't want to. That's just the way she rolls.

winebookgirl said...

I had missed the pulp fiction. Glad to see it again.

Andy Perdue said...

Wait, this is fiction? I thought it was autobiographical.

Thomas said...

Even if the sentence is not grammatically correct, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

When do you get to kick around Elisha Cook?

Ron Washam, HMW said...


That's right, friend. Life isn't yours to decide, it's yours to endure. But it's the guys that get out early, whose road map leads them right off an unfinished bridge, who are the lucky ones. The rest of us? We ride on and on in the dark waiting for the inevitable sap to break our skulls. I'm that sap.


I don't do sex scenes. Yet. Maybe with Avril in the morgue. Does it count as menage a trois if one of the players is a cadaver? OK, let's not go there.

Amy Love,

Where have you been? Lurking? Shame on you. But glad you're back. Sheesh, 81 comments on my last post and no YOU. Whassup with that?


THIS IS A WINE BLOG--of course it's fiction. You, of all people...


Elisha Cook, yeah, that gunsel. I just want to work in what Spade says to his secretary as his highest praise, "You're a real man, sister." They don't write dialogue like that any more. It ain't safe.

Andy Perdue said...

Ron, as usual, I was just hoping to live vicariously through you and your fabulous existence.

Thomas said...


Please, be kind to me...

and I know you will, because...

You're good. You're real good!

About that manage a trois; will it be in or outside the box?

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Depends on what you mean by "box."

Samantha Dugan said...

Hey! I was at the Writers Symposium and I assure you, STEVE! looks nothing like that picture.

Dean Tudor said...

Vin noir, formerly known as Cahors (var: Ca's Whore), is populated with desperate people looking for a drink to ease their crowded depression.

Jim aka Jimmie said...

Sam ~ After he gets a couple of glasses of Pinot in him this weekend, STEVE! might just look like that.

Mockingbird said...

...he also needs a 5-foot safety zone - he stumbles and spills a lot after the third glass....

Anonymous said...

Sam, are you sure it isn't him?

I mean, try imagining him with some clothes on (even if it is just a lacy cocktail napkin).

Kathy said...

"..bringing my meat thief back to life."
Lovely. Read every word...
pre-se-parallel quel...who cares? Just write (thanks wife).

Ron Washam, HMW said...


I'm writing, I'm writing!! Just finished Chapter 2, coming soon...

John Cesano said...

I am thrilled to have the best of two worlds collide - HoseMaster column and a private eye story. Thank you.