The Adventures of Steve Noir, Wine Critic
Part 1: A mysterious stranger
It was dark and stormy in wine country, a night so wild, no one dared venture out — no one, that is, except me: Steve Noir, Wine Critic. My job: to undercover dirty laundry, in a valley that knows how to keep its secrets — and has every reason to.
I’d had a tweet from a mysterious stranger who identified herself only as Lola:
need to see you urgently!! scandals in wine country. much wrong-doing. public would be shocked! can we meet? can name names, starting with B
And with that, her 140 characters had run out. B? That could be — who? I tweeted my mystery interlocutor back:
Rutherford Grill. 2nite, at the bar. 11 p.m.
I was sitting there, nursing a sassy little Sauvignon Blanc, wondering what she looked like. Her voice had been dusky and dark, like the low moan of a cello, like a lump of coal you find on your dinner plate. Suddenly, the door opened. A cold gust of wind blew my napkin from the bar counter to the floor. I knew who it was from the moment I laid eyes on her.
She was as pulchritudinous as Dolly Parton in her better days, sculpted from butter, with wavy blond hair that spilled over one eye and down to a sloping shoulder. She should have worn a warning sign: Slippery when wet.
“Mr. Noir,” she said, extending a white-gloved hand as sultrily as the tail of an alleycat in heat.
“How did you know what I look like?” I queried.
“I recognized you from your blog. You’re just as, umm…unique as I pictured,” she said, a nervous smile crossing her lips.
I motioned for her to have a seat. “Can I get you something?”
“That depends,” she purred, “on what you mean by ‘something’.”
“Barkeep! A Shirley Temple for the lady.”
“Is that the best you can do?” She turned away and called to the bartender, “Bring me a Cabernet. Your best cult — in a Riedel Sommeliers Bordeaux glass.”
Uh oh, I thought. One of those.
“Lola,” she said. “Just like I told you.”
“Have it your way, ‘Lola’,” I said, tossing back my Sauvignon Blanc. “Now, what’s this all about?”
She leaned in close. I felt her hot breath in my ear, down the side of my neck. “Can I trust you?”
“That depends,” I replied, “on what you mean by ‘trust’.”
“There are people who would do bad things to me if they knew I was talking to you.”
“Then why are you?”
“Because,” she stammered. “Because–”
I was getting impatient with her stalling.
“All right, Missy ‘Lola’, if that’s your real name, which I doubt. I didn’t come out in this weather to play games.”
She sighed. Her breasts heaved like a 5.4 on the San Andreas Fault. The barkeep brought her Cabernet in a glass the size of a hot tub. I noticed the label on the bottle. It was Meming Siegel, ‘94, the most famous kosher wine in the world. A wine to peel your sox off, to fry the skin on your back, to get you dancing on tabletops, without clothes, with a lampshade on your head, to singe your beard, if you had a beard, a wine to make you run out of metaphors faster than a bowl of beer nuts during Happy Hour.
A wine to drain your checking account.
“You win, Mr. Noir,” she said, looking directly at me, eyes hooded, like a cobra’s. “All right, I’ll tell you the truth. I didn’t want to, but–”
“Good. Now we’re getting someplace.”
“There are Cabernets in this town that are not what they seem.” She spoke these words, of course, but they sounded italicized, which is why I’m writing them that way.
I ordered another glass of the sassy Sauvignon Blanc. “What do you mean, ‘Lola’?”
“Just what it sounds like.”
“You’ll have to do better than that.” I grabbed her wrist and gave it a twist, the way Master taught me in the dojo. She winced.
“You’re hurting me.”
“Good. I want to. Now,” I said, releasing the arm. “You were saying–”
She rubbed her wrist. “I see you play a rough game.”
I smiled. “If you think that’s rough, ‘Lola’, you don’t know the half of it.”
She drank her Cabernet. She didn’t swirl, didn’t sniff, just gulped it down, like a Lodi Merlot. In one long chug, she drained that $500 bong hit — which I was paying for. Then she gave a little burp.
“Classy,” I said. “I can see you’re not local.”
“I’m a Jersey girl.” She opened her purse, removed a stick of gum, and plopped it into her mouth.
“What part of Jersey?” I was just making conversation.
“Peoria.” I was about to twist her wrist again when her eyes widened and her skin color drained to white. She was staring at something across the room, sheer horror writ large on her face. A trembling hand rose to her mouth. Her shoulders shook, as though she were about to sob. She rose from her seat.
“I must go,” she hissed. “Please, ask me nothing. I can say no more. I’ll be in touch, on Facebook. Friend me.” And with that, she spun around on one open-toed Manolo Blahnik cherry red Mary Jane, and was out the door. For the second time, a gust of wind blew my napkin to the floor.
What had frightened ‘Lola’ half to death? I looked across the barroom floor, through the blue smoke, past the lurid glare of the jukebox light, toward where she’d seen her apparition. The hairs on the back of my neck crackled as I saw a familiar face, the last person I ever expected to see on that dark and stormy night.
Next episode: The plot thickens