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The Further Clichés of Steve Noir, Wine Critic


In a previous episode, Steve Noir, wine critic, has been approached by a mystery woman, who claims to know secrets about certain Napa Valley Cabernets. They meet at the Rutherford Grill, but the woman leaves suddenly, upon seeing someone or something. The plot now resumes:

What had scared “Lola” half out of her wits? None other than Wilfred Wong.

But what was the famed cellarmaster from BevMo doing here on this stormy night? And why had Lola been so frightened of the mild-mannered Mr. Wong?

Wilfred espied me at the bar and walked toward me, extending his hand. He had a grin on his face as if he’d not only eaten the proverbial canary, he’d had a couple parakeets, too.

“Wilfred,” I said, shaking it. His hand, I mean.

“Doctor Noir,” Wilfred said. He always calls me by some honorific. After some chit chat, we got down to business.

“I noticed you were having drinks with Anastasia,” Wilfred said. A wry, amused smile played on his lips.

“She told me her name is Lola.”

“Negative on that, Steverino. She’s Anastasia La Flambé. Been working the fringes of the community for years. A little Mossad, some MI5, CIA black box stuff. Even couriered for the Chinese during the diethylene glycol days.”

I whistled.

“Yeah,” Wilfred said. He summoned the barkeep. “A Pink Mojito, and don’t forget the cherries.”

“That it for you?” The barkeep looked at my empty wine glass. Before I could answer, Wilfred said, “He’s having the same.” He glanced at me. “On me.”

“You — or BevMo?” I asked, arching an eyebrow. It was an innocent question, but the answer might shed some light on what was really going on.

“Me personally,” Wilfred said. “I’m not here on official business.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I might ask you the same, counselor.”

“Just found myself in the neighborhood,” I shrugged.

“Kind of far from Oakland,” Wilfred parried. “Take a wrong turn on Broadway?”

The barkeep brought our Pink Mojitos.

“Cheers!” Wilfred said, his face as bland as a poker chip. His eyes gave nothing away. This was a man of secrets deep as the sea, dark as the far side of the moon. Secrets of the tomb, of the grave, of the inside of a magician’s saw-the-lady-in-half box. The kind of secrets “Lola” was about to reveal before she’d fled at the sight of the man now sitting next to me.

“To Lola!” I replied, raising my glass.

“The alluring Ms. La Flambé!” Wilfred shouted.

“So how do you know her?” I asked.


“Who do you think? Lola — the La Flambé woman. What’s up with you two, anyhow?”

Wilfred plucked one of the maraschino cherries from his Pink Mojito and plopped it in his mouth.

“Long story,” he said, chewing.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

He looked at me, as if weighing alternatives. “It involved a wine.”

“Doesn’t it always?”

Wilfred laughed, for the first time that night. I had the feeling he was stalling for time. Eventually, he would tell me a story — but whether or not it had any relationship to the truth was another question.

“Or rather, two wines,” Wilfred began. “Because, you see, I could only buy one of them for BevMo, and I needed to make a decision, fast.”

“And Lola — Ms. La Flambé — helped you make your decision?”

“Ahh, Detective Noir, we are getting ahead of ourselves.” He drained his Pink Mojito and summoned another from the barkeep. “No, not exactly. Let’s just say that Anastasia was instrumental in my deciding to buy one, and not the other.”

“I see,” I said, although I didn’t. “You mean, she had something to do with your decision — some role she played, some influence on your eventual choice, although she did not, herself, personally persuade you which wine to buy?”

“You might say that.”

“I just did.”

“True,” Wilfred said, stirring his Pink Mojito. “But tell me, my esteemed Doctor Einstein, did you ever consider this?”

I sat. Waited. And waited. Wilfred was eating more maraschino cherries.

“I’m sorry, Wilfred, but you were saying–?”

“Exactly!” Wilfred smiled at me indulgently, like an Aunt who’s just given her favorite grand-nephew a shiny new quarter for Christmas, like a cop who let you off on a speeding ticket because you reminded him of his first girlfriend, like the electrocutioner at Sing Sing who’s the last human face the condemned murderer will ever see on this earth.

But suddenly, my napkin rose an inch, hovered in the air like a flying fish, sailed across the bar, then flopped lazily down to the sticky floor. The front door of the bar had opened, bringing in a cold gust of wind — and coming right through that door was none other than Herself, Lola, the mysterious Anastasia La Flambé. Only this time, she was not alone.

  1. I’m waiting for Dr. Strange Love or Groucho Marx to arrive…

  2. These remind me of the Adventures of Guy Noir, only these posts are actually funny and not annoying. 🙂

  3. Hi Jo, you never know who will show up in an episode of Steve Noir, Wine Critic!

  4. Firesign Theater?

  5. THIS IS AWESOME. Love it. I’m inspired to start posting a terrible mystery a friend and I collaborated on a few years ago. Of course, it couldn’t meet the standards of a story with Wilfred…

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