The following story was collaboratively written by Janie Sullivan and Rhonda Jackson. We are working on a series of three stories as practice writing collaboratively. We have entered the NYC Short Story Challenge as a writing team and, since we had never written anything together before, we thought we would give it a shot. We randomly chose the following prompts: Mystery, Bartender, Business Meeting. Here is our first attempt:
Well, there he was dead on the floor of my bar. I’ve seen dead bodies. I know what they look like all right. The guy just keeled over with a sample bottle of Harry’s Best Irish in his hand. And probably down his throat as well. Nice looking corpse. Youngish, handsome…someone I might have been interested in if things hadn’t turned out badly for him.
And now the cops are here. You know, I gave that up all that cop stuff. I got tired of all the dead bodies they found when I worked nights in homicide. Owning a quiet little pub across the street from the Convention and Opera House sounded so nice. I even got an antique oak bar from an old speak-easy in Chicago. And now, that cop stuff has landed in my lap again. This is so aggravating.
I took over the Red Herring when my parents were killed while on a cruise the year before. I was on medical leave from the police force because Lucky Louie shot me while I was trying to arrest him for exposing himself to a group of senior citizens getting off a bus. They were on a tour, hoping to see some ‘authentic cowboys’ in action. I don’t think they were impressed with the show put on by Lucky Louie, one of our local characters. I don’t think Louie meant to shoot me, either, but he got his gun caught in the holster when he pulled down his pants to moon the tour bus during a drunken binge. Anyhow, the bullet in my left knee took me out of commission for a while. Then when my parents were killed in that freak explosion on the cruise ship, I decided to retire from the force and take over their bar.
“Hey. Alexis, looks like you just can’t get away from the bodies, huh?” My former partner, Henrietta, playfully called “Hank” by everyone on the force except me (I hate nicknames) stood up from where she was examining the body.
“Yeah, Alex,” said another detective, (I cringed at the nickname) his perfectly tailored Armani suit looking out of place. “I thought you hated all this cop-dead-body stuff. And lookee here, another body turns up on your watch.” Marco, my replacement when I quit the force, grinned at me through his perfectly groomed mustache.
“Henrietta, I am so sorry Fancy-Boy Marco is your new partner.” OK, that was a nickname, but he’s so vain and obnoxious he deserves it! “More to the point, what are you going to do about this? Dead bodies full of booze don’t go well with the décor of my nice little pub.”
“We’re almost finished with the body. Coroner will be wheelin’ it out soon. You’ll be closed for the rest of today and probably part of the day tomorrow. You know the drill. Sorry.” Henrietta was all business. “This will clear itself up soon.”
“It better,” I said. Business was good but any interruption could be problematic. “But some time off will be nice.”
I gave my statement. My work was done, unlike Henrietta’s. And Marco’s. Marco had always been an after thought. Never liked him. Never would. But I had time on my hands and a ticket to the Alcohol Distiller’s Convention across the street. Might as well go over and see what was happening.
I headed for the distributers’ booths. Nothing like free samples to perk up my day. It got me in tune with the latest trends in the business and got me away from Marco. Marco wanted me and expected that I wanted him. The convention was a perfect place to hide from his renewed attentions. He creeped me out with his rich boy vibes and frat man attitudes. How and why he ever became a cop was beyond me. I stopped to try the flavored whiskies and forgot about Marco for the moment.
The little sample bottles at the booth reminded me of the bottle the guy that died in my bar was holding. He must have picked it up here before coming to the bar. I wondered what killed him. Probably a heart attack. I hadn’t heard any gunshots and there was no knife poking out of him, no blood. “Just my luck,” I sighed to myself. “Guy with a bad ticker shows up at my bar in time to kick the bucket.”
I started sorting through the various flavors of whisky on display: peach, black cherry, blackberry. “Who would have ever thought that adding fruit flavors to whiskey would be a good idea?” Just as I picked out a sample bottle of each, I felt a tap on my shoulder and glanced behind me. “Oh no, Marco found me. Ugh!” I pretended to smile at him.
“There you are! I thought you took a powder.” Marco strutted a bit, showing off his snappy suit and his use of what the thought was equally snappy cop-lingo.
“Now, why would I do that? Henrietta said the bar had to be closed the rest of the day so I thought I would come over here and check out the convention. Bar-tending is my business, after all.” I turned back to the whiskey sample display; ignoring Marco, hoping he would disappear.
“Well, thanks for being so accommodating!” Marco grabbed my wrists, pulled them behind me to handcuff them together.
“What?” I turned around, jerking my hands back and saw Marco, dangling a pair of handcuffs and grinning like he just won the lottery.
“Alexis Morton, you are under arrest for the murder of Bobby McGruder.” Marco reached for my hands again.
“Are you kidding?” I stepped away, thinking it was one of Marco’s sick attempts to seduce me.
“Put your left hand on your neck, and your right hand on the table. Now!” Marco barked.
A crowd was gathering as I complied. Henrietta pushed through it, putting a cell phone in her pocket. “Allow me,” she said, taking the cuffs from Marco and snapping them gently on my wrists. “You were supposed to let Evans and McRae do this.”
“Henrietta? Why am I a suspect? Just because the guy bought it in my bar?” I asked as she propelled me through a side door, down a corridor and out to a waiting prowl car, guiding me carefully into the seat.
“I’m sorry, Alexis, but I can’t give you a lot of information. We’re officially off the case. Marco wasn’t supposed to go near you. We are too close to the main suspect, you, to work on it any longer.”
“But it doesn’t make sense! I don’t even know the vic! McGruder, right?”
“Yes, Bobby McGruder, the oldest son of Robert McGruder, Senior, owner of McGruder Industries. You know, the company that owns Pegasus Cruise Line.” She looked at me, eyebrows raised.
“Wha?? Ohhhh, the cruise line my parents were on. The ship that blew up, killing several people, including my parents was a Pegasus ship. I get it now; you think that I killed him because his company was responsible for my parents’ death.”
Henrietta shrugged, “Thin, I know, but it is the best we have to go on right now. Sorry, Alexis. Officer Cowan will take you to the precinct. Evans and McRae will do the questioning. Take care of her, Joey.”
“Call Mikey will ya and see if he’ll make bail?” I asked, hoping my errant brother remembered the favor I did him a couple months ago.
“Already taken care of. Have a good ride.” She shut the door and rapped on it. The last I saw of her, she was reaming Marco out big time.
My brother, fortunately for me, was waiting with the bail money after I was questioned, booked and taken down to night court for a brief hearing with Judge Murray. I was afraid I’d never get out on bail. She must have been in a good mood because she only set a $100,000 bond. And she hated bad cops.
“You are going to pay me back, right?” Mike asked as he dropped me back at my apartment.
“Yes, I’ll pay you back but you still owe me for the pistol I bought you when you joined the Mounties,” I replied, exasperated at his lack of trust.
“It is the State Police, not the Mounties. I’m just making sure you remember about the cash part of that bond,” he said firmly.
“It’s the cute hats. I’ll pay the money back already,” I said, hugging him, which embarrassed his masculinity. I smiled at his retreating back and shut the door.
“Now, what am I going to do?” I moaned as I leaned against the closed door, “I’m a suspect in a murder!” Just then Charlie and Sassafras came through the kitchen door, meowing loudly as if to say “Where do you think you’ve been?”
“Oh. Sorry guys, I got hung up a little bit.” I headed for the kitchen, their furry bodies winding around my feet, trying their best to trip me. “Hey! If you want me to feed you, you better let me walk.”
After I fed the cats, I tried to call my sister, Martha. She was about four years older than me, six years older than Mike, and did not ever hesitate letting us know she was the “big sister.” She was also a lawyer. I left a message, telling her I was in trouble and needed her.
The next day, instead of hanging around waiting for Martha to call, I went back over to the convention center. I was intrigued by the flavored whiskey. I fingered the sample bottles and selected three or four. The booth attendant flattered me by checking my ID. I asked if any of the other distilleries were making this. He indicated a very small distillery in the last row of the merchant booths.
“How’s business?” I asked of the older man sitting in the booth.
“We’re doing pretty well, considering. I’ve had this business for 57 years. My father and grandfather had it before me. Quality distilling. We make good Irish whiskey the slow way. There is a new fangled method that speeds up the process, but it is pure nonsense. My son and I are still hanging in there with our old fashioned methods. Nobody’s run us out of business yet. My son was pretty peeved about it and thought it was the end of us. But we have a good product. Hard to kill a good product,” the older man mused.
“I’m Alexis. I own the bar across the street. Sell a lot of your stuff. Drink it myself,” I said, looking at the label of one of the bottles.
“Well, then you should try this special batch my son made up. He said it was for a friend but he only passed out one bottle. Take it all and pass it out to your customers. See if they like this new flavor he’s put added,” the old gentleman smiled and passed me a six pack of small bottles minus one.
“Thanks,” I smiled at him for being such a nice old man. “I’ll try these out. Compare ‘em to the ones made by that new process. I’ll let you know which tastes better.”
“It’s the taste and the smoothness that makes Irish whiskey. The golden flow of it all,” the old man laughed. “Say, have you heard who is going to give the Keynote speech today? That McGruder fella was scheduled to give it but he got himself killed yesterday. Talk around here is it was poison!”
“Wow, no. I knew about the guy that got killed, but didn’t know he was going to give the Keynote. What was he going to talk about?” I decided it was not in my best interest to mention my arrest the night before.
“That new-fangled distilling process. Pure nonsense! Humpf.” The old man shook his head and turned back to his display, moving the samples around absently.
I put the five tiny bottles in my bag, absorbing this new information, and went to try some other liquors and liqueurs being touted by vendors. The old man’s information did make me wonder about things.“Oh, no, Alexis!” I told myself. “You are NOT a cop anymore! And besides, you’re the main suspect!” I decided I’d had enough whiskey samples on an empty stomach, so I went across the street to the pub to see if the crime techs were finished. Martha still had not called.
It was just after noon. The techs had cleaned up and left. The bar was empty, so I went into the small kitchen and fixed a sandwich.
“I heard you made bail,” At first I couldn’t see who was standing in the doorway; he was in shadow with the sun shining brightly behind him. When he stepped into the bar, I groaned.
“Marco, what are you doing here? Henrietta said you were off the case and not supposed to talk to me. I am the main suspect!” I sarcastically spat out the words.
“Hey, calm down. I’m off duty. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.” He seemed a bit edgy. “I was over at the convention, thinking you might be there.”
“I was, but came here for something to eat. I don’t think I am supposed to talk to you, even if you are off duty. At least, that’s what my lawyer said.” I crossed my fingers under the edge of the bar because I hadn’t spoken to my lawyer yet, but figured that was what she would say.
“Oh? You already have a lawyer? I thought you were innocent,” he sneered. “Why would an innocent person need a lawyer?”
The door opened again; Henrietta walked in. “Marco, what are you doing here?”
Marco climbed on a bar stool, “Having a drink on my day off. What are you doing here?”
“Hey, Henrietta, I heard something across the street that might be related to the case,” I said, not wanting to share the information with Marco, but also wanting to take the focus off me as a suspect.
“Can I get that drink, please?” Marco looked from me to Henrietta, then back to me. “Now?”
Since I had not set up the bar yet, I pulled a tiny bottle from my bag. “Here, try this. I picked it up from a really nice old man across the street.” I grabbed a glass and handed it and the bottle to him. “No charge.”
“Wait, who did you say gave this to you?” Marco was staring at the bottle. Was that fear I saw in his eyes?
“Now who?” I said as the door opened once again. “Oh, hello there. Did you come to see my pub?” It was the old man from the distillery booth at the convention.
“Marco?” he asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Dad?” Marco quickly scooped the tiny whiskey bottle off the bar.
“Uh, Oh!” I looked at Henrietta. “About that information I had for you . . .”
“Marco suddenly reached out, grabbed me by the hair and pulled me across the bar, pointing his service revolver at me. “Alex, give me your bag,” he barked. “Hank, your gun on the table. NOW!” He let go of my hair; grabbed my bag and the bottles and started edging toward the door.
“What have you done?” The old man said in bewilderment.
“He was driving us out of business, Dad.” Marco whined.
“You shouldn’t have done that for me.” The old man said quietly.
“I did it for me, Dad,” Marco said, “Do you think I want to live on a cop’s salary? Move out of the way, Hank.”
He backed to the door and stepped out, heading for the curb. A cab pulled up; he opened the door to step in, but backed away. He was surrounded by cops. He set the gun on the cab and raised his hands.
Henrietta picked up her gun and sighed. “Sorry, Alexis, but we arrested you to make Marco relax and hopefully make a mistake. We suspected him from the start, but didn’t have enough evidence. We have security video showed him handing off a bottle to the victim, who had a new method of distilling that took far less time and money than traditional methods. And, since he was a McGruder that made you an easy suspect. Apparently he wasn’t interested in releasing the distilling secret. It would have driven the small distilleries out of business.”
“Not ours. We were never in danger. We’re one of the oldest distilleries in the US. We have a brand name and we are expensive because we never put out much at a time, but we have a loyal customer base. We’re specialty. Our market was not going away. I tried to tell him. He became a cop because he was afraid the business would fail. He just needed to have faith.” The old man lowered his head and wept.
Seeing the old man weep reminded me that I had helped people doing what I did. Maybe I’ll go back to the Force. But maybe not. I’ll just have a drink and think about it. My phone rang. It was Martha.