Another white wine, chilled so her fingers ran down the glass to clear away a light layer of frost.
How he knew – when she didn’t say – that she only drank Sauvignon Blanc could’ve been a mystery worthy of Premier Private Detective investigation but something about a missing painting or a dangerous message or a knife made for cutting flesh and not cheese, and White Wine Case No. 3 would have to wait.
Here it smelled of dried beer and Aunt Gertrude on a Sunday but The Thirsty Dog was mostly warm. Not because she was sweating, (a lot), but because the wide, wooden bar was etched with “I love you Petunia” in sloppy letters across the front and because the bartender had tattoos of black and white roses growing on each cheek. Her name was Rose. It made the most sense.
And what a delightful scene just minutes from 55 Snowflake Drive! And what hazy comfort can be found in three glasses of wine! And what a sight makes wrongly buttoned overcoat man staring with yellow eyes at the blue of her own!
“Ms. Baxter, are you okay?”
He speaks, she sighs. Yes, she was fine.
“Listen, I don’t think Mr. Jorgi is coming. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning. It might be time to go home.”
She shook her head, lazy half-circles that made her too-long bangs fall almost to her nose. No.
“Never mind. We can stay.”
What was his name again? And why did she care so much about the little space between his nose and his lips? Every once in a while, if she squinted, he smiled like Paul used to smile only at her, crooked with the right side of his mouth upturned. Remember how their legs twined together – look how happy they are! – as she whispered with Paul about nonsense and wild dreams at their favorite bar (the one with the soup bowls for glasses) on unending Saturdays? Oh, how each moment of those incarnadine nights of blushed faces and brushed fingertips just dangled longer, sweeter in the familiar air between them! There was a fulfillment she’d never found since in Sundays spent supine beneath Paul’s down comforter – the one with tiny feathers coming loose in places – eating last night’s melty ice-cream and watching Nickelodeon as their toes curled.
“Who is Paul?”
Had she said that out loud? Sound was beginning to become a strange, unconfined entity to her and she was no longer sure what burbled inside her mind and what spilled into the world beyond.
“We met at a music festival in Georgia four years ago. He left because he said something was missing.”
“Do you think he will come back?”
“I don’t know.”
“And now you’ve taken on a career to find what can’t be found?”
Is that what she did? Then, why was the bar oozing dark mahogany drips that pooled in grainy puddles on the floor? Why was the thick smell of liquor suddenly making her head rotate on itself and flip back, roller-coaster like, before screeching to a halt. She wondered if there had been one of those reaction cameras that took a picture as she fell …
Now, a familiar hallway and the comforting brick of 55 Snowflake Drive. Jeanette Windthrip was up, a cloudy sight made from “What happened to poor Miriam?s” and a green painted face mask coming loose around her nose. But what care did she have of this neighbor when Miriam now knew (everything there was to know)?
The painting was not in Mr. Jorgi’s apartment. It was in his spot, the place where he stored items of questionable intent like parking tickets he had forgotten to pay, the place where her Premier Private Detective career first began last week.
(And there it was.)
Jeanette Windthrip screamed with screechy delight when the Veuvian Colpetta was found on the garage floor in a darkened corner by Miriam’s car. She squawked a few words about writing up the whole thrilling tale front page in tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch – “Now, just catch Mr. Jorgi and I’ll make you front page for the week!” – and disappeared upstairs. As Miriam reached for the missing painting, covered in a blue cloth with “Veuvian Colpetta” stitched in odd convenience on the front, she just then noticed that amid all the concrete joy of this mystery-solved scene, Mr. Marcus Dupoil had quietly disappeared.
“BRILLIANT PREMIER PRIVATE DETECTIVE MIRIAM H. BAXTER OF 55 SNOWFLAKE DRIVE SOLVES MYSTERY OF THE YEAR.”
The next morning’s headline glowed a little too yellow for Miriam’s taste but her voicemail was already full – “My hamster, Ginger, is missing. Should I not have also gotten a pet snake?” And, “Hello, Miriam H. Baxter. Do you solve crimes of fashion? My sister will not stop wearing shoulder pads.” Also, “If you’re so brilliant, tell me if my bastard of a husband is cheating on me, wouldya? Sunnofabitch always liked his secretary better.” The Snowflake Daily Dispatch story was just what her business needed and she would be busy all day (and all year!) with work, even if her head still felt spongy from last night’s white wine.
Something tickled uneasily at the back of Miriam’s head. The painting is here. Indeed, the vanishing Marcus Dupoil’s Veuvian Colpetta leaned clothed and quiet against her living room wall.
I should open it, Miriam thought, as the next logical step any Premier – and notedly brilliant – Private Detective would take in such a curious case as this. With one swift motion, Miriam unveiled the Veuvian Colpetta and was unsurprised by how ordinary she would describe the scene of over-the-counter, generic-brand love between two people who weren’t sure why they should be sitting side by side. She first stared at the younger-looking Marcus – yellow eyes, top hat on just as he said – and next, to the pale blonde beside him, an angular-faced woman of sharp cheek bones and a paper-edge nose that began in the middle of her forehead. The picture was most likely newly done and not two decades old as Mr. Dupoil described, (the top hat had told her that yesterday), with paint barely dry. Despite its age, it reminded Miriam of something that might hang in a 90s-style second-rate hotel. A hollow, meaningless decoration meant to fill white space and help guests ignore the faint scent of mold coming from the shower floor. Well, these people are happy enough. This hotel will do!
A murmuring at her door made Miriam cover the painting in its blue sheath and run to her peephole. Two voices could be heard speaking hushed and low, one attached to the cloud-white wavy hair of Mr. Sandoval Jorgi and the other to the top-hatted sight of Mr. Marcus Dupoil. Mr. Jorgi laughed at what Mr. Dupoil just said, hardly an appropriate reaction for a man who threatened the life of the speaker just last night. From a door’s distance away, Miriam could hear pieces of what they said.
“Did she find it?” Asked Mr. Jorgi.
“I don’t think so,” replied Mr. Dupoil, his voice huskier and much less silly than she remembered. “I think she’ll find it soon.” He removed his top hat and Miriam could see through the small peephole that his eyes, once an intense yellow, were a shade of green she remembered all too well.
Miriam rushed back to the Veuvian Colpetta without hearing another word, to the message he told her was hidden in the golden curls of Georgia. Before she read the message, (she could guess what it would say,) she thought of that syrupy hot August night four years ago and then thought of yesterday morning when Missing Painting Case No. 2 began. The mystery had tricked her, a Premier Private Detective, in a way that would make her life seem deliciously full again. Although the cheese should’ve been her first clue; he always did love cheese. She had to laugh at how elaborately staged the ordeal had been, how eloquently each detail was thought out to deliver on promises made long ago. Now she would find a business she always wanted and a love tucked into the cursive letters written beside a wave of hair. Finally, she read the message that would, as he said, kill her first client but start everything else anew: