Gently pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard inhaled deeply as he scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.
It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile of one another, and both offered magnificent potential.
He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small domed gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. Smiling with pride, he admired his thick tall pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.
The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. Picking up a bottle of his best French cologne, he dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Pausing to inhale the rich fragrance, Leonard closed his eyes, and sighed with delight. This particular scent always took him back to his days in Paris. He reached for a well-worn antique leather binder, along with his keys, checked his watch, and bolted down the hall. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on pointy black ostrich leather boots, and darted down the stairs. As he exited the building onto the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.
2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles, and a massive collection of glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box. I need another box! I’m in a rush here!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.
56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies with false compliments and his flashing smile, and got the entire stash for a song. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.
Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up, one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the White Chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7, then after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, hand steadying the box of bottles next to him, which he had secured with the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. “Here! Here! Stop, this is it, pull over in front of this one!” On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.
As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft bass music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motioning him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob approached Leonard. Wearing a shimmering white velvet gown, she looked almost ghost-like. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand, and introduced herself with a raspy low voice. “I’m Lucia. Finally, we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long blood red lacquered fingernail over the labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”
With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars in hundred’s twice; then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. It glowed phosphorescent in the low light. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pool of white velvet spreading out from her silhouette. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a cautious whiff from the opening, and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.