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Adventures in the Asphodel Meadows

Liv Grazdani liked to listen to the radio while there was a body bleeding off her table. The flat didn’t seem so shabby with jazz trumpets rocking off the stained windows and piano slides going up and down the wilting blue-print flowers. But she preferred the dramas most nights, smoking up the room with porkpies and clay pipes and who-done-its.

You hear about the mobster shot through the lung? (Sure did. Heard his organization sprang a leak.) Liv had Grave Flowers going that Tuesday when Rum Turner came flopping against her door, bleeding like a river. Word on the street that night was that Rum was dead as an octopus on the bottom of the Atlantic, half his head chewed up and a bed of oysters in his burst belly. Blackie and his gang started thinking about setting up shop in Rum’s old digs. Even barged in to measure the floor so they could buy themselves a nice red rug. Then boom! Two days later, Rum rose up out of the sea like Poseidon on a bad day, brewing up a storm and three names written bold and blue on his trident. Shot three people dead before the gossip could brew up the morning tea and make its social calls.

Yeah. Liv Grazdani did that. Took the bullet out of the muscle tissue and skin and patched Rum Turner up before he drowned in blood and became a very ironic octopus indeed. She made octopus jokes while he spit up gore. I could write a whole novel with the ink coming out of you. At least you were well armed before you got shot. No bones about it. You hear the one about the octopus at the bar? Tried to ask for a drink, but the bar fella couldn’t pour anything on account of being underwater.

Rum hadn’t heard the octopus rumors, so he didn’t think the jokes were funny. But his man sitting in the corner laughed until he near split. A girl’s got to laugh at something when nights she carves up bodies for her bread and butter instead of strutting down Main St. like she’s got a secret cooler than anything your Mama ever told you.

After Rum and his guy were gone, Liv sat out on the step, smoking cigarettes and watching people trot by. A sea breeze whipped up the street. She wondered if a lipsticked dame with smoky eyes and opera tickets in her pocket would think Liv were cool. If Liv told her she knew enough about anatomy to embarrass a circulatory system, would the woman perk up an eyebrow and admit to being impressed? Probably not. Probably think it was gross.

In truth, the smell of blood in her floorboards drove Liv crazy, but white throws become bloody throws and then they had to be chucked in the bay. So she mopped up with lavender oil and scrubbed with almond polish until her pale knuckles went red and the living room smelled like a rich lady’s boudoir.

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The Curious Affair at the Arkwright Club

Wine! Hundreds of bottles.

“This is quite a wine cellar!” Marshall Leibowitz remarked as he and the white-haired cork master, Frank Remley, walked down the slightly creaky stairs into the large, climate-controlled basement room.

“No other wine club can boast of vintages rarer than those here at Arkwright,” Remley said proudly as the two men stepped onto the floor and looked out over the wooden racks.

“I would think not!”

“As a member, you will have access to all of these wines.”

“Really?” Leibowitz asked excitedly.

“In a ‘diplomatic’ fashion.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“We can’t possibly partake of every vintage we have in the racks,” the older man explained, “so, at our monthly meetings, the members vote for the wine that should be enjoyed at our next meeting. Whatever bottle gets the greatest number of votes is properly prepared and served then.”

“I really hope I’m voted in. I’ve been waiting for an opening here ever since I moved to the city.”

“I have no doubt you will be admitted at today’s meeting.”


“As a young attorney, you are just the kind of professional we’re looking for as a new member,” Remley told Marshall. “It is, of course, terribly sad that Mr. Raymond passed on.”

“I had the honor of working on some legal documents for him. He was a fine man.”

“But, without his death, there would not be an opening here at Arkwright.”

“You really think I’ll be admitted?”

“I’d say you can count on it,” Frank commented. “As a member, you’ll be expected to donate four hours a month of your time to the club’s care and upkeep.”

“That’s in addition to the yearly dues?”

“It is,” Remley said. “Is that a problem?”

“No, but isn’t such a stipulation . . . well. . . excessive?”

“Not at all. Our charter has maintained that requirement since the club’s founding in 1928 by Simon Arkwright. In this way, we save funds that would have to be spent on hired help, allowing us to invest instead on the acquisition of rare vintages. Everyone donates his time.” Remley paused, smirked, and inquired, “Do you wish not to be considered for membership any longer?”

“Oh no. Certainly not!” Leibowitz replied, quickly dispelling the notion. “Any true wine connoisseur would be a fool to pass up the opportunity. I was merely taken by surprise.”

“If you have physical limitations that prevent you from performing certain tasks, please inform the secretary after you are admitted. We don’t wish to cause our members any bodily harm.”

“I can do whatever might be needed.”

“That’s good to know,” Remley told him. “Colonel Thrip, 88 years old and sharp as a tack, recently had to stop assisting with the club’s upkeep. Bad heart, you know?”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“But with him being the Colonel and having been a member in fine standing of Arkwright since the Carter Administration, we have waived that requirement for him.” Frank gestured at the many wooden racks. “Perhaps you’d like to perform your service here, tending to the bottles? We need someone for that chore.”

“I would like that very much, and it wouldn’t be a chore.” Leibowitz reached out and removed a random bottle from one of the racks. He blew the dust from the label and could not believe his eyes. “The ’47? I’ve only heard rumors of its existence.” He grabbed another bottle and was equally astounded. “How did you ever come across such rare specimens?”

“The name Arkwright carries great weight in the wine world. Anything can be had. . . for a price.”

He carefully removed another bottle. “This one is empty,” he said, confused.

“Yes, it is.”

Leibowitz tapped on another couple of bottles. They were also dry. “Do the members save the empties as remembrances of vintages enjoyed?” he wondered.

“Not exactly.”

“Then why. . .”

“There is one more thing you should know about Arkwright.” Remley stepped forward and removed an empty bottle from a rack. “Our secret,” he said proudly. He pulled the cork from the bottle’s neck. The wine cellar began to violently shake. Dust fell from the ceiling, and many of the bottles dinged against one another.

“It’s an earthquake!” Leibowitz exclaimed.

Remley was strangely, totally calm. “Don’t be alarmed.”

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“I think rookies with two first names shouldn’t tell me how to do my job,” Detective Morgan Liu, said, rolling her eyes. It was true she had been completely stressed since her former partner Jose Casilla, took two bullets in the course of a gang shooting. He was still hospitalized, in a coma. Meanwhile, she was stuck with Detective David Benjamin, sitting in a 1984 Cadillac. Undercover duty was the worst. “I can’t believe you brought donuts to a stakeout,” Morgan said.

“Hey, it’s a classic, timeless art form.”

“It’s a stupid cliché. And it’s probably why people call us pigs.”

“Last week you told me if I didn’t put on a couple pounds, I’d break when I had my first resisting arrest.” David was a wiry man, something he claimed was due to low pay and student loans. He ran his fingers through his blond hair to push his bangs back from his forehead, giving Morgan a smug grin. “Besides, the extra sugar helps me focus on the assignment.”

This particular assignment had her parked across from a rickety old apartment building, watching for an expected drug deal. Some idiot on the fourth floor was cooking up a storm, turning his apartment into a meth lab—or so an anonymous tipster had told her. The chief wanted her to investigate this in conjunction with some mysterious disappearances, coupled with an odd amount of people plummeting from rooftops, in what the coroner said didn’t appear to be suicides.

The area darkened, strange for a typical Los Angeles summer day. Morgan glanced out the window, but couldn’t see anything of note. Had a cloud just passed above?

Her movement caught the attention of a third officer, Jacob Lewis, who stood outside the apartment complex. He walked with the casual purposefulness of a native to the neighborhood. His eyes didn’t linger on her for long. He had his hands in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt, which fell over baggy jeans.

“Odd,” Morgan said.

“What?” David asked.

“Nothing. A cloud must have gone over us. Darkened everything for a second and spooked me.”

David twisted his head toward the sky, looking up through the windshield. “I don’t see any clouds. Maybe you got some of that P.T.S.D. or whatnot. Should you be back if you’re all jumpy like this?”

“Drop it,” Morgan said.

Ignoring his all-too-apt comment, she popped open her laptop and set it on the center armrest. The laptop was equipped with recording software, and with a click of a button, a microphone concealed on Jacob’s person began broadcasting.

“He so looks like a narc,” David said.

“No, he doesn’t. He’s fine. Chief chose him for the job because he’s damn good at acting,” Morgan said. Her black hair felt loose in its tie, so she pulled her hair back into a fresh ponytail.

David nearly coughed out another mouthful of donut from laughing. “Seriously, Liu? Everyone knows chief chose him ‘cause he’s black. More likely to pass as a drug suspect.”

“You shouldn’t make comments like that while on duty, David.” Morgan shook her head with annoyance as she watched. “Now shut up so I can listen to his wire. As soon as we hear about a drug transaction, we have cause to arrest this idiot.”

The laptop broadcasted Jacob’s wire.

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