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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The Witch and the Jurassic Wolf

Get out, get out,” the butcher yelled as he flung the side door so wide the wood cracked. Hugging their children tight, the crowd streamed out to their cars like marbles pouring from a jar. In their rush, they knocked over the Indian Chief.

As the cycle fell toward me, I hopped back into the pantry slamming the door—but not in time. My toes crushed as I pulled in with fear and adrenalin.

Taller, but no gutsier in my thirties than I had been in my teens, I hoped that this golden-hued, mega-heavy motorcycle might act as an obstruction between the witch and me.

Paralyzed in fear, I gawked through the vent. The installers had misplaced the vent slats at the top of the door instead of at the bottom, and backwards, too. I peeked across the dining room. It looked like a brawl between the Cutlery Queen and a prehistoric, bipedal throw-back was on.

An enormous gray tail deftly descended to the floor sweeping the motorcycle smack dab against the pantry door. Pinned in and trapped, I felt strangely safe in this storeroom with the Indian Chief now blocking me from the witch. Eight feet away, I could see what looked like a dinosaur with a Malamute snout, scaly wolf ears and wagging tail.

I’d seen a version of this mammoth in its purer dinosaur form in Life Magazine’s feature about a shark-toothed lizard. This impressive Allosaurus was at the top of its food chain.

The ancient reptile’s serrated, clawed teeth descended with each huff. The dinosaur’s head rammed the ceiling. A high beam cracked.

A gray and white tail rubbed against the vents. Unable to resist the chance to feel real dinosaur skin, I awkwardly crammed two fingers through the vent-holes. An intense crystal-blue eye met my gaze. A gentle lick brushed my fingers.

Machete is that you?

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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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Takeover At The Toymart

Sgt. Paul Curran got the phone call about the hostage situation. “Milford Police Department. Sgt. Curran,” he said. “This is a recorded line.”

“Recorded?” the childlike voice responded. “Oh, I. . . I didn’t know that.” He spoke to someone with him. “I’m being recorded,” he said, impressed. “Pretty neat, huh?”

“This is Sgt. Curran. May I help you?”

“I’m calling to. . . to let you know that my friends and I have taken over the Toymart at the mall,” the caller said. “We have hostages, but we don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Good. We don’t want you to hurt anyone either,” Curran told him. “What’s your name?”

“My. . . name?”

“Yes. I’d like to know what to call you.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Uhm. . . hold on a minute.” He put a hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and talked to his companion. “He wants to know my name.”

“So tell him,” a deeper, authoritative voice responded.

“But I don’t know what it is,” the caller said. “Do you?”

“How should I know?” The deep-voiced kidnapper was flabbergasted. “You really don’t know your name?”

“Uh uh.”

“Weren’t you ever curious?”

“Not really. It never came up in conversation with my shelfmates.”

“Look at your tag.”

“Oh yeah!”

“Hello?” Curran said, confused.

“Can you read it?”

“Just barely,” the caller replied, straining. “They put it by my bum for some reason. Why would they do that, Boscoe?”

“Forget about where it is,” Boscoe replied. “What does it say?”

“R-e-x,” he answered, struggling to read the tag. “Rex.”

“Then that’s your name. Tell the officer.”

“Rex? I don’t feel like a Rex. Do I look like a Rex?”

“You’re tying up the line.”

“Sorry for the delay,” he said into the phone’s mouthpiece. “My name is Rex.”

“Rex?” Curran asked.

“That’s what it says on my tag.”

“Your. . . tag?”

“I’m also 60% rayon, if that’s important.”

“Rex,” the sergeant asked, “who are you?”

“I told you: My name is Rex,” he said. “I’m a teddy bear.”

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The Intended

“Interrogating is not a simple business anymore.”

Charlie and Mr. Jonah were sitting in a large office that was professionally gray and square, and Charlie admired the room’s balance of furniture and emptiness.  He felt good that everything on the desktop and in the black bookshelf had a specific place and function.

Mr. Jonah moved closer to the great window that stretched from floor to ceiling.  Boston’s compact skyline huddled around them, and in the distance there was some smoke from Charlestown but beyond that were the low humps of green hills.  The glass was lightly tinted blue, and because the window faced north the direct glare of the sun never came into the office.

“Interrogating is not a simple business,” he said again.  “I don’t mean the act itself—I certainly don’t have the authority to tell you about that, since you can do it and I obviously can’t.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be in this kind of position.  I’d be sitting right where you are, if I could do what you can do.”  Charlie smiled politely, fidgeted with the knot of his tie, which he had retied three times an hour ago.

“I mean it’s not a simple business.  The numbers, the schedules, the economics of the thing—none of that is simple.  The most difficult part of working for a company like ContraData if you’ve been developing the skill on your own, out there in the world, is realizing that what you can do is no longer just a part of your own experience.  Realizing that it now affects thousands of agents, managers, accountants, executives all over the world.  Not to mention, of course, the clients involved in the specific cases that you have.  Time and again.”

Through his window, Mr. Jonah watched a world that was not moving.

“Sometimes I envy my agents—I really do.  Sometimes I wish I could feel what you feel when you first realize you’ve actually done it—that hazy moment when it really is 1979 again, or when you hear the first notes from a radio that reminds you that some singer from the nineties is still alive wherever you are.”

He looked Charlie in the eye, and the receding gray of his hair was icy against the blue of the window.

“But sometimes I wouldn’t want to be you for anything in the world, Charlie.”

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