18. May 2022 · Comments Off on Another Snippit for Luna City 11 – Liquid Treasure · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(Richard has finally accepted the offer from Lew Dubois to begin as executive chef for the renewed Cattleman Hotel, having put the Cafe on the map, gastronomically speaking – but aware that he is becoming bored with the limitations. And for him – being bored professionally could have near-fatal consequences.)

Richard could not readily shed his established habit of rising well before sunrise – with the chickens, as Judy Grant cheerfully said it – or at least with their several roosters, all of whom were given to serenade the setting of the moon with an acapella chorus of cock-a-doodle-dos at five-thirty AM. He secretly rather enjoyed the brisk pedal along the darkened country road, as sunrise paled the eastern sky, the quietness of the streets, and the dimming gold of the old-fashioned gas lamps which lit the margins of Town Square and the area around the bandstand, which was the ornate center of the Square, as the sun rose in a glory of apricot and rose – very occasionally trimmed with crimson and purple clouds.

There was a van parked around the side of the Cattleman, with the logo of a national security firm emblazoned on the side. Richard paid it hardly any attention, save for noticing that there were a pair of genial gentlemen in overalls, messing about with drills, rolls of cable and some really impressive tool-kits, in and out of Lew’s office, the larger joint office and in the splendidly ornate and paneled bar, which was almost the crown jewel of the Cattlemen. He did a tour of the kitchen – mildly busy with breakfast for a scattering of hotel clients – and then retreated to the office to continue his research of the previous day. He pondered Lew’s advice, and considered it good … but still, the obsessive habits of a lifetime thus far niggled at him. Was it entirely cricket to spend less than eighty hours a week, in the object of his employment … or was that taking devotion to duty just a little too far in the pursuit of what Lew called a well-balanced life…

He was interrupted shortly before eleven by one of the overalled technicians, lurking hesitantly in the doorway of the office.

“’Scuse me, Chef,” the technician ventured. “D’you know where the big boss is … we got a bit of a problem with running the new line.”

“Mr. Dubois is around here somewhere,” Richard ventured, just as the great man himself appeared. That Lew was also wearing a groundskeeper’s Carhart jacket and a pair of heavy leather work gloves went without mentioning.

“Hey, Lew,” the technician confessed with relief. “There’s a problem with running the new cable … it just goes and goes and goes into the wall. Doesn’t come out where it’s supposed to. Stevo and I think there is a void, between the office and the bar. Can we have a squint at the blueprints again, just to make certain.”

“Of course,” Lew went to a tall, old-fashioned wooden cabinet, one fitted out with a series of shallow but large drawers. He pulled out several, before finding the one oversized envelope containing the diagrams of the ground floor offices of the Cattleman. They were done on outsized sheets of heavy paper in ink which had faded to a sepia shade – all heavily-detailed plans of each room, some adorned with sketches of the architectural adornments. Which, as far as Richard could see from a cursory glance over the shoulders of Lew and the tech, had been faithfully carried out, more than a hundred years ago. All three of them studied the linked plans for the various spaces on the Cattleman’s ground floor, joined presently by Stevo, the other security install tech.

“Hmm,” Remarked Lew thoughtfully. “I am not an architect – just someone who has had to become familiar with old buildings and their peculiarities – but it seems to me that there might be something anomalous, just there. Your cable should come from my office and emerge in that wall to the left of the back-bar … but it seems to me that there might be a space unaccounted for.”

Both technicians agreed, solemnly and with a degree of puzzlement.

“A secret compartment,” Richard ventured, with an air of insouciance. “Hardly an old mansion or listed pile in England is without a secret passage, staircase, or priest’s hole. They usually hide the door catch somewhere in the woodwork.”

“I wonder if you can find it, cher,” Lew ventured, “As you appear to be the expert in these matters.” There was nothing for it, but that all but to agree with Lew, and all – followed by an increasingly intrigued Bianca, trooped after Richard into the hotel bar room.

The bar in the old hotel had been kept open, maintained, and functioning long after most of the other facilities had been closed up and allowed to molder away. So the renovations in that area, performed by Roman Gonzalez’ construction crew under contract from Venue Properties had not been nearly as extensive as they had on the upper floors, to the offices, kitchen and ballroom. The barroom itself was a wonder of elaborate woodwork, with a long bar of Circassian tiger-striped walnut, the whole place adored with every possible ornate wood and brass frill that the late 19th century Beaux-Arts designers hired at great expense by the Italian hotelier who hoped to make another small fortune in catering to the guests visiting the hot-water spa on the outskirts of Luna City. (He did end up with a small fortune, but alas, he had started with a large one.)

Richard, seeing that all were watching him consigned his credibility to the gods, and began feeling his way around the carved panels to the left of the stupendously ornate bar. The woodwork was certainly comprehensive; God only knew how many secret catches and all could have been hidden in all the curlicues, whorls and flourishes. Richard ran his fingers over the edges of all the panels, paying particular attention to those where the carving was most ornate, feeling for anything that might move, just a bit, under light pressure. To his utter astonishment, as well as that of those watching – including Lew, both the security technicians, Mr. Georges, Bianca, and a couple of waiters drawn by the unusual nature of the proceedings, on a boring morning after the breakfast rush – a particularly ornate bit of carving at the upper left corner of the panel just to the right of the back-bar, gave under slight pressure.

A small crack appeared in the floor-to-head-height paneling. To the astonishment of all, a segment the size of an ordinary door swung open, with a faint metal groan of protest, revealing a closet-sized space behind – a space lined with shelves and row on row of bottles, and several small barrels on the bottom row, all covered in a generous layer of gray dust, dust so thick that it looked for all the world like grotesque fur. Through a small hole at the back of the closet, a long length of clean cable coiled like a snake on the dusty floor.

“Holy cow!” breathed Stevo the tech. “A no-sh*t Sherlock secret compartment! He fumbled out his cellphone and snapped a picture. “I gotta share this with the boss, Lew! We’ve never found something like this before! What’s in it? Looks like the secret booze store, back in the day!”

“Those are quarter-casks,” Intoned Mr. Georges, casting a professional eye upon them. “Used to age various brandies, fine whiskeys, and other liquors in bulk. Depending on how long they have been aging, that is – if they have not leaked or evaporated.”

“My friends, there might be a fortune, concealed for how long…” Lew mused. “And did no one, not even our cher Roman, who oversaw all the renovations of this place … ever detect the presence of this secret cellar?”

“I guess not,” Bianca was already dialing on her cellphone, “As far as I know – he did most of the work on the ballroom, the restaurant, and the upper floors. There was no need to do much more than paint the plaster and polish up the paneling in the barroom.”

“Indeed,” Richard agreed. “As far as I recall, the bar was the one space in the Cattleman that was kept in pretty good nick, all the way along. There was no need to do anything more than a lick and a promise and dust the lights as far as the renovations went.”

Lew was nodding in agreement. “Yes, this is a most unexpected bonus … Cherie, my dear Mademoiselle Bianco, would you be so good as to dial …”

“Mademoiselle Stephanie,” Bianca replied smartly. “Already on it, boss … Hello, Steph? You should come to the Cattleman, tout suite … we have just made the most amazing discovery!”

Lew, with a smile of beatific pleasure, turned to Richard and Mr. Georges and remarked,

“Ah … I have the most expert staff, do I not? They do what I want done before I can even voice the orders.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Georges had already stepped gingerly into the closet, carefully avoiding the coil of cable on the floor, and gently pulled out one of the bottles, handling it as carefully as if were a particularly fragile infant. He blew the remaining dust from the bottle, and the faded sepia-tinted label. He adjusted his glasses and read carefully from the label.

“San Pedro Five-Star Gold Brandy … Luna City, USA … vintage 1924. Sacre bleu …” and he went off in a long babble of agitated French to Lew.

“What is it?” Richard whispered to Bianca, who had finished the call on her cellie, and put it away, meanwhile looking into the dusty compartment as if the door to the sacred tomb had just had the rock rolled away from the opening.

Bianca murmured in holy awe, “It’s a cache of Carolina San Pedro’s brandy, Chef. The last bottle of it to come on the open market sold at auction for $25,000. A single bottle! It was distilled from a brew of local grapes, just after Prohibition went into effect. It’s almost a hundred years old. How many bottles are there, Mr. Georges?”

“At least a hundred,” Mr. Georges reverently considered the dark bottle in his hands. “And six quarter-casks, which should hold approximately fifty liters each. That is, assuming that much has not evaporated over time. The profit for the hotel and VPI will be incalculable.”

“An amazing find,” Richard mused, already considering how a very small quantity of such an amazing distillation could be made to serve the cause of haute cuisine, although some experts felt that using a rare liquor in cooking was a blasphemy.

“The matter of ownership will be a question of the most complicated to unravel,” Lew conceded. “For Venue Properties has only leased the hotel from the municipality, which is the owner of record. Ownership of this cache must be adjudicated, since it’s existence predates our agreement to lease, renovate and manage. I have always conducted business with the highest of ethical consideration …” he turned to Bianca, who was already dialing her cellphone.

“Mayor Bodie,” Bianca said into it. “Bianca Gonzalez, at the Cattleman… Good morning – are you sitting down? We have just made the most interesting discovery … and Mr. Dubois thinks that you should come and see it, right away…”

Lew smiled again, and whispered to Richard, “See, mona mi? Before I might even say the words, my staff knows what should be done.”



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