“Do you know how to make a Perfect Manhattan?” She was still wearing her power suit from whatever sessions
she’d been in. Most of the hotel’s business came from a jewelry convention in town. I guessed her age at
about forty; what women call well put together. Her reddish-brown hair was drawn up and back. An interested
man would call her eyes hazel, but a cop would say brown. She had a nice figure, and even features with the
fractionally short chin of an Englishwoman. Her slight accent confirmed my impression.
She wore a gold wedding ring on her well-tended, professionally manicured hand. She had beautiful hands. I
didn’t think that they spent as much time wet as mine did. Unlike the other conventioneers, she wore no
jewelry other than her wedding ring. The suit was a light gray, and I thought that the blouse underneath was
called a shell. Shoes, hosiery and purse shouted understated wealth. All she=2 0needed was a more relaxed
expression to be pretty. As it was, she was more what my wife would have called a “handsome woman.”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. Would you like one?”
“Are all bartenders as literal as you?” She asked with a drop of humor in her tone and eyes.
Rather than answer immediately, I took a glass down, filled it with ice and a splash of water to chill it. A scoop
of ice went into the mixing cup, three quarters of a shot of good rye, an eighth of dry vermouth and a dash of
sweet. I stirred it with a bar spoon, until frost formed on the outside of the cup, and discarded the ice from
the glass. I used the strainer and started to add a cherry to the glass. Her look was very direct, “No cherry,”
she said, weighing her words to be sure I caught the double meaning. She handed me a ten-dollar bill, in return
for her drink.
“Just the careful ones,” I answered, probably long after she’d expected. She sipped her drink.
“Very nice,” she said. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” That added three dollars to my jar, and made it a better evening.
She turned to face me. “Why is that?”
“Why is what, ma’am?”
“Why is it that careful bartenders are literal-minded?”
I had to smile, and she smiled back. It took her from handsome to pretty in a moment. Over her shoulder, I
caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. My daughter, Marisol had talked me into growing a beard. I felt like a
cross between Santa Claus and a well-groomed troll. I figured that it would be another month before I got tired
of the itch and extra work, and shaved it off.
“If we don’t have an actual order for a drink, and the customer wants to be difficult, any drink we provide
without an order has to be paid for.”
“So if I was to be shirty about it, you’d have to pay for it?”
“Yes ma’am. Also, if we serve drinks without orders, it’s as good a way as there is to lose a license to serve
“In my case?”
“Your question was enough to make it an order, hence your drink.”
“’Hence.’ Right. It’s quite good, actually.”
I nodded a thanks, and started on another order.
She pulled a stool out, and mounted it, the way women do. I wondered if the method was taught in “girl
school.” She put her heels onto the rung of the stool, planted the back of her thighs against the front edge
and pushed her rear into the stool. The skirt wasn’t as short as some, but it was short enough to show that she
had lovely legs. Then she squirmed an inch or two at a time, tugging her skirt down with each movement.
There was a quick shift before she swung the stool to face the bar. I recognized the motion that hinted at
crossing her legs, a last tug at her skirt, and she was in. I rarely saw women do it differently, no matter how
much they had to drink. The shortest man I’d ever served didn’t get into a stool in the same way. I slipped a
coaster in front of her, and she was polite enough to set her glass precisely onto its center.
When she reached for a cigarette, I had my lighter out and ready for her.
“May I get anything else for you, ma’am?”
She blew smoke at the ceiling, and then looked me in the face. “First, stop calling me ‘ma’am’. Then we’ll see.”
“Certainly. Would you prefer ‘Ms.?”
“Actually, I’d prefer being called Madeline, but it isn’t my name.” It was late in my shift, and I was tired. I hadn’
t had a cigarette in an hour, and the smell of hers was torture. I knew the kind of badinage that she was
looking for. So I took a deep breath, cleared my throat and smiled.
“Madeline, here in my bar, your name is whatever you wish. My bar, my rules.”
“Thank you, you silver-tongued rogue.” < /SPAN>Some people regard a bartender as a polite appliance. She
was a talker and wanted a safe flirting partner.
There were other customers in the bar, and I mixed, drew beers, poured wine and lit cigarettes. The crew of
convention guys at the table was getting louder, and bore watching. With each encounter, “Madeline’s”
remarks grew in suggestiveness. My feet were starting to feel hot with sharp pressure on the arches, and
there was a dull ache between my shoulder blades. By the end of the night, it would feel as if there was a
knife there. It was a familiar discomfort.
Sarah, the waitress, was standing behind the table of men. One, in particular, with thinning hair, and too much
jewelry around his wrists and fingers, was gesturing with abandon while laughing at some remark. He wore what
looked to be a large and elaborately carved wedding ring. She gave me the look that said the re was an order
there, but she had her doubts. I thought she should have had doubts before then, but she was learning. I
gave her a slight head shake, and she smiled back at me. I watched the scientific way she stooped, revealing
nothing despite a ruffled skirt that barely covered her when standing.
The loud one smiled, took out a crumpled wad of bills and handed it to her. When he stood, he leaned, caught
his balance by thrusting one leg well out to the side and didn’t move. Sarah looked up at me and I slipped
under the trap.
“Sarah, would you mind watching the bar for me for a few minutes?”
“No, problem, Paul,” she answered.
I leaned towards the customer. “You’re a guest, aren’t you,=2 0sir?” I asked softly.
He nodded, but stopped abruptly. It’s hard to nod when the room seems to continue to move after your head
stops. “What’s your room number?”
“Three eighty-three,” I heard, with the careful enunciation of a man who knows he’s drunk.
“Mind if I walk you there?” Not my job, strictly speaking, but it was late, I could sneak a smoke in, and I’d
served him too much.
“Glad for the comp’ny.”
I was careful to be near but not touching him as we left, only taking his arm just above the elbow when the
door swung shut behind us. As an old, but very expensive Newport hotel, we’d kept real locks on the door,
opened with a key with a polished brass tag, instead of the plastic credit card things you usually see.
There was a rolling case in the middle of his room, like an old fashioned steamer trunk, but it was a nice-sized
room, so he had the room to lurch past it on his way into the bathroom, pulling at his necktie. The doorknob on
the door to the adjoining room caught him on the hip as he went past. Good solid oak doors, I thought as I
closed his door behind me. The latch caught, but I could still hear the sounds of him retching.
Nothing like a long-delayed cigarette, I thought, standing on the balcony, watching the yachts in Newport’s
harbor. July in Rhode Island is long past lilac season, but I could smell other flowers overlaying the scents of
salt water and=2 0rising tide. After taking a last drag, I butted it out on the sole of my shoe and pocketed the
remains. I’d toss it in the trash when I got back to the bar.
“Madeline” was gone when I returned, but her glass remained on a cocktail napkin on the bar. I glanced over at
Sarah, who wasn’t busy. “Sorry, Paul, I didn’t see her leave.”
She started towards me, but stopped when I reached for the glass and placed it in the washer. “Thanks for
covering,” I answered, and smiled over at her.
“Have a good smoke?” she asked. Her eyebrows were raised, and a smile teased at her lips. “I’ll be telling
Marisol about that when I see her.” She was a nice older friend to my “almost a teenager” daughter. They
were in some sort of conspiracy to get me to quit smoking.
“Trade your free drink for your silence,” I smiled back at her. I started to scoop the napkin from the bar, with
the bar towel in my other hand when I saw bright lipstick on it. A room number. An invitation. An invitation
from an attractive woman. The hotel had policies about this sort of thing. An invitation from an attractive
woman wearing a wedding ring. Her only jewelry. I had policies, too. Wistful, unfulfilled lust would make sleep
hard to come by, later. The trash was at the other end of the bar. I shoved the napkin into my pocket to
throw away later.
Sarah20and I finished the cleanup after I closed, and I balanced and locked up the register drawer. She had
already changed from her spikes into her ratty running shoes, and sipped her mint julep. She enjoyed looking
drink recipes up and ordering the less common ones. She was trying to catch me not knowing one. I almost
always altered the recipe a tiny bit, just to see if she’d notice. When she did, she’d get a lecture on why a
splash of whatever tempered the cocktail. If edible, Sarah always ate the garnish. Probably her favorite part
of the drink. “No cherry?” she asked.
“Not in a julep, Sarah. Not in a julep.”
Twelve year-old Marisol was standing over my bed, with a steaming cup of her infamous Cuban coffee. She’d
been trying to imitate her mother’s coffee for the three years since her death. There was an art in creating
such a terrible brew. “I have to go to school, Daddy,” she began. Coffee while I was still in bed on a weekday
morning usually wasn’t a sign of good news.
“Okay, muffin,” I took the mug from her.
“Um,” she began again, “I forgot to tell you about a field trip, and I need you to sign that it’s okay for me to
go. I thought waking you early with coffee might make it easier.”
“And you’ve known since—“
“Three weeks ago.” She was looking down, letting her long, dark hair curtain her face from me.
It looked harmless. A trip to the local police station. I signed. “Your lunch is packed, honey. Have a good
time and say hello to Sergeant DaSilva.”
“Thank you, Daddy. Sorry for having to wake you.”
However bad her coffee was, it was having its affect. She walked out of the door, as always, moments before
the bus pulled to a stop in front of the house. Since I was up, I went to her room, found enough of her clothes
on the floor to make up a load of laundry and started it up. My tux from work was okay , but the shirt went
into a bag for the hotel dry cleaner to take care of. I hung the jacket, trousers and tie, picked up my mug and
headed for the kitchen to wash it.
The doorbell rang, and Detective Sergeant Larry DaSilva was waiting for me when I opened it. As always, he
was painfully neat and well-groomed. Crisp shirt, perfectly knotted tie and creases on his pants that were
sharp and straight. His scalp gleamed, and the fringe of hair was perfectly trimmed and in place. Usually, he
made me feel rumpled and a little grubby.
“Hey, Larry,” I said, smiling. “Come on in. I’ll put the pot on.”
“Ain’t social, Paul. I got a murder and robbery at the hotel.”
“I didn’t do it,” I mugged, putting my hands up.
“Good,” he said, putting a search warrant into one hand. “Then you won’t mind coming down to the house in
Newport?” He didn’t smile. Not that he was much of a smiler, anyway, but he was really not smiling.
“I have to ask you some questions, and I thought it would be easier if it was you and me, you know?”
“Can I grab a quick shower and get dressed?” I asked. I hated the tone I used, a supplicant, asking for a last
“If you can be real quick,” he answered.
I was brushing my teeth when I remembered that Marisol and her class would be at the station. I felt my heart
beat picking up pace. I was combing my dripping hair when I remembered the last time I’d seen Larry DaSilva
looking at me like that. It was when he thought I’d killed a man. The tingle at the base of my spine started to
circle down, the old “butt to balls might have to puke later” feeling. Friend or not, Detective Sergeant DaSilva
was a cop, a tough, smart and relentless cop.
That was a moment where the old loss felt new again. I never went a day without missing my dead wife,
Isabel, but at that moment, more than almost anything, I wanted her hand to hold.
I gave Larry last night’s clothes in a paper bag, the way he asked me to, including socks, shirt, tie and shoes,
along with the jacket and trousers. I had to wonder, though, why had=2 0he let me take a shower?
At the station, DaSilva and I sat in an interview room, looking across the table at one another. “So, last night,”
“Larry, who was killed? Why am I being interviewed?”
“We’ll get to that. Now, last night, tell me everything you did. Try to give me times.” It began. It would go
on. I would repeat everything. He’d look for inconsistent answers, timing and physical reactions. I would
answer follow up questions. He’d leave. Another cop would come in and it would go on. And on.
“Larry, if you tell me who was killed, I’ll answer all of your questions. I didn’t kill anyone, and I want to know
why I’m a suspect.”
His look was very direct. “Once upon a time, you were considered the best interrogator in NCIS. Would you
answer your question?”
“Depends. I wasn’t a bad lawyer, either. I don’t have to do anything or answer any questions. We’re half
assed friends, Larry. Maybe even tighter than that. If I were you, I might use the friendship, rely on giving you
as little as possible. I’d remember that I’d let a ‘suspect’ have a shower. Not exactly procedure, now, is it?”
He nodded. “A jeweler. In his room. Probably four million in cut diamonds in his case are missing. He didn’t
trust the hotel safe after that heist out west. Single shot, small caliber to the back of his head. Powder burns
and a hole in a bolster.” I started to get the tingle again.
He looked at me. Pulled the file open and fanned out some pictures. It was the guy. The guy I walked up to
his room. One picture, showing his left hand caught my eye. I remembered his wedding ring. Deeply carved
with gold and platinum. “Okay, I walked him up to his room, le ft him vomiting, had a cigarette on the balcony,
and went back to the bar.”
“Do that often?”
“No, not often at all. Sarah shut him off, and he was really nice about it, and seemed scared that his balance
was off. Probably not much of a drinker, just in town for the convention. Seemed like an okay guy.”
“Anyone see you?”
“What time did you walk him out and return?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I didn’t look. An hour before closing,=2 0maybe. Give or take.”
There was a knock at the door, and he stood, whispering with the woman who was handing him a pair of clear
He put the baggies on the table. One held my cigarette butt from my sneaked cigarette. The other contained
a cocktail napkin with a lipstick-lettered room number.
“Paul, Sarah gives you roughly the same time line, and she smelled your cigarette when you came back. Six or
seven minutes for the cigarette works.”
I looked down at the cocktail napkin, at the picture of the dead man’s wedding ring and thought about room
numbers. I thought very hard. I closed my eyes.
“Larry, what about guests in adjacent rooms?”
“Larry, I mean it. Now. This is going to get away from us very fast.”
“Still looking for the one in the room next door. She checked out, early morning. Didn’t do it at the desk; she
used the TV set thing-y.”
“Larry, what the hell? She’s in the wind, and you’re bugging me?”
“Pro forma,” he mumbled, looking straight into my eyes.
“Planning to tell me what’s on your mind, Paul?”
“Soon. What about the victim’s wife? What about his finances? You’re better than this, Larry. You’re holding
“Paul, this is going to come down to people, more than ‘clues.’ Bartender equals people, right? So I clear you,
fast, and put your mixologist’s wizardry to work. Then the napkin with ‘385’ on it.”
“Whoever you have at the hotel, you need them to get the key to two rooms. Three eighty-three, three
eighty-five and three eighty-seven. Get the registration records from the rooms, and if there’s a check out,
the record for three eighty-five. Larry, now, please! Get the times, and see if they have video.”
He strode to the desk, mumbling something that sounded like “gopher.”
It took him twenty minutes. “Three eighty-five was a woman named Hope Overton. She was here for the
convention, but didn’t put anything in the safe. They’re holding the video from her check in for us. The vic’s
last name was Marshall. His wife is home in Hyannis, waiting for us.”
“Us?” I answered.
He ignored that. “Anything else you need?”
“Larry, you need to seal both rooms and call in your techs. You and I need to go to Hyannis. Make sure of one
more thing.” I outlined what I was asking for.
“Fast?” He said it with a smile that told me he had put it together, too.
“We should already be there.”
The black Crown Vic we were in had to wait for a Middletown School bus to pull into the lot. “Hi, ‘Sol,” I
He used lights and siren s, but Newport to Hyannis was a miserable trip, especially with the bridge traffic for the
Sagamore. One wealthy town to another, with only the peculiar street layouts of both towns and the hills
surrounding Newport making much of a difference.
At the door, a thirty-something woman faced us. Short blond hair, blue eyes. She was tall and very lovely.
Larry held up his badge. “May we come in?”
“What’s this about?” she asked.
“Hi, Madeline,” I said, brightly.
“YouE2ve made a mistake, whoever you are. My name’s Alicia. Alicia Marshall.”
“And you like perfect manhattans with, um, no cherry.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Madeline, I think you left something behind,” I answered, and held out the plastic baggy. It was the one with
the napkin and a lipstick mark. I held it so that it was easier for her to reach for it with her left hand. I was
“This was your try at making me into your alibi, Madeline.”
Larry was smiling gently, but stood at the door. There wasn’t any way to leave the room. She looked from one
of us to the other. “Why is a police detective deferring to a bartender?” she asked sharply.
“And you know he’s a bartender, exactly how, Ms. Marshall? Since you knew that, are you so sure he wasn’t
an off duty officer, moonlighting?”
Nice touch, I thought. He didn’t actually say that I was, but it gave her a pause to consider it. Her eyes
widened, the tiniest amount.
“I like your ring, Madeline. Simple and elegant. Shows off your hands.” She wrapped the fingers of her20right
hand around it. “It’s why I didn’t show up to be your alibi. It’s also a perfect, low key match for one worn by a
“Stop calling me that! My name is Ms. Marshall!”
“My bar, my rules. Remember?”
“Here’s pretty much what happened, Madeline, if you’re interested. Sergeant DaSilva is going to get warrants
and subpoenas and like that; search the house, fingerprint you, and pull DNA, check you for gunpowder residue,
drag you to Newport, while he has guys go over your finances and email and, well, just tear your whole life
open. He’s already got people going over room three eighty-five, the laundry and trash chutes and the catch
bins. Then he’s going to arrest you for the murder of your husband, and the theft of his diamonds. Chances
are, if he’d waited for a week, he’d be able to add insurance fraud. Your husband’s life and his diamonds, they
had to be insured, right?”
“I didn’t even know he was dead, you bastard!”
“Really? Did you think a bullet in the head would just knock him out?” I gave her a moment to absorb it. “Bet
that shot surprised him, too. He planned it, didn’t he, Madeline? He’d be drunk, set up a hotel employee. That’
d be me, I guess. You boost the stones, vanish and reappear as the bewildered wife. Collect the insurance,
cut and sell the diamonds, and off you both go to Tahiti, or wherever. No more hard work, no more overhead in
the business, you both go for a life of ease. Not a bad plan, I guess, except he thought you might have loved
him. Bad assumption on his part.”
“Just go. If you go, I won’t sue the city or the hotel.” There wasn’t a lot of strength left in her voice.
Larry caught the change and nodded, very slightly. Go on, he meant.
“Yesterday morning, you checked in wearing a very expensive wig, makeup meant to age you a bit, a business
suit and a pair of tinted, brown contact lenses. You kept to your room, listening to the room next door, where
your husband was staying. Sometime that evening, you f followed him to the bar and tried to put the make on
me, knowing that the earliest I could get to your room was two o’clock. You watched me walk your husband to
his room, and figured that would work even better. I would either be your alibi or take the blame. You probably
didn’t follow the plan. No way he’d have wanted you seen in the same room with him.”
“Sat in the bar with my own husband? As if he wouldn’t recognize me.”
I looked at her. “Maybe, if he’d been inclined to look at women while he was away. He might have seen
something familiar in your movements or something. You know he wasn’t interested in other women. The hair,
very different clothes? English accent? Keep your back to the room and watch in the mirror, nurse your drink
or pour it out when nobody’s watching? No problem, was it?”
“Do go on. I so enjoy fairy tales.”
“Sure, Madeline.” Her stare went flat, and coldly angry.
“You followed us out, watched me walk out onto the balcony, and used the adjoining door to get into your
husband’s room. This is the really cold part. He didn’t even glance at the attractive woman every man in the
bar noticed. Me included. He must have really been in love with you. You could have just taken the
diamonds. You could have. I’d bet he was out cold, face down on the bed, still dressed. You took the bolster
off of the empty side of the bed, put it to the back of his head, and shot him with the small caliber pistol that
the police are going to find in the trash. Wonder if it was for the added insurance money.”
I could almost feel the waves of cold rage coming from her. “No? Not the insurance, I guess. I doubt you
could develop feelings for another man, so it had to be just dislike. Kick in the money as an added benefit,
then. You go to Tahiti. Alone.”
“You took the diamonds, went back to your room and waited for me to show. You were going to take me into
your bed, with only a door separating us from your dead husband, right? My prints all over your room, at least.
Either way, it worked for you. Cold, Madeline.”
I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to see her eyes, just then. I was sure that they’d be as empty of emotion as
a shark’s. “I didn’t show up. That must have surprised you a little. You did a great job of working me, but you
left your wedding ring on. The only jewelry you wore. Strange. As little as you cared for your husband, you
kept your ring on. A jeweler’s convention, and everybody wore lots of jewelry, except for you. Good taste sort
of tripped you up, a little. So I don’t help wives cheat. How could you know? But it didn’t really matter.
I still was the last person seen with your husband. He kept the diamonds in his room. Of course I’d be a
suspect. Long enough for you to switch from ‘Madeline’ to Alicia, clean up evidence, and check out.
You had the diamonds, put them in a safe at home or a safety deposit box and be the grieving widow. Not
bad. The stones go to Amsterdam or wherever, sold for half their real value, collect the insurance on them and
your husband, maybe even sue the hotel, and life begins, right?”
“You’re insane,” she said. She turned to Larry. “You’re even crazier, letting him make these silly—“
“So, Mrs. Marshall, it’s all very easy to disprove, right? We can clear this up, can’t we? We go through the
house, your finances and re-check the hotel rooms, you answer a few questions and it’s over.” She looked up
and there was a light in her eyes.
“I think for procedure’s sake, though, that we’ll just take some precautions.” He turned her to face away, and
slipped handcuffs from his belt and onto her slim, elegant wrists. She really had beautiful hands.
“You have the right to remain silent,” he began.
Detective Sergeant Larry DaSilva sat in my living room, on the couch next to his wife. They each held a glass
of white wine. Marisol sat in a chair with a wine glass filled with ginger ale and a drop of grenadine.
“The gun was in the trash compactor, like you expected. The suit you said she wore was there, too, in a
plastic bag. We found gunshot residue on the left sleeve. She left a print on the door between the rooms.”
“How about the diamonds?”
“You’ll like this. She hid them in the ice maker in the freezer. One of my techs saw that in an old movie or
“So she’s in the bag?”
“Think so. We found the wig but not the contacts. Your testimony about her in the bar and the lab should do
“She’s a cold one. Not dumb, either,” I said.
Larry turned to Marisol and raised his glass. Then did the same in my direction. “You know I had to bring you
“I guess you did.” I was smiling as I said it, but the taste in my mouth wasn’t a happy one.
Marisol caught something in my tone, and noticed that I wasn’t holding a glass. Larry’s wife turned quickly
towards me at the same time. Her expression was filled with unasked questions.
He shook his head. That was good. “I know you had to find out what happened,” I said, “you know that I can
kill, if I have to.” I didn’t like saying some of this in front of my daughter, but in a way, she needed to hear it,
“You know me, and you brought me in, anyway. You wanted the leverage. You could have had any cop do
that, and I’d have gone, so thanks for that.”
“So you understand?”
“Yeah, I get it, but Larry, friends ask friends for help. We don’t ‘leverage’ each other. Friends help when they’
re asked. I’ll help, anytime, and I don’t need the extra ‘motivation’, okay?” Use me again, anytime, but expose
my daughter to something like this again and I won’t. Clear enough?”
He looked down. “I’m a cop, Paul, with a dead guy to answer to; I’ll do what I have to, but maybe, maybe, if it
comes up again--”
“Sure,” I answered. “You brought dessert. No cherries,
just the way I like it.” I picked up my glass and raised it
to the room.
By Matthew Nunes