Located at 1023 N Main St, Cottonwood, AZ 86326
Open Sun-Thurs 12p-7p; Fri & Sat 12p-9p
Part 3 of a 5-part story called, “A Cottonwood Kill.”
The Classy Alcoholic walked into the Arizona Stronghold tasting room. It wasn’t very busy this day. There were only a few customers laughing and having a good time as they got their drinks poured by the bartenders. The Classy Alcoholic came in slowly, scanning the area. The place was stocked with wine racks and shelves displaying merchandise like t-shirts, hats and glasses with the Stronghold logo on them. There was a door in the back of the tasting room leading to a patio.
Normally he would walk up to the bar and order a wine flight but he immediately saw the person he was looking for. There was a young Hispanic guy sitting at a table with his back to the open patio door wearing a suit jacket that was a bit too big for him. He looked like he was swimming in it. He didn’t have a pocket square, which was just one step above being naked in public. There was an open bottle of wine on the table in front of him that he poured into a glass with his left hand while he kept his right one below the table. That was probably where he was keeping the gun.
The Classy Alcoholic knew this had to be Jencarlos, the person he was supposed to be meeting. The young Hispanic guy beckoned him over with his finger and a smirk on his face. The two men stared at each other for a minute. Jencarlos kept smirking like an asshole.
“Where is she?” The Classy Alcoholic broke the silence.
Jencarlos chuckled. He knew he had the upper hand because he didn’t have to talk first.
“You don’t ask me anything, kid,” he said, despite the fact that he looked ten years younger than The Classy Alcoholic with his oversized suit jacket. “You tell me who you are and what the hell you think you’re doing sticking your nose in my business.”
“They call me The Classy Alcoholic.”
Jencarlos laughed again, harder this time.
“No fucking way! That’s who you are? I know you! My niece has your poster up in her bedroom wall. She and her friends all read your stupid blog religiously. You look fatter than your picture.”
“Yeah. I know. Why you gotta bring up obvious shit?”
“Okay, now I have to know what some beer and wine blogger is doing trying to fuck up my diamond delivery. Last time I heard about you, you were getting bounced from a south Phoenix strip club on Plus-Size Lady Night. I can’t even remember the last time you wrote a blog post. Now you’re sitting across from me about to get your dumbass shot. This ain’t you. You don’t put yourself in danger except for what you do to your liver. So how did you end up here?”
Jencarlos obviously hadn’t realized that The Classy Alcoholic was in Cottonwood working with the FBI. He remembered what Lennix said to him. Jencarlos thinks small.
“Well, I’ve been writing my blog for over a year now and it’s made me immensely popular all over the internet. But I think I’ve been writing the same kind of stuff for a while. I wanted to do something different with my life and not feel stuck. At some point you have to want more, right? I’m a lot like you that way.”
“Woah, don’t talk to me like you know me, bitch.”
“I’m not saying that to piss you off. But I know a little bit about you too. I know you and your brother started out from nothing. And now the two of you are badass crime bosses. There must’ve been a point when the two of you decided you wanted things to be different?”
The Classy Alcoholic knew he had to play to Jencarlos’ ego. There were two wine glasses on the table where they were sitting. Jencarlos turned the open bottle of wine he was drinking so that he could show off the label. He poured wine into the two glasses and slid one across the table.
“Drink that shit.” The Classy Alcoholic did as he was told. He wasn’t ready to make any sudden moves. “This wine’s called Provisioner. It’s a new label from the people at AZ Stronghold. It’s cheap. Like, $10 a bottle. Everybody thinks you gotta buy expensive if you want it to be good. But if you make something good then why not make sure more people can afford it? This is wine for the people.”
The Classy Alcoholic savored the sip. He got hints of a spice on the nose and a light, crisp mouthfeel. The fruit flavor got stronger as the wine coated his palate with some more lingering spice on the finish. The dryness from the tannins was light but made itself known.
“And you’re a man of the people too, aren’t you Jencarlos?”
“I’ve always been. All those guys I grew up with didn’t go nowhere with their gas station jobs or their community college. I give them something to look up to.”
“I admire that. But something tells me you’re not really being true to yourself. I mean, that suit doesn’t look like your style. Did you pick that out?”
“Nah, my brother did. I don’t dress up in this bullshit. But Romeo says we have to have a certain look in this job. He says our image is just as important as what we do.”
“I can’t say I disagree. But that’s not for everybody. What would you wear if you could dress however you wanted?”
“Shit, I’d be sitting here in just my Batman t-shirt if I could.”
“Respect. Who’s your favorite Batman? Mine’s Kevin Conroy.”
“No fucking way! Mine too, bro!” Jencarlos actually smiled. “Hell, I wouldn’t even be sitting here if I had a choice. We’re in this town because Romeo wanted to come here. Can I tell you something? I fucking hate wine, bro. I do. It all tastes the same to me!”
The Classy Alcoholic could see the tasting room’s patio from where he was sitting. He saw Lennix peeking his head over the wooden fence in the back. He started to climb over the fence but was having a bit of trouble because he was old as shit. The Classy Alcoholic knew he had to stall a bit longer.
“I have to tell you something too, Jencarlos. I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I got word on a job out in Cottonwood and I came without thinking about it, really. I just knew I had to get out of my usual rut. I was willing to try anything as long as it was different than normal. But sitting in front of you right now is helping me realize what I really want.”
“Well…having a gun pointed at you definitely brings things into perspective right quick.”
“Cheers to that, dawg!”
The men clinked their wine glasses and took another sip. Lennix got himself over the patio fence and landed on his face. His stupid fedora flew off his head and his gun slipped out of his holster. The Classy Alcoholic could see Lennix chasing after the damn hat without realizing he dropped the gun. Sonofabitch. He had no way to warn him he was walking into the tasting room unarmed.
“So are you gonna tell me what it is you want or not?” Jencarlos asked.
“I want The Classy Lady back. I came here trying to get myself on your radar with the diamonds but I don’t care about that anymore. I thought I knew who I was but after I met her I realized I was wrong. All I want now is her.”
“I know what you’re saying, bro. It’s crazy. I think some people spend all their lives looking for something but then they don’t even realize it when they’ve found something. That make sense?”
“Yeah, actually, it kinda does.”
“Here’s the problem, though. You and this Classy Lady got up in our family’s business. And I can’t let that stand. Romeo can’t let that stand. You can’t walk away from this.”
“But you’re not Romeo. I know he’s like a criminal rock star spreading his power around the country with you standing behind him. But if I’m right about you, I know that’s not what you want for yourself. You’d rather be back in the old neighborhood with your people. In your Batman t-shirt. Let Romeo keep doing his thing and you can go off and be whoever you want to be. You can be that Provisioner wine for the people. I’ll give you the diamonds and you either turn them in or bail with them and start over from scratch. Anything you want. Just let me and The Lady go.”
Jencarlos was about to take another sip of wine. He stopped himself and looked down at the glass. He set it back down on the table and sighed. The Classy Alcoholic was getting to him. Lennix got his stupid hat on and started walking slowly into the tasting room, still not realizing he didn’t have his gun on him.
“So if I let you and The Classy Lady go you’ll give me the diamonds and disappear?”
“I can’t tell you where she is until I walk out with them though.”
“That’s fine. But I need proof that she’s alive first.” The Classy Alcoholic reached into his suit jacket pocket with his right hand and pulled out the black pouch with the diamonds inside. He held his left hand under the table and used his fingers to reach into his dress shirt cuff. He slid out the sharp, crystal stem that he had broken off of the wine glass he bought from Pillsbury Wine Company. He didn’t break eye contact as Jencarlos pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
He put the phone on speaker and laid it on the table. A familiar voice answered.
The Classy Alcoholic listened closely to the sounds coming from the other end of the call.
“Put the hot chick on the phone,” Jencarlos said.
The Classy Alcoholic could hear faint conversations in the background. Several people were talking and laughing but he couldn’t make out a word they were saying. He knew they were in a public place, though.
“I’m here,” The Classy Lady said, her voice trembling.
“Are you okay, Ms. Classy?”
Just before she answered he heard a very familiar pop on the phone. It was a cork being pulled out of a wine bottle. He’d recognize that sound anywhere.
“Of course I’m okay. I’m still super hot. I’m even hotter than when you met me earlier today.”
“Alright, that’s enough. If I don’t call back in five minutes you go ahead and kill the girl,” Jencarlos said as he grabbed the phone and ended the call.
Lennix came up from behind and grabbed Jencarlos’ shoulder.
“Hey guy, you got any change?” he said, pretending to be drunk or probably actually drunk because Lennix was usually always drunk. The Classy Alcoholic could see him reaching discreetly for his empty holster because the dumbass still didn’t realize he had dropped his gun.
Jencarlos whipped around and shoved the gun he was hiding under the table right into Lennix’s face. His other hand was still on the table, holding the cell phone.
“Get the fuck out of here, old man. You look like everybody’s creepy uncle who never gets invited to Thanksgiving.”
The Classy Alcoholic jammed the wine glass stem into Jencarlos’ hand hard enough to pierce out the other end and lodge itself into the cell phone, cracking the screen. Lennix twisted Jencarlos’ wrist and swiped the gun away before pistol-whipping him.
“Where’s The Classy Lady, you piece of shit?” he said as he jammed the gun barrel into the back of Jencarlos’ neck.
“Doesn’t matter now. The only thing that’ll keep this chick alive is a call from me. And this other idiot just fucked up my cell.”
The Classy Alcoholic grabbed Jencarlos’ phone. It was completely destroyed by the wine glass stem. He started to panic, realizing he couldn’t possibly figure out where The Classy Lady was in five minutes. He thought back to the call. Thought about the sounds he heard. Thought about what she said…
“Wait, Lennix, I think I know where she is. I heard a wine cork popping in the background when she was on the phone. And she said she was still hot. Even hotter than when I first met her.”
“I’m sure that’s true but what the hell does it have to do with anything?”
“I was at the Fire Mountain Wines tasting room when she and I met. And there’s another tasting room across the street from us for a winery called Burning Tree Cellars. She must’ve been trying to tell me she was there.”
“I hope you’re right, kid, because my agents are at least fifteen minutes away right now and I need to stay here with Jencarlos until they arrive. So you’re on your own.”
“That’s fine. I know exactly who she’s with. I think I can handle him.”
“Can I say something right quick?” Jencarlos asked. “You know I really thought you and I had a moment there for a bit. Like, we really understood each other. And then you went and did this shit. I just gotta say…you’re kind of an asshole, bro.”
“I’ll be honest, Jencarlos, I actually do feel a little bit bad about that since we bonded over Batman and everything. But you kidnapped the woman I love so you can go straight to hell.”
“Holy shit!” Lennix said. “Did you just drop the L-bomb, kid?”
The Classy Alcoholic realized what he just said. It came out so naturally that he didn’t even think to question it.
“Yeah, I guess I did. A day like this really puts everything into perspective. And now, more than ever, I know what I really want.”
“Go get your Lady back, Mr. Classy.”
The Classy Alcoholic walked out of the Arizona Stronghold tasting room and crossed the street. He headed straight toward Burning Tree Cellars and straight toward The Classy Lady.
To be continued…