The dog days of summer were still barking that night. It was hotter than a New York alderman's collar on judgement night and I was just about to pack it in and go home when a long tall drink of water with legs a mile high and eyes right out of a centerfold walked into my office and all over my life. She was the sort of dame who'd never set foot within my dive, unless she had a good reason and a bodyguard or five. Her dress alone was worth my top shelf and ten times whatever's usually in the till.
"Mr. Greene?" She knew my name. Coming from a broad like that, it was either good news or bad news and I ain't the sort of guy who gets good news. "We're getting married tomorrow." She paused while she opened up her purse and started digging. "Or this weekend. Take your pick."
"Lady, I don't know you from Adam."
She pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and gave me a direct stare, the sort of smoldering look that starts wars in more Mediterranean parts of the world. While she tapped out a cigarette, I offered her a light.
"You probably know my Dad."
"I know a lot of girls' dads. What makes you so special?"
She grimaced, which on any other girl would have been ugly, but on her simply made her another kind of pretty. "Yes, that's him."
Harry Potatoes had a magical touch with hooch. He could turn the worst backyard turpentine into something that, on a good day with a stiff headwind, tasted like real booze. Even better than that—good booze. You need some Scotch, but ain't got no contacts outside of Canada? He could mix you some. And it would taste better than any knock-off you've ever had. You'd swear it was Balvennie, straight from the original casks. You want a bottle of Old No. 7? Harry could set you up toot suite and you'd never know the Fed's had shut 'em down years ago.
Magic didn't cover half of it. Hell, half the better stuff on my shelf, regardless what lineage the label declared, came from Harry Potatoes. And he never adulterated. Nobody got jake leg from Harry. Worse you could get from Harry's still was a bad headache, dry mouth and loose morals. If I didn't know better, I'd just assume he had import connections, but he didn't. He cooked it all up from scratch, or nearly so.
Unfortunately, Harry got nabbed by the G-men a few years back and he's now quartered in those fine luxury apartments at Sing Sing, doing time with rapists, murderers and various assorted choirboys. He's got a sentence that's comfortably in the three digit range.
So, why in the hooting hell do I have to get married to this broad?
Instead of answering, I raised an eyebrow at her in the universal language of get-to-the-fucking-point.
"As you know, Harry's from overseas."
"He's German. But you're not."
"I am, though. I went to school here, but never got citizenship."
"And your card is expiring."
"Yes." Without asking, she took a seat in my chair, a process which involved folding up several miles worth of leg. When she finished, she puffed a dragon's plume of smoke into the air. I looked around to see if a Hollywood director wanted to find the next Lillian Gish, but didn't see anyone.
"Why not go back to Germany? You don't have to deal with the feds, you can get booze any time you want and you're a few thousand miles closer to gay Paris. Win-win."
"Germany's a bad place to be Jewish these days. Don't you read the papers?"
"Harry's a Jew? Whodathunk." I lit my own cigarette, an off-brand not as classy as hers. Pretty sure the guy who sells 'em to me imports them from Hell, because they have a brimstone aftertaste. Might as well get used to it now because I'm probably going there sooner or later. "And what's in it for me?"
If I had to pick two words to come out of her mouth to convince me to be her green card, those were not the words I'd have picked. I'd have gone for "my yams" or "excessive nookie." This was none of those. I raised the eyebrow again. "Excuse me?"
"Dad's secret. He gave it to me before he got sent up north."
"And he's okay with you just blabbing it to any sympathetic stranger?"
She stubbed out her cigarette in my ashtray and started fishing for another.
"He's old—very old. He's not coming back. You know it, I know it and he knows it. The only way he's getting out is on a stretcher. And he knows you. He'd be happy to find out you've been keeping his secret safe. Probably."
I leaned back, inhaling the last whiff of smoke into my lungs. It tasted like a tire fire. "So?"
"You marry me—strictly platonic, mind you." Damn! "And I'll show you how Dad made his alcohol."
"I'm not in the mixing business."
"Oh, but you'll like this."
"Here, I'll show you. Get me a glass of water."
"This is a bar. The only water we have around here is for soaking mops in, sister."
She pouted, nicely. "Then the worst alcohol you have. Beer, gutter whiskey, grain alcohol, I don't care."
"One glass of Smith's Special, coming right up."
When I got back to my office, Harry's daughter was halfway through her second cigarette and was flipping through my appointment book. I pulled it from her hand and gave her the Smith's instead.
"Kid, you don't want to drink this. It'll clean you out the way borax'll clean your sink."
"No, Mr. Green. You're going to drink this. And you'll like it."
She fished something out of her purse. It looked like a stone, jade, covered with odd engravings. She dropped it into the glass of grain alcohol, which began immediately to fizz. "Name some kind of fancy liquor."
"Macallan." I narrowed my eyes as she pressed her lips against the top of her hand and whispered something. The clear fluid inside immediately misted and turned a golden brown.
She handed it to me. I sniffed it, but didn't get the aroma I was expecting. Cautiously, I took a sip, expecting a harsh weedy burn which would feel like every chemical on the periodic table having a fist-fight inside my guts. Instead, I felt a soft explosion hit the back of my throat, like a dandelion bursting in a summer breeze. My throat filled with light smoke, a touch of peet and slowly dissolved into hints of apple and leather, raisins and a million less identifiable flavors.
I nearly dropped the glass and began to swear, incredulously.
"That's what an alchemist's stone will do for you."
"You've got yourself a husband."
I took another sip of magic whiskey. It tasted like marriage.