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The Bourbon Thief, Page 2

Tiffany Reisz

  “Got married, yes, but he never got over it. All the McQueens are heathens now, but I do consider this room my little sanctuary. Every man needs one.” He took a bottle out of the cabinet and handed it to her.

  “This is it?” she asked, cradling the bottle carefully in her hands.

  “That’s it. You ordered Red Thread at the bar tonight. That, my dear, is the first bottle of Red Thread ever distilled, ever bottled, ever-ever.”

  “How did you come by this bottle?”

  “Private sale. One million dollars. The provenance is perfect. Virginia Maddox herself sold it shortly before she died to pay her medical bills. One of a kind.”

  “No wonder you won’t sell it,” she said.

  “Not for all the money in the world. This is the holy grail of bourbon. You don’t sell the holy grail.”

  “Unholy grail,” she said under her breath, but not so far under he didn’t hear it.

  Her eyes softened as she touched the red ribbon tied around the bottle’s neck. It was a tattered old thing.

  “It’s a miracle that thing has stayed on there,” McQueen said. “Piece of ribbon from the 1860s.”

  “Slave cloth,” Paris said.


  “The ribbon was cut from slave cloth. Thick wool. Slave cloth was made to last a long time. Slaves didn’t get new clothes very often. What they had had to last, had to hold up to hard work and many years. The girl who wore this ribbon? This was probably the only nice thing she had, the only thing she thought of as hers.”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that ribbon... I didn’t know that part of the story, that the ribbon came from a Maddox slave.”

  “Now you know.”

  “You ordered Red Thread at The Rickhouse. But you would have been a baby when Red Thread burned down. What exactly is your interest in it?”

  “It interests me for many reasons. But here, you can’t trust me with that bottle. I might drop it. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”

  She passed the bottle back to McQueen. He put it carefully back into the cabinet. When he turned around, Paris was halfway to the door.

  “You aren’t leaving, are you?” he asked.

  “Leaving for the bedroom,” she said.

  “So I did impress you?”

  “You have a fine collection,” she said. “I only wish it were mine.”

  McQueen followed her to the concealed door and started to open it for her. With his hand on the knob he looked her up and down and into her eyes.

  “Who are you really?” he asked.

  “You don’t want to know.”

  “Why not?”

  “I told you why. The truth is like bourbon—it’ll burn going down.”

  “I want to burn.”

  She kissed him, hard enough McQueen forgot about finding out anything else about her except how to make her come again. And after he’d solved that mystery, he fell fast asleep, one arm over her naked stomach, one leg over her leg, his favorite way to fall asleep.

  * * *

  When McQueen woke up, he was alone, and Paris had left nothing behind but the scent of her skin on his sheets and her red hair ribbon on his pillow.

  Red ribbon?

  Hell on earth, he was a first-rate fool.

  McQueen pulled on his pants and shirt and ran to the room behind the bookcase.

  Too late. She was gone.

  So was his million-dollar bottle of Red Thread.


  McQueen slammed his hand down onto the intercom button and ordered his night shift security guard to lock the gates.

  “Already done,” James answered. “Someone tried to get out without the gate code. She’s in my office. I was about to come wake you up, boss.”

  He should have been relieved, but he seethed instead, his shoulders tense with his fury, and he nearly wrenched the door off the hinges when he entered the security guard’s small shed. Paris sat primly on a small folding chair, her legs crossed at the ankles, her black Birkin bag in her lap.

  “Give us a minute,” McQueen said to the guard.

  “Do I need to call the cops?”

  “Not yet. I want to hear her story first. Then we’ll call them.”

  James left him alone in the shed with Paris. She looked up at him placidly.

  “Are all your servants black?” she asked, nodding at the door that James had closed behind him.

  “They’re not servants. They’re employees. And no. My housekeeper is white. The security guard who works the day shift is from Mexico.”

  “The United Colors of Yes-Men.”

  “And yes-women,” McQueen said. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the door. “You’re good. You wore me out, and when I slept...”

  “I’m not good. You’re easy.”

  “Am I?”

  “Interview in the June 2014 Architectural Digest with billionaire investor Cooper McQueen. ‘What do you like to read, Mr. McQueen?’ the fawning interviewer asked you. ‘What keeps Cooper McQueen up all night?’ And you replied—”

  “Raymond Chandler.”

  “Because, as you said in the interview, ‘I’m a sucker for a femme fatale. Give me a girl with a black heart in a red dress and I’m a goner.’”

  “You thought you could seduce me because I read Chandler?”

  “And your last girlfriend was a dark-skinned Knicks City Dancer from Puerto Rico, so I knew I had a very good shot at you. I’m your type, aren’t I?”

  “I don’t have a fetish for dark-skinned women, if that’s what you’re implying.”

  “I wasn’t implying anything, but you immediately seemed to think it was what I was implying. Methinks the billionaire doth protest too much.”

  “Of all the bars in all the walked into mine to steal my bourbon. You know, stealing something worth a million dollars is a felony.”

  “I know. But I won’t call the police on you if you don’t call the police on me.”

  “I didn’t steal it.”

  “You bought stolen goods. Also a felony.”

  “That bottle wasn’t stolen.”

  “I know it was.”

  “I told you, Virginia Maddox sold it—”

  “It didn’t belong to Virginia Maddox. You can’t sell what you don’t own. And I was happy to buy it from you and avoid an unpleasant legal battle, but as you refused to sell it, I had no choice but to repossess it,” she said with the slightest sinister hiss.

  “How do you know all this? How do you know everything you think you know about Red Thread?”

  “I am Red Thread,” Paris said with the slightest sigh like she was admitting to a bad habit.

  “Red Thread is dead.”

  “A nice rhyme. You should have been a poet.” She raised her chin toward the filing cabinet. On top of it sat the bottle. “Look at it. Read the label. Tell me what it says.”

  McQueen knew what the label said, but he took the bottle anyway and held it label side up toward the light.

  The label was faded and yellowed, close to peeling. It was a hundred and fifty years old, after all. The font was an elegant script that said “Red Thread—Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Beneath those words it read “Distilled and bottled—Frankfort, Kentucky.” And underneath that in tiny script he read, “‘Owned and operated by the Maddox family, 1866.’”

  “There we go,” Paris said.

  “Where do we go?”

  “Owned by the Maddox family.”

  “You aren’t the Maddox family.”

  “Are you saying that because they were white and I’m not?”

  “I’m saying that because I’ve looked for the Maddox family for years, and I haven’t found a single one of them, by blood or by marriage, who had anything to do with Red Thread. The whole Kentucky line died or disappeared after the distillery burned.”

  “Why did you look for us?”

  “First of all, I don’t believe you are a Maddox. You’re going to have to show me some proof.”

  “You’re holding the proof in your hands. One hundred proof.”


  “Oh, yes,” she said with an exaggerated Southern drawl. “I’m a card. Why were you looking for us?” she asked again.

  “I wanted to buy Red Thread. What’s left of it. I’ve been wanting to open my own distillery for years. Red Thread is part of Kentucky history. I’d like to be part of Kentucky’s present.”

  “Some things are better off history.”

  “Bourbon isn’t one of them.”

  “It’s too late anyway, Mr. McQueen. Someone else beat you to it.”

  “Beat me to what? Buying Red Thread?”

  “Reopening the distillery. Under a new name, of course. And under new management.”

  McQueen understood at once.

  “You,” he said. “You’re Moonshine, Ltd.? I tried to contact you.”

  “That’s my company, yes.”

  “You own the old Red Thread property?”

  “Owner, operator and master distiller.”


  “You don’t think a woman can be a master distiller? I have my PhD in chemistry. You can call me Dr. Paris if that sort of thing turns you on.”

  “I get it,” McQueen said, nodding. “I do. This is the first ever bottle of Red Thread, the original bottle. Part of the company’s history and you want it because you own Red Thread now. Makes sense. I’m even sympathetic. I might even have loaned it to you to put on display when the company reopens for business. But now you’ve pissed me off. And if you don’t tell me one very good reason why I shouldn’t call the police, I’m picking up the phone in three seconds. Three...two...”

  “I can tell you what happened to Red Thread,” she said. “I can tell you the whole story. The whole truth.”


  That got his attention.

  “You know why it burned down?”

  “I know everything. But if I were you, I wouldn’t ask. By the time I’m done telling you the story, you’ll hand over that bottle with your compliments and an apology.”

  “Must be one hell of a story, then.”

  “It’s what brought me here, the story.”

  “Your story?”

  “My story. I inherited it.”

  “I think I’d rather inherit money than a story.”

  “I have that, too, not entirely by my choice.”

  “You don’t want to be rich?”

  “God favors the poor. But don’t tell rich people that. It’ll hurt their little feelings.”

  McQueen sighed and sat back. He buttoned the middle buttons of his shirt, crossed his leg over his knee. He should call the cops. Why hadn’t he called the cops? Embarrassed he’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book? Beautiful woman in red goes home with him, fucks him and robs him while he sleeps. He could laugh at himself, but he wouldn’t let anyone else laugh at him. Yes, he could call the cops.


  “They call bourbon the honest spirit,” he said. “You know why?”

  “You aren’t legally allowed to flavor it with anything. Water, corn, barley, rye and that’s it. You see what you get. You get what you see. No artificial colors. No artificial sweeteners. No artificial nothing.”

  “Right. So let’s drink a little honesty, shall we?”

  “If you’re buying,” she said.

  “I’m always buying.”

  He picked up the bottle and slipped it into his pants pocket. He opened the door of the security shed and Paris stepped out into the warm night air. Almost 2:00 a.m., he should be in bed now. He’d hoped to be in bed with her. One of these days he’d learn. Not today apparently.

  “Boss?” James asked, dropping his cigarette on the ground and crushing it under his boot.

  “A misunderstanding.” McQueen had his hand on the small of Paris’s back. “Don’t worry about it.”

  “Got it. Sleep well, Mr. McQueen.”

  As they walked back into the house and up to his drinking closet, McQueen considered the possibility that he might be making the worst mistake of his life.

  “Sit.” McQueen pointed at the jade sofa and Paris sat without a word of protest.

  McQueen took the key from the silver bowl and put the bottle of Red Thread back into the cabinet.

  “I shouldn’t have trusted you.” McQueen locked the cabinet and slipped the key into his pocket.

  “You’re a rich white man. Not your fault for assuming the entire world is on your side. It must seem like it most days. Usually you’d be right, but times, Mr. McQueen, are a-changing.”

  “That sounds like a threat.”

  “Sounds like Bob Dylan to me.”

  He needed a drink, a stiff one, so he poured each of them a shot. The entire time he kept an eye on her as he unscrewed the cap and measured out the bourbon. Now she seemed calm, but it wasn’t the calm of surrender. This was a cat’s version of calm. A calm that could turn into an attack or a run in an instant.

  When she had her shot in hand and he had his, he lifted it in a toast, a toast she didn’t return. Instead, she merely sipped her bourbon.

  “Pappy’s?” she asked.

  “It is. You have a good palate.”

  “You can taste the leather in it.”

  He couldn’t, but it impressed him she could.

  “You weren’t exaggerating. You do know your bourbon,” he said.

  “They used to say that about the Maddoxes,” she said. “Ever since Jacob Maddox started the distillery and made himself a wealthy man in five years...they said it about all of us—the Maddoxes have bourbon in their blood.”

  “I’ve seen the Maddox family tree. There is no Paris on it.”

  “Perhaps you were looking at the wrong branches,” she said coldly.

  His words had hit a sensitive spot and her eyes flashed in a familiar way. It was not his first encounter with her sensitive places, after all.