by Al Drinkle
Frank had ridden through the night. The moon was lucent, the terrain rocky and an antagonising posse of some of the hardest lawmen in the West were after him. Upon their chests shone the stars of the law; on Frank's a death's head adorned by grape clusters and crossed with venencias, emblematic of the League of Outlaw Sommeliers. Frank, better known as the Cornas Kid, was the fastest corkscrew in the West.
The law's disgruntlement was piqued by the general excess of purloined goods, disemboweled adversaries, sullied glasses and empty bottles in Frank’s wake. But their primary cause for consternation and the catalyst for this tireless lunar pursuit was a precious bottle that Frank had recently acquired. It was an ancient Sercial, one of a kind and custom siphoned from a cask revered for its life-extending capacities. The cask had since been lost in a fire, and Frank had not acquired the bottle honestly. It was concealed in a guitar case outfitted for such a purpose.
The dawn broke and Frank rode on. As the heat of the July morning began to oppress, he gained confidence that he had shaken his pursuers - at least for the time being. His stalwart horse, Graach, was sensitive to the situation, but could not omit a night of sleep without consequence. Frank himself was known to forego slumber for a flagon of good Vouvray, but the night had granted him neither. The fatiguing beast beneath him and the parching of his own throat precipitated thoughts of a late-morning stop and he recalled a burgeoning settlement a few miles hence. At this time of year, liquor would be saturating its saloons and denizens alike, and its brothels would be spilling onto the streets, their boundaries blurring with those of the township. They called it Calgary, and it appeared on the horizon like a libidinous oasis.
Frank hitched Graach outside a bustling saloon curiously monikered "From the Rocks” and kicked the doors open with a force befitting his thirst. The barroom clamor hushed as the eyes of the patrons, glassy with drink, regarded the tall, darkly-attired stranger with a guitar case strapped to his back. As he impassively strode towards the bar, Frank noticed a disheveled man of wiry build, his beady eyes swimming with liquor-sickness, staring at him with discernible astonishment. He seemed vaguely familiar, but Frank could not recollect from whence. Without waiting to be asked, and in a road-weary voice that sounded as if it were conjured from the very depths of Hell, he barked his order to the barman.
"Volnay Caillerets, 1858. Leave the bottle.”
Frank's first intemperate draught coincided with the reinstating of the barroom din as even a stranger as striking as he could only hold the attention of drunkards for so long.
“Gonna be treatin’ us to some pickin’ and singin’?” sputtered an impossibly buxotic brunette to his left, bespattering him with expectorate as she continued, “it don't take much to serenade me into the ol’ horizontal.”
"Not until there's a few more coins in the jukebox,” Frank sardonically replied, knowing full well that his quip would have been eminently more effective had he saved it until such a contraption had been invented. At this, the lady fell backwards off her barstool thus fulfilling her own prophecy, only to be replaced by an albino in a sombrero. Debilitated by the man's body odour and halitosis, Frank felt the Volnay attempting to travel in the wrong direction as his new neighbour ordered a glass of Gewurztraminer. Well, he thought to himself, that explains the breath.
“I know who you are, señor,” the man whispered to Frank, as if he were attempting to draw him closer to his heinous maw with barely-audible discourse.
"Well, what of it?” Frank rejoined, attempting to handle his interest in the man with nonchalance.
"They say that you are the fastest corkscrew in the West."
"Is that so?”
“They say, señor, that you cannot be beat. I have heard tell that you once uncorked and poured an entire case of Clos de Tart before Donny de Sade even removed his capsules. This is más impresionante, señor. I have also heard that no cork crumbles under your corkscrew, no matter how ancient, and that Champagne bottles do not even whisper underneath your hand. Your reputation proceeds you, señor.”
“Precedes, in this case."
“You, señor, are the Cornas Kid, and no doubt you will want to hablar with the beady-eyed man holding up the pillar yonder.”
Frank turned to look at the bedraggled, swaying man and asked, "Why? Who is he?”
"Now,” his odiferous interlocutor continued, “he is simply known as borracho. Please do not misunderstand, we are all borracho, but he, señor, esta muy borracho. But some years ago this was not the case and a more ésplendida reputation would have proceeded him…”
“That's pre-- never mind…”
“His parents named him William Jenkins, señor, but you might know him as Billy the Nose.”
“Billy the Nose…” Frank whispered, thoughtfully. “I never would have recognized him. Besides, I heard he was dead."
“Not dead. Just borracho.”
“I once witnessed him correctly identify all the sub-parcels of the Rüdesheim mountain in empty, unwashed glasses from a tasting two weeks prior,” Frank muttered, seemingly to himself. Then turning to the pungent man, “Nobody can blind taste like Billy the Nose.”
“That may be, but these days he makes pipí inside his pantalones. Still, you will want to talk with him, señor. It is important that the Cornas Kid talks to Billy the Nose,” he said elusively, his yellow eyes twinkling as he continued, “it is muy importante that you discuss that curious guitar that you carry around…”
Frank concealed a shudder as he drained the remainder of his Volnay and motioned to the barkeep that he would cover the pungent man's bill. Before dismissing himself from the stranger's cloud of putrefaction, he extended his hand. “Much obliged, partner. Though I don’t believe I caught your name."
The man put his clammy hand in Frank's as he replied, “Just call me Oloroso, señor.”
For the first time in 3 days, Frank's mouth formed the ghost of a smile as he turned to walk away, but Oloroso was not quite finished with him yet.
“Hey Kid,” he challenged, increasing his volume, “just how fast are you, señor?!?”
Frank spun around as the bartender launched a schlegelflasche of Niersteiner Pettenthal at him. In one motion, he retrieved a corkscrew from his hip, clipped the foil off the bottle while it was still in mid-air, caught its base with his left hand as his right inserted the worm and extracted the cork, sniffed it for quality and inspected it for genuity, poured five ounces in Oloroso's glass and re-holstered his corkscrew while placing the bottle on the bar, label outwards. All this was performed in less than a second and it seemed to the onlookers as if the bottle had appeared out of thin air and the glass filled of its own volition.
Frank sauntered towards Billy the Nose who was now retching on his own boots, questioning himself as to whether stopping in Calgary was such a swell idea after all.