In the fall of 2000, my father invited his friend over. The goal of the evening: to crack into a bottle of 25 year-old Guatemalan rum my father had been saving for a special occasion. My father’s friend was quite the Central American rum aficionado – this was occasion enough.
The friend arrived, and my father opened the liquor cabinet. The liquor cabinet was, itself, a handsome piece of furniture, also from Guatemala. Blond wood and beautifully carved, it exhaled a sweet cedar scent each time it was opened. My father brought out the prized bottle of rum and cracked the seal, noting that it opened rather easily. He poured his friend a tumblerful and watched his reaction carefully.
“Mmm,” said the friend.
My father was surprised; he had expected more. He took a sip himself.
The 25 year-old Guatemalan rum had been replaced by water.
WHO DRANK MY FATHER’S VINTAGE RUM?
THE SCENE: The living room at 522 Afternoon Circle, Crystal River, FL.
THE MOTIVE: Undetermined.
THE PRIMARY SUSPECTS: Myself, Diego, and Hans – the German exchange student who lived with my family from 1998 t0 1999; the first year I was away at NYU.
The hot white light was snapped on. At the time, only Diego and myself were available for interrogation, as Hans was back in Germany.
“It wasn’t me,” said Diego. “I wouldn’t do that. It was E and her friends, before they left for college!”
“You’re kidding me,” I said. “Koko and Greta? The most the three of us ever managed in high school was a sip of Peach Schnapps or a shot of Kahlua. It was you and your bruce friends! You’re the ones who had the parties when mom and dad left town!”
Stalemate; no confession, and the matter was dropped, only to rise again from time to time when our father reminisced. Each time, each succeeding year, the denials grew more furious. Come on, puto. It’s been five years. Don’t you think I’d have confessed by now? You’re protecting someone. I don’t know who, but you’re hiding something. Five years. Six years. Seven years, and Diego and I were both adults. Surely, we would no longer care if our parents knew. Yet; eight, nine, and then ten years passed with still no confession.
“Maybe it was Jane,” says our father from time to time. Jane was the woman who came in to clean.
“No,” says our mother. “Jane was honest. And why, of all things, would she go for the 25 year-old Guatemalan rum?”
“Maybe it was Hans,” says our father. “He was alone in the house sometimes.”
It always seemed highly unlikely to me that Hans was the culprit. I remembered him as a remarkably polite young man – the German Shepherd to my brother’s Italian Stallion. I simply couldn’t imagine him being so disrespectful as to break into my father’s liquor cabinet and then, so devious as to replace the rum with water. What would a teenage boy want with vintage rum? What would any of us have wanted with it? But it was just a theory, developed because my brother wouldn’t confess and neither would I. BECAUSE IT WASN’T ME.
I visited Hans in Germany last week – a much needed treat after the pressure of term papers and the excitement of our book launch. It was the first time I (or anyone in my family) had seen him in eight years.
“Ask him about the rum,” said Koko.
“Yeah,” said Diego. “Maybe he’ll get you two to confess.”
“Or maybe he’ll just tell me the intricate details of your heist,” I said. “I’ve been waiting so long to hear how you pulled it off.”
When I saw Hans at Frankfurt Hahn, it was as if time had stood still. The last time I saw him, he was a teenager, teaching me swearwords in German. Now he is a lawyer, a married man, and the father of an adorable little girl. He lives in a lovely light-flooded apartment filled with fresh flowers and family photographs. And yet, the same old Hans.
“Funny stories about teenage Hans, please,” said Hans’s wife, Marie, over glasses of sparkling wine. Where to start? The time underage Hans and Diego nagged me to buy them a dirty magazine only to find them waiting with a camera as soon as I stepped out of the West 4th street porn shop? The time my mother commissioned them to perform in her community theater revue? Or how about… the Mystery of the 25 year-old Guatemalan Rum?
“It wasn’t me,” said Hans. “I hate rum! And I would never have been so rude to your parents; they were good to me.”
“I know you wouldn’t have,” I said. “But Diego is so convinced that it was me and he won’t confess.”
“I don’t think it was him, either,” said Hans. “Your brother was also not so disrespectful. And your father was so nice; if we had asked, he would have let us try it.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But then who? One of Diego’s friends? Maybe when he wasn’t around so he didn’t know about it?”
“Maybe. But I think most of them weren’t so rude, either.”
“And,” added Marie. “If the whole bottle was gone, the person didn’t drink it all at once. They must have put the rum into another container and just stolen it.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Wow. But who would have had the nerve to pull that off?”
“Maybe it was Diego’s friend, Dom,” said Hans. “He was always good at doing stuff like that.”
THE UPDATED THEORY: The 25 year-old Guatemalan rum was drunk by one of Diego’s bruce friends at a time when Diego wasn’t present.
THE PRIME SUSPECT: Diego’s friend, Dom.
DOM’S RAP SHEET: Drinking most of a gallon of milk, curdling the dregs, bringing it to the supermarket and demanding a refund. Driving to pizza delivery places and claiming to be “Jim” or “Richard” – where was his already-paid-for pizza?
“Maybe,” said Diego. “Maybe.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “It makes perfect sense. Dom. In the living room. With the Guatemalan rum.”
“Maybe,” said Diego. “Maybe. You might have something there.”
“So ask him.”
I hung up the phone and brooded over the facts. Were they even facts – or merely the conjectures of several people, tainted by the passing of time?
After returning to Ireland, I settled down to a chat with my cousin, Isabel. Isabel is five years older than me. She did her undergrad at the University of Florida and often visited our family in Crystal River on weekends. She had met Hans and Diego’s bruce friends several times so I filled her in on the latest attempt at solving the mystery.
“Ha ha,” she said. “You asked Hans about the famous rum? That’s funny. Maybe it was that Dom guy. Or what about Koko’s brother, Wayne?”
As Isabel laughed, I began to wonder. We had long ruled her out as a suspect because she usually came to Crystal River too hungover to lift a finger, let alone mastermind the pilfering of vintage rum. But had we been too remiss in dismissing this particular player?
IN AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY, EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT.
Was the rum thief actually Isabel? Was it Dom when Diego wasn’t looking? Koko and Greta when I wasn’t looking? (pfff) Diego and Hans in it together? Or maybe some of their other friends – Biff? Mac? Wayne? Jane?
EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT.
“I told you,” said Isabel. “It was Posey. Your hundred year-old cat.”
NO ONE ESCAPES SCRUTINY.
Confess. Confess. Confess!!!
… Or maybe it was YOU.