HIRSCH BOURBON JEFFERSON RESERVE BOURBON
Wasabi Chicken Tacos w/ Crunchy Slaw, Ginger Thai Sauce
I was at the Penny with Mark. I seem to have lost my sheet of 69 drinks. What can you expect when a project involves this much drinking? I was momentarily panicked; I was only six drinks in, but I didn’t really want to go back and have to drink those six again. I explained this to Josh, our server. He went to the cash register, rooted around on the shelf and brought back a loose-leaf notebook that was filled with plastic page inserts, each one with several annotated lists of the 69 drinks. “This is where we keep the sheets,” Josh said. “That way you guys can’t lose them.”
No one told me, was my first thought. My second was that I could see hundreds of lists with notations in the notebook. Each must have belonged to a drinker who thought he or she could make it through all 69. Or hoped they could. And from the number (few) of plaques on the wall, it was clear that the vast majority of those attempting did not make it to the end of the quest. The notebook was a record of broken dreams. I elected to keep my list in my wallet, just as soon as I could find it.
I told Josh to pick a couple of bourbons for me to try. I was getting tired of Scotch. I don’t know why that was; I often go on jags at home and drink nothing but one type of liquor over a period of weeks or months. Often it’s Scotch. But now I felt the urge to move on. I hoped this was not some sort of harbinger as I had eight more bottles of Scotch to work my way through.
Josh brought me a Hirsch from the Mictar brewery and a Jefferson’s Reserve. I tried the Hirsch first and found it possibly the most elegant bourbon I have ever tasted. Thick, sweet, with oaky notes from the barrel it had been housed in. God, I was starting to sound like one of those pretentious taster guys that I really don’t like.
I polished off the Hirsch over the next 20 minutes or so. During which time I told Mark about my nocturnal wandering and the light beneath the floorboards. He came up with the same possibilities that I had already considered – the inspector, the plumber, the guy who lived there before me, nothing new. Neither of us was taking the phenomena seriously. I thought about ordering a basket of chicken wings, but it seemed somehow a dishonor to the fabulous bourbon that I’d just had. I tried the Jefferson’s.
Completely different. Almost all of the drinks I’d tasted had been sweet, and this was just the opposite, though if the opposite of sweet is sour, then this was not that. I can’t even describe it, other than it had a pleasant mouth and throat burn. For the first time I thought about going back and ordering it again, though that seemed like a total waste of my drinking time. Stick to the list; check them off one by one; no repeats.
I had been downstairs every night wandering around, as usual, in the week since I noticed the light coming through the cracks in the floor. I had not mentioned any of this to Sherry. She has an active imagination and is quick to spot troubles, both large and small, real and imagined. I’m sure she would say the cracks are the source of the dank odors she often smells in her office, emanations from the crawl space. I poo-pooed these smells when she first brought them up, but she’s probably right. The solutions for this, a common crawlspace problem, (the odors) are few, difficult and expensive. I’d rather pretend they don’t exist.
It was approaching fall outside and the old house stayed around 68 degrees, day and night. Unable to sleep, I went downstairs. I’m not sure if it was the possibility of the weird light thing that was keeping me awake or the number of espressos I’d had over the course of the day.
It was dark in the house, except for the streetlight outside and the plethora of small LEDs that indicate that there is something nearby that is drawing a tiny bit of electricity. I believe these LEDs are called electricity vampires, and the Internet is always counseling users to turn them off, thereby saving significant amounts of money. It seemed like too much trouble to me; besides they threw enough light to help me navigate in the dark.
I decided to get down on the floor where the cracks were to see if I could make out anything unusual. No lights. It was cool on the floor, not particularly uncomfortable, so I turned my head and rested my cheek on the hundred and fifty-year-old- boards. Sometime in the past, they had been painted a deep brown; now the paint was worn away, leaving bare dark wood behind. I could smell the faint odor of dank earth from the crawl space and the even fainter odor of dog urine. The former owner had a pit bull and a corgi, neither of which must have been very well trained. I was a tiny bit worried about falling asleep on the floor and having Sherry come down in the morning and find me sprawled there. She would assume I had a heart attack and when I woke up and told her I wasn’t dead she would want to know what I was doing sleeping on the floor. There were really no good answers.
That’s when I heard the sound of digging. My ear was pressed to the crack, and it was very faint, but it was definitely digging. I strained all my senses. Yes, digging. I pushed to my feet, dizzy for a minute from standing so quickly. What to do? Turn on the light? I could no longer hear anything now that I was standing up. I thought about getting back down on the floor and listening again, but I was, I admit it, unnerved.
I went back upstairs and climbed into bed. It took awhile to fall asleep. After ten minutes I convinced myself that it had been some sort of aural hallucination. Surely there was an explanation.
The next day I waved to Mark who was in his back yard building a fenced-in garden, a project he’d been working on for some weeks. I brought him into the house, into Sherry’s office and pointed at the floor. Sherry was out somewhere doing good works.
I explained that I had been up wandering around the house in the night again.
“This is where you saw the mystery light?”
“Yes, but there’s something else.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Digging,” I said. “I could hear something digging.”
He looked from me to the floor then back again to me. “Is that unusual? It’s a crawl space. Who knows what sort of critters are living under there.”
I shook my head. “When we moved in there was evidence something had been rooting around under there. It had torn off the insulation on one of the ducts. I called a pest control guy and he said it was probably a squirrel and that I should seal up the ventilation holes in the brick foundation. I bought wire mesh, cut it to size and screwed it into the mortar. While I was doing this I made a lot of banging noises under the house. If there were any squirrels, they beat feet. There are no critters, or at least no critters of any size, under there. Granted, I didn’t go very far in.”
“How about termites? If you’ve got an infestation you can hear them chewing on the wood when it’s quiet.”
“This was not chewing, this was digging. Besides, I thought of that. I had a termite guy come over and check it out. No termites. Anyway, I know what an animal digging in the ground sounds like. They scratch. This was different. This sounded like someone using a blade, maybe a shovel, maybe a trowel, hell, I don’t know, maybe a knife, digging into the ground.”
Mark looked at me with a mix of emotions: amusement, worry, disbelief, exasperation. “Someone?” he said. “You said ‘someone using a blade.’” His eyebrows were raised.
I shook my head. “I didn’t mean someone. Not ‘someone.’ Something?”
It was his turn to shake his head. Now he just looked exasperated. “Something? A squirrel with a shovel? A possum with a hand trowel? You know what you have to do, you have to crawl under there and see what’s going on.”
We both contemplated that unwelcome task.
“No way, I can’t even get the cable guy to go under there. This is all probably my imagination.”
“So you’re going to just forget about it? The light, the sound of digging?”
“Go get a flashlight,” he said. “We’re going to look under there.”