It came as no surprise that millionaire wine merchant, Oscar O’Brien, lived in a mansion with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Castletown Bay, but I had no idea what Uncle Jimmy and I were doing in his spotless kitchen on a sunny Wednesday morning.
“I’ve been robbed.”
O’Brien reminded me of a lumberjack, with his huge build, bristly black beard, and wild hair, but he dressed in tweed like an aristocrat from the nineteenth century.
Uncle Jimmy shuffled around the kitchen, sniffing at the cupboards and the expensive glass fronted refrigerators. I followed him, ready to pick up any stray body parts.
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t know how we can help. You should contact the police.”
He swirled a tumbler of water as if he were at a wine tasting.
“My private cellar contained some unique vintages that I was looking after for a friend. Very special wine, not made for human consumption, if I make myself clear. My associates would be very displeased if they discovered these bottles were no longer in my possession.”
Despite being a carer for my living challenged uncle, the amount of paranormal activity in Castletown still amazed me.
Uncle Jimmy mumbled as he pawed at a whole Iberico ham visible through the fridge door, leaving greasy stains on the glass that I tried to clean off with my sleeve.
“My uncle wants to know why you contacted us. Don’t you have security to help you with this matter?”
He scratched his beard.
“I need the wine found fast, and I remember Danvers recommending you. He said you were discreet. I need discreet. If anyone knew that wine was gone, or it found its way onto the black market…”
He shuddered, and water sloshed out of the glass as his hands trembled. He set the glass down on the marble countertop of the island that dominated the center of the room.
Danvers, one of the high elves. Uncle Jimmy and I had encountered him a couple of times. So O’Brien was smuggling fairy wine. A dangerous business.
Uncle Jimmy made a noise like an owl regurgitating a pellet. When he hadn’t eaten fresh meat for a few days his muscles seized up and talking became especially difficult. I’d become proficient at deciphering his speech and translating for his clients.
“We’ll need a list of employees and family members who had access to the wine cellar within the last twenty-four hours in order to identify the culprit.”
Mister O’Brien shook his large head.
“Oh, I know who robbed me. It was Mossy, my clurichaun.”
My ignorance of the term must have been clear, as O’Brien wasted no time in explaining it to me.
“My house elf, in charge of the wine cellar. I thought you were supposed to be an expert on these things. He vanished this morning, along with my wine.”
Uncle Jimmy stumbled into one of the ebony doors recessed in the tiled wall and clawed at the wood.
“What’s he doing now?”
O’Brien hovered around my uncle, his fists clenched, and his face twisted with disgust.
Even I found my uncle’s words incomprehensible, but I tried to hide it, along with a couple of his fingernails that scattered to the tiled floor as he scratched at the hard wood. I hurriedly collected them and slipped them into my pocket.
“My uncle needs to investigate.”
O’Brien huffed and produced a ring of tiny golden keys attached to a fob chain from the smallest pocket of his green herringbone waistcoat.
“You can look at the wine cellar if you want, but it has been cleared out.”
He unlocked the door and Uncle Jimmy fell down the dark stairs beyond. I raced after him, ready to pick up the scattered body parts at the end of the staircase.
Uncle Jimmy reached the wine cellar surprisingly intact. The space was larger than most houses I’d lived in, pleasantly cool, and tastefully lit with bronze shaded light fittings. The bare brick walls and wooden flooring would have looked at home in a speakeasy. It seemed O’Brien had been truthful, not even a speck of dust remained on the empty shelves that filled the cellar.
Snorting so loudly I thought his nose was going to fall off, Uncle Jimmy wandered over to a row of large barrels that lined one wall.
“They’re empty too.”
O’Brien stood at the midpoint of the stairs and surveyed the cellar with tears in his eyes.
Uncle Jimmy pounded on the front of one of the barrels until a small square hatch opened above the tap. I saw something moving inside the barrel and heard a squeaky voice cry out.
“Hooray! I’ve been saved.”
I ran over to the barrel and helped Uncle Jimmy pull out a tiny old man, who was bound at the wrists and ankles with stout rope. He had a round, wrinkled face that reminded me of an old, dried up apple, and he wore a tattered brown suit with a red knitted cap covering most of his head.
“Are you all right? How did you end up in the barrel?”
I propped the little man against the barrel and untied the ropes as quickly as I could.
“I am now, thank you, lad. You wouldn’t have anything to drink on you? I’m a mite thirsty after spending all night locked up.”
“Mossy, you traitor.”
O’Brien bellowed as he leapt down the rest of the stairs and charged across the cellar towards us. Uncle Jimmy opportunely stumbled into the path of the irate wine merchant, and O’Brien reeled back, huffing like a bull as his face turned bright red.
“Apple man. Slurpy slurpy.”
Uncle Jimmy mimed drinking and pointed at the little man massaging the circulation back into his wrists beside me, and I slowly put together the puzzle.
“You’re Mister O’Brien’s clurichaun.”
The little man nodded. He smacked his lips together and pulled a face.
“Aye, I’m a clurichaun all right, but I don’t belong to no one. How about that drink, lad? I’m awful parched.”
“What have you done with my wine, you thief? I’ll see you turned into a wine skin for stealing from me.”
O’Brien shouted at Mossy, but he seemed too afraid of getting corpse grease on his fine clothes to push aside Uncle Jimmy and accost the clurichaun face to face.
“Oh no, I didn’t take anything from you. Sure, why would I, when I’d this fine cellar to live in and as much wine to drink as could fill me belly for a lifetime? No, t’was my no-good cousin, Padeen the leprechaun, who took your wine.”
O’Brien threw his hands in the air and then started tearing at his clothes.
“I’m a dead man. Once Manders finds out I’ve lost his wine, he’ll make me into a wine skin.”
The color drained out of Mossy’s swollen, beet red nose.
“Manders you say? You had his wine in your cellar? Oh, we’re all as good as kilt.”
Uncle Jimmy groaned and slowly clambered up the stairs back to the kitchen. I’d never seen my uncle abandon a case before, but I followed him, ready to help if he fell and dislodged a limb.
Mossy called after me, his words almost lost beneath O’Brien’s cries.
“Wait for me, lad. No need us all becoming wine skins.”
The clurichaun moved surprisingly fast, for being tied up overnight in a barrel and looking like it’d been a while since he saw south of one hundred. He rushed to the back door as soon as we reached the kitchen and looked out the windows that flanked it to the courtyard beyond.
“Where’s your car, lad? I hope you drive fast.”
Uncle Jimmy didn’t appear to be leaving, however. He wandered over to a shelving unit near the breakfast table and pulled out a leather handbag. He groaned as he rummaged through its contents, discarding the unwanted items on the floor.
“No time for makeup, my zombie friend. Let’s get away from here, and preferably go somewhere that we can wet our whistles.”
I folded my arms and glared at Mossy.
“He’s working the case. What’s the difference between a clurichaun and a leprechaun anyway?”
Mossy steepled his twisted, brown branches that passed for fingers and looked up at me from under his bushy grey brows.
“It’s a matter of vocation, lad. Me leprechaun cousins devote themselves to the gold, while clurichauns like me live for the drink.”
I nodded. It made sense, in a strange way.
Uncle Jimmy grunted in triumph and plucked something small and round from the handbag. Holding his trophy high, he staggered over to the island in the center of the room. He fell against the marble counter. I heard him moan, followed by a clinking sound. Terrified his teeth had fallen out into Mister O’Brien’s glass, I rushed over to him. However, instead of molars and incisors floating in the pure water, I found a small compact mirror resting at an angle inside the tumbler.
I stood back while my uncle clumsily batted the glass across the smooth surface. While I was totally at a loss about what Uncle Jimmy was doing, Mossy crowed and clapped his hands enthusiastically.
“Oh you’re a genius, Mister Zombie. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Before I could ask him what he wished he’d thought of, Uncle Jimmy stood back from the counter with the approximation of a smile on his stiff lips. He gestured to the white tiled wall on the other side of the room.
Sunlight reflected off the mirror in the glass, and refracted by the water, produced a faint rainbow of colors across the blank wall.
Uncle Jimmy shuffled across the room to the point on the wall where the colors stopped.
Mossy laughed and hurried after him.
“You’ll always find a leprechaun at rainbows end.”
I didn’t know what to expect, but I followed Uncle Jimmy and the clurichaun towards the wall. They seemed confident that something was going to happen, so who was I to say otherwise? The room grew fuzzy around me as soon as I touched the wall, and in the blink of an eye I was no longer in a huge kitchen with windows overlooking the sea, but a tiny underground sitting room, with tree roots tangled in my hair.
The small space was rendered even smaller by hundreds of wine bottles, a good portion of which were already empty, and sitting among all the drink was an apple faced man, who could have been Mossy’s twin apart from the green knitted cap upon his head.
Uncle Jimmy lunged at the little man with a snarl, but I held him back, and Mossy ran around us and pulled the wine bottle from the leprechaun’s hand.
The leprechaun had the decency to look scared.
“Mosseen, what are you doing here, and who are your friends?”
The clurichaun cuffed his cousin across the head, knocking off his hat and revealing a shiny bald pate.
“Do you know who you’ve stolen from, you eejit?”
Padeen shrugged. “Sure, t’was only a few bottles. A man like that will fill his cellar again in no time.”
Mossy waved his hands at the bottles crammed into every available space around us.
“You’ve only gone and taken from Manders himself. O’Brien was keeping some bottles safe for him. You know what that means? There’s no place in this realm or any other for you to hide.”
Padeen turned a suitable shade of green.
“I didn’t know. I’ll return it all. He mustn’t find out.”
Uncle Jimmy growled and fumbled at the nearest wall of wine bottles.
“Home now, Cory.”
It took us several hours to transport the wine from Padeen’s home back to O’Brien’s wine cellar. I think the leprechaun was holding out on us, because there was no way he’d stolen all the bottles in one night by himself without magic.
“That’s the last one.”
O’Brien produced an old-fashioned cloth handkerchief and mopped his brow.
“I have to hand it to you, Dead Jimmy, you’re as good as they say.”
Uncle Jimmy lunged towards Padeen, who stood in a loose circle between me and Mossy. The snarl on my uncle’s face could only be interpreted in one way. I’m sure many hamburgers had seen the same expression on my face before I devoured them.
O’Brien grabbed the leprechaun by the scruff of his neck and held him out of Uncle Jimmy’s reach. Although my uncle was a tall man, O’Brien was even taller, with sizeable girth to match his height.
Uncle Jimmy gurgled, black saliva dribbling down his chin.
The wine merchant shook his head.
“I’ve other plans for this little fellow.”
Padeen gulped, and I felt for the leprechaun. Mossy ran over to O’Brien and kicked him in the shin. I’m sure a butterfly had as much chance of knocking over a redwood.
“Leave him alone, you big oaf. He’s returned everything he took, bar a few of the cheaper bottles.”
White teeth flashed in the dark depths of O’Brien’s beard.
“You misunderstand me. Padeen, I wish to offer you a position on my staff. Any being who can get past my security systems and clear out my entire cellar under Mossy’s nose is better working for me than against me. What do you say?”
Padeen still looked pale, but his eyes had regained their sparkle.
“I’d been thinking of a change of vocation. I’ve lost the love for the gold, and I always thought red suited me.”
Uncle Jimmy’s shoulders sagged, and he turned away from O’Brien and the clurichauns with a groan.
“So hungry, Cory.”
I patted him on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Jimmy. I’m sure we’ll pick up some fresh roadkill on the way home.”