Family Mysteries

It was early afternoon on Sunday and Floggin’ Brews was pretty quiet.  It was the fifth Sunday of the month, so there weren’t any munches scheduled.  And we don’t serve food, so we don’t get much of a lunch crowd, especially on Sundays.  But a few people usually wander in after lunch to enjoy a better beverage than they could get elsewhere.   I had opened the bar by myself, and Mikhel was scheduled to come in later.

It took me a moment to recognize Mikhel’s Aunt Grete when she walked in.  I’d last seen her several months ago when she was here with her bookclub – an event that was memorable because one of the participants had taken it into her head that justice required her to end Boss’ imprisonment.

Aunt Grete looked around as she headed to the bar and perched on a chair at the very end.  I greeted her with a big smile.  “Good afternoon!  I’m Ret.  You’re Mikhel’s aunt, aren’t you?  Is it Ms. Kivi?”

She looked relieved that she didn’t have to explain herself.  “Yes, I am.  And no, it’s Ms. Kask.  But just call me Grete, dear.  Is Mikhel around?”

“No, but he’s due to arrive soon.  May I get you something while you wait?”

Aunt Grete looked dubiously at the beer menu on the nearest iPad. “I don’t suppose you have any Kännu Kukk?” 

I blinked at that, and had to remember that no one had ever asked for something that we didn’t have.  “I don’t know but I can check.  It is a beer?”

Her eyes sparkled. “Oh, heavens no.  It’s a liquor.”

Of course, we did have it, in the back of the refrigerator.   The label had a rooster on it and lots of words I couldn’t read, but it was clearly labeled Kännu Kukk.  It appeared to be about 90 proof.

I set two bottles in front of her.  “Would you prefer the straight version, or the chocolate?”

She gave a quick laugh at that.  “The chocolate is a bit overwhelming, even for me.  I’ll have the regular version.  Can I buy you one?”

I shook my head.  “Not while I’m working.  But I’ll try it after my shift ends.”  I poured some Kännu Kukk over ice in a lowball glass, and grabbed a coaster with the Liviko logo on it. The bottom of the bottle was full of sugar crystals.  The red liquor smelled like cumin.  Very, very sweet cumin.

I put the bottles back in the fridge and returned to Aunt Grete.  “This must be an Estonian drink?”

She took a sip and set the glass down.  “Yes.  I’m not surprised Mikhel has a couple bottles squirreled away.  It used to be a favorite of his mother’s.”

I don’t usually ask personal questions of our guests, but I decided to risk it.  “And I would guess you’re his mother’s sister?”

“Yes, I am.  She’s been gone a long time now.  Mikhel’s father too.  I think I’m the only relative he has left.  Well, unless you count Phosphor.”

Boss appeared that very moment and gave a happy chirp before jumping up on the next chair and allowing Aunt Grete to give Her a good petting.  She looked as much like an ordinary cat as I’ve seen Her.  Aunt Grete cooed at Boss and started speaking in what I took to be Estonian.  I took care of several other guests and refilled Boss’ cream dish before returning to Aunt Grete.

I poured some more Kännu Kukk into her glass.  “I take it you know Boss?  Phosphor, I mean.  She certainly seems to know you.”

“Oh yes, I was there when She came into Mikhel’s life.”  Boss gave Aunt Grete’s hand a final push and then jumped down to head toward Her cream.

“I apologize for all the questions, but could you tell me about that?   It seems like they’ve been together for awhile.”

“No need to apologize, my dear.  There’s really nothing secret about it.”  She took another sizable sip from the glass.  “Let’s see, it must have been six years ago.  Mikhel had been working as a wine distributor, did you know that?  He had been one of the owners of that business but wanted to have a restaurant himself, so he quit that job and invested in a lovely place in Miami.  Camaradarie, I think it was called.  French, you know.”

“A wine distributor?”  I was still thinking about that.  I knew Mikhel was a beer guy, but I hadn’t known about the wine.

“Oh yes.  After all his travels, he was very good at that.  Everyone was really surprised when he settled down in Miami, although we blamed his wife.  Well, ex-wife now. I think.  No one actually met her though, so that may all just be a rumor.  He wasn’t particularly good at staying in touch – young people aren’t, nowadays.”

I was speechless at that – almost too much for me to unpack.  Fortunately Aunt Grete was on a roll.

“The restaurant didn’t do well.  Lots of bad luck – the head chef left, then someone stole a lot of money, then there was something involving a runaway that was living in the back storeroom.  It finally was just too much, and Mikhel closed the place, sold it for what he could get, and moved here.  I was happy to have him closer, of course.  He was trying to figure out what to do next when he got a letter saying that Onu Artur had died.  Well, Artur wasn’t really an uncle, mind you, but he may as well have been.  He’d taken a shine to Mikhel when he was just a baby, and had left him some money.  We were shocked, really.”  She paused and took another thoughtful sip.

“That he left some money to Mikhel?”

Aunt Greta shook her head.  “No, not that.  Well, we were surprised he had any money to leave to anyone.  We all thought he was dead, no one had heard from him for years.  But what was shocking was that Mikhel could only inherit the money if he agreed to take care of Artur’s cat.”

“Boss??  Phosphor, I mean?”  This was curiouser and curiouser.

“Yes, Phosphor.  She is such a lovely cat, I understand now why Artur wanted Her taken care of.  He left Her more money than he left Mikhel, you know.  Lots more.”

This was starting to make some sense to me.  “Mikhel must have agreed then.”

“He didn’t have time to disagree.  Phosphor arrived almost immediately, with three financial advisors.  They were from London, though, not Tartu, which I thought was strange.  I still have Phosphor’s traveling crate at home.  It’s very lovely.  Mikhel said he didn’t want to keep it, and Phosphor never liked it.  But my cat Sadie loves it, especially the hammock.”

The front door swung open and Mikhel walked in.  He gave a surprised look at Aunt Grete and headed over to her chair.  “Tädi Grete!  To what do I owe the honor?”

Aunt Grete gave him a big hug.  “If you won’t visit, I will just have to come find you.  And I wanted to see your charming Phosphor.”  She gave me a knowing wink.  “I have been having a lovely conversation with Miss Ret, who has been kind enough to keep my glass filled and my heart warm.”

“That is what we do here.”  Mikhel smiled at her. 

I took the opportunity to tend to the other guests – fortunately no one had needed anything while I was listening to Aunt Grete’s story.  I would have loved to hear more, but I could guess the rest.  And it made sense now – well, more sense – that Phosphor owned Floggin’ Brews.  I wondered about the financial advisors, and the mysterious Uncle Artur.  I mentally added them to my list of inexplicable things about Mikhel and Boss.

Aunt Grete stayed for about half an hour before giving Mikhel another big hug and declaring that she had to go to her book club, which was now meeting somewhere very boring, and they had refused to tell that nasty woman Nancy Bruce where they were meeting, and she was really very sorry about that little incident.  Mikhel and I both assured her that there was no reason to apologize, and that neither Ms. Bruce nor the authorities had bothered Boss at all.

After she was gone, Mikhel gave me a thoughtful look.  “She seems very fond of you.”

“Probably because I found the Kännu Kukk for her.” I kept myself busy wiping down the bar.

Mikhel looked shocked. “I don’t think we carry that.”

“Yes, we do. It was in the back of the fridge.” I put the bar rag by the sink and looked at him. “You didn’t know?”

Mikhel shook his head. “No. Must have been in our last delivery.”

I swallowed. “Yeah. I’m sure it was.”

Another mystery. But I checked, and the bottles were still in the fridge. And they tasted just as sweet as I thought they would.

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