Meet Arthur McGirdle. He’s a character in Whiskey’s Gone, the third book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mysteries.
He’s got problems, Arthur does. But he’s in love with Whiskey—the woman and the drink. This is his first and only real appearance, until much later in the book when he’s not in any condition to say much.
In this scene, he knocks on the door of Whiskey Parnell’s apartment where Fina, Lorraine, and Cookie are looking for clues, anything to explain Whiskey Parnell’s disappearance.
A disheveled guy swayed into the room. “You’re supposed to say ‘Who’s there?’”
“And you are?” I was surprised by the iron in Lorraine’s voice.
“Call me Arthur. I’m Whiskey’s friend. And Maddie’s, too. Ask anyone who’s seen us together. The kid loves me. You are?”
“Whiskey’s landlady.” She stepped toward him.
He backed up. “Where is she?”
“So you’re in Whiskey’s apartment without her? You should know there’s a law against breaking and entering.” He jutted out his chin.
Lorraine crossed her arms. “Do you know where Whiskey is?”
Arthur started backing away, his head twisting from side to side as if Whiskey or Maddie would appear any moment.
“Wait.” I grabbed his sleeve and felt imbedded grit in the cloth. Cleaned up and sober he’d be decent looking. Intriguing even. His hair was like a thick brush, dark red, parted in the middle. And the collar of his red flannel shirt was spotted with grit. Not too tall, but muscular. Underneath the flush of a drinker and two-day stubble, I saw patches of skin the color of buttermilk. He was older than I pictured Whiskey to be, I’d say close to thirty-five judging by the lines forming around his eyes. He rubbed his left arm, and I noticed a rawness around his wrist, broken skin on the back of both his hands and knuckles. I figured he’d been in a recent brawl. Not surprising—the guy was a barfly. I wondered why Whiskey would keep company with such scum.
His eyes were like a snake’s. “I … we … I just came by to say hello, but if she’s not here, she might still be swooning over stars, for all I know.”
He wasn’t making much sense. We stared at one another for a moment, saying nothing. He smelled like rancid socks and cheap cologne.
Cookie cocked her head, glowering.
In an instant something seemed to click inside him, and he switched from being a defiant drunk to trying out for the part of Mr. Charm. He said he was Whiskey’s friend from way back when they both lived in Brighton Beach and waited for our recognition or welcome. When there was none, he continued with his blabbering, telling us he hadn’t seen Whiskey in a while. He knew she was dating someone, a painter, he thought. Star-struck was the word he used to describe her. Stammering a little, he said as how he was in the neighborhood, and he thought maybe they, meaning he and Whiskey, could get a bite or a drink and do some catching up.
“Maddie too, of course. She’s such a darling, don’t you think? I’ve missed her, missed them both. I was hoping for a little peek at the girl, a kiss on her sweet cheek, but I guess she’s not here either, is she? She’d know me right away.”
I said nothing. Lorraine continued to glare at Arthur, her lips pressed together like thin strips of steel.
“We’ve spent many hours in the park, me and Maddie. She loves my neighborhood. Once I took her to Coney Island and she loved the boardwalk and the seagulls soaring into the wind, and of course eating at Nathan’s Famous.”
I didn’t quite believe him, but I listened to the lilt in his voice, memorizing everything he said. Lorraine edged closer to him, her presence like a Mack truck blocking the road.
Arthur’s eyes shot from Lorraine to the floor. “That’s where Whiskey and I met, you know.” He started in again on Maddie. “I love how the little one laughs when I push her hard on the swing and her shoes touch the sky. We call it touching the clouds. Well, now, why would she be here? It makes sense, doesn’t it, she’s with her mother.”
“She’s in school.” Lorraine’s words were like ice cubes.
I looked at Cookie’s mouth as it formed the word father.
“Can I have a contact, your cell number, say, in case we need to …”
“For when Whiskey shows up,” Lorraine said. “We’ll call you as soon as she does. We wouldn’t want you to worry.”
“When Whiskey shows up, tell her to give me a ring. She’s got my number.” And in a flash, he was gone, the door slamming behind him, and I heard steps stumbling down the stairs.
Photo: Manhattan Bridge at Magic Hour. Credit: ChrisGoldNY (Flickr), Creative Commons