Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Adventures in Wine Buying...Continued

And now we return to our story, featuring Deetrane, guest-poster and pal extraordinaire:

At the end of the first installment I had just told the Esca staff that I had been buying their wine – stolen from their cellar. Now Pasternak, Frank, Simon and a couple other staff could be seen conferring in the courtyard, making frantic calls on cell phones and traipsing back and forth to the kitchen, with Pasternak eying me and Kevin suspiciously each time. All the while, Frank kept the wine flowing while extraordinary morsels kept appearing from the kitchen. When I asked Frank what was going on, all he could say was that Pasternak was “f*&%ing on the warpath”. I could only apologize meekly, but I was assured that it wasn’t my fault and that I should just enjoy my meal.

When the time came to leave, we were told that the check had been taken care of! I offered to help if I could, and Simon and I exchanged numbers. Two days later, on Wednesday afternoon, I spoke to Simon. Simon explained that on Tuesday he responded to one of Konstantin’s Craigslist posts, masquerading as an interested buyer. They set up a meeting for the next day, with NYPD in tow, but Konstantin stood them up. It soon became clear why.

Also on Tuesday, Esca began their first ever physical wine inventory, counting every bottle in the house. If you’ve been to Esca, you know that this is no small feat – the entire restaurant is packed to the rafters with row after row of wine bottles, in every nook and cranny. Apparently, they had never done a physical count before, so this must have tipped Konstantin off. Simon read me a terse text message he had received that morning from Konstantin:

“’My mother is sick. I’m moving back to Moscow. Thanks for everything. Sorry for the short notice.’ So, Dan,” Simon added, “if he tries to contact you, please let me know.”

I was absentmindedly checking my e-mail just as Simon was saying this. Lo and behold, there was a brand new message from Konstantin!!! I opened it and read it to Simon:

“I am moving to California. I have last 7 btl mix Barolo + Brunello . Buy them from me $150. No more wines after this (:”

What complete idiot! He needed ONE more bite at the apple, huh?

“Tell him you’ll take them all!” Simon responded. “Get a time and a location. Dave Pasternak knows the chief inspector of the NYPD. I’m going to contact him now.”

Wow. So now I was going to be the bait in a sting operation? Who would have thought that a little cheap Barolo and an innocent dinner invitation would have led to this? Of all the restaurants in New York, I had to visit the exact one whose stolen wine I was buying!

I firmed things up with Konstantin – we would meet at 9:00 a.m. on the Upper East Side. I received instructions to be at the 10th Precinct in Chelsea at 8:00 a.m. to get geared up for the buy-and-bust. The next morning Simon met me at the precinct where we were briefed by one of the detectives, who explained that I would accompany him and three other detectives in two cars. I would approach the “perp” while they blended into the crowd, and I would make the buy. They would then surround us and cuff both of us (“We don’t want him to think that you had anything to do with him getting’ busted.”) Immediately afterwards we would be put in separate cars, where he would be driven to his destiny, and I would be on my way. I was assured, numerous times, not to worry, that “nobody’s gonna get hurt.”

After the detectives conducted a collection around the station house to cobble together $150 in sting-money (the sting-money drawer only had $25 left) and photocopied the bills, we set out for the upper east side. While we were driving one of them asked me “What is so special about this wine, anyway?”I will admit that I didn’t know how to answer that question, at 8 in the morning, in the back of a squad car, a couple of gum shoes in the front. So I started to say "Well in Piedmont, they use a grape called Nebbiolo to make their finest wines..." and I rambled on in that vein for about 10 minutes, delivering a mini-lecture on Italian wine. It seemed like they weren't all that interested. Then, and this really happened, they engaged in a heated debate about the merits of Budweiser versus Miller High Life. I found myself, eyes glazed over, staring out the window at traffic. How the tides can reverse themselves so quickly!

Arriving on the scene, both cop cars parked smack in the middle of a bus stop (aiy yai yai, cops!), and the four detectives quickly became all business.

“Aight, kid” – kid? I’m 36. “Go. We’ll see you on the other side.”

I walked down Lexington to the appointed corner, hoping that the sweat forming in various spots wouldn’t give me away. I could see Konstantin on the far corner as I waited for the light to change, crowds of rush hour pedestrians swarming around me. I felt a twinge of guilt at the wrath of justice that I was about to bring down on his bald head.

I walked up to Konstantin and my 8th grade acting lessons kicked in. We shook hands, exchanged a few pleasantries, and I handed him the wad of sting money. As I transferred the bottles to my briefcase, including the lovely 1996 Roagna Barbaresco Paje, I mourned their fiery deaths in the bowels of a sweltering evidence room.

So, that was it –the buy, completed. But where was the NYPD? What about the bust? It felt like an eternity. Konstantin asked where I was headed, if I was going downtown. Wanting to avoid seeming awkward, I turned with him towards the subway entrance we were standing next to and BADA BING, there they were, all four of them, badges blazing!

“Turn around please, hands against the wall, you’re under arrest.” Very calm, like they were ordering hot dogs.

The rest was a blur. Cold metal on wrists. A look of pure confusion on Konstantin’s face. Pathetic feigned outrage on my part. Bug-eyed pedestrians staring at us like we had horns sticking out of our foreheads. And then, suddenly, I’m sitting in the back of the car, and Konstantin is RIGHT NEXT TO ME!!! What happened to two separate cars? Not two seconds had passed before Konstantin says to me, under his breath,

“I sure hope you’re not working with them, because boy am I screwed.”

Um, yeah, you are, I thought, but I figured it was best not to answer, and thankfully the cop in the front seat put the kibosh on any more talk by turning around and telling us in no uncertain terms to shut the f*$% up! And after 45 more minutes of oozing traffic, with nothing to think about except how I was going to be disemboweled by the Russian Mafia, I was relieved to have my cuffs removed when Konstantin disappeared into an interrogation room.

Coming up: The final installment, including what happened to Konstantin, and what happened to all the WINE!!!


Sonadora said...

Oh man! I think I would have peed in my pants having been put in the backseat of a squad car with the guy I just helped catch in a sting!

Anonymous said...

well, since brooklynguy runs a family-friendly operation here, i decided to leave that part out of the post. suffice it to say that i kept my head between my legs in the car, like you sometimes see when arrested people are sitting in backs of cars. but in my case it was so noone would see me crying and/or laughing, both of which i was tempted to do at certain points...

Dr. Debs said...

I've been waiting for this--can't believe we have to wait even longer for the conclusion. Please tell me you got the 96 Barbaresco and it didn't go into the evidence room!This is like Indiana Jones with wine.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Sonadora and Doc!!
why am i not getting email alerts when you guys comment? Glad you're digging the Deetrane!

Dr. Debs said...

God, Neil, this is great stuff. You should have sold this story to the New Yorker. Maybe you still should. Very funny. It's on the front page at Wine Life Today!

Brooklynguy said...

Glad you like, but it's the Deetrane who is responsible. Thanks for the Wine Life Today toast.

Lenn Thompson | LENNDEVOURS.com said...

This is GREAT stuff...DEFINITELY something that belongs in print.

Then again...who needs print when you have blogs?

Can't wait for the conclusion!

Brooklynguy said...

Lenn! How are you buddy? Good to see you haunting the pages of the BKG. I agree with you, Deetrane's story is really interesting (especially in light of the recent big $$$ wine heists out west), and he sure knows how to tell it. Conclusion coming soog. Now I have to see if I can get him to actually respond to the comments you all are writing about his guest piece...Take it easy Lenn.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! I'm preparing the final installment as I type! Thanks for reading!

Brooklynguy said...

Type Deetrane, type!