I should have been putting the Christmas turkey in the oven. Instead, I was at the Ortachala police station. Two nights earlier, three happy drunks stumbled out of the bar with my case of harmonicas.
“Do you want me to call the police?” Bella, the manager asked.
“Absolutely.” I knew the ordeal would take hours from my life, but Louis Myers’s microphone was in the case. He gave it to me thirty years ago, said it had belonged to Little Walter.
The detectives arrived, then Gia, the owner. He showed them the bar footage of three teetering young men in front of the “stage,” picking up my case and stumbling out the door. While the cops spent the next hour or so filling out the report, I was sipping mercy chacha. When they finished, the head detective stood up and pointed his silver clipboard at me. “Let’s go to the station,” he ordered.
“Can’t we do it here?” I asked.
“Are you sober?”
“Sure,” I lied.
“Come with us.”
I wasn’t in cuffs but might as well have been. It never feels pleasant in the back seat of a police car, culprit or not.
It was 3 am, I was not going to take my kid to school in the morning. Where Georgian cops fail at enforcing traffic laws, they excel in writing reports. But I was hopeful. My friend Vlad went through this recently when his bicycle was stolen and the cops found it 24 hours later.
When we entered the building a translator named Gocha was waiting for me with an outstretched hand. “You’re a musician. I’m a musician, too. Contrabass. I was good. Played in an ensemble, but I hurt my two fingers. Broke them,” he rambled, wiggling his right thumb and forefinger at me. “I can’t play now, but that’s okay. Really.” Gocha was a little taller than a cello, early forties with an Uncle Fester vibe about him.
I was escorted into a long narrow room of desks and computers and introduced to the detective who would type my first report. His computer was surrounded by icons of St. Mary, St. Gabriel, St. Nikolas and Jesus. A large image of Che Guevara adorned his screen.
Name, address, patronymic, the usual stuff. Then the details. I had to itemize each harp and give everything a price. I said, “five thousand dollars, total.” The detective scratched his head. I asked Gocha how much he thought Jimi Hendrix’s guitar was worth. “It’s the same thing,” I said, ranting about Little Walter, but the concept was utterly untranslatable. Compounding matters was my second mic in the case, same model, but no known legendary previous owners.
Between the typing and questioning, Gocha, all nerved up on Nescafe and sugar, was using me for an English language punching bag while I was trying to nod off.
“You see my head? No hair. I had cancer. They chopped my eggs,” he said looking down at his crotch and shrugged. “But that’s okay, really.”
The detective had problems spelling out the models of my harmonicas so I looked them up on Amazon for him. We discussed the mics again. I was getting annoyed being stuck in this loop but the thought of Vlad’s bike kept my thunder down. We agreed on $1500 and he gave me a stack of documents to sign. Then Gocha cornered me for my phone number. “Where do you live?” He told me he was homeless, that his mother had signed the family house over to his cousin and they kicked him out. “But it’s okay,” he said. “Really.”
Christmas dinner was going to be an intimate family affair. A free-range Pankisi turkey, stuffing, baked Brussel sprouts and carrots, and a vinaigrette salad with Romaine and beet leaves. Easy-peasy. I would do the shopping, pick up the bird from my bud’s, come home, pop a bottle of saperavi, crank up Elvis Christmas tunes and take half the surviving rosemary from the garden and add it to the brine. Then we would watch Christmas With The Kranks or the Muppet Christmas Carol. A perfect plan.
My phone rang. I though it was Gocha. He had called at 9 am, but I let it ring. I didn't get to bed until 6. He called later to remind me I was his brother and that I shouldn't worry, he made sure to get the best detective on my case. Everything would be alright. But this call was a woman telling me in English to come to the police station at 6 pm.
“Did you find my instruments?”
“Be here at six,” and she hung up.
I picked up the turkey on the way to the cop shop where the the desk cop ordered me to sit and wait. I scrolled around on my phone while he watched a football match. A cat was meowing outside, trying to open the steel door which was slightly ajar. The temperature had dropped to witch’s tits cold. I thought about letting it in but the desk cop got up, walked to the door and slammed it shut. About an hour and a half of sitting and my battery was down to 28 percent. I began to fidget, clear my throat and sigh with a melodramatic flair, but the cop was unfazed, glued to the TV. Then, with as much honey in my voice as I could muster, I asked how much longer would I have to wait.
“Oh, you can go in now,” he said.
I had a new translator, Mariam. She was as dusty as an elementary school library. “Why would you move from United States to Georgia?” she asked with a laugh loose and gravely from five decades of cigarettes.
“I’m a masochist.”
A new detective asked me why I didn’t add the value of the case to the previous report. "Because no one asked," I replied. He also had issues with the estimated value of my gear. We crunched numbers, knocked off another 500 bucks, I signed the tall stack of papers again and thanked everybody. There was still time to brine the bird and watch a flick, but I couldn’t leave. We had to go back to the bar for pictures.
The first picture was of me standing like a tourist at the corner of Bambis Rigi, pointing down the street to where the pub is located. Next pic I am sticking my finger at the front door of the pub. Inside, Shota Adamashvili, the Georgian country-western singer, was performing with his band. It’s a tight space. I had to stand right in front of his guitarist and pose with my finger pointed between his legs to where my case was when the three knuckleheads lifted it. Then the detective went to interview Gia. I waited at the bar, which would have been okay if I hadn’t driven to the cop shop. At least the music was good.
An hour later the detective told me I was free to go.
“But my car is at the station.”
“Oh. Wait. Five minutes.”
I should have taken a taxi. Five Georgian minutes and one hour later we were in his car. I got home around midnight. There would be no brining this year. It was colder outside than it was in the fridge so I left the turkey in the car. In fact, it was the coldest night of the year. We woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve to frozen pipes. We had enough bottled water to cope (the city is always cutting the water), but it was going to be a very uncomfortable Christmas Eve with frozen plumbing. Our contractor friend assured us he could come fix the pipes at 3 pm, so we adjusted our attitudes, played some Rat Pack holiday tunes and started prepping dinner.
The village turkey was about the size of an American chicken glutted on plutonium pellets. Fully stuffed, it would take about two and a half hours to roast, easy. Serve dinner at seven, no prob. Then the phone rang. It was the police woman again. They had found my gear and asked me to come to the station at six pm. I replied that was great news but I could not come at six, we were making Christmas dinner. Could I come the next day, or Monday? Then a man’s voice barked, “Come to the station at six o’clock!”
“I’m sorry, but can we do this tomorrow?” I repeated. "Six o’clock is impossible for me today. It is our Christmas, our holiday.”
“I know your holiday! It is on the twenty-fifth, tomorrow! You must come at six o'clock!”
“But our supra is tonight and we have many guests. Can I come earlier, at three?”
Maybe it was using the word, supra, a ceremonial feast of three liters of wine per man and a litany of toasts, that persuaded him to relent. I got to the cop shop at three and by four I was talking to the detective through Mariam.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the towel?” Mariam asked.
“Because it is of no value.”
“Yes, but if they have a good lawyer. You never know.”
The detective typed “black cotton towel” in all the necessary places, I signed the pile of papers and they said I could go, but would have to keep my instruments until the case was closed. Not to look a gift Christmas miracle in the mouth, but the wheels of Georgian justice are usually covered in moss. In 2016, the cops recovered my bass player’s stolen guitar and held it for three years. Then again, Vlad got his bike back overnight. What could I do?
Back home, the workers were taking a long time to do a proper job. We couldn’t complain, but our timing got totally messed up. The bird was drying up in the oven and I could not get my gravy to bind - the simplest of tasks. I tried not to drop any f-bombs, it was Christmas, we had water and the cops had recovered my harps, but something had cursed my gravy mojo. It was after eight when we carved the Turkey. It may not have been the juiciest and tenderest, but it was the most memorable and the stuffing was very, very good.