by Jake Christie

BOTTLE EPISODE.
a story.

Victor placed his huge frame in front of the cellar door and crossed his arms. “Nobody is leaving this wine cellar,” he said, “until my '52 Château Ausone is back in the rack.”

We all looked around – at each other, at Victor, at the blank space in the wine rack. We eyed the ladies' purses, which they clutched close to their legs. We glanced at the men's briefcases. Nobody said a word.

For all his imposing size, I didn't really expect Victor to make good on his threat. He was, after all, an art collector and restorer, not a thuggish kidnapper. His size and disposition had always made me think of Santa Claus, though now he looked more like Andre the Giant.

Cassandra was the first to speak. “I have to get home to my kids,” she said. She made a show of tapping her watch. “The sitter will be leaving soon.”

Victor appeared to chew on this for a moment, like he was running a wine between his teeth. He didn't speak to Cassandra directly. “Cassandra's children will be all alone soon,” he said to the group, to the walls, to the wine. “It's a shame she won't be there to see them if nobody returns my '52.”

Cassandra looked at her lap and twisted the strap of her purse around and around.

Mort was next. He stood and thrust his briefcase forward. It swung on the handle. “Do you want to search my briefcase? Go ahead.” He ran his other hand through his hair. The handle made small clicking sounds as his arm shook. “I have placed to be too, you know.”

Victor sighed and shook his head. “That's not what I want,” he said. “You know what I want. I want my '52 back.”

Stalemate. “I don't even like wine that much,” said Mort, and he let his arm drop.

I crossed my legs, one ankle on the other knee, and folded my hands on my lap. Maybe Victor was prepared to stand in front of the door with his arms folded ad infinitum. Maybe his years of staring at art, gently massaging ancient oils and cracking frames, had given him almost inhuman stamina and patience. And maybe, trapped in this cellar together, we'd all learn very important things about life in general and each other specifically.

Maybe Victor would remember that he placed the bottle of '52 on the ground instead of placing it its proper spot on the rack after bragging about it to all of us, but with every threat that seemed less likely. I certainly wasn't going to remind him, at least not before I got twenty-five or so more minutes of human drama and life lessons.


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