TSP072: Bad wine

January 21, 2014

“Just take it away.  Get it out of here.  Put it down in the basement with all the others.”  Hadrian covered his face with his hands as he uttered the command, not wishing to get a second glance of the offending bottle.  It wasn’t often that he came across a wine he didn’t like, but tonight was one of those unfortunate occasions.  He’d invited the Simpson-Smythes around for dinner, true, but only out of spite.  And this was their way of getting back at him – clearly they had realised the social summons hadn’t come from the heart, and so in retaliation they had gone out and purchased the cheapest, nastiest, most brutal bottle they could find.  A bottle so foul, so insidious, so deeply desperately vile that it could only have been procured from a terrible, dark corner of the world, like the bowels of a volcano, or the innards of a shark, or the Watford Gap services.

Neil and Patricia Simpson-Smythe sat restless in the grand and spacious conservatory, quietly nervous and loudly flatulent.  Without saying a word, the couple of thirty-five years exchanged thoughts via a psychic connection they’d picked up in Boots for a bargain price.  “He’s been an awful long time,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “I wonder what he’s doing,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “Um, are you actually listening to what I’m thinking?” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “OI PATRICIA!” thought Neil.  “Hmmm?” thought Patricia.  “Stay focussed, thought Neil, “We’re here on a mission, remember?”

As the butler left the room, Hadrian dabbed his fingers with a heated towel.  The butler had learned to put up with this bizarre foible of his master’s and bore the warm sensation of the cloth with an incredibly professional fake smile, one he’d learned at Finishing School, in the small Suffolk village of Finishing.  After closing the door behind his manservant, Hadrian strutted over to the bay window and gazed out at the setting sun filtering through the trees, transforming his estate into a Dr Seuss landscape, all pink grass and long shadows.  A cat (no hat) scampered along the patio and into a rosebush.  “Stupid cat,” thought Hadrian.

“Stupid cat,” thought Neil, watching the animal senselessly leap into the thorny shrub.  “He’s not coming out of there without a few scratches.”  “How apt,” thought Patricia…

As aristocratic warlords go, Hadrian was certainly one of the friendlier ones.  But when crossed he became a man who was most definitely dangerous and just a little bit camp.  The slight with the wine was a blatant affront to his dignity, to his empire, and to his pyjamas.  The offenders could not be permitted to get off lightly – they would have to pay.  Financially or psychologically – he didn’t particularly mind which.  He opened the secret drawer in his chaise-longue and extracted his weapon of choice…  A small chunk of Kendal mint cake – which he then ate.

“I still think we should have poisoned the wine,” thought Neil.  “I know you think that, I can think what you’re thinking, remember?” thought Patricia.  “Oh yeah,” thought Neil, “Sorry, I forgot you could do that.”  “Indeed,” thought Patricia, before adding after a short pause, “And who exactly is Henrietta, may I ask?”  Neil reddened, mentally.  “Ah, yes, darling – I’ve been meaning to tell you about that…”

Striding majestically down the stairs, the dinner host mused to himself as to his best plan of action.  The crocodile pit hadn’t been used in a while – it would be great to see all the gang again.  Or there was The Cage – a new acquisition, not yet tested.  Decisions, decisions!

“I think he’s outside in the hallway,” thought Neil.  “How many times – I know you think that, I can think it too, you know!” thought Patricia.  “And besides, stop avoiding the question – why do you need to go to the chiropodist so often.”  “I thought you Patricia – I have terrible feet.”  “But what’s wrong with Mr Arbuthnot, down in the village?  He’s top class, and has excellent ancestry.  Why do you have to pass into town to that… that floozy Henrietta?”  “Careful now Patricia,” thought Neil, “Henrietta is not a floozy – she’s a flautist.  That word doesn’t mean what you think it means.”  Patricia shot him a mental look: “It jolly well does,” she thought.

Hadrian opened the door and waltzed in.  “Well hello again, and may I say once more thank you so much for the wonderful wine.  It will make a most welcome addition to my Chamber of Horrors exhibition downstairs.  And would you look at that!  What a treat you are in store for tonight – such a marvellous sunset.  Step this way please, you can admire the spectacle best from this precise spot here… that’s right, on the big red ‘X’ in the floor.  I marked it out myself with a children’s jumbo chalk so that I would always remember just where the prime viewpoint is for such a marvel of nature.”  Positioning his distracted guests atop the trapdoor, Hadrian pressed the big red button (oh, how he loved the big red button!) and with a satisfying electronic whirr, four tiles slid away and the Simpson-Smythes plunged straight down into the water below.  “Woah!” thought Neil.  “I didn’t bring the right shoes for this!” thought Patricia.

Hadrian’s manic laugh was cut short at the sight of two great reptilian skeletons.  “Sanderson!” he shouted, “When did you last feed the crocodiles?”  Sanderson materialised in the doorway, a trick he was using rather too often since passing his Apparition Test.  “Well, sir, I believe it was when we had the Gordon-Jones’s round for supper last August.”  “They haven’t been fed for nine months?!”  “Well, you haven’t been feeling particularly sociable, sir.”

Hadrian sighed.  He looked down at his guests who looked back at him from a rock in the centre of the pool, cold, wet and shivering.  “Brrrrrrr,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” he shouted down to them.  “I’m not done with you yet, traitors.  Sanderson – bring in The Cage.”  “Certainly sir, he’s just having a vermouth.”  Hadrian’s eyes glistened with maniacal glee and a great big tear from a sudden sad thought that he just as quickly packed away in the corner of the brain marked ‘What the heck?’  Neil summoned the courage to speak.  “When you say ‘The Cage’, you don’t mean-”  “Oh yes I do,” sneered Hadrian.  “And what exactly is he going to-”  “Oh, you’ll see soon enough!” snarled Hadrian.  “Yes, I’m aware of that,” said Neil, “but I’d hoped you might make us aware of it now, in advance – you know, just enlighten us a little before the actual event takes place.”

Hadrian sighed again.  “You’re a very boring man,” he said.  “All I will say is that you are about to witness a sterling re-enactment of the entire script from National Treasure.  And then once that is done he’ll move onto National Treasure 2.”  “As in ‘Book of Secrets’?”  “That’s right,” Hadrian grinned, “John Cage will perform both of these in his own inimitable style.”

“You mean Nicholas Cage?” suggested Patricia.  “No, no – John Cage.”  The Simpson-Smythes exchanged looks.  Neil shouted up what they were both thinking: “I think you’re going to be a little disappointed…”