Friday, October 4, 2013

Noval’s Reserve

Staring at the body, Kelly thought: Look at all that red.

He rested on the floor of the cold room, propped against a stack of champagne, legs splayed, blood and port pooled across the checkered linoleum. His throat had been cut and his open eyes reflected the stacks of wine and spirits before him. In life, his name was Mel, and no one had liked him much. There was a violent arrogance to his eyes that even death could not diminish. A conqueror and bully, Mel had been a man who took what he wanted. His former co-workers gathered in the doorway, each staring at the corpse, frozen silent by the immutability of so much blood. Steam rose from puddles on the floor, seemed to dance.

Kelly spoke first.

“He’s dead.”


“We should call the police.”

This was answered by stiff nods and choked-down nausea. Then Brie, who’d found him, turned away and vomited on the floor. The stench of bile joined the cold reek of blood, and Brie, crying, fell to the ground and began to shake. The others, grateful for distraction, turned from the cold room and tended to their co-worker.

Kelly watched them, her face impassive, inscrutable, a mask. Come on, she wanted to say. We all hated him.

Right? she wanted to say.

Buck up.

She studied the corpse, as if for signs—Of what? she wondered. Life? Anger?—and, gazing at the smile in his throat, the horrorstruck wideness to his eyes, she remembered the incident. She remembered coming up to the cold room to retrieve a bottle of wine for a customer—Noval’s Reserve; aged 40 years and one of her favorites—and she remembered stooping as she’d searched the rows of port, finding it at last… And, straightening to see Mel leaning in the doorway, had asked:

What are you doing here?

But Mel hadn’t answered. He’d come forward, lurching slightly, an odd predatory leer upon his pinched, entitled face, snatched her breast and said, I know how you feel.

This, followed by an open-palmed slap to her ear when she’d pulled back. And then he’d lunged, Kelly reeling, and seized her in his huge embrace, the sour grape stench of his breath a physical presence, like a veil, and held her close as he fumbled with his apron.

She hadn’t planned on doing what she’d done. Her hands had just reacted. She looked at the jagged remnants of the bottle, scattered over the floor. Surprising, how many blows it took before the glass broke.

What a waste, she thought.

Behind her, Brie continued to sob. Kelly stared at the body, into Mel’s dead dark eyes, like staring out into a night that would never end.