APRIL 2007 – NO. 14
The Sting and the Honey
The final short story selected by Guest Fiction Editor Pauls Toutonghi
Wan light came stealthily across the top of the mountain, catching and electrifying the dew upon the grass, but doing nothing whatsoever to warm him. Fox worried the zipper on his sweatshirt, already at its peak, and hunched his shoulders against the cold. It was like this every day: for the first hour or two it was freezing, but then by mid-morning it'd be so hot he'd have to strip down to his T-shirt. Exposure to extremes, he told himself, was supposed to sharpen the senses, to have a bracing and salutary effect, but the argument wasn't always adequately convincing to make him enjoy shivering.
The pear pickers, on the other hand, seemed immune to any such trivial complaints. Fox watched them move through the orchard with their customary dispatch, each one carrying his ladder, each, like they always were in the morning, the very portrait of quiet determination. There was something about them he vaguely envied.
"Hola Bruho," some of them offered, to which he replied only by nodding, hoping it lent him a commensurate air of seriousness. He had already laid out the necessary bins the night before so there was little for him to do other than "supervise" until they began to fill up. His habit, during the interim, was to walk briskly among the trees, zig-zagging at acute angles, trying to look as if he had some larger purpose other than just trying to keep warm.
Not that he ever felt he was being closely observed. What was unique to this time of day was that, once they got started, he could rarely see any of the pickers, nor they him. The ladders that they used were specially designed: preposterously tall and having only three legs to allow for easier incursions into the branches. Working as they did from the top down, the pickers effectively disappeared for a while into the foliage, emerging only occasionally to empty out a bag full of pears.
As he completed his third haphazard lap around the orchard, Fox tried to occupy himself mentally by ranking the pickers for speed. Juan Numero Dos, Ismael, and Salvador would likely command the top spots and would need their bins emptied first. The rest he would worry about as they came up.
In the interest of being prepared he found Salvador's tree and was in the process of looking for Juan's when he first noticed Rojelio, hard-charging between the serried rows of the orchard. That he was late was not something in and of itself that would normally arouse much interest. That he was not wearing any pants, however, made for a more than unusual spectacle. He had his ladder, and his bag, and his same dingy work shirt, but below the belt wore only a pair of garish, leopard-print huggers. And he was whistling amiably.
"What the fuck?" Fox wondered aloud, thinking that Rojelio had to be freezing.
While one or two pickers issued the odd catcall, most failed to notice and Fox, for his part, instinctively kept himself at a certain remove. That something was amiss was clear, but he was reluctant to presume any unnecessary involvement.
"Pince Bruho!" Rojelio called out to him, simultaneously giving him the bird.
Fox gave the bird in return, smiling whimsically by way of deflection. Then Rojelio picked up a pear and threw it at him, something which, Fox regretted, was not terribly unprecedented. He ducked, the missile sailing well over his head, and assumed a stance of casual alertness lest there be additional attacks.
There weren't. Rojelio planted his ladder beside a tree and, as he ascended up and out of Fox's field of vision, segued from whistling to full-throated song. Seconds later, pears started raining haphazardly down out of the tree, only a few making it into the adjacent bin. This caused Fox a nontrivial amount of discomfiture. The pears were meant to be handled gingerly, laid — not dropped — into the bins. Rojelio was, for whatever reason, deliberately ruining them, creating a situation where Fox was going to have to intervene. He did not want to do this. That Rojelio bore him some unnamed grudge had been clear to him for a while now, and to have to approach him in his current state, for as unpleasant an office as a reprimand, would require more than a little courage summoning.
Fox walked slowly across the orchard, listening to Rojelio's ecstatic singsong, watching the continued hail of pears drop from above. He hadn't crossed more than a few rows when the singing stopped. There was brief, pregnant silence, punctuated by a loud crack before Rojelio's body came flailingly out of the tree and landed with a sickening thud on the ground.
Fox opened the narrow, sloping door to the crawlspace underneath the stairs and stepped awkwardly in, crouching low. This was where his mother had stored — sardined among other assorted bric-a-brac — his father's wine collection. When LB was alive, it had been kept in a free-standing, refrigerated cellar bought especially for that purpose, each bottle wearing a hand-written paper dog tag indicating the vintner, the varietal and the year.
The cellar, however, had long since been sold and all but a few straggling labels mislaid. Dorothy didn't know a Pinot from a glass of Tang, but had kept the wine, like so many other things she'd retroactively invested in, out of a misplaced sentimental attachment, a fealty to what she imagined LB's wishes might have been.
To Fox, this was all perfectly understandable. Less so was her refusal to allow him to drink any of it. He tried explaining to her that many of them were not particularly valuable, and that even among the few that were, they were not necessarily going to appreciate over time.
All of this fell on deaf ears. When he pressed the point, she'd practically foamed at the mouth, and Fox, in a rare display of filial obedience, had withdrawn from the argument, conceding that as much as he didn't understand her position, he would respect her wishes. Since then he'd been quietly helping himself to as much as he wanted as often as he liked. In the time he'd been living back home in Richmond, he'd already consumed over half the stock.
Fox ran his fingers over the bottle necks protruding from the wooden cages in the rack, humming a mild refrain from Dean Martin's Little Old Wine Drinker Me. For someone who'd spent months working on a vineyard, his palette was not especially mature. He knew that he preferred Cabernet Sauvignon ("Cab-Sauv" he liked to say, thinking it lent him an air of credibility) over Merlot, had a partiality to German Rieslings, and that didn't care for Shiraz, but beyond that, he wasn't possessed of nearly as much expertise as he let on. He pulled one of the bottles from its respective cubby and wiped his hand gently across its face, displacing the dust. Blah, blah, blah, Côte d'Or, Domaine Something-or-other. Fine. It'll get me drunk. Fox pressed the bottle to his chest and did an ungainly backwards squat-crawl through the door.
The better half of a year had elapsed since Fox had worked the pear and grape harvests, but it felt like a great deal longer. California had been very good to him up to a point, then turned on him and broke him. After that he didn't care for it so much, but he tried his best to compartmentalize his memories so that the bad ones did not induce him to misprize the good, which was a tendency. Working there had initially felt like the perfect antidote for all of his unresolved issues, which at the time were many.
A college friend, Alex, had been the one to suggest it. It was his father's farm and, after closely observing Fox's dramatic personal unraveling in the wake of LB's death, he very charitably proposed that maybe what was needed was a change of scenery. He pitched Kelseyville as a kind of rural Arcadia, a place of simple pleasures, rustic innocence, and uninterrupted quiet. He also recommended the healthy, vigorous life of working in the fields as a sure-fire panacea for just about anything, although he was kind enough not to attribute any particular ailments to Fox directly.
Fox considered it, got in touch with Alex's father (who would effectively be his boss), and received from him copious assurances that, yes, there would indeed be a job waiting for him if he wanted it. Room and board would even be extended gratis. Despite what an obvious windfall this was for Fox, especially given his total lack of direction as he neared graduation, he still wasn't fully convinced. His mother was even less so.
Dorothy had different ideas. She wanted him home and objected to his going as far away as California. He couldn't imagine what kind of weird, alternate universe she must have been living in to posit that he would even consider moving back in. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and that place — hell, that life even — as possible. He told her, brusquely, so as to preclude further attempts at persuasion, that it was out of the question.
Dorothy did not, however, take the hint, and persisted in trying to change his mind. First she attempted to guilt him in to returning, accusing him of repudiating what remained of his family, and calling him ungrateful and insensitive. When that failed she resorted to pathos, evoking an image of her and his ageing grandfather living such a precarious, marginal existence that without his cheery, stalwart character around to prop them up, they might very well slip into some unnamed oblivion. When he was still unmoved she tried wheedling, and then, outright begging. She even had the gall to suggest that it was probably what his father would have wanted him to do. Fox didn't budge. He may not have been sure about what, precisely, he intended to do, but he was very definite about what he didn't.
After graduation (which, since he didn't actually graduate he took to calling "abdication") Fox spent several months in an uninterrupted fugue of alcohol and drug abuse before he finally came around to taking the farm proposition seriously. His hesitation didn't owe anything to his mother's coaxing, but rather to a fundamental indecisiveness bolstered by laziness. That, and the fact that he thought he was having a hell of a lot of fun until one of his friends OD'd on heroin, almost killing himself, and convincing Fox overnight that maybe he should put the brakes on. He called Alex's father to confirm that the offer still stood and caught a stand-by flight to San Francisco the very next day. On the plane he laughingly, drunkenly told himself: Go west, dumb man.
Kelseyville was, as promised, a quiet farming community of about three thousand, pleasantly uncontaminated by too many hippies, which certain NoCal stereotypes had conditioned him to expect. Alex's parents, Reid and Sarah, welcomed him with undue graciousness, putting him up in the biggest room in the house and feeding him like a starveling left on their doorstep. Fox felt instantly assimilated into their family; Sarah was an easy confidante with whom he could discuss virtually anything, and Reid was an avuncular Grizzly Adams type who shared Fox's taste for Graham Greene and cheap cigars. Erudite, easy-going, and liberal in their views, they were, in effect, the dream parents that he'd occasionally conjured during moments of real-parent enmity, and the undivided attention they paid him was as appreciated as it was needed.
The work, as Alex had predicted, also agreed with him. Farming was a subject about which he knew high-ho-the-derrio zilch, but no one acted as if this were any kind of obstacle to his success. He was to work both the pear and the grape harvests, which ran consecutively from August through December. On his first day, Reid waked him at 5:00 a.m. and introduced him to the tractor he'd be driving for the next six months: a Massey-Ferguson, temporarily equipped with a fork-lift rig. He explained the gears, the operation of the lift, and without much else in the way of instruction, sent him out into the orchard. His job, for the duration of the pear harvest at any rate, was to retrieve the massive plastic bins as the pickers filled them and transport them to a nearby packaging plant. On the surface it was simple, almost humdrum work, but Fox found it tremendously gratifying, the long hours notwithstanding. Racing back and forth between the pear trees, raising and lowering the fork to accommodate a heavy load, sounding the noxious beep-beep reverse Klaxon; in these seemingly trivial activities he found a raw satisfaction so intense he felt obliged to conceal it for fear of looking too childish or green. It was not unlike playing cowboy.
His co-workers, the pickers, proved no less enjoyable for the most part. Mostly itinerant Mexicans, they were incredibly hard-working, good-humored, and to a man possessed of a preternatural gift for acerbic one-liners. Even when Fox couldn't precisely translate, which was often, the gist of their banter was rarely beyond him and he admired them almost as much for their wit as he did for their industry. It took a while for them to warm up to him though. Many of them suspected that he was somehow related to el jeffe, and treated him with a distant, arid civility until somehow the word got out that this wasn't true.
Then came the hazing.
One afternoon, as the pickers were repairing to their ramshackle camp for the usual, end-of-the-day drunk, one of them, Ismael, called out to him.
"Fox! Quieres una cerveza?"
"Si," he replied eagerly, "por supuesto." Happy to be included, he hastened over to the camp to join them.
He'd never been asked before but no one seemed to begrudge him their beer or their company and there were a lot of good-natured attempts to communicate with him in broken English. Then, after a few beers, Juan Numero Uno (there were five Juans) produced, out of nowhere, a habanero chile and, with apologetic diffidence, offered it for Fox to eat.
"Delicioso," he said.
Fox knew better, but took it anyway, not wanting to disappoint. Everyone grew quiet, the burden of their collective stare making his face burn hotly before he'd even taken his first bite. He tore it in half with his teeth and chewed slowly.
Tiny drops of sweat erupted on his forehead almost instantly, followed seconds after by howls of brazen laughter. Fox smiled wincingly and put the remainder of the pepper in his mouth to loud and approving oohs and ahhs, then chased it with some beer. When he opened his mouth, proof positive that he had swallowed it, many of them clapped.
He silenced them by shouting, "Da me un otro!" Quiet prevailed again.
"No, no, Fox," Juan Numero Uno told him, "no es necessario."
"Da me un otro," he reiterated firmly.
Juan shook his head, either in amusement or disbelief or both, and fetched another chile. This time Fox ate the entire pepper at once, chewed it even more slowly and, when he'd swallowed again, softly burped.
"Cerveza, por favor," he said.
Someone cracked a beer for him and passed it over. Fox took it and drank its entirety without stopping, a performance motivated as much by necessity as it was by ego. As he threw the can down and looked back and forth at the bright, open, amused faces now staring quietly back at him, he knew he'd achieved the desired effect. His mouth and throat felt like they'd been exposed to open flames.
After the incident with the habanero, Fox could do no wrong; he was a fully matriculated member of the gang. They joked and kidded with him, invited him daily to drink with them, and even game him a nickname, "Bruho," the witch, although he never could suss out why. He was not long in deciding they were the best co-workers he'd ever had (not that he'd ever really had that many).
"I see you're starting to get on right well with the pickers," Reid observed one night over dinner.
"We get along okay," Fox replied with a detectable strain of pride.
"Well, that's good," he said. "I'm glad. Just be careful when you're joking around with them. Sometimes they can take offense where you wouldn't expect them to."
"Okay," said Fox, having a hard time imagining how this could be.
"And there's one thing you should never say to any of them."
"Chinga tu madre. Never say it. Not unless you're really spoiling for a fight." Fox could guess its meaning, but couldn't conceive of a scenario in which this particular phrase might surface. He assured Reid that he needn't worry.
As August gave way to September, and the pear harvest wore on, Fox began to feel himself more and more acclimated to farm life. The hours didn't seem so long anymore and he felt his body — otiose and flabby from his indulgent college life — beginning to grow strong, gratified by the vigorousness of the work. The weather was also a boon to his morale; it was almost ceaselessly perfect and his disposition flourished in direct proportion. Every afternoon he'd go skinny-dipping in a nearby lake, and every night he'd have dinner with his new surrogate family, after which they'd polish off a few bottles of wine in front of a movie.
It was a simple and undeviating routine and Fox found comfort in its predictability. The situation could not have been more ideal. All of the anxieties that had recently born so heavily upon him were banished from his mind; his failure at school, his hectoring mother, his father, everything. He did wonder, from time to time, if he shouldn't be feeling a tad guilty for not going home, not honoring Dorothy's request, but the thought was usually dismissed with ease. Why, he'd ask himself, should he have to be miserable just because she was? There was no sense in it. Being in Kelseyville made him happy and he hoped to sustain the feeling as long as he could.
During this idyllic period, however, there was one incident that temporarily disrupted his happiness. There was a picker by the name of Rojelio who, for reasons initially unknown to Fox, had taken a pronounced dislike to him. The first indication occurred when Fox overheard him say his name (Pince Bruho!) and then afterward spit on the ground in disgust. Soon after, when Fox began joining the pickers for drinks, Rojelio made a conspicuous show of absenting himself. And whenever Fox loaded up one of his bins onto the lift, Rojelio would throw pears at him, more than one of which had found their target. Fox at first did his best to ignore and deflect all of this, thinking Rojelio maybe a little tetched or unbalanced and so requiring special tolerance. But the longer it persisted the less inclined he was to support the theory. Rojelio was not crazy. Rojelio hated him.
It wasn't until Rojelio fell that Fox was made privy as to why. It turned out that he was an occasional binge drinker — a model worker when he was sober, but useless when he hit the bottle — and of late he'd been hitting it hard. Reid had permitted him to stay on only by special dispensation but after the tumble he was deemed too much of a liability and immediately let go. Later that same night, Reid tendered a theory explaining Rojelio's sudden recidivism.
Some months back Reid had tentatively promised the tractor job — as luck would have it a coveted one among some of the pickers — to Rojelio. He'd been a reliable, sober fixture for several harvests running and had more or less earned the privilege. When he was unexpectedly demoted to make way for Fox, he did not handle it well. He grudgingly went back to his old position but it wasn't long before he started drinking again and consequently taking out his frustrations on the unwitting gringo. All of the other pickers were aware of this but had miraculously managed, despite their penchant for gossip, to keep it from Fox.
Fox was initially concerned that there might be some lingering resentment over this among the pickers but the incident seemed to blow over quickly without any discernible change in mood or residual tractor-envy from anyone else. The pear harvest wrapped up uneventfully and the grape harvest began, which proved no less satisfying for Fox.
As the months wore on, the colors changed, and the mountainsides gradually erupted in the dazzling spectra of fall. Times spent around the camp drinking beer continued to be Fox's favorite, but there were other highlights as well. He drove down to San Francisco once to visit a college friend and had a good time boozing his way through North Beach. He also had a short, ego-boosting, commitment-free romance with a perky-titted eighteen year-old who worked the projection booth at the local drive-in. (He didn't even mind holding her hair while she vomited at the all-girls slumber party he was privileged to attend.) Reid and Sarah continued to shower him with affection and several times he and Reid climbed to the top of the mountain behind the house to shoot skeet, which he enjoyed, blithely overlooking his self-made promise never to fire a gun. All told it was an immensely pleasurable time for him, so much so that he entertained staying on, returning after the holidays.
It was strange, he mused, that he should be considering this. First of all, his coming there was almost completely arbitrary, a kind of Hail Mary pass to get himself out of the rut he'd been in. Second, out of all the far-flung and remote possibilities, he'd never once imagined himself becoming a farmer, but suddenly it didn't seem so outlandish. He really could make a life for himself there, he believed, living out some version of the Jeffersonian ideal that, until recently, it had never occurred to him to aspire to.
Reid seemed eager enough to have him stay, as did Sarah, and it wasn't as if he was being flooded with more attractive offers. Richmond wasn't even on his radar, and a return to New York seemed difficult and likely perilous given the troubled path he'd been on before leaving. No, whatever competing ambitions he might have previously nurtured now seemed, with the passage of only four months on the farm, vague and remote to him, even a little precious. Kelseyville was his best bet. He would stay. Everything else, his family included, be damned.
As the grape harvest grew to a close, the atmosphere on the farm became cheery and upbeat. Many of the pickers were planning to return to Mexico for the holidays and they went about their work with a hurried, get-a-move-on exuberance, anxious to be done. Adding to the mood was the upcoming wedding of Juan Numero Tres who'd gotten engaged to a girl from Eureka. The party promised to be a big one, especially for the picker community, whose eternal fear of la migra usually discouraged them from doing anything that might draw too much unwanted attention.
For days it was all they could talk about and Fox was pleased to have been invited considering how few outside of that group had made the list. It confirmed their esteem for him and reinforced his decision to return after the new year. He even had his pinstripe suit — which was his only suit — sent by mail from Richmond especially for the occasion.
On the day of the wedding it seemed like every picker from every neighboring farm was crammed into the chapel and the crowd was even bigger at the reception. Fox was seated not among the other Yanquinos, but among his buddies, most of whom had prinked themselves with new haircuts and cowboy boots. He promised himself that similar boots would soon adorn his feet as well.
Everyone became famously intoxicated and some, in their loose-lipped delirium, had excessively kind words for Fox about how they'd enjoyed working with him. Still others copped to having formerly believed him to be Reid's son, and apologized for the distance they'd initially shown. Toasts were made in Spanish to people and things known and unknown to Fox, but all of them seemed like worthy justification for an additional shot of tequila.
He got thoroughly, exuberantly wasted.
It wasn't until the wee hours that Rojelio showed up. Unbeknownst to Fox, but again no secret to the pickers, he'd never left Kelseyville but had been hired on at another farm. Juan Numero Dos came and told him, presumably by way of a warning, that he was outside. Fox, however, was either too drunk or too naïve to worry and shakily got up to seek him out. On hard-to-steer legs he made his way to the door, using the wall for occasional support. He figured plenty of time had passed. He would apologize, put it to right, bury the hatchet, whatever. He found Rojelio standing in the half-light amidst a huddle of other men he didn't recognize, drinking beer.
"Rojelio!" he called out to him affably. "Que paso?"
Fox was aware of his voice being a little bit louder than it should've been, almost comically so. Rojelio saw him and whispered something guttural and sharp to the huddle, which gave a collective chuckle.
"Nada, Bruho. Nada."
"What are you still doing here?" Fox asked, forgetting the language barrier. "I thought you were long gone."
Again Rojelio made with the confidential whispers, this time inducing more laughter from his audience. The only word Fox could make out was baracho.
"Baracho?" Fox yelled. "You calling me a baracho? Who you trying to get crazy with ése? Don't you know I'm loco?"
Fox knew full well that no one would be hip to the Cypress Hill reference but he made it anyway, thinking it terribly funny just the same. Rojelio stared back at him wordlessly.
"Tranquilo. I'm, just fucking with you man. I only came out to say that I'm sorry."
"Que?" Rojelio asked suspiciously.
"I'm sorry. Lo siento para el tractor. No sabe, entiendo? I didn't know."
Rojelio's eyes narrowed for a second, scrutinizing him.
"Lo siento," Fox offered again, dropping his voice a register for added sincerity.
A thin slit of smile broke across Rojelio's face, implying comprehension, Fox hoped, although he couldn't say for certain.
Rojelio turned back to the group and said something rapid, harsh and indecipherable. Not that Fox needed to understand the letter of it. The ensuing cacophony of derisive laughter made it abundantly clear. Some crass dig no doubt. What a dick, he thought.
"Okay Rojelio. Fuck you, you drunk, ladder-falling asshole."
Fox turned to go back inside, feeling pissed and scolding himself mightily for having made the effort.
As soon as he retreated the men erupted into a chorus of mock sentimental whining, taunting him in a way that conjured up a score of forgotten grade school bullyings. Fox ignored it, rationalizing that he was the "bigger man," but also beginning to feel small yet genuine pangs of anxiety. These men were strangers to him, clearly intoxicated, and there were at least six of them to his one.
In light of this, and amidst various unfamiliar imprecations and sardonic reiterations of Lo siento! Lo siento! he did his best to retrace his steps to the door, still feeling himself only the partial master of his feet.
Fox had made it a few paces when he heard an almost-whistling sound and his neck jerked involuntarily forward — the crisp sting of the impact arriving a half-second later. He spun around violently, clutching his head and looking down to see a half-emptied beer bottle lying broken-necked in the dirt. The men were already posed in comic attitudes of distraction, feigning innocence. One or two of them whistled idly.
"Fuckers!" he shouted, but stood paralyzed, unsure of how to react. As much as his head hurt, he was not sufficiently enraged to ignore the shitty odds. He'd had little experience with fighting, and this was, unequivocally, a poor scenario for mettle-testing. Pulling his hand away from his head he noticed that his fingers were now stippled in red. A tiny, sight-of-blood-induced panic temporarily erased any thought of retribution. He needed to get inside now, his instincts told him. He needed to get that tended to. But the men had also seen the blood on his hands and had a very different take on its significance. They laughed.
Fox felt himself engulfed by a wave of burning, unalloyed rage, a lightening fever intensified by drink.
"Que?" he asked, fleering at him.
"Chinga tu fucking madre!"
It took only one punch to knock out Fox's tooth, and two days of sifting through his own shit to find it.
From his teenage years on, Fox had never put much stock in fate or karma or God, although he was raised to believe in the latter. There was, by his account, no governing principle in the universe, except perhaps that of entropy, which did not necessitate any kind of formal observance on his part. Of course, like a lot of professed non-believers, he'd had his moments — say, for example, the time when he thought his plane was going to crash, or when his mother suffered a subdural hematoma — when, in desperation, he caught himself frantically appealing to somebody, or something, but these were only a short-lived, private embarrassment and always soon forgotten. The rest of the time he was perfectly assured of his conclusion that no invisible forces were arbitrating or strategically influencing his life.
And yet, when Rojelio knocked his tooth out, his conviction was eroded just the tiniest bit. As soon as his tongue felt the bloody lacuna where his incisor had been, he felt, instinctively, that it was something he had earned, some kind of retribution. He could not articulate how he arrived at this conclusion, how his mind pieced together the argument, but he was as convinced of its veracity as he'd ever been of anything: he'd had this coming. It didn't even surprise him that much. It was almost as if he had the foreknowledge that something like it would happen, some vague intuition that he'd too lightly sloughed off, only to have it now occur in spite of himself. And that wasn't all. He suspected he'd also known the 'why' part, even more then he'd known the 'what' — had known for some time but had been suppressing it to the point of seeming ignorance until suddenly, at the moment of forced and painful tooth extrication, it was made abundantly clear. He should have gone home when his mother asked.
And now, however many months later, he was home, back in Richmond with little in the way of a reasonable expectation of leaving anytime soon. His whole sojourn in Kelseyville now appeared to him as a flight of fancy, a brief dream over which a dark curtain of reality had now permanently been drawn. Apparently — although the conclusion was a significantly painful one for him to come to — he had overestimated himself. As much as working the farm had, for a time, made him feel strong and self-determining, the unpleasantness of his impromptu dental procedure had been sufficiently demoralizing to send him running scared back to his mother, who was only too happy to lick his wounds.
He did his best not to assign too much blame to Rojelio but rather to himself although it was a struggle every time he explored with his tongue the tender, empty space where his tooth had been.
"Sweetheart?" Fox's mother called out from upstairs. "You aren't getting into that wine are you?"
"No," he lied.
Fox grabbed a corkscrew from the silverware drawer in the kitchen and quickly slipped out through the garage. Clutching the bottle to his stomach, he headed briskly toward the dense stand of poplar trees that bordered their backyard. Once he was certain that he was safe, he couldn't get the damn bottle opened fast enough.
Original art courtesy Rob Grom.
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