Wine! Hundreds of bottles.
“This is quite a wine cellar!” Marshall Leibowitz remarked as he and the white-haired cork master, Frank Remley, walked down the slightly creaky stairs into the large, climate-controlled basement room.
“No other wine club can boast of vintages rarer than those here at Arkwright,” Remley said proudly as the two men stepped onto the floor and looked out over the wooden racks.
“I would think not!”
“As a member, you will have access to all of these wines.”
“Really?” Leibowitz asked excitedly.
“In a ‘diplomatic’ fashion.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“We can’t possibly partake of every vintage we have in the racks,” the older man explained, “so, at our monthly meetings, the members vote for the wine that should be enjoyed at our next meeting. Whatever bottle gets the greatest number of votes is properly prepared and served then.”
“I really hope I’m voted in. I’ve been waiting for an opening here ever since I moved to the city.”
“I have no doubt you will be admitted at today’s meeting.”
“As a young attorney, you are just the kind of professional we’re looking for as a new member,” Remley told Marshall. “It is, of course, terribly sad that Mr. Raymond passed on.”
“I had the honor of working on some legal documents for him. He was a fine man.”
“But, without his death, there would not be an opening here at Arkwright.”
“You really think I’ll be admitted?”
“I’d say you can count on it,” Frank commented. “As a member, you’ll be expected to donate four hours a month of your time to the club’s care and upkeep.”
“That’s in addition to the yearly dues?”
“It is,” Remley said. “Is that a problem?”
“No, but isn’t such a stipulation . . . well. . . excessive?”
“Not at all. Our charter has maintained that requirement since the club’s founding in 1928 by Simon Arkwright. In this way, we save funds that would have to be spent on hired help, allowing us to invest instead on the acquisition of rare vintages. Everyone donates his time.” Remley paused, smirked, and inquired, “Do you wish not to be considered for membership any longer?”
“Oh no. Certainly not!” Leibowitz replied, quickly dispelling the notion. “Any true wine connoisseur would be a fool to pass up the opportunity. I was merely taken by surprise.”
“If you have physical limitations that prevent you from performing certain tasks, please inform the secretary after you are admitted. We don’t wish to cause our members any bodily harm.”
“I can do whatever might be needed.”
“That’s good to know,” Remley told him. “Colonel Thrip, 88 years old and sharp as a tack, recently had to stop assisting with the club’s upkeep. Bad heart, you know?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“But with him being the Colonel and having been a member in fine standing of Arkwright since the Carter Administration, we have waived that requirement for him.” Frank gestured at the many wooden racks. “Perhaps you’d like to perform your service here, tending to the bottles? We need someone for that chore.”
“I would like that very much, and it wouldn’t be a chore.” Leibowitz reached out and removed a random bottle from one of the racks. He blew the dust from the label and could not believe his eyes. “The ’47? I’ve only heard rumors of its existence.” He grabbed another bottle and was equally astounded. “How did you ever come across such rare specimens?”
“The name Arkwright carries great weight in the wine world. Anything can be had. . . for a price.”
He carefully removed another bottle. “This one is empty,” he said, confused.
“Yes, it is.”
Leibowitz tapped on another couple of bottles. They were also dry. “Do the members save the empties as remembrances of vintages enjoyed?” he wondered.
“Then why. . .”
“There is one more thing you should know about Arkwright.” Remley stepped forward and removed an empty bottle from a rack. “Our secret,” he said proudly. He pulled the cork from the bottle’s neck. The wine cellar began to violently shake. Dust fell from the ceiling, and many of the bottles dinged against one another.
“It’s an earthquake!” Leibowitz exclaimed.
Remley was strangely, totally calm. “Don’t be alarmed.”
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