Fredrick arrives ten minutes earlier than expected, and I put my hands in my pockets to hide their nervous tremor. Tonight is probably the most important evening of my career. If anything goes amiss, I’ll be humiliated.
Fredrick smiles warmly and hugs me. “Damian. It’s good to see you again.”
“How was Algeria?”
“Fantastic.” He sits down at the head of the table. “Everything there was so exotic. It was like being in a different world.”
“You’ll have to show me the photos,” I reply.
“I will.” He looks around the room. The table is set for twelve with my finest cutlery. The bottle of 1945 Mouton-Rothschild is the centerpiece. The same vintage as when Fredrick was born. He gasps when he notices it.
“The Mouton!” He looks at me, and I can’t hide my laugh. “Damian, are you sure?”
“I thought it would be a fitting birthday gift.”
Fredrick looks away. His voice fills with emotion. “No, you’ve already done too much for me.” He faces me, his eyes are red. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d never have survived…”
I wave my hand. “Please, now, don’t get so emotional. You know I did it because I care. I could not let someone as special as you go to waste.”
He wipes the tears from his eyes.
“Shall we open it?” I ask.
“Now?” The excitement lights up his eyes. “What about the other guests?”
I cut away the foil with a bottle opener. “Tonight is your night. It’s about you.” The cork is still in good state. It opens with a satisfying pop. The scent fills the air. I see his hand tremble ever so slightly as I pour the dark amber liquid into his glass. He sniffs it–his longing mirrors my own. He takes a sip. “Ah…” he says. “This is fantastic .”
“You can’t keep things forever. Fifty five years is long enough,” I say as I fill his glass.
“Aren’t you having any?”
“Soon. I’ll wait for the others. You go ahead, enjoy yourself. This is your night.”
A few minutes later, the other guests arrive, filing into the room with expectant expressions. My heart is racing. It’s almost time. They greet Fredrick and take their seats. I stand up to give my speech.
“Almost forty five years ago, I found a small boy living in the slums of post-war Paris. He was terrified and untrusting, but I knew that once you got past the crusty exterior there was something special inside. And I was right. Fredrick, I am proud to say that you’ve become a strong and pleasant man, one that we can all be proud of. Here’s to you.”
Fredrick stands up and gives me a strong hug. The warmth of his body against mine is intoxicating. I take the corkscrew and plunge it into his neck. He lifts his hands, but the shock has made him weak. The blood pours out of him, beautifully red.
I turn back to the guests.
“A 1945 French original that I have taken care of for more than four and a half decades. Enjoy.”
We fill our glasses and drink.