She flew left, made a graceful somersault then hung upside down, rocking like a pendulum. From her inverted position she saw Santiago’s Steakhouse packed with people enjoying dinner. Two years ago oenophile and rare wine broker, Santiago Villón, gutted the interior of an old building and established a restaurant that boasted the world’s largest wine tower storing wine bottles from floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall.
Jordan righted herself. A third of the way up the 50 foot wine tower she moved out, away from the wine tower about six feet, and touched the thick, Plexiglas dining room divider. She removed the paper from under her arm, unfurled then wiggled it.
A few diners pointed. A man knelt down on one knee in front of the woman with him. After the woman looked up at Jordan, she looked down at the man and nodded her head. Apparently the answer was “Yes,” to the question “Will you marry me?” written on Jordan’s sign. Smiling, Jordan re-rolled the paper, swung back to the wall to grab a bottle of wine for the couple and descended. She handed both to a waiter.
She ascended again, touching off with her right leg, favoring her left leg still sore from last year’s tragic rock climbing accident.
Her earpiece chirped. “Mr. Boobbyer requests a 1960 Château Pamplemousse ice wine from Santiago Villón’s private collection. It’s at the tippy top. Row 1, aisle 16. Make it a good show for our big spender. Last night’s performance was rather pedestrian.”
Jordan ignored the wine sommelier’s jibe and continued to rise in graceful, fluid left to right movements. Rupert with his pretentious English accent was a royal pain in the...
Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed a commotion in the dining room and rotated her body harness to get a better view. She turned to see the hostess, Cassie, drop a wine bottle while trying to fend off a drunken Boobbyer. She assumed the bottle was empty since chunks of glass sparkled on the marble floor but she didn’t see wine.
Beyond the table, Mr. Villón observed the scene and stood up. He pointed at Cassie then toward the door. Was he firing Cassie for dropping an empty bottle? That would be ridiculous…and heartless. Cassie was a single mom with a disabled son and it was almost Christmas. Jordan moved forward futilely trying to hear the conversation through the Plexiglas.
Her earpiece chirped again. “Stop gawking at the floor show. Get back to work.”
Reluctantly, Jordan slowly somersaulted twice. Then, she raised her arms and folded her right leg behind her back and continued upward.
At the top she located the correct row and aisle, pulled out the ice wine and stuck it in her hip holster, securing the lid. She noticed Villón’s private collection of rare wine was almost depleted; it would be difficult to replace this stock quickly.
Rupert snatched the bottle from her hand. “Are you mental? You un-holstered mid-air. You could have smashed it and lost a small fortune. Villón fired Cassie just for dropping an empty bottle. Shape up!” Shaking his head, he began to walk away.
Rupert turned around. “A new wine angel starts tomorrow. You’re on full time hostess duty until we replace Cassie and your attitude improves.”
Jordan winced. She loved being a wine angel. Plus, as hostess she would stand on her bad leg for hours. “Wait. How did you hire someone so quickly?”
“I hired her last week since I intended to fire you.”
ɸ ɸ ɸ
Jordan, wearing a skimpy hostess outfit, limped into the dining room. She passed the new wine angel on her way to perform.
Lark gave her an enthusiastic embrace. “Thanks for training me. Wish me luck on my first flight.”
“You’ll do great, Lark. Remember, safety first and…” She pointed at her.
“The first duty of a wine angel is to guard the wine.”
While seating guests, Jordan kept an eye on Lark. Not bad form although she looked slightly awkward at times. But then the twenty-two year old girl’s only previous experience with climbing and acrobatics was as high school cheerleader.
Boobbyer and entourage, wearing lookalike Hermés suits and Stetson hats, arrived. She escorted them to a table. Boobbyer pulled out a business card and held it high above her head.
“I’m entertaining important people over the holidays and want Villón’s rare wines. I won’t pay full price but I will pay cash if you find extras.” He winked then pushed his card into her hand.
Jordan’s eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. “Your waiter will be with you shortly.” She crumpled the card and stuck it in her pocket. The creep wanted her to steal. Walking away she wiped her hands on her uniform to remove Boobbyer residue.
She began collecting empty wine bottles and looked up to check on Lark. She was bouncing up and down like an out-of-control yoyo, dropping from the top of the tower to the middle in a few seconds then back up.
Horrified, Jordan ran into the control room adjacent to the wine room. The 55ᴼ F temperature shocked her bare legs and arms. Rupert sat calmly in a chair in front of a computer.
“Rupert, do something. The system has gone crazy.”
“It’s just a little glitch.”
Jordan wrestled the mic from a scowling Rupert. “Lark, what’s wrong?”
“The controls aren’t responding. I’m going to remove my harness and climb down.”
Jordan breathed deeply, trying to slow her rapid heartbeat as she flashbacked to rock climbing with her younger brother. Tyler, acting like a reckless teenager, unhooked from his harness mid-climb. Frightened for him, Jordan took off her harness and free soloed to Tyler. Taking it as a challenge, he tried to race her up the mountain. He lost his footing and tumbled down the side. Jordan grabbed for him and fell on a ledge breaking her leg. Helpless she heard his screams, then silence.
She shook her head to snap out of the memory. “No, Lark! Stay on harness. I’ll climb up and help you.”
“Going to save the day, sweetie?” Rupert asked in a falsetto voice.
Jordan started to run out the door but stopped. She was about to repeat the same mistake she made with her brother; letting fear guide her instead of rational thinking. Calming herself, she shoved Rupert out of the way and examined the computer control panel.
“Lark, I’m going to try something.”
She pressed a key. Nothing happened. Then another. Nothing. Starting to sweat, she remembered her training class instructions. In an emergency, shut the program off and it will automatically lower someone. She clicked the off button.
“Jordan, it worked! I’m coming in for a landing.”
Jordan and Rupert met Lark as she touched ground.
“You saved my life, Jordan. Rupert let me twist in the wind.”
Rupert snorted. “So dramatic.”
She pulled a bottle from her holster and gave it to Jordan. “I saved the wine.”
Jordan glanced at the bottle in her hand and frowned. It looked like an exact duplicate to the one she retrieved from Villón’s private stock last night. How did Rupert replace this rare ice wine so quickly?
Lark stopped in front of Rupert. “Jordan is guardian of wine and wine angels. Remember that.”
“You’re both just wenches on winches. I can fire you in an instant.” Rupert snapped his fingers. “Remember that!” He snatched the bottle from Jordan.
Jordan patted Lark on her shoulder and tried to make light of the situation. “Relax and go get warm. The wine sommelier has sour grapes.”
ɸ ɸ ɸ
So, I’m guardian of the wine angels? Jordan smiled as she walked out the restaurant door to the parking lot. It felt good to help someone. The guilt she carried from her brother’s death somewhat abated and left her lighter than she’d felt in months.
As she opened the car door, her cell beeped with another voice message from her mother. We love you. Nobody blames you for Tyler’s accident. Come home for the Christmas. Jordan paused, then pressed delete and threw the phone in the glove box. She wasn’t ready to face her family.
Inserting the key in the ignition, she glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Villón’s red Bugatti Veyron angled across two parking spaces. What was he doing here so late at night? She swiveled her head and noticed a light on in the wine cellar. It was off limits to staff but she needed to tell Villón that Rupert was negligent and had endangered Lark’s life.
Jordan got out of the car and walked down the stairs to the wine cellar. Testing the knob, she cautiously opened the door and peeked into the dimly lit space. She closed the door and heard the murmur of voices down the hall.
“He-hello.” Jordan paused in the doorway.
She walked past an open room. Cartons of empty bottles lined the room. Curious, she backed up and entered. Stacks of wine labels and rubber stamps sat on a table. She thumbed through labels from well-known wineries like Château Pamplemousse. There was a large bowl of corks and a re-corking tool to one side.
A chill traveled down her back. She dropped the labels on the table. Was this a counterfeiting operation? She’d read about a recent FBI sting targeting counterfeit wine. The crooks poured cheap wine in original rare wine bottles or slapped on fake labels, re-corked and then sold them for huge profits. Even experts from prominent auction houses were fooled. This would explain how wine from Villon’s “one of a kind” collection was replaced overnight and why he over-reacted to a broken empty bottle. One bottle reused multiple times could easily fetch half a million dollars.
She turned to run and heard the voices get louder. Jordan eyed the distance to the door and didn’t think she could make it in time.
She crossed the hall and hid behind wine barrels stacked almost to the roof. She couldn’t see but could hear two men talking. One voice sounded like Villón but the second was muffled.
“…had to stop her from taking the wrong bottle of wine. Boobbyer is a moron but he might have noticed it was a match to last night’s wine bottle so I jammed the controls. I planned to lower her down and intercept the bottle but she panicked. Jordan saw the bottle but it didn’t register.” He chuckled nervously.
“Never again, Rupert.”
“No, Mr. Villón.”
Jordan gasped, and then put a hand over her mouth. It was Rupert talking although his apparently phony English accent had disappeared.
Jordan looked for a way to escape but all exits led to the hallway. If she climbed up the wine barrels she could bend low and run along the top then climb down the other side. Maybe. She hadn’t free soloed since her brother’s death. Jordan began to shake. Breathing slowly she calmed herself then started up the barrels. Right hand, left hand, legs finding purchase on the sides of barrels. It was surprisingly easy to get into a rhythm.
Sounds of moving feet stopped. Jordan paused and looked behind her and down at the two men, her long hair covering her eyes partially blocking her vision.
Villón sneered up at her. “Let’s talk. You need money and I have money.”
“You’re a crook.” Jordan continued her climb.
A loud bang echoed through the cellar as a bullet hit the wine barrel to the left and above her. Wine spewed out the hole. More shots sounded as two more holes burst forth. Red wine gushed out, splashing Jordan.
She reached the top and pulled her body up so she lay on the barrels. Peering over the side she saw Villón and Rupert soaked in red wine, slipping on the slick floor. Rupert had a gun in his hand. Thinking quickly she wrapped her arms around an overhead beam. With her good leg she pushed the teetering, nearly empty wine barrel down the stack. It crashed and splintered, knocking Rupert into Villón. Rupert’s gun went off and Villón fell down, hit.
She released her arms from the beam and exchanging stares with a wine covered Rupert. Jordan said, “You sabotaged Lark so she wouldn’t take the counterfeit wine bottle.”
He pointed his gun at her. “You just killed Villón. Get down, Jordan. Now.”
She fished for the cell phone normally in her pocket. Headsmack. It was in the glove compartment.
Jordan crouched and began running over top of the barrels, Rupert bolting along the ground next to her. She stopped suddenly when the barrels ended.
Rupert sneered. “You can’t stay there forever.”
Jordan considered her situation and made a decision. She pushed her hair away from her eyes and tucked it behind the collar of her uniform. Trying not to think of the consequences, she took a short leap then grabbed the wire of a hanging industrial light. The cable cut into her hands as she slid down to the light fixture. She kicked and swung to the next one, then the third.
She hung, and then dropped to the ground planning to escape out the door. It was a longer drop than she anticipated. Stunned by the impact with the concrete floor, she lay wincing in pain, her left leg throbbing, hands bleeding.
Rupert ran toward her. She rolled to the side, stopped by an open carton of full wine bottles.
Jordan watched him advance. She didn’t want to die. She missed her family, especially her mom. She lobbed a bottle at Rupert. He ducked. It shattered on the floor. Mustering all her strength, she threw bottle after bottle. One smacked him and he fell hard to the side, his head making a wet, cracking sound against an oak barrel. No signs of life.
Shocked, she picked herself up to go for help. As she struggled to the door she wondered about the future. She was alive but her bosses were dead and she didn’t have a job. How could she help Cassie? Then she remembered the wine bottles, each valued around $80k, and smiled.
Jordan picked up a few wine bottles and limped out. “Pedestrian show, Rupert.”
ɸ ɸ ɸ
Jordan gingerly held a full envelope between her bandaged hands and walked the path to Cassie’s first floor apartment. Through the window she saw a scene straight out of Dickens: Cassie seated next to a tiny Christmas tree reading to her son.
Jordan slid the envelope through the mail slot, rang the doorbell, and hid beside a bush. Cassie peeked out the door. She read the outside of the envelope out loud. “From your guardian angel.” She flipped through the cash and began to cry.
“Thank you, guardian angel.” Cassie sniffled and closed the door.
Jordan slid into her car and flicked the surfing Santa bobble head on the dashboard—a present from Lark—for luck. She tossed her head, short hair swishing. Jordan revved the motor and headed home for the holidays.
While Santiago’s Steakhouse is a fictional place, wine angels can be found guarding wine the world over. Some restaurants like Aureole at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas or the Raddison Blu have multi-story wine towers and the performances are graceful and sensual. Others like Texas de Brazil in San Antonio, feature a wider wine tower and acrobatic performances.
Texas de Brazil, San Antonio
Radison Blu, Stansted Airport, United Kingdom