Earlier entries in this series:
"Let's talk about this tomorrow, huh?" said The Winemaker. "We got a lot of shoveling to do here, not to mention fourteen tanks of wine that are still fermenting and going to go to shit if they aren't pumped over in about two hours."
"Get the fuck outta here and don't come back," said The Owner.
The Winemaker flinched and broke eye contact. So this was for real. He had it coming for destroying product and then lying about it--the original sin of fireable offenses in any winery--but to be so close to getting away with it and then blowing it like this was already stinging badly.
"Think hard about what you're doing here," said The Winemaker. The Owner stood still and stared at him.
The Winemaker opened his mouth to say something else, then didn't, then did.
"Have fun with this." He went outside and got into his truck. He lit an American Spirit from the crumpled pack in the cupholder. In the rearview, he saw The Owner waddling back to the office.
The Winemaker had never been fired from any job--virtually everywhere he had worked, he was the best guy in the cellar. The fastest forklifter, the most thorough tank cleaner, the best on-the-spot repairman.
But it was all at once clear to him how much he disliked working here. Even having complete control over winemaking operations wasn't worth being stuck with inferior terroir--waterlogged soil, erratic August weather, not a single south-facing hillside anywhere.
What an accomplishment for someone of his talents to deal with this for so long, and to do it while reporting to a lunatic with an eighth grade education who demanded 95-pointers that would never happen...
Call it career suicide-by-cop.
He sucked the cigarette down quickly and went back inside. Agustino and Juan Luis were shoveling again. One of them should be the next winemaker, he thought. The Assistant was an effete city boy who had great instincts about wine but was not suited for this sort of work, and would certainly bail soon to become a sommelier in some hipster restaurant.
But these guys... dedicated, strong, resilient, much smarter than anyone gave them credit for... they could make wine here.
Not that it would ever happen under this Owner, a racist through and through.
Anyway it wasn't The Winemaker's problem anymore. It was time to go. He went to the lab and took the pH meter, which was his to begin with. He decided to leave the Ziploc of pot under the sink for The Assistant.
There was one more thing to deal with. He found a long thick chain and attached one end of it to the temperature probe inside The Tank, the cause of all this. There was a hook on the other end that he attached to the forklift. He pulled open the wide loading door at the back of the winery and considered it for a moment, making some quick calculations of angles and momentum, then started the lift truck.
The Tank's legs buckled easily as he rolled towards the door. Agustino was grinning, watching its metal belly kick up beautiful sparks as it dragged against the concrete floor. Juan Luis stared dumbly, then made a fast move towards the door when it became apparent The Tank wasn't going to clear it.
"No tocha! No tocha!" yelled The Winemaker. He threw the forklift into reverse and backed into the nose of The Tank, pivoting it fifteen degrees. He continued forward and it barely cleared the opening.
The paving outside was rough brick, and the noise of The Tank dragging on it was absolutely gruesome--it reminded The Winemaker of the beginning of a Sonic Youth song. He could feel that the forklift was at its limit of towing capacity, strong as it was. But it kept going.
The tasting room and office building was two hundred yards down a small hill, and beyond that was a tourist-dense state highway.
It was Friday, the dreary morning had given way to a beautiful afternoon, and the crowds were beginning to arrive. There was already a big bus with tinted windows in the lot, attractive young people filing out and into the tasting room like ants towards a discarded popsicle stick.
The Winemaker reached the hill and turned to look at The Tank. Driving the forklift on a grade wasn't easy, but he was excellent--better than excellent--at this sort of thing. The tricky part was going to be staying in front of The Tank and accelerating immediately if gravity started to take over.
Of course, he lined it up perfectly and maintained total control. He was going to miss this forklift.
Three confident-looking guys in turtlenecks got off the bus but didn't follow the rest of the group inside. One drank from a tallboy in a paper bag, and another took out a pack of Marlboro Lights and passed it around. They smoked and had a conversation where every statement or question was met with an incredulous reaction.
Then one saw The Winemaker and The Tank coming towards them. His cigarette fell from his lips.
"HIT THE DECK BRO!!!" he roared, then for emphasis tackled one of his friends onto the grass.
The Winemaker turned to see the incredulous faces gathering against the windows of the tasting room as he crossed the lot. He hoped The Owner was watching, though he realized it would be just as good if someone had to run into his office and tell him.
The side of The Tank dragged along the side of the bus, scraping off most of the lettering in "SPRING BREAK WINE COUNTRY TOURS". A silver Cadillac turning into the lot from the road swerved onto the picnic lawn to avoid it.
"HEY!!" There was The Owner now, running, as fast as his eight decade-old legs could, out the tasting room door.
"HEY!!!" replied The Winemaker, "I'M NOT COMING BACK!!"
He reached the road and signaled a right turn with his extended arm. Just as he turned onto the shoulder, he realized he left his wallet and driver's license in his truck, which meant he probably was coming back.
Or not. He'd worry about it later.