Entering the pilot’s apartment, Mark found three rooms with identical furnishings mirroring his downstairs. Skip even had the same wall-sized mural of a rain forest.
“Welcome to Saudi’s only bar. Come on in the kitchen,” I said, “I’ll fix you a drink.”
Four green plastic jerry cans were stacked beside the sink. Taking two glasses from a cupboard, he poured a brown, syrupy liquid into each and handed Mark a glass. “You’ll get a buzz out of this. It’s the only booze I’ve ever drunk that gives me a hangover swallowing it.”
Mark took a sip of the wine. It burned his throat.
“How is it?”
“Good,” Mark lied.
“First batch I made gave me diarrhea for three days. Don’t worry. This is a lot better. Drink up.”
Mark took another swallow. It didn’t go down any easier.
“Tomorrow we’ll go down to the supermarket and get you started. It’s real simple: eighteen litters of juice, two pounds of sugar and yeast.”
“I heard it takes twenty-six days.”
“Yep, that’s the tough part. Waiting it out. You drink it before then, it’s still juice, plus you’ll let in bacteria and ruin the stuff. Best thing is to forget you have it until it’s time.
“What if the Saudis find out I’ve got wine in my apartment?”
“They’ll never know y0u got it if you’re cool and drink alone at night like I do.”
The doorbell cut into Mark’s sleep. Like a fly, it buzzed away then returned. He rolled over on his stomach, trying to shake off the noise, but the piercing sound jabbed into the air. Who the hell wanted in at six-fifteen in the morning?
Sitting up, he realized his day of daze had arrived. The 26th day! A secular miracle had occurred: his juice was now wine.”
Again, the doorbell rang.
Wrapping a towel around his waist, Mark made his way to the front door. Cracking it, he peered out.
“Sabahul kheir, teacher, “said Captain Mansur, the Westerner-hating base security officer.
“Sabahul kheir,” Mark replied, startled.
Two other Saudis stood behind him. One wore a police uniform, the other, in white thobe, had the shovel-beard that marked him as a mutawah, religious police.
“Teacher, we are here to make an…” Captain Mansur paused and took a note from his pocket. “An..vent…tory.”
“You mean inventory…at six in the morning?”
“The King today comes to Taif, Inshallah.”
“What does the king coming to Tail have to do with an inventory of my apartment?” he wondered. Suddenly, he remembered the wine in the kitchen.
As if reading his thoughts, Captain Mansur peered around Mark, impatient to enter the apartment.
“Okay, just wait a minute, Captain. I have to go to the toilet,” he said, closing the door.
Hurrying into the kitchen, he grabbed the three jerry containers and dragged them into the bathroom; turned the hot water on full, removed the cocks from the jerry cans and turned them upside down in the shower. Stepping back, Mark watched his precious wine chug-a-lug down the drain. Yanking he curtains around the shower, he tossed the towel aside and opened the front door, naked.
Shock and horror. Like in a vampire movie when Dracula sees silver cross, all three Saudis threw up their hands, covering their eyes.
It must be true,” Mark thought, what he read in Burton’s Travels to Mecca and Medina: it’s forbidden for a Moslem to see a gentile’s genitals.
He stepped back without covering his groin. “Come in, Captain, please excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom. Upset stomach. Please look around.” Without hurrying, Mark went into the bathroom and shut the door.
Steam filled the air as he stepped into the shower, pulled the curtain around him and watched his wine funneling down the greedy, gulping drain.
Minutes later, a knock on the door.
Mark peeked through a slit in the shower curtain. “Yes?”
The door opened a crack, and Captain Mansur’s head poked through the steam. ” An..vent…tory finished. We go.”
The door clicked shut.
Mark turned off the shower water and listened.
A minute later, an engine started and a car pulled away outside.
Mark turned the jerry right-side up, but it was too late. They were empty. His wine was gone.
Getting dressed, he ran up upstairs to rouse Skip and tell him about the raid.
Hearing him describe what happened, Skip kept shaking his head as if expecting the news. “The fuckin’ manager at Panda musta turned you in to Mansur.”
“What if they had found the wine?”
He whistled. “The bastinado.”
“They beat you with a rod one hundred times on your bare feet. But don’t sweat it. They didn’t find the shit. I can let you have a bottle.”
“Dude, my wine ain’t no twist-off top shit. It’s vintage. I’ve been aging this last batch fifty-four days. Call it Château Cirrhosis. My stock’s in the goat pen out back, under the boards. Saudis will never look there.”
“That wine’s gonna stink.”
“Nah. Gives it a little edge. Besides, you shouldn’t talk. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“You’re right, Skip. Can we go get some?”
Stewart Lindh’s poetry & prose has appeared in Shenandoah, Antioch Review, and Poetry.