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Not a Bad Drop

Normally I only have one disaster per dinner party. Sometimes itís a big disaster, like putting out a whole spread of curries and then realising that I forgot to turn on the rice; sometimes itís a little disaster like forgetting to put out some side-dish that nobody expected anyway. But once Iíve had it, I know Iím clear, and can relax.

This party I had last month, I wasnít so sure, because the disaster was up front, in the guest list.

Petra had brought Robbie. Iíve nothing against Robbie. Salt of the earth. Good worker. Great with cars. Ask him. Heíll tell you. No donít ask. Heíll tell you anyway. Not his fault nobodyíll give him a job. Well, it wasnít his fault the PMís car exploded in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue. Heíd been told to clean out the bloody carburettor, not put the damn thing back together again. That was Andyís job.

Robbie reckoned dinner parties were a bit posh, so heíd dressed down in a pair of torn jeans and a T-shirt that described his last sexual encounter with a crocodile. Petra was most embarassed, but only because he hadnít washed the T-shirt since the encounter. Robbieís moustache fitted neatly around the outside of a can of beer ó his fourth, and theyíd only been there half an hour.

Heíd decided I was a greenie because I hadnít mowed the lawn.

"Sanctuary for the lesser spotted ten-toed numbat, is it?" he asked, in a voice which said, I want trouble.

"Yes," I said.

"Cat too good for you?" he said.

"Theyíre predators," I said. "They eat the wildlife."

"Good on them. Thatís what we want." He shoved a foamy moustache forward. "Real survivors. None of these endangered bloody species that die out if you pick a bloody gum leaf."

"We need genetic diversity," I pointed out. "For when the climate changes."

"Thatís what we pay the guys in white coats for, isnít it. They built bloody Frankenstein. They ought to be able to sort out a bit of sunburn."

I retired to the kitchen to stir the soup, wondering where the hell Sue had got to.

Emma joined me.

"Where does Petra find them?" I asked.

"Robbie told you. The guys in white coats, they churn them out by the hundreds."

The doorbell rang. Sue, but she wasnít alone.

If I havenít already told you about Sueís married used-car salesman, you havenít missed anything. Sleaze is not in it. A six foot slob in a suit with a permanent five oíclock shadow, flabby lips, and the biggest ego since Saddam Hussein. Heís the sort of guy that boasts about having made money from HIH because he knew when to sell.

Iíd taken great care to check with Sue that she was free ó even changed the night ó but there he was on the front doorstep, hand pumping like a stationary steam engine, latest model mobile phone in his top pocket.

Sue presented a bottle with a label written in French and a $39.95 price tag on it.

"I hope you donít mind," she said, "but Des was free, and we didnít want to waste the opportunity."

Des winked. "Sales conference. Bungendore," he said.

I ushered them in. Des and Robbie glared at each other, like two tomcats, before Robbie tried to rip Desís arm off in a pretence of greeting.

Dinner was painful. If anyone said more than two words, there was Des, finishing the sentence in his own way, and Robbie topping it, or vice versa. Most of the time, we concentrated on chewing and left them a clear field.

"0-200 in 0.79 seconds..."

"Itís a heap of shit..."

"Immaculate styling..."

"Lines like a steaming turd..."

"It was such an incredible buy..."

"Even the block was solid rust..."

During the middle of the main course, Des pulled out his 3G video mobile phone and started tapping away. Having secured two sets of football replays and arranged lunch, he replaced it with a man-of-the-world smile. Later, while Emma was on an extended visit to the lavatory, he received an obscene call from a hooded alien, complete with tentacles.

For dessert, Des cornered Petra, salesman style, cutting off the corner of the table, back to the rest of us, so we couldnít horn in, leaning towards her so she couldnít escape without him taking the rest of her private space.

"Youíve never had anything like it," he was saying. "Itís total magic."

"But how come itís a 2028 vintage. Is it like buying futures?"

"Relativity. Time dilation. You canít ship a wine half way across the galaxy and expect to get this yearís, you know. Itís a good year. The best. You canít imagine what youíll be getting. The first three million cases, didnít get out of the States."

We all knew what he was talking about. I donít know if youíve seen the reviews of the Altair Ď28, but the word they use is mind-bending. In the Golden Triangle, theyíre dead worried, and the New South Wales Rugby League are already testing for it. As for the police, theyíre helpless. Itís supposed to get you down to the new legal limit of minus 0.5 in one sip.

And Des, being Des, had a case in the car. For sale, of course. And there was more where that came from.

"Altair?" Emma whispered.

"Youíve got to try it," Des was saying, as he made for the door.

It fumed slightly as Des poured a purple stream, glinting yellow and green and orange, into a glass. He waved it around, waiting for a taker. Emma held up a full glass of white, Robbie did the same with a can of beer. "Not now," Emma said. The rest of us watched in silence.

"All the more for me," Des said, swilling it around in the glass.

Two drops spilled into the rubber plant. It clapped its leaves to its head, a tentacle lashed out, then it staggered two steps, collapsed and began to go brown.

"It thinks itís a triffid," Petra said.

"Thought," Emma said.

"Some drop," Des said admiringly.

"Youíre still going to drink it?" Sue said.

"Why not? Iím not a rubber plant with delusions."

He sniffed at it.

Emma nudged me in the ribs. I glared at her. Robbie had been doing it all evening, whenever I wasnít listening, so I was sore.

"With luck heíll turn into a purple blob with pseudopods," she whispered.

"Donít," I said. "Itíll probably be telepathic and increase its sales a hundred-fold."

Des delicately tipped the wine past the flabby lips, every inch the connoisseur. We waited, holding our breath.

Nothing happened.

Des took another sip, surveying his audience with a superior smile.

Then he frowned a little.

"Itís not bad," he said. "A little lacking on the middle palate, perhaps."

Sue clutched Emmaís arm in panic. "Thereís something wrong," she said. "Two sentences, and not a single superlative. Can we ... call a doctor."

Emma was already heading for the telephone. "Bugger that," she said. "Iím ringing Altair to see if we can get some beer for Robbie."

Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1990

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