The Last Bottle
by Tristan D’Agosta
Just before he died, Waterson thought to himself what a good year it had turned out to be, and it was a shame that he would not be able to bottle it. He had lived a peaceful life and did not fear judgment. Perhaps Hilda would be there waiting for him.
Not ten minutes earlier, Jim Fearson had stubbed his toe.
“Ouch!” he said.
“For Christ’s sake, I can’t do this all myself!” shouted Walt.
“The hell’s your rush!”
“Please,” pleaded Waterson, “I plead with you -”
“Shut up! I gotta whack you again?”
Jim pried open the barrel. “I pried open the barrel.”
“Get his legs!”
Together, the crooks lifted Waterson and deposited him neatly in the barrel. The blood of Jove spilled over the edge and splattered the walls.
“Christ! That’s gonna look like blood!”
“Put the lid on, you dolt!”
Jim obliged, pounding the edges with his great meaty fist.
“Right. It’s done.”
“How come he’s not kickin’?”
“He’s old, probably doesn’t even know he’s in there.”
Waterson knew he was in there. Perhaps an hour ago he had been out on the porch in the late summer sun, watching the birds flit among his vines of Sangiovese. He noted lazily the arrival of two scruffy men on bicycles, each carrying huge parcels on their backs. He could just see them through the path of the trellises. A hundred yards away, they shouted at one another noiselessly.
How Hilda would have liked this day! he thought. Hilda would have sat beside me, rocking in synchronous pendular motion, and we would have watched these men and dubbed over their voices. Hilda was such fun.
The men appeared to be in a hurry. They dug frantically into the ground, cursing the roots of all the vines. Waterson did not care. He did not intend to live much longer without Hilda.
After some forty minutes, the men finished burying their parcels and looked around. They froze. They had spotted Waterson. They began to run at him, and Waterson imagined them in ballet outfits, prancing as if in moon gravity. He sifted through his memory for an appropriate soundtrack; but they were soon upon him.
“Hey!” said Walt, somewhat rudely. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Waterson,” said Waterson. “How do you do.”
“Cut the double-talk. You saw us out there, heh?”
“Why, of course.”
“All right, come on!”
Walt grabbed him by the collar and lifted. He guided Waterson into the house, kicking down the screen door and knocking glass bottles and metal pots over. Jim followed, bearing his yellow teeth in a vicious grin that spoke a history of coffee drinking.
“What’s a matter wit’ you?” growled Walt. “You don’t feel pain?”
“I feel plenty of pain,” explained Waterson, “but I am so old, I am used to pain.”
Walt tried to kick in another door, but his foot went through. “Open that.”
Jim opened it and trotted down the stairs. “It’s a cellar!”
“Your companion is sharp-witted,” said Waterson.
“Bah!” grunted Walt. He let up his grip and gave Waterson a whack on the head. Waterson tumbled down the stairs.
“One a these’ll do!” said Jim, noting several large wine barrels.
Walt took calm steps down the stairs, then lifted Waterson again. “That one, there!” he said, pointing at a barrel.
Four hours earlier, Jim and Walt hobbled toward their bicycles like turtles in fast motion.
“This thing’s damn heavy!” said Jim.
The bicycles were in view. Jim was a great big fellow, and when he sweated the very air would grow humid around him. The stink of a man who hadn’t showered since his last bath permeated the premises.
“God damn it Jim, you’re fallin’ behind!”
“Shut! You wanna carry the heavy one?”
Jim had all but hyperventilated when they reached their bicycles. Walt had a mountain bike, but Jim’s was an old woman’s road bike with rusty brakes in the front.
“You’re the one who stole it.”
“Aw, it’s got a flat in front!”
Walt turned to his companion like a tiger to a man who has been sawing its tail. “Ride it, god damn it, we ain’t got time! You realize the prison sentence if we get caught? We have ten million at least!”
Jim mounted his bicycle and together they road through the woods.
“I don’t feel like we just robbed ten million dollars,” observed Jim.
“Jesus, what is it with you? We’re in deep right now. We gotta hide this. Cops’ll be all over the case.”
“Are you that stupid? You schemed half of this!”
Jim ran over a large, uncomfortable rock: his brain vibrated.
“You can’t get away with this,” the engineer had stated a half hour ago. “There’s cameras, you’re not even wearing gloves. The money can be traced.”
“Shut him up!” said Walt.
“Shut up!” Jim shouted at the engineer.
The crooks, having extracted the necessary information out of the engineer, ran to the armored car and entered.
“Money,” said Jim.
Walt knifed open a bag to be sure. “Ha! Bills! Perfect!”
They grabbed several moneybags and stuffed their sacks. “You look funny,” said Jim.
“Stop being stupid! You can’t keep your mind on anything. Yours full?”
Walt tried to scratch his nose, but the mask wouldn’t allow it. “All right, let’s scram!”
“In broad daylight,” Jim protested three hours earlier.
“It’s the crack o’ dawn, how’s this broad daylight?”
Jim had climbed up an immense ladder and was fastening a glove over the green light. “You sure this’ll work?”
“Worked in sixty-three.”
“But most of them got caught. Why are we using a glove?”
“Just get it over with! We ain’t got all the time in the world!”
Having covered the green light, Jim broke in and hooked his battery to the red. “Is it on?”
“Heh? Oh you done? Yeah, good! Come on!”
Jim descended, collapsed the ladder and carried it off into the woods. When he returned some clouds were just beginning to catch the sunlight.
“Done? Took ya long enough. Let’s go.”
“They’re gonna find that ladder.”
“We’ll be in Canada, the hell we care.”
They mounted their bicycles and began riding leisurely along the tracks. Jim was a silly figure on such a small vehicle, and he could hardly keep his balance.
“What’s that sound?” he said.
“You hear a kinda faint hissing?”
“No. Come on, we ain’t got a lotta time — still gotta walk back.”
The previous month, Walt sipped his drink with a faint smile. He was intrigued by Jim’s story.
“The Great Train Robbery, eh? What a name!”
“Yeah, but they all got caught.”
“Not all — and it was their own fault.” He puffed a carcinogenic cloud in the direction of Jim’s nostrils. “We’ll do it different. We won’t stop to play Monopoly — just find a place to bury the stuff, hide out in Canada awhile, come back discretely then off to South America! Ain’t even really a crime, we don’t hurt anyone.”
Jim sipped his bitter beer triumphantly. “Glad I thought of it.”
Three months earlier, Waterson sat upon his aging bum, rocking placidly in the spring sun. Through the creaking screen door hobbled Hilda, hunched over and pale, carrying two glasses of chilled wine.
“Here you are,” she said.
“Thank you, my dear Hilda,” replied Waterson, sipping his glass. “It was a good year. I am afraid we have not had even a decent year since then.”
“This is the last bottle,” said Hilda, sitting. “Every spring we’ve had it. Better have a good year this time!”
“Well, about five years ago wasn’t so bad. Just not great.”
Hilda sighed over the course of many seconds. “Well, what’s the difference. None to me, right?”
“Right.” Waterson looked into the cloudy eyes framed by innumerable folds of warm skin. “I will miss you, Hilda.”
“I will miss you too, my dear.”
Copyright © 2008 by Tristan D’Agosta