Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely, his writing has veered from literary to non-fiction, and he is now reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published more than fifty SF short stories, and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets since there is no space for those in Hong Kong.
“I don’t really like wine,” Jason said nervously. But Randolph, the senior partner, was already holding the restaurant door for him.
“Nonsense!” Randolph said jovially, ushering him in. “Everyone likes wine.”
Jason admitted to himself that he didn’t mind a tipple now and then; it was the pairing that made him nervous. And having to do it in front of a group. “I don’t think I can match them up,” he said as the waiter led them to their table.
“Double nonsense!” Randolph insisted. He seated himself at the round table and motioned to Jason to sit opposite. There were eight seats in all.
Jason looked around anxiously. But seeing no sign of them – just decorously dressed waitresses and waiters serving the other tables – he made a final effort. “I have a girlfriend…”
“And I,” Randolph said sonorously, “have a wife.”
Seeing Jason still unconvinced, he leant forward in a kindly manner. “They understand: boys will be boys. What’s a little drink among friends?”
Jason gritted his teeth, and picked up the wine list in its heavy binder. The text swam before his eyes. What had they agreed? Saint-Maitresse, Cabinet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir. The names – he tried to remember what he had been taught.
Randolph pointed. “There, at the back.”
Jason nodded gratefully. His hand trembling, he read aloud,
“Saint-Maitresse – Tawny, full-bodied, sensuous, with scent of elderflower, oatmeal and nutmeg flavours, smooth on the palate, and with a tannin aftertaste.”
“Cabinet Sauvignon – The subtle fragrance and mellow appearance belies an invigorating delivery. Saucy, with an unexpected fruitiness, giving way to an oaken finish and a silky follow-through.”
He looked up. “That’s what we’re having, right?”
Before Randolph could answer, the clients came in. There were three of them, which meant an additional wine. Murmuring ‘Pinot Noir’ to himself, Jason got up, shook hands, and tried to support Randolph as he greeted the guests.
Once the pleasantries were over, the guests ordered their dishes. The sommelier glided in majestically and poured the wine. Randolph shared the Saint-Maitresse with the senior client.
Then came the dreaded moment.
“I’ll ask Jason to do the honours, if that’s all right with you,” Randolph told the senior client. The gentleman smiled superciliously, but did not object.
Randolph nodded to Jason. Jason rose, so as to see better. The sommelier gave the signal. Half a dozen scantily clad young women sashayed out from a hidden alcove, and paraded in front of them. Their perfumes mingled confusingly; Jason felt panic seize him.
Just when he was about to give up and hand over to Randolph, Jason finally managed to focus. The lead woman was plump and red-haired. ‘Tawny, full-bodied, sensuous…’
“The Saint-Maitresse,” he said, his throat dry, picking her out.
“Bravo!” cried Randolph.
“Good choice!” echoed the senior client, patting the vacant seat beside him.