*Big Play* Excellent Choice

by robhayeswritesplays

Excellent Choice

 

A wine shop.

Peter stands rigid behind the counter. Samuel has entered. The two men stare at each other.

PETER: Hello.

SAMUEL: Hello.

PETER: Hello.

Beat.

SAMUEL: Are you open?

PETER: Very open, yes. I hate secrets.

SAMUEL: I meant the shop.

Peter lets his eyes wander around the shop, as if he’s only just realised what it is.

SAMUEL: As in the wine shop. The thing we’re stood in.

PETER: Oh yes, that’s.

Beat.

PETER: Come in.

SAMUEL: I am in.

PETER: Good. Stay there. Make yourself at home.

SAMUEL: Make myself at home?

PETER: Please.

SAMUEL: This is a wine shop.

PETER: No that’s true.

Samuel nods. Scans the shelves.

SAMUEL: I’ve been told this is the best in London.

PETER: Really? Who told you that? Was it Sean?

SAMUEL: I don’t think so.

PETER: Sean? Short guy. Huge beard. Pot belly.

SAMUEL: No, that wasn’t.

PETER: Irish. Probably wearing bright yellow trousers. Bit of a squint in his left eye.

SAMUEL: It wasn’t him.

PETER: Gammy knee. Spits a lot.

SAMUEL: Definitely someone else.

PETER: Are you sure it wasn’t Sean?

SAMUEL: Pretty sure.

PETER: Massive red face. No? Perhaps it was someone else.

SAMUEL: I think it was.

PETER: Very weird. Were they making fun of me?

SAMUEL: No.

PETER: Poking fun were they? Being sarcastic?

SAMUEL: No.

PETER: That would’ve hurt my feelings.

SAMUEL: I think they were genuine.

PETER: Good. That’s. Good.

SAMUEL: Seems like a well kept secret. I walked up and down this road twice before I found you. It’s almost as if you don’t want to be noticed.

PETER: I’m glad you persisted.

Samuel smiles. Browses the wines.

PETER: Anything in particular I can help you with?

Samuel takes a dramatic step forward.

SAMUEL: I would like to buy some wine.

He retreats back to his original position.

Beat.

PETER: I’m so sorry we’re closed.

SAMUEL: Pardon?

PETER: We’re not selling wine today we’re closed.

SAMUEL: No you’re not.

PETER: There’s another place down the road.

SAMUEL: You just said.

PETER: Perfectly passable selection.

SAMUEL: You said you’re open.

PETER: A range to suit every price bracket. Wines from all over the world etc.

SAMUEL: Stop it!

Peter looks at his watch.

PETER: I suppose I could squeeze in one more customer. How can I help?

SAMUEL: I’m looking for a fine wine.

PETER: This is a fine wine shop. All my wines are fine. Some are excellent, but they’re all fine.

Samuel takes one from the shelf.

SAMUEL: How about this one?

Peter shrugs.

PETER: It’s fine.

SAMUEL: I think we’ve misunderstood one another. I’m looking for a particularly fine wine.

PETER: Which one?

SAMUEL: I was hoping you could tell me.

PETER: I see, you need an expert’s opinion. Well, what’s the occasion?

SAMUEL: Yes, it’s not quite as simple as that .

PETER: It’s a girl, isn’t it?

SAMUEL: In a way.

PETER: Of course. Fine wine for a fine lady. How much are you looking to.

SAMUEL: How much?

PETER: On the wine, what’s your price range?

SAMUEL: Well, I really don’t.

PETER: I can’t suggest a wine unless I know how much you’re prepared to spend.

SAMUEL: Right. I. £5 million. Top end.

PETER: I see.

Beat.

PETER: Sorry, how much wine were you hoping to buy?

SAMUEL: Just the one bottle.

PETER: Just the one. I see. Bit of a wine fan are you?

SAMUEL: Getting there.

PETER: It’s a rare student that has that kind of capital to throw around. You must really, really love wine.

SAMUEL: I do. I really do.

PETER: You could buy an entire vineyard for that.

SAMUEL: I only need the one bottle.

PETER: What’s your favourite?

SAMUEL: Pardon?

PETER: Your favourite wine?

Beat.

SAMUEL: Red.

PETER: Red?

SAMUEL: And sometimes white. With fish.

PETER: And what’s your opinion on the 1964 Chateau Neuf Du Pape?

Beat.

SAMUEL: It’s nice.

PETER smiles.

PETER: Yes, it’s generally considered to be. Nice. Of course with your budget you could use that as mouthwash. You could bathe in it.

SAMUEL: People do that, do they?

PETER: There are other ways of impressing a girl you know.

SAMUEL: I’m not trying to impress her.

PETER: £5 million could go very far in wooing a lady.

SAMUEL: No, that’s not.

PETER: Right, trying to keep her then.

SAMUEL: Something like that.

PETER: Have you tried bringing food into the bedroom? Spice things up a bit?

SAMUEL: No, that’s not.

PETER: I once baked a flan on my wife’s chest. The scarring was horrific but the flan was quite delicious.

Beat.

PETER: Summer fruit.

Samuel turns, browses the shelves.

SAMUEL: How long have you owned this place?

PETER: Oh, longer than I care to remember. Can’t say I was much of a wine drinker when I took it over. Learnt on the job.

SAMUEL: Family business, is it?

PETER: Something like that. I was coerced a little bit, to be honest.

SAMUEL: Who by?

PETER: Who do you think? My wife. Women, eh? Can’t live with them.

Beat.

PETER: I hope she’s worth it.

SAMUEL: She is.

PETER: She must know a thing or two about the grapes as well, if she’s going to appreciate your gift.

SAMUEL: She’ll appreciate it.

Samuel looks to the shelves.

PETER: I’m afraid those wines will do you no good. The best we offer on the shop floor barely brooch the price of a second hand Porche.

SAMUEL: Is that so?

PETER: That’s a type of car.

SAMUEL: Yes, I know what a Porche is.

PETER: They’re pedestrian by your standards. Toilet water. Fit for heads of state, Arabian princes, wealthy collectors the world over, but for a man of your means, absolute dog piss.

SAMUEL: Perhaps you can show me some wines of a suitable calibre then.

PETER: Certainly sir. I keep them out back.

He does not move.

PETER: Think very hard about what you’re doing.

SAMUEL: I have.

PETER: Very well sir.

He does not move.

PETER: I’ll introduce you to some bottles slightly lower down the spectrum to start with, in case you find something that suits your needs without committing to such a massive financial outlay.

SAMUEL: That’s really not necessary.

PETER: I insist. There’s every chance you’ll be happy with just a bloody good red. Or perhaps a white if you’re having it with fish.

SAMUEL: Don’t waste your time.

PETER: I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of fleecing you.

SAMUEL: Advise me well and you won’t be.

PETER: Value for money is a crucial part of customer satisfaction. It wouldn’t do me any good at all to oversell some jumped up beaujolais to a bewildered young pup with more money than he clearly knows what to do with.

SAMUEL: I know what to do with it. I only hope you do too.

PETER: What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?

SAMUEL: I’m an engineer.

PETER: An engineer, you’d want a bold, well constructed wine with discrete flavours that traverse the tongue one at a time. Like a ‘97 Grenache. Great with steak. Nothing mellow or flowery like a new world Pinot Noir. Yes, something dense and layered. The same sensation with every mouthful, perhaps a Zinfandel. If I fobbed you off with a Rioja, you’d be in a right state. It jumps all over the place like a maniac. Throws flavours at you from all angles. Never know where you stand. If you were, I don’t know, a poet for example, then that’d be right up your street. Then again if you were a poet you probably wouldn’t have £5 million to spend on a single bottle of wine. For the sake of a girl.

SAMUEL: I appreciate your consideration, but try not to over-think it. I’m prepared – in fact I’m quite keen – to spend up to my limit. And I’m sure if you let your instinct take over, you’d know exactly the kind of drink I’d like to buy.

Peter immediately produces a bottle of wine from under the counter.

PETER: Yours for a mere £500,000.

SAMUEL: What is it?

PETER: A very special wine. Only two made in the world, and this is the last.

SAMUEL: So it’s rare.

PETER: As unicorn faeces.

SAMUEL: What is it?

PETER: Unicorn faeces.

Beat.

PETER: That was a joke. It’s nowhere near as spectacular.

SAMUEL: So what is it?

PETER: The contents of Princess Diana’s stomach on the night she died. Pulped, sieved and fermented.

SAMUEL: What’s it like?

PETER: Tart. Laced with cocaine and vastly overrated.

SAMUEL: I see.

PETER: It’s deceptive, inconsistent. Bit of a minefield really. It’s the kind of bottle you keep behind glass in a foyer. Dinner party fodder. Six of us shared the last bottle, all experts, at a convention in Paris. We supped whilst the crowds wept. It was a bit young then, might have matured in the intervening years.

SAMUEL: It’s not what I had in mind.

PETER: It’s a crowd pleaser. Provided you never open it.

SAMUEL: People don’t like to be reminded of tragedy, especially not through wine.

PETER: I couldn’t agree more.

SAMUEL: Not really the right price bracket either.

PETER: If this baby was quaffable then it would be a completely different story. Price would go through the roof. Perhaps it is. Perhaps its silently become the most valuable wine in the world. We’ll never know. And if we ever do find out it’ll be too late.

Peter stares at the bottle, then puts it back behind the counter.

PETER: I’m afraid that may be the most interesting wine we have in stock. There are better wines, sure. But they can all be placed on a chart, or read up in a book. A neat little value on them based on a quantifiable matrix of region, topography, climate, year, volume in circulation…tiresome stuff if you ask me. The best wines have good stories to go with them. Nothing impresses a girl like a wine with a good story.

SAMUEL: I’m not trying to impress a girl.

PETER: I heartily suggest you try the food in the bedroom thing. It really adds another dimension to proceedings.

SAMUEL: I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, or… but I have come here to buy wine, I’d appreciate it if you respect that fact. I’m offering you a lot of money and I expect your most precious bottle. It really is as simple as that.

PETER: Just want to be sure we’re making the right choice, sir. All part of the service.

SAMUEL: Please don’t call me sir.

PETER: What’s your name?

SAMUEL: Samuel.

PETER: Samuel. Very pleasant. Don’t like the contraction?

SAMUEL: I prefer to keep it gender specific.

PETER: Good choice. Avoid any potential for confusion. Are you married, Samuel?

SAMUEL: No. No I’m not married.

PETER: Why not?

SAMUEL: Marriage either ends in divorce or death. I never fancied either.

Peter laughs.

PETER: Gosh that is clever.

The two men watch each other.

PETER: I’m Peter by the way. And I would strongly endorse marriage, if pushed. I agree, it never ends well but they say the journey is the destination.

SAMUEL: Depends on where you’re going.

PETER: Let me tell you a joke.

SAMUEL: Really? I’m actually a little short on.

PETER: A man and his wife have been married for thirty years. Every year at three o’clock on the morning of their anniversary, he goes downstairs into the kitchen and takes out their honeymoon pictures. He looks over them and cries himself to sleep right there at the table. After thirty years of finding her husband asleep at the kitchen table on the morning of their anniversary, holding their honeymoon photographs, she finally asks him, ‘why? Why do you do this every year? Why so early in the morning? Why our honeymoon photos?’ And he says— have you heard this before?

SAMUEL: No.

PETER: Oh, that’s annoying. I was hoping you’d remember the punchline.

SAMUEL: All this talk about customer service and you’re not actually very good at selling wine are you?

PETER: You’re getting impatient aren’t you?

SAMUEL: Yes!

PETER: It really shows. It’s not healthy Samuel. Not in this game anyway.

Peter exits. Samuel browses.

Peter re-enters with a wooden box. He places it on the counter.

PETER: Look at this. Any idea what it is?

SAMUEL: It’s a wooden box.

PETER: Ah, but this is no ordinary wooden box. Take a look inside.

At Peter’s beckon, Samuel opens the box and looks in.

SAMUEL: It’s a bottle of wine.

PETER: Ah, but that’s no ordinary bottle of wine…

Peter leans in to pick up the bottle.

PETER: No hang on, that is an ordinary bottle of wine.

He inspects the box.

PETER: Come to think go it, that’s an ordinary wooden box as well. Oh dear.

Peter takes the box and exits.

Samuel produces a pistol. Holds it, inspects it. Puts it away.

Peter returns with an identical box.

PETER: I must apologise. My mind is not my friend. I once forgot an entire decade.

SAMUEL: An entire decade?

PETER: I think so.

SAMUEL: Which one?

PETER: Can’t remember. I think it straddled the ‘70s and ‘80s. I have a vague awareness of being in Chicago. I’m also paying a substantial monthly stipend to someone called Jubella Truelove.

SAMUEL: And the wine?

Peter is lost in his thoughts.

PETER: I think I was a jazz pianist at one point.

SAMUEL: The wine, Peter.

PETER: Of course, excuse me. Do you know what this is?

SAMUEL: That’s no ordinary wooden box.

PETER: Quite right. And do you know what’s in the box?

SAMUEL: No ordinary wine. PETER: Ah, but it’s no ordinary wine — oh, you said that. No ordinary wine.

SAMUEL: How much does it cost?

PETER: Estimated value £2.3 Million. Per bottle. It’s one of the few wines we sell by the glass.

SAMUEL: It’s not the wine for me.

PETER: You don’t know what it is yet.

SAMUEL: How old is it?

PETER: Nearly a thousand years.

SAMUEL: It’s not the wine I’m looking for.

PETER: I assure you it’s worth consideration.

SAMUEL: I don’t care, I don’t. Listen, I’m very short of time and I really don’t have an evening to spend hearing you prattle on about… I have the money waiting nearby. In cash. Now can we please stop flirting and get down to business?

PETER: This one’s from Genghis Khan.

SAMUEL: I have a pistol. I have a gun. In my pocket.

Pause.

PETER: And I thought you were just happy to see me.

SAMUEL: What will happen if I use it?

PETER: I think we both know what’ll happen if you use it.

SAMUEL: Tell me more about your wife. How old was she when she died?

PETER: Sixty-two.

SAMUEL: And when was it?

PETER: I try not to think about it nowadays. It makes me terribly sad.

SAMUEL: How long ago was it?

PETER: Sometimes, I’m so lonely I can’t even think properly. Sometimes I get so lonely I make up stories to keep myself entertained.

SAMUEL: Stories?

PETER: Stories. People. Anything. I really don’t get much custom. I have to keep myself going somehow.

SAMUEL: What stories?

PETER: Anything.

SAMUEL: Made up?

PETER: I’ve been alive for such a long time, my memories and fantasies have all blurred into one. I had a wife, I’m sure of that. She died what feels like decades ago. I had a daughter, I’m sure of that, too.

SAMUEL: And when did she die?

PETER: Feels like centuries ago.

SAMUEL: How did they die?

Samuel struggles not to cry.

SAMUEL: What would you say to your daughter if she were here right now? If she was right here with you now? What would you say to her?

PETER: Die zombie scum.

Samuel laughs through the tears.

SAMUEL: Tell me about the wine.

PETER: Oh, it’s a long story. Which I will now tell. Mongolia. A mass grave at the foot of Burkhan Khaldun mountain, just by the Onon river. An archeological dig in the 1930s unearths 24 identical bottles of ancient wine. The burial site of Ghengis Kahn. Legend has it that his kinsmen were concerned that should the news of his death be made public, his armies would riot and the empire crumble. They were so concerned, in fact, that he was buried in an unmarked grave, and any living thing that witnessed the funeral escort was killed on sight and given an unmarked burial or their own. According to the legend, they were killed by one sip of this wine.

SAMUEL: It’s poisoned.

PETER: Apparently so. But no active ingredient has been found. No traces of known toxins from our age or theirs. On paper it’s completely innocuous. But on the palette…

SAMUEL: It’s deadly.

PETER: Not just deadly. Untraceable.

SAMUEL: So what is it?

Peter shrugs.

PETER: An ancient curse. Some undiscovered element. Perhaps it’s all folklore. Maybe I just made it all up.

SAMUEL: Why so expensive then?

PETER: Plenty of people would like to get away with murder. Willing to pay for it as well. You understand.

SAMUEL: Well, yes. I mean.

PETER: Ah, so you are interested after all. Would you like to sample it first?

SAMUEL: No thanks.

PETER: I couldn’t have you purchase a wine without trying it. It’s all part of the service. Please.

Peter takes a glass from below the counter and uncorks the wine. He pours a glass and swirls, holding it just under his nose.

PETER: Deep and musty on the nose. Dirt and snuffed candles, like a crypt. I’m also getting almonds, weirdly. Perhaps I didn’t rinse the glass out properly. Sniff?

SAMUEL: Really, I’m fine.

PETER: I have to say, I’m at a complete loss. I know you like red, and occasionally white. And I know you find the legendary and multi-award winning ‘64 Chateau Neuf Du Pape quite nice. But you really will have to give me something more to work with here.

Samuel takes out the gun.

SAMUEL: I hear AD33 was a vintage year.

Peter smiles.

PETER: Who sent you?

SAMUEL: You know who.

PETER: Tell them they’ve made a mistake.

Samuel raises the gun.

SAMUEL: I can’t do that.

PETER: If you shoot that thing then we both lose.

SAMUEL: I don’t believe you.

PETER: And you’re going to take the trouble of finding out?

Samuel wavers with the gun.

SAMUEL: Please help me.

PETER: I’m just an old man with a wine shop. Just trying to get by from one day to the next. Entertaining myself with my stories, my memories, and the memories of my stories.

SAMUEL: They have my child. They have.

Samuel fights back tears.

PETER: Samuel. You’ve got yourself in a right mess, haven’t you?

SAMUEL: They said they could help me.

PETER: Course they did. Why have they sent you?

SAMUEL: Because I’m not one of them. I don’t know anything about them. Or you. Or wine. They say you’d recognise them if they came, give them another fake bottle.

PETER: It’s true.

SAMUEL: You know how they test its authenticity, don’t you?

PETER: Yes.

SAMUEL: They’re not prepared to risk the life of another clergyman. So they. So they.

PETER: How old is she?

SAMUEL: Six.

Peter closes his eyes.

PETER: Wait there.

Peter exits.

He returns with an old, oddly shaped bottle. He puts it on the counter.

SAMUEL: Is it true? It’s not one of your stories?

PETER: That depends on what you’ve heard.

SAMUEL: The wine contains…

PETER: Yes?

SAMUEL: The. The active ingredient has powers to.

PETER: What have you heard Samuel?

SAMUEL: That the wine contains the semen of Jesus Christ.

PETER: Legend has it.

SAMUEL: And it’s properties. If I were to.

Samuel waves the gun.

PETER: What makes you think I’ve tried it?

SAMUEL: You want me to believe you’ve never drunk it?

PETER: I want you to think very hard about what you believe right now.

Peter produces a glass and pours out some wine. It stands identical to the Genghis Khan wine next to it.

SAMUEL: Please, they’re going to kill her. That’s what they’ll do you know. Mix it with poison and make her drink it. I can’t afford to fail.

PETER: If only there were an easier way.

SAMUEL: I have to believe this is true. Please if you know the truth, I need to know.

PETER: Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? This is my blood, take this and drink it, etc. They sanitised it for the crowds. Made it slightly more palatable, even though the idea of drinking blood is a little more macabre. Still, I suppose no one needs the image of their Lord and saviour wanking into a cup at the dinner table like some drunken schoolboy.

Peter shrugs.

PETER: Mixed in with twelve bottles of wine. Divided, diluted, denounced, defamed over the centuries. With a mere handful, if that, surviving almost intact. Still potent. Still divine.

SAMUEL: Let me drink it.

PETER: Join me.

Samuel steps forward.

Peter switches the light off. For a moment, they are cast in darkness.

SAMUEL: Wh. what are you doing? Why did you do that? Put the light back on.

Peter turns the light back on. The glasses have been disturbed.

SAMUEL notices as he approaches the counter.

SAMUEL: What did you do?

PETER: There has to be an element of fate involved.

SAMUEL: What do you mean fate? What do you mean?

PETER: This kind of power is too big to rest in the hands of one man. I am protector of the wine, I have to do my duty.

SAMUEL: Your duty?

PETER: Safeguard the wine at all costs, including my own life.

SAMUEL: But you can’t die. You’ve drunk the wine before. Of course you have!

PETER: It’s a possibility.

SAMUEL: My daughter is in a room somewhere, terrified, alone, and facing death if I can’t save her. And you turn it into a game?

PETER: But you win either way. You either choose the right wine, in which case you save your daughter’s life, or you choose the wrong wine, in which case the sweet release of death delivers you from any sense of loss, or pain, or any other trivialities of human existence.

SAMUEL: You’re prepared to have blood on your hands. Every time someone comes you’re prepared to destroy a life.

PETER: That’s my curse. That’s what I have to live with. Every day. S

AMUEL: And your wife. Your own daughter.

PETER: I miss them dearly.

SAMUEL: You’re inhuman.

PETER: And what’s the alternative? An immortal cabal with more wealth and power than you can possibly imagine. The iron fist of dogma rendered legitimate by a magic potion. A vast, unending holy war.

SAMUEL: I don’t believe it. I really, truly do not believe it.

PETER: That’s a shame, because it’s time to make a decision.

SAMUEL: Just give me the bottle!

PETER: If we’re both still standing in a few minutes then we can complete our transaction.

SAMUEL: And what if you’re the one that’s dead?

PETER: Then you’ll be left with the right wine. You’d just better hope I never got round to drinking it.

SAMUEL: Please. Peter please. I’m not one of them. I don’t know what they did to you but I’m not one of them. I’ve just made some very bad decisions in my life and. And I need to rectify that. I just need a chance to make it better.

PETER: Samuel.

SAMUEL: Help me. Help me.

PETER: I can’t change the rules. They’re not mine to change.

SAMUEL: Think about what you’re doing. Just think about what this means to me.

PETER: I know what it means to you. And I wish you the best of luck.

Samuel shakes his head.

PETER: It’s time Samuel.

Peter nods to the two glasses.

Samuel steps forward slowly. He stares at the two glasses, then picks one up.

Peter smiles.

He takes up the other glass and clinks it with Samuel’s.

PETER: Excellent choice.

They drink. 

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