The wine bar was more crowded than usual, probably because there was a live band that night. Katie and Doug had to wait forty minutes at the bar before there was a free table. It wasn’t a great table, either – behind the band, and close enough that the music was too loud. It was good, though, and Doug began to relax a little. He looked over at Katie, who was intent on the menu, and smiled a little. She always had a laser-beam focus on whatever she was doing. Doug took a sip of his Riesling and glanced around. The servers were scrambling to bring all of the orders out, so he guessed he and Katie would have to wait a bit for their food. Oh, well, at least he could have his wine and listen to the music.
‘I’m getting the margherita flatbread, I think,’ Katie’s voice pulled Doug back. She slid the menu over to him, and he started looking at the choices. After a minute, he answered her. ‘I think I’ll get the charcuterie board. I don’t want anything really heavy.’
‘Good,’ Katie replied with a grin. ‘I can steal your prosciutto.’
‘Touch it and die,’ Doug joked. The band started another song as Doug looked around again.
After about ten minutes, he saw one of the waitstaff heading towards their table. ‘Sorry it took me so long to get here,’ the server said with an apologetic smile. ‘We’re really busy tonight.’
‘It’s fine,’ Doug said. He and Katie gave their orders and the server left, taking the menus with him.
The band switched to some softer jazz. Doug turned to Katie. ‘You know, you could commit a murder here and nobody would notice.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, see that guy over there? The manager? He’s standing right by that tray of wine bottles.’
‘Yeah, his name’s Jerry. I know him from my Small Business Owners group. What about him?’
‘How easy would it be for him to put something into one of those bottles, and nobody would see it. Everybody’s paying attention to the band, or their food, or whatever. Nobody’s watching the manager.’
‘Your imagination’s in overdrive, Doug. Besides, someone would definitely see what’s going on.’
‘Not necess – Oh, my God, he did it!’
‘Who did what?’
‘The manager! Jerry! He really did put something in that bottle!’
Katie glanced over to where the manager stood. ‘No he didn’t, Doug. Quit playing games.’
‘No, I mean it!’
‘Doug, nobody put anything in anything!’
‘I know what I saw.’
Doug watched as the manager picked up a bottle and handed it to one of the servers who was scurrying by. The server put the bottle on her tray, and then went over to a corner table. She put the tray down, took two glasses off it, and then poured wine into each one.
‘No!’ Doug shouted. A few people looked up. Katie ducked her head. ‘Doug, stop it!’ she murmured. ‘Everyone’s watching.’
But Doug couldn’t hear her. He’d gotten up and started towards the table in the back. The couple at the table were lifting their glasses and just about to sip when he called out, ‘Stop!’ The manager rushed over.
‘Is there a problem?’
‘Yeah, there is,’ snapped the man at the table. ‘This nutcase is over here yelling at us!’ Then he drank some of the wine. Doug watched closely, but nothing happened.
‘Sir,’ the manager turned to Doug, ‘Please sit down and enjoy your meal.’
‘But I…’ Doug faltered. Then he tried again. ‘I saw – Oh, hell, maybe I didn’t see anything.’ Embarrassed and sorry, he stammered an apology and went back to his table where Katie was waiting for him.
‘What the hell was that about?’ Katie hissed as Doug slid into his seat. ‘I told you I know Jerry. This is humiliating.’
‘I’m sorry! I just – I mean, I could have sworn I saw him tamper with that bottle. I didn’t want anyone hurt, that’s all.’
‘Well, nothing’s wrong with those people, and all you’ve done is embarrass both of us!’
‘I said I’m sorry. Look, here comes the food. Please, let’s just eat.’
Katie didn’t say anything, but her expression softened just a little. Their server placed the dishes in front of them, and Doug took a long sip from his glass. Then he looked at it. ‘Maybe it was the wine,’ he said after minute. ‘I think this is my third.’
‘Probably was the wine, then,’ Katie said.
As Doug and Katie settled up their bill, Doug saw the couple he’d spoken to get up to leave their table. He lowered his head as they went past. Then he heard the man say, ‘I don’t know. I guess I ate too fast or something.’
‘Let’s get home and you can take an antacid.’
Doug looked at Katie. ‘Don’t even start, Doug,’ she warned. He nodded his head. It had to have been the Riesling clouding his judgement. Doug and Katie left the wine bar. As they passed by the manager, Katie raised her eyebrow at him.
Jerry knew that look. Katie was not happy that Doug had seen what he did. Who knew the guy would be that observant? He’d be extra careful when they came back next weekend. Tonight had been a practice run – the guy he’d chosen would just get sick, no more than that. Jerry would have to get everything right when it was the real thing. And Katie was paying him plenty to do just that.