Nose

A Novel

Jim Conaway

Thomas Dunne Books

CHAPTER ONE
Black Bottle
 
1
“HIGHER.”
So Clyde Craven-Jones gripped that magnificent stomach of his and hauled it farther in the direction of his multilayered chin, the two masses of rendered haut cuisine and the very best wine momentarily married in a vast floodplain of undulating flesh, exposing a bit more of what there was of him down there, enough apparently because there she went, transformed into something feral, angular, beyond his control, her shifting hips as if on rails, the lovable little gap between her front teeth exposed, making that melodious sound Claire claimed she wasn’t aware of but that reminded him of mermaids singing in an unintelligible language of a place he had never seen.
Fog seemed to muffle the vineyard on the far slope. She, better mounted, speeded up their Thursday morning ritual, mindful not to kill him in the process. What determination his wife had: up at dawn for copulation, a third his weight, riding the vestiges of his pelvis until she collapsed, sometimes allowing him to go back to sleep for another hour, though not today, and waking him again for a simulation of breakfast.
At these moments she smelled a bit vinegary—seaweed?—from all the effort, the sharp aroma of bacteria overwhelmed by the ranker olfactory engine of sexual intercourse. He could pull all sorts of associations out of this basic act if he wanted, but Claire made more distracting noises. She was a gift, named for light but dimly outlined against the natural redwood ceiling of their Spanish colonial bungalow on the edge of a beautiful expanse of some of the most valuable agricultural land on earth: vines, olive trees, live oaks, and that dangerous scrubby stuff up there on the slopes just dying to catch flame and consume all that was good in Northern California.
Her sounds bordered upon desperation now. He envied her and at the same time was a little afraid: such passion. Clyde Craven-Jones was a prisoner of two sensualities—hers, and his just as relentless but involving no climaxes, whereas she rode raptly on, past the finish line and out onto the postorgasmic plain. There she sighed, succumbing to gravity, sliding from his girth and rolling onto the comforter, sides heaving, staring dazedly up at the reclaimed beams from a historic winery that after a century still smelled of fermentation.
Claire rose on one elbow, exhaled, and said with a smile, “Well, BTDT,” a jocularity intended to make her husband feel better about his, well, supine performance. True, he had been there, but he hadn’t done that. No matter; the day beckoned.
“Anything special in the lineup?”
“Yes, you’re going to be challenged today, CJ. By this valley’s own. Nine Cabernets in the up bunch,” which meant costing at least $130 a bottle.
“Why not ten Cabernets?” It was the usual arrangement of American grands crus.
“Well, the tenth one’s a mystery. No label, nothing. I want to include it because it seems special and has been around for a bit. Arrived in a lovely cedar box, wrapped in a pashmina shawl.”
Those things meant nothing. Vintners spend small fortunes encapsulating mediocre wine in a way that makes it seem of a higher order, the same logic used for building their expensive houses and wineries. Packaging, like labels, was deception. One of his duties as a premier wine critic—the premier wine critic, he liked to think—was to out deception in Craven-Jones on Wine, with its pass-along readership of, he often insisted, more than a million. “How did it get here?”
“By hand, that’s all we know.”
Why hadn’t the dog alerted them? Clyde Craven-Jones didn’t allow wine to be left on his doorstep; only the most audacious—or stupid—would attempt it. But he was curious, and any worthy critic welcomes the random chance to test his mettle. Besides, Claire had gone to the trouble of including it. “Let’s begin.”
Solemnly launching himself into a roll, the massive, custom-made bed protesting feebly, his wife nimbly getting out of the way. She went into the bathroom and he heard water filling a tub designed for corpulence beyond the American standard, with special handles for easing himself in and out. He thought he caught a trace of something floral—tansy? Camellia? His policy was no manufactured fragrances of any sort in the house, perfume being the worst, an assault fraught with plant renderings and mysterious chemical compounds that gave him an immediate migraine and affected his ability to taste. He demanded plain soap for his morning immersion, baking soda for his toothbrush, an electric razor for the graying scrim of beard accenting copious signature jowls.

 
Copyright © 2013 by James Conaway