Pairs With Life
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Forty-eight-year-old Corbett Thomas, a one-hit wonder of the 90s, now works as the lead sommelier at Napa Valley’s hippest restaurant. Set to become one of the few Master Sommeliers in the world, Corbett self-destructs during his final exam, ruining his last chance at capturing the stardom and adoration he got a taste for in his youth.
When billionaire game designer, Brogan Prescott, asks Corbett to consult on a major vineyard acquisition, Corbett sees it as a shot at redemption, until he learns of Brogan’s ridiculous vision of a virtual-reality, Woke Ant Colony Winery. Disgusted, Corbett decides to buy the vineyard himself and preserve its magic and history. Cashless, clueless, and with his reputation in tatters, Corbett enlists the help of his bass-player-turned-lawyer Seamus O’Flaherty, who may have finally lost his stomach for Corbett’s bad ideas; his uber-rational daughter Remy, who wants Corbett to uncork some family secrets he’d rather leave in the cellar; and Sydney Cameron, whose sudden appearance in Corbett’s life may repair his heart or shatter it forever.
With their help-and sometimes despite it-Corbett discovers what Brogan has known all along: a four-billion-dollar gold deposit lies beneath the vineyard. If Brogan acquires the property, the ensuing gold rush will destroy Napa Valley.
But if Corbett can get out of his own way long enough to purchase the vineyard first, he’ll be faced with the hardest decision of his life: take the fame and fortune he desperately craves, or save the soul of the valley he loves so much.
I found Chef Dan at a table with his sous chef, Stacy, looking over some notes.
“Corbett Thomas!” he bellowed. “I’m doing a monkfish for the prix fixe tonight that’ll go beautifully with this Albarino you picked up.”
A near-empty bottle of 2016 Pazo Senorans sat on the table. “Yes, Chef. Sounds great,” I said hurriedly. “Hey, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure.” Chef Dan handed his stack of papers to Stacy. “Take these,” he said to her, adding, “and if you want Geoffrey to be more forceful on the line, then tell him to stop being such a pussy.”
Stacy rolled her eyes. “Oh, that’s right,” Chef sighed. “We can’t say ‘pussy’ anymore.”
At sixty, Chef Dan was at least twice as old as everyone else at the restaurant. I was only twelve years behind him, which made us both anachronisms in the eyes of the staff—cautionary tales from a lost generation, something to be tolerated at best.
“All right, rock star,” Chef motioned me to sit down. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s Dornin,” I replied, taking Stacy’s seat. “There’s a party of major VIPs tonight and he’s giving it to Andrew.”
“That’s his job. He manages the staff. We’ve been over this.”
“I know, but you manage him and he’s doing a shitty job.” I grabbed the bottle of Albarino and poured the last of it in Stacy’s glass. It was gorgeous, the color of spring in Barcelona.
“God, you’re worse than Stacy.” He leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his asphalt hair. “Don’t take it so personal.”
“I’m not taking it personally.” I was. “It’s bad for the restaurant. It’s bad for the brand.”
Chef took the last swig of his wine and let out some ghastly noise that sounded like he’d been punched in the throat. “Look, you should know this by now, but every day a restaurant stays open is a miracle—a goddamn blessing. Rick’s doing something right, so let him do it. Revenue is up, the place is booked, everything’s working. Besides, Andrew needs the experience. What if you get gorged by a deer or something?”
“I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “What if I get gored by a deer?”
“You know, if you die,” he explained. “Randomly. But horribly.”
I got the feeling that he might enjoy that. “I just need to know if you’re considering my replacement.”
Chef Dan grabbed the wine glass from my hand and drank its contents in one gulp. “I’m not considering anything except a monkfish entrée for tonight. And that’s why Rick is here, so I don’t have to consider you or Stacy or deal with any of the fucking drama in this place.” He stared down the neck of the empty bottle like a telescope. “God, this stuff is good. Did you save me a case like I asked?”
“Yes. And you drank it all.”
“Save me another.”
I got up and walked away from the table. “You got it, Chef.”
“Corbett,” he called after me. “It’s the worst kept secret that if you pass your sit next week, you’re out of here.”
I swear to God, the rumor mill at a restaurant was like playing a game of Telephone with a dozen drunk, horny sixteen-year-olds. “Look, I’ve always been honest with you, Chef. This is the best job I’ve ever had. Why in the hell would I leave?”
Chef Dan lumbered off towards the kitchen. “Why indeed, Rock Star?”
The whole Dornin and The Whales Episode was officially under my skin, so I decided to go out on the terrace and get some fresh air.
Appellation was built into the side of the foothills of the Vaca Range, about a half-mile up a winding road in Rutherford. Our terrace was one of the most stunning places to dine in all of Napa, as it looked out across a 180-degree panorama of the valley floor and was framed by the Mayacamas Mountains to the west.
I leaned against the waist-high railing atop the stone wall lining the terrace and soaked in the view. The vineyards below weaved a delicate tapestry of early fall colors. Waves of vibrant green segued into pale yellow, which then collided with vibrant crimson and an orange so burnt it threatened to steal the glory from the autumn sun.
Twenty years earlier I drove into Napa on my way down to L.A., stopped for the afternoon, and never got back in my car. Now this place was a part of me. Looking out across the acreage of Cabernet and Chardonnay, I could set my watch by the changing of the vines. These colors told me it was the third week in October, the end of harvest.
This sunset told me I was home.
The bucolic scene may have calmed my shit for a moment, until I felt a disturbing presence beside me. A peripheral glance confirmed it, and my grip unconsciously tightened around the railing as Andrew Ridgley moved up quietly next to me, seemingly taking in the view, but mostly standing there just to piss me off.
Andrew was preternaturally thin, to the point where his midsection curved in slightly, giving him the appearance of a flat Pillsbury Crescent roll. A man bun popped from the top of his tiny head like a lonely radish in a barren field, and his face was framed by a freakish red beard, in which every single hair was of uniform length and curvature. If he was going for the King of the Very Polite Vikings look, he nailed it.
“So,” I started, still gazing at the majestic scene before me, “might one call those pistachio-colored Capri pants?”
“One might,” he replied, faux ignoring me as well. “Might one call that the world’s most heteronormative blue blazer?”
I nodded. “One might, if one knew what the word ‘heteronormative’ meant.”
“I rest my case.”
By 1996, John and his band, The Uninvited, had produced four independent albums and became one of the most popular acts in the western United States. This lead to a deal on Atlantic Records, which released the band’s self-titled debut album in 1997. The band had two Top 100 hits, and toured nationally with Dave Matthews, Blues Traveller, Third Eye Blind and many other acts. Their music appeared in the TV shows Beverly Hills 90210 and Party of Five, and in the motion pictures The Commandments and North Beach. The band can also be heard in several HBO Documentaries, video games and on that annoying “One Hit Wonders of The 90’s” station your co-worker always plays on Spotify.
In 2001, John’s vast experience in shattered dreams was once again called into play as the band hung up their touring shoes for good. After a brief but horrifying career in real estate, John got wise and made a career out of his favorite hobby – wine – and has held various sales and marketing positions in Napa Valley since 2011. John’s writing career started in earnest at this point, with blogs, essays and short stories appearing in various publications. John is the author of three novels, including the aptly-titled Pairs With: Life, which will be released by Hurn Publications in September 2020.
The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Pairs-With-Life-John-Taylor-Triumph-Book-Covers-Raven-Eckman/9781734763416
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