He drove through the suburbs of Moera and Petone thinking that they were much better when Ford, Todd Motors and Gear Meat co still operated there. He missed the smell of hot oil and blood.
Porirua hadn't changed much. The suburban crescents merged seamlessly into the crappy semi-industrial estates only separated by scrappy 'parks' liberally covered in dog shit. "Fuck" he thought "give me Nuova Lazio any day". He cruised around looking for Bella Vista Crescent. There wasn't a gps in the cheap courier van but Humbert knew the way city planners thought. Bella Vista - 'Beautiful View'. He looked around and up at the hills. There it was. The "beautiful view". Kenepuru Hospital and before that Porirua Lunatic Asylum where all the loonies were incarcerated. In today's enlightened times it was no longer known as this and the loonies were no longer incarcerated (they were living on the streets instead). Typical of the city planners. Bastards.
He took a reference sighting off the hospital and back down to the snaking crescents. There it was Bella Vista Crescent with used tyre shops, garages, panel beaters, scrap metal merchants and ... a low corrugated iron shed set back from the road. There was a small sign at the roadside which said "GIW LTD" nothing more.
Humbert parked the van on the street. He knew that it was unlikely to be there or if it was to still have its wheels on when he got back to it but that wasn't his most immediate problem. GIW was.
He checked his internal clock. 9.30 hours. No, that was Shanghai. 13.30 hours. Fifty five and a half hours to go.
The approach to the shed was via a poorly maintained driveway. Rain and heavy vehicles had ground out the shoddy repair work done with cement and bitumen. Bastards" Humbert thought "Just like the Nuova Lazio Mall car park.". Humbert stepped around the deepest puddles and quietly made his way to a side door. He stopped and listened. What was that? He had heard a soft ticking. He listened again. Yes, there it was - the sound of a large engine cooling. A 3.5 litre Ti-VCT V6. "Might come in handy" he thought as he carefully opened the door and stepped inside.
The shed was larger inside than it seemed from outside. It was set up like a warehouse but without much planning. There were cartons and bottles everywhere set out chaotically. At one end was a small industrial labelling and bottling line. The equipment looked to be about 40 years old. There was a man tinkering with part of it. He was replacing what looked like a star wheel.
"Yo" called Humbert.
The man dropped a spanner which rang out on the concrete floor.
"Who the fuck are you" the man said belligerently. Belligerence. Humbert liked belligerence.
"25 Pinetree Falling Grove ring a bell with you?" Humbert asked. He watched the man closely, saw his eyes slide to the right and downwards as he answered "No. Should it?"
"What's all this " asked Humbert, kicking and empty brown carton out of the way. He noticed the wording stencilled on the side in black ink "RBW Chardonnay 2009".
"Mind your own fuck..." the words he uttered were cut short as Humbert grabbed him by the throat with his right hand. The hand kept free for action and emergencies. His left hand held a brown paper bag containing toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor and now 4 pairs of underpants.
"Don't lie to me mister I know what you're up to." said Humbert "remember the little issue of the Hawkes Bay Syrah that had only ever seen Hawkes Bay when the bottles were delivered from Waipara?"
The man looked again at Humbert, memory awakening and he tried to get away but Humbert's grip, strengthened by a lifetime of opening bottles and holding glasses didn't lessen.
" Maybe we can work something out" he gasped "I could use a partner. How about we go 60:40?"
He'd chosen the wrong man to try and bribe. Humbert let him go and as he fell to the floor kneed him in the goolies. "That's for the Syrah" he said "and this is for the Chardonnay".
The man stirred and looked about wildly but couldn't move as Humbert pinned him down with a large forearm. As his head lined up below the automatic corker Humbert looked into his eyes and said "think yourself lucky punk that this isn't a screwcap machine" as the corks, propelled by a CO2 gun fired down into the man's mouth. As the man's shoulders jammed the safety gate the conveyer stopped but the machine kept working, firing cork after cork until the man was silent.
"Job done" said Humbert as he slapped the stop button on the machine.
Humbert looked about the shed. There were hundreds of cartons of the RBW wine and as many more of the same wine relabelled as Te Awanga Chardonnay. There were also hundreds of cases of other non identifiable wines along with boxes of labels. He sorted through these noticing labels for well known and well respected Hawkes Bay Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage. "I guess he was going to relabel the RBW wine with these" he thought.
"This is the real McCoy, old Richard will love this" he thought and loaded the five cases (less one bottle ) into the Ford Explorer that was parked by the loading bay. As he was doing this his boot struck a bottle that was on the floor. It went spinning out into the warehouse. Humbert watched it and as it came to a stop he saw what it was. Lemonade. Schweppes lemonade. A memory stirred. Northland 1976. A vertical tasting of Chateau Margaux with vintages from 1966 through to 1974. Chateau Margaux one of the world's greatest wines and now costing up to $1000 a bottle.
The tasting was ruined though because someone poured lemonade into the wines. Schweppes lemonade. Richard. Bastard.
Humbert looked at the wine in the Explorer. He then looked back at the wines on the warehouse floor and came to a decision. He selected 5 dozen of the RBW cleanskins and took out the corks. He poured about 50 mls out of each one and topped up with lemonade from a crateful of bottles he found. Shoving aside the guy with a mouth full of corks he loaded up the corking machine with 60 corks from a box labelled "2012 Hawkes Bay" and sent the cleanskin bottles through to be re-corked. He next rummaged through boxes and found some newly printed labels and capsules. "Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2012" Perfect. And about $40 a bottle. He sent the re-corked bottles through. As they collected at the end of the conveyer he packed them into some 'Te Mata' cartons he had found and loaded them into the Explorer.
Humbert raised the roller door and drove out of the shed. He left the door open and splashed his way down the drive. The courier van was gone and he knew that the shed would soon be picked clean like bones in the desert. He drove in to Porirua town centre and found a local and international courier company.
Using the credit cards that he'd taken from the guy in the shed he processed the paperwork for two shipments. One of 59 bottles addressed to Trixie at a San Francisco address. He'd pick these up later.
The other 60 bottles he addressed to 25 Falling Pinetree Grove, Nuova Lazio. The old guy would like it.
Humbert drove to the airport, leaving the Ford Explorer in the long-term carpark. He used his open ticket for the next flight to LAX which was about 5 hours later. Stretching out in the departure lounge he thought about the last couple of days and was happy. Problem fixed. Job done.
It was 7pm - 1900 hours. Forty eight and a half hours under the deadline. He smiled to himself. He hated those last minute deadline scenarios.