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A Turn of the Screw

08 November 2012, 09:01

Are you all sitty comfybold twosquare on your botties?

Then I’ll begin…

It would not be too much of a stretch to call me a wine lover. I’m certainly no connoisseur, but I can tell the difference between a Chenin Blanc and a Reisling, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris. Merlot is right up there with Cabernet Sauvignon in my opinion, but my favourite, without a doubt, is the humble Claret. Dry, but full-bodied, with just a hint of smoky sweetness. And these are only the South African wines!

Living in that Fairest Cape in all the circumference of the earth, doesn’t harm either, and I could easily, and happily, see myself as a vintner. In fact, it would be hard to think of a better life. Going out into the vineyards every day: the sun would be shining, of course; going down into the cellars, that place of mystery where the magic of wine happens. It really would be an idyllic existence. Because I really do love wine.

Which was why I was licking at the wine running down my face.

What had been a wonderful hubbub of carefree conversation, turned into embarrassed silence, as I watched Anne storm off, carelessly slamming her now-empty wineglass onto a waiter’s tray. I wiped my face then ran after her.

‘Anne!’ I shouted, ‘Anne, wait!’

She turned on me, eyes blazing, and I realised again, with a shock, how very beautiful she was. ‘Fuck! Off!’ Like bullets.

Again she turned and stalked off, and I grabbed her arm. ‘Anne, wait!’

‘Let go of my arm,’ she said, utterly without expression.

‘Anne, what’s the matter?’

‘What’s the matter? What’s the matter?! The only way you could have got your eyes deeper into that hussy’s cleavage was to take them out and put them in there!’

Now I was even more puzzled. ‘What hussy?’

‘Don’t take me for a fool, Simon. I saw how cosy you and that red-headed tramp were. You were doing a hell of a lot more than just flirting with her. You looked like you were trying to proposition her!’ The last words she virtually spat at me. Again, bullets.

I was so frustrated. I had spent months putting together this gathering of very special people, all the right people, to announce my new system, and Anne had to lose her cool and embarrass me in front of all these people I was so desperate to impress. This party had cost me a small fortune, and this behaviour of hers had the potential to cost me millions.

‘Anne, please calm down and we can talk about this later,’ I pleaded.

She looked down momentarily, chewing on her lower lip as she was wont to do when she was considering a course of action. ‘You want me to come back inside so we can talk about this later.’ She nodded slowly then, without really seeming to move, slapped me. She was small, but she packed a hell of a wallop.

‘No,’ she said, and stalked back outside, the garage remote already in her hand. The garage doors opened as she approached and she opened the Ferrari door and got in, starting the engine simultaneously. The engine roared into life and she reversed out, hardly waiting for the engine to take, and nearly hitting another car in the process.

She put the car into first gear and the car howled as she accelerated down the driveway, gravel spewing out from under her tyres, the brake lights glowing brightly as she slewed to a stop at the gate. She waited a moment and then raced away from the house, engine howling like a wounded beast.

I turned and trudged back into the house, to be met by silence, with the occasional embarrassed, if sympathetic, look. The assembled people finished their drinks and made their excuses, not waiting for dinner. Of course.

The caterers cleaned up as quietly as they could and I just sat there, watching them without really seeing them. I wasn’t angry, or even miserable. The only sensation I experienced, if sensation it was, was emptiness. As much as I loved her, her temper was getting worse, and tonight it could conceivably have brought my empire crashing down around my ears.

After everyone had left, and I mean everyone, I switched to whisky. I may have been a wine lover, but whisky was what I wanted now. Not that it did any good. I sat there with the glass in my hand, sipping occasionally, until the last of the workers had left, then got up and fetched my phone. Dr. Hardy was on Speed Dial. He answered on the second ring.


‘It’s Anne, doc.’

‘What now?’

I sighed, a touch theatrically I fear, but it was an indication of how I felt. ‘You know this thing I’ve been working on?’

‘The IT thing?’

I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. ‘Yes.’

‘What about it?’

‘I threw a party tonight for about sixty industry people, and it was really important. Really, really important!’

‘So what happened?’

‘She accused me of flirting with another woman. In fact she accused me of trying to get into this woman’s pants!’

‘And were you?’

‘No!’ I was shocked.

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m sure. Anne is the only woman for me. There is no-one I can think of who can even hold a candle to her. No, I wasn’t flirting. It was business, pure and simple.’

He sighed. ‘I’ll see you in about half an hour.’ He broke the connection and I put the phone in my pocket, then took off my tie and undid my collar. I slumped back in my chair and waited for Doctor Hardy and mulled over the unfairness of it all.

I had finally perfected an AI project with real-world applications, something that would revolutionise the entire IT industry, and this was my reward. Not that it couldn’t be rescued, it was too good for that. Anne’s behaviour was just a huge spanner in the works. I had spent a huge amount of money on this party which, if successful, would have fast-tracked the entire project, making money immediately instead of slowly.

I heard the crunch of gravel and saw the lights of the approaching car against the windows and got up heavily from my chair. I walked over to the front door and opened it, then leaned against the jamb, waiting for Doctor Hardy to come in. He parked his car neatly, as was his wont, then walked slowly up the stairs.

I stood back to let him in, then closed the door behind him. ‘Drink?’

He nodded. ‘Whisky.’

I poured it for him, straight up, and he nodded his thanks, then sipped at it wordlessly. He had this ability to sit for hours without saying anything, and I was quite comfortable with that. I didn’t really want to talk right now.

After a while he stirred and sat forward. ‘Okay. I want to hear every detail; leave nothing out.’

I nodded and told him everything, and he stopped and quizzed when he needed further detail, but when I’d finished, he nodded as if everything was clear to him. He sank back in his chair, chin on his chest and, to the casual observer, it would seem he was asleep. But he wasn’t. He was cogitating. Finding a solution to the problem. And I had no doubt he would.

It was about an hour later that I heard the full-throated roar of the Ferrari, and then the sound of the tyres slipping on the gravel, before she regained control and gunned the motor, coming to rest right behind Doctor Hardy’s car. Deliberate provocation.

Doctor Hardy looked up and motioned for me to remain seated. ‘I’ll handle it,’ he said.

I sank back in my chair and she stormed in, slamming the door behind her. ‘Called for cavalry?’ she asked with a sneer. Not even the sneer could mar her perfect beauty.

‘Hello, Anne,’ said Doctor Hardy mildly.

‘I’m not interested in talking to you or anyone else,’ she spat out, then headed up the stairs.

‘Leave her, I’ll talk to her,’ said Doctor Hardy. He got up and followed her slowly up the stairs. He followed her into the bedroom and I heard voices, hers raised and his calming. Their voices died down to a murmur, and I got up out of my chair and headed upstairs.

Anne’s beauty was breath-taking. Doctor Hardy was leaning over her, her dress down around her waist, revealing a plate in her back, into which he’d plugged a flash drive. He put his hand into her back, then pulled out the flash drive. She pulled the dress back up over her shoulder, then saw me, and her face lit up.

‘Oh, Simon! I’m so sorry! Can you ever forgive me?’

How could I not. ‘Is she fixed, doc?’

‘She is, Simon, but it seems you’ve been a naughty boy?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that tonight is not the first time this has happened.’

‘No Doctor, it’s not his fault!’ protested Anne.

He held up his hand. ‘Simon, I programmed Anne to perfectly replicate human emotions, and you can completely mess up her systems if you continue to behave in this manner.’

‘But I did nothing wrong!’ I protested.

‘No, Doctor, he didn’t,’ Anne chimed in.

‘Sit down, Simon.’


‘You heard me, Simon, sit down.’


‘Sit down, or I’ll disconnect you and do the work.’ I slowly took off my jacket, then my shirt. Anne smiled encouragingly at me.

‘Good boy, Simon. Good boy.’

Apologies to The Small Faces for using the opening line from ‘Happiness Stan’.

Apology accepted.


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