1.18 Georges Ingratiates
1.18.1 A Düngermischmaschine, Domestic Model
Château Mourey, Chezelet
12 noon Thursday 3 April 1987
Alenby inched the red Mercedes into the cramped entryway and up to the steel door of Château Mourey’s basement garage.
"Normally I would have suggested using the front entrance," said Ada, "but with PROFATPOL on our trail I thought it…."
"Best to play it safe," Alenby agreed with feeling. The PROFATPOL people had to be taken seriously. They had lost three vehicles in as many minutes—the third stinkpot had spun out and crashed almost immediately—and they weren’t going to give up now. Another one might be be on their tail at any moment.
His voice betrayed his first sign of anxiety. "Now, how do we get in? I see something about a password! D'you know it?"
"Oh, Uncle Paul is so secretive! We have to guess the password. For the clue, press the button on the control box."
Alenby rolled down the window and pressed a shaking forefinger to the button. "FOURTH BASE," he read. Well, that's easy--"HOME, obviously."
"No no stop! That's too easy! You're only allowed one guess! Better put THYMINE." He did so, the door opened and the tomato red Mercedes rolled into its safe haven.
Alenby sill felt apprehensive, but Ada did not share his somber mood. She acted happy--exuberant even--and made no reference to Alenby's having slapped her face. She put her arms around him and kissed him affectionately. "That was simply wonderful, how you--you made them look so stupid!" And in a quieter voice, "Thanks for the pop, a force four for sure. Come on, let's go in. We're safe now."
They got out of the car and took their bags out of the trunk. "Tch, the number sticker fell down," said Ada. "Just as well, too. With no number in sight they've no way to trace us." She got back into the car and secured the sticker in the proper place on the rear window. That done: "Until all this blows over, we’ll use that one," she added, indicating the other vehicle in the garage, a black Citroën 2CV plug-in.
Alenby did not respond. He had no idea why she was acting so chirpy, but he didn't waste time thinking about it. The mind of the weaker sex was a mystery closed to the mind of man. He still felt less than half safe.
"You’re right to be concerned," said Ada, leading the way towards the door leading into the house. "I’m concerned too, naturally. But our best chance of escaping the notice of the police is to act just like any other couple down from Paris for a little rest and relaxation. Sunbathing—it’s a beautiful sunny day, did you notice?—lunch on the terrace, a swim in the pool. You’ll love the pool—full Olympic size, so you can pour on the pace swimming laps. And pure unfiltered river water, piped directly from the Vienne." She swung the door open: "Welcome to Château Mourey! Let me show you over the premises—starting with the basement, since that’s where we happen to be."
But as soon as they stepped through the door they were lifted out of their partially shared mood of apprehension by the arrival of a compact, muscular animal, a miniature pig, that galloped across the stone floor with a clicketty-clatter of tiny trotters, and leapt up into Ada’s arms with such force she had to step backwards to keep her balance.
"Georges!" she cried, hugging him fondly. "My darling piggy-wiggy! I’d forgotten little old yousy-woozy in the hurly-burly of—but I’m so happy to see you! Alenby, this is Georges, my darling little pet barrow. He's an example of the miniature breed known as piglet. Georges, meet Alenby."
Unused to meeting a member of the swine family that had not been killed, disemboweled, dismembered, cooked and served with braised turnips and a Robert or other similar sauce, Alenby nevertheless responded with an "Enchanté" that was more than a mere polite formula. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was actually enchanted at an introduction.
Georges grunted amiably.
"I beg pardon for that initial display of astonishment," said Alenby, but I am used to people having pets like cats and dogs, rather than, ah, piglets."
"Cats and dogs--impossible!" Ada exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "Pet food for carnivores, being largely meat, can be had only on the black market. It would cost a fortune! Piglets like dear Georges here are perfectly happy on ordinary inexpensive food, like black truffles. Pâtée Ducru, actually....
"That jumping-up trick of his," she went on, "It’s so cute, don’t you think? He was taught it by Uncle Paul--he has looked after Georges ever since he was a pigletlet, and Georges adores him. But nowadays Uncle is so busy with his research, he doesn’t have much time to play…but let’s go on with the tour."
She pointed to an object that to Alenby’s eye looked like a cross between a propane gas furnace and a mainframe computer.
"That’s our Düngermischmaschine, the humanure composter I was telling you about. This one's a four-compartment carousel type, the most common model for residential use. Each compartment corresponds to one of the four stages of the composting process. After each addition of humanure, a conveyer carries in a dose of carbonaceous material—straw, sawdust, that sort of thing—to cover it up, suppress any odor, and promote composting. When a compartment is full--that can take a while--the carousel rotates one-quarter turn to bring the next compartment into position. When the content of a compartment has been completely composted--converted to chumanure, you know--the product is automatically packaged and this conveyer"--she pointed to what looked to Alenby like an outsized hot-air duct marked ACHTUNG! CHUMANURE AUS--"carries it off to the vegetable garden."
She continued in her didactic mode, and as often happened when he was required for politeness to endure people talking about other things beside food and wine, Alenby's consciousness faded fast. To jerk himself back into the appearance of attention, he resolved to interject some sort of comment or question. His chance came when Ada launched into a dissertation on the four stages of compost, with emphasis on the high-temperature stage--the stage, as she explained at length, in which humanure is largely digested by thermophilic microorganisms.
"Excuse me, that’s all very well and good, but what happens if the composting goes wrong somehow and creates a God-awful—I mean Gaea-awful—stink?"
"Highly unlikely," said Ada, smiling complacently. "Everything’s self-adjusting. If the mixture’s too dry, the machine adds water. Too wet, a current of dry air. Too much nitrogen, an extra dose of carbonaceous stuff to restore the proper balance. It'll work for years without attention, unless for some reason the carbon/nitrogen balance were to get too far out of kilter-- Unless--oh my Gaea!"
Alenby saw her face turn white as sauce chaud-froid, and catching her meaning he hastened to set her mind at ease. "Thanks to my trusty laxative, Crudulax," he told her, "as of the previous evening at Le Gardon, as far as the functioning of Château Mourey's Düngermischmaschine is at issue, I am a user no longer!
At that declaration Ada's exhaled in relief, and her complexion at once returned to its normal tones of ivory with hints of pink--except, of course, under her right eye. Smiling gaily, if a trifle crookedly, she turned and, still carrying Georges, she ran up a course of steps, pushed open a door that gave on to the extensive stone-walled courtyard, now brilliantly sunlit, and set down the piglet on the stone pavement.
"Ah, light of the light, shedding off universes!" she cried, plunging into the refulgence. With Georges gamboling about her, she kicked off her sandals, threw off her clothes with a few deft wriggles, and flung her arms skywards to salute the sun.
Alenby followed with sober steps. He was haunted by the sight of the third PROFATPOL vehicle hurtling off the road into a vineyard, crashing in a row of vines, bursting into flames.... He knew it would be many years, perhaps decades, before those Cabernet Franc vielles vignes would be brought back into full production.