The Man Who Would Be King
...Red has one of those high-pitched, annoying voices and he often becomes quite excitable very quickly, which makes his voice even more unbearable. Other than his ability to suck up to Russell Crowe like a turbo-charged Hoover, I don’t know what Crowe sees in him.
By the time I’d brought their first round of drinks, they were already smoking like a row of chimneys. Crowe downed his drink quickly and headed out to make a call. My buddy Red called me over and ordered a new round for everyone, but he instructed me to make sure to bring a glass of Grey Goose to Mr. Crowe, not Belvedere. “We’re doing an experiment!” he said, chuckling again in his annoying voice. I did so and returned with the drinks and Mr. Crowe’s mystery vodka. The Crowe was still out on a call.
I put down clean ashtrays and noticed most of the cigarettes had been smoked right down to the filter. Crowe returned and I watched from a distance as he made a toast with his wine and welcomed everyone. I finally grasped the obvious: Red and some of the guys were actors from the Robin Hood set. I could only hope the Robin Hood spirit would prevail when it came to paying the check.
There was more loud talking and they all listened intently as the king regaled his minions with stories about football, music, rugby, the farm back home and his kids. Red piped in every now and then, shouting (or squealing), “Russell! Russell! Remember when we blah blah blah!” Guess he was playing the part of the court jester, he just didn’t know it.
Russell Crowe The Great smiled, obviously feeling important in this setting. He was the center of attention as he always is when surrounded by his subjects. He lifted his vodka glass. I watched from a distance where I could have eye contact with him without anyone at the table seeing my face. Red, still chuckling in his annoying way, said, “How is it? Tell me if it’s Belvedere or something else!” I thought: Judas is trying to discredit the boss. Where I come from people will bury you in a cement block and dump you in a river for that kind of shit. Hell, if this was Goodfellas, Joe Pesci would have shot that screeching hyena a long time ago and put his bullet-ridden body in the trunk of a Buick where it belonged. Trouble with today’s cars is size; no room for a body in the pathetic excuse for trunks anymore. Sad.
The Great Crowe threw a serious look toward the glass, as if he’d been caught by surprise. He tasted the Grey Goose and looked around pensively. Then he threw me a quick glance and our eyes met. I held his gaze for an instant and then quickly, subtly, I shook my head, “No.” It all took only about one second but it had seemed like time stood still for at least a minute. Everyone was dead silent, except for Judas who was chuckling in a more nervous tone now. He’s probably realized that if Crowe got it wrong, he’d be revealed as the Betrayer, having undermined the illustrious host of this sweet little party. Oops. But fortunately for Crowe, thanks to yours truly, he didn’t have to eat any.
Crowe said, “I don’t know what this is but it’s not Belvedere, that’s for sure.”
Red Judas responded, “No way! How can you tell?”
Crowe, feeling quite sure of himself after my clue, said, “I just know my vodka, that’s all.”
Red squawked: “Wow! No way! You can’t! Wow! That’s amazing, you got it right, man. That’s amazing! The waiter switched it out for a Grey Goose or something.”
The Crowe shot me a look with a completely straight face. I gave him a swift, subtle nod. Red continued sheepishly, “Well, we told him to bring you something else.”
Someone else at the table said, “Whaddaya mean “we”? You told him to switch it out!”
Well yeah, but we were all kind of in on it, right?” No one answered.
Crowe looked at Red, then said with a smile as he rubbed Red’s head and eyed his girl, “You just don’t know who you’re dealing with here, Red, do you?” Everyone laughed, following The Great One’s lead.
Later when I came around to Mr. Crowe’s left side, Red was engaged in a conversation with his girl on Mr. Crowe’s right side, and the guy who was sitting on Mr. Crowe’s left side was gone, possibly making a call or answering one in the bathroom. Crowe looked up at me humbly and said, “Nice work earlier, mate,” as if I were the quarterback who set up his winning touchdown.
I gave him a knowing smile and nodded. He continued, “You’ll be mentioned in the will…”