Force-feeding in the Midwest
SEPTEMBER 30, 2003
The Mole had never seen Penelope (Roedean) weeping before. He had always considered her to be a tough cookie, but here she was with tears rolling down each cheek. And all because of the famous horseradish sauce which they serve with the shrimp cocktail at St Elmo's steakhouse in Indianapolis.
"Help!" she seemed to be gasping, her hands flailing slightly in the air. "Water!"
The Mole smiled and, being a caring employer, beckoned one of the tuxedo-clad waiters, who immediately understood what had happened and returned within seconds with a glass of ice cold water.
"Happens all the time," he smiled. "She will be just fine in a minute."
As Penelope dabbed the tears from her face, The Mole endeavoured to fill an uncomfortable silence.
"Rather good for the sinuses," he said.
"I am terribly sorry," Penelope said finally. "That was not very ladylike. I really must go and fix my face."
And with that she headed off to "the bathroom" The Mole was aware that every man in the room (apart from the one in the corner in the pink sweater) was watching her sprightly rear end with great interest. And then he was aware that all eyes had switched for a moment to him. He felt the jealousy in the air. For some reason none of them had considered that he might be her boss.
The Mole tried hard to look like a cat with a bowl of chowder.
When Penelope returned The Mole noticed that the hubbub of conversation died down again for a few seconds.
"That's a very pretty dress," said The Mole, when she reached the table.
"I know," she said. "Shows off my bits rather well, don't you think?"
The Mole was not quite sure what to say to that and so did his best impersonation of a Trappist monk.
"Blimey," said Penelope. "I'd heard of St Elmo's fire but I never realized it was as bad as that."
"Actually," said The Mole, glad to move on, "St Elmo's Fire has nothing to do with horseradish. It is a kind of atmospheric electricity which occurs during thunderstorms, causing a faint blue glow around tall buildings or the masts of sailing ships. It is actually named after St Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors, because in the old days, during a storm, the sailors would see the light and believe it was a sign of protection."
"Oh," said Penelope. There was a pause. "Look, here comes half a cow."
Some time later, having eaten themselves to a standstill, they went off to bed (separate rooms, of course) both feeling rather bloated.
"The trouble with eating too much," said Penelope at breakfast the following morning, as she worked her way through a large plate of pancakes drenched in maple syrup, "is that the more you eat, the more you want."
"You had better watch out," said The Mole said, "Too many pancakes makes a slim girl tubby."
Penelope ignored him.
"Do you know what they call a slim girl in the Midwest?" she said.
The Mole shook his head.
"An out-of-towner," she giggled.
With only a three-hour gap before lunchtime, The Mole concluded that there was not enough time to get out to The Speedway and besides the weather did not look good and so they agreed to go shopping. Penelope went to Victoria's Secret and The Mole, unwilling to advise his best agent on the subject of flimsy underwear, went to buy some new trousers. He found that his waist was rather larger than had previously been the case.
"Oh, don't y'all worry about it," said the bubbly shop girl. "It's all about being happy, right?"
As he walked back to the hotel The Mole concluded that Indianapolis is a town full of very, very, very, happy people.
After working her way through a large slab of prime rib at lunch, Penelope suggested that they give the Speedway "a miss" for the afternoon. The weather was miserable and when it rains Formula 1 people stay inside their offices.
"I think they are worried that they will shrink," she said.
The Mole made the executive decision while finishing off a huge slab of cheesecake that they would stay in town. There was more chance of stumbling on something interesting if they lurked in the hotel lobby and watched for interesting combinations of F1 people arriving for secret meetings.
Dinner that evening was colossal but by the morning both The Mole and Penelope were hungry enough to munch their way through eggs and bacon and the inevitable hash browns before they headed off to The Brickyard. Once there, they swept the paddock for the latest news. Before long they knew all the details (dull though they were) of the team bosses' meeting the previous evening and were hot on the trail of developments surrounding Juan Pablo Montoya's forthcoming move to McLaren.
"There is no doubt that Monty is going to McLaren in 2005," said Penelope, over a quick hot dog. "The big push has been to try to get him there next year. McLaren would quite like that because there is pressure to dump David Coulthard. Montoya would quite like it. Williams would like an offer it cannot refuse but has to contend with BMW and the American sponsors because they want Monty for next year.
"Yes, but what about Monty's motivation in 2004?" said The Mole.
"If he is not motivated at Williams then there isn't much point in keeping him," said Penelope. "But there is another problem if Montoya does go. Williams wants Mark Webber and while they could use money from McLaren to buy his Jaguar contract for 2004 and 2005, the whole idea appears to have run onto the rocks because Webber not only has a management contract with Flavio Briatore but also appears to have some kind of long term arrangement with Renault F1 for 2006 and beyond. Flav has vetoed any possibility of Webber being bought by Williams."
The subject came up again over a very pleasant fish dinner.
"Flavio is a commodity trader by nature," argued The Mole. "Every asset has a price."
"Well," said Penelope, "he seems to have a fairly high price on this particular asset."
"Time will tell," said The Mole. "Remember, Mike Gascoyne was staying at Renault, wasn't he? And now he is not."
Over breakfast, Penelope produced another argument.
"Remember," she said, nibbling on a stiff piece of bacon. "David Coulthard has a solid McLaren contract for 2004 and he has nowhere to go. He would need to be paid off too. By the time all these bills are settled McLaren is going to find itself with a $25m bill AND will have to add Monty's salary on top of that."
The track was heaving with activity on Sunday with chief executives of a lot of major companies milling around. The Mole and Penelope managed grab a bite of lobster up in the Paddock Club but both were starving by the time they got back to the hotel.
Having each demolished a steak the size of Rhode Island, they opted for the chocolate cream pie to finish.
"Now that Monty is out of the World Championship we have to think again," Penelope said, licking the back of her spoon. "If he goes to McLaren now it will not be as the World Champion. He will be the new boy in the team and up against Kimi Raikkonen that could be a struggle. Added to which Mercedes-Benz cannot do much with him now he is not World Champion. And, he must consider the possibility, I might even say likelihood, that Williams will give him a better car than McLaren in 2004. And he knows too that if he moves to McLaren he will lose the relationship he has built up this year with engineer Frank Dernie."
"So it's all over then," said The Mole.
"God," she said, "I couldn't eat another thing. I'm fit to bust."
The Mole was going to remark that it did not show, but decided to keep his own counsel.
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