First of all many apologies for not showing up these past couple of days, but we’re nearing Christmas and so the usual confusion is bound to happen. I will delay you no more and give you another of my flash fiction stories. Hope you enjoy this one. It’s not one of my best, but I liked the idea behind it, tried to go for the noir style, didn’t quite get it the way I wanted. It also feels a little rushed towards the end, and lacks certain details, but that’s what I have for you today.
The Bad City
Westerspring city is a bad place, everybody knows that, it has over fifty thousand souls in it and maybe only a handful of them are innocent. I’m not one of them.
The streets are filthy, there is violence and deceit at every corner and most of the cops are dirty. I don’t understand why anybody would want to come to Westerspring, the cold city, the city that will make you suffer until you can have no more punishment, only to let you live in the end and enjoy the agony of being alive; or the city that will cut your legs before you can even learn how to walk. Yeah, life is difficult in Westerspring; but I wasn’t complaining until a couple of days ago. You see, me and my friend owned a bar, one of the most successful ones in the city, called The Empty Barrel. I don’t mean to brag but that place was probably the best in the whole country, we invested a lot of money and hard work into it. What made it the best? It wasn’t the jazzy music that played every night, people often get tired of hearing the same things, and no matter how good Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or Stan Getz can be, after hearing them for hours and hours, days and days, you stop paying attention to them. It wasn’t the rustic look we tried to give the place either, the tiles fell to the floor soon afterwards, the wood was half rotten and the lighting was just a complete mess. People wouldn’t come for the conversation, I’m not much of a talker and neither is my friend. Truth be told, staying quiet in Westerspring is probably better for your health, you might end up dead in a dark alley or floating in the nearby river. No, what made our place special were the drinks. That made us also prime targets and the object of lies, violence and death.
When I said drinks I actually meant just one drink: the Green Wave. That’s what Elliot called it and the name just fit. Soon after he came up with it, customers started pouring endlessly and our business was booming. We made a lot of money, Elliot and I. But maybe I should start from the beginning and tell you the whole story.
I was a bartender. I worked in the bar even before it was called The Empty Barrel, when the owner was a mean drunk who didn’t know what he was doing and tried to cheat every customer out of his money. The mob ran an underground casino and used the bar as a front. When I first saw Elliot I didn’t think much of him: he was a skinny, frail looking man. His unsheveled hair made him look like a bum and I wanted no trouble from him, but with his first line he drew me in and soon we had become the best of friends. We had a very common interest.
“I want you to serve me the perfect drink.”
I didn’t know what to make of it. You see, as a bartender I often size people up and judge their moods. People usually ask for the wrong drinks. Whisky. That’s what almost everybody asked for, but I knew a thousand different drinks for them, drinks that were probably better for them in those situations. Try as I might, none of my suggestions had made Elliot’s eyes sparkle with joy. He knew about every single one.
“I knew you couldn’t do it.”
That line had pissed me off, especially after the long time I had spent with him, but he smirked and told me he already knew where to find the perfect drink. Elliot was a Herbologist, he knew all sorts of things about plants, and of course that reverted to brewing and to liquor. Elliot knew what he was doing, and more importantly than that, he knew what he was talking about. I never thought of him as a bum ever again, especially after he told me things about certain drinks that not even I knew, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about my profession. We would spend entire nights discussing bitterness, sweetness, alcohol content, the addiction and the vices that certain chemical elements can produce, in the end we reached several interesting conclusions.
That’s when I knew that I had to own the place. I told you before about the previous owner and the casino and the dirty cops. It turns out not every single cop was dirty. One lone detective had orchestrated the best raid in history and managed to destroy the underground casino and several mobsters in just one go. That had severe repercussions on the previous owner and he suddenly came down with a case of death. Nobody missed him anyway, and the lowering price of the establishment meant that it was affordable. I hardly ever saw Elliot during those days, but spoke with him once and told him to keep working, the place would be ours sooner rather than later.
It cost me a penny to buy it and a fortune to rebuild it, but it was worth the effort. Meanwhile Elliot was hard at work, testing and brewing and making sure the right ingredients were being produced. He never really told me much about what the ingredients were or what they did specifically and sometimes I wish I hadn’t known, like when he was discussing the properties of the African Dream Root and the effects of lucid dreams. It appears that one tea spoon of that root, when brewed as tea, can have hallucinogenic effects and one needs to be extremely careful when taking it. Vivid dreams can be dangerous. He always knew much more than me, and I wasn’t worried about that, we were together fighting for a common goal: the perfect drink.
It was during one summer night that he came to me with an ecstatic look on his face, wanting to confirm every single detail to make sure the drink was set and done, on paper at least. The bar wasn’t bringing me a lot of money and I barely survived during those months. Owning a bar costs a lot of money and very soon the mob came to the place again, they wanted to make some money and recover some of their losses. I couldn’t afford to refuse; I didn’t want to end up like the previous owner, not without at least enjoying the fruits of my labor. So I let them set up the casino again, some genius thought they wouldn’t go for the same place twice, that the detective wouldn’t dare to make more waves. He had been named a hero in the newspapers, no greater glory can a man ask for. But I digress; let me go on with my story.
Elliot and I reviewed the points about the perfect drink, it had to be both sweet and bitter, it had to reflect whatever the drinker desired to feel and make them not only leave satisfied at purchasing that drink but have them drink more, so the drink couldn’t have much alcohol in it. We didn’t want our customers to fall to the floor after just one drink, and we certainly didn’t want them to have massive hangovers. A man has to work to make money to spend it. The perfect drink would have been useless if we couldn’t make enough money from it.
Elliot concluded that the perfect drink had to be both subjective and objective. What that means I don’t know for sure, but he told me that it had to make the drinker feel something different in different occasions and it obviously needed to be the exact same thing at the same time. That’s when my brain started working furiously towards our goal. I hadn’t done anything up until that point, Elliot had done all of the work, as he proved while discussing every single chemical element required for that magic drink. I knew I had to do something to prove to him that I wasn’t dead weight. I didn’t know if he would take his recipe and go over to another bar and ask them for something. Friendship and business are completely different things; you have to bring something to the table in order to make the business work. That’s when I thought about the casino.
I told him not to worry after he spoke of financial difficulties. It turned out Elliot needed to make several trips around the world in order to get his supplies; that cost money he didn’t have. More than that I needed to make sure he brought enough supplies with him to last us for quite a while. Those trips were expensive and the drinks had to make the money for the next ones. He departed that night with smiles and laughs and the certainty that we were going to be famous, that our drink would be the finest the world had ever seen.
I started cleaning up after he left; we had been talking until almost dawn and nobody was around, no customers, no mobsters. So I went downstairs to where the casino was and started searching for the safe. One thing I knew about the casino was that the money was kept there for over a month before someone went to collect all the money. There were two safes, one that had the accumulated money and the one that had that months’ worth. All I had to do was get to the big safe before they collected the money from that trimester, nobody would check it for at least one month and that would give us enough time to make the trips and get the money back from the first batch of liquor we would produce. It was a dumb idea but I had no other way of getting that amount of money ready for my friend, and we were so close I could almost taste the drink.
The night after was when I worked on the safe and got the money out. It was the perfect time and those guys would only check it in another months’ time. It was easier than I thought too. Both safes were in the office downstairs and my previous occupation came to good use as I figured the combination almost instantly. That is not to say I wasn’t sweating all over the place, I knew I was a dead man if someone saw me working over the safe. I gave Elliot the money and told him to get us enough for at least a couple of months. We needed that much if I was to pay back the amount I took from them. My friend was surprised but asked no questions, in order for me not to tell him any lies, but he knew I was in a hurry and he knew I could get in trouble if I couldn’t get that money back.
It took a week before I saw Elliot again in a truck with all the materials he gathered. The clock was ticking for me and I was surprised when he said we had to begin testing right away. I had completely forgotten about that. In my mind it had completely escaped me the most basic principle of bartending: certain drinks had to be mixed using just the right amounts, or else that drink would turn into a disaster. I didn’t let him see my despair as I encouraged him to start right away and call me as soon as he had some sort of results.
Another week flew by before I got that call. The first drink had been made with successful results. I didn’t care about any of that to be honest with you, I just wanted to see the money flow, I wanted to put that money back in the safe and we would need to sell at least two thousand drinks to make up for the money I had taken.
But when I met with Elliot he suddenly had different plans. He said the drink would have been best kept a secret, something only us could get to enjoy. I don’t think I need to tell you how angry I was at that point, but I never let it show. Instead I told him calmly that I had to borrow quite a bit of money and that the only way to pay it back would be by selling the drink to the customers. Reluctantly he agreed after over an hour of discussion and persuasion. I’m a bartender after all, I can persuade like the best of them. A deal had been made, he would produce and I would advertise and sell as much as possible. The clock was ticking after all.
The results were better than expected and that led him to quit his job. Producing what we ended up calling The Green Wave took some time, especially considering the quantities we needed, and the customers loved it as expected. Did I make enough money? I would be lying if I said I did. But when I expected to suffer, it turned out I didn’t have to. One of the most basic rules for success is to always have a backup plan. All I had to do was plant some seeds and start a bit of discord; to raise the suspicions on certain elements before I would even to brought in to explain the situation. I did say in the beginning that Westerspring is a bad place, a city of lies and deceit. Nobody is safe from it, not even the mob. It didn’t take long for my carefully built web of deceit to take effect. A couple of guys died, bad people, people you wouldn’t want out there in the streets, so in the end everybody won and our little base of operations remained intact.
But why am I not innocent? Was it because of my lies?
Elliot had been planting some seeds too. It turned out we needed a little bit more of supplies than what he had at the moment. I knew the reason, it was clear as day. Just the other day I made the mistake of telling Elliot my debt had been cleared. That led to production growing slower and slower and more waste of materials. Now I knew Elliot wasn’t the sloppy type, I knew that from the start he never really wanted to sell the product. But when you have a business and clients are expecting it, we had at least a couple of hundred people every night, you need to do things properly, otherwise business will suffer.
Green Wave had almost outrun us, our own drink.
So when I met with Elliot a couple of nights ago I had to talk with him and persuade him to do what was right, for both of us and for the bar. But this time Elliot wouldn’t have it. He had found out why the drink was so successful: it had a powerful addictive substance that was also partially poisoning people. Something about one chemical being mixed up with another caused such effects. Authorities had to know, further testing needed to be done, and serious talking had to be had.
Why bother with all that when we had built everything with such success? I’ll never know it, but I was under the impression he had been drinking the stuff, that’s probably how he knew the experiment was a success in the first place. Like I said before, first I tried to reason with him, he was my friend after all, one half of the reason why our place was such a tremendous success. Then, and I regret this course of action to this day, I punched him in the face and threatened him. Which words I used escape me now, what I know is that it wasn’t pretty, and our conversation lasted a long, long time.
I threw Elliot in the garbage that night, hoping that his death would be connected to a hit or some random act of violence. People often saw us together and the police were pretty insistent with their questions. I didn’t flinch; they had nothing on me after all, just the connection. How it went with the bar, that’s another problem altogether. I didn’t have the formula, in the midst of that fit of rage I forgot to demand it out of him; I didn’t know where he lived either, so the Green Wave came to a halt. Customers were angry and stopped coming, the mob wasn’t happy either because that meant that the casino would no longer generate the income they had grown accustomed to. Eventually I had to sell the place, I was rather forced to do it, as expenses were piling up and I had no way to make the money to pay for them.
I am alone now, walking with no purpose along the dark streets, wondering and also praying that when this city consumes me, it does the job quickly and painlessly. I know that it won’t happen, not in Westerspring city, the city that will eat you up and spit you out, no matter who you are.
Let me know your thoughts on this one.
Have a great day!