Tag Archives: fiction

ECHOES OF MIKHAIL

Mikhail, several months before the events in Echoes of Balance. Enjoy the bonus material!

“Is it typical for your sort to come back to one place this often?” The voice was as soft as the careful footsteps that had preceded it through the foliage.

        Mikhail had been aware of the footsteps for awhile – they picked up about two miles into his walk through this particular forest, one he knew well, and they had paced him until boredom brought them closer. They didn’t worry him. As his rounds had showed, this patch of land was safe and desolate save for the usual inhabitants.

        “Thought I’d check in,” he grunted, glancing over his shoulder to the figure carefully stepping over a patch of brambles. Though it had been something on four legs tracking him before, this person was quite human.

        She was roughly Mikhail’s height, and though she was slight, the thick leathers that wrapped her torso and legs made her look sturdy, somehow. Her hair hung wild about her face, her cheeks pink tinted and wind whipped as if much of her life was spent outdoors. Though they had been in the forest for some time, her feet were bare.

        “Everything is the same as it was last month. And the one before that, and the one before that,” the woman said calmly, crossing her arms over her chest. A few dark inked tattoos snaked about her arms: a few of them seemed to match the ones that were stamped into Mikhail’s own biceps.

        He sighed, turning his gaze forward again. “Things seemed… unbalanced.”

        “And you assumed that meant you would need to come here? These things you always speak of, they pointed you here?”

        Mikhail rolled his eyes, turning to face her. “No, but – “

        “But you were worried,” she cut in, her posture remaining rigid. “Were there signs? Are we in danger?”

        He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, glancing down at the dirt. “What starts will spread.”

        The woman tilted her head to the side. “So that’s a no, then.”

        “Anja –“

        “It’s been a decade, Mikhail. Several decades, in fact. What happened was horrible, but she’s been gone. I know you miss her, but we’re not helpless. And you sticking around, waiting to save us? That’s not going to bring her back.”

        He raised his gaze to meet her. “Are you telling me I’m not welcome?”

        She sighed, taking a few steps to close the gap between them. “You always have friends amongst us, Mikhail. You know that. But you also have your own family, your own sister, your own kind, your responsibilities…” Anja let it trail off there.

        Mikhail pressed a smile onto his lips. “Right as usual, Anja.”

        “Go home, Mikhail,” she said, the corners of her lips twitching upwards. “Make it so we actually miss you before you show up again.”

        He gave a nod. Anja tossed her hair and smiled in earnest before turning her back to him, stepping into the flora once more. He watched her retreat – watched her shadow melt into the trees – before he ever thought to move.

        Go home, Mikhail. That would be easy if any Naimei knew where home was.

 

Stay tuned! More Coming Soon.

 

 

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Break

Forty-seven. That was exactly how many glasses Jeremy had broken since his job as head bartender began all those months ago. He approximated that seven or so of those glasses had broken for normal reasons; the outside of the glass had been damp, a serving tray had slipped. He had swung around and, in a moment of uncharacteristic spacial unawareness, had knocked a delicate chalice to the floor. But those were not the reasons for the other forty. The other forty he knocked up to something that he referred to as ‘clientele hazards.’

Clientele hazards, a phrase Jeremy was careful to use only inside his own mind, encompassed all of the many unusual patrons that frequented Ducante’s. If he had known when he had applied all of those months ago how many secrets the bar had, he would have never showed up for the first interview. Jeremy didn’t like knowing all of the things that he knew about the bar, mostly because they were also things that he then knew about the world. And for his part, he liked his world exactly the way it had been several months ago, thank-you-very much.

Those had been simpler times. His biggest fear after sundown was coming out of work with a parking ticket. And work! It had been a dull job, but bar-backing at the local restaurant chain was easily more lucrative than pouring drinks at Ducante’s. Between his shaky attitude blowing his chance at any big tips and his constant penchant for breaking glasses, Jeremy was lucky if he brought home any money at all. He supposed he could call it luck that he hadn’t been fired yet, but he wasn’t sure that ‘luck’ was quite the right term. The only time the issue had been raised had been when he himself had brought it up to Maya: she had just shrugged and told him calmly,

“You’ll get used to it.”

The thought made a line of sweat break out across his brow line. At least for now, the bar remained blessedly empty save for himself and Jason, the bouncer. Jason always insisted on coming in early and leaving late, something that Jeremy never complained about. The bouncer had a strong, calming presence that the frazzled nerves of the bartender appreciated.

Jeremy took a deep breath and carefully began unloading glasses from the still steaming dishwasher, wiping each one dry as he set it on the counter. At one of the gleaming tables, Jason was flipping through the Molten Review, the lackluster town paper. Every now and again he would pause, yawn, and glance around the bar.

At one of these such moments, the bouncer found his gaze moving to the door that he spent the night standing outside of. “Hey, Jeremy? Would you know where there’s a bottle of WD-40 around here? That door’s been squeaking.”

“Oh, yeah!” Jeremy said. There was a strange feeling that he assumed might have been happiness, or even pride, at knowing the answer to something. At being useful. He went to simultaneously grab two of the wet glasses while also stepping out from behind the bar to gesture at the supply closet when it happened: the beginning of his forty-eighth break.

One of the shining glasses slipped through his fingers, tumbling towards the floor. Across the room, Jason stood up sharply from his seat. It clattered to the floor behind him as he raised one arm, bringing it down in a strange, inverted bell curve.

The glass, a mere inch from the ground, stopped abruptly in mid air, where it hovered effortlessly in space.

Smash. Several inches to the right, the other glass that Jeremy had been holding did what the first had been threatening and shattered across the hardwood.

Forty-eight.

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CHILL

There was no such thing as ‘unseasonably warm’ in the town of Selvmar. The popular tourist destination was nice enough in the summer – beautiful weather, even – but in the early spring months it was nothing but grey. The flowering trees would not start blooming for another few weeks, once the chilly air stopped rolling in from the choppy ocean waves.

Maya Solis was always surprised at how quickly she forgot about the fickle weather of her adopted home town. Now, with five minutes to bar close on what could have been the dullest night of the pre-tourism-season, she found her bare shoulders shivering as the draft coaxed its way through the aged windows of Ducante’s bar.

She rubbed at her shoulders hopelessly, turning to reevaluate the nightly inventory numbers. Three lousy bottles of some watery off brand beer was the only thing that had left the premises. It had hardly been worth being open, but she knew that Ducante would insist: “You never know who will come in after midnight. Or what they’ll say,” he would always add with a wink. And so she had stayed, though the rest of her staff had gone home before 11:55.

To fill the time, Maya had given the grimy old bar the wipe down that it had been denied for the past several decades. The only task left was to dust the bottles that sat untouched on the top shelf – this location did not see the sophisticated palettes that so many of Ducante’s other bars did – and Maya was loathe to go through with cleaning them. She had finally caved to fetching the creaky wooden ladder from the back of the store when she heard the creak of the front door.

Though it was still particularly cold, there was the vibrant thrill of spring time laced on the air that seeped into the lemony fresh tavern. It was enough to offer a jab of adrenaline, but that was not the only thing that set Maya’s hair on edge.

“Wow, working late, I see,” said a light female voice.

The bartender froze in the door to the store room. “Amanda,” she replied cooly.

“Who else?” The girl crooned, sidling past pool table and battered booth to take a seat at the bar itself. “I just got into town and thought I’d stop in to see if you were working. For old time’s sake.”

“For old time’s sake,” Maya repeated. “Right.”

Amanda dragged one long, pale finger across the surface of the freshly Pledged bar, causing a horrible squeaking sound as she did so. “Is your owner around?”

Maya clenched her jaw. “I suppose you mean the bar owner?”

“Yes, of course. That’s what I meant. Where is Gregory spending his time these days?”

“Oh, you know,” she said, shrugging her bare shoulders, “here and there. He’s never spent much time here, though.”

The self-satisfied expression that had been set on the new comer’s face fell slightly. “You’re telling me you don’t see him?”

“Only when there’s a new business opening.”

“Right, the one in Molten,” she cooed, some of her old vibrance flashing back to her hazel eyes. She shook a hand through her sandy curls. “I hope Jason found you.”

Maya’s jaw clenched again. She snatched up a rag hanging on the edge of the bar and began scrubbing furiously at a non existent spot. “You got him disowned, you know.”

“Oh, come on, Maya. Nothing worse than what you’ve done,” she said lightly, leaning an elbow on the counter. “And at least he got a job out of the deal.”

Abruptly, Maya stopped. Her green eyes flashed. “Ivy got what she deserved.” The bartender sighed, pressing her fingers to her temples. “That’s in the past anyway,” she mumbled.

“And I’m here to talk about the future,” Amanda said, sliding to lean forward over the bar. “I had an interesting encounter recently. With a certain ‘Josef.’ I think your employer would like to know about it.”

Maya tossed the rag into a small hamper at the side of the bar before she bothered to respond. “When did you become one to start playing these games, Amanda?”

“When Ivy left the position open,” she said lightly.

“That’s not funny.”

“Please, Maya,” the girl said, more seriously, now. “Please. I need to talk to Ducante.”

The bartender sighed. “Come back tomorrow, Amanda.” She shook her head, turning to fetch the ladder from the back room.

At the bar, Amanda smirked. “It’s good to see you again, Maya.”

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Off the Wagon (Non-Story)

For those of you reading, you might have noticed that it’s been awhile since I’ve added a new Original, and for that, I apologize. I hope you’ll forgive me, but life is pretty overwhelming. I’m working on polishing the full, 68,000 word version of All of the Demons (with hopes to start querying agents with it soon), I’m composing the sequel, I’m in my last semester of art school – which means senior thesis time is here! – and I’m still working to, you know, pay rent and feed myself and junk. (Not to mention that I’ve started trying desperately to get back in shape with Tough Mudder looming on my horizon.)

This blog is in no way ending, but the pace is definitely going to slow down. Please stay tuned because Gregory Ducante and those that frequent his most favorite of establishments still have many stories to share, but their mediator – me – just can’t always keep up with them. Mostly because I love naps, and sometimes those just replace the time when I would be cranking out a nice solid original.

Oh man, stay tuned, though. There’s some good stuff coming.

(Also, mega shout-out to Raven Marlow over at Insanity Reigns Supreme for nominating me for the ‘One Lovely Blog’ award. You rock!)

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Christmas

The snow was falling softly through out the town of Molten. It was midmorning on Christmas, and aside from the lone Chinese restaurant, everything was shut tight for the day. Behind the closed doors of their homes, people were cleaning up their gobs of wrapping paper and split cardboard boxes. The childless among them may have just begun to open gifts, having woken late from their nights of cocktails and company. In a small town such as Molten, it was safe to assume an almost perfect Christmas: everyone was enjoying themselves.

Perhaps none more so than the man still behind the closed door of his business. The ambient sconces created a soft glow as he counted – twenty, forty, sixty – a pile of thin green bills, occasionally pausing to make small notes on a piece of paper. This was what he lived for: all of the power given to the tiny slips of paper.

It was what his kind thrived on, the very core – and often misinterpreted – heart of chaos. The breath before madness. The small barrier that could prevent – or create – a whirlwind of catastrophe. In the mind of Gregory Ducante, all of those things were perfectly encapsulated in money. In his capitalist endeavors, his pecuniary fetish. There was no better way for him to spend his Christmas than getting closer to this his most favorite force of chaos.

After all, it wasn’t as if he was foolish enough for something as simple as church.

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Another Not-Post Post

Sorry guys – final week is still breathing down my neck and I’m just not up to a 1,000 some odd word post. Tomorrow or this weekend, though, I promise that I’ll  get back in the swing of things and all of you awesome people who have started following my blog can keep reading.

Until then, I do have something to tide you over. If you’ve read the ‘About the Originals’ page, you know that Gregory Ducante is a supporting character from my first finished manuscript, tentatively titled All of the Demons. I’m working my tail off between, you know, school/paying work/finals/social obligations to get the 68,000 word piece whipped into a more polished draft (which includes grammar patrol, reworking large sections, keeping the plot’s focus directed for the sequels) so that I can start querying agents.

And you can help.

Or, at the very least, you can give a read to the first 10 pages of the manuscript over here. I’m looking for critique and review of this first section to help guide my process in cleaning up the rest, so if you have anything to say about it, feel free to leave comments either on the Figment page, or here in my blog. I’ll check and appreciate ’em both.

Thanks so much for your patience while I slowly make my way out of homework land! One Gregory Ducante and I will be seeing you all soon for a real post, but until then, enjoy All of the Demons!

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Non-Post Post

Outside of the short story format, let me just say thank you everyone so much for reading and following this blog! It means so much to me that people have been keeping with the characters I love so much, and despite what I said – posting once a day – and despite what I’ve done – not posting for a week – I haven’t forgotten about you. I still have stories to tell. But at the moment, finals is TOTALLY defeating me, so it might be awhile until I get back into a solid posting schedule. (Think like… a week or so.)

So until that time, here is a dated picture of exactly what I think Ducante’s might look like (the door would be to the right in this picture, and the bar would be more swoopy) and an article I found on BBC about witches. Cool, right?

That being said, I will see you all on the other side of the semester for my last leg of undergrad. Whoohoo!

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Grand Opening

The grand opening of Ducante’s started as all previous nights at the bar had: with the prompt start of Happy Hour at exactly 5pm. That was when the bar opened. Or at least, that was the new sign which had been hung on the outer wall of the building proclaimed. ‘5pm to close,’ it said in it’s purposefully vague way. The sign and it’s ambiguity were two of three new things that came to the bar the night of the Grand Opening; the third, of course, were crowds upon crowds of people.

The interior of the dim bar was positively packed, wall to wall, with people who demanded drinks and finger food. Despite the low lights and dark wood, the whole of the space seemed to glow from the energy put off by the crowd. Everyone was excited, even though the Big Band music was still low and the night was still young. The excitement was making the night, but the owner and host, one Gregory Ducante, was making the bar. He was positively jovial. It was usual, of course, for business owners to be excited on the day of their opening. But most of that enthusiasm came with a well measured dose of nerves, whereas Mr. Ducante circulated the crowd as if he was born for it. He shook hands at the door, mixed the occasional drink at the bar. Mingled from wall to wall before starting the whole process over again.

The entirety of his hospitality seemed very sincere and very fitting for the Golden-Age vibe he was channeling in his latest establishment. At least, that was what Heather Bergman was planning to write in her review for the Molten Standard. She had always imagined that she had quite the poetic flair, no matter what the agents she queried said, and she intended to put it to good use. Even if she was working in small town America.

Heather Bergman had arrived precisely at 5.15pm (being casually late was another thing which she considered a forte) with her notebook in hand. She was thrilled at the prospect of a bar opening. It made it that much easier to imagine that she was in a big city, as opposed to just in Molten. And she had been positively charmed by one Gregory Ducante.

Where Ms. Bergman’s opinion was concerned, almost everything at the bar had been positively charming. The bouncer at the door, who kept sneaking glances into the bar, had asked for ID as she approached. This happened so infrequently these days that sent a thrill up her spine. Once she reached the bar, she found the bartenders to be adequately trained and then some: upon asking for a signature cocktail, they had nodded and efficiently made her one of the best Manhattans she had ever had outside of Manhattan. It wasn’t long into that drink that Mr. Ducante had come over to say hello himself; he had even offered to answer a few questions about his endeavors, both past and present, which Ms. Bergman gleefully copied down.

Yes, everything in the bar was simply marvelous. Or at least, almost marvelous. As Ms. Bergman sipped on her second Manhattan and someone turned the volume up on the sound system a few notches, she began to notice the things that were not so perfect. One of the bartenders, a young man with sandy brown hair, looked exceedingly nervous. But then, wasn’t he wearing a name tag that proclaimed him head bartender?

“I’d be nervous on a busy night like this, too.” Heather whispered, taking a deep sip of cherry-peppered whiskey.

And that woman behind the bar. Gregory Ducante had mentioned her during their brief interview – Melissa, or Miranda. Something. She helped him with his openings. But, then, why did she look so forlorn? The girl kept smoothing her dirty blonde hair and gazing out at the door. Maybe there was some restriction on how many people could be in this old bar that they simply hadn’t told anyone about.

“Yes, yes,” came Mr. Ducante’s voice from somewhere to Ms. Bergman’s right. “It has been a simply marvelous turn out. I blame it on my positively bewitching staff.”

Heather turned her head just in time to see Mr. Ducante clap the stern-looking bouncer from the door on the shoulder. He had evidently come in for his break, to grab a drink, for after a bob of his head to whoever had been offering commendations, he wandered up to the bar. Heather Bergman did not see what the man ordered, to know what the staff might think of as the best drink in the house, because at the same moment, the nervous looking bartender dropped one of the silver rimmed glasses to the floor.

The tinkling shatter of the glass shards was inevitably heard by no one but those sitting at the bar proper. As the dusty haired bartender murmured, “Sorry. Sorry. Yeah, I heard you. I’ll grab your drink,” Heather Bergman clicked her tongue and her pen simultaneously as she moved to make a note in her nearly full notebook.

“Jason,” hissed the blonde behind the bar as she cracked a top on a beer and slid it to the bouncer. “You don’t have to do this. You can leave – I know your family isn’t happy that you’re working here, you don’t want to – ”

“I want a job and I want to make money, Maya,” the bouncer snapped, snatching his beer off the mahogany bar top.

“Look, I know what they think about people like Ducante, and – ”

“Why, Ms. Bergman!” came a smooth voice from her other side.

Heather’s ears had perked in the direction of the two bar workers – perhaps she had even been staring as she stressed and strained to hear what they were saying. She had begun the night thinking that the piece would be a lovely review: but was there a darker side to Ducante’s? If there was… that was front page. But at the voice from her side, Ms. Bergman jumped, and whatever was left of their conversation was lost to her.

“Oh, Mr. Ducante. I’m sorry, I must have been lost in the ambiance.” She smiled in what she hoped was a coy way as she sipped out of the too-skinny cocktail straw.

He shook his head, a brilliantly toothy grin plastered on his mouth. “It’s such a pleasure that you’re still here. Why don’t I give you that tour that I promised…?” Mr. Ducante offered, grabbing her elbow to lead her off the bar stool. “We’ll grab you another cocktail while we’re at it,” he added, snapping his fingers in the direction of the nervous looking bartender, who was just handing over a particularly well-garnished bloody mary.

“Oh… oh, yes,” said Ms. Bergman, allowing herself to be led as she smiled into the chocolate brown eyes of Mr. Ducante. “That would be lovely.”

It wasn’t until the tour ended outside the door of the bar and Heather Bergman was on her way home two cocktails later that she realized she had left her nearly-full notebook behind.

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Bounce

The day before the grand opening, the only opening the bar would have, and the small sign advertising cocktail hour had been removed. The social circles of the town were buzzing with gossip of what they had heard about the restaurant. Each clique seemed to have heard something that made the bar most applicable to them, with one twenty-something woman even going as far as to say that the VIP room was covered in pink.

While none of this buzz was necessarily true, it was all welcomed by the employees of Ducante’s pub, who today were few and far between inside the silent, dim interior. If the world was buzzing outside, it was barely twittering inside. In fact, it was barely scratching – and the scratching, incidentally, was coming from a nervous looking man, an almost wasted pen, and a stack of papers at the end of the bar.

Behind the bar, the short haired second in command was polishing the glasses for the umpteenth time. Openings usually went quite smoothly; but she had one position yet to fill, and with the day looming… it made her nervous. The ambiguous ads and vague requests she had put out had received little, if any, attention from the people who’s attention it was so imperative she grab. It was now, in the final hour, that she found herself hoping for a miracle.

The last thing she wanted was to have to stay in this podunk town to do the job until Ducante could find someone.

“Make sure you sign all of those,” Maya said to the nervous boy on the counter. “With the position of head bartender comes big responsibility, Jeremy.”

“You mean big confidentiality,” he muttered. Maya just laughed, and as Jeremy turned the page, the scratching continued. The addition of the occasionally squeaky clean glass made a sort of odd rhythm that was not interrupted for several minutes. That is, it was not interrupted until the front door pushed open.

Jeremy looked up curiously; Maya put the glass down, sliding one hand for some anonymous protection beneath the bar. But as the person responsible for pushing open the door stepped into the light of one of the wall sconces, she sighed. “Jason. You didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Hey, Maya,” the man said, tilting his head to the side and offering a winning smile.

“You should’ve told me you were coming!” Maya said, tossing down her bar rag and dashing to throw her arms around the fall form of this ‘Jason.’ “I haven’t seen you since…”

“Since you started working,” he said, his lips twitching. “Its been a long time since you moved to Selvmar.”

Maya shrugged, tugging at a wayward strand of hair in an avoidant fashion. “Selvmar was the logical place for me. You know, after… everything.”

Jason shrugged, crossing his arms. “And now you’re here.”

“Only until the day after tomorrow, then I’m back to Selvmar. I’m just helping out my employer,” she answered with a shrug.

“Your employer,” Jason said slowly, rolling the word on his tongue experimentally. His eyes moved around the empty bar, falling at last on Jeremy, who jerked his eyes back to his papers. “Well. I’ve heard a lot of interesting things about this bar and this… employer.”

“Oh yeah?” Maya asked, crossing her arms to mirror his position. “And who’s telling you all of this?”

“Amanda,” he said smartly. “She told me a lot of things about the kind of bar this is. And she told me that you’re still looking for help.”

At the bar, Jeremy paused in his scratching.

“Oh. Jason…” Maya began, her voice softer than it usually was within these walls. “Jason, I don’t think this is quite the right environment for you.”

“Are you trying to say I’m not – ” his eyes jerked to Jeremy again, “-qualified for the position?”

Maya ground her teeth together. “Jeremy, you better finish signing those papers if you’re going to stay in this room.” The scratching started up again. “I know you’re qualified. You don’t think you’ve showed me everything you can do? You’re more qualified than I am, it’s just – ”

“Damn right I’m more qualified than you are. I’m the one that taught you how to Make them all. Look, I’m tired of tracking and hunting, and I don’t want to go to Selvmar, and this is the only place where I’m not working in some dead-end human cubicle job and – ”

“This just isn’t your speed, Jason, it’s nothing personal – ”

” – of course it’s personal – ”

“It’s – ”

“Maya,” said a calm, even voice from just beyond the bar. Gregory Ducante had made his way down the stairs that connected his second floor office with the bar, “Maya, Maya. I see no reason why you should deny this man a job, should he want one. He does appear quite qualified.”

Next to the bar door, Jason froze. His jaw seemed to slacken, and then tense. “You – ! You’re… you’re a…” His lip twitched, frozen somewhere between surprise and snarl.

At the bar, Jeremy was hurriedly signing the final five pages. He wanted nothing more than to leave this uncomfortable situation, to flee this strange twilight zone of a bar to the home where everything was normal.

“Yes, my boy,” Gregory Ducante said, “I am exactly what you think I am. But that shouldn’t stop you from a fantastic business opportunity, now, should it?” He stretched out his hand and offered a friendly wink; and as he did, his chocolate brown eyes did something very funny indeed. They flashed from a deep chocolate brown to a vivid red, and then back again.

It took no more than that instant for Jeremy to finish signing the last page of his confidentiality agreement; and he spent no more than that throwing down the pen  and marching out the door without another word.

He would not know what happened after that wink; not for twenty four blessedly normal hours, at least.

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Delivery

“Of course I appreciate this,” Maya Solis was saying into the slim cellphone she had been given for business calls, “And I realize this is unorthodox, but because of that I was hoping for a night time delivery and – ”

It was mid-afternoon in the town of Molten, but it was always almost nighttime in the windowless bar. It was one of the last days of staff training, and across the interior the almost-fully-trained-bartenders were dutifully restocking shelves.

“Yeah, I get that you’re already on your way – but I’m training a new staff right now. I can’t be dealing with – yeah. Right, I know I just have to meet with the driver, but I have three new hires here. What am I supposed to do with them and this sort of shipment coming in? God. Fine, okay – dammit. Alright.” And holding the phone away from her ear, she looked over to the employees at the bar. “Good work today guys, you can all head home. Day after tomorrow, grand opening, get ready! Hey, Jeremy – you stay. Yup, you, thanks.”

And then, putting the phone back to her ear, she muttered to the person on the other line, “Alright, let’s hope this goes well. See you soon.” With a click, she hung up.

Jeremy McVey had found the past week of training one of the oddest he had ever encountered. Usually, as a fully trained bar tender, new jobs would do things like go over dress code. Explain where things are. Elaborate on the corporate culture, maybe. But this bar – this Ducante’s – insisted on retraining them on everything. Maya, the woman who had been running the show, was a mixed bag: sometimes Jeremy found himself reminded fondly of his older sister. Other times, he wondered how  such a small girl could get so mean so quickly.

Maya Solis had gone out of her way to remind Jeremy and the others that this business expected nothing but perfection and professionalism. She had told them repeatedly to be on their toes when their were actually customers in the store: “Be on your game. Be perfect. We are not a pretty business and you do not want to disappoint your customers.”

The first time she had said it, it had been funny, almost. So serious, so intense. But the more she said it, the more grave the sentence became. The few times Mr. Gregory Ducante, the bar owner, had been present, he had simply nodded along to what she said. Sometimes, he offered a wink, and a: “We certainly wouldn’t want to see you on the bad side of one of our guests.”

It had started to give Jeremy McVey chills. The chills were the reason why  as he tossed down a bar rag and made his way to Maya Solis, he did it with a lingering apprehension. Being alone in the bar with her made him nervous – especially now, when she had that hard look in her hazel eyes.

“Jeremy, we have a delivery coming in. Follow me, please,” she said simply, motioning to the hall that led out to the back door.

“I… okay,” he said, shuffling after her. “But I thought we got all of the shipments earlier in the week?”

Maya glanced over her shoulder, tucking a light brown piece of hair behind one ear. “Sort of,” was her only answer.

Jeremy frowned. “I don’t understand. What don’t we have? We got the vodka, the brandy, the whiskey, the bourbon, the rum…”

“This…” his boss began slowly, “This… is something a little bit more… illicit.”

“Do we sell moonshine?!” Jeremy hissed.

Maya, her hand resting on the handle of the back door, turned to look at her employee again. There was a small half smirk on her face, so reminiscent of the bar owner that it made Jeremy shiver. “Nothing quite that tame, kitten.”

The back alley of the bar was shared by the restaurants next door, though Jeremy had never known it to be used for anything but garbage. The big shipments that had come earlier, the vodka, brandy, whiskey, bourbon, and rum, had been delivered out front, in the area previously taken up by construction and now labeled ‘LOADING ZONE, 7AM-4PM. NO PARKING.’ This back alley was practically non existent.

But today there was a car parked in the previously non existent back alley. It was old looking, blue with pockets of rust forming near the wheels. The driver had already gotten out of the front seat and was leaning against the popped trunk.

“Hey,” he offered, tipping a black ball cap in Maya’s direction. “Long time no see.”

“Been working in a lot of different places, Karl,” Maya said, walking over and lifting the trunk of the blue sedan. “It’s all here?”

“Everything Mr. Ducante normally asks for at an opening. Wasn’t easy to get, either – took quite awhile to siphon off.” The driver, Karl, nodded towards Jeremy. “This one of your new guys?”

Maya shook her head. “I find that hard to believe, since we only gave you a week’s notice of what we needed. And yes, this is one of my new guys. Jeremy, Karl, Karl, Jeremy – Karl is a long time Ducante’s supplier.”

“Coast to coast,” Karl added languidly. “You need help moving this stuff in?”

“I’ll get it,” Jeremy said quickly, darting forward. He did not know what he had expected in the trunk of the car: bricks of cocaine, maybe. Syringes full of God-knows-what, perhaps. But all that sat in the trunk were several styrofoam coolers, the type that one might take on a camping trip.

Maya bit her lip as he picked one up (they were heavy) and then gave a small nod. “Those go in the chest freezer. Not the one with the food.”

“The empty one. Got it,” Jeremy grunted. The cooler was really heavy. As he headed back down the hallway, he thought he heard the driver – Karl – bark a laugh at something Maya said. But he couldn’t quite hear what it was.

Jeremy McVey was half way down the hallway when he heard Maya’s footsteps behind him. The occasional groan from her direction told him that she was carrying a cooler, as well. He had just set his load down on the chest freezer – the one with the food in it – and had gone to open the empty one when Maya walked in behind him.

“Make sure you unload the cooler, don’t just set it in,” Maya said, her tone forcibly light.

“Su-” Jeremy began, but he stopped as he took the lid off of the styrofoam cooler. Inside, several dozen plastic medical bags full of red gleamed up at him.

“I told you we don’t run a pretty business,” Maya said, dropping her cooler next to his. “Now get unloading. And start considering taking the position of head bartender.”

 

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