Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Excerpt from "The Bartender"

In theory, late April is supposed to see the simultaneous release of two new novels - the pirate novel The Seventeenth Island and a peculiar Bukowski-meets-DeQuincey affair called The Bartender that includes illustrations by J.T. Dockery. The latter book concerns a solitary bartender who lives a spartan life and looks upon his profession as some sort of noble calling of an ancient unspoken brotherhood not unlike the Rosicrucians or Knights Templar, to serve man by serving man drinks. But when he overhears information from one of his inebriant customers that could be used for his own illicit gain, his ethics are put to the test.

Just between you and me, though, dear reader, deadlines are made to be broken and I've got a feeling the books may now be pushed into early May instead. I've been so busy on the now-neverending JSH Book Tour - just returned from St. Augustine, FL and now about to head to Myrtle Beach, SC - that I haven't had to time to proof the files for final release. I'm determined there will be no typos in either of these books, even though in the spirit of pulp fiction's shoddy nature typos don't bother me a bit. (Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald's first edition of The Great Gatsby contained numerous glaring typos, misspellings, and even broken and missing text, and that some of these grievous errors remained in print in subsequent editions for years before ever being corrected?)

Meanwhile, I'm working on the next installment, a horror novel about a boxer which takes place in the 1940s, tentatively titled The Alternation of Night and Day. Solar Station A, a lengthy science fiction epic, will appear in the summer and at year's end, we'll see a novel that's not quite a sequel to The Devil and Daniel Boone but it does feature one of its characters.

But for now, here's an excerpt from The Bartender. I'm heading out the door, see you on the road out there. Find me.


A rotund fellow with a thin mustache and slicked-back black hair planted himself at the bar. He was wearing a cream-colored suit that was clearly very expensive, but it was badly creased and looked like it had been slept in. The man, on the other hand, looked as if he'd had very little sleep.

"Whiskey," he mumbled.

"Our house whiskey is Seagram's", I said.

"Whiskey," he repeated, making a dismissive wave of his hand.

I sat the glass down and gave him a pour. He stared at it dolefully a moment, then glared back up at me.

"Would you like to make it a double?" I inquired. He nodded yes and I poured some more.

"Tell you what," he said, pointing his finger to a spot beside the glass, "can I go ahead and get a second double now too?"

"Certainly," I said, confused but eager to please as always. I sat a second glass down and poured it. No sooner than I'd finished pouring, he took the glass and poured its contents into the first one.

"Asshole," he muttered as he took his drink over to a table.

While I'd been pouring his second drink, a middle-aged woman had walked in wearing a strawberry colored plastic jacket and matching floppy sun hat. She was soaking wet and carried an umbrella that dripped water as she made her way to the bar. I looked out the window. It was a hot, dry and sunny day.

As the grumpy man excused himself, I turned to the wet woman and opened my mouth to greet her. Before I could speak, she beat me to it:

"Prairie Fire."

"Ah, come again?"

"Prairie Fire. Make it good."

I didn't yet grasp what she was saying - I'd heard it as something like "prayer far" - and asked her to repeat it again.

"Prair-reeeee Fyyyyy-errrrrrr", she enunciated slowly and condescendingly, though her condescention was somewhat sullied by her hick accent.

"I'm afraid I don't know what that is," I said. "What's in it?"

"Oh hon', you never heard of a Prairie Fire? You take a little bit of whiskey and a lot of hot sauce and you shake it up together. It is sooooooo fun."

That didn't sound like fun at all to me. I slowly grasped a shaker and started to pour the Seagram's with great reluctance.

"If you do it right, I oughta be runnin' from the room screaming in agony, " she cackled.

I smiled weakly. The customer is always right. I'd expect this sort of nonsense from a young fraternity man, the type who always wants flaming drinks not because they appreciate the ancient Hawaiian symbolism of tiki culture but because they just think fire is really neato; or doing that Boilermaker routine where you drop a shot glass of whiskey directly into a glass of beer, which usually achieves nothing but making a mess which I have to clean up.

"Is that your hottest hot sauce?" she asked as I put a few dashes into the shaker. I nodded. Actually, it was our only hot sauce, some cheapo grocery-store brand we used for Bloody Marys.

"Oh sweetie, you can't stop there. Gimme all you got. Let loose."

With trepidation I put five more dashes of hot sauce in. She shook her head and said, "take the cap off and POUR it, sweetie."

She held up two fingers horizontally indicating levels. "Whiskey," she said, then raised the top finger to double the depth - "hot sauce." She did it two more times to make sure I got the point. "Whiskey................. hot sauce. Whiskey............. hot sauce."

I shook the two together. "Rocks?"

"Neat, babykins."

I poured the sickening mixture, which looked more like hot sauce than anything else, into a glass. She tossed it back in one long slow gurgling drink with her head leaned so far I don't see how her floppy hat didn't fall off.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh," she exhaled and laid the glass loudly on the counter. "You're learning, hon', you're learning. Gimme another but this time dont skimp."

As I started preparing a second one, a funny expression came over her face and she grabbed her purse and umbrella and stood up quickly.

"Where's your bathroom, honey?"

I pointed, back and to the left. She walked stiflly and hurriedly in that direction.

She never did come back. I paid for her drink myself. It happens.