2 · Brown
Pete was bartender extraordinaire. He’d been ordinary at a number of different jobs, or so he had said. Elisha doubted that. Maybe it was true that all of his precision and technical passions were spent in one place, but the way he’d set up the libations for his regulars right before they breached the dim confines of the bar, or how he would suggest a drink just by looking a new patron in the eye, convinced her that he was either very modest or very secretive.
Elisha took a sip of her cocktail. To the eye, it was without contrast. Dull, like a puddle floating on the dirt roads she’d recently traveled. Much like Elisha, it tried not to call attention to itself. Maybe that’s why she drank what Pete had simply christened “Brown.” She thought of it as some sort of magic elixir, and if she thought hard enough, it seemed to become just that. A material way of keeping herself invisible. To ordinary eyes, anyway. To a man like Pete, she felt he could see right through her, but that also meant he could tell when people didn’t want to be read. The first time Elisha had mentioned what she was looking to have him craft, Pete had been silent for a few moments.
“I have most of that here,” he had said. “It will take me a day to get the last thing you mentioned. I apologize that I can’t make that for you now, but if you’ll come back tomorrow, I’ll serve you what you’ve ordered.”
Pete was true to his word. Her first sip left her expressionless. It was both the worst and best drink in the world. Everything she had hoped for. In nearly every other watering hole across the country where she had pulled up a stool, Elisha’s request had raised eyebrows and probing questions.
You want what? We’re a bar, lady. We don’t stock that sort of thing here.
When that didn’t happen, Elisha felt a desire to stay, no matter the danger. Hanging around so close to a triggering event always loomed in her mind, but facts were facts: It’s hard to get a good drink and meet someone who understands you on a primal level.
“What, are they playing December reruns of the weather now?” she heard a customer say. Pete turned around and adjusted the volume on a vintage radio sitting just above the bar. Its cherry condition made it seem out of place. Most bars these days had an old box-set television covered in grime.
“Another one for the record books,” someone else said.
A tinny voice enmeshed in static announced itself as the local weatherman. The man mentioned the possibility of snow within the next couple of hours.
“Stranger things have happened,” Pete replied.
Stranger things indeed. It was a familiar conversation. Sudden changes in weather were the usual sign. In a tiny town on the southeastern edge of the Mojave Desert, snow in the middle of October was strange, but not strange enough to warrant national coverage.
Timing was everything.
Elisha took another sip of Brown and rubbed her thumb along the object in her pocket. She never took it out in public, though she almost felt comfortable enough had it only been her and Pete. With her mind’s eye, she saw what she was tracing with her thumbnail – a shallow “Z” etched into the crudely whittled fish.