Just a Taste

“What I’m thinking,” said Carlisle to the barman, “is that you’re a thief.”

The barman blinked at her.  “Say what?”

“Because I know a thief when I see one,” she said, her words slurring just a little.  She leaned forward over the bar.  “Serious…  Seriously?  Twenty bucks for a shot of Jack is theft.”

“You could drink somewhere else,” said the barman.  “Free country.”

Carlisle gave a long, lazy smile.  “Free country.”  Only bar in this town.  If you can call it a town.  She’d heard of three-horse towns, and this place was two horses short.  No one else was in the bar tonight, the broken down old jukebox spitting out the same two songs on repeat.  She’d had about as much Johnny Cash as she could take.  The door to the bar opened behind her, and she felt a gust of cold chase someone inside.  She didn’t turn to look, still holding her glass of Jack.

“That’s right,” said the bartender, his eyes lighting up a little as he saw a new potential customer.  He started to clean a glass — Carlisle was about to say something else when a man slipped into the seat beside her.

She turned, taking him in.  Close cut hair, ebony skin, stacked like a Vegas deck of cards.  Like.  She kept the lazy smile on.  “Well hello, sailor.”

“I’m not really a sailor,” said the man.  “But I did come here in a ship.”

Carlisle let the smile fade away into a frown.  His accent was strange.  “Where you from?”

“The Caribbean, originally,” he said.  “More recently, Queens.”  The barman came back, and waved at him.  “Rum and Coke.  Easy on the Coke.”

“Starting hard, or…” Carlisle let herself trail off.  Something isn’t right.  That old instinct came back, the cop inside her refusing to die like it should.  Too much damn alcohol, that’s your problem.  Thought you’d come out, get lucky, and here you are talking to a — a something.  “You some kind of soldier?”

“Not really,” said the man, lifting his rum and Coke, taking a deep sniff.  He smiled, his eyes closed.  “More of a problem-solver.”

Carlisle pushed her barstool back a little.  “What kinds of problems you looking to solve tonight?”

The man laughed, something easy in it, and turned to look at Carlisle properly for what seemed like the first time.  “That depends.  You bring any trouble with you?”

“Left all my problems behind,” she said, the lie coming easy.  “Why else you come to a shit hole like this?”

“Maybe your problems are trying to catch up,” said Caribbean.  “Maybe your problems are only just starting.”

The bartender took a look around the bar, then moved through a grimy door to the kitchen, the door closing behind him.  It was an old door, and stuck just before it was fully closed.  It was funny the things you noticed, just before everything turned to shit.  “So look,” said Carlisle.  “I’m here to have some drinks.  Maybe get laid.  Can you help with any of that?”

Caribbean downed the last of his drink in a long swallow, then turned the glass over in his hand.  “Detective Carlisle?”

Fuck.  “Not anymore.”

“Detective Carlisle, we’re trying to track down some friends of yours.  Do you know a—”

“No.”

“What?”

“No, I don’t know anyone.  Not who you’re looking for.  And,” she said, as the man’s eyes widened slightly, “not her either.  And definitely not the next person you’re going to ask about.”

“That’s a shame,” said Caribbean.  “That’s what we call a ‘crying shame.’  Do you know why it’s called that?”

Carlisle tipped her head from side to side, loosening up her shoulders, just getting the kinks out.  “Because someone always ends up crying.”

The other man nodded.  “Do I look like the crying sort to you?”

Carlisle laughed, and Caribbean looked startled.  “No,” she said, “but you’ve made a huge mistake — and I mean, a massive, colossal fuck-up — if you think I’m the crying type.”

“The name I was going to ask you about,” said Caribbean, “was Elliot.”

Carlisle blinked at him in the silence left between the tracks changing on the jukebox.  Her veins felt like they’d just started running ice instead of blood, her head clearing from the fuzz of the alcohol.  She could hear the machine catch, clicking as it tried to drop another disc in, and she swallowed.  “What did you say?”

“I thought that might get your attention,” said Caribbean. “What would it be worth to you if you could see him again?”

“Elliot’s dead,” said Carlisle.

“Is he, now?”  Caribbean reached behind the bar, snagging out the bottle of rum.  “I wonder about that.”

“I don’t.”

“Let me ask you something,” said Caribbean.  “And let’s assume he’s dead. What if I said I could bring him back to life?”

“I’d say you were crazy in the coconut,” she said.

“Well,” said Caribbean, “that’s not an unusual reaction to get.”

“You ask people about their dead friends often?”

“Often enough,” he said.  “It’s a growth industry, in my line of work.”

“Right,” said Carlisle. Here’s a good one.  Guy walks into a bar, asks about your dead friend Elliot…  “What exactly is your line of work?”

“I get things done,” he said.  “The job title isn’t really important.”

“It’s not?  You just said you can raise the dead.”

“No,” said the man.  “I don’t raise the dead.  I’m more of an intermediary.  The man I work for?  He’s the one who can raise the dead.”

“Fancy trick,” said Carlisle, leaning back against the bar.  She took in the room — no one else here, clear exits, she should just get out.  This kind of crazy talk wouldn’t lead to any good.

“I can tell,” said Caribbean, “that you’re having trouble believing me.”

“You think?”

“Here’s a little taste,” he said, reaching — slowly, Carlisle noticed — into the pocket of his jacket.  He pulled out a few items — a small vial of clear liquid, a hand-rolled cigar, an old-style lighter. He placed these on the bar, then splashed a generous portion of rum into his glass.  He emptied in the clear liquid, then raised the cigar.

“There’s no smoking in here,” said Carlisle.  “Not that I give a shit, but you know.”  She pointed at the sign on the bar top, right next to the lighter.  Thank you for not smoking.

“Sure,” said Caribbean.  “I don’t think they meant this kind of thing.”  He picked up the lighter, flicking it open and lighting the cigar with big puffs.  He blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling.  “That should just about do it.”  He puffed a few more times, then blew a stream of smoke over the top of his glass.  Instead of the smoke flowing past, it clustered and gathered in the top of the glass, then seemed to be drawn into the dark liquid.

“There’s a thing,” said Carlisle. “But if you think I’m drinking that, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Just watch,” said Caribbean.  Carlisle noticed he seemed … drained, tired around the edges.  “It won’t be long now.”

Despite herself, Carlisle looked into the liquid. She knew it would be some parlor trick, but she had to look anyway.  The smoke moved in its tiny cloud, then cleared, the liquid reflecting the room.  No.  The liquid can’t reflect the room, I should be seeing the ceiling in there, if anything.  She could see a room in the liquid, the edges picked out in shades of brown, and a man stepped into view.  It was like she was looking through a peep hole into a room, and seeing—

“Jesus fuck,” said Carlisle.  It was Elliot, standing in there, picked out like she remembered him, even the gut.  “Jesus fuck,” she said again.

The image of Elliot walked closer, and his voice came out of the glass, blurred around the edges like she was hearing him from a long way away.  “Melissa?”

“Elliot,” she said.  “Is that you?”

“It’s me,” he said.  “It’s—”

“What was the last thing you said to me?”

“Hell if I know,” said Elliot.  “That was a long time ago.”

“Take a guess,” she said.

“I think we were talking about…  It’s so hard to remember, Melissa.  I think we were looking at some footage of something—” his face scrunched up as he tried to remember, and the surface of the liquid shimmered. “I can’t remember.  I’d started smoking again.  Can you believe that?”

“I can believe that,” she said.  “I can’t believe this, though.  What is this?”

“It’s—” he was cut off as Caribbean knocked the glass over, the rum spilling out.

“What the hell did you do that for?” Carlisle said.

“Just a taste,” said Caribbean.  “Now we need to make a deal.”

Carlisle looked at him, then at the splash of liquid on the bar.  That … that was Elliot.  But Elliot’s dead.  “No deal,” she said.  She pushed off from the bar, turning towards the door.

“Just remember,” said Caribbean’s voice behind her, “that we offered you  a deal.  You can still take it.”

“Ain’t no way,” said Carlisle, “that I’m taking a deal like that.”

“But you don’t know what the trade is,” said the voice at her back.

She paused, her hand on the door outside to the street.  “I know well enough,” she said.  She reached up and brushed the tears from her face before she stepped out into the snow.

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