“Are you sure this is all of it?” asked Amanda, as she watched the portly man struggle with what he claimed was the last crate.
“Rest assured, Ms. Locke,” he replied in his thick Colombian accent. “I checked myself. Andre tried to sneak a bottle out, but I took care of him.” He caressed the handle of his gun lovingly.
“Good,” she said. She thumbed a few keys on her phone. “The money’s transferred.”
She locked the door behind him and took out one of the bottles, broke the cracked seal and poured some into a glass, gave it a sniff and its thick, heady scent made her shudder. She raised the glass to her lips and, only with great restraint, set it back down on the table.
Quite tempting, Mr. Shackleton. I’m surprised you left any at all.
An eyedropper extracted a drop of the liquid, and a moment later Amanda eyed it through her microscope, better than the one she used in high school, but not by much. She had made a few adjustments of her own with the help of the Kitab al-Manazir, an ancient treatise on optics she procured in Cairo last spring. At first the liquid appeared much as any other scotch might under similar circumstances. She tightened the focus as she muttered a few words in Arabic, and she suddenly plunged into another world.
Tiny organisms danced madly about a central figure that shifted and undulated as it came into focus. The magnification increased of its own accord until her whole world was filled with this vast shapeless mass. But around this thing she could see the other organisms more clearly now. They were leathery, humanoid things with wilted wings and stick-like legs, and what looked like fronds a moment before were distinctly small little instruments, perhaps pipes, and as the thought took hold in her head, she could hear a cacophonous melody, but the sounds crossed and intersected into buzzing words in the fringes in between, words shaped by silence…she staggered back away from the microscope, the real world came back into focus and the drop was, again, no more than a tiny bit of old Scotch. Her mind tried to put the silence into place. Z ‘T TH. Over and over it worked.
She went into her library and began scouring the tomes she had collected over a decade. Three hours later. She sat back in her chair. Reeling. Azothoth? The Daemon Sultan? Demon rum? Rum. Whiskey. Scotch. Catching a buzz? She couldn’t help but laugh. It was all right there. Alcohol has been there all along. Men prized the aged stuff. They marked their status by the contents of their liquor cabinets. The older, the better. The more potent. The more powerful. And who doesn’t like an old one? An elder one? She laughed again and kept laughing until her throat grew parched. Exhausted, she poured herself a glass of water and made a very, very expensive bonfire fueled by Shackleton’s Scotch.
* * *
Three days later and a continent away, Garcia Menendez walked into the reception area of Il Dragone. It was a hot, Italian day, and the wheezing fan did little to alleviate the heat. Garcia found it annoying and mopped the back of his neck with his handkerchief.
The receptionist, a dark eyed woman in her late twenties, regarded him with a lazy look of disinterest.
“How may I help you?” she asked.
“I have an appointment with the Mademoiselle.” His thick fingers gracefully produced a business card, and the girl pouted as she read it and then spent several minutes struggling with the computer before she nodded in agreement. “Have a seat, and I’ll let her know you’ve arrived, Mr. Menendez.”
He didn’t bother correcting people anymore. He was an archeologist once upon a time and a doctor and a butcher and a killer and a scientist. He lived many lives. He wore many masks. He imagined some might call him a cultist these days and was amused by the quaint anachronism. Cultists are harmless kooks. Right?
The Mademoiselle sat behind a huge mahogany desk in a windowless room, her red silk dress emphasizing her slender form. The walls were lined with occult books, a globe and a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism she had commissioned built to certain specifications years ago. This was not her true face either, thought Menendez, but closer than some.
Her smoky eyes looked him over, and she looked at the briefcase cuffed to his wrist.
“You do take your precautions, dear doctor,” she said.
“One can never be too careful,” he said, unlocking the case and setting the bottle of Shackleton’s Scotch on the table. “This should make us square?”
The Mademoiselle broke the seal with a practiced twist, uncorked the bottle and sniffed the cork. “Still restricted to two-dimensional thinking?”
“It’s simply an expression, Mademoiselle,” he wiped his brow. “Do you think you can manage this?”
“Il Dragone has been producing wine for over a hundred years, and if you are as good as you say you are, if you can isolate the particular, let us say, unique compound, I am certain we can introduce it into our spring releases. This is a singular find, and we’re pleased. I speak on behalf of our patriarch when I say this.”
“I can have it ready before the end of summer. It’s in there. I’ve found traces in whisky before, but Shackleton’s Scotch was made using old ways and purer methods.”
She produced two glasses and filled each a quarter of the way up. “That’s why we’re believers in custom and tradition, hard work and sacrifice.” She took a sip and sank back into her chair. Her mask gone for a moment, she was no longer merely attractive. She was terrifying in her beauty. Her red dress clung even tighter. “I must say, I prefer the old ones too.”
Author’s Note: This is a bit of flash fiction I wrote, spurred on by the challenge of Chuck Wendig. I’d love to hear what you think of it, so be sure to comment (below). -rsp