Magictown, vol 1, #11
Looking through the piss colored liquid in the glass before him, David can’t decide if this substance has any relation to what used to be called beer. Wasn’t beer supposed to be made out of barley – whatever that was? That’s what his grandfather had always said: “Can’t call this pisswater beer if it ain’t got barley!” Didn’t stop his grandfather from drinking it by the gallon, though.
The beverage in front of David Candlemass is a mixture of fermented wheat, rice and God only knows what else. It smells sweet and somewhat rotten, it rolls over the palette like a flaming bull-dozer, determined to scour any remaining taste buds from the drinkers mouth, and it comes out the ass the next morning as the worst smelling farts imaginable. The smell wafting from a gathering of beer drinkers the morning after could send an unprepared passer-by into a fit of retching and gagging.
This was part of the reason David always made Charles Constant and Jon Haas ride with the windows rolled all the way down when they went anywhere. Those two may have seemed, to the untrained observer, to hate each other, but they spent many nights after work in places like this, draining glass after glass until one of them couldn’t hold themselves upright. The other, barely able to stand, always got their friend home.
It was the day after his meeting with Kellerman in the hospital, and David was still getting used to his new suit. His main problem with it was just that – it was new. None of the stitching had been stretched out, and the thing lacked the character of a well worn and loved piece of clothing. Plus, in a place like Magictown, where most clothes were on their third or fourth owner, any thing new drew unwelcome attention.
Kellerman was good by his word. The guard outside the door had taken him back to his room. A tailor had been by to measure him, confused by the urgency of his work and by the client he was working on. The next morning, David’s breakfast tray came with a new black suit wrapped in a butcher paper package. He was told to get dressed and be downstairs in fifteen minutes. The car wasn’t going to wait.
They dropped David at his tenement, and told him to be waiting here for them the day after tomorrow. David asked when, and all he got back was a smug laugh and a when we come get you.
Charles had left a note wedged in the jam of David’s door. It had the name of the bar where David now sat, a time three hours from now and a simple message – For Jon. Having nothing horribly pressing, David decided that today would be a very good day to go and get horribly drunk. After all, he’d just been thrown to the wolves of city politics and the only thing he had to do between now and being handed over to the mob was an ad-hoc memorial service for a friend he’d just gotten killed.
David stops wondering about the parentage of what he was drinking and downs the remaining contents of the glass in a series of fast gulps. It slides down his throat like rain water slides down a gutter. He lifts his glass to the bartender and nods his head. More please. And keep them coming. I want to be as drunk as Jon used to get. That asshole.
While the bartender refills his mug, David looks up at the large yellow census poster baring down on him from behind the bar. BE COUNTED. The black letters sit on the yellow background like crows, waiting to come peck the eyes out of the unprepared traveller.
The bartender slides the glass back to David. A bit of the beer sloshes out onto the bar as it comes to a stop. Still staring at the poster, David doesn’t even notice the beer. Something is off. The poster is shimmering. The black and the yellow are going to war with each other, shifting their borders, pushing and pulling until the letters are completely gone. Globs of black and yellow swim in David’s eyes.
He closes his eyes and sighs. “You know you can’t sneak up on me, Flint. I’m not like the rest of them. So, just come out before I throw up this shit I’ve been drinking and I have to start my drunk all over again.”
“Never could figure out how you do that.” Like a mirage, a thin figure in handmade clothes appears out of a bend of light. His hair is long in some places, braided and matted together, with bits of metal, bone and trinket tied into it, but cut to the scalp in others. Patchy, soft black whiskers dot his young man’s face, which has never seen a razor’s edge. The facial hair makes him look older, or that what he’s told himself since it first started to grow. His eyes are quick and intuitive, but the glint behind them is much older than the rest of him. Growing up in the Magictown gangs doesn’t let you be young for long. He sweeps his leg over the barstool nearest to David and sits down.
“You don’t really turn invisible, Flint. You just convince everyone around you that you aren’t there.” David sips his beer, not even looking toward the young man next to him, still staring straight forward into the now still poster. “Magic doesn’t work on me, so you don’t work on me. You just give me a headache when you try it.” He puts his beer down and looks over. “What are you doing here?”
“Heard stuff went down on the outside. Heard Jon got killed. Heard you also got killed.” Flint talks fast, with each sentence rolling over the next. “Then heard you’re not dead, you’re in the hospital. Heard the weirdest part next. Heard you talked to them Normaltown muckities. Saw you get out of that car with these new fineries.” Flint runs his dirty finger over the shoulder of David’s suit. “Didn’t see no Jon get out. Guess we know what’s true now, don’t we?”
Slapping Flint’s hand away, David turns away from him and back to his beer. “What of it? Are the gangs pissy because I didn’t come running to report to them? Well, fuck them. I’ve had a shit few days and I’ve been threatened by people who scare me a lot fucking more than those fools out on the boat.” David raises the beer back to his lips, pauses, turns to Flint and narrows his eyes. “If you’ve got a point, make it before I sober up enough to smell you.”
Twisting himself upward, to try to be as menacing as possible, Flint hisses back at David. “Don’t you be fucking telling me what to do. Last time you went talking to the Normals everything changed. Last time you sold us all out.”
“Kid, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Go the hell away.”
David feels the balled fist against the small of his back, and the prick of something sharp in the middle of it. The knife is small, but knowing Flint, it won’t be dull. “Don’t you fucking tell me what to do.” The words come out one at a time, each more intense than the one before it.
He tries to restrain himself, but David can’t keep the snicker in. He manages to mix it in with a cough, but Flint doesn’t miss it. His eyes go wide, but David feels the knife point pull away from his back.
“Flint, I know you. Fuck, kid, I wiped your ass when you got that bout of shits so bad it nearly killed you. I told you not to drink out of the river but you just wouldn’t listen to me. Even back then you had to go and get burned before you’d listen to anyone about anything.”
David leans in closer, as Flint slowly inches back from his words.
“That’s why I know you’re not gonna stick that shiv in me. You’re one of two things to the them. Either a messenger or a killer. And I taught you well enough to know that if you were going to kill me, I’d have never seen you coming – magic or no. So tell me, kid, just what the hell do you want?”
“They want a face to face. Before your big show with the Normals.” The fist falls away from David’s back. He bets Flint put the knife just deep enough to tear the suit. New things never last as long as you’d like. “Tomorrow out on the boats, sundown. Just you. Leave Charles at home. You got that?”
“Yeah, yeah.” David waves his hand dismissively, summons to the boats are nothing new for him. “That’s no problem. The hangover I’m about to get should be more or less passed by then. It’ll be good to see them.”
“Done.” Flint spins on the barstool, slipping off just as it turns away from David.
“Hey kid, on more thing – remind them they don’t need to do things this way. I’m still one of you.”
Flint lingers for a second, looking into David’s eyes.
“No, David, you’re not.”
His vision swims black and yellow again as Flint slips back under his cover of invisibility. David closes his eyes and waits for the slight nausea and the tingle in his head to dissipate. Upon opening again, he looks down at his beer, then at the clock on the far wall of the bar. That should be enough time. He swallows the rest of the room temperature beer and raises the glass to the bartender. Another, please.Like this piece? Click here to vote it to the top!