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The Split: Chapter Two
In which Lorinda demonstrates her bartending virtuosity.
It was a busy Friday afternoon, just the way Lorinda liked it. Aside from the tips, she liked the way she always rose to the occasion, got into the groove, gliding back and forth behind the bar, spinning to the back-bar, grabbing even the most obscure bottle in a fraction of a second, having an encyclopedia of cocktails in her brain and backup resources close to hand if she needed them, cultivating her customers — her fans, as she thought of them — telling stories, telling jokes, flirting, knowing their names and sometimes even their parents’ or children’s names, never losing track of an order or spilling a drink, knowing exactly how to get somebody to have one more, or to cut somebody off — nicely — if they’d had one too many. She sometimes wondered how she managed to find such a great job.
A good-looking man in his mid-twenties squeezed into the only vacant barstool. She’d never seen him before. Well dressed for PumpJack’s: a sports jacket over an open shirt with a collar. “Howdy, stranger,” she said. “What can I get you?”
“Can I have a Johnny Reb?” the new guy said. ”With a lime?”
“One Reb,” said Lorinda, instantly fishing up a bottle from below the bar top, popping the top, stuffing in a wedge of lime, and sliding it to him. “I’m Lorinda, by the way. Welcome to my bar.”
“Ooooh, Lori’s in love,” said a big guy in a black tee-shirt three stools over.
“Leave her alone,” said the pretty young woman in sage-green scrubs sitting between them. She loudly drained the dregs of a raspberry-red drink through a straw. “He’s cute.”
“Benjie, you just shut up and mind your own business. Thank you, Nurse Emmie.”
“She never talks to me like that,” muttered the guy in pseudo-military duds and a buzz-cut who sat next to the new guy.
The big guy snickered. “News flash, Elijah — nobody talks to you like that.”
Lorinda frowned at him. “Benjie? Maybe shut the hell up for a second.” She looked at Buzz-Cut. “Any luck, with the ladies Elijah?”
He shook his head morosely. “Nah. You meet any possibilities for me?”
“I don’t know, honey,” she said. “A gal came in last week who looked like a Maybe. But I haven’t seen her since.”
“Hey, Elijah,” Benjie said. “How about maybe thinking about joining the Virgins.”
“It’s not called the Virgins,” Lucas, the short, slightly simian-looking man on the far side of Benjie, jumped in. “It’s the UnVirs. Short for ‘Unwilling Virgins,’ get it?” The UnVirs was a social media group of men unable to find a woman to have sex with. Or, really, to do anything with.
“Well, it should be called the Virgins. UnVirs is, like, the opposite,” Benjie said, not without a certain amount of logic.
“I can’t believe you think I’m one of them,” Elijah said. “Nasty.”
“Why not?” Benjie said. “It’s free!” Everyone looked at him in disbelief. “What?” he said, all innocence. “I’m not kidding. I hear the government has a program to help those guys get … you know. Find partners.”
“That’s a rumor,” Nurse Emmie said.
“Hey, yeah, I heard that, too,” Lucas said. “They’re bringing in women from, like, Russia. Those babes are hot.”
Benjie gestured toward him in agreement. “Right! Thanks, Lucas.” He turned to Elijah. “So. Whattaya say, ‘lije?”
“I say fuck you,” Elijah said, mustering up some dignity. “No way I’m joining up with that bunch of losers.”
The new guy laughed. “You got that right.”
Lorinda took stock. The mood was deflating and it was up to her to bring it back up. It was exactly the kind of challenge she relished.
“You know what, guys?” she said. “Let’s play a little drinking game. She reached under the bar and came up with a chubby volume whose pages seemed on the verge of falling out and whose tattered dust cover identified it as The Savoy Cocktail Book. “Give me a minute,” she said, riffling through it.
“Taking a little reading break?” asked Benjie.
“I’m looking for … oh, this is a good one.”
She set the book down under the bar top where only she could see it and quickly lined up a cocktail shaker, two booze bottles, two tiny bottles of bitters, and a small container of some clear liquid.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” asked Benjie in his best imitation of an authority figure. It was his effort at retribution for her having called him out earlier, and was nothing new.
”I’m consulting my Bible,” she said. “I’’m looking for a cocktail with a really long, confusing name.” She closed her eyes for a few seconds, then said, “Okay, I know how to do this. I’m going to whisper into Lucas’s ear — just once — the name of the drink I’m making. He’s going to write it down on this —” she tore the top sheet off a pad of restaurant receipts — “and give it to me, without letting anyone else see it. Got that, Lucas?”
He nodded, not very convincingly.
“Then he whispers it to Benjie.”
“What do I whisper?” Lucas asked.
“The name of the drink! You whisper it to Benjie. He writes it down and whispers to Emmie, she writes it down and whispers to Elijah, he writes it down and … I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Brad,” said the new guy. He was clearly smitten with Lorinda and made no effort to hide it.
“Hi, Brad. Welcome to my world. He whispers to Brad. Then Brad writes it down, and then I collect the drink names …” she gave each of the other four a receipt to write on “… and make the drinks. Drinks that go with the names you give me.”
“Have you ever done this before?” Emmie asked. “Whatever it is?”
“Nope. Just thought of it.”
“It’s like that game — Telephone?” said Emmie. “And everyone gets it wrong?”
“Maybe,” said Lorinda. “So these’ll be a regular-price drinks. And you’ll pay and you’ll drink them. Except Brad. He gets comped this time. But you still have to drink it, Brad.”
“See? Special treatment!” said Benjie.
Brad smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”
Lucas winced. “When you say ‘regular-price —"
"Same as always for cocktails. Ninety-eight dollars."
Ninety-eight dollars was on the low side for a good cocktail in Perfecton, and in any case they were all — the regulars and the new guy — under Lorinda’s spell.
“Everybody in?” she asked. They all nodded in assent. “Okay then, here we go.” She whispered in Lucas’s ear and handed him a pen. Looking mystified, he wrote on his slip of paper. Lorinda grabbed it and said, “Now you whisper to Benjie. Don’t let anyone else hear it.”
Lucas turned and whispered to Benjie, who gave him an “are you insane?” look as Lorinda handed him the pen. He wrote, then turned and whispered to Emmie. “What?” said Emmie.
“No cheating,” said Lorinda, handing her the pen. “You get one chance.” Emmie shrugged, wrote down what she’d heard, and slid the pen to Elijah while whispering to him. He chuckled, wrote on his piece of paper, and gave Brad the pen and whispered in his ear.
After she’d collected the notes, Lorinda looked them over and laughed. “Hoo boy.” She put them down in sequence under the bar top, and got to work. Grabbing new bottles and ingredients and vessels as she needed them, the fringe on her fake-suede jacket flying, her cowgirl hat flopping on its tether against her back — she quickly whipped up five very different looking concoctions. She set the first one — milky and bubbly in an oversized wine glass — in front of Lucas. Then she picked up her old book, flashed it briefly at her audience, and read aloud: “Nineteen-Twenty Pick-Me-Up Cocktail. Anise, gin, two kinds of bitters, sugar syrup, soda. Lucas thought this was called —” looking at what he wrote — “Ninety-Three Pickup." They all laughed. “So this one’s real, from the book. It’s a drink that’s meant to take you back to the 1920s, or maybe 1993?, or 1893?, in your mind. Very calming, relaxing, away from all this modern stress. How is it?”
Lucas took a sip, closed his eyes for a moment, and said, “It’s good, I think.”
Lorinda set the second drink — green, in a tall highball glass, with some kind of sprig sticking out the top — in front of Benjie. “Your Nightly Tree Backup, sir.”
“That’s not what I told him,” Lucas laughed.
“It’s what I heard,” said Benjie defensively. “I’m partially deaf in my right ear.”
“Gin, Chartreuse, orange bitters, orange zest, and a Texas parsley sprig,” Lorinda said proudly. “It’ll take you to a cool pine forest of the mind. Your Nightly Tree Backup. How is it?”
Benjie lifted his glass, poked himself in the eye with the sprig, dramatically tossed it on the bar, and took a gulp. “That’s … really different,” he said. “Nightly Tree Backup.” He took another sip. “Not bad. Put it on the menu.”
“And now,” said Lorinda, passing Emmie a martini glass containing a two-layer drink, red on the bottom, clear on top, with white powder around the rim and a cherry on top. “Your Mighty Free Track. Grenadine, vodka, gin, and a maraschino cherry. Oh, and sugar on the rim. If that doesn’t set you free, nothing will.”
Emmie took a sip and cringed. “It’s a little strong for me,” she said.
“You’ll get used to it,” said Lorinda. “Next time you’re here looking to be set free you’ll be craving one. And for you ….” She read Elijah’s piece of paper and laughed. “This one makes no sense: Mind If We Lack.” She set down in front of Elijah a small glass pitcher filled with water, a bowl of ice, and a tall glass containing a couple of inches of blue liquid.
Elijah looked baffled. “What’s all this?”
“This,” said Lorinda, “is your Mind If We Lack. In French they call it ‘pastis.’ A couple of these and you’ll completely lack your mind. Even more than you do now. Which is very liberating, you know.’” She dropped two ice cubes into the glass, then filled the glass with water. The blue had vanished; the liquid that filled the glass was white.
“How’d you do that?” asked Elijah.
“Magic,” said Lorinda. “That could be the last bottle of blue pastis in the CCSA. You’ll never see it again. Drink that and one day you’ll take a magical cruise across the blue ocean to France.”
“Why would I do that?” said Elijah, only half kidding.
“And finally,” said Lorinda, reading the last drink name, dropping the piece of paper on the bar, and locking eyes with Brad, “Mighty Fine Rack.”
“That’s what I thought I heard,” said Brad. He sounded defiant. Or like he was trying to sound defiant.
Emmie said, “Oh, Christ,” as the other lads hooted. Lorinda stared them down, then set Brad’s drink on the bar — a big mug topped with a tall peak of whipped cream.
“Hey, no fair,” said Benjie. “How come he gets to have one that looks like a big tit?”
“This,” she said, ignoring him, “is very special. It represents a snow-topped mountain that’s the home of the king of the forest, a giant stag with an enormous rack” — she glared in feigned anger at Benjie — “of horns on his head. And under the snow is a river of delicious coffee, coffee liqueur, and a little shaved chocolate. Now drink up, y’all.”
“So,” said Benjie after taking another sip of his drink, “what’s the point of all this?”
Lorinda was about to say something flip — maybe, “To use you guys as guinea pigs while I invent new drinks” — but she hesitated. The real answer was, “to keep the party going.” But for some reason she took the question more seriously, for once, and thought for a moment. Was it to impress the new guy? Yeah, maybe — but not really. Then what? She improvised. “It’s … it’s like life, isn’t it? We’re all individuals. So we say things, and hear things, in our own way. And sometimes we get things wrong. But if you allow people to do that, and don’t boss them around and tell them what’s right and wrong and what ‘reality’ is, things work out.”
“Yeah, well, they worked out this time because you knew what you were doing,” Emmie said. She hoisted her drink. “Here’s to Lorinda, our favorite bartender.”
The others joined with raised glasses.
Then Brad spoke up. “I know y’all just met me, but my buddy’s having a big party at his house later. It’ll go all night long — and you’re all invited.” He picked up the pen and wrote on the restaurant bill next to his drink name. “Here’s the address. Anyone else want it?” He slid it to Lorinda, who jammed it into her pocket without looking at it.
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