Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bartender's Guide to Bewitching Brews


Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita

"Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable."


Georgina Lilian David-Weston - George to her friends - was dead. Mostly dead. From an unbiased outsider's point of view she was completely, regrettably and irrevocably dead. However, from her own - admittedly biased - standpoint she was still very much around, even if not quite alive, strictly speaking.

She absolutely refused to call herself a ghost. That would’ve sounded early-evening-network-tv trashy. Anyway, ghosts were not real, and she was. Everything she knew about ghosts suggested that they would be a dull, obsessive-compulsive lot, always hanging out at the same place. She, on the other hand, could, and did, move about anywhere she wanted, and so far have not been responsible for any haunting or other similarly undignified activities.

'Incorporeal Entity' - she decided. It had a serious, almost scientific sound to it, and she liked serious sounding things. It made all the more out of character for her to have gotten mixed up in witchcraft - yet she did. It started innocently enough. She and Bobby were walking down the Venice Beach promenade when they spotted 'The Magic Shop'. She tugged Bobby's arm.

"Let's go, see if Giles is in!"

Sadly, the proprietor was a woman in the local flavor of neo-hippy, retro-loony who immediately started rattling on about hemp oil witch candles and her psychic gardening web site. George cunningly drifted towards the direction of some shelves. She looked back: Bobby was politely nodding, a snarl of a smile frozen on his face. Oh dear. A garish looking booklet grabbed her attention: It called itself The Witch's Brew. Between maroon covers lay truly lurid illustrations mixed with recipes that looked hysterically funny even at a brief glimpse. She had to have it - it would make the perfect gag gift.

The hippy-woman shopkeeper was prattling about tantric yoga while ringing up the purchase. She beamed at George with practiced cordiality:

"Just be careful honey. Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable."

George smiled politely, if somewhat stiffly, while Bobby was dragging her out of the store. She didn't start giggling until they were safely outside.

It wasn't till several days later, alone at home, that George took another look at the book. It seemed to be a bartender's guide – for witches. The brilliant thing about it was that none of the recipes required eye of newt or any of that archaic junk. No, nothing that a well stocked kitchen of an aspiring lush wouldn't have. Right up her alley. She decided to try a recipe that looked like an interesting twist on vodka martini.

Let's see... a dash of cayenne pepper, some more sprinkled around the cocktail shaker, vodka, a little bit of this and that, a short chant, shaken not stirred... VoilĂ ! Mmm... not bad, a little bit spicy, not too sweet.

She fell asleep on the couch watching Top Chef. When she woke up, her body was cold and stiff, and there was an incorporeal version of herself staring down at it baffled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paris Noir

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables

"Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for."


J. carefully slipped out of the bed, looking back at the sleeping figure half draped by the sheets. He pulled his clothes on quietly and tiptoed out of the room. The door closed with a barely audible click behind him. He walked to the end of the hallway, turned right, through the "Hotel Staff Only" double door and took the service elevator to the basement. He briskly walked through the bowels of the hotel, down a long and narrow corridor and up small staircase.

He found himself in a small courtyard at the Southeast corner of the hotel. It was surrounded by a crumbling stone wall with a cast iron gate in the middle. Across, over the wall he could see a drunk stumbling through another courtyard, one of an apartment building. The drunk fumbled with the door, dropping his keys, then finally was gone. It was quiet now, except for the consistently random noises of a sleeping city.

Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for. The street was dark with something more than just the night, and he shuddered, tightening his jacket around himself.

His steps echoed down the empty street. He slipped into the shadows and stopped. He held still, listening, watching. Nothing. "H. Cousin" - declared the sign over the otherwise nondescript doorway. He rapped his knuckles twice on the door, halted, rapped three times. The door opened. The gorilla inside looked at him with a bored sort of contempt and jerked his head to follow him.

Behind the heavy desk sat an exceptionally fat man wrapped in expensive looking pinstriped fabric roughly in the shape of a suit.

"Have you got it?" The fat man asked, not bothering with niceties.

J. extracted an envelope from his pocket and dropped it on the desk, just so that the other had to strain to reach it. It didn't please the pinstripe, and neither did the contents of the package.

"This is not what we agreed upon." He spat the words at him.

"That was before you sent your man to follow me. That was stupid, Anglade. Did you really think I was going to go anywhere near my contact with a thug in tow? With all your money, one would think you could hire better quality help. Where do you get them anyway, the local pound?" He shot a pointed glance at the muscle, now standing by the doorway, who returned it with a less than loving stare.

"My dear Jaque, I assure you I have no idea what you are talking about." Anglade gave him his best solemn look, but failed to come across reassuring. Maybe because of the slight nod that was not directed exactly at him but a little over his right shoulder. His world exploded into a million shiny stars before he could turn. This was not going to be a good day.