This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge goes off on a completely new tangent. It’s harvest time in the “Pennsyltucky” area where Chuck Wendig lives and he has a thing for odd and unusual varieties of apples. I share his appreciation for apples other than the standard Red Delicious, although not his disdain for actual Red Delicious apples. I’ll try to get other varieties when they’re available — this fall I’ve had Jazz, Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji, and the Cripps Pinks that are in the kitchen right now.
But I digress. As the picture on TerribleMinds shows, there were forty varieties available at a local farmer’s market in Chuck’s neighborhood. Most of the varieties have unusual names. Our task was to pick three and use them in some way in our story. They could be character names, places, whatever.
I used a random number generator, which gave me 19, 6, and 2. My three apple variety names are “Orleans Reinette,” “Davenport Russet,” and “Nutmeg.” Which sounded to me like one of these, a that, and a this, which fell together like this:
It was raining, raining as it only does in LA after one of those dry spells they said would last six months but instead pounded us for six years. It spit, it drizzled, it built up to a torrential mist, then when you were ready to give up on actually using your wipers, it would turn into a frog-drowner for five minutes. In the distance there was a low rumble that might have been thunder, but might have just been a 707 sliding down into LAX through they grey overcast.
I took refuge from the gloom in a place even gloomier. The C’est Pool had been come into the world as a dive. From there it had been all downhill, paralleling the collapse of civilization on the local neighborhood. Elections were coming, a councilman was on the warpath, and the local cops were on a mission to clean up the area. It must be working — no one had been knifed or shot in the Pool in over a month.
Teddy was behind the bar, with his nose in a book as usual. He was taking classes to learn how to be a “real” bartender, his head stuffed with fantasies of bartending gigs at the Playboy Mansion, making fru-fru cocktails for naked babes. He looked up as I came in and grinned.
“Hey, DJ! You wanna try something new? I’ve got just the thing for you.”
I knew better than to try one of Teddy’s experiments. “What’s this one called, Teddy?”
“They call it an ‘Orleans Reinette.’ Last night we practiced highball drinks, I thought this one had a nice taste. So I got all of the ingredients on my way in this morning. Let me make one for you!”
This was a bad idea trying to grow into a death wish. “What’s in it, Teddy?”
“It’s vodka, lemon, Aspen, and a dash of nutmeg.”
I suddenly regretted eating breakfast. “Aspen? What’s that?”
“It’s that new apple-flavored soda pop. The mixture of it with the nutmeg gives it a taste like Christmas while the vodka kicks you in the gut.”
Yep, there’s a sign from God. That sounded a lot like my usual Christmas. “Okay, do this. Make one for me, but hold the Aspen, the lemon, the nutmeg, and the vodka. Add in a cold beer.”
Teddy’s lips moved as he did the math, then his face fell as he figured it out. I just stared at him, so he sighed, reached into the fridge, and set the cold bottle in front of me. As I pried the top off, he snapped his fingers and turned back toward the cash register.
“Some guy was in here asking for you. He left his card, said it was important.” Teddy turned back to me, holding the card out.
I took it and gave a quick glance. “Davenport Russet – Attorney.” In gold letters there was an address high up in one of the new skyscrapers in Century City. I already hated the guy. The card got crumpled up as my hand voluntarily spasmed. I hit the waste basket behind the bar with one shot. Not bad for this time of day.
There was a flash of flame in the waste basket. Suddenly Teddy was turning back to me, holding out a business card.
“Some guy was in here asking for you. He left his card, wrote a note on it, said it was important.”
I sat there staring at Teddy for several seconds, running through my memories of recent reality. When had Teddy turned away from me? Didn’t we just do this? If this was déjà vu, it was one hell of a case of it.
Teddy seemed to have noticed nothing. He just stood there, growing more puzzled by the second when I just sat there slack-jawed, staring at him. I decided to reach out and take the card.
“Davenport Russet – Attorney.” There was something written on the back. I could feel it, but I was not going to turn the card over and read it. Another quick crumple, another quick toss, another nothing but net.
Flash! “Some guy was in here asking for you. He left his card, wrote a note on it, said I had to make sure you read it, said it was important,” Teddy said innocently, turning back to me and holding out a card.
This time I didn’t stare, but I was very cautious when I took the card. It seemed to be ordinary paper, nothing unusual. It featured an embossed logo of some kind, nice engraved printing, an address, a phone number, and “Davenport Russet – Attorney.”
I slowly turned the card over and saw something scrawled in red ink. At least, I was praying it was red ink. “Drink the Orleans Reinette,” was barely legible, in a handwritten font that would have been at home in “The Exorcist.”
The hell with that.
I put the card down on the bar with the message side hidden. I stood up quickly, dropped a fiver on the bar for the beer, and sprinted for the door. Perhaps a walk in the rain would clear my head. A walk to San Francisco should do the trick.
Outside, we were back at the “mist” setting, which turned to “monsoon” before I got five steps from the door. I had the green light, so I headed across the street, only to watch the light turn straight to red while I was in the middle. A truck that hadn’t been there two seconds ago came barreling through from my right, nearly pulping me. I made it to the sidewalk, drenched and terrified.
Shivering in the freezing rain, I shoved my hands into my coat pockets for warmth. In the one pocket I could feel a business card. I would have sworn that pocket had been empty. Trembling from more than the cold, I pulled the card out.
“Davenport Russet – Attorney.”
A bolt of lightning struck somewhere very close, the accompanying peal of thunder rattling the windows and setting off car alarms up and down the street.