Some people spend New Years Eve alone, some with family, some in celebration with a bunch of raucous strangers. Peregrine Dunn (the protagonist of my upcoming novel, Silence in the Chapel, and the narrator below) tends to spend his time a bit quieter than most. In a version of L.A. where angels actually do come down to visit on Solstice, this is probably a wise thing.
Too bad that’s not how this night will go.
THE RED GIFT
Confession time, people – this time of year, when angels come soaring in on the Winter Solstice and hang around until the Epiphany, while everyone else is out celebrating and ringing in the holiday cheer, I lay low. No cases, if possible, no last minute assignments to wrap up, no digging into problems. Just take time off and refusing to be judged.
Course, that means no booze. Sometimes I get a little testy on the sauce, or inquisitive. Which might make you wonder why I was hanging around a classy whiskey joint like the Seven Grand on a Wednesday, listening to a hell of an axeman wail out the blues.
Truth is, I like the place, I like the clientele. I’ve been a customer here for, oh, about a couple of months, maybe less. Grateful client laid me out with a six month tab and an introduction into the finer things of life, the Whiskey Society among them. And Johnny, regular barman there, makes a mean cup of coffee for the designated drivers. Thick enough to stand a fork in, sweet as licking the devil’s hind tit, dollop of cream on top to smooth things out. Served in these tiny little cups he gets from the mosque in Culver City.
All told, the atmosphere’s nice, the people are good and I’ve got nothing to do for a couple of hours until I meet up with my partner. So, feeling good all around. Johnny’s regaling me with stories of his latest conquests. Green eyes. Rich brown hair like old oak. Body like a marathoner. Guy can have anyone he wants. Doesn’t hurt that he works for Cernunnos, the pub god who watches over the older Celtic bars in the city. Charisma’s a side benefit for guys like Johnny; I guess it’s payback for the fact that he is god-spelled to never divulge secrets told to him at the bar. Most of the time, the stuff you’d hear would be trivial but sometimes…
Let’s just say I don’t envy Johnny his job.
Speaking of secrets, I notice the guy at the end of the bar. Hadn’t seen him here before and hard not to notice someone like him. Big guy – and I mean burly big, weightlifter class, wrestle a bear to the ground big. Old man, too. Trimmed full beard, hair back in a loose ponytail white as the Hollywood sign. Lined face, deep and experienced. Eyes—should say eye cause there’s something wrong with one of them but the profile’s away from me in shadow. He’s got a red leather duster on, and when I mean red, I mean dark, dark red; almost black, especially in the lighting in this place. All this in a glance but what caught me was his right hand. As he unfolded it to pick up his drink you could see long white scars across his palm. Lots of them. Must have been painful as hell.
I saw Johnny walk over to him, say something softly, and then grab a bottle off the top shelf to top the old man off. The Old Man thanked him; the accent placed him as someone from Ultima Thule. Far, far north, across a continent and an ocean and hell of a ways east of here. The Old Man was a long way from home.
Johnny came by to refill my coffee. I smiled in thanks “Hey Johnny, how do I get a tab like that?”
Johnny shook his head. “His drinks are on the house.”
I shot another look at the Old Man. Hadn’t heard of a single person who drank here for free. “Studio head?” I asked. “Mayor? Owner?”
Johnny shook his head and went back to his all-knowing bartending ways. I brought my gaze back to my cup. The Old Man’s posture was tired, putting out a ‘don’t bother me’ vibe. The rest of the bar certainly had picked it up. He was there alone. I knew I shouldn’t bother him; probably wasn’t in my best interest. Probably would piss him off.
Hells. I had to know.
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