Taste Testing

Micky leaned on the workbench and carefully added various drops in different quantities to beakers of clear alcohol. He stirred each one and added a few scribbles to his notebook. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. The summer was hot. The hayloft that had been converted to a workshop had a cross breeze on good days, but today was not a good day.

Micky crossed the room to gaze out the hay door and at least get some fresh air. Beyond the farmyard, the cornfields were growing higher. He could make out the neighboring farm in the distance. Some children ran around the yard like ants.

“Hey Vern!” he yelled to down below. Vern walked out with a hammer still in his grasp.

“Come here, it’s time for a break!” Micky waved him up. Vern nodded as he walked over to the water pump and pumped water over a handkerchief. He wiped it over his face as he disappeared back into the darkness of the barn. He stomped up the rickety staircase as Micky returned to his workbench. The farmhand settled himself on a barrel.

“What dya got for me today, boss?” he asked. Vern kicked his feet like a child on a too large chair. Micky picked up the first beaker and handed it to him. Without hesitation, Vern took a swig and set it down. Micky handed him the next glass and he took a drink from that one too until he had sampled all of the beakers.

“Well?” Micky said as Vern took a few second helpings.

“Number three,” Vern replied. Micky picked it up and more cautiously took a sip. He read over his notes again. Vern helped himself to the other glasses.

“Are you sure?” Micky asked. Vern nodded even as Micky snatched one of the other glasses out of his hand and drank it.

“Well, at least it’s the closest,” Vern grumbled. Micky finally agreed only after trying the others.  He took number three away and sat on a stool rereading his notes. Vern knocked back the discarded concoctions on his own. He took a rag off the workbench and wiped them clean. He set them in front of Micky and clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’m ready for another break whenever you are, boss.” Vern staggered back to the stairs. Micky started making a plan for his next experiment.

Frank leaned back in his chair and blew out a plume of smoke. Light crept in from the small window. It was the right time of day that the sun hit the alleyway behind Tino’s just right. Frank was trying to decide his next move.

It had been a few weeks since he had heard from Micky. He hoped he wasn’t wasting time getting drunk on what little alcohol he had managed to make, if any. Frank didn’t know exactly what he was up to, although he knew from a source that Micky and Vern had not been into town in two weeks. He didn’t want to go out there himself, but he didn’t want to spare Charlie at the moment. He tried to telepathically will Micky to the diner telephone. However, the lack of psychic ability left him little choice.

Jack and Charlie had headed out first thing in the morning. The sun was high in the sky now as it bore down on the them. The windows were rolled down to let in the wind, but the dry dust from the road came with it. They were relieved to finally turn onto the grassy path to the Farm.

“This is it?” Jack asked. Charlie nodded as they got closer he saw the potbelly of a man laying in the tall grass that grew on the shady side of the barn. He abruptly stopped the car and pointed for Jack to see. They got out of the car and walked over to find the husky farmhand passed out drunk. Jack knelt down and gave him a shake. Vern murmured, but didn’t wake.

“He’s fucked,” Jack said. They left him there and turned to the barn.

“Let’s see what else they’ve been doing with their time,” Charlie joked. Inside the barn sat a pile of empty crates and bottles. Something dropped on the floor above and rolled. The men froze. Jack pulled out his pistol and pointed at the ceiling. He made a motion to Charlie and tiptoed to the rickety stairs. He slowly made his way up. Charlie was only a few steps behind him.

Jack peered into the hayloft and saw a man hunched over a table. His undershirt was filthy and sweated through. He didn’t take any notice of Jack as he took a step into the hayloft. The floorboard creaked. The man at the table spun around and pointed a gun at him. Charlie having just poked his head up leapt and shoved Jack to the ground before Micky sunk some bullets into the barnwood.

“Micky O. Sicero sent us!” Charlie yelled as he held Jack’s armed hand on the floor. He whispered in his ear, “Don’t fucking shoot him. If he’s going out Frank’s takin’ him.” Micky started laughing maniacally.

“Sicero? What did he send you for? I just talked to him…I just talked to him yesterday,” Micky said more sedately. He ran a hand through his sweaty hair. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Yeah, yesterday…or was it the day before? Vern?” He turned around looking for Vern as he stuck the pistol in the back of his waistband. Charlie helped Jack to his feet. The air of the hayloft was stagnant, the heat sweltering in their suits.

Micky forgot about Vern and lit a cigarette. “No, yeah, I just talked to Sicero,” he repeated.

“It’s been over two weeks, Micky,” Charlie stated. He took a step forward, but Micky flinched and he stopped.

“Two weeks, nah, couldn’t be and who the fuck is this?” Micky pointed at Jack, “What are you doing here?” Jack took hold of the situation.

“I’m Jack Bukowski. I help Mr. Sicero solve problems. He has a little problem with not having heard from you. Do you have any ideas how we can remedy this problem?” Micky plopped down on his stool.

“I see,” he replied, then he chuckled. “I’ll admit I’ve been busy…” He eyed Jack as he walked up to the workbench and started touching the bottles on it. He lifted one up and read the label. He set it down and ran his hand along the table top towards a notebook. Micky darted forward and snatched it up to his chest. Jack froze.

“Any luck?” he asked. Micky got to his feet.

“As a matter of fact, yes.” He set the notebook on the far side of the bench out of Jack’s reach and slapped the side of a small barrel behind him. He picked an empty mason jar off the work bench and ladled the barrel’s contents into it. He held it out to Jack. The gunman eyed him suspiciously. Micky’s eyes were glassy as he smiled at him. The whites of his eyes and teeth a stark contrast to the rest of the grimy, sweaty man. Jack took the jar and Micky chuckled. He almost didn’t take a drink, but remembered Charlie would have his back if this was a trick.

He took a sip. It was whiskey alright, which surprised Jack. He kept a poker face and slowly set the jar down.

“Charlie, go into town and put a call through to Sicero that we’ll be bring back a sample for him. I’ll stay with Micky and make sure it gets packed up,” Jack said. Sure as shit, the fucking weasel he was staring at pulled it off. Even as Micky stood grinning at him, Jack still felt like putting a bullet between his eyes.


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