Only a few more sneak peeks to go! THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:
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Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY
Sneak Peek: The sisters, the bartender & the beer
WHILE HER SISTER ZARA handed another small cup of beer across the small table to the old man in gray, Branwen watched a trembling man in black enter the Mirror & Phoenix and take a seat at the bar. A small briefcase, black with chromed steel edges and corners, clattered when he set it on the polished mahogany. He wiped sweat from his bald head. His skin was brown as Tibetan dirt, but nonetheless he looked pale, clammy, like a thin shell left after the insides had been hollowed out.
“I’d drink this every day,” said a woman Zara had given beer to earlier. “Na Grúdairí must be so proud.” She carefully pronounced the Irish word for “beer brewers” as “gruh-duh-ree.”
From their little table at the far end of the pub, Branwen could feel the tightness in the air around her sister, like the moment after a lightning strike before the forest catches fire. Zara’s short purple-and-yellow hair didn’t stand on end and her black combat-booted legs didn’t lash out in one of her vicious kicks or knee strikes, but her dark brown eyes, the same as Branwen’s, widened. The two women had been enjoying pints at this pub for as long as they could legally drink, but drinking those pints wasn’t what Zara ultimately wanted. The bartender, Jade London, had reminded Zara of that as they set up their homebrew sample table that evening. The people were just trying beer, Jade had said, not making pronouncements on Zara’s personal destiny.
Zara stared at the woman and said nothing, only gave a thin smile as the woman disappeared into the crowd that filled the pub. “I’m going to pour more samples,” she said, her face a little pale as she leaned over to move the white tablecloth and pull tasting cups from a box under the table. She set a cup under the brass spout of a squat black cylinder on the table. Brass piping gleamed in the pub lights. A thin glass vial running up the side told Branwen the pressurized miniature keg was getting low, but they could still pour a few more samples. Zara turned a four-point black handle above the brass spout, and dark beer flowed into the tasting cup, foaming as it landed.
Branwen tucked a wayward lock of black hair behind her ear. She tried not to stare at Jade the bartender, but it was always hard to look away. Jade was medium height, slender yet solid—Branwen had seen what one punch could do to a man twice as tall and three times as broad. Jade’s rich dark brown skin gleamed beneath the overhead lights. Her hair was cropped close, except for a long section near her forehead that flowed down her cheek to her jawline.
Wearing her usual white button-down shirt, black pants, and a blue bow tie, Jade the bartender didn’t take the man in black’s order, but moments later she set a pint of Galway Pradesh Stout in front of him, as if she had been expecting him. The black beer was the night sky poured into a pint glass; the thick white foam on top always made Branwen think of new snow. Relief passed over the man’s face. The tension in his body eased. Beer slopped on the bar as his shaking right hand lifted the pint. Even from where she sat, at her and Zara’s white covered table at the end of the pub, she could see that his left hand, clad in a black leather glove, was smaller than his right.
The man took a long, deep swallow of the stout. For eons Galway Pradesh Stout had been the world’s most popular beer. Today GPS was brewed on every continent except Antarctica—though many said it was drunk enough there to compensate.
For a moment he paused. Branwen knew he was savoring the stout’s smoothness, the interplay of roasted barley with a sharp bitterness of hops, underlaid by a tang that was a counterpoint to both flavors yet also a connecting thread. Branwen recognized the moment well, given all the times she and her sister had spent tasting GPS, examining every nuance of flavor, texture, aroma, and finish.
Sometimes I wonder if we should get some sort of best customer status, Branwen thought. But it’s all for one purpose, one goal—
A horizontal fountain of beer blasted out of the man’s mouth and showered the bar below.
Jade the bartender went over. Branwen couldn’t hear their words, but she had an idea of what was going on.
I thought Zara and I were the only ones who’d noticed.
After a heated exchange, Jade did something Branwen did not expect. She took away the pint. Then Jade the bartender pointed at the sisters.
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Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!