We’re almost to the end of our sneak peek adventures with THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY. Here’s today’s.
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:
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Tune in tomorrow for the next-to-last sneak peek!
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY
Sneak Peek: Irish voice with a Tibetan face
TAKING HIS BRIEFCASE, the man got up and Jade the bartender followed. When she came out from behind the bar, the two walked side by side, and she carried an empty pint glass. They seemed to know and respect each other, yet a wariness lay between them. As they approached, Branwen thought she heard the bartender say “ghost,” and the man shook his head and tapped the top of his skull. The bartender only shrugged in reply, as if acknowledging good effort to avoid saying it wasn’t quite enough.
“Good evening,” said Jade. “Zara Porter and Branwen Porter, meet my friend Faddah Rucksack. He is finding our current GPS stock a bit… disappointing.”
“You think my opinion o’ it is merely disappointed?” Rucksack’s accent clipped the “th” sound into a mere “t.”
What’s his story? Branwen thought. Irish voice with a Tibetan face. Even here you don’t come across that every day.
“I’ve drunk horse piss that tasted better than that sour swill. I’d bet my two old swords there isn’t a worse keg in all the world.”
“What a safe bet,” Jade replied, “since you don’t have those swords anymore.”
“And how I wish I could find them and get them back.” Rucksack waved his hand. “Details, details. But off the point. How in the world could you put that keg on, Jade-bloody-London?”
Jade’s elbow moved so quickly Branwen almost missed the dig into Rucksack’s ribs.
Zara stared hard at the man. Then she smiled. “I hated to tell you, Jade,” she said, “since you were so nice to let us have our homebrew tasting here. But there is something off about the GPS. It’s not just the Mirror & Phoenix, though, and we know you’re the best in the city about storage and cleaning. At least the past year, every pint of GPS we’ve had hasn’t been right. But lately, and especially today, it’s just been terrible. The balance is off. The sourness isn’t just a note; it’s a whole damn out-of-tune band. And what’s up with the bitterness? There’s hardly any lately. It’s like they’re not getting enough hops for the brew.”
“I’ll talk to my supplier,” Jade said, coolness in her dark eyes. “In the meantime, I thought if my beer was unacceptable, Rucksack might be interested in your homebrew.”
Rucksack grimaced. “Now, come on, Jade, you know I only drink GPS.”
“Not at the moment you don’t,” Jade replied. “Though if you’re going to be so damn stroppy, I suppose I could always give you a Deep’s Special Lager on the house. Not like you pay for anything anyway.”
“The source o’ my credit always compensates you,” Rucksack replied. “Just because I have drunk horse piss doesn’t mean I want to repeat the experience.”
Zara laughed. “That would be preferable. At least horse piss would taste like something. Deep’s Special Lager is like eating snow. About all you can say for it is it’s cold.”
Rucksack stared hard at the sisters, then he smiled too. “All right, all right, Jade,” he said. “You’re trying to do me a kindness. Please forgive my rudeness. I’m not exactly at my best right now.”
For a moment Branwen thought Jade was going to smile. “Given the circumstances,” Jade replied, “I’ll give you a pass. But remember, you even being here is still… tentative, as far as The Management goes.” Branwen could hear the capital letters, as well as a lot unsaid in the silence that followed. “No one has forgotten Hong Kong,” Jade added. “And what just happened in India will be remembered for many years to come.”
“As, I hope, will be the fact that there continue to be years to come,” replied Rucksack. “But I promise I’ll be a nice lad.”
Jade chuckled. The lights of the pub danced on the dark skin of her high cheekbones. “Sure. And I’ll just go fall off the beer truck.”
“And what do you have to do with this beer?” Rucksack asked.
Jade smiled. “It’s all the sisters,” she replied. “It’s out of my influence.”
Rucksack said nothing, but his eyes widened. He and Jade stepped back as some men came to the table. “Ah,” Zara said, “your timing is perfect. We were just closing up.”
Branwen looked at her sister. “I thought we were—”
Zara poked her in the ribs, then handed over homebrew samples.
Branwen glanced back at Jade and Rucksack, who were talking about something, but too low for Branwen to hear anything except Rucksack saying he would leave the briefcase with her later. Then Jade and Rucksack stared hard at each other, as if reading something.
Zara and I have been coming to the Mirror & Phoenix for years. I’ve never seen Jade act like this before. Who is this guy?
Then Jade went back to the bar, and Rucksack walked up to the table. Closer to the man in black now, Branwen could see the pain and weariness in his face, an agony in the brown-black eyes like a dying fire begging for more fuel. “Are you okay?” Branwen asked.
“You’re kind to ask,” Rucksack replied, pulling up a chair, sitting down, and setting the briefcase on the table. “Suffice to say that I’ve had a rather busy day and it took more out o’ me than I expected.” He smiled. “Sometimes I forget I’m not as young as I was. That… sometimes things are different.”
Zara removed the empty sample cups and pulled off the tablecloth, revealing an ordinary pub table. “Well, it’s not GPS,” Zara said, “but we think it’s pretty darn close.” She picked up the empty glass Jade had left. Reaching under the table, Zara pulled out a large plain brown glass bottle and another empty pint glass. “The little keg is empty. Fresh one for you, sir.” She popped the cap and a hiss made Rucksack smile. Then Zara began to pour stout into both glasses.
“You pour it like GPS,” Rucksack said.
Branwen nodded. “My sister and I clone it at home.”
“That’s quite a challenge. I’ve encountered, shall we say, attempts at it, both commercial cons and homebrew hopefuls. No one has ever been able to clone GPS.”
Zara paused to let the initial pour settle. “And how would you know that?”
“GPS is a… passion of mine.” Rucksack nodded his approval at her pour.
“There’s a line between passion and obsession,” said Zara. “When it comes to GPS, which side are you on?”
“Never was much for lines,” Rucksack replied. “I’ve had my share o’ other beers, for what they’re worth, which combined doesn’t add up to one perfect pint o’ GPS. If you name a pub anywhere in the world, I can tell you how the GPS tastes there. Who pours it best, who rushes, who needs to clean their lines. I can tell you which brewery the keg came from. I’ve drunk GPS in just about every place in this world there is to drink it, for longer years that you’d care to count. It’s been quite a while since I was in London, and I’ve had a… difficult day. Let’s just say you have no idea how ready I am for that pint.”
“It’s almost ready,” Zara replied, topping up the pints. “You should know the pour can’t be rushed.”
Rucksack smiled, but he still trembled. “GPS has a secret,” he said, “something special that makes it unlike any other beer. Trouble is, no one knows.”
Zara let the full glasses settle again as the rich foamy head collected on top. “Don’t get all mythical and mystical on me. There is no secret to GPS. We just make damn good homebrew, and First Call makes GPS. They’re the biggest brewery in the world, and they know what they’re doing. Brewing GPS is all just impeccable ingredients, perfectly designed and fabricated equipment, and flawless brewing technique. That’s all you need to make a perfect GPS.”
“The First Brewer invented GPS thousands of years ago,” said Branwen, glaring at her sister. “There’s lots no one knows, but we’ve learned as much of the lore as we could. It’s hard to separate fact from myth.”
“That line is far blurrier than most people realize,” said Rucksack.
“So you think you know GPS?” Zara asked.
Zara handed over one pint of homebrew and raised her own. “Okay,” she said, “then tell me about this beer.”
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