Read & Listen – Chapter 12, The Demon in Business Class

In this excerpt, in a hotel bar in Aberdeen, Scotland, two people meet cute … not so cute.

Read below, or listen to Laura Petersen’s wonderful audiobook version!

Chapter 12 — Aberdeen

Gosh she was pretty.

“The bartender comes and goes,” Gabriel told her. “He helps in the kitchen.” Her face was a tangram of sharp ellipses: pointed chin, long nose, tall forehead, wide mouth. He smelled cucumber from the hotel soap, lemongrass shampoo, old smoke. “Shame about the weather.”

“Yep.” The bartender returned. In glasses and a gray mustache, he looked like a squirrel. “White rum?” Zarabeth asked. “Diet cola. Stiff, please. With a lime.”

“On my tab, please,” Gabriel told the bartender.

“Thank you, Gabriel.” She slid off her barstool gingerly, walked around him and took the stool to his right, at the end of the bar. Her scent rust and clay, dry dust of dead leaves. “My first night, here and in Scotland. You?”

“First day here,” he said. “A week in Scotland.” His face a stiff idiot grin. The bartender brought her drink. He raised his drink. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.” She sipped, wrinkled her nose. “The limes please?”

The bartender put dry lemon wedges in a glass and went back to the kitchen.

“I hate this hotel,” she said.

“They must have shills on travel sites. Business?”

“Does it show?”

“You’re not with a bus tour. But, you’re not wearing navy. You should have seen lunchtime. Like a flight-attendants’ convention. So, what business?”

“I’ve been on the road for three weeks, Gabriel, and I am sick of work. Let’s talk about anything else. Why are you here?”

Gabriel smiled. “Good touring in the area. Castles, towns, country driving, whisky distilleries.”

“You’re full-bore on the Scotch thing.”

“New hobby. You know how that goes.”

“Not much for hobbies,” Zarabeth said. “Why does no one have limes? They call them ‘limeys,’ right?”

“The English, yeah. From their sailors.”

“What do limes have to do with sailors?”

“Scurvy. Early sailing ships took flour and dried meat. No Vitamin C. No collagen. Their cells fell apart.”

“So they started eating limes?”

“They started eating onions,” Gabriel said. “Once they could trade with tropical colonies they got citrus fruits. British colonies grew limes. Thing is, limes don’t have much vitamin C, which meant they ate a lot of limes. So the real reason the British are called limeys is because their defense contractors ripped them off.”

“That’s funny.” Her smile stillborn. Her scent changed too, now as bitter as his drink. She snorted hard through her nose. “You’re a happy man, aren’t you?” she said, threat in her voice. “I bet you had a nice Christmas.”

After Russia, a drinker’s anger hardly fazed Gabriel. “Since you ask,” he said, “a drunk driver killed my brother last fall. No tree, no gifts, Chinese food. My mom and sister got drunk, felt guilty, yelled at me for not drinking while I drove them home. Christmas sucked.” He felt lottery-rich, leaden memory now gold. “Bartender!”

The bartender started. “Sir? Yes?”

“She buys her own drinks.”

“I’ll have another,” she said. “And his next one’s on me.” She took his drink, drank it down, held back a gag. “Fuck me, that’s foul.”

“You’re trouble, aren’t you?” he said.

“It’s a hobby. You know how that goes. Tell me about Scotland.”