Monday, December 4, 2006

old klestehl (anaesthetic)

In the early afternoon, I parted ways with Agamen near the entrance to the old quarter after repeatedly assuring him of my safety, and coercing him and the giant burlap sack of coffee beans into a taxi back to the hotel.

“I’ll be fine,” I promised. “Trust me, I’ve dealt with worse than common thieves and murderers.”

Agamen peered at me warily. “Well, I do not want to have to go and identify you at the morgue – or what is left of you. Something tells me these people would not stop at seizing your possessions, but would take your body parts, as well.”

I laughed, finding humour in Agamen’s habitual worry, but caught a hint of anxiety in my reflection as Agamen rolled up the taxi’s window.

Of course I would be okay. I was always okay. I had to be. And nothing strengthens a man’s resolve like dropping a few hours in a seedy tavern, so I ducked into a grimy tent in Old Klestehl’s south side and sat down at the bar.

“Your strongest,” I told the barman, slapping a large note down in front of him.

The barman, a dark young man in a crisp, blood red turban, stared at me a moment with black-ringed eyes. “You want strong?” he asked, rhetorically, “I give you strong.”

With that, he spun around, deftly snatching a half bottle of bright green liquid from the top shelf, slamming it down on the bar before me.

“You want glass too?” he smirked.

I nodded and grabbed the grimy glass from him, polishing it on my shirt before pouring a measure of the foul, emerald liquid into it.

The smell was a highly offensive combination of dirt and liquorice mixed with a hint of pine needles and cough syrup, but I lifted the glass to my lips, tilted my head back, and poured the contents down my protesting throat in one fluid motion.

Catching the heckling face of the barman just as my guts started to fight back, threatening to expel the evil liquor from my body, I managed to barely keep it down even while my face started to twitch involuntarily, and my teeth began to chatter. My poor senses, dragged from heaven to hell inside of one day.

“You like?” the barman wryly asked.

“No,” I replied. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Tell me,” he said. “What are you doing around these parts? We’re used to seeing the stupid, the crazy, the—”

“I’ve come to find someone,” I said. “A diviner.”

“Well,” the barman said, “You might be able to find an oracle or a soothsayer or two, but make no mistake – save for our coffee, you will find nothing of the divine here in Old Klestehl.”

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