Initiation Rites

{There are two brief posts about this that set the stage. Just scroll down and look for 11/7 and 11/8 posts…}


“Yes, Sir.”

“What kind of name is that?”

“A German name, “ I said.

“Isn’t that a beer?”

“I’m not sure if it’s a brand, but the Germans make good beer.”

“Maybe you’re thinking of Schlitz?” Shane said.

“No, Schultz. Schultz. That’s a liquor,” Al said, closing his eyes in concentration. “I just can’t remember what kind now, give me a minute, it’ll come back.” In his left hand he still held my business card. His right hand rested on his leg, fingers slowly moving up and down along the top of his thigh as he sifted through the thoughts in his mind.

I looked at Shane, who nodded in the direction of my purse. “Well, Sir,” I said. “Speaking of liquor…we brought a little something that a friend of ours makes.” Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a pint of the quick whiskey and offered it to Al. “It’s from Cherokee county and it’s made from sugar.”

Al set my business card down and took the jar, then swiveled his desk chair slightly away from us and shoved some papers aside on his desk. Hands swift as a magician’s, he opened the jar, sniffed, looked, and sniffed again.

“Not very strong proof,” he said, replacing the lid then shaking the jar.

“It’s oak aged,” Shane offered, though Al didn’t seem to hear.

“You want a bead on there the size of a rabbit’s eye,” said Al, tilting his head and looking at the jar sideways. Indeed, a rim of bubbles emerged at the top from being shaken and a few of the bubbles were big enough to make the cut. He set the jar down again and looked at me.

“Have a seat,” he said, pointing to the chair next to him.

I sat down and we were just about knee-to-knee. Al leaned forward and the chair squeaked.

“A bead a big as a rabbit’s eye,” he repeated. “And then you’ve got to check to see if it ephereses[?].” His eyes widened and he swiveled back to the desk, hands swiftly on the jar, twisting the lid free again. He shoved more papers aside, sighed loudly, and moved a few odds and ends on his desk. He seemed to be looking for something. Moving another pile of papers aside, he snatched up a dried ginseng root and dipped it into the whiskey.

“This country’s in bad shape, I’ll tell you.” He paused with the ginseng root just long enough to look at us. “It’s got too wicked and lazy.” His right nostril went up like a hound dog in that moment and his upper lip pressed flat against his front teeth. The man looked momentarily crazed—yet every word he spoke felt heavy, as though it were meant for us and we’d better listen up and listen well because he might not say it again.

Al returned to the whiskey, dipping the ginseng root again and inspecting. “If it epherezes it’s bad liquor,” he said, drilling his eyes into mine.

“We’ve had it before, Sir,” I said. “No poison there.”

One final dip and Al brought the root to his lips and touched the tip of it to his tongue. “About 90 proof,” he said. Then he shouted: “I’ll start a small fire with it and if it goes out I won’t drink it!” and with that he set the root down and took a long pull on from the jar. Setting it down, he licked his lips then opened his mouth full and wide into the most gregarious laughter I’d heard in months.

I looked at Shane, Shane looked at Al, Al looked at me. We all looked at the jar. Al took another pull and it was then I saw the rash of red on his face, purple veins like little blossoms across his cheeks.

“I’ve been a little wild,” he said. “Now let’s talk business. Tell me what you got.”

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