I Don’t Drink Anymore

by Chuck Wendig

She stands outside the brownstone under sodium light.

The bruises have begun to fade. The cuts – on her lips and chin, across her brow, on her hands – have long-crusted over. She’s going to have the limp for a while, but oh well.

The case in her hands is heavy. But worth it. Because it’s her way back in.

Jack answers the door. Is he happy to see her? Or just puzzled?

“Amanda,” he says.

“I know you love Scotch,” is the first thing to come out of her mouth even though she hasn’t seen him for years, and she thrusts the case up and hopes he’ll take it. “This isn’t just Scotch, though, this is the real deal, a, a, a really rare…” She’s nervous. She shouldn’t be nervous. Given everything. But she imagines the kiss—their first in a long time, the first since everything happened.“I went through a lot to get it for you.”

* * *

The spider monkey screamed and kicked her in the face, sending up a spray of sweat.

Another leapt onto her back, hooting and shrieking.

Amanda grabbed the one from behind, used him like a reaper’s scythe to knock the other monkey’s feet out from under, letting go as she completed the move so they both bowled into one another. They crashed into the corner of the courtyard, knocking over a terracotta pot of reedy Cyperus papyrus. The pair of gangly primates clambered atop one another, hissing, and in the deep of their throats she saw the winking red light.

“What is it you want?” Kebir said, stroking the fennec fox that stood on his bony left shoulder the way an angel might perch on a pin. The gun in his hand pointed at her heart.

“I want Delacroix,” she said.

Kebir crossed the space between them. He pressed the gun between her breasts.

“But you don’t know where he is.”

“I know he’s here. In Tangiers.”

Kebir smiled. His gums were puckered and pulled away from the teeth. “If only I would tell you where.”

His eyes went wide as he realized: Amanda had the khanjar knife with its camel bone handle against Kebir’s manhood. Kebir sighs.

“…Delacroix is beneath Benhaddou.”

* * *

“It looks… old,” Jack says. He doesn’t take the case. Her arms tremble.

“It’s not just old. It’s rare.” She smiles. “Rarest of the rare. Like you. Like us.”

* * *

She had Delacroix by his wife-beater, her knee in his pumpkin gut, his blubbering head held over a yawning chasm. Beneath him, giant stone gears boomed and growled as they turned. Stones tumbled into the abyss, swiftly pulverized by the hungry cogs.

“You know what I want!” she yelled over the din.

“I don’t have it! I told you! Please.”

Behind them, streams of sand whispered from above: a shard of earth tumbled and shattered. The bodies of the robot soldiers lay half-buried.

The whole place was coming down. All the trip-wires and trigger stones. Leading to this. But she wasn’t going to think about that now.

“Who?” she asked. “Who.”

“Krüger! I sold it to Krüger.” He wept. It gave her pause, this grown man crying so. It was all he needed. His pudgy hand shot out, grabbing a fistful of sand and throwing it in her eyes. Amanda toppled from his prodigious body, her vision watery, blinking away the stinging sand-born tears, and by the time she could again see, Delacroix was ducking down a hidden side-passage, the wall closing fast behind him.

It didn’t matter. She had a name. And it explained so much. The monkeys. The robots.

* * *

He isn’t taking it. She doesn’t understand.

“It’s really been a long time,” he says. He looks then over his shoulder. What is he looking for? She imagines making love to him again. How sweet it will be.

* * *

Krüger danced around the room with the eyedropper, pirouetting this way, waltzing that way. He tilted his handsome head back, extending his tongue, and then placed a drop of amber liquid there. Krüger was like a child catching snowflakes. He laughed.

Then: a tap-shuffle-slide over to his wall of super-soldiers. Nine of them. Each a Frankenstein stitching of flesh, plastic, and metal. Krüger grabbed the jaw of one, yanking it downward. He squeezed the eyedropper’s bulb and dropped a liquid dot in the soldier’s mouth.

Slowly, the cyborg’s eyes opened and focused. The half-man shifted in his bonds.

Krüger sashayed to the next in line, whistling.

But he didn’t make it. The butt of a rifle cracked him in the back of the head.

He looked up from the ground. Amanda eased the mouth of the .30-30 against his throat.

“You look like hell,” Krüger said.

She did. Split lip. Blood from a forehead gash. Worse, she still had the limp from escaping the collapsing tomb beneath Aït Benhaddou. Krüger’s tower defenses were top-notch.

“I’m taking Shackleton’s Scotch,” she said.

“Without it, how will I fuel my beautiful babies?”

She shrugged. “You won’t. I need it for someone.”

“Do I see love in your eye?”

That old romantic. “You do.”

“Then you may have it.” He laughed, but then suddenly yelled: “Kill her!”

The super-soldier puffed out his chest, snapping the metal bar holding him in place. The cyborg screamed, a metallic wail—

Bang.

Amanda put a bullet in his eye.

The cyborg fell like a stack of teacups.

Krüger looked crushed. “Sorry,” she told him, then kicked him in the face.

* * *

“I don’t drink anymore,” Jack says, retreating a step.

“No, wait,” she says, laughing because this suddenly seems so absurd. “This is Shackleton’s Scotch. Lost. Preserved in the Antarctic ice for 100 years. Nobody else is going to taste this. Nobody but you and me.” She feels her heart sink. “You love Scotch.”

The door opens behind him. A little girl no older than three runs out—all pigtails and footy pajamas and freckle-cheeks—and hugs his leg. “Daddy, Daddy, story-time!”

“It really has been a long time,” he says again, and she’s not sure if it’s an apology or an explanation or what. But then he retreats another step, and another, and he and the little girl go back inside and the door closes with a gentle, hesitant click.

“I love you,” Amanda says to the door. She leaves the case on the steps.

© Chuck Wendig 2011

 
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