Empire’s Agent, pt.10

You know what I’ve watched?  I’ve watched the conversation between Arpad and the old guy that just came into the bar (whom you’ll meet shortly, a tertiary character from my novels).  Where everything below the fold came from?  No clue; I just write.

They were at the steel door of the roof’s stairwell when, just before him, Lily abruptly turned, facing northwest.

“Storm coming,” she said, her little nostrils flaring. “Big one.”

“I understand the Great Plains and Midwest of former America see bad weather in the spring, but – ” Arpad began.

“North Texas and Oklahoma Province,” he noted her use of that term, “get freak cold fronts early off the lower Rockies. This is one of them.”

She stepped aside and gestured for him to go on ahead as she took out her mobile – smartphone!

“Please go on, Arpad. I need to talk to my orphanage Director in the few minutes I have before returning to work.”

“Of course.” He did pat her right shoulder with his hand as he passed her. “What a soldier you’d’ve have made, were you a man!”

As the door closed he would have sworn she muttered “…Fausta…” Was she a fan of Goethe?

Having been caught in summer storms in Hungary’s great central plain and blizzards in Poland, he could smell the change coming: the push of positive ions before the storm front making animal life unsettled. He walked quickly back to the center of town. The old Rogers Hotel, where he was staying, was directly across from the Baroque-style county courthouse.

Before the Frankfort School and Progressivism, Americans could build beautifully, too.

When he’d left in the late morning there had only been two cars. Now there were five. Odd change for a Thursday evening.

The manager behind his desk waved at him. Ah: one of the cars was seconded to him, brought up and dropped off from their legation in Austin. Arpad wasn’t sure what he’d use it for…

Besides where I might be taking Lily on our date… No. I’m on the other side of the world for business! And I’ve no interest in Asian women…

For a moment he recalled the smell of the sun on her skin; inches from his face.

“Does this place have a bar?” He asked with more heat than he intended.

“’Course, sir! Hell, we didn’t even close during Prohibition!” The manager indicated the marble stairs down off to the left. “We still have billiards, but we’ve lost the hookers after the Breakup!”

Arpad didn’t understand the humor of that but thanked him anyway.

The bar was a shock. It was like going home: except for the electric lights – and only a few were on, the rest was candlelight – everything was over one hundred years old. The long, oak bar itself, its brass foot-rail. The scattered small tables with two or three antique chairs each. Even the smell of tobacco was cigars and not cigarettes.

The bartender’s bowtie might be a clip-on but his manners were not. Arpad watched him track his motion as he came down the stairs and took in the room. He continued to pretend to clean a glass as Arpad eased further in. Combat soldier, he thought.

The wiry young man behind the bar turned.

“Help you, sir?”

Arpad advanced to the bar and surveyed the bottles behind. Many Mexican brands, but that was no surprise: even for Texas’s survival of the Breakup, trade was limited.

“Palinka would’ve been good,” he sighed with a genuine smile, missing home.

“Half a bottle just traded in yesterday, sir. Apricot. Can’t guarantee the quality, but it smelt fresh to me,” the clip-on said, surprising him.

“Show me,” Arpad demanded. He watched the man retire to a corner and return with a dusty bottle; half empty. ‘Barack Palinka,’ he read on the label. Bowtie handed it to him.

“May I?” Arpad asked. A short, sharp nod was his reply as the bartender placed a brandy snifter before him.

Arpad poured only a tiny splash. If this was oxidized, it’ll be trash… He picked it up and swirled it once.

Hmmm…

He tossed it into his mouth. A tiny chewiness, so maybe a year past its prime, but…

“I’ll take it.”

He heard worn leather shoes making their way down the marble stair behind him. Of course, with service such as this, this place should be packed.

“Nothing to take, sir. It’s yours.”

Arpad set the glass down and took a tiny step back from the bar.

“How so?”

“Compliments of a Miss Fausta, sir.”

The man’s face was a mask. His eyes danced.

Arpad had read the files. One of them.

“Question.”

“Sir?”

“Your rank and assignment?”

“I was a gunner of an M1A2 Abrams, Texas Field Forces. First brigade, CCA.”

“I was unaware Texas had a brigade of armor.”

“So were the Federals, sir. South of Texarkana.”

At that name the bartender’s demeanor hardened. Of course it did: the first city hit with atomics since the second world war.

“I was armored infantry,” Arpad spoke easily and quietly. “Will you share a glass with me, brother?”

His face never changing, the bartender reached down and produced another bulbed glass and set it between them.

“Sir.”

Arpad poured a measure for them both. They raised their glasses.

“For my best friend, Laszlo, shot by a Semite sniper in the middle of negotiations in L’vov.”

“For my cousin, Sean, incinerated in Texarkana.”

They drank and set their glasses down. From the two tiny windows set high, on street level, there was the flicker of lightning.

“When you boys are finished, an old man needs a whiskey over here,” came a tired voice from behind Arpad.

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