The sunset was painted on the wall in indelible pinks and purples, lit by carefully concealed lamps on a ceiling that faded from a cloudless blue to a star-studded midnight-navy night. All around the room ran the lazy river, unnaturally clear water circulating gently as it flowed and out of the pool which took up a full quarter of the basement, a private lagoon whose bottom was painted gradually deeper shades of blue-green to give the impression of depth it didn't have, and which sloped gently from about five feet deep up to an artificial beach that was perhaps nine feet long, the cement giving way at last to ragged green felt and spiky astroturf. There was a three-hole minigolf course spread out along the river, with silk ferns and palm trees with silk leaves that swayed gently when the air conditioner was blowing; a flight up steps that let up a ten-foot tall mountain, and a tiki god whose blazing eyes and balltrap mouth were currently turned off. Somewhere in the middle, tucked in among carven cannibal gods and artificial jungle, was a small native bar, all bamboo, rattan, and dried palm fronds; a Disneyland special that was probably built wholesale, and hid a small refrigerator and taps, as well as a floor hatch that led to an underworld cave of pipes, kegs, pumps, and a small cellar for wine and the better beer. The bar was angled so those sitting at the stools could turn and face the beach and the wall beyond, which had been painted as an endless ocean, with a small island in the middle distance.
Vade, as expected, was behind the bar with jigger and spoon. Sheyla noted a few changes since the last time she'd come down. A hand-painted sign above the bar said "Pickman's Cove" in green letters on white, and the and the tiny bookshelf to the left of the bar proper had books with titles like Blasphemous Cocktails and old pulp magazines studded with bookmarks. There was some new drinkware on the counter too - squat, ugly green tiki-mugs like Samoan squid-gods, and tall fogcutters bedecked with skimpy mermaids with more teeth than normal. Vade smiled a hello as she took a stool across from him, and handed her a martini glass filled with something orange and smoky.
"Salut." He watched it disappear down her throat as the glass tilted. A river burned its way down to her stomach, and in its wake came a strong wash of dates and apricots. Sheyla handed the glass back with a grimace, unsure if the gritty remainder clinging to the bottom was sand, salt, or sugar. "Needs work. What is it?"
"The Alhazred." He pulled out a thin, tall yellow pamphlet that proclaimed itself The Compleat Lovecraftian Bar Guide. "I was inspired by this, but I broke one of the rules. Date wine, apricot brandy, overproof rum."
Sheyla raspberried. "Mixing liquors. No wonder it didn't wash. Always decide on your basis first."
Vade threw up his hands, lifting his head to the sky. "The scientist should not critique the artist."
She snorted, and dug a hand into the fruit bowl, digging out a small keylime. Without waiting for her to ask, he placed a paring knife and a tumbler on the bar before her.
"It is true," he said, as she began to peel the green skin from the fruit, and he washed her old glass. "Mixology is not a science, but an art. If it was a science, it would be a mere exercise in chemistry. But in crafting a drink, you have to seek a subjective balance, not an absolute one. Science cannot measure taste, texture, smell, and mouth feel."
"It partakes of science," She dumped the peel in the glass. Vade reached for a light Bacardi, but Sheyla gave him the eye and he reached for a bottle of Brugal. "Alcohol content. Ph. Specific gravity."
"Cooking too," he said, fetching the falernum and ice. "Measure by weight, not volume. For better results, use better ingredients - which may not be the most expensive. Fresh is better."
She stirred the drink with a dark-green swizzle-stick, the plastic pole headed with another tentacled fetish, ice clinking against glass until it was a light greenish-gold, the remains of the peel a dark secret in its depths. Vade watched her sip, and smiled at her smile. "Where did you get these things?" she held up the swizzle-stick.
"Kickstarter." Reaching across the counter for her free hand, she let him hold it. "I'm glad you're here. You can help me in my research."
That occasioned an eyebrow. "The Alhazred?" He shook his head. "Something else, I think. I have been inspired of late."
He reached down from the shelf and spread out the old magazines - not even full magazines, she noted, but yellowed and browned fragments that had been cut and taped together into thin make-shift books, the magazines themselves probably crumbled like ancient papyrus scrolls. Frozen in black-and-white ink on soft brown paper were strong-jawed men in Victorian jungle explorer mode, squid-headed idols draped in lianas or surrounded by fire, fish-men like Mayan friezes, terrified old sailors clutching at their bootleg whiskey.
"It must be exotic," he fetched out two clean, tall glasses. "But not too exotic. Simple enough to remember, complicated enough to entice."
"And drinkable," she took another sip. "Basis. Not whiskey or vodka."
"No, I think rum," he frowned. "A New World flavor, but to capture the story it must have a taste of the Pacific. Something tropical."
"Which means juice. You're thinking of a variant," she set the drink down, glanced at the artificial sunset painted on the west wall. "So let's start with a zombie."
"Not a mai tai?"
"I can't choose between Don and Vic."
"Very well, I have no objection. Let us leave out the Pernod, though. Too European."
"That'll leave the drink too strong. Flatten it out a bit?"
"I'd like to leave it with a little bite."
"Indian tonic water," she set the empty glass down, and he let her hand go to do the washing up. "Just a hint of ginger and quinine in there."
Vade nodded, and began assembling a collection of rums, tonic water, and fruit.
Sheyla tapped a jar of something viscous and yellow labeled '#5.' "Que?"
"Pineapple shrub, with raw sugar." He opened the jar and fetched forth a teaspoon. The syrup was the consistency of honey, with tiny yellow chunks still floating in it.
"That's quite good, actually." She smacked her lips, and Vade smiled. "A new recipe. I let it sit in the fridge, rather than boiling it. Retains more of the flavor of the fruit."
"Then you should definitely use that in place of the pineapple juice. A zombie shrub! I like the sound of that." He nodded, and moved the limes and syrup to one side, then assembled a row of bottles before her. "As for the rums..."
"Bacardi 151 for the float." She began turning the bottles this way and that. "Kraken for the dark - it'll help offset the tonic water. Brugal for the gold." She hissed and pointed at a small bottle. "Vade, no. Not again." He held his hands to his heart, but took the bottle of Bay Rum and pushed it to the side. "You never did try my hair tonic," and she gave him another raspberry. Finally, she picked out a bottle of Don Q. He obediently set the three bottles aside. As he crushed the ice, she flipped idly through the magazines, pausing at times to run a finger over an unfamiliar word.
"I have been thinking," Vade admitted, as he filled the glasses with ice. "There should be a ceremony to it."
"Drinking is not a religion; it's hardly even a philosophy." Sheyla played with a swizzle stick. "But, perhaps you're right. If it works for a Manhattan, it can work for a...what are we calling this?"
"Leave that for the tasting."
"Alright. Juice, tonic, and syrup first, over the ice. That'll help control the sweet and the sour."
Obediently, he began squeezing the limes into each glass, and measuring out jiggers of syrup and tonic water. The glasses were not quite half full.
"Rums, light to dark. The heavier rums will sink, the lighter will rise. Float the 151 on top. Just in case anyone wants to set it alight."
Vade poured the shots, and she scribbled on a cocktail napkin. "You know," as the glasses began to sweat and the drinks got darker and darker, "we had better get this right the first time, we won't be able to drink many of these."
"True. I think this will be it for me. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all." As he finished stirring, he handed one to her. The glasses clinked, and they sipped through the overproof rum. Vade swished it around before swallowing, Sheyla held it on the tongue then let it flow backwards down her throat.
"I could drink this."
"Yo también. Needs something, though."
Together, in a brief moment of harmony, they both said the same word. Vade set the glass down and dug around behind the bar, bringing forth a selection of tiny bottles. Sheyla began rooting through the bitters.
"Nothing too new." She crinkled her nose. "I love those orange bitters, but this cocktail needs age to temper it."
"That leaves only two choices," he put the bottles of Angostura and Peychaud's before her. Without even consulting him, she grabbed the Peychaud's and began measuring out a doubledash in each glass. They clinked again, and drank.
There were no words, for the next few minutes. Vade came out from behind the bar and sat on the stool next to her, so they could sit and hold hands, staring at the painted sunset, and the lonely island. Overhead, the lights clicked through to the next cycle, the "sky" darkening, more stars visible on the ceiling overhead, forming familiar patterns as constellations emerged from hiding.
"I proclaim this, the Old R'lyeh." Vade held up the glass, empty save for the ice and dregs. Sheyla set her glass down and scribbled on the napkin, where she'd been recording the recipe in progress.
1 part white rum
1 part golden rum
1 part dark rum
1 part Indian tonic water
1 part key lime juice
1 part pineapple vinegar syrup*
1/2 part 151-proof rum
2 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
Mix the tonic water, juice, bitters, and syrup together, then pour over crushed ice. Slowly add the rums, from light to dark, floating the 151-proof rum on top.
* The syrup is made in the manner of a shrub. Take a fresh pineapple and cut it into small cubes - you'll need about two cups of cut pineapple - and crush the cubes, being sure to lose as little of the juice as possible. Add two cups of Demerara sugar and stir it up, then let sit in the fridge overnight. Strain out the solids (except for any remaining sugar) and take the syrup and add two cups of drinking vinegar; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bottle it and let it sit in the back of the fridge, shaking or stirring occasionally if the sugar falls out.
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