Leopold started this whole Red Fez thing. Where it stops, nobody knows. If you liked this, I've also written five books, which you can see on...read more my profile. Also, you've got some mustard on your collar. No...no problem. Anytime. Gotta be careful with the mustard.
Make yourself comfortable… Shall I pour you a drink? I have some Kool-aid…or maybe Tang is more to your liking? Oh…you’re looking for a bigger thrill… Well…I have this little concoction…but not too much, mind you. It’s potent stuff and drinking is the devil’s water slide, nothing but fire and brimstone and regret at the bottom.
Have you ever seen the bottom, friend? Surely, once or twice you drank enough to get a glimpse the morning after, to smell the sulfuric fingers of Heck as they tingle the synapses of your reptilian brain… Too much of this and you may book yourself a one-way ticket to that dark place.
You say it couldn’t happen to you? Well…did you hear about tonight’s protagonist? He took one too many sips from Baccus’ teat and may not live to regret it. Let’s see how he’s doing now…
Mort had put his faith in the drink. He had poured it into his gas tank and ventured out into the empty desert, hoping it would lead to some unknown private future—a tropical oasis, maybe, tucked away in the desert. But now the tank was out of gas in the epicenter of oblivion and his beat up Chevy was coasting towards rest in the middle of more nothing than Mort had ever witnessed.
Except it was worse than that: Mort’s car had been repossessed three weeks ago and it was minus one-million-jillion degrees outside Chief Mondo Pu-Pu, the Tiki bar where he’d frittered away his last shots at redemption.
Mort’s hands gripped his last drink in desperate prayer. He closed his eyes and turned up towards the altar of shimmering bottles, pleading for his deus ex machina moment. But Mort had been praying his entire life that he was more than just a minor character, someone worth saving in this tiresome novel. Now he’d approached his final hour and if something was going to happen it needed to happen now, here sitting at the head of this Tiki bar in his favourite and only-remaining Hawaiian shirt.
Mort sighed, opened his eyes, and sussed out the bartender. Joe’s tall, beefy physique hovered in a confusing space between fat and muscular. It was the kind of body that could actually pull off the Hawaiian look. Mort’s lanky frame, on the other hand, made the shirt seem as if he wore brightly colored garbage bag.
The middle-aged female clientele of Chief Mondo Pu-pu, local and touristic, made no secret of their admiration for Joe’s padded build—though Joe didn't seem to notice or care. Joe didn’t impress much of his personality or time on any customer ever. He served drinks; that’s all.
Joe raised his eyebrows inquisitively, sensing Mort’s attention. Mort’s gaze shot back into the depths of his mug.
Mort took another sip, attempting to assess the number of sips left between Tiki warmth and wintry death. He stirred the yellow straw. Only the faintest ripples of neon light gave any sign of hope in the black morass below.
Mort peered down between his legs and peeled apart the lips of his well-worn wallet. Its leather tongue popped out like a wanton cartoon wolf as Mort’s thumb plumbed the depths for treasure. His spelunking turned up the business card of his former lawyer, a few tissue-thin gas receipts, a coupon for his now chapter-elevened pool cleaning business and one, two, three maxed out credit cards. In short: the sum of Mort’s possessions. Mort slammed the wolf’s face shut.
"Grab ya another one, Mac?" Joe swung his beefy mitt out for Mort's mug.
"No!" Mort cried out, clamping his wiry hands around it. "I mean. Not yet. I'm still working on this one. "
The bartender put his hands up as if Mort had been wielding a knife. "Sure pal. Just let me know."
What a jerk. Sure, Mort had overreacted. But did that give Joe the right to overreact? He’s the bartender. He’s getting paid to serve. Mort’s the drinker – the client. He didn't need to make me feel like a freak! And anyway, he shouldn't be reaching for customers unfinished drinks just because he's bored or greedy. Still, Mort needed to diffuse the situation, to stall. "Can I see the drink menu again?"
"Sure Mac." Joe reached under the bar. Behind him a jeweled temple of liquor bottles rose up, glittering like Inca's tomb, and atop: the ornate golden cup, about the size and shape of a man's skull, with the visage of some jovial but foreboding Tiki King carved into its face. Was it really gold? Mort had always wondered…
Joe popped back up – the gatekeeper to Mort’s promised land; the pimp offering a taste of Polynesian ambrosia for an escalating price, yet barring complete access to the forbidden kingdom. Joe slid the plastic menu over the bar and retreated to his endless drying.
Mort hated how Joe called him ‘Mac’. It's not like Joe had misheard ‘Mort.’ The bartender didn't even know his name. But ‘Mac’ was close enough that it just sounded like he kept getting it wrong on purpose. Suddenly he was back in middle school, tormented by jocks…
He read through the flowery description of each drink, savoring the memory of each. He'd had them all. …except this last one: Tiki-La Madness. The gimmick drink. Mort had forgotten all about it. Who could blame him? Like a $45 dollar burger that’s free if you can eat the whole thing, this was not really meant to be ordered, except, perhaps, by boorish pickup football teams who accidentally stumble in after a game. At $95 it out-cost the next most expensive drink by 500%. Come to think of it, it was uncharted territory: Mort had never seen anyone order it. Now the drink shone before him, blanching everything in its forbidden promise:
Get carried away to the Shangri-La of extravagance. Few have visited the great volcano of Tiki-La and even fewer have imbibed from the mug of plenty that promises all. And none have returned from the bliss that ensues!
This is no drink for the uninitiated or lone adventurer: concocted of tequila, absinth, 150 proof rum and a secret blend of 19 other alcohols and bitters, we had to create a special golden mug just to hold it all! Drink this and you might not make it home from paradise either! But you might not care…
The description was more than a list of ingredients, it…was the cool voice of Bali-Hai drifting over the endless ocean. It sang out Mort’s name, and if he wasn’t crazy, he swore he could hear Polynesian music playing faintly in the distance each time he read it over.
Here it was! The perfect drink!His ticket to paradise…and he’d missed his chance! Even two weeks ago he might have been able to afford this sip on the teat of heaven… At least then he could say he’d accomplished something before he froze to death in the snow: Hey, here’s the guy who’d sampled all the drinks at the Chief Mondo Pu-Pu’s! Even the Tiki-La Madness!
Like a night terror, the sound of an empty drink struck him from his reverie. Joe was back up at the counter like a service vampire, meaty hands on the bar’s edge. "What can I getcha, Mac?"
Mort stared at the menu in terror. This was it. The end. Joe’d throw him out and he'd be dead before morning. None would miss him. None would mourn him. Not even this bar. The image of the bar stool he had sat on every night for the past three months suddenly flashed before him. On it was a plaque in his memory:
'To our best customer: Mac."
Mort shivered. "Um...." He pretended to peruse the menu. He swore that music was playing behind him, calling him… Outside, the wind bared its teeth.
“Anything strike your fancy?” Joe pressed again, leaning the entire weight of his boredom upon Mort.
Mort felt the blood draining from his head. The snowstorm outside whispered his name while the tropical menu laughed in his face. Then an epiphany jolted through him—Joe didn't know Mort was broke! Joe wouldn't ask a regular to pay until he was finished! Then what could he do? Kick him out and never let him back? And what if that mug was real gold? Mort could make off with it. He could hawk it for something somewhere…
"You know what?” Mort beamed for the first time in weeks. “I'm feeling lucky tonight. I'm going to have the Tiki-La Madness, bartender."
Joe just blinked. "The Tiki-La?"
"Yes. This one." Mort pointed emphatically, savoring the act of ordering the unaffordable drink. Music swelled in the background. Above him, the bric-a-brac jumble of hanging trinkets, license plates, diving helmets, seemed to glisten in the multicolored lights of the bar with new joy.
Joe turned and looked up the temple of booze to the golden mug as if it were tiresomely high to reach.
"You sure? It's $95. Plus tax."
"And batteries not included, right?" Mort joked to no response.
"I dunno, Mac," Joe hesitated, sizing Mort up.
Mort felt the blow. He doesn't even think I'm good for it!
"I think you've had enough," Joe added.
Relief! It wasn’t an issue of money…
"You know I can handle it..."
"You've had four drinks already."
“Come on, Joe. You know I can wrangle more than four drinks… You can kick me out if I get rowdy. I promise.”
"Kicking you out is no big deal,” Joe shrugged, so confident as to be bored by his kicking-clients-out skills. “I just don't want to be scraping you off the bathroom floor."
He sat back quickly, as if just realizing something. "You don't know how make it!" He stated, pointing. That’s right! Surprise him with the offensive! He’d snagged a few pool cleaning contracts that way before.
"Sure. I can make it.” Joe shrugged two meaty shoulders. “It's just...it takes a long time."
Mort looked around the bar, his gaze swallowing its emptiness, before turning back to Joe, eyebrows raised.
"Alright, alright." Joe shrugged. Mort grinned wider than the Tiki God himself. Meaty Bartender Tamed by Destitute Bean-Pole! Tonight he was going to be king of the bar!
Joe disappeared into the janitor’s closet, re-emerging with a rickety aluminum ladder that really broke the character of the place. Mort was annoyed. For $95 he was paying for more than a drink! He was buying an experience. The ladder was like to Goofy taking his head off on the tea-cup ride! But Mort swallowed his irritation; put it deep down in a dark reserve where it would fester for whatever time he had left.
Joe dragged his 250 lb frame up the ladder then tucked the giant golden mug under his arm like a football and descended, setting the mug down on the counter before Mort. Despite the dust and cobwebs that embraced the mug like a Mayan artifact, its unbanishable shine, its golden face and its gem encrusted features mesmerized Mort.
Joe set to polishing it.
Mort coughed through the dust until a gleaming icon of power and joy shimmered before him. The mystical Polynesian band started up again.
“Is it real gold?” Mort asked. Joe didn’t answer and Mort felt slighted until he realized that he hadn’t actually asked… He’d kept that line of inquiry to himself.
Joe dropped the now gleaming golden artifact down on the bar then grabbed tequila, rum and absinth from the top shelf. Chief Mondo Pu-Pu’s court advisors. Joe grabbed a few other bottles for good measure too. The usual silver implements of bartending were dragged out and arranged on the bar mat like a surgeon’s kit before Joe ducked below the counter to pull out a number of cryptic and arcane looking tinctures from a locked cabinet. Some contained labels Mort had never seen, relics from the golden age of bartending. Others were simply lableless, looked home-made, and glowed with strangely vibrant colours, barely within the spectrum of human sight, floating murkily inside.
Joe, without joy or showmanship, combined bitters and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and shook. He pulled a coconut out of nowhere, followed by a machete, which equaled two parts coconut chopped right on the counter. Coconut water was added to the shaker, then shaken again. This mixture strained into one half of the coconut and then set afire! A great FWOOMPF went up and the Tiki King gleamed demonic in the blaze. Mort’s heart beat with excitement. He swore he could feel and smell a tropical breeze about his face.
Joe poured the flaming liquid from one coconut to another, then put the other coconut half on top to extinguish the blaze. The emptied half was then made host to eye-dropperfulls of bitters and other nameless liquids, each tear staining the coconut a different, exotic colour, until the liquid inside oozed and bubbled like volcanic magma! Mort was so transfixed he failed to realize that Joe had stopped.
Mort looked up to find Joe scratching his head, Joe stared blankly at the array of bottles.
Almost alive a moment ago, the Tiki God mug now sat expressionless, the magic having dissipated into the ether. This would be just Mort’s luck.
Joe sighed and dipped below the counter again. He rose with a giant tome—a book with yellowed pages sandwiched between covers of hand-woven thatch. It must have weighed twenty pounds and made a good thump on the table when Joe cleared room to set it down. He opened the cover. The inside was ornamented with drink stains and page upon page of hand-written recipes and arcane illustration. It looked…authentically ancient. This…this was the long lost book of drinking stolen from forbidden island!
Mort looked up to find that a Fez, cylindrical and magnificent, with strange runic characters entombed on the front, had magically appeared on Joe’s head. Joe wore it as if he wasn’t aware it had been placed there. Mort’s life had suddenly rebounded from despair to excitement and…a feeling of power! There was a buzz in him now, in the bar before him. A strange light glimmered off the mug, the liquid temple, as it glowed in proximity to the book.
Joe ran his finger down the page to the next step. He nodded then poured the magma into the mug. Joe used the machete to hack apart a pineapple. Three half-limes were sacrificed into the pit of the skull. Each time something was added, Joe turned the mug slightly counter-clockwise. By the time he was finished, the mug had rotated at least three times and Mort was aware that the eyes of the Tiki King had begun to glow. A trick of the light? Was the liquid somehow showing through? Joe had thrown so much booze and fruit into the mug it was difficult to conceive how it all fit!
Joe added something—dry ice, most likely—to the top of the skull and suddenly it started vibrating. Plumes of smoke bubbled over and trailed down the shape of the skull creating a ghost-like outer casing. Joe lifted up the book, cradling it in both arms, and cleared his throat. A chant, a strange tongue that seemed to belong neither to Joe’s mouth or Mort’s ears emerged from deep within Joe. The words were foreign. Not likely French. Maybe not even Japanese. Probably made up…but very authentic sounding. Joe’s all-consuming monotone had suddenly been taken over by vibrant, sonorous spirit.
Joe’s words became faster and faster, deeper and deeper as if his own lips could not contain them, but instead flapped in the great exodus of language. Out of nowhere Joe tapped the skull on the rim with a muddler and the room went dark. A huge flame reared up before Mort, consuming Joe and the temple of booze behind it. Mort could swear that the lips of the mug had been moving, though the chant had stopped. The heat and tropical coconut-scented smell of easy-living danced on his face. The tiki lights above flickered and the room seemed to spin. As flame subsided, Joe’s head re-emerged and, beneath the fez, looked…menacing, sallow, more skull than face.
The room flashed again, and Joe was standing before him as normal as always. The fez was gone. The book was gone. The Tiki God’s expression was full of life, but lifeless.
Joe dipped the pineapple-top-cum-tropical-umbrella into the top of the skull. The Polynesian music, which had roared to a thunderous cacophony stopped on a big cymbal crash.
Mort reached to pull the drink closer…but couldn’t lift it! It couldn’t be just the weight of the liquid! Joe had managed it. Yes, Joe was certainly stronger but Mort couldn’t even budge the thing!
Joe responded with an equally unimpressed look of expectation. Shit!Did he want the $95 (plus tax), already? Mort had to think quick! And for once in his life he did. Leaning forward he took a sip. Every joyful moment in Mort’s short-and not-generously-sprinkled-with-joy life suddenly swirled onto his tongue. A mardi-gras of flavors, scent and sensation overwhelmed him. So much so he couldn’t really process it and delved into a coughing fit. Birds swirled his head. The scent of beach and sunscreen seared his nostrils.
“It’s great!” Mort smiled, choking down a cough, and Joe smiled. “Thanks for making it. I really appreciate it,” To Mort’s relief, Joe retreated along the bar, momentarily forgetting about money or at least assured Mort was meek and weak enough that money could be claimed later.
That is some potion! Mort felt light-headed from just one sip. God’s could get drunk on this concoction…dare he take another? Of course!
The straw drew Mort’s lips forward and his lips drew forth the swirling mana—sweet, bitter, smoky, fruity…the room seemed to implode around the straw as he suckled. At this rate he’d never have to leave the bar!
“Pretty good, huh?” someone asked.
Mort looked up, but Joe was engrossed in the quest of the never-quite-polished glass. Mort looked over his shoulder. Still no other customers. Just him and his independent imagination. He took another drink to drive doubts away.
“You’re a real last minute chump, arntcha?”
“What?” Mort snapped his head up. For the first time he noticed a stranger lurking in the shadows of the counter. Had he been here the whole time? Mort waited for them to speak…until he realized it was just Joe’s hanging jacket. Mort sat back from the straw. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…
“Sixteen months sitting at the bar seeking answers at the bottom of a glass and never once did you think to check the golden mug!” Thunderous laughter emanated from someplace. “Only when you’re feet touch the lava do you try and climb the rope dangling you over the volcano…”
Mort didn’t want to look down at the voice coming from his mug because that would make him crazy. He hedged his bets by casually leaning forward and tipping his eyes down as far as they could go. There was nothing but swirling murk below.
“Hey Chump. My eyes are down here. Hhahaaha!”
Mort swallowed, sat back and squinted into the happy eyes of the mug. It didn’t move. It was just a mug.
“You can talk to me,” the voice came again. “He won’t hear you.”
Mort looked up at Joe. “Is that so?” he asked, as if to no one in particular. Joe just kept on polishing.
“Yeah, it’s so. Geeze. Now what can I do for you?”
Mort pointed at himself, eyebrows raised.
“Gods alive, Mort! You’ve been pining away in here for months and you don’t even know what you want? What if you could have anything?”
“I can have anything?”
“No. You can only have what I can give you. But that’s a good start.”
Mort stared at the mug.
“Look…you don’t have all night, obviously. You’re not a fast mover, and in a few more sips you’ll be under the table, so let me throw an option at you: What if you could have this bar?”
“You mean own it?” Mort looked up at Joe who continued his polishing.
“Look at that bar, Mort. Fully-stocked. All those drinks could be yours. Better yet —look at Joe. All the attention he gets? Squandered. Why shouldn’t you have some of that?”
“Why can’t I have some of that?”
“You can, Mort. You can have all of it. The problem with guys like you is that you fail to take it.”
“Mort, if you get any more pathetic I’m going to write tonight off as charity. You gotta take the things you want in life, not just sit at a bar and hope they’ll happen. But guys like you need help with that. My help.”
“I need help.”
“Yeah, Mort. Take a look at this guy for a moment.”
Mort turned to Joe.
“Size that schmuck up. This guy is married to a stunning, buxom brunette who's rich and killer in the sack. He also hits her. He owns this business, inherited it from the previous owner because the owner’s family had disowned him and he didn’t know anyone other than his bartender. It’s pathetic. This guy never went to college…and was a high school bully who’s charmed far more people than he’s ever helped.”
Mort’s jealousy and rage began to bubble up from the dark well where he kept dissatisfaction. “It's so unfair!”
“Yeah. It is. So why is Joe up there and not you? Who helped make him so lucky?”
Mort looked up at Joe, his distaste and jealousy for the man suddenly released from a groundswell. How did Joe deserve to be on that side of the bar, guarding the golden temple, and Mort on this one? Then Mort understood, looking back down at the mug. “You?”
“Bingo, Mort. I make things happen. And I can make them happen for you.”
“Yes. I want the bar. Make it happen.”
That thunderous laughter descended again. Mort’s new sense of hope fled in its wake. You’re making fun of me. You’re toying with me...
“I’m not toying with you, sad sack. You’re just entertainingly pathetic. You need a win to get your confidence back up. But here’s the secret, Mort: Gods help those who help themselves.”
Mort leaned in to take a sip from the head of his conversational partner. A beautiful vision of shooting stars descending into fireworks flashed before him, dazzling him quiet for a moment. “What do I have to do?”
“It’s easy. I need you to break the seal.”
Mort turned to look at the washrooms. One could ignore the general sludge and slime of Mondo Pu-Pu’s in the dim lighting, but under the florescent whites of the bathroom you came face-to-face with its easy relationship with filth. Mort avoided going in there at all costs. Nothing good ever happened in bar bathrooms…
“Not that kind of seal, Mort. I need you to break the golden agreement I have with Joe. You see, he’s an ungrateful lout and, worse, a dullard. He’s not interesting enough to have fun with, and not idiotic enough to laugh at. But the very worst: he broke our vow last night.”
“Yeah. He got drunk and told his wife he had ‘magical assistance’. And that’s the one clause of our agreement you cannot break. He thought he was safe, after stranding me me up on that shelf for so long, he’s gotten sloppy.”
“And she believed it?”
“Pffffth.” The mug laughed. “Of course not! It's crazy! But a vow is a vow. If you can't keep a vow you don't have trust. Plus he traps me up there on that shelf, charging an outrageous fee for people to even approach me. You can’t pull the Maka-laka Swapa-swap on Chief Mondo Pu-Pu and not expect to pay. It’s time for Joe to pay.”
“How do you break the seal?”
“Easy. You just gotta kill Joe.”
“Kill him? That’s your plan? I thought you’d have some sort of magical solution.”
“As usual, you want it the easy way. Look how well that’s turned out for you. And yeah, it’s also magic. You think you can take down a 220 pound hulk without some bonus voodoo?”
Mort, shook his head. “Just kill him,” he mocked out loud. Genius.”
“Ideas are cheap and tawdry, Mort. It’s implementation that gets you places. It’s the details that matter. This is your last shot at anything. You’ve tried it your way…now are you just gonna lay down like a dog and die, or are you gonna take the bull by the horns.”
“Can’t you just do it?”
“What did I tell you about helping yourself? If I could do it myself, do you think I’d need you, or Joe?”
Mort grimaced and took another drink, opening up a vortex right between his eyes.
“We’re a team in this. The only way I can do anything is if he takes a drink from me. And he doesn’t—hasn’t in years. He may not look crafty, cause he isn’t, but he’s overflowing with dumb luck. But you, Mort, have a golden mug full of magic and endless possibility in front of you…”
“What do I tell the cops?”
“Do I have to hold your hand through all of this? I’ll handle that part. Just follow my instructions carefully, honor the contract and you’ll be golden.”
Mort thought long and hard about this. He took another sip and gave it thirty seconds more for good measure, but the hypnotic miasma of twisting delights pouring through the straw scrambled his reasoning.
“You ok, Mac?” a voice broke him from his trance. Mort just stared at Joe. Gatekeeper Joe. Rich Joe. Hot wife Joe. Mort ignored him.
“Ok.” Mort said. “I’m ready to commit. I will…I will take the bull by the horns.”
“I knew you could do it, Mort.”
“What’s the catch?”
“The same as the one I made Joe. You can never tell anyone about our deal. You can’t tell your wife. You can’t tell your dog. You can’t tell a fly. You can’t tell a flower or a rock. I’m not a hard ass, but those are the rules. I didn’t make them, but I gotta enforce them as strictly as you gotta follow them. You think you can keep that?”
Mort laughed. Mort had alienated all his friends and family. Who would he tell it to? “Sure.”
A giant cloud of smoke erupted from Chief Mondo Pu-Pu’s head. The grin on the golden mug’s face suddenly seemed even more exaggerated as it shimmered in flickering lights of unknown origin.
“Tami-ka Makila-tiki-la!” exclaimed the voice. “Take one more sip and we have a deal!”
Mort steeled himself. He clenched his fists, leaned forward and drew the power of Mondo Pu-pu into him. He felt courage and power, for the first time in a long time, welling up within…
“Drink… drink!” Mort continued to draw on the straw. His knees went weak. His breath left him. He got something like brain freeze so bad he felt his head would explode. Then he fell back sputtering and coughing, fighting for consciousness. “I can tell we’re going to go a long way together, Mort. Now…what’s your plan?”
“How are you going to whack Joe?”
Mort hadn’t thought about this. “Well…I’m going to call him over…and then…” Mort chewed his lip. “Then I’ll reach into my back pocket like I’m going to pay, but then I’ll whip my fist out and slug him.”
“Ok. That’s a good start. But why don’t you use that bottle instead?”
“That’s a better idea…” Mort reached up and grabbed the healthy bottle of gin on the bar. Joe’s bartender-sense clicked in immediately and he looked up. Mort smiled and Joe came over.
“Can I help you with something, Mac?”
Mort pretended to read the label. “Yes…yes…I was…uh…just wondering…uh to myself…I wonder what kind of glass they use…to make this bottle…”
Joe screwed up his face like this was the dumbest question he’d ever been asked. In fact, it may have been, but this last bit of judgement took over, pushing Mort’s insecurity over the threshold. With surprising speed and rage he smashed the bottle across Joe’s face. The rather sturdy bottle did not break, but transferred the entirety of its weight to Joe’s jaw. But Joe barely stumbled. Instead, he reached across the bar and grabbed Mort by the collar, dragged him over the counter, and flung him onto the back counter with a tremendous bang. Stray bottles and bartending implements followed Mort to the floor.
On the floor, Mort could hear the jungle beat of that distant music picking up again…just as Joe picked Mort up like a rag. Joe, more meat than mind, didn’t seem phased physically or emotionally by this turn of events. Standing Mort up he drew one meaty paw against Mort’s face. Then another. Mort collapsed to his knees, trying to remember the word for, and then how to pronounce, ‘help’ when Joe grabbed him by the collar and threw Mort down to the other end of the bar. Mort had thought he was going to die earlier, now he knew it!
“Help!” he managed to gurgle out as Joe approached his form slumped against the mini-fridge.
“Drink! Drink you idiot!”
Joe dragged Mort up again and bent him over the bar right next to Chief Mondo Pu-Pu. He proceeded to calmly reach under the bar for bottles and smash them over Mort’s head. One!Two!
Mort struggled and writhed towards the straw….
Three! The last bottle missed Mort’s head and exploded in glass and turquoise mist. Joe reeled back, rubbing his eyes as Mort wrested free enough to latch onto the straw, sucking for dear life, imbibing as much mystical mana as he could. Joe grabbed Mort by the shoulders again and tossed him blindly to the floor.
Mort didn’t notice the fall. Instead, he felt a strange power brewing up in him. Not a physical one, as he had expected or hoped, but a confidence, a well-being, a clear-headedness that had never been there before.
Mort smiled as the bartending hulk heaved towards him. Putting his puny hands out Mort stopped Joe’s advance with a palm against Joe’s chest. He clenched Joe’s shirt and, as if he was lifting a pillow, held Joe above his head.
“There you go kid! Let him have it!”
Mort tossed Joe into the giant temple of booze, the entire pyramid tumbling down. Stunned, Joe stumbled to his feet and came at Mort again, somehow oblivious to the purple and green swirling mist that now embraced and swirled around his adversary. Mort didn’t even need to even touch Joe. The merest trickle of rage in Mort sent Joe flying back in a mist of sparks.
That Polynesian music thundered to an impossible beat. Mort felt the power of Tiki-la flowing through him. Joe struggled against the ropes to raise himself.
“That’s it, Mort!”
“I know how you got this bar, you dumb piece of shit!” Mort let it out—a thousand years of being that weakling on the beach. He slugged Joe with a brutal left hook.
“Let it out. You’re finally free, Mort!”
“You’ve never come by anything honestly!” He raged not against Joe, but a history of people he’d met or never met that had kept him down. “Just dumb luck and cheating. Well now the tables are turned!”
“They are, aren’t they, Mort?” joined the Chief.
“My name is not Mac and guess what? I know your dirty little secret.”
“No Mort! No! The details!”
“I know all about you and Chief Mondo Pu-pu, Joe. Like everything, you couldn’t appreciate what you had and now I’ve got access to the temple. It’s me and Chief Mondo Pu-pu now, and we’re going to take over the world!”
“No! Mort!!” the Tiki-King screamed. “You idiot!”
“What do you mean, no?” Mort turned around to face the golden god. Before he received an answer, Joe brought a keg of lite beer down across his head and everything went dark.
Mort opened his eyes to the cruel shine of the bathroom’s fluorescent lights and peeled his head off the sticky floor. He made out sounds from beyond the bathroom door. Official sounding voices, the screeching of a walkie-talkie.
Mort raised himself up. For a good time call Nate was scrawled on the bathroom wall beside him. To his relief the voice of Mondo Pu-Pu came to him again.
“You lost, Mort. You dumb schmuck…”
“I did? But…you were going to help me…”
“I was! Until you screwed everything up. You told Joe about us.”
“But Joe already knows …”
“Mort, Mort. You just weren’t cut out for this life. He didn’t know about us, but that doesn’t matter. You broke the vow and it’s over. Now the bond is not broken and I’m still under the thumb of that dipshit. And you’re here on the bathroom floor with two cops outside waiting to haul you off to jail.”
“No. What do we do now?”
“They’re the least of your problems, Mac.” The chief cut him off with a big sigh. Mort felt a constricting around his body. His shirt was tightening somehow. Mort scrambled back against the wall, pulling at it.
“Wait. What’s going on? What are you doing?”
“You broke the pact, I gotta act. You’ve got to go, Mort.”
“Go?” A button popped off his Hawaiian shirt as it squeezed tighter. It was as if the fabric was fusing with his body…
“You know what I mean…”
“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Sure you didn’t. Petty-fraud. Attempted murder of a bartender. Breaking the sacred vow of Tiki-La…”
Breath was barely coming now. “But…but Joe broke…the vow too. Why don’t…”
“I kill Joe? Well, you were supposed to help me with that, weren’t you, Mort?”
“But…” Two more buttons popped off. The florescent lights were being swallowed by some mysterious darkness.
“Don’t worry. Someday Joe will get what he deserves. Someday someone more capable will come along to help. Until then, I guess I’ll just wait up on the shelf”
“Don’t worry, Mort. It’s better this way, Mort. Dead is more your style. Ssssh. That’s right mort. Sssssshhh…”
Darkness sucked up the world. Everything: Hope, which there was very little, and pain, which there had been a lot. When Mort opened his eyes again he was peering down on the bar from above. He could see Joe, totally unmarked from their battle, talking to the cop below.
“I don’t know. He was talking all sorts of crazy stuff. Mumbling. Said he owned the bar, was some sort of god. Next thing I know he’s swinging a bottle at me, so’s I knocked him out.“ Joe held up a meaty fist as illustration.
The cop wrote this down on his little pad like it mattered. “Hey Carl. Carl,” came a lady’s voice.
“You better call the meat wagon. I think we got a stiff here…”
“What? Just now?”
“He’s not responsive. How much did he drink?”
The male cop looked at Joe, who just shrugged. “He was fine. He said he could handle it.”
“Shit.” The cop pinched the button on his shoulder radio. “Central. Bring an ambulance. We need to scrape some guy off the floor.”
“Who was this guy? Was he a regular?”
“Yeah. He was here all the time. Didn’t really know him well. All I know is his name was Mac.”
The cop wrote that down. Somewhere, Polynesian music played in the distance and Mort felt a tropical breeze across his face. Mort tried to step back but couldn’t. He couldn’t move. Suddenly he realized where he was… He was atop the temple of booze, peering through Chief Mondo Pu-Pu’s gleeful, mysterious eyes…and he could not close them, and he could not look away.
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