Thursday, April 21, 2016
THE DEVIL’S BREW
By Daniel Skye
“You know what sex is like?” Paxton asked, not even granting Denny enough time to formulate a response. “Sex is a lot like pizza. When it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it’s still pretty damn good.”
“Only you would compare sex to pizza,” Denny said and chuckled.
They made sure to stick to the trail as they walked. The trail was narrow, but the dirt was smooth and it was safer than trotting through the grass on either side of it. The grass was knee-high in certain spots, and swarming with ticks. Denny had walked in that grass one time on a dare from Paxton, and he pulled seven bloodsuckers off himself that night.
The further they ventured, the taller the grass became. At one point, the grass was waist-high and scorched yellow from the wrathful sun.
Waist-high grass. Fallen trees. Benches tagged with graffiti. The Ravensville Nature Preserve was in need of some major upkeep. Years of neglect had turned a once pristine preserve into a shabby hangout for delinquent teenagers.
The town had given up on the preserve. And the deputies didn’t even bother venturing back there anymore. They used to go back there and put a scare into the local kids, confiscate their beer or weed. All it usually resulted in was a summons for underage drinking or a stern lecture that the teens immediately disregarded.
But Ravensville was a small town, and the sheriff had a limited roster of deputies. And the sheriff also remembered what it was once like to be young and foolish. And so he told his deputies to mellow out and focus on more pressing priorities.
The trail was far too narrow for them to walk side-by-side. And with Denny’s weight issues, he couldn’t keep up with Paxton as it was. So he found himself trailing behind him.
As a freshman, Denny was pushing three hundred pounds. By his sophomore year, Denny was down to two-eighty. And now, as a junior, he had slimmed down to two-sixty. But he was still carrying a lot of weight for a teenager. Denny was of average height, and his doctor had informed him that the ideal weight for a boy of his height was around one-eighty. Which meant that Denny still had about eighty pounds to go before reaching his goal.
“I’m serious, man,” Paxton went on. “Could you imagine a world without pizza? It would be like a world with no sex. And I don’t know about you, man, but a world without pizza or sex is not the kind of world I want to live in.”
“I guess I could live without pizza,” Denny said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Blasphemy!” Paxton cried and made the sign of the cross. “Forgive him, Father. He knows not what he says. Between you and me, Father, I think he’s a little touched in the head.”
“You know I can hear you, right?”
“Congratulations, you passed the hearing test,” Paxton retorted. “Okay, I got a better one. Sex is like Pringles. Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.”
“Shouldn’t it be, ‘until you pop, the fun don’t stop’? ‘Once you pop’ makes it sound like you’ve already shot your load.”
“Okay, give me a minute and I’ll come up with another analogy.”
Denny groaned. “Are you going somewhere with all of this?”
“Yes. How do I put this delicately? You need to get laid, dude.”
“I’m worried about you, man. I don’t want you going all serial killer on us. If you don’t get laid soon, you’re liable to go bonkers.”
“Alright, I get it,” Denny sighed, wishing Paxton would learn to mind his business sometimes. They reached a fork in the trail and went left. Paxton started walking backwards so he could face Denny while he talked. Denny sort of wanted to see him walk backwards into a tree. Maybe it would finally shut him up.
“I don’t think you get it, man. If anyone needs to get laid, it’s you. Look how uptight you are. Look at how you’re walking. You’re like a soldier marching into battle. Relax, dude. You don’t have to be so tense all the time. Bustin’ a nut would really help relieve some of that tension.”
“You say it like I’ve never gotten laid before. I’ve had sex.”
“Yeah, twice. With the same girl. Jillian Marcus. A total porker.”
“She’s not fat,” Denny spoke in her defense. “She’s just big boned.”
“Yeah, that’s what every fat person uses as an excuse.”
“Who cares if she’s fat or skinny? Fat girls aren’t any different. They need loving too. And they give better head than skinny girls do.”
“You would know. Look, all I’m saying is if you don’t get laid again real soon, you’re dick is gonna shrivel up, turn itself inside out, and turn into a vagina.”
“Great,” Denny said. “Then I could fuck myself.”
“I don’t see how that could possibly work…”
“Never mind. Look, don’t worry about me. I’ve got my eye on someone special.”
“Oh, you’re saving yourself? Ha. For who?”
“Kasey Lockhart? Dude, move on already. You guys were friends in the fourth fucking grade. She hasn’t talked to you in years. She doesn’t even know you exist. Girls like Kasey Lockhart don’t date guys like us. Not in the real world, man.”
“Never say never,” Denny maintained, refusing to acknowledge his dream girl was exactly that-A dream.
“And you know she’s dating Brad Snyder? That dude is the size of a Jeep. He would stomp a mud hole in your ass if he caught you even staring at his girl.”
“I’d just kick him the balls and run away.”
“Hah! I’d like to see how that goes.”
The trail was cut off eventually by a section of chain-link fence that stretched for half a mile in both directions. You could see the highway on the opposite side of the fence. But with cars traveling as fast as sixty-five miles per hour, the drivers couldn’t see Paxton Jones and Denny Fisher.
Nobody came this far back in the preserve. Nobody except kids like Paxton and Denny. They had their own little unofficial clubhouse back there, complete with white plastic lawn chairs, a card table, and a shallow fire pit that Paxton had dug one cold winter night.
They kicked aside dozens of empty beer cans and pulled up a seat at the card table.
“I still can’t believe it,” Paxton droned on. “Kasey Lockhart. Kasey is like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct and you’re…the guy who played Rocky Dennis in Mask.”
“Honesty can be a real friendship killer,” Denny quipped.
“Just shut up and give me a forty,” Paxton said. Then he added, “Please.”
“Only because you said please.”
Denny slid his backpack off his shoulders, opened it up, and pulled out two forty-ounce bottles of King Cobra. He passed one to Paxton, opened the other, and took a swig. King Cobra is malt liquor, about as cheap as it comes.
They only sold them at the gas station around the block from Denny’s house. Thankfully, the attendant never requested to see ID. The attendant was an older man with thinning black hair and he had clearly lost his passion for the job, if he ever had any passion to begin with. He wasn’t concerned with losing his job or costing the station their license.
“Since you were lecturing me before, let’s hear about your sexual conquests,” Denny said. “When was the last time you even got laid?”
“I had sex last weekend,” Paxton bragged.
“With a girl?” Denny asked and chortled.
“Jeez. And you were breaking my balls about Jillian Marcus? At least she’s clean. Selina is a total slut. Double bagging it wouldn’t even help with a girl like that. You’d have to triple bag it and top it off with a shot of penicillin.”
“She was worth the risk,” Paxton assured him.
They drank their beers and watched the cars roll by on the other side of the fence. Then Denny dug into his backpack again and took out a pack of rolling papers and a gram of weed.
He pinched the bag open with his fingers and held it up to his nose. It had almost no smell and looked more like dirt than marijuana.
But he figured if he used it all, they’d at least get a buzz. He broke the weed up on the card table and packed as much as he could into two sheets of rolling paper.
“This pot is weak,” Denny said as his stubby, sausage-link fingers finished rolling the perfect joint. “But it should do the job.”
Since it was Denny’s handiwork, he did the honors of lighting the joint. He took two puffs and passed it to Paxton. Paxton took two tokes and passed it back to Denny. They continued this cycle until the joint burned down to a tiny nub between Paxton’s fingers.
Then Paxton started laughing, sparked by a distant memory he found humorous. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t even share what was so funny with Denny.
Soon, his laughter became infectious and they were both laughing hysterically. Laughing and giggling at absolutely nothing.
“I’ve got the munchies,” Denny said.
“When don’t you have the munchies?” Paxton quipped.
“Hey, remember when we got the munchies the first time we smoked and we microwaved those leftover burgers from All American, still wrapped in the foil. We turned around for a second and the whole microwave went up in flames.”
“How could I forget?”
“I’ll definitely never forget the look on your dad’s face.”
“I’ll definitely never forget how hard he hit me,” Paxton muttered.
“Sorry, dude. Sorry I brought it up.”
“No, it’s alright. It’s not the first time he hit me, and it won’t be the last.”
“Artie can be a real dickhead too sometimes.”
“Yeah, but he’s not your dad. He’s not even your stepdad.”
“I know. He just hangs around to fuck my mom, drink her beer, and share his insightful philosophies on life.”
“Jeez, sounds like you have it rough,” Paxton feigned sympathy.
“Don’t patronize me, prick. It’s rude.”
Denny let Paxton finish the joint. Well, he didn’t exactly let him finish. Paxton just hogged it towards the end and Denny was too polite to ask for it back.
“It’s getting dark,” Denny pointed out.
“I have eyes,” Paxton said.
“We should probably head home.”
“What’s the rush? I’m not in a hurry. Gary Jones is probably wasted and has another beating in store for me.”
“You call your dad by his first and last name?”
“I don’t even consider him my pops at this point. He’s just a guy I live under the same roof with.”
“You want to crash at my house? My mom won’t mind.”
“Nah. I just wait for Gary to get drunk and fall asleep. He’s usually passed out in front of the TV by eight o’clock. I just need to kill two hours.”
“Well, if you’re staying out, I guess I’m staying out with you.”
“That’s why I love you, Danny.”
“Denny,” he corrected him.
“Whatevs. Hey, I got an idea. You know that abandoned strip mall on Ludovico Street?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I bet you there’s still a few cases of booze in the liquor mart on the corner.”
“How would we get in? The place has those rolling metal doors that are all locked up.”
“There’s a back entrance to the cellar. We could probably pry it open with a crowbar.”
“I don’t know, dude. It’s risky.”
“We can make some money off this.”
“I’m listening,” Denny said, intrigued.
“If we find any booze, we can sell to the seniors at a discount. Instead of using their fake IDs and buying liquor from the market, they can get their shit from us. Who cares if we sell it for a discount when the money is all profit?”
“Alright, you talked me into it. Lead the way, Capone.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Well you aware of the prohibition era?” Denny inquired.
“Was that when the stock market crashed?”
Denny let a sigh of exhaustion. “There are serious gaps in your education.”
“Tell me about it. The public school system sucks. All they want is for us to get passing grades so the school gets more funding. They don’t care if we learn anything.”
“At least we missed out on all that common core math bullshit.”
“Are you ready for this?” Paxton asked as he led the way, walking back the same way they had come.
“I think so,” Denny said, steeling himself for the challenge. “But if the cops show up, I doubt I can outrun them.”
“They won’t show up. Ludovico Street is virtually deserted since the strip mall closed. And the alarms have all been disabled.”
“How can you be sure?”
“You know the bagel shop two-doors over from the liquor mart?”
“Yeah,” Denny said, not sure where this was going.
“That’s where Selina Burns and I, you know…”
“I didn’t need to know that. But thank God the place is closed down, because if it was open, I’d never eat a bagel there again.”
Ravensville, Pennsylvania is just a dot on a map. With a population of twelve hundred people, the town doesn’t even qualify as an actual town. The town billboard refers to Ravensville as a village. The biggest moneymaker is the Godfrey steel mill, which employs over five hundred residents of Ravensville.
The town gazebo is the only other highlight. And half the time, it’s occupied by loitering teens who have to be chased away by the local authorities.
Even after the recession ended, shops and stores were closing left and right. Local businesses could not sustain in this economy. That’s why the strip mall on Ludovico Street was abandoned.
There were no streetlamps on Ludovico Street, and seeing as how they were about to break the law, Denny was grateful for the lack of light. The cover of darkness helped mask his girth and made them practically invisible. If someone saw them from a distance, they’d appear as nothing more than moving silhouettes.
“What’s Eugene Darbo been doing with himself nowadays?” Denny asked. Darbo, a fellow junior at Ravensville High, used to follow them around constantly. But he stopped hanging around once he got a girlfriend. Though, the relationship didn’t last long. They had already been broken up for a while, but Denny still hadn’t seen Eugene outside of school.
“Ever since he broke up with his girlfriend, I heard he’s been doing a lot of arm cardio if you catch my drift.”
“Probably using his tears as lubricant.”
“That’s harsh,” Paxton said as they walked around back of the strip mall. “This is it,” he said, tapping his foot against the flat doors of the cellar. They had stopped off at Denny’s house along the way and swiped a crowbar and a flashlight from the toolshed.
“Personally, I’m shocked Eugene even got a girlfriend in the first place.”
Paxton pried the steel doors open and said, “After you.” Denny produced the flashlight, turned it on, and focused the light on a short set of wooden stairs. He descended first, walking face first into the cobwebs.
“Now I see why you wanted me to go first,” Denny muttered.
He shook off the cobwebs and focused the light on the stairs again so Paxton could see where he was going. When they were both in the cellar, Denny shined the light around to get a better look.
“This place is bare,” Denny sighed. “I knew there wouldn’t be anything left.”
“What a bummer,” Paxton said. In an act of frustration, he kicked one of the walls. It was the only thing to do. There was nothing for him to throw or smash. And he wasn’t about to break his knuckles by punching a cement wall.
If it wasn’t for his boots, he could’ve broken a few toes. But he knew the boots would protect him. But when Paxton kicked the wall, it sure didn’t sound like cement. His boot made a loud thump against the wall.
Paxton pressed his ear to the cement wall, and tapped it gently with his open palm.
“What is it?” Denny asked.
“We’re about to find out,” Paxton said. Paxton kicked the wall again, and again, and again until he finally put his boot straight through it.
“Are you Superman?”
“Hardly,” Paxton said, using his fists to take down the rest of the wall. “It’s a fake wall. Nothing but drywall glossed over to look like cement.”
Paxton took the flashlight from Denny and entered the secret room. “Maybe this place was a speakeasy back in the day,” Denny suggested, trying to come up with some plausible explanation.
He was expecting Paxton to ask him what a speakeasy was. But Paxton didn’t respond.
“Give it up,” Denny said. “You’re not going to find anything back there.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Paxton said, dusting off a case. He ripped the top off and read the label on the bottle: THE DEVIL’S BREW – 100 PROOF
He tucked the flashlight under his arm and lifted the case, carrying it out with him. “Lookie what I found.”
“Never heard of this shit,” Denny said, checking out one of the bottles. He tried to Google it with his phone, but his search turned up nil.
“All I found was a small blurb. Says it was discontinued the same year they put it on the market. That was 1978.”
“Strange,” Paxton said. “All these bottles say 1979.”
“You mean the Internet lied about something? Why would the Internet do that?”
“Har-dee-fucking-har. Now quit dicking around with your phone and give me a hand carrying this up.”
“You going to drink all those bottles?”
“Nah, but it’s hundred proof. I bet we can get at least five dollars a bottle for it.”
“Seniors. They’re always looking for booze on a Friday night.”
“You’re a real entrepreneur, Paxton.”
“Hey, we’re not selling drugs. It’s just liquor. And hey, we found it. Finders, keepers. Why not make a quick buck? It’s all profit.”
“Anything for a buck, huh?”
“Damn right. I’m not above stealing hubcaps and manhole covers and selling them, either.”
“I don’t doubt it. Now let’s scram before somebody sees us and calls the cops.”
“Where are we gonna stash the booze?”
“My house. If your dad gets to it before we sell it, we won’t see a dime.”
* * *
Gary Jones was passed out in his recliner in front of the TV, just as his son had predicted. Paxton tiptoed past his snoring father and slipped into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and saw the door shelves lined with Yuengling.
Only once had Paxton dared to swipe his father’s beer. His dad nearly beat him into a coma for that infraction. Stealing a beer from Gary Jones was akin to spitting on his momma’s grave. It was a line you didn’t cross, and Paxton had to learn the hard way.
Paxton grabbed a soda from the top shelf and crept up the stairs to his bedroom.
“One of these days, old man,” Paxton muttered under his breath. “One of these days I’m going to put you in your place.”
* * *
Denny Fisher had stashed the case of Devil’s Brew under his porch. His mom or her boyfriend wouldn’t think to look there for any reason.
Artie was neck deep in the refrigerator when Denny walked in, his eyes frantically searching for a can of beer. He spotted the last Pabst behind a pitcher of iced tea and grabbed it like someone else was going to get it before he did.
He popped it open, foam spraying all over the kitchen floor. “I told your mom to buy more beer,” Artie muttered.
“Why don’t you buy it, Artie? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have a job.”
“Don’t sass me, boy. I’ve had a rough day.”
“Sitting on your ass?”
“Denny, if you were my kid, I’d whip the skin off of you.”
“Artie, if I was your kid, I’d jump in front of a bus. Where’s my mom?”
“Working. Somebody has to pay the bills around here.”
“And that somebody certainly isn’t you.”
“I don’t see you contributing.”
The doorbell rang. Artie and Denny were in a stalemate. Neither of them wanted to budge. All Denny wanted was to heat up some baked ziti, eat, take a shower, and call it a night.
“You gonna answer that or what?” Artie asked, sipping his beer.
Denny stomped to the front door and was greeted by Eugene Darbo’s pimply, acne scarred face. “Eugene? What the hell are you doing here? It’s after nine and we have school tomorrow.”
“I talked to Paxton. He said you guys are selling bottles of liquor at five bucks a pop. I need some for this Friday night. There’s a big house party and I’m trying to get in.”
“Paxton already told you? Damn, that kid doesn’t waste a minute.”
“He told everybody. Sent out a tweet earlier. You guys should be busy tomorrow.”
“Great. Just great. Give me the money.”
Eugene handed him a crumpled up five dollar bill and Denny got him his bottle of liquor.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Denny said. “Now let me get some sleep.”
Curiosity got the better of Eugene Darbo that night. He couldn’t wait till Friday. In his room, he unscrewed the cap and gave it a whiff. He wasn’t going to drink the whole bottle. He just wanted a taste.
One swig left him writhing on the floor. The aptly named Devil’s Brew seared his throat and made his insides boil.
A mix of blood and thick yellowish pus oozed from every orifice. Trembling, he rolled onto his stomach, and tried to crawl towards the door. But his fingers sank into the carpet, melting down to his knuckles. He was incapable of crying out. The liquor had partially dissolved his tongue.
His face turned to putty and his eyes exploded from their sockets. Long after Eugene went limp, his remains continued to dissolve into the carpet.
It was just after midnight when his parents found him.
* * *
When Denny woke up for school the next morning, Paxton was already waiting outside. This was the first time Paxton was excited about going to school. Today he was actually getting paid for it.
They crawled under the porch and loaded their backpacks with Devil’s Brew, which they stashed in their lockers when they got to school. It didn’t take long for word to spread. And Paxton had put the word out on every form of social media.
Once the jocks, the hipsters, and the stoners caught wind of Paxton and Denny’s little business venture, the booze was flying off the shelves of their lockers. Everyone was buying in bulk and stocking up for Friday night.
Denny and Paxton even got themselves invited to a house party.
“Nobody ever invites us to parties,” Paxton said. “This is huge. This is tits huge.”
“I don’t think I’m going to go,” Denny said, apprehensive. He was awkward when it came to social gatherings. Paxton and Eugene Darbo were about the only two people he ever hung around with.
“Oh come on, man. Don’t puss out on me.”
“I’m not pussing out. It’s just not my thing.”
“Would you change your mind if I told you Kasey Lockhart is going to be there?”
“Kasey is going? Why didn’t you just say that in the first place? I’m there, man.”
“That’s my boy.”
“Wait a minute…whose party are we invited to?”
“When were you planning to tell me this?”
“When you asked me. Duh.”
“Holy shit, dudes,” Adam Green exclaimed as he came rushing towards them. “Tell me you heard about Eugene Darbo.”
“What about Eugene Darbo?” Denny asked. He felt a sharp pang in his stomach.
“His parents found him dead in his room. The story’s already out. People are saying his body melting like freaking candle wax.”
“How is that even possible?” Paxton inquired.
“I don’t know, man. Almost anything is possible. What about spontaneous combustion?”
“Well I’ve never heard of someone spontaneously melting.”
“What else are they saying?” Denny asked, feeling a bit faint.
“Ah, all sorts of stories are going around. I heard his face looked like melted cheese. It looked like that to begin with though, so it was probably hard to tell.”
“Hey, have some respect,” Denny chided.
“Jeez, sorry, didn’t know you were so close. Anyways, rumor has it you guys are selling cheap liquor at five bucks a pop.”
“The rumors are very true,” Paxton assured him.
“I’ll take a bottle.”
Paxton slipped a bottle from his backpack into Adam’s bag, and Adam slipped him the five bucks.
“You going to Brad Snyder’s party tomorrow?”
“If I can get in,” Adam said.
* * *
“What are the results?” Detective Gomez asked. He was a tall, lean, well-groomed man who always wore a suit and tie. And he always played it by the book. He never bent the rules, never took a bribe. But he also knew how to mind his own business. Nobody likes a rat in his line of work. Better to keep your mouth shut and turn a blind eye.
Gomez’s only fault was that he drank. A lot. But compared to some of his co-workers, the guy was practically a Mormon.
Gomez was a city detective, but when the sheriff’s office of Ravensville was not equipped to handle a case such as this, Gomez stepped in.
“Patience detective,” the coroner told him. “Something like this takes time. You can’t expect results overnight. Keep in mind it’s not like we have much to work with here. Even his eyes melted.”
Gomez perused the liquefied remains on the examining table. “His face looks like melted cheese.”
“I think the poor kid looked like that to begin with. Pizza face, if you know what I’m saying.”
“Could it be that fire jelly they used in Vietnam?”
“Napalm? Nah. Napalm doesn’t do this. We’re looking at something entirely different.”
“The report said the kid had a bottle of liquor on him. What was he drinking?”
“Something called the Devil’s Brew.”
“I’ve never heard of it and I’ve been drinking for fifteen years.”
“It could be new.”
“Well, I’m going to find out what I can about it. It could have something to do with this.”
“You think he was poisoned?”
“Maybe. Call me if you get any results.”
* * *
Adam Green tried to slip the bottle of Devils Brew past his parents, but Donald Green had been watching his son like a hawk ever since he found a bag of marijuana in Adam’s sock drawer.
Adam let himself in through the side door and tiptoed through the kitchen. The living room was dark, but he could hear the television going. It was after dark and his parents were watching Wheel of Fortune.
He crept through the hallway that joined the kitchen and the living room, and tried to slip up the stairs. He was halfway up the stairs when his father called out, “Adam, is that you?”
Adam shivered. “Yeah, I’m home dad.”
“Why are you home so late? And why are you trying to sneak up to your room? Come down here this instant.”
Adam turned and descended the stairs, stopped at the bottom step as his father walked toward him. Donald looked at his eyes first to see if they were bloodshot. He looked sober, but Donald could tell he was hiding something from him.
“Open your jacket,” his dad ordered him.
Adam reluctantly opened his jacket and his father saw the liquor tucked in the inside pocket. He grabbed it and showed it to his wife, Marcy.
“Where’d you get the hooch, son?” Donald asked.
“I bought it off some kids at school.”
“What were you thinking?” Marcy asked, shaking her head in disappointment.
“Explain yourself,” Donald barked.
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Adam said. “Everyone my age drinks from time to time.”
“Well, you’re not the same as everyone your age,” Marcy said. “You’re our son. And we won’t have you turning out like those other degenerates.”
“Your mom is right,” Donald said. “I’ll be keeping this. Now get up to your room. You’re grounded until Monday.”
Adam didn’t retort. Just walked up the stairs in defeat. His plans for the perfect Friday night had just gone down the toilet.
“I’ve never heard of this brand,” Donald remarked to Marcy. She returned to the living room to catch the end of the show. Donald stayed in the foyer, examining the bottle.
“Cheap shit,” Donald said to himself. “Probably got ripped off.”
He unscrewed the cap and gave it a whiff. It had a strong, bitter aroma. “Ah, what the hell,” he shrugged. “Cheers.”
He took a swig and retched. The bottle slipped from his fingers, falling to the floor. The liquor seeped into the carpet, melting the fabric.
Donald Green struggled to retain his balance, but his legs were turning to jelly. He fell forward, face down on the carpet. The thump alerted Marcy, who got up from the couch to see if her husband was all right.
Donald tried to speak but his tongue had disintegrated and his chin was glued to the carpet. When he tried to peel his face from the carpet, the lower half of his jaw came with it. Marcy took one look at her husband, screamed, and lost consciousness.
Adam came rushing down the stairs and found his mother unconscious and his father’s body reduced to nothing more than a viscous puddle of flesh.
* * *
It was early Friday morning when Gomez got the call.
“Is that you, Ray?” Gomez grumbled, half asleep. “It has to be you. No one else would call me at this ungodly hour.”
“It’s six AM,” Ray informed him. “Most people are out of bed and on their way to work by now.”
“Well I’m not most people and I need my beauty sleep.”
“No beauty sleep for you today, I’m afraid. We have another body. Donald Green. Same circumstances. Same brand of liquor at the scene. And Naylor, some computer geek who works in forensics, went digging for you. He found some interesting shit on the Internet. And trust me, this ain’t the kind of stuff you find on Google.”
“Is there anything left of this Green fella?”
“Not much to work with. His wife saw it happen. Fainted. And his son witnessed it too. In her statement, the wife said the son was the one who brought the liquor into his house.”
“I need to speak with him as soon as possible,” Gomez said. “I assume he isn’t going to class today?”
“Class? Buddy, this kid’s going to need years of therapy. I don’t think he’s going to class for a while.”
“It’s a bit of a drive out to Ravensville. Give me some time. I’ll stop by the station beforehand and see what Naylor came up with. Calls the sheriff’s office in Ravensville and have a deputy waiting there to escort me to the Green residence when I arrive.”
“Will do,” Ray said and ended the call.
Paxton and Denny arrived early for the party. Denny was too anxious to even knock, so Paxton did it for him. They heard Brad Snyder shouting, “Would somebody get that?”
The door opened and Denny looked up from the porch and met eyes with Kasey Lockhart. She looked stunning in her red sequin dress with a slit that went all the way up her right thigh.
“We’re here for the party,” Denny choked the words out.
“Obviously,” Kasey said and rolled her eyes. “Well, come in if you’re coming in.”
The guys didn’t want to appear rude to their host, so they came bearing the very last bottle of Devil’s Brew they had in their possession. And they had stopped off at the gas station and picked up a few beers from the mini mart for themselves.
Many of their fellow classmates had shown up early as well. While Denny followed Kasey around like a puppy on a leash, trying to get her attention, Paxton went straight for the kegs. Sure, they had beer of their own, but Paxton never turned down free beer in his life. He poured himself a cup and made the rounds, slapping hands and bumping fists with his classmates who in any other situation would’ve ignored him. But since Paxton and Denny technically supplied most of the liquor for this party, they were kings for the night.
But Brad Snyder didn’t see them as kings, especially Denny Fisher. He saw Denny as an ant about to be crushed. Brad Snyder, all two hundred and thirty pounds of him, was keeping a watchful eye over Kasey. And he certainly didn’t appreciate Denny’s desperate efforts to gain Kasey’s attention.
When Denny saw Brad grilling him out of the corner of his eye, he bailed and went to find Paxton. He decided it wasn’t worth the beating. Denny knew he outweighed Brad by at least thirty pounds. But he didn’t have Brad’s height, Brad’s strength, or Brad’s athletic abilities. There was no way Denny could take him in a fight.
Paxton was already making friends and wondering why nobody had touched the Devil’s Brew yet. But it appeared everyone seemed to be working themselves up to the hard liquor. But when nine o’clock rolled around and the music was blasting and Brad Snyder cracked open the first bottle, everyone took that as their cue to take the party up a notch.
Before the bottle could even touch Brad’s lips, a scream pierced his ear and someone spat blood all over his blue Lacoste shirt.
It spread like a plague. Their classmates were keeling over left and right. There were screams, followed by incomprehensible mumbles as the liquor devoured their tongues like acid.
Denny and Paxton watched the horror evolve, unable to move. Those that had not touched the liquor were running for the door. And those that had were dropping like flies.
Neil Pearson was hunched over a wastebasket, literally puking his guts up.
Travis Moriarty’s eyes were trickling from their sockets.
Nick Wells was on his knees, clutching at his belly as the liquor burned a hole right through his stomach and liquefied his internal organs.
Amidst the horror show that had unfolded, Denny broke off from Paxton to find Kasey. He found her in the kitchen, using the house phone to call 911. Denny could not avoid stepping in the blood. It was everywhere now–the floor, the walls, even dripping from the ceiling.
“Kasey, I know we haven’t talked in years and I know you think nothing of me, but we have to get out of here now.”
“What have you done?” a voice screamed. Denny tried not to flinch at the sound of Brad’s voice. “What did you do to the liquor? Did you poison it? Did you swipe acid from the chemistry lab and put it in?”
“Paxton and I found the case in the abandoned liquor mart on Ludovico Street. I swear I didn’t know anything about this. I never even tried the stuff. Paxton and I were just trying to make a quick buck.”
Brad clenched his fists and took a swing. Because of his weight, Denny was not known for his speed. But he had anticipated the punch and managed to move out of the way. Brad’s knuckles collided with the wall behind Denny.
But that didn’t stop or slow him down. He shook it off like it was nothing. And a furious Brad came charging at him again.
Denny knew there was no way he could take Brad Snyder in a real fight. So he did exactly what he told Paxton he would do. He kicked Brad square in the balls. Even a guy with his size and strength is not impervious to the great equalizer.
He went down like a sack of potatoes and Denny grabbed Kasey’s arm and said, “Let’s go, now.” He didn’t stammer. He didn’t choke. He spoke with authority. It was a side of Denny that Kasey had never seen before. And surprisingly–even to Kasey–she kind of liked it.
He took her by the hand and led her from the kitchen to the living room, where he looked for Paxton. But Paxton was already a ghost. He was gone and so was the bottle of Devil’s Brew they had brought to the party.
The front door was wide open, so Detective Gomez let himself in.
The body at the coroner’s office, seeing Donald Green’s remains, talking to his son, Adam–None of that had prepared Gomez for any of this.
Kasey and Denny were running for the door when they brushed past him. “Who the hell are you?” Denny just had to ask.
“Detective Victor Gomez. And it appears I’m too late.”
“How did you know to come here?”
“A fellow student of yours, Adam Green told me about the liquor and the party. The Devil’s Brew, is there any left? We have to dump it. All of it.”
“Everyone either drank it or tossed it. My friend, Paxton, I think he has a bottle of it. But I don’t know where he went.”
“Well, if you have a phone, call him. Tell him not to drink it.”
“What do you know about this stuff? Is it toxic?”
“You could say that. It was created in 1978, but it was pulled from the market before it even hit shelves because of its acidic properties, and the discovery of its high level of toxicity. Then the government found out about it. They refined the recipe, tweaked it, and rereleased it in 1979, marketing the booze specifically to hobos, derelicts, strays. It was an attempt to eradicate the homeless population, wipe them all out. Most bottles were either sold or destroyed when the operation was put to bed, but some cases of Devil’s Brew are still unaccounted for.”
Kasey was listening, but Denny was barely paying attention by the end. Every time he tried Paxton’s phone, it went straight to voicemail.
“Paxton, where’d you go?” Denny shouted into his phone. “It’s the liquor. Whatever you do, do not drink the liquor. Dump it. Smash the bottle. Pour it down the drain. Just please don’t drink it.”
But Paxton wasn’t answering his calls because Paxton was sprinting home with a bottle of Devil’s Brew tucked into his jacket.
Paxton knew his father could not resist the temptation to imbibe. Getting him to drink the liquor would be easier than scoring pot at a Phish concert. All he had to do was wave the bottle in front of him. If Gary Jones refused, Paxton would taunt, manipulate, and pressure him into it. He’d force the booze down his throat if he had to.
“I think I know where he’s going,” Denny said. “Gomez, can you give me a ride? We have to stop him.”
“Where is he going?”
“And what’s home?”
* * *
Denny was the first one through the front door. He put one hand over his mouth to stifle a scream. Gary Jones was on his hands and knees, trying to crawl for the door as he dripped blood and pus from every orifice. He made it about ten feet past the couch before he collapsed. A horrible gurgling sound emanated from his belly as the liquor reduced his organs to a thick stew.
Denny, Kasey, Gomez all stood aghast as the liquor ate through his stomach. The body split in half at the waistline, and all of Gary Jones came flooding out.
Paxton had used a funnel, forced the entire bottle down his father’s throat in one shot.
“I always knew it was going to end this way,” Paxton sighed. “Well, I didn’t know it was going to be this damn messy. But this was inevitable. This bastard had it coming. That’s for every time he ever hit me. For every bottle he threw at me. Every cigarette he burned me with. Every scar he gave me. I hope it was worth it, old man.”
“Paxton, I’m Detective Victor Gomez. And I’m afraid you just confessed to murder. I can’t look away from this, kid. No matter how bad you say your father was, that’s for a judge and jury to decide. Not me. Plus there’s the matter of your deceased classmates. We have a lot to discuss at the sheriff’s office.”
“Of course, detective,” Paxton said, indifferent. “But first, can I offer you a drink?”