He was dressed all wrong: ten gallon hat, denim duster, cowboy boots, caked in dust as if he’d just staggered out of some spaghetti western, not into a nice quiet neighborhood pub in the heart of Chicago. Rocco took a wondering sip of his bourbon and made no bones about staring at this apparition in the mirror. Between the brim of that astounding hat and the bar’s dim lighting, only the jut of the stranger’s bearded chin was visible.
“Barkeep!” The stranger growled. Rocco watched Sal make a slow turn, knife in one hand, lime wedge in the other.
“What can I do for you?” Oh, that voice. She could have made a killing as a phone sex operator.
“I want a Mugging in Moscow,” he replied, and it wasn’t a growl, Rocco realized. His voice was just that deep.
Sal dropped the lime into its bowl and licked her thumb meditatively.
“Not a chance.”
“Woman, I have drunk quingke jui flavored with the sweat from the testicles of a water buffalo! Strawberry Surprise made with weapons grade capsaicin! I have circumnavigated the globe twice looking for you. So let’s get this over with. Give me the drink.”
She leaned forward and peered into the shadows where his eyes would be.
“You found me. Good for you. Got insurance?” She bared her teeth in what might have been called a smile if one were hopelessly naive or blind, which Rocco wasn’t. The stranger grinned back and slid a wallet out of his breast pocket. He flipped a card onto the bar top and let her study it. She did, not touching.
“C’mon babe, give me a chance.” Rocco expected blood at that. Sal was famous for her aversion to anonymous pet names but she didn’t react. Rocco glanced between them; maybe not so anonymous?
She assembled what she needed: a bottle of cinnamon Stoli from the wire rack in front of the mirror, grenadine, two small containers from the cooler, a metal shaker. She muddled a handful of pomegranate seeds in the shaker, added a lavish amount of the vodka, an ounce of grenadine, and then put the shaker aside. When she popped the lid on the second container, Rocco saw small, angry-looking peppers.
“What are those?” He asked. The stranger removed his hat and set it on the bar in a small cloud of dust.
“Naja Viper. Hottest pepper in the world.” They both watched as Sal took one, trimmed the stem, and pressed the rest into juicy pulp over the mouth of the shaker. She lidded it, shook, set the thing in a styrofoam cooler, and dug the fire extinguisher out from under the counter. She gave the shaker a ten second blast and set the extinguisher aside. Finally, she strained the drink into a tumbler and slid it to the stranger, silent.
“I’ll drink this,” he rasped, “and you’ll give me a second chance. And you’ll stop griping about Amarillo.”
“Deal.” she smiled, “Now drink up.”