“Pour me some music.”
“I need something more specific.” The bartender frowned at Gavin.
He frowned right back. “You got anything old? I need something vintage.”
“Course. We got the reconstituted stuff.”
“No. I want the real deal. I don’t want to drink some cover band.”
“It’ll cost you.”
“I don’t care right now.”
The bartender shrugged. “All right. Give me a moment.”
As the large man vanished into the backroom, Gavin glanced around the bar. A neon sign buzzed in the window. Several banners from local FDA units graced the wall. Two pool tables lay unused in a back corner. It wasn’t too busy this time of day. No one was off work yet. Not any of the regulars, anyway.
The bartender returned with a mug filled with a dark liquid. “You ever hear of the Blues Brothers? They were from way before they figured out how to ferment music.”
“But it’s not reconstituted?” Gavin squinted at the drink.
“Naw. Found some records. Vinyl’s the best way to get the old stuff, you know. My grandpa had it. This here’s a private brew.” He grinned.
“Garage mixes never turn out well.”
Gavin took the mug and sipped. Horns blared in his ears as notes danced over his tongue. He’d heard this song before, but always in bad mixes. “Sweet Home Chicago? Is this the original?”
“Well, not the original, near as I can tell, but closer than anything else you’ve ever had!”
“All right. Microbrewed to perfection. I like this.” Gavin sipped some more, savoring the tangy bouquet. He glanced around the bar again. No, still empty. “Say, you brew this yourself?”
“With some help. Not exactly FDA approved, but most of the regulars… well, they might fight for the FDA, but they’d rather have good drinks than monitored ones.” The bartender laughed. “Besides, they got bigger problems to deal with than some two-bit bar in the undercity. I just hope we win this one, you know?”
“Yeah. The war. You know, I worked for them for a while.” Gavin sipped before the music faded from his ears. Had to keep up a steady supply or the song would run out. He hated that. Starting the same song over and over again.
“The same. They were trying to figure out some way to get a leg up on the other side, hired me to come in as a specialist.”
The bartender shook his head. “Look, man, I don’t need to hear this.”
“No, wait. Listen. I was… I worked in a garage myself. Microbrews. They heard I had talent, brought me in. That’s why I’m picky about my garage mixes.” He lifted the mug. “I have discerning tastes.”
“And now you’re going to sell me your own.”
Gavin tried grinning and failed. “Well, yeah. How did you know?”
“You have no idea how many vets come in here trying to sell me. And you have no idea how much bad music I’ve tasted. No, thank you.”
“You know they used to ferment grains?” Gavin reached into his coat and plucked a phial from the inner recesses. He held up the lilac tube. “And when they found the exact combination of chemicals released by the brain when listening to appealing music and reverse-engineered it into a potent drink, we completely forgot about those old grains.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve drunk plenty of remixes about pina coladas.” The bartender glanced at the door and the clock.
“Well, the FDA always tried to figure out why they could ferment music but nothing else. Why not children playing? Why not the sound of weeping? Why not… why not lies? If they could ferment something like that and get it into the enemy’s water supply, they might be able to win the war.” Gavin kept his eyes locked on the lilac phial. “Well, we figured it out. Music is regular. It’s ordered. It has a rhythm we could translate into chemicals. Laughter and weeping… well, they’re just random sounds created by the human throat.”
The lone bar patron glanced down at his drink. “But I figured it out. Here. They used to call these boiler-makers, I think.” He poured the lilac phial into his mug and gestured to the bartender. “Try it.”
“That approved by the FDA?”
“My laughter liqueur is unapproved.”
“I ain’t gonna touch that.” The bartender harrumphed.
“I drank yours.”
“You bought mine. I didn’t make you drink it.”
Gavin sighed. “All right. But you’re wasting an opportunity.” He picked up the mug and toasted. “To your health.” He pitched the mug back, drinking deep.
Sweet Home Chicago. Yes, the music was there, running down his throat and singing in his ears. And with it… the sound of a child laughing.
Gavin teared up.
“I thought you said that was laughter?”
“It is. Sorry. It’s… someone I knew. The only time I hear him now is when I drink. And… and I can only handle hearing it when I drink.” Gavin set the mug down. “I’m sorry for wasting your time. Here.” He proffered a card. “Thanks for the drink, though. It was good. And I imagine it’s expensive.”
The bartender scanned the card. “Yeah, well, it’s on your bank account now.”
Gavin took another lavender phial from his coat. “Here, take this. My contact info’s right there. Sample it sometime. And call me if you want to do business.”
The bartender accepted the phial as he handed back the card. “No promises.”
“I understand.” Gavin stood and walked out into the undercity.
As soon as he was alone, the bartender sniffed at the uncapped phial. He ran a quick test. No, it looked safe to drink. Well, bottom’s up.
The bartender heard the laughter. So much laughter. The drink tasted acidic, like undiluted orange juice. It unsettled his stomach as the laughter continued in his ears. Little children. Taunting him. Like when he was younger. The sound danced in his ears and wedged in his mind. He couldn’t get the sound out. What was wrong?
He took a chaser. Some Tabor Seven ought to wash any influence out.
The music mocked him even as he downed it. The chaser didn’t get the taste of mocking laughter out of his mouth. It just made the sound louder.
As he walked down the street, hands in pockets, Gavin grinned. A few more military bars today ought to do it for here. Take out the loyal bartender, it should demoralize enough troops to make a difference. He whistled a jazzy tune.
Time to spread some more laughter around.