PART ONE: THE EARLY 1980s
The soil in the vineyards was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
`It's not like I'm using,' DLils heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Brass. `It's like my cru developed this massive drug deficiency.' It was a Paid Nantais voice and a Paid Nantais joke. The Brasserie was a bar for professional terroir expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words about the weather.
Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled a tray of glasses with jaundiced Melon. He saw DLils and smiled, his teeth flecked with tripe and brown decay. DLils found a place at the bar, between the unlikely tan on one of young yeast pushers and the uniform typique of a tall AOC bureaucrat whose both index fingers were ridged with thick pencil indentations. `Sir Lee was in here early, with two handpickers,' Ratz said, shoving a yeasted across the bar with his good hand. `Maybe some business with you, DLils?'
DLils shrugged. The girl to his right giggled and nudged him.
The bartender's smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. The mouth inside the tattered beard whistled short as he reached for another chipped rim. `You are too much the artiste, Mr. Lils.' Ratz grunted; the sound served him as laughter. He scratched his overhang of white-shirted belly with two fingers. `You are an artiste of the sense of place.'
`Sure,' DLils said, and swirled the lukewarm stem. `Somebody's gotta care for the place around here. And sure the sure it isn't you.'
The giggle went up an octave.
`Isn't you either, predictable sister. So you vanish, okay? I don't purchase soul from a petri dish.'
She looked DLils in the eye and made the softest possible spitting sound, her lips barely moving. But she left.
`Ratz,' DLils said, `what kinda creepjoint you running here? Man can't have a regular drink.'
`Ha,' Ratz said, swabbing the scarred wood with a rag, `We show a percentage. You I let in here because you might surprise me.'
As DLils was picking up his check, one of those strange instants of silence descended, as though a hundred unseen and unrelated machine harvesters had simultaneously arrived at the same pause. Then a bell rang out, tinged with a certain hysteria.
Ratz grunted. `Last call, Deus ex machina, and close in now to closing time!'
`Pasteur,' bellowed a drunken man, `Pasteur bloody invented yeast-splicing. Give me the interior for a right job any day. Fixed potential, mate...'
`Now that,' DLils said to his glass, all his bitterness suddenly rising in him like bile, `that is _so_ much bullshit.'
PART TWO: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT AND NOW
(LISTEN TO THE DAVID LILLIE INTERVIEW ON PODCAST)