William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Two

with 3 comments

As the plane angled for descent, Adam LaPorte’s first thoughts were for the safety of his beverage.  He clasped the crystal beaker with both hands, then filled it from the last little bottle of Stoli the stewardess handed him.  He returned his seat to the upright position, and stretched the seat belt around his voluminous self.

He was thankful for the presence of mind to negotiate a first-class ticket as part of his signing bonus.  With the new FAA ruling in place, airline check-in personnel had received a gift worth more than gold or a four-day work week; the right to make larger passengers pay for two seats.  For the comfort of all the passengers, the girl from last year’s Boston trip informed him, an understanding smile on her face.  Adam was certain that she became physically excited as she ran his card for the additional sale.  But that sort of thing didn’t happen in first class.

“A remarkably clear day,” came the voice from the cockpit.  “Passengers on the right side of the aircraft can see the UC Davis campus, and on the left, in about a minute, you can check out Old Town Sacramento.”

Adam didn’t much care about a restored 19th century gold rush town.  He wanted the real thing, the real Sacramento.  State capital or not, this was the place he’d been waiting for his whole life.  He stared out the window.  All those years of college, and those dreadful months of graduate school, the apprenticeships in Paris and Amsterdam, all led him to this one moment and one place.  He shed a single tear when the hostess put another little bottle of Stoli in his outstretched hand.  Sacramento, he told himself.  All roads lead to you.


Showered and shaved, pleased with his hotel suite, Adam watched ESPN and made quick work of the room service lobsters and the passable cream pie.  He would take a cab to Sentec in the morning, be there by 7:30 like Hammermill said.  Live in the hotel for a few weeks on the company dime while they had one of the girls find him an apartment.  The offer had come suddenly and he had accepted even more suddenly to the delight of Hammermill and the recruiting team.  He would be there by 7:30 but he still had tonight to think of.

He told the doorman the kind of place he was looking for.  Grinning, the doorman helped him to a cab and instructed the driver.  Adam rolled down the window and took in the chipper demeanor of J Street, Sacramento’s cultural hub.  He rolled the window back up and took in the sights as the cab passed the highway and moved through midtown on its way to Oak Park.

This neighborhood had an entirely different feel.  It was edgier.  Adam spotted a shuttered Starbucks and a movie theater whose XXX features suggested it was not in its prime.  Tough guys wearing basketball jerseys smoked and nodded their heads as they rode kid’s bikes past overweight, underdressed, overconfident, and underage women.  It was the kind of neighborhood that might have been on the brink of gentrification, but had done some backsliding.

The cabdriver let him off at a little bar with a neon shamrock in the window, but it was about as Irish as sunny day.  A life-size poster promised Kings games on a big screen, but the Kings weren’t playing tonight.  A cute prostitute winked at him, Mexican girl, probably underage.

Inside he breathed a sigh of relief.  The bar was all smoke, lit by dim beer lights that the beer companies had stopped using years ago.  He glanced around, checking the place out, and felt the place checking him out.  His was the only white face.  Two dozen people in the room, organized into two distinct groups, and a couple of outliers.  He passed the first group on the way to the bar.  They checked him out quietly, Black men in their fifties drinking after the working day.  They smelled like Menthol and Bourbon and hard work.

The second group was edgier.  Young and unemployed, eight guys all drinking Bud Light from a can in some misguided attempt at fashion; they might consider giving him some lip, but Adam didn’t worry about it.  They were addicts, he knew that for certain.  That smell doesn’t wash off, it lingers in your sweat for weeks even after you stop tweaking, but nobody really stops tweaking, so it was a non-issue.

Adam didn’t figure he had much to worry about here.  Besides, nobody messes with a fat man.  Fat boys, yes, the ridicule is ceaseless, but a fat man is too big to bully and too pitiful to tussle with.

“Beer,” he said, “whatever draft is closest to your hand, and a vodka chaser.”

The bartender, a skinny, addicted middle-aged Black women with braided hair stood quietly in front of him, placing both hands on the bar.  “I think you might have made an error in judgment,” she said.

Nothing bad will ever happen to me here, Adam told himself, unexpectedly coining his new mantra, not here in Sacramento.  The stool groaned as he sat heavily.  He leaned in until his head was almost touching the bartender’s.  “What kind of mistake was that?”

Eyes locked onto his, the bartender leaned in even further to whisper in his ear.  “Normally, you have your spirits first and then chase it with the beer.”

Adam nodded.  “I know, “he said, “but that’s wrong.  Most distillates have too many congeners.   Even vodka has a methyl substrate and if you drink it first then you miss the acid from the hops in the beer.  Drink the beer first and the methyl will lock in the flavor, especially if you’re having nuts.”

She stared.

“Try it,” Adam offered.  “Set me up and set yourself up to one on me.”

The woman poured and drank from the beer.  Adam downed the beer in one long luxurious chug.

“What are you looking for here?”

“Drink some more beer,” Adam said, and she did.

“Now the shot.”

They drank the vodka simultaneously.  Adam closed his eyes and smiled.  “God, that’s good.”

“Does nothing for me,” she said.  “I like it better the other way.”

“Suit yourself.  Hey, what do you think I’m looking for here?”

She nodded, refilled Adam’s drinks, and moved to the end of the bar.  A few moments later, a tall black girl wearing vinyl pants and a dark green halter was next to him.

“Come here often?” Adam asked cheerfully.

“Say what you want,” she said, “so I know you’re not a cop.”

“What’s your name?”

“It matters to you?”

“Only so that I know what to call you in the morning when I say goodbye from the bed and you’re half outside the door of my hotel room where I brought you so we could have meaningful memorable sex that I paid you for.  Otherwise I’m calling out goodbye, lady from the bar.  And I’d feel stupid doing that.”

“I’m Penny,” she whispered.  “But my friends call me Three Hundred Dollars.”

Adam inhaled deeply.  He smelled vodka, but that might be from him, fortified wine, and off-brand cigarettes, the cardboard content was too high for the major brands.  Cocaine heavily cut with powdered milk, and Obsession cologne, the real stuff, not the knock off.

“Adam,” he said.

“It’s going to cost you, Adam.”

He got up from the stool, arched his back and held out his arms.  “Penny,” he said, “I weigh four hundred and thirty pounds.  It always costs me.”

“I get the top,” she said.

He nodded.  “Yes you do.”


Written by williamdoonan

September 30, 2012 at 1:11 am

Posted in MedicineLand, Writing

3 Responses

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  1. You have painted a picture of an interesting protagonist. I like the “Nothing bad will ever happen to me here.” mantra, like a kid whistling in the dark. This snippet begs for more, though i can’t feature that all roads lead to Sacto!

    marta chausée

    October 4, 2012 at 6:38 am

  2. I am so in! You’ve got so many great lines that will stay with me: “They smelled like Menthol and Bourbon and hard work.” And “Sacramento, he told himself. All roads lead to you.” Yes!

    Great story, Bill! I’m really enjoying it!


    February 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm

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