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invisble_king_insRory Stark was expelled from Burton Bartending College one week before graduation. He was expelled for refusing to demonstrate his knowledge of “the new martinis.”

Stark knew what was in the drinks, and knew how to make them, which was why he refused to make them.

“You’re not going to survive in the service industry,” Dean Thomas Burton told Stark after summoning him to his office. “Your technical skills are excellent, but you seem incapable of understanding that the most important thing about being a bartender is this: the customer is always right.”

“What if the customer is wrong?” Stark asked.

“The customer knows what he wants,” Burton said with exasperation. “How can he be wrong?”

“The customer is told what he wants,” Stark said. “By people like you. They didn’t invent those cocktails. You did. And you’re wrong.”

Two days later Stark was hired by a strip-mall bar called Wild Oats. Most of the clientele worked at a nearby bottling plant and they wanted simple things: draft beers, two-part cocktails and straight shots of liquor. Stark delivered them with cool efficiency. He wasn’t much for conversation, but the customers never had to wait long for a drink. The proprietor of the bar, Alan Oats, liked Stark because he didn’t bring his personal life to the bar.

It wasn’t until his fourth day on the job that a customer, a shift manager from the plant, asked for a Purple Alligator, a cocktail that was all the rage in the downtown bars the manager frequented on weekends.

When Stark set a drink in front of him, the manager frowned. It was not purple nor frothy nor decorated with the usual garnish.

“That isn’t a Purple Alligator,” the manager said.

“I know,” Stark said. “This is better. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.”

“I don’t care if it’s better. I don’t care if it’s the best drink in the world. Make me a Purple Alligator.”

“No.”

Oats, who was sitting at the end of the bar reading a newspaper, walked behind the bar and stood beside Stark.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“This jerk won’t make my drink.”

“Is this true, Rory?”

“Yes.”

Oats leaned forward to look at Stark’s face. It was impassive, uncaring.

“Make him his drink, Rory.”

“No.”

“Make him his drink, Rory, or I’ll have to fire you.”

“All right.”

“Sorry, Rory, but you’re fired.”

Stark picked up the cocktail, poured it in the spill tray, and walked out.

Five days later Stark started a job at the Fitted Anomaly, a new bar on the edge of downtown. The bar’s grand opening was in two days, and the owner, Travis Turner, wished to achieve an edginess that might lure the hipster crowd from the established nightspots.

“I want people to recognize the Fitted Anomaly is unlike any other bar in the city, maybe the world,” Turner told the six bartenders gathered behind the bar. “I want innovation. I want to set trends.”

Without a word, Stark moved to the bottles behind the bar and assembled a three-part cocktail. The more experienced of the bartenders exchanged looks and smirked—the ingredients did not belong together.

Stark set the cocktail in front of Turner. Turner arched an eyebrow and tried it.

“That’s . . . that’s. . . well, that certainly is cutting edge,” he said. He had another drink. “Yes, this is what I’m talking about. Perhaps a little garnish and color and—”

“No,” said Stark. “No garnish. No color.”

The other bartenders did a bad job of hiding their joy behind facades of dismay. They did not like Stark, he didn’t seem to want to be part of the gang. They eagerly waited for Turner, who seemed the sort to brook no dissent, to fire him on the spot.

After staring silently at Stark for a moment, Turner smiled slightly and said. “Okay, Stark. Do you have any other recipes this edgy?”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Eleven.”

“Eleven, you say,” he said, laughing. “All right. Write them up. If they’re as good as this, they will be our signature cocktail line. Everyone here will be expected to learn them by opening night.”

Through tireless promoting that had began months before, Turner drew a large and prestigious crowd to his grand opening. Ultra-hipsters, trendy pilot fish and nightlife columnists from the city’s prominent newspapers, magazines and web sites made grand entrances. They sniffed around the edgy decor and ordered the same cocktails they ordered in every other bar in town. Turner scurried around the bar, shaking hands and begging them to try his new cocktail line, called Rory’s Daring Dozen.

Stark stood in the midst of the scurrying bartenders, supervising the assembling of his dozen cocktails, sometimes seizing mistakes from their hands and pouring them out. When customers asked a bartender to adjust the recipes, Stark put his hand on the bartender’s shoulder and refused to let the cocktails be altered.

By midnight most of the journos and trendsetters had stormed out in rage, many loudly proclaiming that they would tear the place apart in print and word. Turner and the bartenders were horrified. Stark remained placid.

By last call only six patrons lingered, each drinking one of Stark’s cocktails and very reluctant to leave. Finally only an attractive red-headed woman remained.

By the way Turner cowered before her, Stark knew she possessed no small amount of power. She said something to Turner and he waved Stark over. He introduced her as Medina Moore from the Post.

“You’re not going to win,” she told Stark.

“What to do you mean?” Stark asked.

“They’re going to destroy you. You insulted half the trendsetters in town. You practically called them idiots.”

“That wasn’t my intention.”

“Well, read the reviews, you’ll see.” She finished her Number 6 and walked out before Turner could stop her.

“Oh my God,” Turner said, frantically wiping his hands on the front of his suit. “What are they going to do to me?”

Stark looked at him, his green eyes flat, then began wiping down the bar.

Tim Hollard, the bar reviewer for Leftword, the city’s free weekly, wrote: “A new bar has opened its doors to the city. It calls itself the Fitted Anomaly, but a visit will reveal that it should have been called the Fascist Atrocity.”

Flom Bergdum of the staid Tribune wrote: “Mr. Turner has bravely set forth on a bold path, and for that we must salute him. His choice of decor is superb, his staff, with one tragic exception, was eager to answer to the whims of the most demanding punter, and as a host Mssr. Turner is unparalleled. Unfortunately, a single dark figure cast a cold shadow over this perfect union and that shadow’s name is Rory Stark, bartender. Or perhaps barmaster would be a better description. I weep for what could have been—without this flaw, the Fitted Anomaly could and should have been the city’s hottest new hot spot. As it is, I cannot in good conscience set foot in the bar again. What a pity!”

Valencia Carradine of Elevation Magazine, who had never penned a negative review in her life, wrote: “Some of Stark’s numbered cocktails hold promise—they are certainly like nothing else you will find in town. The problem is they are too unlike anything else. A little adjustment, even a slight nod to the new trends, and they might actually be salvageable.”

Gil Laramie of Scene Weekly wrote: “Stark is a throwback to that dark time when the bartender ruled the roost, when the drinks were simple and hard, without color, without silliness, without fun. Alas, I prefer the world where the customer is king and bartenders know their place. Where they do not presume to know what’s best for we poor ignorant tipplers. Thankfully, once I walked out of the Fitted Anomaly, I was back in that wonderful world.”

Medina Moore, nightlife critic of the Post, wrote: “The Fitted Anomaly hung the right artwork and hired the correct DJs, but the real story is the arrival of a new kind of bartender. His name is Rory Stark. Stark did not go out of his way to make his presence known, quite the opposite — he lurked behind his uncompromising cocktails like an invisible king ruling with an iron fist. If Stark is allowed to continue pouring drinks, he will demolish this city’s existing drinking culture.”

The only positive review was written by Amis Bueller of the blog Drunker Than God: “I have tasted the future of mixology and his name is Rory Stark. Cocksuckers who believe otherwise should have their asses kicked up a flagpole.” A total of 32 people read his review.

Medina Moore walked into the Fitted Anomaly and threw a copy of the Post on the bar in front of Stark. It was opened to her column.

Without looking down, Stark said, “I read it.”

“And?”

Stark shrugged.

“Give me a Number 8,” she said.

“Try the 3,” a scruffy man next to her slurred.

“Hello, Amis,” she said without looking at him.

“Try the 3,” Amis Bueller repeated. “Hell, try them all. You can’t lose. I’ve drank from 1 to 12 and now I’m working my way back to zero.”

Medina looked down the bar and recognized most of the half dozen customers as those who had hung on until last call on opening night. Each clutched one of Stark’s creations.

Stark set her drink before her. She took a long drink, set it down, looked into Stark’s eyes, and said, “I’d like a slice of lemon in it.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it doesn’t come with a slice of lemon.”

“But that’s what I want.”

“No, you don’t. You know a lemon would destroy it.”

“Why would I know that?”

“Because you aren’t a fool.”

“I won’t pay for it. Or tip you.”

Stark took a bill out of his wallet and put it in the register.

Turner crept into the bar from the service entrance then immediately scurried to Medina’s side.

“Medina, did you really think —” he blurted then noticed Stark staring at him. “I mean, what do you think I should —” He stopped again. “I can’t back down,” he finally whimpered. “If I do they’ll hate me even more. We have to stick to our guns and gut it out.”

“You’ll regret it,” she said. “Do you have it?”

Turner took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Medina. She put it in her purse, finished her drink, and walked out.

The following day Medina’s column finished with: “Anyway, here are the 12 recipes, in exact detail. You can decide for yourself if they need adjustment or augmentation.”

Turner put the Post down on the bar and said, “I’m sorry, Rory. I didn’t think she would print them. That was damned snotty of her.”

Stark shrugged. “If they change them, they aren’t mine anymore. I won’t have to defend them.”

“I want you to take a few days off,” Turner said. “We have to stop these bad reviews, which means you can’t be behind the bar. I’ll call you when things cool down.”

 

Five days later Stark walked into the Fitted Anomaly. It was a little after 5pm and the bar was busy with a bustling Happy Hour crowd.

“Rory, my boy!” Turner called out from behind the bar. “I was just about to call you. You know, her printing those recipes was a godsend. We received all sorts of ideas for improving them. Some of the biggest names in town weighed in—journalists, bar owners, even the mayor! And look at this,” he said, pointing to a large freshly-painted sign behind the bar. “You’re famous!”

Stark looked at the sign. At the top, in large gaudy letters, it read: Rory’s Triumphant Twelve. The cocktails were not identified by numbers. Instead, they were called the Funky Kangaroo, the Azure Zipper, the Xtreme Fiend. Some were named after the journalists who had written about Stark. One was called Flom Bergdum’s Fervent Blossom.

“Much, much better!” a voice shrilled. Stark turned to see Flom Bergdum sitting at the end of the bar. Bergdum’s eyes gleamed with triumph as he sipped his signature cocktail through a long straw, his drooping jowls hidden by the jungle of foliage rising from the rim of the glass. Next to Bergdum sat Medina Moore, her curious gaze fixed on Stark.

Bergdum squealed with shock when Stark seized the drink from his hands and up-ended it on the bar top. Stark continued down the bar, collecting, sometimes forcefully, each variation of his cocktails and pouring them out.

Stark walked behind the bar and a bartender moved to stop him. Stark gave him a look that froze him in place. Stark stopped in front of the sign, reached up and ripped it from the wall. He braced it firmly between his knees and snapped off the segment reading Rory’s Triumphant Twelve. He handed the remainder to Turner.

“They’re yours,” he said. He moved down the bar until he was opposite Medina.

“Here,” Stark said, selecting a large semicircle of lemon from the garnish tray and crushing it into her unaltered Number 8. “Happy?”

She lowered her eyes and whispered beneath her breath.

“What?” Stark said.

“Dump it,” she repeated.

Stark dumped the drink and walked out.

“Rory!” Medina whispered then shouted at the figure walking down the sidewalk. Stark stopped but did not turn around. He started walking when she caught up.

“No one will hire you,” she said. “Not after what you just did.”

Stark didn’t reply.

“Why did you even try? Did you really think they’d ever come around? They don’t want real cocktails. They don’t want to taste the alcohol. They want fruit juice with funny names. They want what everyone else is drinking.”

“It wasn’t always that way. It doesn’t always have to be that way. Some understood.”

She laughed cruelly. “You mean Amis and those barflies? You think you can change the world through them? You know, if you compromised, softened those drinks a little, you’d be the toast of the town.”

Stark stopped walking and looked her directly in the eyes. “I don’t want to be the toast of the town,” he said. “I want to serve the best cocktails I can possibly make.”

“Best according to who?”

“Best according to me.”

“You’ll never win,” she said as he walked away. “I’ll make sure of it.”

Stark didn’t respond. She watched him disappear into the crowd.

After three weeks of applying for bartending positions and being turned down, Stark took a barback job at the World’s End, a dive bar far down the city’s sleaziest boulevard. The World’s End’s dozen regulars stuck to drafts and straight shots. The only customer who ordered cocktails was a man called Front who dealt crystal meth out of the men’s room.

Stark made enough to pay rent and eat. What was left over he spent at the liquor store. In his bare studio apartment he restlessly experimented, perfecting new combinations.

The owner, Russell Cloud, thought his new employee odd, but admired his quiet dedication to duty. After two months he called Stark into his office.

“I’ve decided to promote you to bartender,” Cloud said.

Stark said nothing.

“I’ve watched you. You know your way around a bar. And I’ve seen you make your shift drinks. They don’t look like the kind of things I would drink, but it’s obvious you’ve bartended before.”

“Yes.”

“Well—do you want the job?”

“No.”

“Why the hell not?”

“I don’t think I can make cocktails the way you want me to.”

Cloud studied him for a moment then said, “Fuck cocktails. No one in here drinks them, except for Front, and he’s a hair’s breadth from being 86’d.”

Stark thought for a moment. He weighed the mindless labor of barbacking with the inevitable trouble of bartending.

“I’ll take it,” he said.

Front walked in at the end of Stark’s first shift. Three men sat at the bar and Stark had served exactly 12 draft beers and six shots of well whiskey.

Before Front could order, Stark set a drink in front of him.

“What’s this?” Front said.

“It’s your drink,” Stark said. “I invented it just for you.”

“For me?” Front said with suspicion, adjusting the brim of his trucker cap. “What’s in it?”

“Drink it,” Stark said.

Front tilted the glass to his lips, then set it down. “Damn,” he said. He picked it back up, downed half, started to put it down, then brought it back and finished it. “Damn!” he said, wiping his lips with sleeve. “You know what that is?”

Stark didn’t guess.

“That’s Front’s favorite fucking drink, that’s what that is. Set me up, barkeep, and keep them coming.”

Before the end of the week Front had cajoled and harassed the other regulars into trying Stark’s cocktails. One by one they switched over. They spread the word about the eccentric bartender who would only make his own cocktails and soon the World’s End was busy with barflies from up and down the boulevard. Winos staggering in with double handfuls of coins, eager to purchase just one of Stark’s creations.

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Three weeks after Stark had assumed the position of bartender, Amis Bueller walked in the World’s End.

“So this is where you ended up,” he said, taking a stool.

Stark turned to the bottles and put together a cocktail. He set it in front of Amis.

“What number is this?”

“It’s new.”

Bueller smiled nervously. He took a long drink and put it down. “How did you know that I . . .” He stared down at the cocktail, a hand shielding his eyes.  “Those cocksuckers,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. Bueller finished his drink and walked out without another word.

Three hours later Bueller returned with a short muscular Greek wearing an expensive but too-small suit and an abundance of gold jewelry.

“Rory, this is Stavos Drakos. He’s opening a new nightclub. He needs a signature cocktail.”

Stark and Drakos shook hands. “I’ve heard about you,” Drakos said with an aggressively thick accent. “They say you’re the biggest asshole who ever poured a drink.”

Stark said nothing.

“They say the same thing about me,” Drakos said. “The only reason they give my clubs good reviews is because I buy more advertising than anyone in town. I only ask that the drink be truly Greek.”

“I’ll need to see the club,” Stark said.

“Of course.”

“And the recipe cannot be changed in any way.”

“Amis told me,” Drakos said. “If I like it, it will not changed by one shard of ice.”

Stark visited Club Drakos the following morning. He sat at a table drinking straight whiskey and smoking unfiltered cigarettes for three hours then left. Three days later he returned to assemble a cocktail for Drakos.

Pinky extended, Drakos took a small sip, smacked his lips, then put the drink down on the bar. He got up and walked in a fast circle around the room, maniacally waving his hands in the air, then returned to his seat for another drink. His face became clouded and he stared deeply into the cocktail.

“The anisette—it is just right.” He grabbed the drink and thrust it toward a startled barback. “This is Greece! Do you hear me?” He took another drink. “What else is in there, I cannot say.”

Stark took out a pen, wrote the recipe on a cocktail napkin and pushed it to Stavos. The Greek picked it up and read it beneath his breath. “Tequila!” he said, his eyes flashing to Stark, “I never would have . . . does it have a name?”

Stark shook his head no.

“Yes, it does,” Drakos said. “It is called the Stavos and it will be the signature drink in all my clubs.”

Drakos advertised the new cocktail in the horde of full-page ads he ran every week in all of the city’s newspapers and magazines. Beneath the announcement, in large letters, it read: “Designed by Rory Stark.”

Drakos’ clubs stopped receiving their obligatory mentions in the nightlife columns of the publications he ran ads in. Bergdum wrote a borderline negative review of the newly opened Club Drakos, bemoaning “a slight slipping of standards.” Drakos pulled his ads from the Tribune and the newspaper responded with a gushing article about the mogul-cum-genius club owner Stavos Drakos. The ads returned.

Flom Bergdum sat down on the barstool nearest the door of the World’s End. Without looking up at Stark, he took out a notebook and said, “I’ll have whatever you’re serving.”

Bergdum stayed for three hours, ordering and finishing six of Stark’s new cocktails. Then he paid his tab, tipped 15 percent and walked out. The following morning his column finished with a section titled The Wino Messiah. It read:

“It has often been said that sludge always finds its way to the bottom of the well, and so goes the fortunes of bad-boy bartender Rory Stark. I will not reveal what filthy dive Mr. Stark shills his sad wares in because some of my dear readers might go there purely out of morbid curiosity. Which would be a grave mistake. It has also been said that winos know what they like. Not surprisingly, they like Rory Stark.”

The following week all of the city’s nightlife columnists, except Medina Moore, printed similar epitaphs. Stark had not seen any of the them at the World’s End.

Medina Moore walked in the World’s End 15 minutes before last call the following Sunday. A boisterous crowd of day-laborers and retirees swarmed the bar. She held up eight fingers to Rory.

“Apparently they don’t read the papers,” she said when he arrived with her drink.

“They don’t have to be told what they want.”

“Except by you.”

Stark smiled.

“You should smile more. You’d make a helluva lot more tips.”

“You’re drunk,” he said.

“Do you know why I published your recipes?”

Stark shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”

“But it does. I wanted to break you. I wanted to drive you from downtown.”
She waited for his reply, then gave up. “I wanted to stop your drinks from becoming popular. I wanted to stop you from becoming popular.”

Stark didn’t reply. Medina continued. “You would have, you know. If that fool Turner would have stuck it out, you would have built up a following. The smart drunks would have found you, then the hipsters would have followed. They’d have no choice. You would have became popular. Accepted. And I couldn’t stand that. I couldn’t stand to see the Bergdum’s of the world getting on your side. You have to remain separate from them. Otherwise . . .” She looked away.

The bouncers began herding the crowd toward the door and Stark said, “Would you like a drink?”

“I’ve had enough.”

“Not here. At my place.”

She looked into his face, a face that revealed nothing.

“Yes,” she said. “I would.”

“What do you call this?” Medina said, sipping her drink.

“The Medina,” Stark said. He’d mixed the cocktails on a bar hammered together from odd pieces of wood and metal. Other than a futon slumped on the floor, it was the studio apartment’s sole furnishing.  “Do you like it?”

“Do you care?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then promise me something,” she said. “Don’t ever make this drink for anyone else. Ever.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Only for me.”

“All right.”

She finished her drink and looked into his eyes. She saw the same look he had when he labored over his cocktails. Except now he was looking at her.

He took her head as he would a cocktail shaker.

“You’re not going to start shaking my skull, are you?” she asked.

“No,” he said, kissing her.

She woke on the futon. Stark was already dressed. He leaned over the kitchen sink, brushing his teeth. He spit out the toothpaste, wiped his mouth and pulled on a suit jacket.

“What are you dressed up for?”

Stark lifted a flyer from the jacket’s breast pocket and handed it to Medina.

“The Tribune’s annual bartending contest?” she said, getting to her feet. “You must be kidding.” A hard, mean smile crept to her lips. “So, it’s what you wanted all along.”

Stark leaned back against the kitchen sink and smiled a little. “Yes?”

“Making bums happy isn’t enough for you, huh? No, it couldn’t be. You want recognition. Fame.”

Stark thought for a moment, then said, “I want to make great cocktails. Without compromise. I want to make cocktails that are right and true. Where you can taste the liquor. Where nothing is hidden. Where there is no dishonesty. It doesn’t matter who I make them for.”

“You won’t win. Bergdum is the head judge.”

He shrugged.

“Then why—”

“Are you coming?” he asked.

“I don’t want to watch it,” she said. “I don’t care that they’ll humiliate you. I don’t want them judging you. I don’t want them thinking you want their approval. I don’t want to see them gloat when they smash you down.”

Stark crossed the room and stopped in front of her, so close she could smell the fresh scent of whiskey on his breath.

Her voice was a bare whisper. “I’m begging you. Don’t go. Don’t bow to them.”

Stark took her by the shoulders and kissed her firmly on the lips. When he pulled away, she slapped him hard across the face.

“I never want to see you again,” she said. “You sicken me.”

Stark studied her for a moment, then walked to the door and opened it. “You can let yourself out,” he said, closing the door behind him.

Five judges sat at the broad table on the left side of the Red Palace Hotel’s ballroom stage. Flom Bergdum, overfilling a bright yellow suit, sat at the table’s center. To his left sat the Tribune‘s biggest advertiser, Stavos Drakos, and the owner of the city’s trendiest new club, Travis Turner. To his right sat Tom Hollard of Leftword and Medina Moore of the Post. Before and below them, around dozens of linen-draped tables, sat the cream of the city’s nightclub industry.

The original 30 contestants had been pared down to a half dozen by a preliminary round held behind the closed doors of the Palace’s Imperial Barroom. It was judged by the Palace’s bartenders and was remarkable only in the fact that the two most senior bartenders had broken out in a fistfight before it was over.

When Rory Stark’s name was announced as he mounted the stage as one of the six finalists there was a stunned silence, then scattered booing. The loudest reaction was from a lavishly drunk Amis Beuller, who shouted, “You goddamned sell out!”

“Looks like Mr. Stark brought his cheering section,” Bergdum said into the judges’ microphone, to a murmur of laughter.

Stark looked at the judges. Drakos winked at him. Medina met his gaze with a ferocious intensity. Turner averted his eyes. Bergdum and Hollard looked at him like house cats sizing up a grounded canary.

The six finalists were led to a bar centered on the stage, hidden by a translucent screen. They were instructed to make five servings each of two unique cocktails. The cocktails were then served to the judges by tuxedoed waiters.

Twenty minutes later, when the six contestants were brought back to the center of the stage, the judges were still engulfed in a heated debate. Drakos stood up twice, as if to storm out, only to be supplicated back into his seat each time by a cooing Bergdum. Finally Bergdum leaned into the mic and said, “Well, this has been a most contentious contest, to say the least, but I’m pleased to announce that we have our winners.”

Third place went to a bartender from Club Creme for his Blue Sunshine Martini. The bartender stepped forward, throwing a betrayed glance at Hollard and Bergdum before accepting his trophy. Club Creme was the city’s journalist hangout.

Second place went to Rory Stark for his Medina Cocktail.

Stark stepped forward and received his trophy under the broad smile of Drakos and the withering gaze of Medina Moore. Turner met Stark’s eyes and gave him a small nod.

“Good for you, Mr. Stark,” Bergdum said quickly. “You’re second rate—er, second place, rather.”

The crowd roared with laughter and Bergdum announced the first place prize.

“The grand prize goes to what is perhaps the most succulent cocktail this well-traveled tippler has ever laid tongue to. A creation that, in my humble opinion, perfectly embodies everything a great cocktail should be. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Flaming Bird!”

The crowd erupted with applause.

“Step back, Mr. Stark,” Bergdum said. “Step forward the genius behind the Flaming Bird!”

The five bartenders behind Stark looked at each other but none stepped forward.

“Come forward!” Bergdum commanded.

“I am,” Stark said.

Bergdum’s grin collapsed into confusion. He began fumbling with the judges’ scorecards, looking for the mistake, mumbling, “You didn’t make that drink. It was—”

“Tell us the secret of your cocktail, Rory,” Medina said, leaning into the mic.

“It’s simple,” Stark said, addressing the crowd. “I made the most soulless, vapid, contrived cocktail I could imagine. It is sweet, it is colorful, it has very little alcohol. It is everything that is false and nothing that is true. It is everything a cocktail shouldn’t be. In short, it is a fraud.”

“We have to do this over again,” Bergdum trebled, knocking over his chair as he got to his feet. Hollard tried to console him, only to be shoved to the floor by Bergdum. “We have to start over again!” he shouted at the man cringing at his feet.

“We have,” Medina said.

Amis Bueller climbed on stage and, swaying next to Stark, shouted, “Do you hear that, fuckfaces? We’re starting over!”

An exuberant Drakos and a sheepish Turner crossed the stage to congratulate Stark. They spoke briefly then Drakos leapt toward the ballroom’s bar, shouting for a round of Stavos Cocktails. Turner and Amis followed and Stark felt a hand on his arm.

“You said you would only make that for me,” Medina said.

“I made it for you,” Stark said. “I wanted you to know.”

She started to smile then frowned. “I voted against you,” she said. “Or I thought I did. I wanted—”

“I know.”

“You’ve ruined him,” Medina said, looking to where a raving Bergdum was being dragged from the stage by the Palace’s security.

“He’ll always have an audience,” Stark said, then turned to fully face Medina. “Drakos is building a new club,” he said. “In the suburbs. He wants me to run it.”

She blinked at him. “You’ll be protected. They won’t write against Drakos, no matter how much they hate you.”

“I know. I turned it down. I’m buying the World’s End.”

“Where’d you get the money for that?”

“A drug dealer.”

“I’ll give it terrible reviews. Only drunks will go there.”

“They will,” Stark said. “Let’s go make them a drink.”