Truth comes out of a bottle—but sometimes the wrong kind of bottle.
|"Oh! The drinkies, Mrs. Prescott!"
Malcolm Kellaway beamed at the matronly woman in the peacock-blue dress as she turned in the apartment doorway. He extended a paw-like hand at her.
Mrs. Prescott fluttered with laughter, but kept the bottle of rye clutched to her bosom.
"Oh yes!" she gasped. "I'm afraid the afternoon has left me a scatterbrain! Oh, dear Doctor Kellaway! How can I thank you for the message from my late husband!"
"You've already thanked me," the doctor reminded her. A smile creased his white-stubbled face, but he twiddled his fingers at her. "It's Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun that you must properly thank!"
"Does he get a check too?" Mrs. Prescott voice tinkled with more laughter.
"No, Mrs. Prescott, he gets, ah—" The doctor's grin stiffened as he wrapped stubby fingers about the neck of the bottle. But his last customer of the day resisted his tug.
"Oh, but I thought— Before we began— Didn't he—?" Her own smile faltered, and the doctor lurched as the bottle popped from her grasp. "Oh well, I suppose it's just one more expense!"
"Old lush," the swami muttered after she had gone. He poured himself a stiff drink.
"Drake," he told his partner, who loitered still by the front door, "there's nothing more disgusting than an old woman who can't let go of the bottle. Ah!" He smacked his lips, and poured himself another glass. "Nor can I denounce bitterly enough," he went on, "my misfortune at having to spend what should be my golden years under the tyrannical imposition of this so-called 'Prohibition'. Hic!" he added after downing the second drink.
"Save some for the old Indian."
"My dear boy." The doctor wobbled on his feet and peered nearsightedly at his partner. "I had quite enough a time of it wrestling the goods away from, er—" He swayed as he lobbed a finger at the front door. "Without sharing it with a third. Particularly a third," he added as he exited the room with as much tottering dignity as he could muster, "who doesn't exist!"
It was bad enough, Drake thought, to saddle their long-running scam with a "spirit guide" who imbibed. But it was plain bad taste to make him an Indian who imbibed. But Kellaway insisted. "I wouldn't believe the act me-self," he had told Drake, "if it wasn't an old Chippewa," and he sulked for days when Drake suggested that the incorporeal guide should be Gaelic, like the medium himself.
Still, Drake liked it even less when their first customer of October expressed the same opinion.
"Outrageous!" she exclaimed. She was dressed all in black, and her saucer-like eyes flashed with horror and contempt. "Certainly not! And where would I be expected to procure ... liquor!" Her pale lips quivered around the word. "Even if it weren't illegal I couldn't—" She turned away with a hard shudder.
But she was back the next day, with a tall bottle of whiskey that left Dr. Kellaway sweating with anticipation as he gazed on it.
"Yes, dear lady," he told her, "dear Miss Bouchier, it pains me as well, to learn that even on the other side, such a large spirit as Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun should labor under the sway of ... thirst!" He set the bottle in the center of the table. "And now— Ah! Thank you, my boy," he said as his partner dimmed the lights. "Now we should lay our hands upon the table, and empty our minds, and then— Oh! Did you see? Did you see, dear lady?" He pointed at the bottle. "He is with us already, our guide to the other side. Imbibing just the tiniest—!" A ripple rattled the surface of the whisky, and rattled it again as the doctor nudged the table leg with his knee. "Now," he said when the liquor was again still, "let us close our eyes, open our minds, and inquire of our great old shaman what he would fain show us in answer to your questions!"
"You were in fine form this morning," Drake told him later that night. The doctor smiled up at him from the sofa, where he was cradling a bottle of sherry.
"Yes," Kellaway murmured. "The teetotaler. I was almost young again. You know, it quite felt like the planchette was moving on its own?" He stirred. "What say we crack open her offering? I must say, it was a princely gift from one cons— Consitoo— Consistooshun— In principle opposed to—"
His eyes rolled shut, and he snored.
Business was good, and it was a week before the doctor worked his way, bottle by bottle, to Miss Bouchier's offering. It was the day the story came out in the Examiner, and Drake relayed its gist to his partner.
"You were genuinely psychic," he said. "The will really was hidden in her late uncle's library."
"Was it?" Kellaway frowned as he picked at the paper around the screw top. It was glued on much better than on any other bottle he had ever fought.
"Yes. And tucked inside a book starting with a 'B', like you said. Too bad for her. She would have got half the money if she hadn't found it. But the will gave the entire estate to his 'eldest niece'."
"Which I take it wasn't Miss Bouchier." The doctor at last tore the paper off.
"No, that would be her sister."
Kellaway laughed as he poured a drink. "Why, one would think old Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun had a grudge, to give her what she manifestly would not have wanted!"
Drake looked wry. "And why would he have a grudge?"
The doctor shrugged and swallowed the drink.
Then his face changed color and he spat it out. With disgust he sniffed at the bottle, then turned in horror to his friend.
Entry for the Weird Tales Contest: February 2021.