FOR WANT OF BEER

Jimmi Cave strode through the dark and tangled streets of Venice, to find a bar with more than one beer on tap. He pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck. He had underestimated the cold, and wore only a sport coat and a white banded-collar linen shirt. The wind blew away what there was of his heat. He jammed his hands into his pockets.

His uncle had told him about a place where there were dozens of beers on tap, decent food, and several varieties of scotch. That was the place for him. But he had not been able to find it in this maze of a city. He knew the street address, which in Venice was nearly useless, but he had a reasonable idea where it was.

The bells of a nearby church chimed midnight—the opening time of the bar. A pair of rats scurried along in front of him, ran down steps next to a canal, and swam away. His crazy uncle referred to them as long-tailed hairy fish because his aunt did not like to hear the word "rat." He also referred to bats as night birds because she didn't like "bat." Strange people in a strange land, his aunt and uncle.

He came into the section of town in which the bar was located, and found a street with numbers close to the address he had for it. He followed the numbers in sequence, but that of the bar was missing. 

What a confusing city. Why couldn't they have a street numbering system like rest of us: odd on one side of the street, even on the other?

He found the number before and the number after that of the bar. But the address of the bar did not exist. He leaned against an iron railing, his back to a canal. It should be here somewhere.

And then he saw it. Between the two addresses bracketing the one he sought was a door that had been bricked in. The address above the door had been obscured and eroded by time and by the salty dampness of Venice. This must be it. He examined the brick. At about the level one would expect to find a doorknob was a brass plaque four inches long on which was inscribed the word, "Spingere." Push. He did.

His hand disappeared into the brick.

He jerked it back and examined it. It was intact. No pain and no marks.

He considered what to do next. Going home might be a good idea. If one is able to put one's hand through a brick wall, one should probably get the hell out of there, great beer or not. But Jimmi Cave was not some one, he was Jimmi frickin' Cave, and he wanted a beer, and if it took a little intrigue to get it, so be it.

The brass sign beckoned. Push, it said. Just like any door. That's it, then. He approached the wall as though it were a door, held out his hand as though to open a door and . . .

He found himself in a tiny, wood-paneled room with a single beer tap mounted to a bar. Behind the bar stood a young woman with delicate features and large breasts partially (though tastefully) exposed.

This was not the great number of taps he had expected. He had gone to a lot of trouble for nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. They did have beer, and the bartender was quite attractive, which was something Mr. Jimmi Cave could deal with.

She smiled. "Beer?"

"Yes." The label on the tap was blank. "What kind is it?"

"Whatever you want it to be."

Oh, she was going to smart-ass him. Okay. "I would like something dark, sweet, and yet very hoppy."

She pulled the tap and filled a glass with a beautiful dark beer with a head the color of toast. He sipped it. Rich, sweet, and with a hoppiness that could be chewed.

"Wow," he said. He took another sip. "This is the best beer I've ever had."

After the third sip, his eyes began to burn and water. When he rubbed them and regained his vision, the waitress lay naked on the bar with her hand on the tap.

"Wha . . . what are you doing?" he said.

"Whatever you want it to be."

He downed the beer.

"Another?" she said, dragging out the word.

The fact that the barista now lay in splendid nakedness on the bar was distracting, but he managed to say, "Yes."

"The same?"

"Uh, no. How about a Belgian white?"

She filled the glass from the tap with pale yellow beer.

He studied the foam. White and creamy. It smelled of bananas. Its taste was cold and light, with a hint of citrus. When he looked back to the bar, the waitress was standing behind it, clothed as before. 

"Is the beer to your satisfaction?" she asked.

"It's excellent. How did you do that?"

"The beer?"

"No, the naked thing."

She smiled without answering.

"I'll give you one more test,” he said. “I'll have scotch. A peaty Islay."

She filled a glass from the tap and handed it to him.

It had the smell of earth, the color of amber gold, and a taste so peaty you could cut it and burn it.

"I need to get one of these taps," he said, returning his gaze to the bar. In place of the waitress there squirmed a kraken that filled half the room. 

“Yess,” said the kraken, entangling him in its arms and dragging him to its seething maw.

“Uncle . . .”