Rocco Fitch is the hero of my story “Road Trip,” which was
is being published in an anthology called Reliquary in January 2017. It’s the first novelette in my Roadwerks Limited series. In this story teaser, Rocco is being interviewed in a mysterious tavern outside of time and space known as the…Forever Inn.
Rocco Fitch stood at a mahogany bar, his right foot resting on a brass foot rail, and listened to the hubbub of numerous conversations behind him. He had not the slightest idea how he’d gotten here.
Gazing around, he took in the rustic atmosphere of the place. A log fire burned merrily in a stone fireplace, casting its flickering light on a dark-skinned balding man sitting in an armchair and flipping through the pages of a book. He was dressed like a Roman soldier. Two baroque, seven-armed chandeliers, complete with flickering candles, provided light for the four long wooden tables in the center of the room, currently occupied by a motley assortment of customers. Bookcases lined the walls, with an occasional gap for sconces that provided illumination for the armchairs scattered around the periphery. Oddly, there were no windows anywhere.
A thin, lanky man in a gray robe came down a stairway, ambled across the room, and leaned on the bar next to him. “You’re Rockford Jeremiah Fitch III, aren’t you?” He looked like he was in his late twenties, but Rocco thought his eyes looked older. His hair was pulled back into a queue that emphasized his high cheekbones. He looked like a medieval monk or maybe a philosopher.
“My friends call me Rocco. What is this place, anyway?”
There were huge ceiling beams of some dark wood and the floor was made of three-foot-wide wooden planks. It must be an old building because he didn’t think it was possible to find beams like that anymore. And the planks didn’t look like something that was going to be on sale at Home Depot either.
“It’s a tavern, Rocco.”
“I can see that, thank you very much.” Rocco fixed his patented military-grade glare on the man. “How’d I get here?”
“I don’t know,” the man said. “People get here all kinds of ways.”
“That’s not helpful.” Rocco shook his head. “I know I didn’t come here myself. And I’ve got stuff I need to be taking care of right now. Let’s start with a simple question: Who are you?”
Two beer mugs thunked down on the bar next to Rocco. Startled, he looked up and saw the bartender, a fit, dark-haired woman with branch-like tattoos winding up her arms. The tattoos extended up the left side of her neck and over part of her face. She was wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt emblazoned with:
Don’t Piss Me Off!
I’m Running Out
Of Places To
Hide the Bodies
He looked down at the mugs as the man grabbed one and took a swallow. When he looked up again, the bartender was gone.
“They call me Svendeep the Scribe.” Inclining his head towards where the bartender had been standing seconds earlier, he added, “The bartender is Becca. She’s really hard to spot unless she wants to be seen. Magic, you know.”
“All right, Svendeep. Let’s try this one again.” Rocco grabbed Svendeep by the collar and yanked him closer. “How did I get here?”
“Play nice, gentlemen,” Becca said in a smooth soprano voice, suddenly standing there with her hands on her hips. “Or I’ll go get the bouncer.”
Rocco let go of Svendeep, who sank back on to his stool in relief. “Thanks, Becca,” Svendeep said. He faced Rocco. “You really don’t want to meet the bouncer when he’s angry. He’s an orc.”
Rocco laughed. “I don’t believe in orcs.”
“Yeah, right.” Rocco rolled his eyes. “Anyway, my question?”
Svendeep shrugged. “It’s a magic tavern. Gu Bràth Taigh, which is Gaelic for the Forever Inn. It appears wherever it wants, which is why some people call it the House of Many Worlds. And somehow it brings people here, like you. Or else they stumble in on their own.”
“That’s your story?”
“You bought a magic road, didn’t you? Why can’t there be a magic tavern, too?”
Rocco looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “Point.” This had to be a dream; it had a certain weird dream logic to it.
Tilting his head a little, he looked past Svendeep’s shoulder to examine some of the other customers gathered around the tables. There was a red-haired man wearing what looked like chain mail. Next to him was a woman in a smart-looking business suit. Another man was dressed in tights and a fancy lace tunic, a style that Rocco pictured as “Hollywood court dandy,” complete with a sword hanging at his hip. Either he’d wandered into some sort of bizarre masquerade party or, more likely, he was dreaming.
“Anyway,” Svendeep said, “I interview all the new arrivals.”
“I learn from them.”
“All right.” Rocco looked around the room for a moment. “Then what’s his story?” He pointed to the man in the Roman getup.
“He’s a Roman general,” Svendeep said. “He’s about to lead a military campaign against an opponent who’s never lost a battle.”
Rocco gave the Roman another look. Svendeep wanted him to believe that this guy was a famous Roman leader. Forget the masquerade idea, this was a hell of a dream.
He turned back to the scribe. “Besides learning, what do you get out of this?”
“Room and board,” Svendeep admitted.
“That’s something, at least,” Rocco said. “I can’t even pay my mortgage. You write up the interview?” Svendeep nodded. “What do you do with it?”
“Put it in the mail drop over there.” He gestured with his thumb and Rocco noticed a slot in the wall at the end of the bar. “And, well, that’s it.”
“On paper? Not, like, on a laptop?”
Svendeep chuckled. “I’m assuming a…laptop…is tech. You see any plugs?”
Rocco looked around, seeing a nice fire in the fireplace and lots of candles. No electrical lighting anywhere.
“Tech doesn’t work here,” Svendeep said.
Rocco took a sip of his beer. “Hey, this is really good.”
“Yeah. Food’s good, too.” Svendeep smiled and shrugged. “Eclectic. You never know what the special of the day is going to be. Had some velociraptor once.”
“Really,” Rocco said, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
“Yes. Tasted like chicken.”
“How do I leave?”
“You’re here for a day. Then you’ll be back wherever you came, with no elapsed time. Like you never left.” Rocco glared at him. Svendeep chuckled and held up his hands. “Magic. I didn’t write the rules.”
Rocco sighed. “Okay.” If this was a dream, he might as well go with the flow. If not, then, well, the world was an even stranger place than he’d realized.
“Relax. You should try to enjoy yourself. Order some dinner. I think they’ve still got some buffalo ribs left.”
“Food would be good,” Rocco admitted.
“If you’re done interrogating me, can I interview you now?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“First, let’s order,” Svendeep said. “I’ll take the Seafood Special.”
“Sure,” Becca said, appearing from nowhere, but somehow seeming as if she’d always been present. She turned to Rocco and smiled. “We also have the buffalo ribs that Svendeep mentioned. With a spicy cherry barbecue sauce (‘cause the meat’s a little gamy), a vegetable medley, and roasted potatoes. It’s really good.”
“Yeah, okay.” Somehow, Becca had managed to disappear again.
“Let’s get a table,” Svendeep said.
Rocco limped after his gray-robed interviewer as he headed for the vacant end of one of the long tables.
“When you were a child,” Svendeep said after they’d gotten settled, “what did you want to be when you grew up?”
“Oh,” Svendeep said. “Like a knight?”
Rocco laughed. ”Maybe a little. Mostly solving crimes and protecting people.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“Nothin’,” Rocco admitted. “Haven’t got a job. People seem to think I can’t work ‘cause of my injuries.”
“How did you get hurt?”
“The war in Afghanistan. After 9/11. Lost a leg and got one side of my face redecorated when a roadside bomb blew up the vehicle I was in.”
“Why did you go to war?”
Rocco looked at him for a moment, then decided that Svendeep wasn’t trying to provoke a reaction but was actually curious. “To protect my country.”
“Was it worth the cost for you?”
Rocco thought for a moment. “War has a terrible cost, I think, but it’s never, never spread evenly. I didn’t ask for these injuries, but I’m still proud to have served my country.” He shrugged. “How good can something be if you’re not prepared to fight for it?”
“Indeed.” Svendeep nodded. “Biggest fear?”
“Being paralyzed,” Rocco replied. “After I was injured, I ended up at Ramstein. Woke up in a hospital bed…fragment of metal missed taking out my spine by an eighth of an inch. Bad enough what happened but…it could have been worse.”
“Biggest guilty pleasure?”
Rocco looked around briefly, then leaned forward. “Sometimes I watch reruns of Miami Vice.”
Svendeep looked at Rocco, puzzlement on his face. “Is that a play?”
“Like a play. Only recorded. So you can watch it again and again.”
“Sounds like magic to me.”
“Nope,” Rocco said. “Just tech.”
“The three things you’d most like to accomplish in your life?”
“Be a good Dad. I’ve got a daughter, Elise, livin’ in Ohio. Figure out what’s going on with this damn magic road I got suckered into buying. And, well…I still want to be a cop, even though that’s not really possible for me. Oh, and pay off all my debts. I guess that’s four things.” Rocco snorted. “Like any of that’s gonna happen.”
Svendeep raised an eyebrow. “Why do you want to be a—what did you call it?—a cop?”
“Most people are good,” Rocco said. “But there’s always some bad ones. Whether it was schoolyard bullies when I was a kid, or terrorists knocking down buildings full of innocent people on 9/11. I just always thought somebody should stand up to the bad guys.”
“So, somebody should protect the innocent from evildoers?”
Rocco shrugged. “Yeah, basically.”
“A worthy endeavor.”
Rocco’s mouth quirked up in half-smile. “A guy named Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”
Svendeep clasped his hands under his chin and looked thoughtful for a moment. He started to say something but stopped when a waiter arrived and set steaming plates and utensils down in front of them. Svendeep grabbed his mug, held it up, and waited. Catching on, Rocco raised his mug, as well.
“To fighting evil, ” Svendeep said, clinking his mug against Rocco’s. “Wherever it may be.”