Mort stood behind the bar, hands on the top, thinking. The last patron had left for the night. Sometimes new people came through after midnight, but for the most part, no one came through between midnight and 8am. Most of the time, Mort was in bed by one and did not get up until nine. If a usual came in before he got up, they would serve themselves, and either leave a note with money, or stay until he was awake. Not everyone in the real world worked the day shift.
Terrance visited about a week ago, and the name Chauncy was still rattling around Mort’s head. He wanted to know who the man was. He talked to some of the regulars, this past week, and asked if anyone had heard of Chauncy. No one had. He also asked if anyone else came across someone English. They had not. Mort tried to put it out of his mind, but somehow, he couldn’t. The name whispered in his ear at night and came to him at odd moments, when no one else was around.
After a week of this, he knew he had to find out who the man was. He wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. Mort turned around to look at the liquor bottles, mostly for something new to look at. As he looked at all the bottles, he wondered if there was in fact a way to find out who Chuancy was, at the very least, when he came in. Oddly, almost every one that came in drank something different. Theo asked for whiskey, Selna asked for Screwdrivers, Terrance always drank coffee, black. Larry drank a dark beer, bottled.
Mort looked at each of the bottles and rattled off the regulars in his head. There were a few bottles he couldn’t identify, but it might be due to the regulars not coming in for a while. Mort stopped for a moment, cleared his mind and shook his head. He needed more time to think. He would sleep on it and try and get Chauncy out of his mind.
It took three months for Mort to match up the regular with the alcohol they drank. As he did so, he had to wonder how all the alcohol came here. Before Lucy went away to have her baby, Mort tried to ask her questions about the bar: how was it powered, who dropped off the supplies, who wrote up the menu? The food menu was different every week. She said she didn’t know and told him he would probably never know as well. He left the questions alone and tried to forget about them.
The other thing that surprised him was the payment. Most of the customers were not from the same time. Some people shared the same decade, but not most. Everyone paid what was usual for their time. Each week, money disappeared, and supplies arrived. How was the supplier paying for the supplies if the money was not from the same era?
The questions continued, but Mort had no answers. He thought he was a little closer now, though. It turned out, the supplies were delivered every Saturday night, after he went to bed. He knew that because that was when the menu changed. That was the first question he answered, and he wondered why he didn’t notice it sooner.
He also had most of the drinks crossed off. There were three bottles he could not connect with anyone. One was an old bottle of wine; Mort didn’t remember opening it, but it was half full and had been for the past three months. The second was a bottle of some liquor he had never heard; it smelled like some sort of brandy. It has an old label, but the date on it was 4335. Old but very much in the future for Mort. The third was a bottle of clear liquid that had never been open. The label was in a language he couldn’t understand.
In the past three months, Mort wrote down what each customer asked for and drank. In the past three months, no one had asked for those three. He had the three bottles in front of him now, staring at them, as if their drinkers would appear in the bar.
Mort picked up each on and gave them each a long look. Once he looked at each one, he nodded, went to the storage room and came back with a pencil. He wrote down in a notebook that the clear liquid was full, and that the wine and amber liquors were both open. He then marked on the bottles with a very small line, how full the bottle was. Done, he admired his handy work, then placed the bottles back where they came from.
If Chauncy, or the supplier drank while here, he would be able to see the difference. As he went to bed that night, he wondered if Chauncy was the supplier. Mort wanted nothing more than to find out.
The bottle of amber liquor was on the bar in front of Mort. He had thought about pouring himself and the customer that drank this beverage a glass before the person arrived, but Mort didn’t know how he drank it. It was late Saturday, or early Sunday, depending on your point of view. It took another month for Mort to confirm the supplier drank the amber liquor from the 4000s.
The marks showed that it was the only liquor being consumed, but it was not drank on a regular basis. The person seemed to only drink every couple of weeks. If Mort calculated correctly, this was the week the man would take a drink. As he pondered the drink, the door finally opened. A man in a lab coat walked through, but wasn’t looking Mort’s way. He was struggling with a box of supplies. The man set the wooden box on the floor, closed the door and turned.
The man saw Mort, blinked a couple times and laughed. “I thought someone would do this far sooner.”
“Yes.” He moved forward and held his hand out. “And you’re Morton, the current bartender.”
Mort shook Chauncy’s hand and shook it. He smiled. “Pour you a drink?”
“Not until after I’m done. Since you’re up, will you help me?”
Mort rounded the bar and went to the box Chauncy had carried in. Chauncy waited for him by the box. “I have one more outside the door. One moment.”
Mort nodded, and moved the box out of the way. He placed it on the bar close to the door. Once Chauncy was back with the other box, Mort held the door, then closed it when he could. In silence, they walked to the kitchen and started unloading the food. In one of the crates, there were copies of the new menu. Mort set those aside and collected the old ones.
With the food put away, Mort and Chauncy went out to the bar. Mort took his spot behind the bar and Chauncy sat near the bottle of liquor. They faced each other for a moment before Mort spoke.
“How do you like it?”
“Neat, in a snifter.”
“To warm the liquid.”
Mort nodded, grabbed two glasses and set them down in front of Chauncy. “Mind if I join you?”
“By all means.”
“What are we drinking?” He started to pour.
“A very old, or very new for you, calvados. French apple brandy.”
Mort gave Chauncy a look. “I have so many questions.”
“I can’t answer all of them.”
A light came to Mort’s eyes. “But you can answer some, maybe?”
“The only way to know that is if you ask. If I can answer, I will. If it would harm the time stream, I will not.”
Mort nodded. “What year are you from?”
“Let’s start with you: what year are you from? That will help me understand how to answer your question.”
Mort frowned, but answered. “1500s. England.”
“I too, am from England, or what was known as England. I’m not able to tell you more, as that might harm the time line. Time is calculated different in my ‘when’ but in your time, it would be known as the 61st century.”
Mort gave Chauncy a strange look, as he tried not to laugh. “How in the world would telling me anything about your time change anything? Even if I went back to my time, no one would believe the things I say.”
“I understand that but there are people that come here from times close enough to mine to change things. I cannot allow that. I work for the Time Stream Constables. We know how fragile everything really is.”
“Why are there Time Stream Constables?”
“Because when time travel was invented, people weren’t as careful as they should have been.” He held up his hands. “I can’t say any more on that.”
Mort narrowed his eyes as a thought came to him. “You shouldn’t actually be here, should you?”
“No. This bar is against everything I work to uphold in my time.”
“Because some things are worth the risk.”
“What happens if your colleagues catch you?”
“If I’m walking through the door when then see me, I’ll come through and never return. If they somehow find out when I’m not going through, I will do what I can to come here.”
Mort nodded. “How do you pay for all this?”
He gave a sheepish look. “I know when the money changed from one time to other. I trade some of it or I sell it to historians.”
“And you’re not afraid to get caught?”
“I…” He took a deep breath. “I would rather not answer that question. I don’t exactly do things that are wise in order to not be caught.”
Mort nodded. “Don’t worry, Chauncy. You don’t have to answer.”
Chauncy took a sip of his calvados and sighed as the heat of the liquor warmed his esophagus.
“France is still around?”
A look of admiration reached Chauncy’s eyes. “Yes. A stubborn people, the French.”
“But England’s different?”
“Well, everything is different, but yes.”
Mort took a sip of the calvados. It was very good. He could almost taste the apples. He set his drink down and looked around the bar. “How did you know what we needed?”
“Almost every century in civilized time has bars and/or restaurants. It seemed like a good idea. Also, this place told me it what it wanted to be. I listened.”
“You found it?”
“I did. It was nothing like this when I found it. It was a work of love to transform it.”
“How long did it take?”
“Months, but only because I had to work my day job, too.”
Mort nodded. “How do you power this place?”
“There is a generator from my time in the room you can’t go into. And no, I won’t show you.”
“That’s fair. How about the alcohol? How do you know what we need?”
“I pay attention to the bottles, see what is low.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He frowned and looked away for a moment to think. “How do you know, for instance, that coffee would be a good idea. I’ve been told that is not a staple in most bars. Or how to you know someone would want raspberry vodka? That seems rather random.”
“The bar tells me.”
Mort nodded. “Of course. It is a bit odd to have knowledge appear where it was not before.”
“I rather enjoy it.” Chauncy played with his glass, rolling it in between the palms of his hands, warming the liquid.
“I thought it odd when it first happened to me. I know a few people who tolerate it, but almost hated it when they first came here.”
Chauncy looked surprised. “That is unfortunate. I’m not able to stop it, at any rate. That is a mechanic of the bar, and not something I did.”
Chauncy gave a terse smile and took a sip of calvados. As he drank, Mort grabbed two other bottles and placed them in front of Chauncy.
“Do you know who drinks these?”
“You should know the wine. That was Lucy’s favorite.”
“She didn’t drink while I was here. Did you know she was pregnant?”
“Really? Is that why she left? I wondered.”
“She was pregnant for three years, until she went back to her own time. Then the pregnancy progressed normally.”
“Ah. Wonderful. Has she been back?”
“Once. She introduced her baby and then left. She hasn’t been back.”
“I supposed that happens sometimes. We don’t always need this place.”
“True.” They both fell silent as they contemplated his statement, then Mort tapped the top of the other bottle. “And this?”
“I bought that one about ten years ago. If no one is drinking it, I either bought the wrong thing, or the person it belongs to hasn’t stopped by yet.”
“Ten years is a long time on the outside.”
“Yes, well, this is a labor of love.”
“Chauncy, what happens when you die?” The man didn’t look old, but he didn’t look young either.
A whisper of an answer came to their minds and they knew that someone else would take Chauncy’s place when he did pass on. The two men drank in silence for a while, contemplating things. Mort understood that though the bar new he didn’t like odd bits of information coming to his mind, it would happen anyway. Chauncy was wondering about his death, then pushed that aside and asked Mort about the regulars. Mort gladly told Chauncy about the customers, passing on his favorite story of each. When they were almost done with the drinks, Chauncy looked to Mort.
“Anything else you want to ask?”
“I thought I would have more, but I only have one: May I visit with you again?”
“Of course, but please don’t tell anyone else about me. I would rather be anonymous.”
Mort raised his glass, which had one sip of alcohol left. Chauncy raised his glass as well. They both had the same amount left.
Mort touched his glass to Chauncy’s. “To the secrets of A Bar Called Always. May they stay secret as long as they need to, in order to keep us safe.”
Chauncy nodded and drank when Mort did. They finished their drinks, Chauncy took the money from the cash register, took his boxes and left for the week. Mort cleaned up the two glasses, straightened up for the night and closed the bar. It had been a good night, but he needed his rest. Though Sunday was a quiet day, there was always the possibility someone new would come in.