When passions are regulated, which laws will you break?
When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. As their loneliness draws them together, they become allies in what will turn into the fight of their lives in the sexually repressive and culturally backward dystopia.
Catrina’s invention, No Regrets—a scanner to test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, brings increased scrutiny from the town's Vice Patrol. Headed by an ambitious new agent, Vice Patrol hangs around Union Station, and it’s leader has taken up with Ulysses’s vindictive ex. Catrina’s relationship with Ulysses and her company’s new products put them both in peril as she begins to understand the dark side of her employer, society, and science without humanity.
But science is all she’ll have to save the men of Cochtonville from a mortifying fate and Ulysses's life.
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By Catherine Haustein, Amanda Roberts
City Owl PressCopyright © 2017 Catherine Haustein
All rights reserved.
Creating a beer is much like breeding a dog. Dogs have that one tricky gene, number fifteen, that can cause height variation between 5 inches and 7 feet, more than any other land vertebrate. (Imagine humans ranging from 2 to over 30 feet tall.) Hops are complicated, having intricate aromas, regional differences, and changing chemistry upon brewing.
Sipping the dark and sylvan house ale, I studied the wavy haired bartender. A pretty man with smooth skin, a dark mustache, and little sideburns, he resembled Nikola Tesla, who despite his love for frequency and vibrations, was said to have died a virgin.
I'd taken refuge in the Union Station bar after my bus broke down as I rode it home from work. Officials in black bomber jackets and belts covered with devices that hung like pine cones, walked past the window. I hadn't seen that black uniform before. Those belts loaded with technology told me something. I was in what Cochtonville considered a bad neighborhood.
I wasn't a citizen of this city-state, carved out of Iowa, with a name pronounced "Cock-Ton" like an enormous penis. I was a chemist from Michigan on a work visa and didn't worry about the officers. I had a permit to be here and, unlike most of the population, to have seeds. This was my first month in the country and I was struggling to understand my new home and connect with the people here.
I looked up numbers for a cab. Tiffany lampshades diffracted light above the bar. A hundred years had flown by without touching this spot. There was even a huge painting of President Ulysses S. Grant behind the bar above the mirrors.
"Want another?" asked the bartender, coming over to my table. He was dressed in black wool pants and a black T-shirt with "Union Station" stamped in gold block letters on the pocket. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring. Of course, that meant nothing.
"It's good. What do you call it again?" I wanted to be friendly. I'd met few citizens and made fewer friends in my time here.
"Rainy Day Dark Ale. Perfect for today. I brew a small batch when I can. Most people who come in just want CochLite. You have good taste."
"This is your brew? I love the aroma. I'll take one more," I said.
The bartender brought me an amber glass and read my company nametag. "Dr. Catrina Pandora Van Dingle."
I snatched off the tag and put it in my pocket. My name had always been embarrassing for me and my title would just alienate him.
"It's a Dutch name," I said quickly. "What's yours?"
"Ulysses." Now this bar was making sense. Union Station. U.S. Grant. He had to be the owner. Ice balls ticked on the street facing window obscured with blinds as the temperature dropped below the freezing point.
"You work for The Company, I see," he said. His deep voice poured from his chest as easily as beer from a pitcher.
"I do. I study chemicals in plants. I'm analyzing beans grown from seeds found in an old pair of pants." Too much information. I should have stopped at "do." The man cracked a smile, so I went on talking.
"The original beans were found in an old pair of corduroy trousers purchased at an estate sale by Bert Cochton." Bert was a history buff who specialized in buying up old Civil and Revolutionary War clothes abandoned in attics. Part owner of Cochton Enterprises, he had a dream about these beans the moment he got his hands on them — that they would lead to something great. When a Cochton has a dream, no one in Cochtonville stands in his way.
Ulysses said, "I see. Well, better call somebody for a ride if you're waiting for the bus. Things here don't get fixed quickly as you know."
"I don't know. I've only been in Cochtonville for a month."
"Oh. Well, welcome to the city." I'd saturated him with information. He went back to the bar as I dialed for a ride. Fifteen minutes passed. No luck getting a cab.
The lights of the Pavilion of Agriculture snapped on and most of the bar's patrons drifted out the door – three-inch-thick prohibition style affair with a rectangular peephole – leaving me alone with the bartender, a couple kissing on the couch in the corner, and a man and woman playing pool. The man wore a newsboy cap and thick plastic glasses. The woman, hair shimmery with henna (2-hydroxy-1,4naphthoquinone) was in a tight red dress with a little bow under the left breast. I wore a sweater over a green polo, with the gold C for "Cochton", purchased at the company store. Cochton Enterprises liked us to wear insignia clothes. It made us appear professional. I unclipped my hair and let it fall like a sandy flag.
The woman from the pool table glided over to the blue backlit bar, graceful in her heels, and put her cue on the table. She had twenty-pound breasts and a ten-pound ass and I was insecure in her presence. She shook her hair at the bartender and let it drape over one eye. "Hey, Ulysses, get me a drink of water."
Surprisingly, she came to the booth and sat across from me.
"He's being friendly to you 'cuz he's in the doghouse," the woman said. Here was the first person in Cochtonville who'd approached me when it had nothing to do with work or commerce. "Hey, Ulysses, how about some snacks?" she called.
"He's being friendly?" I said, confused.
"He usually don't talk to Company people much. I got no prejudices. Nothing much to hide. I'm Maven, by the way."
The weather report was on the television. An arctic invasion, the forecaster was saying.
The bartender put a basket of pretzels in front of me and handed Maven her water.
Maven chomped a pretzel. "I'd hate to be on the road with this ice. Lucky all I have to do is walk the streets. Ulysses, give me some of what's behind the counter."
"That, my dear, will cost. Cash money this time," said the bartender, reaching into his pocket and slipping something in her palm.
She snapped her fingers shut to hide it. "Put it on my tab."
He put a hand on his hip. "Maven, let me know if you're going to die soon."
She opened her leather purse and blinked. "What you mean by that?" "I've carried you this long. I might as well be a pall bearer and finish the job."
She slipped the small item in her purse. It dropped in silently. The bartender went back and stood behind the bar. The man in the cap joined Maven and me in the booth.
"Ulysses talks tough but he'd be nowhere if it weren't for Bernadette. She's the real manager of this place," he said. "They're both the proprietors but she's the one with the business sense."
"He's the creative one," said Maven. "They're having another tiresome fight. That's why she's not here."
"They'll get over it," said the man, bug-eyed behind his glasses. "They've got to."
He went to the pool table and put a pool cue between his legs.
"Hey, baby, you can lead a horse to water. Who'll play break the law with me?" He wiggled the cue at me.
"Go home, Ernie Ray," said Ulysses from behind the bar. "You'll get me arrested. This nice girl here probably agrees that all deviants need locking up." This mention of deviants was my first clue as to why this might be a bad neighborhood.
Ernie Ray put his pool cue on the table. "Hey, man, is this some kind of acid test? I'm not going anywhere." He sat next to me again. I inched away. I wasn't quite used to so many locals in one spot displaying their strange attitudes and archaic speech patterns, as if they'd been dropped into a time hole by their separation from the rest of the United States.
"Welcome to the joint," Ernie Ray continued. "You're cute. Single?" He had a prominent brow and hairy eyebrows. He'd hit on a sore topic. I was single but didn't want to be single forever. My parents had expressed worry that this place was known to be prudish and I'd never find a man. My granny was concerned that I would find a man — an oppressive one. I wasn't sure I had room in my life for a man at all, and yet, I wanted more than just a life in the lab. I wanted kids, a family, everything good in life that a person could experience.
"Aren't you getting a little too personal?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. He was the desperate type. He made me uncomfortable.
Ulysses came and leaned on the booth. "Ernie Ray, find that guy who pays you ten bucks to go down on him. I'm trying to keep a decent place here."
"I wouldn't be caught dead doing that for only ten dollars," said Ernie Ray in all seriousness.
"Walls talk, Ernie." Ulysses pulled Ernie from the booth. "And accidents will happen, pal."
"Wait, wait. One poem for her. It's called 'Toast to a New Girl'."
"Poem?" I asked. The media here was twenty-four-hour news. It surprised me that people even knew what a poem was.
"Make it fast," said Ulysses. "Watch the words."
Ernie Ray shrugged off Ulysses's grasp and steadied himself. He recited with a deep croak.
"Let's drink to getting hard
To holding the line
To cornering the market
To hiding all women in the suburbs
Only wearing Floyd."
He bowed. I wasn't sure if I should clap or not. This whole thing had me uncomfortable. "Did you like it?" he asked eagerly.
"What did it mean? I can't say I understand poetry. Is it all about emotion? Sincerity?" I couldn't classify this guy. Maybe he was one of those who came with special handling instructions.
"Exactly," he said.
The door opened and a man in a tan uniform came in with a keg on a cart. "Delivery," he said brightly.
"In this weather? You're a juggernaut," said Ulysses, following him as he wheeled the beer to the cooler behind the counter.
Ulysses unlocked a drawer. He counted out bills and gave them to the man and asked, "Need a tip?"
"Sure do," the guy replied. "Brings a man out on a night not fit for God." Ulysses reached under the cash tray, palmed something, and shook the man's hand, giving him whatever was under the tray.
"Be gentle," said Ulysses. "And be careful on that ice."
"Will do," said the man, a common looking middle-aged fellow. I couldn't imagine what he might be getting for a tip. He slipped out with a rattle like a specter of smoke or a final breath.
"Me too," said Ernie Ray. "I need a tip."
"When you deliver something useful," said Ulysses.
"I delivered a poem to the new girl," he said hopefully.
"More like a nightmare," said Ulysses. He took Ernie Ray by the arm and walked him to the door.
"It will be when Bernadette finds out. I won't tell if you tip me. This girl isn't even your style. Hardly worth the risk."
"Alright, I've had enough. Get out." Ulysses tossed Ernie Ray into the icy night.
"Chickens will come home to roost," Ernie yelled as Ulysses shut the door.
"That wasn't called for. You know he's not playing with a full deck," said Maven.
"You too," said Ulysses, opening the door. "Time to go to work."
"You're kicking me out?"
"I am. I'm closing early." He called to the kissing couple, "You two, the couch is finished for the night."
Maven tossed her hair. "No need to bite my head off. You're all sizzle and no steak. Do you think I'm playing gooseberry?" She put her purse under her arm, strutted to the exit, and slammed the door as she left. A few seconds later, she opened it. "Ernie's making a fountain on your wall." After the couple slunk past her, she slammed the door.
I stared at my month-old phone while Ulysses peeked out the window.
"Miss, were you planning on meeting someone here or getting a ride?"
"I'm calling a cab but I'm not getting through. Do you have a phone that works?" I asked in frustration. This place was playing catch-up on everything except growing food.
Maven poked her head in the door. "Ulysses is a one-off! He always runs back to Bernadette." Ulysses went and leaned on the door, forcing her back out.
"She's right," he said as he snapped the lock on the door.
"Are you going to keep that door locked?"
"Just for the next five minutes. Another beer? On me." He pulled out a phone. "I'll see if I can get through."
"I'm near my capacity. This stuff is good though. Dreamy. I mean creamy."
"Glad you like it. Made from rainwater and the best of secret ingredients." He smiled and put down his phone. "No answer and no use leaving a message."
"I could figure out your secret. I'm a chemist after all."
He sat down across from me. "You'll never get a secret out of me." He smiled again.
I eased myself into the coziness of the place. "Are you going to join me or must I drink alone?"
"I don't drink on the job. It could lead to bad habits." Ulysses had baby blue eyes and thick lashes.
Five hours of lost signals, one locked door, a microwaved pizza, and two beers beyond my limit later, I watched as Ulysses turned off the light over the bar. I wasn't sure what my options were. There had to be a hotel close.
Ulysses stood with his arms folded across his chest. "I live above the bar. I'll bring down a blanket and you can sleep here." I watched him open a door next to the beer cooler and climb a narrow set of stairs. He had a nice butt and a steady walk with an easy gait. For a second, I was embarrassed by my staring at the butt of a man instead of considering his mind. Was it so wrong? I was a professional woman with a promising career. I could objectify a man I'd never see again, couldn't I? The only dangerous objectification was internal objectification that limits a person's scope of experiences and leads to shame and depression. Did I learn that in college or was I drunk?
My equilibrium off kilter, I sat listening to the city, waiting for Ulysses to return with a blanket. There were no sirens. It was dead still except for the ticking of ice on the window. It gave me the creeps.
The floor of the bar was all footprints and popcorn. The booths were only about four feet long. I went to the door. I'd slip out and find my way home. I unbolted it. A sheet of ice twinkled over the sidewalk. A siren went off, making me jump and sending my heart to my throat. This was followed by a broadcast — a woman's voice warped by speakers. "Alert. A security violation has been reported. Citizens, remain inside." I abruptly shut the door and locked it, afraid to go anywhere but refusing to panic.
Ulysses came down the stairs. He had no blanket. "Don't worry. We get those all the time."
"What's it mean?"
"If you go out the Vice Patrol will use you for target practice.
"What about Maven?"
"Every person for herself at times like this."
His gender inclusive language warmed my heart — he was a magic number, an island of stability. I liked him. I trusted him.
He closed the blinds. "You'd better come upstairs and sleep on the futon. I got a roommate, a woman, so you won't be in danger except maybe from her. I'm on her bad side tonight. All my fault, I'm afraid. Stay quiet and away from windows."
"I can take on any woman." The beer had made me cocky.
"No, honey, believe me. Not Bernadette. She never loses."CHAPTER 2
Yeast is a round single-celled organism that changes sugar into alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide-- waste products produced when oxygen isn't present. This process powers the yeast. Yeast metabolism causes bread to rise and gives booze its buzz, Brewers yeast is a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
I trembled as I followed him up the narrow staircase. The apartment was wood paneled and dark and the futon was covered with some sort of chenille that might have held a large quantity of dust. Ulysses took a blanket from the back of the futon and spread it out. I sat down carefully as the apartment spun. The alcohol had changed the density of my blood. How could I have let this happen? He went into the kitchen and came back with a glass of orange juice.
"Drink this. It'll help you keep ahead of that hangover." He was right. I had to get more water into my blood.
I tossed down the juice and regretted it. My stomach was a vat of acid.
"Sorry to have served you so much. It's against my principles, really. You've got an honest smile. Can I get you anything else?" "The bathroom," I said, my mouth dry.
"This way." I followed him down a hall. He turned on the light to the bathroom.
"You gonna be ok?" he asked kindly.
"Of course. I'm a scientist. See you later. I can handle this," I said with false confidence, pulling the door closed.
The bathroom was a spiraling cenote blue with a shiny brown tile floor and neatly hung white towels. He hadn't lied about the woman. A used tampon was in the toilet and the bowl was filled with diluted blood. After taking more than the average mammal urination time of twenty seconds, I stood up stupidly looking at the bowl, paralyzed by such a simple decision. She hadn't flushed. Should I? Did she know I was here or was it a secret that would be revealed with a flush? My stomach made the call for me. I vomited, hitting the bowl neatly. All my laboratory experience with volumetric pipets made me an expert at delivering fluids from one place to another. I wiped my mouth with toilet paper before flushing the evidence and slinking like a stray cat back to the lumpy futon in the living room.
Snuggling dizzily under the covers, I thought I wouldn't sleep. But I must have because I woke as my hair was being yanked. Bernadette had a tungsten grip, enormous boobs, bobbed brown hair, and Hello Kitty pajamas.
Excerpted from Mixed In by Catherine Haustein, Amanda Roberts. Copyright © 2017 Catherine Haustein. Excerpted by permission of City Owl Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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