Dick split the silence. “Did you say hangover cure?”
“Yes, he did,” replied Suave Gav from the bar.
“And your friend,” said Dick, taking a notepad and pen from his jacket pocket. “You have an address for him?”
“Now, Dick,” said Gavin, “there’s plenty time for that. Let our guests enjoy a little Alsatian hospitality for the moment. Lights please, Ethel.” Ethel rose and cut the main lights, leaving us in the glow of candlelight. Gavin emerged from the bar, underlit by a ghostly blue haze. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced. “I give you - Blutwurz A La Flamme.”
We all clapped, although LaFlamme and I weren’t sure why. My mind was perhaps not at its sharpest after a few hours working with a succession of experimental martinis. All I could think was that it was tremendous somebody had named a drink after her.
Suave Gav laid a tray of oddly-shaped serving dishes on the table; a cross between miniature soup bowls and saucepans, with small protruding stumps for handles. Each contained a deep murky substance with a soft blue flame rising from the surface. It gave off a strong medicinal odour, sweet with strong hints of menthol and herbs. I began to feel quite woozy and my sinuses cleared instantly.
“Do you have any marshmallows?” said LaFlamme. The others laughed, but I think it was a serious question.
“Flambé can of course be an important part of the Blutwurz process,” said Gavin. “It both improves the flavour and reduces the alcohol content.”
“Aren’t you concerned about reducing the alcohol content?” I said, like a true lush.
“Ordinarily I might be,” he replied, “but as its original content is around 60% and burning for five minutes reduces it to only around 45, it’s not something we get too concerned about.” No wonder these guys were interested in a hangover cure. I gulped nervously. I was already intoxicated by the Blutwurz odour, I wasn’t sure I actually needed to drink it.
But drink it I did. It was warm, with a bitter taste of unripe citrus fruit and Italian herbs, rosemary, marjoram, bay, a nutty kind of Edam and just the faintest hint of vanilla. Not that my palate was sharp enough to detect these flavours, I just overheard the gastronomes at the table as they savoured it.
I felt distinctly giddy when the drink was finished but giddiness turned to alarm once Ethel turned up the house lights. I was surrounded by a sea of black teeth. I turned to LaFlamme. Her lips were dark. She had drifted off and was lightly snoring, the empty miniature soup bowl still clutched in her hands. This wasn’t a comment on the evening, merely something LaFlamme did when light was low. It was a good thing to remember for times when she was obstreperous. A bit like having a budgie hood.