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“So, what did you bring this year, Reverend?” Vader asked dryly, unwilling to reveal his joy at seeing one of his only, truest friends. “And what took you so long?”

“The usual traffic on I-4,” I replied. Setting a bottle hidden within a paper bag onto the table, I patted his shoulder, “Good to see you, Darth. How’s Edith?”

“Edith is fine,” he said. “How are Jen and the kids?”

“Fine,” I said, pulling a chair away from what was a round table pushed into a darker corner of the room. Vader kept on.

“And I-4 through Orlando is always like that,” he growled. “It takes about hour to go four miles on that stupid road. And it doesn’t matter what time of day it is.” He took a sip from a near-empty water glass. “Every time I pass a speed limit sign at two miles an hour, I use the Force to throw a few cars in front of me into the ditch. It’s a way to cope. I always feel a little better after doing it, and it helps me feel like I’m actually getting somewhere.”

“Makes sense,” I said and thought, I wish I had your skills. Although, I probably wouldn’t use them on traffic.

“I heard that,” he said. “Who would you force-choke?”

“Nobody,” I said, swiftly changing the subject. “Before I tell you what I brought this year, tell me why we’re meeting here at the Big Fin Seafood Kitchen instead of our usual place.”

“It’s more for you than for me,” he replied. “Didn’t you say that one professor friend—?”

“—Peter Scaer,” I interjected.

“Didn’t you say he hassles you for going to Florida every year and eating at Red Lobster instead of a more authentic seafood joint?”

“He also poked a little fun at me for going to see the ocean and never going in it,” I added as dryly as Vader’s initial greeting.

“You never told him what happened to you when you were younger?”

“Nah,” I replied. “And I don’t think he knows that I get a few Red Lobster gift cards here and there from folks in my congregation throughout the year. Those things help with the vacation bill.”


“Whaddya mean, ‘whatever’?”

“Dude, I use the Force on the people around us every year. We never pay our bill at Red Lobster. And we won’t pay tonight, either.”

“You’re gonna use it on someone in here?”

“Well, actually, no. At least I better not have to use it. I know the former owner—Bobby Moore—and he still has pull around here, so I get my food and drinks for free.”

“That’s really nice of him.”

“Well, I sort of tossed him into a ditch on I-4 a few years back, and he promised to take care of me at his restaurant if I didn’t do it again. Since then, we’ve been friends. Nice guy. Good food in this place.”

“My visit with you isn’t the only time we go to Red Lobster, Darth,” I said, attempting to return to the original premise.

“Whatever,” he replied, taking another sip. “So, what did you bring?”

“I stopped by the usual place in Davenport and picked up a bottle of the Great King Street Glasgow Blend from Compass Box.” I reached for the menu. “I’ve never had it.”

“You don’t need that,” Vader said, giving a nod. “I already ordered for you.”

“What did you order?”

“It’s a surprise—something authentic that you need to try.”

“Is it spicy?”


“I don’t do spicy, Darth.”

“I know.”

“Then why—?”

“—Don’t worry about it, Thoma,” he interrupted. “Just pour the whisky.”

I took the bottle from the bag just as two rock glasses lifted from the bar across the room. The bartender smiled, giving the impression that Vader had done this before. Weaving through a bustling crowd, the glasses hovered to our table, finally coming to rest at the center.

“Do you guys need some ice?!” the bartender called, but in that same instant, began gurgling and reaching for his throat.

“Greg should know better,” Vader buzzed in a whisper. I could see his left hand at his side clinching at nothing.

“Let ’im go, Darth,” I said. “He’s the barkeep. He has to ask folks that question.”

Vader relented. I poured. We both heard Greg’s raspy swearing through his coughs.

“It’s not a Lagavulin,” I said, pushing a two-finger dram to Vader, “but it does have a little bit of smoke to it, which I thought you might like.”

We both nosed our glasses.

“Compass Box never seems to let me down,” I said. “This is nice.”

“I smell wine,” Vader offered. “The sherry is strong with this one.”

“I get that,” I volleyed. “And the smoke is just light enough to put the sherry in the front.”

We sipped simultaneously. The Sith Lord’s mouthful was bigger than mine. A few moments of savoring and we gulped.

“Hardly any smoke in the palate,” he said, “but there is a good bit of caramel. And some of the wood from the barrel.”

“The sherry is definitely a sweet wine and not dry,” I said. “And you’re right about the wood. You can taste the char.”

We both sipped again.

“Are you getting almonds?” I asked.

“Barely,” he replied. “The smoke is definitely more evident the second time around.”

“It carries into the finish, too,” I added, “along with a little bit of what seems like sour cherries.”

“But it’s not a bad end.”

“No, it’s not. Medium finish, I’d say. And the sour cherries work.”

I reached to pour another set when the waiter arrived with our meal.

“One crispy alligator with remoulade sauce for you,” he said, setting a well garnished dish before Vader. “And the same for you,” he continued, setting its twin before me. “Can I get you anything else, Mr. Vader?”

“No, we’re fine,” Darth replied. “Is Bobby here tonight?”

“Not tonight,” he answered shakily. “But he did say that if we saw you we should take good care of you.”

“Whatever. Thanks.”

The waiter turned to leave, but Vader locked him in place with a quick wave of his hand. “When you pass Greg over at the bar,” he said, “tell him to stop asking me if I want ice in my whisky.”

“I think he knows not to do it anymore, Mr. Vader,” the waiter said. Vader released him and he hurried away.

“Alligator?” I said with a look of surprise. “Is that technically even seafood?”

“Sure is,” he said. “And I eat ’em all the time down at the gator farm. When one of the older ones dies, I cook him on the grill. Gator is really pretty tasty, actually, and the crew in this place grills ’em right. Not to mention the homemade remoulade sauce here is the best—just the right amount of horseradish. I’m actually glad I destroyed Bobby’s car that day, otherwise I might never had come into this place.”

“Remoulade sauce is spicy, Darth,” I said, waving my hand to catch the attention of a waiter who already appeared to be making his way to our table. “I said I don’t do spicy.”

“Which is why the waiter is bringing you ketchup, Reverend,” Vader replied with a half-chuckle. “I wouldn’t want your professor friend to miss out on an opportunity, here.”

“Nice. Your dark side is showing.”

I poured the ketchup.

“So,” Vader said, taking a bite, “if you could, who would you force-choke back in Michigan?”