Chapter 167: The Driver
As the two arrived at the entrance of Skyfire Avenue, Lan Jue didn’t take Qianlin directly back to his place. Instead they made a quick stop at a nearby store.
The façade was a sight more modern than the shops on Skyfire Avenue. The black wall sported a semicircle pattern, with a series of line below it drawn in to a sharp corner.
Below those, were a series of letters: Wendy Wong.
“Where are we,” Qianlin asked. She looked quizzically at Lan Jue.
“The Seamstresses shop! I told you she was urging me to bring you by yesterday. I called ahead and told her you were coming.” Lan Jue punctuated the sentence by sauntering towards the shop.
Zhou Qianlin followed behind. “This is a clothing shop?”
Lan Jue replied. “In the interest of truth, this is specifically a custom tailor’s shop. The Seamstress’ earnings are very good indeed, and the clothes she makes earn universal praise. I get most of my suits from her.”
“Great!” Qianlin said delightedly.
The door was closed, prompting Lan Jue to press a button discretely placed to one side. After a few moments, the Seamstress appeared from within.
She was clad in a fine white shirt with a lacey neckline, tucked stylishly in to black pants. The clothes outlined her slender figure. With her sleeves rolled up, she looked ready to work.
As she opened the door, the Seamstress beamed a pleasant smile at Zhou Qianlin. “Hello, Qianlin. We meet again!”
“Hello Seamstress,” the young girl responded in equally pleasant tones.
The Seamstress chuckled. “You aren’t one of these stuffy Avenue types. Call me by my name, Wendy.”
The Seamstress stepped aside, allowing her two guests to enter the shop. It was a small place, by comparison, with only a few mannequins with finished suits dotting the interior.
The interior wasn’t as modern in appearance as the outside suggested. In fact, the decor had a much more classical feel. High-quality planks of wood covered the floors and walls, specialty-made cabinets occupied the corners, a dais with three full-length mirrors dominated the center and an Italian office desk was pushed to one side. It wasn’t large, but it screamed refinement. Cozy, would be a fine way to describe it.
There was another in the shop, other than the Seamstress as the two made their way in. A man, in gray pants and a vest covering a white shirt, sporting a fine tie. He looked resolute and dignified, but with the slightest hint of a wild side.
He nodded ever so slightly upon seeing Lan Jue. “Jewelry Master. It’s been a long time.”
Lan Jue was surprised to see the man. “Driver, when did you get back? I heard you were out participating in a competition.”
The one they called the Driver smiled. “That’s right! Once the competition had concluded, I heard the Avenue has a few things on its plate to deal with soon. I rushed back to offer my help.”
Lan Jue nodded in understanding. He turned to Zhou Qianlin, who was standing quietly nearby. “This is Skyfire Avenue’s resident racecar driver. We call him the Driver. And this is Zhou Qianlin, my friend. She’s here to get some clothes done from Wendy.”
“I’ve actually been waiting here for you,” the Driver revealed. “Would you like a glass?”
Lan Jue smirked. “Sure! And why haven’t I ever seen you around the Wine Master’s place?”
The Driver shook his head. “I’m not overly fond of sharing a drink with that old fuddy-duddy. I much prefer drinking with people my own age.” He skillfully plucked a few bottles from the nearby cabinet as he spoke, as though he already knew well where everything in the shop was. He placed a couple whisky glasses and the bottles on the Italian table between them.
“And you, Miss Zhou?” The Driver raised a questioning brow towards the young woman.
She smiled back at him. “Water is fine for me, thank you.”
“Very well.” He answered by producing a bottle of water and putting it before her. Lan Jue took a seat opposite him.
The Seamstress snatched up Zhou Qianlin’s hand and pulled her toward the back before she had a chance to sit. She pulled shut a curtain to give them some privacy. “Let me take your measurements. Don’t pay any attention to the boys.”
The Driver indicated the bottles he extricated from the cabinet. “Which would you like?”
Lan Jue shot his companion a big thumbs-up. “You are certainly more fun to drink with. At the very least you aren’t as stingy as the Wine Master.”
The Driver’s bright laughter filled the store. “Make sure you tell him that the next time you see him.”
Lan Jue snickered as he took up a previously opened bottle. He pulled the cork free and poured himself and the Driver a small bit. “We’ll try this one first, an eighteen-year Glenfiddich. It’s got a smoother taste. Only malt whisky of the highlands.”
The Driver smiled at his drinking buddy’s expertise. “Starting easy, it looks like your plan is to finish everything in front of you!”
Lan Jue tapped his glass against the Driver’s, the crystalline chime hanging between them. “You took them all out right? If I don’t drink them, you’ll lose face!”
Both of them lapsed in to silence as they partook of the rich golden liquid. Its warmth filled their bellies, spreading out to cover their whole bodies in a comfortable heat. The rich malt scent opened up their pores.
Lan Jue sighed contentedly. “A little while ago I’d asked the Wine Master to drink his 1985 Talisker with me. He got so upset he almost kicked me out, so we settled on a Talisker 18.”
The Driver laughed. “That certainly sounds like the crotchety old man. With all the liquor he has, you could drink yourself blind every night and still have enough to last a lifetime. He doesn’t get it; you spend all your time trying to get more great alcohol, you’ll never be satisfied with actually drinking it.”
“He isn’t entirely wrong though,” Lan Jue said in the old man’s defense. “After all, most of the great alcohol from the former era can’t be reproduced. Drink it, and it’s gone forever.”
“I hear your recent visit to Taihua was a dangerous one,” the Driver said, changing the subject.
Lan Jue nodded. “Yup. I was still recovering from an earlier injury, and was lucky I got back. Fortunately, the Doctor and Wine Master rushed over and saved me. If they hadn’t we wouldn’t be sharing this fine bottle.”
The Driver shook his head. “More specifically, no one with an even temper to share this bottle with. Come, another glass.”
They finished off their small glass before the Driver reached out to snatch up the second bottle. He didn’t bother to change the glass before pouring out another round for the two of them.”
“For our second bottle, we have a very traditional McCarran 25. Rare and excellent,” the Driver explained.
Lan Jue nodded. “Indeed! The McCarran label has a long heritage stretching back it to the Former Era. It was called the King of Whiskies. In fact, not everyone enjoyed it’s fair and placid taste. But at this age it has a beautiful rich flavor, and a lingering after-taste that comes in layers. Complicated. I myself am a very big fan. And when drinking spirits, we’re doing it properly – one doesn’t need to finish the entire bottle in one sitting, and in fact can try a breadth of whiskies by spreading them out. Different beverages give the drinker a different sensation, yes? It doesn’t have as many rules and requirements as red wine to properly enjoy.”
Within the back room.
The Seamstress continuously praised her younger counterpart as she busily measured Qianlin’s figure. “Oh, your figure really is perfect. Perfectly proportional, it’s uncanny. And all the charms of a proper woman to boot.”
Zhou Qianlin’s pretty face adopted a blush. “You’re too kind, Miss Wendy.”