By Andra Marquardt
The thick liquid coated Violet’s tongue.
They say that when a person loses one sense, the rest compensate. Although she never did figure out why her sense of taste exploded—figuratively speaking—after a bomb destroyed her hearing, killed Silas, and nearly killed her.
A small vibration tickled her fingers when Felix tapped the table.
“Well?” His mouth framed the word.
Since going deaf four years ago, she had learned to read lips fairly well. And people’s facial expressions and posture, which always conveyed more than words ever could. Plus, the mouth too often lied. The body rarely did.
Violet held up a finger and closed her eyes.
It was maple syrup. From a silver maple. She also tasted clover honey, oak from the cask it was stored in, and a hint of iron indicating what type of vessel was used to boil it down. Now to determine the recipe…
She opened her eyes and wrote it all down.
“Are you sure this is right?” Felix asked when she handed him her notes.
He grinned, tossed her the payment, and left.
The money paid her bills, but she tasted things for another reason. She was looking for a specific ingredient that had yet to leave her memory since the bombing. One she hadn’t been able to discover despite four years of studying explosives. Once she found that substance, she’d know who killed Silas.
She tossed the remaining syrup in the garbage bin and sat by the window of her small house—a shack really, but it was all she required. The city where her life had changed loomed on the horizon a hundred miles distant. Tall, dark, and foreboding towers pierced the gray sky.
She had tried to find the unknown substance in Naravila, but the air was tainted with too many impurities. Out here, fresh air made accurate taste detection much easier.
Yet here she waited and studied, no closer to finding the identity of the missing ingredient. Should she give up and simply continue to “steal” recipes for Felix and others?
Her mangled left hand twinged with the memory of being crushed and burnt.
No. She couldn’t give up. Justice and Silas deserved nothing less.
Violet crouched in her garden and pulled out an onion.
A shadow moved, blocking the sun. She looked up and squinted. A man stood over her, tall and thin, but she couldn’t make out the face with the sun behind him.
She stood and tossed the onion in the basket at her feet.
The man pulled off his hat revealing thin brown hair. Judging by his posture, he spoke, but she couldn’t see enough of his face to read his lips.
She pointed at her ears and shook her head.
He gave a slight bow and moved to the side until his face was no longer in shadow. “Mrs. Vallan?”
“I’m Gabriel Martins. I hear you can determine the ingredients of any food or liquid. Perhaps even their origins. Is this true?”
Again, she nodded.
The man pulled out an amber-colored flask. “It’s a wine. Rare and expensive. I’m hoping you can tell me the variety of grape, and I can locate the specific vineyard from there.”
She hid her disgust by turning toward her house and beckoning him to follow. She hated wine. It numbed her tongue as well as her mind. If the wine was unique enough, though, perhaps she could figure out its origin quickly.
Gabriel canvassed the room before entering. Something in his gaze and bearing looked a bit off. Calculating. Violet sat at the table and indicated the chair on the other side. He smiled, but without mirth.
Who was this man? Did he really want her to taste the wine, or did he have something else in mind? Her fingers slid beneath the table for her husband’s pistol—all that remained of him, dead from the war six months after Silas was born. Her fingers found it quickly, and she relaxed a little.
Gabriel slid the flask toward her.
Keeping her eyes on him for any untoward movements, she unscrewed the cap and sniffed it. Definitely wine. Red. She slowly tipped it back until a single drop of the warm liquid slid over her tongue.
She spat it out. That flavor! The one she’d been searching for. In the wine. She pushed back from the table and jumped to her feet.
“Where did you get this?” She pointed the pistol at him.
Gabriel held up his hands.
“You killed Silas.”
“No. I’ve been searching for the bomber that killed him. Just as you have, I wager. That wine was a test to see if the rumors were true. You tasted the explosive he used, didn’t you?”
She nodded in spite of herself.
“With that… gift of yours, and my investigative expertise, we could find the person responsible.”
She lowered the pistol. He’d help her find Silas’s murderer?
He stared at the pistol for a moment then dropped his hands. “I’m a detective in Naravila, and I’ve been chasing this bomber for five years…”
Violet understood the words, but she concentrated more on his body. He was tense, but not in fear. More like a snake ready to strike.
She still held the flask in her other hand. She brought it up to her lips and licked the outside. The ingredient. All over it.
Gabriel leapt over the table at her. She fell back, her pistol skidding across the floor. He landed on top of her and wrapped his hands around her throat. “You should have died that day. Now I finish the job.”
“Why?” she croaked.
“Your husband killed my brother in the war.”
As darkness overtook her vision, she reached into her pocket for her fail-safe.
She’d be the one to finish the job.
She pressed two buttons at once, setting off bombs she had planted underneath the floor.
Gabriel’s eyes widened as the inferno consumed them both.