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© 2007, Baxil


Gabriel sat, jeans sliding over the timeworn wood of the stool, and grunted. James nodded back, arm tracing a languid curve toward the tap. The mug that had appeared in his hand halfway through began to fill. Gabriel reached out toward him, hand moving in its own slow ellipse, thin fingers closing around a cigarette from James' stubby grip without breaking pace.

A lighter appeared from the inner pocket of Gabriel's leather jacket, leaping into flame in front of his lips, sending shadows into a brief dance on the bar. Smoke rolled through the air to signal the shadows' death, and Gabriel laid the blue plastic cylinder on the bar with a soft click, rotating his hand up to halt the motion of a sliding mug. A thin line of foam crept over its edge.

Any outside observer would have sworn magic was involved in the exchange somewhere. But there was no magic, just the prestidigitation of long years.

James' eyes flicked back and forth between Gabriel and the empty stool at his right. After some deliberation, the bartender bent over to retrieve a rag from under the counter and scrubbed the edge of a shot glass from the shelf behind him. The glass clinked down next to Gabriel's untouched beer, a line of whiskey swaying underneath the rim.

James' suspicions were confirmed when Gabriel's hand crept over to the shot glass. The unnaturally thin middle-aged man stared contemplatively at the lifted whiskey, a fresh cloud of smoke rolling from his nostrils down his clean-shaven face, then took the cigarette from his mouth and swallowed the drink in a single gulp.

James flicked the rag to rest over his broad shoulder, scooped another glass from the shelf, and poured himself a shot. His thick fingers lifted the glass toward Gabriel in a silent salute, and James drained the whiskey, a quiet cough escaping his throat.

Gabriel sat, slumped, replacing the cigarette and watching the beer's foam boil away into infinity. It was a bad enough sign that James felt the need to break the silence. "Who?" he asked, unnerved.

"Smith," Gabriel grunted.

James' eyes flicked back to the empty barstool. "Fell again?"

Gabriel shifted in his seat, finally raising the mug. The cigarette leapt to his fingers, and the mug tilted between thin lips. James took the bottle of Scotch he'd set aside for Smith and returned it to the shelf.

"Don't reckon so," Gabriel finally answered.

One of James' bushy eyebrows quirked, though his bearded face registered no other change.

Gabriel took another decisive gulp and wiped the corner of his mouth on the wrist beneath his cigarette. "Saw lightning up the ridge," he said.

This so dumbfounded James that he let slip "'Tain't the season" before he could stop himself. Gabriel politely ignored the wasted words.

James put a hand on the counter to steady himself and took a long breath through his nose, staring at the empty stool. "You reckon?" he asked.

Gabriel turned in his seat, contemplating the chipped but polished pine where Smith's own jeans would normally rest. He nodded.

James sighed. "Damfool."

Gabriel took another sip of beer and turned back toward the bar. "Dreamer," he countered.

James nodded in agreement. "Damfool."

Gabriel took one last drag from his cigarette, and stubbed it out on the tray to his left. Smoke curled up as its last sparks scattered, burning like tiny stars, then winking out one by one.

Also see: Ascension

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