Gabriel shivered as cold night air rushed against his back and diffused into the humid bar. The atmosphere glowed like an orange sunset and warmed him from the inside out as he stepped over the threshold.
He turned toward the voice. Charon, the barkeep, smiled and waved him over from behind the bar.
“Get over here, stranger.”
Gabriel lowered his face and stuck his hands in his trench coat pockets as he approached. Cue balls cracked
against their targets in the deep left corner. He straddled the stool and set his elbows on the bar.
Gabriel nodded. “Make it a double.”
Charon turned and grabbed a bottle of Johnny Walker Black off the shelf. “Ain’t been by in what, three months? What’s new?”
“Nothing much,” he said and looked into the open space of the establishment.
Creamy ribbons of smoke slithered up from three card tables. Ares pounded his fist against the table and stood with his finger aimed at the Buddha. “You cheated!”
The Buddha, with his eyes sheathed in sun shades, slowly lifted his hands.
“Sit down, he didn’t cheat,” Joseph Smith said as he fanned his cards in his hand.
“Fuck you both,” Ares said and snatched his human skin jacket. He bumped into the other tables as he stomped away.
“Here you go.” The barkeep set a glass of scotch between Gabriel’s hands.
Gabriel shook his head and smirked as he turned and lifted the rim of the glass to his nose. “Same crowd…”
“Yeah, except you.”
Gabriel gnashed his teeth as the scotch burned down his throat. He smacked his lipsand set the glass of ice down. “Still bites. How about another?”
Charon took the glass. “We’ll go single this time, pal.”
A cool breeze licked the back of Gabriel’s neck as a raucous group walked inside. He shook off the chill and looked up at the wall behind the bar. A reprint of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” hung within a hue of golden light. Charon pushed the glass toward Gabriel.
He brought the brim to his lips and sniffed the spiced liquid.
“Gabriel? That you man?”
Gabriel glanced at Charon. The barkeep sighed and nodded at the group approaching from behind Gabriel.
The scotch numbed Gabriel’s upper lip. He tilted his head back and took the drink in one gulp.
Michael slapped his back. “How’s it going, bro?”
Gabriel grunted and lurched forward under the strike. Michael cackled and sat on the stool beside him. The bitter stench of cheap lite beer sloshed against Gabriel’s face.
Aphrodite draped her arms around Michael’s neck and nibbled on his ear. He nudged her away. “Why don’t you get us a table baby?”
She glanced at Gabriel, then to Michael and pouted her lips. “Fine.” Michael slapped her ass as she walked off.
Michael nodded to Charon with an exaggerated grin. “Pitcher of Busch Lite.”
Gabriel traced a line in the condensation on his glass with the tip of his finger.
“So, old muse, haven’t seen you in ages. What’s new?”
The scotch began to blur his thoughts, festered his sorrow. He nudged the glass forward with his finger. “Let’s go again.”
Charon set the pitcher of beer on the bar. “Maybe we should slow down.”
Gabriel, with his face low, rolled his eyes up at Charon until the barkeep could only see white. Charon took the glass.
“Saw your boy the other day,” Michael said as he grasped the pitcher handle. “Son of a bitch, you know that kid inspired Google?” He laughed and smacked Gabriel with a wide spread of his hand. “All that ‘seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall open’ crap finally paid off huh?”
Gabriel’s toes curled until they popped in his boots. A rush of hot blood warmed his face and pushed beads of sweat along his forehead.
Charon set the third round of scotch on the bar. Gabriel took his glass, closed his eyes and sipped.
The smile straightened on Michael’s lips. “You still hold a grudge man?” He feigned a laugh. “It’s been 2,000 years Gab! And look what happened? Salvation!” Michael pushed Gabriel’s shoulder with his index finger. “Your boy did that. You should be proud.” He lifted the pitcher and took several gulps.
Gabriel turned and glared at Michael. “He slaughtered my son.” He jabbed his thumb against his chest. “My son!” He lowered his head. “I wasn’t even allowed to speak to him…or her afterwards.”
Michael wiped his mouth and belched. “Better than what I ended up with. Ever since you quit being ‘the voice,’ I’ve had to pick up the slack. Remember that Muhammad guy?”
“Well what did you expect, Mike? You nearly suffocated the man and then barked at him to ‘recite’ over and over until he gave in. I mean look,” Gabriel pointed over his shoulder toward the opposite end of the bar. “He still about pisses himself every time an angel comes around.”
Michael took another gulp of his beer and looked at Muhammad. The man’s knees shook and rattled the glass of water in his grasp and he avoided Michael’s gaze.
“Yeah well, if you wouldn’t have dropped out—I’m not the muse! I’m the warrior.
After Paul came along and screwed up the gospels someone had to do something. But no, you got your feelings hurt and bailed.”
Gabriel shook head and took his scotch in one gulp. “Whatever man.” His body swayed gently. Thoughts and feelings jumbled together as he forced their associated words out of his mouth. “Go on and play with your super model.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll leave you alone.” Michael took the pitcher and pointed at Gabriel.
“But it was you that turned your back on us—on humanity…not the other way around.”
He nodded at Charon. “Thanks Char.”
The crowd at the billiards and card tables cheered as Michael sauntered along, pitcher held high, and joined them. Gabriel looked up at Muhammad in the corner. He stared back, his white turban and eyes glowing in the shade.
“Maybe he’s right.”
Gabriel looked away from Muhammad and down at his glass. “Maybe I’m drunk.”
“About what? You’re really going to let that astral jock get to you?”
Charon leaned against his hands on the bar. “What if you could wipe everything clean, start over?”
Gabriel smirked. “Last time I tried that, Scientology was born.”
Charon chuckled. “Yeah well, didn’t help that you had a fifth of tequila beforehand.”
“That stuff’s evil, man.”
“Seriously though, Gab. Look around. The world is up in smoke because of all the fighting. What have you got to lose?”
His jaw line bulged. He reached for his wallet inside the coat. “How much do I owe ya, Char?”
Charon sighed. “Damn, I didn’t mean—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gabriel said and tossed a fifty on the bar.
“Thanks. I’ll call you a cab.”
Gabriel stumbled away from the stool. “You’re a good man, Charon the boatman, I don’t care what they say about you.”
Charon shooed at him as he spoke into the phone as Gabriel walked toward the door.
“Hey, go ahead and send her. He’s on his way out.”
Moonlight mixed with the yellow glow of street lamps and glistened off the damp street. Gabriel shivered and wrapped the coat tighter around his body. Fog rolled off his lips. He watched the cloud as it rose and spread through the night air. The black sky spread above and swallowed him. He lost his balance and stumbled backward.
“Hey watch it!”
He looked down. A woman with reddened eyes and mascara smeared against her cheeks scowled up at him from the wet sidewalk. He offered his hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah well, you should be.” Her words swerved off her tongue. She looked him in the eyes as he pulled her up. She tucked her black hair behind her ears and rubbed her arms.
Gabriel took off his coat and wrapped it around her in a great whoosh. “Here. It’s freezing out.”
She cowered under the weighted of the coat and looked up at him. “Thanks,” she said and shrugged into the excess fabric. “So, what’s your name?”
He stopped and glanced at her face. “It’s uh, Gabriel.”
“Gabriel. That’s nice. My boyfriend—ex-boyfriend’s name is Jared. Asshole was cheating on me with my best friend. Caught them making out in the club like five minutes ago. Can you believe that?”
Her breath seeped into his nostrils. Blue Motorcycle. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”
She grinned. “You’re sorry a lot.”
A smile cracked at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah…”
She offered her hand. “I’m Mary.”
Gabriel’s heart thumped in his head as headlights from the cab emblazoned them in white light. The breaks squeaked behind him.
“Your name’s Mary?”
She nodded and tilted her head. “You believe in fate, Gabriel?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what to believe.”
Mary peeked around Gabriel at the yellow cab and looked back at him. “I think we could both use a friend tonight. Wanna share a cab?”