Author : Benjamin Fischer
â€œHaywood! My good friend.â€
So says Szilveszter, ever propped on a barstool at the Wildwood Flower.
Takes me a moment to wrap my brain around the fact that itâ€™s him, for real, not ten meters in front of my scarred, cindered, wrecked-out self.
â€œHow â€˜bout a beer?â€
The fucking nerve.
I want to grab him by the collar and scream, little ashy flecks of spittle peppering his face.
But I just sidle up to him, my splotchy face as blank as I can make it. The Flower is its usual dark and murky self, and Szilveszter either didnâ€™t catch the brimstone that mustâ€™ve lit my mug. Or maybe he caught it and didnâ€™t care. Heâ€™s getting sloppy, damn sloppy or damn arrogant, to still be up here a week later.
â€œYeah! Beer, Hussein!â€ says Szilveszter. â€œBeer for both of us!â€
He slaps me on the back and I crack the thinnest of smiles–like a hairline fracture in my helmetâ€™s faceplate.
â€œMan, how the hell have you been?â€ he asks, the bartender sliding us a pair of one-time bulbs.
â€œI hear you, I hear you,â€ says Szilveszter.
Hussein clears his throat, hovering over us.
â€œHaywood-â€ Szilveszter starts.
Iâ€™ve heard that tone of voice before. I almost pull my piece right then. But the part of me thatâ€™s ice cold shoves all my fury into the beat up boot Iâ€™ve got crushed against the rail. With a minimum of expression I unzip a pocket on my jumpsuit and fish out some credit.
I toss the little card to Hussein. He catches it and gives me that subtle nod of gratitude he reserves for paying customers.
â€œHey, thanks man,â€ Szilveszter says. â€œYouâ€™re a real philanthropist.â€
I grunt in reply.
â€œCourse, you can probably afford to be,â€ he continues.
As always, he takes my silence as a sign of agreement.
â€œYeah, I had some prior commitments,â€ he says. â€œYou know, some other hot leads.â€
He sips his beer, examining me for some sort of reaction.
â€œThat said, Iâ€™m still due a finderâ€™s fee.â€
The sheer bravado. His smile is yellow and crooked and would have been totally disarming as recently as a week ago.
He takes my hesitation as a cue to keep talking.
â€œBuddy, you know how much I love riding shotgun with you on those flights-â€
He stops and raises an eyebrow as I reach into my little arm pocket again.
Szilveszter catches the cigarette and then the lighter.
â€œYou know this isnâ€™t allowed in here,â€ he says.
Damn straight. Thereâ€™s other things that arenâ€™t allowed in here, too.
Then Szilveszter winks at me and then props the tobacco between his lips. He fiddles with the lighter, an antique disposable type. It comes to life suddenly, its clean butane flame the flare of a midnight reentry, a manmade meteor. He pulls greedily, the coffin nail crackling. The lighter goes off with a snap.
Smoke rolls out of his nose, his mouth.
â€œOh, this is good shit, Haywood,â€ he says, turning to face me. â€œYou pick this up down there on Earth?â€
Iâ€™ve got the piece out and leveled right at his decaying teeth, his mouth.
â€œNice gun,â€ he says. â€œYou get that there too?â€
Never at a loss for words. Not ever.
I do him then.
The cigarette falls to the deck in the slow motion of one quarter gravity, streaming smoke all the way down.