Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Haywood! My good friend.”

So says Szilveszter, ever propped on a barstool at the Wildwood Flower.

Takes me a moment to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s him, for real, not ten meters in front of my scarred, cindered, wrecked-out self.

“How ‘bout a beer?”

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 didn’t catch the brimstone that must’ve lit my mug. Or maybe he caught it and didn’t care. He’s getting sloppy, damn sloppy or damn arrogant, to still be up here a week later.

“Yeah! Beer, Hussein!” says Szilveszter. “Beer for both of us!”

He slaps me on the back and I crack the thinnest of smiles–like a hairline fracture in my helmet’s faceplate.

“Man, how the hell have you been?” he asks, the bartender sliding us a pair of one-time bulbs.

I snort.

“I hear you, I hear you,” says Szilveszter.

Hussein clears his throat, hovering over us.

“Haywood-” Szilveszter starts.

I’ve heard that tone of voice before. I almost pull my piece right then. But the part of me that’s ice cold shoves all my fury into the beat up boot I’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.

“Hey, thanks man,” Szilveszter says. “You’re a real philanthropist.”

I grunt in reply.

“Course, you can probably afford to be,” he continues.

As always, he takes my silence as a sign of agreement.

“Yeah, I had some prior commitments,” he says. “You know, some other hot leads.”

He sips his beer, examining me for some sort of reaction.

“That said, I’m still due a finder’s fee.”

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.

“Buddy, you know how much I love riding shotgun with you on those flights-”

He stops and raises an eyebrow as I reach into my little arm pocket again.

Szilveszter catches the cigarette and then the lighter.

“You know this isn’t allowed in here,” he says.

Damn straight. There’s other things that aren’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.

“Oh, this is good shit, Haywood,” he says, turning to face me. “You pick this up down there on Earth?”

I’ve got the piece out and leveled right at his decaying teeth, his mouth.

“Nice gun,” he says. “You get that there too?”

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.

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