“So, what do you call this thing?”
“Yeah. Doesn’t it have a name?”
The lounge was less than half full on a Tuesday night. All of the one- and two-cocktail drinkers had gone home at a reasonable hour. Besides Ed and Phil only the diehard regulars, a few couples, and the occasional stray alcoholic remained.
“No,” Ed replied. “It doesn’t have a name.”
“But…” Phil caught the waitress’ eye and touched his glass to let her know they wanted another round of martinis. “How about when you summon it, when you ‘call it forth,’ you know?”
Ed drained his glass. He squinted at Phil.
“This is what I’m telling you,” he said. “I don’t summon it, or call it. I don’t even know what it is.”
“But you said it’s a…”
“Yeah. I know what I said, but…”
“It sounds like some kind of superhero. Or anti-superhero. Is that the idea?”
“No.” Ed leaned forward. “Look. I want you to know, I never asked for this thing to happen. I could have lived my whole life and it would just never have occurred to me, right? So, I don’t light candles. I don’t send a message with a what-do-you-call-it, Ouija board. It isn’t like that.”
“Right,” said Phil. “But you said it was a what, exactly?”
“Not me. Betsy. She’s the one who acted like it was some kind of entity. She labeled it, gave it a category, whatever ‘it’ is. She was the one with the imagination, not me.”
“Okay, and what did she label it, again?”
“Betsy called it my ‘avenging guardian angel,’” Ed said in monotone. “Those are the words that she used. Not me.”
The men went silent when the waitress arrived with fresh martinis. Phil gave the blonde a generous tip and a wink before she moved on.
“I thought you and Betsy were…”
“Over,” Ed admitted. “Yeah. She packed up her knives and moved back to New York.”
“You could follow her, nothing stopping you. Betsy’s a Brooklyn girl at heart. Everybody knows that. You might like New York, too.”
“I like what I do for a living, Phil. Senior management jobs in this game are not that easy to come by. Betsy could’ve worked anywhere. A chef can always find work, any city. She worked here, didn’t she?”
“She didn’t want to stay. She didn’t want to be with me. End of story.”
“Sorry, man,” Phil said. “Hey. Hey, cheers!”
They raised their glasses.
“Fuck women,” said Phil. “And if you can’t fuck ’em, to hell with ’em. Right?”
Ed sipped his martini. Across the room in the dusky half-light, their waitress leaned against the bar, poised and ready to start another round. The only window in the place was beveled at the edges, and too small to reveal more than figures rushing by on the busy street outside. Rain gave the shadowed bodies a sleek surface. They dashed by, coats shining like the dark feathers of nocturnal birds.
“Never mind about Betsy,” Phil said. “Sorry. I only mentioned her because of this thing we’re talking about. She called it an ‘avenging angel?’ She really said that? I mean, guardian angels, that’s so…”
“Yeah. No disrespect to the lady. But, yeah.”
“No, you’re right,” Ed told him. “Most people didn’t realize she was into that bullshit. Tarot, spirit guides, even astral projection. She was talking to a psychic when she decided to move back to New York. Said it was her destiny.”
“What a bitch. Uh, the psychic, not Betsy.”
“Wasn’t a woman, it was this guy with a shop on 1st Avenue, near the market.”
“No kidding! What the hell’s he doing telling another guy’s girlfriend to leave him?”
“Destiny, remember? You can’t fight it, apparently.”
“But look, Ed, telling another guy’s girl, practically a fiancée, almost his wife, to move to another city…”
“Yeah. I know. You’re right. Yeah.”
“I mean it’s the lowest. Right?”
“I don’t know,” Ed said. “I can think of worse things.”
“So this was the same guy who told her about the what’s it, the A.G.A.? That’s what I’m calling it. Sounds less loony.”
Ed grinned. He set his martini on the table and sat staring down at it.
“No,” he said. “It was just one of those things. We were, you know, we were in bed one Sunday. If you can picture what I’m saying.”
“Just, you know, watching something stupid on TV. Cartoons. I don’t remember. Joking around. A nice day.”
“Right,” said Phil.
“And I was saying something about Ted Donovan…”
“The designer you told me about, right, from Portland?”
“Yeah. I was just letting off steam, nothing serious: the way the guy keeps asking questions about basic stuff, and the way he sucks up to people at work. He’s too old to be there, really, and he ought to know it. That kind of thing.”
“Sure,” Phil said. “Sure.”
“All of a sudden Betsy gets this look and she says: ‘You better stop now.’ I thought she was sick of hearing about the office, the politics, the backstabbing. It was all pretty standard. I talked about it the same way she talked about the waiters at Chez Marlene. But she gave me this strange look.”
“I don’t know. Scared.”
“Okay, maybe not scared. Concerned. Worried.”
“But she doesn’t even know the guy, right?”
“Right. Then, out of the blue, she says: ‘Do you realize every person you’ve talked about like this ended up having something bad happen to them…?’”
Strange is the Night by S.P. Miskowski is available from Trepidatio Publishing. The collection includes “A.G.A.”
“A.G.A.” originally appeared in Supernatural Tales 21, edited by David Longhorn.