He felt awful. He wasn't sure if it was the half-pound of greasy chicken that lay in his belly from a hurried lunch, or the chapter of Nietzsche that he just read.

Perhaps it was his claustrophobia. The smoky haze of the dark cafe—dark from the three broken lights and the detritus that had amassed over the course of decades—did not help.

Neither did the fact that he was meeting a friend. That made no sense to him. She was a good friend of his, in a Platonic way. She was just one of the guys, having put up with the endless stream of puerile male humor for the past eight years, to which he contributed a sizable amount.

But she was a she. He never could wrap his university-educated brain around that.

He couldn't help but crack a wry, self-deprecating little smile. "I'm so uncool. So fucking uncool." Higher education had expanded his mind, but old habits were hard to break.

The music was much too loud. He hadn't noticed it when he had been reading, but now the metallic blare of the horns was aurally assaulting him. The house band played with sincere emotion, but he wished they had a little more talent.

Nietzsche was an talented man: born 1844, appointed to full professorship at the age of 24 (unheard of at the time), his entire corpus written before his mental breakdown in 1889, when he tried to shield a horse from a coachman's whip. What a way to go insane.

He was no stranger to insanity. It seemed like all his friends were. Or possibly on various controlled substances. Of course, none of them were legitimately insane nor were they on drugs; it just gave them an excuse to live out their tired old lives. They were all in their twenties.

"I need a fucking girlfriend." He smiled again. The wording amused him to no end. A fucking girlfriend. A girlfriend to fuck. He was in a hurry to reach old age. Then he would be the socially-acceptable old lecher, instead of the lonely young man he faced every day in the mirror.

She was late. Not surprising. Her boyfriend was rather... clingy. No, that wasn't the right word, he thought. Plastic wrap is clingy. Clothes machine-dried without anti-static sheets are clingy. Her boyfriend was attracted to her by forces stronger than static electricity. In a more romantic time it might have been called love.

He regretted not bringing his tattered copy of Nabokov's Lolita with him. "The only convincing love story of our century," according to Vanity Fair. It certainly was a better read than musty German philosophy.

It was coming up on half past eight. They were supposed to meet for cocktails at 7:45 and then meet up with some old friends for dinner.

She must be getting laid, he thought. Good for her. Hopefully she would finish in time for dessert.

He stood up stiffly, gathered his things and went to the nearest telephone booth. He loved the old fashioned rotary pay-phone in this particular cafe. The thought of carrying a cell phone, those hideous triumphs of form and function, appalled him. He always was a sucker for the technology of bygone eras. And any pretty face that walked down the street.

He gave his friends at the restaurant a ring. Those three were raucous as usual: through the ancient Bakelite receiver he caught a snatch of a vulgar joke here and a mad humming of Mozart there. He was not surprised that they had started dinner without him. Gluttony certainly was one of their favorite sins. He personally preferred lust, though he never had the chance to capitalize on it. Maybe he'd get into heaven after all.

He stepped out into the bright, snowy night. He always missed winters in the city while at school. He hailed a cab. Old habits were hard to break, and he never did get his driver's license.

Good food, good friends and good old times awaited him. And there were still miles to go.

(cc) 2004 balseraph. Some rights reserved. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

She looked up and down the young man sitting on the bench in the hallway, her nostrils flaring with discontent. He just smelled funny. Annie got bad vibes from this kid.

She turned to her boyfriend. "No. Hell no. He is not going to stay here for a goddamn minute, David"—he winced; David preferred Dave, and he knew Annie only used it when she was trying to hide her worry—"never mind a whole night."

"Come on, be reasonable, babe. He's cool."

The kid in the hall was jittery. His leg quietly bounced up and down, his brightly coloured sneakers making a slight rubbery squeak on the cheap flooring. It was too fast to be the beat to any song.

Annie sighed and turned around towards the interior of the apartment, one hand on her head.

"Look, Dave, I'm not going to just open up my door to some gang-affiliated psycho just because you knew him once and he needs help now! He's probably all hyped up on speed or heroin or God knows what else right now! Look at him. He's gonna steal all our stuff, or stab us while we sleep, or something."

"Naw, look, I know him, he's cool. He just needs a place to crash."

"From what? There's nothing legal he could have possibly done that's forcing him 'off the grid' for however long he's going to end up staying here," said Annie, making exaggerated air quotes.

Dave opened his mouth, but no retort left it. Annie sighed again, more dramatically this time. "I knew you had some shady dealings in the past, but when I moved in with you, Dave, I didn't expect this kind of baggage to be following you around." She turned away from him and went into the apartment.

Dave followed, closing the door almost all the way, not enough to make the latchbolt click. "Annie, I—" The sounds were softer and more muffled as they bled into the hall.

"No, Dave. That man is not coming into this house. He is not spending the night here. You need to cut off people like that or they'll keep coming back, asking more and more."

"Look, come on. Just this once. As a favour to me."

"What favour? Throw out our nice jewelry? Arrange for us to wake up in the middle of the woods, missing clothes and kidneys?"

"Annie, you're overexaggerating..."

"You promised me, Dave. This—all this mucking about on the wrong side of law—it was supposed to be over."


"I'm not going to fall asleep under the same roof as that kid."

A pause, then a quiet sigh. More pausing. Some footsteps. The door opened again, and Dave came out.

"Look, Miles, I'm sorry, I can't keep you here. It's getting late, and I can't really help." Dave pulled out his wallet, and pulled out some slips of coloured paper. "Look, here's fifty bucks, and a train ticket. There's still a couple of rides on there. Get out of town, hang out with someone else, like Tony or something. I don't know. That's the best I can do."

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