"Have you ever seen a lynx and a dog fight? The dog will never ever touch the lynx, only chase it up a tree. At that point, the dog has won even if the lynx could have finished it off with a swift claw movement. It's almost like it enjoys the game."
The crazy Norwegian raised his glass in a toast, finished his drink quickly and excused himself with a grin. His departure left the madman sitting mostly alone, wondering why exactly he had been brought to this place and not sure what his next move was. For a moment he saw his entire life as a chessboard stretched out in front of him. There were still too many pieces between himself and the queen. The second shot of tequila had made it impossible for him to tell the black pieces from the white. All he could do was stare at the fog settling across the board.
"What happened to your friend?"
"Dramatic exit," muttered the madman. "I guess that just leaves you and me."
"Are you leaving or do you want another beer?"
"Both. I think."
As she walked away, he tried to pretend he was interested in the show on the television, but it wasn't working. He was restless and he couldn't hide it. Things were moving too quickly, but they were moving too slowly at the same time. The madman's life seemed to be playing in a fast foward mode, but everyone else seemed to be okay just hitting the play button.
"You still don't know why you're here, do you?"
Had it not been for the tequila and the beers, the madman might have questioned the presence of the angel across the table from him. He hadn't eaten since Sunday, a fact that had more to do with simply forgetting than anything else. He was just waiting for the board to move. The angel was trying to tell him something, but the words he heard her speak didn't match the movement of her lips. He was hearing only what he allowed himself to hear. Anything more was simply too difficult to consume.
"I'm still here, aren't I?" he decided to ask.
"You'll drink your last beer, say something cute and then head home. What if you couldn't go home? Then what?"
"I guess I would have to stay here."
"You might want to know why you are here before you have to stay. Or is it better not knowing?"
"Sometimes I wonder."
"You have a lot of ghosts in your castle."
The angel disappeared just as the waitress returned, holding a beer in one hand and the madman's bar tab in the other. She smiled uneasily, causing him to wonder if she had witnessed his conversation with the angel. He laughed to dispel, or perhaps encourage, thoughts that he might be crazy.
"Can I get you anything else, sweetie?"
He had to think about the question for a moment. There was so much he wanted to ask for, but such requests would be out of place in the current setting. It was his addiction to decorum that always cost him. No matter how much he considered himself to be a renegade against convention, he rarely failed to hold himself to his own version of convention.
"Lunch," he said.
"Well, you're always working at night, so I figured maybe lunch would be the best option."
"That would be cool," she said as he handed he the money for the bill. "Are you going to be okay?"
"What do you mean?" He looked into her eyes, searching for something but getting lost in their pale blueness. He has seen these eyes before.
"Nothing. Don't worry about it."
"Okay, I won't worry about it. I'll be fine."
"Of course you will be," she said as she took the money. "Thanks. Have a good night."
He was sitting on the sofa. His arms were crossed and his face was overcome by an unchanging scowl. If he had a rifle, he would have looked very much at home with it stretched across his lap. He checked his watch. He checked it again. What was taking her so long? She should have been home hours ago. Maybe she was seeing the other guy again. Maybe she wasn't coming home at all. Maybe she knew that he knew.
"How could you?" he snarled as soon as she walked in the door.
"Oh my god..."
"Look at this house. Look at what I've given you. Look at what I've done for you all these years. You've never gone wanting for everything. I bought you the fucking Acura you went down on him in!"
She said nothing. She walked into the bedroom at a pace quicker than her normal gait. She pulled her suitcase out of the closet, tossed it on the bed and began throwing clothes into it.
"So, you're just going to leave now? What, are you going to go live with that son of a bitch you've been banging? You'll lose all this. You'll lose everything."
"Don't you understand? I never wanted any of this. I'd gladly give up all of this bullshit just to find myself again. What exactly do you give me? Stuff? And then you remind me every day that I should be happy because of everything you do for me and everything you give me. You've never been able to give me what I want."
"What the fuck do you want?"
"That's the problem. You've known me all these years and you still have no idea."
She had jet black hair and dressed completely in black. She walked into the bar with an aura of authority and invincibility. Her intense beauty immediately attracted the eyes of every patron of the establishment. She stopped as she listened for the comments that always came from the men who didn't know any better. After the pause, she walked over to the bartender and threw a sketch of a man's face down in front of him.
"Have you seen this man in here?"
"What are you, a cop or something?"
"No, I'm a psychotic bitch. Have you seen this guy?"
"A lot of people come and go all the time," the bartender said as he looked down at the picture. "I think I'd probably remember this character. We don't see too many like him in here. Don't think I've seen him before."
"I have," said a man seated at the bar.
"Don't fuck with me, asshole," the woman said as she took the sketch away from the bartender and slapped it down in front of the other man. "Where?"
"Not in here. I've seen him elsewhere. If you really want to know where to find him, it's going to cost you."
"Fuck you. I don't pay for information. I take it."
"Your loss, lady."
"Sixteen years old and knocked up? I hope you're real happy with yourself. You've fucked your whole life up you little whore."
There was no point in trying to argue with her father when he was angry. The conversation was an old one now. They'd been having it for two months. At the beginning she tried to defend herself, but now she realized there was no point. After she gave up on defending herself, she decided to join in and mimic his insults. That earned her a slap across the face, so now she just said nothing.
"Where exactly do you think you are going?"
"I don't know, dad, but I know I can't stay here."
"Can't stay here? Who else is going to have a pregnant sixteen year old slut? I have to let you stay here because you're my daughter. If you leave you'll end up living at the bus station."
"You don't owe me anything, dad. Thanks for everything, but I can't do this any longer. I can't spend the rest of my life feeling this guilt you throw at me. I fucked up. I ruined my life. You do everything for me. You raised me. You worked hard to support mom and me. I know. I know. You tell me every day and I can't listen any longer."
"What's your name, anyway?"
"Are you serious? Or are you one of those guys who uses a fake name whenever he hires a whore?"
"Look, it isn't that... I just have this, um, fantasy where I'm Steve McQueen and I'm with some beautiful woman in a hotel room..."
"Okay, fine. I used to be an actress, or at least I thought I was, so if you want to go role play, that's cool with me."
"Does it get boring?"
"Does what get boring? Acting?"
"It's a job, Steve. Like any job, it gets old. Fucking can get as boring as selling insurance when you're doing it every day."
"So, does that mean you don't get any pleasure from it?"
"Shut up and take your pants off, Steve."
The dogs were perched were their front paws on the table in front of the window. They were barking madly at the darkness outside. Unable to get them to settle down, the woman who took care of them walked over to the window and looked out. She didn't see anything unusual or anyone the dogs might be barking at, so she told them to be quiet again.
"What's the matter with you guys? There's no one out there. What are you barking at?"
"It's starting," said the voice of the man that had just finished using the shower. "That's why they're barking. They have a sense for these things."
"What are you talking about?"
After vigorously drying his hair and throwing the wet towel onto the bed, the man shrugged. "You know what I'm talking about. I read your book, remember?"
"Yeah, and I'm still pissed off at you for that. Nothing is going to happen. I've stayed away from you know who so it wouldn't happen that way."
"Doesn't much matter, I figure. The way I see it, you've become more powerful in his life as a ghost than you could have been in person."
"Do you know how hard it is for me to stay away from him?"
"Force of habit made it easier, though, didn't it? They're coming at him from all angles now. He's chasing a dream and he doesn't know why. You cashed out at the table, but that doesn't mean everyone stopped asking for cards."
The madman walked out of the bar, silently cursing himself for continuing to be so elusive. He looked over his shoulder, through the window of the bar, and watched the waitress continuing about her business. Another round of beers for table six. A smile for table eight. Did she even really care that he had left the building?
"You've forgotten how to feel," said the voice of the angel. "It became too easy for you. Women came into your life and you let them come. Women left your life and you let them leave. The revolving door worked very well for you. This time it won't be so easy."
"This is about something more than just a challenge, isn't it?"
"How much of a challenge could it be? She practically throws herself into your arms, but you don't know how to catch her."
"She has this glow. She has the eyes. She scares the shit out of me."
"And yet you can't stay away from her. You are beginning to learn something and you won't understand until the lesson is complete."
The madman got behind the wheel of his car, slid the key into the ignition and turned. There was nothing but a click. The second time he tried to start the engine there wasn't even that.