The old, familiar smell of the bar hit me as I walked through the door: beer, sweat, floor wax, a whiff of fried food from the kitchen, the sour reek of garbage.
No, wait, that last wasn't right. The garbage smell was from the alley behind the bar, where my cat vessel was keeping watch. I shook my head, smiling. I love animal vessels, but sometimes their senses can be overwhelming. Useful, though! The cat would keep watch on the back of the bar, the pigeon on the wire across the street would do the same for the front door, and my human host --
"Hi, Charlie." I slid onto a stool, hands on the bar. "It's me, Jammie." Of course he wouldn't know this vessel. I cleared my throat, pointed to a whiskey bottle, and whispered.
"Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Wi' tippeny, we'll fear nae evil; Wi' usquebae, we'll face the devil!"
The fat man grunted in noncommital response, but he turned and poured a jigger's worth (I knew he knew me; I've been quoting Robby Burns at him for fifty years now). Four hundred pounds of bald, sweating bartender, it was hard to believe that he could turn around in the tiny space behind the bar. He could, though, and then some. Anyone who thought that Fat Charlie was slow and clumsy was making a big, big mistake; I'd seen him come over the top of the bar like an avalanche in an apron.
I raised my drink in salute (the cat stalked the shadows behind a dumpster, the pigeon hunched its shoulders and cooed softly). "Is my, ah, special friend here?"
That got me a flat stare and several moments of silence. Then, with the jerk of a head. "Your sorcerous... acquaintance is at the table next to the juke."
That was a major speech, for Charlie. I glanced across the room. Martine changes her appearance more often than most mortals change their socks (it can't be a Song, where would she get the Essence, some sort of artifact?) but I recognized her in the blonde woman nursing a pineapple daiquiri. It's very hard to hide such things from us Dominations, you know; we're used to picking up on each other, after all. The body language gives a lot away, and then of course her taste in drinks and... "Ah, hah. Charlie buddy, who's that sitting next to her?"
Another long silence, Charlie seemingly engrossed in the glass he was cleaning (and it needed it... this was really a pretty grubby place; my host for the evening, a tax attorney with a nice house in the suburbs, would never come here under his own power). Then, with another jerk of the head: "Cuffs."
Cuffs? I turned to look again. The man next to my sorceress had... yes, French cuffs. On a shirt, that was under a suit, that was much, much too nice for a place like this. And a neatly trimmed little pencil-thin mustache...
I turned back to Charlie. "Ras Razash! That's our little Impudite friend from the Derg! I'd know that mustache anywhere!"
That got another grunt. Clearly Charlie wasn't sharing my excitement.
"But we heard that he went renegade last year, after the Doctors Without Borders thing!" I kept my voice low (but outside the cat snarled softly, the pigeon fluttered on its wire). "What's he doing here? And snuggled up to our turncoat sorceress?"
No grunt, but Charlie's fat rippled in what might have been a shrug.
Well... this assignment had just gotten a lot more interesting. "Okay, well. I guess we'll find out." I slapped a bill down on the bar (and reminded myself to do something nice for my host, since he was buying. "Keep the drinks coming, Charlie, and watch my back." I strolled over to the table by the juke, drink in hand, humming softly to myself and myself and myself. Did Burns have a line for this? Maybe. "As Father Adam first was fool'd, a case that's still too common -- here lies a man a woman ruled, the Devil ruled the woman..."
Behind the bar, Charlie went on polishing his glasses.
* * * * *
In a less-then-wonderful neighborhood of a major city, there's a bar. It's small, not particularly clean, and illuminated by the usual cluster of beer ads plus a buzzing neon sign that reads "Fat Charlie's II".
It's in no way remarkable, except for this: it's an angel bar. It's not a Tether, but it is a place where some of the local angels come to hang out, swap stories, and let their hair down a bit without the security and formality concerns of a Tether.
The local demons know about Fat Charlie's. but they're not likely to try anything, largely because of
Carola, Seraph of David