"So, what do you call this thing?"
"Yeah. Does 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 began. He caught the waitress's eye and touched his glass to let her know they wanted a third round of martinis. "When you summon it, when you call it forth…"
Ed drained his glass. He squinted at Phil and shook his head.
"That's what I've been telling you," he said. "I don't summon it, or call it. I don't even know what it is."
"You said it's a…"
"Yeah. I know what I said, but…"
"It sounds like some kind of anti-superhero."
"Look, I never ask for this thing to happen. I don't light candles or anything. It isn't like that."
"Right," said Phil. "But you call it a--what, exactly?"
"That was Betsy. She's the one who acted like it was some kind of being. She named it, whatever 'it' is. Like I told you. She was the one with the imagination."
"Okay, and what did she name it?"
"Betsy called it an 'avenging guardian angel,'" Ed explained. "That's what she said."
The men went silent when the waitress arrived with fresh martinis. Phil gave the lean-limbed blonde a generous tip and a wink.
"I thought Betsy and you were…"
"Over," Ed admitted. "Yeah. She packed up her knives and moved back to New York."
"You could have followed her back east, if you wanted to. Betsy's a Brooklyn girl at heart. Everybody knows that."
"I like what I do. At my level, management jobs in game design are hard to come by. Betsy could have worked anywhere. A chef can always find work."
"She didn't want to stay. She didn't want to be with me. That's all."
"Sorry, man," Phil said. "Here."
They raised their glasses.
"Fuck women," said Phil. "And if you can't fuck 'em, to hell with 'em."
Ed grinned and sipped his martini. Across the room, in the dusky half-light, their waitress leaned against the bar, poised to deliver another round. Outside the only window the night revealed opaque figures rushing by on the busy street. Rain made the shadowed bodies sleek, shining like the dark feathers of nocturnal birds.
"Never mind about Betsy. I only mentioned her because of this thing we were 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."
"No, but you're right," Ed told him. "Most people didn't realize it, but she was into so much bullshit. Tarot, spirit guides, 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, next to 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 telling another guy's girl--practically a fiancée, almost his wife--to move to another city…"
"Yeah. I know. Yeah."
"Is this the same guy who told her about the--what's it--the A.G.A.? That's what I'm going to call it. Sounds a little less loony."
Ed chuckled. 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--we were in bed--one Sunday."
"Just, you know, watching something stupid on TV. Cartoons. I don't remember. Joking around. A nice day."
"And I was saying something about Ted Donovan…"
"The designer you told me about, right, from Portland?"
"Yeah. I was letting off steam, nothing serious: the way the guy asks too many questions, 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.
"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 Margaux. But she looked strange."
"I don't know. Scared."
"Okay, maybe not scared. Concerned."
"She doesn't even know the guy, right?"
"Right. But she says: 'Do you realize every person you've talked about like this ended up having something bad happen?'"
Phil laughed. Ed gave him a sheepish grin.
"I know," Ed said. "I know. It's a crazy thing to say, right? It's Sunday. We had a glass of wine with breakfast in the morning, smoked a little. It was that kind of day. Also, I knew Betsy was seeing this psychic, so I thought that was where it came from. I laughed. I called her on it and she said no, this wasn't from the psychic, this was something she had been thinking about for a while."
"How long is a while?"
"She said it was the reason she went to the psychic in the first place."
"What the hell does that mean?"
Ed held his glass and swirled its contents with his toothpick and olive. He took a sip before he answered.
"She said she'd made a list, one day."
"People I dropped or people who, you know, trashed me in some way. People who screwed me over, people I bitched about."
"Everybody could make a list like that," said Phil. "Anybody."
"Yeah," Ed said. He hesitated. "Now, you have to understand, this is what Betsy told me."
"Granted. I take it with--a grain of salt."
Ed looked around the dim room with its assortment of ragged businessmen, silent couples, and drunks. The waitress at the bar shifted her weight, ready to bring another round at the least signal.
"The thing is, every person on the list was somehow--messed up."
Buy Supernatural Tales 21 to read the rest of "A.G.A." as well as chilling tales by Steve Rasnic Tem, Iain Rowan, Bill Read, Steve Duffy, Adam Golaski, Sam Dawson, and Stephen J. Clark. Edited by David Longhorn.