The Fifth Fedora: Weird Noir and Stranger Tales in Honor of Stephen T. Vessels is now published by Borda Books and Wilder Utopia, and is available on Amazon or in our bookstore. "Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy, Oi Oi Oi" starts off this collection of tales told in Stephen's honor. The following, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt of Zane Andrea's story.
They met at St. Andrews, a dive bar housed in a defunct church. Tori needed a taxi to get there because she was too old to drive. Arthur needed angels because he died young. Tori’s cab driver was red-haired, terse but polite. Arthur’s angel was a huge, winged man with silky hair and a fedora.
Tori paid the cover for a band she’d never heard of and walked straight to the bar. She half-hoped to get a raised eyebrow or snide remark about her age from one of the crusty punks or bartenders working tonight. But everyone she passed either ignored her or was polite without being patronizing. Kids were more tolerant these days, god damn them.
No one noticed Arthur or his angel as they floated in. No one saw the angel straighten Arthur’s tie and tell him to be ready to go by midnight before gliding through the ceiling.
Arthur saw Tori sitting by the bar right away. Her outfit looked like she’d mugged an ‘80s coke dealer for his suit and a ‘90s goth kid for his boots. The resulting look was simultaneously immature and dated, too old and too young at once. Nearly identical to what she was wearing the first time they met.
Tori gave the bartender a fistful of bills. He gave her an empty shot glass and let her keep her purse on the seat next to her, chasing away any other patron who tried to take it. Same as last year and the year before that, and God knows how many years before that. Tori knew too, but she refused to acknowledge the number.
Arthur sat down on the seat, on the purse, next to Tori and waited.
Tori pulled a bottle of Blue Label from an inner jacket pocket and started drinking. Four shots in, she finally saw Arthur. He wore a cream-colored suit with a matching derby to hide the hole in the top of his head. She saw Arthur put his arm around her shoulders, but didn’t feel it until two more shots. She tried to put her hand on his leg, but he couldn’t feel it. One-way feeling as usual. It wasn’t fair.
Finally, the band started playing and patrons either cheered or scream-talked their conversations. Arthur and Tori could finally hear themselves think.
I always liked you in skirts, he said.
I always liked you alive, she thought.
Subtle, he said.
I’m too old for subtle, she thought. And I hate your hat. She meant she hated his head, what he did to his head.
It’s the only gap left, he said.
Congratulations, she answered. Tori remembered their first St. Andrews meeting after he died. All she could see of Arthur were heat ripples shaped like outlines of dismantled doll parts. Later, he got his parts back, but had a hard time keeping himself together. His hands kept falling off while they talked. His legs would drift away like leaves in a pool, and he’d have to lean over and catch them. Sometimes his torso disappeared without warning. In those days, she needed far harder stuff than Blue Label to see Arthur, and she attributed the visual disturbances to old-fashioned tripping balls. As years went by, their shared friends started to pass, and Arthur grew more solid. Tori put two and two together. She thought she did, anyway.
Arthur said again, It’s the only gap left. Then, You’re the only gap left.
Bullshit. Your brother’s still alive. A lot of our friends are still alive. Your fucking widow is still alive.
You don’t have to die to make peace with it, he said.
How the hell would you know? She seethed. You didn’t even try.
Arthur flickered and Tori couldn’t feel his arm on her shoulder anymore. Then the feeling returned and she could breathe. Scotch and relief flushed through her veins as the band played on. I didn’t mean that, she thought.
I know, said Arthur.
Zane Andrea is a former engineer, current lawyer, and always writer with a wonderful family, awesome cat and dog, too many degrees, and not enough books. Zane also had a propensity for overlong sentences. Zane is honored and humbled to be part of this tribute, but also angry at the universe for making it necessary.