The kid was working his magic hard.
For the last 20 minutes I had been watching him at the end of the bar talking to a woman sitting a seat away from him. She seemed to be about a decade older than him and was wearing a particularly expensive wedding ring. She nursed her Pinot Noir and seemed mildly amused at the kid’s attempts at seduction. He probably knew his chances were minimal but, with no other prospects yet at the bar, he pandered on, killing time.
Delany, the blond Asian bartender, was leaning against the bar across from me with her arms folded. She seemed completely indifferent to the potential drama of infidelity playing out a few seats away.
I sat silently nursing my Old Fashioned.
There was a light rain outside, not enough to really make it feel like winter. Actually, the Cuban motif of Habana’s, the palm fronds and the muted Latin jazz, made everything seem decidedly more… tropical, if anything.
“Why do you men waste your time like that?” Delany said, looking at the putative Casanova at the end of the bar.
“I’ve seen men your age doing the same thing.”
“Don’t get nasty, Delany.”
“Use the coaster, Steven, I’m tired of wiping down the bar.”
We both watched as the woman’s husband came in from outside and approached her. She smiled up at him, while at the same time the young kid’s enthusiasm deflated and he started stirring his cocktail.
“Oh, well… show’s over.” Delany said with a chuckle.
Delany forced herself from her backrest and approached the husband to get his order while I stared at the bottles behind the bar. Christmastime had a way of thinning out the herd at the bar. The place was not quite empty, but the regular customer base of broken souls was clearly keeping distance today.
“Holding court again, Steven?”
I recognized the voice, distinctly recognized it, and with it I could feel the tension in me instantly rise. My shoulders tightened, and I found myself gripping the Old Fashioned harder than I should have.
I looked to my left and saw him standing there.
The same jacket, the same emerald green pocket square that matched his cufflinks and his deep green eyes. He just stood there smiling, looking at me like a specimen.
I put down my drink and offered him my hand.
“Gabriel, good to see you again, my friend.”
He genuinely looked surprised and somewhat grateful. He eagerly reached out and clasped my hand. The electricity ran right through my arm, as I suspected it would.
“Steven, this is the first time in ages that someone seemed pleased to see me!”
“Yeah, well… ’tis the season, right? Good will towards men, and all that nonsense.”
“Yes, all that nonsense.”
“Flying solo tonight, Gabriel? Where is your militant comrade?”
“Michael? Oh, he may be along in a bit, a bit busy right now a few thousand miles to the east.”
“So I’ve seen.”
Gabriel sat down next to me and folded his hands on the bar. For a moment he stared at the same bottles I had been looking at.
“It has always amazed me how many poisons your people can produce for yourselves.”
I glanced over and looked at the bottles.
“It has always amazed me that a world was created where these poisons were required.”
“It’s been a helluva month, Gabriel.”
“I know… I have been watching you fighting windmills, Don Quixote.”
“Yeah, the windmills are out in force.”
Gabriel looked at me. It was not a quizzical look. He seemed to be looking directly into my soul.
“You are troubled, Steven?”
“I am distraught, Gabriel. I believe that your boss endowed each of us with an inalienable right to exist. The State seems to disagree with that assessment.”
Gabriel smiled. “Indeed, mon amie, the State, does feel that way. The State would not exist if you humans were not flawed. Yet, you humans make up the State. I give your Framers credit, at least they understood that and sought to limit the State’s powers.”
“No, I completely agree. Yet this incarnation of the State has unmoored itself from the constraints of the Constitution.”
Gabriel nodded his agreement. “Yes, we are aware.”
“Gabriel… do you believe we have a right to use violence?”
“Yes, to the extent that violence is limited to preserving your right to exist.”
“I agree with you. Yet, the State has other ideas.”
“Are we speaking academically, Steven?”
“No… empirically. The State believes it has a complete monopoly on violence, that each person is a subject of the State and that it controls who can use violence and for what reasons. A tool of self-protection is something to be outright banned or, at the very least, massively regulated. Where that tool can be carried for use in self-defense can also be completely restricted.”
“And the State is asserting its belief.” Gabriel said this more of a statement than a question.
“Yes. And the consequences are going to be catastrophic for many people.”
This caused Gabriel’s eyebrow to rise.
“What do you mean?”
“People do not want to be criminals, and they do not want to consider themselves criminals; your ilk made a point to put to voice, ‘Render unto Caesar’… Some folks take that admonition seriously and will not carry arms to defend themselves as a result of the actions of the State.”
“Ah… you believe that people should ignore unjust laws?”
“I’m getting to that point. The consequence of fealty may result in someone’s death.”
“Do you have faith in your fellow man, Steven?”
I looked at Gabriel with the same look he had given me.
“Gabriel, you love humanity. I’ve read your historiography… maybe you love humanity a tad too much. The State is not an entity. It is populated by humans, deeply flawed, deeply misguided humans.”
Gabriel smiled. “Yes, Steven I do. But in the end it is because I see not the state of humanity, but the promise of it. Your species has the unique ability to literally transcend beyond itself. You seek justice, and at times, compromise, but to a greater or lesser degree each of you has empathetic capabilities… and yes… I will be the first to acknowledge you are all fundamentally flawed. That said, my good friend Cervantes created an archetype for you, did he not? Don Quixote goes afield in search of killing dragons, stopping injustice, and doing it all for the glory of God. Each generation has its Don Quixotes.”
“As I recall, Gabriel, the whole point is that Don Quixote was crazy.”
Gabriel smiled again. “As was John the Baptist? As was Joan of Arc? As was the lone Chinese protester standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square? Your history is full of examples of people embracing virtue over injustice. Why do you call them crazy, Steven?”
I looked at my Old Fashioned sitting on the bar and smiled.
“Touche, my friend.”