Critical Times

(by, 05 April 1998)

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Critical Times

   Clarissa was taking her six am walk when she saw the woman sitting on the
park bench. The bench looked out on the sound, and in the summer time it was
rarely empty- except at this time of the morning.
   She was beautiful, this slender, wild-haired woman. Although Clarissa could
see only part of her profile she could see that the woman was full-breasted.
Her face had an odd effervescent quality, but she looked sad, sitting there
with her arm over the back of the bench, lit cigarette in hand. Incongruously,
she was wearing a well-wore pair of Nike Air Windrunners which looked to have
several hundred miles on them.
   Clarissa found herself drawn to this woman, who was dressed in a black mock-
turtleneck and khakis. With her free hand, she was scrawling something onto a
Newton, looking as though the external world was a nothing more than a
disjointed, distant memory.
   She began walking across the dew-stained grass, oblivious to the wetness of
the morning. The grass, freshly cut yesterday, left green stains on her own
running shoes. As she approached she tried to smile, but as it would have been
forced, she gave it up as a bad job.	
   "Hello," Angel said, turning around just before the girl was going to speak.
She was about sixteen- a few days short- and quite attractive. Angel put the
Newton down and smiled at her disarmingly. It was nice to have a distraction
so early in the day, especially one who was interested in what she was holding
so casually in her right hand.
   Bringing the cigarette to her lips, she inhaled deeply, enjoying the hit. It
had been an hard run today- no mere maintenance romp but a real out and out
five mile sprint which made her realise it was time to get new sneaks.
   Her exhale carried in the heavy morning air, coating it with the sweet smell
of second-hand smoke.
   Clarissa was an attractive girl. A few days short of a birthday, she carried
herself with the air of someone who lived with a nagging curiosity about
something. Of course, it was not just about something- it was about something
very specific, exactly the thing which Angel was most likely to be able to
help her with.
   "Hi. I hope I'm not interrupting you-"
   "Of course not. I was just reviewing my schedule for the day. Have a seat-
you look like you could use an ear- or a shoulder, Clarissa."
   The girl didn't notice the use of her name. She did sit down next to Angel,
who slid just far enough away from the girl to ensure that there was some
distance between them. It was nice that the girl seemed to have no fear of
strangers, but these days it was always best not to give anyone anything to
talk about. Sad, but propriety was en vogue again.
   "You don't really know why it is that you came over here, do you ?"
   It would have been perfectly naturally for the teenager to lie- they weren't
in general a breed willing to admit to being caught out.
   But Clarissa just smiled wanly and said "No, I don't. I just saw you over
here and thought- well, you looked lonely."
   This time Angel indulged in a display inhale and a well-sculpted nose exhale.
Although the cigarette was half gone, she was able to hold it with some degree
of style. The look in the girl's eyes would have told Angel what she needed to
know even if such cues weren't actually necessary.
   "Do you believe in coincidence, Clarissa ?"
    The girl thought about this for a moment and then nodded.
   Angel appreciated this philosophical naivete. She couldn't really remember
back to when she'd last felt that way, although she was sure that there had
been some innocent point in her life when the fact that Santa Claus looked
just like Uncle James was something that could be written off in any one of a
dozen easy to grasp ways.
   Sometimes the world seems so unreal, I can touch it but it has no feel.
   Angel hated these incongruous thoughts, which were at times beyond ignoring.
   "I don't. You came here for a reason- just as I sat here for a reason."
   This wasn't really the conversation that Clarissa was expecting this time of
morning. Normally though, she would have stuck to her own beliefs, but looking
into this other woman's eyes she saw the very things she often wanted. She
knew she was smart, but there were times when all the intelligence in the
world just didn't make up for not being an adult.
   Those moments of realisation generally struck without warning. She would be
listening to mom talk to the stock broker or daddy explain to a friend why
he'd suddenly switched jobs six months ago and realise that there were things
she'd simply have to experience to understand.
   It was the difference between laughing at a sexual entendre because it was
dirty and laughing at it because it spoke to some experience in your own life.
   And there were times that Clarissa didn't even think full-blown adults
appreciated the knowledge they seemed to collect.
   "So tell me then, why am I here ?"
   Angel allowed her exhale to drift over the girl, who didn't move to avoid it
in the least.
   "You're interested in something that I'm doing. Smoking."
   Clarissa thought about that. Thought hard. Mom smoked. Dad smoked a pipe,
although Clarissa still wasn't sure that was really smoking. Her older sisters
Noreen and Vania smoked. It ran in the family. But why would have seeing this
woman smoking arose her curiosity ? She saw people smoking all the time, had
friends who smoke outside school between periods and when they hang out-
   She had been thinking about what it would be like recently, but not in a
serious way. Or was that really true ?
   No, it was entirely casual.
   Wasn't it ?
   Angel drew on the cigarette, shrinking it further. Her exhale carried
straight into Clarissa this time, ensuring that she would smell even more
smoky than she already did.
   "No maybes. You try and be honest with me and I can provide you with what
you're looking for this morning."
   Clarissa knew she should have been wigged out. This woman was playing some
sort of `I know what you're thinking' game. But right now Clarissa was not
interested in playing Scully to this other woman's Mulder and tell her that
she was way off base. That ascribing nothing to coincidence lay just one step
short of going mad.
   Because she wasn't.
   Whatever this woman was, mad wasn't part of it. Clarissa wasn't sure that she
understood how she knew that. Maybe it was just the utterly sane look in her
eyes. Perhaps it was the smile on her face which never quite left the corner
of lips- a smile which was oddly, preternaturally sad.
   "I'm curious about your smoking, I guess."
   Angel drew on the cigarette. She pulled the portable ashtray from her purse
because she'd soon have to give up one this one and light another.
   "Curious ? How so ?"
   Clarissa signed and stretched her neck. She did not want this be long or
drawn out, did not want this woman to give her an hard time or make this
embarrassing. The urge to have walked over here might be inexplicable, but now
she was here, and she intended to make the most of the effort she'd already
made, regardless if this woman's bemused foreknowing.
   "I- my parents smoke. I have two older sisters who smoke. I think all of us
have assumed at one point or another I'll start smoking. I mean, 35 percent of
all high school kids smoke, and given my family history, it only makes sense-
but right now I feel like-"
   "You're not quite ready ?"
   "Something like that, yes."
   "Maybe you're also thinking that it was time you changed that idea about
yourself, no ?"
   Clarissa smiled. That was exactly what she had been thinking. Wasn't it ?
   "Tell me what smoking is like- and tell me your name."
   Angel stubbed her cigarette out in the little round ashtray and then extended
her hand. "My name is Angel." As soon as Clarissa was done shaking her hand,
Angel lit another cigarette, taking her time, allowing the white length of it
to dangle between her lips for a few seconds before snatching it away with the
requisite flair.
   "Smoking is like- well, smoking is like discovery. There this thing that
other people do- some well, some poorly- that is a complete mystery until you
have the opportunity to try it for yourself. And the one thing you need to do
before you give it a go is wipe away all the images you have of other people
doing it because otherwise-"
   "I might never start. I know exactly what you mean. My older sister Vania has
a friend- her ex-boyfriend, David. He smokes Newports. Short, stubby
cigarettes with that cork filter. He doesn't so much smoke as he attacks his
cigarettes. He lets the ash get long, holds the cigarette by the middle- he
flicks the ash away with his third finger. I hate watching him smoke because
it just makes me think that I would never want to look like that, you know ?"
   "Exactly. Some people just shouldn't smoke. I watch people and all I can
think of is that they can't possibly enjoy it. They always look angry and kind
of disgusting when they smoke."
   "Well, that doesn't encourage me. What if I turned out to be that sort of a
smoker ?"
   Angel supposed it was a fair question, but one look at Clarissa told you all
you needed to know about her- and that was that you needn't worry she would
turn out that way. No, this was a young woman who would very much know what to
do once she got a cigarette in her hand- just like her mother and sisters.
Which was where Angel went.
   "I think if you look at the way your mom and your sisters smoke you can make
a little bit of a guess as to what sort of smoker you're going to make as
well, and I don't think it's an ugly one, do you ?"
   The moment of corruption was now at hand. The girl was vacillating, but not
for long. She was close to coming over, which was precisely the moment Angel
was always primed for. A little nudge, a bit of support, and she would take
the first tentative steps down the necessary path.
   Angel felt no excitement. Just a rigid need to promulgate fruition.
   Still, it was enjoyable, wasn't it ?
   The girl smiled. "Would you mind- I hate to impose on you, being a stranger
and all, but-"
   "Would you like a cigarette ?" Angel asked, her tone neutral.
   "Yes, actually, I would. You know," she added, watching Angel draw deeply on
her own cigarette once again, "it's funny. I work down at the Barnes and
Noble- better money than baby sitting- plus all the books you can read. But
all the women I work with are smokers. They take their little smoke breaks
three or four times a day and sometimes I'd just like to be able to join
   "You can," Angel said, smiling. "Any time you want."
   "How about I try it here first ?"
   "I think that's a great idea. But I don't want to put any pressure on you-"
   "I think I'd rather you did put pressure on me. That's what's always been
missing. Mom never pressures me about smoking- I think she's afraid to talk
about smoking, and my sisters- well, they just scorn my lack of curiosity
without providing any encouragement, you know."
   "Well then, I absolutely insist that you sit here and smoke with me. I won't
take no for an answer."
   "That's better."
   Angel handed her cigarettes and lighter to Clarissa, who took them from her
with shaking hands. She pulled three cigarettes from the pack in a clumsy
manner, replacing two, managing not to bend or crease them, for which Angel
was thankful. She hated drawing an imperfect cigarette from the pack- she
wouldn't be caught dead smoking a mangled cigarette under any normal
   There was no wind. It was a perfectly calm day, the sort of morning for which
summer had been implicitly invented.
   The lighter flared briefly. Clarissa did a fine job of lighting her
cigarette, catching the tobacco without searing the end of the cigarette,
creating a perfect round burning cylinder at the end. Angel disliked that
blocky beginning. Her first inhale was always deep enough to ensure that she
would be able to immediately trim the ash to create a cone at the end of the
   Clarissa did precisely this. Years of being surrounded by smokers, of
breathing in their smoke, made her able to draw smoke directly into her lungs.
She handed the lighter back as she pulled the cigarette from her mouth. She
held the tip between the first two fingers of her hand, down very close to the
end, leaving exactly the amount she would need to place the cigarette between
her lips again.
   She held the cigarette away from her body with bent wrist and it was
instantly clear that the girl would indeed make an attractive smoker. She
exhaled gracefully, the smoke escaping from between pursed lips in a gentle
way. She was a feminine smoker as well, all the better. They needed more of
her type, girls who took smoking seriously and endeavoured  to do it with a
certain degree of style.
   "That was easy enough," Angel said, drawing on her own cigarette again,
enjoying the way the smoke enlivened her entire body.
   Inhaling again, Clarissa's face took on a cherubic glow. She rested her head
against Angel's shoulder and the older woman found herself arroused by the
innocence and enjoyment mingled on Clarissa's face.
   "Thank you," Clarissa said, speaking and exhaling as one.
   Angel ignored the stirring inside and tousled the girl's long, luxurious
hair, thinking safe, neutral thoughts.
   "Any time."

   It was a sad scene that Angel walked in on. It had little effect on her.
   The police had already been here, taking their pictures, marking this and
that with tape measured dimensions. They'd then gone their way, leaving behind
only yellow `Police Line- Do Not Cross' tape. The room still stank of death.
There was blood on the cracked mirror across from the bed and the water
service and complimentary stationary had been strewn on the floor. The body
had come to rest, if such a grisly final disposition could be so blandly
described, on the floor to the left of the dresser. It was gone now.
   Blood stained the faded wallpaper. He had probably been dead when he hit the
floor. That was how it was with head shots, after all. Death didn't wait for
men whose brains had been exposed to light of day.
   Angel allowed herself to become a part of the place.
   It had happened quickly. The agent had broken in the door without announcing
herself, gun in hand. He'd been straightening his tie- Angel had once told him
that his ties would be the death of him, not so much out of cruelty as because
she'd seen something once while they were playing poker. He'd reached into the
pot to draw it to him, sure that his three nines constituted a winning hand.
He was something of a card counter- a perfect compliment to his mathematical
skills, but Angel had been careful enough to chose an ace from her sleeve
which had not yet been played because she had palmed it while shuffling. She'd
brushed his hand and seen his future with an acuity that was annoying.
   What she really wanted to see was the next hand, because he had half a week
of her pay by his elbow, but these sorts of gifts, if you were so inclined to
view them as such, never worked that way.
   Instead she saw him lying in a blood puddle in a mid-range hotel room, one
hand still on his fucking tie, a three hundred dollar silk tie from
Nordstrom's festooned with early twentieth century cigar box etchings and bits
of his skull. Being that he had checked in to the hotel under an assumed
named, cash up front, she was the only reason they hadn't had to go to the
dental records to identify him.
   His humidor was next to the bed. That had been a gift from an old girlfriend,
a blonde with pert breasts and a taste for the same Italian cigars he often
indulged in. Angel walked across the room and pulled one out- there were only
three left, and the police had surely noted this fact, but right now she
didn't care. She needed to get inside his mind and do the hardest thing- look
backwards instead of forwards, see things as they'd been, not as they should
be, without the benifit of any person's memories to make the job unavoidably
   As she bit the end off the cigar she found herself wondering about the
concept of fate again. Had she been able to talk him out of ever wearing that
tie, would this have ended differently ? Did seeing a possible future require
such an adherence to detail ? If he'd been wearing a string tie, would he have
been out the door before the woman whose face she couldn't see yet came to
kill him ?
   The answer was to light the cigar, which Angel did. She rarely indulged
herself this way- the cigar would take the better part of an hour to smoke and
leave her spent- a nice sort of spent, but spent none the less.
   She had to remind herself not to inhale, but rather just enjoy the thick
smoke. This was usually a Sunday morning thing, two or three times a year,
usually in the dead of winter with a pot of strong tea- into which plenty of
brandy would be added- and the New York Times. One could kill a lot of time
with a good cigar and a real newspaper.
   Pulling on it, she drank the smoke and then held it, closing her eyes and
lying back on the bed.
   Mark Hamron was a singular man. She began to feel him, because something of
him besides his blood was still here. He'd been very horny last night- he
hadn't been home in weeks and hadn't got laid in months. The stench of
unrequited sexuality was  everywhere. He'd done the pay per view porno last
night, intending to masturbate not out of enjoyment but to relieve the
pressure only a unsated forty year old man could know.
   But he hadn't. The porno hadn't been good enough to enjoy, and hadn't been
bad enough to, as he termed it, `jack off.' So he'd sat and watched it because
he'd paid for it, drinking three dollar beers from the honor bar in the fridge
and wondering why in the hell he'd been told to come here.
   That was the one thing Angel knew. They were to have met this morning. She
had called at six am and been told that he'd been shot- probably a few moments
before he went to grab a quick breakfast at McDonald's.
   It was frustrating. Angel had needed him to do something for her. Now, not
only would that thing either go undone or need to be done by her- a
distasteful notion- but she had his death to unravel.
   The shooter had called in the murder. That much she was sure of. They'd made
a tape of the call available and Angel could here it in her voice. The
anonymous 911. "A man's been shot."
   What Angel heard instead was the truth. "I've shot a man."
   She'd used a land line, a pay phone across the street. No one remembered
seeing her- no one would.
   Except Mark.
   She drew on the cigar again, cheating a little. You couldn't really inhale,
not unless you were hoping to make yourself sick, but you could allow a small
portion of the smoke to trickle into your waiting lungs. It was a more
devastating feeling than a cigarette, but the smoke was not as sweet. Still,
it was enjoyable. As she did this, she saw her face. The woman was sloppy.
She'd let Mark turn around- perhaps even on purpose. Her eyes were the sort
which reminded Angel of that Amy person, another FBI agent whose role in this
shortening time was so very important to all of them.
   No, she had to look the man in the eyes before she emptied them of life.
   A short brunette who worked out. A little Tae Kwon Do- she'd kicked the door
open with a strength which belied her slightish frame. Her long hair dangled
down onto mid-sized breasts she privately thought too small. She'd performed
the hit with a professional ease, but she was not, by and large, a killer. Not
as Mark was, and she'd spent hours studying his record so that she could find
the nerve to to do what needed doing.
   Yes, Mark, although meant just to be a bag man today, had killed more than
his share of the unbelievers and the obstacles.
   Angel didn't let herself get too far into this sort of thinking. She knew
what the woman looked like and she knew as well where to find her. That was
all she required from this place. She drew on the cigar again and walked out,
ducking under the police tape and slipping back to her car unnoticed, although
the sun was high in the sky now and there were people milling about. They
turned their backs to her without understanding what compulsion had forced
them to move their feet. She took a set of ankle cuffs on a long chain from
the trunk of her car and then drove her rental slowly away, wishing for
simpler times.
   Yes, it would have been nice to just shoot the bitch who'd killed Mark, but
that would solve nothing except to relieve the nagging itch in Angel's
furiously calculating brain.

   The car was parked across the street from Lattimer Hall. Inside, a certain
professor was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mark Hamron, waiting in vain
for a man when it would be a woman who secured his retirement plans. He could
wait an hour longer. Angel had other business to attend to.
   Of course, the woman wasn't a smoker. If she was, she would have an enjoyment
to wile away the time with.
   Her loss. 
   Angel was parked a block further down. She began to concentrate, to wrap
herself inside herself. No one would see her, not that any of the students
were down here in the academic quarter at this time of day in the middle of
summer. No, they were out on the quad, drinking beer and getting stoned and
listening to Ben Folds Five blaring out the window of a frat house. In Angel's
day, it had been Talking Heads- `Burning Down the House.' Every goddamned day
until she hated the song, which was five or six years out of date at the time,
a legacy CD from the heady eighties.
   She walked up to the four door sedan unseen. A few seconds later there was an
audible ka-chunk as the electric lock was disengaged by the woman, whose name
was- Janice Lester.
   Yes, Janice, although her friends and co-workers- one and the same- called
her Janey.
   Angel slipped into the car and that was when Janey first saw her, the look of
shock on her face both comical and alarmist. A how in the hell did that happen
   Drawing on her cigarette, Angel pushed the barrel of the automatic deep into
the fake leather back of the seat, although Janey wouldn't be able to feel it.
   "Judging from the location of your neck, I can safely say that if I fire my
gun now, I'll nick your spine and the exit wound will blow a hole in stomach.
I'm sure that you don't want the long slow lingering death of a stomach wound
while you can't feel your feet or legs. So very slowly start the car and drive
until I tell you to stop."
   "Who the fuck are you ?"
   Angel didn't allow herself any emotion. Not now. Time and necessity both
forbade it.
   "Mark Hamron's old poker buddy. Drive."
   The woman considered her options. Annoyed, Angel shifted the gun over a few
inches and discharged it. The silencer avoided the gunshot drawing attention.
The bullet tore through the seat and blew a nice hole in the plastic vent
above the radio before disappearing into the innards of the ventilation
   "Drive, please."
   They reached the bottom lot of the cemetery. The caretaker was in the upper
section, drunk off his ass, chipping hundred year old stones with the deadly
blade of a Toro riding mower. Angel had been in town two or three times before
and checked the cemetery out on the hutch that it would be perfect for this
type of work. 
   "Place your hands behind your head. I'm going to make this easy. Do as I say,
and I won't simonise the inside of your brain pan."
   "You'll have to shoot me," Janey said.
   Angel knew what she was thinking. 
   I put my hands behind my head, she cuffs me and goes gangland on my skull.
   It was what Angel would have done, in any other reality but this one. In this
one, she needed to replace Mark, and this woman, with a few modifications,
would do the trick.
   Not today, certain. No, she would personally have to walk a mile or two in
his thirty centimetre shoes.
   "Put your hands behind your head and you live. Don't, and I walk back to
Professor Advent's cramped corner office. I don't mind the exercise. You
   "You're going to kill me anyway."
   "No, they were going to kill you anyway. As soon as you'd eliminated the
threat to Advent's research being completed properly, they would have had to.
What you would have eventually discovered would have tainted you. Look, let's
save the philosophical meanderings for when next we meet."
   Janey did as she was told. Angel had already slipped the chain through the
rear door handle, a nice closed loop. The chain was the perfect length. She
cuffed the woman and saw that she would be unable to draw her hands over her
head. Just as well if she didn't try. Were she to somehow succeed she would
only choke herself to death.
   Angel slid up over the long seat, opened the ashtray, and put out her
cigarette. She then drew another one from the pack and lit it casually. She
put it in her left hand and slipped her arm around Janey, sliding close, glad
for the automatic sedan's make out seat.
   "What are you doing ?" Janey asked, real panic in her voice. Of course there
was. She was in a special unit of the bureau after all, one where the drug
testing the agents underwent had a special target.
   "You smoked for five years, right, Janey ?"
   "How do you know that, or me ?"
   Rather than lie, Angel allowed a bit of unfettered truth to seep into their
   "I read your mind. Your sister Wilma started you when you were a junior in
high school, and you smoked your first two years of college. Then one summer
day while you were doing a criminal psychology seminar, you were approached.
Someone from the bureau. They told you that they were very interested, but
that you'd have to quit that nasty smoking habit, which after a few false
starts, you did. Am I right so far ?"
   Janey had some courage at least, Angel realised. She looked her straight in
the eyes. Her green orbs were still full of fear, but no longer of death.
   "Do you miss it ? Getting up in the morning, having a cigarette with your
Hazelnut Cinnamon coffee ? Do lie in bed at night and masturbate patiently
thinking about yourself smoking just one cigarette ? Do you keep an unopened
pack in the house, hoping that someday the bastards you work for will transfer
you ?"
   The answer to all those questions was yes.
   Janey's eyes traveled to the cigarette. "I can't. One cigarette and I test
positive. They'll have my badge."
   "You don't need to work for them- for her. You've met her, haven't you ? Did
you know there's another side to the bureau. I have a- connection. I can make
a call. A deputy director named Arose. A transfer. A different life. No more
waking up in a cold sweat at one twenty one in the morning, dying for
something you haven't had in five years. She'd kill you inside a week, but not
if he shows interest. He has some political power, even over her."
   "I can't. You know that."
   Angel undid the button fly of Janey's jeans. "Of course you can."
   She began slowly working on Janey while reaching the cigarette out the open
window and trimming the ash.
   Although neither of them had any of- those sexual tendencies- Angel knew that
a little persuasion was in order. She reached her neck across Janey and drew
on the cigarette and then kissed her while her hand contorted with near magic
precision. The FBI agent writhed under Angel but inhaled the smoke and the
woman's tongue, kissing her back hard and exhaling the smoke through her nose.
   When Angel broke the kiss, Janey turned her head and accepted the cigarette
gratefully. She drew deeply and they kissed again as Janey twisted under
Angel's gentle ministrations. She became wet quickly and her orgasm came just
before Angel had to switch hands to stub the cigarette out. She lit another
and they kissed again, one smoky kiss after another, and Angel continued to
pleasure the other woman. Before her second orgasm, Angel undid the cuffs and
she soon found herself naked from the waist down under Janey, who was quite
talented with her own hands.
   They kissed and smoked until Janey was spent, or so she thought. Angel
twisted underneath her, the smoking forgotten for the moment as she found the
right position for both of them to be able to reach the other. Angel exercised
her tongue in a way that was rare for her, probing deeply, while Janey used a
combination of tongue and finger which was maddeningly pleasurable. It was the
sort of combined effort that few men could understand, much less mimic.
   Finally her own orgasm carried her away. When she was finished with Janey,
the woman lit them two cigarettes, looking positively cute as they dangled
between her fulsome lips. She handed one to Angel, who started the car and
began driving  them back to the university as they dressed. Smoke poured from
her mouth the entire way, as though she might make up for years of wasted
   As she passed through the gates she heard the grating sound of dull metal on
old granite and smiled at the utter dependability of the human species.
   Angel called Arose from from her car and the transfer was in place before the
day was over. He sounded as though he'd yet to recover from their meeting, and
while there was more than a little anger in his voice, but he promised to help
Janey. Angel imagined Carter knew better than to disobey her wishes. As Angel
cut the call, she wondered if he really understood what he was doing.
   She devoutly hoped not.

   Clarissa was standing outside the bookstore, smoking a Virginia Slims 120
from her first pack of cigarettes. Angel had just walked out. She'd decided to
go back and read Thackeray's Vanity Fair again- two days work at least, and
she had some beach time coming. 
   "Have you told your mother yet ?" Angel asked disarmingly from behind,
startling the girl.
   "Christ, you scared me, Angel. I was thinking that I'd just be waiting for
her when she comes to pick me up, smoking. She'll get the message."
   "That long cigarette looks good."
   "I saw them in a magazine ad. Details, I think. I thought that I wanted
something long and white. Distinguished. And these take longer to smoke- so
longer breaks, you know ?" She drew on the cigarette and Angel admitted to the
girl that the look was perfect. 	
   "You should think about modeling those when you turn eighteen, you know ?"
   "I hear they don't let the models actually smoke the cigarettes."
   "They do these days. And all models smoke. It's a rule."
   "I want to thank you, Angel."
   Thanks was not a thing Angel liked, but in this case, she was willing to make
an exception.
   "You can repay the favour." She handed the girl one of Professor Advent's
   "What's this ?"
   "I bet that your grades are pretty good."
   Clarissa drew on the cigarette again and smiled as Angel lit one of her own.
   "What makes you-"
   "A girl who works in a bookstore because she can read the books free ?"
   "True. What does Professor Advent do ?"
   Angel inhaled, paused, nose exhaled. "He's just picked up a major grant to
research the link between teenage smoking and improved cognitive functions.
He's looking for girls like you, and he pays well."
   There was a lot more to why Angel wanted the professor to get together with
Clarissa, but neither of them needed to know that now.
   "I'll call him."
   "Promise ?" Angel said through her exhale.
   "Promise." Clarissa said, drawing on the cigarette again.
   "Then my work here is done."
   For now,  Angel added silently, and left. Knowing full well she would be
back, sooner than anyone thought.

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