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How Long Has It Been?
by DragonComedian

Opening the door to the bar, he took in the smell of stale beer that had dried into the carpet and let his eyes adjust to the dark room. Even with the light that hovered above the pool table, he struggled to see. Surrendering, the human took his glasses out of his jacket pocket and placed them on his face. Everything became clear in the blink of an eye. The bar was no longer a blurred mass of wood. The various animals that sat on the stools could easily be seen staring at him. He was used to that look by now.

Settling his eyes on no particular area behind the bar, Kale stepped forward and headed to an empty stool. He took a seat and the tiger plodded his way over to him.

“A bottle of beer, please bud,” Kale asked. The orange and black striped bartender looked him up and down before shaking his head and reaching behind into a fridge and pulling out a small brown bottle and placing it on the bar in front of him.

“Three dollars, monkey boy,” the tiger said. Kale smirked and handed over the money. Kale was sure the rather placid attempt at racism on the tiger’s part was to try and encourage him to drink elsewhere. He would not be put off - he had some personal business to attend to here.

“Has a fox with blonde hair come in here today?” Kale asked the barman.

“You’re a pig as well, huh?” he sneered.

“I’m not with the police,” Kale denied. “He’s a friend of mine, Bruce Beradino?” The bartender’s mood seemed to lighten at the mention of the name, and Kale could hear some hushed chatter about it between the other bars’s attending customers.

“Maxwell’s kid?” he said a little louder than necessary, but seemingly much more accommodating than before. “Are you really a friend?”

“Do I look like a shaven monkey?”

“Ha! Fair enough,” he laughed. “He hasn’t been in today, but here’s normally here most nights at about seven.” That gave Kale a wait of just over half an hour. Looking around for something to do, other than drink, Kale saw the pool table was now in use by a pair of wolves. The jukebox was turned off, or broken. And the dartboard was a no-go because there were tables in front of it. Turning back to the bar, Kale remained on his stool and swigged away at the bottle.

It was a lie when Kale said he was not with the police. In truth, Kale had been working for them ever since finishing college. Despite learning all he could about computers, Kale’s job options were limited by a lack of open minded employers. After all, which company in its right mind would want to be known for employing a human, a rare freak of nature, something which is not normal? It annoyed him to no end. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, he sent an application off to the police service as an IT maintainer, someone to fix the broken computers. After two months of mundane boredom in his dead end career, he got talking to a crow that worked in the crime laboratory on a coffee break and a few days later he was called in to the office and given a choice. Spend the next forty years changing parts in computer towers, followed by a poor pension and a lonely death in his eighties after rotting away in some dingy nursing home. Or he could work for twenty years with the police service and not some third party computer repair company, get a good pension and feel like he has actually accomplished something in life. It was a no-brainer. Kale immediately accepted the offer and started training as a data recovery expert. A couple of years later and now he was in his mid-twenties, with a bit of cash in his pocket, and an apartment of his own to live in. Life was good.

The meeting with Bruce was a regular affair, taking place at least once every month. Today was the first time Kale had agreed to come to Bruce’s regular haunt, instead of one of their homes. He was a little apprehensive, but the now welcoming atmosphere helped to calm his anxiety.

Something vibrated in his pocket. Hoping is was not work related, Kale pulled his cellular phone from his pocket and checked the text message he had received.

“I b there in 5. Bruce.” The message was simple enough. Kale could live with five more minutes of being on his own.

The entrance to the bar slammed open and everyone looked at the cause of the commotion. Kale used the mirror behind the bar to see, noticing the seven foot tall bear that staggered slowly in.

“Here we go,” the tiger muttered to himself as the rest of the animals at the bar turned back around to face their front. Kale took another nervous swig as the hulking creature meandered his way to stand behind him.

“Beer!” he roared. The tiger sighed before walking to stand in front of him.

“You’re drunk, Frank,” he explained, “I’m not serving you like this.”

Dejected the bear looked around for something to take his frustration out on. Kale shook his head, knowing that serving the drunk could have saved the bother.

“What you shaking your head at?”

“Nothing,” Kale said as apologetically as he could manage, hoping Frank would leave him alone. Using his brute strength, Frank grabbed a handful of the back of Kale’s shirt and lifted him out of the stool. Kale held on to his bottle. Holding Kale so he could face him, Frank started to mouth obscenities at the tiny human. Kale was a second away from using the bottle when the bear grunted and dropped him. Rubbing at his gut, Kale looked up from the floor to see that one of the wolves had come over from the pool table and landed a fist into Frank’s notable belly. Deciding to use the distraction, Kale moved away from the scene and stood a few feet back. The tiger and the customers sitting at the bar watched on curiously.

“How’s the arm, Frank?” the wolf said.

“Screw you, mutt,” Frank said as if the wolf had just taken a crap in his mouth.

“Because if you don’t leave I’m going to break it again,” he told Frank. Rubbing at his right wrist, the bear snarled for a moment before throwing his arms around like a child throwing a hiss fit and leaving the bar, tipping over an empty table as he left. The wolf turned to face Kale and the other wolf he was with came out from the bathroom and returned to the pool table, oblivious to what had just occurred. “You alright, Kale?”

“Yes, I… Lupin?”

“Oh yes,” Lupin laughed, throwing his grey arms around the human, hugging him for a brief moment. “How long has it been?”

“Six years?”

“Something like that, yeah. Come on, you can tell me what you been up to since college. I see you can hold your beer too.” Kale looked at the bottle he still held in his hand. It had somehow survived the short encounter with Frank. Lupin put an arm across the top of Kale’s shoulders and ushered him towards the pool table. Kale did not resist the gesture and gladly wandered over to a table adjacent to the gaming table and put his bottle on it.

“Who’s your friend?” the other wolf asked, Kale noticed the female tone and unfamiliar accent. She turned around, and Kale smiled when they made eye contact.

“This is an old college buddy of mine, Kale,” Lupin introduced. “Kale, this is my fiancée Louise.” The two exchanged a handshake and a smiling ‘hello’.

“You’re not from round here?” Kale asked.

“She’s from England,” Lupin informed him. “She moved here just over a year ago.”

“I can speak for my self, Puppy. Thank you very much,” she said, pretending to be annoyed. “You’ll have to excuse Lupin. He’s like a dog on heat and won’t shut up half of the time.”

“Not the Lupin I used to know,” Kale mocked.

“Puppy?” Louise asked Lupin. “I heard noises when I was in the bathroom, what happened?”

“Frank again,” Lupin sighed. “He was going to use Kale as a toothpick until I stepped in.”

“He didn’t hurt you did he?” Louise asked, concerned. Kale shook his head. “You’ll have to ignore Frank. He comes in and disrupts the place every now and then, like a bear with a sore arse, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

“So what brings you here, Kale?” Lupin asked as he started to rack the balls on the table.

“Bruce.”

“Ah. So he’s finally managed to get you out has he?”

“You could say that,” Kale nodded.

“Well, until he comes, we’re playing eight ball. Spots and stripes, you can break.”

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