By Oliver Walton-Harrod
(Set after the events of The Killing Darkness – our first mission in this campaign, possibly to be transcripted… at some point. This also serves as a lead-in to Maxwell’s story, as heard in Razorback)
How is it that two people can just sit there and talk? Like nothing’s weighing on them. Casually sipping away. Some basic small talk — “where do you work?” followed by “oh interesting.” No, it’s not. You’ve never even thought about bike mechanics before…
The two men sit opposite each other in one corner of the room as Maxwell finishes up a cocktail for a more common pair of barflies.
“That what you’re having?,” slurs the big-boned punter on the other side of the bar, who Maxwell can only assume to be the best man in a wedding of 2017 BC.
Before the groom has a chance to reply, the man raises his fingers. “5 shots for this unlucky —” either “cock” or “cuck.” It’s hard to tell. This must be at least the fifth place they’ve found themselves tonight.
Maxwell should be out gathering intel right now. There’s a series of bodies, all connected to this low-flying P.I., and a cop who seems keen to hush it up. Instead, he’s pouring unspecified shots for those who think they’re happy when really they’re just trying to make their lives less dull, all because Lucy couldn’t give him an ounce of notice, and trying to find anyone competent in this neighbourhood is as likely as finding an actual ghost with a medium.
Note to self: Add notice to contract.
Oh. And move somewhere decent.
He returns his gaze to the corner table.
Is it the alcohol? The build up to the inevitable sex? The lie of not dying alone?
The blonde doesn’t even have to say anything, sitting back in his denim jacket, legs casually apart, for the bearded brunette to straighten his glasses, poorly disguising an affirmed, ‘he likes me’ smile.
It’s naive. No other word for it. Except maybe gullible; innocent; tragic.
“Hello? Barman Bill!”
Maxwell’s attention returns to those shouting in his face, the groom assuming maximum hilarity at his own statement as he joins in the ‘banter’.
“Eyes front, soldier. The queers don’t need any more attention,” exclaims the best man, lowering his voice to a half-whisper as if expecting Maxwell to be in on the joke.
Is this what it’s like? Having friends. Existing within the ‘social norm’ as Jo put it.
Oh, you’re on a first name basis with them now? It must be special.
“Fifteen,” Maxwell says, noticing a wallet laid out in front of him.
Nah, you called Lucy by her name too. Standard colleague shit.
Maxwell allows his thoughts to drift until he is left alone with a twenty dollar note.
The two closest men return to their bachelor’s party in the middle of the room, the groom clearly forgetting why he’d come to the bar in the first place as he leaves a splash trail of half his drink.
Maybe you should give Jo a ring. Get more leads.
Glancing from dent to stain, Maxwell notices the rings, soaked into the wooden bar surface from last night. He invited his new team for a drink after their first mission together, knowing one of them had been present for his sister’s second death.
She seemed eager to avoid the topic last night though.
Maybe she’s hiding something?
Then again, they weren’t entirely new. He and Nina Koslov prevented cultist outbreaks in several towns during the Southern Takeover of 2014, and Scully Charles… well she’s his cousin, even if he had made it his business for that to mean as little as possible.
Ironic that despite efforts to distance himself, at least one of Maxwell’s family ended up in the same line of work.
“Access to intel, equipment, finances, and even reinforcements.” That’s what Blakesly had promised. The latter is less than preferable, but the intel in particular — Maxwell has never been given this easy access to possible answers, finally, after years of a blind (he doesn’t want to admit, failing) one-by-one approach. Surely that is worth the price of a few more backs to watch.
Plus the professional civility Blakesly proposed after his supposed ‘interview’.
Maxwell’s thoughts are interrupted, this time by throaty snickering. The brunette is in the process of stepping around shards of dartboard on the way to the bathroom as one of the bachelors, slightly older than the rest, and with an over-the-top quiff, calls out to the blonde.
“Aren’t you going to follow him in?”
Maxwell’s back straightens and he wipes away the rings in a simple stroke.
“You have a problem over there?”
The brunette, now stood still, shakes his head, but Maxwell’s eyes lie fixed on the larger group.
“Not me, no,” exclaims the quiff with a grin that most would describe as cheeky.
“Another round, thanks,” yells the best man, pointing to the empty shot glasses on the table.
Maxwell clocks the blonde on his phone, taking another sip of his drink without turning to acknowledge the group.
They are already reforming their huddle over the table.
Maxwell pockets the twenty, now slightly damp as the bachelors raise their voices once more, talking over each other about the wasted potential of marriage; he’d almost shout them a drink under different circumstances.
Maxwell doesn’t even realise he’s lip-reading until the groom attempts to muffle his tone:
“And you thought there wouldn’t be pussy here.”
Marching around the side of the bar, Maxwell finds himself standing three feet from the group, legs apart, counting one-two-three-four-five-six as each of them stands up; two heavier, but no muscle definition; three, including the groom and best man, moderately toned, but also inebriated; and the quiff, sober and probably more dextrous.
He’s the one to watch.
Maxwell twitches his hand, knuckle dusters in mind, before settling on a fist.
“1 second to leave.”
The best man opens his mouth, clearly primed with a condescending comment while the other five smile in disbelief, before — CRACK!
He looks up at Maxwell, his head cold against the table. Going to adjust his jaw, his fingers are met with blood.
He watches two of his friends — no, one — take a swing, promptly met with a couple of broken ribs and the taste of gin and dirt.
The third and fourth don’t even land a hit as one trips over the second, leaving the other to fumble his way straight into Maxwell’s foot.
Cue scream in pain.
Maxwell watches the heavy man without a dislocated leg stand back up, while the best man reasserts his position with the pack.
The former lunges, just as the blonde man steps in, palms out in both directions.
Should have noticed him get up.
“The fuck are you doing?” asks Maxwell, but before he can answer, one of the men on the ground swipes at Maxwell’s legs.
Adding a further fracture to the man’s left arm initiates the battle’s continuation as the two bachelors who have yet to attack — the groom and the quiff — try to get behind Maxwell.
“Easy, easy,” says the blonde who proceeds to look back at his date as if any more comfortable with the situation than him.
It certainly is.
The quiff, with a little more intelligence, waits for Maxwell’s limbs to already be in some kind of outward motion before going for a headlock.
His laugh upon success is short-lived, even while the best man strikes Maxwell’s stomach, as Maxwell uses the hold to pull the quiff over his head, causing the two to collide.
Maxwell turns to the groom as the groom sidesteps a chair, unable to find a strong position at a safe distance.
He stares back into the eyes of an unhindered brute, and instinctively flexes his hands into a defensive position, mimicking the blonde man he’d recently mocked.
“Thanks for the drinks, man. Really appreciate it,” he stammers, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the first note his hand finds.
He proceeds to hold it out in front of him, but immediately flinches as Maxwell takes a purposeful step in his
“There’s a nice place a block that way,” the blonde man chimes in again, pointing in the general outside direction.
“A hospital would do,” thinks the groom, but he gathers the man’s point and indicates towards his friends to check with Maxwell that it’s okay to move.
An awkward pause, long enough to fill any date, transpires as Maxwell refuses to either respond or let up on the death stare — eventually brought to an end by the brunette who, still stood in place, asks with an unavoidable quiver in his tone, “Can I go?”
“Of course,” Maxwell replies, in a more impatient tone than intended.
The turn of his head is enough to tell the groom that he can tend to his friends, who have already started either crawling backwards or helping each other recover.
Maxwell doesn’t pay much attention as the couple grab their coats, and hastily exit. It is only upon hearing the door slam shut that he remembers the case of the Y2Kult.
His demeanour changes suddenly as he rushes to the door and calls out.
“Actually, hold on a second. I’ll call you a cab.”
They may not be worshipping a digi-demon, but I’m not taking any chances.
With his head out of the door, and the sound of the couple whispering to one another, Maxwell almost doesn’t hear the remark of the best man, followed by up by the purposeful spitting of blood; “bunch of fa —”
* * *
A teenage girl with “crazy” on her shirt; a balding, definitely coked-up man in his 20s; two probably-brothers in their 30s, both missing teeth; and a pregnant woman with a bouncing leg… Maxwell looks around the circle at the disarray of attention-seekers, soon-to-be-convicts, and the fellow misjudged.
“Hi, I’m Maxwell, and I don’t have a fucking problem.”