By Oliver Walton-Harrod
(Set before the events of The Killing Darkness – our first mission in this campaign, soon to be transcripted)
The silver motorcycle slows to a halt in a tight alley. This isn’t the area for garages, and the cover of bins is hardly a price to pay for the easy access it provides. Not that the rider takes this entrance (a handle-less back door adjacent to him), instead walking around to the front of what appears to be a small bar. Large neon pink letters above the door, spelling ELYANNA’S, give the building more life than the rest of the street. Dwindling perhaps, but something discernible. Even if it had not been close to 5am, the boarded-up shops and grimy apartment building across the street tell any tourist who finds themselves here, they are probably lost.
Of course, stepping inside the bar, anyone can see that it is equally no-one’s pride and joy. There is plenty of alcohol… albeit mostly the cheap stuff; there is a dartboard for entertainment… granted, it has been used one, or two, or several too many times; there is at least one person in there… the bartender, that is. Maxwell isn’t even kidding himself. He knows what he has, still staring at the sign outside as he removes his bandana and pulls down his hood. All the lights are on. That will do for today.
“Where the hell have you been?!” are the words that greet him upon entry, the bartender already removing her apron and making her way towards the door.
“You knew I’d be late,” Maxwell responds, an obvious lack of care in his voice after the night he’s had.
“Yeah, because you’re always late,” she emphasises, grabbing her bag and stopping to face him as he strides towards the bar. “You know I have a boyfriend who I couldn’t see tonight because of this?”
Uncapping the first bottle within reach, Maxwell gathers that this confrontation has been brewing for the past few hours. Yet the first and only words he can think to muster are, “I’m sure you can screw another time”.
The bartender stutters for a moment as she trips over a variety of responses, both, tactful and otherwise, before settling on the obvious with a shrug. “I quit.”
Relationships have never been Maxwell’s priority, but he is aware enough of this professional routine to predict where the conversation will go, regardless of his input. He raises the bottle, taking a few gulps while his now ex-bartender stands, seemingly waiting for some kind of apology or response that would give her reason to stay. She does need the job after all, and it pays well considering the lack of customers.
She watches as Maxwell, still drinking, raises his other hand and gives a half-hearted thumbs up.
The fluorescent light from outside hits Maxwell as the door swings open, before departing with a slam that causes a mismatch of pictures on the wall to judder for a moment.
Just under a month, Maxwell concludes, having counted the weeks since his last bartender started – What was her name again? Lucy? Lily? No. Lily was the last almost-victim he saved from demon sacrifice. And Lucy was the one leading that cult. Charlotte! That was it.
The wake of the exchange leaves an eerie stillness filling the room. Nothing supernatural, but certainly one that called for another drink.
Metal crashing against the bar floor is what it takes for Maxwell to open his eyes the following afternoon. Barely glancing at the room, he reaches for the weapon usually kept on his belt – to no avail. Kicking the uncomfortable stool of his intoxicated respite to one side, an awkward if still intimidating effort to rush to his feet, Maxwell notices the fallen pair of brass knuckles beneath him.
Picking them up with a grimace, he holds one to the light of the window. It is still bloodied from the night before.
At which point, Maxwell notices through the blinds of the entrance, a figure, just standing there. Human. Male. Dark hair. Wearing a suit?
Maxwell checks his phone. Still another hour before opening.
Damn it, you’re going to have to hire more staff.
Memories of last night start to come back; washing away, just as quickly.
Focus on the target, Maxwell.
Marching towards the door, Maxwell clips the knuckles to his belt on the off-chance that this is not an overeager customer. He opens to a stern expression, staring back at him expectantly.
“I have some interesting news about your sister,” is not the introduction Maxwell was expecting, but is enough to heighten his razor suspicions, which in turn, deafens him to the name and occupation that follow.
A million thoughts already running through his mind, Maxwell only thinks to catch up after about thirty seconds, by which time, the man has stopped and appears to be awaiting a response.
The barrage of information follows:
- “Agent Chip Blakesly from the Department of Deliverance”
- “Your sister’s untimely death”
- “Reborn as a ghost”
Hold on, what?!
- “Her ghost was also killed”
- “Old god living under a mountain in Tennessee”
- “Don’t think she can be reborn again”
Either this is a serious nutjob or…
- “She survived only to die again”
- “You should be proud”
- “I’d like to offer you a job”
Maxwell locks the door while Blakesly, now inside, examines the room. Maxwell turns to him, and thrusts him up against a far wall, between the dartboard and a surprisingly pleasant picture of a rural cottage home.
“You’ve been spying on me?” Maxwell’s clenched fist hits the wall beside the suited-man. “Think you can come here and make up some shit about my sister to manipulate me?”
Blakesly looks unimpressed; more put off by the smell than anything.
Maxwell allows more of what Blakesly said to replay in his head:
- “Her actions ensured survival”
- “Perhaps even the whole human race”
Possibly not a threat?
- “We’ve seen how you’ve gone after cults”
- “We think you can help”
- “Still need to know what it is that you can bring to the table”
Maxwell lightens his grasp, slowly releasing Blakesly. “Sorry,” he says, pushing his hair to one side. His lip almost curls into the briefest smile as he follows it up with, “I don’t know what comes over m–”
He stops himself.
Blakesly straightens his jacket and watches as Maxwell shakes his head, placing a hand on it as if trying to test something. The fact that Blakesly’s face remains unquestioning through what would have given Charlotte reason to return, simply to walk out once more, reveals all that one needs to know about his experience in this line of work.
Is this the hangover? Or should I revert to my first instincts about this Blakesly?
Maxwell’s eyes flare up again. “What proof do you have?” he asks with a more controlled intensity — if there is such a thing. “About Elyanna.”
“Well as you’re aware, it’s not as if ghosts leave anything concrete,” Blakesly responds casually, then promptly gets the sense that a direct tone might be more appreciated. “All I can offer in that regard,” he quickly adds, “are eye-witnesses.”
Questions build within Maxwell. Moments ago, he didn’t know there were any more to ask. His tongue twitches as if trying to hold a prickly fruit in his mouth, growing with each second he lacks answers. He allows Blakesly to at least finish his thought.
“She frequented a recruit of ours, in fact, perhaps even had a thing for them; she was there the second time…”
“You’re saying she worked for you? As a ghost?” Maxwell chimes in, at risk of choking by this point.
Blakesly explains the situation – that this occurred before the influx of new agents, and of whom, Jo Eastwood is the aforementioned individual most familiar with Elyanna.
It is difficult to tell whether any genuine sympathy resides within Blakesly, but he concludes with the sentiment, “she most likely would have been offered a place too had circumstances occurred differently.”
Maxwell stands motionless, attempting to swallow the remaining pip that he knows will come back up the moment the smartly-dressed, Patrick Warburton lookalike leaves, whether he accepts the offer or not.
This would do for now, wouldn’t it?
It doesn’t matter.
A question of past truth shouldn’t distract you from doing what you know is important.
Maxwell is reminded of something else Blakesly said…
“So?” Blakesly asks, letting on a hint of curiosity.
Maxwell looks up at him as he remembers Blakesly’s original question: What is it that he could bring to the table?
Maxwell turns away, and strolls towards the bar on the other side of the room. Reaching over for a bottle and glasses, he pours four shots of – again, who knows what?
Anyone would think he has something to prove – beyond the apparent professional test – as he immediately downs all four. Perhaps he does. Hell if he is going down that train of thought though.
Maxwell reaches again, and pulls out a short but sharp blade on a sturdy wooden stick, a small gem sitting inside its socket – his signature weapon, and the most reliable thing in his life since, well, his sister.
With one swift movement, he turns and throws the tomahawk in Blakesly’s direction.
Taking a step towards the picture on his right side, Blakesly turns left in time to see the deadly weapon plant itself firmly in the centre of the dartboard.
Blakesly looks over to his newest agent who is still staring at his mark. “Mr. Charlton, welcome to the Department of Deliverance.”
The two men make their way to the opposite sides of the room as Maxwell pries his tomahawk from the wall, discovering that it has worsened the dartboard’s condition to possibly unusable.
Yet another expense to ignore.
Meanwhile, Blakesly unlocks the door, opens it and stops for a final question.
“What if I’d stepped the other way?” he asks with an audible smirk.
The dartboard splinters as it hits the floor. Scratch that ‘possibly’.
“Guess I wouldn’t have got the job,” Maxwell replies.