What a Pleasant Town
rating: +10+x

Previously

The elevator is silent except for the distant humming of the motor. I take one last look at myself in the mirror before the elevator stops and the steel doors slip open. There are no decorations in the light blue hallway that unfurls before me. I walk along the doors, occasionally looking back at the small piece of paper in my hand.

Finally, an apartment bearing the correct number stands before me. I take a deep breath and knock. The door opens after a few seconds and I find myself standing before him. He is wearing a white shirt with a gray vest and slacks.

A smile blooms on his face. “Ah, you must be Eldred. Please, come in.”

“Good evening, Mr. Cranford. It is an honor to meet you.” I reach out and shake his hand.

He returns it. ”Oh, no need to flatter me. Come, make yourself at home.”

I enter and hang my coat on the rack. The apartment is bathed in soft light and a gentle, warm aroma hangs in the air. I move deeper into the flat. Steel, stone, and glass seem to be the theme here. Before I can observe it further Mr. Cranford places his hand on my shoulder and leads me to an adjacent room. A large table awaits us there, with the source of the aroma sitting on it. A large bowl of rice, garnished with shrimp. Multiple smaller fragrances bloom as we move closer to it. Three plates with utensils sit on the table.

“Is there anyone joining us this evening?” I look towards my host.

“No need to worry. This person is a close colleague of mine.”

I feel my muscles stiffen and my hand instinctively begin reaching for the inner pocket of my suit.

William chuckles. “No need for that now. They are my colleague in my, how shall we say, secondary position as well.”

“Oh, what a polite and tactful manner of explaining what you do Will.” A female voice comes from behind me.

I turn around to see a woman in a simple, black dress. Her scarlet hair is cascading across her shoulders, but her eyes are sharp and focused, drilling into mine.

“It’s a pleasure meeting you Miss..?” I offer her my hand.

She takes and shakes it. “Antje. And I already know who you are Mr. Jacinto.” I can feel old scars as my hand slides across smooth patches of skin.

“Now that the introductions are done, shall we begin?” William motions towards the table.
We sit down at the table and spend the following minutes in silence, enjoying the food.

William is the first to interrupt the silence. ”I trust Mr. Dark is well?”

I set down my utensils. “Oh, yes. He is deeply sorry that he could not make it, as urgent business in the Baltics demanded his immediate attention.”

Ms. Antje snorts. “Oh, I’m sure he is absolutely anguished over missing out on our company.”

William rolls his eyes and ignores the remark. “Baltics? I did hear something was beginning to stir up there. Wine?”

I shake my head. ”No thank you. Now, if it would be fine, I’d like to discuss some matters that require your attention.”

He sets down his utensils as well and picks up his glass. “Of course, of course. We can’t spend all evening just stuffing our faces, now can we?”

I hand him a folder. “We have recently unearthed some items in the Nile delta. However multiple of these items are impossible to market to our clientele. We believe your organization would be interested.”

William leafs through the folder. ”That seems correct. And the real reason you are here is?”

I’m briefly stunned. “I’m sorry Mr. Cranford?”

He sighs. “Why are you here and Dark is in the Baltics? If you just wanted to notify me of some mildly interesting items there was an abundance of channels to inform me through.”

I put the folder back in my bag and place a laptop on the table. “A group of independent individuals has chosen Marshall, Carter, and Dark to act as an intermediary between them and you, as well as vouching for their trustworthiness.”

A disquieting coldness and a flash of hunger briefly appear in Williams' eyes. ”I assume this group would like to open an account with me, correct?”

“Indeed they do.” I nod, open the video call and push the laptop towards William, a notebook already in his hands.

“Good evening Mr. Dark. And you, I believe are my future associate. Shall we go over the basic terms you desire to include in our agreement?” William smiles.

The next hour is a mess of terms, agreements, limitations, assurances and so much more. The smile of Mr.Cranford does not waver for a second. As he passes my laptop back to me, a muffled crash is heard from outside the apartment.

Ms.Antje pulls my attention away from it. “Don’t worry, someone probably dropped their groceries or something.”

I gather up my belongings and say my goodbyes. The cool air in the hallway washes over my face and I feel a massive pressure, that I didn’t even know existed, lift from my chest. I met with the man himself. I still can’t quite believe he exists. I button up my coat and turn to walk back to the elevator.

Two men stare back at me, a third one lying on the ground, his neck twisted. One of them raises a finger to his lips, a silent whirring of gears accompanying the gesture. Then he points at the apartment I just left. He and his partner lift up the body and quickly leave.

I walk to the elevator, ride down and get back in my car. Within 20 minutes the city is behind me.

***

I disassemble my rifle and close the blinds. I switch the light on and, as the brightness fills the room, squeeze my eyes shut. When they are finally adjusted I walk to the kitchen and throw some leftover soup on the stove. Every time the same thing.

A highly important representative comes, they have dinner, they make whatever twisted deal they have and the representative leaves in peace. I know I should be happy never to have to take the shot, but one does start feeling useless after a while. The Tickers in the hallways have no problem dealing with whatever comes their way. If anything makes it that far.

I finish my soup and go to sleep. Same old, same old.

At least I can get up late in the mornings. But then it’s just a routine- eat, work out, clean weapons and go to the market.

The plaza is quite full today, people flowing through it like a river. I greet some of the people running the stalls and begin my shopping. Carrots, meat, artichokes for that new dish. I hum underneath my breath while moving through the river of people. I hear the sound of clockwork as a man in a gray suit passes me. While I know there is no threat my body tenses up and my senses kick into gear. All of them are suddenly visible.

A group of teens in baggy clothes just on the edge of the plaza. I know that underneath the fabric hides a thing that would send most people running in panic. A woman buys some potatoes and as she reaches for the bag handed to her by the vendor the sleeve of her jumper slides back just a bit and the top of a tattoo becomes visible. I see a glimpse of multiple snakes forming fingers.

These are only the tip of the iceberg. Some of them never leave their homes, some of them aren’t even visible. Every single one dedicated to a united cause.

Honestly, this place probably has more occult firepower stashed in it than any of the headquarters any group has. And all just for the protection of a single man. Admittedly, there is some justification- quite a few don’t like the idea of their comrades being slaughtered because an accountant decided they would be a fair trade in exchange for an anomalous hamster.

And lookie here, there goes one. They walk differently than the rest. More caution, more awareness of their surroundings. They are trained to look relaxed in these situations, but you can see even that with enough time to look and the right kind of eyes. And mine are just perfect for the job.

I walk through the market, homing in on the middle-aged woman, her prematurely gray, short hair allowing me to easily track her through the crowd. Her gait changes soon, as she realizes I’m following her. She begins moving towards an alleyway.

I smile. Finally some fun. I follow her into the cool shadows.

She comes to a halt once she is certain nobody will be capable of hearing or seeing us.

“You could let me go.” She turns to face me, her face neutral. I can see the small beads of sweat on her forehead.

I nod. ”Yes. I could. But then somebody else would get you, and I guarantee you, that most of the other ones around here have some quite unpleasant methods of dealing with insurgents.”

“You could join me.” I see her hand begin to slowly move behind her.

“I prefer my organs inside me thank you very much.”

She moves quickly and manages to fire off two rounds, both aimed towards my head. I raise a single hand in front of me while swiftly moving towards her. Ringing fills the alley, as bullets strike steel.

Before she can react, I move in and grasp her head in my palms. I twist and just like that it is done. Her body drops to the ground. I exhale and relax my body.

“Do you need help?” A low, slightly rough voice comes from behind me. Every organic and inorganic strand of my being tenses up once more.

I turn to see the “teen” in the baggy clothes and hoodie.”Well, she’s kinda dead, so I don-”

“Disposal.” It interrupts me and removes its hood.

“Oh. Yeah, go ahead.” I quickly walk past it and head back to the market. I don’t really want to see what disposal involves. I’m not fast enough though and some noises reach me.

I get my groceries and look back at the thing one last time. It’s back with its friends and looks bigger than before. I head back to my apartment. I spend the rest of the day reading and cooking. Admittedly, what I did to that artichoke could be classified more as a war crime, but at least the pork chops turned out alright.

I’m sitting by an open window, reading, letting the gentle breeze to wash over me when I notice somebody on the street. The man is moving with haste, heading towards the apartment complex opposite to mine. I’m quick, but not quick enough. He is inside before I can assemble my rifle. I curse underneath my breath and aim my sights towards the apartment of the accountant himself.

I close my eyes and recite a string of numbers. When I open my eyes the world is green and I can see the interior of the apartment quite well. Thank God for his massive windows. My hands are steady and my finger is on the trigger.

After a few minutes, I see him once more. He’s gotten past the Tickers. I exhale and aim. Before I can pull the trigger another figure enters my sight. Before the intruder can react this one swiftly drives a blade into his calf and knocks him on the floor. Is that…? Ah, the accountant's fuckbuddy or whatever their relationship consists of. Judging by some of the things I’ve seen, I’m leaning more towards the first with a dash of romance. I watch for a few more seconds while she zip ties the intruder's arms and legs. The accountant himself enters the room carrying a chair. Together they get the intruder on it.

The accountant walks over to the window and waves to me before mouthing “Thanks” and closing the curtains.

I disassemble the rifle and return to my book. Maybe I should try the artichoke again tomorrow?

***

Edwin groaned in pain as the blood seeped from his leg. A light turned on and he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Wakey, wakey, friend.” The voice of William caused him to open them again.

Dionne and Will were standing in front of him, the latter smiling at him.

“Now, I am impressed. You made it all the way here. I mean if Dionne hadn’t been here our friend from the opposite building would have repainted the carpet with you, but other than that good job!” William approached Edwin, who was simply staring at him. Dionne turned her attention to something on her phone.

Will frowned. ”Nothing? No raving, no death threats, not even some spitting in my face? Okay, I guess we’ll just go ahead. Who did you work for?”

“The Fifth Church.” Edwin raised his head slightly to look at Will.

“Bullshit.” Wills frown deepened.

“The Factory.”

“Utter bullshit.” Will drove his fist into Edwin's solar plexus.

Edwin gasped for a few moments before speaking again, his voice filled with pain.”MCD.”

Williams brow furrowed. ”Something’s wrong.”

Dionne looked up from her phone.”What is it?”

“Look at him. He’s good enough to get all the way here, but can’t take a beating.”

Dionne moved towards Edwin and lashed out with full force, her fist connecting with his nose. The man howled in pain, tears beginning to streak across his cheeks. Dionne looked back at Will, concern in her eyes.

Will pulled out his wallet and motioned for Dionne to come to him. She walked back to the man and stood next to him. He removed a small card from the wallet, keeping it face down before turning it towards Edwin.

The man froze for a few moments before beginning to tremble. His pupils dilated and blood began dripping from his nose. Will swiftly placed the card back in his wallet.

“Will?” Dionne looked at him.

“Yeah?”

“What was that?” She spoke with some fear in her voice.

“Had a researcher in memetics whip it up for me in exchange for moving some numbers around so they get some extra funding. It’s pretty basic, but it gets the job done. The order is simple- say what you can’t say. Usually, it works based on your own perception. Makes you say some secrets or something very embarrassing.” Will returned the wallet to the pocket of his suit.

“Two questions. Why didn’t you just use that and why did our guest start doing that?” Dionne walked closer to Edwin again, the man slowly recovering.

“No precision. He could’ve started telling us about the time he took his dad's car in high school.” Will moved closer as well.

“He has some weird secrets by the looks of it.”

“If I’m correct he did that because he has a geas on him. The card tried to make him tell whatever was behind that geas. The geas resisted. Started a loop for a moment. Conflicting commands. Started boiling his brain.” Will lifted Edwin's head by his chin and opened one of his eyelids

The man was moaning softly in pain, blood staining his sclera.

“Any ideas?” Dionne placed a hand on Will's shoulder.

“Call somebody to get him. I’ll take care of it.” He didn’t look away from the eye.

Dionne nodded and walked towards the other room.

Will pulled out a small box from another pocket in his coat. A small syringe lay within it. He took Edwin's hand and gently pierced the man's skin before pushing down on the plunger. Edwin went limp within seconds and William heard his breathing getting more and more silent.

After a few minutes, two forms in robes knocked on the door. William led them to the body and watched them carry it away.

Dionne came back into the large room after a while, seeing William standing before windows, the curtains draw back. He blew out a puff of smoke and Dionne felt the unmistakable scent of marijuana in the air. She wrapped her arms around his midsection and placed her head on his shoulders.

“What is it?” She asked in a soft tone

“I don’t know why he was here. I don’t know who sent him. This wasn’t his choice. A lot of things.” William shook his head.

Dionne took the joint out of his slightly shaking hands and taking a long drag of it.

“Morality? From you?” She spoke gently.

“One should at least have a choice. I’m not sure whether he was even really a part of any group. I think whoever did this just randomly chose him, put him under a geas, probably something more as well, and let him loose.” Will interlocked the fingers of one of his hands with Dionne's.

They stood in silence for a few minutes, the smoke swirling around them.

Dionne was the first to speak. “At least you have something in you that still cares. Got to be worth something.”

“I suppose.”

“Let’s go to bed?” Dionne grasped his other hand.

“Yeah.” Will nodded.

Neither of them let go.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License