Sunday, August 29, 2010


Business as Usual
By Mitchell Macdonald

Malloy brought the goblet to his lips, but this was only an act. He was in no condition to keep anything down, never mind what was somehow passing as standard fare in this neighborhood. His standards were far from lofty, but he would not have been surprised if the publican had taken to tapping the septic to save on expenses. The foul fragrance emerging from his cup made his eyes water – And that’s not even drinking it! – forcing his head back in an unconscious withdrawal. He placed the drink gingerly on the table, as a mother lowered a befouled child, lest the mess be jostled and spill in every direction. He had no need for further taxation on his facilities.

He took yet another glance towards the main entrance, and more anxiety amassed in his already supersaturated chest. This location wasn’t far from their initial meeting place, he was certain of that. He had done everything short of carving the appointed time into the stranger’s skin to ensure they agreed upon midnight. What could be keeping that rogue? Perhaps he was illiterate, and the written instructions had been in vain? What if the lout was a petty thief, taking the precious gold he had given as a down payment and running? Or worse… what if he was a member of the guard, faking the entire role and implicating him in this nefarious act?

Malloy shook this thought out of his head. You are growing paranoid, he whispered to himself. Perhaps choking this swill down might calm your nerves. With a sigh, he seized the cup once more and, after shuddering once more at its rank odor, threw its contents to the back of his throat.

It wasn’t that bad, really. He had to breathe deeply for several moments afterwards to sate the fiery residue in his mouth, but it was the first amount of alcohol that had passed his lips since he could remember. The order was purely ceremonial, a ruse concocted in the period between forging this contract and now. It would be greatly suspicious if he had come to this alehouse with no intention of drinking, and he eventually would have been questioned. That was the downside of his plan, in retrospect – this venue was perfect for the back-alley deal he was engaging, but it meant it was back-alley.

He shook his head, as if to unhinge the aftertaste by force, and turned his attention once more to the door. Though the present company was raucous enough for a hundred, there was a noticeable lack of bodies to substantiate the claim. He pawed at his knapsack, nervously fumbling the coins he had taken from the deposit box. He had thought a month’s income would be sufficient to commission his needs, assuaging his conscience with the comfort that the return would be far greater than the investment. But the payment to arrange this meeting, the entrance fee, the drink with a hint of torch fuel…

He might have to cut his losses soon if this man did not show up.

A trickle of sweat began to run down his cheek, but Malloy neglected to brush it away. It was late October, and the lands had already begun to experience a suggestion of the winter to come; thus, he had added a woolly overcoat to his already dense outfit. Were he outside again, it would be a comfortable arrangement. In here, flames lit every five feet of wall space, and with the host warming his patrons with mug upon mug of every sort of inebriating recipe, the resulting environment better suited a baking house. But he was very cautious with his possessions. Especially since I’m awaiting the arrival of a criminal.

After the passing of a perceived eternity, Malloy stood. He had been a fool to believe the wastrel would show up, even in an environment that suited him best. He had wasted his money, and burned the better part of the night. At least tomorrow saw no business anyway.

Before he could move to the doorway, however, a strong hand grasped his shoulder. Malloy’s anxieties, which he had been keeping at bay, overwhelmed his senses and caused him to jolt forward. His first inclination was to run, run as fast he could, get as far as he could from this despicable place – To Hell with this meeting, he isn’t coming, save yourself!

He was able to reel himself and his wild instincts in, and with a sigh, turned to face his potential adversary. He was met by an affable grin.

“So sorry for my delay. It… was unavoidable. Marcus, at your service.”


They had pulled up in an isolated booth, though with the clamor and ruckus about them, Marcus was convinced they could shout at each other and maintain the same level of privacy. He could not, for the life of him, figure out why every client he had worked with had insisted this was the best way to do business. It seemed so gauche, honestly, and didn’t actually accomplish anything helpful. It only offered the patrons an opportunity to make associations, and that was more perilous than he wished to admit. But just like in every business, he would have to follow the whims of his clientele if he was to build up his reputation.

He leaned back into his oaken stool, pressing his back into the wall. This guy had gone through the trouble of paying him to be here, and yet the stiff appeared to be waiting on him to say something. I don’t have all day, he thought to himself, or night.

He wants to know what kept you so long.

Marcus groaned, not having to turn around. Thank you, Lyse. He straightened himself out, and looked at the his soon-to-be business partner in the eye. “Let’s go over some ground rules. First, you will not ask about what I do. As far as you are concerned, you are talking to a ghost. I do not exist outside of this booth. Second–“ He noticed the man was trying to interject. He raised his finger, silencing the objection. “Second. My partner will be eavesdropping. She will hear everything. You are to talk to and look at me.”

As he concluded his piece, a blonde barmaid came to offer the two a beer. Marcus took two glasses, his gaze unbroken, awaiting the consent he knew was forthcoming.

“But, but how do I know you’re not setting a trap? How do I know you’re… what I’m looking for?” This guy did have a head for this sort of thing, at least. Marcus shot a quick glance around, then pulled a small black box from the interior of his vest pocket. With a subtle nod, he held it for his doubter to look inside. Reluctantly, the man seized the box and with deliberate care, slowly opened the container enough to peer inside.

Three, two one…

Marcus extended his hand, palm open, just in time to catch the box. The gentleman had been quite shocked, and naturally so, by an arrangement of fingers, of various sizes and tones, nearly washed and organized. As his client grew pale and fought the urge to gag, he deftly pocketed the container. “I have one from each mark. There are ten in this box, and it is only the traveling case. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, yes.” Perhaps it was cruel to subject people to that surprise – this poor sap looked violently ill – but it was so effective at proving his credentials…

“So you told me you wanted me to work on this… Dr. O’Keefe?” Marcus grasped the first mug and drained a sizable portion of its contents. The intent here was threefold – he wanted to give the guy a chance to make his case as to why O’Keefe deserved this, he was thirsty… and Lyse needed her time.

“Dr. O’Keefe, yes. That is right.”

Silence. Marcus frowned. He’s holding something back.

Then keep him talking.

“Alright, so why? The usual vengeance angle?”

The man reflexively chuckled. “No, no, nothing of that sort. It’s just, I have heard too many stories of the doctor’s depravities not to know some of them are true. I have heard you are the sort of man that has a soft spot for… how do we say?” His hands, as if to illustrate that he was thinking, rubbed together. After a second, he clapped. “ Ah, yes. Righteousness.” The word slithered from his mouth.

Ask him what he does.

“And what, may I ask, is your interest in O’Keefe’s improprieties? Surely they are not all personal.” Marcus cracked a knuckle, more out of annoyance than an attempt to intimidate, but ancillary benefits were still benefits.

“I assure you, I am just looking for justice. Too often, men of his stature get off because they can afford to pay for positive judgment. So–“

That’s a lie.

“I’m going to stop you there.” Marcus stood up. “Listen, I know a lie when I hear one, and if you can’t even tell me the truth, why should I risk my life on this?”

The man appeared shaken, but regained his composure. “What do you mean? I haven’t lied! I don’t know what you…”

“Another lie. Look, I’m going to tell you something –“


“ – doctor. You are a doctor, right?”

The man was now absolutely flabbergasted. “How do you know…?”

Marcus crossed back to his seat. “I can read you like a book. Now just tell me the truth. Why am I killing Dr. O’Keefe?”

His client sunk into himself. Straining to speak, he confessed. “O’Keefe is a better doctor than I am. The Royal family even kicked me out of my office in favor of him. I’ve been doing common practice.” He spit the last words out like acid or bitter wine. “Do you understand? I served before gods! Kings of men! I was IMPORTANT!” The words reverberated through the corner of the alehouse, but Marcus had been right – nobody had so much as noticed a draft.

“He took my livelihood. I want his life.”

Marcus scratched his head. What was this guys name? After the outburst, he had recognized the face of the doctor that had been sent from the Palace in favor of the foreign genius, but names were not his strong suit.

“Well, I’ll be honest. That sounds like a personal problem.”

Marcus again rose, and took a step towards the host. He hesitated.

“Double your price, and you’ve got a deal.”

Marcus didn’t even wait to hear his client’s response. He crossed, passing the same maid that had served the two earlier. She gave him a wink and a smile.

And you wonder why I work here.

Marcus shook his head, a bemused grin spreading on his face. For a psion, she had some mundane aspirations, and that suited him fine. It was a wonderful business relationship.

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Mitchell Macdonald is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington. He is an amateur actor, director, playwright, stage manager, lighting designer, and all-around theatrical practitioner. He's been writing since elementary school, and hopes to infuse a sense of the dramatic in everything he puts to paper (so to speak).


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