Timeline: Late November, Friday Night
Lyla’s night to work the bar tended to coincide with her checking up on the accounting and ordering. She enjoyed being there especially on the Thursday and Friday nights, when she could and this week Daniel had a good guess that, barring any pressing matters he was not aware of, she would be there.
When he arrived, he noticed a couple of things. First, Lyla’s presence tended to attract the young male population. That was to be expected to an extent. Secondly, according to the sign he noticed in the window as he passed inside, was that it was ladies’ night — all drinks bought for a lady by a man, or those she bought herself, would be 50% off the usual price. Clearly, she was working to increase the female clientele as well.
At ten o’clock, things were reasonably busy for a small-town bar. The noise level was high but not intolerable and there were a good twenty or thirty individuals at the bar and gathered around various tables and booths. It seemed Bjorn was trying his hand at tending the bar tonight (not too difficult given they served mainly beer), but he had some help in the form of Lyla and Rey.
He’d only caught a glimpse of Rey at first, as she slipped into the back room to check on something or perhaps locate a keg. Lyla herself was dressed as he might expect her to dress if she was going clubbing in New York; it was out of place for this town, but her short skirt, fishnets and too-tight top won her plenty of admiring — and leering — looks. For her part she didn’t seem to care if the leered or politely admired so long as they kept their hands to themselves.
Daniel walked up to bar and had a seat. His business attire was somewhat out of place here, but he always wore a suit when possible. He looked up to see if Lyla (or any of the others) would tend to his need for alcohol. This wasn’t the New York, or Boston pub he was used to, but he found it nice all the same. Seeing the bar was busy, he pulled out his card to make it clear he wished to buy, but was patient. While he wanted to talk to Lyla later, for now, any conversation would be fine. He had seen the others around the bar from time to time, but had not met them.
“Hey. What do you want?” said a dour voice. That was Bjorn, who while nearly utterly lacking in personal skills, did get his job as a bartender done very efficiently.
“Your best Scotch please. On ice.”
Bjorn filled the order and placed the glass in front of Daniel. Then he was gone to fill the beer glasses of some drunks at the end of the bar.
The sound of laughter in a familiar voice drew Daniel’s attention to his left. Lyla was there, smiling widely. She was the sort of person that missed very little and clearly she’d seen him enter the bar, whether she was distracted by customers or not.
“Sorry,” she said with a smile. “If you were looking for conversation with Bjorn, it’s a lost cause. He doesn’t loosen up until his sixth beer in about an hour and I don’t let him drink when he’s tending bar.” She hopped up on the bar stool next to Daniel and leaned with her back against the bar. “So, fancy seeing you here,” she said. “What brings Eldon Well’s newest lawyer to this part of town?”
Daniel smiled lightly, Lyla rarely had seen him smile… ever. “Well, to tell the truth I’m on a mission. I need to get to know the town, and I thought I’d start here. Also, one needs a light and easy going place to go after court or to meet clients who hate stuffy offices, so I thought the Blood & Brew would work for that too. It looks like you are quite busy?”
“Well, tonight we are. I’m told that normally it’s not quite so busy around here, but I haven’t really noticed that. Maybe it’s just because it’s ladies’ night,” she mused.
“And myself without a lady to buy drinks for. Then again no one has ever accused me of being chivalrous.” He smiled wryly. “At least on first impressions. Callous, chauvinistic, arrogant, but, ha, rarely chivalrous.” The laugh was also light with little emotion other than a friendly sarcasm and self-effaciness Daniel rarely portrayed. “You look rather libidinous this evening. Your wardrobe I mean. I approve — not that you require my approval.”
“I haven’t had a chance to wear this in months,” Lyla said with a smile. “And I’m not going to be young forever. I’ve got it now, so I’m going to flaunt it while I can.” She turned toward him, giving him more than a profile view. “So Daniel, why so down on yourself?”
Daniel smiled slightly, “I’m not down on myself. Quite the opposite, I am fairly in a good mood. I’m just honest with myself and generally honest with others. It sometimes is a good thing, in other cases leads to trouble.” He took a light drink, “Like you say, flaunt it while you have it. You shouldn’t be down on yourself either. Youth…is in the mind. Women can age gracefully and their experience and beauty only grows. I can easily imagine you in twenty years far more beautiful and exquisite than you are even today. Ramiel is a lucky man.”
Lyla laughed. “Flatterer.” She followed up with a smile.
There was a middle-aged man on the other side of her. By the look of him, he was likely buzzing pretty good. “Hey Lyla!” he said too loudly, “we need a TV in here so we can watch sports!”
“This isn’t a sports bar, Bob,” Lyla told him.
Lyla ignored him. “Well, since it’s ladies’ night why don’t you buy me a drink?” she asked Daniel.
“Of course, whatever you wish?”
She ordered a gin and tonic with her favorite brand of gin – Blue India Sapphire. At half cost it was still a pricey drink at five dollars. Bjorn mixed it up and had it sitting in front of her in no time.
She took a sip and then asked, “So what’s next for your mission to get to know this town better?”
“It’s a bit complex. Currently I’m getting to know local contractors, license officials, county clerks and the like to get my business license, office and home in order. It’s time consuming, but rewarding. My goal isn’t a humble one, I’m looking to be this town’s Atticus Finch, a defender of the oppressed. That won’t make me much money, but there is a certain reward in it that money cannot buy. My money will come from my former specialty, contract negotiations, tax and property law and the like. Boring stuff to courtroom drama, but it needs to be done. But as for my mission, well that is a long-term effort. I hope to meet some of the locals, build trust, build business and social contacts. This bar is part of it. As I said before, I need a place to meet people. Like Cheers, the bar is the place where everyone knows your name. I’m simply here to be known. I’ll let my work speak for itself.”
“I see,” said Lyla.
She scanned the crowd and noticed someone was trying to get her attention. However, Rey had returned from the back room and took care of them. She took another sip of her drink.
“Am I boring you already Lyla? We must change that.” Daniel sipped his drink, “In my old firm, few found me boring. Some loved me, some hated me, and some would have wanted me killed. But alas,” he laughs a bit, “they found me too valuable. A rainmaker makes his own rules, and only seems to please the senior partners. Hence even now they have no trouble letting me go up here for a time. They have no idea that I really doubt I’ll be back. At least in the near future. So, with that in mind I need to learn to like the outdoors. It should be interesting.”
“Maybe,” Lyla said, then smiled and gave him a teasing look. “Although I’m still waiting to see what you’re going to do or say to keep me from getting bored.”
“Besides my charming demeanor? Lyla, if situations were different I would endeavor to discover, subtly, carefully, and purposefully what would please you. A woman, I find, is an enigma to be forever puzzled about. It is the journey to do this that is important. If situations were different, what would please you Lyla?” Daniel, calmly sips his drink.
“I like the game,” she said. “I like flirtation, obviously. And I like more dangerous things, too. I like blowing a guy when he’s driving too fast at night. I like the rush you get when you are getting it on with someone in a place you might be discovered. I like to tempt married men, and I like to set up situations between people where their lust rules their thoughts instead of common sense. I get a rush out of things like that.
“And it doesn’t have to be related to sex, either. I like doing dangerous things. I like the rush. I always have. Only nowadays you know what the difference is? I can take a lot bigger risks.”
“You can. That is true. I admire your… forthrightness, ” he said with a smile.” I too like the game. Yet for me it isn’t as much the sheer thrill and emotional high, but the knowledge that I got what I wanted or chose to forsake what I wanted because I can. It is sometimes — but not often — as much of an interest for me to build up the possibility of a night of passion or other goal, and disappoint as it is to complete the task at hand. What I desire, is control of my situation. I found I was loosing control, now that isn’t as much of a worry, I know where I stand. Do you like being controlled Lyla?” The subtext of his statement and the sly subtle, yet serious smile made it quite obvious what kind of control he meant.
“That’s not a question of like or dislike,” Lyla said with a shrug and a slightly haughty smile. “I only let one man control me — ever. And he almost never chooses to.”
“Well, lets not get into a discussion about him. I’m endeavoring to be kind and nice. I do have a question for you. Why is it that you so easily have shrugged off our misunderstanding now that I have learned to embrace change, while some of the others seem not have?” Daniel orders another round for both of them, tipping well. “Just curious.”
“I always give people room for a second chance. Not everyone does that,” Lyla stated. “Not everyone wants to take that risk.”
“You should know I appreciate it. It took nearly dying to understand how to live. I see my…experiences as a gift now, a privledge. I’m still an arrogant ass when it comes to being me, being an attorney, and in general. But that doesn’t mean I’m conceited or unappreciative of others, or their talents. I have always rubbed people the wrong way. Ambition, I suppose, in the beginning. Understanding goes a long way to making friends and trusting one another. I understand you a bit better, and you have gone a long way in trying to understand me. That is appreciated. I think I understand a few of the others as well, though I doubt they would believe me, not care. But then again, it is a long road we are on. To be honest this is only the beginning.”
“That’s right,” Lyla agreed. “After all, the way I figure it, the Dark Man will be disrupting things in a major way soon.”
“He will. That is for certain. I’m already starting on it, though I believe he’ll strike long before I’ve learned how and why he acts. That goal may take a lifetime, but someday I hope to anticipate him.”
“I think he’ll be coming for us, is what I mean,” Lyla said. “I wonder sometimes what would happen if we refused his bait. Then I think he’d start targeting us. Maybe that’s good, maybe it’s not. And maybe I’m wrong.”
“I’ve been baited by him, harrassed by him, and perhaps in a way I let him. No more. If I can stop him, I will. If I can destroy him, I will. But I think we need to take the initiative. To do that, I need your help Lyla. Before this situation that brought a change amoung the rest of you, you could use your talents to find him. I think I might just be able to do the same thing. But I need to know how you did it, and adapt that to what I know. Perhaps we can discuss that a different time without all the others around.”
She nodded. “It’s like finding anything else,” she stated. “You just have to picture what you’re after and really want it. Then, if you’re lucky, you get something close. There is no special technique, no secret formula.”
Lyla paused then turned back to him. “But you know, when I could still do that stuff, I did it every single day. You want a chance at doing this? It has its price. It makes you tired, Daniel. Soul tired.”
“I know. Even now, I am already a bit overtaxed. But it has to be done. It sounds funny, but that is why I must build my practice and learn about the people of this town. Let them learn to trust my skills. When I help someone get justice, redress grievances or a claim, be treated fairly by the law – guilty or no, it brings a certain calm to me. I’ll begin practicing soon.”
“I’m likely going to need a local as a secretary. Someone others would recognize. Know anyone?”
“Hm. Assuming your practice is in town, I can think of a couple possibilities. Unless you require experience or college training?”
“I can train them, as long as they can type,” he smiled, “and have a relaxed attitude. I’d prefer someone nice looking and nice sounding. Both are important for first impressions. I don’t need them for deep legal research, just basic stuff, communcation, scheduling. I’m looking into hiring a legal assistant as well, a law student or such, but that will be a little later once I’m settled, though I am looking at resumes. First things first, a secretary. Whom do you have in mind?”
“Actually, you already know them,” Lyla said. “Both candidates are attractive and have a nice voice, though I don’t know why it would matter if they are good looking or not. How about Susie, that girl we rescued or her little friend, what-her-name? It’s pretty obvious they need a job and it would get them out of the prostitution gig.”
“Hmmm. That could get tricky. Not that I don’t want to help, but I really don’t trust her ‘little friend.’ Two months ago, when I was initially looking for Susie, her friend lied and took advantage of me a bit. No, that’s not the basis for a working relationship. Susie herself perhaps I could work with. She’s been traumatized for sure, and the job could be a help. Isn’t she in school though?”
Lyla shrugged. “Maybe. But they are neither of them 18 yet. I figured you could hire them both as part-time and get away with not having to pay benefits, which, at their age they probably wouldn’t care about anyway.”
“That’s a problem. Lyla, I’ll be dealing with some very adult situations in some of my cases, plus I simply don’t trust the friends. No, I doubt it would work. I need someone whom I can completely trust, who is reliable, honest, and hard-working.”
“Hm,” Lyla considered. “I’m afraid I don’t know anyone like that that doesn’t already have other obligations.”
“But, then again. I could give them a try. Perhaps a little responsibility will change them?”
“Well, what does it hurt to give them a chance?” Lyla suggested. “The worst thing that could happen is you have to fire them, right?”
“Perhaps. I’ll need to talk to them. There may be some extenuating circumstances you should be aware of, but could we step over to the booth to discuss them?”
“Sure!” Lyla said. “Actually, you know what? Why don’t we take our drinks with us and go to the back room. So happens I have a key since I own the place,” she grinned. Then she gave him a sultry, teasing look. “That is, if you’re brave enough to be alone with me in a dark, quiet place where no one can hear us.”
“When one knows a little of one’s fate, bravery gets easier. Lead on.”
When they had sat down in the back, “Lyla, there is a problem with the girls. It is not something I can’t deal with. You see the trust issue is that they lied to me, twice. Once when I was looking for Susie but didn’t have a good idea of what she looked like, I encountered them and they boldface lied to me that Susie had ‘left’. As you know, I was frantic to find this girl. Here is the problematic part, please reserve judgment as it happens to many, many men. Thinking I could coax the information out of them, I hired them for their services. You know I have no problem with prostitution or prostitutes. They of course had lied to me about their age. Therein lies the problem. But then again, I did help save Susie’s life.”
Lyla thought about that. Sex with underage hookers certainly was a legal issue, and possibly a moral issue as well. “Well, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t a problem there. I mean, those girls were certainly in further moral or legal danger with you than they have been with who knows how many other men. Hell, I’ve done that myself, so I don’t see that you’ve done anything wrong.
“But your trust issue with them is more of a problem. Don’t hire them if you’ll be nervous about it. You’re your own boss and whoever you get to work for you is just an employee. And anyway, if you want someone with experience and a college degree you might have to hire someone from outside Eldon Well. It seems like the unemployment rate around this town is pretty low for some reason.”
“Funny that. Let me consider the girls. If I hire them, I could earn some degree of trust from the community and solve a problem at the same time, making the Sheriff’s day. I’ll need to interview them, have their parents sign wavers and have them sign non-disclosure agreements.”
“I could change those girls dramatically. But, they are simply employees. I must not be too Henry Higgins with them, though it is tempting to turn them into sophisticated young women. But most important, should I hire them they will need to earn my trust.”
“In any case, I’ll be driving back and forth to Boston interviewing for a Legal Assistant, perhaps I’ll check out the small towns on the way for possible help.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Lyla said. “Have you picked out a place to open your practice? Or will you operate out of a home?”
“I’ve located land and am in the process of dealing with contractors, building and the like. It takes several months to build a place, so in the mean time I hope to find a place. I moved out to a better hotel for more privacy and less interruptions, though as you know that puts me farther from town for the next month. I’ve been doing a little scouting in town for a place to ‘hang my shingle’, though not seriously yet. Do you know a place?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, not off the top of my head.”
“That’s too bad. I’d rather have a local. Anyway,” Daniel continued, “now that we are away from prying ears, could I ask you something that I’ve been wanting to ask someone for awhile. It is a matter of etiquette. As you remember, I kind of laughed at all these code names as being silly. I didn’t mean disrespect, but coming out of the blue you have to admit the whole thing is somewhat weird. What is the etiquette concerning werewolves and mages? I don’t know how to behave toward them. I guess everyone seems to take themselves so seriously now, when I’m actually trying to get away from being so serious. Can’t win for losing I suppose.”
“I think it’s just a matter of people’s sense of humor not always matching everyone else’s,” Lyla offered. “Anyway, the reason it actually came up was that I introduced Rose to those who didn’t know her yet as Rose Bloodthorn. I mentioned my own pack name because it’s a bit odd that the all of the people I’m so close to prefer to use these alternate names while I didn’t.
“See, the names we take for ourselves once we undergo our first change is sort of a coming of age thing for my people. We then use those names when we are with one another as a sign of respect, if that’s what the individual wants. Personally, you all have known me for a long time as Lyla, so that name is fine for you guys. But my packmates aren’t as familiar with that name and are more likely to refer to me as Shadowclaw.
“Now, with Ramiel and Michael, it is in a small way similar, but in a more important way it’s a matter of security. I don’t know the details but I guess that people who know the right stuff can … do things to you if they know your real name. So Ramiel and Michael asked us to use their Shadow Name when around strangers. It’s simply security for them, and not a laughing matter.
“Does that help?”
“Certainly. I don’t intend to be callous. I simply found it humorous at the time. I guess if I wanted a secret name to give out to people I’d pick something very ordinary like Thomas Black, or Ron Johnson. Just me I suppose. I do understand to a degree your pack name’s importance. Somewhat similar to a Native American name. I get that.”
Lyla laughed. “Well, it’s no wonder, given the membership of our pack, isn’t it?”
“Well, I only know you and to a lesser degree Chaska. While I’ve met some others, I can’t say I know them. What do you mean?”
Lyla paused seeing Daniel didn’t get it. “Grey. He’s Iroquois, and just happens to be the spiritual leader of our group,” she explained. “So there’s some tribal influences there. But actually our names only sound similar in style because they all come from an ancient language, born with the first of the spirits, which is used to give us names. When you translate it, you have actual meanings in English. In other words, there is no ‘Michael’ or ‘Daniel’ in the First Tongue. Actually, no angels of any kind are referred to, so there aren’t things like to that name people after. Just descriptions of what they are. So, my name of Shadowclaw isn’t all that uncommon among animal-related spirits. Kind of the equivalent of,” she paused trying to think of a name with equivalent frequency in English, “well maybe like Leanne or Charlene in terms of common-place. The difference is that hardly anyone actually knows what Leanne or Charlene means anymore. Not unless you’re looking at a baby name book.”
“That makes sense.”
“So ah, has that spirit that took, er, interest in you tried to contact you yet?” she asked.
“No, not as yet. Maybe it’s the American in me, perhaps it is that I don’t like authority forced on me, but I really, really didn’t like that creature assuming it had some kind of power over me without my say-so. It may have been pretty, and under different circumstances I might have run off with it; but we were trying to do something good and it was distracting me. I don’t like distractions when I’m trying to work. Now, I apologized to it, and hopefully it will be happy and forget me. Somehow, I doubt it. Every story I have ever read or heard of is that you go off with one of these things and you are changed, usually for the worse, and as often as not, killed. So, she was not an opportunity, but a threat. At least that is how I saw it.”
“Hmm.” Lyla waited to hear him out.
“Not that I didn’t want to indulge in it’s offer. But my wants and my goals rarely coincide. Sex can be a fun, zesty enterprise, but like relationships, doesn’t control my life and isn’t really high in importance. For me at least.”
Lyla raised an eyebrow. “It’s a mistake to think of spirits as anything like human or having anything close to human morality or social norms. See, that was a spirit and it is a basic truth that humans are the only beings I know of that have no spirit at all. Even a block of wood has a spirit of some sort. Ideas can have spirits, too. But not humans. So you have to realize that to it, you are simply a thing. You don’t have anything it really wants, and the only thing that you have use for it is to do something or causing something that might cause something else to generate essence. Essence is like money and food and life all rolled into one for spirits, right?
“Anyway, apologizing to it was meaningless to it. I can only perceive you as perhaps you might perceive a pen or other tool you can possess. I mean, if you drop your pen and break it, do you feel anything for it other than annoyance that you have to get another one? In the same sense, those spirits don’t care if their actions break you. You only barely exist from its perspective, and then only as a tool. Like the poor professor and his henchman that were possessed by spirits. They didn’t care if they were destroying those lives. They just wanted to carry out whatever task they had for an even more powerful spirit. See?”
“Not the most exciting life to lead.”
Lyla shrugged. “So anyway, you trying to hit the spirit of Desire, trying to physically cause harm to it was perhaps confusing to it and certainly annoying to it. So in return for not destroying you or causing some other kind of retribution, she demanded chiminage. Most often, that means a task. Now, I don’t know what you two talked about when you spoke in private, but I do know that spirit fully intends on calling you on that. It may not be soon, and it may not even be a big deal but do understand that she may find some way to communicate with you what she wants.”
“She wanted me to keep the prostitutes working as such. I refused, no other deal was struck and well, she hit me again. As far as I am concerned we are even. I missed her, she beat me to pulp. Twice. I fear she might want a bit more…”
“Aw, you weren’t that pulpy,” Lyla said with a grin. “Sure, unconscious, but not so pulpy as it could have been. Anyway, what was I saying before you interrupted me? Oh yeah. But if she gets too carried away, know that I’m here to enforce the rules. That is, if she shows up physically or attempts to possess you or some other nasty deed, you should let me know. My people are here to enforce the border between this world and the spirit world and we don’t take kindly to trespassers. Spirits know that, which is why a lot of them don’t like us much. We are perfectly capable of hunting them down and using either our powers or our spirit allies to destroy interlopers.”
“That’s good to know.”
“Interrupting again,” Lyla told him, but then she continued. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you are perfectly safe, though,” Lyla added. “Keep in mind that some of the more powerful spirits are capable of reaching right across the Gauntlet and messing with our world. And I know she has lesser minions, lustings. She’s more powerful and it was clear to me that she was a higher rank spirit than me, so she just might have that ability.
“Anyway, point is that I’ve dealt with her underlings before. They’re pretty cowardly, but since she actually has underlings, that means she’s got some serious power of her own. Just don’t forget to call me if she’s got you cornered or trying to make you do something you are really against. ‘Kay?”
“No problem. I think I’ll walk about town and search for possible locations for my office. I’d offer for you to join me, but you were busy out there. Thanks for the time Lyla. It’s appreciated.”
“See ya later,” she said. She walked him out of the back room, and then as Daniel left the bar, she stopped to greet and talk to someone she knew at a booth.