Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 10
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Tam jerked his head up from where he’d been studying the layout of Valley streets, trying to make sense of the store labels and the scribbled captions and sidebar notes that had been added around them. He felt like he’d done a pretty good job of getting at least a rough idea of the main downtown core—and he’d have the map available on his phone if he needed it.
Matthias was waiting at the coffee bar’s handoff counter, a mug of coffee and a plated sandwich sitting there. Tam hurried over as his stomach let out a plaintive growl. “Thanks,” he said, reaching for the tray.
“Don’t mention it,” Matthais said cheerfully. He tossed his hair back over his shoulder—wasn’t that a health hazard? Then again, maybe demons didn’t shed any hair the way humans did—and gestured around behind the counter. “It’s pretty quiet right now, so let me know if you need anything else.”
If he was going to push himself to keep going, he decided, he probably needed something to drink that wasn’t just anxiety in a mug. “Could I also have a glass of water?”
“You got it, sweetheart. Thirsty, huh?”
“Yeah, I—” That was a come-on. It was definitely a come-on. “Yeah,” Tam finished weakly.
Mathias poured him a cup of ice water, and deposited that on the tray Tam was holding. As he did so, one of his nipples peeked out from behind his apron. Tam found himself making direct eye contact with it, and forced himself to look up at Matthias’s face instead.
Not much better. He mumbled another thanks and quickly retreated. He had Matthias’s word that talking to a demon was safe in context with the demon doing his job, but that didn’t mean it’d be a good idea to get too chatty anyway.
He sat back down and fell on his meal with gusto, more ravenously hungry than he’d realized. The sandwich was, as Matthias had promised, absolutely delicious, and he didn’t think it was just his hunger. He’d been here before, but only got the drinks—he’d clearly been missing out.
Tam’s hands were too busy with the sandwich for him to spend more time on the computer, so he took the opportunity to memorize the Beanheadings layout. There was a door behind the coffee bar, presumably into the kitchen or food storage; around the corner, there was a corridor leading to the bathrooms and another door marked with an emergency exit sign. The main area was pretty much in view of the baristas and other customers at all times, so how safe it was would be dependent on how busy things were at ten pm. If it was really crowded, people might not notice something going on, and if it was too empty, something could happen without being seen if a barista had to go into the back for a moment.
Why was the meeting going to be so late? It wasn’t the first time he’d wondered it. Was the mysterious texter Antoine also a vampire, or otherwise something else who could only come out at night? But he’d been super busy texting in the morning. Maybe he just had a job working the afternoon shift.
With his sandwich finished, he picked up his coffee, turning back to his computer and checking listlessly to see if Jared had responded to his new email yet. No luck, but given that he’d only just sent it, he didn’t expect much. He found himself automatically opening Facebook again, then made a face at himself. It wasn’t going to change or get any better.
He went to close it, then paused, considering. He’d been wondering if Ash was friends with anyone from the theatre, but wasn’t there a quick way to find out?
Trying not to feel too emotional about the birthday wishes all over Ash’s page, Tam loaded up Ash’s friendslist. As he’d recalled, it wasn’t terribly big, and he was able to discount old highschool friends right away, along with library coworkers. For the names he didn’t recognize, he quickly opened them, skimming them for information and closing if it seemed unremarkable.
Tam lucked out on his second-last person: Joanne Cooper, stagehand at the Theatre of Dreams. She looked fae, probably a brownie of some sort, judging by her round features, ruddy cheeks, and pointed ears. So Ash did know someone from the theatre, at least well enough to follow her online…
It was maybe worth checking out, and pretty close to the library. On the one hand, since the show opened tomorrow, everyone would likely be there for rehearsal, making it easy to track her down. On the other hand, since it was the last night before opening, everyone there would be pretty busy and probably not in the mood to be interrupted. He wondered which would matter more. He should decide soon either way, so he wouldn’t interrupt dress rehearsal itself.
Sahil’s first email came in then, and Tam loaded it up to a short description of the city’s local weredogs. Sahil had clarified in it that they didn’t consider themselves to be packs—-or at least, Sahil’s group and those he’d interacted with didn’t—but a group of friends, with a leader who arranged meetups and helped raise funds for events. The leader, Lena Williams, also helped handle legal matters for the group when necessary and deal with territorial disputes.
Otherwise, it was the same as Tam was given to understand happened with werewolves—an involuntary change with the full moon and voluntary other times, the curse spread via a bite when in their transformed form. Sahil cautioned that there was no default type of weredog, but they appeared in all types of dog, from the smallest chihuahua to the biggest great dane. He didn’t specify what type he was, but did say that their main meeting area was the West Street Dog Park.
Tam let out a little involuntary sound and covered his mouth. It was just as well Sahil had avoided talking about this in person; the details were just too cute.
He wrote back, trying not to let his reaction show. Thanks so much for the info! Just wanted to confirm receipt & that I’m ready for more information whenever you guys have it together. Btw, just plain coffees?
And then, after a moment’s consideration, he added, Just while checking, would church stuff be any good? Both for dealing with the witch & for any possible allies. Just trying to figure out what my options are to stay safe.
He got a reply back almost immediately; Sahil probably hadn’t gotten back up to get back to work yet: Black pls, we can add cream & sugar here if anyone needs it. Church is good against more religious vampires & more generally against demons, probably not otherwise. With magic u want protective circles, sometimes salt, depends on the type of magic being used. Vampires & us, silver. Vampires, the running water thing is tru too but less relevant in a city.
He supposed every little bit helped. He sent back a quick Thanks! and put his laptop away, heading back up to the coffee bar with his empty cups and plate.
“Anything else I can get you?” Matthias asked with a wink.
“Ah, yeah,” Tam said awkwardly. “Four large house blend black coffees, please. Um, if you’ve got one of those foam drink trays, that’d be good.”
Matthias laughed, ringing it through. “You should come back more often instead of buying in bulk,” he said. “I’d love to see you around more.”
“They’re for friends,” Tam said awkwardly. “I’ll, uh, be back later tonight, though, I’m meeting someone.”
“Oh yeah?” Matthias grinned. “Not me? It could be me.”
“No, um…” Tam hesitated, unsure of if he should ask more or not. On the one hand, if Antoine really was a regular, Matthias could be a good source of information, but on the other, interacting too much with a demon might be dangerous…
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]
It can’t hurt to ask him about Antoine, if he really is a late-night regular — or at least it isn’t likely to. Just make conversation, though, don’t make any deals. And don’t spend too long or the coffee will get cold.
Maybe you should ask Sahil and the librarians if Joanne Cooper was a library regular, and if she knew Ash that way, when you get back. Messaging her on Facebook would normally be a good way to get in touch, but she’s probably not gonna be checking that today. It probably is worth seeing if you can get in to talk, though; unless she’s doing light and sound checks or something went really sour, she’s probably on-call in the theater but idle, or doing last-minute touchups that she can interrupt for a few minutes.
Think about whether there’s anything you can reasonably follow up on on the way back, but it’s probably time to head back at this point and touch base. (And deliver coffee.)
It would be a good idea to ask about Antoine, but don’t keep the conversation longer than until you get the coffees.
Joanne sounds like a good lead, and you can always try even if it doesn’t work right?
And ask Sahil about dealing with demons, it might come in handy, because a barista i a popular caffé nowadays, is like a barmaid in a tavern in DnD, endless well of locak knowledge and gossip 😀 Does asking a question and getting an answer count as a sort of a deal? Is only verbal agreement necessary to make a binding contract? Or do you need a contract? Maybe shaking hands?