Content Warning: Strong language
“Do you think we should be worried?”
Trina was four drinks deep and hunched over the table, whispering conspiratorially. It was evening now, yet the mysterious group of strangers was still top of mind for the SAR team these many hours later.
From their regular table at Duke’s Pub, Dom and Matti cast uneasy glances around the room. It felt dangerous to be talking about this in public. Then again, they had been there for a while and inhibitions were getting lower by the sip.
“Well, I sure am,” Matti admitted, picking nervously at the label on his bottle of beer. “What do you think they want from Em?”
Dom shifted uncomfortably in his chair and frowned into his drink.
“I don’t know,” he replied gruffly. “But hopefully everyone remembers to keep their mouths shut.”
When Em had finally confessed her secret to Dom – thanks in no small part to May’s insistence – she made it clear the woman pursuing them likely would not be the last of her ilk to turn up in Tenna. Dom may not have understood who these Loyals were but he recognized danger when he saw it.
To help ensure Em and May’s safety he had charged the rest of the team with keeping her existence a secret. They had devised elaborate stories – practiced their lies until they felt like truths – and spread the word around town that, should anyone come asking about their former teammate, the best response was to deny, deny, deny.
Em was a charismatic sort, and even though her time in Tenna had been relatively brief, people were keen to do what they could to take care of someone who had spent so much time taking care of them.
Sure enough, strangers had come to the remote mountain town – first in droves to investigate and later in smaller numbers until the flood dried up completely – and everyone had stayed the course. Still, every visit from someone who asked too many questions put the team on high alert. Dom in particular found it difficult to relax until the strangers eventually gave up and left Tenna behind.
But there was something about this new group that felt different to Dom; something less militant and more desperate. Whomever they were, Dom got the sense they weren’t part of the regular outfit that came sniffing around after his friends.
“Sammy’s drunk again,” Trina noted, derailing his train of thought. “Duke really has to let that guy go.”
Dom lifted his eyes to the bar where, sure enough, the youngest bartender on staff was laughing loudly over his own glass with a group of patrons on the wrong side of the bar. He was supposed to be working.
“What a mess,” Matti tutted with a disapproving shake of his head. “Can you imagine if we got drunk on shift like that?”
“To be fair, our line of work is a little bit different than his,” Dom retorted. “Serving drinks when you’re hammered isn’t quite as problematic as trying to save lives.”
Matti shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose.”
“Whatever. Duke still needs to fire him,” was Trina’s two-cents worth.
From there they let the conversation shift from subjects of worry to shop talk and idle gossip. Trina made eyes with a scruffy hiker across the room while Matti bemoaned the trouble he was having sourcing a part for one of the team vehicles.
“I love it here – I really do. But, damn, sometimes being so remote drives me nuts.” He waved his now empty bottle around with inebriated gusto. “They said it’s gonna take a month to get this thing all the way up here. What a joke!”
“I hear ya, bud.” Dom reached out to pluck the bottle from his friend’s hand. He threw back what was left in his own glass and stood. “Another round, kids?”
His friends nodded, Trina half-heartedly offering to pay knowing full well that Dom would say no just like always. It was a comfortable routine between the three youngest members of the team – Dom more so in spirit than actual age – and they all appreciated the predictability of it.
By now the pub was crowded with Friday night revellers. Dom had to push through the mass of people milling and dancing, throwing smiles and ‘hey, how’s it goings’ to one familiar face after another. The bar itself was especially busy and a quick scan showed Sammy was nowhere in sight.
“Great,” Dom muttered, pressing in closer to the counter in search of another bartender. Amara, Duke’s daughter and bar manager, was swamped at the other end of the room. Her face was flushed and scowling as she picked up the slack for her flighty co-worker.
Placing Matti’s empty bottle on the bar, Dom was steeling himself for a long wait when he felt someone tap his shoulder.
“Dominic, it’s Sammy.” His neighbour Luis leaned in close to be heard over the boisterous crowd of the pub.
“Yeah, he’s gonna get his ass fired if he keeps this shit up,” Dom replied.
Luis shook his head and Dom suddenly noticed the panic in his eyes. Hitching a thumb over his shoulder, Luis stepped to the side so Dom could see Sammy, face aglow with intoxication, sitting at a table by the far wall. He was talking loudly, his hands animating his words.
Sitting across from him, back to Dom, was a man with wild red hair.
Dom’s stomach bottomed out. He realized what Luis was trying to tell him and lurched forward, barrelling unceremoniously through groups of friends and strangers alike and eliciting scandalized shouts and curses as he went.
Wordlessly he tried to signal for Sammy to stop talking, to shut his mouth for the love of all that was good in this world.
Sammy raised his glassy eyes and, spotting Dom just steps away now, smiled.
“There he is!” Sammy boomed so loudly the din in the room seemed to fade away. “That’s the guy I was telling you about. He worked with the girl you’re looking for. Tell ‘im, Dom!”
The red-haired man turned in his seat, his eyes narrowing in on Dom with a look that could scald.
Dom wasn’t imagining it: the room had fallen silent.
Jeremy Parker got to his feet.
“I knew you were fucking lying to me.”
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