Johnny entered the pub through the side door and looked around. The atmosphere was exactly what he had been expecting. The room was dimly lit by low hanging chandeliers that were caked with dust, most of the stools at the bar were occupied by middle-aged men sitting in silence and sipping aggressively, and in the back corner a booth was enlivened by two drunkards carrying on a desultory conversation. Johnny took a deep breath and strode over to an empty booth near the back door. He was close enough to the drunkards now to see their spit flying back and forth and wished he could settle in elsewhere. It was too risky though; the instructions for this meeting had specified this booth, and he did not want to get it off to a rough start.
“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked. She was the type of woman who Johnny guessed was much younger than she appeared. Chronic exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll.
“Um, just a water please.” The waitress sighed, dropping her hands to her side, still lazily gripping the pen and pad.
Johnny tried to smile politely but she took off without a glance back. Only a little scathed by her rudeness, Johnny slumped down in his booth and began tapping his fingers impatiently on the poorly wiped down table.
It was nearly an hour after their agreed upon meeting time when Oliver finally entered. Johnny perked up at the sight of him and gulped the remainder of his second coffee. It was tepid and strong; too strong in Johnny’s opinion but he kept ordering them to keep from further upsetting his waitress.
Oliver gracefully took the chair opposite Johnny, and it was not until they were eye level with one another that Johnny saw how much the other man was sweating.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Oliver whispered. “It’s been a difficult morning.”
Johnny nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.
“Look doc,” Oliver continued, leaning in now, eyes wide. “This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”
Stunned, Johnny began to stammer in opposition but was abruptly cut off by more of Oliver’s urgent whispers. Johnny shifted in his seat, discomforted by the intensity.
“I’m not messing around here. It’s serious. You gotta help me.”
Johnny nodded. Panic was obviously taking Oliver over. Johnny had hoped he would be able to convince him to come back to the lab with him for a proper assessment; a night of observation, even. But Oliver was intent on meeting in this very spot, which should have been a red flag that no amount of common sense was going to change his mind.
“I want the cure. I want it now.”
“It’s not like that Oliver. Like I said, we need to evaluate the circumstance surrounding the -”
He raised his voice nearly, leaping out of his seat. Immediately afterwards, he became aware of the attention he had drawn, slunk back down, and glanced around nervously. Lycanthropy in such early stages had many possible symptoms which depended upon the infected person’s own genetic makeup. But no matter how you analyzed the data, aggression and the inability to control oneself were always at the top of the list.
Johnny tensed, trying not to let Oliver sense his building fear. The scent, as far as Johnny’s own studies showed, could enhance the potential for sudden onset rage in the infected.
“Okay,” Johnny whispered. “Order a drink.”
Relief overcame Oliver. It was visible, especially in his demeanor which lightened significantly. Oliver hailed over the waitress and had her bring him a tequila. No salt, no lemon. After a deep breath, and a slight smile, Oliver shot the liquor back and rubbed his eyes as if just waking up. Johnny could see how happy he was in that moment; it was a moment he had dreamt of for weeks on end now. The stress of the change had been an unbearable burden, but it would be over now. Johnny discretely passed him the vial under the table, and as it exchanged hands he felt a thankful squeeze of his own.
With that, Johnny rose from the table and nodded a friendly goodbye. As he made his way back to the side door he could hear Oliver order a second tequila; the one he’d poor the vial contents into. It ached Johnny to know he would not get the chance to study this one. All the same, the fallacy of the so-called antidote would be taken willingly, which was to Johnny’s benefit. Yes, they needed to die; but he always preferred it not be directly by his hand. He slept better that way.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©