Calling 5-I

FLINT

Where the Light’s Even and Bright

My phone buzzed, rattling the dresser next to my bed. I groaned, rolling over and slapping my hand in the general area of the disturbance, hoping to get lucky. No such luck; the call rang out, then gave one final buzz for good measure.

I hadn’t actually been asleep, just in the half-awake fugue state between un- and –conscious. Still, no matter the circumstances, no-one likes getting disturbed at three in the morning.

I sat up and grabbed the phone, wincing from the pain in my ribs, which had diminished, but not disappeared, in the two days since I’d gotten the injury. I’d done a bit of research, and it didn’t seem to be a broken rib, but there was still the chance of a cracked one, so I’d been trying to avoid putting strain on the area. Thankfully, I wasn’t going out in costume anyway, and my job doesn’t really involve physical labor (except when it does).

The call was from Lis, of course. Knowing her, she’d have been up and about for a while now; she keeps pretty odd hours, and I’ve never been a hundred percent certain what she does and why.
I dialed back, and she picked up on the first tone. “Ya owe me a beer,” she said.

“Good morning to you too,” I replied grumpily. Wait, no, that’s what I meant to say. What actually came out was “Lis, it’s three in the fucking morning.”

“Yeah, and ya owe me a beer,” she said, unfazed.

“I swear by all that is holy, Lis, if you make me get up at 3 in the morning in the middle of winter, I will end you.”

“Come on, it’s not like you were sleepin’ anyway. It’ll be fun.”

It took my sleep-addled brain a second to process that. “Lis, are you watching me?”

I could almost hear the shrug. “This spot just happened to look in on your apartment, I swear.”

“And why did you ‘just happen’ to be in this ‘spot’,” I glanced at the heavy curtains covering my windows, “with a high-powered sniper rifle and infrared scope?”

“Hey,” she protested. “I don’ interrogate you about what you do in your free time.”

“Because you don’t need to, apparently,” I grumbled.

“Come on, Flint. I’ll just keep bugging you otherwise.”

I sighed. “Is anywhere even open now?”

“I know a place.”

-----

I rubbed my hands together, trying to keep warm. Light snow fell from the sky, coating the paths and buildings. It was cold as a goddamned arctic tundra, and I felt like a fragile package, swathed in bulky layers of clothing. I’d tried leaning back against the wall, but the cold had seeped through way too quickly for my liking, so now I was just standing outside the entrance to my building, watching my breath freeze in the air in front of me as cars rumbled past in an inconstant stream.

Someone tapped my shoulder, and I spun to find Lis standing behind me, somehow having gotten there despite the complete lack of corners or cover. “Gah!” I jumped backwards a little.

She laughed. “Oh man, the look on your face…” She grinned a lopsided grin. “Priceless.”

Lis is average height and kind of plump (though I’d only ever say ‘solid’ to her face), with mousy brain hair covered by a ratty beanie and a round face. Apparently immune to the cold, she was wearing an open hoodie over a tank top and cargo pants, and carrying a duffel bag that in no way contained various pieces of semi-illegal high-powered munitions.

“Ordinarily, I’d probably agree, but I’m too tired to actually care. Let’s just go and get this over with.”

We started walking, Lis leading the way, and as we did she elbowed me in the gut, and not lightly. “Come on, Flint. You’re being a real grumpy shit tonight.”

“Geez, maybe it’s cause I haven’t slept all night, and my friend was spying on me at three in the morning with a sniper rifle.” But I’d woken up enough now that there was a smile accompanying the words.

She snorted. “I don’ see a problem there.” We turned a corner, into the square.

“So where are we going, anyway?”

“A bar,” she said, deadpan.

“Har-de-har-har, very funny.”

“Well, excuse me. S’not my fault you fell out of the wrong side of the dumpster this morning.”

“Actually, it’s exactly your fault.”

“Ya can’t prove that.”

I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Why do I even bother?”

“Yeah, why do ya bother? Give into your hate.” She waggled her fingers at me.

I laughed. "If I gave into my hate, I'd probably go on a killing spree."

"He says like it's a bad thing."

"Don't worry, you'd be at the top of the list."

"Aww, how sweet." She punched me in the arm, but I barely felt it through my layers.

"So where is this place, anyway?"

“Just up here. It’s called the-” We rounded another corner into a small side alley.

“-the Barrel,” I finished flatly.

“-the Barre- wait, what?” She gave me a confused look. “How’d you-“

“Lis, I work here.”

There was a second of silence. “Great joke?” she said after a second, hopefully.

“No, unfortunately not.”

“Well, damn. Don’t I look an idiot.”

“Nah, it’s fine. Honestly, this is probably better.”

“What? How?”

“Because you presumably had some stupid plan to get us into the bar, didn’t you?”

She kept her face carefully blank. “You can't prove that."

I gave her a flat look. “You have a fake ID, don’t you?”

She gave a noncommittal shrug. “…might do.”

“Of course you do. How well did you think that would have worked?”

“Well, if it hadn’t, we could have just snuck in through the bathroom or somethin’,” she said, skillfully avoiding the question.

“Yes, two people coming out of the bathrooms together. Also totally not suspicious.”

She gave me annoyed look. “Well, then, what’d you do?”

We were coming up on the Barrel, tucked into a real hole in the wall, a small line shivering next to the door. There was a short, stocky lady at the head of the line: Indira, one of the other bouncers.

“Hey, ‘Dira,” I said, nodding to her. “Quiet night?”

She gave an almost imperceptible nod back. “Nothing major, yeah. You on shift?”

“Nah, I didn’t even know we opened this late.” I hooked a thumb back at Lis, “I owe my friend her a few drinks.”

She gave Lis a once-over, then tilted her head towards the door. I nodded my thanks, and we strolled inside. I pulled off my coat, and after a few seconds, Lis did the same: the Barrel has an excellent heating system. She looked around, taking in the tasteful d├ęcor. “You work here? You?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What d’you do, clean the floors?”

“Ha ha. I work as a bouncer.”

“Huh. That… makes a lotta sense, actually.”

“I’m going to choose to take that as a compliment,” I said loftily.

“You do that.”

The main room of the bar was moderately sized, with the bar along one wall, booths and tables around the other three, and a depressed area in the middle with a pool table. A TV was set into one of the walls, and a game of football was winding down on the screen. Something of a mismatch, from the looks of it. There were maybe ten or fifteen patrons, surprising considering the time and weather, and there was a low hum of conversation buzzing in the background. Most of the people were in the booths, with a group playing a game of pool, and Lis and I pulled out chairs at the bar.

“Hey, boss,” I said to the man behind the bar.

“Flint. You’re not rostered tonight, are you?”

“Nah, I didn't even know we opened this late," I repeated. "Just owe my friend a few drinks. David, Lis. Lis, David.”

She nodded to him. “Sup.”

“Sup yourself. What can I getcha, then?”

“Just some soda water for me,” I said. “Lis?”

“Pint of whatever’s on tap.”

“Coming right up.” David poured our drinks and slid them down the bar, and I nodded my thanks, pulling a crumpled bill from my pocket and passing it over. He nodded back and moved further down the bar to tend to a few new customers that had arrived.

“So,” Liss said through a mouthful of beer, “have ya heard anything from Talie yet?”

“Nothing,” I said, taking a sip of my own drink. “I really wish that was unusual.”

“Tell me about it,” she said with a grimace. She took another sip. “This is really good shit, by the way.”

“I’ll be sure to pass on the compliment. It’d be easier to deal with if she’d at least tell us where she goes, you know? Just, ‘hey guys, I’m going to my monthly out-of-town… AA meeting’ or whatever.”

“Or at least give us some way of communicatin’ with her, right?”

“Yeah, exactly. Especially with… all this,” I made a vague gesture with my hands, “going on.”

She raised her glass. “To our glorious leader,” she said. “May she wise the fuck up.”

“Amen.” I clinked my glass against hers, and we both drank.

“Speakin’ of ‘all this’, how’s everyone else doin’?”

“Dunno, really,” I replied. “I’ve mostly just spent the time sleeping and working. Honestly, I kinda wish I could just forget about all of this."

“And if I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s my cue.” The voice came from behind us, and Lis and I spun around, hands reaching for the weapons we would have to be idiots to not be carrying. Standing a few paces from us was a young woman, average height, brown hair with a skunk stripe, a long thin face, and brown eyes filled with hate.

Edith Ellis. A.k.a. Ado, leader of the Cabal.


A.k.a. my ex-girlfriend.