Monday, Simtember 5, 2216 | Wolfbane Tavern | Legacy Island, Bay City, Califorsimia
I watched my past pull away from the curb.
The city bus carried everything that was the old Kassiopeia Fullbright away from the hillside and down toward downtown Bay City. The pungent smell of bus exhaust comingled with the sweet perfume of the fir trees. It was an odd scent. I sneezed repeatedly, the smog assaulting my senses. This was the difference between the big city life and the suburban life – unmaintained buses.
I frowned. I wouldn’t have even needed to take the bus to my great-grandmother’s estate, but my car’s timing belt snapped during the last leg of my cross-country road trip. I left my mother and her new husband, my sisters and my step-brothers in Oakland and headed out on Interstate 08. After traveling the SimNation with my father for the last year, I assumed I could handle the simple solitary over-the-mountains four hour drive from Oakland to Bay City, but I was wrong. I had the car towed to my grandfather’s old mechanic in Sunset Valley and caught the bus to the Legacy Island. Maybe it was best – my broken-down car. It was one of the last things tying me to Sunset Valley. I couldn’t go back there. I wasn’t the same girl that left.
Bay City was my blank slate. My great-grandmother’s estate was a chance at a new life, one where I could build something of my own, separate from the rest of my family’s. My road trip had helped me discover what I valued and what lines I was willing to cross. There were certain lines I could never come back from. I couldn’t stay with my family in Oakland. I couldn’t return to my old life. If I had stayed with my dad in Simcago, I wouldn’t have been able to move on from my mistakes on the road. Bay City was the best option. No one knew me here. I could start over.
Nonno had given me the caretaker’s phone number – a Mr. Butterworth. Once I reached the last stop on my route, I had planned to call him and let him know I arrived. My phone beeped sadly.
“No!” I moaned, seeing the low battery warning just before my phone shut off. I smacked the side of the phone and attempted to push the power button multiple times. “Dead!”
My eyes swept back and forth down the street. There were two pretty stone houses in front of me contrasting sharply with the dilapidated house on the far corner with boards over its windows. A landscaper raked the lawn in the yard across the street. He stood up to admire his work, rubbing the back of his neck. The hot early-autumn sun filtered down through the leaves of the pine trees, but the shade didn’t quite reach the front yard where the man was working. He turned around, walking toward his truck. Seeing me, he smiled and waved. I returned a small smile. Maybe he had a phone I could borrow.
“Excuse me!” I called out, looking both ways before running across the street. “Hi, I’m new in town,” I cleared my throat. “My phone’s dead and…” I stopped and frowned.
The man just smiled at me, eyeing me up and down, snapping a piece of gum loudly. I felt like I was on display.
“How can I help you, pretty lady?” he inquired.
“Pay phone?” I asked, wincing.
“The nearest payphone isn’t around for twenty miles,” he replied gruffly.
“Oh,” I replied disappointed.
“I’m just kiddin’ lady,” he burst into a smile. “There’s a phone in the Wolfbane…” he nodded toward the tavern across the street near the bus stop.
“Uh thank you,” I nodded, surprised.
“Anytime, pretty lady,” he replied, walking toward his yellow truck.
I walked back across the street briskly, hoping he wasn’t staring at my backside, but I think he might’ve been. Well he can look but that doesn’t mean I’m offering anything…
I wandered in the front door of the Wolfbane Tavern. Upon entering, I detected the broken ceiling lights adding to the dimness of the room. The thick stone walls reminded me of a medieval castle as did the torch lights in sconces. The sunlight managed to squeeze through the faded stained glass windows. The hum of refrigeration grated on my ears and a radio played faintly somewhere. I brushed a fly away from my face and tried to avoid throwing up over the foul smell of fermenting juice. A Doberman shook his head wildly from side to side and eyed me suspiciously.
“Don’t mind Butch; he’s harmless,” a neatly dressed man approached me. His white polo, grey dress pants, and black dress shoes didn’t match the atmosphere.
“Hi, I was wondering if you have a phone,” I ventured.
“Sure do, it’s downstairs by the restrooms,” the man replied. “Is there anything else Carlos Lopez can get you? A chilled lemonade, a bowl of chili, a room in town?”
“Excuse me?” I narrowed my eyes.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” he surmised.
“Yeah, uh, where’d you say the phone was?” I asked, feeling uncomfortable.
I wandered down a set of stone steps to an even darker stone basement. I wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I didn’t really have a choice. I needed a ride to my new home.
“We’re sorry,” an annoying automated voice began. “The number you have dialed has been disconnected. Please check the number and try again.”
“Hmm, that’s odd,” I said to myself, shivering in the dampness of the basement.
I redialed the number. After trying six more times, I became frustrated with the repetitive replies and the loss of my quarters. I felt something lightly tickling my hair. Looking down, I let out a shriek as I flicked a spider from my forearm. I quickly walked to the stairs, frowning when I heard a clattering noise. I got the weirdest feeling I was being watched. I glanced over my shoulder, but my only company was the arachnid scurrying away on the floor. This basement was definitely creepy. I raced up the stairs, taking two at a time.
I sat down at the counter, asking the bartender for a glass of lemonade.
“Here, try the chili,” she said in monotone, setting a bowl of brownish goop in front of me.
“Uh…” I made a face. “No thanks. I didn’t order any. How about some lemonade?”
“Whatever, the chili’s free today. It’s the first day of fall,” the dense girl replied.
“No it’s not,” I shook my head, confused. “It’s not until… never mind… Do you happen to know a Mr. Butterworth? He lives here in the old town section of Bay City on the Silverton Estate.”
“Oh Old Ollie,” she said, perking up. “Yes, he used to live up the road.”
“What do you mean used to live?” I frowned, trying to keep my mind off the fact that Carlos Lopez was lurking behind me, no doubt staring at me, and another woman stood in front of the cold fireplace, staring off into space. A teenager slid onto a seat at the far end of the counter. This place is weird. Maybe this whole neighborhood is weird.
“He left about three days ago. Moved to Modern Heights. Said he finally made enough money to retire in Florsimida,” she explained, and leaned in. “He said it was because the fishing is better there, but honestly, I think it had to do with that fancy gentleman in the limousine that came to visit him last week.”
“Who was that?” I tried not to appear too interested.
The bartender snagged my plate and poured me a glass of lemonade. “He’s some hotshot who works for that research company owned by that Goth family.”
I perked up. Raven Research Syndicate! What did they want with my great-grandmother’s estate caretaker?
“What did he want with Mr. Butterworth?”
“I don’t know, but he was real nervous afterward and left pretty quickly.”
“So Mr. Butterworth moved to Florsimida!” I exclaimed in frustration. “He took care of my family’s estate. I was supposed to meet him here at the bus stop.”
“Sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. He did call a friend of his… an old lady… uh… I think she’s there now. Don’t remember her name. But she signed some papers with him here just yesterday. Name was a flower… Daisy… or Hyacinth… or Rose or something. Your lemonade good? You want a refill? My shift’s ending.”
“Uh no, I’m good,” I sighed. “How far away is 16 Crooked Lane?”
“Almost twelve miles,” she took my money. “Have a great day!”
Twelve miles? My heart sank. Too far to walk and I didn’t want to take a taxi. I finished my glass and set it on the counter, sliding off my barstool. I went back down to the creepy basement and placed one more phone call. There was really only one option. Returning upstairs, I pulled out my laptop and typed away.
I jumped, startled at the sound of my boss, Brendon Shore’s voice. I jerked forward and knocking my lemonade glass to the floor, feeling my muscles tense.
“Why don’t you call me Kass like all my friends do?”
“Because Kassio makes you scrunch up your face all cute,” he smiled, the laughter surfacing in his eyes as he settled into the bar-stool next to me. “Did I give you a heart attack?”
“Yes, you succeeded. You can buy me lunch,” I said impatiently.
“Well someone is feisty this afternoon,” Brendon smirked. “I’m taking you out of this dungeon for a real meal if you really want lunch. Why’d you choose this dreary place anyhow? Getting tired of doing all your research at the office or in the library?”
“Look Brendon, I didn’t invite you down here to critique my choice of locale,” I narrowed my eyes. “Or because I enjoy your harassment while I work. I just needed a ride.”
“What happened to your wheels?”
“Broken timing belt.”
“Ouch! You aren’t going to pay for that on a newspaper salary.”
“I’m not salary. I’m interning. That’s even less money, and thanks for reminding me.”
“You’re welcome. Now where do you need to go?”
“16 Crooked Lane.”
“Another EXCES victim to interview?”
“No, my new home.”
“Really? I take it you decided to decline your mom’s offer to move up north.”
“Yeah, and I just couldn’t escape your charming company,” I said sarcastically.
“Well, I’d like to think so,” he straightened on the seat, pulling down on his vest with pride. “Can I at least order a drink before I take you to your new palace?”
“Thought you didn’t like this dungeon?” I rolled my eyes.
“The dark dank atmosphere is growing on me,” he signaled the waitress and ordering a drink. “Alright,” he sobered. “I have the information you wanted about the DPP.”
“The stats from the pharmaceutical company!” I exclaimed, prying the manila folder from his fingers.
“Yes, but I don’t know why you want them. Doo Peas Pharmaceutical statistics aren’t exactly your beat or headline-worthy,” he stretched back and put his hands behind his head. “So why do you want the information so desperately?”
“I don’t want it desperately!” I protested.
“I call leaving me fifteen phone messages in one night a little desperate,” Brendon shook his head.
“You get the information. I cover your expenses. You don’t get to ask questions,” I narrowed my eyes, flipping through the pages.
“Well, I nearly had to break into the place. Doo Peas is like a vault. So are you going to thank me?” he asked smugly.
“I’ll pay for your drink.”
I made a sour face, biting back another snippy remark. Brendon, while irksome, was extremely thorough. He had to have good contacts, really good contacts, which was why she had contacted him. He was also annoyingly persistent and inanely charming. Regrettably, he was the best source. The files contained statistics on every drug trial for the past four decades. Despite our playful banter, I knew he respected me, even though I was fifteen years his junior.
“That’s better,” he smiled suavely, his amethyst eyes twinkling mischievously.
“I got what I wanted,” I opened my purse and pulled out the money and handed it to him. “You got what you wanted. Can you drive me home now?”
“So you aren’t living on campus anymore?”
“No, didn’t I say that already?”
“Yes, but I’m surprised you didn’t mention buying a house.”
“I didn’t. I inherited it.”
“Really? You just get more and more interesting.”
“Why do you insist on this obnoxious flirting with me?”
“Flirting? I’m fraternizing with my co-workers. I do this with everyone.”
“I know. Which is exactly why it’s best I keep my distance.”
“Ouch! Then why did you call me?”
“Because I needed the file and I…”I trailed off and looked away.
I didn’t add that I didn’t really know any of my coworkers or classmates. I also didn’t want to admit that my early-thirties-ish boss made me nervous. He was good looking in a boyishly handsome kind-of way, but with an air of manly superiority and confidence – and his nicely sculpted muscles weren’t lost to me. The blue highlights added to his youthful charm and the black rimmed glasses hinted at a Clark Kent-Superman persona, the journalism career notwithstanding.
“It’s okay. You don’t need to justify yourself and don’t worry about overhead costs,” Brendon smiled genuinely. “I know what a lovely young intern like you makes. You can’t afford my contacts.”
I decided not to argue, pulling a thick black pen from my purse as I reopened the file folder and began making notations. Brendon ordered us some shrimp cocktail. He made a few comments about the less than appetizing dish while I poured over the pages, hardly looking up at him.
“You don’t like me, do you?”
“Am I that transparent?”
He pried the pen from my fingers and set it gently on the counter. “And if you weren’t so damn good at writing, I’d fire your ass.”
“Thanks,” I made a face. “I think.”
“You’re snarky. You’re persistent. You’re resilient. You’ll go after a story like a hound dog which is going to land you a fabulous job someday,” he complimented me. “But you’re a pretender, Kassio, just like me.”
“A pretender?” I stared at him blankly.
“There are two types of people in this world who are good at pretending. Actors and writers. And while neither one of us is an actor, we are writers. Writers, the good ones, have lived life. They’ve been hurt. They’ve lost something. They’ve gotten angry. They’ve made mistakes. They’ve said the wrong things and drank a little too much and slept with the wrong people.”
I felt my cheek twitch and my face flush. His words hit a chord with me. I felt embarrassed, especially since Brendon was my boss. I felt a nervous pit forming in my stomach.
“You hide your true feelings beneath this façade of toughness because it’s easier to act tough than to face the pain,” he continued. “We’re pretenders. I do it too. I’ve been there. That’s what makes me a good writer too. But since we’re good at pretending…”
I held my breath nervously, hoping he would get to the point quickly.
“…could you at least pretend to like me?” he offered a weak smile.
“I could pretend…” I cleared my throat before continuing. “No, I could tolerate you.”
“Good because I’d like to finish this lunch and I hardly like to leave a meal before I finish it,” he said. “Can we put away the file and eat?”
“I guess,” I said, slipping the folder into my laptop case.
We sat in silence, eating our shrimp. I didn’t exactly know what to say if we weren’t talking about work. When we finished, I pulled out my laptop again, dusting off the lid.
“So we need a safe topic of conversation,” Brendon said, breaking the awkward barrier. “Certainly not politics or religion or sex. Those aren’t safe topics.”
I laughed, feeling the tension melt away. Brendon was blunt, but real, although I didn’t want to admit he was humorous.
“Are you relaxing? Because if you’re relaxing…” he pulled my pen out of my hand.
“Shut up and hand me my pen back”
“Is that a way to talk to your boss?”
“Yes, because you like my snarkiness remember?”
“So what about the weather?” I suggested.
“Too boring,” he shook his head. “This tavern. Why here?”
“Because it’s close to the bus stop, and I needed a place to set up camp before I got a ride from you.”
“So I could take you to your new home? Do I get to see the inside of this new home?”
“In your dreams. I’m not going to let you ruin my first look inside my new house.”
“But don’t you want me to ghost-proof it?”
“Ghost proof it!” I laughed. “There’s no bogeyman hiding in my great-grandmother’s estate.”
“How do you know? So how’d you come by it?”
“Well my great-grandmother was Celestia Silverton-Antonelli…
“Really, the movie actress?”
“Yes, and don’t for a second act like you didn’t know my relations. I know you do background checks on all the employees at The Buzz.”
“Yes, but I’m juicing for details.”
“All I know is she left the house to me, her oldest great-granddaughter, for some reason when she died, though I don’t know why she didn’t leave it to my mother.”
“Well, she lived with my great grandmother when she was seventeen.”
“Oh, I smell a story…”
“Yeah, ancient his-tory! Brendon, you can’t use this for The Buzz.”
“Why not a welcome-to-the-neighborhood piece?”
“Is nothing beneath you?”
“I plead the fifth.”
“Nice try. Seriously, I’m protected by the nondisclosure agreements we sign when we come to work at The Buzz.”
“Yeah, well, a guy can hope.”
“Just like I can hope Doo Peas Pharmaceuticals just hands over their records about their latest research agreement with the Raven Research Syndicate.”
Brendon slammed his glass on the counter. “I can’t get you off EXCES.”
“Sorry,” I winced. “Habit. It’s been drilled into me.”
“Dogged persistence… it’s what I like about you,” Brendon smiled. “I can get you a contact inside RRS.”
“Really?” I said eagerly, and then quickly tried to hide my enthusiasm.
“Yes, I think I know somebody who works for somebody who works for RRS’s public relations division. I have the phone number for this person somewhere,” he answered. “I also can get an advance look at their next press release for their upcoming Simuary drug trial.”
“Oh my llamas! You’re serious!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, really serious. I have it on my computer. I just need to print it out.”
“You could just email it to me.”
“I’d rather give it to you in person. I can taunt you some more.”
“Keep it up and I won’t pretend to be nice to you.”
“No seriously, I don’t want to leave a electronic trail.”
“But you’ll leave a paper trail?”
“You can burn it when you’re done. Safer than electronic files. Now where’s this house of your grandmother’s? I’ll go get the car and drive you home. I’ve got to go get gas first though. Can you meet me up on the corner?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Politeness… it’s nice coming from you.”
“Don’t push you luck, Shore.”
I made a face. I walked outside, the heat from the sun a welcome relief from the air-conditioned tavern. I walked down the street, smiling at the paper boy delivering a newspaper to the apothecary. I reached the corner and plopped down under a tree that had lost its leaves early. I decided to go over statistics again. I reached for my folder inside my laptop bag, but it wasn’t there. After searching my bag and my purse, I realized the file must’ve fallen out at the Wolfbane. Leaping to my feet, I felt her pulse quicken. I had just paid one hundred simoleons for the information, didn’t even have it a half-hour, and was dumb enough to lose it. A car honked at me as I crossed the street.
Please be there, I implored to some unseen force under my breath.
“Can I get a drink started for you?” the bartender asked.
“I… uh… have you seen a manila folder?” I inquired. “I was sitting here with a man and I had it with me.”
“Sorry…” the bartender shrugged.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I make drinks, lady. I don’t collect folders,” the bartender replied curtly.
I bit my lip. This was horrible. I couldn’t go crawling back to Brendon and ask for the stats again. That was too humiliating. How unprofessional! No wonder he got all the good stories and had the better sources. I couldn’t even hold onto my data. Think! Think! I urged myself and decided to look downstairs in the restrooms and by the phone. I didn’t find it anywhere. I walked back upstairs feeling defeated as I collapsed on a barstool.
“More lemonade?” the bartender asked. “You come in here. You buy.”
“Fine!” I snipped. I took the drink and stood up, rubbing my forehead with one hand. Brendon would be wondering where I was.
“Think, think! What did you do with the folder?”
I realized I must’ve looked ridiculous talking to myself. Sighing heavily, I closed my eyes, hoping to come up with a solution. A straw! I had forgotten a straw.
“Idiot!” I murmured.
I almost went soaring through the air. I collided with a man who had walked up behind me as I was distracted. Instinctively, my arms went flying upward and he put his arms out and around me to break my fall. We stood in awkward embrace for a few seconds.
“I’m… I’m so… sorry…” I stammered.
“Er… ma’am, no harm done,” he shook his head, steadying me with both hands.
I smiled shakily.
“Do you have a car parked on the street?” the bearded man asked.
“Uh… I… a…uh… car…” I repeated, flustered, trying to run a hand through my hair until I realized I had pulled it back into a ponytail this morning. “I don’t have…a…uh… car… I took the bus.”
“Oh okay,” he gently stepped aside and walked further into the tavern. “Hello everyone, this is just a courtesy announcement. I just wanted to make sure no one is parked on the street. The Farmer’s Market is starting around one and no cars can be parked on the street or they will be towed.”
With that announcement, he left the building, and I found myself gaping after him. What’s wrong with me! Of course, I had taken the bus because I didn’t have my car. Just because he’s an attractive guy doesn’t mean I should lose my head and forget all about…the folder! The folder! I returned to the barstool, dropping my head into my hands, my elbow resting on the counter. And a straw! I had forgotten that darn straw again. Slipping off the stool, I went to flag down the bartender. I thought I heard an engine revving behind me. I spun around to see a car plunge through the tavern entrance. The window shattered into a million pieces.
2.2 Coming Soon!
- What happened at the Wolfbane Tavern and why did a car just come through the entrance?
- Will Kass get to meet with Brendon’s contact about RRS’s upcoming drug trial and will her information prove helpful to Kass’s search for answers about EXCES?
- Will Kass meet the new caretaker for her great-grandmother’s estate and find out what happened to the old one?
Author’s Changes: What’s different?
- Dates were changed.
- Arnie to Ollie
- Antonelli Estate to Silverton Estate
- Strapping to lovely
- Address changed to 16 Crooked Lane