Chad has his second unexpected encounter at the café.
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End of previous episode:
Something about the man drew him in, a strange feeling that there was some kernel of reason in his excited words. Besides, it wasn’t every day Chad met someone wearing a theater mask who claimed to possess dark sorcerous knowledge of science. And it definitely wasn’t every day that he met someone who told him he was a man of astute intellect.
“You would do well to join me, lad,” said the man. “Those not aligned with me in my endeavor will be left behind among the ashes—and those who would think to oppose me shall ﬁnd me a force to be reckoned with.”
“Is that so?” Chad asked. “How does one reckon?”
The man laughed. “Perhaps you bloody Americans would say. . .how does it go. . .some might find me a handful.”
“No doubt,” said Chad.
“You make light of my words, but I speak in earnest,” the Player said. “Man is a creature made to rule. There are only two places a soul may find itself in the world: lifted above or crushed beneath. There is nothing for it but to embrace our fate, it is the destiny of our kind.” He paused, maybe for emphasis, maybe to let his words ruminate. “I will not be crushed. Nor, I think, will you.”
“You’re right,” Chad replied. “It sounds painful. Not a fan of tight spaces.”
The Player leaned forward and laid a hand on Chad’s arm, making direct eye contact. A smell of cinnamon on his breath. “Think it over.” The man rose and pushed his chair under the table. “I’ll find you.” With that, he turned and left.
Chad felt an energy severed as the door closed behind him. The oddity of the interaction he had just experienced struck him, as if the man’s presence had in some way held it at bay. Chad shook himself. Interesting. Jayce is gonna flip when he hears about this. “I’ll find you,” he said. “You can call me the Masked Player.” Chad smiled to himself. But some small dark thing dampened his amusement.
He sipped the last of his Americano, then stood up, eyeing the trash can. “You think I can make it?” Chad asked the boy at the register.
A blank look. “I don’t know. Prolly not.”
Chad aimed his to-go cup carefully, working in a few pump fakes, and tossed it.
“Yo, buckets!” the boy called out.
Chad smiled and gave him a thumbs up as he made his way to the door. Right before he grabbed the handle, the door swung open. Chad stepped back, putting up a hand to shield his eyes as sunlight flooded in.
A brunette in a Milton’s Java cap burst through the door. She looked up, bright eyes wide. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!”
“No worries,” said Chad with a smile.
“Just trying not to be late!” she said. “Come back and I’ll make you an espresso!”
She was past him now, and Chad got a better look at her. Wow. Not wow. Damn. Wait, espresso? “How’d you know—”
“You just seem like an espresso kinda guy. Sorry, gotta go! Sorry for almost knocking you on your ass!” Her smile was killer.
An absent laugh under his breath as she turned and skipped away. Chad was frozen where he stood, stuck in that moment.
Chad snapped out of it. “Oh, sorry.” He moved out of the doorway. The couple entered, and the door closed behind them, as if giving finality to Chad’s little encounter with the pretty barista.
He was left with his reflection in the glass, clear and sharp in the afternoon sun. For a moment he looked at it, feeling a little tugging inside. Then something grabbed his attention. Reflected in the glass, he saw someone in dark clothes behind him, across the street in the shadows of the alley, watching him. He turned, again raising his hand to shield his eyes. There was no one there. He stepped onto the street, peering into the alley, but still didn’t see anything. Even when he entered the alley, there was no one to be see. Weird. One last glance around and he was heading south on Freeman. What a day. All at the café, too. Chad took out his phone and tapped the screen. 3:39. His screen lit up as a text came through. Knight #4. Reese. Before he could open it, he got an incoming call from Daddy Kong. He accepted. “DK, what’s up?”