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Mack suspected something was up when the kegs started exploding

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Mack suspected something was up when the kegs started exploding.

He glared at the shattered remnants of the latest victim, suds still dripping off the toothy edges of wood. The third one this week. He pressed a hand against the wall, smooth and warm, almost like skin.

"What are you trying to telling me?" Worry creased between his brows. There was a barely detectable fizzing sound as the scent of aged whiskey filled the air, and something else, a sharp stinging scent  that left a bitter aftertaste on his tongue. He sighed, leaving to retrieve the mop where he left it the night before.

There was no need to turn on the lights as he made his way through the dark. He knew every corner and curve of the tavern, down to which floorboards squeaked beneath his feet. He nabbed the mop, pausing on his way back through to peek out into the main lounge. It was quiet of late. Too quiet if he were honest with himself. Well past happy hour and only three patrons occupied the room, the three who never seemed to leave. Cesario and Eugene both nursed their drinks, avoiding eye contact though they drank four seats apart from one another every night. The Munch dozed quietly in his usual chair, cradling the knobby bone rifle that never left his side. His gargled snores were the only sound in the room.

He stared at the scene, his knuckles tight on the mop as he tried to recall the last time it had been a full house. Even that blasted pirate hadn't been around lately. Perhaps he shouldn't have punched the bugger so hard last time. Mack rubbed his jaw. Too many quiet nights, but then, the warning bells kept pulling him away, forcing him to close up shop. He didn't boot the patrons who were already inside, but with no one to mind the bar, the door locked behind him.

It was as he was mopping up the puddle of spoiled beer the paper fluttered down from the ceiling, clinging to the damp floor at his feet. He stared at the advert, reading it over several times before he swore and yanked it off the ground.

"You didn't," he grumbled, crumpling the soggy bit of paper into a ball that he shoved into his pocket. He looked upward. "It's a bad idea!" 

His admonishment met no answer. He tossed the mop in the corner; no doubt he would need to clean up another mess soon. At this rate he would have to restock his stores before the month was out.

Miffed, he stomped out, leaning on the bar as he studied the two morose patrons before him.

"You lot are too quiet," he snarled, rounding on the pale faced Eugene. The man's uniform was more crumpled than usual and covered in dark stains. "Cripes, when's the last time you slept? Or bathed?"

Eugene raised an eyebrow at the question. As a member of the Blood Empire, he required very little rest due to his altered genetics, but every man had his limits. Even those who became monsters.

He tilted his head, lifting his drink to spin the contents. "It's been a while," he admitted.

Mack pursed his lips. "Your drink's coagulating."

The soldier glared at him, gulping the liquid down in one go before he carefully set down his glass. Careful movements were always best with his type. He rose to his feet. "Well, guess I'll be on my way then," he said, stalking away.

Mack watched him leave, wondering if he should offer one of the inn's guest quarters but Eugene was already out the door, shutting it with equal care behind him. The epitome of restraint. 

A sigh came from the other end of the bar. The bartender stiffened, feeling Cesario's eyes on him. "You off too?"

This one wasn't so easily ruffled, casually sipping a brandy. "I don't think it's wise to upset your dwindling clientele, Mack," he said, tugging on the ruffs of lace at his wrists. There was something off with the lad, though he couldn't put his finger on it.

He crossed his arms. "You're probably right on that account, lad," he said. He looked up, frowning. Since when had the interior lights gone so dim? The lights feebly flickered overhead, lending deep shadows to the corners of the room.

"If you had to put an emotion to the taste of stale beer, what would it be?"

Cesario blinked at the question but rubbed his chin looking thoughtful. "Loneliness, I suppose," said the young man, staring down at his half empty glass. He pushed it away, unfinished. "I believe, I shall bid you a good night after all, Mack."

That left him and the lightly snoring Munch.


Mack retrieved the crumpled paper from his pocket, smoothing it out on the bar.

***Wanted, one tavern wench. No education required. Must be personable and willing to work under odd hours and conditions.***

His fingertips tapped along the bar. Mack looked up into the shadowy rafters. "Fine, but I don't like complications."

The scent of whiskey teased the air: rich, warm, and utterly smug.

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