Partners in crime
Scene I, as narrated by Effusio
All good schemes require a partner in crime. Want to reconnect with a so-called dearest friend, who you haven’t seen in over a month? Well, you better dream up a decent scheme, and that is exactly what I did. It wasn’t long before I’d persuaded him to meet me in an upmarket coffee shop under the promise of a free drink. He honoured this display of friendship by stumbling in through the automatic doors twenty minutes late. A torrent of cold air poured into the cafe as he stood in the doorway to look around at the patrons. He spotted me, the lone island of stillness amongst a sea of animated conversation, and approached.
Modus was a respectable gentleman, but it wasn’t evident from his dress sense. No matter how contrarian he may have wished to be, an unkempt beard and monochrome tracksuit did not scream success. He slouched so much into the seat opposite me that our knees touched under the table, and I felt the sharp fibers of his hairy legs poking through both of our trousers. That wasn’t his part, it was just the way he was. As usual, he was fiddling with something in his pocket.
“I hope you have a good excuse for your tardiness, Knuckle of Ante,” I said.
He reclined further in his seat as if bedding down for the night. “I’m surprised you’re here, actually. Haven’t you seen the fog today?”
I gestured at the lack of empty seats. “You may notice that none of the other customers had trouble making their way here.”
“Look.” He showed me a map on his phone that listed the affected areas. “That’s a half an hour delay, more if I’d walked.”
“Could you not have simply left earlier?”
“You should be glad I didn’t say ‘fuck it’ and not come, when the weather’s this deadly as shit. A late night email isn’t advance notice. What do you even want?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, allow me to procure you the promised compensation for your attendance.”
I called a waitress to come and take our order. She returned with an espresso for me and a travesty of a drink piled high with sugar and cream for him. I straightened my back, straightened my blazer, straightened my tie. It was time to get down to business.
“You voiced your curiosity as to the reason of our meeting,” I said.
“It’s not one of your stupid ideas again, is it?” He had set about devouring the cream on the top of his coffee.
“Forget about those. I hate to force your hand, but I’d appreciate it if you never mentioned them again. To anyone.”
He shrugged. “As long as you keep paying for the coffee.”
I checked our surroundings. The staff were preparing croque monsieurs, filling the room with the pleasant smell of frying bacon. The customers turned towards the counter, rapt.
I leaned in. “Fear not. Today shall be no different, because I have envisaged in my mind a scheme that will get you all of the coffee you want, for the rest of forever.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what you said last time.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Did I not plead hard enough for you to forget last time?”
“Alright.” He gulped down the rest of his drink, leaving a ring of cream around his lips. “I don’t seem to remember that’s what you said last time.”
“Must you insist on taking my respect for you to the sanding belt? Nay, bring it instead to the whetstone. The past is in the past, you know.”
“It isn’t for me.”
“Well, it is for everybody else. Try paying more attention to the present, or the future, even.”
He fiddled with his watch, a garish golden shackle on his arm.
I snapped my fingers at his face. “I’m sensing nonchalance. A pity. If only you could conceive of the sheer lottery you were about to win. I’m talking money, wealth, riches. Rock and roll. Women.”
For five seconds, he stared me down. “Rock and roll?”
“The rock and roll piques your interest, I see. You need but lend me your ear.”
“You’re ridiculous. I know this is about women.”
“You can’t know that. Knowledge requires a true, justified, belief. Besides the truth, I don’t see how you could possibly justify your position.”
“Well the last times-”
I cleared my throat. “Modus, Modus, Modus. It’s simply impossible to fathom the extent to which you slight me.”
“But this is about women.”
“My dear friend, what isn’t about women these days? Now there is a question I would like an answer to.”
“Most things that aren’t your stupid ideas.”
“Idea. That should be in the singular.”
He eyed my complimentary biscuit. “Sorry. Stupid idea.”
“Well, forget it. And by forget it, I don’t mean forget it, because it’s apparently impossible for you to forget anything, especially events that compromise your friend.”
I forced my espresso down in one gulp. It warmed my throat, just cool enough to drink. The discerning gentleman always takes pains to time his espresso. Too fast, and you burn your tongue. Too slow, and the taste is ruined. I took this goldilocks approach not just with the coffee, but with Modus. The dual harbingers of caffeine and sugar gripped him and he finally put both of his hands upon the table. He looked at me and pursed his lips.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s hear it.”
“You know how there’s been a rise in dating apps recently?”
“Oh my god.” He slouched further into his chair, pushing against my knees.
I sat up a little straighter. “Relax, it’s mere market research. Anyway, they’re so convenient, right? You can make your match with a willing partner and meet up on the very same day.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
“There’s no shame in consensual lovemaking, my friend.”
“Yeah?” He raised his eyebrows.
“There really isn’t.”
“It’s a well known, ratings-validated fact, at least in my case, that it’s a brilliant experience for-”
“Okay, Effusio, it’s time to move on.”
I shot him a reprimanding look. “The bottom line is that there’s no waiting list, and it’s a beneficial thing for society as a whole.”
“Good to see you’ve justified it. You’re going to make another dating app?”
“Au contraire, my compatriot. I’ve thought of a unique selling point that’s so killer, it’s guaranteed to produce…” I loosened my tie. “Well, maybe some income, but willing women as well.”
“You can’t find any willing women?”
“It’s an issue with the algorithm or something along those lines. My profile is broken, I’m sure of it.”
He swiped my biscuit. “That’s rough,” he said between chews.
“Anyway, try and rack your idle brains for just a moment. If dating applications boast short waiting times, which area of society harbours long waiting times, to its detriment?”
“Definitely not the line to date you.”
“A problem soon remedied with this idea, believe me. Please try to guess at least once. Oh, and be discreet.” I lowered my voice as a waitress passed us.
He rapped his knuckle on the table. His face lit up.
“You are sick,” he said.
I grinned. “I see it took you a few tries. That’s the joy of guessing games with you - you’re as persistent as a hunting dog.”
“No, but…” His mouth hung open. A few crumbs fell out. “Actually what the fuck?”
“It’s benevolent. Everybody wins, no?”
He stared me down. His eyes were sparkling. “It’s a violation. Of ethics. Of humanity.”
“So can I count on your help, compatriot?” I extended my hand.
He didn’t move, even imperceptibly. “What do I get out of it?”
“A woman, if it works. A coffee in the impossible event that it doesn’t, I suppose.”
“A coffee won’t cut it. You know how bored I’ll be?”
“See now how you think of the future. It’s a marked improvement in your attitude, to be sure.”
“Look, mate. I’ll have to charge you my usual rate on this.”
“Are we not compatriots? Friends? Partners in crime?”
“Not for this, we aren’t.” He plopped his empty wallet on the table.
“Is the only way I can sweeten the deal really money?”
“For this, yes.”
“Come now. Where has the noble, gallant Modus gone, whom I held in such high esteem?”
He looked at me and scowled in the way a child might portray anger in their school play. He was a complete caricature. “I’m going to call this monologue, which I won’t let you interrupt, What you’re asking me to do. What you’re asking me to do is sit within hearing range of your conversation, but not take part, and knock on the table every single time you fuck up, which is going to be a lot of times. There will be times you can’t take your own initiative and I’ll have to decide whether to keep resetting in the hope things fix themselves or to prime you to choose a different topic. Have you even thought about how infuriating that’s going to be? Not only that, but you won’t even realise how infuriating it is. You’ll sit there smiling with an empty head and be surprised at how you suddenly have an actual personality. Everything you say will have an incredible effect on a woman that’s only going to get closer and closer to you. What you’re asking me to do is brute force time in your favour. Achieve a singular unlikely outcome from within clusters of likely failures. It’s possible, mate, but it’s work. What you’re asking me to do is my job, except instead of acting on your fake self-interested ‘benevolence’, I usually do cool shit like defuse bombs or prevent malfunctions, and even that is boring. God. Do you know how many times you’ve tried to interrupt me during this speech? Maybe about ten. That’s ten times I had to keep tapping my knuckle, choosing different words until you finally decided to shut up a little bit longer before you opened your mouth. You know what, fuck, I’m invoicing you for this-”
I pushed his wallet back to him. “You don’t have a choice.”
“For fuck’s sake, why do you keep on saying that? Every time, that’s the only thing you say.”
“Because, my dear partner in crime, this scheme of mine is already in action. I have a date arranged for exactly this moment in this exact place. She should be here already, in fact.”
“I was right.” He bristled, jabbing his legs into me. “You are sick.”
I conceded the legroom under the table, opting to sit sideways.
A symphony of notification sounds burst through the cafe, interrupting my next sentence. For a moment, all I could hear was awkward shuffling and murmurs. I checked my phone to find a message from Coff’s.
Due to the unfortunate weather, we regret to inform all customers that we’re closing our front entrance. Coff’s management would like to assure you of your safety in our establishment. The windows are sealed. When you wish to leave, we request politely that you go via the tunnel in the back entrance.
We looked out of the window and there was the fog. It was impossible to see any of the abandoned street that lay beyond it, of course, and soon a wary ambiance returned. Although some cheered for the novelty of the tunnel, the conversations in the cafe no longer rose and fell with their previous boisterous amplitude.
“Well,” I murmured. “That may rather put a damper on our plan. I hope she wasn’t caught in it.”
“I told you it was bad today.”
“It’s a good thing I scheduled your date for fifteen minutes ago, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean my date?”
“I took the liberty of inviting a little someone for you as well. Be honest, when was the last time you had some good company?”
“You know I don’t do relationships.”
“Then loosen up.”
“You’re doubling my fucking workload by doing this.”
“As I said, just loosen up.”
He grunted and mumbled something that was lost in the concerned murmuring of the cafe.
I inspected my trousers for holes. “So you will? Brilliant.”
“You’ll pay me for my time - on my time, not yours. You’re also gonna owe me a favour, and you better not ever ask me for anything again.”
“Perhaps I’ll treat that favour in the same way you treat my requests. The past in the past.”
“You won’t perhaps anything. I’ll do everything I need to make you pay me my due. Here’s something from the past, for you. What do you think I did before disaster prevention, huh?” He knocked on the table again.
Despite having no real clue, I said “Debt collection.”
“Took you a few times, but it was worth it. You can have that particular manipulation for free.”
“Well, it appears it’s you who has me by the jugular, and not the inverse as I was so led to believe. Listen.” I fiddled with a serviette. “With the fog and everything. Say we call the whole thing off.”
“Oh no. Oh no no no no. We’re in this shit together now, Effusio. You and me. You’re going to feel like a god, and for that short experience you’re going to get me on the property ladder.”
“You can’t do this. I’ve graced no document with my signature.”
“Do you want me to force you to sign that napkin? I can get a pen.”
“I suppose in this instance we can dispense with the formalities.”
“So who’s my date, Mr. Matchmaker?” He glanced around the cafe, his stare lingering on an unfortunate group of women, who were pointing at the window and whispering.
“I thought you didn’t want a girlfriend.”
He put his wallet back in his pocket. “Whatever. I’m not about to stand her up, and I want to see her before I decide.”
“It wasn’t a question. It was a mere statement of fact.”
“Your date, my dear knucklehead, is that gentleman over there in the tank top.”
His face fell as he ducked down, pulling his hood up. “Oh my god.”
“I’m not suggesting you make love to him. In fact, I genuinely invited him in the hope he would provide you with some entertainment.”
“Why is he wearing that?”
“Suppose you ask him. But to save a dear friend from crippling embarrassment, he’s not from this city. Hence, he may prove some interest to you.”
“What planet is he from, then?”
“You jest, but be honest. Despite your little hobby, how many people have you met who weren’t born here? Go on. I’m quite willing to let you count.”
“There's no need to be an asshole about it.”
“The number, please.”
He rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Zero.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“You really are a twat, you know that?”
“Please, don’t endeavour to keep your new friend waiting.”
“So what’s this one’s story?”
“He’s a historian, from what I gathered. I simply caught sight of the classifieds when pretending to read a newspaper. I think you’ll find him suited to your intellect.”
“Great, so it’s another crackpot. Come on, I’m not a sucker. No way I’m talking to him.”
“Reneging on your conviction not to stand anyone up? Why, I find that rather out of character.”
“You can find it what you want. I was promised a date, not a debate with a lunatic.”
“In any case, engage him or don’t. I’m rather worried about the fate of my own date. Are you coming?”
“Fuck that. I’ll sit alone.” He achieved the maximum possible depth of slouching, forcing me to scoot my chair back until it was against the person sat behind me.
I was about to stand when the man in the tank top caught sight of Modus and approached. He was middle aged but of a tough and wiry build, clean shaven and sporting a crew cut. There was a sternness about him that seemed it would be difficult to offset. The man had absolutely zero laugh lines on his face. His arms were folded. He cleared his throat, and Modus reluctantly looked up.
“I am Seraph, Lungs of Adflicti. Listen up. Based on the description, I can see you are the informant. I am disappointed that my informant appears to be hypocritically sporting running gear, but I will overlook this because I have to.”
Modus sputtered. “Who are you calling a hypocrite?”
“The dishevelled office worker in front of me who wears the garb of a runner, when in fact he has not run a mile in his life. Hey. I think you would benefit from exercise.”
“Is being comfortable a crime?”
“I am not familiar with the local legal procedure, but you are committing a crime to yourself. Cardiac health is not a joke. Regarding this. I must ask why you are wearing the robes of a jester.”
“Cool it already.” Modus made eye contact with the table next to us, who all suddenly became interested in their menus.
Seraph didn’t pause for breath. “If I were king, and saw you enter my chambers? Don’t be mistaken. I would not laugh but execute you.”
“It’s a good thing you’re not king, then.”
“Not yet. Right. We must speak about the information you have regarding this city.”
I stood up. “Salutations, Seraph. You haven’t paid me any attention yet. That’s not important, as I’m dreadfully afraid I must now take my leave.”
Seraph eyed me up and down, nodding. “Yes, this person is more suitable as an informant. Notice, fool of the 100m sprint, how he is dressed sharply. It shows he has self respect. When you have self respect, others will also respect you. This is the law of the world.”
I smiled. “That’s very flattering, but I need to search for my lady. She’s in dire need of therapy, you see, and I just so happen to be a therapist. If you’d like, you can have my chair.” I pulled it out for him.
He pushed it back under the table. “You can keep her waiting. It is unlikely this questionably fictitious woman has needs as dire as I. For instance. Tell me everything you know about this city.”
My phone buzzed. I seized it with relief. “Ah, cast your eyes over yonder. There stands my dame, proudly based in actuality. As I’m sure you understand, the exacting demands of chivalry have arisen.”
A woman was waiting outside the toilets, arms wrapped around herself, balancing her weight on one leg. She was wearing a cloak that when moved revealed an intricate and colourful rainbow stitching. It was rather mesmerising, in all honesty. Her blonde hair was held together by a porcelain hair clip in the shape of a figure eight. I left the table to approach her. Seraph latched onto my arm with a musclebound grip, immobilising me.
“There is something you should have heard already,” he said, “you fossilised and decrepit door-to-door salesman. Listen up. Chivalry is dead.”
“Is that so?” I asked, failing to pull away. “Ladies first, and gentlemen just before them, as the old saying goes?”
“Correct. I am impressed that you have grasped this concept so readily. I will say that you are less of a triassic fossil and more of a cretaceous one. You are less decrepit than I thought.”
“It was said in jest, man…” I tried to catch my patient’s eye with a series of increasingly flamboyant facial expressions.
“You are like your television marathon friend. Both of you are wasting time on jokes. I think you should have more respect for others.”
“By god, Modus, help, he’s crushing my arm,” I cried.
Modus knocked on the table, then held his hands up. “I’m trying, but I can’t get anything to happen. Fuck. You have to do something differently.”
Seraph looked down his nose at Modus. “To think someone so unused to exercise would use their part so readily. Do not overexert yourself. You would risk a cardiac arrest.”
I raised my fist, but Modus screamed, “No, don’t even think about hitting him. Oh god. No no no no.”
“What?” I asked. “It’s that bad?”
“Oh, yeah. I see some horrible shit in my work but…” He squeezed his eyes shut and reopened them. “Look, just don’t fuck with him, okay?”
Seraph cleared his throat. “It is ridiculous how you lament your situation. It was you, minimum wage cold-caller man, who arranged a meeting with me at this location. This Coff’s, it is of significant interest to history and to me, a legitimate historian. Now. You have double booked yourself and this is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that you will not make the acquaintance of your mental health patient. If you were not so avaricious and dressed as a spare light bulb vendor you would have had the foresight to not double book. You talk of chivalry. The real chivalrous thing to do is satisfy the first person on your schedule.”
“But,” I pulled the chair out with my foot. “You’re not on my schedule, but my partner’s, Modus. Are you not satisfied to honour it and speak with him, or is it you who will flout chivalry and enable my patient to go unescorted?”
Modus knocked on the table. “Didn’t your mum ever teach you manners?”
Seraph let me go, and widened his eyes. “What was that, tracksuit? First. I will speak with this sweating mass.” He gestured towards Modus, who had given up on his chair and sunk to the floor.
Sweat ran down his forehead, and a bruise had turned his knuckle purple. He nodded at me. “Go on, mate. I managed to get there in the end. I can only save you from one fuck up at most, or my knuckle is never gonna heal. When you say something that absolutely ruins your conversation, stand up and shout ‘I fucked up’. I’ll turn the clock back and shout your name. You’ll only get five seconds, so you have to do it quickly. As soon as you see disgust in her eyes, act, but obviously make sure it’s conversation ruining disgust and not just the normal amount people get when they talk to you.”
Seraph shrugged. “The experience of disgust the slacktivist describes is accurate. Hey. You should get out of here.”
I returned a nod to Modus and approached my date.
Everybody has flaws
Scene II, as narrated by Effusio
My patient awaited me in front of the toilets. She had taken to wrapping that cloak around her and was shivering slightly. I waved. After looking behind her to make sure I wasn’t waving at somebody else, she chanced a smile at me. We shook hands.
“Hello,” I said. “I go by Effusio. The Ear of Haustus. A pleasure.”
“I greet you. I am called Signa, and I possess the Locks of Laxo.” She appeared to have to force out each one of her words individually, and didn’t assert herself at all when she spoke.
“What do you suppose we sit down and grab a coffee?” I led her to the only free table I could see, right next to the automatic doors of the front entrance.
She drifted into her seat and remained there in a static posture. “I trust you are my therapist for today, Effusio?”
“I wonder why you date all your clients.”
“Why, to get to know them better, of course. I find an air conditioned office to be far too stifling. No comfort to be had in such an environment.”
She looked at the swirling fog on the other side of the thin glass. “I don’t really feel comfortable here. I want to go somewhere else.”
“I’m afraid we’re running too late for a change of location. We’ll have to do it here all the same.”
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
I started, and studied her face. Had I buggered it already? We shared a brief, awkward eye contact, which she immediately averted. I stood up and breathed in, ready to bellow Modus’ name.
She continued. “I’ve never done therapy before. I’m afraid I’m going to be judged. I don’t think normal people feel like they need to go to therapy, do they? So I’m acutely aware… why are you standing?”
I sat back down. “Pay no attention, ‘twas a clinical technique. Therapy is not some barbarous tool prescribed only for the clinically insane. Au contraire, it’s rather more like a simple conversation between friends.”
She furrowed her eyebrows. “I’m paying you. I wouldn’t pay a friend for a conversation.”
“Merely an analogy. Naturally, you are paying for my expertise.”
She stared at me in perfect stillness. I grimaced a bit. Really, I’d no idea what I was doing and I only fancied I could do therapy with the help of Modus’ time manipulation. I glanced around the cafe, searching for something to say. People were leaving.
“I suppose I’ll have to ask you some questions. Let’s start with something simple. What’s your na-, no, how are you?”
“I’m bad. I’ve been doing badly in life recently and it’s getting worse and worse.”
“I can’t stop hiding from my problems. I already know it’s my problem and I know the solution, but I felt so scared about talking with you today that I arrived early and hid.”
“So that’s where you were. Well, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” I raised my finger. “That’s it, that’s what therapy is. Like, helping people out.”
She drew her cloak around herself further. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m going to help you, my dear, or my name isn’t Effusio. You say you often hide from your problems. Why?”
“I think it’s hard to talk about with other people, because I’ve always felt acknowledging that I’ve had these thoughts makes me weak.”
I stroked my chin. Whoever said coffee shops were the ideal working environment obviously never tried to play a therapist.
She kept speaking unprompted. “I’m plagued with thoughts, or deep feelings, I suppose.”
“Uh, continue, please.”
“I suppose they’re rather clearly along the lines of - I hate myself.”
A waiter had approached, waiting for our conversation to end, but decided to walk away at this point.
I watched him leave with the staff via the back entrance. “Euh… you hate yourself? Why?”
“It’s a simple fact about me, like that water is wet and birds fly and I hate myself. At some point in my life it became a guiding principle and I just can’t get back control.” She was shaking so much that the table had joined her, rattling on the window.
I inched the table further into the room. “How do you justify such hatred?”
“I find it easy because there’s so many things about me to hate. I’m an incredibly flawed person, and I can’t stop running away from my responsibilities. I have so many regrets that sometimes I wonder how I’m even able to keep going as it is.”
“Everybody has flaws.”
Her fingers traced the pattern of her hairclip. “Everybody has flaws, but they control them. You know how it goes in literature. People have character arcs, where they identify their flaws, work on them and overcome them. But for me it’s more like I’ve identified my tendency to hide from problems and let it overcome me. Time and time again I pledge to try harder but I always end up shutting out the outside world.”
“Characters have character arcs, dear. People are different.”
“So what then? If I accept that I’m always going to be defeated by my flaws, how on earth can I hope to be happy? Every time I bury my head in the sand to ignore a problem, or put off work, or spend forever in isolation because I mess up every social interaction and I can’t read any situation properly…” she grabbed a serviette and scrunched it up as she was talking.
“That’s enough of flaws. I can see they’re difficult for you to accept, but if dwelling on them thus far hasn’t worked, why not try to think with a positive mindset?”
I winced in the ensuing pause. Modus may have helped to defuse bombs, but I was navigating a minefield of my own.
“...I should be optimistic?”
“Of course. After all, you must have strengths on top of your flaws. Perhaps you should focus on those.”
“I don't have any strengths. I'm worthless.” She tossed the crumpled serviette at me.
I picked it up and unfolded it. “Complete tosh. Even the most irredeemable of characters have strengths.”
“I don't have anything I'm good at. At best, I'm above average in some areas but I’m too scared to put any effort in if I might fail.”
“Forget failure. What can you do better now, for example, that you couldn't do a year ago?”
“I was better last year. It’s become too easy for me to do absolutely nothing to help myself.” Her voice was becoming quieter and quieter.
I noticed I could still hear her, and realised there were only four people left in the cafe. “It appears you have a very coloured view of yourself.”
“I did say I hated myself.”
“You would purport to possess absolutely zero redeeming factors?”
“I have nothing that isn't overshadowed by my flaws.”
“So what's your action plan? Wallow in despair forever?”
“I don't have a choice. I said I'd tried to fix myself and failed. I can't enjoy life anymore.”
“Uh, please keep talking. It’s a... clinical technique.”
She nodded. “Well, um. I set goals and tried to work towards them. I achieved some of them but hid from more. I knew it was all pointless anyway. I just can’t tip the scale in my favour.”
“After snatching up success, you felt compelled to give up entirely?”
“I think that's right. I have this drive, like successful people have, except it's a drive to totally destroy myself and it’s controlling my life and making everyone hate me. I can't fight it.”
“It sounds as if you're in need of therapy.”
She stared at me and sighed. “I'm here to get therapy.”
The unmistakable bellow of Modus’ voice echoed across the empty room. It was shaky and out of breath.
“Effusio! You fucked up!”
I started. For some reason I had expected to experience the offshoot timeline with all the dazzling hindsight it would bring. Instead, I was thrust into a situation where I didn't even know what I’d said to cause the reset. I began sweating and my face turned red. Was it that I'd admitted to not being a qualified therapist, or that I hadn't come clean? There was absolutely no way to tell. In the meantime, the world kept turning, and Signa was looking at me in a mixture of confusion and disgust.
“I'm confused,” she said. “I don't know who that man is, or why he said that to you.”
“I'm, uh, just as confused as yourself, in all honesty. What were we saying just now?”
“I want an explanation.”
I tried to smile. “What would you fancy explained?”
“I don't think you're actually a therapist.”
“Moi? Why ever?”
“I feel worse about myself than before. I wanted some practical advice, not stupid talk about optimism.”
I pulled the sleeves of my blazer forward. “Well, I suppose that's the way the cookie crumbles. I'm afraid I don't have any practical advice, other than for you to cheer up a bit and not take life so seriously.”
“Now I definitely know you're a fraud. I'm leaving.”
She stood up to do just that, but a wiry old man in a tank top blocked her way. Behind him stood a man in a tracksuit who was doubled over and as fatigued as if he'd run a marathon in actuality.
Modus was the first to speak, choking out his words. “Sorry. I couldn't keep him away. That last one pushed me over the edge.” He held up his hand to reveal a bloodied knuckle.
Seraph extended his arm to me, hand outstretched. “Hey. You kept me waiting. Let us shake hands like gentlemen.”
I shook my head. “At least let her leave first.”
“It is possible for me to do that. However. I have decided I have business with your mental health patient.”
Signa stepped back to put the table between herself and the strange man. “I don’t know what you could possibly want from me.”
“It is about your cloak. Tell me why you are wearing it.”
“I’m… cold.” Her eyebrows could not have descended further.
“I do not care about your perceived level of temperature. It is warm in here. I was not aware that you had physical ailments as well as mental ones. You should visit a doctor.”