Officially out of the interlude and back to the main action. Thanks for reading!
They ditched the stolen Jeep in the parking lot of the Richmond Walmart Supercentre. That had been ten minutes ago. Since then, they’d walked through the steady rain down a series of increasingly potholed and poorly lit streets.
Dimitri had been a bit vague when Stirling had asked about where they were going. From what he could gather, Strangefellows seemed to be a kind of meeting place that catered to people from the spooky side of the tracks. Right now he seemed to just be focused on getting there.
When Stirling had offered to let Magnon ride on his shoulder the bird had refused. “You just want to look cool so women will actually talk to you,” he’d said before flapping ahead to land on the power lines. Stirling didn’t really see how that was a problem.
Richmond was one of those cities that had a recycled name, and for some indefinable reason, reused city names irritated Stirling. He knew from history class that the first Europeans to inhabit Vancouver and its surrounding areas were, by and large, British. This in a time when the British were doing pretty well for themselves on a global scale.
Most of the people who trickled in from Britain ended up naming bits and pieces of their new home after places back in Old Blighty, and especially the districts of London. This was done with the hope that the glitter of empire might somehow rub off. Place names like Richmond, Surrey, Langley, and Kensington, were spurted liberally across the Lower Mainland in an orgy of fevered fist-pumping patriotic nostalgia. By doing so, the new immigrants declared two things to the world: that they were proudly British, and that they had absolutely no imagination whatsoever.
New Westminster was the extent of cutting-edge innovative place-naming technology at the time. The transplanted Brits cunningly disguising “Westminster” behind a “New” prefix, and made it the capital of the province. It was only later that the capital moved to Victoria, which, if possible, was even more British-sounding than Britain.
Despite their abysmal lack of creativity, Stirling felt a certain relief that the transplanted Brits had the restraint to let the name, “Maidenhead,” stay right where it was. Stirling considered it evidence that even if people couldn’t use their imagination, at least they might be able to learn from their mistakes.
On the other hand, he’d heard that a town in Newfoundland had decided to go by the appellation of “Dildo.” If the pattern stayed the same, perhaps by the time humanity explored the stars, there would be a New Dildo. The corollary, of course, meant that there would also then be an “Old Dildo,” or maybe even an “Old Dildo Town” if you were feeling particularly lyrical. Stirling had a vague notion that New Dildo would look like the palace on the old VHS cover of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” but pink.
The shadows reached out ahead of them from the widely spaced streetlights as they made their way down pavement that cracked and frayed into gravel at the edges. The buildings lining the street were an odd mixture of industrial and residential. It was as though there had been an all-out pissing match between two city planners when the area was being zoned. The result was that blocky transmission repair garages and machine shops were cheek and jowl with small two-story homes with soggy bedraggled flower beds.
“So Strangefellows,” began Dimitri, “it’s like a hostel for out of town guests, a pub, and a flea market all rolled into one. It’s where a lot of sorcerers and other arcane types hang out.”
“Won’t Rag and Bone look for us at a place like that?”
“Nothing’s going to stop them from finding us if they really want to, but they’ll think twice about trying to get in. Those two have a reputation, and they aren’t welcome in Strangefellows. The straights can’t find it though, so people like us can let down our hair a bit. Rag and Bone might be tough, but a room full of sorcerers can really ruin your day.”
He gave Stirling a sidelong look, “Well, except for you. Keep that freaky-ass mojo of yours to yourself. Teens like to dress in black and pretend to be necromancers, but people will lose their shit if they find out there’s a real one around.”
They walked quickly for a few more minutes before Dimitri finally turned down a fenced gravel alley. The lane was bordered by a chain link fence and a lot containing the corpses of a dozen stripped-down taxis that were slowly being cannibalised for parts.
A single story building painted the soul-consuming beige of early 90s computer equipment came into view. They made their way past two rolling garage doors shut tight against the cold before stopping in front of an unremarkable white metal door under a dingy white canvas awning.
The building looked like a garage fallen on hard times. Wisps of weather stripping waved in the damp breeze like the arms of an anemone from around the door jamb. Dimitri stepped up and gave the door a good thumping with the heel of his fist. They waited for half a minute before Dimitri banged again, this time harder. When struck, the door emitted the low muffled solid sound of an entrance that took security seriously.
“Are you sure this is it?” asked Stirling.
Dimitri gave him a flat look and waited.
Magnon let out a caw and swooped down from the edge of a nearby building and landed on Stirling’s hastily outstretched hand.
The noise of a poorly-installed deadbolt scraping on metal preceded the face of a thin man in his thirties with fine ginger hair in a threadbare plaid housecoat. He squinted at them through pouchy blood-shot eyes. They widened when they fell on Dimitri. “Dimitri? Holy shit! Where have you been!?” He put his arms around Dimitri and gave him an enthusiastic hug. When he pulled back, a sudden gust of wind ruffled his robe and he performed the startled jig of one who has just had their genitals introduced to a chill December wind. “Shit!” he yelped. “Come inside!”
Stirling followed Dimitri through the door, and as he did, his brain was walloped with an invisible fifty-pound medicine ball. Magnon launched himself from his wrist and perched on the back of a nearby umbrella stand as Stirling wobbled on his feet. He staggered sideways throwing up an arm to keep himself from smacking into the wall. Whatever had hit him hadn’t been physical, he could tell since his nose wasn’t broken, but his brain felt like it was bouncing around like an ice cube in a blender.
“Oh yeah,” said Dimitri, grinning down at him. “I forgot about that. To get into Strangefellows you need an invite.” Stirling could only glare at him before sliding down the wall onto his ass. Dimitri cleared his throat, drew himself up, took a deep breath, and at last said, “Welcome to Strangefellows.”
At the words, Stirling’s brain cleared and the room came into focus along with a grinning Dimitri.
There was a round of applause as Stirling climbed unsteadily to his feet. Not knowing what else to do, he spread his arms and gave an unsteady bow to the room. This brought a fresh round of cheers before people went back to their conversations.
“Dick,” he said to Dimitri under his breath. “I thought I was supposed to be keeping a low profile.”
“You are,” said Dimitri, straightening his jacket, “but it would look strange if you didn’t get the usual treatment. These people are regulars. They know who belongs and who doesn’t. Sneaking you in here wouldn’t have done you any favours. Now you belong and you get a free drink from the bar. You should thank me.”
“Well, I’m not going to.”
He recovered Magnon from the back of a nearby chair and nudged the bird onto his shoulder. A mental sigh from the crow huffed in his mind.
“It won’t matter if I’m here. Women can smell desperation.”
“Shut up, Beavis.”
The interior of Strangefellows looked like a private member’s club that had run on hard times and was sponsored by the Discount Furniture Warehouse. Modern-looking leather chairs and coffee tables made from particle board fought for room on the floor with solid wood antique furniture from the last two or three centuries. Stirling was also sure that the interior dimensions of the room weren’t anywhere close to the exterior shape of the building. The building was much smaller on the outside.
The room was decorated with display cases and shadow boxes displaying odd assortments of items on nearly every available space. Some of these looked completely normal. A rack of old briar and clay pipes were set out next to a ceramic tobacco jar. A badly repaired rosewood lute was hung from its ancient strap on the wall above the bar.
Mounted on the wall above the pass bar was what looked like the dragon figurehead from the prow of a Viking longboat. Its cracked and weathered features were rounded from the passage of sea and time.
Other items were clearly more magical in nature. A cut glass decanter with the liquid inside glowing a cold blue rested on a high shelf a dozen paces away. Diffuse shadows moved through the liquid, and Stirling briefly saw the clear outline of a four-fingered hand as it pressed against the inside of the container.
On a wall-mounted sconce to his left, a red spiral candle produced a green flame that spit yellow sparks as it rose from the wick. The light cast by the flame was oddly crisp, and the edges of the shadows on the floor looked sharp enough to cut. Even more strange, Stirling couldn’t match up any of the shadows in the strange light with objects he saw in the room. The set of footprints that made their slow way across the pool of hard light was definitely not cast by any feet present.
As though to purposely contrast with all the mystical bric-a-brac, a giant flat screen television was hung at the far end of the room. Teams of fit young men in tight-fitting pants piled on top of each other in a way that wasn’t even in the least bit homoerotic.
It wasn’t busy, there were perhaps two dozen people situated in threes and fours scattered at tables across the large room that could have easily seated over a hundred. Some sat in conversation, while around the perimeter others manned tables covered in a range of items for sale from old books to cell phones.
Next to their table, a hugely fat man with a shaved head overflowed his seat. He sat staring into the glow of his cell phone while tarot cards flipped themselves over from a deck on the table in front of him. The cards twisted and spun as they arranged themselves, forming neat lines and patterns on the tabletop. There was a small sign on his table, but Stirling was too far away to read what it said.
Stirling shrugged out of his wet jacket with a feeling of relief and held out an arm for Magnon to land on.
“Sam, this is Stirling,” said Dimitri to the be-robed man. “Stirling, this is Samson, a sorcerer with a flannel fetish.” They shook hands.
“My parents named me Samson hoping it would be an encouragement,” Sam explained in a fading Irish accent. He held his thin arms out to his sides with a grin to better display his bony frame. “It just made me contrary.”
“Great to meet you,” said Stirling. “Every good story needs a Sam.”
Sam pointed a finger at him and winked. “I like your crow, very cool. Should make you popular with the ladies.”
“I know, right?!”