It was 7 o'clock in the evening when Thomas Reid finally sat down at the bar of a garish pub, located in the middle of a small town, drinking locally brewed beer, the best around as far as he was concerned. He took a long greedy gulp of the beer feeling it sizzle down his throat, the bitter taste was hardly registered by his taste buds since he had been drinking from a young age, a head start thanks to his alcoholic father.
After the events of the day he thought he deserved it, if only to subdue his brewing anger and frustrations.
Thomas had done what he thought he would never do; come back to the forsaken place that was once his home. He was back not out of choice, but circumstances demanded it; he had some unsavoury business that needed taking care of.
Not much had changed since he left. The infrastructure still stood where he remembered; the paint peeling away from the buildings, the foundations crumbling day by day and the small number of the old folks that remained had not changed in their habits or their attitudes as they trudged along in their monotonous lives.
What took him by surprise, however, was the town had grown in populace; an influx of migration to the area for prospect of better work and wage and with it came a large young community the town was crying out for and Thomas, who once felt the place had no hope, felt optimistic for the town for the first time.
An attractive blonde in her twenties caught his eye, she had been watching him since he stepped through the doors. She placed the wine glass down and waved her fingers as her pretty green eyes smiled at him, giving him the come-on signal. Thomas rubbed the dark stubbly beard on his chin indecisively and after a few seconds of deliberation he gave a polite nod in her direction and then broke the eye contact, deciding against company. Any other night he would have taken her up on the offer but tonight was different, he had too much on his mind to be erased by a casual shag.
"Tommy! Just the man I had been searching for."
"Well, aren't you the lucky fella," sarcasm dripped from Thomas' voice, he drank his beer and spun the beer-mat on the bar top without as much as a glance towards the man who spoke.
The man seated himself onto the stool next to Thomas and gave a friendly thump on his back hard enough to nearly knock the beer he swigged out of his nostrils.
Thomas didn't take kindly to strangers being over friendly with him that's why he chose to live so far away from civilisation as possible, emerging every now and again for supplies, work and a beer or two. It wasn't that he hated people but more he found making small talk extremely awkward and draining, especially long drawn silences, he just never knew what to do with himself.
He was content with living on the edges of society looking in from afar. It didn't bother him that people made up names and stories about him even though he had been back for little as a few days; some stories were farfetched, and some may have carried a little truth but mostly fiction and then there were some that he spread around himself to discourage people, mostly teenagers, from coming so far out into the woods where he parked his caravan down by the river, nevertheless he enjoyed the exaggerated stories, a form of harmless entertainment, or so he thought.
The woods provided a good spot for shelter, before he moved on, there was abundance of wood for kindling for the fire, plenty of game; squirrels, rabbits and deer, and an outdoor shower although it was cold enough to shrink his balls every morning.
Thomas turned to glare at the man who dared touch him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"If you want to keep both your hands attached to your arms, don't touch me again." Thomas warned in a gruff voice.
"Hey, I meant no harm. I am John," the man extended his right hand towards Thomas who, in turn, ignored it. John retracted his hand, unoffended as if it was a normal occurrence.
Thomas forced himself to relax, his stiff muscles squeaked and groaned internally as he continued to drink his beer in large gulps, he was parched but he needed something stronger than water to calm his nerves. John watched Thomas for several seconds trying to decide whether to ask him what he wanted from him but he wasn't sure how many beers Thomas had already drunk to be squeezed for answers.
"Let me buy you another beer," the man didn't bother to hear his answer and motioned for the barmaid to get two beers, she nodded and smiled in acknowledgement of the order.
"Are you tryin' to get me drunk?" Thomas narrowed his eyes.
"Nothing gets past you does it Tommy?" John said rhetorically.
"Don't call me Tommy and don't act like you know me." Thomas said disgruntled, he wanted to be alone and wished this stranger to be gone.
"I know they pulled you in for the body they found up by the river, poor thing her face so battered they couldn't I.D her," the man faked sympathy but the hint of malice was real.
"Was it you?" John asked ambiguously.
Thomas' muscles bunched up and stiffened again at the man's words, who was only too pleased by his tense reaction. Thomas turned to study the man who held information not yet divulged to the public.
John looked to be in his mid-thirties, 5 foot seven, wearing a collared white shirt under a grey suit jacket that started to look wrinkled from the days wear, his face supported a five o'clock shadow; a long day at the office? perhaps a long travel?
A laptop bag hung over his left shoulder suggesting he worked professionally and whatever was on his laptop was far too important to be left just about anywhere so he carried it with him wherever he went. The way he held his phone upright in his hand close to his chin looked out of habit, perhaps he recorded his conversations.
A slight circular imprint on his left ring finger, most certainly, left by a wedding band and the absence of it highly suggested he often played away from home proven by the slight brush of his hand to the young barmaid's when she placed the beers in front of them; she gave him a smile before turning away. John was at ease and confident with people, especially ladies, he knew how to charm them, and he wasn't shy to throw accusations at strangers whether for amusement or curiosity or purely to get a rise out of people.
John had been 'searching' for Thomas, so he knew who he was and possibly had heard the false rumours too.
Thomas felt he had enough to hazard a guess who this man was or more what this man was.
"Should have known it was only a matter of time before the press started crawling all over the place." Thomas scowled, taking the last gulp of his beer he stood and slammed some change on the bar before starting to make his way to the exit.
"Don't you have anything to say Tommy? The psycho had her hands bound to her feet and did unimaginable things to her before dumping the body in the woods, where you are staying," an accusation based on conjecture alone.
John gave a slight pause before continuing, "her eyes looked as if she had seen her own ghost," he sounded like he was quoting a line and he was, uttered by Thomas earlier that morning when he stumbled upon the body.
Thomas stopped in his tracks, his heart plummeted before accelerating, he felt the blood rush through his constricted vessels, his ears rang with a high pitched tone, his breath became shallow and he knew it wouldn't end well if he let his anger unleash but the call of the beast was mightier than the reasoning of his mind.
"I know you are involved in the investigation what say you and I sit down and –" John droned on.
Despite knowing that violence would only feed John's cause, still, Thomas grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and roughly pulled the man towards him until their noses met. He heard John's breath get caught in his throat mid sentence. The smooth silky fabric of John's jacket caught uncomfortably in his callus hands. Thomas' eyes were deadly calm, contrary to the boiling anger that bubbled under his skin, he hissed into the man's face.
"How do you know all this? Who have you been talking to?" he asked, holding onto his diminishing self-control.
The man smiled infuriatingly at Thomas as he brushed away invisible dust off Thomas' shoulder.
"Now that would be telling."
Thomas slammed the man harshly back into the bar toppling over glasses that crashed deafeningly onto the floor, the liquid splattered people seated nearby. Silence fell in the bar as everybody's eyes rested on the brawling men. Thomas' chest rose and fell heavily as he looked around at the confused faces who broke into hushed whispers when they saw his face. In all probability, uttering false rumours and stories about him.
John regained his balance, having pried his clothing from Thomas' bunched up fists he shook the suit jacket to let it sit flat against his chest. He figured Thomas wasn't the type to divulge information easily, he decided to use another tactic.
"Walk home safely, Mr Reid, there is a killer on the loose don't you know," he said it loud enough for everyone to hear.
The place was now ablaze with intense chatter and a few panicked looks.
Thomas was afraid of this reaction and he knew the man wanted to create mass panic as it creates for better news and a better pay cheque. Thomas shook his head in disgust at John and left him with a big smirk on his face as some customers rushed to his side, no doubt, asking him questions about the killer at large.
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