Updated: 3 days ago
A hapless romantic waits outside his girlfriend's office intending to apologise but instead gets drawn into an ever more deadly adventure.
Tim was miserable as he sat outside Frank and Frederick Simmons Accountancy in the drizzle, a limp, waterlogged bouquet of Tesco’s carnations in his cold grip.
Mentally he rehearsed his lines. When Sharon emerged, he would fall at her feet. Flowers, a promise to buy Chinese food, and the sight of him looking drowned, it was an infallible RomCom move. If that didn’t work, then all was lost.
The rain slackened as a shadow fell over him. The brief reprieve from the elements was only blunted by the sight of a hulking brute looming over him. A buzz cut and a scarred jaw accentuated a truly fearsome disposition. “Wait inside, idiot.”
Gulping, Tim nodded and followed the giant. The lights were off, so they relied on the dim illumination from the street through shuttered windows. The office seemed empty as he gazed around for Sharon. Where the hell was she?
He was still following his minder when they emerged into a meeting room. A small table next to them held bone china teacups and a large teapot, along with the standard accoutrements like milk, sugar and a selection of biscuits. Despite these salubrious offerings, the four denizens of the room were drinking a mixed assortment of drinks, all alcoholic, all in cans.
Pulling out his phone, he went to text Sharon when it was torn out of his hands and tossed into a basket at the centre of the meeting room table.
“Hey!” His protest died in his mouth as he saw the hard eyes that fell upon him. Sitting down, he started to speak but was talked over by the old, grey man at the head of the table.
“We are late as it is—time to begin. We have a new member of the Night Wolves. Everyone, please welcome Shadow Fox.”
Four pairs of eyes turned in his direction, boring into him. Tim nervously waved back.
“Perhaps you would like to start, Shadow Fox?” the chairman ventured.
Tim glanced around. “Oh no, I think you’ve made a huge mistake.”
“This is a circle of truth. It takes courage to meet up like this. Honesty is the only currency we value here.” Once more, the chairman gestured.
“Ah, well.” Tim looked around.
“Right then, I’ve endured a lot of temptation this year. But I’ve remained true to myself, and I’ve stuck to my… Erm, my goals. I’ve really tried to invest in, like, in me… you know?” Tim tapped his fingers on the desk as they looked at him, confused. “Look, I, ah, I think there has been a--”
The brute grunted at him, “You just said a whole load of nothing.”
“Now then, Golem, this is a safe space.” The chairman held his gaze until he fell silent.
At this point, Tim remembered it was a bank holiday and Sharon wouldn’t be in the office. He blinked rapidly, almost missing what the chairman said next whilst he swore softly but creatively.
“Let us show Shadow Fox how it’s done.” Gesturing at the long-haired man, who gave a thin smile. “Thank you, Great Wolf. I am the Jackal, and I am a hunter.” Everyone applauded. “Recently, I’ve decided to turn my hobby into a career, and I can confirm that I have managed to sell eight women,” a cough from the chairman caused him to apologise, “Sorry, prey, to international clients. Of course, the best have always been reserved for my hunts, as is my right, but being mortgage-free has its own rewards. I have successfully hunted thirty-seven prey this year.”
Everyone clapped politely, including Tim, who was trying to figure out if this was an elaborate practical joke and what the punchline would be.
“That is excellent progress, Jackal. You are proving yourself a valuable addition to our little cabal.” The Great Wolf then looked at the young woman, who tilted her head in acknowledgement.
“My name is Vixen, and I’m a hunter,” everyone around the table applauded. She waited for the noise to calm down. “I’ve had thirteen prey this year, it isn’t much compared to the rest of you, but I like to spend a lot of time researching the target. I need to know the target really deserves my indelicate affections. You can all understand that, right? Needless to say, none survived to bear witness.” Around the table, the other hunters smiled in appreciation. Not Tim though, he was starting to realise this wasn’t just an awkward situation. It was a potentially lethal one.
Warm sweat warred with cold damp on his shirt. He started tapping his foot and scratched at an invisible itch on the side of his head.
He jumped when the Golem next to him spoke, his voice like two granite boulders rubbing against each other. “I’m the Golem, and I’m an apex hunter.” A round of applause rippled around the table, accompanied by chuckling at his affectation. “Twenty three prey have fallen to my hands this year. I like to choke the prey. It is only as the light flees from their eyes that I feel truly alive.” His ham-like fists clenched together, and he stared at them as if reliving a favoured memory.
They all turned to the Great Wolf. The old man gently teased his fingers through his short-cropped grey hair. “Well then, I guess it is me. I am the Great Wolf. I’ve hunted sixty-three prey this year. Every one of them has died whimpering in terror. I’ve managed to draw out the experience for days, only killing them when they numb to my affections.”
The applause returned with gusto, then eyes locked onto Tim.
“Great, well, I actually need the bathroom.” Tim wasn’t lying. He had a dry mouth and a full bladder. It probably had something to do with being in a circle of serial killers and abusers.
The Great Wolf shook his head as the Golem growled.
Tim took a deep breath, “Well, er--me! Yes, I’ve been a real bastard, ask anyone—so many people. I actually don’t count anymore. I mean, I lost count ages ago. I am such a bastard, I…” He tailed off at the stormy expressions and then did what he should have done at the beginning. He ran. The Golem blocked the exit by the stairs. Turning, he ran through the cubicles to the other end of the office. Finding the fire exit padlocked, he pounded his fist on it and wailed, “This is a clear health code violation!”
A hand gripped him and threw him through a metal doorway into a server room. Whimpering, he looked up at The Vixen as she locked the door behind her. Finding an antistatic tissue, she wiped the blood off her knife. “The Great Wolf is dead.”
Tim scooted back on his bottom to the corner of the room, “I didn’t do it, I promise you. I am not--”
“Clearly, I can smell sin, and you are utterly scentless.”
Breathing deeply, Tim looked again at her. She had raven black hair, but more than anything, his gaze was drawn to a tattoo, a circle with an arrow through it. “Did you?” His voice quavered.
“Yes,” she answered immediately.
“Why? Because they are serial killers of women, and I hunt people who hunt women.” She looked over at the door, which shook under the impact of a tremendous blow. “The Golem--” she said, looking at the door, “--go out of the window and climb down the drainpipe.”
“You what?” He spluttered, looking nervously at the window.
“Or die here. Your choice.”
Tim scrabbled for the window, opening it. Sure enough, he found a drain pipe. Looking out, the brackets would sort of work as a ladder. Clambering out, he rapidly realised that he was wearing the wrong kind of footwear for these shenanigans. The drizzle made everything about ten times slippier, but it also calmed him down. It felt like freedom. He made it down to the next bracket.
“He is getting away. He went out that window.” Vixen shouted.
Tim shouted back up towards her, “Bitch, fucking bitch!” then sped up his descent.
Just above him, he looked into the dead, slate grey eyes of The Golem. Moaning, he nearly fell as his leather shoes struggled to grip the wet drainpipe.
“Hurry up, Fake Shadow Fox, I’m getting wet.” Glancing down, he saw The Jackal standing, testing the sharpness of a large kitchen knife. Tim tried to climb back up the pipe, but it had finally had enough and came away from the wall. The impact forced the breath from his lungs, and the shock of the fall paralysed him.
Tim looked up to see the Jackal looming over him, his greasy hair gleaming in the rain. The Jackal sidestepped as Tim tried to kick him.
Suddenly The Jackal was distracted, and he moved away. “You look like you’ve taken a beating. Where is the Golem?”
“Dead,” the voice of the Vixen sounded.
Tim used his feet to shuffle back through the alley until he could slide up against a wall. He heard a series of thuds in the background and redoubled his efforts. Gasping, he looked up at the Vixen. “Vixen!”
“Not my name,” she said, bruised and bleeding.
“What is your name?” He blew rain from his nose.
“Not your business. What were the carnations for?”
Tim tried to remember the event that had seemed so utterly world ending before this evening, “I got drunk and embarrassed the girlfriend in front of her parents.” It seemed a bit ridiculous now.
“Carnations are worthless. Give a genuine apology and a thoughtful gift. You can’t have given more than a moments thought to those.
She turned and walked away.
“Erm, thanks.” He called after her, but she was already gone.