Dagda’s Cauldron wasn’t the best place to eat in the City and it showed. The building’s exterior was crumbling brick with cracked windows and the broken down theme continued inside. The linoleum had deep gouges. The table tops had chunks out of them with the constant stickiness of the grease in the air, the kind that never seems to come off no matter how often they’re cleaned. Even the vinyl booths were cracked and ripped from years of neglect.
It didn’t inspire confidence, but what it did do was serve the best burgers at 2 am. That was why Branwen had dragged Arabela out of bed into the quiet part of the City.
Branwen glanced up from her menu to look at her best friend, who was sitting across from her in pajamas and an oversized sweatshirt. Branwen smiled gratefully and got a grimace in response.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Arabela looked at her menu with sleep filled eyes.
Branwen knew better than to argue with Arabela on this point, so she decided to look around the diner. There were only a few other customers scattered through it at this hour. The only other person was a lone waitress that wore a half dazed expression as she poured coffee for a man all in black in the corner.
Branwen watched with boredom as the waitress moved away and the man lifted the cup to his lips.
“Dagda Almighty,” she muttered and returned her wide eyed gaze to her menu.
“What?” Arabela yawned as she glanced across the table.
“Why don’t we go home? I’m not really hungry after all.”
Arabela laughed bitterly, “You drag me out of bed because you have to have a bacon stuffed burger…”
“I know, I know,” Branwen slipped back into her coat, “but it can wait until later in the day.”
Arabela studied Branwen closely. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing; why should anything be wrong?”
“First of all, you never turn down food, even if it is from the Cauldron and B,” Arabela propped her elbows up on the sticky tabletop.
“Second,” Branwen corrected with a smile as she slid across the red vinyl booth towards the aisle.
“Right—secondly, if you don’t eat what you’re craving, you’ll be slamming cupboards open and closed all night.”
Branwen grudgingly took off her jacket and slid back into the corner of the seat.
“Now—tell me…” Arabela began slowly.
“Bernard’s here.” Branwen refused to meet her friend’s gaze.
Arabela’s spine stiffened as her eyes widened and she sat back in her seat. “He can’t be. It’s late, you’re tired… you just imagined that you saw him.” She shook her head slowly.
“Believe me, it’s him. The image of that bastard is burned into my brain.”
“He wasn’t that bad,” Arabela focused all her attention on her menu.
“I can’t believe you’re still defending him.”
“Don’t you ever tire of having this argument?” Arabela’s shoulders slumped.
“He left you for months on end,” Branwen leaned forward, careful not to set her arms on the table.
“He always came back.”
“Never told you where he’d been or what he’d been doing,”
“He was away on business,” Arabela said weakly.
“Business he couldn’t tell you about?”
“Just stop. This all happened years ago, I’m not going to rehash it just because you think you saw,”
“Arabela, Branwen…fancy meeting you here.” The man in black came to stand beside their table.
“Bernard,” Arabela looked up at him. “How have you been?”
Branwen kicked Arabela under the table.
“Not bad; I was just thinking about you the other day.” Bernard looked down at Arabela as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat.
“Were you?” Arabela smiled, pleased at the notion.
Bernard nodded, “I was trying to remember when I spoke to you last.”
“Five years, 23 days and eight hours,” Branwen glared up at him, “Give or take an hour or so.”
Arabela kicked Branwen as she slid into the corner of the booth, “Why don’t you join us?”
“I don’t want to impose.”
“Good,” Branwen crossed her arms and nearly set them on the table.
“You wouldn’t be imposing,” Arabela motioned to the seat next to her.
“Of course I would. Besides, I’m on my way to work.”
“You always did keep odd hours,” Arabela laughed.
“It’s an unusual job,” Bernard shrugged absently.
“Remind me, what is it that you do?” Branwen studied him.
“I work for the government,” Bernard said flatly, staring out the window as a woman in a university sweatshirt walked past.
“Oh, that explains it,” Arabela nodded.
“That explains nothing,” Branwen frowned at her friend.
“How long are you in town for?” Arabela ignored Branwen and slid back across the seat towards Bernard.
“A few days; I’m just here to do a little business.”
“Some things never change,” Branwen looked out the window at the distant figure that held Bernard’s gaze.
“If you ladies would excuse me, I really need to get going.” Bernard smiled down at Arabela, “If I have a spare moment, I’ll call you…if you want me to.”
“Sounds perfect,” Arabela smiled as he walked away.
“Perfect?” Branwen groaned. “Sounds like a disaster to me.”
“Why don’t you like him?”
“He hurt you and I have yet to break his kneecaps for it.”
“He didn’t hurt me,” Arabela rolled her eyes.
“No, so you spent weeks crying over…what exactly?”
“It wasn’t weeks.” Arabela looked back over her menu. “Besides, if you remember, we ended on very good terms.”
“Oh, I remember. I remember that he said he didn’t have time for you.”
“It was true .”
“He had to choose between you and work,”
“I didn’t make him choose. He just thought it was unfair to me,” Arabela said quietly.
“What kind of bastard chooses work over love?”
“One who would like to pay the bills and keep a roof over his head,” Arabela glared at Branwen.
The waitress came over to their table, “What will it be?”
“A bacon stuffed burger and pot of green tea,” Branwen closed her menu and handed it to the waitress.
“Just a piece of blackberry pie,” Arabela handed her menu away.
“Sure thing,” the waitress turned to go and then paused. “Oh, yeah, that guy wanted you to have this,” she set a plain white business card on the tabletop and walked away.
Arabela scooped it up and stared blankly at the sentence written in black block letters.
“What? Did he leave you his phone number?” Branwen asked.
Arabela shook her head and passed the card across the table.
Branwen read it out loud, “You’re father’s death wasn’t a suicide.” She stared at it in confusion, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You don’t think…?” Arabela started slowly.
“I don’t know what to think,” Branwen frowned.
“The council says they don’t exist.” Arabela whispered.
Branwen set the card back on the table, “He did say that he worked for the government.”