Mark Tanenworth was enjoying himself immensely. Rarely was he in good company, and rarer still could he find time to have a drink, and never was he free from the worries of Citadel Inc. Today, however, he was with his psychologist and only close friend Stevie and already on his 3rd beer at the White Stag in Newport Haven. He tried, with surprising ease, to ignore that last little bit of information as it reminded him of the railway incident and his duty towards it – funny how alcohol works.
After his sixth beer - or was it seven? He should probably ask Stevie how many since he was buying most of them – Mark felt it was time to do some karaoke. There was no machine to sing along to but there was even less stopping Mark as he stood and bellowed out a medley of pub classics. He had Stevie, the barmen and even the grouchy old locals in high spirits – especially for a mid afternoon drink.
It would have been the only place in town that had some liveliness to it as many of the Haven natives had lost someone they knew that day. While they sought to drown their sorrows there was, for at least a brief moment, something to smile about. At this point Mark had lost the majority of his inhibitions and having come to terms with his day off from work, he began to look to more positive things, like his ability to make people laugh.
“I dunno, Stevie,” he said, not quite slurring but struggling with volume control, “I think I got a knack for this, you know?”
“A knack for what?” Stevie replied.
“Like, entertaining people.” Mark usually kept these feelings to himself but he felt close to Stevie and it was a great feeling to express himself on a more intimate level. “I feel like this is what I should have done – what I should be doing. It feels natural. I get this buzz from it. Do you get that? With psychology, I mean?”
Stevie seemed to brew a little over the question. “I know what you mean,” he replied vaguely.
“It’s just that every day I deal with these problems with Citadel at the top of that Tower, stressing out and all alone. Here I feel at home. I mean, you’re my psychologist, do you think it’s hurting me, what I’m doing?”
Again Stevie brewed over the question posed. But maybe that was what was holding him back: missing the right brew.
“I tell you what,” Mark said cutting over Stevie as he was about to talk. How bout I get us the round this time?” Mark jumped up from the table and headed over to the bar.
“Two more, Mr T?”
“Fix us a couple a scotches on the cold stuff this time. And double one of them up; my buddy’s been busy saving lives all day.” The barmen did as told and Mark tipped generously, however by the time he returned to the table where they were sitting he had forgotten which hand held the double. “Cheers!” he said, passing Stevie the one in his right hand (usually he held his own in his left). Stevie sipped but didn’t cringe so he may well have guessed wrong.
“So you had time to formulate your answer, Doc?”
“Well it is an interesting idea. No doubt people respond to you, and I would assume your work with Citadel would be the opposite of a career performing.”
That’s what Mark wanted to hear. A career performing, as though hearing it from someone else’s mouth gave it a new legitimacy. “Yes. That’s what I’m saying. I could be out making people happy like goddamn Walter Wallace. I could be a comedian or a-”
“But what is it at Citadel that grinds you so much? What do you do there?”
“Well I just mentioned Walter Wallace, didn’t I?” An echo of warning passed through him but he waved it off – Citadel wasn’t the issue here. “Fuck understanding the problem, Stevie, I want to build the solution! It’s right here!”
“What do you mean, Walter Wallace?” Stevie asked. Mark was starting to get annoying.
“Fuck Walter Wallace! What do I know about trains and machines and contracts? What do I care if a train crashes in some country town?” a few of the patrons grunted at this and Mark begged his pardon dutifully. “I mean I just don’t know shit about running a railway. The next guy to walk in this damn pub would have a better idea than me.” To dramatise the point he turned and looked to the entrance and at that moment the next person who entered was Sammy Tank. He was walking right towards them. “Sammy?”
“Mark!” Sammy greeted enthusiastically.
Mark felt a chill shoot through him. Adrenaline and blood rushed to his head and he sobered up, becoming hyper aware of his surroundings. How much had Sammy heard? “How you goin, Sammy?” he asked coolly, though it was obvious that the alcohol was still coursing through his veins.
“”Just checking out the mess that has been made up here. I thought you were meant to be out cleaning it up.”
Mark was never good at these word games that Sammy and Brian Smithwaite would use. He always preferred speaking a direct truth and he thought that was the best avenue to take. “Uh, of course. I’m just taking a break at the moment, having a drink with my psychologist.” Sometimes the truth sounds ridiculous when said out loud – that was half his methodology when entertaining people. Sammy raised a lighthearted eyebrow. “I know it sounds strange but I met him over at the terminal and we thought we deserved a drink.”
“I never knew you had a psychologist, Mark.” Sammy said openly. “My name is Sam Tank, I’m an associate of Mark’s. It’s a pleasure to meet you Doctor...”
“Coulter.” Stevie said extending his hand. “Steve Coulter.” Mark noticed, with a touch of confusion, that they shook hands as if they knew each other previously, but this was highly unlikely.
“Where did you complete your Phd, out of curiosity?”
“Madison State.” Stevie replied.
Sammy nodded with recognition, “I knew a professor there once, Taylor? No, Tyler. Did you get a chance to meet him?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.” Stevie replied. He seemed a little cold and distant and must have had his own adrenaline rush because he appeared to not have had a drink at all.
“Must have been before your time I suspect. Mark. We both know it isn’t policy to talk business around third parties but I’m sure your psychologist can be trusted – I imagine you tell him everything he needs to know to properly treat you – but how is the disaster situation at the moment?”
Mark shook his head, childlike. “No, no...I-
“Mark made it clear from the outset that his work could not be disclosed, though it does appear to be the major source of his stress.”
“Work equals stress. They teach you well over at Madison,” Sammy said sarcastically, drawing a muted laugh from Mark and a wry smile from Stevie. “No I’m sorry. I’m sure all Mark hopes is that you make him as happy as Walter Wallace.” He looked into Mark’s eyes as he said the last few words.
Weakly Mark replied, “Yeah. That’s becoming quite a saying these days.” His heart had sunk. Sammy knew. Sammy heard him yelling out Walter’s name and now he would go tell Boss.
“You do look a little stressed now that you mention it, Mark. But work is work and I think you should finish up and head down to the Terminal again, see what you can manage before midnight. I would join you but I’ve done my assessment of the damage and I’ll take my findings back to the Towers tonight. It was a pleasure to meet you Dr Coulter.”
Sammy walked back out of the pub and disappeared onto the street. Mark slunk back into his chair, a little shellshocked. He didn’t notice Stevie leave the table, all he could do was imagine the call he was sure to receive from Boss. It didn’t matter that he felt he could trust Stevie with his life, all that mattered was that he was talking business with an outsider – Talking about Walter Wallace of all things. He racked his brain trying to remember what he had said. It hurt to think and he felt the adrenaline seep away and his hangover come early.
Stevie came back and placed a shot of scotch in front of him. “We still got some time to sing a bit more,” he said in that same steely tone and he downed his scotch like it was the first drink of the day.