“If you follow the western bank of the southern branch of the eastern tributary of Garvin’s river, you will find an overgrown path leading north,” the old man, his hat drawn tightly down over his eyes so that his face was mostly in shadow. He took a pull on his cigarette, the cherry glowing bright orange and his wrinkled lips caressed the filter, trembling.
“And?” I asked.
The old man, I never did get his name, blew a plume of smoke into my face and smiled. It drew his face open like a skin curtain and through is crooked, yellowed teeth, he laughed at me. “And what? That’s it,” he chuckled, “that my friend, is all you get.”
I handed him five bucks like he’d asked and walked away. I could hear him behind me, still laughing, muttering. “And?” he said, laughing harder, wheezing, coughing, laughing some more. I waved my hand over my shoulder in thanks for nothing and may my way to the nearest pub to numb my displeasure with beer.
The Sprocket and Spool was just around the corner, I knew that one well. I had a lot of feelings that needed suppressing, what can I say? The old, wooden door felt especially heavy and I eased it open and tried to slip quietly inside, I didn’t feel much like talking.
“Oi, Reggie,” someone called out of the smokey room. I recognized the voice instantly and it wasn’t one that made me smile or feel happy in any sort of way.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m Reggie, short for Reginald, but no one but my mum ever called me that. No one that enjoyed having a full mouth of teeth, anyway. I tried not to make eye contact, slinking my way along the wall toward the nearest empty booth. “Reggie? That’s you, ain’t it?”
“David,” I replied, “it’s fucking me, you’re looking right at me.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just, you know, you didn’t answer me, so I thought to myself, that looks just like Reggie, don’t it?”
“Fuck, you’re a stupid man,” I told him, “I’m surprised that you’re smart enough to remember to breathe once in a while.”
David thought about that for a moment and then just shrugged it off. I slid myself into the old, worn leather bench and shuffled myself deep into the booth, resting my shoulder up against the wall. David, oblivious to my lack of interest in his company, slid himself in across from me. Gods, I wished that I could be so blissfully unaware of the world, my life would have been so much simpler, it wasn’t though. If it were, I wouldn’t be short five dollars, sitting across from a dimwitted man-child in a dingy pub in the middle of a Thursday afternoon wondering where it had all gone wrong, now would I?
I looked up at David. He was picking his nose and staring at the ceiling. “Hey,” I shouted, startling him, “what are you drinking?”
David pulled his finger free so quickly I thought he’d tear off a nostril. “Huh?”
“What are you drinking? It’s on me,” I felt pity for the man. As little as I had in this world and as hard as I’d fallen, I would still never manage to catch David on the way down.
“I’ll have a beer,” he said, smiling, “So, what are you doing here in the middle of a Thursday?”
I sat back in my seat and smiled. What was I doing? The waitress popped her head around the bench. “Reggie,” she said, matter-of-factly, “what can I get ya?”
I held up two fingers and smiled. She nodded her head. “Thanks love,” called after her and she waved back at me over her shoulder.
“David, what if I told you something and asked you to promise, no, to swear, that you would never tell another living soul?”
David’s face fell, only a touch as it was already dumbfounded ninety percent of the way all of the time. He cocked his head and considered my question the way that a dog considers when and where it’s going to squat up and take a shit. “Well,” he said and then stopped again.
It felt like an eternity. “Well what?” I grunted at him. He turned his gaze back on me as if I’d only just started the conversation. He shook his head and tried to focus, which I admired because I knew how much effort that took for him.
David leaned closer, across the table so that I could smell his cabbage breath. “What sort of thing?” he asked.
I whacked my palm across my forehead. “Come on David,” I told him, “every time I think that it’s safe to give you some benefit of the doubt, you remind me that you’re an absolute imbecile. If I told you what it was before you agreed to keep it a secret, wouldn’t that make me even stupider than you?”
He smiled at me and laughed, “I guess so.”
“What’s so funny?”
“I have no idea,” David said. He laughed a bit more for no apparent reason. He like had one, but he’d already forgotten what it was. I smiled, it was the first time all day and was reminded why I kept David on as a friend. No matter how sour my day had gone, something he’d do or say would always put a smile, no matter how small, on my face.
“David, you are a rare gem. I fucking soft-in-the-head gem of a man.”
He smiled and I chucked him on the shoulder across the table, smiling back. I was going to tell him regardless as to whether or not he agreed to the secret. It didn’t matter because there was no one in the entire town who would believe a rod of what David told them, even on a good day. If he so much as uttered a word of this, well, this was a whale of a tale. Out of David’s mouth, it would be unfathomable.
I leaned across the table and grabbed David by the shirt, pulling his ear as close to my mouth as his fat stomach would allow. “You remember what I told you last time?” I asked him. He nodded. I whispered right into his ear, “I met a man who knew a man that knows where to find them.”
David looked straight into my face and I could see that he had no clue what I was talking about. I whispered again, “The man, with the treasure, remember? The one with the heart of gold?”
I let him go and David leaned back into his seat, he got it. He stared at me, eyes wide and his lips mouthed, “Heart of gold.”
“I’m going to find him, tonight,” I told him, “it’s a full moon. I won’t be able to go for another month if I don’t do it tonight.”
“Tonight?” David asked.
“Yes, tonight. Why?”
“Nothing,” David replied, his head drooping.
Shit, I completely forgot. “I know it’s your birthday, buddy. Listen, how’s about you come with me? It’ll be a birthday adventure?” Worst, idea, ever, but I didn’t know how else to let him down. Besides, David was scared of his own shadow. “What do you think?”
He looked up a bit, smiled a bit.
“Don’t worry about it,” I assured him, “you don’t have to come. I’ll be back in time for beers and cheers, no big deal, alright?”
“Hey, that’s fine....what?”
“I’ll do it,” David said, “I’m coming with you.” His voice dropped to a whisper, “Heart of gold.”
I nodded, stunned. I picked up my beer and drained it in one, deep draught. “Let’s go.”
I stood up, whacked David on the shoulder and nodded. “Now.”
David wriggled himself from the bench seat and waddled after me as fast as I’d ever seen him move. We were out the door into the dusk and heading west along Market Street.
“Oi,” David huffed behind me, “Reggie. Where are we going?”
“Garvin’s River,” I told him.
“Why are we going all the way there, it’s far, isn’t it?”
“Not too far, we’ll be there in a half hour if we don’t stop,” I said.
It was eerily quiet, there was no traffic on Market, which was unusual for a Friday night. Most weeks, it was payday and the pubs were buzzing with blue collar workers drowning their sorrows in mugs of ale, but not tonight. Only the crickets and the occasional hoot of an owl kept us company on our travels. Even David was surprisingly somber, he’d normally have talked my ear off the entire way, but not tonight.
Before long, I could hear the rush of water and David suddenly perked up. “Is that the river?” he asked.
“It is,” I told him, “just up through there.” I pointed ahead.
It was getting dark now and I took out my cell phone, switched on the torch. We found ourselves standing along the western bank of the southern branch of the eastern tributary fo Garvin’s River. I shone my light about until I found the path. Despite being overgrown, the way was still well worn and I led while David followed my along.
“Where are we going?” David asked.
We wound our way along the path, ducking under fallen trees and pushing aside tall grasses until the path finally opened into a small clearing. We stopped.
“Now what?” David asked.
We stood for a moment and listened. “Do you hear that?” David asked.
David begin to wander into the darkness and I called after him, whispering harshly, “David.”
He just kept walking and I had no choice but to follow him. It didn’t take long before I could hear it too. I heard voices and they were getting louder the more that we walked. David stopped suddenly and pointed. Following his finger, I saw a group of figures through the dark.
They stood in a small circle around a bright bonfire, the were all wearing cloaks so you couldn’t see their faces, or even tell if they were men or women, for that matter. I crouched down into the grass and shoved David down by the top of the head.
“Who are they?” David asked, he sounded nervous, his voice cracked.
“You want the heart of gold, don’t you?” I asked, still whispering.
“That would be one hell of a birthday present, wouldn’t it?”
I stood up and pulled David up as well. We started to approach, slowly, cautiously. As we got closer, I could hear the men chanting, they were all in unison. We were within twenty meters of the fire when Something snapped loudly underfoot, a twig or branch maybe. The chanting stopped suddenly and the hooded figures all looked up at once. We froze and I could feel David clutch the back of my shirt, he was terrified.
“It’s okay buddy,” I whispered.
“Who’s there?” One of the men shouted out. His voice was low and gravely, “Come on and show yourselves.”
I took David by the arm and lead him into the light of the fire, slowly. The mand who had shouted at us pulled his hood back. He was older, mid fifties and grey. He had a magnificent, thick head of hear and a well kept beard. Once his eyes adjusted and he could see us well enough, he smiled.
“Brother Reginald,” he said, his lips slowly curling into a smile, “we thought that you’d forgotten about us.”
I shook my head and smiled back at him. “No, brother, not forgotten,” I told him, “Especially not you Martin.”
The rest of the men lowered their hoods and turned toward us.
“What’s going on?” David asked, “How do you know them? Where’s the heart of gold.”
“He knows?” Martin asked.
“Not exactly,” I replied.
“Reggie?” David asked, “What’s happening?”
I shoved David toward the circle. “It’s your birthday,” I said loudly, “and you’ve got a heart of gold, buddy.”
Two of the men grabbed David by the arms, then two more latched on to him as he struggled to get free. “Reggie!”
I turned away, couldn’t look at him. I looked up above the trees as the full moon waxed brightly in the black sky above.
The men chanted, “Heart of Gold!” from behind me and I hear David screaming. I didn’t turn around until I was told.
“Welcome, brother Reginald,” Martin said as he came up behind me, putting his hand on my shoulder, “welcome into the sacred order of Brotherhood of the Night.”