The sun was out, but the light only made the concrete greyer. Brewster and three young hirelings stood by the level crossing, looking up and down the single high street. He’d bought fresh blood for the assignment, better than relying on the in-house cadre of rejects.
An old lady walked past. “Morning,” said Brewster cheerfully. She stared, muttered something unintelligible and tottered on without pause. Maybe he shouldn’t have worn the suit, he felt like a double glazing salesman again.
“Friendly place,” said Penny. Cancer.
Penny Lang was bright, bespectacled and collating data for a Psychology doctorate. She was perfect to tick the ‘psychiatric counselling’ box for faux-legitimacy and a useful scapegoat when things when pear-shaped.
The town was one of those inbetweeners you stopped only on the way to somewhere else. The third on their tour, it had the drabbest high street so far – a chain of hairdressers, soggy takeaways, estate agents and charity cafes catering to an expanding band of housing estates. No banks, no functional supermarket, no police station. It was perfect – blank canvases could take any art.
“I thought it’d be prettier, given the name,” said Geek #2. Male. Aquarius.
Filling out his scout team were two young keyboard warriors needing fast cash for student loans. Their cred was speed-searching social media and hacking personal details in eye-blinks. Although male and female, he found them strangely interchangeable, so named them Geek #1 and Geek #2. It was easier to fire them later if they were dehumanised.
THE MORE INSULAR THE COMMUNITY THE EASIER IT WAS TO EXPLOIT
“Oh, you think we should pick village greens with ponds, knitting grannies and cream teas?” said Brewster. “We’re not selling a fantasy, we’re selling modern life. Those Enid Blyton days of yore went under the Carry On bus. This…” He stretched his arms out, breathing in a lungful. “This is the real countryside.”
A boy cycled past and spat. “Gay!” the boy shouted at them.
“Let’s hit the pub,” said Brewster. His instincts were all he had. If he was going down, he wanted to fall his own way.
The pub was closed. Brewster considered how to work it in their favour, before Geek #1 peered through the window.
“There’s people in there,” she said. Female. Taurus.
There was a small group sitting around the bar, drinking, chatting, open without open. The more insular the community the easier it was to exploit. Brewster wasn’t looking for run-of-the-mill barflies, he was scouting for the court-holders. They walked round the back and heard the buzzing from the garden.
Court-holders were armchair experts whose voices drowned out the opposition, despite nothing being said. They either had wisdom, or spoke loud enough to fake it. They were the eyes, ears and mouths of the gossip pipeline.
There were two prime candidates in #REDACTED#. One man dispensed sage homilies from the bottom of a bitter. Another girl was speed-talking through the nightmares of her day.
“Time to introduce myself,” said Brewster. He’d found what he was looking for.