The room was dark, damp, dusty. A feeble shaft of amber light managed to haul itself from the streetlamp outside through the small, greasy window near the ceiling.
The air was heavy and dank. A few small puddles on the floor betrayed the existence of a small hole or two in the roof.
The man in the grey cloak closed the door behind him and looked around.
The other man, the one in the shadows on the other side of the room, let out something akin to a snort. He shifted in his chair and leaned forward onto the desk in front of him.
"Well, well," he said. "If it issn' our very own unlikely success story."
The cloaked man took a step towards him. "That's rich, coming from someone I thought was a fictional character until a few months ago."
The man in the shadows chuckled softly. "Yeah, well... They 'ad to base that rubbish on someone, dinn 'ey?"
"Some of that 'rubbish' was actually pretty good. Funny, at least."
"Yeah, well, it dun exist anymore, does it? None of it. Not even that miserable tripe about that flippin' agency--"
"Oh, calm down, will you? You're going to bust a blood vessel."
The man in the shadows put his hands on the desk and took a deep breath. "Plug yer cakehole and siddown. Ye barmy prat."
The cloaked figure paused a moment, as if sizing up the other man, then stepped closer to the desk and and sat down in the wooden chair opposite it.
"And what's with the getup?" the man in the shadows asked. "You look like a bleedin' monk."
It was the cloaked man's turn to chuckle. "I kind of like the irony."
"Yeah, well, too bad. Irony's illegal now, innit?"
The cloaked man nodded. "You want to see my religious symbol?" He reached for a chain at his neck and pulled a silver pendant up and out of his cloak. It was a simple design, a silver disc with the symbol for 'infinity' embossed upon it.
"What is this, show and tell now? Take off your bloody hood so I can see you."
The cloaked man lifted his hands to the edges of the deep hood and slid it back off his head. The dim light revealed a youthful face with salt-and-pepper hair and dark-framed glasses.
"Yeah. Right. At least I know it's really you now."
"What, you couldn't tell from the witty banter?"
"Sod off, you tosser. We've business to attend, here."
"You didn't say if you liked my symbol."
The man in the shadows sighed. "It's luvly, pet. Just luvly. Not the one I was expectin' to see, though."
"Oh. The other one's in my pocket. No sense in hanging that one around my neck. It might accidentally pop out from hiding."
"Can we, uh..." the man in the shadows made a hurry-up gesture.
The cloaked man leaned forward suddenly. "Hey..."
"Blimey. What now?"
"Did you get your teeth fixed?"
"Yes! Now can we stop with the irrelevancies?"
Cloak sat back. "Sorry."
Shadows leaned forward again. "All right. So obviously you got my message."
"Yes. Nice system you've got going there, by the way. Coding the time, date, and coordinates into your real estate listings. That's pretty genius."
Shadows sighed again. "Are you going to editorialize on everything I say?"
Cloak snorted. "I'm verbose. You already knew that."
"Cor blimey. It had to be you I'd get hooked up with, dinnit?"
"I'd be insulted if I didn't know how bad your judgement was."
"Crikey! Will you stop? I'm trying to move things ahead here."
"Okay. Sorry. Go ahead."
Shadows let out a long breath through his nose. "Okay. Now, I'm not near the level o' hacker that DarkLiquid is. Or that other bloke, the one that dropped off the grid a while back..." He snapped his fingers. "... Kaiser... something or other. They're bloody brilliant. But I've managed to find out a few things."
"Well, judging from the LitPol reports I've been seeing, there's a bunch of Protags converging on Vancouver."
Cloak nodded. "Makes sense."
"And I've gotten reports of a lot of movement in Ottawa as well."
"Yeah. The Tower."
"Have you been able to determine who's out there?"
"The last good bit of data I got from our side was planted by Dark on a car dealership site. It said that he, Asheyna, and Robyn were headed for Vancouver and Gwen was headed for the Tower. I can't figure why they split up like that. Seems damned foolhardy to me."
"So it's the Safe, then. For most of them."
"Looks like. And I think it's time you went out there to join 'em. I think this group needs a change in tactics."
Cloak frowned. "Tactics? Are you talking about violence?"
"No, you ninny. I'm talking about money. And you and I are both perfectly positioned to start that kind of change. Pardon the pun."
"So the real estate thing is working out for you, then."
Shadows nodded. "And you've done all right for yourself, too."
Cloak chuckled. "It's funny. I wouldn't even have gotten into this business if it hadn't been for the Bill."
Shadows narrowed his eyes. "How's that?"
"I used to work in a bookstore, remember?"
"Geez. Yeah. Right." Shadows paused for a moment, staring at nothing. "Hard to believe it's been four years already since that damned thing was passed. I can't believe Canada was on the leading edge of that lunacy."
"Well, with Stephen Harper in charge, it was only a matter of time."
Shadow leaned back. "You think he's Antagonist Zero?"
"I figure it's either him or David Cameron."
"Mmmm. Could be." Shadows leaned forward again. "Look, we've got to get you on a plane. You're a legit businessman now, what with selling your nutritional supplements on the internet and all. I've managed to book you a flight for tomorrow. Take a laptop with you, and keep checking my site. All right?"
Cloak nodded. Suddenly, his expression darkened.
"What is it?" Shadows asked.
"Any word on Tasha?"
Shadows shook his head. "Not a blip. And now Eloosive's dropped off the grid, too. It's damned worrying, that is."
Cloak stood up. "I guess it's time to fund the troops."
"The tickets'll be waiting for you at the airport."
"Great. Thanks." Cloak moved away from the desk and headed towards the door. He stopped before opening it.
"One question." Cloak glanced around the room. "Why did it have to be Gottingen Street?"
"Gimme a break. Halifax doesn't have that many seedy areas to choose from, you know?"
Cloak nodded and turned to open the door.
"Hey," Shadows said.
Cloak turned to look at him.
"Don't falter, okay?"
Cloak's shoulders dropped. "That was really lame."
Shadows shrugged. "I do what I can."
Cloak shook his head. "You take care of yourself, Joe."
He stepped out into the alley and closed the door behind him.