Wednesday July 22nd, 1998
Apple Inn, Downtown Raccoon City
The heavy oak double doors of the Apple Inn opened up, letting in a rush of the hot summer air, and the hotel's latest guest into the air-conditioned lobby. A neatly dressed bellhop held each door open, bowing their head in greeting to the guest; a tall stranger, square-jawed with a densely built torso and fiery red hair. The guest politely bowed his head in return, acknowledging the bellhops as he walked over to the reception counter, mud-caked hiking boots leaving visible footprints across the otherwise impeccable tile flooring. The bellhops closed the doors behind him, leaving the stranger crossing a pool of stain-glassed light built into the welcoming entrance, one arm slinging a duffel bag over his shoulder.
A single receptionist stood behind the counter, fussing over a stack of papers. She was pretty; dark brown hair tied into a neat, tight bun at the back of her head. Ruby lips pursed in concentration as she organized the documents behind the counter. She didn't notice the stranger approach at first, until she was bathed in his shadow. Mascara eyes looked up at him and she blinked, a warm smile suddenly materializing on her pretty features.
"I'm sorry sir," the receptionist apologized, "I didn't notice you there for a second. Welcome to the Apple Inn. How can I help you this morning?"
The stranger returned her warm smile, and rubbed his stubbled jaw. "Not a problem, Miss," he assured her, "I've got a reservation for four nights. I understand check-in time is at 3pm but I was hoping I'd get lucky today." He flashed her a dimpled smile from one side of his mouth.
The receptionist giggled in return. "You're correct, sir. But let me run a check through the system and see if we've had any guests check out early this morning. If you'll have a seat in the waiting area," she directed an open palm towards an area where a sofa with a finely carved wood frame sat atop an expansive Persian rug, flanked on either end by equally exquisite stands upon which table lamps were situated, "I'll be with you in a few short moments."
"I look forward to it," the stranger replied, "thank you, Miss."
"Could I ask under what name is the reservation under?"
"Crankurt. Mr. Craig Crankurt."
"Thank you, sir. I'll just be one moment."
The stranger headed to the waiting area as indicated by the receptionist, looking around at the grandeur of the Apple Inn foyer. A second story mezzanine ran along the perimeter of the space, seven feet overhead with a bridge running through the center of the room. The building smelled old, a slight musk permeating through the Victorian-Era wallpaper. It was late morning yet the space still felt dark and gloomy.
Still, it was among one of the best and reasonably priced hotels in town. And going by brochures, was one of the more popular places for tourists to rest their heads when they weren't exploring the nearby Arklay Mountains on foot. The hotel lobby reminded him much of what lay outside its walls; the rest of Raccoon City. It was old, quiet and borderline claustrophobic; definitely nowhere near the busy, bustling cities that he was used to.
The sofa groaned under him, as he shifted his weight, daring a glance at his watch. Two minutes to eleven. He looked over to the receptionist who was interacting with an elderly frail-looking couple donning straw hats and sunglasses, faces dampened with sweat. He guessed that they had just returned from a morning hike. The receptionist made eye contact with him and shot him a smile, but continued interacting with the couple. He took is as acknowledgement of his presence and decided he'd be fine waiting another few minutes. If it was taking this long to look for early check-outs, their computers must have been old and slow too.
Before long, the elderly couple joined him at the waiting area, wiping the sweat from their faces with cloth handkerchiefs. They settled on the opposite end of the sofa from where the stranger sat. It was the woman who initiated their conversation.
"The lovely young lady at the counter asked us to let you know that she'll be right with you," she said.
"It's not a problem," the stranger replied, "I'm early for check-in anyway."
"Well it's very nice to meet you, young man," the lady said, extending a wrinkled hand. "My name is Elsie Walters, and this here is my husband, Richard." Her equally frail looking husband joined her side and shook his hand.
"Crankurt," the stranger said, "but please just call me Cranky."
"Well that is certainly unbecoming of someone like you," Elsie said.
Her comment caused Cranky to make an uncomfortable face. How could she possibly know anything about him from a handshake? Of course, he knew she was just trying to be friendly. Hell, everyone in this small town was. He could have counted on a single hand how many people he passed didn't wave or wish him a good morning as he made his way into town. Nobody did that in the city. Or at least, not without suspicion of some ulterior motive. After every greeting, Cranky's hands instinctively shot into his pockets to make sure his wallet was still there. And surprisingly enough, it was. The close-knit community culture was not something Cranky was used to but after a few hours of consistent interactions with the locals, he was starting to warm up to the idea. But he couldn't afford to get comfortable here.
"Elsie and I are from the neighboring city, Arklay," Richard Walters explained. "We wanted to go somewhere for vacation but with the stock market doing as well as it did over the last few weeks, we decided not to stray too far."
"That's right," Elsie said, nodding in agreement. "What about you, Cranky? What brings you to this sleepy town?"
"The scenery," Cranky replied, not entirely a lie. "When you've spent most of your life in a smog covered city, sometimes a little fresh mountain air will clear your head."
"Where is it you're visiting from?"
"The United Kingdom."
"Well that certainly is quite a way for you to travel, isn't it?" Richard quipped. "I hear the Alps are especially beautiful this time of year, and much closer to where you're from."
"Oh, don't get me wrong, sir. I work in the UK but home is the good ole U.S. of A."
"Well in that case, welcome home, young man," Elsie said, placing a gentle hand on his knee. Her gaze shot up to someone standing behind him. "It looks like we've been chatting with you too long. Looks like that nice lady would like your attention."
Cranky looked over his shoulder to see the receptionist. "It looks like I have a few rooms for you to choose from, Mr. Crankurt. If you'd please rejoin me at the counter." He obliged and got to his feet, exchanging goodbyes with the friendly elderly couple.
The receptionist returned to her position behind the counter and with a few deft clicks of the mouse, turned the monitor to face him. "We have three rooms available on the second floor," she explained. I highly recommend the corner room as it's flanked on two walls with large windows for an optimal view of the city scape. Popular among budding photographers."
"Is there a price difference?"
"In other hotels, yes," the receptionist admitted, "but not here."
"Well in that case, a corner room it is," Cranky said.
"I'm confident you'll enjoy the view, sir," she replied, placing the room's keycard on the counter.
"I already am," he said, swiping it off the counter and pocketing it. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and headed for the elevators, giving her a flirtatious wink before turning his head away.
Downtown Raccoon City
Cranky inserted the keycard into the reader embedded in the suite door and watched the light turn green and clicked unlock. He turned the handle and walked into the cool air conditioned room, brightly lit by the morning summer sun. He set his duffle bag onto the bed and turned on the TV, but didn't stand by to watch. The default channel was one of the local news, in the midst of a weather report. Breathed deeply, taking in the sight as the weatherman droned on in the background about sunny skies all week.
The receptionist was right. From here he had a wide view of the city scape, older buildings in the foreground with their brick facades, fire escapes, and rooftop water towers. Farther into the distance however, he could see the larger, contemporary buildings of the uptown district dotting the landscape with light reflecting windows. And overlooking everything was the Arklay mountain range, dominant against an otherwise tranquil sky. He might have had his initial reservations about Raccoon City but seeing this put it all to rest. Maybe this wasn't such a bad hick-town after all.
"Thanks, Olivia," a male reporter said coming from the television, "and in local news this morning, Mayor Michael Warren has publically announce the sentence of convicted killer Billy Coen, a former United States Marine, who allegedly murdered twenty-six civilians on a mission in Africa last year."
"Well no shit …" The news tore Cranky's attention from the majestic view as he found a new place at the edge of the bed. He rested in elbows on his knees, and his chin on his knuckles watching the news with interest. Maybe this quiet mountain community wasn't so quiet after all.
The news report continued. "The twenty-six year old was tried by the International Human Rights Tribunal and found guilty of the crime, which carries the death penalty. Coen was convicted earlier this morning. Those present at the trial say that Coen was 'emotionless' and 'cold' as his sentence was being read out. Coen will be transported to the Regarthon Military Base tonight for his sentence to be carried out."
Deciding he wasn't in the mood for something so grim especially after having just arrived in town, Cranky flipped the channel to something a little more soothing; in this case, a hippopotamus giving birth on nature program. He shrugged and headed over the coffee maker, placed on the dresser beside the television set. He emptied the coffee grinds into the machine, "Complimentary of the Apple Inn" the card said, and hit the "Brew" button, hearing the machine come to life. A few seconds later, the room was filled with the scene of brewing coffee, a much needed wake-me-up after the long commute.
The baby hippopotamus was already struggling to get onto its feet by the time Cranky reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a large, folded piece of paper. He carried it to the bed and unfolded it, covering a good portion of its surface. The heading on the top of the sheet read, "Raccoon City Municipality" in a Gothic serif font. The illustration showed strips of road criss-crossing the area, with street names painstakingly fitted into the limited space. In between the roads, broad geometric shapes were drawn, representing landmarks that could be found in the city. They were easily identifiable, stupid-proof, for tourists. Even the town's many districts were outlined and coloured in different hues to clearly establish their borders.
The legend also included popular hot spots for recommended leisure activities but he paid that section no heed.
Instead, Cranky reached into the duffel bag and produced a black marker from one of the inside pockets. He bit off the cap, and spat it onto the floor. Kneeling beside the bed, he poured over the map, marker tip following his gaze.
He circled his first location: The local park.
Brentford Entertainment District, and the Raccoon City Police Department Precinct.
Cranky eyed his final location for a moment, wondering whether or not it was worth exploring the area. He tossed the idea in his head for a moment.
"Why the hell not?" he asked himself finally, and swish.
Raccoon City Secondary School.
The coffee maker clicked off, signaling for him to get back on to his feet. He walked over the cupboards and pulled out the largest mug he could find and emptied half the pot into it. Cranky brought the cup to his lips and sipped the first glorious taste of the local caffeine, still piping hot. He looked down at the map from where he stood, mug still raised to his mouth, and smiled to himself. Only a few minutes and the first day of his stay in Raccoon had already been planned out.
And then he realized, not quite. He spotted the Apple Inn at the southern end of the map, and just around the block, a small square with the words "J's Bar" printed inside it. Cranky made sure to circle the location with a final swish before retrieving the marker cap from the ground and snapping it shut.
Midtown Raccoon City
A police cruiser careened down the narrow roads, well beyond speed limits. Kenny and Officer Ryman zoomed by upscale boutique shops that registered as streaks of quaint Victorian-style buildings. Amber lights served as an indication to speed up or they'd be stuck at the inconvenience of a red light for an indeterminate amount of time. Kenny's body had carved out an imprint for itself on the leather seat of the front passenger side of the vehicle. The seatbelt strapped diagonally across his torso had been pulled so tight he could feel it cutting off the circulation to his body - and he would have it no other way.
Officer Ryman sat at the wheel - driver's side window rolled down, resting his arm on the window sill. The breeze ruffled his hair as he wore a wide smile, a deep satisfaction of the cool air against the otherwise intolerable summer heat, betraying his otherwise cool persona. It was enhanced by the pair of sunglasses over his eyes in a Wesker-esque fashion.
The speed at which they were travelling, and the sudden turns the cruiser made at major intersections, it seemed that the only occupant in the vehicle with safety at the forefront of his mind was ironically Kenny - the teenage intern. Sure, Officer Ryman's driving habits made Kenny fear for his life but today, it wasn't what kept him in a deep, long silence. Officer Ryman must have noticed it.
"Thanks for helping me pick up the firearms," he said, trying to change the subject. "Kendo's a real redneck, but he's got a good heart." Officer Ryman was referring to Robert Kendo, the rotund, overall strapping owner of Kendo's Gun Shop, where the RPD often got custom orders and modifications made to their existing equipment.
"Uh huh," Kenny replied distantly. Officer Ryman paused for a moment, waiting for him to elaborate. But a few seconds later realized that Kenny had declined to say anything else, which he took as a cue to continue.
"You've been acting like a robot ever since we left the precinct," he continued, addressing the elephant in the car. "Following orders, fulfilling requests without a word of complaint. I know that's how your normally operate, Kenny but normally you love going on ride-along. And today you've been pretty quiet for this errand, and I know my observational skills aren't anything to be envied but I noticed this. Something's on your mind." Kenny didn't want to announce to the world what had been troubling him. It showed vulnerability, and that wasn't something he wanted to display unabashedly while on the job.
"I saw one of the police reports when I was on filing duty today," Kenny admitted, sucking up his pride. "It was made last week, in the evening, about an attack that occurred in Brentford."
"Damn, that's in your neighbourhood, isn't it?" Officer Ryman asked with concern.
"Just down the street," Kenny confirmed, "and quite frankly, it's got me..."
"Y...yeah," Kenny confessed hesitantly. "Scared. I've seen the reports of these kinds of cases before and more often than not, it doesn't end well."
"Listen, kiddo," Officer Ryman placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, keeping the other on the wheel. "I get that the attacks on hikers have been increasing lately. But don't forget that regular man-on-man attacks happen all the time too. Brentford's only been recently gentrified, what, five years ago? It takes time to clean out all the scum. You're just making a connection between the two when there really isn't one."
"You think so, Officer Ryman?" Kenny asked hopefully.
He half-rolled his eyes in response. "I've been an officer for a long time. You think this is the first time I've had to talk to a concerned citizen? It's nothing, I promise. Just keep your eyes out for anyone suspicious and don't walk around at night, especially around that neighbourhood. It's lined with bars and strip clubs, so you're bound to encounter violent individuals drunk off their rockers every once in a while."
"Yes, sir," Kenny said, breaking eye contact, opting instead to continue watching the buildings as the zoomed by. He contemplated the hiker attacks, and how they were the hot topic of conversation at school. Yet Officer Ryman was instead warning him to watch out for the usual drunkards, not the kind of advice he'd be expecting from the police with everything going on.
The radio suddenly blipped to life, interrupting Kenny's thoughts. Rita's voice came through, muffled slightly by static.
"You guys headed back to the barn, Ryman?" she asked. "You're scheduled on patrol in ten and Bernstein's wondering where you are."
"We're en route," Officer Ryman replied. "I'll have Kenny deliver the goods to the STARS office when we get back."
"He's a minor, Kevin," Rita reminded him. "We can't let him walk around the precinct with a case of firearms."
"Yet we let him walk around with trays of coffee and doughnuts piled higher than he can see?" Officer Ryman countered.
Rita sighed in resignation. "I'll be there to assist with the firearms when you guys get back."
"Copy that. Over and out." Officer Ryman turned his head to look at Kenny, who was beaming a smile back at him. "Hear that? Never mind carrying their equipment. You get to deliver STARS's guns now. Moving on up in the world, huh?"
"Sure beats carrying their coffee!" Kenny replied excitedly. "When the guys at school hear about this, they're gonna wish they were me."
"Don't go bragging about this at school," Officer Ryman ordered. "Last thing we need is gun culture spreading around these parts." He thought for a moment, then added quietly to himself, "but with everything that's been going on lately, that might not be such a bad thing." Kenny didn't hear him. The teenager was instead looking out the window, barely able to contain his excitement.
West Wing, 2nd Floor
Raccoon City Police Precinct
Kenny's rapid footsteps pattered across the wooden floor of the hallway outside of the STARS office. In his hands, he carried boxes of ammunition stacked high enough, as usual, for his eyes just barely able to peer over the top. A few feet behind him, Rita trudged on, carrying crates of the boxed firearms. She'd decided to let Kenny handle the ammunition. After all, they were only deadly when coupled with guns. But the decision slowed down their pace. Kenny ran ahead with the lighter load, leaving her anchored behind by the weight of the weapons.
"Come on, Rita!" he called excitedly. "We're gonna be late if we don't hustle!"
Rita rolled her eyes. "Never seen anyone so happy to be late before." And then she hollered to him. "Slow the hell down! This ain't exactly easy to carry!"
"No problem, Rita!" Kenny called back. "I'll drop these off at the STARS office and come back to help you –"
Kenny jerked his body to avoid a collision with someone who had suddenly turned the corner. The movement threw a few boxes of ammunition off balance. Kenny watched in slow motion with a look of horror etched on his face as the top few cases fell off the pile, heading straight for the floor. He closed his eyes and saw his job with the RPD slip away between his fingers for the folly, knowing how much money was spent on the equipment.
With lightning reflexes, the stranger bent down and scooped the falling ammunition out of the air, inches before hitting the ground. He'd saved them, and Kenny's budding career in that instant.
"That was a close one, Champ," he said. "Better walk slower next time, or get someone to help you, huh?"
Kenny looked up, way up. And saw a tall man, brown hair cut close to his head. A white T-shirt with the STARS logo was embroidered on each shoulder, covering a powerfully built upper body. He green vest was draped over one arm, while the other held the boxes of ammunition in the other.
"STARS Alpha Team," Kenny mouthed quietly with awe. I wasn't often that he got to encounter the STARS members, and Chris Redfield was the cream of the crop. It was rumored among the interns that he could shoot the cap off a bottle from a hundred meters away. One of the other interns, Isaac Brown, swore by it. Kenny wondered if that was true. And here he was, in the flesh, and all Kenny had to do was ask. Well, there were many things he wanted to ask like how he learned to shoot like that, where they find the courage to plunge head-first into situations that most people ran away from, terrified. He wanted to ask -
"Everything all right?"
"S-sorry, Officer Redfield," Kenny replied sheepishly, snapping out of his thoughts. "I'll remember for next time."
"That's okay," he said, plopping the cases back onto the pile Kenny held in his hands. "Try to be more careful. It's bad enough with people getting hurt on the street. We don't need you injuring yourself while you're supposed to be safe in the precinct, especially when you're not even getting paid." He patted Kenny on the shoulder and continued on his way without waiting for a response, nodding curtly to Rita as he passed her.
Rita approached a star-struck Kenny and tapped her foot loudly on the ground. She would have snapped her fingers if her hands hadn't been full.
"Earth to Kenny," she said. "We're outside the STARS office. Here's where we leave the equipment. Help me with the door, will you?"
"Rita, did that just happen?" he asked, looking up at her. "Did I just run into the legendary Chris Redfield?"
Rita half-rolled her eyes. "Yes, that was Chris. He's a STARS Officer, not a unicorn. Now, come on."
"Y-yes, ma'am," Kenny said, and opened the door for her.
They headed inside to find the STARS office empty – as usual. Kenny and Rita stacked the packages beside the weapon locker while Kenny silently noted that Officer Bernstein's engagement ring was cleverly hidden inside. He hadn't seen so much equipment concentrated in one area before. Unlike the empty STARS office, this was atypical. But he knew that tonight's mission had come out of the blue.
"Yeah?" replied, still minding the boxes.
"Bravo's going to be sent off for their mission tonight, right? That's what all this equipment is for?"
"They sure are," she confirmed. "Why?"
"I'm just wondering," Kenny began, "my shift is over soon and I have to head to school for History class. But I'd like to come back tonight to see off Bravo Team. Do you think they would mind? I mean, Captain Wesker would have to brief them, and they're gonna need to have their notes prepared."
"You've already worked your hourly quota for the day," Rita countered. "Why would you want to come back and pull overtime?"
"STARS, Rita," Kenny pleaded.
"It's fine with me," she shrugged. "Just don't go letting them think you're gonna be doing this for them every time there's a mission or you'd be spoiling them."
"Yes! Thank you!" Kenny jumped once and threw his arms around her in a rough hug. "This is gonna be so awesome!"
Rita coughed from beneath Kenny's strong grip. "No problem. Thanks for helping with the ammunition delivery but you better get to classes. I don't want to be responsible for your tardiness."
"Got it," Kenny said, releasing her. "Thanks again, and I'll see you tonight!" Without waiting for a response he turned on his heels and high-tailed it out of the STARS office corridor, and down the stairs to the locker room where his backpack and school books were stored for the day.
Downtown Raccoon City
Cranky was seated at a large wine barrel by the windows of the local downtown bar, which served as a table. His small leather pocket notebook was opened in front of him, as he reviewed his notes for the day. His left hand clutched the handle of a thick frosted beer mug, now half full. Cranky took another gulp of beer, while his eyes remained glued to his notebook, reviewing his observations for the day.
The park was nothing to write home about, populated mostly by pet owners and fitness enthusiasts. He didn't find what he was looking for there, but remained confident that the likelihood of it showing up was more than likely, given the summer weather. He decided to check here regularly, and different times of day.
"Can I get you another?" Cranky's thoughts were interrupted by a cute looking blond waitress, blonde hair tied into a short ponytail. She smiled sweetly at him.
"If you wouldn't mind," he replied, smiling back. The women of Raccoon seemed to be that of a homelier stock that the rough, high maintenance ones from the city. They looked healthier, too. Must have had something to do with the clean mountain air and virtually unpolluted lakes and rivers for a water source.
She reached for the now empty mug, which allowed Cranky to get a quick glimpse of her nametag. It read, "Cindy."
"Thank you so much, Cindy," he said.
"No problem, Craig," she replied. Wait a minute. She had a nametag, but he didn't. How in the world could she have possibly know his name? She must have noticed his confusion as she elaborated next. "Your name's on the credit card you left with us at the counter." She placed his empty beer mug on a tray she carried, gave Cranky a wink, and walked back towards the bar to fetch him another drink from the bartender. "Another round, please, Will."
It was difficult, but Cranky was able to wipe away the smile Cindy had placed upon his features and refocused his attention back to his notes. The next locale to review was the Brentford Entertainment District, just a few blocks north in uptown, boasting the highest concentration of the city's clubs, theaters and restaurants. The area sprouted countless contemporary high-rises, populated by, if the pedestrians were any indication, young urban professionals and recent graduates – people his age, but formally educated.
Cranky's cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he reached into his jeans with some difficulty, and pulled it out. "Crankurt here," here answered.
"Are you safely in town?"
"Sure am," he reported. "I'm quite surprised I've ended up in a town like this one, to be honest. It's quaint, with a historic downtown sector. People are nice as they come. Kinda feel out of place, to be honest."
"Any closer to finding the target?"
Cranky sighed. "I just got here. Started scoping out nearby locales and the kind of people who like to hang around them. I should have a good idea of likely hotspots in a day or two. I tried searching at the police station but-"
"No, Crankurt. That is inadvisable."
"It'd be faster," he protested. Cindy was back with his second beer, placing it in front of him. Cranky nodded to her silently in acknowledgement.
"The target is suffering from an acute case of amnesia. We can't afford to trigger any sudden memories. Just locate it, and observe from a distance. Let me know what your observations are and we can proceed from there."
"What do you mean, 'it'?" Cranky asked. "We're talking about a human being here."
"Do you want this to happen or not, Crankurt?"
Damn it. Of course he did. Cranky should have been whole-heartedly accepting any help he could get, instead of questioning his partner's choice of words. "Sorry. Yes, I do. I want this to happen."
"Then you have your instructions."
The caller hung up, and Cranky exhaled through his nose. It shouldn't have been this difficult to collect someone. But with all these rules, the mental state of the target, it just felt so confining to him. Whatever happened to the traditional method of pulling a burlap sack over someone's head and throwing them into the back of a van?
Building A: History Wing
Raccoon City Secondary School
Late. There as a twisted sense of irony of being late for a class based on early events. It was a thought that had crossed Kenny's mind before, but not today. If there was one thing Mrs. Bietelbaum hated more than the indifference for history displayed by today's youth, it was their disregard for timeliness. Kenny slammed his locker shut, and with a binder and history textbook in one hand, dashed up the stairs, two at a time until he reached the top.
It was the last thing he remembered before the world exploded into pain, flying papers, and crashing textbooks. Kenny's rear collided painfully on the linoleum floor. From his peripheral vision, he thought he saw his textbook skid to a few feet away. His binder was splayed open, face down on the ground, loose-leaf notes now mixed in with the girl's.
The girl. He must have crashed into her. Kenny's vision swam for a few seconds, and through the blurriness, he could make out that she was sitting up from having landed on the ground, rubbing her head. She was brunette, with a pixy cut. Fitting jeans barely concealed shapely legs. And as soon as she cleared the strands of hair away from her face -
"Lisa?" Kenny asked. "Shit, I'm sorry. Are you all right?" He got to his feet and extended a helping hand, which she graciously accepted.
"No, it was my fault," Lisa insisted, letting Kenny pull her to standing. "It's just that I'm late, and I wasn't watching where I was going and ..."
"Walrus Lady is going to eat us alive," Kenny said, finishing her sentence for her. "I swear, one of these days, I'm going to slip up and call Mrs. Bietelbaum that to her face."
Lisa smiled. "I'd pay money to see that."
She bent down and began collecting their things off the ground, handing Kenny what belonged to him. After they had successfully recollected themselves, the pair fell into stride with each other and began walking towards the classroom. It was five past 4:30 and the punishment they'd face from Mrs. Bietelbaum wouldn't be any different if they'd been late by five or fifty minutes. They reached the door, which was closed and had been, Kenny guessed, since 4:30 sharp. Lisa slowly placed a delicate hand on the handle, and looked at him, swallowing a lump in her throat before turning it.
"Lisa, wait," Kenny interrupted. She met his look with a confused expression. "There was an attack in Brentford last week. Mr. Hartley heard about it and came to pick me up from the precinct and drove me home."
She sighed. "I'm sorry, Kenny. Dad can be a little paranoid sometimes. I'm sure he didn't mean to embarrass you."
"No, quite the opposite, actually," he clarified. "That was the same night the attack occurred. I came across the police report today when I was on filing duties."
Lisa brought her hand to a gaping mouth. "Oh my gosh, is everything all right?!"
"Everything's fine," Kenny said, waving a hand dismissively. "My point is, I owe him one."
"What are you going to do?"
Kenny took Lisa's wrist and removed her hand from the door handle. He grasped it with his own and pulled the door open, making sure he was the first thing Mrs. Bietelbaum saw as they entered the room. He and Lisa took a few nervous steps into the classroom, which was by now, even though filled with students, so quiet that one could hear a pin drop. The students' heads turned slowly to look in their direction while Mrs. Bietelbaum stood at the front of the room, in front of the chalkboard, white frizzy cardigan concealing her multiple chins. She wore a disappointed frown on her face as if the sheep that were shaved to make her cardigan didn't suffer enough before giving up their wool.
"Kenneth Aaron Feng," Mrs. Bietelbaum hissed slowly. "And to what do I owe this tardy pleasure?"
"Mrs. B, I ..." Kenny faltered, his mouth dry.
"And who is that behind you?" she continued. "Come on, now."
Lisa sheepishly emerged from behind Kenny's form. She hugged her binder closely to her chest, as if it would offer some sort of protection from the tirade their teacher was sure to throw at them.
"Ms. Hartley," Mrs. Bietelbaum said, shaking her said in disapproval. "Mr. Feng, I can understand, with the work experience credit on the side. But I would expect more from someone of your family's position in Raccoon City. I'm sure your parents would be very disappointed to hear about their daughter's lackluster attendance in a very forgiving public education system."
Lisa opened her mouth to object but Kenny cut her off before she could say anything damaging.
"Mrs. Bietelbaum, it was my fault," he said. The other students turned their gaze to him. "I was supposed to carpool with Lisa to class but the precinct had me finish filing some priority reports. They waited for me, and that's why we're both late. Please don't punish her for something she isn't at fault for."
Lisa shot him a look. "What are you doing?" she mouthed silently. Kenny returned the look with a harsh glare, warning her not to say anything.
"That's commendable of you, Mr. Feng," Mrs. Bietelbaum acknowledged. "But I'm going to have to ask for a note from the precinct in order to verify your claims. If you fail to produce one by tomorrow evening, I will deduct five percent from your attendance marks from both you and Ms. Hartley here. And you know what that means - an entire letter grade - which I am sure you're aware, will have unfortunate repercussions on your grade point average. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Feng?"
"Yes, ma'am," Kenny replied nervously.
The two students made their away over to their desks and took their seats beside each other while Mrs. Bietelbaum droned on about the French Revolution. As they opened up their books and uncapped their pens, Lisa looked over to Kenny and whispered quietly enough that she didn't think they could be heard.
"You didn't have to do that."
"Of course I did," he whispered back. "Your dad saved my ass last week. This is the least I can do. Besides, my GPA can take the hit. Yours can't."
"Thanks, Kenny," Lisa replied gratefully. "I really appreciate you covering for me."
"Just make sure you take care of yourself. I've been worried about you ever since that guy Jack came into the picture. You were with him today, weren't you? That's why you're late?"
"We're not having this discussion," Lisa said, shutting down the conversation, "not here, and certainly not now."
"Make that a TEN percent deduction from your attendance marks, Mr. Feng and Ms. Hartley!" Mrs. Bietelbaum roared from across the room. "I suggest finishing up your conversation outside, or I will increase it to fifteen!"
"Sorry, Mrs. Bietelbaum," they muttered in unison.
Raccoon City Secondary School
The sun's position wasn't getting any higher in the sky by the time their summer history class had ended for the day. Aside from Bietelbaum's initial outburst at their tardiness, the lesson had gone by smoothly and had in fact, concluded 30 minutes early, giving the students time to get a head start on their homework. But now, that was over too and Kenny and Lisa sat on the front steps of the school, waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Hartley to pick up their daughter from late-afternoon classes.
Their fellow students fled the school grounds as soon as the bell had rung, leaving in groups and pairs. Kenny quietly watched them leave, going home to their video games, their parties, or whatever social gathering they had planned for the evening.
"They're all participating in tonight's search," Lisa noted, as if she'd been reading his mind.
"What search?" Kenny asked curiously.
"For Charlotte," Lisa clarified, referring to their friend who had mysteriously disappeared recently. "It's been a month now, you know?"
"Oh …" Kenny looked at his feet with guilt. "Of course. Sorry, I must have forgotten."
"Don't sweat it," Lisa said, patting his knee. "You're the only one in school earning work experience credit a year early. I don't think anyone can fault you for that."
"I can," Kenny countered. "She was my friend too. OUR friend. I know I've been skipping out the search as of late. But I promise I'll come tonight. Just as soon as I'm done my evening shift at the precinct."
Lisa gave him a questioning look. "I thought you came to class straight from work. Are they asking you to come back tonight?"
"Nope," Kenny said excitedly. "I'm asking to go back tonight, just for an hour or two. Something big is going on, Lisa. You know the STARS unit?"
"You and the guys mentioned them before," she replied. "They're some kind of special unit within the police force, right?"
"THE special unit, Lisa," Kenny corrected. "It's a secret but I'm gonna tell you. They're being sent straight into the Arklay Forest to investigate the hiker attacks."
Lisa's eyes widened in shock. "Really?! Just as I was starting to lose faith with all the police inaction."
Kenny nodded. "Yeah, and they're going in tonight! I couldn't afford to miss the moment, so I'm going into work to send them off."
"You're wasting the secret on me," Lisa chuckled. "I'm sure Justin and Phil would be all over it though."
"Probably," Kenny admitted, "but you're right here and I can't hold it in any longer. But yeah, after I'm done with that, I'll come down and joint he search for Charlotte. Who's in charge tonight? And what neighbourhood are we covering?"
"Mrs. Wade, Luanne's mom is in charge tonight. Whitchley and Winterton neighbourhoods have already been covered. It's Coburg tonight."
Kenny made a face. "That's midtown. We're starting to get into dirty territory."
Lisa shrugged. "At least the precinct is nearby. It won't be far for you to come meet us."
"Sounds like a plan then," Kenny agreed. Let Mrs. Wade know I'll be a few hours late, but I'll show up prepared."
"Ah look at the two little late buddies sitting so cutely together," a piercing voice said, disrupting the otherwise serene nature of the scene.
Kenny and Lisa turned around from where they were seated to see the front doors of the school seemingly open by themselves. Four girls, impeccably dressed, stepped out from inside, high heel shoes clicking on the pavement as they walked. Aside from varying colour schemes, the young ladies looked like palette swapped versions of the same girl; powdered faces, perfectly curled locks, artificially drawn eyebrows and pursed, pink lips. Instead of backpacks, they carried designer purses, slung over a shoulder. The girls stood in two pairs, each standing on either side of the entrance, glaring down at Kenny and Lisa from where they stood.
"Kenny's company is questionable, but I guess he's better than that downtown dog you've been hanging around lately." The owner of the piercing voice was the last to exit the school, clearly the Queen Bee of the hive. A waft of lavender perfume caught in Kenny and Lisa's nostrils. Hair extensions provided extra volume to her blonde, recently permed locks. Sparkling eye-shadow and a thick coat of lip gloss made her eyes and mouth shimmer with every movement, with every line she spoke.
"Julie Wilberforce," Lisa hissed under her breath. She made eye contact with Kenny.
"You ready for this?" he asked her.
"Let's do this." Kenny walked up to the five girls with Lisa keeping pace just a step behind. The girls smirked as he approached. One of them, as blonde as Julie, snapper her fingers sporting bedazzled one inch nail extensions, and held out an open palm. Kenny produced a cigarette from the breast pocket of his buttoned-up shirt and deposited a cigarette into it.
"Last one, Leonie," he said. "If you're going to bum cigarettes off me, at least smoke them. Wearing it behind your ear all day isn't going to make you look any less ugly."
Leonie Brown opened her mouth to retort but Julie cut her off.
"I didn't say you could speak, Leonie."
She closed her mouth and settled with giving Kenny the most vicious stare she could muster without cracking the caked layers of makeup on her face.
Lisa meanwhile stood in front of Julie, trying to make peace. "That's enough, Julie. It's been a month since Jack came into the picture. The jabs are getting old, and I think you need to move on."
Julie's glossy lips curled upwards at the corners, causing Lisa to shudder at the sight. "Girls, what do you think about Lisa's … suggestion?" The reply took the form of her four groupies giggling in unison. Julie ran the back of her finger on Lisa's cheek. She then took a lock of her hair and twirled it.
"Dear Lisa," she said in a cold, indifferent voice, "Lisa Hartley. You are Raccoon City royalty. You're aware of this, right?"
"My parents work for Umbrella," Lisa clarified. "Their career choice has nothing to do with me. I just wish you could understand that, and let me live my life in peace."
The groupies reeled back in shock, and even Kenny did to a certain extent. He touched her elbow. "You can't say that, Lisa. Not here."
"You better listen to him," Julie advised. Her tone was a borderline threat. "You've lived in Raccoon your whole life but you've never opened up your eyes to really see what's going on around you. Living in your own fantasy land where the rules don't apply to you. It's selfish, Lisa."
"Selfish?!" her voice raised in volume and she took a step closer to Julie.
"Lisa, please," Kenny took her by the elbow lightly but she pulled it away from his grasp.
"I'm not the one feeding off of Mommy and Daddy's wealth." She gestured up and down at Julie's form. "Look at all this, and get back to me on who's the selfish one."
Julie closed the gap between them by one more step. "Our families are held in high regard in Raccoon City. So if you're going to continue calling yourself a Hartley, you'll ditch that downtown puppy and live up to your family name. If the rest of us followed your lead, the downtown migrants would be running amok in this city in no time."
"That's enough!" Kenny stepped in between the two girls and pried them apart. "Julie, you're not winning any favors by threatening the people who are supposed to be on your side. If you're going to be inheriting the Wilberforce estate, you're gonna need a graduate course in diplomacy, and fast."
Julie folded her arms. "Fine then, Kenny. Let's see how you deal with this one." She tipped her chin at Lisa. "You're the only one out of all of us who she seems to listen to anyway. Come on, girls. We need to get ready for the search tonight." She trotted off towards the school gates, her groupies following behind her. The last girl passed Kenny, giving him an apologetic look.
"Sarah, wait," Kenny pleaded. "You're not really going along with Julie's-"
"Not now, Kenny!" she hissed. "I'll call you later." The girl walked off at a faster pace to catch up with her friends, none of whom had looked back to see that she'd stayed behind for a moment too long.
Helipad, East Wing Rooftop
Raccoon City Police Precinct
The evening was considerably cool that night, especially for the middle of summer. The sun's setting rays illuminated the sky with various shades of pink and purple. It was getting late as the bustling activity in the station had slowed down. The officers insisted that Kenny go home and get some rest, but he wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see Bravo Team head into action for anything. He stood on the built-in helipad on the roof of the east wing, freshly printed mission notes flapping the wind. The silhouette of the building's fenced off water tower loomed by the moon. The helicopter body stood proudly at the center of the painted circle, positioned directly on the center of the H. In a few minutes, the space would be populated by STARS Bravo team, so Kenny enjoyed the peace while it lasted.
The back hatch of the helicopter was open. Upon taking a closer look, Kenny noticed that the supplies delivered earlier that day had already been stocked. Someone had just forgotten to close the hatch. In the cockpit, control panels consisted of numerous gauges and buttons, and a few oddly-shaped mechanical controls. Overhead, switches were embedded into the ceiling, just within reach of the pilot.
A sudden movement from the cabin caught Kenny's attention. It was large, dark, and fast, followed by a flash of light, not unlike a spark. His curiosity piqued, Kenny took a step closer to the cabin.
"Hello?" he called out. The only response he got was the wind. "Who's there?"
Kenny nervously clenched his fists. He didn't think he'd be getting to a fight, but whatever it was, the reaction was more instinctive than anything.
"Oh, Kenny," a man said, stepping into view. Dressed in dark STARS uniform with shades obscuring his eyes even in the evening lighting, he recognized the man as Alpha Team's Captain Wesker. Kenny instantly froze, the memory of the Captain's lecture still fresh in his mind from earlier that day. "I …didn't notice you standing there."
From the tone the Captain used, it seemed as if he'd completely forgotten about Kenny's lackluster performance in prepping the meeting room earlier. In fact, he seemed caught off guard, if that was even possible for Captain Wesker.
"I was just checking the helicopter, making sure everything is in order before Bravo takes off for the mission tonight."
"Of course, sir," Kenny said, not knowing what kind of response would be appropriate. The Captain was explaining himself when Kenny hadn't even asked for one. Definitely out of character for the man, and that set off little alarm bells in his head. "I'm sorry to have surprised you. I suppose the mechanics are off tonight."
"That's correct," Captain Wesker said, eager to drop the topic. "You can never be too safe." He headed back inside, brushing quickly past Kenny. But before he re-entered the building, Captain Wesker turned to face Kenny.
"You … didn't see anything, did you?" he asked as casually as he could muster.
"No," Kenny innocently lied.
"Good. Bravo Team should be up here any second. I want you to double check that they've got everything and give them the briefing notes. I'll do the rest of the talking."
As soon as Captain Wesker closed the door shut behind him, Kenny made a dash towards the helicopter cabin to get a quick look. Something didn't feel right to him. Why had the Captain been acting so strangely? Why was he inside by himself doing grunt work?
Kenny shrugged off his suspicions, chalking it up to the excitement of being there before such an important mission. He headed over to the helipad stairs which lead down to the lower level courtyard. Sitting on the top landing, he pulled out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, smoking the thing while waiting for Bravo Team to arrive.
He looked in the distance from his seat on the roof, and focused his sights on Coburg district just a few blocks away. He imagined now that his friends from school were combing the streets in search of their lost friend Charlotte. A pang of guilt hit him. He should have been down there searching for Charlotte with them, especially as one of her closest friends before she mysteriously disappeared with her family. But tonight Kenny had selfishly opted out for a chance to see the STARS in action.
"That's not true," he told himself. "You'll be joining the search after Bravo Team takes off." Satisfied with his reasoning, Kenny gave himself a reassuring nod and took the last drag off his cigarette before stomping it out with his heel. He stood up from his seat and turned around, noticing that Bravo Team, along with three of their Alpha Team friends had also joined.
Alpha Team vehicle specialist Officer Joseph Frost – the man whose on behalf Kenny had hidden the wedding engagement ring - had already gotten to work inspecting the vehicle. His soon to be fiancée, Officer Amber Bernstein stood by in support, delicate hands folded in front of her body. Kenny hadn't seen Officer Bernstein around much that day, which was odd considering they'd run into each other on a regular basis whenever he was at work. But he turned his attention back to Officer Frost.
"Sir," Kenny called out, "Captain Wesker was checking the helicopter earlier. If anything was wrong, I'm sure he would have notified you."
Officer Frost's bandana-clad head popped out from the cabin. "He was probably checking to see if the equipment was all accounted for. Captain Wesker doesn't do vehicle inspection, Kenny. I do. Or I had better be, cause I'll be damned if I'm doing all this overtime for nothing!"
Kenny then felt a soft hand land upon his shoulder. He turned to look to see Officer Bernstein smiling cheerfully at him. "Why so gloomy, Kenny?"
"I don't think they should be going on this mission," he told her. He couldn't believe he'd developed the balls to say something, but the feeling of dread at the back of his mind refused to die.
"Excuse me?" Officer Bernstein asked, confused. "It's not like you could do anything about this, kiddo, but … why do you think so?"
"I've just got a funny feeling," Kenny admitted, thinking about his brief, mysterious encounter with Captain Wesker mere minutes ago.
"It's just nerves," Officer Bernstein said, giving Kenny's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "This is your first time seeing the STARS in action, isn't it? I know this is something you've been waiting for since you started working here."
"But …" Kenny protested, but got the feeling that she wasn't going to listen.
"All right, men," Bravo Captain Enrico Marini barked. He looked a lot like Officer Sullivan – a tall, silent man with a bushy mustache who spoke more through action than words. He lumbered long in his trademark forest green vest and black combat pants. Kenny had heard people mention some kind of a rivalry between him and Captain Wesker, but Kenny never tried to confirm the rumor, opting out of participating any politics.
Bravo Team scrambled into a straight line in front of their Captain, second in command in the STARS unit only the Captain Wesker. Kenny's eyes traveled down the line, noting member by name in his head. He'd read up extensively on their employee files.
Mullet-sporting Officer Forest Speyer, Bravo vehicle specialist and sniper. Officer Edward Dewey, Bravo pilot, looking like a twin brother to Chris Redfield, but bigger built. They were joined by the other Bravo team mates Kenny had encountered earlier that day; Officers Sullivan, Aiken, and today's new-hire Rebecca Chambers.
Captain Marini cleared his throat. "Kenny?"
The intern snapped out of his trance. "Coming, sir!"
"This mission is mostly intelligence gathering in nature," Captain Marini continued. Kenny reached the row of STARS members and walked down the line, handing out a copy of the briefing notes to each member as he passed them. "Review the information young Kenny here is providing. We are to investigate the mysterious cannibal murders that I'm sure you've all heard about in the news lately. We will be heading about two kilometers north into the surrounding Arklay Forest, where we believe Umbrella has a laboratory. If anyone knows about these attacks, we're sure it will be the Umbrella Researchers up there. We will be carrying firearms with us, but you know the rules. Do not use them unless circumstances require it."
Kenny timed his pace well, handing out the final copy of the notes to Officer Chambers just as Captain Marini finished his short speech.
"Thank you, Kenny," the Captain acknowledged. "You're dismissed."
Kenny stepped away from the group and joined the other guests standing on the sidelines, watching as their friends mentally prepared for the mission. He found a place beside Officer Redfield who, if it not had been for him, Kenny would've had likely destroyed a few handfuls of ammunition that afternoon. Now wasn't the time to be star-struck by the Alpha Team veteran however.
"Officer Redfield?" Kenny asked, tugging at his shirt sleeve.
"What's up, Champ?" he replied, but was clearly distracted by something, as he gazed at his team mates receive their briefing.
"Can you try and stall the mission, maybe?"
"No problem," he mumbled.
Kenny looked up at him, reading the expression on Officer Redfield's face. His brows were furrowed in concentration, lips pressed into a thin line.
Kenny elaborated, hoping to politely grab his attention. "Captain Wesker was behaving strangely just now, before everyone came here. He was alone on the helicopter and I saw sparks flying."
"Sounds good, my man."
Kenny pressed on. "He was acting strangely, Officer Redfield! He said he was checking the chopper but-"
Officer Redfield clasped a hand over the intern's mouth. "Good job, Champ. It's getting late. Better run along home now, yeah?"
Kenny gave a growl of frustration. Officer Redfield wasn't listening. He understood why, though. Kenny practically led the cult following for the STARS members among the interns, and they STARS were kind enough to oblige, allowing him to bear witness to one of their missions, and here he was trying to make a scene.
Officer Redfield gently ushered him inside, while Kenny protested fruitlessly. "Officer Vickers is packing up back at the STARS office. Your place is on his way. Ask him to give you a ride. Tell him I sent you." He closed the door shut, leaving Kenny standing in the upper hallway of the east wing, frozen in mid-protest.