Resident Evil: The Prelude to Horror

Inferiority Complex

Friday, July 24th, 1998
Raccoon City Police Precinct
1:00pm

For the fifth time that week, Kenny trudged up the paved walkway towards the grand entrance of the police precinct like he had done so many times before. Except the first few times, when he had started working here months ago, it was with his mouth agape, unable to believe he had scored a position at the police station, partly due to the building’s grandeur but mostly because of his newfound proximity to the STARS members. But as with any job, the honeymoon phase ended shortly into it. And he quickly learned why at the end of the day, it was a job ... one that he wasn’t getting paid for but he didn’t feel like going down that route today.

And again, for the fifth time that week, he tugged open the teal doors and walked inside, the threat from Julie still fresh in his head. But for the first time during his tenure at the precinct, the sight the befell him was one of pure chaos. The threat Julie posed instantly dissipated as he stared in shock at the officers running around like headless chickens, carrying stacks of paper, screaming into walkie-talkies , or trying to talk over one another. He spotted Officer Branagh standing outside the east wing entrance, backed into a corner by a group of media personnel aiming microphones at his face as if they were weapons. A blonde female reporter in a maroon suit looked to be leading the charge, talking excitedly into the mic before pushing it back to him. Officer Branagh’s forehead was dotted with beads of sweat. He sported dark circles under his eyes, and come to think of it, Kenny remembered reviewing the schedules yesterday, that he was down for the night shift. What was he still doing here?

Before he could speculate further, Kenny felt a tug on his arm. He turned to face Rita, looking equally panicked and fatigued.

“Just in time,” she said, talking quickly. “I’m going to need you to man the front desk for me. I’ve got to get going to the briefing.”

“Briefing?” Kenny asked, bewildered. “There wasn’t a meeting scheduled for this afternoon, was there? I would have prepped the room last night ...”

“Something came up this morning,” she replied, cutting him off. “The chief’s called for an emergency meeting with senior officers and STARS Alpha.”

“STARS?!” Kenny could feel the excitement build up inside him. But Rita rolled her eyes, as if she’d expected the kind of reaction she would have generated from him mentioning the special forces unit.

“I can’t explain right but just get your butt over to the front desk and help me fend off the media. I’ll fill you in later.” She gently forced a stack of folders into Kenny’s chest suddenly, which he struggled to keep from dropping, and patted him on the shoulder before running off towards the west wing.

Kenny dashed over to his station at the main desk, to his spot beside Bernice. He would’ve walked, but the mob of reporters following Officer Branagh towards the same doors Rita had just trotted through would have trampled him if he hadn’t picked up the pace. Kenny plopped the file folders down on to the desk and collapsed into his chair. Bernice welcomed him with her trademark warm smile.

“Just another day at the office, huh?” she joked, turning back to her screen. Her fingers continued tapping away at the keyboard at a spreadsheet she was working on.

“Well Bravo’s probably back by now,” Kenny offered. “I’m excited to hear what they found, too. But I guess it makes sense I’m not exactly a priority for any updates. Still, though.” He gave a slight pout and bent down to hit the power button on his computer tower, below the desk. What he didn’t notice though, was that Bernice had once again taken her eyes off her screen and looked at him above the rims of her glasses.

“Kenny,” she said, struggling to form the sentence as she spoke. “STARS has returned from successful missions before with much less fanfare.” Still bent down, he peeked at her from under the desk.

“What’s that supposed to mean, Bernice?”

Her gaze sagged downward, and she folded her hands across her lap. She explained quickly without making eye-contact.

“Bravo never made it back.”

THUMP

“Ouch!” Kenny’s head thumped against the desk in reaction to Bernice’s words. He rose to a sitting position, rubbing his forehead while wincing in pain. “What do you mean they never made it back? They’re still in the forest?”

Bernice shook her head sadly. “I’ve said too much.”

“That’s not an answer, Bernice!” Kenny insisted.

“It’s not my answer to give,” she pushed back. “Now I suggest you get to work, before Rita comes back and finds out we’ve been gossiping the whole time.” She swiveled around to face her computer with such finality that Kenny didn’t bother to pursue the issue - at least not until Rita got back.

But before he could open his notebook to review his to-do list, Kenny’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the main doors opening, followed by the loud protests of a blond youth, who Kenny recognized as Jack Carpenter, a class mate from school. He was being forced inside by Officer Aaron, a sturdily built cop, brown hair cropped close to his scalp, who nobody screwed around with; not even the STARS members. Jack’s bangs swayed in front of his brows from the force Officer Aaron employed to keep him under control.

“Yo, lemme go, man!” Jack cried. “I told you, I be doin’ nothing wrong!”

“Settle down, kiddo,” Officer Aaron ordered, “or you will be doing something wrong.”

From the entrance, Jack noticed Kenny watching them, and his eyes widened with renewed hope. “Kenny! Kenny, please help me!” he called desperately. “You know these guys, bro. You know me. Tell ‘em I be doin’ nothing, man! You know I’m not some thug!”

Kenny broke eye contact immediately and busied himself with absent-mindedly flipping through the stacks of paper Rita had tossed him earlier. But it was too late to feign the innocent bystander image, as Officer Aaron whistled to him and beckoned with a flick of his stubby fingers to come over. Kenny signed, standing up from his seat and made his way over to the steps leading towards the main entrance, where Officer Aaron now stood with Jack.

“Sir,” Kenny requested, “would it be okay if I just had a few words with Mr. Carpenter?

Officer Aaron smirked with amusement and consented. “You kids really need to find time to socialize in school,” he said. “You boys have five minutes, but I’m not going anywhere.” He pointed to the corner of the raised entrance platform, where potted herbs were placed against the wall. “Talk there if you want any privacy.”

Kenny turned to Jack and the boys headed towards the corner. They spoke in harsh whispers.

“Thanks, man,” Jack breathed with relief. “I totally owe you one, and if you need any favors, I swear ...” But Kenny raised a hand to cut his peer off.

“I choose not to associate with people like you if I can help it,” Kenny said. His words were harsh, but his tone was sorrowful, something that Jack had apparently noticed with his brows furrowed in confusion.

“...like me?” Jack echoed. His expression pleaded for elaboration.

Kenny was having trouble wording what he wanted to say next, and gave a sigh. “The financially challenged. You’ve seen the kind of reaction your presence in Raccoon City High has caused.”

“They all wish I be dead,” he agreed, nodding sadly.

“Right,” Kenny confirmed, “and do you really want to drag her into that?”

“You talkin’ about Lise?”

Kenny was taken aback at hearing Jack’s nickname for her. Nobody in their circle had referred to Lisa Hartley as ’Lise”, but it made sense, coming from Jack. Come to think of it, Kenny found the name a little endearing. “Yeah, he replied, “I’m talking about Lisa. Do you really want to step in and turn her into the next target of this dysfunctional uptown circle? It’s like, Jack, who do you think you are?”

Jack put his hands up in defense. “I din’ do nothing to Lise. I din’ tell her to do nothing, either. I just be her friend, man. An’ she be my friend. That’s all it is. Lise is a free girl, man. She can do whatever she wants, and I be happy for her. But I never told her to do nothing!”

Kenny gave a frustrated sigh and turned around on his heels, back towards Officer Aaron. Whether or not Jack was in the wrong, it wasn’t the point. It was what Jack was doing to Lisa by choosing time and again, to involve himself. But he wasn’t listening to a word Kenny was saying. And furthermore, there was Julie’s earlier threat. Jack had to back off, or else who knew if Julie would follow through? It wasn’t a risk Kenny was willing to take, so he pressed on.

“I tried to be diplomatic, Jack,” he hissed angrily, “but you’re clearly not willing to listen, so let me say this. Stay the hell away from Lisa or there will be some real trouble at school.” Intent of having the final word, Kenny began walking towards Officer Aaron who gave him an inquisitive look.

“I’m done with him, sir,” Kenny announced as he strode back angrily towards his workstation. Jack’s cries of protest once again filled the air as Officer Aaron put his hands on the struggling teen, and hauled him off towards the east wing interrogation room for questioning.


Apple Inn
Downtown Raccoon City
2:26pm

When Cranky saw no end to the incessant ringing in his ears, he decided he would have to wake up in order to kill it. Rolling over in bed, he opened his eyes lazily and the image of his cell phone resting on the bedside table came into focus, rumbling obnoxiously against the wood surface. His face still ached, and his knuckles felt as if they were on fire. Cranky gave a guttural groan and flung his arm across his body, his hand slamming down onto the phone. He curled his fingers around its small mass and pressed the “answer” button with his thumb.

“Crankurt here,” he growled into the phone.

“Whoa, sorry didn’t mean to wake Sleeping Angry, there,” came the sarcastic voice on the other end. Cranky felt a pang of annoyance at the back of his mind, and then realized he hadn’t been in touch for some time.

“Swear to God,” Cranky said bitterly, “you’re like a jealous girlfriend without any of the benefits.”

“Where the hell were you last night?” the informant continued, audibly irritated. “I’ve been trying to get in touch for hours now!”

“Ran into some trouble last night,” Cranky reported, “found some guy trying to rape a drunk lady. Fought him off but found out later the guy was the chief of police. My ass spent the night in a prison cell as a result, until the lady came and got me out of it.”

“You what?!” the informant cried. “Crankurt, if you’re going to accomplish your mission, I strongly advise you get your head out of your ass and focused on your objective. I don’t need you starting up drama with the local populace. ”

“Well what the hell am I supposed to do?” Cranky said angrily. “You want me to locate the target, but I’m not allowed to engage. So I’m sitting here, bored out of my mind - and hungry - so I go out to grab a late night bite and this shit happens to me. Believe me, I’d love nothing more than to focus on the objective and get the hell out!”

“Stay there, await more information and don’t get yourself into trouble,” the informant replied. “That’s not too much for me to ask, is it?”

“Well I’ll have you know that I’m able to confirm the target’s presence in Raccoon City,” Cranky said smugly. “Saw him with my own eyes. And tonight, I’m going to get confirmation on his residence in town.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

Cranky felt a sly smile creep across his features. “Getting into ‘shit’ with the local populace didn’t leave me without leads. I’m headed to a neighbourhood party tonight, with the Uptown residents. Anyone who’s anyone in town is going to be there. And I’m telling you, I’m going to find what we’re after.”

A few moments of disbelief followed from the informant after absorbing Cranky’s words. “I’ll be back in touch with you tomorrow morning at 8am sharp. I want a report, Crankurt.”

“You’re welcome,” Cranky replied sarcastically before snapping the phone shut.

Deciding that he’d had enough personal drama for a day, it would be nice to focus on somebody else’s. And laying the phone back down on his bedside stand, Cranky kicked his feet up and lay back in bed, tucking an arm behind his head while the other reached for the remote and turned on the TV. If drama had been what he was looking for, it didn’t take long to find it. The TV turned on to a news channel with the words “Breaking News” at the bottom right hand corner of the screen in bold font. The screen showed images of the Lonsdale Yard, and a series of trains flashed across as a reporter’s voice narrated.

“The Ecliptic Express was a prototype train, the first of a luxury line of models planned by the Lonsdale Construction Group. It was the first of a series of voyages scheduled into the early 2000′s. Lonsdale stocks have soared since its announcement in late 1996, but as of last night’s events, it is unclear if the company’s shares will continue to skyrocket, plateau or worse, decline. The train carries a reported two hundred and seventy six souls, who in just over six hours, will be officially considered missing if contact is not made before then. Over to you, Brandon.”

The television cut to a middle-aged news anchor sporting a bushy moustache and slicked back hair, eerily reminding Cranky of Chief Irons.

"Disturbing news, indeed, Olivia,” he said with a shake of the head. “Well I’m afraid I won’t be faring much better. Raccoon City’s crème de la crème of our fine officers in blue, the STARS Bravo unit, left last night in what was supposed to be a covert operation to investigate recent mounting reports of attacks on hikers in the Arklay Mountains.”

Cranky leaned forward with interest and propped his elbows up on his knees. Clasping his hands, he rested his chin upon his fingers and continued watching intently as the television cut to an image of the police chief, standing behind a podium speaking to the media, his words occasionally punctuated with a blinding camera flash. The sight of the man who he’d fought not even a day ago caused Cranky’s stomach to churn.

“Bravo Team departed for the Arklay forests at approximately 10pm last night,” Chief Irons announced to the info hungry media. “They went silent shortly thereafter. We do not have any confirmation on their whereabouts, or their well-being. In response, the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad is assembling their Alpha unit with the intent of executing a rescue mission. Their objective is to locate and extract the Bravo team members, and the effort will be spearheaded by none other than our very own Captain Albert Wesker, who, if his impressive list of accomplishments is of any evidence, will lead the Alpha team to success.”

The Chief then nodded, signaling the end of his announcement. In that second, a hundred hands sprung up, calling out his name, hoping to get a few seconds of his attention. He then motioned towards a blonde reporter clad in a form fitting petticoat. She nodded curtly and spoke.

“Alyssa Ashcroft with the Raccoon Times, Chief Irons. It was reported yesterday that a war criminal, formerly of the United States Military, Colonel William Coen, was being transferred to Regarthon Base in Rose Bay City for his execution sentence to be carried out, and that his convoy was travelling through the Arklay Mountains around the same time contact with Bravo Team was lost. Do the RPD suspect a connection between the two incidences?”

The chief dismissed her questions with a wave of a stubby hand.

"At this time, we have no information connecting the two. Next question please.”

Cranky found himself folding his arms across his chest. He smirked in bemusement. On the surface, Raccoon City appeared to be a sleepy Midwestern mountain community but in his short time here, had discovered there was much more going on beneath the town’s deceptively serene facade. Either he had come at just the right time, or this place was more screwed up than it appeared.

His cell phone blipped to life once again, tearing Cranky’s attention away from the television set. He grabbed the phone - this time it was a text message. A few button presses took him to its contents.

“Finished errands early. Will swing by at four-thirty. Enough time in advance?”

Truthfully, Cranky was thankful for the earlier time change, despite it only by thirty minutes. He would have been bored to tears otherwise. Not that he wasn’t already.

He texted her back. “Sounds good.”

Setting the phone back down onto the bed side table, Cranky reached for the TV remote with his other hand and shut it off. Enough news for now. He rose from the bed and strode over to the work desk, picking up the duffel bag on its surface. He dug around inside and spotted a change of clothes; shorts, a t-shirt and a towel. Confirming its contents, he zipped it closed and slung it over his shoulder. A quick workout at the hotel gym, and a sandwich from the bakery across the street would kill enough time until Barbara showed up. If he was going to go through the unpleasant experience of clothes shopping, he would at least do it on a full stomach.


Building A: History Wing
Raccoon City Secondary School
6:00pm

The school bell rung, signaling another end of another summer-school day. The students looked up from their books and began them up, along with any residual stationary. Mrs. Bietelbaum sat at the teacher’s desk at the front of the room and looked above the rim of her glasses at the departing students.

“Don’t forget about the quiz next week!” she called into the crowd on students who clearly paid her no heed. Noticing this, she shrugged. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she mumbled before scribbling a large red F on a student’s assignment sitting in front of her.

Kenny, meanwhile, was among the first to leave class, hurriedly making his way towards his locker. He’d barely registered Mrs. Bietelbaum’s reminder. Turning out of the classroom and down the old building’s locker-lined hallway, Kenny broke into a brisk walk as he headed for his locker; a seemingly random orange, full length contraption with a chain hastily attached on the top hinge to keep the door attached. Kenny shuddered at the memory of Phil Barrett and Tyrone Hayes, stuffing him inside, back when Kenny had been the new kid in school. They quickly learned their lesson however, as Kenny smirked, reaching into his breast pocket, producing a cigarette. When they realized that the fake ID Kenny had fashioned for him by a contact at the RPD, and that he could buy what they were otherwise too young to come into contact with; alcohol and tobacco, the left him well alone after that. Sometimes even approaching him for favors.

He unpacked his backpack, placing his heavy textbooks into the locker, along with his now completed homework for handing in first thing next class. Sure that it had its contents emptied, Kenny slung the now lightened backpack over both shoulders and closed the locker door, snapping the lock shut.

The closing door revealed the form of Julie Wilberforce, leaning against the locker casually with her arms folded across her chest. Kenny took a step back in surprise, not having expected to see her, let alone with her groupies not present. She looked at him from the corners of her heavily mascara’ed eyes as her pursed pink lips pressed into a slimy smile.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she asked in a breathy voice of indifference, although Kenny knew she wasn’t in terms of what he had fully expected her to ask him. He tried to ignore the elephant in the hallway.

“Big night at the RPD,” he replied, and then looked over his shoulder at her. “You heard about what happened last night, right?”

“The escape convict, the missing train, and STARS Bravo?” she replied, then rolled her eyes. “My parents say it’s all an exaggeration to get Raccoon feeling uneasy. The Londsdale Group is branching into security, and they want to create demand for home-security systems. What better way than to highlight news like that? Plus they’ve got man on the inside, one of the heirs, Timothy Londsdale, at the RPD. You probably know him.”

“Officer Londsdale wouldn’t do something like that,” Kenny retorted defensively.

“The William Coen case isn’t exactly low profile,” she continued, ignoring Kenny’s protests. “They’re calling him a mass-murderer but it’s not like he’s a serial killer. It was a contained situation in Africa. He’s not about to go off raiding homes and killing people for shits and giggles.”

Kenny’s eyes widened in surprise. “You’re actually educating yourself in current events?”

Julie shrugged. “With someone that cute, how could you not?”

“How’s Luanne’s mom?” Kenny asked, changing the subject. With Julie’s groupies not around, he thought now would be a good time to ask for an update.

“I don’t know,” Julie confessed. “But Luanne’s been ... distant today.” This was one of the very few times that Julie let her guard down and exposed a shred of human decency, and Kenny was sure to take note of it. She shook her head. “She’s usually pretty loyal with me, but then today, not even a text, and ignoring mine.”

Never mind. All shred of human decency was gone, with her self-centered approach. Julie continued.

“Mary’s saying her Mrs. Wade got raped last light.”

Kenny felt his throat sink into his stomach by the news. “What?! By who?”

“I don’t know,” Julie said, “but I’m betting it’s the Chief. Barbara Wade pretty much slept her way into Uptown with that pervert. The guy’s got a hidden rap sheet longer than my hair extensions. Maybe if she’d stuck to her job, leading the search for the Lascelles, none of this would have happened.”

“I just saw her last night,” Kenny said, staring at the ground in shock. “I asked her to go home to Luanne. She told me she was, and to go on ahead without her.”

“So you were with Mrs. Wade before it happened?”

Kenny nodded. “Yeah. There was someone else too. Real scary looking. Tall and big, bigger than Phil. He glared at me until I left.”

Julie’s jaw dropped open. “You don’t think he could have been the guy, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Kenny admitted, “I’m just telling you what I saw. I should probably call her. I feel like maybe if I’d stuck around, I could have stopped it.”

“HAH!” Julie laughed, unexpectedly. She placed a well manicured hand on his shoulder. “That’s cute, Kenny. But what could you possibly have done? Forget Phil and Tyrone. I could stuff you in this locker.”

“Try and you’ll be hosting dry parties until you’re twenty one,” Kenny threatened, “and Leonie can look forward to quitting smoking cold turkey.”

Julie narrowed her eyes at him. “You play your cards well, Kenny.”

A third voice, this one male, interrupted their conversation.

“Picking on little kids again?” It was Justin Thomas’s tall, lanky form approaching them. He tossed basketball in one hand as he walked, freckled face contorted into a disdainful sneer. “Just get out of here Julie. You know Kenny doesn’t like you and honestly, neither do I.”

“Oh, well if it isn’t Jones-ing Justin,” Julie retorted. “So tell me, what illegal substance are you propagating throughout our ranks this week?”

Justin shrugged. “Prostitution was the original plan, but then I realized you probably already have that area covered.”

Kenny held up a hand, signaling for Justin to stop another bickering session with the school’s Queen Bee. “Not right now, Justin. There’s something I need to discuss with Wilberforce in private.”

“What?” Justin asked in surprise. “Dude, you know who you’re dealing with, right?”

“Trust me, I got this,” Kenny insisted. “Please, Justin. Keep walking.”

Justin held his hands up in mock surrender. “Alright, man. Don’t say I didn’t try to stop you getting involved with the likes of her.” He backed off and continued on his way down the hall.

“What a nice friend,” Julie noted sarcastically.

“Cut to the chase. What are you really here for?”

“I want to know how your day went.”

“Well,” Kenny noted, entertaining her, “after having the pleasure of chatting with you this morning, I proceeded to the vending machines to purchase a small decaf light roast with two creams and one lump of sugar before heading off to Math ...”

“Did you talk to Jack?” she interrupted.

The gig was up. She finally had gotten straight to the point. “Yeah. And lucky for you, they hauled him into the precinct this morning. I got a chance to talk to him. Told him to stay away from Lisa like you asked.”

“And what did he say?” Julie pressed.

“Nothing,” continued in a calm manner. “He just looked at me like he wanted to kill me. And who knows what kind of weapons him and his Aunt Rosa might own? If he’s after me now, I hold you responsible, Julie.” Kenny finished and turned around and began heading towards the building exit.

“I’m not finished with you yet, Kenny!” Julie screeched when he was a good distance away, but Kenny didn’t care. Repeating the incident at the police station with Jack infuriated him. Lisa Hartley belonged to one of the ruling families of the city, with enough political clout to topple the Wilberforce estate. Pity that Jonathan and Elizabeth Hartley had their noses buried too deep into their research to realize what was going on around them, and poor Lisa had to bear the brunt of the politics; politics that manifested itself in the form of Julie Wilberforce. When he first arrived in Raccoon, Lisa had been there from day one and remained the only person who stood by unwaveringly by this side. And over the past few years, Kenny reciprocated and had gradually become of the few uptown kids Lisa Hartley trusted with her life - an honor he’d never known previously.

“I said I’m not done!” Julie hissed, grabbing Kenny by the shoulder and spinning him around to face her.

But what Julie saw was not the calm, indifferent visage that had walked away from her moments ago. It was Kenny’s red, tear streaked face, expression crumbled into a hateful scowl.

“Well, I am,” he said. Kenny’s fingers curled tightly into balled fists, trembling at his sides. “I did what you asked. And I’m finished being your political puppet.”

“As long as I hold your immigration status in here,” Julie threatened, tapping a finger against her head, “you’ll be whatever I want you to be.”

“Fuck you,” Kenny said and turned around to continue on his way.

But a step or two was all he was able to take as his momentum brought him into the presence of Lisa Hartley - his friend - who stood there, eyes glaring hatefully at him from beneath brown bangs. Her face was equally red as his, the corners of her large brown eyes spilling fresh, hot tears down her face. Lisa’s wore an expression of pain, of betrayal. From behind him, Kenny heard Julie gasp, as if she had been just as surprised at Lisa’s presence as he was.

Lisa took an exaggerated, delicate step towards Kenny and put her hands on his shoulders. She looked him squarely in the eyes and whispered, “Please don’t tell me what Jack said was true.”

“I don’t know what Jack told you,” Kenny replied gently, cupping her face between his hands. With his thumbs, he rubbed away the tears streaking down her face. “Lisa, please.”

“He said you told him to stay away from me,” she said, visibly shaking from restraining her anger. “He said you threatened him.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Tell me it’s not true, Kenny.” He looked into her eyes. The poor girl didn’t want to hear the truth. She was practically begging him to lie.

He looked over his shoulder at Julie, who stood behind them with a bemused smirk. She slid her tongue across her top row of teeth and taunted him with a wink. But Kenny couldn’t lie. Not to Lisa.

“It’s true, but ...”

Before Kenny could carry on, the felt the hot, painful sting of a violent slap across his left cheek. The force threw his jaw over his right shoulder and he stumbled backwards from the shock. He stumbled to regain his balance before crashing into Julie. The Queen Bee however, didn’t seem the least bit fazed. Instead, she looked at Lisa.

“Christ, Kenny,” Julie mocked. “Did you really threaten Jack today? You’ve sure got some balls doing that, especially when you know him and Lisa are ... how should I say this? Romantically involved?” Julie trotted over to Lisa and put a pair of comforting hands on the girl’s shoulders. She whispered audibly into Lisa’s ear. “I’d be careful who I hang around with. Kenny not exactly the best example of Uptown Raccoon, given the company he keeps with Justin Thomas and Phil Barrett. Guess we can’t expect anything more from someone who was abandoned by his own parents.” She tossed her head and walked down the hall, completely content with herself.

“Abandoned?” Lisa asked incredulously. All indication of her previous hostility was gone now, having transformed completely into a question borne out of sheer curiosity. “What is she talking about, Kenny?”


La Boutique
Brentford District
6:24pm

“It’s perfect.”

Cranky cocked an eyebrow in disbelief at Mrs. Wade as he stared at himself in a full length mirror, one of many that lined the stores of “La Boutique” in Uptown Raccoon City. In a retail store filled with outlandish costumes, of which included a female battle-suit with red wig and STARS uniform as Mrs. Wade had mentioned before, he was nearly floored to find a suit, let alone one that had somewhat fit him. He gave a quarter turn towards the mirror examining the cut of the suit, and where the seams, cuffs and collars fit on his frame. The collar, even with the top button left unfastened, wrapped a little too tightly around his neck. His hands appeared like giant bricks beyond the cuffs of the black jacket, fastened with two large black buttons on his lower abdomen. Mrs. Wade tugged at the emerald tie she’d tied expertly around his collarbone and now stood in front of him, sliding the knot up towards Cranky’s throat.

“This should bring out your eyes,” she said, taking a step back from her handiwork. She placed her hands on her hips and took a step to the side, allowing Cranky to examine himself in the mirror.

“Well that’s one more item to cross off my worry-list,” he noted sarcastically. Cranky raised his arms into a T-pose, noticing the shoulders of his jacket rise in response. “But my range of motion isn’t exactly varied.”

“Varied enough,” Mrs. Wade chuckled, slapping lightly on the shoulder. She stepped towards an approaching sales clerk, high heels tapping against the linoleum flooring. “We’ll take it.”

The sales clerk bowed her head in acknowledgement while Mrs. Wade pointed towards the changing room. “Get back into your clothes,” she requested. “I’ve got this covered.” She reached into the breast pocket of her dress shirt and produced a credit card.

Cranky frowned disapprovingly at her. “You realize I’m only going to be stuck in this get-up for one night, right?”

“I’m not going to lose face bringing an under-dressed guest to tonight’s soiree,” Mrs. Wade said with finality. “Now, get!”

Cranky did as he was told and disappeared behind the full length curtain to the adjacent changing booth. Mrs. Wade, in the meantime turned around to give him some privacy, facing the entrance of the store, just in time to see the boutique doors swing open to reveal the form of a middle-aged man, blonde locks slicked back against his skull.

The man took notice of her presence and greeted her with a warm smile. “Barbara,” he said, clasping her hand in his. Piercing blue eyes stared into hers with subtle accusation. “What brings you to La Boutique?” His tone, while amused, was borderline shocked.

“Lawrence Wilberforce,” Mrs. Wade replied with mock courtesy, “what a pleasure to run into you. I’m just here with a friend shopping for an appropriate outfit for tonight’s welcoming soiree for the new Whitchley family. I’m simply thrilled to welcome such fresh, wealthy blood amongst our ranks.”

“As you would,” Mr. Wilberforce replied, eyeing Mrs. Wade suspiciously. “We certainly are thrilled to welcome the ... um, the family ...” He twirled a finger in the air to recall their names.

“Their daughter is Milly, I believe,” Mrs. Wade added, hoping to jog his memory as she found herself unable to recall their first names.

“Yes, Milly,” he agreed, “the new girl, and her parents.”

“And how is your daughter, Julie?” Mrs. Wade asked, folding her hands politely in front of her.

“She’s legitimately concerned for your well being,” Mr. Wilberforce asserted. He combed a lock of his hair behind his ears with his fingers. “I understand you went through some trying times last night.”

“Nothing I won’t be able to overcome,” Mrs. Wade reassured him.

“Attempted rape is hardly something to easily overcome.”

Mrs. Wade froze. She hadn’t released the details of last night’s ordeal. Yet here he was, the slime-ball of Raccoon City suggesting she had gone through exactly what she had, without any concrete proof. She didn’t know which scared her more; his accuracy, or the fact that he’d achieved it without a shred of credible evidence. Thankfully, she did not have to continue the awkward conversation, as Cranky emerged from the dressing room clad in his regular street clothes consisting of a white T-shirt and boot-cut jeans. In one hand, he held the suit on a hanger and headed over to Mrs. Wade. That was when he noticed the additional company.

He wiped his free hand against his thigh and extended it to Mr. Wilberforce in a friendly gesture. Instead of returning it, the older man looked down with an expression of disdain at Cranky’s calloused hand, and back up at his face, and finally back to Mrs. Wade. Cranky realized that he must have looked like hell to the gentleman, with a cut lip and bruised face from the brief physical confrontation with the police chief the night prior.

“This is your ‘friend’, Barbara?” he asked her, tipping his chin at Cranky’s general direction. “A little young, don’t you think?” Mrs. Wade opened her mouth to retort but Cranky was quicker at the draw.

“Not young enough to be spoken for though, I assure you,” he asserted, positioning himself between Mr. Wilberforce and Mrs. Wade. “I don’t believe I’ve had the ...” Cranky looked him up and down, “...pleasure.” He stood with squared shoulders, free hand in the pocket of his jeans, with the other holding the hanger with suit draped over his shoulder.

“Lawrence Wilberforce,” the older man replied. He nodded curtly. “I’m sorry to be a bother. I should really get to collecting my personalized order from the service counter. Good day to you.”

“Can’t imagine you’d have anything to add to your wardrobe for tonight,” Mrs. Wade quipped, from behind Cranky.

“Oh, it’s not for me,” Mr. Wilberforce assured. “It’s a necklace for Julie. She insisted on it, and we know what teenagers are like when they’ve found their voice, but not their independence.” He parted and headed for the cashier, back turned to Mrs. Wade and Cranky.

As soon as he was a safe distance away, Cranky whispered to Mrs. Wade. “Is that the kind of company you keep?”

“Just keeping up appearances, Mr. Crankurt,” she replied in an equally hushed whisper and headed towards the second till to pay for the suit. “Lawrence Wilberforce is only one of the top lawyers in town, sporting deep connections with the Umbrella Corporation. His name is among the elite in Raccoon City so in the future, I’d appreciate it very much if you would let me take the lead.”

“Lady,” he said, irritated, “let’s not forget one simple thing. I’m the one doing you a favor. We might be square from last night, but after tonight your rich ass is going to be in my debt. Again.”

Mrs. Wade met him with a puzzled expression. “You’re keeping tabs?”

“Damned straight, I am.”

The response earned a curious look from Mrs. Wade. She tilted her head and looked at him for the corners of her eyes suspiciously. “You don’t come from privilege, do you?”

Cranky took a step back, alarmed. Who was this woman? How was she able to spring such judgment on him without him suspecting it? And that’s when he realized it.

“Hmph,” Mrs. Wade said, turning her attention to the suit, which she took from his grasp. “I didn’t think so.”

“Good to know I’ve got some company in Raccoon City then,” he replied without missing a beat.


Rooftop Helipad
Raccoon City Police Precinct
7:33 pm

For the second night in a row, Kenny stood on the helipad rooftop of the RPD precinct, the same cold breeze whipping at his form. The same, clouded, purple sky loomed overhead, coloured by the setting sun. He gazed out into the city, noting how quiet it had gotten. Normally the streets would be busier, abundant with night life. But with the cannibal murders, he supposed people were starting to get a little nervous. He also subconsciously noticed a strange scent lingering in the air, an odor that reeked of sickness and decay. He blinked his eyes and took another breath through his nostrils, but this time he wasn’t able to detect it. Strange indeed.

But he couldn’t shake the ominous of something heavy in the air. It was just like last night; the same air, the same sky, the same place. Bravo never returned home. Would this mission end with the same result as well?

Kenny looked over his shoulder at the STARS Alpha team members, mentally preparing for their mission. Officer Chris Redfield sat on a crate lining the wall beside the door leading back inside. He was checking his handgun, loading it with 9mm rounds as he sat, looking like he had trouble moving his combat gear. Beside him, Office Jill Valentine stood in her blue fatigues and impossibly large shoulder pads. She stood with one arm folded casually, the other holding a smoking cigarette. Different ways to cope with the same kind of stress, Kenny guessed.

Unlike the night before, the mood was much more somber. The air hung heavy over everyone’s heads. Captain Wesker delivered the briefing speech as Kenny once again scrambled to hand out the notes to the half-attentive STARS Officers. There were not standing disciplined in a neat row like their predecessors. They looked as if they were half listening to Captain Wesker’s words.

Officer Joseph Frost sat silently on his knees on the pavement of the helipad, quiet as a ghost. His eyes were locked onto the ground before him while his girlfriend, Officer Amber Bernstein knelt beside him, tying his bandana tightly around his head. It was then that Kenny remembered the ring that he hid in the STARS locker. Officer Frost was going to propose to her with that ring the moment he got back from the mission, at least that’s what Officer McGraw had conveyed. He was going to make Officer Bernstein his wife. And indeed now, that’s what they looked like; a married couple. She was the loving wife, preparing to see her husband off to war while she remained at home to worry at every waking moment for his safety. She hadn’t made a single joke to Kenny or anyone else that day. Whatever was going through her head, it was enough to stifle her normally cheerful nature that evening.

A trail of tears dripped down the side of Officer Amber Bernstein’s face. Her eyes were red, bloodshot, but she carried on performing her duties, focusing on making Officer Frost as comfortable as she could before he left her. Looking at them, knowing he had play a part, however small, in their future together, compelled Kenny to say something. He joined them on the ground, bend down on a knee, extra sheets of the mission briefing notes flapping in his hand.

“Officer Bernstein, Frost.” And then Kenny froze. What was he supposed to say next? He struggled to find the following words for only a second, and felt a rush of relief as Officer Bernstein broke the awkward silence.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said, without pausing to make eye contact with him. “This isn’t a regular mission. It’s a rescue mission.”

“It’s my job to help around wherever I can,” Kenny replied a little defensively. “And ... after what happened here last night, I just wanted to make sure ...”

“We should have listened yesterday,” Officer Bernstein interrupted. “And I’m sorry we didn’t. But we won’t be making that mistake again. And I don’t want to put you in a situation like this. You should be at home where it’s safe.” It was as good as an apology Kenny was going to get for having his concerns be ignored last night and he knew it. She didn’t seem to be in the most diplomatic mood so Kenny felt it best that he left her be for the moment, but not before handing Officer Frost a copy of the mission notes.

As he stood up and walked back to the door leading inside. Officer Redfield was still perched upon the crate, clip loading, emptying, and reloading his handgun. Officer Valentine continued smoking away at her cigarette. They each absent-mindedly accepted a copy of the notes from him without so much as looking at him.

And then Kenny felt something that surprised him - a short but intense stab of rage from the depths of his gut. Compared to the others who accompanied him on the RPD helipad that night, he was the walking definition of the term junior. A fifteen year old high school sophomore standing next to the most battle-hardened soldiers he’d ever had the honor of being in the presence of. And in the spirit of that superiority, they had blatantly ignored his warnings from the night prior. Officer Bernstein’s comment was the closest he was going to get towards some form of recognition. Officer Redfield, who sat silently occupied with his firearm had barely looked at him tonight, despite after disregarding Kenny’s warnings, even closing a door in his face to silence him.

And Kenny was conflicted. On one hand, what reason did they have to listen to their most junior of interns? On the other, he’d never felt so invisible in his life, especially regarding something so important. He looked at Officer Redfield, attempting to give him an expression that demanded information. A brief moment later, Redfield met his gaze with his own.

“Go home, kiddo.”

This wasn’t a situation for civilians, let alone minors.

There was something big going on that not even they had figured out yet.

They were scared themselves but didn’t want to show it.

Any of those reasons would have satisfied Kenny. But once again, an order was all that was given to him. It was a toned as a friendly enough request. But he opened his mouth to respond as Redfield continued staring at him, squared jaw locked with tension, daring Kenny to challenge him.

“S...sorry, Officer Redfield,” Kenny stammered. “Is there anything else I can do before I ...”

“Just be safe.”

Kenny looked to Officer Valentine for something, anything to make him feel better. It came in the form of a warm, sympathetic smile.

“We’ll be seeing you tomorrow morning when you come in for your shift, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kenny mumbled sadly, making his way down the stairs to the ground level as STARS Alpha began climbing into the helicopter. Goodbyes and well wishes were gradually getting drowned out by the growing volume of the vehicles engines. The sound of blades whipping the air was the last thing Kenny heard as he reached the ground floor and entered the building, before closing the door shut firmly behind him.


1025 Wembley Road
Whitchley District
Uptown Raccoon City
8:30pm

Cranky could hardly hold his jaw shut as he turned his head in every which direction, taking in his surroundings. In his twenty-five years on this planet, he had never imagined surroundings so lavish could even exist, let alone visit one himself. From the streets, houses - if they could be called that - looked more to him like rows and rows of miniature walled communities hiding behind brick facades topped with iron bars with trimmed ivy forming a visual barrier between them. With Mrs. Wade’s arm wrapped around his elbow, he led the way as the iron gates opened before the pair, leading into acres of carefully tended gardens and fountains. The walkway leading up to the front doors of the home was lined with gentle lights embedded into the marble flooring, and all sorts of thick, exotic vegetation. Cranky took a deep breath, getting lost in the scent of flowers and money.

“You could put a little more effort into looking like you’ve seen all this before,” Mrs. Wade noted, bring his attention back to earth. For a lady approaching middle age, Cranky had to admit to himself that she still looked fine with her poise, elegance, and grace, in her black dress. Dirty blonde curls were wrapped into a loose bun at the top of her head, held in place at the base by a ring of pearls.

“You said we were going to a house,” Cranky replied, “not a castle.” And he wouldn’t have been far off. Though far from the ancient crumbling structures of medieval Europe, this home, with its multi-tiered towers standing proudly from the body of the building, the large open concept dining space, the expansive outdoor deck made from the finest redwood in the area, the outdoor kitchen, could easily be considered a castle.

Music from a live string quarter could be heard coming from the back of the home, bathing the entire property in a sense of serenity. Cranky took a glance over his shoulder and spotted Mrs. Wade’s teenage daughter, Luanne, who was busy texting on her phone, oblivious to the grandeur that surrounded her. Cranky didn’t get it.

The girl certainly looked like her mother, but in stark contrast seemed to lack appreciation for ... well, anything. She maintained a distance away from Cranky and her mother - far enough away to be mistaken for being part of another party, yet close enough for her to associate with them should she change her mind.

They reached the entrance foyer of the home as the giant oak doors were opened by a pair of sleek, young looking doormen. There must have been at least a dozens of people present here tonight, and yet there was enough space inside the Romanesque foyer to avoid feeling cramped. The men, like him, were dressed in their finest suits complete with bowties, carnations and all. Women were sported dresses of all sorts of cuts, materials and hues. Everywhere he looked, Cranky spotted something of value - jeweled cufflinks, diamond rings, golden earring, pearl necklaces, silk shawls, priceless pottery ... He fought off the overwhelming urge to reach out and pocket something, and though it had been a long time since he’d done it, he was sure his skills hadn’t dulled. It wasn’t until they passed a room that Cranky had initially assumed was a lounge, that Luanne made her announcement.

“Here’s my stop, Mom,” she said, not looking up from her phone, and took a detour into the room.

“Looks like your friends are here too, if their parents are,” Mrs. Wade noted, glancing at a group of adults gathered around a punch bowl.

“Hold on a moment, Luanne,” Cranky said, taking a step after her. She didn’t pay him any attention, but it was her mother who tugged gently on her elbow.

“Don’t bother,” Mrs. Wade advised, “We can either let the evening continue in peace, or we can instigate the teenage scream-out of the summer. And after last night, I’d prefer the former.”

Cranky gave a sigh in defeat but continued watching Luanne for a moment, out of curiosity, to see what exactly it she was up to. The girl walked met with a group of four other girls, led by a platinum blonde girl around the same age, easily with twice as much makeup as the rest of the put together. Nearby, at the bar, a group of teenage boys stood of varying heights. They each held a can of beer in their hands, talking loudly, hands gesturing animatedly in the air, threatening to accidentally spill onto the girls, though neither party seemed bothered.

One of the bigger boys adjusted his position and took a step to the right - and his large form moved to reveal Cranky’s target standing among them. The reason he came into Raccoon City in the first place.

It took every ounce of strength in his body to fight the instinct to grab the target and haul-ass out of town. It would have been easy enough. Just a tap on the shoulder, charm them into a conversation, lead them away from the larger group, and a knock-out pressure point press on the neck.

But the informer’s voice rang at the back of his head.

“Target is suffering from an acute case of amnesia. We can’t afford to trigger any sudden memories.”

Cranky’s heart dropped into his stomach with disappointment when he heard Mrs. Wade’s voice again, thankful for the distraction. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to some of the major players in town.”

He reluctantly followed behind her as she led him over to the group of adults gathered around the punch bowl, all of them in their late forties to early fifties. Cranky shifted uncomfortably in his suit. Being older than their kids, but yet much younger than the folk to which he was about to be introduced, there wasn’t really an demographic he could easily relate to in this house so far.

“I believe you’ve already met Mr. Lawrence Wilberforce,” Mrs. Wade said, gesturing towards the man Cranky had run into earlier today at the boutique. He wore the same disdainful expression on his face as when they’d first met, but was quicker to shake Cranky’s hand this time around.

“This is my wife,” Lawrence said with a painfully effortful smile, “Alicia.”

“Alicia Wilberforce,” the elegant woman said, reaching out a gloved hand. Cranky took it in his own and planted a soft kiss on the back of her palm. “I’d introduce you to our daughter Julie but Lord knows where she could be in this house.”

Cranky almost smirked. Mrs. Alicia Wilberforce looked like an older version of the overly loud, blonde teenage girl he’d spotted only moments ago. The exception was that the older version, while equally blonde, sported oversized bouffant and a few squirts of too much perfume.

“Pleasure,” he said, “Craig Crankurt.”

“Oh,” Alicia said, tilting her head to the side, “Strong sounding name. I see you are accompanying Barbara this evening?”

Cranky and Mrs. Wade looked at each other nervously.

“Yes,” Mrs. Wade agreed, “He’s a friend of mine, and I thought it’d be a good idea that he came along because ...”

“Yes, we heard,” Alicia Wilberforce cooed, ruby lips pursed into an O. “Barbara, darling, you must be so traumatized from the experience. Perhaps it would have been a better idea for you to have stayed home tonight?”

“I thought it would have been better for me to get out and not be tortured by my own thoughts,” Mrs. Wade replied.

“Alicia,” Cranky interrupted strongly, “with all due respect, perhaps it would be prudent to reserve this topic for a more private audience.”

“Yes, of course,” Alicia agreed, a corner of her mouth tilting upwards in a smirk. “Lawrence, perhaps you could show Mr. Crankurt around, introduce him to the other gentlemen. I’d love to have a minute with Barbara, see how she’s doing.”

“Brilliant idea, my dear,” Lawrence agreed. “If you’d come with me over to the lounge, Mr. Crankurt, there are some individuals I’m sure who would love to meet you.”

As Mr. Wilberforce was leading Cranky away, he looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Wade who now stood alone with Alicia. She gave him a curt nod, urging him to go on. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the two of them had something to discuss.


Lounge
1025 Wembley Road
Whitchley District
Uptown Raccoon City
8:26pm

Soft clicks from formal footwear clicking on the tiled floor, the old oak finish of the establishment and the wall to ceiling windows of the room and the vague hint of cigar smoke in the air created a facade of serenity and good times that barely concealed the tension that belied it. It hung over the heads of the teenage elite in Raccoon City Secondary School, now gathered around a circle of lounge seats and sofas. Not everyone was present, of course, but enough of the core to settle business at hand.

Kenny sat on the edge of the sofa, his hands folded nervously in front of his lap, hiding his clammy palms. His fingers toyed with the cufflinks on the wrist of his tuxedo. He subconsciously ran the bottom of his chin on the top rim of the bowtie fastened in at the base of his throat. He was flanked on one side, by his best friend Justin Thomas who sat appearing equally nervous as Kenny himself. On the other side sat the head of Uptown Raccoon City High boys group, Phil Barrett. Even seated, Phil was literally a head taller than his peers. Blond hair cropped close to his scalp, thick necked and broad shouldered, his physicality exuded dominance and was easily the male equivalent of Julie Wilberforce, who sat across the boys, facing them.

Julie smirked at Phil, with one leg crossed elegantly over the other, baring white, diamond tipped stilettos. Her blonde, curly locks draped over her shoulders like a shawl. Mirroring her posture to her left sat her groupies Leonie Brown and Sarah Lee Robertson, and to her right, Mary Perceval. Sarah Lee looked up from her phone to inform the group.

“Just got a text from Luanne,” Sarah-Lee reported. “Says she’s just passed the front gates.” Kenny shot her a look, but she didn’t appear to dare meet his gaze.

“Good,” Julie said, returning her attention back to Phil. “I suppose we should wrap this up quickly then. Luanne’s been through enough, and I don’t think we’ll need to expose her to this ... uncomfortable situation.”

“This isn’t about Luanne, and you know it,” Phil replied, voice booming. “This is about you overstepping your boundaries.”

“And who are you to put limits on me?” Julie spat back. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the influence my father has on our tight knit community.”

“His reach is only as far as anyone’s willingness to keep him employed,” Phil reminded her. “And yours, even less so. I hear you’ve been using Kenny for your own personal agendas.” To Phil’s other side, his right hand man, Tyrone Hayes, folded his arms across his chest - an intimidation tactic.

All four girls rolled their eyes in response.

“Give Tyrone a rest,” Julie insisted. “Dressed like one of the downtown scum kids with designer shades, walking around like he’s got some kind of street cred? Please. The only woman that kid has the balls to lay his hands on is his little sister.”

Tyrone clenched his fists and leaned forward aggressively at the burn.

“You’re on thin ice, Wilberforce.” Phil grabbed a bottle of beer sitting on the coffee table between them and took a swig from it. “Kenny might not share our childhood but his place amongst our ranks is obvious as the makeup on your face. I don’t know what your agenda is, but you threaten him, you threaten me. So out with it. What is it you’re really after?”

“It’s an agenda but it’s not exclusively mine,” Julie said, all air of indifference aside. She sat now leaning forward, shoulders raised. “Jack Carpenter has managed to infiltrate our circle.”

“Hartley’s downtown dog?” Phil asked, brows rising in amusement. “I figured after all the beatings we gave him, he’d have learned to back off by now. Have you at least tried to talk to Lisa?”

“You don’t think I have?” Julie defended. “She still thinks all this is over who has flashier clothes and more money than the other.”

Phil cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Well, yes, to an extent it is,” she clarified.

“I’m still not seeing your point.”

“That’s why you’re a fool, Phil!” Julie scolded. “Lisa Hartley’s parents work for Umbrella - the very corporation that runs this town. If she manages to work in any form of sympathy towards those social rejects, it’ll transform this entire city. And you know what that means - we can kiss goodbye any chance of the prosperous future we’ve been otherwise guaranteed.”

“Well that certainly sounds like the kind of talk I’d expect out of Lisa’s best friend,” Justin noted sarcastically.

“Please,” Mary interrupted. “We all know the only one here who can be considered Lisa’s ‘friend’ is that one.” She tipped her chin at Kenny, who continued staring at the tips of his shoes.

“Which is exactly why I needed him,” Julie continued. “I’ve tried talking to Lisa but she won’t listen to me.”

“No, I follow you,” Phil agreed, nodding in thought. “We can’t have someone of her social stature entertaining charity cases, or they’ll come flooding into Uptown.”

“Upsetting the balance,” Julie finished. “And I for one, don’t want to inherit a slum. Phil, you need to understand why I did what I did. It’s for everyone’s benefit, not just mine. And as far as Kenny is concerned, he’s only got his pride to lose.”

“What about my home, Julie?!” Kenny piped up angrily, but was interrupted as Phil stretched an arm across him to silence the younger boy, earning him a shrug from her in response.

“Collateral damage.”

“That’s enough, Wilberforce,” Phil commanded. “I get where you’re coming from but your efforts are misplaced. If you need one of my guys to help, you let me know. I get that Jack Carpenter and Lisa Hartley’s relationship is a problem, and I’ll do what I can to help. But if I find you using my guys without my permission, there will be hell to pay.”

Julie stood from her seat, the sudden motion motivated by rage. “Don’t you dare threaten me, Phil Barrett, or I swear to God I’ll report how you treat the ladies of Raccoon to you mother. Both of them.”

In response, the four boys stood from their seats as well.

“Just stating the facts, Wilber-whore,” Phil growled through gritted teeth.

Julie’s groupies then stood too, after his words, the two groups staring each other down like some kind of showdown was about to take place. And it was that moment when the voice of an outsider interrupted their conversation.

“Hey girls!”

It was Luanne Wade, who had finally arrived to the gathering that night. With her arrival, the two groups of teens disbanded, with Luanne joining the girls. Before Sarah-Lee could get too involved in the brief reunion however, Kenny reached out and tugged on her elbow.

“Hey, can I have a word with you?”

“This really isn’t a good time, Kenny,” she replied.

“When is it ever?” he asked with frustration. “You’ve been distant the past few days. And I need to figure out what’s going on in your head. Enlighten me?”

Sarah-Lee sighed. “Five minutes, Kenny.”

“More than enough time,” he said, smiling happily. Sarah Lee allowed Kenny to take her hand in his and the pair walked over to the self service bar where he produced two glasses from behind the counter.

Sarah Lee blushed from behind dark bangs, and bit her lower lip. “Scotch, on the rocks.”

“I like your style,” Kenny winked, and grabbed the darkest scotch he could find on the display shelf behind him, pouring its contents into her glass until it filled up a third of it. He poured some for himself before capping the bottle and putting it back on the shelf. The pair held up their glasses. “I’ve gotta admit, I’m not entirely sure I can stomach ...”

Sarah Lee threw her head back along with the glass and downed the scotch in a single gulp. She scrunched her face and slammed the glass back down on the counter, and coughed once, giving Kenny a waft of boozy breath.

“That’s not how you drink scotch, Sarah ...” Kenny brought his own glass to his lips and sipped from it. He, too, made a face. Unlike Sarah, his was from distaste.

“I’m sorry Julie used you the way she did,” Sarah apologized on her friend’s behalf. She put a delicate hand over Kenny’s. “For what it’s worth, I asked her not to follow through with her threat. Turns out she wasn’t planning on it, anyway. She just wanted the correct reaction from you.”

“That calculating bitch,” Kenny spat under his breath. “Well she certainly got what she wanted.”

“The Hartley situation’s got her nervous,” Sarah admitted. “Julie acts like she’s doing this for everyone but the truth is the Wilberforce Estate is in serious trouble if they lose the support from the Hartley’s.” She pushed her glass towards Kenny, motioning for him to refill it. He obliged, but avoided pouring himself one this time. Sarah took the glass and gulped her second just as quickly as she did the first. She wiped the back of her hand across her lips.

“Uncle Lawrence certainly has enough money to maintain whatever twisted lifestyle he’s built for his family here,” Kenny insisted. “Why does he need the support from the Hartley’s?”

“The Ecliptic Express went missing last night,” she elaborated. “You’ve probably heard about it at work today.”

“Understatement of the year,” Kenny replied, “they were holding press conferences this morning. Media hounds are focusing more on the financial impact than the number of missing lives.”

“Bingo,” Sarah said, smiling. “The Ecliptic Express was the first of a new line of trains built by the Lonsdale Corporation. My dad’s got a few thousand dollars invested in them, and he was all over the stocks this morning. One day and they’ve already lost a ton of money. If the Lonsdale’s fall from grace, Lawrence and Alicia Wilberforce are poised to take the position as Raccoon’s golden family. They never liked Dennis and Gloria Lonsdale anyway, or so Julie says. The problem is, without Umbrella’s support, the Wilberforce’s don’t get the leg-up they need. So that’s where Jonathan and Elizabeth Hartley come in.”

“Why not just wait for the Londsdale’s to fall beneath them?” Kenny asked.

“Come on, do you really think they’d settle for a default victory? Better to kick the Lonsdales when they’re down. And Umbrella’s endorsement is one hell of a kick.”

Kenny dropped his face into his palms. “God, this is so convoluted. My head hurts.”

“I know, right?” Sarah agreed. “Here, let me get you a drink that’ll help.” She got off her bar stool and joined Kenny on the other side of the counter. She began swiping bottle after bottle from the display case and setting them down on the counter. He gave her a quizzical look.

“What are you doing?”

“Rocky Mountain Bear Fucker,” she replied, sounding excited. “It’s nasty, but it should take set your headache right.” Moments later, Sarah set in front of Kenny a glass filled to the brim with an amber looking drink that smelled as foul as it looked. She looked down excitedly at the glass and then back up at him, urging him with a slight nod of her chin to go ahead and down the vile concoction.

Kenny picked up the glass, careful to limit the spilling of the liquid, and prepared to pinch his nose. “If she finds out what you just told me, Julie’s gonna have your head.”

“I get the feeling I don’t need to worry about you keeping my secrets, Kenny.”

Kenny drank the “Rocky Mountain Bear Fucker”, as Sarah had so eloquently put it. It stung his mouth, throat, and esophagus as he swallowed it. He crunched his face, and squeezed out tears from the corners of his eyes. He tried to cough but his mouth was locked closed. At the back of his mind, he thought he registered Sarah laughing at his reaction.

The moment of light hearted humor was short lived however. Through Kenny’s recovering vision, he spotted Mr. Wilberforce approach them, accompanied by a stranger. As his vision sharpened, he recognized his companion as the man Kenny ran into at the Apple Inn bar last night - the large, fiery haired man. Sarah gasped at their approached as Kenny attempted to choke out a polite greeting. He never got the chance though, as Mr. Wilberforce was the first to speak.

“Are you two kids drinking?”

The teens recoiled in horror, both understanding where he was coming from, as one of the top lawyers in Raccoon City. And he had just caught them in the act of underage drinking.

“It was his idea!” Sarah cried, pointing an accusing finger at Kenny. “Please excuse me, I have to speak with my mother.” With that, Sarah barged through between the two adults and ran off somewhere, leaving Kenny alone to fend for himself.

“There goes your back up,” the stranger commented.

“Young Kenny,” Mr. Wilberforce chided, “you’re an upstanding honor student at school with an internship at the RPD. Are you sure you want to be engaging in these ... acts? I’ll have you know that Chief Irons and Senior Officer Marvin Branagh are in attendance tonight.”

“S...sorry, Uncle Lawrence,” Kenny apologized, not knowing what else to say after having been caught red handed.

“Hmph, even under duress, you’re as polite as ever.”

The stranger raised a hand, silencing Mr. Wilberforce. “I’ll take care of this,” he offered. “Just make sure the RPD representatives are kept entertained. No need to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. I’m sure we can sweep this incident under the rug without much fuss.”

Mr. Wilberforce pointed a finger at Kenny before leaving. “Don’t let me catch you doing this again.”

The pair waited for Mr. Wilberforce to leave the room before the stranger looked down at Kenny and smiled.

“Amateur.”


Garden
1025 Wembley Road
Whitchley District
Uptown Raccoon City
9:05pm

It was at Kenny’s request that he now sat on the grass somewhere in the garden, under a willow tree. The fiery-haired stranger had accompanied him, half supporting Kenny, half carrying him as they walked. The liquor Kenny had ingested was hitting him hard and fast, and he was had long since lost his balance. The stranger now stood leaning against the trunk of the tree, arms folded as he watched the teen. He held in his hand a glass of Irish whisky that Kenny didn’t remember pouring for himself before leading him out here.

“Head between your knees,” the stranger ordered, sipping the Irish whiskey from his glass.

Kenny did as he was told but felt his stomach churn, threatening to spill its contents on the grass.

“How does that feel?”

Kenny gagged, and felt a rush of warm, acidic liquid travel from the depths of his stomach, up this throat and onto the grass. And it wouldn’t stop. Torrents of vomit spilled forth from his mouth, tasting like pure, hard alcohol. The taste caused his stomach to throw up more of its contents until he was dry heaving on the ground on all fours.

“Dang, all that wasted liquor.” The stranger reached behind him and pulled out a bottle. “I’ve got more right here if you want it.”

“No, please,” Kenny begged. “No more.”

“That’s too bad,” the stranger shrugged, “Cause I don’t think I could finish this all by myself.”

Kenny gave him a weak, but spiteful glare. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

A wide grin spread across the strangers face. “Thoroughly. So tell me, are you gonna drink like that again?”

“No, sir,” Kenny replied weakly. When he had come to his bearings, he crawled over to the trunk of the tree land leaned against its base. He reached into the breast pocket of his tuxedo and pulled out a cigarette, and lit it, earning him a soft gasp from the stranger.

“What’s your name?”

“Kenneth Feng,” Kenny replied after taking his first drag. “You?”

“Just call me Cranky,” the stranger said.

Kenny let out a tired chuckle. “Your parents name you that?”

“My little brother did,” Cranky said, surprisingly stone faced. Kenny looked at him inquisitively, hoping for some kind of elaboration but Cranky changed the subject instead. “So how do you fit into this all this?” He waved his hand in the general direction of the mansion, brightly lit against the darkening summer sky.

“The kids,” Kenny explained. “They’re my friends from school. Tonight’s soiree is held by a new family that just moved into town a month or so back. Their daughter, Milly, started summer school classes with us, but we haven’t gotten a proper chance to meet her family yet.” He took another drag of his cigarette. “I got invited tonight as Sarah’s plus-one.”

“Your parents weren’t invited?” Cranky asked.

“They ...” Kenny paused, not knowing what to say next, though he had lied about his family a million times before. The alcohol was definitely getting to him. “They’re busy.”

“I see ...” Cranky mumbled, seemingly distracted. He gazed off in the distance, towards the house, deep in thought.

“I remember you from last night,” Kenny continued. “You were at the Apple Inn - around the time when Mrs. Wade ...”

“Mrs. Wade is fine,” Cranky interrupted. “Luckily I was there at the right time.”

“Wait ...” Kenny paused. “You saw who did it?”

“I fought the guy off,” Cranky replied, displaying his cut knuckles.

Kenny looked at the cuts. They were deep and looked they had been recently washed. The wounds showed the beginnings of scabs forming around their edges. He looked back up at Cranky. “So who was it?!”

“Listen ...” Cranky looked at Kenny like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t bring himself to. “It doesn’t matter. It’s over now, and Mrs. Wade is safe. That’s all you need to know.”

“I didn’t mean to pry,” Kenny said apologetically. “It’s just that ... with all the strange things going on in town lately, people are a little spooked, paranoid even. I guess I’m no exception.”

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Cranky said, “but I just got into town yesterday. What kind of strange things are you talking about?”

“Attacks,” Kenny clarified, “in the mountains. Missing people. Body parts floating in the rivers.” Another drag from the cigarette. “And lately, we’ve been hearing these sounds from the forests. They sound like ... moans. Normally, Raccoon City is a paradise for the outdoor types in the summer, but this year’s been different. You picked a bad time to come, Mr. Cranky.”

“I didn’t come here to hike,” Cranky replied distantly.

“Then why else would you be here?” Kenny asked. “Visiting family?” Cranky opened his mouth to respond but no sound came out. The guy certainly acted like there was something he wanted to say but was only able to stop himself short from saying it.

“You could say that.”

“Look,” Kenny said, growing impatient, “you suck at hiding what’s going on in your head. But you don’t have to answer my questions if you don’t want to. I’m just trying to make conversation. I better get back inside. The others are probably wondering where I am.” He dusted off his knees and rose to a standing position when the world started spinning around him. He could feel himself toppling over, flaying his skinny arms outward to catch his balance. He felt Cranky’s hands on his shoulders, pushing him back down into a sitting position.

“You’re in no shape to be going anywhere, Kenny,” Cranky advised. “I’ll go get your friends to fetch you.”

“Kenny?” the teen asked. “I may be wasted but I know I didn’t tell you to call me that.” He looked at Cranky with an accusatory glance.

Cranky shrugged. “I guess I just assumed. You told me your name is Kenneth, after all.”

“No ...” Kenny countered, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. He raised an index finger at Cranky and wagged it. “You ...”

“... have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Cranky interrupted. He took a few steps towards the house, calling out to Kenny behind him. “Stay here and I’ll send someone after you.”

Cranky froze in his tracks however, as a blood-curdling scream came from the house. The sound caused Kenny’s blood to freeze in his veins, and the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. The scream was followed by another, and another, until it sounded as something had caused the guests to panic en masse.

“What the hell is going on?!” Kenny cried, using the tree trunk for support as he crawled upward into a standing position. “It sounds like ...”

“I said sit the fuck down!” Cranky ordered, before dashing off towards the house.

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