The beer tent was likely the single most exciting tent in the world for a seventeen year old female at a music festival. As far as the eye could see, the hastily collected shelves displayed a thick collection of beers, wines, spirits and further concoctions. Some, a vast majority in fact, Mercy had never even heard of, but that only made her want to try them more. At the counter, the company behind the tent had set up pumps specifically for the sake of a realistic bar experience, and the benches, tables and cheap, dying plants made for an extremely authentic beer garden style. It was beautiful, in a way, but only because of how easy it was to get hold of. There was alcohol everywhere, and the lanyard around her neck proclaimed Mercy Ensworth to be worthy of her fill. This, she intended to abuse.
The man behind the counter was rather lithe, with a balding head, wrinkled cheeks and a suspicious frown. Almost out of spite, Mercy intentionally took her time in choosing what drink to order. She could see him, in her peripheral vision, watching her careful stride across the spread range of choices. He was right to be suspicious of course, but that wasn't something that Mercy intended to admit to. She wanted to get drunk.
With the amount of attention that she was paying to the balding ginger watching her, it was a few minutes before Mercy noticed that somebody else was keeping a keen eye on her motions. Sitting in a shady and secluded corner, nursing a shot of something golden yellow and a cigar, was a man that looked oddly like a skeleton. His skin seemed to be stretched over too much of his skull, his eyes looked as though they were sunken into his sockets, and his long and greasy black hair amassed over most of his face. This was a man that Mercy recognised in a heartbeat. Nobody ever forgot him.
Hey Rick, she muttered, a little intimidated by the intensity of his stare.
Rick attempted to smile, but the baring of his yellowing fangs was more like the grimace of a hyena. Miss Ensworth, he replied, wrapping his dry tongue around the words almost lovingly. I had hoped that you would be in attendance, and Matthew Cooper fails to disappoint as ever. It is a pleasure, as always. Do you find yourself enjoying your time spent here?
I think I'll like it more after a few drinks, answered Mercy honestly. It's not that things are bad at all, but there are a lot of weird people about. She allowed herself a little internal laugh at the irony of calling people weird when talking to Rick Ash, but didn't let it show. I think I'll enjoy seeing musicians like you in action more than the people I don't know. I like the Desperadoes and stuff, but I'm a girl of eclectic tastes. I like what I like. Speaking of which; I'm having a lot of trouble deciding on what I should start on for the drinking. Perhaps a man of your tastes could help me?
Midway through speaking, Mercy realised that all of the other people in the tent were giving Rick Ash something of a wide berth. Ash was an extremely talented musician, but it certainly did not show when he was not holding a guitar. In truth, he was quite well recognised for being moody, aggressive and arrogant. The gaze that he currently had fixed on Mercy likely another reason that people did not much like being near him.
He spent a moment just looking at her again, before taking another inhale from his cigar and speaking: Well, I think those eclectic tastes of yours are going to have to make that decision for you. I might give some advice, but I would certainly lean you towards the whiskey.
What are you drinking?
Ash paused in his regard of her to review the contents of his glass, lifting it from the table and turning it for the sake of surveillance. Well, this is always going to be whiskey, isn't it? he forced out through years of lung and liver abuse. Nothing else is violent enough to really be of interest to me. Maybe Absinthe, but they don't have that.
So, you think I should get whiskey?
He paused again, looking her over from the tips of her shoes all the way up to the black bow she used to keep her fringe out of her face. Somehow, with a look, Rick Ash could suddenly become incredibly intrusive. I'm not going to make your decision for you, Miss Ensworth, he replied slowly. I'm sure you can come to your own conclusions and carry them out with remarkable precision. However, there are a few things that I would like to ask you, so I would suggest that you sit down opposite me and spare me a little of your time.
Major Fire Brand employees were always going to be major Fire Brand employees, and this meant that Mercy had to be especially considerate to their needs. She took up the bench opposite Ash, and was swiftly rewarded with the sight, smell and taste of smoke. Ash had never listened to anybody about rules and regulations when it came to his drinking and smoking. He simply did not care.
What is it you want to know about? asked Mercy pensively.
Last time I had a camera on me, it wasn't all that polite to my skillset, Ash began, flicking his namesake from the end of his cigar directly onto the table. In fact, it was pretty much exactly what I didn't want out of it, all because of a piece of shit guitar amp that wasn't even mine blowing out because it couldn't handle the pressure. Now, that's not going to happen again. I'm not stupid enough to let it happen about. Either way, the f--king idiots who screwed me over aren't here, and I want to make sure you do your job well and clean up the mess that left hanging over my head.
Mercy knew exactly the incident that he was talking about. Rick Ash had entered into a guitar battle with the lead guitarist of a band called Disbelief and had lost quite horribly. For such an established and recognised performer to be so soundly defeated had left quite the blemish on an otherwise clear and powerful career. Personally, Mercy had found the video quite funny, especially considering that she had been the one to film it, through the haze of quite a few different potentials. Cooper made a habit of having several Fire Brand faces for the sake of distracting the performers from the true agents.
It's not really up to me, Rick, Mercy replied with a little smirk. The camera does as the camera wishes, and I'm just there to direct it as best I can. It's up to you to be the best you can be, and let the camera catch that.
I could call that a bit of a cop out excuse, Ash told her.
Mercy brushed this off. Call it what you want, but it's still the truth. Now, I'm afraid I only came in here for a drink and-
I'm not done yet, Miss Ensworth, said Ash briskly, cutting Mercy off. His gaze had turned, quite sharply, into more of a practiced glare. There's more I wanted to ask you about than just the camera. I'm sure it's not the entire reason that you're here and, even so, you happen to have a lot more sway than you seem to think.
This was not flattering at all, since it meant that Ash expected Mercy to approach Cooper with some ridiculous desire of his, that he would stubbornly refuse to back down from. This was not a situation that was likely to end well for anybody. You seem to have a much higher opinion of me than most, she stated calmly. Relaxation was made all the more difficult by the sight and smell of the man before her. Cooper invited me here purely on the basis of my photography. He doesn't want anybody in his ear about anything unless it's vitally important to smooth running of the festival. He told me that himself.
Well, that's the point. This is vitally important to the smooth running of the festival and it makes no sense to me that he hasn't already considered it, continued Ash, speaking as though something integral to the state of the world was on his mind. Then, quite quickly, it devolved. I believe that I'm in the wrong slot on his line-up. I'm on much too early. Third from the headliners is simply not being effective in using the talents of the people who work for you. He's making a terrible mistake, but he's not listening to me about it.
I suppose I'll see what I can do, Rick, she lied, but he saw through it.
I don't think you're really understanding the severity of the situation here. It's important to-
The most wonderful interruption came with the incessant buzzing of her mobile phone. Ash knew that this would be a business call, so he immediately shut up just in case it was Matthew Cooper on the other side. Mercy excused herself politely and left her seat, glad to be away from all of the smoke that hung around him. Slipping outside, she pulled her phone out of it's little bag, and saw that it was not Cooper at all, but her friend Hannah who was calling her. She rolled her eyes, but answered.
Well, we got all the stuff, Hannah blurted out as soon as Mercy clicked the accept button. It was a pain in the arse to move everything, but it's all done and the boys are putting the tents up now. I suppose with your fancy hotel room you won't have brought one?
Typical. You're high and mighty enough to be without us now because of all your big name friends. Well I hope you bother to come down and visit us in the camp site at some point today. Nick's been pining.
At one point, Hannah had been a little more passive aggressive. These days there was nothing but pure and unrefined anger seeping out of her mouth.
I'll be down in about half an hour, Mercy explained. I just need to cover the next band on the main stage as they come on and liase with Cooper before I have time free, that's all.
Well get a move on then, Hannah told her. We've got a lot of stuff to shift, and we're going to need a fourth player for poker. She hung up in the next moment.
Mercy took a deep breath, then moved quickly back into the beer tent. She ignored Rick Ash completely, moved up to the counter and defiantly waggled her lanyard before ordering the strongest whiskey that they had. After consuming it in one fell swoop, she ordered another for the road.
On edge are we? the balding barman asked.
You have no idea, replied Mercy. Once again ignoring the watchful eyes of Ash, she turned back around and left again.