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The Smiling Goat is an Apt Name for a Drinking Establishment Run by a Daemon

The Smiling Goat is an Apt Name for a Drinking Establishment run by a Daemon On the crappy side of Ede Valley, in the part downtown where no one respectable would be caught dead, there was a British pub. At first glance, it didn’t appear very different than any of the other dives and sports bars around it. It was dark, smoky, and looked to be sagging into the streets. But if you glanced upwards, which you inevitably would, you would see the flickering neon sign of a goat somehow managing to hold a pint in its cloven hoof. And below that was the name: The Smiling Goat. Why the hell anyone would decide on that name of all things no one knew; if you asked the bartender he would just laugh and shake his head like he knew something that you didn’t. And there was only one. Whenever one of the regulars creaked their way through the sagging door, there would always be the call of: “Hey Cowell. You ever take a day off in your life?” “Don’t I wish,” he would grin in a very British sort of way, if that was even a thing one could do, and continue polishing glasses. Cowell looked young to be a bar owner, because in addition to being the only bartender he was the sole proprietor of the joint. He was tall, and lanky, with a mop of disheveled dishwater-blond hair and thin, round spectacles that perched atop the bridge of his nose like some baby bird scared to fly. No one knew if Cowell was his first of his last name, as it sounded slightly outlandish in either position, and if he had any name besides. This might have been due to the fact that most patrons became far too drunk to remember if he’d actually told them or not, but also because Cowell was a master of redirection. One minute, someone would be asking about the name of the pub, and the next, he’d have them spilling their whole tragic backstory about how their daddy never loved them. You had to be careful around Cowell. The man had the wits of a fox. And also much like a fox, Cowell loved to stick his nose in places where it most certainly didn’t belong. Only sometimes metaphorically. It’s said that bartenders tend to be better therapists than the professionals, but Cowell was on a whole other level. Perhaps that was why he had such a devoted rogue’s gallery of regulars. Nobody knew how he did it, but it seemed as if a lot of people came out of The Smiling Goat much happier than they had entered it. Cowell prided himself on that. He usually told people his success was merely due to being an excellent listener, but truth be told, he may have been cheating a little. You see, more than anything in the world, Cowell liked to make deals with people. The art of the compromise was his altar, and he worshipped frequently. But his deals were a little more... abstract than the norm. People came to him looking for all sorts of things: money, power, love, freedom, sex, the list went on and on, and Cowell was more than willing to provide. But in order for him to work his magic, he needed something in return. Alright, maybe needed was not the best word. Wanted was probably better. But fair was fair, and Cowell needed some way of amusing himself, the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’ fascinated him to no end. Sometimes he’d just straight up take their souls, but that got boring quickly. Often times he dealt for things a little more... interesting. On this particular day, The Smiling Goat was emptier than usual. This was probably due to the double murder that had recently occurred in an apartment above and a car in the street right in front of the pub respectively. The police were crawling all over the place, though they seemed to have hit a dead end. Not that Cowell cared much at that moment, though it was always useful to keep information like that logged in the back of his mind. The only problem was that it was terrible for business. Most people weren’t inclined to get smashed with the police standing over their shoulders. Still, a few of his regulars had stopped by. Three high school teachers were sitting in a booth with a few pints and a basket of chips between them, and the chief of police was already passed out at the bar. Cowell had already polished all of the glasses, and checked the stock of the various alcoholic beverages on the racks behind the bar twice. He was bored. Cowell was bored easily, and he absolutely hated it. But the moment he dipped behind the bar to check on the condiments, he heard the door creak open. Cowell glanced upwards, and smiled. Someone new was standing on the threshold of The Smiling Goat. The night had suddenly gotten much more interesting. The woman hesitating in the doorway looked like she really didn’t belong in a place like this. She was short and plump, with large, square glasses and a bright, floral blouse peeking out from her muted sweater. Cowell wondered for a second whether she would just turn around and leave, but the woman took a deep breath, adopted a determined expression, and strode up to the bar. She plopped down directly in front of Cowell. He couldn’t help looking amused. “What can I get you, love?” “A London Mule, please.” Despite her nervous demeanor, she had a rather authoritative tone, more specifically, that one tone that reporters always took. Interesting. What was a reporter doing in a place like this? Besides wanting to get black-out drunk of course, but she obviously wasn’t here for that. The reporter sipped her mule slowly, pacing herself. “So, nasty murders, huh?” She began before Cowell could even say anything. “Can’t be good for business.” Cowell chuckled. “What are you talking about? It’s always this quiet on a Friday night.” “Funny,” she didn’t look amused. “I’m told that no one in here saw anything, is that right, not even you? Even though the bar was open at the time. The car was parked right outside.” “It was past midnight,” he shrugged. “That neon sign only goes so far. At best I could only see the outline of the car. At worst, I was in the back, or doing the books or something. Why so many questions?” At times like this, he found it was best to play dumb. “Penelope Blanchett,” she conceded, sticking out a hand. “Reporter for the Daily Bugle.” Smiling, Cowell took it. “Ah,” he nodded. “So you’re trying to ‘get the scoop’ from someone who was there, hm?” “How about the apartment?” she continued unhindered. “Have any idea whose it was?” Here we go. Time to bait the fish. “I know who rented it, but it could have been anyone in there, really.” “Who?” Blanchett leaned forward. Cowell made a big show of looking around before whispering. “Mikhail Borozov.” As she took a sip of her drink, Blanchett almost choked. “Borozov? The mob boss?” “Perhaps,” Cowell shrugged. “For the most part, no one was ever there. Rent was always paid of time though.” “So there’s nothing else?” she deflated significantly. "You misunderstand me. I never said I didn’t know anything. I keep an eye on my renters.” “What do you want for it?” Blanchett frowned. This one certainly wasn’t naïve. “Money? How much?” She began to reach for her purse when Cowell stopped her. “I don’t want your money,” he shook his head. “Come into the office. I have a file I believe you’ll be interested in. We can discuss my payment there.” “If you’re suggesting what I think you are...” “Wha?” Cowell blinked. “Oh, heavens no—if you’ll pardon the language. I prefer to keep business and pleasure as far away from each other as I can. It usually works best for both parties.” Only a half-truth, and she seemed to see it, for Blanchett still didn’t move. “Look, if you’re really that worried, the chief of police is right there. Yeah, he might be black-out drunk now, but if you scream he’ll probably hear you.” Still looking wary, Blanchett stood from the barstool and followed him behind a tattered curtain into the back. There were several rooms off the main hallway, usually used for private meetings or the occasional illicit affair, but Cowell pressed past them all and led Blanchett into his office. As soon as she saw what was past the black door, the reporter froze. “The hell is this?” she asked, glancing up at the hundreds of glass jars lining the narrow shelves which circled the small room. They each seemed to contain a strange, glowing substance that seemed caught in a state somewhere between liquid and gas, each a unique color all its own. Cowell, meanwhile, had ducked behind his desk to retrieve the file on the apartment above which had just begun existing a mere second before. Otherworldly powers sometimes had their perks. “The jars?” he muttered, thumbing through the manila folder. “Human souls.” Blanchett made a strange noise at the back of her throat. “Well, the bar’s called The Smiling Goat for a reason, you know.” “Human souls...” she finally managed to sputter, swooning slightly. “Yes, human souls,” Cowell nodded patiently. “We all need to eat, you know. I like the yellow ones the best. Scholar’s souls those. They taste like old books. Why don’t you sit down?” After glancing around for a second, Blanchett found an armchair and did as she was told. “You’re not human,” she muttered, shaking her head. He laughed. “What tipped you off? Never mind, don’t answer that. I’m sensitive. I never properly introduced myself, did I? The name’s Cowell, I’m a daemon, that’s d-a-e-m-o-n." “A daemon? Like, with pitchforks and horns and stuff?” “I’m not from hell, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m from...” he paused, considering how best to put it. “Somewhere else.” “Somewhere else,” she repeated, as if trying to convince herself that this was happening. “Yes, but that’s not important now.” Cowell waved it off. “You want knowledge, and I can give it to you.” He plopped the manila folder down on the desk in front of her and sat down himself. “This is all the facts of the case from start to finish. ‘The Truth’ if you will,” he smiled to himself, but Blanchett didn’t catch it. She nodded slowly, her eyes planted firmly on the folder. “And you’re not just going to give me this, are you?” “Bingo.” He let it hang in the air, waiting for her. “Alright, I’ll bite. What do you want, my soul?” Shaking his head, Cowell leaned back in his chair. “Delicious as they are, as you can see I’ve got enough souls to last me a very long time. No, what I want is something a little less material.” She stared back at him, waiting. Alright, two can play that game. “I want...” he made a big show of thinking about it, drawing out the tension like the finest violin. “...Your loyalty.” He grinned devilishly. “My... loyalty?” She struggled with the concept. “To what?” He shrugged. “Just your loyalty in general.” Patiently, Cowell watched her consider the proposition. Blanchett couldn’t quite grasp what this meant for her. They never did until it was far too late. “Alright,” she said finally. “I accept your offer.” Cowell stuck out a hand, and she shook it. Then he handed her the folder. “Well, I suppose my work is done here,” he grinned, leading her out of the office. “Is that it?” she asked. “I don’t... feel any different.” “Oh, you won’t at first,” he replied. “It’ll probably kick in when you least expect it.” She gave him an odd look before making her way to the door. Cowell waved, and he and the other patrons watched her step into the cool autumn night. After a minute, he went back to polishing glasses. For the next few weeks, he checked the Daily Bugle, well, daily, but not story about the murders appeared. He figured as much, of course. Perhaps she had argued with the newspaper about the price for her information, because her loyalty for the Daily Bugle was gone, or perhaps she hadn’t written the story at all, because her loyalty for the Truth had abandoned her as well. Ah well, you know what they say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And every night after he closed the bar, Cowell would always open the tiny cabinet behind his desk in the office, and smile knowingly at the new vial that had appeared amidst all the others while he wasn’t looking. A reporter’s loyalty, sitting right next the subjectivity of a teenage girl. They were her little trophies, though he did wonder what the loyalty would taste like. Ink and newspapers, probably. And who knew, if it struck his fancy, maybe someday he’d eat it for dessert.

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