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The Nag's Head

by Emma Mankowski 7 months ago in Short Story
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A short story

Image Credit: Google Maps

Isle of Man, United Kingdom

January 3rd, 2022

21:53 PM

The man wipes his face with a cloth and sets his mug of beer on the counter. The pub is dimly lit and grimy with scum. An aged bartender pulls out a rag and begins to rub down the surface to the left of where the man was sitting. There are three other occupants. They are seated in the dark corners of the pub, eying the stranger carefully. It’s not every day a new face shows up in The Nag’s Head. Contrary to what the bartender might tell you, these men own the pub. They know every person who steps foot in their domain. This man is a stranger, a young one, slimly built but not skinny, with a face pale from lack of sunlight. A black hoodie is pulled up to obscure his face, but they can still distinguish its strong features- strong cheekbones, a prominent nose.

The man draws his gaze up to the television, an old, small contraption with a blurry screen. He sees a face. His own. These drunken old men won’t recognize him though, he is sure of that. He came here to find solitude, and he’s not afraid of his task being interrupted.

The public labels Christian Dassault a vigilante. He’s not sure if he is ready for that title.

He was born under a different name on January 1st, 1997, in Täby, Sweden. His father commuted to Stockholm, and came home every night to a warm kitchen full of fragrant smells, an impeccably dressed wife, and three polite children awaiting his arrival. His father was a politician. A social democrat on the outside. Something else on the inside. Magnus Nilsson was an enigma to his son. On the television screen, he saw a man-of-the-people sort of candidate, down-to-earth yet professional, shaking hands with his constituents and taking photos with their children. But at home, Magnus Nilsson switched roles from that of a public persona to that of an emotionless beast. It was as if he family merely existed to look good on campaign ads. They served no other purpose besides maintaining his appearance as a relatable family man. Christian knew that, and did his best to cope with it. His mother, however, loved her role. She lived for it. Maybe she relished having a part to play in her husband’s big life, a side character in his story that would no doubt go down in history. Every pot roast, every folded shirt, every swept floor, she did with joy. Christian isn’t filled with joy. He is full of revenge.

He has been discovered, and he is on the run. But no one can delete what he already knows. He isn’t ready to reveal all of his information to the public. That would be for a different time, when he knew what he was doing. The longer he waits, though, the more time they have to plan how to react. How to diffuse. To assure. Christian’s job is to create a scenario so believable that nothing they say can convince the public otherwise. So for now, he is biding his time. Crafting a plan. Making allies.

Another one? The bartender questions him. Christian suspects British English is not the man’s native tongue, but the man can tell he’s serving a foreigner. Sure, he replies. He remembers the last time he was at a pub. It was at university in England, a week before graduation. He’d gone out with some of his mates to celebrate the end of term. One of them, Charles, had gotten so wasted that he’d tried to ride a police horse that was tied up outside. A fight ensued, and that was the first and only night Christian landed himself in jail. His friends laughed about that night afterwards, as if it was an experience that brought them closer. A few days later, one of them clapped him on the back, calling him by his name and winking as if they shared a secret. Of course, that circle of people didn’t know him as Christian. In fact, they barely knew him at all.

Christian didn’t go to a British boarding school like most of his classmates did, but rather a private school in Stockholm. For the first few years, he would ride the commuter train with his father, standing far away enough so that if someone recognized Magnus, they wouldn’t associate Christian with him. Of course, it got to a point where Magnus couldn’t ride the train anymore. Too dangerous, his advisors told him. He started taking a privately chauffeured car with tinted black windows into Stockholm. Christian rode the train alone, and he liked that.

Christian excelled in school, like his two older siblings. He had a natural inclination for politics, but a propensity for business. From the age of 12, Christian had this idea that tech business was the future. He wasn’t particularly interested in technology itself, but leaned his ideas more toward the tech industry. In high school he built a kind of obsession. Tech is the future, he told his mom. He read every biography of tech giants he could get his hands on. Christian knew he was going to be the one to launch the next great company that would overwhelm the world. That is, until he discovered their secret. See, the tech industry relies on one fundamental word: information. Christian knew this. But his world was about to be opened up as he discovered what this really meant.

When he was 17, Magnus landed Christian an internship position with Ocean Cloud, a major tech company. In Christian’s opinion, Ocean Cloud was the “next great thing,” and he wanted to be part of it. Fortunately for him, Magnus knew someone. Magnus knew everyone. For that Christian would be grateful. And forever righteously angry.

Sitting in The Nag’s Head, Christian is thinking about his internship. When it all started. The first day was just coffee runs. He dressed smart, trying to appear well for what was his first day in the workplace. By the end of the summer, Christian felt ready to run Ocean Cloud from the top. If he only knew how little information he actually had, and how much they were keeping from him.

At university, Christian received perfect marks in every subject, focusing his courses on Business and Political Studies. He continued to intern with Ocean Cloud every summer, returning to its main department in Oslo in between terms to work and learn from the company's elite team of members.

University didn’t end Christian’s interests in politics, but rather enhanced it. He always found time to keep up with the current political news. However, he wasn’t organizing rallies or participating in activism, at least not in those days. Christian was booksmart, a tech-industry guy who’d never written a line of code and a student of politics who’d never donated to a campaign. While his relationship with his father had been complicated when he was at home, this new, older Christian now found enjoyment in talking to Magnus. To him, it was fascinating to see his father, the politician, putting all of the principles Christian read about in action. His father was far from ignorant of this, and encouraged his son to network with his political connections at parties when he was in Stockholm.

In 2019 Christian graduated from university, having stayed an extra year to earn a Masters degree in Business and Political Studies. Armed with knowledge, and a growing amount of practical work from his internships, he felt ready to face the world. Ocean Cloud hired him in a heartbeat, and he quickly began to climb his way to the top.

He’s worked there for nearly three years now- well, not anymore, he reminds himself. Everything has changed so rapidly. Suffice it to say that the man who uses the codename Christian Dassault was fired from Ocean Cloud last Friday. That’s why the television screen in The Nag’s Head has his picture on it, with the title Former employee of Ocean Cloud wanted for criminal activity. He scoffs at that headline and takes another drink. The news network quickly switches to another subject, and he remembers that this isn’t exactly the story of the year for those living on the Isle of Man. No, all of this is happening far away in Stockholm, and Christian is safely hidden 1500 kilometers away.

He always knew he wanted to live in Stockholm. As a kid he hated having to leave the city every evening. One day, he would walk home to an apartment in the best part of town, near his job. And for a while, he did get to fulfill that dream. For almost three years, Christian lived in an expensive apartment directly adjacent to Ocean Cloud. He’s thinking of that apartment now, and how he’ll never see it again.

Those two and a half years in Stockholm were a whirlwind for Christian. His first job at his dream company wasn’t the only thing that occupied his time. Magnus Nilsson announced his campaign for Prime Minister for the 2022 election shortly after his son’s move. Almost automatically, Christian began work on the campaign. It was grueling, dividing himself between the two jobs, but he devoured it. He loved every second. But his father had secrets.

Ocean Cloud had secrets too, dark ones. But they weren’t closely guarded secrets like Magnus’s. Their mistake. To work at a company like Ocean Cloud, one had to be free of that nasty entity called a conscience. Christian wanted to see the company grow, don’t doubt that. But his mission was that vague idealistic idea he called the future, and his coworkers’ mission was simply a heavier pocket.

When he rose to the position of executive director, the youngest one in the company’s history, the 24-year-old started to oversee many different operations of the company… including financial. His sharp eye noticed things. Numbers that weren’t adding up. Over 80% of the company’s income wasn’t coming from products or clients. Everyone but Christian seemed to know where the money was coming from, but they never talked about it openly. The budgets they turned into the board or released to investors weren’t what Christian was seeing in actuality. He knew there was a secret, not carefully hidden, but within his reach, if he could find some way to make sense of it. At times he wondered why he was the first to find a problem with this fact that he’d discovered. It never occurred to the employers that a spirited vigilante could be found in one of their own. The massive paychecks they gave their employees were enough to stamp out any ideas of heroics.

Christian doesn’t think of himself as a hero, and definitely not as a vigilante. He’s sitting in The Nag’s Head, right now, trying to give himself a title. He thinks he’s found one that suits him. Privacy activist.

Short Story

About the author

Emma Mankowski

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