It was 6.15 in the evening. Annie Tuttle stood indecisively on this unfamiliar street.
She reached out to straighten her knitted coat. A bag was slung over her shoulder, containing a bottle of water, some money, and a pocket knife for protection.
For some reason, she felt like a parent attending a parents’ meeting, and also like a young girl who was about to meet an online friend for the first time, which was a recent trend.
Imagining the cautious look on her face right now made her feel like laughing.
In truth, she had indeed made some preparations based on today's gathering, based on her many experiences of going, so she felt that nothing would go wrong…
She just appeared like a housewife on a grocery shopping trip and not someone who was attending a secret gathering because of a strange dream she had, which did sound dangerous and suspect.
At least… It should be much safer with this plain and ordinary look that would let me blend into the crowd. Annie consoled herself.
She started feeling some regret by the time she walked to this street via the map as well as enquiring passersby. But having already come this far, she felt it would be embarrassing to head back, and thus, forced herself to continue to the designated place.
Athena would also be here after all, and she was already taking charge, so there shouldn't be much danger…
More importantly, Annie was here because she believed that Father Vincent was truly innocent, same as everyone else at this gathering.
Perhaps what they did would become the key to proving Father Vincent’s innocence.
If she did nothing, she wouldn't forgive herself nor have closure if Father Vincent and Father Terrence had really suffered as they did in her dream.
With this in mind, though hesitant, Annie summoned the courage and came without her family knowing.
However, it was really frightening here.
The area around this street was particularly depressed and deserted, and it seemed everything was very shabby. A large part of this street was surrounded by enclosed construction sites.
In the dim evening light, these semi-finished buildings, some high, some low, looked like large giant beasts lurking in the shadows, creating a frightening effect.
The surroundings were so quiet that Annie could even hear her own heart beating as she walked alone down the street.
When hearing her own footsteps, she would imagine that someone was following her and that thought induced slight panic.
Fortunately, this street wasn't that long and after a short walk, she arrived at the book cafe where the gathering was taking place.
Annie heaved a long sigh of relief as she looked at the lit-up unit before her, and her taut body finally loosened up...
She eyed the book cafe curiously, which seemed to have just been built, and her eyes lit up.
This building didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the constructs on this street. Through the gap of the curtain behind the glass door, she could see a lot of seats and bookshelves. The decoration of the interior was original and unique as well.
As a woman, Annie was instantly drawn to this fresh and elegant style.
Looks like there are already quite a number of people inside already, but I don't recognize any... Father Vincent has helped so many. He's too good a man to kill Old Father Terrence and cause the deaths of so many like what the news reported.
Annie thought to herself as she drew up her courage to enter.
Just before stepping in, she instinctively glanced at the next-door bookstore.
Athena had said that it was a strange and sinister-looking place that rarely had customers. Moreover, it was said that the owner of the bookstore barely ever came out. Only those passing by would see an outline of a dark-haired man in black clothes who was always reading behind the counter.
Just like mysterious urban legends that were all the rage recently.
Whatever... The gathering’s more pressing.
Annie shook her head and pushed open the door of the book cafe cautiously, parted the curtain, and stepped in.
Soft light illuminated the book cafe, presenting visitors with a bright and open sight. The ornamental greenery on the simple bookshelves around was pleasing to the eyes.
There were indeed quite a number of customers which Annie estimated to be around forty.
They were either standing or sitting, and a few had taken to sitting on the wooden floor. Some of them appeared like they knew each other and were chatting softly around a table.
Hearing the door being open made everyone in the cafe turn to look at Annie.
Annie was embarrassed and smiled awkwardly. Just as she was at a loss, Athena called out to her, “Hey! Annie, over here!”
Annie turned towards the direction of the voice and immediately saw Athena sitting at one of the tables.
Athena was in a blouse and jeans. She had a healthy tan, a head of dark hair, and bright, charming eyes. On her sleeve was a golden badge that seemed to be carved in the image of a sun.
Athena laughed loudly and waved, “Annie, my friend. Come quickly. I’m over here.”
The other people went about their own business when they learned that she was a friend of one of the in-charges.
Annie went to Athena and sat down beside her, immediately feeling relieved at having someone she knew here. Otherwise, she wouldn't have known what to say.
Annie peered at the badge on Athena’s sleeve and whispered, “Athena, you’re amazing. This gathering just started and you’re already taking charge.”
Athena rested her cheek on her hand and chuckled. “I’m just lucky. When I heard the location for the gathering was here, I immediately said that I knew this area well and volunteered to be a receptionist to maintain order and guide some lost folks. I didn’t expect that the policeman would think it was a good idea and agreed to it.”
She pushed a drink to Annie while taking a sip of her own. “Originally, I assumed that my life would be boring now that the audio-visual store is gone, but I never expected the drinks of this book cafe to be so delicious… I think it is something called... milk tea, but it is also very different from the ones those upper class folk drink."
Annie took a polite sip from the straw and her eyes widened.
Mhmm, what’s this taste?
It is really good...
Seems like a perfect combination to go with the bread from my home bakery.
Annie shook her head and tossed aside her habitual business thinking. Now's not the time for this!
She whispered softly, “Athena, do you know what's supposed to happen at this gathering?"
Athena's eyes narrowed into little slits as she indicated towards the counter. "See those two over there? The girl runs this book cafe, and the tall man next to her is from the Central Police Station. They will be announcing the charges against the Church of the Dome.”
Annie froze momentarily. She was confused.
Athena leaned in as if she was about to share a humongous secret. Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she said, “On top of that, I’ve just found out that this book cafe is actually a sub-store of the bookstore next door. That weird bookstore isn't all that simple indeed!"