I'm not so proud of this one. Feels too weighty and awkward. Must keep myself to a three-page minimum.
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The Blind Spot and the Missing Piece
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Spades Slick is not a man who easily trusts others. However, he is also not a patient man, nor a man very in control of his desires. This has led to no few whimsical heat-of-the-moment seductions for him; his tendency to see what he wants and immediately grab for it is both his greatest strength and weakness. On the whole, he doesn't think much of them. He can pretty much size up the potential threat of most people he meets within a few minutes, and can catch a plant rapidly. He has no patience for delicate social interactions, but he can tell when somebody lies to him.
Not that there's many dames planted to kill him anymore. That was more a Kingpin thing; with his lackeys scrabbling at the leftover pieces of pie, there's really only the Felt and the cops to worry about. Of those, the cops are mostly in his pocket, and the Felt wage war in their own haphazard way. Really it's only Problem Sleuth who poses the, well, problem, and while that makes things unpredictable and unbelievably frustrating, at least Slick doesn't have to worry about his latest girlfriend gearing up to shiv him in the back.
None of them ever meant much to him. Well, not after the first, but Slick doesn't think of her ever. Ever. And the fact that she's spinning most of the gears behind his greatest enemies doesn't mean anything. It doesn't. He flat outright refuses to consider her.
So none of his other girlfriends meant anything. Just distraction, enjoyment, some time away from managing his many enterprises, orchestrating his many payoffs, and having midnight knife fights through time with an infinite number of green assholes. And his recent disaster with Problem Sleuth. But he doesn't want to consider that either. So all in all, he could use a good distraction.
But he's honestly a little surprised at what a distraction this dame is turning out to be. There's something about her. She's not as drop-dead gorgeous as some of his other flings, true, but she's clever and observant and a whole lot smarter than most of the women who pass his way. She's spunky; he didn't think he'd like that but he does. She doesn't put up with any crap from him. She's proving to be a challenge, which is not a thing he usually wants in a relationship, no matter how fleeting. He's got enough to deal with in the rest of his life to want to puzzle out some hysterical dame.
But this one, he's having to make an exception for.
She reminds him of someone. He can't think of who, though. None of his past girlfriends were this smart. Most of them he just liked having drape off his arm and be sparkling and stunning, somebody to parade around and look at- another big gem to add to the pile in the safe. This dame isn't like that. No sparkling dresses, for one, just practical, with a nice hat, and funny as hell (though, she has a penchant for corsets he likes, and she sure wears one well). He can't treat her like the rest, and doesn't. She's something else- but what, he just can't figure out.
So he takes her out to dinner. She talks, smiles, bats challenges and insults at him, and he finds himself grinning and laughing and genuinely enjoying himself with a lady in a way he never really has. (Knowing she's enjoying herself as much as he is is just... nice, for a change. He can tell, of course. He always knows when someone's lying to him.) He throws around insults with the boys, of course, and with Problem Sleuth (but he's not going to think about that particular disaster just now); however, a lady willing to step up and play dirty is new. And Spades Slick likes novelty.
He wish he could figure out who she reminded him of, though. It keeps bugging him.
It annoys him through dinner, just a little, a nagging certainty that this hysterical dame is somebody he knew once, or related to someone he knew once, or he's seen her before somewhere. It doesn't stop him from busting a gut laughing at her ridiculous stories- one about a pair of her girlfriends accidentally inheriting a brothel or something strikes him as particularly hilarious. She's clearly told it a dozen times, but it's just allowed her to refine it. She's a good storyteller when she gets going. He likes that. It reminds him of someone.
Of course, all good things must end. This particular good thing ends just before dessert, as Slick is reclining with a glass of something strong and dark and very red, and his lady is contemplating a variety of chocolate cakes that pretty much all look the same to him. He's watching her, still just racking his brain for the missing piece. That's when this good thing ends for Spades Slick.
There's a crash of shattering glass, and Slick is already on his feet, a flush of spades in his hand and his teeth bared in his fighting snarl. A man follows the bullets through the window, thrown straight through. He hits the ground and slides, firing back through the broken window the whole way, coming to a stop at Slick's feet. One of his shots must have connected; there's a grunt outside the window and the delayed sound of a body hitting pavement.
Spades Slick looks down into a face he'd been hoping to go a long time before seeing again. It's roughed up and blossoming into bruises, and sporting what looks like somebody's footprint. His duster is scuffed. He's got a key in each hand and has them pointed straight up at Slick's face. And the last time Slick saw him, the two of them were screaming bloody murder while trying to enact just that.
Problem Sleuth glares up at him as Slick automatically brings a pair of cards out to match the keys. Then he gets a forced light-hearted expression on, and half-smiles around all the weapons. "Hey there Slick," he says, his tone forced too. "Long time no see."
Spades Slick made a promise, not so long ago. "The next time I see that bastard," he said, "I'm gonna shove a knife down his throat before he can speak." Slick's a little sad (but mostly, just unbelievably furious) that his promise got broken already. That's what a few weeks of soft living can do to you. Makes you slow to react. Well, he'll at least get a few stabs in before Sleuth gets a chance to talk more.
Sleuth fires too late, missing as Slick twirls and comes in on a diagonal with a pair of extremely sharp cards. He doesn't get them into Problem Sleuth, though, because just as he's about to, he hears a screaming "Nooooooooo!" and his girlfriend leaps between him and prone Sleuth. He almost puts a carving knife and a switchblade through her stomach, actually, but gets back in time.
She's got tears in her eyes, her hands clasped in front of her. "Please, don't," she says.
"Lady," Spades Slick says, "I don't think you know what you're getting into."
But she seems to. She looks at him seriously and tearfully and asks him to stop again. Then she looks down, behind her, to key-toting Sleuth, and repeats herself to him.
Sleuth says nothing for a moment, and Slick is still trying to figure out how to salvage this whole mess. But then Sleuth responds. "If that's what you want, lady," he says, and his voice is full of regret and misery and some other emotions Slick already saw too much of much too recently. And his girlfriend is looking at Problem Sleuth with tears in her eyes and something that looks like the way she'd just started to look at Slick himself, and Slick realizes a few things all of a sudden.
The first is that his girlfriend used to be some sort of item with Problem Sleuth. He knows he's never met her before recently, but looking at them now, he just knows. Just like he knows she's still at least a little in love with him.
The second is his missing piece. Looking at her, his girlfriend reminds him so much of Sleuth that he can barely believe he didn't see it before. He must have been blocking out all of Sleuth's influence so much that he kept himself willingly blind to it. She must have gone steady with him a long time; their mannerisms are all the same. He'd figure them to be siblings if there wasn't that something in the way they looked at each other.
The third is that she's just not as great of a Problem Sleuth as Problem Sleuth is. He didn't know that's what he was after, at the time, but it was, and Spades Slick won't lie to himself. He still likes her. But all those things he liked- the silly stories, the stupid insults, the feeling of just being a break from the real world- that's all Sleuth stuff. That's what he got with him.
The fourth thing he realizes is that he doesn't want to kill Problem Sleuth. Oh, he wants to stab him, alright, but he no longer wants to see Sleuth's cold corpse laid out in front of him. Things have faded enough. He'd like to beat the crap out of him. He'd like to throttle him and smack him around and generally make the bastard wish he'd never crossed Slick, but he doesn't want him dead for the first time in two months.
The fifth thought, and least important, is somehow the most disorienting; simply the sudden realization that everybody in this room has slept with each other, and he's the last one to know.
So Spades Slick looks at them, looking at each other. Sleuth turns back, meets Slick's eyes around the curve of Slick's girlfriend's hip. And Slick, for the first time in his life, slowly takes his cards and holds them up, then shoves them in his jacket. Sleuth's eyes (and keys) are following him. After a minute of tense nothing, Sleuth pockets his keys. Everybody looks like they're about to talk.
Spades Slick walks out of the room. That's the only way he can deal with this. He's not used to mercy, or even pity, and he's no happier feeling the emotions than having them directed at him. So he leaves. They'll put the bill for the meals on his tab, and he'll deal with it later. He feels oddly numb.
He sits in his car for a few minutes before he does anything with it, just sitting and absorbing everything and trying to justify it with the things he thought were true ten minutes ago. It doesn't really jive. Not with him, not with the person he thought he was, not with the person he thought Sleuth was. He's been waiting for her, he realizes belatedly. Waiting for her to choose him over Problem Sleuth. He grimaces. His scar pulls at his cheek. He turns the keys and pulls out into the street.
He's just making the turn off the street, past the goon on the pavement with the loaded pencil and the bullet through the forehead, and the crowd of onlookers, and he can't even see her. He's not sure if he wants to, anymore.
There's a banging on his passenger-side window as he goes to turn, though, and he looks back in a sort of stupid hope. He hates stuff on the passenger side; he's got to turn his head so damn far to see it. That's why he likes having Droog or Deuce on that side, covering his blind spot.
But it's not her.
It's his missing piece.
He's beat-up and scruffy and still has that footprint on his face, and he looks tired and frustrated and grim as he looks in the window.
He doesn't say anything, and for a moment, Slick doesn't either. He takes a breath, glaring at Sleuth out his passenger-side window. Then, scowling, he throws the door open and growls "Get in the fucking car," and Sleuth slides in with a look of half awkward worry and half embarrassed relief.
Spades Slick starts driving. It'd be a lot easier if he'd just left Sleuth on the curb. He's got no guarantee that anything's going to change. No promise that they'll work things out, and no real hope that the things they said to each other are forgettable.
But he can always tell when somebody's lying. And he'd be lying if he told himself he wasn't glad Problem Sleuth, and not their mutual ex-girlfriend, was the one to come after him.
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"Well, we can't piss off the Unconquered Sun a second time. If he turns his back on us again he'll be facing us this time."
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