“There’s some people who want to talk to you, miss,” the manager says urgently.
There’s five of them, surly types with poorly-cut suits and scuffed shoes. Doxy narrows her eyes at their leader, a heavy-built fellow in a jacket a size too small and none too bright from the looks of him.
“I don’t take personal visits, fellas.” She makes a face. “If you’ll excuse me-”
“Miss, if you’d just like to follow us out the back,” says one fellow, tall, dark, and ugly. Well.
“Out the back, is it? Lead the way.”
The manager ushers them out into the cold, into a little fenced-off enclosure of rotting boards and old cobblestones. Swell at the front, hell up the back, she thinks.
“I did just like you said,” the manager says, jittering. There’s damp spots on his armpits.
“Yeah,” the boss says, waving a hand. “That’s all we needed.” The door closes. The lock clicks loud and clear.
“Anything I can help you with?” She taps her foot.
“You the one that’s been squealing to the Scoundrels?” boss starts, taking a step closer. “This is our turf, we’re having none of that here.”
“Hey, wait, this is the one?” tall, dark, and ugly cuts in. “This might not be such a good idea, boss.”
“Don’t talk trash, we’ve finally got the girl and-”
“No, seriously, boss. Talk’s got it that there’s this dame Scofflaw’s sweet on.” Doxy nearly snorts. Happens every time.
“So he’ll be upset when he hears what’s happened to her.” Boss cracks his knuckles. “See, lady-”
“No, boss, I heard it too!” another one cuts in, a little weasel of a guy. Reminds her of someone, but she can’t place it. “Disreputable Eavesdropper, you remember him, he said Scofflaw cut the lips off’f a guy who wasn’t polite to her. You could see all his teeth, couldn’t stop grinning.” Three of them shudder, the weasel included. That one isn’t true. If Scofflaw had done it, the guy wouldn’t have any teeth left.
“Why’re we standing around then? If we jump her now, no one’ll be able to tell the Scoundrels who worked her over-”
Doxy rummages in her purse while they bicker. Her lipstick smudged during the set, maybe when she kissed the pianist – can’t remember. Either way she does it over now in two quick strokes, all while two of the gang argue over whether they should kill the manager. She checks her reflection in the shine of the lipstick case and her reflection grins back at her.
“Gents,” she starts, propping a hand on her hip. The other hangs loose by her side, lipstick caught between middle and pointer fingers. They don’t hear her at first, so she raises her voice: “Shut the fuck up.”
That catches their attention. Boss scowls at her. They’re watching her: expectant, quiet, like they think she’s about to confess or something. Honestly.
“Jeez, forget Scofflaw. Why aren’t y’all worried about me?” She swings the lipstick down to catch the light, and whatever they say next is drowned out in the diesel roar.
“Open up!” she yells at the door, when the chainsaw’s finally gone quiet and she’s the last one standing. Nobody answers. She kicks bodies out of her way and stalks over to bang on it; eventually the manager unlocks it, sweating heavily. He hasn’t got a word out before she’s grabbed his collar in one gory hand.
“You clean this up, and maybe I won’t let word of it to Scofflaw, you hear me?”
Terror and nausea turn his face puce, but he nods furiously.
“Hush it up,” she adds threateningly, jabbing him in the chest, “or I’ll know.” She sweeps out like a Fury and no one dares to stop her. Someone scrambles to hold the door open and stays there, trembling, and only when she’s all the way down the stairs does it slam shut.
Her dress is ruined unless she gets it in cold water soon. She’s really going to need a bath. Plus she’s never going to get the blood out of her wrap, she decides, and drapes it on the banister with a sigh. It’s a damn cold night and a long walk. She’d better get going.
A coat drops heavily onto her shoulders and wraps around her, smelling of cologne and tobacco. It’s still warm. She pulls it tight and cinches the waist.
“You look like hell and blazes, Doxy,” he chuckles, close to her ear.
“A girl pays her rates, and what does she get? Some bunch of goons trying to jump her.” She cocks her head. “Sorry excuse of a racket you’re running, Mister Scofflaw.”
The Scoundrels: genderbend edition. That's it.
You know who it is from the second the door slams and the howl of, “Delinquent,” echoes across the entire building. A pile of glassware which you have made to look like the Tower of Syndetic Ascension wobbles precariously and almost jumps off the edge of your desk. You lunge to grab it before it shatters, and succeed, mostly; a pile of shotglasses bounce off your bowler in rapid succession.
“What’re you doing down there, Inny?” Scofflaw says. Of course she would pick now to waltz into your office.
“Oh, nothing, Scofflaw,” you say venomously. “I was just renewing my acquaintance with the floor. I thought it had been too long since we had last seen each other face-to-face. I thought I’d remedy the situation.” You sit up and gingerly pile the glassware into a not-very-Towerlike formation before dusting your stockings off. “What do you want with Delinquent?”
“Need her help breaking into that old warehouse on the corner of Flow and River.” Scofflaw swaggers over, folding her coat over one arm, and plants one booted foot squarely onto your chair. “Seems like a waste for her to have all that vim but not put it to use, huh?”
“If you c-could not, Scofflaw,” you say wearily. She does an exaggerated double-take.
“Oh! Huh. Sorry about that. Forgot how you don’t like stuff on the furniture.” She removes her boot and leans against the table instead.
“Thank you,” you say, long-suffering. “P-please excuse me. I do hope you find Delinquent, b-but I’ve got a m-meeting with the Chary Treasurer to attend.”
“That on today?” Scofflaw glances at the calendar. “Wow, time sure flies. Mind if I tag along? I’ve got a few choice words to say to our friend CT.”
“Yes,” you say. “Your p-pulchritude will be useful, I think.”
“Attagirl.” Scofflaw claps you on the shoulder a little harder than necessary, knocking your bowler askew. She laughs and laughs and laughs.
CT is waiting in the speakeasy at a table by himself, a prim little Prospitian in a well-cut suit. The table in front of him is already littered with glasses. You sigh and roll your eyes. Hopefully he’s not so full of liquid courage that you can’t still put the fear of the Scoundrels into him.
Bawd is lounging in his usual table in front of the long bar, smoking thoughtfully. You touch his shoulder briefly as you walk past; he squeezes your hand, but does not look at you. Doing the accounts, it looks like. Perhaps when you’re done with this you’ll give him a hand.
“CT!” Scofflaw shouts, and points. The Treasurer jumps half a foot into the air, from the looks of it. “My man! My friend, CT. Can we get this man a drink? Oh, I see you’ve had a drink. Quite a few drinks. Get this man another drink!” Scofflaw is bellowing, to all and sundry. Get him on the back foot and then kick it out from underneath him, you suppose. You settle into the chair opposite CT; Scofflaw pulls another chair up and does that infuriating thing where she sits backwards with her forearms on the backrest.
What is the point of pulling up a chair if you’re not going to sit properly in it? You stare at her. She just grins irrepressibly and plops the newly-acquired bottle of whiskey on the table.
“CT,” she says, “such a pleasure. Always a pleasure. How have things been, CT?” They drift into nervous smalltalk while you ogle CT intently. If you can make a deal with him to cut Fuzz funding for the next calendar year you’ll be all set to flood this city with ex-Dersite contraband by next solstice, and that’d be a pretty penny in the Scoundrel pocket.
“-isn’t that right, PI? We’d love for you to sign the, uh-” Scofflaw is looking at you expectantly.
“-the budget cut for the Fuzz,” you say. “We understand city hall is looking at a deficit of eighty-nine billion boonbucks in the next calendar year. Putting forward some of the cuts we propose-” You rummage in your overcoat. Cat treats; no. Ten-by-ten rubik’s cube; no. Two rolls of copper filigree; no. Welding iron? Why is that there? Finally you unearth a folded piece of paper – exquisitely geometric creasing, if you do say so yourself – and push it gently across the table. “-would go a long way to putting the budget back into surplus. And your own pocket back into surplus, of course,” you murmur, casting your eyes down.
“What? What do you mean by that?” CT shifts nervously. Scofflaw refills his glass.
“Well, CT, we do appreciate your patronage. Not often one of the most valuable members of city hall drops by one of our humble establishments. That’s why when you show up, Mr. CT, we’re giving you the red carpet treatment! Nothing less.” CT is relaxing as Scofflaw speaks, nodding gently against the soothing hand on his shoulder. “Now a normal member of the public wouldn’t get the same generosity from us as your honoured self would, you know that, right?” Nod, nod. “You’ve been very good to us! I hope we can be very good to you.” Nod, nod.
“Oh, of course, you’ve been very kind,” CT says. “Very kind.”
“We’re glad to hear it, Mr. CT. Of course you’re very important to us. We’d like to keep the relationship friendly, right? Everyone likes friendly. But the thing, the unfortunate thing about being friendly is that friendship’s a give-and-take. Right, PI?”
“D-definitely,” you say. It is all you can do not to glare at Scofflaw. Friendship, a give-and-take? If that were true then Scofflaw wouldn’t have any friends.
“So if you’ll just do this little thing for us, this tiny thing – we know you can push it through city hall, you’re a popular man with lots of friends, after all, Mr. CT – we’ll agree to waive the, ah, outstanding debt to the Full House.” CT goes rigid.
“And if you don’t agree,” Scofflaw continues cheerfully, pouring more whiskey into his glass, “then that’s a terrible thing to do to a friend, isn’t it, PI?”
“Terrible,” you echo, with genuine sympathy; if not for the reasons CT suspects. Anyone who is friends with Peccant Scofflaw knows all about the terrible things that can be done to your friends.
“Ah, listen, Scofflaw,” CT says, “I appreciate what you’re saying, but, I really need time to think about it, I’d, ah-” He stumbles to his feet and dashes away. By then you’re on your feet too. Shadows surge away from you, soaking the floorboards inky dark and narrowing in on the fleeing Prospitian. Except they never get to him. He runs smack into someone and collapses to the floor; and the someone picks him up by the arms and shakes him.
“Watch where you’re going!”
“There you are,” Scofflaw says, without turning around. Angry Delinquent grunts at you from above her armful of dazed councilor. “Bring him back here, would you, AD? That’s a sport.”
Before CT knows it he is being roughly shoved back into his chair, Delinquent to one side of him and Scofflaw to the other. You do not envy his position. He reaches shakily for the still-full glass of whiskey, only to have Scofflaw pluck it out of his reach.
“Ah-ah-ah,” she coos. CT jerks away as though he’s been burned.
“CT, you make it seem like it’s such a chore to do your friends a favour!” she crows, and takes a drink of whiskey. CT flinches. “Come on, come on. You haven’t even taken a peep at all of PI’s lovely calculations. She’s put a lot of work into this, you know!” She shakes the glass at him. “It’s not nice to ignore all that time she spent fiddling around with those finicky, finicky numbers.”
“Oh, it was no trouble,” you say automatically.
“See how modest she is? She just doesn’t want to make you more upset. Go on. Take a look.” Scofflaw nods at the still-folded sheet. CT reaches for it with one trembling hand, and unfolds it.
You sit back to watch him as he scans your calculations, your machinations. It took longer than you expected; cut the budget here and risk too much resistance there, repeat ad infinitum. The precious MP salaries had to be maintained at all costs, of course. Cut from healthcare and disadvantaged care so the Scoundrels can make lots of big, flashy donations in that direction while people mutter about how city hall was squeezing the poor. Keep gambling taxes steady. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
“Well, I suppose I can put some of these through without much resistance,” CT says after a long moment. He keeps glancing at Delinquent, who has one palm splayed out over the back of his chair. “B-but I know BR, QM, and – and KS will resist some of these, especially the gambling tax, they’re – that’s QM’s main platform-”
“Leave that side of it to us,” Scofflaw drawls. CT yelps. “Oh, sorry, was that your foot, CT? I’m so sorry. Well, you should probably thank PI for all her hard work.”
“T-thank you, Innovator,” he says, with the ferventness of a man who wants urgently to be believed. You hate how Scofflaw plays them; you hate how she plays you.
“You’re welcome,” you say.
“Cheers. Manners are everything, don’tchaknow. Right, we’d better let you get going then, Mr. CT! AD?” Scofflaw nods. Delinquent steps back. She gives him the evil eye as he lurches to the door, paper clutched to his chest.
“What kinda asshole bumps into a lady and then doesn’t apologise,” she huffs, throwing herself into his newly-vacated chair. “I ask ya.”
“The kind of asshole who doesn’t pay his bills and refuses to do nice things for his friends.” Scofflaw downs the rest of her glass. “Whooo! Good whiskey. Wasted on him. Anyway, AD, who says you’re a lady?”
Delinquent sniffs primly. “More of a lady than you’ll ever be, Scoff. Got a man and everything. I’m an honest woman.”
This sends you and Scofflaw into fits of hysterics.
“You are a p-paragon of upstanding virtue, Delinquent,” you manage to gasp out finally. Delinquent rolls her eyes.
“More honest than either of you lot!” she thunders. “When’re you going t’make an honest man of Doxy, huh? And what about Bawd!”
“What about me?” Bawd says. You glance up. He has his hands on the back of your chair, and is peering curiously down at you. You move over to make room. He’s got the accounts under one arm.
“Can I help at all?” you say, tapping them.
“Yes, I’d like it if you could look over some of these for me.” He gingerly pushes some of the glasses out of the way.
“Bawd, Bawd, all work and no play makes a dull boy!” Scofflaw grins. “Can I get you anything? A drink, maybe?”
“You can get me a drink, Scoffie!” Doxy hits Scofflaw on the back so hard that she nearly spits her drink out.
“Dox, it’d be my pleasure, darling,” she drawls, trailing her fingers up his jaw; he laughs. “Bring everyone a round!”
Bawd shifts closer to you. You shuffle closer until your trenchcoat is pressed against his jacket, your stockinged thigh to his. You have twenty-eight sheets of accounts to balance, he is to one side of you and Doxy sandwiching your other; you are warm and comfortable and today you achieved something important, and Scofflaw is buying you drinks. You relax, ever so slightly. It looks like it might be a good night.