Chapter 1: The Grave
Spades Slick didn't make a habit of standing out in the rain, but today was an exception.
It sluiced down in gallons. Everything he was wearing was soaked, and his shoes had an inch of water in them. He leaned on his horse hitcher, which was frigid in the rain, but didn't notice, because the hand he had placed on it was not made of flesh and nerves but metal and wire. It was also soaking wet, which was a thing he wasn't supposed to let happen, but he didn't care.
He didn't usually make a habit of standing around in graveyards either. Like with the rain, today was an exception. He tended to avoid them, not on any practical grounds besides the fact that they were boring, but out of a secret and deep-seated suspicion of letting his enemies gather in any one place. The fact that they were dead was not a real deterrent to Spades Slick, though he'd have scoffed at you (and worse) if you suggested he believed in ghosts, zombies, or other ridiculous kids' fears.
He didn't. It was just smart, was all.
He was not crying, though it was almost impossible to tell with the rain running over his face. If he had been, he would have looked exactly the same as he did. So no-one would ever know.
He also wasn't terribly accustomed to standing in one place for this long if he wasn't bound there, but he found it, for a few minutes, almost impossible to move. He was usually driven by a sort of inspired fury, like he needed to tell the world that no, he didn't have to rest, what did the world think he was, some crap human who needed to sleep and eat? Spades Slick took it as a personal affront when he had to turn off his energy (which, being Spades Slick, he expressed easiest through incessant complaining and frequent stabbing).
At the moment, however, he just felt drained. Emptied out. He stared at the stone slab in front of him, which bore a handful of words and two dates, one extremely recent.
PROBLEM SLEUTH, it said, then the dates, and then LET HIM REST HERE.
It wasn't a prayer, Slick knew. It was a sentence, a condemnation. The second date was yesterday's.
Chapter 2: Yesterday
Yesterday, Spades Slick did nothing of import until he received a phone call. It was a day full of phone calls, and Slick picked it up on the third ring. The Crew was out, and he was busy, and he didn't usually answer the phone except it'd been a long time between heists and he'd been playing respectable businessman to placate the mayor and get him off his case, and sometimes let's pretend just turned into actual work.
It was Problem Sleuth, and he, predictably, had a problem. He was so distracted by it that he didn't even remark on Slick picking up when he called. "Theoretically," began Problem Sleuth, and Spades Slick knew he wouldn't like what came next, "you'd come to bail me out if I really botched something up, right?"
"Nope," answered Spades Slick, and hung up. He was not the sort of man who entertained conversations he didn't like. He just avoided them or killed them, and hanging up was the conversational equivalent of a good jab in the mouth.
Unfortunately, some conversations, like people, refuse to die. He answered on the second ring.
"Because this is a real whopper of one, Slick, so if you've got a few minutes, I'd really appreciate your h-"
He hung up again. Sleuth could come down to see him if he needed his help. Slick put his head on the desk, imagining Sleuth neck-deep in weird puzzle shit and himself spending hours of wasted time on it. That wasn't happening again.
The phone rang. He grabbed it on the first ring and yelled into it, "Why don't you try solving your own problems for a change?"
The voice that replied was not Problem Sleuth's. It was warm and smug and made him think of a cat sliding around his ankles. "I always do," said Snowman, and Spades Slick went white and silent simultaneously.
It wasn't just fear. It was also rage. Snowman's voice inspired it in him. Many things inspired Spades Slick to fury, but Snowman was an instant trigger, off to high, zero to one-fifty in less than a second. She also inspired a clean-burning fear in him, an association to pain and humiliation that he was never able to drop. Usually, he channelled it into more anger.
"What do you want, you heinous bitch?" he asked. To anyone else, he'd be able to affect careless cruelty. With Snowman, all he can do is stave her off, erect flimsy defences to keep her out. None of it mattered.
"You know what I want," she murmured. Her voice twined around him and owned him, and he hated it. He did know what she wanted, though he didn't know the specifics. She wanted him.
"Too fucking bad," he said, and then, because every excuse counted, "Now do you mind? I'm in the middle of something here." He went to hang up, and, because it was Snowman, hesitated a second, which was all she needed.
"Yes, your little detective friend," she said, and the realization crept up Spades Slick's spine and crawled over his scalp. "If I'd realized you were keeping pets, Slick, I would have sent him a collar. And a matching one for you."
Spades Slick hissed into the phone and felt the use of his brain evaporate in her malice. It was always this way. "Listen, you fucking whore," he began, stumbling over his words in his blind fury, "I'm going to come over there and you're not going to be able to move for all the knives I'm going to put in you. You'll never move again."
"Oh, but Slick, sweetie," her voice lilted gently, "you don't know where I am." He lost words for a moment, and she pretended to take pity on him. "All the same, I can't have you showing up unannounced. Your little dog here is shamelessly untrained. Worse than you ever were. But unlike you, I think he can learn. So we're going to spend a little time together, and at the end, I'll let you know where you can pick him up." Spades began cursing, but she wasn't finished. "And just to make sure you don't interrupt us, I'm going to keep you busy where you are. Or, rather," she finished, "a few of my friends will be the ones keeping you company."
That was when the door broke down, and when half the Felt burst in; the big, nasty, brutish half (and Crowbar). Spades Slick put up a fight, but he was overwhelmed, and in the end, Cans held him down while Crowbar got Quarters to tie him up solidly.
Then they settled down to wait, and Spades Slick began eyeing the door and the phone.
Chapter 3: The Grave
"What the fuck," he said defeatedly to the stone. "What the fuck."
He was perfectly fine. There were a handful of bruises from the wrestling, from the ropes; nothing another day wouldn't make good. But he regarded the slab in front of him, and knew that there was something another day wasn't going to fix.
How did this even happen? Snowman, he thought. Her mind was twisted and intent on destroying him, and Sleuth just got too close. Too close to what she thought was hers.
Spades Slick sat down heavily on the marble slab. It was utterly freezing, but since his entire body was also, there wasn't as significant a chill as one might imagine. He grimaced, but at his thoughts, and not the cold, and said something he never said to anybody. "Sorry," he said.
And then because nobody was here to hear it, he said it a little louder. "I'm sorry." His blood started, slowly, to move. "Sleuth. Sorry I wasn't there. Fuck. Maybe if I'd talked to you when she put you on the first time, she'd have let me try to get you back. Maybe. She likes fucking around with people, but I guess you know that know."
His voice sounded like a refrigerator being pulled down a gravel driveway. Spades Slick coughed once, leaned heavily on his horse hitcher, and covered his eyes with his other hand.
Chapter 4: Yesterday
Spades Slick struggled and waited and insulted the Felt until the phone rang. Crowbar picked it up on the first ring. He listened, smiled, and pointed the phone at Slick. "It's for you," he said.
Crowbar's smile was nasty. Most of him was nasty. He wasn't short or tall, just average height. His shoulders were wide, but he wasn't exceptionally muscular. He always wore a few things- his green suit with tails, his sharp hat (dark red, and too stylish for him), and a facial expression that suggested his mouth smelled particularly bad and his nose wanted to get as far away as possible. He held the phone up to Slick's ear, because when he tied Slick up earlier, he had made very sure that Slick would be unable to move.
"What a sweet boy," Snowman crooned in Slick's ear.
"I'm not your-" Slick began, but Snowman cut him off.
"I was talking about your little friend," she said, voice laden with patronizing patience. "Perhaps I'm just getting bored with you, Slick. This fellow can endure a lot." She paused, to better emphasize what Problem Sleuth might, at that moment, be enduring. "And he's very funny," she finished. "Did you know that, Slick? You had quite the little comedian here."
For once, Spades Slick avoided being baited into jealousy. It wasn't easy. Though Snowman's attention was excruciating and humiliating, there was a certain reward to it that Slick couldn't pretend he didn't want.
But this was Problem Sleuth she had here. Maybe Slick had to worry about competition from Droog or Crowbar (but he doubted it), but Sleuth knew about Slick and Snowman, and unlike the others, this made him actually avoid Snowman. She might be the most gorgeous dame in the world, but she was Slick's to deal with. Unlike everyone else in the world, Problem Sleuth respected that.
It was basically just a long way of saying that whatever she was doing to him, he wasn't enduring it willingly, because the last thing Problem Sleuth wanted was to get between Spades Slick and something he wanted.
"Have," he said, at last.
"What was that, Slick?" she asked. "I didn't catch that."
"Have," he stressed again. Maybe she could hear his lip curling with scorn. "I have quite the comedian. He's still mine."
"Not for long, Slick," Snowman told him. "Not on either count."
Chapter 5: The Grave
He was talking, now. It's not like he had anyone else to talk to. Nobody would be spontaneously emerging to take Problem Sleuth's place. Spades Slick guessed he'd be coming here now, to talk.
He hadn't really talked that much to Problem Sleuth, either, but it was still more than he told to anyone else. Slick talked a lot, but not about himself. Most of what he said was complaining and threats, and occasionally, gloating. But sometimes he'd talk while he played piano, and Sleuth listened. And sometimes he was just really, really drunk. Sleuth listened then, too, but retained less of it.
To everybody else, he just kept up a litany of constant griping. Snowman was the only other person he was actually honest with. It was because Snowman already knew him better than anyone else. He didn't like to think about that, but it was true.
Except, he had to admit, maybe, for Sleuth. He hadn't been around Problem Sleuth as long as he'd been around Snowman.
"But," he said to the grave, "I guess not all of the time I spent with you was completely intolerable."
Chapter 6: Yesterday
Some time passed. It was quite a lot, actually. If Spades Slick had had a clock, it would have ticked over into evening. In the empty waiting time, he generally made a nuisance of himself to keep his mind off what could be happening somewhere else. Eventually, the phone rang. Crowbar caught it on the first ring. He was well-trained, Slick'd say that for him.
"Yeah, you got it," he said into the phone. "I'll send 'em over." Then a pause, and then, "Augh, fine."
Most of Slick's efforts to be a complete asshole had been directed at Crowbar, so he wasn't surprised the guy was getting sick of holding the phone for him. "Little closer," he said to Crowbar. "Can't hear her talk."
Crowbar told him to fuck off, but still fixed it. This was why Crowbar was so fun to mess with.
"I think we're just about done here," said Snowman.
"Then what?" Slick asked, watching Eggs and Biscuits file out of the room.
"Then you can come pick him up," she said. "He's picked up a few bad manners from you, Slick. I think by the time you find him, they'll all be gone, though."
"What are you doing?" he asked, though he probably should have just saved his breath. Snowman liked people to keep asking questions. It let her string them along for longer.
"We're having a little heart-to-heart, the two of us. Isn't that right?" Her voice faded, a little. Slick strained, but he couldn't hear anything in the background. "Oh," she said. "He's out. Just a moment, Slick." The line went dead.
He was beginning to wonder if she even had Problem Sleuth. Her phone call earlier was just well-timed, and Sleuth hadn't had the chance to call back. Somewhere he was trying to fit a crocodile into a cat carrier or get his own skull into a Sleuth-shaped lock. Snowman was just messing with Slick, playing her fucking games and wasting everyone's time.
That actually seemed a lot more likely, now that he thought of it. Soon, she'd show up and laugh at him for caring about someone, and then maybe decide on a whim to cut off another piece of him to keep. Slick wondered, from time to time, what she did with his arm.
The phone rang. Crowbar picked it up before the first ring stopped, and didn't even put his ear to it before he shoved it at Slick. He looked angrier. Slick knew the feeling.
"Why don't you just fucking cut the shit?" he snarled into the phone. He had been tied up for hours now, and for what? For Snowman to mess with his brain.
"Too much cuttin' today already," came a tired, slurred voice. It was definitely not Snowman's; why did he keep falling for that?
"Holy shit," he said to Problem Sleuth.
"Yeah," Sleuth agreed. He sounded kind of breathless. Slick could picture him tied up, too, while Snowman cradled the receiver to his ear and trailed her cigarette across his shoulder. (He shouldn't have been so interested in this image.) "Think we're about done here, though."
"They're letting you out?" asked Slick.
"Think I'll be gone soon, yeah," said Sleuth darkly. "Hmm? Oh." His voice vanished, and in the background, faint, Slick could hear him. "-bye, Slick..."
Then, immediate and close, Snowman's voice again. "Alright. We're wrapping up. See you soon, Slick."
Crowbar put a letter opener in Slick's hands, and the Felt left. The room was silent. It was not reassuring at all, really. He began sawing at his ropes. By the time he was halfway through one, he looked up to see Snowman silhouetted in the door.
"I just thought you might like to know where you're going," she said.
"I'd find out," Slick replied. It was all he could do to keep sawing away, pretending he didn't care she was there. It felt like most of his insides leapt into different positions when he saw her. But there were conventions.
"Oh, eventually," she said, amused. "He's not going anywhere, after all." He doesn't like the sound of that. Snowman saunters to his desk, writes an address in her compact script across what he'd been working on when all this started. She signs it with an eight, and talks while she writes. "He held out quite a long time, Slick. You should be proud. I saw your marks on him; he wouldn't have held out so long if you hadn't taught him a bit first."
"Fucking bitch," Slick interjected, finding it impossible to ignore her, "I'll teach you-"
"Slick," she said, leaving his papers on his desk, "I already know everything." She placed a hand on his face, gentle, and then, equally gently, raked her nails down it. Slick groaned, and leaned into it, but she didn't break skin. Then she turned and walked away, and it was a moment before he could resume sawing again.
"Hey," he called after her into the dim hallway. "Is he alright?"
Snowman turned and smiled. Her smile was something barely present, something elusive and wry. "Oh," she said, "I don't think he's feeling everything I did to him, now."
Spades Slick wasn't stupid. It's just that he had a lot of rope to saw through, before he dealt with what that meant.
He was getting louder, now, encouraged by nobody around him. His voice was breaking, cracking and rough and louder than the rain.
"So I'm sorry," he yelled at the stone. "I'm sorry I took you for granted. I'm sorry I ignored you and I kept fucking you up so much."
The stone said nothing, and Spades Slick found it infuriating. Problem Sleuth would have responded by now, would have said something to defuse the situation, to cast a little amused humour in his own direction. He would have slipped in a little barb at his own expense, to make Slick feel like there was no reason to mock him if he was just going to do it himself. He would have said something.
Spades Slick kicked it.
He let out a scream, raging and raw and ripped out of him. "Why don't you fucking say anything?" He yelled, and then words began tumbling out so fast he couldn't stop them. "I said I'm sorry! I fucking told you, what's wrong with you, fuck you! Fuck you, Problem Sleuth! Just because I couldn't fucking get there, this wasn't my fault! It wasn't my fault!"
He took his cast iron horse hitcher by the tip and swung it. The horse head impacted the stone slab and made a thick cracking sound. A second blow, as he screamed into the rain, and the stone opened into several pieces.
"Are you even in there? Are you even listening to me, you son of a bitch?" He threw his horse hitcher, which, because it was cast iron, went a very long way and broke a few stone vases. They shattered in the aftermath of Spades Slick's wrath, and the stone shards fell to the ground with a light tinkling sound.
He collapsed. His hand clinked against the broken stone, made a fist, and opened again. "Are you even listening to me?" he repeated.
"Yes," said a very muffled voice. It was almost impossible to hear over the rain, but Spades Slick was much closer to the ground than he had been a few minutes ago, and the stone slab over the grave was a lot less capable of suppressing sound now.
Spades Slick nearly had a heart attack. A moment later, he began digging.
Problem Sleuth was not in the best of shape- bruises, burns, things that would scar nastily. He was also soaking wet, even in the coffin they'd put him in, and his clothes were covered in mud. There was a faint scent of burnt hair around him, not entirely drowned by the rain. Spades Slick got an arm under his, and, because the detective had about a foot of height and more than a few pounds on him, the two almost toppled straight over when Slick tried to support him.
"Why the fuck didn't you say anything?" said Spades Slick.
"Well, I started to," said Problem Sleuth, and his voice was raspy, "but then you really got going, and I thought," he paused, coughing, "don't hear you spill the beans every day."
Slick gave up holding him, and let Sleuth sit back on the broken stone while he retrieved his horse hitcher. It supported him, it could support Problem Sleuth.
"I thought they killed you, you know," he said, when he got back.
Sleuth looked up at him, face tilted into the rain. "Me too," he said.
Slick went to hand him the cane, but turned, distracted for a moment by the headstone, still untouched. PROBLEM SLEUTH, it said, and then two dates, one extremely recent, and then "LET HIM REST HERE." Spades Slick wound up to smash it.
Problem Sleuth struggled to his feet and put a hand on Slick's shoulder. "Wait," he said, almost inaudible over the rain.
Slick looked at him, at the grave, and shrugged. He passed over the horse hitcher, and Problem Sleuth leaned on it. The way out of the graveyard was very slow, but through the rain, the sun was starting to rise.
"Why not?" Slick asked.
Sleuth looked at him patiently. His eyes were bloodshot. "Probably going to need it someday," he said. "I mean, maybe. Gonna have to rest sometime."
"Yeah," said Spades Slick, and then, like he hardly believed it, because if Problem Sleuth didn't have to rest after this, then he never would, "sure."