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The Associates of a Legitimate Businessman

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Sewers are wonderful hiding places. Despite being an enormous cliché in literature, film, and games of all sort, secret lairs hidden in sewers provide a number of unique and effective deterrents to interlopers. And as P. Sloan and Associates made their way through the city's sewer system, they became intimately familiar with these, a fact of which the Associates did not hesitate to continuously inform P. Sloan.

“Ah fuck, stepped in shit again,” muttered Richard Dunn, a short, barrel-chested detective a little bit past what most people would consider his prime. “I keep stepping in fucking shit. Fucking shit everywhere, Pat. I'll have to spend a week cleaning these boots. Or maybe I'll burn them. All this shit.”

Patrick Sloan sighed. Dunn was more than handy in a fight, and when it came to heavy lifting, there was no equal. But sometimes he could be a pain in the ass, Sloan thought. And by “sometimes”, Sloan meant all the times. All of them. “It ain't that hard, Dick. If you watch your step, you won't have to deal with it.”

“Don't call me Dick, asshole,” Dunn growled. “And I can't watch my step. It's fucking dark as shit in here, and Inspector Imagination keeps swinging the lantern around instead of keeping it straight ahead.”

“Gracious, there are rats everywhere,” said Peter Inesco, a taller gentleman with a quiet voice and a penchant for daydreaming. He moved the lantern to illuminate a colony of the creatures, tough, mangy city sewer rats that scurried from the light as it reached them.

“Aw hell, he ain't even listenin', Pat.”

“I heard you quite well, Richard,” Inesco said softly. “But the rats in this place are a bigger problem than the waste.”

“Maybe to you,” Dunn retorted. “You don't give a shit what you look like. But me? My wife's gonna flip the fuck out when she sees me covered in all this fucking shit.”

“With all due respect, waste can be washed off. A rat bite cannot,” Inesco said.

“Now don't tell me you're afraid of rats, Pete,” said Sloan.

“Not the rats themselves, no. But I would rather not contract rabies if I can avoid such a fate.”

The three detectives continued a bit in silence after that. Well, as silent as can be expected when three people are walking though a sewer, one of them constantly squelching into mud or trash or something more horrible and cursing under his breath. After a few minutes, however, the team spotted a narrow crack about three feet wide and half an inch tall shining light onto the sewer floor.

“Pete, hand me the lantern, will ya?” Sloan asked, taking it and shining it on the wall. Before them stood a plain metal door with a lock and a handle in the middle of the right side.

“You sure this is the right place?” Dunn asked.

Sloan examined the door carefully. There were three heavy hinges on this side, but the pins were welded in and couldn't be removed. The lock was an imbedded cylinder, and handle was a steel rod crudely but solidly bolted. About an inch above the handle, a playing card spade was scratched into the metal. Sloan stood up. “This is the place all right.”

“I do hate to bring up this question so late into the evening, but how will we get in?” Inesco asked Sloan.

“Easy. Mr. Dunn here's gonna pick the lock. You brought what I asked you to, right?”

“'Course,” Dunn grunted, shifting the gun slung on his shoulder so he could reach into his pocket and take something out. “I actually always carry a couple of these around. My wife loses them like crazy, it helps to have a few spares” He held up the hairpin to the light, making sure it was in good condition. “'Course I got no idea what you're gonna do once you get in there. From what I hear, these guys are bad news.”

Pat leaned against the door, holding the lantern as Dunn knelt down to pick the lock. “Ah, don't you fellas worry. I'm just gonna go in there, sweet talk them a little. They'll be willing to help us out in no time at all, I guarantee it. You and Inesco will just... run interference. In case things don't go as planned.”

Inesco took out his automatic pistol and glanced worriedly at Sloan. “Interference?” He glanced down at Dunn, who was struggling with the hairpin.

“Relax, Pete, things'll go as planned. You guys just watch the exit and make sure we have a way out Besides, you know how to handle that gun better than anyone I've ever seen. And I don't know anyone who can take a hit better than Dick. He's our ace in the hole.”

Ace threw down the bobby pin in disgust and stood up. “Stand back, asshole.” The other two obliged quickly as Dunn swung his machine gun off his back and opened fire. The bullets tore into the door, ripping through the hinges and demolishing the lock. “And I said don't call me Dick.”

Sloan and Inesco stood agape as Dunn then pulled the door from the wall. “I read you, Ace,” Sloan said as he blinked hard and steeled himself for his entrance. “Stay here, keep guard.”

The door fell over to reveal a large, squarish black room, dimly lit by a few naked bulbs. In the middle of the room was a table covered in papers, playing cards and a large wooden bowl, surrounded by four empty chairs and three gangsters - and one tiny gangster - in matching black suits, looking very aggravated. Sloan strode toward them, hoping that his trenchcoat was streaming behind him as impressively as he imagined it was. “Well I gotta say, you fellas are improving. It took us a while to find your little club house here. Had to search every sewer entrance in eight blocks, I gotta tell ya boys, I almost broke a sweat. I applaud you.”

One of them – an enormous German-looking brute who looked like he could probably eat Sloan with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti and still have room for a whole plate of eggs and biscuits – stood up, cracked his knuckles, and in a rumbling bass voice, thundered the question, “What are you doing here?” Actually, it didn't sound like a question it all. It more sounded like the noise artillery makes as it grinds into position.

A lesser man would have soiled his slacks, but thanks to good luck and bad business, Sloan hadn't eaten anything for a couple days, and was therefore less at risk for such a display. He pointed his finger at the man and said, “Shut your pie hole, Deutsch-bag, I'm talking to your boss.” He then turned his attention to the significantly shorter, dark skinned man in the middle holding onto a dagger like it was a stress ball.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jack spat.

“Now that is much more what I wanted to hear, thank you Jack,” Sloan replied, grinning in what he knew Jack would find an infuriating manner. “You are being so much more cooperative today. Sounds like you're finally sleeping all the way through naptime. Your mommy must be very proud. Mind if I have a seat?”

Jack glared at Sloan with a frozen look of solid, unspeakable fury on his face. Sloan decided to take that as permission, plopping down in the chair across from the mobsters and putting his feet on the table. This action made the well groomed gentleman to the right of Jack twitch.

Sloan winked at him. “Hey, how's it goin'?”

The man began to stand up and very deliberately lift a pool cue from behind him up above his head.

“Easy, Droog,” Jack stopped him. “He's not a threat.”

“Droog, huh? Doesn't that come from A Clockwork Orange? Goodness, Jack, I never quite pegged you for the reading type. You are just a little bundle of surprises today, aren't you.”

“I'd ask you,” Droog said slowly, “if you'd like to continue living, to please get your filthy, stinking clodhoppers off of my furniture.”

Sloan grinned and put his feet down. “See Jack? He asks politely. See how nicely I comply with him? If you would just ask nicely more I could--” He cut off as he looked closely at the wooden bowl. “Is that a bowl of candy? Oh my god, are those licorice scotty dogs? Slick, that is just adorable. ”

Jack sputtered. “I'm trying to quit smoking, you intolerable fuckshit.” He pulled the bowl out of Sloan's hands. “And what the fuck do you even want? What in the name of whorefucking titmice possessed your microscopic brain to deduce that it would be a real ripsnortin' good time to come down here? I already told you no. I don't need your help. I don't want to team up with your little pack of sailor scouts. So unless you came here to give me a million dollars in nonconsecutive bills as payment for the privilege of my disdain, you can take your boyfriends and get the fuck out of my life.”

“You son of a bitch!” Dunn shouted from the door.

“Aw, that's not an insult, Ace,” Sloan called out without turning around. “Anybody would be lucky to have me.”

“I can still shoot you, asshole.”

“Duly noted. But I'd prefer if you held off on that. I haven't even had a chance to tell these fine gentlemen and their lovely child why we came here.”

The shortest member of the Crew, a diminutive and stocky, round-faced fellow wearing what was for him a rather comically oversized hat, looked nervously at Jack. “What's he talkin' 'bout, boss?”

“He ain't talking about a damn thing, Deuce,” Jack growled without taking his eyes off of Sloan. “In fact, this motherfucker was just leaving. Boxcars, why don't you show this gentleman and his associates the way out.”

“Sure thing, boss,” the big one rumbled, as he sidled around the table and advanced on the comparatively tiny man in the chair.

Sloan couldn't help but figure that this Boxcars fellow could probably benchpress a Volkswagen. But he stared down the advancing lug until the very last moment.

“Boys!” Sloan called, suddenly moving from his chair and doing a combat roll across the room. Dunn and Inesco burst into the room, brandishing their guns. Sloan pulled a Thompson from his coat and pointed it at Boxcars, preparing to fire, but then--

“Not so fast!” cried a voice that was oddly less nervous than before. The pipsqueak mobster had jumped in front of Boxcars, holding a pistol in one hand and a small device in the other.

“Deuce?” the big guy asked.

“Ya have to shoot me first if ya wanna shoot Boxcars!” Deuce cried.

“I can probably do that real easy,” Sloan said.

“Yeah, but if ya do, everybody dies.”

“What the fuck is he talking about?” Dunn grunted.

“Deuce, what the fuck are you talking about?” Jack shouted.

“See this?” he said grinning, waving the device in his left hand around. “This is a dead-man's switch. See, I already pulled the pin, so if I let go of this, say, because I'm dead, then the three pounds of C-4 plastic explosive I've got under my hat go off. Then I die, but you die, those guys die, we all die, the sewer collapses, and nobody gets what they came for. So turn around now, cause I got a hat full of explosive, a fist full of trigger, and a head full of no regrets.”

There was silence in the room for a moment. Sloan broke it. “Okay,” he said slowly, “Gentlemen. I'm sure we can find a diplomatic solution to all this. What say we all put down our guns, Lollipop Guild here puts the pin back in, and we all talk about this like civilized people.”

“Insulting the man holding the bomb ain't gonna do you any favors,” Jack muttered.

“Aw, I ain't insulted boss,” Deuce said, oddly chipper. “I like the Wizard of Oz.”

“Sloan, I don't see you leavin',” Jack said. “I recommend you change that.”

“Well I ain't leaving until you fellas agree to my proposal.”

“Pat, let's get the fuck outta here,” Dunn hissed.

“Listen to your friend, sleuth-boy,” Jack said. “You don't wanna die tonight.”

“Don't I?” Sloan suddenly specifically pointed his gun at Deuce. “I ain't got no money, no family, and I ain't eaten in three days. I'm a desperate man, Jack. You boys are the only chance we got at breaking this DMK business, and unless we can break it, we ain't gonna be gettin' any more cases ever. I'm about the most fucked I can be, and if I can't end the case, boys you better God damn believe I can end us all. So let's talk.”

“Don't you fucking do it, Sloan,” Dunn said, his voice trembling slightly. “I ain't gonna die. Not here. Not tonight.”

“Who's gonna stop me?”

“I will,” Dunn said, and he turned his machine gun to face Sloan.

Peter Inesco looked horrified. “Richard! You can't possibly dare shoot him!”

“The hell I won't, Pete! I got a wife and kid, they ain't gonna lose me in some half-assed death threat, no sir, not from Pat!”

“Gentlemen!” a voice interrupted. Everyone turned and looked at the meticulously neatly kept man who had finally spoken again. “Everyone put down your weapons. Deuce, put the pin back.”

Deuce stammered. “But-- but Droog!”

“Deuce, put it back now!” Droog shouted. The smaller man flinched and nervously complied.

“What the fuck, Droog?” Jack spat.

“I'm doing the sensible thing, Slick,” he muttered back. Droog then turned to face the detectives. “All right, listen, whitecoats. The Crew are going to discuss whether or not we'll help you. In the meantime, you lot are going to go back to your homes and think about what you can do for us if we accept. And then tomorrow, your little leader there, what's your name?”

“Patrick Sloan”

“Right. Tomorrow, you're going to come by Diamond Estate and talk to me. We'll discuss our terms, then run them by and figure out what the hell we're going to do. But we're not going to do that here. You got it?”

The room was filled with a tense silence.

“I said you got it?” Droog snarled.

Sloan lowered his tommy gun and put it back in his coat. “Yeah, I got it. That's about as good as I can hope for. I'll see you tomorrow, Droogie. Pete? Ace? Let's go.”

The three detectives backed out of the room.

“There's a manhole access fifty feet south of here. You can take that,” Droog called out to them, absolutely no levity in his voice.

“Got it, thanks,” Sloan called back, absolutely no gratitude in his.

Sloan, Dunn and Inesco found the access right where he had said it would be. Once they finally reached fresh air and solid ground on the street level, Dunn shoved Sloan against a shop wall.

“What the hell was that back there?” he roared into Sloan's face.

“Be more specific,” Sloan replied, keeping his cool.

“That shit about blowing us all up!” Dunn kept roaring, his cool nowhere to be found.

“That wasn't me. That was the little guy.”

“But you were gonna shoot him! That was gonna blow us up!”

“I wasn't gonna shoot him, Ace,” Sloan said, looking straight into Dunn's eyes. “But I had to make them think I was. Oldest trick in the book of sleuth diplomacy. It was a bluff.”

Dunn blinked and cleared his throat, confused. “I... what?”

Sloan nodded slowly. “I was bluffing. Just like you weren't gonna shoot me.”

Dunn backed off and looked at the ground. “I... uh.” There was a long pause. “Oh. Right. Yeah.” He started walking away. Sloan headed in the other direction.

Inesco followed after Dunn. “You... were not actually going to shoot him, right?”

“What difference does it make?” Dunn grumbled without looking up.

“We are a team, Richard,” Inesco replied.

Dunn stomped on a cockroach that scuttled down the street. “Ah hell, Pete. You wouldn't understand. You ain't got a family, you don't know what it's like to have everything to lose.”

“That's not true,” Inesco said quietly. “You and Patrick are the closest thing to family I have.”

Dunn stopped. He looked up at the tall, stringy man next to him for a moment. Then he looked away. “Shit, I'm sorry, Pete.”

“It's quite all right,” Peter said as the two of them continued walking. They were silent for a good while before Peter spoke up again. “You should know that if it comes to such a moment, I will fight with all of the strength I have to protect us.”

“Thanks, Pete”

“You're welcome, Richard.”

Dunn laughed gruffly.

“You know, you can call me Ace.”