Friday, 4:45 pm Eastern Standard Time
"It's 4:45 on Friday afternoon," Wendy says, looking at her watch. "So if evil is going to strike, this seems like the most logical time. Especially since Tyler and I are supposed to go see a revival of the Night of the Living Dead musical at the community theatre where Noser volunteers at seven."
"No need to go looking for trouble," the Middleman says, though that is exactly what Ida's doing on the HEYDAR at that very moment, and, as far as Wendy can tell, at every other moment. "I'm sure trouble will find us soon enough."
"Right you are, boss," Ida says, as if on cue. Sometimes Wendy wonders if they plan it this way, or if life as a Middleman is life as defined by narrative conventions. There's probably a thesis in there somewhere. "Marcia 'the Maestra' Marconi is in town."
"Tumbling dice! You know what that means, Dubbie!"
"No, I actually don't."
"The oldest established permanent floating crap game in the galaxy is in town!"
"The oldest established permanent floating crap game in the galaxy is in town?"
"And it's at the Biltmore Hotel," Ida says. "The Maestra always did like the classics."
"A crap game seems a little small fry for us, boss," Wendy says.
"Gambling is illegal, but you're right; if it were only a crap game, we could let the police handle it. But this is an intergalactic dice game, which can only mean an influx of Changrian loan sharks. You let them get a fin in, and you might as well be chum, chum. We have to cut bait before they get their hooks in."
"There's just one problem," Ida says. "The Maestra put a bounty on me the last time we met, so I can't go with you."
Wendy glances at Ida, thinks it over, and shakes her head. "I don't even want to know."
"You should," the Middleman says. "Without Ida's skill with the dice, we'll be up crap creek without a paddle."
"Listen, girlie," Ida says, "I'm the best crap shooter this city has seen since Georgie 'Boxcars' McGee went tits up in 1953."
"Okay," Wendy says, because she's learned something in her time as a Middleman-in-training. "But surely you must be good at it, boss. You're good at nearly everything else."
"It doesn't matter, because the Maestra runs a dames-only game. I can accompany you, Dubbie, but you're going to hold the success of the whole operation in your hands." He pauses, long enough that she thinks she's home free, and then he says, "And don't call me Shirley."
The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in
New York the Galaxy
Time to roll the dice.
Wendy enjoys dressing up for the job, and she's especially glad the Middleman insisted this time, since everyone else in the place looks like they just stepped out of Fashion Week. Not exactly the blue-haired grandmas of Atlantic City she was expecting. The fierce looking guards--all wearing Alexander McQueen, unless Wendy's mistaken (unlikely)--try to stop the Middleman from entering the VIP lounge above the ballroom, but Wendy says, "He's my good luck charm. Isn't he pretty?" and they reluctantly let him pass.
The lounge is atmospherically lit and full of smoke, and there's a crowd around the table, but they make room for Wendy when she elbows her way in between a redhead in a Balenciaga and a blonde in Givenchy.
She places small bets at first, because it's not her money and despite her confidence and her ability to beat Noser and Lacey at blackjack, she doesn't want the Middleman to be disappointed in her gambling prowess, even if the game of the night is, by its very definition, a crapshoot. She also doesn't want to hear it from Ida if she comes back without O2STK's stake money.
The dice finally come her way and she shakes them gently, then holds her cupped hand up to the Middleman's face. "Come on, baby, blow on mama's dice."
"There's such a thing as taking verisimilitude too far," he murmurs, but he blows on the dice and she rolls a hard ten.
"Lady's best friend," the croupier calls out and money changes hands.
Wendy starts to get into the flow of the game, enjoying the feel of the dice rattling in her hand, and the thrill of winning, even if it's not technically her money. Finally, though, she has to hand them over, which is when the Middleman leans in and whispers, "I'm going to take a look around. You stay here and keep an eye on the rest of the ladies."
"Be careful," she answers. "And don't go blowing on anybody else's dice."
His mouth twitches, like he's trying not to laugh, and then he walks away.
Wendy's lost most of the money she's won by the time he reappears, being chased by sharks with legs. They also have guns, but the legs are the part that's blowing Wendy's mind.
"The jig is up, Dubbie," he says.
She picks up her skirt and joins him as the rest of the ladies start to scatter, their shrieks mingling with the clink and tinkle of breaking glass and breaking bones, where the alien shark things are punching their way through people who aren't clearing out fast enough.
"You didn't tell me the loan sharks are actual sharks," she says as they run down one long hotel corridor, turn a corner and then another one, and wait for the sharks to come around so they can be punched in the face.
"Of course I did," he answers. "I told you they were Changrian loan sharks and you couldn't let them get a fin in or they'd take a nautical mile."
"I thought you were being metaphorical!"
"There's a time and place for metaphor, Dubbie, but not when fighting amphibious alien sharks who are also enforcers for the intergalactic mafia."
"I know that now!"
He puts a finger to his lips and tips his head; they're coming. "You know what to do." She nods.
He pops around the corner and yells, "Candygram!" and Wendy follows up his spinning kick with a shouted, "Landshark!" and a roundhouse to the thing's snout.
It takes them one or two sharks to get into the right rhythm--Wendy's slinky dress isn't easy to fight in and she ends up having to rip a thigh-high slit in it to kick freely, but it's worth it when the last loan shark goes down under her fists.
"I got your horse right here," she says, feeling her oats. "Do yourself a favor and stay down."
Time for dessert.
Wendy hands Ida back the wad of cash she'd gambled with and watches as Ida counts it out. "Just making sure you didn't squirrel any away to blow on weed and comics."
"Not today, Ida." She sighs and heads up to the locker room.
"What's wrong, Dubbie? You did good work tonight."
She smiles. "Thanks, boss. You, too." He nods in acknowledgement but waits for her to continue. "It would have been nice to get a trip to Havana out of this whole thing, I guess. I've never been, you know."
"Well, maybe a mission will take us there one day, but for now, I know a great place for some dulce de leche."
"You would," she says, laughing, but she feels better already. "I think I'll take you up on that." And then she heads to the shower, humming softly.