"So how'd you get that?" Nick asked, pointing at the small slit that ran across the bridge of his nose.
Ellis shook his head with a touch of embarrassment. "Oh, nuh uh… I'll only tell if'ya tell me how you got that," he returned, referring to the scar on the man's brow.
Nick laughed and shifted against the wall, flashing a large grin at him. "Alright," he consented, "but you might not like it."
Ellis stared across the room at the white-jacketed man. It was late, real late, probably around two AM– he hadn't bothered to check the time. In a couple hours they'd be waking Coach and Rochelle to get some shuteye themselves, relinquishing watch to them until the sun came up a ways and they all hit the road again. The four of them were holed up in a safehouse just south of Brunswick tonight; they had walked to get there and it had been a pretty long day. Hell, it had been a long three days. It felt like it had been longer than that... longer than that that he had met the three other survivors up in his hometown and they had grouped together.
Coach was a pretty cool guy. Amiable, a love for all things food– Ellis could relate– and a decent leader when it came down to it. Sometimes he got grumpy though and didn't always have a lot of patience when it came to tomfoolery, likely from working with all those youngsters in the high school where he used to coach. He was reasonably familiar with Georgia, being a native.
Rochelle was neat too. Very friendly towards him, sometimes a little sassy towards the other two men of their party. She had rather impressed Ellis from the get-go with her ability to handle a gun, cuz he didn't know all that many girls who took to that kind of thing so easy. She was also knowledgeable about random things, Ellis supposed because of her job working as a newscaster.
Nick was just… well, goddamn interesting. The man was like a puzzle.
As it was, staying up on watch with him wasn't so bad at all, for all that Coach and Rochelle expressed a distinct desire not to. Personally, he didn't understand their aversion to him. Sure, he was a little different, but different wasn't always bad was it? Ellis squirmed in anticipation of the story. Nick had quite a few; they had been sharing back and forth all week… heck, the guy had half as many as he had himself, maybe– and that was pretty good for anyone who wasn't good friends with Keith!
"I had a guy try to knife me in the alley," Nick said casually.
Ellis' eyes widened. "For serious?"
"Yeah, I guess he didn't really like my face." Nick laughed. "I was plastering him at a game of Poker. I donno what he expected; when I sat down to play I warned them all I worked at the casino. They don't just let any dumb twit work the tables, you know." His pale green eyes flashed with a kind of mischief.
"Which one?" Ellis couldn't help but ask now, bubbling over with interest at this tidbit. "Y'dun mean Vegas, do you?" he asked incredulously.
Nick swept his hands out show-offishly. "Of course, Vegas, Overalls! Where else?" He chuckled a bit before returning to the question. "I worked at the Rio," he nodded.
"I was gonna bust a gut if ya said Circus Circus," Ellis said, his imagination placing the conman in the middle of all those clowns and animals and striped backdrops. It was quite the ridiculous sight.
Nick shuddered. "Ugh, I can't stand that place. I wouldn't set foot in there if they had the last slots on earth." He lifted an eyebrow with a smirk. "I had a respectable job, thanks."
Ellis stuck out his tongue. He would've jumped at the opportunity to visit the destination, but it hadn't ever exactly been within 'road-trip' distance. Hell, he hadn't even ever been outta Georgia. Though this whole apocalypse thing was going to change that.
Nick continued. "And, of course, as an employee, I wasn't allowed to bet in-house, so," he shrugged, "I took my gambling elsewhere." The conman gave a pause. "Happened to just pick a bad spot that night. You know, 'wrong place, wrong time' sort of thing. And this guy I was playing with kept ordering beer after beer– as if he was going to have enough cash to pay his tab when I was done with him…" he shook his head with a smile, playing with the rings on his fingers. "Anyway, I stepped out of the bar to get some fresh air and count my winnings and he comes out of nowhere with this thing," the conman held his hands out to indicate the length of the blade– a good six inches. "And yours truly manages to duck, but not soon enough to save me the shave."
"You didn't kill 'im, did'ju?" Ellis asked with shock.
Nick laughed. "Hardly. A bloke like that ain't worth the trouble. You know much it costs to hire a lawyer in Vegas?" Ellis chuckled uneasily as he went on. "No, no reason to kill a drunk idiot, but I can tell you he got a mean uppercut," Nick lifted his fist, then studied the floor, brow knitting ever so slightly. "Had trouble with the wife though. I guess she had difficulty believing I could get a scrape like that from slipping and falling on a roulette table."
"Well, sure she'd be worried about you," Ellis said matter-of-factly, finding her concern understandable.
"She could've at least appreciated the extra one grand I brought home that night," he said with subtle humor. "Not every guy can bring home a bonus like that on a regular basis."
The hick gave a shrug. "Money ain't everythin'."
Nick eyed him and inclined his head. "You got that right."
Ellis wondered at his sentiment a moment. He certainly hadn't expected the man to agree so readily, dressed as he was.
A puzzle, like he said.
"That's my end of the bargain," Nick stated, a smile creeping across his features.
Ellis rubbed the back of his head with chagrin. "Oh boy, well, shit that's a story-topper before I even got mine told," he said.
Nick stuck out his palm and curled his fingers. "Ante up, El."
El, ha. The conman had been calling him that ever since he had told him he preferred his full name. He wasn't sure if he was trying to get his goat or just be contrary. But either way it didn't really upset him on account of the fact that the way Nick said it made it sound so nice. Not like the way Keith said it when he was teasing him for stuff, nothing like that at all. It had actually made Ellis realize that maybe the reason he didn't like the shorthand was because of Keith, who always made it into some kind of joke when Ellis didn't want to try his next great scheme that might get the both of them killed. He looked up at Nick and blushed, then considered how to word his story. "Well, okay. Y'see, Keith an' I…"
"Christ, I should've known," Nick interjected.
Ellis continued without pause, already gaining steam. "Keith an' I went deep sea fishin' this one time. A'course, we didn't know nuthin' about it or anythin'– it ain't like regular fishin', y'know. Anyway, Keith figured, fish is fish, right?" Ellis stopped to laugh. "Couldn't've been more wrong. He brought 'is favorite rod, the one he used at the lake, on the boat, put some bait on'it an' cast her in. Well I didn't think he was gonna catch nothin', cuz the boat was movin' so dang-awful fast, but what'd'ya know if he did? That mother pulled 'im off the railing so fast– oh man!– ya wouldn't've been able tuh blink! Next thing I know he's there in the ocean, an' disappearin' fast too, wavin' 'is arms an' yellin' an' I don't figure there's much hope fer the people runnin' the boat tuh stop an' notice, so I wave at Keith to tell 'im tuh throw me the line, ya'know? So he does, but Keith ain't always all that good uv'a shot, an' the hook grabs me by the nose an' I almost fall off the railin' my-damn-self! So then there I am, holdin' ontuh the line by the wrong end, tryin' to reel my buddy Keith intuh the boat, as if he were the damn fish!" Ellis gave a snort, and Nick gave a chuckle. "I did evenshuhly git 'im back in an' he looked so wet an' cold an' miserable… an' I was bleedin' like crazy, but there wasn't much I could do about it. But… but…"
Ellis blinked, still a little unaccustomed to actually managing to finish his stories. Over the past couple days the conman had obliged him, unlike the other two, and he had to admit, it was real nice having someone to talk to, or rather at. "Well, I guess tha's it!" he concluded. He then gave a wry chuckle. "Ain't nothin' cool like yours was though."
Nick gave a shrug. "It's not just about how you got them, it's also about how you wear them afterwards."
"I hadn't ever thought of it that way," Ellis thought aloud. He looked at him curiously. "Do I wear mine good?"
The conman chuckled. "You wear it fine. It suits you."
Ellis tipped his hat, complimented. "Thank'ya." He scratched at his nose, that weird feeling happening where the thought of it made you itchy there all of a sudden. "I git the feelin' I'm gonna have a few more after all'is is over," he said.
Nick nodded. "You and me both, kid."