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Shadows and Reflections

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            He’s getting dressed when you say it.

            “I ain’t Scooter.”

            He doesn’t react, save for a slight shift in his shoulders. It might be a disinterested shrug, or he might not be listening at all. You don’t know for sure until he’s halfway through tying his tie and he says, “Sure y’ are, Scoot. Jus’ lookit you.”

             You shake your head and glare at him, just daring him to make eye contact. Daring him to look and see the fire in your eyes, the fire you’d bet anything his “Scooter” never had.

            “I ain’t Scooter,” you say again. “Same way you ain’t Sleuth.”

            He pauses, but only for a moment. He pulls his tie’s knot through and straightens it. “You’re Scooter,” he says, shrugging his coat on. “But you ain’t Scout.”

            He glances up at you and smiles. You’re still sitting in bed, naked and half-tangled in the sheets.

            “If you was Scout,” he says. “I’d actually stick around.”

            He leaves. You throw yourself back into bed, wallowing in your own frustration before you finally crawl out of the sheets and get dressed. You don’t dress as nicely as he does. Not anymore, anyway. Back in the old days, you and the Crew all dressed to the nines. You owned this city, and you made sure everyone who saw you knew it. You didn’t go overboard, of course—you dressed for practicality. It was a dirty business you were in, but you can dress practically while still wearing the most expensive shit available.

            You and the Crew walked these streets and everyone knew who you were. They knew you were the boss, that whatever you said went. If you said you didn’t like that hot dog stand there, it’d be gone the next day. Don’t like that new book store? Gone.

            It’s not like that anymore. Hasn’t been since the Scoundrels rolled into town. Since then there’s no Crew. It’s just you by your lonesome, and it’s too dangerous to call attention to yourself with fancy suits and the like. You know Scoff won’t touch you—well, won’t kill you, anyhow, touching’s fair game—but you don’t know about Innovator or Delinquent.

            You walk through the town, not to assert your dominance or get any business done, but instead to listen to the word on the streets. Today it’s nothing of use. All you hear is the same things you’ve heard before, same things you can’t stop hearing ever since Scoff came around. Shit about how the Scoundrels ran circles around you and your Crew, got them all locked up. About how they took over the city in a matter of weeks. About how they killed the sleuths—even the Chosen Arbiter.

            The Hero of Pulchritude, killed by… another Hero of Pulchritude. Fitting, you guess.

            You don’t need to listen to this anymore.

            You give up on reconnaissance and instead head down to the narrows. You knock on a door in some dingy apartment complex and get invited inside by a certain Dame.

            She didn’t always used to live here. Dame’s a classy skirt, and she used to live in a classy neighborhood. Once the Scoundrels took over they gave her a choice—join up with them, or have to live on the fringes of society. She chose the fringes.

            She offers you tea, which you decline. She then offers whiskey, which you accept. She pours a glass for herself and for you, and the two of you sit on her couch. You ask each other if there’s anything new, word of any new Scoundrel movements or whatnot. Neither of you have anything to report.

            Scoff doesn’t tell you shit when you’re together. GPI only knows you try to get him to talk, but he won’t.

            You go over your battle plans again, not that it really amounts to much besides “attack and hope you don’t die”.

            “So what about you,” you ask. “You’re pretty much him, aint ya? Both ‘a him, but specially Sleuth.”

            She nods and takes a drink.

            “You got any of his tricks? The Pulchritude, the Arbiter bullshit?”

            She shrugs, leaning on the arm of the couch. “Maybe. Dunno. Guess we’ll put a Tectrix in my hands ‘n find out, eh?”

            You nod. May as well chalk that up as a no.

            “How’s the Broad?” you ask.

            She shakes her head. “Still won’t get out of bed.”

            “Jesus Christ.”

            “She just… Pickle was everything to her,” she explains, as though it excuses Broad’s utter determination to avoid the world. “When he imagined her up, I don’t think he imagined that she’d need to know how to cope without ‘im.”

            “Do y’ think she’ll be up for revenge?”

            “Anyone’s guess. I’m not broachin’ the subject ‘til we got a proper plan. Girl gets blood on her mind an’ it don’t happen, well, could get dangerous.”

            You nod and finish your drink. Gal’s got a point, nothing’s scarier than an angry broad. You get up to refill your drink, and she takes that as her cue to turn the attention on you. “What we need is your Crew. You any closer to gettin’ ‘em out?”

            You wave a hand dismissively. “Close. Won’t be much longer.”

            “How they holdin’ up?”

            “Fine. They done time before, ain’t a big deal.” You sit back down. Before you start drinking again, you pull a cigarette from your pocket and light up. “Talked t’ Droog th’ other day. Says Innovator’s been visitin’ him.”

            “Does ‘e say anythin’ helpful?”

            You shake your head. “Nah. Bunch ‘a nonsense. Spends like two, three hours jus’, jus’ starin at Droog. Says he mumbles shit like, ah, ‘you’re not him’ or some shit. Then ‘e leaves.” You exhale some smoke through your nose. “Fuckin’ weirdo.”

            “Maybe he misses his Droog,” she says. “Or whatever they call ‘im on that side.”

            “Maybe.” You say. “God knows Scoff won’t stop pinin’ over this fuckin’ ‘Scout’ asshole.”

            The two of you finish your drinks. She asks if you want to see Broad, but you pass. You’re not keen on crying skirts. Your business finished, she sends you on your way.

            You don’t have anything else to do with yourself. You go home and run through your jailbreak plans again, although you’ve already got the plan memorized. It’ll be easy, you’re sure, you just gotta get a better feel for the guards’ schedules. Figure out when security will be its most lax.

            You spend the rest of the day lying around. You figure you should probably clean up the hideout a bit, keep the guys’ rooms from getting dusty, but you don’t have the energy. You end up just lying in bed until Scofflaw calls on you again. He comes carrying a box.

            “Gotcha a present, Scoot.”

            “Don’ want it,” you reply.

            “You’ll like it,” he says as he shuts your door with his foot. “It’s a hat. You like hats, don’tcha?”

            You do, in fact, like hats, and you noticeably perk up at the mention of it. He smirks and opens the box.

            “… The fuck is this?” you ask.

            “A hat, like I said.”

            You take the hat out of its box. It’s not black, like everything else you wear. It’s white, with a grey band. He takes it from your hands, smooths down your hair and places the hat on your head. He smiles warmly, like he’s really done something good by buying you this thing.

            “Looks good on you,” he says.

            You rip the hat off and throw it on the ground. You point at it, glaring daggers at him. “The fuck is this supposed to be?”

            “A fucking gift,” he says, sounding almost hurt. He picks the hat up.

            “What fucking color is it?!”

            “I thought it’d be a good look for you.” He dusts the hat off.

            “This is about Scout, ain’t it?”

            “Scooter, please.”

            “He wears white, don’t he? You’re tryin’ to make me dress like him!”

            Scoff puts the hat down on your dresser, then puts an arm around your shoulders. “Slick. Baby. Calm down. Take a breath. Okay? Can you do that?”

            “Fuck off,” you growl.

            “Deep breath. In, out. In, out.”

            “I said fuck off!”

            Seeing that you’re not going to allow him to talk you down, he shoves you up against the wall and kisses you. Normally this does a good job of shutting you up, but not today. You shove him back, and when your shoving isn’t enough you let purple fire run through your fingers, burning his lapels. He backs off, patting the flames out. “Jesus fuck, Scooter!”

            “I’m not Scooter!” You howl. “I am Spades fucking Slick!” You summon flames into your hands, letting your eyes glow with the power of the dark gods. “I’m not your fucking detective boytoy, and I fucking own this city! You hear me? I am Spades Slick!

            He claps politely. “Very nice. Real dramatic. You done?”

            You punch him. You give him your best, shadow-fueled whallop, and he reels back.

            He starts chuckling before he even has his balance back. Shadow tentacles rise from the ground below you and grab your arms and legs, holding you down. You struggle against them but as always, you’re powerless against his superior magic. He leans over you, and you try to get at him but you can’t. You even try to headbutt him, but he moves out of the way. Once he’s had enough of watching you writhe, he punches you. Then he punches you again, and again, and lets you fall to the ground so he can kick you.

            “You used t’ own this city,” he says, opening the door. “Times change.”

            He leaves, slamming the door behind him. He leaves the hat behind.

            You wait long enough that you’re sure he’s gone, then you put your hat on—your black hat, thank you—and rush outside. You head back to Dame’s apartment and pound on the door.

            She’s half asleep when she answers, and she don’t look happy about being woken up.

            “Scoff was pissed off,” you say. You don’t bother to explain that you’re the one who pissed him off. “Thought I’d come make sure he wasn’t, yanno. Here killing you.”

            She glares at you for a moment before waving you in.

            “Y’can sleep on the couch,” she says.

            “Don’t get the wrong idea,” you say. “Ain’t like I had no nightmare and I’m runnin’ to my mommy.”

            She yawns, seeing to the many locks on her door. “I know.”

            “Jus’ makin’ sure you ain’t dead.” You put your hat on her hat rack. “Won’t do to lose m’ only ally ‘fore I break out the Crew.”

            “Yeah, yeah. Jus’ let me sleep.”

            She makes her way back to her room, but stops in front of Broad’s door. She leans in, as though listening to something, then looks at you and waves you over.

            You walk to the door and put your ear to it. You can hear a voice inside, but it’s not Broad’s. It sounds like Innovator.

            You shove the door open. Innovator is standing over Broad’s bed, leaning over her and speaking quietly into her ear. He glances up briefly, and you and Dame freeze. If you make a wrong move he could burn her alive. You know it, and he knows you know. After a tense moment he looks back down and resumes talking. Now that you’re in the room he talks quieter, and you can’t make out what he’s saying. At first you’re not sure if she’s even awake. She’s curled up like she always is, clutching her teddy bear. He whispers to her for a while more before she suddenly jolts to life, grabbing him and stabbing him in the gut. He sputters, and she stabs him again. She pushes him away, throwing the knife to the ground in the process, and then curls back up and starts crying. He stumbles back into the wall and falls on his ass. You move. He can’t use his magic now that he’s injured, but the knife is right there and he sure as hell can stab her to death before he bleeds out. You’re not going to give him the chance.

            He reaches out and grabs the knife before you can stop him. You put yourself between him and Broad, drawing a knife of your own, but he doesn’t even bother to get on his feet. He turns the knife on himself, stabbing himself in the heart. Broad sobs behind you as he sputters and collapses.

            Pernicious Innovator, the brains of the Twilight Scoundrels and Peccant Scofflaw’s right hand, is dead in front of you and you don’t have a damn clue why.

            Dame rushes to Broad’s side. Broad keeps sobbing, crying her usual shit about missing Pickle and all that bullshit. You have new respect for her for having gotten revenge on the bastard who killed her boyfriend, but you’d really wish she’d suck it up already.

            You kneel over Innovator’s body. You’re careful about approaching him—who knows, this fuck’s so creepy it wouldn’t surprise you if he came back from the dead. He doesn’t, though. He remains still and lifeless as you rifle through his pockets. You find his keys—both the doubled kind and regular ones—no less than three flasks of whiskey, several scraps of paper with indescipherable writing, various nuts, bolts and wires, and a few pieces of individually-wrapped chocolate. You’re about to give up on searching his many pockets when you find a notepad in his jacket’s inside pocket. Written in it is extensive information on the prison that your Crew are being held in. There are maps, notes on all of the exits, the guards’ shifts, which guards can be bribed—anything you could possibly need to know to get your buddies out, it’s here. Even his notes seem to be written in nicer handwriting, as though trying to make sure that someone besides himself would be able to read it.

            Why would he even have this? He couldn’t possibly have been here to give this to you, could he? You stand up, pocketing the notebook. Dame’s sitting on the bed with Broad, who is sitting up with her. She’s still crying, but she’s upright. It’s progress.

            “What’re we gonna do?” Dame asks you. “Scoff ain’t gonna be happy ‘bout this.”

            You glance down at the body. Scoff will be furious, and if he has any idea what’s happened he’ll kill all three of you. He won’t even need to know that any of you were involved. He just won’t risk leaving you alive once he’s down a Scoundrel.

            “I’ll take care ‘f it,” you say.

            Ain’t like you’ve never disposed of a body before.

            You’re careful about not being seen. Innovator’s body is awkward to carry around, even crumpled into a sack. He’s so damn tall and you’re so not. But it’s late, and people aren’t keen on staying out late ever since the Scoundrels took over, so no one sees you dragging a person-sized bag down to the docks.

            Dumping someone in the river is tricky business. The currents are trecherous, and depending on the location and time of year a corpse can very easily just wash right back up a day later. You, of course, know this river like the back of your hand, and you know its tempraments. When you dump the sack in the river, weighed down with concrete blocks, you know it won’t come back up.

            You light up a cigarette and sit on the edge of the dock. The water laps away at the posts below you, black and bottomless. You leaf through the notebook. Innovator’s blood stains the edges of the pages, but it doesn’t make it any less readable.

            With this information, you can have your Crew back on the streets by the end of the week. The Scoundrels will be flailing, desperately trying to find their missing member. If you and the girls struck now, you might actually stand a chance.

            You close the notebook, tuck it away and start walking. You keep walking the rest of the night, surveying the streets that used to be yours.

            The streets that will be yours again.