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The Blackjack Boogie

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ANCIENT REPTILIAN BRAIN - Nothing.

There is nothing. Only warm, primordial blackness…

 

YOU - Arby...

Shut the fuck up and let me sleep.

 

ANCIENT REPTILIAN BRAIN - ...Excuse me?

YOU - You heard what I said. I just had a long day at work and I want to get a solid eight hours tonight, so stop the doom n' gloom and just let. Me. Sleep

ANCIENT REPTILIAN BRAIN - But Harry-boy, I worked hard on this delicious diatribe! It’s made from the finest ingredients, drawn up from the cool, dark cellar of your subconscious---all that seething anger and rage that you so violently repressed during your interrogation with that snot-nosed punk today...

LIMBIC SYSTEM - As your filthy meat-bag sleeps like the dead, that memory sends a dash of adrenaline coursing through your system. Your muscles tense, your jaw tightens, your teeth grind against each other like sharp, scraping, stones…

 

YOU - Hey! I see what you're doing there. Stop it, or I'm going to sic Volition on you. 

AUTHORITY [Easy: Success] - Or me.

YOU - Or him.

 

ANCIENT REPTILIAN BRAIN - ...Alright, brother-man. We’ll let you off easy. 

LIMBIC SYSTEM - We are?

ANCIENT REPTILIAN BRAIN - Just for tonight. 

LIMBIC SYSTEM - … Yes. Just for tonight.

 

YOU -  Deal. Now, sod off .

INLAND EMPIRE [Easy: Success] - As your subconscious settles down into a grudging silence, you fall into a deep, dreamless sleep…

 


 

PERCEPTION (Hearing) [Trivial: Success] - ...only to be jolted awake by the sharp, shrill ringing of the telephone beside your bed.

YOU - You groan and cover your ears with your pillow--

PAIN THRESHOLD [Challenging: Failure] - But it doesn’t stop the noise from drilling into your eardrums. 

 

YOU - ...I’ll ignore it. It’ll stop if I ignore it, right?

LOGIC [Easy: Success] - Naturally. But if you don't answer it now, it's just going to ring again. And again. And again---

EMPATHY [Easy: Success] - And besides, you wouldn't be able to forgive yourself if you ignored this call. 

LOGIC [Easy: Success] - Because even though the person on the other end of the line deserves to die a slow, painful death for calling you at this godforsaken hour, it's probably an emergency.

HALF-LIGHT [Easy: Success] - A murder. A kidnapping. A hostage-taking situation. 

INLAND EMPIRE [Easy: Success] - A drowned motor carriage containing the corpses of two deranged lovers, their crushed scalps gently stroked by the cold, kindly fingers of the ocean current...

 

YOU - As that haunting vision flashes through your mind, you heave a long-suffering sigh. 

Traitors... You’re supposed to be on my side. 

EMPATHY - We are.

LOGIC - Is there any other side that we can choose from? Because you can be an insufferable prick sometimes... 

VOLITION [Godly: Success] - Just get up and answer the phone.

 

YOU - Cursing under your breath, you emerge from your pillowy haven and blindly scramble around your bedside table for the phone receiver. 

HAND-EYE COORDINATION [Formidable: Success] - Before long, you’re pulling the damned piece of circuitry and plastic and pressing it against your ear.

YOU - “Good morning, please die,” you politely mumble into the phone.

 

JEAN VICQUEMARE - “Rise and shine, shitkid,” the gravelly voice of your partner, Jean Vicquemare, filters through the static in the line. 

PERCEPTION (Hearing) [Formidable: Success] - He sounds just as exhausted and disgruntled about this as you are. 

EMPATHY [Easy: Success] - You suddenly feel a wave of pity for the poor soul who had to wake Jean up.  

 

JEAN VICQUEMARE - “Sorry to ruin your beauty sleep, but something’s come up. We need you down here in Martinaise ASAP,” he says.

YOU - You blink blearily.

“What the fuck’s going on in Martinaise at this hour?” you ask Jean incredulously.

SHIVERS [Easy: Success] - The great district of Martinaise lies at the gaping mouth of Revachol Bay like a sprawling forest of dilapidated firetraps bordered by a metallic mountain range of shipping containers. Devastation from the sea and the sky rained down upon it during the Revolution, and ancient bullet holes still riddle the walls of the buildings that were fortunate enough to remain standing after the carnage.

By all accounts, there's nothing to see there except for a dilapidated boardwalk, a vast shipyard full of industrial containers, and more recently, a chain of pinball parlors that mysteriously started popping up a few years ago...

 

JEAN VICQUEMARE - “Aside from the usual drunken brawl and the perpetual stink of salted fish? Well, there’s a motor carriage that looks like it just crash-landed into the ocean. Oh, and it has two dead bodies inside.”

YOU - Jean's words hit you like a splash of ice-cold water.

“A man and a woman?” you say through numb lips.

 

JEAN VICQUEMARE - He remains silent for a while.

ESPRIT DE CORPS [Easy: Success] - Lt. Vicquemare has been your partner long enough that he's gotten used to your...uncanny abilities. Still, he cannot help but feel unnerved whenever you manage to correctly intuit something that's happening miles and miles away from where you are. 

 

JEAN VICQUEMARE - “Maybe,” he answers in a cryptic tone.

RHETORIC [Medium: Success] - His tone can be interpreted in two ways, either, “I don’t know,” or, “Wouldn’t you want to know?”

Either way, he’s practically dangling bait right in front of your face.

 

YOU - Sighing, you rub your face wearily.

“Alright, alright. I’ll be down there in forty-five,” you say.

JEAN VICQUEMARE - “Good," he says gruffly. "Oh, and bring your camera, because I forgot mine at home. Drive safe, Mullen.”

And with that, he puts down the phone. 

YOU - Placing the phone back to its receiver, you heave your body up from the bed and vigorously shake your head to dispel your lingering sleepiness.

ENDURANCE [Medium: Success] - You’re running on just four hours of sleep, but you should be able to function well enough. Perpetual sleep deprivation seems to be part of the whole detective schtick, after all. 

 

YOU - I should’ve just been a gym teacher all my life. At least they get summer vacations, spring breaks, snow days---

PERCEPTION [Easy: Success] - Excuse me, but have you looked into a mirror lately? Feel anything...heavy around your belly area? Like, let's say, a formidable layer of fat that you’ve accumulated from a balanced diet of kebab, shawarmas, and burritos, and having a bottle of beer every other day after work?

LOGIC [Easy: Success] - And besides, your brilliant brain would’ve been wasted on the mind-numbing inanity of teaching pre-adolescents how to do calisthenics, or how to shoot a ball into a basket without crushing someone's nose first...

HALF-LIGHT [Easy: Success] - Not to mention those parent-teacher conferences. Do you remember the one you had with Mrs. Thompson? You should have sued her for molestation, with the way she was ogling you---

YOU - OKAY! Okay, I get it. Totally grateful that I’m not a gym teacher now. Thank you.

 

HAND-EYE COORDINATION [Challenging: Success] - Yawning, you flick on your bedside lamp and get up from your bed.

PERCEPTION (Sight) [Medium: Success] - The lamp casts a bright, incandescent island of light around your room, which is relatively neat for a bachelor’s pad. There's your bed, which is big enough for two...

PAIN THRESHOLD [Challenging: Success] - But let's face it, it's been six years since you've slept on that bed with anyone else. On the bright side, you no longer have to worry about accidentally crushing someone under your bulk when you turn in your sleep. 

 

PERCEPTION (Sight) [Medium: Success] - Most of your dirty clothes are in the hamper by the door, and your desk is uncluttered, save for the ledger that you threw onto it last night before collapsing into bed. The wall above your desk is occupied by a medium-sized corkboard, which is full of tacked-on notes, photographs, receipts, letters, and other post-able paraphernalia that you've accumulated through the years.

A series of post-its have the words, "THE END IS NIGH" scribbled on them in black, capital letters. You do not remember when or why you wrote them. 

LOGIC [Easy: Success] - Which is precisely why you tacked them onto the board, as if they'd start making sense if you stare at them long enough.

 

PERCEPTION (Sight) [Medium: Success] - Your eyes land on a photo tacked onto the bottom-left corner of the board, a strategic location that ensures that the photo would be at eye-level when you're seated behind the desk. 

ESPRIT DE CORPS [Easy: Success] - It's a photo of Precinct 41's Major Crimes Division, which you've had the honor of heading for the past ten years. There are exactly 21 faces in that photo, all of them near and dear to your heart. Captain Ptolemy Pryce himself stands tall and proud in the middle of the photo, flanked by Jean and yourself. Beside you, Sergeant Chester McLaine makes a funny face at the camera while his partner, Mack Torson, grins with his muscular arms crossed in front of his impressive torso. Civilian Officer Trant Heidelstam beams brightly beside Jean, and Patrol Officer Judith Minot stands with quiet dignity on Trant's right. As usual, Guillaume Bevy stands out from the crowd with his spiffy sunglasses and his golden-blonde hair.

VOLITION [Easy: Success] - This is the photo that you look at during the dark days, when the weight on your shoulders feels like it's too much to bear, when the world seems so cruel and absurd that your all of your efforts to make it a better place seem naive and futile, when your own weaknesses and failures threaten to overshadow all of your merits and accomplishments...

ESPRIT DE CORPS [Easy: Success] - You are willing to die for each one of those faces in that photo.

And you know that each one of them will be willing to do the same for you.  

 

COMPOSURE - In other news, it’s 4:00 in the morning, and you have exactly 15 minutes to look like a functional human being again! 

VOLITION [Legendary: Success] - Shower, dress up, swipe your things, and get going before Jean blows a blood vessel while waiting for you. 

 

YOU - Roger that. 

Scratching your belly, you pad over to the bathroom and start your morning routine.

PERCEPTION (Sight) [Trivial: Success] - After turning on the light, you peer into the mirror on top of the sink and examine your face. 

As expected, you look worn and haggard from lack of sleep. There are puffy bags under your eyes and pillow creases on your right cheek. Your moustache and mutton chops need trimming, but you're still on the affable-lion side of the spectrum, and not on the apocalyptic-prophet side... 

HAND-EYE COORDINATION [Trivial: Success] - Stifling a yawn, you grab your toothbrush, put a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on it, and start scrubbing away. 

SAVOIR FAIRE - Don't forget to practice the Expression after you brush your teeth!

YOU - Of course. What kind of disco cop would I be if I didn't do that?

LOGIC [Trivial: Success] - A normal cop. 

ELECTROCHEMISTRY [Challenging: Failure] - A boring cop.

COMPOSURE [Challenging: Failure] - A sorry cop.

 

YOU - You shudder in horror as you look through those options. 

After brushing your teeth, you take a quick shower and use the opportunity to check in with all the voices in your head.

Anyone have anything for me this fine morning?

LOGIC - All clear.

EMPATHY - If you can, go and buy a cup of coffee for Lt. Vicquemare on your way to Martinaise. Based on how tired he sounded, he'll appreciate that gesture a lot.

YOU - Great suggestion. Anyone else?

ESPRIT DE CORPS - Bring the camera.

VISUAL CALCULUS - And a spare pair of gloves, some ammonia, and preferably, an empty stomach. You're probably going to have to do a field autopsy on those two corpses when you get there, and you don't want to puke your guts out in front of the good citizens of Martinaise.

YOU - You wince at the idea of touching cold, dead, human flesh. Even though you've done it hundreds of times, it always gives you the creeps...

INLAND EMPIRE - However, unlike the others corpses that you've dealt with in the past, these two will not be as willing to surrender their secrets to your probing inquiries.

They are...formidable. Even in death.

YOU - As you consider this mysterious insight, you wrap a towel around your waist and march back to your room to perform one of the most sacred duties of your day.

 

SAVOIR FAIRE [Easy: Success] - It is time...

To pick out your outfit! 

 

YOU - Okay, guys. Help me out here. What will I need to crack this case?

LOGIC [Easy: Success] - The Interisolary Dress Shirt. You'll need the extra brainpower to connect the dots, given how sleep-deprived you are. 

YOU - Done. Coat or blazer?

ESPRIT DE CORPS [Easy: Success] - The Disco-Ass Blazer. It always proves helpful whenever you have to work with Lt. Vicquemare.

YOU - Blazer it is. Pants?

ELECTROCHEMISTRY [Easy: Success] - Buddy, I cannot emphasize how important it is that you wear those Flare-Cut Trousers today. Like. Trust me on this.  

YOU - You frown at your wardrobe.

Why? Will I be seducing anybody today?

ELECTROCHEMISTRY [Easy: Success] - My lips are sealed. Zipped. Clamped shut.

... But the answer is for the love of all that is good and holy, YES, you'd better seduce a certain someone today. 

YOU - Any idea what he's going on about?

LOGIC [Legendary: Failure] - No clue. 

INLAND EMPIRE [Legendary: Failure] - Absolutely no idea.

YOU - Shrugging, you take out the pants from the cabinet and put them on. 

Alright, what about the shoes?

COMPOSURE [Easy: Success] - The Green Snakeskins will help you keep a straight face while talking to those dead bodies.

 

YOU - Speaking of dead bodies...

Your eyes drift to the pile of ties lying in a box at the bottom of your cabinet. Specifically, on the outlandishly vivid relic that lies on top of the pile, beckoning your gaze towards it like a kaleidoscopic sliver of cloth...

INLAND EMPIRE [Easy: Success] - Yes. Definitely. Absolutely.

YOU - Succumbing to its siren call, you pick up the Horrific Necktie and put it on.

 

HORRIFIC NECKTIE - Let me guess. You're going to talk to dead people again?

YOU - Yep. 

HORRIFIC NECKTIE - Buddy, I'm going to help you make them sing.  What are you waiting for? Let's go!

 

VOLITION [Trivial: Success] - Through your own free will (and absolutely not because your necktie told you so), you close your wardrobe, swipe your bag from behind the door, grab your ledger from your desk---

ESPRIT DE CORPS - The camera!!!

YOU - Oh, right.

HAND-EYE COORDINATION [Trivial: Success] - --and get your camera from a drawer beneath the desk.

 

YOU - Last chance, guys. Anything else I need before I head out?

LOGIC [Trivial: Success] - Nope, you're all set and ready to go. 

SAVOIR FAIRE - Wait! Expression practice!!! Did you do it???

YOU - Whoops, sorry. Almost forgot about that. 

You rush back into the bathroom, turn on the lights, and quickly flash your best impression of Guillaume le Million.

DRAMA [Trivial: Success] - Behold, my liege! Your majestic, ineffable, utterly captivating visage!!!

SAVOIR FAIRE - Great angle! Now, load up those finger guns!

YOU - You load up the finger guns and fire them at your grinning face.

SAVOIR FAIRE [Trivial: Success] - Whew, the world better be ready for you, because you're about to set it on fire.

RHETORIC [Trivial: Success] - Not literally, of course. 

PHYSICAL INSTRUMENT - Unless someone tries to mess around with you, and there happens to be a convenient container of flammable liquid nearby... 

 

YOU - With your morning routine duly and stylishly accomplished, you stride out of your apartment with a wide, daredevil grin on your face. 

I have a great feeling about this, boys.

We're going to crack this case wide open.

 


 

Meanwhile, a few kilometers away from your apartment, a lone figure stands on the balcony of a bar cafeteria. 

The glittering lights of the city glint on his glasses. A half-smoked cigarette smoulders between his gloved fingers, and he exhales a plume of smoke into the frigid, pre-dawn air. 

His gaze is trained towards the south, specifically, at the red-and-blue emergency lights that glare through the darkness in a whirling, steady beat...

When the door opens behind him, he doesn't even turn to look.

"Titus," he greets, tapping out the ash from his cigarette.

 

Behind him, Titus Hardie shakes his head in disbelief.

"You got eyes at the back of your head, Ace?" he asks as he walks over to join the other man on the balcony.

 

Ace gives him a small, secret smile. "Just a lucky guess," he says.

Titus mutters something like, "Lucky guess my foot," but he shuts up when he sees the police lights in the distance.

"Didn't think they'd show up this quickly," Titus says, in a tone that implies that he would have highly preferred it if the police hadn't shown up at all.

Ace remains silent, but his gaze takes on a cold, calculating edge. 

 

"How're you doing?" Titus asks. "You had a pretty rough landing over there---"

"I'm fine," Ace replies, but Titus can't help but notice the faint bruises on his temple and the exposed skin of his arms...

Then, Titus quickly catches himself and tries to stop worrying over Ace like a mother hen. 

If Ace said that he was fine, then he was fine.

 

Tapping his fingers nervously on the balcony railing, Titus releases a shuddering, foggy breath. 

"You think the pigs will come knocking at our door?" he asks.

Ace nods. "No doubt about it. Is everyone ready with their statements?"

"Yeah," Titus says, standing back from the railing and crossing his arms over his chest. "Eugene and Angus are making the rounds now to tell everyone what's going on, and what they should tell the pigs in case they come sniffing around."

"Excellent. Great work, Titus."

And dammit, Titus both loves and hates the tiny burst of pride that he feels at Ace's praise. 

 

Then, before he loses his nerve, Titus takes a deep breath and steels himself for what he's about to say next.

"Ace," he starts. "I don't think it's a good idea for you to be around when the cops---"

But before he can finish his sentence, Ace looks at him directly and arches an eyebrow

Titus' words die on his lips.

 

"I'm not going anywhere, Hardie," Ace says, in a quiet voice that was as unyielding as steel. "This mess happened because of me. And I'm not going to allow anyone else to suffer the consequences for it."

And just like that, Titus knows that he's been defeated.

Sighing, he massages the bridge of his nose to ease the migraine that threatens to pulse through his skull. "Okay. Okay, I'm not going to stop you." 

Ace's face remains expressionless, but Titus swears that he could see gratitude in the other man's eyes.

"But," Titus quickly adds. "If those filthy pigs even try to lift a finger against you---"

 

"I know, I know. You're going to unleash the full fury of the Hardie boys against them," Ace intones like a bored schoolchild. 

"...Damn right," Titus huffs, slightly miffed that Ace got to steal the bad-ass line that he was about to say.

 

Ace's lips quirk up around his cigarette.

Then, after one last, luxurious exhale, he stubs it out on the sole of his boot. 

"We'd better get some sleep, Titus. This is going to be a long day for the both of us," Ace says.

 

Before he follows Ace into the warm interior of the Whirling-in-Rags, Titus Hardie takes one last look at the police lights in the distance. 

"Damn pigs," he mutters.

Then, he steps into the cafeteria, and shuts the door behind him.