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The niche

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"Look, um - you've come through for me in the past, and I appreciate it."

Jimmy's skinny face gave nothing away. Mike decided that was fair enough, considering it was his standard practice.  And you need my help again. Take all the time you want getting to the point - I won't help you out. Say your piece, and if you want to say more, go ahead.  Words are cheap, especially where you're concerned.

"This is..." Jimmy rubbed his chin with his lean fingers.  "Well, I try to work within the letter of the law."

The letter. Not the spirit. You're a good lawyer, boy; you know it's the words that matter, the long lists of specificities that make it legal for a cop to steal a man's money and shoot him if he twitches the wrong way. The letter of the law that made it possible to be the man I was.

"And technically this is not quite within the letter of the law, one might say?" Jimmy wiggled his fingers expressively, cocking his head.

"You're the lawyer," Mike replied. "Say it or not." It was cold - that was the most difficult part. The courthouses were always cold, overly air-conditioned, the ecosystem where suits and makeup and expensive shoes thrived.  Their niche.  This was not Mike's ecosystem. He had left the cold behind, for good; his bones soaked up the dry desert heat gratefully, warming his body. Poisonous things thrived in the desert - scorpions, rattlesnakes, and Mike. He resisted the urge to shiver. He would be outside again, soon enough. There was time.

"Right." Jimmy licked his lips. Mike had to admit, he had been surprised at how well Jimmy had done so far. Most men who were that nervous, whose bodies twitched and jerked with the inability of the muscles to stay put for one second - well, the mind followed the body, and when your mind twitched and jerked like that, it spat things out of your mouth that would have been better off inside. Jimmy didn't belong indoors, either. He wanted to belong - he tried, he looked in longingly, he stayed in those cold buildings until his never-still body couldn't stand it anymore, until he had to go outside again. He loved one of those cold creatures, yes, but she wasn't his species. He belonged outside of that niche. Not in the daytime - not lying on a brown rock like Mike, letting the sun warm him, ready to bite or sting anyone who disturbed him. Jimmy was a nocturnal creature, at home in alleys and other dark places, where the shadows came alive. A rat. Rats were severely underrated creatures, as far as Mike was concerned. Rats were survivors, robust, smart, and resourceful creatures. They fed on rubbish, untouched by it. As long as you understood their nature, they could be trusted.

"I can't properly prove that this guy is beating up his girlfriend, not to a legal standard. And without proof, it's hard to get a restraining order."

"Give me the name," Mike replied. "He'll never bother her again."



"It's not what I expected," Jimmy grumbled, walking around the room, poking at the cheap drywall.

"It'll do." Mike shrugged. "You'll make it your own."

"Yeah, whatever. This is the move I need to make. This changes everything.  My own law office, my own practice, run my way..."

"Yeah, that's what you always think, isn't it. You just needed to get your law degree, and your life would change. No, you just needed to get a job there. No, you just needed to be partner. Always the next thing, the thing that'll change your life. But it doesn't. Because it's always you there, in the end. Are you good with yourself? If so, you'll find the good wherever you are. You're not? Then you'll never be happy, always moving, always acquiring, always looking to find what you're missing."

"You know..." Jimmy poked at Mike. "I think that's the most words I've ever heard you use."

"Hope you enjoyed it."

"Oh, I did, you're just a fuckin' Socrates." Jimmy stuck his hands in his pockets. "So, anyway, I have a favor to ask of you..."

"The girl who you were talking to outside?"

"How..."  Jimmy frowned, jamming his hands more deeply into his pockets, to the point Mike wondered if he would push his pants off entirely.  "Where... how long were you watching us?"

"Long enough.  She's not on her period, is she?"

"I dunno, she's... how would I know?  What the fuck does it matter?"

"It's like HGH.  Gives 'em extra power and strength."

Jimmy paused in his fidgeting.  "Are you serious?"

"No.  Are you a fuckin' idiot?  Tell me what she needs."  Mike had his rare pleasures, and keeping Jimmy's brain a little off-balance wasn't beneath him.



"How did he die?" Jimmy asked, poking at the body with his foot.

"Badly, looks like," Mike noted, searching the corpse's jacket efficiently, grunting thoughtfully at the picture of the young man in one pocket, the old Colt revolver in the other. It was old, heavy - worth something, more an heirloom than a weapon.

"You know what I mean."

"Half the time, I think I don't." Mike passed the picture up to Jimmy, who whistled.

"Well, this explains some of it, doesn't it." Mike didn't answer.  "Well, it does to me.  You know?  He said he was willing to die for..." Jimmy wiggled the picture, "this..."

"And maybe he did.  But maybe not."  The simplest answer was seductive, and usually correct - but not always.

"So what would you die for?" Jimmy asked, putting the picture away carefully in his wallet.

"Nothing, right now," Mike noted, standing and dusting off his jeans.  "I'm a lot more use alive, typically." Kaylee - who else could he trust to look after her?  He had to stay alive, for her.  Her future.  She was far too important to trust to anybody else.

"That's not what I expected." Jimmy opened the door of his ostentatious Cadillac. "I wouldn't die for anything, myself, but I'm a coward."

"You're not a coward," Mike replied.  He had gotten to like this boy too much, hadn't he, opening up like this.  "You're a survivor.  You know what you value, and you stick with it."

"Yeah..." Jimmy replied, thoughtfully, then shook himself out of it.  "What I value right now is a drink and some dinner.  You up for that?"

"If you're buyin'."



Mike set down his beer and answered his phone, the caller ID noting Pain In The Ass. The voice was elevated, rapid, somewhat hyper on the other end of the line. Mike - hey, I hate to bother you, but I'm out of town, and this stupid kid I know is in big trouble, his girlfriend ODed...

Mike sighed and started to pull his jeans on.  Well, not everyone was evolved to survive.