Chapter 2:

Chapter 2 - Pocket Pair

GUN SALAD


The girl made every effort to suppress her excitement as she pushed open the bar’s front door. It stuck a little at first, and creaked loudly when she threw it open. She found the taproom it concealed to be in a similar state of disrepair: dark, dusty and crowded with old, worn-down furnishings. Unlike the last bar, a few figures sat hunched at tables despite the early hour–day-drinkers like her elusive friend, it seemed. Perhaps he’d finally found a drinking spot to match his strange proclivities?

She made her way over to where he sat, ignoring the barkeep and his other customers alike. Now that she’d found her quarry, there was no need to make small talk anymore; not when she stood on the cusp of a new era in her uncommonly eventful life. She elected not to sit beside him yet–too familiar. Elated as she was to finally be meeting him, the girl couldn’t rule out the possibility that he was some kind of psycho, and she felt safer staying on her feet in the event that she had to beat a hasty retreat.

“Hi there,” she began, careful to keep a fair amount of distance between them, “I’ve been lookin’ for you.”

He spun abruptly in his chair, fixing her with a bleary stare. He looked different from the man depicted in the photo she carried; less together. His hair was tousled, and his navy vest was stained. He smelled rank. In spite of all that, though, the girl was struck with one very important realization as her eyes drunk in the sight of his angular, clean-shaven visage:

She wanted him to keep. Not just as a partner in her grand designs, but a partner in life. It was a new sensation for her, being smitten; he hadn’t even said anything yet, and he was plainly 20 years or so her senior, but she found herself getting lost in his narrow almond-shaped eyes nonetheless. The surge of a schoolgirl crush–a fate she never expected to befall her–mounted in her chest, shaking her confidence, breaking down her defenses just in time for him to open his mouth and say…

“Who? Why!?”

“I-I… Uhm…!” she stammered, inwardly furious with herself for flubbing such an important introduction, “I’m R-Roulette! Nice to meet you.”

“Great, hi. What d’you want?” he growled, clearly and understandably on-edge.

Roulette had to stop herself from gulping. “I… I was just wonderin’ if we could talk for a minute. Can I sit down?”

Stupid. Possibly dangerous. But there was nothing for it; the events of the last few seconds had blown the breath from her lungs, and she needed time to compose herself.

Her new friend, however, was reluctant to oblige her. He held out his hand, barring her from the stool beside him.

“Question first. Mmmn… Are you here to kill me?” he asked, swooning a little.

That’s right! Obviously he was drunk, and it was becoming more obvious as the adrenaline of their sudden meeting wore off. Roulette found herself hoping against hope that he’d wake up the next morning with no memory of this.

“N-No! Of course not!” she replied.

“...S’what you’d say if you were,” he said, eyeing her with suspicion.

“It’s also what I’d say if I wasn’t,” she countered.

His eyes narrowed.

“Fair,” he said, “Siddown.”

She did so, sliding gratefully into the vaguely sticky stool at his side. He continued to watch her carefully, hands cupping his glass of whiskey–but not lifting it–as if he planned to smash the vessel against her head should things go south.

Consequently, Roulette decided that defusing the uncomfortable atmosphere between them should be her first priority.

“Like I said, I’ve been lookin’ for you,'' she began, resting both arms on the counter in front of her. The terrace was open to the elements, and the view combined with the fresh sea breeze did much to settle her nerves as she mulled over her next words. “I’m not interested in killing you. In fact, I was hoping to hire you.”

“I’m retired,” he answered flatly.

“Retired from what?” she asked, her curiosity piqued. The man who’d sent her on this manhunt hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with the particulars.

“Retired from none-of-your-damn business, is what.” he quipped, exhibiting all the wit one would expect from a consummate alcoholic. He showed a measure of comfort with the course of their conversation by lifting the glass to his lips, apparently no longer concerned with the possibility of his impending death.

“Well, all the same, I’m hopin’ you’ll give me a chance to change your mind,” she replied, “The man who told me about you said you’re ‘the best Gunslinger nobody knows about.’ I’ll need someone like that on my side for what I’ve got planned.”

The man fell silent awhile, just glowering at the sea. Roulette waited patiently; she’d come too far to think about doing anything else. If he wanted her gone, he’d have to say so in no uncertain terms.

“Who told you about me?” he finally asked, his eyes remaining stubbornly on the horizon.

“Some guy named Luca. He’s a networker in Trigger City; helped me track down Lady Luck, here,” she explained, looking fondly in the direction of the gun on her back, “Gave me a photo of you, too. He told me I’d find you here in Port Pistola, drinkin’ yourself into oblivion.” She chuckled, giving the Gunslinger’s bedraggled form another once-over. “Judgin’ by the state you’re in, I’d say he was well-informed.”

The man sighed deeply, his eyelids sliding closed. “Fuckin’ Luca…”

When the man didn’t stir from that posture for several long seconds, Roulette elected to take the initiative once again:

“Look, I know you’re feelin’ kinda out of it, but I’m really in a bind here. I need your help. I’ve got money. You don’t need to worry about that. Just give me an answer–a ‘yes’ would do–and let’s get down to brass tacks, hmm?”

The man grumbled, lifting both hands to rub at his eyes and smear his features across his face.

“D’you have troubles with your hearing, or somethin’? I said I’m retired,” he grumbled, a dangerous edge coming into his voice. “I don’t much care what your problems are. Just take the hint and get gone, would you? Your voice is annoyin’ as hell.”

That reaction was enough to give her pause. The man seemed adamant about refusing her, hampered as he was by his own shiftlessness and love of the drink. For a moment, Roulette considered obliging him and leaving without a word.

…But if she did, she knew she’d never see him again. She’d never see her ambitions through... And that outcome was nothing short of unacceptable.

Instead, Roulette turned in her stool and leaned on the counter, hissing her next words almost directly into his ear.

“Listen here, sad sack,” she said, “If you think my voice is annoyin’, you’d better settle in and get ready to hear it for the rest of your miserable life. Because I came a long way to say my piece to you, and I’m not leavin’ until you at least do me the courtesy of hearin’ me out. It’s either that, or you’ll have to kill me. Right here, right now.”

Her eyes bore into the side of his face–the best she could do, considering he’d refused to meet her eyes since she sat down.

“So, what’s it goin’ to be?”

“Just say what you’re gonna say, little girl,” he replied, clearly unfazed by her aggressive tactics, “You’re not half as intimidatin’ as you seem to think.”

She wanted to tear his stupid, perfect face apart with her bare hands. Instead, she took a breath and raised the most volatile topic of the conversation thus far: the job.

“I need you to help me kill the Gun Czars.”

That got his attention. He glanced toward her with his brow furrowed, at first… But his frown rapidly morphed into a shaky smile; one that threatened to give way, at any moment, to gales of laughter.

“...Kill the Gun Czars…?” he repeated, his words interspersed with genuine snickers, “...You?”

Roulette regarded him coolly for a second or two before rising abruptly to her feet.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she said, swinging her gun around into her hands, “I’m gonna kill you.”

“WOAH! Woah woah woah…!” he babbled, throwing up his hands against the threat of imminent gunfire, “Hold up! Uncle–I’m unarmed!”

Her irises burned with authentic rage, her finger quivering on the trigger of her SMG.

“See what I mean, now? I’m retired. No good to you, or anyone,” he groaned, patting his hips to accentuate his lack of a firearm, “Not a Gunslinger. Just a drunk. S’it too much to ask that I be allowed to stay that way?”

She tilted her head, but refused to lower her weapon. She wouldn’t think of shooting an unarmed man–Daddy raised her better than that–but it felt good to have him in her sights. That, and she was finally making progress.

“Where’s your gun?” she asked.

“Sold it,” he answered.

“Bullshit. No Gunslinger in his right mind would sell his gun.”

“Do I look like I’m in my right mind to you?” He allowed his eyes to drift to the floor; the first show of emotion she’d seen from him since walking into the bar.

..Well, besides fear. And amusement. But those didn’t count.

“I just want to be left alone… T’forget. Maybe get some peace,” he continued, “I’ve earned it, ain’t I…?”

Roulette found herself feeling a degree of sympathy for him. She lowered her gun and heaved a sigh, her anger dwindling away to a low simmer.

“Who’d you sell it to?”

“Why d’you care?” he mumbled, his sullen demeanor resurging.

“I want to get it back for you,” she said, “So you can help me properly.”

“Impossible,” he scoffed, “I sold it to the mob–the guys who run this town. They ain’t inclined toward reconsiderin’ a deal once it’s been done.”

The girl put one hand on her hip and lifted her gun in the other, resting the butt on her shoulder.

“Well, then I’ll just have to make ‘em reconsider their policy of not reconsiderin’.”

The man shook his head, smiling for the second time in as many minutes. “You’re crazy.”

The girl smiled back, furnishing him with a wink–the first of many, she reckoned.

“And you’re comin’ with me, handsome.”

J.P.B
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