Chapter 9:

Chapter 9 - A Risky Bet


The sun was setting on the pastel-painted cityscape as they strode from the outfitter’s establishment with costume in hand. Morgan still wasn’t completely sold on the girl’s approach to subterfuge–he figured the hat and bandana would make him out like some kind of cartoon villain–but racking his brain for alternatives wasn’t bearing any fruit. All told, there just weren’t a lot of techniques for covering up one’s face and hair in a way that felt natural–particularly in this climate.

He peered around at pedestrians as they passed, trying to suss out the general style of dress among the locals, and quickly reaffirmed his belief that looking like an out-of-place foreigner was probably their best shot. Everybody around here was dressed for the weather: short sleeves, high hems, light fabrics. Here and there he caught a glimpse of someone sporting a wide-brimmed hat, but they were far from the norm; by and large, men and women alike seemed to prefer bared skin and a shaved head to clothing intended to keep off the sun, as if its heat was such a pervasive force in their lives that they’d long since given up trying to fight it.

If anything, it was the rich folks–those who had the luxury of staying indoors most of the time–who dressed more conservatively and let their hair grow out, but even they seemed averse to the concept of face-coverings. And why wouldn’t they? Scarves, bandanas and veils were stuffy, and in a town where criminality was an open secret there was little need for anonymity… Which meant he’d have to play the clueless Wessoner, striding around with his features covered up as if he expected a gang of lawmen to ride up on him at any moment.

“Havin’ second thoughts?” Roulette guessed, having no doubt noticed the way his head was swiveling about. It would’ve annoyed him if she hadn’t recently become his partner in crime; after all, perceptiveness was a valuable trait in those you trusted your back to.

“I don’t have second thoughts,” he replied. “I had doubts about the plan from the start, you’ll recall.”

The girl rolled her eyes.

“And yet, here you are…”

“Yep. Here I am, still half-sure this will either end in us bein’ broke or lyin’ dead in an alley.”

“These folks are professionals, I thought–surely they’d have a better way to get rid of our bodies than that.”

Morgan looked straight ahead, scowling. “You’re not funny,” he grumbled. “I don’t appreciate my partners treatin’ serious matters like they’re some kind of game.”

“Partners? Thought I was your boss?” she quipped, her smirk insufferable.

“If you are, or ever were, the boss of anyone or anythin’ at all, I’d be mightily surprised… And depressed on behalf of all those involved. Now, get your head on straight–we’re almost there.”

Just ahead, on the right-hand side of the wide, sandy boulevard, stood one of the largest buildings Morgan had seen since his arrival in Port Pistola. It was no less impressive on this visit than it had been during any of the others, and he found himself struck with a strange feeling of nostalgia for the early days of his Truvelan getaway. He’d had money, then, and a growing fascination with the city and its people. The more he thought about what exactly he’d been getting away from, though, the further he sunk into his self-imposed spiral of doubt and apathy–probably because he couldn’t remember a damn thing about it.

“Wow! Now THAT’S a gamblin’ parlor!” Roulette exclaimed. Morgan saw the abundant light of two dozen gas lamps reflected in her eyes as they approached the front of the casino. Its windows extended to either side of the thick, rose-tinged double doors that formed its entrance, with a wider series of panes extending from above the doors’ molded threshold to end in an arch just below the roof. Its uppermost windows faced west, peeking up above the shadows cast by the row of buildings standing across the way; they gleamed in the light of the sun’s final rays, complimenting the already-attractive spectacle of the casino’s amply-lit interior.

He could hardly blame her for being dazzled by a sight so grand, but he wasn’t of a mind to goggle along with her–not when they still had so much ahead of them. Instead, he took the opportunity to slip his hat on and affix their newly-acquired red bandana around the lower half of his face, tying it off at the back with a deft twist of his fingers. He earned a few odd looks for it right from the jump, as expected, but he paid the gawkers little mind. So long as the ruse kept the mob off his back long enough for Roulette to earn a gun’s worth in slugs, people could look at him whatever way they wanted; he was only there to supervise.

“Last chance to back out,” she said, looking him over with a slight nod of approval. “I think you’ll pass muster in there, but you’d be even less likely to be recognized if you never came in at all, y’know.”

“True enough,” he acknowledged, “but if I don’t come along, I’ll miss out on a golden opportunity.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

Now it was Morgan’s turn to smirk. He did so with relish, stepping forward to open the door for her with a knowing glint in his eye.

“A chance to see you in action, of course,” he said as she passed the threshold. “If I’m not around to see you make a mess of things, I won’t be able to rub it in your face later.”

“Hm. Sounds awful petty to me.” she sniffed. Morgan chuckled and followed her in, suppressing his urge to prepare a comeback as the raucous atmosphere of the casino set in all around them.

The main hall of the place was vast, having been built to accommodate the majority of the diversions on offer. Crowds of people milled about despite the early hour, congregating around poker and craps tables alike in their pursuit of an evening’s entertainment. Rows of bronze-cast one-armed bandits stood ready to engage the odd solitary gambler, the whirring of their slot wheels–and the accompanying clatter of slugs–resounding throughout the hall, forcing the casino’s patrons to match or exceed the din of it all if they wanted to be heard. Two rows of stately white pillars rose from the morass toward a high ceiling, each one bearing a host of flickering gas lamps, and beyond them stood a pair of curving staircases that met in a landing before continuing on up to the building’s second floor.

Morgan’s attention, however, was drawn to the right, toward the open portal that led directly into the bar. He looked back at Roulette to find that she had followed his gaze, apparently none too impressed with what she’d found at the other end of it.

“Doesn’t strike me as an easy place to observe me from!” she chided, raising her voice to match the rowdy tenor of their surroundings.

“I’ll be back to do that in just a minute,” he replied. “First things first!” He turned away from her then, elbowing his way through a few other foyer-stragglers like themselves en route to the casino’s watering hole. She yelled something after him–he thought he could make out the words “blackjack table” and “if you care”–but much of it was lost in the hubbub as he forged his way further and further from the front doors.

Good riddance. He didn’t need some jumped up greenhorn Gunslinger like her trying to mind him like a child. He had plenty of experience with this sort of thing; he knew it instinctively, even if he couldn’t rightly recall a specific example of his past criminal exploits. If he decided he had time to stop in at the bar before getting down to business, that was his prerogative; it was an informed choice he’d made as a knowledgeable professional, and it certainly was not the selfish whim of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic…

…Goddamn, he needed a drink.

Morgan slid into the stool nearest the doorway as a kind of compromise. He couldn’t exactly see much of the casino proper from here–basically just the entryway–but he was close enough, and he’d be done soon anyway. Five minutes, tops. That shrew of a girl could stay out of trouble for five minutes, couldn’t she?

An unfamiliar figure stepped into the bar, then, disrupting his train of thought. The new arrival closed the space between them at a languid pace and took the seat next to him, slapping at his shoulder with a gloved hand as if they were old pals. Morgan gave the man a sidelong glance, taking note of his thin mustache and tailored black suit as the guy settled into his seat, flagged down the bartender and opened his mouth to speak.

“Hey, barkeep! Finger of bourbon for me, if ya would–and one for my friend, here, too!”

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