Chapter 16:

Chapter 16 - The Tell


Morgan’s time inside the crate had been even less comfortable than he’d imagined. Crowded on all sides by strange metallic artifacts of varying shapes and sizes, he’d been forced to maintain a constant squat for the better part of an hour. As if that weren’t trying enough, much of that hour had been spent in the back of a dustsnuffle-drawn cart as it rumbled uphill along furrowed dirt roads. Being carried into the villa had been heaven by comparison; the sailors toting his crate were gentle with their cargo, for all the grunting and cursing he’d heard as the two men lugged him inside and set his vessel down.

When he was certain they’d left the room, Morgan moved to enact the next phase of his plan: retrieving his long-lost weapon. He pressed both hands to the underside of the lid and lifted it gingerly, predicting with some confidence that he’d find the inside of a storeroom beyond the confines of his box.

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Instead his eyes found the leg of a richly-detailed wooden dining table bathed in moonlight. Beyond it lay all the usual trappings of a well-to-do person’s dining room: chairs, paintings, big windows with filmy curtains…

…A young girl holding a mango, staring in his direction with her mouth agape…

“Shit!” he breathed, ducking back into the box with all haste. But it was too late. Obviously she’d seen him–and even if she hadn’t, the sound of the lid clapping shut above him was a dead giveaway. He waited for the inevitable moment of his discovery, and it came shortly thereafter. The lid inched open, exposing the sight of his squatting form to a pair of curious young eyes.

“Hello…?” the girl said in a small voice.

“Little miss,” he whispered, trying his best to sound kindly, “I can explain everythin’. And I won’t hurt you. Can you hold off on screamin’ for just one second, while I tell you why I’m here?”

The girl said nothing at first. And then:

“...You are not wearing any pants.”

“I know. It’s been a long night,” he replied. Inwardly, he praised himself for maintaining the habit of wearing underwear every day even throughout these last, listless weeks. “I’m here to get one thing. And after I get it, I’ll leave. No harm done. It’s my gun–a silver revolver. I…Uh, left it here awhile ago. And now I need it back.”

At some point during his fumbling explanation, he saw the girl’s eyes widen. Not a good sign. He winced, expecting nothing less than an ear-splitting scream to follow.

“You’re from Wesson! Like Roulette!” she gasped.

“Keep it down, keep it down…!” he pleaded, crouching even deeper inside the box. “But yeah, I am. What d’you know about Roulette? Where’d you hear that name?”

“She is here.”.

What?” Morgan nearly fell over backwards–an act that came dangerously close to jamming a particularly pointy relic directly into his barely-clad unmentionables.

“She is here. She is in the parlor, getting ready for a show,” she explained, smiling impishly. “She is VERY funny.”

“News to me…” he grumbled. “Can you tell me why she’s here, little miss? How she got here?”

“My name is Beretta, strange no-pants Wesson-man. And Diallo brought her here. He must have heard that she was over at Uncle Lazar’s house making him laugh, and wanted her to do that here, for us, instead.”

“Good. Good! That’s… Good,” he decided. “Can you take me to her? Or maybe bring her here?”

“Why? Are you her friend? The one Diallo wants to talk to?”

Morgan opened his mouth to answer, but thought better of it when he became aware of an unwelcome noise: the sound of approaching footsteps. He’d been vaguely aware of a dull murmur from the rooms beyond throughout most of his conversation with Beretta–the sound of people arriving and schmoozing in the foyer, he’d reckoned–but now it seemed as if a few had split off from the group for the grand tour.

“Nevermind that. Someone’s comin’–go on and git,” he rasped, a little more harshly than he’d planned. “Hide or somethin’. And don’t give me away, you hear?”

To his great relief, the girl reacted with a crisp nod and closed the lid. He heaved a sigh and settled in. His infiltration of the villa hadn’t exactly gone to plan so far, but it also could’ve gone a lot worse. It was a comfort to know that Roulette was around, somewhere, at least. That simplified things. Now, if I can just wait out these rubberneckers, he thought, I might actually have a shot of pulling off this rescue after all

Morgan couldn’t see a thing, nestled as he was within the utter darkness of the crate. But as the newly-arrived guests came along and made a beeline for his corner of the room, he did find it trivially easy to overhear their conversation:

“Wow. He was not kidding, chief–they are all just sitting out here in the open!”

“I doubt that this is everything,” his companion replied. His voice had a deep timbre and an edge of sobriety to it; the voice of a man well-accustomed to leadership. “To hear Diallo tell it, this smuggling operation has been ongoing for some time. I would guess that all this is overflow from a larger, dedicated storage space.”

The first man uttered a low whistle and got to work prying off the lid of another box nearby. Morgan tensed up; if they came for his crate next, there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it.

“These are from Enfield, alright.”

“Step aside. Let me see.”

He heard the sound of shuffling and the clink of metal on metal, as if the two men were rifling through the contents of the box.

“Amazing. I never thought we would get an opportunity like this, sir,” the first man breathed. “A chance to bring down Marka Moukahla himself!”

“Calm yourself, Dibdi. Remember: we cannot make the arrest until after the show. Diallo does not want the heiress to see.”

“Why not?”

“Maybe he believes it will poison her against him,” the gruff-voiced man speculated. “He is probably right. In any case, we must honor his wishes. He is the one who arranged this for us, after all. And he is who we will answer to once Marka has been taken care of.”

Morgan heard them replace the lid and move on to other boxes, wedging each one open to regard the treasures that lay inside. It seemed that these two were anything but typical visitors–they were cops. Dirty cops, at that. And they were here to arrest the Blunderboss himself! It all made sense now: Roulette wasn’t there as a performer, but as a distraction, and as an excuse for Marka’s right-hand man to invite the law right into his home!

“But, sir,” the first speaker continued, “I do not understand. Why have we been welcomed into the villa so easily? Surely Marka knows our faces?”

“How would he? The man has not been an active member of the family for some time, and Diallo has been running its day-to-day operations for almost as long. He has no idea what is happening on the ground. Diallo has even been the one carrying out negotiations with us since my promotion to head of the PPPD,” his boss scoffed. “The Blunderboss is a leftover from the family’s golden age. A poor leader, and a has-been. He is so out of touch that he probably assumes we are new mafiosos hired by his cousin.”

“Hm. When you put it like that, it sounds like we will be doing him a mercy by locking him up.”

“We will be doing all of Port Pistola a mercy,” the police chief corrected. “Check that last box, will you? I like to be thorough.”

“...Will probably be no different from the others…” he heard his underling grumble. To his horror, Morgan realized that the voice had come from directly above him!

Little by little, the lid above him began to budge.

“HEY!” he heard a voice yell–a high and distinctly feminine voice, this time. “I heard everything you have said! I am going to go tell my father RIGHT NOW!”

Mercifully, the roof of his crate clattered shut again.

“Grab that girl!” the chief barked. “The operation depends on it!”

Though the pressure was off for the moment, Morgan still felt a wave of anxiety as the two men gave chase. Their footfalls resounded throughout the dining room and the halls beyond, growing quieter by the second. As thankful as he was for Beretta’s timely intervention, the possibility of the girl being caught–or worse, alerting her father to the reality of intruders in his villa–would make his life a damn sight more complicated either way.

He didn’t have much time. Morgan threw off the lid and slipped out of the crate, his head on a swivel. There was no room for error, now; he’d either find his gun quickly and get out of there with Roulette in tow, or die trying…

…And, in light of recent events, the latter was beginning to look increasingly likely.

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