Chapter 18:

Chapter 18 - Hero Call


Roulette’s debut performance wasn’t going quite the way she imagined.

She was making a fool of herself more passionately than she ever had before; more passionately than she’d ever seen it done. But, even so, she didn’t spy a single smiling face among the guests Diallo had invited to be her audience. The two spectators she’d been counting on–Marka and Beretta–were nowhere to be seen. Didn’t they know that she’d started? Weren’t they the two people she was brought to entertain in the first place?

Without them, she’d been left to face down the toughest crowd she could imagine. Diallo was there, for one; a man so joyless that she half-suspected he’d been dropped on his head at birth and forever deprived of the capacity for it. The rest of the men–and they were all men–that he’d brought were hardly any better. Everywhere she looked, she saw apathy. Boredom. They hadn’t even laughed at her shoe leather bit! Little by little, nervousness and anxiety had begun to take root in her mind and manifest in her performance.

“Heheh… Land sakes, looks like I’ve got a tough crowd on my hands…” she observed, voice cracking. She felt like she could use a glass of water or three. “Still a better reaction than I’d get back home, though! You can tell from the lack of bullet holes…!”

Roulette guffawed a little, but she knew she was flailing. Without the energy of the crowd she was sure the downward spiral would continue. Her mental energies were exhausted, and what remained was almost wholly dedicated to wishing that her only two fans in the world would show up to cheer her on… Or that some unexpected disaster would save her the trouble of having to continue this sad, painful charade.

For better or worse, she got her wish.


A deep, booming voice carried throughout the villa. The next ‘joke’ she had lined up died in her throat.


She heard a loud gunshot. Her audience’ attention shifted from Roulette to the parlor’s entrance, which provided a partial view of the main hall beyond. The sound of scuffling echoed from somewhere above, as if the shooter were suddenly engaged in a close-quarters struggle for supremacy.

What happened next was something she, nor anyone present, could ever have predicted. A grunt, followed by the persistent thumping of something issued from the second floor… And it was getting closer. Seconds later, a wet tumble of long limbs and pale flesh crashed to the floor at the foot of the stairs. Roulette immediately recognized her gun amidst the chaos, swiftly followed by the identity of the sorry creature it was strapped to:

“MORGAN!!!” she cried, struck by an odd mixture of horror and relief. She moved to dash out of the room and see to him… But the men who’d been sitting there despondent for the last several minutes sprang into action faster than she would’ve anticipated. They bunched up in the doorway, each one jostling for a glimpse of what had taken place.

By the time she managed to wriggle partway through the barrier of bodies, Morgan was on his feet… And Marka was bearing down on him with a concerning look in his eye. The big man carried an old-fashioned shotgun the size of his forearm, and in different circumstances Roulette might have found herself enchanted by the delicate engravings that lined both sides of its barrel. As it was, she was simply terrified for her partner’s life. She redoubled her efforts to push on into the main hall, but it was slow going; her former audience seemed determined to get in her way.

“A very poor decision, choosing to steal from my family…” Marka growled. Not a hint of the kindly man who’d greeted her earlier seemed to remain; instead, a monster stood in his place. His dead eyes fixated on Morgan, and he spoke in a harsh, steely monotone. “Death will be your only reward. Allow me to show you why they call me the Blunderboss…”

He leveled his weapon at Morgan, who had been backed up against the front doors without any hope of escape. Roulette could see his predicament: opening them would take too long, and do little more than make him an easy target. To make matters worse, he looked to be nursing an injured arm–probably a by-product of his long fall down the stairs. He seemed to know his fate as well as everyone assembled. Morgan met the Blunderboss’s gaze with the unflappable courage of a man prepared to die.

Roulette opened her mouth, preparing to cry out again… But somebody beat her to it.

“FATHER!” a voice called shrilly. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the villa.

“Berry? BERRY?” Marka lowered his gun and took off at a dead run. As he streaked from the room, the others were quick to follow–Diallo included. Tempted as she was to go along with them, Beretta would have to wait, she decided; Morgan’s safety came first… Even if he was an ass sometimes.

She rushed to his side. “Morgan? What in the hell are you doin’ here?”

He chuckled from his place on the floor, having allowed himself to slump to it the moment the heat was off him. “Me? What about you? The girl told me the boss’s number two had you here tellin’ jokes,” he said. “Say it ain’t so! You haven’t got a sensible bone in your body, much less a funny one…”

“Yeah, well, there’s no accountin’ for taste,” she replied with a smirk. Then she wrinkled her nose; the man smelled awful, and he looked even worse. “Phew, what’d they do to you, anyway? Where’d they take you? A sewage treatment plant?”

“Tried to drown me in the bay,” he answered nonchalantly. “Then I sat in a box getting ripe for an hour or so.”

“Uh-huh… And your pants? Don’t tell me you soiled’ em.”

“I was well within my rights to, considerin’ what happened to me.” He paused to rotate his shoulder in its socket, testing the extent of his injuries. “But no, they’re still at the bottom of the bay.”

“Well c’mon, let’s get out of here then,” she offered, reaching for the doorknob. “We’ll get you a new pair.”

“Ain’t leavin’ without my gun,” he grumbled, bracing his good hand against the door in an effort to hold it closed.

“...Had a feeling you’d say that,” she admitted. “Fine with me. I’d feel guilty leavin’ that little girl behind, anyhow. Sounds like she might be in a bit of trouble.”

“You’ll want this, then, I suppose.” With that, he un-slung the SMG from his back and pressed it into her waiting hands. “One of Marka’s stooges had it stashed upstairs. You can thank me later.”

“You’re not coming?”

“I’ll be along,” he assured her with a wave of his hand. “Just had a bit of a spill, you may recall. Give a guy a chance to catch his breath.”

She nodded and rose with Lady Luck in-hand, looking off in the direction everyone else had gone.

“One more thing,” he said, “I overheard a few of the guests talkin’ earlier–guess they broke away from the main group. They’re cops. All the guests are cops. They’re here to bust the kingpin for smugglin’.”

Roulette looked at him sharply. “What?

“He’s gatherin’ up artifacts from old Enfield… Don’t ask me why. Has about a dozen boxes clutterin’ up his dining room. That’s how I got in here,” he explained. “They came here to bust him on it. Your show was meant to keep everyone distracted while the chief gathered evidence. They planned to arrest him right after, but the girl overheard. If I had to guess, she’s hollerin’ because they caught up with her.”

Roulette groaned. What a mess. “Thanks for tellin’ me. Real reassurin’ to know I may have to shoot a cop.”

“Don’t feel bad. They’re all in that Diallo guy’s pocket–hardly better than criminals themselves. Just do what you have to do.” Then he waved her off, becoming keenly focused on the range of motion afforded by his badly bruised elbow.

Roulette took off across the foyer, heading for the same hallway the others had left by. She moved with purpose, but her thoughts and feelings were all jumbled up. A minute ago, her biggest concern had been getting a roomful of stone-faced strangers to laugh; now she was expected to try and save a godfather’s daughter from dirty cops, all while somehow finding the time to swipe Morgan’s gun from underneath Diallo’s vest? How could she–how could anyone–accomplish all that?

She didn’t have much time to think about it. Before she knew it her feet had carried her down the hall, past the open door leading to a thoroughly-trashed kitchen, and into the dark, crowded dining room that had become the scene of a conflict fraught beyond her wildest imaginings.

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