Chapter 20:

Chapter 20 - Dead Money


Gio sighed and outed his cigarette against the smooth, white wall at his back.

The sound of Marka’s gun going off meant he had to take a peek inside, whether he wanted to or not. Marka wasn’t a part of the organization, but the boss would want to know the score anyway–he always did, if there was some possibility of losing a local advantage. Gio glumly swung the back door open and made his way down the narrow hallway beyond, hands buried in the pockets of his dressy black slacks. As expected, the troublemakers were standing at the other end of it, gawking at the center of the dining room. At the sound of his approach, though, they spun around to look at him as if they’d been expecting the Grim Reaper himself.

They weren’t far off the mark.

“...You!” Morgan exclaimed with an incredulous look on his face. Gio couldn’t help but take a little satisfaction in that, knowing how hard it was to surprise this particular Gunslinger.

“Me,” Gio replied. He gestured broadly to the room, where cops–dead, living and unconscious alike–competed for his attention. “What’d I say, man?”

Morgan gave him a blank look. That was uncharacteristically thick of him; it had only been a few hours since their little chat, after all.

Gio brought a gloved hand to his face in an obvious show of disappointment. “I said ‘don’t push too hard,’ didn’t I? Well, what do ya call all this?”

“Can you come back later, or somethin’?” Morgan said, and turned his back on him. “A little girl just died in here, and I doubt you’ve got the manners to respect that.”

“Ya got that right.” Gio chuckled to himself, shouldering his way between Morgan and his gaudy-looking gal pal to get a better look. The room was a mess–the kind of mess he often ended up leaving in his wake, only with less bodies strewn around. A fair chunk of the dining room’s floor was missing, as if it had been carved out by an ice cream scoop. The big man responsible for it was sobbing, and practically buried in cops; from the looks of things, they almost had the cuffs on him.

That wouldn’t do.

“HEY!” Gio called, bringing his fingers to his lips and issuing a shrill whistle. The cops stopped what they were doing, regarding him with the same expression he’d just seen Morgan employ. “Get the fuck outta here. You’re done.”

“...Who the hell–” one started to say.

“I said you’re done,” Gio repeated. “Ya new around here, or something? Someone wanna catch this guy up for me?”

One of the man’s colleagues leaned over and whispered in his ear. In a heartbeat, the man’s defiance evaporated. He nodded and rose to his feet, swiftly followed by the rest of his crew.

“He’s still half-cuffed–somebody get that off!” The officer nearest him ran back to Marka’s side and obliged, unfastening the handcuffs from his wrist before departing with a sheepish, awkward little bow. Before long, the room was clear of lawmen–except for those still lying underneath the table, anyway.

“There. That’s better.” Gio brought his hands together and mimed the act of dusting them off before turning his attention to the grieving man on the floor. “Hey. Where’s that weasel-faced fuck you call a cousin? Ya waste him, or what?”

“...Leave me alone…” the Blunderboss groaned.

“I’m asking nicely, friend. Outta ‘respect’ for your dead kid, or whatever. Diallo. He done?”

There was a long pause. Eventually, between bouts of blubbering, Gio thought he could make out a “yes”.

“Okay. Well, guess it’s a good thing I kept ya outta the slammer then. You’re welcome, by the way!” Gio turned to face Morgan and what’s-her-name, then, and crossed his arms. “Now, what to do about you two?”

“How the heck did you do that?” the girl asked with awe in her voice. “Those cops… They listened to you when you told ‘em to leave!”

“Oh, that’s nothing. One of the benefits of my station, you could say.” Gio calmly reached beneath his suit jacket and produced a jet black pistol, holding it at his beltline, barrel-down, as he looked the two of them over. “Sadly, I got responsibilities too. Like icing a couple of clueless clowns, even if I’m fond of ‘em.”

Morgan’s expression hardened. “You’re goin’ to kill us?”

“It’s not personal,” Gio explained, exasperated. “It’s just, you two’ve pushed too far. Ya made too much of a splash. If I let ya leave town now, the boss’ll figure I was sleeping on the job. Then I’M on the hook, see?” He sighed, lifted his pistol, and racked the slide. “This is the way it’s gotta end, folks. Sorry!”

He was a hair’s breadth from pulling the trigger when Marka, of all people, spoke up.

“Wait…” The big man rose from his place on the floor. He straightened up and rolled his shoulders before turning to face them, lifting one hand to wipe the river of tears from his cheek. His other hand still gripped that beast of a weapon, which he held at his side with obvious reluctance. “These two are under my protection,” he said. “You will not harm them.”

Gio turned his head and cocked a brow. “Your ‘protection’? You ain’t been doing such a good job of protecting things lately, chief.”

The Blunderboss fixed him with a stony glare. Looking between those eyes and the bigass gun quivering in his beefy fingers was enough to make Gio think twice, but it was the sight of some old biddy watching them from the darkness of the back hall stairs that really sealed the deal.

“Fine, fine,” he grumbled, stowing his pistol back in its chest holster without further preamble. “That was a low blow, anyway. Do what ya want, I guess.”

Gio moved the leave with even less enthusiasm than he’d shown on the way in. He gave the old lady on the stairs a mock-salute as he tugged the back door open, and had scarcely stepped one foot outside before he heard that girl calling from the dining room:

“Wait, mister! What’s your name, anyway?”

Gio stopped in the doorway. It was annoying that she’d asked, but he seriously considered humoring her for a minute. He hadn’t always been like this; a lonely ghost, drifting from place to place putting holes in people who–mostly–didn’t deserve it. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to open up a little?


“Shaddap and take the win!” he called back. Then he slammed the door behind him, closing off that chapter of his life for good.

He strode across the lawn, out the back gate, and into the gaslit streets of Port Pistola’s wealthiest district. He barely paid any attention to the scenery or the star-studded sky as he made his way along; he was too busy trying to ignore the burden of solitude and reckon with the mercy he’d shown back at the villa.

What the hell would he tell his boss, now? How would he reassure him that he hadn’t gone soft?

…And where the fuck was a payphone when you needed one?


Ken stalked through the jungle with the sinuous grace of a panther, making nary a sound in pursuit of his chosen prey. The straps of his bandana fluttered in the soft evening breeze, and only the slightest hint of moonlight penetrated the canopy above to illuminate the chiseled curvature of his well-muscled–

Beepbeepbeep. Beepbeepbeepbeep…

His communicator was ringing. He cursed under his breath and knelt behind a tree, then lifted a finger to tap at the earpiece.

“What?” he growled. “I’m in the middle of an operation.”

“Forget about that,” said the voice on the other end. Ken’s eyes widened: it was the boss. He almost never contacted him directly, especially during an assignment in progress. “Gio has just informed me that our sleeper is up and about. Sarada will likely be leaving Port Pistola within the next 24 hours.”

What?” Ken’s mind was racing. Not only was Sarada awake, he was on the move? And Gio, of all people, had failed to stop him? “We had two handlers on him. What the hell happened?”

“What’s past is past,” the boss said. “The important thing now is that you intervene. I suspect that he will be heading south across the continent. A pink-haired female Gunslinger accompanies him. You will ensure that they do not reach their destination.”

“Of course. Of course, boss…” Ken replied, speaking under his breath. The lush foliage all around him could hide any number of potential eavesdroppers. “It’s just, uh… It would be really motivating to me if you signed off using my codename.”

The boss sighed. “Ken, we’ve been through this. We don’t use codenames.”

“I know. But, still… It would just be really important to me.”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“C’mon, boss. Please?”

“NO. It’s ridiculous… And disturbingly euphemistic.”

Ken went quiet. He felt himself getting sullen; he couldn’t help it. The codename was his pride–his legacy. Why couldn’t anyone understand that?

Eventually, after an unnaturally long silence, the boss finally acquiesced:

“Fine,” he said. “Best of luck on your mission…

Hard Viper.”

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