Chapter 22:

Chapter 22 - Another Door Opens


The last 12 hours had been surreal enough. But now, sitting next to Morgan in Marka’s study, Roulette found that the sensation of unreality had heightened even further.

“I cannot do it anymore, Lazar,” Marka said, his voice booming into the mouthpiece of his expensive-looking telephone. He was dressed differently today, clad in rugged brown trousers and a cream-colored shirt with the sleeves rolled up. So far, he had yet to explain why. “I want nothing more to do with the family. I have lost everything–everything, you understand? Diallo, too, is gone. I can think of no one better to take my place than…”

Roulette’s mind began to wander. She panned her gaze around the room, registering–but not admiring–the luster of Marka’s predominantly coffee-colored office furniture. The wallpaper was a deep crimson, patterned in a flowing, organic style that augmented the view of rustling trees visible through the room’s sole window. It was all very beautiful; even more so than the elegant, unfamiliar bedroom she’d spent the night in at the patriarch’s suggestion. All told, this was probably one of the nicest rooms she’d ever been in.

…Yet, in her mind’s eye, all she could see was the image of a little girl running into a crossfire.

Morgan looked similarly distant. His arms and ankles were crossed; unlike her, though, his gaze was fixed squarely on the window. What is he thinking about? she wondered. Is it Beretta he’s broken up over? Or his future, now that he knows the gun’s lost to him for good?

She figured she’d probably never know for sure. The man’s inner world was locked up tighter than a bank vault, and she had neither the drive or the patience to press him for the code.

To her surprise, his eyes slid to the side and met with hers. Her heart fluttered a little in spite of itself.

“You okay?” he murmured, keeping his voice low for Marka’s benefit.

“No.” she answered honestly. “You?”

His eyes slid shut for a beat, as if he were mulling it over.


“Good,” she said, “If you’d said otherwise, I’d have guessed you were puttin’ on airs.”

He smiled a little at that. It looked as frail as she felt. “I’m sorry about the girl. From what little she told me, it sounded like you two were fast friends.”

“Sorry? Why would you be sorry?” she asked. “If anythin’, you tried to put a stop to it all. ‘Course, in your shoes, I might’ve prioritized rushin’ to my partner’s aid instead of rootin’ around upstairs for a pair of pants…”

Morgan lifted his eyebrows. “Oh? Is that a fact?”

That caught her off-guard. She looked down at her feet, blushing. “Alright, alright–that was unfair. Maybe I’d have done the same thing.”

He rattled off a chuckle. “Hard to know what you’d do in a tense moment ‘til you’re in it.”

Roulette nodded, allowing the conversation to dry up for the moment. She didn’t feel much like talking anyway. They sat in silence for a time, but Morgan proved to be in a chattier mood than she was:

“What d’you think is going on with Moukahla, here?”

She glanced over at the crime lord, who was in the middle of a particularly passionate exchange with Lazar. He was gesticulating wildly with almost every syllable.

“How d’you mean?”

“Well, he’s been actin’ a little odd, don’t you think? Barely spoke to us last night, except to offer to put us up for the night. Then he asks us here, dressed like he’s ready for the road… And now he’s tryin’ to abdicate the family throne to someone else.” he said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s–”

Marka slammed the phone down and jammed the receiver back in its cradle. He sighed in frustration, then proceeded to breathe deeply until his broad shoulders slackened. Roulette looked on with thinly-veiled concern, wondering how likely it was that they’d be on the receiving end of that barely-restrained rage in the next few minutes.

Once he got around to facing them, though, the anger had dissipated fully. He was even smiling–albeit with a harsher curl to his lips than she would’ve liked. Roulette inwardly chastised herself for that judgment; the man had just lost his only daughter, after all. Nobody was at their best after going through something like that.

“I am sorry you had to hear that,” he said. “I expected Lazar to be a little more… Understanding… Of my situation. And my wishes.”

“Not willing to wear the boss pants for you, eh?” Morgan replied.

“No. No, he is not willing to wear ‘the boss pants’. But I care little. If this empire falls when I am gone, so be it.” Marka loosed another sigh, running his hand over the dome of his shaved head. “It has brought me nothing but pain.”

Roulette felt moved enough by his candor to speak up. “I’m so sorry about your daughter, Mr. Moukahla… She was such a bright young thing. I can’t imagine how you’re feelin’.”

Marka straightened himself out, plainly trying to look stoic… But the rapidity of his eye-blinks told a different story. “You are kind to say so. That kindness… I saw it in my daughter, as well.” he said. “You could say she was the only source of it in my life. For a man in my position, evil and falseness are everywhere. It was easier to bear when I was young. But now…”

He trailed off, turning from them to cross the room and rest a forearm against the head of the window. Gazing outward, he stared off into the morning sky just as Morgan had. “I am tired. I do not know what is true anymore. I wish… I wish I could wipe the past away and start again.”

Roulette saw Morgan flinch from the corner of her eye.

“Careful what you wish for…” he muttered, going on to raise his voice so the Blunderboss could hear: “That’s all well and good, but let’s stop beating around the bush, hmm? Why’re we here? What do we have to do with any of this?”

“A fair question,” Marka replied. “You are still here because you acted bravely–in my defense, and on behalf of my daughter. I feel that I owe you… And, as foreign travelers, you must plan to leave Port Pistola behind sooner or later. In that way, our plans align.”

“Knew it,” Morgan scoffed. “You want an excuse to leave everythin’ behind without thinkin’ about the particulars, and we’re just a means to that end.”

Roulette glared at him sharply. “So what if we are? Don’t you feel even a little bit sorry for him?”

“Can’t say that I do,” Morgan drawled. “In fact, I’m not convinced I want to leave this town. What good is a Gunslinger without his gun, anyway? No good at all. I reckon, at this point, the best use I can be is as a regular at the selfsame place you dragged me out of.”

The girl sprang to her feet, instantly furious. “What? You’re just gonna abandon me? After everything we’ve been through?”

“After all the hell you put me through, you mean!” he countered. “I was just fine until you came along! At least, before you, there was a chance I could get Ricochet back and make somethin’ of myself; now, thanks to you–thanks to both of you–I’ll never get that chance!”

“I can’t believe what I’m hearin’!” Roulette hollered. Her skin flushed, and her muscles went taut and rigid; she felt like she was about to explode. “You’re KIDDIN’ yourself! Without me, you’d be lollin’ around on a filthy bar floor for eternity! Or dead in the road! Of all the selfish, yellow, SPINELESS behavior I’ve seen from the men in my life, this takes the cake! How DARE you!?!?”

Morgan infuriated her further by shutting down, staying cool… And essentially completely ignoring her. “This the ‘kindness’ you were lookin’ for, brother?” he quipped, thumbing dismissively in her direction. He stood, then, making his way briskly to the door. “You’ll be able to watch her back better than I could, anyhow. Maybe invest in a pair of earplugs, though? Just a little friendly advice…”

And, just like that, he was gone.

“I’M GONNA TAKE THAT GI-GAN-TIC EGO OF YOURS IN-HAND AND DRUM IT ON YOUR THICK SKULL ‘TIL YOU START SEEIN’ SENSE…!” she roared, moving to storm after him. Blessedly, Marka had been anticipating that–he dashed across the room and held her back, restraining the girl with ease all throughout the hail of punches and misdirected kicks that ensued.

Finally, after another minute or so of squirming and cussing, her anger and adrenaline dwindled to a manageable level. She panted and puffed, unable to tear her eyes away from the empty door frame. The gall of that man… The absolute gall!

“...That was, ahh… Troubling.” Marka said, releasing his hold on her still-trembling arms. “...But your friend was right about my offer. I may come to regret this…

“…But perhaps, for the moment, we could travel together?”

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