Numb. Like ice penetrated my every cell and stilled my pulse to within one beat from the ultimate end. How long has it been since the graveyard, alone, in the rain? Why? When she had looked at me, there, in her eyes blazed the commitment. I know that's what I saw … wasn't it? She'd pleaded with me, like every other time. The same words … Baby, come home. … A commitment so deep only one thing would have prevented her from waiting for me … a lie …
Spike's chin rested on his bare forearm. His wrinkled leisure suit's sleeves rolled back haphazardly. Through half-closed eyes he stared idly at his glass, containing a splash of whiskey, neat. One finger flicked the glass's lip. Ripples shattered the light to dance across the amber fluid. He closed his left eye and watched the strange refraction recorded by his right. Nothing ever lined up correctly since the accident. Always a strange variance in color, clarity, light. Trust one or the other … but did either ever tell him the truth?
He'd never be certain.
He sighed as the ripples rebounded off the sides of the glass. The turbulent waves canceled one another into calmness. Yup. So little effort to set it back into motion. He flicked the glass again and watched the center rise up in a pillar and slam down, like a bullet fired into a target. The report of a gun filled his memory. His body tensed against the ghost of the pain.
When Spike opened his eyes, the alcohol continued its dance to heavy footsteps. The stool beside him slid back and a burly man flopped down. He tapped the bar with his artificial left fingers. A cybernetic arm, from the shoulder down.
"Yo," the man called out to the barkeep. "Give me your strongest. Been a long flight from Ganymede."
Ganymede to Mars? Even by the gates that's quite a trip.
The barkeep flipped a shot glass into the air and grabbed a bottle from the back shelf. He slid the shot in front and held out a hand. "Payment up front, buddy."
The man stiffened a bit. "I plan on drinking a while. No tabs?"
"Nope." The keep gestured to the scattered drunkards in various states of inebriation. "Not in this neighborhood. Too many of these lowlifes skip out without paying. So, cough it up." The barkeep took the card and ran it. "How many drinks will you be having, Jet? The best way of doing this, really." He threw Spike a hard glare. "That way when your account is dry I won't be serving a drink you can't pay for."
What? I didn't ask you to drain my account of every last woolong. I only neglected to keep track of how much I had left when I sat down. Sheesh. Spike shifted his gaze from the glass before him. Jet, the man beside him barely spared a glance his way. What the heck did this guy think he was wearing? He looked like some oddball, accident-prone mechanic. What was with the scar over his eye and that metal plate? More than anything, Spike noted the authority behind his motions. A controlled drive pummeled into a man through years of service of some kind. Even as he maintained his lazy veneer, Spike's instincts buzzed hot. I.S.S.P. There was little doubt. He didn't need to see a man in uniform to recognize the threat.
Threat? What threat? This guy looks like a steady jog would end his ticker. I got more important shit to think about. Like what the hell city did I land in? Why was I stupid enough to blow all I had in dive bars these last … what … two weeks? Where the heck am I going to stay tonight without any woolongs left? He closed his eyes and tried to quiet his thoughts to no avail. This whole plan had gone completely ass backwards on him in a single flash of lightning.
The slap of Jet's hand on the counter snapped open Spike's eyes. "Hey, you from around here?"
Spike rolled his head, no. Great. That's all I need. Some Chatty Cathy. What the hell is this guy after?
Leaning on the counter, Jet craned his head and looked out into the dimly lit bar. Among the frayed booth covers and scratched tables, the handful of patrons went about their business. Jet bumped Spike's elbow, nearly dislodging his chin where it still rested on his arm. "You look a bit down on your luck. What do you say we have a bet?"
"Not interested." Spike downed his whiskey in one fiery gulp. "With that goes the last of my fortune."
Jet cracked a grin. "Ok, ok. How about a friendly wager then. I know there's a criminal in here."
"Sure is." He slid around on the stool and leaned back on the bar.
"I'm not leaving without him."
On the far side Spike's hand creapt down and touched the concealed hilt of his Jericho. But to his surprise, Jet peered at the other shadow shrouded patrons in turn. This could prove interesting. Spike slouched against the bar, taking in the fellow patrons for the first time.
An old man slumbered in a booth with an empty bottle in his hand. His ragged body clearly hadn't seen the inside of a shower in months, at the soonest. A backpack with various items sticking out from it lay at his feet. Homeless. A desperate man using the purchase of the bottle to grant a roof over his head. Nope. The only crime here was one against hygiene. No true criminal there.
Two men sat at a table in the corner exchanging conspiratory whispers. Spike focused on his right eye feed, reading their lips. A laugh escaped him. Shady, though they seemed, they were merely planning a birthday for their brother.
There were two others in the bar. A wiry man continued to glance over at the bartender, then back to the door. Dressed in a scruffy attire, he gripped the handle of his beer mug like a vice. The other man wore a decent suit with a briefcase tucked at his feet. Calm and collected, he leaned back in his chair under the light and stared idly into his drink.
Jet pointed with one concealed finger to the neurotic man. "Him."
"You're joking, right?" Spike rolled his head back and stared at the ceiling.
"I know a criminal when I see one."
Pulling out a cigarette, Spike flicked open the lighter and watched the flame kindle the end. Tendrils of smoke twined into the air. He drew in a deep breath of the smoke with a crooked smile. "Whatever you say, old man."
Jet glared at him. "I'm not old."
"Coulda fooled me. But what would a drifter know?" He puffed out a lung full of smoke and watched as Jet shook his balding head. "You're wrong, by the way. It's him." Spike jabbed a thumb in the direction of the suit.
"Riiiighht." Jet snorted. "What would a drifter know."
The broadcast behind the bar blared the familiar trumpet call. Spike and Jet both turned to the screen displaying Big Shot's title with Punch and Judy bedecked as old fashioned cowfolk bobbing up and down. Spike smirked, how many times had he watched for tips on rival syndicate hits? How many times had he watched to see if his own name came up? Somehow, by some miracle, it never had.
"How y'all doing?" Punch gabbed on the screen. "Today we have a hot new tip on a new bounty. A fresh one with a two fer one special, Pardners. Just this mornin' a rare shipment of hush hush material was stolen right from Mar's orbit."
"Stolen? Oh dear!" Judy pipped in. "Do they know who did it?"
"Well, authorities got a glimpse of one of the baddies. A no good scoundrel, but they know he wasn't working alone. No'boy! So there is a 500,000 woolong reward for the capture of him and his accomplice, with the return of the property. Alive is the only state that matters. So no killing him!"
"Who is he!"
"A member of the White Tiger Syndicate, Corlyn Jeeters. Be careful! This hombre likes to blend in and hit below the belt when cornered. He is not alone."
The picture flashed up on the screen. Spike's smile broadened. Jet's jaw fell open and his gaze turned in alarm to the man with the briefcase. Corlyn Jeeters glared at the screen.
Spike flicked the burnt end of his cigarette away and smirked. "But, what would I know, right?"
With a grunt, Jet pushed up from the bar and shouted to his target, "Don't move!"
Jeeters chose that moment to grab his case and dart for the door.
"Well now." Spike grinned. "This just got interesting."
See you, Space Cowboy!