Viktor stands at the entrance of a spacey riverside cabin some ten miles south of the city's borders. The cabin is simple, modest enough to pass as abandoned to the numerous steamboats moving up and down the river during daylight, who would all doubtlessly miss the short, conveniently inconspicuous wharf extending from its side into the muddy waters of mighty Mississippi. To a knowing observer such as he, the cabin's position is patently ideal for housing a perfectly functional -if somewhat meagre- speakeasy for the lowest clientele available, with the little wharf facilitating transactions with the many Kehoes of the world to help keep it afloat. Overall, a good solution for bottom feeders of the trade- and shouldn't he know.
In Viktor's enormous hands is an empty shotgun that was briefly repurposed as a makeshift bludgeon after having fired its last shot, as evinced by the dented butt on its non-smoking end. It's actually the exact same gun which gravely wounded Viktor not too long ago, brandished then by one of the four vengeful rubes in their ill-fated assault on the speakeasy. Viktor is sure him wielding it now has some abstract poetic quality to it, if only he cared to pin it down.
He swings the gun over his shoulder and takes his time looking over the interior of the cabin with the critical eye of a seasoned artist inspecting a freshly-painted canvas.
What he sees is a haphazard jumble of corpses and upturned furniture. One dead man is collapsed right by the entrance, chest shredded with bullet fire; another is sprawled over a table near the far end of the room, held in place by a small knife impaling his wrist against the table's surface; and the third one, a portly, thick-chested tom in a tight-fitting shirt, lays amid the splintered remains of a chair by the bar counter in a crimson puddle of his own making, face hideously disfigured by several stabbing wounds and the neck of a broken bottle sticking out the side of his throat.
This bloodbath is messy enough to be Viktor's own handiwork, but his contribution to the evening lies elsewhere. More specifically, it lies by the bushes a few feet outside the cabin in the form of two more brutalized bodies who will not be getting back up. Together with the one they ran over upon arrival, this makes for a total of six liquidated hoods. That's the entire gang accounted for.
The gang in question was little more than a group of local delinquents who thought to independently enter St. Louis' ever lucrative bootlegging scene, their activity going back no further than the middle of summer. Its members were young, driven and hopelessly ambitious, so inevitably they sought to elevate their fledgling operation to new heights. In the business, this means more alcohol of better quality; and the market in town being as chockingly saturated as it is, they could only hope to appropriate existing supply lines from another rival. They had enough sense to avoid impinging on Marigold territory, but the down-at-heel Lackadaisy and the few routes it had painstakingly managed to secure these past few months must have seemed like an easy enough target at the time.
Mitzi had despaired at the loss of an entire cargo's worth of liquor, but an inexcusably thrilled Rocky was there to console her. He assured his boss that this was no disaster but rather an unhoped-for opportunity, and that these audacious neophytes' horseplay might just end up putting Lackadaisy back on the map if they played their cards right. What they needed now was a powerful response, he reasoned, a show of force: a good old-fashioned hit job.
That said, Lackadaisy currently employs all of two rookie field agents one of whom has been expressly banned from attempting to operate any kind of firearm, while their targets would purportedly be six hard, street-grown thugs in their thieving, cutthroating prime. Boundless optimism alone could not make up for such a numerical disadvantage, so Rocky turned to the far more experienced (if somewhat less agile) Slovak who would probably rather shoot himself in his semi-functional knee than assist Crazy Brows again under any circumstances. He'd said so, actually. Repeatedly. To his face.
Even so, Viktor agreed to join the two cousins in their nighttime assault, in no small part because he was bored. Life away from the action didn't sit right with him after all this time, and there were only so many thrills one could derive from mundane garage work and begrudgingly tending an unpopular underground bar when called upon. Besides, Viktor still thought of all this – the skulking, the racketeering, the murdering and the violence- as his job, and having someone else do it for him made him feel all the more like some old invalid living off of pensions and his associates' pity.
You know you can't do anything- you're falling apart at the seams.
He'll help this smiling idiot stir up a thousand blistering maelstroms before consigning himself to such a fate. So here he is.
Viktor lingers at the threshold for a minute, piecing together what had transpired inside (a tossed chopper, signs of struggle, striking, stabbing, shouting) then finally enters the room, carefully limbs past the blood and circles around to the back of the bar where there's a door leading to an adjacent room. Its panel was recently swung off its hinges as someone barged through to join the action; likely the portly man, judging by his position in the room.
Viktor pushes the askew panel aside and peers inside the short-lived speakeasy's store room, a much smaller space half-filled with the stolen crates that were the cause of this entire conflict. Rocky is there also, along with someone else- someone who is not his cousin. Viktor has a moment of alarm, but quickly settles down once he gets a better look at the new face. He's a lank tom in his early twenties, dressed in a clean jacketless tux with sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a bowtie wrapped around the collar of his shirt; the signature getup of a barman. The thieves must have hired this one to run the place, but Viktor guesses he's not part of the gang. He doesn't look too dangerous.
At the moment he is curled up in a corner, shaking like a leaf and pleading with Rocky not to hurt him, explaining how he has nothing to do with those guys, he's just working here and he swears he won't say a thing to nobody if they let him go. Rocky is crouched before him, telling him that of course they'll let him go with all their best wishes, except he'll have to retract his noble vow of silence first. It's quite the gruesome thing, what happened here today- surely folk around town ought to hear about it, no?
Rocky was the driver for this operation. The plan was for him to swerve around the cabin, the cars parked outside and any possible guards so as to give a clear shot to the other two gunmen riding with him and let them thin out the enemy as much as possible before getting off to finish the job up close. What happened instead was that the single lookout they had at the back road leading to the riverbank took notice of the suspicious vehicle a moment earlier than he was supposed to, and at the same time happened to line himself up perfectly with the car's momentum; so Rocky improvised. He slammed the gas, ran the guy over, lost control and nearly upturned the car before finally crashing it on a tree just twenty feet away from the cabin's entrance. Viktor lost track of him afterwards, but he must have ducked behind the car to wait out the fighting and then snuck in ahead of him to check on his cousin.
The creak of the ruined door wasn't enough to distract him from his work, so Viktor grunts to get his attention. Rocky turns his head and beams at him.
A thin rivulet of blood is trickling down his nose, likely from banging his head on the steering wheel at some point during the crash, but he doesn't seem to have noticed. He's still wearing that infernal grin of his, and seeing it now Viktor thinks it bears an unsettling resemblance to the icepick look, if the icepick look could ever be described as vehemently gleeful.
That poor, poor barkeep.
"All's well in the premises, I take it?" Rocky asks, as jolly as if he were inquiring about the yield of a recreational fishing trip. "Have all our intrepid brigands been made to see the folly in their hubris?"
"Splendid! All that's left then is to load up the car and call it a night… if, uh, it still works, that is. Well, no matter; I believe I glimpsed a couple more sitting just outside. Spoils of war, as it were. Say, Vinegar, could you get started with it while I finish up here?" He turns back to the barman with what was likely meant to be a reassuring smile. "I'll be over in a jiffy."
Viktor doesn't move. He looks around the stuffy room, checking for more small figures huddled up against the wall, but spots none. There is another door, however, this one intact, seemingly leading outside to where the cabin's wharf should be.
"Vhere is the short one?"
The grin abates somewhat, finally. "Oh. Uh- Freckle's out back, catching his breath by the great ol' Mississippi. A romantic soul, that boy. But you should probably leave him-"
Viktor crosses the room with three gimping strides, pulls at the doorknob and steps out into the night before he can finish.
"… be. Aw, fiddlesticks." Rocky sighs, shakes his head and focuses back on the enervated barkeeper.
A single lantern hangs burning by the other side of the door, illuminating the entirety of the tiny wharf Viktor is now standing on. There, right on the edge of the wooden planks swelling with moisture from the river below, he finds Freckle sitting cross-legged and staring down into the shimmering waters. Viktor pauses a moment, wondering what exactly he has come out here to do, then steps to the side to get a better look at him.
He's in a sorry state. Splinters are snagging his trench coat, and it must have ripped somewhere because it drapes down his shoulders like it doesn't fit him. His vest is missing a top button, the sleeve of his white shirt is soaked in red from a bullet that grazed him in the arm and he must have been wiping whatever blood wasn't his on the leg of his tattered pants. From where Viktor stands, he can make out in the half-light a black eye, a swelling contusion on his cheek and a bloody nose similar to his cousin's, no doubt coupled with myriads other bruises and lacerations on the rest of his body. Only the fedora on his head seems relatively unscathed, save for the faint crimson splatter on the playing card he has tucked in the band.
He definitely looks like someone fresh out of a brawl, though not quite one that he has won.
Viktor was riding shotgun during the attack, with Calvin wordlessly relegated to the back seat. Viktor had thought he looked funny with that Tommy gun in his hands, like the world's smallest, most unconvincing hardass wannabe, and was curious to finally see how he carried himself in an actual gunfight. Between what he'd heard and what he'd seen, he honestly didn't know what to expect of him.
But then, during that brief moment after the crash while Viktor was still contemplating shooting the face off the careless driver at his side, Freckle hopped out of the car, slid across the rumpled hood and sprinted away towards the cabin. Viktor barely got his head out in time to see him shoot down a man at the other side of the door before he could swing it open and then leap through a window and out of sight, all without breaking his running pace.
Viktor couldn't cover that distance half as fast with a limp, and luckily so, because he was still near the car when two of the hoods came dashing out of the roadside bushes in a state of frantic confusion, guns in hand and belts unbuttoned; presumably they'd wandered off for a quick piss in the underbrush just as the attack commenced. One went down with the first shot but his friend put up more of a fight, and by the time Viktor was done with him things inside the cabin had already gone quiet. The sight that welcomed him as he entered spoke for itself.
Now he stands over the coursing river under a cloudless firmament of stars, basking in the fresh, fishy scent and ambient serenity just two doors away from that scene of utter carnage together with its unlikely perpetrator, and he contemplates all of this in silence. He contemplates him.
Viktor wasn't particularly impressed with the sudden acrobatics. He remembered seeing the kid effortlessly climb up and down that huge lorry, scaling its sides and hanging off the roof to reach whatever part he was pointed to like some nimble circus aerialist. One of the very first insults Viktor coined for him was Irish monkey, though he most likely never understood that.
The quickness with which he sprang into action wasn't unheard of in tense situations, either. An adrenaline rush can make a beast of even the most inexperienced combatant. Viktor had seen it happen countless times, both here and in Europe, and had almost come to expect it in his line of work.
The laughter was a surprise.
That full, explosive shriek of rage and feral delight that seemed to merge seamlessly with the sound of machinegun fire was the last thing Viktor expected to hear coming out of Freckle's mouth. It gave the roughened Slovak the creeps, as well as an insight on the boy which he did not previously possess.
This kid is a complete fucking nutjob.
He may not look it at first glance, but in truth he's every bit as unstable, unhinged, insane as his older cousin. This explains all their recent accomplishments too, which Viktor has been wondering about for the longest time: their approach isn't professional by any stretch, or meticulous or skilled or even just plain lucky. Together, these two Irish-born tenderfoots from Missouri are simply crazy enough to somehow make it work.
Their diminished joke of a speakeasy could not have asked for more a more fitting duo of enforcers.
Viktor gives a wan chuckle at that last thought, causing Freckle to finally look towards him. The murder is long gone from his eyes and he looks as meek and pathetic as Viktor's used to seeing him, doubly so with all the sizeable bruises and the torn clothing.
Suddenly, Viktor knows exactly what to say.
"You look like shit."
Calvin lowers his head again and makes a face, as if to say fair enough. "Yeah. I know." He gingerly runs a finger over his swollen cheek. "I dropped my gun. The big one gave me some trouble."
It would take a keen ear to make out the cold terror in his voice for what it is. He should be able to conceal most injuries under his clothes for a while until they heal, but nothing can be done about his face. Nina will be asking some questions.
Viktor hums. The next line comes to him just as naturally.
"You should go for the neck."
"Those big ones, you vill vant to go for the neck... eeh, the throat," Viktor corrects himself, lifting a hand to point at his windpipe. "Doesn't matter how big. You punch once in throat- boom. Can't breathe, can't stand. Fight is over."
The boy blinks at him and nods vaguely, unsure how to respond. This is the longest Viktor's ever spoken to him without a threat or a curse.
"Or even better, just use a knife," he continues. "There vill not be alvays bottles lying around."
Calvin looks to the side and clutches his elbow. "I, uh… I kinda dropped my knife, too."
Viktor squints down at him. "Maybe next time try not drop all your weapons, then."
Calvin's ears flag at the rebuke, but then he hears a deep rumble echoing in the Slovak's massive chest. He's chuckling again. Bemused, Calvin smiles along sheepishly until the rumble dies down.
"So, you get alvays, eh… like this?"
Calvin swallows what feels like a ball of lead. "Y-yeah. Pretty much."
Viktor eyes him closely for a moment. "You do not like it."
"I… no- well." Calvin scratches the back of his head. The answer is far more complicated than it has any right to be. "I mean, while… I do get, you know-"
"But after, you do not like it."
His shoulders sag another inch. "Not very much. No."
"So then, why you do it?" asks Viktor, folding his arms.
The muffled sound of loud, inappropriate laughter suddenly reaches the wharf through the shut door behind them before Calvin can respond. He looks back toward its unmistakable source for a few long seconds, then goes back to staring out into nothing without a word. Viktor does the same. A tacit understanding passes between the two; Calvin won't answer him, and Viktor will not ask again.
They stay like this for a while, both committing to the silence like they are wont to.
A wood duck cries out into the night, some bug stridulates in response, and Viktor has to admire how the river's steady flow can instill such perfect calmness in him mere minutes after the fierce truculence they had come out here to enact. He wishes he could set himself down and enjoy it to its fullest, but knows better than to try; his knee would kill him without a chair or something else he could comfortably sit on.
And he realizes, rather abruptly, that were it not for this confounded impairment he would have already sat down there on that flat piece of rotting timber, right next to the despicable inadequate he's been struggling to chase away the entire summer without ever making the tiniest bit of headway.
Viktor doesn't like that.
"Okay, enough rest. Get up," he says sharply and turns to leave, berating himself for nearly slipping once again. He can't afford to let his guard down for even a second. "Ve must go. Help me to load the-"
He pauses with one hand on the doorknob and glances over his shoulder. Calvin has lifted his head and is staring at him with a troubled, hesitant look that he cannot quite construe.
Calvin opens his mouth, dithers, swallows. It takes him a few seconds to finally make up his mind, and then he blurts out the question in a single breath, like pulling off a band-aid:
"Do you think you're a good person?"
Viktor says nothing. He slowly lets go of the doorknob and turns to face him properly, shotgun still in hand, giving the kid a long, searching look. There was something in the way he spoke just now, in the way his eyes sheened in the lantern's light and the quiet affliction shading the contours of his bruised face, that gave pause to the older tom. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Viktor makes the conscious observation that Freckle, battered and bleeding and hunched over as he is on the rim of that tiny pier in the black of night, looks very, very small indeed.
He just watched him go on a deranged, murderous rampage, vaulting over cars and crashing through windows, laughing like a madman as he gunned down the members of an enemy gang. The massacre from earlier was all his doing, and Viktor saw for himself the mangled remains of the three dangerous thugs that were left dead in his wake.
Yet in that moment, for the first time ever, the grizzled Slovak looks at the boy and he does not see a threat.
What exactly he sees instead, he cannot say; only that it takes him way back, back to vast fields of dirt and mud and endless hails of lead, where cruel circumstance had crammed him for months on end in narrow trenches together with countless other unfortunate young men. Some of them were tragically younger than others –children, really, still in or fresh out of their teens- and something in his size, his age or his heavy, somber bearing must have fooled them into thinking that he somehow knew what he was doing, because many of those kids naturally gravitated towards him during those harshest of days, as if to seek a form of safety in his company.
Many a time their eyes crossed his, in the nauseating tension just before an advance or after having repelled a new wave of attackers, right after they'd lost another friend to a nearby blast or struck down some faceless figure that had sprung out from within the clouds of dust; and every time there was this anguished quality to their gaze, this silent plea for assurance, for guidance, for a look or a word or a gesture that would put them at ease, give them their feet back, help them understand.
Horrified youths, all of them, desperately clinging to the hope that experience may hold a clue on how to cope with it all.
Viktor keeps staring wordlessly for a long time, face locked in a scowl but otherwise inscrutable. So long he stares that Calvin begins to worry that he's once again spoken out of line and overstepped some invisible boundary, but eventually Viktor's eye drifts away from him and out into the thick darkness surrounding the pier. Calvin then has a realization of his own.
He has a pensive glare, too.
Brutally short, and brutally honest.
Calvin waits for him to add something, but it looks like this one word is all he's getting. He lets out a sigh and averts his eyes, sinking deeper into the mire of his gloom.
It's okay. He gets it. What more is there to say when that's one's answer, after all?
Calvin lifts his head again and eyes him warily. "And… me?"
Viktor turns to meet his gaze. "Are you good person?"
Calvin gapes in awkward disbelief, like he's being told the world's most tasteless joke. He frowns, shrugs, then finally gestures back toward the cabin where the victims of his latest fit lay, judging that to be sufficient answer.
Viktor nods. "Mm. And the other one?" he asks again, cocking his head in the same direction. "Your cousin?"
Calvin's face darkens. This answer is also pretty clear by this point, yet his first instinct would always be to lie about it. There really is no point now, though; not with Viktor.
"… No. I guess not," he mumbles.
"And Mitzi? Zibowski?"
He simply shakes his head.
Calvin opens his mouth, ready to give yet another obvious answer. It never comes to him.
He staggers. His eyes widen, drag from Viktor to his hands to the dark stream rushing below the rickety planks, and for a while he is left staring at it in puzzlement.
Because as they both know, Ivy is simply wonderful. There's no disputing that. She's pretty, and shrewd, and witty and strong-willed; and she smells so nice, smiles so bright, is so unfathomably cute when she bursts out laughing or giggles into her palm, trying her hardest not to snort. She's tough as nails, a real crack shot with the rifle, exudes endless vivacity wherever she goes, and it is Calvin's experience that just being in the same space as her can instantly brighten up your day- to say nothing of those divine sandwiches of hers. She's great, really. Just the best.
Yet at the same time, she very knowingly runs the deceptively unassuming front of an underground criminal organization. Every day the girl consorts with its gang of bootlegging scoundrels as they unabashedly break the law in pursuit of cold, dirty profit, most often acquired through the direct harm of another. Her friends regularly fight off rival gangs and smuggle contraband alcohol, by night serve it in their illegal establishment away from the eyes of local authorities, play and sing on its stage for untaxed wages, and her boyfriend in particular is a psychotic, trigger-happy killer-for-hire at the heart of it all. All of this Ivy readily abets out of an old attachment to the Lackadaisy speakeasy, a somewhat misguided thirst for adventure and an ardent passion for glitz and dancing.
But she is wonderful.
Viktor waits patiently for Freckle to look his way again. The confused uncertainty on the boy's face tells him that he understands.
"Ya. Exactly." He looks away and scratches absently at a spot on his chest, taking a moment to articulate himself. It is not often that he feels the need to transcribe intuitive thoughts into actual speech.
"… There are no good people, I think," he says slowly, cautiously, testing the words against his tongue to see if he had picked them right. "Just people. And mistakes."
HIs voice bears the wistful edge of one who might know a thing or two about mistakes, and about the people making them. Its solemnity hangs in the air for a long time after he's spoken, pervades the little wharf and seeps further outward into the amorphous darkness beyond until the night itself seems to have taken on a different palate. Freckle takes note of this shift in the quiet that follows and, unable to determine whether it's a pleasant one or not, decides he wants to try and describe it to himself.
It feels… sad, yet somehow soothing. Like a peaceful, accepting melancholy.
Like the bleak, horrid concept of a world without genuinely good people in it, coupled with the promise that in this world of just people and all their innumerable failings, the wonderful, the eccentric, the pious and the criminal alike may all yet have a place under the sun.
It's rather homey.
He is taken out of his musings by another wave of hysterically joyous laughter from inside the cabin, followed by creaks and rustling signifying movement. Rocky must be just about done with whatever it is he's been working on back there.
The two gangsters glance in synch at the door behind them, then at each other. Break's over.
"Alright. Come on, naow," Viktor says gruffly, squaring his shoulders and taking a step towards the boy. He bends down with a grunt and seizes him by the arm. "Ve have still work to do."
Calvin winces upon contact, for the Slovak's handling is rough as ever and with no consideration for the numerous bruises hiding beneath his rived shirt; yet something about this particular grip feels vaguely off, like noticing a misplaced item in an otherwise familiar room. He is not given a chance to process it as Viktor snarls at him to move and pushes open the door to the cabin's storage room. Calvin rushes after him and they hurry back inside, only now realizing that they've been far too relaxed these past few minutes for red-handed malefactors still dawdling around the scene of their crime.
Calvin is promptly put to work carrying crates out to the front of the cabin, and the peculiar sense of incongruity slips to the back of his mind. It was but a fleeting impression anyway, already difficult to recall, most likely all in his head; so he thinks nothing of it, and has forgotten it entirely within seconds. It can't have been anything too important, surely.
Only the subtle, near imperceptible difference between yanking someone upright and helping them to their feet.
This is the last drabble I currently have finished. Everything from here on out is just scattered notes on dialogue and plot concepts, and I'm not sure when or if I'll be getting around to fleshing them out into postable form. I wrote all this back when I had first discovered Lackadaisy, when my obsession with it was still fresh and at its zenith, but time has brought that obsession down to something approximating healthy levels; by my standards, at least.
That said, the urge to write is never truly gone, and I trust Tracy to draw me right back in with another jaw-dropping update a couple of months from now that'll rekindle my enthusiasm in full have me re-reading the comic in its entirety. This may result in yet more random scribbles, perhaps another drabble or two- and if I think any of them turns out good enough to share, you can be certain that I will.
Thank you very much for reading!