Sins of San Dorado: Dead Man's Hand

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Siege
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Sins of San Dorado: Dead Man's Hand

Post by Siege » Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:55 pm

I would say 'part one of [number]' but you guys know how I get when it comes to finishing stories.

Sins of San Dorado: Dead Man's Hand

Arbitrage

The Raider pistol sprayed death through the cramped confines of the rundown flophouse, blowing chunky thumb-sized holes through dilapidated couches and cabinets and taking big puffs of stone splinters out of the brown brick walls. Glass windows shattered and I felt fragments of something sharp hit the base of my neck as I hit the grubby floor and crawled to cover. Shards of glass and splinters from the rough wooden floor planks sliced and needled my hands and wrists, and I hissed something particularly unladylike between my teeth. The sound of the shots was deafening in the small room, but not quite deafening enough to miss O'Rourke's call out to me. “Yo still alive? Git yo corporate ass out here where I can shoot yo!”

If his bullets hadn't done it his voice would've had me scrambling for my own gun all by itself. It was pitched and trembling. This asshole was high on Eukodol or SomaPax or whatever his poison of choice was. The evidence of it was all over the floor of the room, traces of white and blue powder in discarded plastic bags. Even down on the floor I could smell it, a cocktail of pungent chemical and sherbet sweet scents that even the sudden sting of cordite couldn't hide. I fumbled for the revolver hidden in my coat and wished I'd kept it a little less well hidden. I wished O'Rourke would develop a spontaneous aneurysm. I wished I hadn't gotten out of bed this morning. I wished a lot of things, and none of my wishes were coming true today.

Two more shots rang out and tore gaping gashes through the mouldy futon I'd scrambled behind. Puffs of yellowed cushion stuffing twirled down over me. Gunfire echoes rang in my head. Something wet and warm trickled down the palm of my right hand. Probably blood. Shit. I didn't know where O'Rourke was. The room was tiny, barely sixteen by sixteen foot, he couldn't be far away. Hell, he could be right on the other side of this damn couch. Sweat ran down my spine. It wouldn't take that muderous junkie long to figure out where I was hiding. The mildewed wadding itched my nose. I suppressed the urge to sneeze and jerked at the gun in its hidden holster. For a panicked moment I thought the .44 Special had gotten caught on something in my coat, then it pulled free.

Just feeling the cool weight of the revolver in my hand cheered me up immensely. Think, Victoria. Think fast. I tried to count his shots and I tried to remember where O'Rourke had been standing before he'd pulled his gun and I'd elected to take my swan dive to the floor. Had he moved? How many bullets did he have left? I pulled my legs below me and got up into a crouched position as silently as possible, then peered through one of the bullet holes in the couch.

Dust and smoke drifted through the darkened room. O'Rourke had hit the lights the second I'd walked in. He'd been waiting for me, but that was a mistake. If the bulbs in the hallway had worked I would've stood out like a silhouette in the doorway, but they were just as busted as anything in this place so when O'Rourke cut the lamp on the ceiling he'd been just as blind as me. Now the only illumination in the place was the beam of filthy orange street lantern light that came into the room like a searchlight from between two badly-drawn curtains. It rendered the crumbling contents of the room in different shades and intensities of shadow.

Slowly my eyes began to recognize the outlines of the items in the room. I made out the contours of the shelf and the easy chair where O'Rourke had been standing, the table and the bed in the back of the room. No sign of O'Rourke though, and I didn't dare to move. Strands of hair slicked to my forehead, wet with sweat. My heart was pounding so hard I was afraid O'Rourke might hear it. Seconds passed like centuries. I gripped the revolver so tightly my fingers went numb and forced myself to breathe slowly and silently.

“Hey, yo there?” Somewhere in the dark O'Rourke's voice quavered with adrenalin and nervous excitement. “Did I get yo? Show yoself!” Inside one of the darker pools of shadow something stirred, and I caught a glint of tangerine light in wide-open eyes. There you are, asshole. I kept my eyes trained on the patch of darkness that had moved and slowly raised my gun. I shifted position to put my weight on my left leg for a better shot.

Broken glass crunched under my boots. In the tense and silent darkness the sound was loud as the crack of a bullwhip.

Shit.

O'Rourke moved before I did. Maybe the drugs gave him an edge in speed. Maybe he was just faster than me. He burst out of the shadows pointing his pistol in my direction, and in the half dark the Raider looked big as a cannon to me. I wrenched myself up from behind the couch just in time to see flame licking from his barrel and something sharp and buzzing whipped by my left ear. The thunderclap of the shot was deafening.

Time slowed to a crawl. Breathe out. Focus. My arm moved with a will of its own. The Grand Slam barked and bounced up in my hand. O'Rourke jerked backward and his gun went off, blowing a hole in the ceiling. I steadied and fired again, then one more time.

He collapsed like a sack of potatoes. The world resumed its normal pace. Marlin O'Rourke was still alive when I kicked the pistol from his hand, but I could tell he wasn't long for the world. Blood pooled below his body and bubbled up from his lips. He was looking at me, tried to speak even. Or at least his lips moved but no words came out, just more blood. Two bullets through the lungs will do that to a man.

I saw the moment he died. His eyes glazed over. His arms and fingers kept twitching a moment longer, then they stopped moving and he was just a corpse.

Suddenly the room was very silent.

I let out a long and ragged breath I didn't even realize I'd been holding. The gunfire still rang in my head when I flipped the switch and lit up the room, or lit it as far as the dingy bulb on the ceiling would allow anyway.

A draft of cool, fresh air came in through the shattered window, and with it came the sound of city traffic. Syncopating bass thumped from the bar down the street, and from somewhere off in the distance came the metal-on-metal screech of a braking train. They were sounds that seemed to not have been there a few moments ago. For a minute the room had been a tiny self-contained universe fully apart from anything else, a perverted variation of Schrödingers box: two people go in, then when you look only one is still alive. I shivered and drew my coat a little more tightly around me, then looked around the ruined room and wondered where O'Rourke had hidden it.

There was a single knock on the door, followed by a familiar voice. “Yo Vicky, you still alive?”

I sighed. “Yeah!” I called back.

“Cool!” The ramshackle wooden door swung open to reveal a man whose attire was as misplaced in this rundown place as a priest on Scratch Street. Sinder Dallen wore a cobalt designer suit and a hundred dollar haircut, and he wore them well. He surveyed the carnage in the room, the shot-up furniture and the blood pooling beneath the cooling body with slightly raised eyebrows and clucked his tongue. “Shit Vicky, you made a real mess of the place.”

“Shut up and get in here you asshole.”

“Right. Sure.” He nodded slowly, then looked at me with a hint of heedfulness in his gray eyes. “First though you maybe want to put that away?”

I followed where his well-manicured finger was pointing and realized I was still holding my revolver. Holding it so tightly in fact that my knuckles had gone white. I nodded stiffly. Relaxing my hold on the gun proved painful: gripping the revolver had driven tiny splinters of wood and glass deep into the palm of my hand and blood now slicked the grip. I groaned and slid the weapon back in its holster just under my shoulder, then tore a few strips off the curtains as makeshift bandages. “Where were you when I was in here getting shot?” I asked, pulling the larger splinters out of my hand before wrapping it in cloth.

“Keeping myself well clear,” replied Dallen as he carefully stepped around the shell casings, drug paraphernalia and other miscellaneous detritus littered around the floor. “Story time! Back when I was with Stormbrink, this one time we raided a Prophets of Armageddon stash house. Me and the boys went in hot and tactical but these dicks were armed to the teeth and they were ready for us. It was a real tangle: staccato gunfire, lead flying everywhere, people screaming, lots of smoke all over the place, seriously it's like Short Bluffs in this place. Then this genius in charge of our B team decides he's going to be a hero, so he busts down the side entrance and comes cowboying in without telling anyone. Long story short, we don't know it's him, the bad guys don't know it's him, so we all open up on his ass. Never have I seen someone as profoundly dead as that genius.” He paused and looks at me. “Morale of the story: I don't want to be that guy. So I try not to walk into rooms where people are busy shooting each other.”

“Right,” I said numbly and watched as tiny specks of blood red seeped through the makeshift bandages. Now the firefight was over and the rush of adrenalin started to fade I began to feel the wounds in my hands and the bruises on my arms and legs. Soon as we'd be through here I'd have to hit up a clinic for painkillers and some antibiotics. Then a thought hit me and I looked at Dallen, who was looking around the room. “And if I'd gotten killed you wouldn't have had to split the fee either.”

He glanced back at me and flashed his quick grin, the handsome one that got him all the ladies. “True. You know it's nothing personal Vicky. It's the San Dorado way.”

I scowled at him but the ugly truth was that he was right. That was the San Dorado way. Within the squirming confines of the city millions of people raced to crawl their way up from the stink of desperation, clawed their way to any measure of success over the backs all the men and women less fortunate than them. You got ahead or you died trying. I knew a few people who could attest to that. One of them was called Marlin O'Rourke. San Dorado was an engine that ran on people, it ground them down and used them up, and it wasn't a question of if as much as when it would crush you between its gears. It was a terrifying and disgusting truth, and I was going along with it anyway because what the hell else was I going to do?

It also reminded me that even though his fast cars, carefree smiles and expensive watches made it easy to take Sinder Dallen for a a witless playboy, to do so would be making a mistake. Well, the playboy part was right. The witless part not so much. Dallen was richer than me and more well-connected than me, and in San Dorado that meant he was higher up the food chain that me. That was something to keep in mind.

Dallen looked down on O'Rourke's ashen corpse and poked it with his expensive leather loafers. “Where d'you reckon this asshole stashed the loot?” he asked nonchalantly as if he hadn't just casually admitted to hedging bets on getting me killed.

“If I was a gambling girl...” I pulled a hand through my hair and winced as tiny bits of glass and mildewed stuffing got under my nails and bit into my fingers. “On his person. Check the body.”

He nodded and crouched, rolled up his sleeves and pulled a pair of rubber surgical gloves from the inside pocket of his suit. Then he began methodically patting the body, all the while making sure no blood got on his suit with such skill it'd be obvious to anyone that this wasn't the first time Dallen searched a bloody corpse. It didn't take long for him to discover the stainless steel ball chain necklace around O'Rourke's rash-covered neck. A fast jerk broke the stained necklace and Dallen drew it out from underneath the dirty flannel shirt, dragging a cracked pouch of black leather with it. “If this is just his personal powderbox I'll be very upset,” murmured Dallen. He carefully loosened the strap of leather keeping the tiny bag shut and jangled it over his open palm until a single small object came tumbling out.

Dallen stared at the tiny trinket. “Jackpot,” he murmured. The thing was only a little over two inches long, a small rectangle of age-worn ivory inscribed with strangely elegant cuneiform characters, gold on one side, obsidian on the other. It looked like an old playing stone from some kind of tile-based game. In fact, that was probably exactly what it was. It was also far too elegant to be in this broken-down fleatrap, or even in the hands of Sinder Dallen with his slick blond hair and ritzy suit. It looked like it belonged in a museum, or maybe in some kind of temple. “Hey Victoria,” Dallen looked up at me with an oddly pensive look on his face. I raised an eyebrow. He rarely called me by my full name. “Do you believe this thing is Lucky?”

I shrugged. “Someone thinks so. Your mystery client wouldn't be paying us the big bucks to retrieve it if he didn't. Although,” I gestured at the corpse on the floor, “poor old Marlin doesn't look very lucky right now.”

“Maybe. I don't know.” Dallen stood up. He was still looking at the tiny stone. “You shot at him how many times? And there's only two rounds that hit him.”

“That's still enough to put him in the ground,” I countered and shook my head. “Look, I don't know. Maybe. Or maybe it's just hogwash that sells trinkets to people with more money than sense. I'm not big into this shibboleth stuff. I just find people. I found him,” I pointed at the corpse with my bandaged hand, “ And I found your stone. Far as I'm concerned that's mission accomplished. So, can we go now? I know this is the Sprawl and all but someone's must've heard the gunfire and I don't want to explain this mess to the rent-a-cops when they finally deign to show up. Plus my hand is really starting to hurt.” I sighed and murmured, “welcome to the glamorous life of Victoria Phoenix.”

“Private eye to the not-so-rich and the less-than-famous.” Dallen smiled again. He drew the gloves off his hands and over the stone, then folded the small rubber package in a silk handkerchief and put it in his pocket. With a quick flick of his wrist he produced a set of chromed car keys. “You did a great job today, Vicky. C'mon, let's get you fixed up. And after that I'll buy you dinner.”

I shot him a tired grin. “You're on. Oh and Sinder? Next time you're the guy who walks in the room.”
"Nick Fury. Old-school cold warrior. The original black ops hardcase. Long before I stepped off a C-130 at Da Nang, Fury and his team had set fire to half of Asia." - Frank Castle

I breakfast upon Armadas such as thine!

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Re: Sins of San Dorado: Dead Man's Hand

Post by Heretic » Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:06 am

Pretty good yarn to start the San Dorado setting. I'm presuming this isn't a one-shot and you'll be continuing?
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Re: Sins of San Dorado: Dead Man's Hand

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:48 pm

Siege, I love how this is starting out. You have always been great with gritty and atmospherically detailed urban fiction, be it futuristic cyberpunky urban sci-fi or Mievillean urban fantasy, not to mention detailed space opera. You have a very rare knack of delivering... atmospheric immersion to the reader, of placing him/her right then and there, with the character and within the setting (be it via first person POV which you've been using often for more intimate, or your traditional third person POV in your normaler works). It's great and very different from, say, the akshunfests of Moby or the manic weird gonzo circuses provided by other writers (*eherm ehehe*). :D

So the challenge, as we all know, is in continuing and in having a cohesive beginning-middle-end structure to the whole shebang and connecting with all the dots. I don't doubt that you are capable of delivering on this front, because you're dangerous enough to warrant a tense locker room confrontation with the likes of Spruce Goose and Ice Pick and whatnot. But everyone in OZ also knows how hard completions are. :D
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