"So a priest and a musician walk into a bar," Wolfwood remarked, flatly, on exhaling. "You'd think the second guy would have ducked."
Midvalley's mouth jerked upward, ever-slight, at the corners.
He reached for his drink, exposing his shirt cuff, a slice of shocking pink at his wrist. The drink too, was vaguely shocking-- iced, mixed, suspended mid-glass in a phosphorescent cloud.
Midvalley would suffer whiskey with the rest of them, but left to his own devices he always returned to gin, and elaborate permutations thereof.
Midvalley preferred that his drinks require minute umbrellas.
Wolfwood had long since acclimated to his partner's oddball suaveness, and didn't bat an eye. There was something thoroughly enjoyable about Midvalley's unrelenting swank, juxtaposed against the inescapable grit of their surroundings- the high-gloss lacquer of his wingtips in the sand; the dry and quiet fuck-you of a thing that knows its status non sequitur.
Still, thought Wolfwood, it ain't a hall pass
"Creative drink for a man," he observed, taking a drag.
"I'm a creative man."
Wolfwood shook his head, grinning faintly.
It was a low-key send-off. He preferred it like that, and he imagined Midvalley did too. Angelina was cooling her wheels in the street outside, pointed toward the edge of town. Not long now, but not yet.
The evening found them waiting out the hours with a bottle between them, almost like any other night.
Midvalley was subdued, but not uncharacteristically so.
Wolfwood offered him a cigarette, and he declined.
"Reforming already? I haven't even left yet."
That got him.
Midvalley laughed sharply.
"Sorry, Chapel. I don't think that's in the cards."
"Me neither," agreed the priest, graciously dispatching one cigarette to combustible heaven, and igniting another.
"I'll will miss going to church, though." Midvalley commented, hiding the width of his smile by staring upward at the planks of the ceiling.
Going to church. A fitting euphemism for the blasphemous nocturnal trespasses of a mercenary priest and a jazz assassin.
Wolfwood allowed himself a smile as well.
"Going straight after all."
"If anything, I'll grow more crooked."
"Amen to that."
Midvalley smiled wryly.
"In fact, I bet the next time you see me I'll be able to bend light."
It was typically cryptic, and so wholly Midvalley. An enigmatic reference to something entirely out of the frame.
Wolfwood said nothing, smoking absently, waiting for context.
Midvalley seemed to ruminate for a while, nursing his drink. A black semi-curl hung elegantly over his pale brow, having fled the cool conformity of the swept-back style, a refugee from the merciless bonds of his grooming.
"Legato came to see me."
Wolfwood took the cigarette out of his mouth, slowly.
He didn't have a lot of use for the guy, although Midvalley seemed ambivalent for the most part.
"He's moving me up the ranks."
Midvalley's voice was matter-of-fact, his shrug nonchalant.
"Well, maybe our twisted little paths will intersect."
Wolfwood's tone was deliberately light, although he couldn't quite bring himself to congratulate his partner on the development.
"I'm sure they might," Midvalley replied, vaguely.
"Lots of time around Millions Knives, huh? That should be interesting."
I sure as hell found him interesting.
Knives had given out the call, and he had responded, in person. Immediately he became aware that something was awry in the standard dynamic, and he quickly realized what it was. There had been no one else in the room. Not even Legato.
He had never been alone with Knives before. It didn't add up, didn't make sense to his rough analytical mind. But he gave no perceptible sign of this, keeping his face straight and blank as slate, relying on the inherent insouciance of his character.
Whatever qualms he might have harbored, at least his time wasn't wasted. Knives had been brief, directed and emphatic. And again, emphatic.
He had given him the directive, in no uncertain terms; and a caveat, a chaser.
You've never struck me as loquacious, Chapel, but let me instruct you more opaquely. You're not to talk about this with any of the Guns. Not even the Hornfreak. I know what goes on, priest. Do what you want with your body, but your mind is mine alone. And keep well clear of Legato.
He has his own pursuits.
Wolfwood needed no encouragement to avoid the sociotelepathic bastard and his vacuous liquid eyes, eyes that always made him think of insects, trapped and smothered in a mire of pitch, preserved, petrified for posterity--
And Legato's eyes were amber, after all, weren't they?
Midvalley's voice brought him back to himself, to their conversation, to this deserted bar at the tip edge of a nameless town.
"Millions Knives," he mused. "The Master," he added, with a toneless laugh. "-- À Legato, that is."
"What do you think of him?" Wolfwood asked, abruptly.
"Knives?" Midvalley paused, mindful of the late hour. Rubbing his chin, compulsively seeking non-existent stubble.
At last, he shrugged.
"I never think about him."
"You work for him."
"All the more reason, Chapel, my brother. We're hired guns. We don't have a union. I do my job, and keep clean. Play some tunes, waste some heads. I'm not about to deal with Millions Knives if I don't have to. I leave that special and personal joy to Legato."
"Legato is your friend."
"Sure. You could say that. He's always looked out for my back."
His long slim fingers steepled themselves, musician's fingers, seemingly at odds with the art of bloodshed, which surely called for baser digits-
But no, Midvalley killed just fine, thank you.
Even retaining a certain artistic finesse.
Wolfwood paused, before asking.
It was close to the line, the line Knives had drawn indelibly in the sand with the mere promise of blood. But if he was careful he could keep his balance for awhile, walk it a spell.
"What does Legato think about his Master, then?"
"I think we all know what Legato thinks about," quipped Midvalley with a markedly indecent lilt to his tone.
"What does he think about Vash the Stampede?"
"Hates him. What else? We have our orders to kill. Knives wants him dead, that's good enough for our comrade in indigo."
Wolfwood felt a smirk cross his face, transient, unnoticed.
"Did he happen to tell you how Knives feels about his brother?"
Midvalley looked at him, suddenly curious.
"Why the subtle interrogation, Chapel?"
"Just making conversation," Wolfwood drawled, evasively.
He swallowed the rest of his liquor and set the glass down with a clunk. The clock behind the bar ticked down the minutes.
Midvalley regarded him with open amusement.
"All right, Chapel. I'll play. It's harmless, isn't it?"
Wolfwood nodded, wondering if the gesture was a lie.
"The fact is, Chapel, Legato is jealous."
"Knives doesn't hate his twin."
"He never says as much." Midvalley shrugged, finishing his drink and leaving it carelessly by the bar's edge. "Legato sticks to the message, you know that. It's part of his charm."
He smiled obliquely, amused.
Wolfwood dutifully pressed him, knowing the routine, the way Midvalley liked it.
He knew almost too much about what pleased Midvalley.
"You aren't buying that for a second, Player. You know better."
He did, and it showed in the sparks of his mica colored eyes.
"You haven't told me about your assignment, Chapel."
"No? Why am I not surprised."
Midvalley had a killing smile.
Wolfwood had begun to see that the whims and machinations of Knives Millions were never arbitrary. The pattern- emerging slowly from the woodwork, hurting his eyes.
It wasn't a difficult leap from there, with the questions he'd asked, and though Midvalley was a crook, he was no slouch. The realization brooked had a direct coefficient.
Millions Knives doesn't hate his brother equals Millions Knives doesn't want his brother dead.
And whence went Chapel, the man who tolls the black funeral bell?
"You'll figure it out on your own," he told Midvalley. "I feel pretty good about that."
Good wasn't the word.
"What makes you so sure?"
"You've always read best between the lines."
Midvalley laughed softly.
"You don't even have to look at the lines, Chapel. It's all in the spaces."
Wolfwood raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
"Especially if you know they're lying," he added, with a slow grin. It was pure Midvalley- the classic blue note, leading up to the punch. "The truth is never more evident than in the spaces between lies."
Cigarette propped in the corner of his mouth, Wolfwood gave him a skeptical half-smile.
"That's a little overarching, isn't it, Hornfreak?"
"You think so?"
Midvalley leaned forward, his expression unreadable.
So a priest and a musician walk into a bar…
"Are you coming back after this assignment, Chapel?" he demanded suddenly, regarding him with his warm and cynical eyes.
"After the job is done. Are you coming back here, to me?"
Wolfwood paused, taken aback. His cigarette dangled precariously from insensate lips. Reflexes kicking in, a split-second later, sharp and infallible as ever.
"God willing," he said, knowing he probably wasn't.
A quintessential reply from the man of the blood-soaked cloth.
Any priest worth his salt keeps a dove up his sleeve.
Especially a priest who might keep any number of worse things up his sleeve, or concealed elsewhere on his holy host…
Wolfwood realized he had miscalculated.
He knows you too well. He knows you don't believe in…
In the quiet, Wolfwood looked up.
"So there you have it." Midvalley said, coolly, into the stillness.
Victory was his, and he didn't look happy about it.
You'd think the second guy would have ducked.
Wolfwood might have said something- there were things he could have said, he wanted to say…
But what would he unwittingly say in the pauses and lapses? What words could possibly speak loud enough to combat those accusatory lulls that Midvalley seemed so adept at decoding? At the very most they could only cancel each other out, words and spaces, leaving you with emptiness.
And there was more than enough of that…including the current state of his glass.
Wolfwood lit a fresh cigarette, and poured another round. One for him, one for Midvalley, who paused, then slowly reached into his pocket and lit up a smoke of his own.
"You tried, Chapel," he said, at last. "You did try."
Angelina was cooling her wheels outside in the street.
Not long now, but not just yet.
Why speak at all. Why make a bad thing worse.
The silence, in itself, was deafening.