It's a balmy summer evening and - honestly - it's kinda weird that this is how things often start. You're a big fan of clichéd beginnings (big fan of clichés in general if we're on that vein), but the summers here are often balmy, and you are the sort of guy whose habit is kicking off some big plan in those evenings where the sun stays high in the sky for longer. Both Ace and Pickles are trying their damndest to stay out of trouble since the incident at the bank and, well…
Look, listen, see? You're a good guy at heart.
Honest to GPI.
Folks around here say you're impulsive, arrogant, and have no regard for others' safety when it comes down to the crux of it (those that say such are often part of the criminal underbelly of this city, but an opinion is still valid even when the person giving it probably wants to stab a knife between your ribs). Alas, that's a tangent for another hot, warm, muggy evening - and there will be more.
What you're trying to say is that you do care a hell of a lot about your team. They're...they're family by this point (although Ace is kinda more like the grumpy Uncle who you call Uncle, but he's not actually related by blood, and the family insist you call him Uncle, but, whatever, he kinda has a lot of time for you in the long run) and you are not the sort to hurt family.
That being said, you are definitely not going to deny a whole criminal past, nor will you pretend that there wasn't an underlying reason for moving away from the police force to start up your own detective agency. You have needs and urges that can sometimes be counterproductive to a case. Occasionally, a piece of evidence that you should leave at a crime scene will end up in the snug confines of your coat, or if you're in some huge chain big name store a stick of gum, or a new pair of socks, will avoid the cash register completely.
Never a local chain. Ever. You don't make a habit of stealing from those who are barely making ends meet.
It's almost hilarious the way you work.
You're not even trying to be self-righteous about it. As far as you can tell, there's nothing about you that would ever be deemed as such. A sleuth with a questionable past.
Pickles and Ace are like two sides of the same coin and you're...the edge of the coin? The middle. Neutral territory. Like someone took the worst qualities of one guy and the good qualities of the other and mashed 'em into the shape of a charismatic asshole.
Your tall gangly associate likes tea and drinking at his favourite cafe, and reading books that have good endings, and helping out where he can (and cannot seem to say no to anything you ask him); your shorter, squatter compadre likes to fuck hard, drink hard, curse harder, and smoke his life away (when he's not breaking some guy's nose in the process).
Then there's you.
In the middle.
Where were you going with this? Oh yeah!
The random tangent about your own life served only one purpose and that was introducing the fact that you have these darker urges that occasionally swell up within you. A dam about to burst. All consuming. When you get them, you become aware that you hyper focus on that itch, wanting to dig your thoroughly bitten nails into it can scratch it until the feeling stops.
Right now, your itch consists of the latest thorns in your collective sides as a detective agency, and you want to be rid of it before it rips your skin off. Metaphorically as well as physically. Definitely a possibility given the circumstances.
This city has not seen any organised crime in quite some time and now the goddammit Midnight Crew are moving in on the old Mobster Kingpin's turf. Pickles still has the bandages of the last (and first) scrap you had with those mooks.
You're currently pacing back and forth in the office, riding out the sweet sweet high that comes with having something to occupy your bored mind, spitting out facts to your comrades about the new guys in town. There's a board that looks like its been used for pinning tails on multiple donkeys over the past few years: absolutely covered in pins. An inherent lack of photographs means that you have been allowed to take liberties in scrawling your own impressions of the crew upon pieces of wrinkled paper and these too have fallen victim to a multitude of tiny stab wounds. Colourful threads link your (complete lack of) evidence from one picture to the next. Every single time you place a tac you follow it with a monologue about each one.
Ace sits looking bored; Pickles looks like he's still struggling to remain in this realm for any multitude of minutes that pass by.
Here's what you managed to grasp so far:
Numero uno: they call themselves the Midnight Crew and have exactly four mooks that own the name, but are hiring some of the local wheelers and dealers to aid in their fuckery.
Two: their muscle consists of one big fucko and one short stack who are yet to name themselves. Big guy seems to be built like a truck and hits like one too. He towers over his fellow crew members and completely covers any doorways he stands in. Lately, he's been seen heading into several brothels in the Sky District, and that's a lead you know you can follow. Little guy...you're not sure about. Reeks of explosives. Probably responsible for that bomb at the bank. Seems to come as a pair with the behemoth.
Thirdly, you know that there's the guy who pays the bails. Sharp guy. Mr Suit and Tie. Droog. The one who looks so at odds with the rest of the crew, but seems to work with them nonetheless. He definitely has that same calculating gaze that Pickles has when he gets hooked on something. A tactician? Who knows. Not you that's for sure.
And then the final topping on this shit show disguised as a four layer cake (you kinda like malaphors too - sometimes they're better than clichés) is their leader. Spades - fucking - Slick. Cocky, arrogant, grinning Spades Slick (you're sure your mind can conjure up more than enough colourful adjectives and verbs for him, but you need to limit yourself to the GPI-given tradition of the power of three). The only one you've managed to gain information about, and from, due to actually arresting the fucking asshole and then watching him waltz right out the GPI damned door.
Is it wrong that just thinking about him makes your blood boil and your hands shake and - GPI-fucking-damn! You need a cigarette (you swear, you quit, honestly)...
Frantically, you tear open a new pack - slightly bent from time spent inside your inner jacket pocket - and light one up. You haven't stopped throwing down all of the evidence you have managed to gather about the Crew and their members. The cigarette break probably comes as a welcome reprieve.
From his position at his desk, sat leaning back in a chair and clipping the end off a cigar, Ace motions for you to crack open a window (metaphorically). Pickles...has said very little about this, but you can hardly blame him. He's still wounded. You watch from where you've decided to perch on the windowsill as he stares out into whatever headspace he's got going on, lightly running long fingers over the patterns on a delicate little tea cup, just...thinking.
You're used to that.
When he talks, you'll respond. That's just the way it is. Your own inner arrogance aside, you care a lot for your team, and you know that PI stares into space because it's probably the only thing that can hold all of those thoughts in one place. One day, you've joked in the past, his head will literally explode if he ever finds himself in a crowded place for longer than ten minutes.
You turn your attention back to a combination of smoking and ranting. In all fairness, you don't think your mouth stopped, even when exhaling the smoke you'd breathed in.
There's plenty wrong with the Midnight Crew. Most confusing is the conversation you had with their leader. Some things, in your mind, definitely require an omission from what you tell Ace and Pickles.
"I hope so. I hope you're there."
There's a part of you that hates Spades Slick to the ends of the earth. He's everything you despise in a guy and you remember how every little word in your scuffle seemed to be filled with a sick sadistic pleasure. Jumping bail, accepting arrest, enjoying the way you attempted to interrogate him (you're still lamenting the loss of the cheap coffee you wasted on him).
"I got my eye on you, Problem Sleuth."
No threat nor promise could make him shift. You had nothing to offer him because, as far as he was concerned, he already had everything he needed. There were things you didn't understand about him and plenty that he didn't seem to understand (or care) about his situation. All he wanted was to watch you squirm and listen to you challenge him again and again. Even when blood began to flow he still acted like even that was an experience to him: like he was trying out some grand experiment with that human body of his.
"You're gonna be mine."
You remember that single eye. The slightest pinprick of a pupil. Feral. Scars telling stories of a life hard lived. A voice that sounded less like nails down a chalkboard and more like someone decided to shoot the proverbial chalkboard in the face. Repeatedly. Teeth sharp as they hissed out every syllable. Blood running down from where that sharpness met your earlobe (you trace your finger and thumb over the remnants of the now-closed wound).
More importantly...you remember how he talked as though he knew about the other worlds. As though they were new to this life. Even the way he lashed out his tongue to taste the coffee that had been unceremoniously dumped over his person.
That part is most…
"It's almost puzzling." Snapping your head up, you are brought to attention by the soft breathy voice of Pickle Inspector. Curling your mouth into a grin, clenching the half-smoked cigarette in your teeth, you eye the other detective with an expression that suggests admiration.
Pickles probably has only been paying attention to half of your rant (although it is more likely only 25% of what you said has been heard) but he definitely has thought over the idea of the crew in his head. If there was anyone in this world that you would value the opinion of the most, it's this guy. Every conundrum or question is a rubix cube wrapped in a sudoku puzzle to him: something he has to solve and turn over in his head. Part of you knows that this slight murmuring was hardly spoken at you or in response to what you were saying, but you always like to use it as an excuse to continue your train of thought.
“Puzzlin'? You're damn right it is. That guy spoke ta me like a guy that didn't know about shit. A guy that ain't never been here before, or tackled a capable detective in his life. Truth be told, he seemed surprised ta get his ass caught. Soon stopped yakkin' once I arrested him.” This time your commentary is stopped by your cigarette finally coming to its end.
As the last flecks of ash slowly fall upon your boot, you're already in mid stride towards the window again, lighting up another (you swear: you'll quit tomorrow). Ace grumbles to himself about your erratic movements - although he would never use the word: too many syllables for him - and gives you what he probably thinks is a light pat to your arm. Inwardly, you hide the wince that comes with any impact from him, play tap or no.
"So. Lay it out, Sleuth. Ya flapped yer gums so damn much. Are we gonna tail these grifters or what?" Ah. You suppose you have been running your mouth a lot. It's not something you can help. Thoughts flow differently through your head than they do through the minds of your companions. More often than not, the journey from brain to mouth is made in seconds, without any prior musing on what you're going to say.
See, Pickles often thinks without talking, you think and then talk, and Ace...just talks. No filter. As you said before, you're sitting mighty pretty on that middle ground, and it's the only reason why your little rag tag group stays together. Without you to take the role of leader, you'd all be sat in your separate offices and not with this cushy little setup you got here, with all three spaces knocked into one (Ace saw to that before you decided to hire a professional to clean up the rough edges - so to speak).
Now that Ace has actively asked for your opinion, you feel you need to put a stop on disorganised bullshitting, and get straight to the point.
Not so much as smoking the second cigarette as you are chewing it, you pull out a chalkboard (always gotta keep one of those around for occasions where you need to emphasise a point) and stand in front.
"Okay, okay, let's recap what we know so far. You better write this down, chuckle fuck!" Directed at Ace, the chalk is pointed in his general direction, and you grin as he clenches and unclenches one massive hand in silent protest. He's honestly been better at knowing when he should and should not pick a fight. Hell, the only reason you don't have to remind PI to do this is because you know that he always subconsciously scribbles down whatever you say out loud. After Ace's muttered protestations are finished, you turn around and start to map out your thoughts.
"Okay, attention Palookaville (that's you Ace), let's get this show on the road! First up we have the guy known as Droog. Mr Suit and Tie! Tall, thin, and one mean-looking sharp dressed man. This mook paid for the boss man's bail in full and barely even batted a single fucking eyelid the whole time he was at the station! Literally the only reason we ain't currently arrested any of these stabby fucks! Guy looks like he's always ahead of the curve and calculates the odds better than the most professional of pool sharks. Utter asshole that he is, I think he'll be pretty dangerous to handle in a fight, but hopefully ain't too keen on getting in one." A hefty slam of chalk on chalkboard is all that's needed to reiterate your feelings on the man. For a moment, you stand there, imagining how damned hard-boiled and leaderly you must look right now. Ace doesn't say a word, and Pickles is too busy scribbling...something down, therefore you continue without slowing your pace.
"Next up on the shit list is tiny but mighty. Ain't got no clue as ta who he is, but he was spotted in the alleyway after the explosion at the bank, so it's safe ta assume he's either a runner of sorts or he's the Crew's explosive expert. Either way, we pursued him right into…"
Dramatic chalkboard flip: check! Flick through a file on your desk: done without hesitation. Moving on: swift.
Sometimes you impress yourself with how freaking perfect your dramatic timing is. Comes with practice and a tendency to monologue internally (as well as externally) for the sake of it.
"Numero three on the list. The final act. The Wall. The muscle. Chasin' that little rodent of theirs led us (that's you again, Ace, keep up now) right smack bang into this guy's fist. I don't have the exact unit of measurement to judge the scale of this mook's strike, but - judging from that shiny black eye of yours when you got back, Ace - I'd guesstimate anywhere between freight train and anvil. Either way, he's a problem." Standing back from the chalkboard, you take an impressive drag on your cigarette and pretend to be considering your next words about this merry band.
You don't actually need to consider it; you already know what your thoughts are. “Their boss and these three guys are serious business. Ain't just some random thugs. This Spades Slick of theirs...well...I ain't never seen nothin' like this guy. He was too well trained, yanno? This wasn't just some fuckin' street brawl, this was a well planned and well executed attack. I'm startin' ta think that the little guy was just the bait for us, yeah? This guy had all the style an' grace of a freakin' drunken dog, an' yet he managed ta damn near scratch me up like a cat on crack! Somethin' ain't right with these guys. They're too...organised."
You're about to continue when you suddenly hear Pickles' voice cut through the momentary pause that dragging on a cigarette brings. “You think that this was just a game to them?”
That gives you something to chew on. A hum dies a death in your throat. “Maybe. The Boss seemed ta be enjoyin' himself. He just told them he'd catch up to them later. Waved off help just ta tangle with me in an alley. It was like they were tryin' to be seen. Tryin' ta make a statement. I mean, from what we know, the damned bank incident left us without evidence. We ain't got nothin'..."
Damn that bastard makes your blood boil. The chalk hits the board hard to draw a circle around the information relating to the boss and then you slowly turn to slam the file on your desk shut.
It is then that you decide to reveal your grand scheme. Even more reason to do it now you definitely have Pickle Inspector's attention fully.
“So what I was thinkin' was...why don't we do a little tailin'? See what we can dig up about these guys? After all, if they're gonna be regular contenders on the crime scene, we'd better know what we're goin' against. I got my dibs on the Boss, of course.” Hell yes you do. There's that part of you that yearns for professionalism and to lock these arrogant fucks up; the other part of you just wants an excuse to fight Spades Slick again to teach him not to bite random detectives.
Idly, you gesture to Ace. “You get the big guy and the short stack.”
“Sure. Whatever.” The response is an eye roll, but you see that Ace actually cracks his knuckles at this idea, a sure sign that he is just as eager as you are to go round two with the Crew.
Then, you grin at PI. “Pickles, you got Mr Suit and Tie.”
There's no response to that one, but you can already see the panic on Pickles' face at the suggestion. He's the best guy for the job. No doubt. You trust him on this.
Rolling back the chalkboard and throwing the file into an open desk drawer, you walk over to the window and crush your cigarette out on the frame, already grinning at the idea you might be seeing Spades Slick in handcuffs and behind bars very soon.