This story directly continues the tale of Gladiator & Scrapper in That Kind of A Day (you can read it here if you wanna: https://thesqueakywheelblog.com/2013/06/08/that-kind-of-a-day/ 🙂
My head dipped down again, heavy and weighted with a concrete mass of confusion. “That’s the big reveal,” I muttered into my chest. “Scrapper.” I noticed that the droplets of blood had formed a Rorschach pattern on my t-shirt. “What do you see here?” I asked, still looking down.
“What do I see where?” Scrapper stopped scrutinizing the tics of my battered face and followed my line of vision. “It’s blood, dummy,” he said. “From your face. Where I punched your teeth out,” he added helpfully.
I coughed and hawked out a glob of blood and spit it onto the ground. For all I knew, I just spat out one of those teeth.
“I’ve heard of Scrapper. Not much, you big enigma, you. Enough to not take too much of a shot to my self esteem because you knocked me out.” I considered a moment. “I had just woken up, of course, and I had a helluva hangover. So, there is that.”
A reluctant laugh rumbled up from the big man’s belly. “Yeah,” he agreed. “There is that.”
It rankled my already bruised pride to crane my neck up to meet his eyes. “You know,” I said conspiratorially, “I know a secret about you.”
He clapped his hands together. “Oh goody. What secret do you know about me, Gladiator?”
“I know that you either stole someone else’s name, or you’re about 70 years older than you look.”
He went so still he could have been a waxwork gangster giant. His whisper was a mountain-sized hive of bees, buzzing all at once, and just as dangerous. “What makes you say that, little man?”
It was my turn to shrug, oozing insouciance like a pheromone. “My Nan used to tell me stories, stories about the Badlands where she grew up. Some of them were about a guy named Scrapper. He ruled in the Underbelly of the underbelly, flitting in when he needed to handle some business and flitting out again. No one knew where he came from, but they were sure scared shitless to find out where he was.”
I raised my arms up behind me until my shoulders protested. “Get me the fuck out of this, will you? I’ve got no problem with you so I don’t see why we can’t have this conversation like civilized human beings.”
Time slowed for a minute, thickened to a trickle. Our eyes met and held; feral cats assessed prey, cold blooded sharks smelled blood, Neanderthals squared off over the first lick of flame in the time it took for him to blink. He broke the connection with an expansive gesture and the world crashed back over me like a cresting wave. “Yeah, sure, why not.”
As he bent to the task himself, an amalgamation of shadows peeled itself from the wall and morphed into a man under the salty glow of a fitful bulb. “Scrap, I don’t think you should untie him until we get some answers about what happened t’ Leo. Manacles can be like, I dunno, like truth serum to people who don’t wanna spill their guts.” I didn’t need his wink to hear the double meaning behind that line.
“Yeah, and sometimes they make people turn into even more of a stubborn asshole than they already are.” With one knee on the floor, Scrapper snicked out a switchblade. As he sawed at the knots binding my wrists he grunted at the shadow-man. “It’s a rope, anyway, not manacles. And you don’t give a nickname to a nickname. If you shorten mine again, I’ll shorten your tongue.” He flicked a glance sideways like he was shooting poison darts alongside it. “Okeydokey?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever. You don’t have to threaten me, you can just tell me shit. I ain’t your enemy and I ain’t your minion.” In an impressive maneuver, as the man’s voice faded, so did he. Now that would be a trick to have in your back pocket.
I was taking as many mental notes as I could. A leader, but not a boss. Could be reasonable, could be touchy. Did he have a cadre of Tricksters at his back or just this shadow guy? I stared as hard as I could into the gloom, trying to discern even just an outline of a man, stared so hard I gave my eyeballs a toothache, and still I got nothing.
The tension on my arms disappeared so suddenly that they flailed up and out. One of them knocked into Scrapper’s brick sized fist, sending his blade skittering across the floor. I laughed outright. “Sorry, sorry, I guess I’m just excited.” I swung my legs up and down, a halfwit kid in need of a potty break. “Feet?” I asked sweetly.
A shadow foot kicked the knife back across the floor, but the surface was too rough and it stopped well short of Scrapper’s outstretched palm. “Jesus,” he muttered as he crabwalked the last two feet over to grab it. “Could this be more undignified? I’m crawling around on the god damn floor. Christ.”
Finally I was freed from my fetters. I stood up, stretching until all the bells and whistles and groans and cracks were finished. I shook out my hands and feet, bounced on my toes to get some feeling dancing back in. “Fuckin A!” I grinned my newly gap toothed grin and clapped the now standing Scrapper on the shoulder. “Now we talk like men.”
I had originally intended for this to be a 2 parter, but I’m thinking it will prolly be around a 5 parter…once I start daydreaming about backstories, quick and easy goes out the window 🙂