December 11, 1973 – Drydock doesn’t sound great either when you think about it

“What is this place?”  

Blue continued with his “visual scans” which is what normal people call looking around “It’s a drydock.”

I pointed “But there’s water right there.”

“A drydock is where you take a ship out of the water to work on it, you still need a channel of water to get the ship to the place, how else are you going to move a ship?  A wetdock is where the ship is still in the water while you do maintenance.”  

“Wetdock, I hate that word.  Sounds gross.  Where is everyone?”

“It’s shut down right now because the workers are on strike.”

“Workers have rights in Madripoor?”

“No, that’s why they’re on strike.  Well that’s not exactly true, some of them do.  Or at least they try to have them.  I know for a fact that there’s a union of exotic entertainers.”

I shook my head “Of course there is.” I looked around for the fiftieth time “Why did you choose this place?”

“This way Martialla can be lurking in the water.  She’s our ace in the hole.”

“She’s an acehole alright.”

I tensed up when a man came walking into the place wearing a ridiculous duster and a cowboy hat – what year does he think this is – but Blue met him with a handshake and they exchanged words in some language I didn’t understand.  Mr. Longcoat looked at me with mild curiosity and then took up a position at me side across from Blue.  

“Who’s this guy?”  

“This is that bulletproof man I was telling you about.”

“I thought he only did stuff like this for money.”

“He does.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out guilty “We have a little money.”

I gave him a sidelong look “Why is he dressed like that?  Is he a cowboy?”

“He’s from down south, I guess they dress like that down there.”

I turned to out new friend “¿Dónde está tu caballo vaquero?”

He look at me uncomprehendingly and then said something to Blue again, who turned to me “He doesn’t speak Spanish.”  

“I thought you said . . .”

My train of thought was interrupted when three more fellows sauntered into the place – they weren’t dressed like cowboys but they walked like they were.  I didn’t notice it at first, but I’ve come to realize that there’s definitely a preference for long hair amongst the criminals of Madripoor – the local ones anyway.  I think it’s a status symbol some kind.  One guy had a double pistol holster rig thing set up inside his suitcoat, it’s rare to see a bad guy with a holster – they seem to like the gun in the pants method.  I guess this guy didn’t want to shoot his dick off.  One of his friends had a shotgun and the other guy had a god damned sword.  A sword!  Who does that?  What they didn’t have with them was Maggie.

I noticed that shotgun was smoking an Embassy Gold “Hey, can I have one of those?”

Holsters responded in English “He doesn’t speak French.”

“Would you mind asking him if I can bum a smoke?” He stared at me, stone-faced “Okay, straight to business then, I don’t see Maggie so is she around the corner in a van or something?  How is this going to work?” 

He sneered “How it works is you give us the formula and once we know it works we release our prisoner.”

Blue glared down at him “That wasn’t what we agreed on.”

I sighed and grabbed holsters by the front of his suit and tossed him into the water.  The cowboy stepped in front of me as shotgun tried to give me both barrels – and as promised the cowboy proved to  indeed be bulletproof.  The wandering swordsman came forward with a vicious slash that Blue caught on his forearm, drawing a tiny line of blood across his scales, and then hammered the attacker to the ground with a fist – which drew all kinds of blood.  I stepped around the cowboy and hurled the now discarded shotgun at the rapidly fleeing third man – clocking him in the back of the head and sending him hurtling ass over teakettle.  A moment later Martialla dragged the leader out of the water and across the floor by us.  It looked like something had taken a bite out of his face.

“What happened?”

She waved vaguely “Barnacle, they’re really sharp.”

“Ouch.” I knelt down by the sopping went man “Do we have to do the whole thing where we threaten you and then you say you’ll never talk and then we break your foot and you say if you tell us you’ll die and then we say if you don’t tell us you’re going to die or can we skip all that?”

A new voice responded “I think we can skip that.” 

I turned to see my old friend Mr. Smiles walking towards us.  Instead of a tan leisure suit he was wearing some kind of cornflower blue number that I think was a Kareeba suit, wasn’t quite like anything I had seen before.  

“Long time no see, you never call, you never write.  Makes a girl feel unappreciated.”

He smiled his punchable smile “We were always nearby, I’m sure you could feel us watching over you.”

“That must be why things always go so well for me.  So what?  These dorks were just your stalking horse and the Shadow Lords actually have Maggie?  Is that the game?”

He nodded “An oversimplification but correct for this negotiation.”

“What are we negotiating?  Haven’t you guys given up on me by now?  I can’t be worth all this trouble to you.”

“Indeed you are not.  It seems we were sold a bill of sale for goods that didn’t live up to what we were promised.  You’re very strong but there’s no chance if you winning the tournament.”

“Jesus, that’s what this has all been about?  That fucking tournament?  Why do you care so much about it?”

“That doesn’t concern you.  The fact is that we paid for a champion and you’re what we got.  You owe us someone capable of winning.  Give us someone who can do that and we shall return Margaret to you.”

“Why didn’t you give me that choice with Elvis?  Why did you have to kill him?”  

“He was warned.  He chose his fate.”