BOTH The Order Of The Throne (~Both, ~Nonbinary ~Pulp/Noir/Thriller, ~SciFi, ~XXWG, ~Stuffing, ~Squashing, ~Stuckage)

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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
"We are going in circles."

"Keep moving."

Streets are erupting around you in a rude parade of hazy colors. People don't seem to have faces any more, just collections of features arranged in a so-so pattern. It's fine. Push past them, around them, weave up and down like a needle, closing the gap between danger and safety. The roar of motors is a drumbeat and the beeping of horns a fanfare. Marching tune. Pushing You on.

"Where are we--"

"Keep. Moving."

Cops are stalking around the street corners or squatting in their patrol cars like caged gargoyles. Last goddamn thing You need, 'cept for maybe choking on a lit stick of TNT. You've done enough press conferences and on-the-scene interviews to know cops can barely tell which ass-cheek is left or right without sitting down and having a good feel, and even then they might need City Hall to give 'em some pointers.

Cops can't hold back Death.

You're giggling under Your quick sharp breaths. This must be the big time. You ain't never been stalked by Death before.

"Is not 'Death'," says the Mook.

Oh. So You've been talking as well as giggling, uh? Bet that must sound normal. You're the picture of mental health.

"Is sick man in stupid mask. Or sick woman. Whatever. We are being too smart for them."

"Sure thing, Mook," You say, shaking Your head. "We're too smart for 'em." He's a step behind You, and You're faintly aware his energy might sap away any minute. Same as Yours. Adrenalin fatigue or somethin', Doc calls it. Better to be indoors and safe when it happens.

A big guy in boots and coat and fricken' horse mask might be easy to spot in a crowd. But masks can come off. And You don't know his face, and he knows Yours.

A block falls away wordlessly behind that little humdinger of a thought and You round the corner to the blinding light of a glowing marquee. DEMILLE DOUBLE ILL, it reads. 2 PICTURES FOR A FOLLAR.

Movie House. Perfect. A big dark room with comfyish seats and too many bystanders for a stramger to reliably pick two people out without getting close enough for a fist in the face.

8 PM. The newsreel should just be getting started.

"In here," You order. The Mook shuffles along behind.

Tickets. Cash. Change. You're sweaty and tired and Your "date" looks incredibly dubious, but there's no time to debate hairy eyeballs with the kid in the booth. The two of You breeze past the concessions, not without some willpower on Your part, to disappear into the comforting darkness of Screen 5, Seats H13 and 14.

"In an address to the United Nations, the Danish delegate expressed scepticism in the success of the European Economic Area, saying that..." the cut-glass voice drones on and fades into the hum of blood rushing through Your head, the marching band winding down into a soothing lullaby.

The cushion of the seat is sub-par, but may as well be goose down on Your overtaxed thighs and suddenly blissful bee-hind. Safe. Temporary, but comforting. A couple seats closer to the middle would have been less conspicuous, but You're happy to make do with the very edge.

The Mook has plumped down next to You and his plush arm crowds Yours on the arm-rest. You don't mind a bit. Better to keep up a plausible story. You curl Your own arms around it and lean in, moving Your hat to Your lap as You bury Your cheek in his warm coat sleeve.

He sighs the sigh of a big man, warm breath fluttering past Your frazzled hair.


"Hush. Plausible," You mumble as sleep overtakes You.

You drift into a semi-coma, waiting for the cameras to begin tonight's showing of what the marquee called "SMASMOM & DEELAH".

Halfway into the first reel, Your beauty sleep is broken. Your makeshift pillow needs something.

"Jackie," he whispers, "you help me."

"Sure thing," You reply, not opening Your eyes. "One good turn deserves, an' all. You guard my body, I body your guard..."

"Jackie, you help me now? Please?"

There's an urgency that You missed the first time. Adrenalin clocks in for a second shift. Probably needs the hours.

"Whass goin' on?"

"Guy must be lost by now, or give up. I think, carry You out, catch taxi. But, uhhh...difficulty."

"Ah c'mon, I ain't so heavy you couldn't sling me over yer gee-dee shoulder. You've handled potato sacks before, right?"

"Not difficulty with, uh, you. Look..."

You look. Ah, right.

You don't think the ushers get paid enough to be bothered with situations like this. So it's up to You.

It appears that the Mook made a couple calculations upon arrival, and - while one of the sweeter and more courageous ones - he is still very much a Mook. Clearly he thought that these seats would have both the sturdiness and the capacity for a gentleman of his considerable heft. And from Your recent if brief knowledge of him, You know he wouldn't have asked You to go back and buy another ticket.

So he's...yeah, the boy sure is stuck, huh?

When he settled in before, You mistakenly thought it was his arm jostling for space with Yours over the side of the armrest. Not so: that was one of the rolls of flab spilling over his middle, apparently. The waves of them under his shirt bulge and stick beneath the arm-rests and his back-fat is crammed into the narrow passage of the seat as a result. You lean over, try to get as discreet an appraisal of the situation as possible. Huh. Kinda resembles a muffin spilling over one 'a' them little paper things they serve muffins in. The name escapes You.

Your hands have been absent-mindedly rubbing his shoulder as You take stock of his...situation.

"Help," says the Mook, quiet but firm. He's already red in the face.

"Have ya tried--" You shake Your shoulders like a worm. "Shimmying?"

"Yes! Did not work! And is not funny!"

"Sorry, sorry," You turn away, trying to think of tax returns and sick puppies, glad he took Your smirk as a sign of good humour and not as the embarassed blush of someone who is bewildered at how deeply cute their bodyguard has suddenly become.

"OK, let's try...uhnff." Your hands attempt to get between the fuzzy arm rest and his belly. It's a no-go. Razor blades would have a tough time trying to make it in that gap.

You're a reporter, not an engineer. How do You solve this without drawing the fire department over and blowing Your cover?

You peer around to the seat at the very edge, finding a young girl apparently thumbing through a book, less-than-enthralled by the steamy performance of Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature.

"Psst. Kid!"

The girl sighs, flips a page. The Mook obligingly pats her on the shoulder.

She leans over, cupping a hand to her ear. "UH?"

Her elbow is buried in the Mook's belly, sinking in. He's already beet red and doesn't need the extra physical attention. You tap the offending arm lightly as You hiss.

"Need a favour. My, my boyfriend here--" You squeeze his arm in a parody of affection. Bad, Jackie! He's not the only one at risk of turning red! "--finds himself in need of physical assistance exiting his seat."

"Okay, maybe don't say it so loud," she hisses back. "I ain't judgy, but cops go to the movies too, ya know?"

Huh? Oh. She thinks You're a guy. Must be the way You hiss. And she But she's no rat? Good on her.

"That sure is considerate of you, uh--"


"--Marion, and now You know why my 'business associate' and I ain't calling the fire department. Hence why I'm askin' nicely for some assistance."

"Well whaddaya expect me to do? I ain't no weightlifter." She looks up apologetically at the smoulderingly embarassed Mook. "No offence, honey."

She's got a look to her, this Marion. Ain't pretty or ugly by anyone's standards, not even a "Plain Jane". Just someone who apparently doesn't think twice about taking herself to the pictures when nobody else is going. Doesn't mind buying herself popcorn, neither.

Somewhere in Your head, the lightbulb flashes.

You start thumbing thru Your wallet. "Run out to the lobby and grab me some..." You pause mid-thought. Lubricant is definitely needed to alleviate this situation. What isn't needed is a scene, which is what's going to happen when a snot-nosed craterous teen is asked by a - by his standards, You'd bet - blushing love queen to fill up a cardboard tub with greasy melted butter, especially if he subsequently decides that the manager is more of an authority in heated dairy product.

This calls for some careful strategising.

"...Get a large popcorn, but tell 'im the butter needs to come separate. You got a guy who's fussy, needs it poured just right."

"I dinnit come in with no guy."

"So you just met and he unburdened himself to ya about his horrible popcorn problem. What, you're going to question him? When he's relyin' on you for help? Don't'cha know anything about dating?"

Marion blinks, lips forming syllables as she parses what You just asked her. For a moment You wonder if she's going to start looking around for this mysterious hypothetical dork and his sensitive tongue.

"Just get 'em, separated."

"Why should I? You're screwy, pal."

"You know who else was screwy?"

"Yeah, who?"

You hold up the bill in the dark. "President Andrew Jackson. Now what say you and he get better acquainted in the lobby with some popcorn and butter, and I'll let you keep the change and introduce you to his twin brother."

There it is, the magic words.

"You got it, Mister!", and away she's gone.

You pat the Mook's hand. Comforting. Collegial.

"You're gonna be fine," You say, as much to Yourself as to him. "It'll be...interesting, but we'll get You outta there."

Maybe You should ask him to try again when Marion gets back. The two of You can split the popcorn while You watch No No Dammit Jackie!

You turn back and cross Your arms and try to concentrate on the movie. It makes little to no sense. You never had the head for Bible studies anyhow.

It's not five minutes before Marion is back again, and You're happy to see the ruse took. A big carton of warm yellow grease awaits Your grubby hands.

"OK, Marion. You feel like doin' me an' ol' Hickory one more favour?"


You sigh. "Just start greasin' him up."

Four hands begin dipping their fingertips in warm melted butter and smearing it around the Mook's belly; two heads dart this way and that, checking to make sure they're not getting any attention. Marion is probably checking to see if anyone is staring, though whether she wants that or not, You've no idea. It suits You anyway, seeing as this way she won't question why You're staring too.

Just because the Mook thinks the Horses have galloped away into the meadow, that doesn't mean You're so trusting. Horses have long memories, and they bite.

The Mook is staring at the movie screen, trance-like, attempting to remove every part of himself from this situation except for the very solid part that he cannot move by his own power.

"Thank you," he mumbles, half-conscious. Poor guy. Coulda ridden on the high of saving Your life all evening, and this happens to him.

"It's gonna be fine," You whisper.

"Yeah, just relax, Toots," adds Marion.

You take a look at her hand. It's moved around from the vital work it was doing at the sides and it's rubbing around the front of his belly now, just where the navel is. Long, lazy circles, turning the fabric transparent as she gives him a warm and reassuring smile, like she's petting a dog to sleep. You can see the light fuzz around his underbelly now, whenever the movie cuts to a shot with a lot of sunlight. You can see the slope of his belly, the round shape of it, traversed by those red-varnished fingers, so tiny by comparison. You get...feelings. Hot, impulsive feelings.

It takes You a second to snap Your fingers, slippery as they are now.

"Marion. You payin' attention?"

She looks down at her left hand and whips it back, back into the butter. "Oh! Whoopsie. Sorry folks...guess I uh, got side-tracked. From, you know. It's fun," she whispers. Her right hand is still lubricating him. She gives You a guilty look.

"Stop being ridiculous, kid," You reply, lying to her, and to Yourself.

This whole thing is ridiculous. You've already privately told Yourself that several times. Jackie, think about how ridiculous this is, how the two of You came close to risking Your lives just hours ago only to get stuck in a cinema seat...and maybe, just maybe, You’ll lose focus of how fun it is too. You were fleeing on foot from a psycho in a rubber mask, a psycho You were panicky enough to believe was the grim reaper. Now You're doing the job of a human crowbar. What a life.

"That about does it," You whisper as the last dregs of butter apply. The Mook comes back to Earth, apparently having missed the conversation happening around him. On the screen, Deelah is striking a confident pose as she mounts her chariot, planning on leaving Smasmom in the dust in their native...wherever. Bethlehem or somethin'. In the seats, the Mook is squirming a little, maybe still convinced he could try and lift himself out of there with strength alone. Sorry, buddy, that ain't happenin'.

"Stop movin' and let us work," You reassure him. He sighs, nods, sinking back down, legs spread like a big stuffed teddy bear. You try to think about anything other than big stuffed teddy bears. It does not work. "You're built for muscle in the top, not so much the bottom. Them legs were only used to carrying You around while Your fists got You into scrapes, and that was before You, uh...branched out," You add, patting his belly again. You catch Marion's attention again.

"Fingers under his rolls," You instruct her. "I'll do the same. When I count to three, all of us - and that includes you, Mook - start pushing in the same direction at the same time. Got it?"

"Ya countin' to one or zero?"

"Just...when I say 'go', Marion."


Your hands slip under. It's soft. Everything about him soft. He makes a low grunt in the back of his throat and reminds You that this ain't exactly a barrel of laughs for him.

"Three. Two. One. Go!"

You two around him begin levering his bulk upwards, while his legs go rigid and push. You're reminded of a raucous party in Your scandalous days where someone tried to get the champagne cork outta the bottle with just their fingers, two people tugging on the guy holdin' the bottle and two more pulling the guy holdin' the cork. It did not end gracefully.

Again, You hope nobody's watching, whether or not they're trying to kill You.

The Mook's shirt slips off the underside of his belly oh-so-easily, exposing reddening skin and redder stretchmarks under downy fuzz. You get a good grip and heave again. The butter is working, but it's still an uphill challenge.

"Teufel!" He groans.

"Nuther...minute..." You reply, soft.

"Hold on..." adds Marion, drawing breaths. You should really thank her for being such a good sport. But there again, she has nearly 40 bucks of Yours already. And maybe she's being a little more than a good sport, come to think of it.

As discreetly as possible, the belly comes loose. The Mook sighs out, but it's not the end; now he's awkwardly half-standing, hips still wedged in there. And those hips, suet-wrapped as they are, are still hard bone underneath.

The Mook grunts, arches his back, massages it a little. The sooner this is over, the better.

"Right. Unless you happened to get two things of butter, Marion, I suggest you wind up for round two."

"But, uh, hold on, though..."

"What?" the two of You ask.

"Did you try..."

"FER THE LUVVA PETE," comes the voice of a patron in the row behind You, at a little over normal speaking volume. "THE ARMRESTS GO UP!"

"...yeah, that," Marion finishes, thunder thoroughly stolen.



like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
The Mook suddenly relaxes his movements, exhales deep again. Shifts to the left, squishing up against Marion (who squeaks like a mouse in surprise), and tests the armrest on his right...which slides past his hip with a satisfying little noise.

He steps to his feet, rocking from one to the other, and begins to shuffle out, clenching his fists all the while.

"Bout time," says Your mysterious helper. He is rewarded with dark glares from You and Marion as You shuffle out after him, and someone from behind that row telling him to pipe down, the good bit has only just begun.

"Mook - Dimitri," You plead as You follow him out of the screening room, into the corridors. "Look, it ain't that bad. Just a little accident."

"We go home, now, okay? Or to hotel. Please. Tonight has been...spinne. Just, spinne. Let us have a break."

His lumbering march is areested by Your hand, hook-like, under his arm. You're pressing it close, but just touch won't do. This is the horse that needs coaxing with words. You're good at words, Jacks. If You've got anything else, You've got that.

It only takes a moment to think.

"Hey, champ."

He blinks away a hot tear, wipes it with the heel of his hand.

"I'm in your corner. You know that, right? You showed up for me today. Fought for me. I don't forget somethin' like that. Far as I'm concerned, all of this was just a minute on the ropes and a little towelling off on the head. You remember Joe Louis? Up against Schmeling in '38?"

"The second match," he nods. "Great fight. Good radio."

"Joe didn't need to go back in that ring. He mighta taken a fall, but he coulda walked away and disappeared into retirement. But he came back 'cuz he was world champ. And when he won, the whole world knew. And then he kept winning, all through the war."

Your Dad let You sit up and listen to the radio when they replayed that match. Boxing's never been Your sport, but You couldn't resist a bit of history.

"He that guy buildin' the casino in Vegas what anyone can go to?" asks Marion.

You turn back. "Thought you might wanna finish the movie."

She shrugs, bashful. "I seen it before. I ain't never seen nuthin' like this." Sensing that this is not an adequate answer, she adds: "Besides, I just remembered I hate popcorn what's got no butter."

You exchange looks with the Mook. He snorts.

The three of You laugh for a little while. It's good to laugh, feels like a cleanse.

"Fine, walk with us," You tell Marion when You're all finished. "But You buy this time, I'm outta Presidents."

"You have safe place to stay?" asks the Mook. Gentleman, like always. You're a little proud of him.

"Oh, is that an invitation, stranger? Thanks, but I gotta get back to the grind in the morning . Besides, You boys sure are cute, but I'm not that kinda gal. Mattera fact, we might have somethin' in common I'll have you knouuhhhhnnn..."

Marion collapses like a ragdoll all of a sudden. There is a dart in her neck.

The ticket guy is different.

He's different, he's older and broader and got no hair and the other guy, the kid is on the floor, and this guy just knocked Marion out--

Panic has shaken Your sense of time again. Your hunter has already crossed the space between You, hands thrust in his pockets. Musta leapt over the counter. How's a man that big so stealthy...?

You look at the cold, wide, smooth face of the man beneath the Pale Horse. He looks like the Mook: broad, but hard, though bald. Other than that, he doesn't look like anyone at all. You might find it difficult picking him out of a lineup.

But his eyes...they're heavier than the rest of him. Heavy like a soldier's back that's carried eniugh of his brothers. What they've seen has burdened them.

The rest of him is walking, but his eyes are dead already.

You widen Your stance, curling up Your fists, hearing the Mook's groan of frustration behind You.

"What...what do you all want with me? With us?"

"I show you the Stone," he says. "The Sword. The Scabbard."

His voice is like an engine turning over in winter.

Your nose wrinkles.


"Come and See," and he blows a cloud of dust in Your face, streaked in warm autumnal colours. Red, copper...yellow. You cough, bend double, Your mind screaming with Your old uncle Chip's stories about mustard gas in the trenches, of a man's body attacking him and eating him alive. You're flailing, connecting with nothing, desperate to get air even as a familiar haze settles over Your vision again, and as You fall to a kneeling position the lights seem to be flickering.

The last thing You see before You both hit the floor is the Mook coming at the Pale Horse with a wild haymaker and missing by inches--



like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
--and You wake up with Your mouth full of something spicy, salty and entirely delicious.

You've been moved. Or You moved without Your knowing. There's people bustling around You and Dimtri's table. It's lower to the ground than You're used to, covered in a tablecloth of a design You never saw before, and Your seats are more like benches, free of tormenting arm-rests or edges.

You are bewitched, bothered and most certainly bewildered. All that's certain is that whatever's in Your mouth is delicious.

And that boy, are You ever full.

You're more full than You've been in days, perhaps in living memory. It hurts. That's new. You didn't know it could hurt, not like this.

The Mook is beside You, also chewing. Thoughtful. Breathing shallow breaths.

Ah, hell. This is too good to spit out. You take a big gulp, wincing at the air that comes with it, further inflating the balloon You apparently have pushing out Your overtaxed skirt waistband.

Gllmph. What...Dimitri, do you--”

He shakes his head slowly.

Nicht. We were in movie-house, and now...” He looks around, narrows his eyes. "Now we are in falafel place."

You turn around. It's not untrue. You are in a falafel restaurant. It's dimly lit, romantically even, with ornate little oil lamps set up against the brick walls and inoffensive rugs hung every which way. The guys dashing in and out of the kitchen are exchanging words in Arabic. They're stressed, what with being open so late. Last You knew, dark had already fallen. It's probably close to midnight by now.

You're not the only people eating here, but someone's missing.

"He does not see Marion," says the Mook, catching up quick. "But, well...quarrel is not with her. They leave her alone, maybe?"

Something like that had already occurred to You, in the minutes between waking and getting your bearings.

"She got a dart, and we got dust. That suggests there's different ways of dealing with things. People. I think she's probably fine. Somebody asleep on a movie theater floor is bound to attract attention, and ambulance - oooff." You stifle a belch. That's a little better.

The...flatbread sandwich thingy You were eating is already halfway to Your mouth again. You drop it, horrified.

"They're playin' a game with us," You murmur. "You know what else has four horses? Chess."

"But player has two horses each."

"That's right, that's right. Unless I'm otherwise mistaken, we ain't got no horses in this race. Which means...a longer game. One that includes memory-wiping and mysterious packages at night. Between two players, and we're caught in the middle. An' we don't know no Kings or Queens."

"I not understand."

"Me neither, buddy." You turn and snap Your fingers. The waiter arrives a full forty seconds after his attitude does. He's a young skinny lad in a perfectly-ironed outfit who looks Lebanese but has the accent of a long-suffering scion of the Garden State.

"Youse two wanna settle up?"

"Sure, rrurff, thing. First up tho, what' this again?" You answer his blank stare with a perky grin, which You hope doesn't come across as too ghastly considering the pain You're in. "I'm uh, press. Might wanna send the restaurant column guy here, but he's got allergies."

The waiter dabs sweat from his brow - You can sympathise, You've been around chefs before - and critically assesses.

"'s a chicken shawarma wrap wit' extra tahini. Woulda thought ya'd know that by now, seein' as ya inhaled like two of 'em."

You balk. Reach out for a glimmer of hope.

"Between us?"

"Each. Plus salad. Now you gonna settle up before the guys in back quit on me?"

The Mook takes the initiative while You digest this information, and...digest everything else.

"We sorry to keep you busy. Look, here is tip," he thumbs through his wallet, "and my partner, they tip extra. Was uh...anything strange, when we come in? We do not know, you say, protocol. New place to us. We do not mean to be rude to, uh, hard working stiffs."

The empathy is a nice touch. Though the bills may have done the heavy lifting.

"Come ta think of it, the two of yaz were...sweating when ya came in. And not so talkative, neither. Don't think we wuz the first place ya hit up tonight."

"And our friends? Did they stay?"

"What friends?"

"Uh. Never mind. Please to bring bill, and - doggy bag? Yes?" He nods at You. The wrap smells so damn good. Why do You want to keep eating it, when faced with the very plausible idea that it might cause You to blow up like a stick of dynamite, kaboom? Why not just leave it?

You nod back.

"Thanks for your patience...?"

"Whoo, big night huh? I toldja the first three times, it's Sal. Lemme get yer bill."

Your hands shaking, You take a sip of the cup in front of You. It's a soothing milky tea, far sugarier and spicier than the English drink it, and somehow Your stomach seems to like it too.

"Some subtle sleuthing there, Mook."

"No problem, Patzl."

Something is hanging between You. Not just the cement-like feeling of having eaten several delicious meals in succession, apparently in a drugged frenzy. Something dangerous and patient.

"You saw his eyes, dint'cha."

"I know those eyes. Somewhere." He waves a hand. "Days before I met you...confusing. Is like...puzzle piece in centre of puzzle."

Sal wastes no time in writing up Your surprisingly easy-to-cover bill, and even less in recommending the both of You a nearby hotel to sleep off the effects of Your hefty appetite. You reach into Your pocket, expecting that You're shortly to send this poor kid over the tipping point into a frenzy of rage by asking to open a tab...and find another envelope of cash, stuffed to the brim. Like for like, it seems. Sal's eyes bug out only for a plain second before his hand reaches out. You deal him his due, and then some, and some for the chefs as well, as honest as any beaten card-sharp.

The seal on the envelope is already broken, split by the volume of bills set inside. Underneath is scribbled in a hasty scrawl of pencil:


So cryptic clues are out. You know a good Mind Your Own Business when You read it.

This whole thing was another warning. You're getting closer than they'd like.

But why'd they hire You in the first place, if they want You to keep away...?

When Sal returns with Your change, You clap his back as though thanking him, and hand him another $10 as You lead in.

"Do me a favour, kid."


"If we ever come back, which we might, I want ya to keep an eye out, see? Make sure we're taken care of. And this is important - whatever we say, you remember. Write it down. This is all-important."

"And make it we say 'Swordfish'.", says the Mook.

"Uh?" Sal's got enough confusion to go around, and You're happy to take a piece.

"Swordfish," repeats the Mook. "Is secret password. We say it, You know is normal. We not, You uhhh...look after."

He pats his belly, which is straining against his shirt and jacket. "Look after more than normal, I mean."

The silence that follows is pierced, mercifully, by Sal's broad, raucous Jersey laugh.

"Sure, sure, pal, I'll see ya get everee little thing ya need. Now get outta here so's I can start cleanup."

The night wind on the streets is fresh, consoling You as it blows over Your flushed and dewy skin. The hotel is only a short walk...lumber...stagger away, and kind as that thought is, between You and the Mook it's not so certain the distance is worth crossing.

"It was a warning," You tell him when You're near the bus stop and can rest on a bench for a second. "They wanted us to know they can do..." You prod at Your stuffed gut once again. "This to us whenever they want."

"They're watching, then?"

You nod. "Rrarp. Could be anywhere." You're slouching back, rubbing at Yourself, anything to help alleviate the uncomfortable pain. The soothing feeling only lasts for a couple seconds, but boy are You ever going to chase those seconds again and again if You need to.

The Mook's hand hooks under Your arm. "Come, we do not fall asleep in bus shelter. Cops everywhere. No trust."

He heaves You to Your feet and You soldier on, despite the need to grimace. He's right; in a warmer, private space You can at least see and hear an intruder coming. Plus, who knows, if You sleep for a while maybe it'll be time to scribble down some notes and just about make sense'a all of this.

Because there's no way they've beaten You yet. The bloodhound has the scent, and they're going to chase it down until they find the rabbit in the hole. Or pheasant. Who knows.

The Mook keeps lumbering ahead of You and stopping to let You catch up. It's clear that he's used to a bigger meal now and then, can carry himself home on one. And since he knows what it's like, he don't mind letting his walking companion occasionally lean up against him to catch their breath. It's when he stops his careful lumber entirely that You know something's up.

"Hrm. Smell..." he says, wafting a hand in front of his face.

You smell, but more importantly You look. The late-nite grocery store is open on the street corner, dealing out rations and cigarettes and such to all those lonely nighthawks out there. And in terms of smell...there it is, the unmistakable scent of glaze, and strawberry filling, and little sprinkles. The olfactory siren song of the common donut.

"You gotta be kiddin' me."

He shrugs.

"Not kidding. Just...need to relax."

"That's how ya relax? At near-on 12i in the A.M.? After...all this? After this?" (You pat the doggybag in his left fist.) "After this?", and You tap at his belly.

Huh. Your fingers actually found 'give' in there. Hard, but still soft.

"Hrup. When I was kid, and when I trained...sweet things, they help. Is, urrarp, komfort."

"I oughta...fine, have it Your way. I'll wait out here."

"Get you something?"


Your belly chooses this moment to make their opinion known. You feel the gastrointestinal equivalent of a load-bearing wall giving way, allowing the rest of the building around it to settle into a more roomy and spacious shape, and boy is it ever loud, louder than You've heard it sound as long as You can remember. Your tummy hasn't just grown curves, it's grown an attitude, and that attitude is surly and demanding.

You squeak in alarm, hiccup and draw Your coat around Your swollen, cantankerous middle. It's not at all possible You could be pregnant, for a wide variety of reasons, but damn if it sure doesn't feel and sound like it all of a sudden.

"I uhh, get you something," the Mook mumbles, turning away in embarassment.

"Just hurrrRRRRRARRURRP," You reply, and the hand not holding Your coat pulls Your hat over Your eyes, ready to let it swallow Your whole head, possibly fatally. You lean up against a lamp-post, one eye on the light of the grocery store door, the other winced shut.

Alarm bells are sounding inside Your head. The night air can't do nothing about that hot flush of Yours any more, any more than it can blow awaythe complicated feelings that are dancing a sweet merry-go-round on the inside of that wide-brimmed hat. You're leaning so hard against the lamp-post You might put a dent in it. You're red enough the taxis might start mistaking You for a stop sign.

In procession, across Your panicky consciousness:

This Is Going Too Far--

I'm A Reporter, Dammit--

So Goddamn Full--

What Are They Doin' To Me--

This Ain't Me--

This Ain't Me--

This Ain't Me--

...and all of a sudden, with Your back supported and Your mind occupied, You've found Your hands creeping underneath Your waistband and...cradling that grumbly belly of Yours. Hefting it, wiggling it, under Your coat, as though rocking a baby to sleep. Feeling the newfound extension of Yourself into the world, a depth - and width - that is entirely new in Your world. Never something You dreaded, but never something You thought Yourself capable of before. Sure, You've shoved a pillow under a shirt to keep Yourself from getting recognised - what's a wily reporter without their disguises? - but it never occurred to You that the real thing would seem so natural when it was sitting under Your skin, instead of under Your shirt.

You drum Your fingers, bite Your lip. It's a little unwieldy, and the gas is biting at You something fierce, but it's not...bad, per se. Kinda like a warm bath. Could be the Mook has a point about relaxation. Could be that Your belly has a point, too.

Believe it or not, right now You really could use a donut.

You cradle Your tummy. Lift it up. Let it drop, and bounce, inside of Your strained trousers, over Your stretched belt.

The words for how that feels do not come to You.

This, Here...This Is Me, You realise. Not Sure About The Inside...But This, For Now, Is A Part Of Me.

The thought can only last a second or so before You let it go again. After all, who knows who put it there? But You can’t help but miss it as it goes. For a second, You were almost certain of Yourself, confident in what’s going on.

You don’t hear the sound in Your throat – hard to hear anything under the merry-go-round going thru its’ cycle – but to any passer-by in the night, it’s clear. Big, tough, seasoned reporter Jackie Cardinal made the sound of a confused puppy-dog, while contemplating all this weight they’ve gained.

Believe me, to see from the outside, it's cute.

I'm not watching. Not possible, not at this point. I just heard about it a little later. If I could see You, You'd see me, and You'd flip Your lid.

But believe me, when it happens again - which it will, when I'm there to see it - it'll be very cute.

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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
Hurrying around a side-street, You feel the Mook's hand hook around Your upper arm and tug You to the right, through a short-cut of mild convenience.

"I thought we were goin' to a hotel."

"Not close enough. We go to my place."

You're suddenly a duckling following in the lead of a larger mallard through the cooling alleyways. You're almost walking like one, come to think of it. After a little interlude of twists, marked out by many a glance over Your shoulder, the journey comes to an end at a plain little apartment building at the corner of Cold Harbor Street. It's a nicer neighbourhood than You'd have expected - a good 'tell' is how distant the sound of sirens is - and a long run away from the docks. Or the Little Istanbul corner of the city. But not so far from a good number of bars with distinguished clientele and spacious basements. Hm...

When You get up to the third floor the Mook hands You the bag of dinner and the bag of donuts. He fumbles with his pocket, pulling out a key on a string. Wait, no - a band of elastic, the kind You get in underwear. Not exactly an unwise move. Someone's not getting caught with their pants down the next time they lose their memory. This guy's got hidden depths, Cardinal.

You wonder how much You oughta revise that opinion when You get a glimpse of his apartment. Could be he's been ransacked. Could be he wants it to look like it's been ransacked so he doesn't get ransacked again. Could be he's...not living the most peaceful life.

Could be that's something You two have in common.

You stagger inside while he busies himself with the lights, slipping off Your coat and crashing on to one of the armchairs immediately available in the front room. It's cosy. Not as cosy as some of the old favourites - the siren song of the Perfesser's fainting couch is wafting into Your mind even now - but a damn good thing for Your aching feet. You sigh, You groan, You spread Yourself. If You were a plant You'd put down roots.

"Need, hrnf, a drink?" asks the Mook. You hadn't noticed til now but he's a little winded from the stairs. Hasn't been training in a while. You also notice his jacket is off for the first time today, and his belly is poking out a little under his shirt. Bouncing as he takes those big shuddery breaths...

"Uh, it wise to drink right now? They still might be following."

"Psh. If they find us, they do what they want. Already have. May as well be komfort if happens."

"True enough. I'll take a beer if ya got 'em."

He shuffles off toward the kitchen. While he's away, rather than sneak a peek at his disappearing backside, You take in Your surroundings. Somehow in full electric light the place, it looks about the same, a collection of unwashed clothes and uncleaned plates carelessly placed on every surface amongst discarded wrappers and faded mementos.

But You're missing something. An angle, an aspect. You've had a long day and a longer night, and can't put Your finger on it. The corridors, the chairs, the paths between piles of garbage...why, it's almost as though all of this were...too big for the Mook.

But have You seen the size of him? He's no Darius Woodburne, but he's no weed either. Think, Jackie. You're so closr to it. Why is this place not the right size around its occupant?

"Beer," he says, handing it to You as he re-emerges. "And donuts, plenty of. Here, take."

You eye the bag, but a little gurgle from somewhere unspecific forces Your hand.

"These bakers, always give me too many. Think they think I need extra," he smiles, plumping down on a couple of kitchen chairs by the table.

"Ain't that a bite," You say, taking one. You lick sprinkles from Your cheek.

The Mook slouches back, itching at that little area of underhang exposed - Peekaboo! - underneath his shirt. He takes a swig of an identical pilsner, which almost disappoints You.

"What, no 'wodka'?"


He seems genuinely confused by the question. Maybe it ain't the most sensitive one to ask. Dumb, Jackie, real dumb! He's going through plenty of weird stuff right now without You heaping Your weirdo sense of humor on his shoulders. He's carrying enough.

He's certainly carrying a lot...and all by himself...

You're staring at him. At that big belly You handled earlier today, underneath that shirt now marked with a continental map of stains. At that fuzzy, characterful face with its round cheeks and scars and that nose bent in the middle from too many prizefights. Cast in the olive-tinged light of the lampshades, and with...huh...the music of an Ella Fitzgerald record spinning in the background, excellent choice...he seems like a tipsy Prince, slouched back with his libations, waiting for merriment and diverson. His belly chomping down on his waistband just as lazily as he does a danish pastry.

He's staring back at You. To be fair, You are slouched just the same way.

You stretch, sip back a slug of that nourishing beer, attempt to reset Your mind. Professional Thoughts skipped town a good few hours ago, but maybe You can catch Collegial Thoughts at the bus station.

"Hey, uh, Mook. You're a stand-up guy," You say, and stand up.

"Oh, is nothing."

"No-no-no. I wanna get this off my chest. You went to bat for me at that warehouse. Don't think I don't appreciate it. And I'm going to write up the best damn, hic, story you could ask for."

You're better at holding Your drink than this, Jacks. Is all the sugar going to Your head at the same time? Heck, maybe it was a mistake to drink so soon after coming off strange substances...

"You an' me, we've started, hic, a beautiful partnership," You say, clasping a hand on his shoulder - his warm, soft, lovely shoulder - just as any person would to a brother-in-arms. "I promise, we're gettin' to the bott - to the truth of all this."

(Your eyes almost wandered downward. Good save.)

"We're stickin' together thru, well, thick and thin."

"Thru thick and thick," he chuckles, tapping his bottle to Yours.

No, that...that can't be right. You ought to slap him, or punch him in the arm, for that remark. That's not something You say to a colleague, nor an employer, nor someone who saved Your life, after You saved theirs. Not unless they've already got an established rapport, see? Not unless You know they liked it.

Even if they really, really did.

Even if between their legs, they're suddenly on fire.

You divert Your attention to the bag of pastries and fish around for something filled with jelly. Your damn fool head could use that treatment,maybe it'd get smarter.

"Thank you, Jackie," he says, almost whispering. He can tell he affected You somehow but doesn't know exactly how. He's being gentle with it. Somehow that just renders You further immobile, all save for Your questing hand, alighting on a chocolate eclair as You avert Your eyes to the heavens.

"I knew was good idea calling, er, 'Big Shot' reporter. I knew that was You, even if not before."

You sigh out, relaxing suddenly. OK, humor. You can do humor. Monkeyshines, shenanigans even. You turn back with a grin.

“I’m ‘Big Shot’ now, hah,” You laugh, slapping Your round little belly with both hands. “This. This is Big Shot. Say hello, Big Shot.”

You stuff the pastry in Your mouth, grab at pinches of flab through Your shirt as You munch it and begin to mime a deep baritone, expecting a roar of laughter from the Mook, maybe even wanting it, a little. He’s not laughing, though. Smiling, bemused, with his mouth; staring with the rest of him, eyes magnetically drawn to Your middle.


What the hell? Are they – are they shooting again? You turn to the corner of the kitchen, half-ducking.

You feel the squirt of lukewarm cream on exposed skin.

A single shirt button reverberates on top of a bookshelf next to the slightly stained water-glass it just struck, settling like a gambler’s last chip. You feel the warm night air grace the stretched top part of Your tummy, now exposed. Another button or two undo themselves as fast as the guys who see the bar fight coming, giving Your puffy chest some exposure too. Your shirt is starting to resemble a bib tucked between the two widening expanses, which would explain the stains. Not that You care much, right now.

You’re bent almost double, panting, the cushion of Your middle preventing You from going all the way. Ridiculous to think someone could shoot through walls into Your kitchen just to have a crack at You. Haha, ridiculous! Just the picture of stupidity. You realise You’re giggling to Yourself and don’t know how to stop…

A warm weight settles on Your head. It’s the Mook’s hand, a human hot-water bottle, and the other has found Your shoulder. You uncoil.

“Is no big deal,” he says, soft, above Your ear. “Just a button.”

You bury Your face into his pillowy breast, heaving dry sobs. It’s safe here. His arms slip around You and reinforce that it’s safe here.

When he's cuddled You a moment, You pull back. Something got chomped off as You went thru Your moment of shock, and sits in Your hand. You look from it, to him. Both of You are aware of what's between You, aware of what's been left finished.

You pick up two-thirds of an eclair, and shove it in Your mouth. His hand on Your right shoulder, he touches the protruding end of the pastry - never taking his eyes off You - and begins to push it, slowly.

God. Yes.

You moan, a little, arch Your back, let Your throat go almost completely vertical as You feel cream dribble down inside You and spray over Your mouth. Arms limp at Your sides, until they're not, until they're rubbing at Your red, protruding tummy, until they're prodding and poking and elicting tiny little burps against the eclair that You're choking down, barely time to chew it.

Until they find themselves with a bigger, softer, heavier belly taking up all their attention, and You taste the salt tears of ecstasy and relief mixed in withe the sweet sticky excess of what You were just fed.

Gentle eyes, gentle as an ox, meet Yours from all those inches above You, and close as he eases the hairtie off his bun, letting a wave of brown hair settle on his shoulders like autumn foliage. He undoes one...two...three buttons, pulls the rest apart, lets that whole round boulder of a belly roll out and into Your greedy hands.

You're immobilised. You're kneading the dough, the hot, soft dough. This is better than anything You could have imagined. Angels couldn't pry Your hands away.

Tiger-like, he leans down and begins to lick at the cream on Your swollen cheeks, lapping the tears with them, almost in time with Your hot breaths, hands reaching under to hold Your back, clasp You against his chest close as clouds against a mountaintop, and as You gasp You hear the rustle of paper, and he purrs:


You wake up out of it, then. One half of You does.

You're so full.

Too full.

You don’t want another donut.


That’s a lie.

You don’t need another donut, for any reason, in point of fact between dusk and dawn You’ve eaten more than You can ever recall eating in a week. You've had enough donuts that not only are Your eyes at risk of glazing over, Your whole head would probably following suit. If You poked in that belly button down there, the one that’s got suspiciously deeper of recent, You’re convinced You’d come away with sprinkles.

But You do want it. Because it’s in his hand.

"Yeemmmmmffl!" You concede, against what he puts in Your mouth. You can't tell what it might be any more. It's too good.

Somewhere in the apartment, Ella's recorded voice flows out.

"As Dorothy Parker once said, to her boyfriend, 'Fare Thee Well'."

He kisses You. His beard tickles, brushes Your own downy facial hair. You're laughing. Your hands are still underneath his belly.

As Columbus announced when he knew he was bounced…"

It's jiggling, wobbling in Your hands as You lean forward into the kiss, and You squeeze hard, 'cause all's fair in love and war, and Jackie Cardinal don't go down without no fight.

It was swell, Isabel.

His hand is on Your hip.


He breathes in Your ear and You moan.

You moan: "More. More."

He puts another pastry in Your mouth, and cups Your cheek, and You moan.

You moan more.

That song is coming from the bedroom. You grin, and Your grin is sticky.

Sly dog.

Not for the first time tonight, he takes You by the arm and starts wordlessly leading You away.

The floorboards creak underneath the two of You, like You're boarding a ship.

Like You're going away.

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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
In the bedroom, something tickles the back of Your head on the inside. Something that immediately feels off about it. Maybe it's where the bed is, up against that opposite wall. Or the coat draped on it.

But You can't concentrate. Ella is louder, piping out of the old record player on his side-table, and the light is softer, cast from the window, and his touch is softer, and he's touching You, oh, he's touching Your cheek.

"Hey..." he mumbles, the one hand so hot and cosy around Your face, the other sweeping down, heating up the cold exposed patch of Your middle. "Hey, Jackie."

"Mmyeah? Hiccup."

"This...You are...clear? Yes?" his fingers drum against Your jaw. "In here."

If he only knew what's going on inside that heart of Yours, the words bubbling up inside that throat. You nod instead, vigorous. "I want you." Your hands find the excess of him, the flab that rests around his waistband. "Aw, hiccup, all of you..."

You get on tiptoes and lean in to kiss him, and stop a half-inch too short.

Your belly buttons decided to exchange kisses first.

It’s silly, and decadent, and enchanting, and You turn redder than tomato paste.

You bury Your face in his shoulder again, for comfort instead of just safety. You wriggle, buck Your hips back, slam into him and feel his deeper, wider belly button smooch against Yours one more time, give it a happy little peck. You do it again, and again.

"Oof," he says, and his hands are lifting You up under the arm-pits into a kiss, quick at first and giving way to another, hungrier. His beard tickles again, and You giggle.

"You, me right, hiccup, where ya want me, huh? Got me hoisted," You whisper into his ear. "Better decide what to do next..."

And You pause for a moment. The thought that came after it is colder than the others, and the coldness confuses You. It fit in perfectly. So why does it make You sad? Why wouldn't You say it out loud?

Pick Me Up, Put Me Down. While You Still Can...

Something to dream of, not to tell.

He turns, a quick thinker all of a sudden, to deposit You on the mattress, not too gentle, not too rough. You can feel sturdiness under this bed. Just what's called for.

The Mook doesn't waste much time unbuttoning his shirt. Better to just tear the whole thing open. He can get more.

Holy Hannah, he's hairy.

Holy Mackerel, he is BIG.

There was never a doubt in Your mind, but now You know it's not a dream. First come his two softened pecs, beautifully rounded out and settling like snow on the dome of his belly. The shirt peels off - both You and he are sweating up a storm - and as he struggles out of it his arms flex and ripple, the softness only serving to highlight the definition, cannons swaddled in velvet. There's a little of the old definition buried in his waist - his belly - as well, a pattern of bumps like the plates of a turtle's shell, the ghost of his pecs. You're already longing to run Your hands over that fuzz-lined tribute to powerful overindulgence again.

Then it's time to relax the belt - let the belly ooze out and over, come into its own, a waterfall breaking the dam. He turns to step out of the pants and You see that great swollen humdinger of an ass of his is still politely sheathed in cotton underwear - such a gentleman, still!

Which is all to the good, because in some ways You still want to take this slow. In many ways, he's still not seen...You.

It was always harder for You to disguise Your true feelings in the bedroom, maybe because You put so much energy into hiding them in the world. His slightly drunken smile fades for a moment as he catches You.

"You still..." he gestures, his paws circling the area of Your crotch and Your swollen middle, both still enshrined by Your shirt and skirt, even if the former is holding on for dear life. You shrug, giggle, obviously afraid.

You had this conversation with Kathy, and Mary, and Ron that time, and all the others. Every single one of 'em, You coulda thrown out the window if they gave You grief. Not a single one of them made You feel this...this alive. This feeling is big. As big as him, as big as both him and You, bigger than You and everyone You ever met.

You gotta be sure.

"Er, yeah, champ...I just...hiccup...we are doin' this," You explain expertly. "We are doin' this?"

"We are doing what You want," he says, taking a lumbering step closer. His thighs rubbing together, crowding one another, the noise of it, You, unh...

"So I figure I need to be...honest with ya. I need, hic, to...I want you want all of me. All of what this is. Hiccup."

Now it's Your hands sweeping, from head to toe, red curls to calloused heels. "No small print, no retractions, no, bwurp, hic, complaints."

He's stood by You, and takes Your left hand between both of his, as warm as a fireplace in a storm.

"I guard your body," he says. "I accept your body. I cherish your body. Otherwise, why guard?"

You definitely do not blink back tears, because You're not no sap, and haven't been waiting to hear that in years.

He wiggles his hips. Everything jumps, different speeds, different directions, hypnotic in the moonlight. You laugh. He laughs.

"And you want all of this," he says, slapping that big belly of his.

"Not sure I can, hic, finish it all," You reply, licking Your lips, "but I am hungrier these days."

Your belly gurgles as though agreeing. That does it. You sit up, pull off Your shirt, maybe quicker than he did his. Then...Your underwear too.

You’re exposed. Propped up in bed, naked, every inch of You – and there’s more than there’s ever been – vulnerable in front of him. Now or never.

"This is me," You say. “Hiccup.”

He takes no time to look You over.

"Hello, you," he says. His smile is so dreamy You might pass out. "What do you want to do?"

You tell him.

"Really? You sure?"

"After the day I had? Ih, hic, it's everything I want, sugar."

He squares himself by the side of the bed, puts his feet at shoulder-width, hands on hips, arching his back. Old pro moves. A fighter remembers his prime, his stretches. He gives You a daredevil grin You ain't never seen before, on anyone.

"Are you ready?" he says.

You're frozen. It's the same lovable giant face, the same hot-as-melting-butter body, but that's not the Mook accent. It's the same one as before. The exact same one as when he asked about 'Mae-Linn' that time. You’ve been waiting for it to re-emerge, for this extra little piece of the ever-expanding puzzle. You ought to, need to sniff out that clue and follow it to its conclusion.

But You're not going to, Jackie Cardinal, and I'll tell You why, for free.

You're not going to ask, because for the first time in Your dedicated career, You want something. You want it so bad, so hungry. You want it more than the story. And God help You, what You want so badly is him.

You nod, shy, hair fallen over Your face, covering everything but that deer-in-headlights look in Your eyes. Who’d ever figured You for a blushing flower?

He nods back, chins bobbing. He makes a careful mental calculation, and waddles to the side of Your bed, underbelly swinging.

The Mook falls on You.

It's better than You could have ever expected.

Your bellies, emboldened by those chaste kisses they shared a half-hour ago, sink into one another and begin to squish together with the luxuriant laziness of poured caramel.

Your own mouths are joining in the fun. You kiss down from the comforting fuzz around his cheeks to the plush depths of his neck. It’s a luxury, an experience. You can’t help but gasp for more. You can’t help but gasp especially. When Your mouths meet, he’s kissing a gulp of air into You, and You can barely just notice Your hiccups are gone. You’re swept away by the river. The river adores You.

"Look at me,”

Somewhere out there in the world You hear Ella Fitzgerald’s voice has changed track. You wriggle with delight, and squeal a little against his doughy-soft shoulder at the thought:

I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree...”

He pancaked You so hard, the record skipped a whole song!

And I feel like I'm clingin' to a cloud...”

It's a slow tempo, and he moves just as slowly, and You can't help but adjust. There is nothing hurried about this love-making; it is lazy and luxuriant, the movements of two people who have all the time in the world to discover one another. And who aren't necessarily happy about breaking the bed while they're about it.

I can't understand

I get misty, just holding your hand...”

He’s not even gotten started. This is all just from his skin pressed around Yours. He's kissing around Your neck, giving You little licks, little bites, discerning and deliberate as a royal taster.

Maybe this goes on for twenty seconds, maybe twenty minutes. Parts of You ache, other parts of You burn, all of You is in sheer ecstasy, and he's still got his damn undies on under there...

And then he stops, and nestles his chin into Your shoulder to whisper.

“Uhhh, Jackie...”


“I need you--”

“Oh, me too, tiger--”

“No, I need you to uh, well...”

His belly cuts to the chase, growling against You, complaining; even just the effort of crossing a room and falling on a bed needs replenishing. It tickles, the sensation, and You shudder. Wriggle against all that sweetness poured on top of You. Can't wriggle very far, or for very long.

“Look at me, Dimitri. Look.” Your faces are so close. “Promise me you’ll do that to my whole body again just one more time, and I’ll get you anything you want, for the rest of your life, guaranteed.”

He nods, thoughtful. "Uh, the donuts will be fine, please."

You pat his love handle, and he obligingly rolls aside, jiggling for a minute even as he comes to a full stop.

"Don't go nowhere," You smile, sashaying out the door. It's the most ironic thing You could say. So much of him is going in so many directions...

That cold thought occurs to You as You step back into his living room. He just rolled on You and off You, with ease. He's still got that muscle buried, swaddled softly in all that delicious plush fat.

For now, he's got that muscle.

And for now, You're small enough that he can really crush You.

But this belly of Yours, this red-stretched belly, didn't exactly spring outta nowhere. Even if it wasn't here a week ago.

Maybe this is too fast. Absurdly so. You've known each other a day and he's got no memories of the previous...who knows how long. And You're both swelling up, ripening, and don't know why.

But he saved Your life.

And You saved his.

And he just made You feel things...things that You've never seen written down, anywhere.

There's so much to teach You, Jacks.

I wish I had the time to cover all of it.

But You're not ready, not yet.

If what You don't know is an ocean, You're paddling up to Your ankles, and the tide is at Your back. It would be so easy to run back to shore, metaphorically speaking: even now You could bank the money, have this fling, go back to Your high-paced calorie-burning life and never bother about horsemen and codes and the Order of the Throne for the rest of Your born days, not even when the Pulitzer comes a-callin', not even when You're writing Your memoirs, not even when...

You're broken out of Your reveries when You shake out the bag onto a plate, and there’s one last baked good stuck to the bottom. Seems it got lost in the folds. It’s another jelly donut.

You reach in, peel it off and scarf it down like it’s Your last goddamn meal, not caring that You’re swallowing a scrap of brown paper with it. It’s so, so good. Too good. Your mind becomes a glowing blur of raspberry and sugar.

You close Your eyes, and the tide washes You away.

--(End of Third Phase)--
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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
Phase 4 – The Magician’s Hat

In which You’re one card short of the full deck.

Hurry, hurry, take the A-Train...

Wild night, huh?

"To find, the quickest way to get to Harlem..."

So wild, you forgot to turn the music off.

The smile that breaks out as you begin to prop Yourself on Your elbows is small and cat-like. It spreads out into full Cheshire territory when You're reminded how difficult it is to do that propping up when finding Yourself the gooey centre of a giant ice-cream sandwich, layered between the mattress...and the blankets...and a certain heaviness. A heaviness who happens to be going by "Dimitri Belyaev", and who happened to have rocked You from one end of the bedroom to the other and everywhere in-between last night.

So You've woken up with an appetite. Needs sortin'.

Grunting, rubbing sleep-sand away with the heel of Your hand, You turn to Your slumbering partner, snoring for Moscow and giving the competition a run for their money. It's an undeniable delight when You find that when he rolled onto his side in the night Your legs inch-wormed their way between the lower swell of his belly and the softening tops of his thighs. As a result, You’re snuggled as nicely as a cocker-spaniel between two legs as fuzzy and hefty as old labradors, and Your own round little tummy is pressed comfortably close. Comfortable is how you’re spending a lot of Your time these days.

"Hey, buddy," You smile, tapping his warm cheek, jiggling it a little. "Mornin' again."

His lips purse as though blowing a kiss, his brow scrinches. You give him a collegial kiss and kick out your legs, experimenting. He sighs, rolls over, bringing the blankets with him. The mattress practically jumps as he does it, but not too much.

You yawn, letting the yawn carry through Your entire body into a satisfying stretch, feeling the jumps and quakes. The wardrobe door got dislodged sometime in the midst of the, heh, festivities, giving You...most of a front-and-centre view to the show. You'd be here forever if You waited for it all to stop moving, though, so You rise to a standing position and take the survey.

Everything about You seems liquid, now; the jutting angles of Your ribcage and hips have been smoothed out by the hand of an invisible sculptor. Where before your middle was in the football-stuffed-up-the-shirt, school-play-Virgin-Mary territory, now gravity has begun to pull on it, letting it sag gracefully over Your waistband to swaddle and decorate Your crotch - or if You sit and spread, to overwhelm the in-between of Your thighs completely. You can swing here and there and it'll follow You, navel staying constant the way the eyes in a fine portrait are s'posed to.

Used to be the difference between You and the Mook - one of many - was how loose and fluffy his belly was in Your hands, compared to the taut drum swelling out from under Your chest. Now, You can grab a handful of him and a handful of You at the same time. Put simply: 'Big Shot' has graduated from 'Gut' to 'Tummy', and the rest of You weren't reluctant to catch up. Your neckline is descending into a cute collar of chub, ending in a double chin; Your seat is padded and cushioned, to the chagrin of many back-pocket-area seams; even Your upper arms, Your wrists, Your ankles are growing subtly softer. Turn backwards in front of the bathroom mirror and You'll find fresh rolls that might do any local bakery proud.

If all this had happened over the course of a night, You'd be as horrified as that first time You woke up with no memories and all the food in Your kitchen crammed down that pretty throat. But it ain't been a night.

It’s been two months. Comin' up to three. Seems like the Throne have retreated.

You don't think about it too much. Maybe You're too tough for 'em.

You pull a robe on as You head to the bathroom, reflecting that they ain't the only one. It's been a little while since You filed a story. Between Your envelopes and the Mook's, there's been enough to keep the two of You in meals and room. More since he put some 'a' his stuff in storage and started crashing permanently in Your bed. Where's a better place for a bodyguard than as close to Your body as possible?

Even if some of You is hitting unprecedented growth of the kind that makes board members salivate, Your actual work output isn’t so hot. Never mind. When this does hit, it's gonna be explosive. "Investigative journalism" is what you're doing, as You told someone to pass on to Joey...what, the day after You and the Mook first hooked up? Two days after? It was all a little whirlwind. Some of it You can only recall by smell, or by the noises You were making at the time.

You might not be making appointments outside of Your apartment any more, but Your paunch never misses a daily catch-up with the wash-basin these days. The two of them are downright friendly, by now, despite how cold the latter is getting as Fall settles in. Same thing happens to desks and tables when You take a seat these days, not to mention chair handles. Seems like 'Big Shot' is making more friends, now that they’re way bigger. Earning that nickname, too.


“Ah, quit your whinin’,” You smirk, smacking him a little. Yes, ‘Big Shot’ is a him, even if the rest of You isn’t so defined. (Less off You is 'defined' day by day, to be fair.) He complains enough for one, reminds you of some of the barflies You’ve interviewed now and again. Maybe You enjoy having the beer-and-grilled-meats, cheer-for-the-home-team parts of you localised in one spot instead of popping out every so often.

You don’t know if You’ll find names for every part of You. 'Big Shot' is how you cope with your middle going from the shape of bamboo to baobab. If you had to pick, you’d probably call your derriere “Atlas”, since it seems to be doing a sterling job of holding up your pants these days.

"Gonna make breakfast, Hun," You say, poking Your head back in the bedroom. He's still pulling ahead in them snoring championships.


‘Big Shot’ starts to make a noise too, like a motorcycle kicking into gear. You smile, pressing Your hands to Your underbelly, and count down, the way a person does when a lightning flash happens, waiting for the answering roll of thunder.

Three Mississippi, Four Mississippi, Five Mississippi...


You chuckle, give 'Big Shot' an affectionate jiggle. This has been happening more and more frequently as You two knight errants go out on Your quests and come home for Your feasts and frivolity. It seems like ‘Big Shot’ and the Mook’s own belly, affectionally named ‘World Champ’, have some...opinions. More and more frequently, in the mornings, they growl at one another. Or maybe it’s more like purring. Certainly it never seems to happen when you’re apart. They like to keep each other company. Often, You think of them as old buddies turned lovers with familiarity.)

There's still some eggs and flour left over from yesterday, and You know there's bacon in the fridge.


You're so lost in the wafting aroma of fried tomatoes - not to mention, You charred the last two breakfasts going over clues in Your head - that somehow You miss the creaking, shuffling sounds until it's too late. A wave of naked belly presses into the small of Your back, cold in the autumnal morning. So much of it that You almost risk stepping forward and burning Yourself, but two gentle paws reach under Your own soft underbelly and hold You close.

"Too much breakfast for one person," he murmurs. "Maybe you need to share?"

"If somebody learns to say the magic word," You reply, Your voice cool-as-a-cucumber but Your derriere rubbing up against his blanket-like body with practiced familiarity.

Instead, You feel the fluff of his beard against Your shoulder and can't help but giggle.

Over this little 'holiday' from action, You've gotten soft, the Mook has only gotten softer. The day You first met (that first, and last time You feared him falling on You), any curious bystander would have taken a glance at him and agreed there was a once-proud champion boxer underneath that padding, and everything else was just retirement settling well on him. Not no more. Where you've rounded out in the manner of a ripening berry, he's simply gained in width. You love it when he 'pancakes' You, still; even more so, now he's a whole stack. His legs, his bee-hind, his back have all added the inches, to the extent that he's moving at a graceful waddle these days, once-loose trousers stretched to full capacity.

His plush middle, the one You so love to lift and wobble and paw with affection, has thickened from a tight beer-belly to an undeniable spare tire, freely escaping the underside of his shirt and spilling out in every direction, preventing any waistband from ever again seeing the light of day. The top of the shirts ain't faring so well either, the expanse of his moobs pulling them apart to the extent that he's given up doing the top buttons. He'll get no complaints from You. You'd offer him a bra, but first You'd have to get cosy with someone at the opera house to get a guaranteed fit.

Even his cheeks have become wobblier and more kissable; what You can see of them, anyway. His beard has kept up with his largesse, becoming fluffier and more dominant around his jawline, and as it too thickens You find the sensation of it against Your own face electrifying. When You look close at him, when his face is red and framed by those gorgeous cascades of dark hair, he seems like some kind of ancient satyr or giant, something of another wondrous world so close to Your own and so far away. Like an offering has been made, and You've done Your level best to make good on it.

Sometimes You've heard the kids calling their lovers a "Dreamboat". Hah! You got yourself a whole Battleship. He is most definitely rivalling Captain Darius Woodburne by now in both size and shape, and no doubt that's thanks to Your care and attention.

(And a few other factors of which You have not been made aware.)

When the two of You make love, sometimes you think again about those Japanese wrestlers. You wonder how Woodburne might fare against the Mook one-on-one. It gets You there, just to picture it. It really gets You there. Though usually You're halfway there to begin with. An afternoon of gin, beer and pierogis will do that.

(There again, You haven’t seen Woodburne since the incident at the docks. You can’t blame him wanting to lay low. He’s probably camped out in a shipping container or somethin’.)

In the warm aftermath, when You sink back onto his ample chest and rest Your arms on the satisfied rise and fall of his quivering belly, You'll sometimes think back to all those times You spent letting Yourself spread out over the Perfesser’s couch. Maybe...maybe this was meant to be. Maybe it was always waiting for You, down the road.

Such thinking is for the birds, anyway. You have work to do.

A logical mind would politely suggest that even if You're able to somehow keep Your career duties balanced out while swelling up like a mushroom, You probably shouldn't be doing the same to the person who's meant to be guarding Your body. A cruel person (or the Mook himself, who doesn't mind a laugh at his own expense) would point out that a bodyguard whose gut alone could probably stop a bullet (if it didn't bounce off) is worth every penny. Or, indeed, every slice of bacon. A kinder person would say You're guarding him as much as he's guarding You. Deep down, he's still more vulnerable than You.

When You're done necking, the bacon is only slightly singed, on the edges, a new personal best. The Mook sets up the coffee and toast at the table and raises his eyebrows at the plate You set down.

"You make extra?" he asks.

"Don't hear you complainin'," You reply.

"Not complain. Just maybe is too much."

"That's a first."

"Jackie, I get tired easy. Maybe I don't finish."

"Oh, after I slaved over a hot stove? Maybe you won't finish, buster, but definitely I'm gonna put every last bite inside You."

Is that a smirk, under all that beard?

"Heh. If you try, maybe I sit on you."

"Cross your heart?"

Incorrigible, You are. But then, so is he.
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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
Believe it or not, there is a reason the two of you are blowing up faster than the Goodyear. (Beyond just the fun of it, of course.)

The night after You got pancaked by the Mook, You were giddy with delight and thirsting for more. You swept out to the corner store for supplies, whipped up a couple of ham-and-mushroom omelettes and got back in bed, keeping the Mook from waking up hungry. He chomped them down agreeably, the bites he didn't feed to You first, and a merry time was had together before either person realised.

Everything was quiet.

You'd left the house, and there were no masked goombahs lurking around the street corners, nor any deadly traps. The eggs, mushrooms and ham had all been purchased with Your presence of mind firmly in the drivers' seat.

In a panic, You'd gone to check out the window. The streets were crammed with busy folks as You'd expect for a neighbourhood like the one the Mook winters in; but none of them were looking up, nor quickly looking away.

Two days passed. Three. A week. A month.

Nothing happened.

So this has been the character of the last couple weeks: sitting in at HQ, getting takeout or supplies whenever the need arises - which is frequent - and taking stock. Reviewing information. When You're free, that is. Recent...developments have left You with Your hands full...somewhat.

When the Mook and You ain't feedin' each other, You're growin', and when You ain't growin' You're exploring each others' ripening bodies.

All within reason, natch. There's still time for You to lift a couple barbells (as though guiding your beau from table to bed each night ain't already a workout in itself - and moving aside his belly to get, uh, oriented is something else), call your Pa of a weekend, check up on old contacts.

Too soon, breakfast is mopped up, the last spoonfuls of egg shovelled into the Mook's eager mouth and chased with a glass of OJ. It's always a gamble whether he'll get sat on You and make You take a few extra bites, or become too stuffed full to get up and thus leave himself at Your mercy.

You gift him with a quick kiss on the forehead as he recovers, breath shallow and eyes glassy.

"Gotta go, big guy," You mumble. "Thanks for the company."

He nods, grunts a little, attempts to get up. You tap on his shoulder. Sit this one out on the bench, kid.

It's been nearly three months, after all. You've laid low enough that it's starting to get dull, keeping tabs on You. Long enough to wait.

There's something You need to get from Your 'office' before You head out.

Used to be this room was just Your private writing room for those frequent occasions You took work home with You and prioritised it over whatever Jane or Johnny had the unfortunate luck of being in Your orbit at the time. The door even has a custom-installed latch, just in case. Not that You feel like keeping the Mook out any more. As far as he's concerned this is 'Boss Business', and only his concern if You should need to step out and use some extra intimidating power.

On the outside, it looks like a horrible mess. The only reason there ain't red string tying it all together is You're afraid Your ample hips might bring down a crucial piece of evidence should it all get physically tied together.

That's the thing about Jackie Cardinal: when they get an itch in their little head, they're going to want to scratch it, and nothing's gonna stop 'em from doing that, no siree bob. Ask the boys in the legal department. Ask the Roda Ave. Forgery Ring (now disbanded).

"Some things are bigger than anyone here," said the White Horse, back in that warehouse. Words to that effect, anyhow.

So in absence of any more envelopes, or direct action from the Throne, You've come up with a handful of theories.

One of them is that everything that happened on...that night was a bluff. You're too tough for 'em, boss. They thought they'd put a scare on You and then retreat, comfortable in the knowledge that You were too petrified to **** with them again. That doesn't track, of course, seeing as any fool could seek out Your byline in the old library archives and find out You've got bones of iron and a right hook to match.

So You also wonder if You and Your bodyguard disappointed them somehow. If they expected a better fight. Better than probably putting one of theirs in the hospital and leading the other a merry dance across the city? That also doesn't track. Nobody in this city is immune to revenge. Fewer are willing to back away from a fistfight.

Which leaves a few more theories, and I'm sorry to say none of them quite hit the mark.

None except the one that You don't like to think about.

You are not the sentimental type. When said Jane and/or Johnny have been looking after You, it's been acceptable for a kiss or cuddle to alleviate Your mood abbout deadlines (or chase away Your dreams about gunshots). And You're only human, and appreciate a couple of arms around You after a ****, though it's not something You'd chase up if it weren't given, because You know that everyone's human deep down. But that's as far as You've ever taken it before, intimacy-wise.

What you have with Dimitri is different. In as many senses as You can imagine, and some You never dreamt of. In point of fact, You've seldom if ever let someone get on top of You in bed. Let alone begged for it, demanded it.

Needed it.

Trying to get Your ducks in a row for the last three months is an ordeal in and of itself, and You didn't even get mesmerised. You've flirted with witnesses and interviewees before, indulged in the odd office fling for the hell of it, curled up with the Perfesser when the opportunity arose. You cannot afford to be swooning and developing feelings over someone, especially over something as kooky as food.

Sometimes You'll see him blushing, and blush back, and remember that there's matters in another room that need attending to. Once, You were absent-mindedly feeding him the last of Your uneaten cherry pie, head lost in attempting to put together a map of the city and its' various corrupt institutions, and felt his hand caress the small of Your back.

"You know," he'd said, "I really luhhmmrrffll," cut off as You'd seized the last quarter of the entire pie in one hand and the hair of his head in the other and brought the mountain to Mohammed.

You can't let words like that escape his lips. Underneath Your scheming and Your arousal a trap had been set off, and to follow up You made sure he put away enough of a peach cobbler that he could barely burp by the time the night was over.

No chance of it happening the other way, either. Sure, You'll sit up in that bed and feel the warmth of Your belly settle onto Your thighs and feel the urge to watch it swell again, taut and gravid, and urge him to pack You full. Sure, You'll get him sat astride Your legs, waiting until that swell meets his own belly, "Big Shot" and "World Champ" exchanging little lovers' kisses once again. Sure, sometimes You see him lying next to You and wonder if he'd make a comfortable bed for You all by himself.

The last possible theory is that the Order of the Throne has made you happy - frighteningly, giddily, impossibly happy - and that this is something they wanted. That they've implanted this ridiculous idea of happiness into You and him and left You eating Yourself into plump, empty-headed uselessness. Lord knows there's plenty of CEOs, mob bosses and Civil leaders who'd be all too happy to hear of it happening.

Could be that theory is a star witness. That it bears interrogation.

But not today, and not by You.

Your head doesn't get empty. Even if it feels like it's partly soaked in sugar now. So even if that was somehow their's a bad one, that won't work.

Jackie Cardinal ain't never flipped their lid for nobody, and especially not no Mook. This is going to end up as it always does. File the story. Break the heart. Move on. Alone.

Somehow losing the...however many pounds now stuck to Your frame isn't a part of the plan You've figured out yet, since normally You don't have to. Whatever. You walk a lot. Without complications, without big cuddly fuzzy boys that make You blush hotter than a locomotive, You'll be out chasing those headlines again any day.

So solve this one, Jacks. If You can.

Into Your stacked and packed trenchcoat goes Your trusty blackjack and, loath as You are to use it, onto Your hip goes Your more recent trust revolver. Your myriad pockets absorb a few key documents, IDs real and faked, the decoy wallet...and a couple specialist items. The kind no wordnik worth their salt would be seen without, and paradoxically would never admit to actually owning. "They musta been planted on me, officer," kinda logic.

The Mook ain't on his chair when You're about to head out. Through Herculean effort, he's dragged himself to Your long-suffering couch and is settled with hands rested naturally atop his belly, eyes reverently closed like a Friar pondering his prayers. You touch his shoulder as You pass. Better You do this alone. Can't bring a guy his size on a stealth mission.

"You be careful," he whispers, drifting off. "Patzl."

"Sure thing," You reply. "Ya big Mook."



like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
The cab ride through town is bumpier than You remember - or maybe You just notice it a little more, now. When it comes around the block from Your destination, You tap the driver on the shoulder and he obligingly comes to a screeching halt. You overtip him and encourage him to spend the change on something nice. Cabbies are famous talkers, after all, and not discerning about the people to whom they flap their gums. He'll remember an elegant young lady, a little heavyset but quiet and meditative, with an eccentric aversion to getting out on a busy street. One 'a' them "foe-bee-ahs", he'll later say. Eccentric but generous, and that's the most important thing.

Your wig itches, under the alice band. Been a long while since You employed the long black tresses, long enough that You forgot how heavily they sit over Your natural soft bob, especially when it's pinned back. Many hours have been spent swishing back and forth in front of a mirror to make sure Your little collection of practical disposable hairstyles stay fixed on there, let alone unmoving. Nothing unnerves an authority figure mid-innocent-conversation than a gal whose coiffure is creeping away from her.

Ah, nuts to that. Where the hair fails, the body can take over. As You stepped out of the street and into the law offices of Penny, Bosling and Hindqvist, You spotted plenty of pairs of male eyes doing the pendulum-swing in time with Your exagerrated stride, even with that figure-hugging dress snuggled under the trenchcoat. Used to be a padded suit would get You that kind of reaction. Seems Your midnight feasts have given You an edge in that department.

It's only the feminine pair of eyes that's interesting You today, though. The ones stuck in the head of that cooler-than-cucumber blonde secretary behind the "Information" placard, the one who smiles at You like a rearing cobra as You rest ten dainty fingertips over her workspace, new red nails freshly applied this morning.

"May I help you, Miss...?" she trills through her teeth, tapping Your hands with the blunt end of a pencil. This is my territory. Off.

"Oh, I know somebody heah can," You drawl. The character You're inhabiting is lazy, luxuriant, maybe still a little tipsy from last night. "The name's Myrtle Westerhas, dahling. I'm looking foar...Joshy?"

You flash Your third-most dangerous grin, the kind that can only be achieved with that shade of lipstick. On the stage it'd be a farce. In front of a strained and stressed young lady with worry lines in her forehead that'd send her grandmother to the hospital, it's too much for a Monday morning.

"Mister Penny is out of town on business," she sighs, "but since you're obviously in need of legal representation, I'm sure Mister Hindqvist is going to be available for appointments this coming Thurs--"

She's cut off by an exagerrated ripple of laughter that draws the attention of passing trainee clerks. You turn it into a smooth ride that ends with Your heinie perched carelessly on the edge of her desk, and see what she gets if she tries poking that away with a pencil.

"Out of tauhn, eh? With his cah in the resahved spot? And me..." (You reach theatrically into Your handbag) "...with the spare key he left behyend in my soup tuhreen lahst night?"

Ten seconds is all it takes for the colour to drain out of her face, until You could swear she'd been on movies. She rubs at her temple with the heel of her hand, fingers apparently not tough enough for this magnitude of headache.

"I swear, it's every two weeks, like clockwork...why was it in the soup, for heaven's sake?"

"We didn't hahv soup together, dahling, even if he left it in the tuhreen. But if you like, I could to list to you what-all we did hahv."

"And here I thought a lady wouldn't talk about such things in public."

You look first left, and then right.

"I doh not see one of those heah. But I ahm looking for a 'gentleman', if you cahn find one..."

An avalanche of indecision rolls down the inside of her head, manifesting it to You as a little wrinkle of her slightly-turned-up nose.

"...Ah, nuts. He can't yell at me for what he brings on himself, much less fire me. Let me ring you through--"

Your hand touches the phone receiver. You lean forward, exposing ample cleavage, the kind she ain't ever seen except for during some adventurous days in Secretary Boot Camp, You just could bet. A lucky girl or boy could have themselves a fine skiing trip on these here ample slopes, if they so chose.

Nevertheless, her eyes remain religiously fixed on Yours, her tired smile a little defiant.

"I wahnt to suhrprise him. The way he suhrprised me, You see, last night, when he--"

"Awright, awright!" she waves You off. "Just be glad none of us can hear the encore out here."

A nice bonus. Thanks, doll. You weren't fishin', but You like what You caught.

"Thank you, deah. Mayhbe I ahsk him if he wants to get you a prehsent."

"Five per cent raise would do it," she growls into her coffee mug. "Office is upstairs, third on the right. Check the elevator buttons if you forget. Oh, and don't bother knocking. If he' again,"

"He suhtainly is."

"--then he might be sleeping it off in the cosy chair."

"Bwonjorno," You smile, blowing her a kiss she doesn't want, and click Your heels toward the elevator.

Inside, You breathe easy. Just like the cab driver, little miss Future Union Rep. there will have a lot to say about the overly friendly tramp who interrupted her workday in the rudest manner possible, if asked. But there again, maybe she won't ever want to talk about it any more than she did today. Bosses are like that.

Thanks to that poor workhorse, whom You have no doubt is holding the entire office up with her bare hands, You've confirmed that Lindqvist is out, and Penny is already too compromised to be useful, and that all of them have secure, soundproofed working spaces. The very best kind.

You get off at the second floor, and make a bee-line for the office of Your target, Lionel Bosling.

The carpeted floor is soft grass under Your heels. The tiger is a-stalking.


Naturally for a figure of his influence and connections, Mr. Bosling has a slab of meat in a suit posted by the door. Lucky for You he's not so attentive when the latest edition of Adventure Comics is out.

Those specialist items in "Myrtle's" handbag, they include the two primary ingredients for an old trick that's the bane of goons and coppers everywhere.

Usually it involves saying "Your nose is running, sweetie. Here, use my handkerchief."

Or "I think this perfume's gone funny. Here, smell my handkerchief."

Or just approaching the guy from behind with the damn handkerchief and squeezing his nose. Why complicate things?

It's standard practice for a reporter, believe it or not. Your kind of reporter, anyway. Wendell Birch taught You the technique in Your third week of cub reporting, during that labour dispute.

This should go easy. The guy's attention span is too caught up in Hyperfellow Smashes The Nite Owl Crew or whatever to see You coming. You're completely confident in the success of this plan, as You have been so many times before.

Only when You pull away the handkerchief from the comes up...sticky.


Heat rises from the base of Your collar all the way to the underside of Your wig.

God fucken dammit Jackie Cardinal did You mix up the chloroform bottle with maple syrup?!?

unbelievable knucklehead!!?!

You don’t have time to punish Yourself for this grievous error. You lick away the syrup so it doesn’t go to waste, and take a swig from the bottle for good measure. Think, Jacks, think.

This guy is between You and another guy, and that guy is between You and a set of answers. You need the first guy out of the picture, and based purely on his posture You doubt he’s going to fall for the “suspicious character in the elevator” ruse for long enough. You need to redirect this resource somehow. And it's going to be difficult getting him to turn around long enough to get the blackjack, aim and hit him good the first time. You need a fistfight to break out right now as much as You need an appetite stimulant.

You’re a desperate wordnik. What You really need is a plan.

When one crystallises into being, You groan internally. Not that. You can’t do that. Not for the first time in recent weeks, You have to wonder if the inside of Your head is getting supernaturally thicker, keeping pace with the rest of Your anatomy.

There's a closet built into the end of the hallway. Perfect. You brush Yourself off, itch a little at Your wig, try to assume the body language and vocal persona of “recently bereaved, ridiculously wealthy widow desperate to prevent her brat children from coming into their inheritance and desperately in need of legal assistance”. You don’t quite have the sniffling down, but You look rich and sad, which is all that's needed.

Nobody’s coming. Showtime.

You sashay towards the guy, slowly and with extra emphasis on the heels, making sure the thud, thud, thud disturbs whatever reverie he's sunken himself into, snapping him out of the silliness of colourful tights and "BOF!, SPLAT! WHAMMO" sound effects and into the total adult seriousness of what You're about to do to him.

"C'n I help you, uh...?" he says, sighing as he folds over one corner of the page he was on.

You sniffle. Wring Your hands. Dab at Your eyes as You gaze heavenwards.

"Oh, it's nothing, dear...I have an appointment with Mister Bosling, to settle a couple of...matters, and--and well, ever since my dear Gordon passed, I just, it's just - oh!!"

The sweeping gesture of Your arm has sent Your handkerchief flying. Sob. Sniff.

"I was going to ask, hnff, you to announce me, but you mind...?"

The puppy-dog eyes are harder to pull off when welled up with crocodile tears. You've been at this long enough to get 'em dead on.

He rolls his eyes, peels himself from his chair - You wince as You hear some of the crackles in his wrists - and bends low at the waist.

Gentlemen. Always the gourmet suckers.

Leaning on Your right heel, You tip backwards so that Your left leg goes up and buries Your toes right into his waist. He's unable to scream with the wind knocked out of him and You reverse the momentum to pound the side of Your hand into his neck, pushing him onto his back.

Still, the trip to the ground wasn't quite hard enough to knock him unconscious, which You were counting on. He digs himself backwards on his elbows, attempting to find a centre, make sense of the situation. He's got his work cut out for him.

"Crazy...kaff...broad," he argues. Not so convincing from Your end.

You step artfully over him, hands on Your hips, faked tears still staining Your cheeks, but no longer pretending. This is work. You're going to be quick at it. You stomp on each wrist, not so hard to shatter but hard enough he won't try getting up so easily. That elicits a sharp scream, putting You on a timer.

You turn around. Adjust Your stance.

An impish voice in Your head sends a command, and You wiggle Your hips for a second. Why not? It's not like he'll remember any of this, knowing what You know aobut unconsciousness.

Then, You make Your body go limp, and kick back Your heels.

The last thing the poor working stiff sees is a truly titanic tush, barely contained in Your alluring dress and black leggings, barelling forward as decisively as a steam-train, aimed directly at his face.

His scream never even has a chance.

“Hey! WhattareyadononoheyheyDONMMMPPPPHHH...!!!

Bang on target! Instantly You can feel the uncomfortable ridges of his chin and hose pressed up against You and the desperate wriggling against the fabric of Your skirt. Your calves settle on his wrists and You squeeze his torso with Your hands, massaging a few last breaths out of his chest. The muffled noises he's making vibrate through the blubber wrapped around Your glutes and tickle a little, and You have to bite Your lip. Lucky for him Your morning cuppa joe settled your stomach...

Mercifully, after a couple seconds he goes out, perhaps from lack of oxygen, perhaps from sheer shock. You wouldn't blame him for finding the situation unusual. Face it Jacks, You just sat on a guy, tactically. You don’t mind admitting, too, that You glanced over Your shoulder as You did it, and caught his expression as it fell under the shadow of Your descending derrière, and found the fear therein...a little fun. Maybe the Mook’s habits are rubbing off on You.

You massage Your belly unconsciously while You stand up. Good, Bad, there’s no doubt something is rubbing off.

Time to check his pulse. Still good. Just ruffled. As You drag him to the closet nearby, You giggle a little.

You didn’t know You had it in You...and he didn’t know he'd have it on him!

Putting the guy to safety was a lot of work. You give Yourself another swig of syrup as a reward. No time to knock. Bosling will have heard the sounds of struggle, no doubt.

You fling the doors open with a flourish, befitting Your mood.

The office is nothing like the corridors woven around it. It's drenched in wintry natural light, open and welcoming, set with neat little conference tables and cosy conversation chairs and accented bby a floor-to-ceiling window view of the cityscape behind his desk. The walls, naturally, are hung with thickset books, each volume its own private library of mistakes and misdemeanours. This is the luxuriant altar of a man who worships due process only a little less than he worships himself. The treasure trove that would belong to a dragon, had that dragon's representative not extracted his fee after it finished pillaging and roasting the local towns.

It's also stale. Dull. A consolation prize for a life spent without purpose. You almost want to gag.

Only one thing is unexpected: where You'd expect some sort of dull modern art sculpture, is a second telephone. Unlike the standard black phone next to it, it's seemingly custom-made, out of rosewood, and set with silver decorations on the rotary dialler.

And it's hooked up to a radio set, for some reason.

Mr. Bosling does not look up at Your dramatic flourishing of the doors. It's a hell of a lot of room to cross, and You're panting a little by the time You slide into one of his flimsy modern chairs, the kind built for folks with bonier behinds than Yours, designed to make them feel vulnerable and unwelcome. He's a bald, elderly man in an exquisitely tailored suit that's somehow still too loose around the sleeves and chest. Almost like he's dropped a couple pounds lately, huh. Come to think of it, as he looks up You notice something turkey-like in his neck and brow. Not to mention something patient, even in its' sudden alarm.

"May I help you?", You hear for the third time today.

"Sure thing, Hoss," You reply, reaching into Your handbag. "Didn't have time to schedule ahead, but..."

You take out Your notebook and flash him Your most disarming grin.

"Got a couple questions for ya."

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like a thief in the night
Apr 11, 2008
Lionel Bosling's manners are as clipped and as his third-generation Boston accent, and as tight as his face. You'd swear he'd had work done on his face if said work had made it any prettier. Decades of careful work through the interminable courts system have made him as well-sealed as a factory-fresh sealed tin of cannellini. If he talks, he talks at his own pace, and states the facts that he thinks are relevant.

Well bully for him, because You spent a decent amount of that time training Yourself into the mentality of a can opener, and nothing's so satifying as getting some idiot to spill the beans. Over the course of the next hour You dance around everything that's been going through Your head in the past few months, give or take some personal details. You detail the mystery business at the docks, the reappearing seal, the cryptic clues. He sits through it with an air of passive detachment. Even a seasoned pro like Yourself finds it difficult to tell whether or not he's really interested or just playing along until You drop Your guard and let him grab that phone. But the day, she is still young, and You're confident something in him can break.

He twitches a little, in the eyelid area, when You get to the Biblical references.

"Scares you?", You smirk, carefully omitting the word too from the first draft of that thought.

"It is said that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," he replies. Hah. A church-goer.

"It ain't the Lord doing this, Lionel. Whoever it is, they're someone who's got access."


"Sure, buddy. To business interests, to the swell set, to politicians, what have you. I been researching where I could, see? And of the disappearances that have happened in the past few months, there's just one connection, one commonality. You want to know what all my little ghosts got in common? Because I can give ya three good guesses--"

"Ms. Cardinal. Please compose yourself."

That stops You. In Your excitement, You did not have the foresight to introduce Yourself by name.

" you've heard of me," You pivot, doubting the words as they leave Your mouth.

"Perhaps I have. You'd be surprised at the number of people in my contacts list. Both of them."

Both of 'em, huh? This was not a tactic You'd been expecting him to slide into. More stalling? Or has the conversation just gotten interesting?

You take a moment to lean across the desk, hopefully giving him the sense that You're a trusted fellow conspirator.

"Do tell, Mr. Bosling," You smile. He'll have a little flash of Your cleavage to peruse while You're propped on Your elbows. Not a lot of it to go around, more than there used to be, but what You've got is choice, even if You do think so Yourself.

His eyes stay surprisingly fixed on Yours. Who are You to him, right now? The uncooperative witness whose testimony won't jibe with his opening arguments? The sneering opposite counsel glancing at him across the bench? The calculating judge ready to strike everything he's stated from the record because he failed to ask the simple preliminaries? You know which one You'd prefer, but it ain't up to You.

"Believe it or not, Ms. Cardinal, even a connected person such as myself keeps an eye - someone else's, hired at decent expense - to browse the local papers for salient details. One never knows how such trifling details as the changing price of cheese might impact on the business of the sophisticated copyright fraudster."

It's not just the knowing smirk, his whole body language is changing. Where You leaned forward, he leaned backward, and his hands are pressed together on the desk. Like a prayer, or an offering. Open your mouth and close your eyes, you might get a big surprise...

"In your, aheh, limited experience as a journalist, you've become familiar no doubt with the practice of protecting one's sources? Likewise, I myself am bound by attorney-client privelige."

Both Sammy and Joey have told You exactly what they think of either of those concepts. The one that journos follow is a golden and shining saintly duty that, if violated, will have the violator buried in newsprint and forced to skip town, probably state, maybe even countries. The one that lawyers follow is a lot of inconvenient bullshit that they shouldn't be allowed to do when it sinks a good story. Even if You can reword it as "prominent client of so-and-so who chooses to remain nameless" and still tell the world and their dog exactly to whom You're referring.

"So where does that leave us?"

"Where indeed."

"Do I gotta..."

"No, no," he shakes his head, hands still resolutely clasped. "Look around you, Ms. Cardinal. Do you think I have any need of the contents of your wallet or billfold?"

"...yeah, no," You say, blushing a little, which You hope comes off as embarassment rather than frustration. Your hand had in fact been closing around the handle of Your blackjack. Why didn't it occur to You to bring cash? Is it so important that You hold on to the Throne's payments? Which, now that You think of it, also count as bribes...if so many of them hadn't already disappeared down Your gullet, and the Mook's.

You feel a pang. You miss him. Better wrap this up and get back to those pillowy arms of his.

"Perhaps instead, we play a little game," Bosling murmurs. Sotto Voce. Mindful of who might be passing the door. "If you tell me what you think you know, and I close You might be."

His eyes dart towards his hands, then back at Your eyes, twice. Aha. A system.

"Sure thing," You smile, reaching into Your handbag for another, separate notebook. It doesn't pay to put questions and answers in the same place. "What do you get, then, for being so...helpful?"

"We're connected in more places than even you could see, Ms. Cardinal. And even an elder person such as myself can see that you're going places. It pays to have a contact in the offices of a prestigious journal."

And it pays You to have an old mummy like this think that You'd be under his curse - or anyone's - for much longer than the space of one meeting. But he knows that, surely. This is the angle a guy like him plays to keep You from playing the one that'll really annoy him.

"So where do we begin?" You ask, clicking Your pen once again into action.

"What names have you assembled, thus far, of those gone missing?"

“A lotta names. Swanky names. Nicolai Fyodorov, Benett Delagneaux, Tertius Seag — you alright there, slugger?”

Before You knew it, something changed.

Your quarry is choking, spluttering. Sweat suddenly coats him like glaze on a ham, and he’s doing his best to match the color. His hand is crawling like a drunken lizard across the desk –

“Do NOT touch that phone!” You yell, too late.

Before You can clamber over and stop him, he's already peeling back the rotary dial and letting it go - but not picking up the receiver. The rotary clicks into place and the radio to which it's attached purrs in reply. He doesn't even say a word.

Somebody knows. Somebody's coming.

Panting, he gazes at You, a wiry fox cornered with the most persistent hound.

"Oh, you are achin' for a breakin'," You growl.

"They never look away," he replies. Calm as a mountain lake in his voice, murder in his face. "The Throne is never empty, and we are all beneath the Throne."

You turn on Your heel. Maybe if You get out now You can skirt past...whoever-it-is as they bumble in and play the grieved widow act. It worked before. Granted, You had to suffocate someone with Your ass before, but it worked, didn't it?

"Don't think you'll get far."

Right, Ya doof, there's still a material witness in this room needs putting to sleep. Why get out fast if he's just going to send people straight after? You reach for the bottle in Your coat pocket. You get another reminder of what it is and isn't. But it could still put someone to sleep, correct?

It connects with Mr. Bosling's forehead from across the room with a remarkably satisfying DINK!, and he's considerate enough to collapse on top of the phone instead of dialling it.

You're stuck between a door and a man with a head injury. You consider the next move.

The door makes it first.

What happens next don't make much sense.

Two cops stroll in, much quicker than You could have expected, but they're led inside the room by someone huffing and panting. A couple of her blonde curls have come loose as she marched in, and she's red in the face, but something else is a little...different. Her pencil skirt is suddenly plastered tight around her midriff and backside, with some of the buttons straining around an obviously stuffed gut...not to mention the buttons on her shirt, now just barely holding on around obvious gaps, giving any dirty-minded rat in the building a sneaky glimpse of the pale pink skin that surrounds her firm, rounded midsection and generous bosom. Her jawline has faintly retreated into a cherubic round face and she's finding it difficult to waddle around with her plump thighs crowded together inside that restrictive black skirt of hers. Oh, and there’s a mustard-stain on the corner of her mouth and across her blouse. The dame looks freshly arrived from the buffet lunch special at the local deli and aching to make tracks back there for round two.

Yet You're certain - positive - that You saw her already today.

"That's her, officer!" she yells in an unmistakably familiar voice, albeit with a shrill undertone. She flaps a trembling finger and her whole body wobbles as though sympathetic. "That's the wUUrrppman who threatened me into, hic, letting her in!"

That's an accusation and a half worth refuting, but Your jaw is flappin', and You scrabble to recompose Yourself, allowing Your hands to enter into the classic magician's position, upright and palms bared. How is this the same workaholic dame what accosted You at the front desk? Either You're seeing double...maybe one-and-a-half-le...or somehow she's put on 50 pounds since You last laid eyes on her.

Which was an hour ago!

"Asked to see Mister Penny for a...conference call, hic," she splutters, "And here we find her with poor Mister Bosling laid out cold. No doubt nothing but a common thief come to unload his safe!"

"I uh, found him that way." Your back teeth are itching from the amount of lies You've passed through them today. What's a couple more? You need time to think. They have to behind this. And if they can do it to a person this fast without them even noticing...

"Ah! And she, urp, she had an accent before! What else did you lose, 'Miss Myrtle Westerhas'? Hic. Boylp."

"Look, Officers, this is obviously a misunderstanding. I ain't never seen this person before, or heard that name."

The cops are as placidly unsympathetic to Your cause as ever, especially since the two other people in the room are wealthy and both of them have pale complexions. One of them has already glided over to Bosling and begun to massage life back into him, looking warily and disapprovingly at You as he does so. This is not good, Jackie. This might even be the dumber of Your moves in the last couple of weeks. When You could have just laid low...

The other cop is circling closer while the mysterious blonde balloon puts herself between You and the door. He looks relatively young, maybe even a wet-behind-the-ears rookie. Maybe You can still play this to Your advantage.

"Ma'am, I'm going to ask you to come with us to the station," he begins. "Help us clear all this up."

"Look, kid, I'm a journalist. A legitimate practitioner of the reporting arts. If we all just take a calm breath and let me reach into my bag here..."

"Don't let her, urp, touch it!", says the blonde, growing to be Your least favourite person almost as fast as she seems to have outgrown her outfit. Her newly-formed extra chin quivers in alarm. "It could be...could be..."

"Look, what're you accusing me of, Miss Banshee?" You growl in her direction. She yelps, shrinking away, torso jumping a little with surprise...and her eyes glaze over in confusion. Is she being paid off? Looking to improvise now You've forced her off-script? Or is something else happening?

"Check the bag," says the older, grizzled cop. The one who probably won’t be so sympathetic to a working stiff. He's procured a set of smelling salts out of the desk and is doing his best to re-vivify Bosling. Hopefully what You've heard about memory and knockouts will hold true, even if there'll never be a sensible way to explain a bottle of Canadian nectar dripping on the carpet next to him.

Your heart sinks as the rookie seizes Your handbag, finding inside your blackjack, handgun, and the last of those handy cords of rope. Not to mention Your trusty notebook and pens, of course.

Plan B. Or C, D, today it’s hard to keep track. You flash the grin.

"I ain't never seen none 'a' them before! Why, they musta been planted--" You just about say before something at the end of the younger cop’s wrist hits You square in the gut.

There's a lot more gut than there used to be, so it's padded, but it still hurts.

And there's no such padding on the back of Your head.

The blonde secretary shrieks, hiccups, and You see a button ping off her blouse and against the bookshelf as You slide into painful darkness.

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