The Fat Chance Saloon was quiet. Too quiet, Charlie Landers thought to himself.
There was a lull in the violence that seemed to have become part and parcel of life in Gomorra. Not surprising. When half the town had just been wiped out by vampires, or frog boys, or whatever it was lurking in the shadows this week, there wasnt a lot of folks left to be conducting violence.
No doubt the forces would rally once more and start throwing themselves at each other. Charlie had already heard that Katie Karl, Confederacy sharpshooter and leader of the Texas Rangers, and Andrew Lane, the man better and more appropriately known as "The Ghost," were teaming up. The Whateleys were lying low, Findley was packed off in a mental hospital somewhere, and Joseph Eyes-Like Rain had disappeared right when his people needed him most. Only Elijah and his Flock were increasing in size. And some of the kooks there were just as odd as the "Seven Sins" the Prophet had rolled into Gomorra with.
"Were closing for the night," Charlie heard from the door into the saloon. That was Billy No-Neck. His services had been much in demand the first few months after Charlie had arrived in town, and all the hubbub had started. Billyd been hired and fired from a half dozen outfits and now was back to his original job: bouncer.
"Not to me, boy. Outta the way."
Landers winced. He recognized that voice all right. As diplomatic as ever. But what could you expect...?
"Let him be, Billy!" Charlie called out. No-Neck could handle himself in a fight, but the new arrival wasnt someone anybody should have to fight if they could avoid it.
From his vantage point behind the bar, Charlie could see Billy mull it over for a few seconds. Clearly, the bouncer was tempted to ignore Landers suggestion and pursue the matter further. The new arrival waited patiently, waiting to see if No-Neck would respond to his gibe. Only his fingers, tapping on the pearl handle of his holstered revolver, gave away his eagerness for a fight.
Finally, Billy nodded, shrugged, and turned back to the door. The arrival strode across the floor of the Fat Chance, and planted himself squarely in front of Landers. "Ill have a drink, barkeep!" he yelled boisterously.
Sighing, Charlie reached under the bar, grabbed the bottle, and poured a drink. He didnt bother wiping the shot glass: he knew that kind of subtlety would have been wasted.
The man picked up the drink and threw it back. As he did, Charlie took a few seconds to survey him.
Not much had changed. The mans hair and sideburns were a little better groomed. The revolver was new: no doubt a gift from the mans new "employers." He still wore that funny little English bowler and a black silk shirt. The hat was an affectation, but Charlie knew from experience that the shirt was an absolute necessity. Anything stiffer would have been absolute agony for...
"Ya still remember what we like, Charlie! Ya always were good with the drinks. Suppose thats why youre head barkeep in this hellhole."
Landers said nothing, but went back to polishing a shot glass.
"What, no words of greetin for your ol friends Castor and Pollux? Dont tell us youre gettin above your station, are ya Charlie?"
Charlie sighed. "Id heard you were in town."
"And ya didnt stop by the estate to pay us a visit?"
Charlie shuddered inwardly. There wasnt anything that would make him visit the Whateley household, day or night.
"Im a busy man, Cas. Bartendins a full-time occupation in Gomorra."
"Speakin of which... another!"
Castor slammed the glass down. Charlie poured a refill. Castor picked it up but merely held it up to the light, contemplating.
"We missed ya, Charlie. Especially when you left without us. That really cut us to the quick, it did. Leavin the Dark & Nightshade Pandemonium Traveling Circus without tellin us you were goin. Why, we would have gone with you if wed known."
Thats exactly what I was afraid of, Charlie thought to himself. Out loud, he replied, "You know how Mr. Dark was. He wasnt one to let his employees go."
"Oh we knows that for sure, yes we do. Dont we, Pol?" Castor seemed to listen to nothing for a moment, then nodded in seeming agreement. "He was... reluctant to let us go too. Fortunately, Miss Wilhelmina had a little chat with him when he brought the show to town a couple of months ago. After that, he was darned eager to let us go. Darned eager, I say."
Charlie nodded. He had tucked himself away in the basement when that carnival had rolled into town. Confusion and mayhem had been the order of the day: a precursor of things to come.
"So now, here we are. Castor & Pollux McCracken - Twins at Birth. And the Incredible Crab Boy. Its just like old times, aint it? I hear Cassandrall be rollin into town by and by. And then the whole gangll be here."
Landers shook his head. "fraid youll have to keep up the sideshow tradition without me. Ive got steady work going here. My employer aint a public type, but the pays regular."
Castor frowned. "Turnin down our offer might not be the healthiest thing you ever did, Crab Boy. Were workin for the Whateleys now, because we owe em for breakin us loose. But we plan to be on top when the dust settles down. Cassandra was always... romantically inclined towards us." In your dreams! Charlie thought to himself. "With you along, well just be one big happy family. Freaks have to stick together is what it boils down to at the end of the day."
Charlie sighed. He wouldve laughed, if it hadnt been so pathetic. That, and he put a high value on his own life.
"Sorry, Cas. But I fit in here, in Gomorra. Theres enough weirdness goin around that Im considered downright normal here. Or maybe theres enough freaks that I just blend right in. But I got a job, I got a life, and signin back on just aint my style. Im not a joiner. Whether youre askin for yourself, or for the Whateleys, my answers got to be No."
Scowling ominously, Castor considered Charlies refusal. Landers noticed that McCrackens right hand was once again tapping an impatient rhythm on the butt of his revolver once more. Charlie slid one hand over to the sawed-off shotgun he kept beneath the bar. If it came down to a shootout, though, Charlie knew whod be winning that one. But hed never rolled belly-up before, and wasnt planning on doing so now.
Finally, breaking off his inner communion, Castor nodded, once, then broke into a wide smile. "Never ya mind, then, Charlie. Just being sociable and all, givin you the chance to get on the gravy train before it leaves the station. Ya dont want to join, thats your own business. We cant protect you, ya understand. But it might not come to that. And maybe we wont have to be the ones to do you in, if it does. We sure hope not, anyhow.
Castor took the glass in his left hand, and in one motion slid it into his shirtfront. There was a hideous slurping noise from within. Castors eyes closed, apparently savoring the whiskey.
After a few seconds, he removed the glass, empty, and set it down on the bar. "Still the good stuff, Charlie. Well, be seein you. Well give Cassandra your regrets. If she dont find you first."
As the elder McCracken turned and strolled out of the Fat Chance, Charlie Landers breathed a sigh of relief, then gently took the glass, which now had a faintly yellow goo on the rim, and tossed it in the garbage. Them boys never did have no manners.