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Pier 6 was a nightclub nestled among the warehouses of Bedlam's docks, which despite its location maintained a modest reputation of a safe space where people from all walks of life could mix and mingle, engage in discreet business, or simply drink and dance the worries of the city away.  The industrial aesthetic of brick walls and exposed steel combined with leather seating and wood surfaces gave the club a contrasting, if comforting interior.

 

But none of that mattered at the moment, for it was closing time.  The patrons of Pier 6 were disgorging into the street and Chance had settled back behind his own bar with a drink, toasting another relatively quiet night.

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Xavier had switched cars abandoning the cleaning vehicle and exchanging it for a mid size sedan.  Nondescript, even better, unlikely to raise much interest when it was eventually found abandoned in the industrial district renowned for the hidden drug dens and occasional illicit rave.  He had remained largely silent for the drive other than a brief assurance that he had a place neither the Scarpia's nor the cops would disturb.  At least not for the few days it would take for things to cool enough for them to move more freely in the city.  He seemed a little too sure of the timeline given the length of grudges held by families like the Scarpias.

 

Pulling up to the back of Pier 6 eschewing the front entrance for the back door propped where the bar and kitchen staff had stepped out for post close smokes.  He paused as he ushered his companions into the kitchen to pat one of the cooks on the shoulder and inquire about a sister, apparently off at college in Green Bay now.  Leading them through the back area he emerged behind hte bar with Lou, Alice, and Sophia in tow.  "You're doing well for yourself." he remarked to Chance with a vague smile teasing his lips.

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"Hmm?"  Chance said, casting a glance over his shoulder at the people that showed up behind his bar.  Xavier he knew, the others, he did not but he just rolled he shoulder in faint shrug and turned back to watch the his patrons depart, the door closing and locking behind the last one.

 

"Yeah, I guess so.  Only started half-past something-or-other and I'm still standing," he said, downing his drink and turning back to the bar with a grin.  "Luck of the Devil, I guess."  He refilled his drink from the bottle he left on the bar top, and with glass in hand gestured to Xavier.

 

"Help yourself.  I imagine, if you're dropping in at such late hour, you could use a drink."

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"Yes please," said Alice, stealing both the invitation and bottle from Xavier as she passed behind the bar. She'd ditched the custodial outfit as early as she could, though she hadn't left it with the van; she'd stuffed it in her duffel bag muttering something about 'no physical traces', and a wry comment on burning it later that probably wasn't hyperbole. "So much dust in my throat, you don't even know."

 

All five feet of her effortlessly hopped up onto the bar counter, sitting cross-legged and pouring a generous glass for herself. "Nice place," she said, looking around in open and unabashed study. "Yours, or do you just run it? I don't like to judge, but your kitchen looked pretty clean for a gang or mob joint. No suspicious freezers converted into drug storage or bookie den or whatever."

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"Oh, that."  Chance chuckled, and waved a hand dismissively.  "I keep the suspicious drug storage freezers elsewhere.  I find it is easier to maintain the appearance of a legitimate and respectable business if one actually is a legitimate and respectable business."

 

He flashed Alice a smile.  "But yes, Pier 6 is mine, and thank you.  I am quite pleased with her, even despite her lack of secret freezers full of illicit substances or underground gambling dens."

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Lou hadn't been any chattier than Xavier on the way over. His life had rapidly gone from 'pretty shit' to 'absolutely shit' over the course of the day and getting dragged to a sit-down with some slick looking blond didn't seem likely to remedy the situation. He didn't exactly regret beating down some assholes he actively disliked instead of killing some folks he was at worst indifferent toward but he felt entitled to a bad mood before his imminent murder at the hands of his former employers.

 

Arms crossed and close enough to the bar to either jump behind it or in front of Alice depending on how stupid he was feeling the bearded man divided his attention between the entrance to the kitchen, the club's front doors and their 'host'. He tried to place whether Xavier's friend looked familiar or if he just had sort of generic pretty boy appeal that seemed like it must have been on the last movie poster he'd walked past. Clearing his throat Lou caught the private eye's attention and raised an eyebrow.

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"I'm good," Sofia replied, demurring the drink as she was still on her phone, her fingers moving rapidly to double check and discard which aliases were entirely blown and which were salvageable. It wasn't the sort of thing she wanted to do less than sober. Still, she patted Lou as she came up alongside him regardless of just how little Lou broadcasted 'wants to be hugged'. "If you frowned any harder, pretty sure you could crack the bottles from sheer force of will. Xavier will come up with a plan; its what he's good at."

 

Leaning on her forearms, Sofia finally looked up from her phone only to blink at the astoundingly pretty man that owned that soft southern voice. "Oh, hey. Hi. Hello." Sofia patted Lou's arm again like he was some sort of talisman against acting like an idiot. "Heyyyy..." 

 

Alas, Lou was not, in fact, that sort of talisman. 

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Xavier shook his head slightly at the offered drink, "I've had better nights."  he admitted with a small shrug.  "Events did not go as planned."  the private eye offered with a rueful shrug.  At Lou's subtle prompt Xavier made the introductions such as they were.  "Chance."  he gestured to the group as a whole, "These are friends of mine."  he paused weighing names for a moment and glancing back to his compatriots, "Alice, Lou, Sophia."  he left off any last names but there was a degree of trust that had to be built here.  Names were the start of that.

 

"Everyone,"  he swept a hand to their impromptu host, "Chance, the owner and proprietor of this fine establishment and another friend of mine."  he put a certain weight on the last telegraphing this was not entirely a social call.  "Pier Six holds the unique position of being neutral ground, the gangs, and families leave it alone and hte Cops don't bother."  he nodded to Chance for confirmation and to allow the gentleman to offer further explanation of the clubs position in Bedlam.  Introductions managed he stepped to the still warm coffee the staff kept on tap and poured a cup of hte thick black liquid.  "We need a place to stay off the radar for a bit."  he finally called in a favor owed sipping lightly at his drink.

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Chance grinned at Sophia.

 

"Oh, is that all?," the blond languidly asked, raising an eyebrow at Xavier.  "I thought when you'd call in that marker that it'd be for something a bit more... oh I don't know...  fun?"  Chance shrugged and made a vague gesture encompassing the club.  "You're free to rest your weary and harried heads here, of course."

 

"It's not just the club around here that is mine.  Give me a list of what you need, and an hour--two tops--and I'll see it done."

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Alice gave an exaggerated shrug, the bottle tipping dangerously toward horizontal. It had somewhat less liquid than it had when she'd stolen it, but nobody else seemed interested in sharing her fermented burden, so she'd just have to soldier on alone. "I need this," she said, wiggling the bottle, "and a new place to live. But if you help with that you know where my hidey-hole is, and that's not okay. Nobody gets to know where I live, that's kind of the point." She sighed, slumping back with the non-booze arm holding her mostly upright. "And I need to know what I've got to replace now, since they probably cleared me out. I can probably steal some of it back, but some of it's just gone. Sucks. Stupid cops."

 

Eyes narrowing, Alice frowned into a half-full glass she'd dexterously swapped for the bottle. "I do need to know how the cops found me. They shouldn't've been able to."

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"Cops ain't the worry," Lou spoke up, giving Alice's glass a frown as he mentally weighed whether he cared enough try to stop her from going overboard. He decided that anybody as paranoid as the thief purported to be probably wouldn't let herself pass out in an unfamiliar location. He turned his head to regard Sodía's hand patting him absently and did a similar mental arithmetic before falling back on a default stoicism. "Can't go back to my place either which ain't a big loss on its own but it's a pain in my ass. Right now all I've got is a crappy suit, crappier sunglasses, half a pack of matches and no bridges left to use them on."

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Sofia didn't seem to realize she was still absently stroking Lou's arm and stomach. It took a moment for the hacker's brain to reset enough to participate in the conversation. "I just need a halfway decent computer - desktop or laptop. Whatever, I can make it work, and an internet connection that's not abysmal." Sofia hesitated, touching her tongue to the roof of her mouth as she paused, "And I should probably call home with a halfway decent excuse before my mama starts hitting up my cell when I don't show up in the next twenty-four hours."

 

Sofia tipped her head to the side with a thoughtful expression as she added, "Some basic electronic tools might not be amiss. A burner phone. I can probably rig up some decent fake IDs given the tools to do so, like a card press and lamination machine. Kinda depends on what the next play is. Two to three days and I can rig up some much more solid paperwork trails, new bank accounts, new names, that sorta stuff." 

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"I find not being gunned down in the streets by mobsters to be quite enjoyable actually."  Xavier replied evenly, from Lous comments it was clear it was not simply a deadpan joke, at least not entirely.  He sipped at his coffee as the impromptu crew made their requests and rather valid complaints over their situation.  "You're running then?"  he asked seemingly surprised at the response.  "I was under the impression that when one in your circles was double-crossed one got even not scared."  he shrugged noncommittally as he sipped his coffee, "Have any of you considered what could be of such value in a library archive that not one but two teams would be dispatched to acquire it?" 

 

He began thumbing through a recent copy of the local paper of record as he awaited their inevitable responses, "My curiosity has gotten me in worse situations I'll admit and I'd not drag any of you in something you were not prepared for."  he shrugged and left the paper open to the real estate section and an article on the boom in prices in the formerly worthless properties around what was now the growing airport and supporting community.

 

He nodded to Chance, "I appreciate your hospitality, please get my friends what they require and I'll see to it you're compensated when I'm able."  He drained the last of his cup and looked to be ready to head up to the apartments overhead.

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Chance inclined his head toward Xavier and gave him a small wave.

 

Now that everyone had left for the evening the club was quiet, except for the hum of refrigeration behind the bar counter.  Flashing the others a quick smile he produced a cellphone and started to make some phone calls.  To the others it looked like a simple bit of slight of hand, but to Alice's trained eyes the phone simply appeared in the club owners hand.

 

Pacing away from the bar and back, Chance made the calls and called in the favors as promised.  His accent and demeanor changed between calls, even his posture and gait changed.  The snippets of conversation the crew heard had Chance speaking as or speaking to persons that might have been familiar to some of them, informants, elected officials, fences and the like.

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Sofia's hand kept her rhythmic, absentminded petting, like Lou's stomach was some sort of pet cat that she'd decided to adopt. "I'm not running!" Sofia countered with a short, sharp shake of her head, "This is a piece of shit town, but its my piece of shit town. I'm not running but ID flags are the easiest way to turn up someone you're looking for, especially when they think they got us on the run and all that, so I make sure that the only pings we send out are ones we wanna send out, comprende? I mean, Chance is nice and all that..." And here Sofia paused and lost her train of thought, staring at the man in question while she patted Lou.

 

Pat. Pat. Pat.

 

Yeah, that had definitely gone on too long to easily point out her odd tell for her anxiety. She shook her head once, sharply bringing her train of thought back to the conversation, "But you're gonna want to be able to use some cash, place some orders and all that. Digital footprints are harder to scrub out than just not making them in the first place." 

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"Running keeps you alive," Alice pointed out. She was openly side-eyeing Chance's phone as she spoke, brow furrowed as she made a couple muted gestures with one hand. Whatever thought she finally landed on, she didn't seem to be sure what to do with it, aside from set her glass down and push it a few inches away from herself. "Getting even's great, and it sends a message, but you can't just run into it, you know? Good revenge takes planning. Planning takes time. Time takes survival."

 

The young thief leaned back on her arms, cocking her head at the group. "Probably not that hard to keep going, even after. Sounds like everyone here has a thing, except you," she corrected, tilting her head a little further toward Lou, "but you're muscle, and really good muscle, and everyone needs muscle. You've just gotta figure out how to land on your feet and not your face."

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As it became clear that Sofía wasn't going to stop on her own Lou reached down and firmly took her wrist in his calloused hand and carefully moved it from his stomach to the hacker's side. He otherwise made no indication that he'd noticed, not even looking down at her. "Getting even's a myth, big man," he told Xavier. "Somebody hurts you, sure you hurt 'em back, 'cause you're trying to, whaddaycall, discourage that behaviour in the future. That don't work on a mob unless you can hurt alla them bad enough that none of them think it's worth trying to get even with you. S'whole point of a mob."

 

Glancing over to Alice the man in the rumpled suit allowed himself a smirk. "Landing of my face is a speciality. Hard head." He tapped a finger to one temple demonstratively. "But I stuck my neck out this far, I'll stick around 'til you all know what you're doing. I'd feel like an asshole if you get whacked the second I turn around."

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Turning back to the group Xavier offered a warm fatherly smile, "It is heartening to know you are all made of sterner stuff indeed."  he replied tapping one finger on his thigh absently in thought, "Time to plan os of more advantage to the pursuer than pursued."  he pointed out to Alice succinctly, "Better to respond before they prepare to offer chase."  He glanced to Lou fo confirmation, "Once they gather that we escaped they'll set about trying to track us certainly."  he gestured to Lou, "As Mr. Lubrano astutely noted, their strength is in their numbers." 

 

He seemed to veer in another tangent entirely next however as he launched into a brief lecturing tone, "Dinocampus coccinellae, a small parasitic wasp, injects along with it's Larvae a virus."  the PI explained, "The virus is at first dormant."  he excuses easily, "But once active it triggers an immune response that serves to protect the pupating larvae."  he looked to the group with a shrug, "fighting off the infection the lady bug host crouches and twitches over the cocoon of the pupae, driving off potential predators while leaving the young unharmed."  he shrugged slightly as if the information was self explanatory in how it might apply to their own situation though if they were wasp, virus, larva, or ladybug in this example it was not at all clear.  Or even if it was intended to be anything so directly related.

 

"The Mobs strength is in unity break that and we have little to fear."  he stated simply, "And perhaps much to gain if we play our cards right."  he absently tapped the counter where the paper still lay as he completed his cryptic suggestion, "Though for now I agree laying low and getting some rest is in order."

 

 

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