Oblivion Welcome Careful Drivers
Las Vegas, NV, USA
3 December, 2022, 8:25PM
The paintwork was polished up to a blinding sheen like staring into the face of the Sun itself, and he had to squint just to pick out the sweeping lines of chrome that drew the edge of a hood. Tugging up the mud-circled hem of his trousers, Fexxfield sank down to his haunches in front of a set of headlights almost as wide as his face. The overhead lights bounced against the glass and made his reflection refract into a half-dozen skewed dopplegangers.
He whistled long and low, pushing up the brim of his hat with a forefinger. She was all business with just the hint of pleasure – a broken leg at the end of a real good time, if you put the rightmost pedal down and got a little overconfident in the ability of the middle one to bail you out.
Sounded like someone else he knew. The gumshoe smirked, but the humour didn’t have the gas in the tank to finish the journey from his lips up to reach his eyes. Things rarely did, nowadays. Laughs came like a halfway house between the end of the road and the start of a highway to Hades, Hell … Some kind of underworld. They all did the same thing.
Treading as softly as he could for a man of his size, Mac Bane stood not far behind him. "That was a sad sounding laugh, Fexxfield." The big man gave him a concerned half smile of his own. "But with the shit you've been through, I can't say that I'd blame you."
Nodding, because truer words had probably never been spoken within the city limits of the City of Sin, Terryl pushed himself up to standing, turned and offered out a hand.
“Doesn’t seem real sometimes,” He began, rubbing the base of his free palm against an eye as if that could roll back the accumulated near-decade of bone-deep weariness. Fatigue that went all the way to the marrow, threatened to take his well-worn loafers out from underneath him. “Miseries just keep piling up on top of each other until the floor starts to creak with the weight of it all.”
He sighs, sweeping the hat off from his head and squeezing the threadbare rim.
“Not that either one of us could stop her,” Fexxfield admitted with a shrug, “ … But we really not going to try anyway? What if …”
He glanced over his shoulder, as if someone might start the engine behind and blind him in the glare of being caught in some heartbreaking admission courtesy of those big chrome-rimmed headlamps. “What if she can’t beat that Eldritch She-Witch, Mac? What if next time, Amber doesn’t get back up again?”
“Know we can’t do a thing,” He continued, exasperation ringing in every word. “But should we – do something, anyway? Masque …”
He paused, as if the name itself might invoke something other-wordly and awful. “ … Put me down for months and stopped my world turning for some six years. Fills me with dread to think what Amber might go through if she does this again.”
Mac shook his head in disbelief, “No, T, we cannot stand in her way. This isn’t simple revenge. It’s far more personal than that.” “One thing I’ve learned about her is that, if we even pretend to be against this, she’ll go dark and rogue. Not to mention, the influence of Gabrial Baal.” Mac began to pace, stopping several times to say something and then shaking it away. “No, we don’t interfere but that does not prevent us from running interference and being as supportive as we can be.” Now his face and voice full of conviction, Mac turns to the man, “That’s our play in this war, Terryl, it has to be, otherwise it ends badly for everyone.” Mac smiles, “So, we provide her the best strike team available, since we know how Masque likes to manipulate people. I saw that Knox was back, and that does not bode well for the odds against Amber.”
“The Songbird that flew south for the winter of discontent,” Fexxfield frowned, chewing on the inside of his cheek. That guy was a variable he hadn’t accounted for, because what rational-minded person could conjure up any real-world scenario in which someone voluntarily got on board with that She-Witch? Standing by while she almost killed Amber? That wasn’t the bit that stuck in his throat like it did for most other people. After all, hadn’t she done that to him all those years ago back in Atlantic City? No. People do stupid things when they’re caught between two irreconcilable positions …
But following her tune? Made no sense at all. The implications of that were all the more worrying.
Eventually, he nodded. “Think you’re right … But we reserve said right to start throwing down. This Baal guy, doctor, apparently. Not sure he’s so clear on the “Do No Harm” bit, but know you’re watching just as closely as I am.”
“Truth is Mac, I’m not sure Amber can beat her,” And he didn’t feel any more unburdened by the admission. “She’s got to try; can’t help but try … But I don’t know. Everyone else seems motivated by things recognisable as motivations: money, glory, power … Or just being straight-up mad. Masque though? Feels like it’s one of those things. Two – all of them, none of them … All at the same time. And now she’s roped in that young girl, Blackthorn …”
He sighed. “And as if it wasn’t somehow sticky like molasses enough, there’s a title involved. Anywhere else, between anyone else, I’d say that didn’t register so much as a tingle on a ten thousand amp shock, but this title … Amber’s title. Her heart …”
“Her words,” He laughed, bitter and sickly on his own heart. “True enough, though. That thing nearly killed her from the inside-out last time. That thing gave Masque her in, originally …”
Crumpling the fabric of the hat in his hands, Terryl blew his breath out between slack lips. “Feels like things are building to some terrible, awful release. One it feels like we won’t all survive in any shape that makes it feel worthwhile.”
A slow, sad smile formed on Mac's lips, and he nodded. "That's a fair assessment. No matter how you look at this, it's a no win situation for all involved. " He shook his head and laughed. "All is not lost though. As long as we agree now that nothing is off limits. I have not fought like that in ages but there's a reason the industry hated and feared me at one time. " A wistful smirk forms on his face, "I can be that guy once again. For her sake, I'm going to. Don't underestimate Amber. It's a long story but I dislocated both of her shoulders during a match once, she still beat me. "
“Never have,” Fexxfield replied with a sigh, dragging a gnarled hand down his features as if smoothing out the worry lines took them all away for a spell. “Saw her make some decisions I’m not sure Masque herself ever would; dark ones that made everything rainy and sad for a good few years thereafter …”
Shaking his head, the gumshoe forced his attention back to the matter at hand and away from the ghosts of the past – both dead as traditional and somehow, very much alive. “Met a lot of awful folk in my time. Bet we both have. Not many that keep me awake even at the end of an empty bottle and a good night making it that way. And now …”
The nine-ton elephant in the room threatening to sit on all their collective chests. “The title,” He clarified even though the comparison stayed strictly implicit. “She’s done some terrible things in the pursuit of that recognition. Is all this just so she can do that all again?”
“What if …” The words are dangerous, threatening them both before they’re even spoken aloud. “ … What if this is all part of the plan? She spent so long trying to turn Amber into some sort of amoral, living weapon by exploiting her need to be the standard, to force people to recognise and acknowledge through that title. So what if Masque taking it was just so she could make Amber lose everything to win it back?”
Fexxfield’s frown deepened until it threatened to cut into the bone of his skull. “Can understand a straight-up, knock-down fight between those two. But throw in something radioactive, a slow poison like that Championship and suddenly, things get a whole lot less clear-cut.”
He glanced back at Mac. “What if she’s sleepwalking back into a grave she just about died climbing out of?”
Mac released a heavy sigh, "she did die in that ambulance ride. I won't…..I can't let that happen again. That's why I feel the way I feel about this situation. It's why I'm willing to go to any lengths to put a stop to it. " He looked up at the recently rebuilt ceiling. "Something like this…" He pointed all around. "It's easy to rebuild, someone like her, that's a much grander project. It's one worth pursuing, when you love someone unconditionally. "
Love. That made him turn away. His lips parted, because there were words on his tongue ready to tumble free, but those had been for her, not the man stood opposite and not now. It was just too late. That ship had sailed, sprung a leak and exploded in a shower of razor-sharp iron and plastic as cold seawater flooded the boilers and blew everything up from within. It wouldn’t serve anyone – not Mac, not Amber and certainly not him to say it all now.
Felt like she knew anyway. Like the man next to him probably knew. So let everyone just marinate in the stink of stumbling over the truth and carrying on as if nothing had happened, because it was too hard to confront. Too painful.
Setting the hat back on his head and tugging the brim down, Terryl just nodded. “Whatever you need,” He said; even while the implications of his internal monologue made his heart twist and strain against prison bars fashioned from a ribcage, calcified by too many breaks. “Sounds like a project worth helping see through.”