Or Duo Maxwell's Awful, Bad Day (cont)
"As I was saying,"
I continued with a mock glare in his direction. "All my worldly possessions
I leave to...oh wait; I don't have any worldly possessions!" I took
a stance and cried, "Ok then I leave my body to science! Skoal!"
and tossed that sucker back. Hell-fire was an apt name. Thank God there
wasn't more than a swallow or two in the glass or I think I would have
thrown it right back up. There was a... cloying sweetness to it, somewhere
under a flaming surface taste, and it was... thick. I would have used
some of the blue crap to wash the taste out of my mouth if I'd had any.
I turned to face McMurphy, gave him a cross-eyed look that thoroughly
conveyed my opinion, and then tossed him a wink.
"Not too bad, Mac," I told the room in general and McMurphy
played my game with me, looking down into the pitcher with a wide smile.
"No shit?" he asked me happily and we had to share a grin when
we heard Smitty take the bait. Goad my ass, would he?
"Really?" Smitty asked, incredulous. "Old McMurphy came
up with something worth drinking, all on his own?"
I stepped away and let it play out. McMurphy poured, Smitty drank, and
the whole place erupted in laughter when he ran for the bathroom, somehow
managing to hold both hands over his mouth and curse me resoundingly at
the same time.
"That was the most vile thing I have ever tasted, Mac," I told
the bartender after the teasing had died down. "And that includes
the time I tried to siphon raw jet fuel. What in the hell did you put
The big guy sighed dejectedly, dipping a finger into the brew and tasting
it himself with a shrug. "It's a brandy base, with Tabasco sauce,
honey, a raw egg, and..."
"Stop!" I choked out, holding a hand up to forestall any more
explanation. "I suddenly don't want to know!" The thing about
McMurphy is he doesn't seem to have any functioning taste buds of his
own. Just an undying desire to create a new, earth-shatteringly good drink,
and make it into some sort of bartender hall of fame. Or maybe he just
likes watching his customers gag. Though... when I thought about it, Smitty
and I were the only ones he could ever get to try the damned things for
I turned back to my dinner with a rueful shake of my head, taking a long
swallow of water, trying to get that sticky, burning taste out of my mouth.
Jess brought me a soda without being prompted, I took a couple of gulps
of that too, but it didn't help much. Napalm... I think I'd just drunk
I suddenly felt the weight of four pairs of eyes on me and looked up to
find the oddest audience I'd had all day. They all looked... amused. Strangely
guilty. Weirdly melancholy.
"What?" I blurted, looking from one of them to the other and
feeling like I'd missed a whole conversation. "Have I got orange
Hell-fire on my chin, or something?"
Quatre smiled for me and shook his head. "No... we just realized
how you must have been feeling all those times out with us."
I felt myself flushing and bent to cutting my steak.
"We're sorry," Trowa said quietly. "We should have realized
what all those inside jokes felt like... from the outside."
I mumbled something and just wished they'd drop it. I was saved from having
to think of something else to say when Smitty finally made his way out
of the bathroom and stalked with grim determination toward my seat. Everyone
else at the table was suddenly alert to some danger to me and I had to
snort at them derisively. "Get a grip, guys," I snickered. But,
you know? It gave me one hell of a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Or maybe that was the Hell-fire.
"Maxwell," Smitty said almost formally when he got to the table.
"Have you thrown up yet?"
"No, I have not," I informed him with just as much seriousness.
"Then I bow to the better man," he said, doing just that. "And
I will mourn your passing when that shit finally eats out your stomach
lining and kills you."
"I'm... uh... honored?" I snickered at him. "You look kinda...
He grinned at me then, informing me, "I will get you, Maxwell."
"You will try, Smith," I grinned right back at him.
He went back to join his partners, and I turned back to my dinner with
a shake of my head.
I quickly started a conversation about the sticky properties of honey
and the guys let me. We passed most of the rest of the meal in idle banter
and pretty mindless talk. I was actually starting to relax a little bit,
finding that it hadn't been all that hard to fit back in here. No one
had said a thing to me about my ship or my accident and I realized after
a bit that there lie the difference between Heero's circle of friends
and mine. Mine were spacers and understood the depth of the hurt I had
taken when I had lost my ship and my livelihood. They understood how it
was like salt in the wound to keep bringing it up. So they just let it
go, accepting me back at face value.
I was just starting to think that my crappy day had finally turned around
when I saw Jess come around the bar with a fearful look on her face. I
saw her flash a signal at McMurphy and then her eyes were seeking mine.
I knew what that look and that signal meant.
"Shit," I muttered.
"What's wrong, Duo?" Wufei asked, sitting across from me and
noticing the look on my face.
"I'll be right back," I told them, tossed my napkin in my plate
and went to meet Jess half way.
"Jock?" I asked tersely when I got there.
She nodded fearfully.
"Where?" I asked, eyes flicking around the room and not seeing
the man I sought.
"In the back dining room," she informed me, her voice sounding
"Is the room clear?" I sighed, feeling myself start to tense.
"Yeah," she was able to tell me.
I took her by the shoulders and met her wide eyes, "Ok, honey...
here's the deal. You see the guy that is sitting next to my chair? The
one with the eyes that are probably boring a hole in my back right now?"
She peeked around my arm and nodded vigorously.
"That is my incredibly over-protective... room-mate." I tightened
my grip a little to emphasize my words. "He is going to be exceedingly
unhappy when he finds out what is going on here. It is your job to impress
on him just how bad an idea it would be for him to interfere, got it?"
"Shit, Duo," she blurted unhappily and I grinned at her ferally.
"Sorry about your luck, kid," I told her. "Get the musketeers
to help you."
I patted her shoulder, turned to share a tight nod with McMurphy and headed
for the back room. I damn near challenged the power of worse again, but
remembered at the last minute, and bit my mental 'tongue'.
As I was nearing the door, I heard McMurphy beginning the job of protecting
his flock. "Ok people... we all know the drill..." I forgot
about them, Mac would see to it that everyone got down or completely out
of the building.
The trade is... a damn tough business to be in. For every pilot that makes
a go of it, there are five that cave and go under. It's a dangerous, merciless
industry that hinges as much on luck as it does on skill. And Lady Luck,
as we well know, is a damn fickle little thing, and not really much of
a lady. There are a dozen tragic stories out there for every successful
one. Stories like Neo's. Stories like... mine. And stories like Jock's.
Retired from the military with not much rank and less pension, he'd sunk
everything he'd had into his own ship and gone into mining. He'd made
a small strike, gotten a little money and gotten himself a girl. Then
he'd hit a little dry spell and lost all his money, lost his ship to creditors,
and finally lost his girl to a pilot who still had a ship. He'd... not
handled it well. He'd sunk into a dark depression and taken to drinking.
He didn't handle his drink much better than he'd handled his loss.
He showed up at McMurphy's or some other spacer bar every couple of months,
desperate for the company of his own kind... and suicidally drunk. He
usually came carrying a gun. For some strange reason... he liked me and
I could usually talk him through it. And of all the damn nights for Jock
to show up at McMurphy's in his usual drunken stupor, waving his pistol...
didn't it figure that it would be tonight?
Could this fucking day get any damn worse?
I eased up to the door and held back out of sight until I could assess
"Hey Jock," I called with, I hoped, a light, unconcerned tone
of voice. "You in there?"
There was a moment before I got a reply and his voice was that maudlin
one I knew so well. I sighed. He'd been a strong, sure man once... a long
"That you, Maxwell?"
"I've been looking all over for you, man," I lied. "Mind
if we sit down and talk for a bit?"
"Naw," he said after a few minutes to think about it. "Come
and sit with me... I'm all alone."
I eased into the doorway until I could see him sitting against the back
wall. The gun was in his lap, so I moved cautiously toward him. The back
dining room is for larger, single groups and isn't all that big. There's
a long table in the middle of the room that could probably seat twenty
or so. The chairs were resting upside-down on the tabletop and Jock was
sitting against the back wall on the serving counter, leaning against
"Come talk to me Maxwell," he said unhappily. "Nobody wants
to talk to me."
"I want to talk to you," I told him with false cheer, still
trying to assess just how far gone he was. "I told you I been looking
all over the place for you."
"Liar," he grumbled and I froze half way across the room. "Nobody
ever comes lookin' for me."
"Well..." I began. "I was hoping you might know..."
I froze when the gun came up. The trick with Jock is to get close enough
to him without pissing him off so that you could get the gun away. He
doesn't really mean to hurt anybody, except himself maybe, and when he
sobers up later he always hates himself for these little episodes. We
keep taking the guns away from him... but somehow he keeps getting hold
of new ones.
"Stop right there," he growled at me, and I was more than happy
to do as he said. "What do you want?"
I eyed the gun and eased slightly to the right. "You invited me,
remember? You said you wanted company."
"Don't need no damn company!" he snapped unhappily and the gun
wavered. I shifted just a hair again, to stay out from in front of it.
"Come on, man," I wheedled, "I need to talk to you..."
Suddenly the damn gun went off and I swear from the look on his face,
he hadn't really meant to do it. I had a heart stopping moment of not
being positive he'd missed me, before I remembered to breath. Damn. He'd
never fired the gun before.
Heart in my throat I called out, "Mac! Is everybody all right out
"Ok out here," came McMurphy's voice, and he sounded rattled.
I thought I heard voices in the background, raised in argument.
"We're all right... accident."
Jock seemed vaguely confused and I pressed forward.
He looked kind of troubled about where the loud noise had come from, and
it distracted him long enough that I got around the room to his side of
"This seat taken?" I grinned at him when I got there.
He blinked at me for a minute before gesturing to the counter with the
barrel of the gun. "Go ahead..."
I hopped up beside him and settled down, crossing my ankles and trying
to look non-threatening.
"So, what do you know about ocelots?" I gamely asked him, the
most off-putting thing I could think of, keeping an eye on that gun, trying
to make sure he kept it pointed away from me. Somewhere in the pit of
my stomach, underneath the prickly fear of getting shot, I understood
that Jock had just changed all the rules to this game we played. He'd
pulled the damn trigger this time; we weren't going to be able to talk
him down, sober him up and try to get him back on his feet. This time
it couldn't be swept under the rug.
"Ocelots?" he repeated blankly, looking at me, and when the
gun tracked where his eyes went... I dared to reach out and gently ease
the barrel away.
"Listen, Jock," I whined, shamelessly trying to win his sympathy.
"I'm in a lot of trouble. I had to take this job transporting some
animal called an ocelot and I just don't know anything about them. Ever
"It's a cat isn't it?" he asked, interested despite himself.
"What kind of trouble you in, kiddo?"
I sighed heavily and hung my head, having to reach and push the barrel
away again. "You heard about my accident... right?"
"Yeah, man," he commiserated and actually sounded a little weepy.
"That was a nasty, nasty piece of luck."
"Tell me about it," I complained. "I can't get any decent
jobs at all... I don't know what I'm going to do..."
"That's tough," he told me, voice wavering. "That's real
"You want a beer?" I suddenly blurted and he gave me a surprised
little nod of his head.
"That'd be good, Duo," he confirmed. "I could use a beer."
"Great!" I enthused. "I'm buying!"
That served to cheer him up a little bit and he sat contemplating the
butt of his gun while I turned and called out to the other room.
"Hey McMurphy, how about a couple of beers in here?"
"Coming right up, Maxwell," he hollered back and I didn't have
to wait long. McMurphy brought them himself, which was a wise choice.
Jock sometimes reacted badly around women.
Mac came slowly around the table, keeping an eye on Jock, but trusting
me to keep him from getting shot. He handed me two beer bottles and then
quietly slipped out of the room again, leaving me to do what I'd come
in here to do.
I handed Jock his bottle and then made a great show of trying to get the
cap twisted off mine and grimacing in pain.
"Y'ok, Duo?" Jock asked me with owlish concern on his face.
"I screwed my wrist up today," I told him. "Can you open
this for me?"
"Sure, kiddo," he soothed and laid the gun down on the counter
to take the bottle from me, since his other hand had his own bottle in
it. While he took the minute to figure out that he had to set his own
bottle down to free up a hand, I deftly slid the gun across the counter
and behind me, until it was resting on my other side where he couldn't
reach it. He never seemed to notice.
He handed me my beer back and took a sip of his own. "You in a bad
way, Duo?" he asked, all watery-eyed concern and I felt a little
bit like a heel for playing on his sympathies.
"You could say that, Jock," I sighed.
"I'm real sorry to hear that," he told me, reaching to pat my
knee awkwardly. "It sucks to be on the outside."
"Yeah," I told him and sipped my own beer. "I know. I think
I'll be all right though."
"You're tough," he agreed, nodding his head sagely. "I
was tough too... a long time ago." He got a funny little look in
his eye then and leaned close to tell me conspiratorially, "Don't
trust women, and don't fall in love."
I laughed out loud and bit down on my first retort. "Women aren't
all bad," I said instead and got a little snort.
"They'll screw you over and then leave you the first time things
get a little rough," he grumbled.
"Ok..." I smirked at him. "I swear... no falling in love
with a woman."
He seemed to brighten a little, as though I had accepted his little nugget
of wisdom as the God's honest truth and the only way to live. I felt really
bad for him and had to wonder, not for the first time, about the woman
who had walked out on him for greener pastures.
I sat and talked with him for a few minutes, listened to his story again
and let him finish his beer
Movement by the door made me glance that way and I saw McMurphy peeking
around the corner. I gave him the thumbs up and saw him visibly relax.
He turned away for a second and I'm sure he passed the sign on to the
room. Then he stepped into the doorway and quietly said, "Uh, Duo...
Jock's got company."
"Jock," I said gently. "You know we got to go."
He nodded morosely, tilted his bottle back to be sure he had the last
drop and then set it aside to look at me. "Yeah... I know."
I got down first, flipping on the gun's safety and slipping it into my
pocket, waiting while he climbed down with exaggerated care. He's not
a stumbling, babbling drunk. He just gets... depressed.
I felt awful for him, knowing what was waiting for him in the other room.
Knowing where he was going to be going tonight. The trade takes care of
their own... to a point. Jock had stepped over the line this time though.
I dropped my arm across his shoulders as we walked around the table and
headed for the door.
He sighed heavily and looked at me. "I screwed up this time, didn't
I Duo?" he asked quietly and I had to nod.
"Yeah buddy," I agreed sympathetically. "I'm afraid you
did... I'm real sorry."
"Not your fault I'm an old idiot," he grumbled as we went through
The first thing I noticed was the rather large group of people clustered
in the corner of the room, making a human wall between me and my Heero.
I could see his wild-eyed face through the bodies and flashed him a grin
that I hoped was reassuring. I could feel his eyes locked on me like a
tracking device. I felt really guilty about all those people who'd had
to throw themselves in front of his considerable... protective tendencies.
The second thing I noticed were the three police officers by the door,
talking to McMurphy and looking highly agitated. I'm sure that most 'shots
fired' calls don't get a 'just hold on a minute' response from the people
being shot at.
"Maxwell?!" I heard and had to grin near to split my face.
"Jones?" I almost laughed. "I thought we agreed to stop
meeting like this?"
He just stared down at me, shaking his head in total exasperation. I turned
the gun over to one of his cohorts while the other one took Jock in hand.
The old guy was docile as hell until they started to cuff him, then he
looked to me for support with frightened eyes.
I sighed. "Listen Clint... is that really necessary?"
"Sorry kid," Clint told me with a little shake of his head.
"At least in front, and not behind his back?" I cajoled and
I saw the other guy hesitate, waiting for Clint to decide.
"All right," Clint said with a gusty sigh and I had to grin
up at him.
"Is that ok, Jock?" I asked, just as if he had a choice and
he nodded, maybe understanding somewhere under all the alcohol that it
didn't really matter what he said. But I understood what a difference
it could make in a situation like this to feel like you had some kind
of control left.
They led him away then and he glanced back once with one of those weepy
looks that could rip your heart out. "Sorry McMurphy," was the
last thing we heard.
I turned my attention up to the man who had, so far, shared most of my
day. "Looks like your bad day sucks worse than mine... you're still
on the job," I grinned at him.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's