Flash Fiction: Dress for Success

Today’s horrid humid heat inspired another return to a setting and set of characters I’m coming to love. Have another round with Latour!

For more other stories in the same setting, check out the first piece with Pat & Pat, I Bow to None, and The One You Don’t Hear.

 

***

It was too humid for sweat to dry. Not even the wind coming across the broad series of lagoons was enough to wick away the wet from Latour’s skin. They stood, sweltering, on the deck of La Ballena, quietly cursing the salty tracks that ran stinging down into their eyes.

“Shit Latour, we all know you’re tough. Don’t have to wear that suit in the noonday sun.” Cap’s throaty voice carried well from the cockpit. She barely wore a tank top, if you could call it that, over her short canvas skirt laden down with cargo pockets. Lester stood behind her with her favorite revolver. Not carrying her own gun was part of how you knew she’s the Cap.

Latour pushed their hands deeper into their trousers’ pockets, ignoring how desperately they wanted to let their hands swing free. “I’m here for business Cap, not pleasure.” They squinted under their straw panama, looking over the top of their sunglasses at the approaching ship. They watched it like they could see through the hull, and read the future from its intestines. “I would be remiss,” they continued, “if I did not dress accordingly.”

Cap scowled. “Your funeral.” She waved to the hands standing near the bow of La Ballena. “Make ready to tie up. They’ll be coming alongside.”

La Ballena, as one might expect from the name, was a whale of a ship. Tubby, rounded, with lines that might look more at home on a cake than on a watercraft. The ship that glided towards them across the lagoon was anything but. It was sleek, long, and looked like it would cut you for staring at it. It was, in a word, gorgeous. The man standing by its bow was too. He watched coolly, maybe the only cool thing there in that heat, as his ship coasted up alongside La Ballena and finally came to a perfect halt.

“You’ve got some fancy sailors there.” Cap shaded her eyes and scowled up into the sunlight towards the beautiful man on his beautiful ship. “You timed your drift perfectly.”

“Practice,” the man shrugged, eyes wide and somehow drinking up the glare off the water. “You must be Latour. A pleasure to finally meet in person.” He glanced across La Ballena’s deck, eyes settling on the ornately dressed figure standing amidships. “And who’re you?”

Latour cleared their throat. “Actually, I’m Latour.” They waved a hand towards the cockpit. “That’s Cap. She’s also an excellent local contact for your purposes, but I’m the one who’s here to do business with you.”

There was a moment of silence. The beautiful man glanced back along his ship’s rail at the crew standing there. They all loomed above La Ballena and her crew. Latour’s gut began to churn. Something was wrong.

“In that case Latour,” the man made a little bow, and his crew produced a wide variety of guns, “won’t you please surrender yourself quietly?”

Latour pursed their lips. In all honesty, the heavy machine gun that the man’s crew had just affixed to their rail was overkill. On the other hand, overkill had a certain quality all of its own. It wouldn’t likely kill Latour or their friends any more dead, but it did a very good job of being ominous. Latour sighed. “Do I really have a choice?”

The beautiful man shrugged again. “There’s always a choice.”

Latour shook their head. “Would you please put out your boarding ladder?” After they complied, Latour climbed aboard the sleek ship under careful watch.

“Hey, do you want me too?” Cap called from the deck of La Ballena below.

The beautiful man waved his hand. “No, maybe we can do business some other time.” He considered for a moment, then looked back again. “Not business like this.” His single shoulder’s shrug encompassed his well-armed crew.

Cap snorted. “Sure, sure,” she called as her crew loosed the lines holding the two ships together and hauled up the sails. “Some other time.”

Latour watched their associate sail away in her godawful tub, wallowing even in the relative calm of the lagoons. They pushed their sunglasses up the bridge of their nose, pulled the brim of their hat a little further down, then finally turned to face their new captor. They eyed the guns arrayed on the rail, and those being tucked back into the crew’s belts and holsters. They made a little moue of distaste. “Your HMG hasn’t been well maintained.” They looked more carefully at the beautiful man. “Who paid you more this time, Marcel?”

Marcel, the beautiful man, smiled. “You recall an Antonio? His boss.”

“Shit. Really?” Latour looked disappointed.

Marcel nodded.

“Fine. You know what? Fine. I’ll do you better than Antonio’s boss ever could. How about,” Latour’s right hand came out of their pocket, fingers splaying as they counted out points, “you get double your usual commission from me for the shipment you were supposed to deliver. Then I let my man Ren give your HMG the love it actually deserves. Then,” Latour paused for effect, “you get a month of sales in my club without my usual cut. And you tell Antonio’s boss,” it came out in a sneer, “to go fuck themselves.”

Marcel shrugged again, still smiling like he knew how much that shrug was starting to irritate Latour. “That all sounds fine and dandy. How about you tell him yourself?”

Latour turned around to see a man in worn-out board shorts and a hawaiian shirt fanning himself with a ratty straw hat. Latour looked him up and down and didn’t bother to hide their disgust. “You couldn’t even send your own people?”

The man stepped a few feet closer, like he owned the place. “You didn’t expect Marcel. Now you’re my hostage, and we can negotiate something more to my desire.” He stepped close enough that Latour could smell his bad breath. “Got it?”

Latour’s left hand came out of their pocket like a spring-loaded blade. The syringe pressed through the man’s skin, the plunger dropped. Latour stepped back, hands out and spread wide, head high. Marcel’s gun-toting crew flinched into motion, halted at Marcel’s raised hand.

“I got it,” Latour’s voice was acid, “now maybe you’ll get it. I’m my own person, my club is not your turf. You’re lucky I don’t like guns.”

The man didn’t look like he felt lucky as he stared at the syringe standing out from his chest.

Latour took a single step closer, voice dropping to a knifelike whisper. “Like I told your Antonio. I bow to none.”

The man fell to his knees, fingers curling around the syringe. The toe of Latour’s fine leather shoe pushed him over backwards.

Latour dropped their hands, turned back to Marcel. “Maybe you’d like to come back to my place. I have a package to drop off,” they shrugged towards the fainted man, “and I think we have a good deal of business to do.” They smiled.

“You know,” Marcel gently lowered his hand, and guns went back into holsters once more. “I think you’re right.”

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