1965-08-07 - Shanghai Heads-Up, 1922
Summary: A Radium playing card in a Panama hat leads Kent to the Jackal and the man has a warning that the other crime-lords are gunning for him - literally.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
lamont ambrose 

The stalls on the streets are busy, but not overly so. The rise of the heat in congruence with the rainfall has made the humidity a stalking beast. Those not equipped to deal with it hide in shady alcoves and inside the various cafes, sipping at sweating beverages and doing the same in their clothing. Still, it's not going to keep the Shadow from going about his day. Wherever he is, he's on foot on the street, if only briefly. Perhaps he has someone to meet in one of the small restaurants, where the fans click out their strain to circulate the air within. Maybe it's a matter of someone swearing into his franchise, if you will, their skin gone pale and voice faintly a-quiver at sitting across from Ying Ko. He's not the premier crime lord, but two syllables are beginning to carry enough weight to slap fear into those who know…or should know better.

Someone doesn't know better. Someone may never know better.

The farm-horse's head hangs from the heat as it plods along and its rider must be uncomfortable with skin bared to the sun. His vest is simple pale cotton, worn in places, as are his pants. The boots seem sturdy enough, almost of foreign make; probably stolen. He wears a woven bamboo farming hat, with a flattened conical peak, tied under his chin. In his lap, a small sack. The brim rises as he lifts his head, only enough for him to risk a look out from beneath it.

Ah-hah, there he is. A kick to the horse's ribs has it suddenly skittering forwards, eyes rolling. Even as he barrels down upon the Shadow, he pulls out something from the satchel and readies it.

WHOP — the Panama hat is rather rudely jammed onto Kent's head as the rider whips past and continues on, parting the crowd as he goes. He disappears around the next corner of the street and the last thing to be seen is the bannering tail of the farm-horse.

It's a rather fine hat, when all's said and done and the dust is literally settling. Relatively clean and well-made, maybe with a smudged fingerprint along one section of the brim. Tucked into its band, a Radium brand gold-edged playing card face-inwards and sporting a bullet-hole in its center. Plucking it free and turning it around reveals…the Ace of Spades. Hah-hah, pipping the Ace at a thousand yards and all that. What a dire sense of humor to possess — guess who! Written in cramped lettering along one long edge of the face side of the card:

John Li, Vasiliev, plan to meet at six oclock at White Countess. You are target. Meet at Xingyun Bisai at 4pm.

Agent's reflexes have him dodging, but not fast enough. He's got the Colt in hand even as he moves….only to have the actual reality of events catch up to him.

He didn't just get knifed or shot in public. That was a….prank? A prank. Gently, he takes the hat from his head, inspects it, carefully. The message makes him purse his lips, raise his chin in what might be amusement. It's even the right size. He takes out the card, and inserts it into a business card case. Then he replaces the hat, adjusts it to a rakish angle, and continues on his way.

……of course he's at the stables at 4. A little before, truth be told….and with that cloak of shadows about him. All the better to make sure he scopes out the place, and isn't walking into a trap before a trap.

Kent might recognize the farm-horse. It's been turned out to graze…on a nearby decorative species of bush. It looks up idly from its mouthful of flowers, jaw moving on the horizontal. An ear flick and whatever it's sensed of him is dismissed by the chestnut.

The building beyond it must the small set of stables, now derelict and defunct after the owner got into the racing and gambling scene too deep for his shallow pockets. No one's present. There's no immediate sense of being watched. Even outside, the ghost of hay and livestock greets the nose. Wings flutter in the rafters as a few pigeons startle up and leave one of the sets of sliding doors, already beginning to rust at the hinges. Perhaps something scared them? There might be a feral cat lurking about…

He's waiting, in the shadows, his ability trying to direct attention from him. He's not as strong as he will be, in the days to come, courtesy of the masters of Shambhala. But it's still more than merely human stealth. Waiting. Let whomever it may be appear first. He's in a plain suit - light linen, still. Good for doing business.

A minute passes. And then another. Five. Nearing ten now.

And from through the stable doors, something small and rectangular curves out in its flight. It flits out onto the open space of the packed dirt before the wide gap. This time, the joker, a matching member of the deck that originally held the same one currently slid away in Kent's business card case. Gold on its edges, blue on its backing.

Scrawled in the white in big lettering: SPEAK FRIEND AND ENTER.

The horse looks up again towards the stables, ears perked. That's likely a good indicator of someone else inside the building.

Of course, now he's gliding forward, seeking to enter without being seen. Will against will. Here's hoping he can give this one a shock.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 7

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 11

There's no indication of immediate reaction on approach from outside. It's when Kent crosses into the stables proper that the fillip of amusement pops like a soap bubble against his willful attempt to remain hidden.

"Not pleased to see me?" Even as he asks, Ambrose drops down from one of the beams above. Sticking the landing, he rises with assurance in his body's capabilities and a shrewd grin. He still wears the cotton farmer's pants and vest; the hat has gone serendipitously missing, huzzah. He's without his headscarf entirely for once, probably a bit of a visual dissonance.

"And here I went out of my way to warn you before the collective hit-men of two separate lords came a-hunting for you. Was it that I mussed your hair? That must be it. 'Oh dear, I need more pomade, Jeeves, fetch it for me,'" he mocks even as he walks a few steps away, turning to ensure he faces Kent continually. Uncertainties about the man still plague the Jackal, mild as they are. No opium haze to blur thought processes now.

Nor do they seem to for KEnt himself. The gray eyes are clear and unclouded, the pupils whorled out to deal with the relative dimness of the stables. If he's dismayed at his ability failing to serve, it doesn't show.

"I am grateful for the warning," he says, softly. "I thought I might attempt to eavesdrop on the meeting." Before he blows their heads off. "Or strike from a distance, perhaps," he adds, elaborately offhand. Ambrose certainly knows his skills in that department.

The brunet smiles coolly before turning his back on Kent. It's a form of bravery, turning one's spine towards any of the crime-lords of Shanghai. He walks down a few stalls and takes a moment to lift to his toes, peering in idly.

"Yes, well…we both know that you're capable of succeeding at such a gambit. I thought the card might have been identifying enough. Still leery though, by your approach. I feel like I taught you well," he jokes even as he turns on the spot. Eye rise to the beam above and he crouches down.

Spring — he uncoils with a fritz of borrowed life-energy. It's a chin-up to bring himself above the beam and then he works his way up upon it. With impeccable balance, he settles himself in a sitting lean against the main vertical trunk and glances down at Kent again, still wearing a small smile. Ankles are crossed. Apparently, he intends to continue this discussion with the man in this manner.

It's like having a meeting with the Monkey King. Kent cocks his head, watches the display with a kind of distant appreciation. Hey, welcome to the gun show. "More like putting a cap on previous lessons," he observes, drily. He's taken off his hat, and holds it lazily in hand, looking up at him. "It's a risk, but worth taking, rather than going in, guns blazing," he muses. Then he asks, cocking an eye, "How did you come about this information? What precisely did you hear?"

"It's not first-hand information, unfortunately, but from one of Li's lieutenants. I happened to…" Ambrose rolls a hand in a half-heartedly waffling for words before finally laughing once. "Suggest that he give me regular updates on the man's movements and discussions with his other connections throughout the city. Vasiliev is apparently tired of you infringing on his territory and goods." He shrugs and glances back down at Kent.

"It sounds like he intends to speak to Li about utilizing the man's connection to the police force. You know half the smarmy bastards are bought off and the other half are too afraid not to follow orders."

That makes him look pensive, turn the hatbrim idly in his hands. Lips pursed in thought. "I don't yet have such connections," he allows, finally. "Li is still has some utility, especially since I have need of precisely such means of shielding myself from the flics." He sucks air in through his teeth. "Vasiliev is just a jumped-up thug from Vladivostok," he adds, tone acidly dismissive. "He, clearly, shall have to go." Probably with a high-powered round from a distance, if old patterns hold true.

"I'd be wary of Vasiliev." Ambrose now wears true concern on his face and it dims whatever amusement he was enjoying during this conversation. "Jumped-up, I agree. A thug, yes — he uses a heavy hand where he goes…but with it comes firepower. I hear he's got connections to the old powers of Russia, the ones overthrown so recently. His men are fanatically loyal to him."

He scratches at the bare line of his collarbone as he continues. "Remember the massacre down at the docks last year? Vasiliev. There wasn't enough of anyone to bury. I still don't know how he dodged the buttons." 'Buttons' meaning police.

"Money. Or using Li already. Our alliance has never been more than uneasy at best," Kent's got that set look on his face, that aquiline profile making him look more like a bird of prey than ever. Then he's peering at Ambrose. "Or are you suggesting occult means?" Kent can't be the only player with some kind of magic at his disposal.

Ambrose's shoulders rise and fall. "I wish I knew, Black, but Li's mum about things of that nature, even with his lieutenants. He might read palms and gaze into a crystal ball, for all I know — same with Vasiliev." He sighs almost shortly.

"We had a man in my platoon, a Russian, who swore to the depths of the earth and the stars above that there was witchcraft like yours in his homeland. Not the whole…command bit," and his lips thin in disapproval. "But something else, where one minute the enemy was there, the next they were gone, and all that was left was blood and death."

He looks up at Ambrose, and there's that awful amusement in his face. That expression that isn't quite human. "I have Russian blood," he says, in that offhand voice. Of course he would. "I'll have to eliminate Vasiliev," His tone is matter of fact, and he checks his watch. Not a lot of time to set up, if he's going to snipe them.

At this distance and with the rounding of his shoulder blocking the view, no one can see Ambrose swallow at that expression. It makes the fine hairs on his neck and arms rise.

"Can't say I'm surprised to hear it," he replies evenly in regards to both thoughts. "I doubt you need my assistance in the matter…?" The very faintest query exists, as if he'd rather not ask, but knowing whether or not he's going to receive a sudden summons is minutely more important to him.

That has him raising his head fully, brow furrowing. "What help might you offer?" His tone is light, speculative. That gaze, though…..what has Ambrose been dealing with?

The brunet swings down one leg and lets it hang, swinging slowly back and forth. Back and forth, tick-tock, counting some rhythm known to his mind alone.

"Depends on your needs," he counters. "You've seen the curse. You've seen what I can do in this regard. You saw me leap up here," and he pats the beam once, a solid smack of sound. "That's nothing that a man on the street could accomplish. You've witnessed my marksmanship." Small smirk here. "Not the best under duress, I admit, but…effective nonetheless."

"You would do this for me - why?" he asks, bluntly. Brows up, expression very curious indeed. There's something rather fixed in his gaze. Some other drug, perhaps?

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 15

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 10

"I'm doing nothing for you at this time," Ambrose corrects with a very serious shake of his head. "I have no doubt that you can use your own marksmanship skills to steer the course of events in your favor. I'm merely…curious myself as to whether or not you feel the need for assistance."

For the telepathic skim, enabled by past furrows left by taloned commands and the brief kythings of meditation, Kent gains: low-key uncertainty, nothing new — wisps of concern aimed both inwardly and outwards — the fear of loss — and the belly-skimming slip of his own machinations at play. Wouldn't want to lose a chess piece from his corner, certainly not the one who has the methods to subdue what haunts him.

As he suspected. No surprise there. There's a little curve of his lips, almost demure. If he were a *little* crueller, he'd be tempted to reach in and flick at some of the baser desires. But no - there's that perverse pride. He won't nudge Ambrose in that direction.

He gives a vague little wag of his head. "You might well be of use. You aren't a known ally of mine, after all….but….it would be risky."

"Risky. …please." The Jackal's affectation is deliberately the dry delivery known to the other man below. He grins hard enough to flash teeth briefly up in the demi-shadows of the stable's lofty beam. "I'm convinced all of us here have a touch of the masochist to gamble with our lives as we do every day. Still…you're correct. My anonymity within your own demesne is not a small thing. No one knows that we talk…at least, I'm unaware of anyone who does. Rumor spreads like wildfire once it catches."

His booted foot stills in its swing, almost as the tail of a lounging cat. "I doubt you need my assistance in the end…" He dares to lift an eyebrow, knowing he's challenging pride.

A touch. You have no idea. "Indeed, I've done my best to keep it unknown…." Kent sighs. "However, if no one walks away alive from the meeting…..I can conceal myself, but I could not conceal you. If I let Li live…" He lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug, then lets his gaze slide up to Ambrose again. Not quite the rake of an eye that precedes a leer, but there's something invasive about it. He does persist in wearing those vests. Presumably poor Ambrose doesn't realize what an utter pervert he's caught. Yet.

The other eyebrow rises. "Let Li live…? To what end, Black? To allow me my continued fun? Charitable of you," and Ambrose chuckles, the sound falling down from above. He seems outwardly unaware of the look he's receiving. Perhaps he forges onwards to cover what small apprehensions cross his subconscious. Maybe he's even seen the look before.

"Did you know what when he gets angry, he goes nearly apoplectic? He turns nearly the color of a fine merlot and swears up and down like a sailor. That front of a gentleman is only a front. I'm telling you…if my recovery of stolen antiques had no bearing on my actions, I would still kick his feet out from beneath him, simply to hear him rail. It's music to my ears."

The grin that answers that is….alien to him. Boyish, utterly amused, with no hint of sardonicism. "If you like. It might be useful to have antiquities as a trade again. I might simply kill Vasiliev and let Li know that he continues his efforts on that front only as my whim permits. HE'd make a good lieutenant, with enough fear to keep him in line." Then there's another sigh, faintly dramatic. "He'll probably try to sell me to the flics, though."

Ambrose nods in agreement from on high. "I can almost guarantee that Li would sell you out faster than a whore on Fleet Street would a prince attempting a dalliance. If you remove Vasiliev from play and let him be, I can continue my reign of terror and you can…" He lifts both hands briefly before settling them on his lap again. "Take over what the White Russian called his own. Leave the antiques to me." There's the glint of steel in his tone despite the polite smile. That is my contested territory, stay out.

"You might even eventually show your hand to Li under the premise of sparing him an assassination attempt on his own life by Vasiliev. How generous of you to have stepped in and spared him, knowing of his attempt on your life in turn."

He inclines his head, as if to an equal. It's nice to have his own particular magical terrorist in his pocket. "Of course," he says, smoothly. "As you like. There's no point in reaching for what exceeds one's grasp." Another step up the rung, another pin knocked over in his quest. What will he do when he's the capo for Shanghai's foreign underworld? Like a dog chasing cars, he's doing it merely todo it, perhaps.

"Always the wise one, Black," the brunet replies with a hint of jest. "Then…to confirm, you will not need my assistance in dealing with this proposed meeting at the White Countess? I would hate to step on your toes." His darkened eyes linger on Kent as if attempting to suss out what he can on his own. A shame there's no ability to skim on his part. He must rely on nuances of body language along and the other man is a hard nut to crack when not drugged out on opium or about to shoot him.

HE's about as expressive as a cinder block, when he's really got the shutters down, is Kent. The man visibly mulls it over, lips still pursed. "No," he says, finally. "I would not have you fingered as a known associate of mine, beyond the meeting we've already had in public. And that was with men whose loyalty I can count on. I can't slaughter *everyone* at the White Countess." His tone sounds airy, like really, it's only a little bit of a stretch, that consideration.

"Oh." A beat, as Ambrose seems mildly nonplussed. "Very good then. I would avoid wholesale slaughter, yes," he adds, eyebrowing down at Kent from on high. "Pick off Vasiliev, leave Li be…or to me." A small smile at himself for the clever word choice and rhyme scheme.

He pulls a playing card out of one of the huge loose pockets of the farmer's pants and begins playing around with it. A little once-over and again, between and over fingers, all to keep his skills tempered. "That is all I have to report that pertains to you, Black," he says, pausing in his card manipulations to glance down at the man again. "Is there anything I should be aware of in turn?"

He arches his brows, looks utterly bland, gazing at some indeterminate middle distance in thought. "Not that I can think of, at the moment." Then he refocusses on Ambrose, with another lingering looking over. "Assuming all goes well, I shall be at home and at leisure earlier tonight. Midnight. The witching hour." He punctuates the statement with a lazy, feline smile. Come in to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.

Ambrose pauses in his digital athletics with the back of the card facing towards the other man below. His blue eyes slide down and linger. A frown gathers…and then a wry little smile.

"What's this then? An actual invitation instead of me alighting upon your porch as the portent of doom and strutting in as if I weren't a danger to you? I'll admit now that I haven't practiced once since last the meditation ensued." No compunction. A little shrug even. Oh well. He might not be sorry in the least. Always one to ignore homework in light of the world around him, this apparently carried over into adulthood.

Lamont clicks his tongue at that, scoldingly. "No? Not once?" There's that arch note. "Too bad. The more you work, the sooner you'll be able to touch others without worry about what harm you might do. I'm sure you'd rather touch anyone else in creation than myself." His voice is rueful. "And well, you were going to show up anyway, werent't you?"

The brunet tilts his head to one side as his eyes narrow down at Kent. He then replies evenly, "I'll suffer your aid to reach a point of stability." Teeth flash in an unrepentent little grin.

"I did intend to attend regardless, though much later and with the usual suddenness. But…ah, you're informed of it now. I'll have to spook another criminal instead." Ambrose slips the card away into the voluminous pocket again and then puts two fingers to his forehead. A slanted salute and he smirks. "I'll be the gentleman and let you leave first. Wouldn't want to be seen commiserating over our rivals after all," he says quietly.

Another inclination of his head. And then he's settling his hat in place, and wrapping the shadows around him as best he can. "Eagerly awaiting you," he replies, teasingly. …..was he just flirting? Surely not.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 13

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 12

Even as the very beginnings of Kent's vanishing act come into being, the brunet on high is sitting up as a dog going on alert. His uncertain stare morphs smoothly into a face gone one shade lighter and jaw dropped visibly open.

"Bloody fekkin' hell…" he breathes, pulling his feet up closer to his body to make himself all the smaller up high on his rafter. "…Black?"

Theatrical of him? Oh, yes. He shouldn't've tipped his hand. But Ambrose is an ally, and would've found out sooner or later…

But there's no answer. Black has apparently vanished, even in the light of day.

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