Slipping Through A Sideways Door

by hornethead

Chapter 42: Mischief Night

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Chapter 42: Mischief Night

The bar wasn't exactly 'downtown'. In fact, it was closer to the outer boundaries of the city, nestled up against the wall of the mountain that loomed over Canterlot. This, compounded by the fact that it wasn't the most savory part of town made Jackson a little nervous.

Still, it turned out to be not so bad a place. Blackjack led him, Mayfield and the rest of his team to the dumpy looking building and brought them inside to a well furnished and relatively clean establishment. Sure, there were a few stray bullet marks on the walls and half the inventory seemed to have been looted, but all around it wasn't bad.

Blackjack took Jackson over to a back room where he introduced him to the owner and bartender of the place, a willowy roan earth stallion wearing a black vest, white undershirt and red bowtie. "This is Marv." Blackjack drawled as he showed him to Jackson. "He may not have the nicest looking place in town, but he sure can whip up some mean drinks."

"Interesting." The stallion said as he looked Jackson up and down. "He's a big one, but are you sure he and his fellows can handle themselves here? Now that all the fighting's died down, certain... odiferous characters have been trying to muscle their way in." He said to Blackjack in a voice with a hint of poshness.

"Oh sure, they'll hold up just fine. Hardest sons o' nags I seen in a while." Blackjack assured him.

Jackson was concerned with the roan stallion's last sentence and leaned towards Blackjack, "Hey, this place ain't gonna be trouble, is it?"

"Oh, no!" Blackjack chuckled back with a bit of nervousness. "One of the finest neighborhoods around. For the most part..."

"All right..."

"Please, gentlecolts, let us not worry about the malign, I'm sure you're all very thirsty." Marv interjected as he headed around behind the bar. "After all, a bit is a bit, and I haven't had customers in quite some time. What'll you have?"

Jackson's concerns weren't entirely laid to rest, but he and his team needed time to unwind, so he shrugged and placed his order. In no time, they were all at the bar, laughing and swapping stories. The place slowly became even more lively as other ponies, attracted by the light and the sound of revelious conversation, began trickling in and adding to the atmosphere.

Soon enough, a few more wandered in with large cases and began setting up instruments in one of the corners. They started to play and Jackson and his team were treated to the sight of a few odd ponies trying to drunkenly dance. Redflare and Cray found a dart board in the back and started trying to out-do one another with difficult shots. At one of the tables, Blackjack began a game of poker with Jackson, Iron and Swift Paws.

A short while later, Sparks showed up with Flash. They sat down with Mayfield and began asking a lot of questions about his county and the origin of his strangely similar 'Buckingham' accent, which produced a laugh from the carousing Londoner. It was something of a weird coincidence to Mayfield that this land had a country that nearly mirrored his own in the kind of citizens it produced and had plenty of likewise questions for his two interrogators.

Jackson, while having fun, kept glancing at his watch occasionally. His best friend was running late. He hoped whatever he had to take care of wasn't too troubling. Truth be told, he was beginning to worry about his friend's state of mind. Jackson had lost enough in his life already, he didn't know if he could handle losing his brother again.

In the darkness crunched a lone biped across a rubble strewn street. James hunched up in his jacket, staring up at the moon, wondering if she would really keep her promise. He had a lot riding on it, not the least, the guaranteed safety of those he cared about the most, regardless of the cost.

He tried to push such thoughts from his mind as he neared his destination. It was a run down two storey squeezed in between what looked like flop houses. In the alleyways around him, he could see shadowy figures flittering in and out of the light. He gripped something under his jacket and wondered if he might've gotten bad directions.

The building James reached was brightly lit inside, standing out at odds with it's surroundings. Still, he promised he'd go and pressed on. Taking a few cautious looks around, he opened the door and prepared himself for whatever would greet him inside.

He was immediately blasted away by the riot of noise and saturnalia that assaulted him. The amount of ponies engaging in alcohol fueled revelries was amazing. James looked over to the bar and was met with the strangely expected surprise of seeing that Mayfield was not sitting with the rest of the customers, but rather on the other side, serving drinks much to the bartender's annoyance.

James wandered over to the watering hole to see what was going on. Mayfield spotted him and slid over, "Hey! And the prodigal son returns!" He pulled up a large glass and multiple bottles of liquor. "I was just about to school the lads in a punishing round of a little game called 'Arrogance', care to join?"

James had to laugh a little, "No thanks, I think I'll pass for now. But I wouldn't mind a beer."

"Suit yourself. Ah, four bits please."

James tossed him a few bits in exchange for the bitter-sweet beverage. "You're behind the bar and you're still charging me?"

"Sorry mate, Marv'll kick me out if I don't." Mayfield smiled.

"I'll do more than that if you break anything, you lout." The roan stallion said as he bustled past with a tray off empty glasses balanced on his back.

James leaned back towards Mayfield, "Hey, you seen Jackson anywhere?"

"Uh, sure, I think he's around here somewhere..." Mayfield said, peering around the lively bar. "Wo- uh-oh, looks like some one ain't too happy to see you!" he said, looking past James.

James turned around, "Who—?" And promptly received a hoof across the mouth.

"You are such an asshole!" Spat a very tipsy Quick Fix.

"Oh ho ho!" Mayfield reeled in ecstatic laughter. "Where's she learn that bit of cheeky speak, I wonder?"

James ignored the commentary and rubbed his jaw, staring back at the angry mare. "Yeah, sorry for the shit behavior, but I won't apologize for keeping you from getting yourself killed."

"I know." The unicorn said, "and thank you, I really wasn't ready for that stuff. Now where's Mr. Jackson, I came all the way here..."

"Oh, try looking near the back, love, he's probably playing darts." Mayfield told her.

"Thanks Topher!" She smiled to the impromptu bartender and started trotting away.

"Hey, Q, try to take it easy tonight, ok?" James called after her.

"Still an asshole!" She called back with out even a glance back.

James turned back to Mayfield, "Well, I think I'll give her some time to cool off before I head over to see Jackson myself."

"Don't blame ya." Mayfield replied as he flipped a coin and the pony across called 'heads'. "Ohhhh... sorry there, it's tails." He said, revealing the side of the coin. "Drink up!" He watched with amusement as the pony knocked back the noxious mixture of liquors with a cringe.

"Better for us." A dark pegasus said as he spun around on his barstool. "You're supposed to be dead, did you know that?" With wide eyes, James turned his head to see Flash sitting there, with Sparks on the other side. "I really don't know wether I should hug you or buck you across the bar, what the hay happened!?"

Mayfield sidled in, "Lover's quarrel?"

"Not now, Limey." James snapped.

"Oooh~, touchy." He slid away.

Returning his attention to Flash, James shook his head. "Look, I'm sorry. Things got a little... complicated, after the incident."

"So you run off and let your best friends in the country think you were dead for six years?"

A tense silence hung over the three of them for a few awkward moments, even with all the noise around them. Then James sighed, "Ok, it was shitty. I probably should've let you guys know somehow, but I wanted to just get away from it all. Plus, you know how the press is like."

"Yeah, we heard about you, Mr. Demon of Everfree." Sparks put in sarcastically. "Not too subtle, ya think?"

James had to chuckle a little, "That was a accident, you gotta believe me."

"It sounds kinda douchey."

"Yeah, it sounds kinda douchey." James agreed, turning back to his drink. "But I didn't come up with it!"

"Sure, sure."

"So... you guys see Feather lately?" James let the question hang in the air.

"Yeah, yeah we did." Sparks finally answered. "Went a few months ago. Place still looks really good." He said somberly. "Flew out and put in a proper headstone. You'd like it."

"To Feather." Flash toasted. James and Sparks reciprocated the toast and clinked their glasses before downing their contents. "All right, enough catching up for now. I say we properly screw this night up, just like old times." Flash proposed.

"Screw it." James tallied. "Hey, gin drinking dildo owner!" He yelled at Mayfield.

The now much drunker and ever more jubilant Englishman tottered over. "Y'know, that's actually not quite an accurate stereotype. We drink as much rum, whiskey, vodka, and tequila as anything else and only a few of us actually own rubber slapper sticks. Unless you're referring to knobheads, in which case, that has been illegal for centuries now."

"Shut it and make us a stiff drink."

"I am going to slap your dirty mouth." Mayfield replied, though he went on mixing something up for them.

After receiving a rather cringe worthy, though not entirely terrible round of drinks, James left the bar with promises to Flash and Sparks that they would talk more later. For now, he wanted to find Jackson. He wanted to hang out with his best friend while he had the time.

Wandering around, dodging tables and bumping into the occasional party-goer, James finally spotted the big bald man engaged in a curious test of strength. Jackson was at a table, surrounded by stallions and mares alike, facing off against a very large tan coated stallion with a scarf around his neck in what appeared to be an arm wrestling match. Edging closer to the outer area of the crowd, James watched.

Jackson was gripping his opponent's foreleg just below the hoof, his elbow resting on the table. At the moment, both were still over the center of the table, but visibly straining against the other, it was a close match. Then, the stallion's hoof began to fall, Jackson steadily inching it towards the table for the win.

Just centimeters off the surface, the stallion arrested the movement and the two resumed struggling in that position. Then there was a gleam in the stallion's steely eyes and he grinned. In about an instant, the large pony arced Jackson's arm over the table and slammed it down on the opposite side. A cheer went up among the crowd and James saw bits being exchanged between some of the spectators.

Jackson hung his head in defeat, but was smiling and laughing. He clapped his opponent on the shoulder and got up to get himself another drink. That was when he spotted James through the crowd. His face lighting up, Jackson unceremoniously pushed his way through and came to James' side.

"So you finally decided to show up!" He said, pulling James into a rough hug.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I?" James shrugged. "Seems like you and Mayfield got a good thing going on here. I think you even made some of the locals here some money."

Jackson glanced back at the dissipating crowd, "Yeah, I know, right? I've bet on ponies before, kinda strange for them to be betting on me instead.then again, this ain't exactly the same as where we're from, is it?"

"No, I guess not. Quick Fix was back here looking for you."

Jackson's face scrunched up, somewhat embarrassed, "Yup, she found me. She was actin' a little too touchy feely, but I'll chalk that up to the alcohol." He started steering James over to an empty table in the corner. "So what's been happening with you, man, you been holding up all right?"

"Fine." James replied, taking his seat.

"You sure?" Jackson sat down and leaned in, his voice dropping to a low volume, "I'm just asking because of the little mess you made back there." He said, meaning the events that occurred just a few nights ago in the castle. "The way you... that wasn't really you back there, like, I've never seen you like that before. It was just..."

"I said I was fine." James said almost mechanically, "I feel perfectly normal."

Jackson wasn't entirely satisfied with his friends answer, but he decided not to push it. After all, he was there to have fun with his brother, not interrogate. "Ok the. But if need to talk, I'm always here."

"I know." He said, but he wanted to change the topic. "How'd you guys pick this place? Just seems a little... off."

"It came highly recommended by a friend. Besides, the way things are right now, it's either this or the Palace, and partying there would be a bit of a bummer, seeing as it ain't all fixed up yet. Yeah, it's not the best neighborhood and the owner's a little strange, but the place has soul."

"I guess you're right."

"Chief, Chief!" Cray came trotting over, trying to get Jackson's attention.

"Oh, hey!" Jackson waved back and said to James, "That's one of my guys, smart little bastard. Probably wouldn't have been able to do half the shit we did without him." As Cray neared, he turned to greet the unicorn, "Hey Cray, what'd I say about relaxin' tonight, you don't have to call me that. Just Jackson's fine."

"Uh, sorry, but I think we might have a situation." Cray replied, no sign of jest showing on his face.

Jackson's eyes narrowed and he got serious. "Situation? What kind, somebody get hurt?"

"No, but... maybe... look, some strange ponies showed up, acting a little shifty. They got cloaks on and ponies are starting to leave, but like, in a hurry. I tried asking around, but nopony want's to say anything."

Jackson looked up and scanned the crowd discreetly. He saw that his subordinate was right and there were in fact some shady looking characters roaming around the edges of the crowds. "Shit. Ok, I'm gonna have a talk with Blackjack and Marv, you stay here with this guy." He said, gesturing to James.

Cray looked up at the raggedy human, "Who's he?"

"He's a close friend, a brother." Jackson answered. "He knows his stuff and will back you up if shit goes down."

"Ok... hi." Cray waved awkwardly at James.

"Hey yourself."

Jackson got up and headed towards the back area behind the bar, careful to avoid the suspect ponies along the way. As he passed the bar, Mayfield noticed the serious look on his face. Jackson nodded towards the cloaked figures and Mayfield looked over, seeming to almost instantly sober up, but continued what he was doing like nothing changed. In the back room, Jackson could hear a hushed argument taking place between two people. He peeked in and saw Blackjack and Marv.

Upon hearing some one approach, Blackjack shushed the heated conversation and turned around, "Jackson!" He exclaimed. "Hurry up and git in here! Shut the door!"

Jackson stepped in and closed the door softly behind him. "What's goin' on here, is there something I need to know? There's a bunch of creepy motherfuckers out there and i want to know if my people might be in danger." He said sternly.

Marv started, "It's those disgusting—" Blackjack shoved a hoof in his associate's mouth, cutting him short, much to the bar owner's chagrin.

"Ain't no problem." Blackjack supplied instead. "Well, probably."

"Probably?" Jackson said. "These guys are trouble, aren't they?"

"I can tell you they can't play poker with a straight face. You guys are packin' right? Big bad warriors that you are?"

Jackson shook his head angrily, "No! We came out here to have fun, not fight! Aw, dammit." He placed his hands on his hips and faced away from the two ponies, taking a deep breath. After a moment of thought, he turned back around, "ok, we need to get everyone out, what do we know about these guys?"

"Common thugs." Marv chuffed. "Deal in stolen goods and rackets. They want my bar."

There was a knock at the door and the three of them went stiff. Jackson held a finger to his lips and grabbed a wine bottle from a nearby rack, much to Marv's protest, "You put that down! That is a 997 Classique Céleste, I've been saving that for a very special—!"

He stopped when Jackson shot an angry look back at him, but he remained very tiffed. Returning his attention to the door, raising his impromptu weapon over head for a strike. He eased open the door and peeked out.

"Jackson, what the hay is going on, everypony's leaving and there're these weird guys around."

"Jackson put down the bottle and reached out, "Woman, get in here!" He yanked a still very confused Quick Fix into the room.

"Hey, what gives?" She said crossly.

"You might wanna stick back here, sweet cheeks, things might get rough out there." Blackjack told her.

Quick Fix glanced at him, then back to Jackson, "Who the hay is that creep?"

"He's ok, just stay in here." Jackson said. "He'll make sure nothing happens to you."

"Oh hay no!" Blackjack said. "If there's gonna be a brawl, count me in. Marv, you take care here while we deal with the beatniks out there."

"Watch out, Marv, "Jackson warned, "she's a little feisty tonight."

"Not to worry." Marv smiled. "Mares aren't entirely my... thing."

Jackson looked at him for a minute, then shrugged, "Ok, I guess..." he turned to Blackjack, "You ready?"

"Let's do it!"

Calmly, they exited the room and shut the door behind them. Mayfield was still behind the bar, trying to shoo away some of the more intoxicated patrons, but to no avail. James was still in the corner with Cray. Iron and Redflare, sensing the situation, had moved to another side of the bar with Swift Paws.

The bar still wasn't empty, with only about half the customers there having taken the hint. Some of those wearing the shady uniform were now grouping up in front of the bar. One stepped forward towards Mayfield, who was still behind the bar. "Sorry, but we're closing." The rough human said.

"We're not here for drinks, we're here to collect. Where's Marvin?" The apparent ring leader replied threateningly.

"Look, buddy," Jackson intervened, "he's busy. The night's winding down and everybody's going home. You should do the same." He said cautiously.

The ring leader was not amused, "Don't 'buddy' me! He already owes money, now it's time for him to pony up and turn over the keys."

Blackjack stepped up with a cocky grin, "Now fella, we're tryin' to be nice here. Whatever he owes, I'm sure is plenty payable after tonight's take. Other than that, I'm not ready to let one of my old stompin' grounds go over to some two-bit hock herder not worth a bucket of saddle soap that'll let the place go under."

"Who you calling two-bit, huh? If you don't wanna cooperate, my boys are more than willing to teach you all a lesson or two. So why don't you just turn tail and take off?"

"No deal."

"Suit yourself." The leader looked over his shoulder, "Jer, Tyr and Si—" he was rudely interrupted by an errant bottle of liquor that sailed over the bar and smashed full force across his face. He went down hard. All heads turned to the source of the projectile.

A grinning Mayfield stood there, reaching for another bottle, "Any one else fancy a drink?"

"Get 'em!" One of the gang members bellowed.

"I was wonderin' when this was gonna get interestin'!" Blackjack shouted with delight as he spun and bucked an attacker into a table, reducing it to a pile of wooden shards and splinters.

Chaos erupted. In a matter of seconds, every hand, hoof and paw in the house was swinging for a target. Mayfield leaped over the counter and came down on one of the gang members with a devastating right hook from above, slamming his target to the ground. He quickly followed it up with a backhand across the face of another foot soldier who thought he could sneak up on the large human.

While Mayfield dove into the fray, the rest of the team descended on the belligerents from the sides, forcing them towards the center of the room. James stayed at his corner table sipping on a drink and observing from afar. He watched in amusement as the griffon lifted one of the ponies up into the air and dropped him unceremoniously onto a group of his cohorts.

Blackjack laughed as he was slugged in the jaw and returned in kind with a jab and an uppercut. The pony he struck went reeling back and was about to recover for another attempt when Swift Paws tackled him with a growl and slashed at his face with her claws before moving onto the next one.

Jackson held his own, picking up a stool and swinging it around like a baseball bat. He knocked out a few of the gang before it finally fell apart in his hands. Seeing this, three gang members advanced on him, backing him up to the counter. Jackson felt a tap on his shoulder and he side stepped, expecting a new threat.

Instead, he was surprised as an inferno blazed past him, blown forth by flapping wings. The ponies howled and shrank back as they frantically tried to extinguish the flames licking up their cloaks. Jackson risked a glance and saw Redflare hoof bumping Cray behind the bar, who was holding a match and a bottle of seltzer water mixed with a high proof alcohol and modified to spray mist.

In the middle of the room, the gang was packed in tightly by the ferociously provoked warriors, while others limped out of the bar or simply ran away when they could. In the center of the group, the ring leader emerged with a gashed and bloody face. "That's it! Hold it, everypony hold up!" The fighting trickled to a stop, Jackson's team carefully surrounding the group. "I tried to do this the easy way, but if you wanna make it hard, we'll make it hard!" He whistled loudly and a retinue of fresh soldiers rushed through the door, these ones were armed with knives and even a few guns carried by the unicorns.

Jackson put his hands up, "Whoa whoa whoa, no need for guns here. You don't want to do that, none of us are armed."

"Shut your oat hole!" The ring leader yelled maliciously. "I don't know who you guys are, but you had nothing to do with any of this. But no~, you just had to go asking for trouble! You wanted trouble? Here it is!"

"Why are you even doing this, man?" Jackson tried to reason. "This place can't be worth all this crap."

"Really, you want to know why, now? Fine, I'll let you in before we toss your dead flanks off a cliff," he grinned. "This ain't all about the money. What we're doing is way bigger than that. It's about the message. With the Renegades out and the Guard still recovering, we—"

There was a sharp report and the ring leader's head violently snapped back. Blood and bits of bone sprayed those behind him as his body slumped to the floor. Before anybody else could react, nine more gunshots rang out loudly and all the unicorns carrying firearms and two pegasi brandishing knives followed their leader's example.

At the sound of foot steps and the clack of an empty magazine hitting the floor, Jackson turned around with wide eyes and saw James walking slowly forward as he reloaded a M1911 model he'd never seen before. "What the fuck, Kaughn!" He exclaimed in exasperation. "What did you do that for?"

James calmly inserted a fresh mag and hit the slide release. "I don't know what you're getting angry about. They were a threat and now they're not." He lifted his weapon and prepared to fire at the remaining gang members, now huddled against each other in fear. Those that were near the exit quickly scrambled out, lest they too become targets.

As he squeezed the trigger, Jackson lunged forward and pulled his friend's hand down, causing the bullet to lodge itself in the wood floor instead of another body, though he cut open his hand on the pistol's slide as it recoiled. James shot him a venomous glance, but slowly pulled the bloodied weapon away. Jackson looked at his friend in concern, "What are you doing? I could have talked him down, or kept him going until the guards arrived. And you were still going to shoot theses guys? They're defenseless now, it's over!"

James looked back with a blank face, "So? They're thieves and prone to violence. Fuck 'em."

Carefully, Jackson put his uninjured hand on his friend's shoulder, now extremely concerned, "Are you ok, brother? I've never seen you act this way." He said in a kind tone.

"I'm fine."

"Seriously, this is some fucked up sh—"

"I said, I'm fine!" James said angrily as he shrugged Jackson's hand off his shoulder and stepped back. There was a gasp and James looked around and saw all faces focused on him with shock. He looked down and saw he had raised his weapon again, finger on the trigger. Cursing, he engaged the safety and shoved it back into the holster under his jacket, stomping off angrily towards the door.

"Kaughn, wait! James!" Jackson shouted after him, but James was already out the door and into the night.

He started after him, but stopped when ye felt some one grab his arm. "Let him go, mate." Mayfield said. "He needs to cool off. But I can see why you guys called him Ghengis."

"That's not why we called him Ghengis. Sure, I've seen him lose his shit before, but not like this. Something's wrong. Very wrong." He said, gazing at the blood dripping from the gash in his palm.

"Happens to the best of us. We'll track him down later and have a talk." Mayfield clapped Jackson on the shoulder reassuringly a few times. "Now. What should we do with this lot?" He said, hiking a thumb at the group of subdued miscreants.

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