Paradise Hotel 51

Where Gaming Dies

Epoch: Chapter 7

Coyote didn’t speak; unmoved in his protective position in front of the fourteen-year old, he raised his eyebrows; his question was relayed silently, at Con’s alert stance. They still stood in the long corridor. Con was then moving. He boldly began marching, continuing in the direction their notes, Braille and otherwise had indicated. Coyote grabbed Con by the back scruff of his t-shirt, and tugged once, halting him. Con cocked his head in one, extended, exaggerated ‘would you please give me some credit’ pose. Coyote grimaced, nodding…and let him loose. He held his makeshift weapon firmly, however.

Art by Kitano Smith

Con smiled up at him, full bore bravado, and patted Coyote on the shoulder, reassuring him. It was then that Coyote finally cracked a smile, and waved for the teen to go on. Con did so, instantly. He didn’t so much as flinch like he was worried. But that was Con for you. Open to a fault, like a fault, nearly as volcanic; brave without ceasing. Yet, he was also a living storage facility for worlds of chaos, unaired thoughts he kept to himself. Sometimes, he would talk to Coyote about these things. And Coyote would always listen for as long as Con needed to talk.

Coyote had decided very shortly after meeting the Asian half-pint…that he would murder legions for him. And protect him as fiercely. There were few spirits as pure as Con’s. And it had been nearly two decades since Coyote remembered losing the light Con didn’t outright require to fathom; it had been snatched from Coyote by the mighty darkness of need. Desire. Skill. It had started small. Coyote’s mother had told him stories about how he’d lifted bracelets off of her wrists when he’d been in the cradle. He was sure she was making the tale up to stroke his ego. A house full of sisters came after him, all named for flowers of the desert. “But, the oldest,” his mother would spin, “Was to be the denizen of the sands, and the night…who was ruthless and crafty enough to protect and provide for the rest.” That story was true. And Coyote had extended his house, his skill and protection to his Syndicate peers. Dan, he dealt with. The bastard was at least…entertaining. Unpredictable. And, a predator equal to himself. Con…was Con.

The kid was halfway down the hall when he stopped, abruptly. Coyote saw what he knew to be question upon Con’s young face…then…there was only relief. A smile. An exhalation. Coyote was at his side then, but Con didn’t ‘look’ up. He didn’t really need to, considering.

Kev,” he said finally, with a tone meant to extend solace to its intended target. Surprised, contemplative, Coyote waited. It wasn’t long.

A head poked immediately around the corner of what looked like a multiple corridor hub. There seemed to be a circular room behind the head. Coyote was unconcerned with that presently. Kevin’s nearly white-blonde hair was shocking against the black of his shades. He pulled them down with a hand promptly, in what looked like a double take. He was then coming fully into view, wearing what was now the standard attire of the Smiths; gray academy-like sweats and t-shirt. With that emblem…the one that looked like a circular snake with…Caesar’s crown around them? It was interesting enough to be livable. Coyote had less interesting tattoos he probably should have bled to death acquiring.

Kevin knelt down to face Con, glasses now back in place. Con wasted no time in throwing a firm hug around the slim Brit’s shoulders. Kevin shook his head incredulously. He didn’t hug back, but Coyote supposed he was still in shock from the lack of hostiles. Con pulled back, and smiled, satisfied.

“Told you,” he said, facing Coyote. Coyote looked at Kevin critically; he wasn’t surprised at the cuts upon his hands, or the glass shards he was lightly clutching, which Con now frowned at; he seemed more sad than overly concerned. Kevin raised his eyebrows at him; put his uninjured hand upon Con’s head to tell him he was fine. Con nodded, Kevin’s palm still resting on his crown. Kev stood then, stretching his neck; a resounding pop spoke volumes of Kevin’s stress relief at their presence.

Well?,” Coyote finally hazarded. Kevin stared up at the ceiling, planted his ‘good’ hand on a hip. There was only silence. Then he leveled his gaze at the thief.

“’Well’ what?,” he asked, accent recoiling in his throat.

“Well,” Coyote went on. “How did the lookout go?” Coyote smiled, though he knew this was the worst place for humor in the world. But Kevin was a blast to ruffle…and Coyote was relieved to see him in one, relatively unmarred piece. To Kevin’s credit, he didn’t explode, outright.

“’Well’, I got bloody shot in the face, man,” Kevin related, seeming completely indignant about the whole affair. “How d’you think it went?”

Actually,” Con volunteered. “It went a lot like that for me, only…,” Con hesitated for a moment, but forced himself into speech. “I got bloody shot in the back.”

Kevin and Coyote both exchanged looks of discomfort.

“That coward shot me in the back,” Con finished the thought, with an innocent surprise that betrayed everything he’d accomplished as a ‘Smith’. Coyote frowned at the conundrum.

“’Hey’,” Con went on. “’Let’s shoot the blind kid in the back. He won’t know the difference. He doesn’t have any concept of honor. He’s just a kid, what the fuck does he know?’ Right?” Con’s attitude was offset by the genuine resentment in his tone…and Coyote realized why Con had been so disturbed earlier.

Art by Kitano Smith

It hadn’t just been the experience; Con had been through a lot. A lot. It was the dismissal in the way the act had been carried out. It was so like the kid to be more upset that his assailant had been disinterested in an actual fight; it was utterly like Con to be more upset about that than the fact his assailant had shot him, killed him at all. Honor was honor. And Con always knew the truth when he heard it; when he was anywhere near it. Getting shot in the back bore no mark of honor whatsoever. Only…holes. Gouges. And in most cases, scars…but none of them seemed to have any. It added to the ethereal quality of the current events. At this rate, the year 2000 would be a powder keg. Fuck 1999. Coyote had never banked on getting to the ‘thousands’, anyway.

“How’d you fare, Coyot’?,” Kevin asked quietly, hope in his voice. Coyote couldn’t bring himself to respond. Kevin nodded, dejected. It was a great responsibility, a great brand of trust to be chosen as the ‘look-out’. The boss relied upon you to protect the flock. To warn. To shield the most sacred. It was a position Kevin had been more than worthy of. But everyone has their moment of usurping.

“Did you see who shot you Kev?,” Coyote asked, squeezing Con’s shoulder as the teen fumed, silently.

“For a second. Then…it was awfully hard to pay attention.” Kevin was just as angry. Coyote knew he would be kicking himself for a living for the foreseeable future. And Harman…he would have his say. If…

“It was some bloody kid,” Kevin railed. “An’ he knew. He knew who I was. There was no warning, no tell at all.

Kev,” Con began.

“I should have known,” Kevin continued, with simmering rage at himself. Con ‘looked’ down, towards Kevin’s hand, and Coyote saw blood spurt a bit through Kev’s vise-tight fingers. They were squeezed in intense anger.

“Hey,” Coyote tried to offer. “50/50 hindsight, right?” He honestly wasn’t angry. A hit is a hit; Kevin’s cover as concierge had been solid. It had been a set up by a briefed party; it hadn’t been Kevin’s fault. And they’d all had their chances; he hadn’t fared any better, with cover. Kevin had had to take it like a man. Unlike most in his position…now, he had to live with it.

Kevin was inconsolable, and remained silent. But he did nod his appreciation at the sentiment.

“What of Dan? Kaede?,” he asked sullenly.

“We haven’t run into anyone beside you.”

“Ah. Lovely bo.” Kevin motioned to the lamp pole Coyote was brandishing as a weapon.

“Gracias,” Coyote grinned. “You look like you found your way around your room in the weapons department.”

“I suppose,” Kevin sighed with some disdain. Coyote doubted the glass shards were weighted for accuracy. But Kevin could work wonders with even the dullest of projectiles. And this was even apart from his personal life. Kev looked Con over.

“Nice sneakers, lad,” he said. Con actually brightened easily. Coyote was relieved about that much; he hated to see him vexed about anything. And this thing…wouldn’t just dissipate in the long run.

“Thanks, Kev. Hey…you didn’t ask about-“

Con stopped abruptly as a form that dwarfed him ten times over rounded the same corner Kevin had first peered around. It wasn’t an outright shock that ‘Mask’ didn’t have his features concealed by his normal guise; his actual Lucha mask. But he was a glorious sight to behold, even in the un-Lucha-like clothes he had on; his attire matched the rest of theirs. Somehow, the strong frame of the Mexican’s physique made the clothing work; gym attire even seemed strangely, suddenly powerful. The slightly older Smith grinned, his dark features a privilege at any glance. Kevin tossed his head to hold the mostly-retired wrestler’s gaze.

“Anything yielded from your sweep, Ricky?,” Kev asked.

“Only present company, Kev. And that company I couldn’t be any prouder to stand among, amigo. We see eye to eye on this matter, yes?”

Mostly,” Con interrupted. Ric winked at him.

“[Nice sneakers, muchacho].”

“Gracias. [They were a freebie].” Mask smiled, nodding. Then, he looked to Coyote.

“I hope you had better luck than I, my friends. Because I may never take another shower in my life. This is a crucial sacrifice for a wrestler, I hope you understand.”

“I can imagine,” Coyote joked with his longtime friend and Syndicate-member. “[But I can’t say you were the only casualty. We all went down hard, Ric. It was a goddamn bloodbath. Kevin won’t tell you himself, but-]”

“-I can recognize my own name, Coyot’. Truly,” Kev cut in. Coyote smirked at him, still eyeing his surroundings. “[-it’ll be tough for him to deal with. He went first.]”

“[I see.]”

“I know uno, Coyot’. If I had anything reasonably sharp to wield right now, I’d favor slitting my pulse points over half understanding your fits of Spanish.” Kevin tried to hide the fact that he was bothered…but it wasn’t working. For all of his silence…Kevin’s face was like a damned window. You could see right through him. Even Con could ‘see’ right through him. But then…Con read people a bit differently. It was more like a full blown diagnostic than an observation. It was good information to have at an arm’s length. It was never something Con used as violation, or intrusion. It was just how he worked.

“It’s alright, Kev,” Con offered. “At least…you saw it coming.”

None said anything imminently after that. Con shrugged. “I didn’t mean it that way. Christ. I just…I would have preferred to engage the fucker. But…I know how it is. A job’s a job. Being bitter about it just…,” Con heaved an enormous sigh for his size. “Makes me a bitch.”

“You are not a ‘bitch’, muchacho,” Mask said calmly. “I did not have the ritual pleasure of seeing the eyes of my opponent, either. It is not necessary, but it is customary to see a challenger’s eyes before…and especially during a match. Unfortunately, that is wrestling. This…is blood sport. There are differences.”

“I beg to differ,” Kevin argued, folding his arms. “Y’got too much honor, Ricky. How did y’manage to keep it all?”

“You have your own to account for, Kev. Don’t be coy.”

Ain’t being ‘coy’,” Kevin said, without any degree of disrespect. Kevin had been second Syndicate member, after Mask de Smith. There had been a new edition every consecutive year, from ’88, out. Some years had been more fruitful than others. Con…had been the last edition; it was doubtful the additions would have stopped. Death does put a damper on things. Dan would have a tyrannical opinion about the subject, Coyote was certain.

“What,” Kevin began. “Does honor have to do with this?”

A voice foreign to the conversation, until just now rang up, like a church bell, ninety times removed, possibly clanged with malicious intent.

“You’d be surprised what honor does to a party,” the voice said.

None present were alarmed as to who the voice, the swagger, belonged to.

But then…surprises were cheap, these days.