Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R
Pairing: Jack Manfred/James Bond, Jack Manfred/Bella.
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: Neither of these worlds are my original creations.
Notes: Crossover between Croupier and Casino Royale, post both films.
Summary: Jack’s learned his lesson and told his tale. But he still has his nights out.


Jack had changed casinos. He’d grown accustomed to the Golden Lion, that was why. But he didn’t make the mistake of fancying it up—no, he let his money ride in its Swiss bank account, safe as houses. He just told Giles he had to move up north, family issues, and Giles put him in contact with either a cousin or somebody that owed money who ran a place there. The gamblers might be all out for only themselves, but the industry wrapped its people in thick cotton, cradle to grave.

Bella didn’t mind much. All her family was in London and she was happy for the move since it got her away from them. She’d gotten blackballed from casinos but she was still all right for betting counters, taking money from people who liked losing with the smell of horse manure around them. And maybe she agreed with Jake’s sense of humor, but she still got up in the middle of the night to wash off her thighs and sock her savings away in the tin box behind the extra blankets. Neither Jake nor Jack minded that; on the contrary, it kept her respectable.

The new place was about the same level as the last one, a little bit of peeling gilt the only frills, but the owner here had some connections higher up. That was, he owed a few people and they tended not to be the type who’d collect in money. At first Jack wasn’t sure if pulling an extra shift running private games in posh settings would be safe, but he soon realized that the extra trappings were just that: trappings. It didn’t take him any longer to tune out there than it did in the casino.

“Stepping up in the world?” Bella asked as he was leaving to go to one. A cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth and she had two runs in her left stocking. She could’ve bought new ones, no problem; she in fact always made sure to wear new ones to work, but at home she didn’t care.

Of course Jack didn’t, either. “Just to get the paper.”

“Some dog peed there this morning,” she said. And turned to take the kettle off the stove for her tea.

Jack went out the door and up the steps, straightening his bowtie as he went. A light rain was falling, so he took his umbrella out from beneath his arm and put it up, not wanting to soil his uniform. He took pride in coming home in the same state he’d left it.

* * *

The motives might be a bit more inflated at this level, but the punters were still the same. Desperate gleam in their eyes, sweating beneath tight silk and linen and perfumed powders and, fingers trembling with the sheer closeness of the cards, the fortunes they saw written in the numbers. But it was always the croupier who dealt, the croupier who collected. The croupier who nestled the deck in his hands.

Jack noticed him right away. He went to the bar—well, a lot of gamblers did that, though he looked too relaxed for it to be out of a need to stiffen himself up against the night. Then he sat there and flirted with the passing women, all of whom didn’t particularly mind; he wasn’t a prettyboy, but he had that kind of pull. So Jack pegged him for one of the watchers, those immune to the lure of chance but who couldn’t pull themselves away from the stench of fearful hope that surrounded bettors.

Didn’t really surprise Jake when the man lit up a cigarette and draped himself over his barstool so he could take in the whole room at a glance.

There were twenty minutes left in Jack’s shift and he had a nervous one to his far left, so he returned his attention to the game. Deal, count, deal. He whiled away the time listening to nothing at all, and when the tap on the shoulder came, he had nodded and gone two steps away before he really realized it had come at all.

The air in the place was dry, so he went up to get himself a glass of water from the bar. Then he meant to go into the back and have his smoke, his piss, and stretch out his legs a bit, but there was a second tap on his arm. This was unexpected. Once the dealer stepped away from the table, they became a nobody, a nothing, a ghost in a suit or cocktail dress. Like everyone else, it was the cards that made them.

It was the man from earlier, the cool blond one. Now with cool blue eyes added to the description, Jack noted. He didn’t have his cigarette anymore.

“Pardon,” he said. Rich-boy’s accent, university and all that. But there was something wrong with it, though Jack hadn’t been in England quite long enough to have a bone-deep understanding of exactly what. Jake suggested it was the particular kind of rich-boy under discussion. This one didn’t sound soft. “That man over there, the one with the gold cravat. Is he with the stunning redhead in the ivory dress?”

“I don’t know.” Jack revised his earlier assessment. This one wasn’t a watcher—he was a looker. Ten times worse, and trouble all around. “Excuse me.”

He went to push by, but the man caught his elbow: the crisp feeling of a folded bill cut through the heavy cloth of his jacket. The woman behind the bar and Jack exchanged weary looks, and then Jack half-turned back so as not to cause a scene.

“Sorry.” The man made an attempt at a charming smile. All its parts were right, but the whole was strangely unconvincing. “Can you tell me if the men’s toilet is over there?”

He jerked his chin at a door on the other side of the room that’d been painted the same color as the wall. “That isn’t it. Sir, I’m on duty,” Jack said.

The man finally let go of his arm, taking the money with him, and as Jack turned to go, the man turned towards the gold cravat. The line of his suit didn’t sit perfectly against him and he had a fine white scar behind one ear, and another following his jawline so only perfectly angled light would detect it.

* * *

By the time Jack’s cigarette had burned down to the filter, he’d ruled out the usual possibilities. No bodyguard would speak with an upper-crust accent that good. No gangster would be that quiet. A hitman might be, but it would make more sense for them to carry a gun and not a…well, Jack wasn’t quite sure what that outline had been, though Jake wanted to say it was a knife.

Something was going to happen tonight, and there were enough dumb fish swelling this pool so that somebody would call the police. Odds were that Jack would be late getting home, and it was a long drive.

Besides, Jake added, it wasn’t his life on the line.

* * *

When Jack came back out, the looker had moved to play at the same roulette table as his target. He glanced up once, expressionlessly and without recognition, when Jack exchanged places with the dealer. Coincidence? Jack could almost hear the chips falling into place. But that wasn’t the point, so he ignored it.

Some peroxide blonde with a bad face-lift and on a losing streak shivered and complained about the temperature. One of the security people was passing by, so Jack stopped them and inquired if the heating could be adjusted, nodding towards the door the looker had pointed out earlier. The looker was in the middle of placing a sizable bet on thirteen black, his target was scathingly telling off the redhead in the ivory silk, and the security man said no. Content, Jack finished out the shift.

It was his last one. He walked calmly back and splashed his face with a little water. Undid his bow-tie and took out the shiny cuff-links the place had insisted on. He hadn’t brought anything else with him. He had taken the bus here and then walked up to the front door with plastic bags tied over his dress shoes.

Jack took the bags with them and stopped on the porch to tie them on again. Then he pretended to have forgotten his lighter and went back in; nobody noticed him, but he glimpsed the redhead sitting disconsolately at the bar. The heating room was crowded with boilers and wouldn’t be the best place; if he’d been trying to pick somewhere, he would have gone for the liquor-room.

He walked in just as the gold cravat, now blood-soaked, slapped limply to the ground. The looker jerked his head up, but kept his hands put and stayed crouched down where he was. His eyes weren’t so calm now; staring into them was like staring down a whirlwind.

Unaccountably, Jack thought about the dust in South Africa, how it stuck to one and sucked out the moisture instead of soaking one like in England.

“If you stick him behind the barrel on the left,” Jack said, “They won’t find him till tomorrow morning. It’s empty and they don’t take another inventory till then.”

After a long look, the man shrugged and got up. He nudged the barrel out with his foot—his eyebrow went up at its lightness—and then he did something with his hands near his pockets. A schnick sound accompanied a flash of silver. “Thanks. He didn’t tip you well, I take it?”

Jack leaned against the doorway and lit up, keeping one eye on the looker, who returned the favor as he hid the body. “We aren’t allowed to accept gratuities in England.” He saw another croupier wandering back with a girl in tow and waved the man off into the next hall. “He had his girlfriend placing late bets while they argued.”

“Oh, I did see that.” After shoving the barrel back, the looker came out. He cocked his head, listening to the other croupier moving away, as he wiped the blood off his hands with his balled-up coat. “Why didn’t you call him on it?”

“We’re under orders to accommodate him,” Jack said. He shrugged. “But I hate cheats.”

The looker laughed, under his breath and almost noiselessly. “How did you know to come back here?”

“I used to be a writer.” Jake thought the looker’s eyes flickered when he reached up to pull at the stiff starched wings of his collar, rubbing where the bowtie had forced them into his flesh. “I’ve got a long trip home and I wanted to make sure the police didn’t hold me up. My shift’s over and I left before this happened.”

The looker laughed again. This time he clearly moved his gaze over Jack. “So did I. Bond—James Bond. Want a lift?”

“No,” Jack said.

“All right,” James easily replied, still looking at Jack. He stuffed his coat under his arm. He had something clipped to the back of his belt, but it was sheathed in leather so Jack still couldn’t make out what it was. James caught him looking, and laughed again, low in his throat. “All right.”

* * *

Jake thought it might be dangerous, but liked it, liked wondering where those hands move next after pressing against his chest, his sides, his thighs. But Jack knew he wasn’t going to be killed. It wasn’t this one’s style. The redhead at the bar, still pouring her heart out to the bartender while her man got stuffed in a backroom.

James, or whoever he was, was a looker. The second time Jack had got it right.

He looked while they were shoving each other’s hands into their trousers. He kissed with his eyes open, short and curt, more of a formality than anything else. Once he realized Jack wasn’t expecting it, his mouth didn’t touch Jack again. His hands did the work, their fingers blunt and rough: no magician’s hands here, but they pulled the heat up between them to beat back the chilly night air, they stroked lust into Jack’s flesh well enough. He watched Jack gasp and moan, and then he turned Jack around to slam him up against the wall, but Jack knew he was still being watched.

It ruined Jack’s suit, wrecked it so he was glad he’d brought an overcoat with him. He felt the brick scratch him up, and then the grit making its way into his mouth began to taste like blood, too. He remembered Marion hadn’t had a scratch on her, what they’d shown him of her, pure even to the last, and didn’t feel any of it.

“You’re not going to see me again,” James snapped somewhere near the end, voice thick and angry. He was looking, but he wasn’t seeing Jack.

Jake shrugged and figured everyone was one kind of punter or the other. Only thing that mattered for them was the gamble, whether it was cards and clay discs or something else.

“I didn’t see you in the first place. You’re a figment of my imagination,” Jake told the other man.

For a moment, in the dark, the shadowy planes of James’ face closed sharply. But then he wiped his hand on his trousers and shook his head. “That must be nice. Easier…are you sure you don’t need a lift? It’s cold out.”

“I don’t mind.” And Jack really didn’t.

* * *

“You sodding prick,” Bella drowsily murmured, already pushing her fists against Jack’s shoulders. Her knees parted and she hit his chest hard as he glided into place, knowing her so well he didn’t even need the light. “I can smell the sex on you. Didn’t even have the--fuck--courtesy to shower…”

“No.” Jack bent down and fit his head against her neck, rolling his shoulders as her fist started to uncurl over them.

She snorted, the sound more heartfelt than James’ look over his shoulder as they’d gone their separate ways. “The fuck did you come back for?”

“To screw you,” Jack said. He rubbed his face against her cheek, feeling her start to smile. He was grinning himself when their mouths met, her arm coming up to sling over his neck. She said something back to him, but he didn’t hear what it was. He was already gone.

He’d lost a suit, after all of it. But hold tightly, let go lightly. He was all right with that.