|Shooting the Moon
Author: Guede Mazaka
It’s all Danny’s idea.
“This was your idea, isn’t it?” Benedict demands.
Rusty picks up his glass of half-melted ice with the trace of bourbon and presses it to the side of his head. The bottom of it nudges at his earpiece, then pushes it completely out; he shifts his weight to his elbow and zips his free hand across the counter to catch the piece before it hits the counter. Then he pops it back in and puts his head down on the counter. It’s chillier against his chin than the glass was. He puts the glass down and tilts his head so it’s lying sideways on the counter.
While he’d been soundfeedless, on the little low-res monitor Danny had turned on a heel, one pocketed hand expertly pushing up that side of his suit-jacket so the suit’s excellent tailoring is that much more apparent. It’s the small details like that, the ones most people notice only on the most unconscious level, that really sell an impression on somebody. Anxiety, arrogance, harmlessness…whatever’s supposed to come across. Confidence right now, Danny’s eyes twinkling as his lips move—slow, gracing his words with the airtime, loving each of them for that fraction of a second like his hands love the cards dealt to him, seducing them into turning up trumps.
Benedict watches it all with the eye of an undoubted connoisseur: he reads the casual wrinkles of Danny’s clothes like they’re lines from the Book of Revelations and him a latter-day prophet. The little quirk of the right corner of his mouth says he appreciated the delicacy of Danny’s speech, right before his mind razors it apart like that kid with the gold-egg-laying goose. Maybe more so—Benedict wouldn’t have despaired himself into a cautionary fairytale, but probably would’ve just rung up some roulette-addicted geneticist to fix it for him. He takes it all in with genuine understanding, Rusty will give him that much, and then his voice crackles over the earpiece again, just as Rusty presses that back into place.
“You know, Ocean, your problem is that you think everything’s a favor,” Benedict says. His voice drops a little, goes to that warning raspy note. He smoothes down the front of his suit before waving at the vault walls. “It’s nice if it comes off, but nothing happens if it doesn’t. Which is not true. Actions have consequences.”
Danny tips his head this way and that, pretending to give Benedict’s words the time of day. It’s a common rookie mistake, being too eager, jumping in before you need to and then overcommitting yourself, flashing your hole cards too soon, and Danny doesn’t make it. He stays cool, his weight hung back on his trailing heel, and lets Benedict rant on and put himself out there instead.
Though Benedict isn’t a rookie—he’s an ice machine, capable of spitting out identical little chips over and over again and yet every single time they’re goddamn cold. So cold it makes you wince, and you should’ve known better but the familiarity of the shape is what got to you, what made you look past it. Benedict even when utterly, completely consumed by fury is incapable of doing anything but what he was made to do, and that’s be the biggest hardass on the Strip. He has to stand there and coolly try to put the fear into Danny, to spit out his stream of frozen venom even in the face of Danny’s slight little smile, when Danny jabs a thumb into that big flashing button connected directly to his pride.
Rusty should know. After all, he had a front-row seat to the biggest jab likely anyone’s taken at Benedict and his nails were digging into his palms every moment of it till they were thirty thousand feet above the desert, safe and going away. So he recognizes the signs: the slight color in the hollows of Benedict’s cheeks, the way two of his fingers on his right hand and three on his left curl. The fraction of an inch his collar climbs his throat before its muscles have swollen too much with the tension of remaining civil. The tiny, tiny clack of that damn golf club hitting the floor. And honestly, Benedict is scary. Nobody in their right mind, no conman with any claim to a sense of the odds, would think otherwise. That’d be like saying Mount Everest isn’t a big mountain.
“Because I’m not scared of you,” Danny says. Then he holds up a hand, as if he and Benedict are discussing this like friends, over espressos and biscotti in the Venetian. “Ah, see, there’s a difference between a healthy respect and fear. I respect you—I do, even if you don’t believe me. I respect your reputation and the way you’ve gotten that reputation, the way you run your hotel and casino…the way you run your business in general, actually…”
Benedict blinks once, like a snake, his eyelids never fully going down or up. He gets the compliment for the same reason he’s still in town and rolling over the dough, whereas Willie Bank was last heard of as being checked into some fancy-shmancy sanatorium up in the Northwest. “You always steal from people you respect, Ocean? That’s not how I would have defined the word.”
“Well, I don’t think you gave me a chance to explain myself.” Danny swings himself forward rather than steps, leading with his hips and trailing the shoulders like a tango dancer. He’s got his hands hooked back into his pockets and he’s closed his lips over his smile so the light in the vault glitters only in his eyes.
“I don’t think I need you to. Even if I were inclined to give you an opportunity to make your pathetic excuses,” Benedict snorts. He draws himself up, not intending to be physically overshadowed. His feet don’t yield even when Danny’s posed less than the width of a deck of cards away, head tilted down and slightly to the left with that charming, condescending smile beaming down from it. “Though I admit to a little curiosity as to what’s so important that you could possibly delude yourself into thinking you can hold me hostage.”
Rusty rolls his eyes, because Benedict doesn’t quite understand the meaning of Danny’s encroachment of personal space. There’s a good bit of intimidation involved, but it’s still just a probe. A little bit of a poke to see if any tells get flushed out into the open. And with that Danny isn’t only checking for intimidation, and Rusty reaches out without looking to pour himself some more bourbon.
By now all his ice has melted and the whiskey sluices over his tongue with deceptive tepidity before the burn suddenly, unpleasantly kicks in, making him breathe through his mouth so his eyes don’t water so much he can’t watch. Because stupid as this is, risky as this is, unprofitable in any way, shape or form that this is, this has never meant that Danny is not worth watching.
Benedict knows this too, for all that he thinks that just means his instincts are working overtime to pick up the first slip, the first clue to the real catch of the con. His eyes are going over Danny like a railbird trying to pick out the flop before it’s been turned, running from Danny’s face down the slope of his shoulders to the wrinkles of his suit-jacket over his hands. Maybe even to Danny’s feet, just to check that his shoe-polish hasn’t made his toes into trick mirrors; Rusty can’t quite angle the cameras that far before Benedict raises his head, but he can extrapolate. Of course, that stunt is a little grade-school for them, but Benedict probably believes that most people still function on that childish, thoughtless, impulsive level.
And Rusty does have to agree with him, given how even now Benedict’s squaring his shoulders, lifting his chin so Danny’s honeyed speech breaks on its pointed stone—and curls right around into his ears. Anyone who really has any sense knows that the moment you start listening is when the hook’s got you, but Benedict can’t resist the challenge any more than Danny can. Rusty’s head starts to ache again and he lifts his glass only to remember the ice is all gone, so instead he dips a couple of fingers into it, then wipes them off on his forehead and around his temples.
“I’m just curious what you tell Tess when you go off these little jaunts,” Benedict murmurs. He’s shifted a little closer, going for his own display, and now the camera on his face is mostly blocked by Danny’s head. All it gets is part of Benedict’s right eye, dark and heavy-lidded with that sliver of a gleam beneath like dice in a cupped hand.
Danny flinches. Rusty sees his shoulders stiffen as Benedict smiles, but something Benedict doesn’t see, and that Rusty knows without needing the feed of Danny’s face, is that that sort of thing doesn’t matter. Benedict can bring up all the past bad blood he wants, dig up every fuck-up Danny’s ever made and toss it in his face, and he’ll get plenty of flinches. Danny’s human. He feels guilty—more importantly, he feels hacked off that he can lose. But all that still doesn’t equal a tell for him, and Rusty should know. “Tess isn’t in the picture anymore.”
Benedict pretends to be surprised. That alone is a giveaway, since they all know he compulsively checks on that kind of thing. He probably knows the exact time down to the millisecond when Tess’ heel hit the front step for the last time. “Oh. I wish I could offer my sympathies, but I’m curiously lacking in any.”
“It was mutual,” Danny gamely says. But he’s too stiff, his collar looks like it needs a good pull.
“Mutual.” Eyebrows lift. “Well. I’m impressed. I had the idea, I don’t know why, that you were pathologically incapable of leaving anything without taking something from it. Or them, as the case may be.”
Rusty dabs more bourbon along his hairline. His hips start to get that ache that means cramp and he pushes himself back in the chair. His shirt briefly stretches, going tight against his back to soak up some sweat before enough pulls out of his waistband for it to slacken. Loosen up, he mouths at the screen.
Not that Danny needs the cue; he never touches racing of any kind, except for the one time as a favor Saul didn’t know he needed, because his sense of timing is too good. He got bored, clocking all those horses and dogs in his head. Too much of a sure thing.
“Tess left the first time with a good bit more than I got, and believe me, this time wasn’t much different. Aside from the prison sentence,” Danny shrugs.
“Well, I can’t quite understand your need to reassure me about her, seeing as I haven’t received a thing from her including a proper notice of termination of employment, but I think I can help you with the second part.” Benedict takes a superfluous look around the vault. By now he already has every inch of it plus the whole system into which it’s wired memorized, and Rusty guesses he’s already thought of a couple new revisions to put in before it’s moved out of the testing facility and into the Bellagio. “Is that what you came here about? You could have just called—I would have picked up the transportation charges.”
Danny’s smile twists. He slides seamlessly closer, close enough to have to turn his head slightly so their noses don’t bump. “That’s very generous of you.”
“I’ve quite a reputation for it nowadays,” Benedict says, quiet and sharp. His chin goes back a little farther. The one eye that Rusty can see is dilated so much that Rusty doesn’t need some million-dollar supercomputer to analyze its causes. “Ocean. Get me out of this vault and I promise I’ll just send you to jail for life instead of burying you in the desert.”
“And that’s not very generous.”
Rusty doesn’t need to, but he looks at Danny’s hands anyway. They’re still pocketed, thumbs out and fingers pressing so hard against the fabric that Rusty can make out each knuckle.
“I don’t see any disabled children here. Unless you’d care to count an inability to quit while ahead as a serious disability.” Benedict’s gripping his golf club so tightly that Rusty can see the rubber grip turning a little under the pressure. His free hand is flexing by his hip. For all his menace, and his capacity for backing it up, he does hate to get his own hands dirty.
The bourbon’s downright warm now when Rusty dips his fingers into it, though it still vaporizes away to leave a cool, sticky residue on his skin. His clothes are bunching up awkwardly at the joints, the fabric just damp enough with sweat to keep them from sliding as easily as they should, given the expense of the tailoring. He shifts his knees around, bumping them against the top of the counter. His hand smells like the bourbon and the cheese curls he was eating earlier, all sharp and salty, when he rubs it over his mouth. He thinks Danny’s leaving it just a little long here.
“Well, lucky for me, I was never counting on your generosity. I just needed a moment of your time,” Danny says.
Benedict’s eyebrow rises like the heat off the tar at midday. He’s getting itchy, not liking the stalemate any better than any gambler does, always looking for the action to kick in. Maybe he tells himself he’s looking to keep ahead and have the odds on his side, safeguard his interests, but when it comes down to it his pulse jumps like anyone else when the big chips go down and the wheel gets spun. Maybe he hides it a little better, but still. “I’m sorry, did I miss a proposal somewhere? Or have you simply lost any semblance of sanity?”
“You,” Danny grins, head shaking, angling in, “Are getting a little ahead of things. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you did that?”
“You can’t call any last-minute trick plays—you and Rusty are the only ones in town. And I should know, because—”
The camera fills up with the back of Danny’s head as he slinks that last inch forward, with all that’s left of Benedict being a little bit of black hair crumpling up at the side, from between Danny’s fingers. Rusty crooks his hand and taps a key, zooming out just in time to see that golf club skitter crazily over the floor. Taps another key and the screen splits, golf club shaft suddenly swinging at Danny’s calf while Benedict peels his face off Danny, all mussed hair and cold stare.
Danny puts out his left hand and stops the shaft an inch from his leg. His other hand’s still in Benedict’s hair and Rusty is faintly amused to find that all that product covers up some very boyish waves. “That’s the proposal,” Danny says.
Benedict stares at him. “You have lost your mind. And surprisingly enough, I’m shocked, but not so much that I can’t remember my lawyer’s phone number.”
Danny somehow rolls his eyes while bending forward, and even makes it look like the natural way to kiss somebody. This time he’s got a little more work to do, seeing as Benedict is twisting and swearing a good deal more vulgarly than somebody wearing a cravat really should, but Danny manages it without breaking a sweat. There’s a little more to dealing cards than a simple flip of the wrist; you need a lot of strength to hold the weight of, say, a mortgage, a second chance at life and love, a million-dollar bankroll in the two little cubes nestling down in the hollow of your palm. In that stack of clay chips you’re toppling into the pot, in the word you’re swearing by to a guy you’ve only known about five minutes. And Danny’s got that in his hands, holding Benedict steady by just the fingers in the hair and the fingers blocking the arc of the golf club. Long fingers, neat short nails that won’t pick up the fuzz of the green felt, pressed hard into the rapidly wrinkling, sweating, disheveling Terry Benedict.
Rusty sucks at his fingers without thinking, catches some hangnail he didn’t even realize he had on a tooth. He grimaces and the monitor fuzzes, and he reaches over thinking momentarily that it’s like an old TV set except it’s not. When he plants his hand against the top and tries to shake it, he just ends up jarring himself and in doing so, he ruptures that thin skin of surface tension that had been holding his sweat (nerves) to a bare minimum. Suddenly his clothes are soaking it all up and he wishes he’d remembered to bring over the remote for the A/C. He pulls at his tie till it unravels on him, flopping limply down his front. A shirt-tail he hadn’t felt tugging out falls down behind it.
In the vault Benedict’s pulling away again. He blinks now, quick and arrhythmic, the lashes not even going down all the way. He’s a little confused. That’s what snake-charming really is about; the music is just for the tourists and the real key is the shifting sideways movement, too like the snake’s own. Prey doesn’t ever move like that, and snakes don’t use mirrors. Not the right way, anyway.
“Is this about Tess?”
The eye-roll again, though Danny softens at the same time by letting his right hand feather itself down the side of Benedict’s neck. So lightly it could have been a breeze, and then at the end he pushes at the collar so it feels like he’s adjusting it, just a friendly helping hand that maybe accidentally slips too close. It’s impossible to see what he’s actually doing when he’s doing it to you. “This is not about Tess. Tess is out of the picture. So if you’re going to get upset about this, keep her out of it.”
Benedict thinks he gets it, hence the narrowing of the eyes. He’s so busy getting it that he doesn’t see but Rusty sees Danny slip a thumb between cravat and skin, just stroking along the pulse to leave a heat-trail. “So it is about her. I haven’t seen her, Danny. Whatever safer harbor she’s chosen this time, you can’t find it through me because—”
Danny takes his time with this kiss. He catches Benedict with mouth open and plays around with the opportunities, testing depth and pliability. Three-one for a bite, Rusty recollects from the planning session, and promptly ruins his own odds-making by sinking his left canines into the fleshy part of the hand beneath his thumb. He plucks at his shirt some more to waft some cooler air beneath it; Italian silk-cotton and mother-of-pearl buttons slide through his fingers.
“I am upset about this,” Benedict gasps, the next time he thinks he drags himself free. He doesn’t notice he’d dropped his golf club because Danny’s insinuated his hand so Benedict only notices that he’s forcing that away from him. “What the hell are you playing at? If you thought I’d lose interest in you because Tess is no longer an issue, then—”
Benedict gets out some crack about their respective heights, which makes Danny smile not at the measurements but at the victimized tone of it. His tongue twines pink behind those rows of white teeth, then slips sideways away before it can get caught. “Oh, good. I was wondering about that. Good to know this isn’t about her.”
Rusty grinds the heel of his hand against his own teeth, trying not to roll his own eyes. Danny’s getting too involved too soon—of course, his tongue is back in Benedict’s mouth—and he’s going to blow it pushing that point too much. He needs to ease off, get them the hell out of the past before Benedict starts thinking.
Speaking of which, Benedict gets an extra inch and comes up for air. “I did not need this—farce to convince me that you’re a—”
Danny puts his tongue back between Benedict’s teeth and Benedict doesn’t bite down. Instead that seems a much more effective way of perpetuating Benedict’s confusion than arguing with him, which is predictable yet a little surprising, given how deep Benedict’s ice-king persona seems to go. But then, everyone’s human. The real trick is knowing in which places you’re that, and it looks like Danny’s figured Benedict pretty well. Well enough to have him leaning his weight back on the heels of his feet even if his hand’s pressed up against Danny’s chest, and well, maybe if Rusty watches long enough he’ll start seeing that twitch further between them.
Maybe he’ll see what’s under all that spic-span conservative London tailoring. Get to watch Danny peel Benedict out of it, to look for those little gasps and shivers and flinches and see if he’s got it right in his head, if Benedict really never has had anybody strip him all the way. Because Rusty can see that fine in his head, the dark room and the woman laid out on the bed, all the accent lighting on her perfect curves and Benedict’s shadow just dipping over it for a few seconds, having a closer moment with one of his acquisitions. But he can’t see in his head—he’s got to watch on the screen—this vault with the unforgiving white light, Danny’s tanned fingers carefully shoving their way past styled hair and sleek pristine clothes, Benedict’s eyelashes fluttering and fluttering on the cameras with the Pentagon-quality resolution.
And damn it, he wants to know. He wants to know what the cravat and the exquisite suit look like crumpled on the floor over the chipped golf driver, tangled up in the lightweight gray linen Danny’s wearing. He wants to know if Benedict’s oliveness disappears below the collar and cuffs like Danny’s does at this time of the year, he wants to know if Danny’s tan is two or four shades darker. He wants to know what Danny’s seeing right now, with his head in Rusty’s way so Rusty can’t see what peeks out every time Benedict starts up and opens his eyes wide, muffles something against Danny’s mouth, fists his hand over Danny’s shoulder. He wants to know, God, he wants to know even though he doesn’t like Benedict, doesn’t like the icy way the man can just cut a loss, doesn’t like how things in Vegas keep coming back to him and especially with Danny.
“…want? To stop?” Benedict’s voice hangs in the air.
“Dinner. Seven tonight, no law or other kind of enforcement.” Danny goes on to list the conditions, sounding like he’s miles and miles away. At least from wherever Benedict is, breathing fast and harsh and low.
Rusty doesn’t listen too closely to Danny now since they went over those a million times, just to make sure Danny really truly wanted to go through with this. And now he has. And Rusty presses his sweaty, hot forehead to the warm counter and sucks in a long, sweet breath as he rubs his hand against his thigh. He’s slipping around in his rumpled damp-to-soaked clothes, sticky and breathless himself and he still wants to know.
“Rusty?” Benedict asks. Down—way, way down, but not out. “You two—you’re playing with hell right now, not just fire. Let me assure you that you’ll be paying for the rest of—”
“Terry. This is way past money right now, so stop thinking about that. And you should know better than any—well, maybe almost better than Willie Banks—that whatever I’m playing with, I play to win.” Danny does something, something that makes the earpiece whine in Rusty’s ear. “So, dinner or not?”
He really, really, badly, to the point where he just has to swallow his better instincts and agree with Danny, wants to know just how long of a kiss it’d take to wipe the smirk off Terry Benedict’s face.
Terry says yes. Rusty gets that much before he presses the buttons he needs to and then slowly, very slowly, slides off his chair and somehow onto the bed that’s about a yard away, bone-tired but with his mind ever so deeply engaged. Details, precautions, odds. Twelve, maybe thirteen to one. Maybe higher, even with the foot in the door. Long-shot, but the lure of the big, impossible payoff springs eternal.
* * *
“Danny,” Rusty murmurs, and opens his mouth, wet and lazy against Danny’s. He keeps on lying there, sprawled out with his clothes a telling mess and only the most lethargic arch of his belly beneath Danny’s hand. “He’s not going to go for it.”
“He’s going to go for it.” Danny squeezes his fingers beneath Rusty’s waistband, undoes the belt-buckle with one finger and a thumb. He shifts so he can lean farther over the other man and finally feels the most casual graze of fingertips through his hair. “You went for it.”
Rusty closes his eyes. He’s annoyed, yes, but by now not in the least bit offended. Anyway the annoyance with him’s a little more of a worry, but Danny knows he doesn’t need to worry about that till Rusty can get him away from Vegas. “Who’s charming who, exactly?”
“No idea. I’ll figure it out afterward,” Danny says, and as he kisses the side of Rusty’s mouth he feels it move into a smile. “Or you will.”
“Probably me,” Rusty snorts, and pulls Danny down by the head. It’s still only three-thirty, and their seven o’clock dinner date’s ages away.