2007-02-09: In Search of the Almighty Dollar


Jack_icon.gif Sydney_icon.gif

Summary: Jack drops by The Back Alley to scope things out.

Date It Happened: February 9th, 2007

Log Title: In Search of the Almighty Dollar

The Back Alley

Tonight is Classic Rock's Greatest Hits Night at The Back Alley, which means that the speakers have been pounding out songs like "American Woman" and "Hot Blooded" since four o'clock, and, as usual, the club is only halfway filled to capacity. Even the two-for-one drink specials have failed to draw the crowd that the owner was anticipating; judging by the despondent looks on the employees' faces, this is Bad News both for the business - and, by proxy, them. Sydney sits at an empty table toward the back of the room, contemplating a new place of employment while she nurses a Slammer Royale: one part cheap champagne, one part tequila. Eventually, she'll have to make her way to the back room and get dressed for her performance, but - until then - she's content to watch her co-workers up on-stage with a disdainful smile.

The doors slam open and let in both a chill draft and a youngish-looking man with a ready smile that doesn't quite travel all the way to his dark eyes. Jack pauses briefly to survey the room, then slips out of his leather jacket, folds it over his arm, and smoothes the front of his shirt before crossing to the bar. After a brief conversation with the bartender, the two shake hands and the 'tender pours Jack three fingers of scotch on the rocks. He takes a sip, makes a face, then commits himself to a long swig before leaning back against the bar and watching the lady of the moment onstage. A cocked eyebrow and a crooked smile are the only signs of his amusement. The show doesn't seem to be what brought him here.

Maybe it's because the bar is in her peripheral vision, or maybe it's because there's something about Jack that strikes Sydney as being out of place - whatever the reason, she finds her eyes drawn to the stranger. Pursing her lips into a thoughtful (if fishlike) expression when she realizes that his isn't a face she recognizes, she lifts her chin and decides to watch him for awhile. Bad employee etiquette? Sure. But there's no harm in sizing the strange ones up from afar.

When the bartender comes back around Jack lays one open hand palm-down on the bar. When he lifts it, a neatly folded one-hundred dollar bill is left behind. A few whispered words are enough to make the bartender raise his eyebrows, then he pockets the money and scurries away. A moment later he returns with a dusty bottle of Glenfiddich, which Jack approves with a wordless inclination of his head. The first glass is removed and a second quickly takes it place, this time filled with a palatable liquor. Jack smiles and takes a long, slow gulp. At no time does the bartender give back any change, but that doesn't seem to be an issue. A moment later he produces a deck of well-worn cards with a brief, flourishing gesture and proceeds to fan them from hand to hand, his eyes roaming across the crowd and the stage all the while. When his gaze crosses that of the blond with the mouthy expression he nods, and for the first time his smile looks believable.

"All right," Sydney's eyes seem to say, "I'll bite." Abandoning her claim, she pushes away from the table, picks up her now-empty glass and rises from the chair in a series of smooth, well-practiced motions. Slowly, she meanders her way across the Alley, weaving in between clusters of distracted clientèle who don't give her so much as a glance as she passes them by and trails her painted fingertips along the edge of their tables. When she finally arrives at the bar, she adopts an empty stool beside Jack as her perch and signals to the bartender that she'd like a refill. "First-time customer?" she asks.

"In a manner of speaking." The laughter never leaves Jack's eyes as his slow, rolling basso profundo rumbles out clearly through the din of classic rock, jeering patrons, and clinking glasses. "I'm here to meet an acquaintance. But alas, he's late, you're present, and I find myself distracted." When the bartender comes around, he indicates that the lady's drink should come out of his recently proffered c-note, then tucks his cards away and sticks out a smooth-skinned hand that looks untainted by even a single day's honest work. "Name's Jack."

"Amber." Sydney grasps the offering but does not shake. Instead, she gives his bare hand a firm squeeze with her gloved one. "Thanks." She lets her arm drop back to her side and hooks her thumb on the back pocket of her jeans, causing her elbow to jut out at an awkward angle that's oddly reminiscent of a chicken wing. "Sorry to hear your buddy stood you up," she murmurs, "but I can't say I'm disappointed. Strange place for a business meeting, though."

Briefly raised eyebrows are Jack's only sign of surprise at the young woman's firm grip, but he returns it in kind. "I can't say that meeting here was my idea, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices when in search of the almighty dollar, or even just a bit of fun, yes?" He takes another long swallow from his glass and waves for a refill of his own, then produces a second set of playing cards, newer than the first and blue-backed instead of red. His fingers work nimbly, riffling and shuffling them without taking his eyes off those of his new conversation partner. "The million dollar question is, what the hell are you doing here?" The gentle mocking in his tone and his easy smile both work to take the edge off the statement, turning it instead into a friendly inquiry.

Unlike Jack, Sydney finds her attention glued to the cards. It takes her a few moments for her to realize that the question he's asked her isn't a rhetorical one, and she gives him a short, barking laugh in response. "I work here," she says, shaking her head. "I'm just killing some time until it's my turn to get naked and shake my ass around." When the bartender returns with her drink, she gives him a grateful nod in return and reaches across the counter to retrieve it. "What about you?" She gestures to the deck with a tip of her unruly blonde head. "You some kinda professional gambler?"

Jack grins wider, obviously enjoying the attention. His fast shuffle becomes a series of more complex motions, cards arcing from hand to hand in midair, then quickly fanned across the bar. "Among other things," he murmurs. "I like to think of myself as a multi-faceted master of life's little tricks." If Amber's choice of profession is noteworthy to him, he keeps it well-concealed. Everyone has to make a living, after all, and no man is fit to judge another.

"Sounds like a fancy way of saying 'con man'." The comment must be in jest, because no sooner have the words left her mouth does a wide, toothy grin split across Sydney's mouth. "Sorry," she says, pausing to take a sip of her drink, "con artist. That wasn't very nice of me."

It's easy to see that Jack takes no offense from the statement. "Aye, and an art it is indeed, chere. There are a great deal of fools who would be far better off if parted from their money. I simply seek to balance the scales. If not me, then someone else, so I may as well capitalize, yes?" He folds his palms flat together, then spreads them to reveal a dark-blue hued rose with a neatly-clipped, four-inch stem. He sets it on the bar in front of Amber, then picks up his drink again. "I'm also a conjurer of cheap tricks in my spare time."

Although Sydney is clearly impressed, she does an admirable job of trying not to let it show. She picks up the rose and twirls it between her forefinger and her thumb, unable to keep her eyes from lighting up. "You should add 'terrible flirt' to that list while you're at it." The rose finds a new home tucked behind her left ear. "Seriously," she teases, "if I find out you have a pair of doves up your sleeves, you are so getting thrown out."

"Well then, we'll just have to keep the doves under wraps then, won't we?" Jack rumbles. Pleased, he drains the remaining contents of his glass, then gathers up his cards with one swipe and tucks them into a pocket. "Besides, when did flirting become a punishable offense?" The mischievous twinkle is back in Jacks eyes as he folds his long, nimble fingers together and does his best to assume a serious expression.

"Sometime during the third wave feminist movement, I think. Not that you have to worry about it here." The look in Jack's eye does not go unnoticed by Sydney, who returns with an impish spark of her own. "The better question is: what are you trying to get outta me?"

Now mischief turns to amusement as Jack motions for his glass to be filled yet again. Despite the speed of his consumption, he seems none the worse for wear at the moment. When the bartender departs, Jack turns his sharp, inquisitive eyes back toward Amber. "Me? I'm just a simple wanderer. What do I need that I don't already have? I spend my days and nights in search of entertaining activities and entertaining companions to share them with. That's what brings me here. After all, what better business is there than pleasure?"

"That's easy for somebody like you to say. You're on the receiving end." Sydney turns her attention back to the scattered crowd and, as discretely as she can, points out a overweight redheaded woman with a freckled complexion and clothes that are probably too sizes too small for her curvaceous frame. "That's Ginger," she says. "She isn't on the receiving end. Every night, she goes home with a different guy. Sometimes lawyers, sometimes doctors - sometimes deadbeats who don't own more than the clothes on their backs and or the cash in their pockets. Management used to frown on that sorta thing, but I think the boss has felt sorry for her ever since the time she came back with a split lip and two teeth missing." She glances back at Jack, her eyes dark, pitying - and morbidly curious. "Are you brave enough to go ask her the same question?"

A brief frown creases Jack's forehead, and he returns the look of pity with one of his own. "I think we both know that's not what I meant. It's been interesting… Amber. I'm afraid that my own business of pleasure calls." His expression and body language as he rises makes it perfectly clear that he didn't care much for the comparison. "Enjoy your drink."

Sydney's aim was to make Jack uncomfortable, but now that she's succeeded she finds that the taste of victory is bitterer than she was expecting. She washes it away with another sip, somewhat subdued, and raises her hand by way of farewell. "Thanks. And good luck."

Jack pauses long enough to fix Amber with a piercing gaze, his penetrating eyes searching for something for a long, wordless moment. Then he passes one hand palm down over the bar and leaves a stack of ten one-hundred dollar bills behind. "Take the night off on me and think about this. There are people in the world who actually don't want anything from you." With a brief nod he scoops up his jacket and slips out the door without a backward glance.

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