The small, beach-side cantina had seen better days, but the cold beer was better than it had any right to be, given that there were only two choices: what the bartender felt like giving you, and what you paid the bartender to feel like giving you. The air was turning cool, and the tourist traps were empty, but Cory Raines didn’t care. He wasn’t here on this nearly deserted strip of beach to play tourist. The generous donation he’d made to the cantina owner’s get-the-hell-out-of-here fund ensured that the owner, who was also the bartender, didn’t ask questions about why this gringo was here, now. The coast was clear of all but the locals, and even they knew better than to be at a beach this time of year. In Cory’s eyes, it was almost like it used to be, before tourism was the only real industry.
He thought about the reason he was here, the reason he came to this village in Mexico the same time every year for the past several years. It had been a complete shock to go rescue a kidnapped Amanda (more because he didn’t want to be responsible for her death, since he’d cajoled her into going into the estate to help him rob it in the first place) and discover his mortal and equally non-ghostly doppelganger also in need of rescue. After Alex had recovered from his injuries, Cory had made good on his offer of trading out unbreakable alibis. It had become something of a tradition to meet here, to shoot the breeze, laugh and smoke and cuss and joke and contemplate pretty women, like soldiers out on R&R from a war. In a way, Cory knew that this was as close as a vacation as Alex got from the war he was fighting. Here, Cory and Alex could pretend to be brothers out for a good time, nothing more. Here, too, Cory was just a gringo with just enough money and lots of free time – not an internationally wanted bank robber, and certainly not an immortal more content to watch the Game being played than be a participant.
Cory sipped his beer and waited patiently, idly sketching in a notebook he’d brought along. He was a better thief than a sketch artist, but he’d found out along the way that at least pretending to be a struggling artist was a good of a cover as any. The fact that he’d surprised himself by discovering he was decent at it – at least decent enough to sell it in places where the tourists would buy anything – amused him greatly. Adding to his pleasure was that it also tended to interest the more artistic types into his bed. There were few things that pleased Cory more than a successful con, especially a successful con that led to him getting laid.
He was halfway through his second beer and contemplating whether or not to be serious about drawing the pitcher of beer and the two glasses on the table or whether he should sketch the layout of the bank he’d been scouting for a heist as a means of testing his memory of the floor plan when a shadow fell, blocking his light. He looked up and grinned in recognition. “Hello, Alex,” he greeted, putting down the pencil and pad in exchange for standing and hugging the man.
“Hello, Mr. Other Me,” Alex greeted, not returning the hug, but not flinching from it either. Cory carefully overlooked the reaction; he would have been more surprised if the intensely private man had hugged him back. “Anyone ever tell you you give lousy directions?”
“What, Maria didn’t tell you it was this cantina?”
The man in the dark blue windbreaker shot him a sardonic look. “You know how many no-name cantinas there are in this town, how many Marias work at ‘the laundry around the corner from the hotel we stayed at last time’?” Dropping into the chair, Alex helped himself to the pitcher of beer. He toasted Cory and drank thirstily. “Maria, by the way, the Maria you knew, told me to tell you that if I see you, I should kill you because you got her pregnant. She nearly killed me before I told her I wasn’t you. Then she tried to kill me anyway because she wanted me to be you.”
Amused, Cory leaned back in the chair. There was less than a snowball’s chance in hell that he’d fathered anyone. “So, how much did she pay you to do it?”
Alex waived it off. “Not nearly enough to waste my best alibi. That in itself’s a crime.” He considered the thought a moment longer, then shrugged. “Besides, I rather suspect if you turned up dead, there’d be more questions from some people who have more time in the world than me to go hunting for answers – like Amanda. How is Amanda these days?”
“Annoyed. She wasn’t expecting you to drop in and stop her from getting the Hanover shipment.”
“She’s alive to talk about it.”
“Did you try explaining why?” Cory asked dryly. “All she cared about was the diamonds.” Inwardly, Cory shuddered; he’d helped Alex destroy some alien clones earlier in the year, and had seen what Oil could do to a mortal. He didn’t want to know what it would do in an immortal host, though he and Alex had debated it afterwards, trading secret for secret.
Alex smiled. “What, and have her think I wasn’t you?”
“Told you before we know when it’s one of us. Besides, she’d know me from you in the dark.”
Alex said nothing for a moment. Then he smiled. “Care to find out whether or not she can?”
Cory started to agree, then reconsidered. “No, she’s still too annoyed. Best not go near her for a couple of years at least. Plus, I think she’s still seeing MacLeod.”
“Someone without much of a sense of humor this decade,” Cory answered. “More’s the pity. He used to have such a fine one.” Sighing, he sipped his beer. “Did you get the package I sent you?”
“The Alien Children’s Defense Fund thanks you.” Alex smiled, amused. “How’d you manage to slip the noose? That heist in Jamaica made the international press.”
“Hid up in the ceiling tiles, walked out as an A/C maintenance man.” He looked at Alex, aware that he was always looking to learn. “Care to help me with my next one?”
“Maybe,” Alex hedged. “Last one I helped with, you nearly ran over me.”
“That was an accident, I swear.”
Alex just looked skeptical. “You seem to conveniently forget I don’t heal like you do.”
“It’s not convenient at all!”
“Oh, so you admit you forget?”
“You walk around for a couple of centuries and see what you remember,” Cory shot back crossly. “Besides, I stopped the car before it hit you.”
“Two feet before,” Alex pointed out. “You do that sort of thing to all of your friends or just the ones you like?”
“Oh, just the ones I like,” Cory admitted, freer with his words with him than he was with few others. Talking to Alex often felt a bit like having a conversation with himself, if he had chosen assassination for hire over bank robbery as a career. “I’m worse with the ones I don’t.”
“Ha. I’ve seen you with the ones you don’t even know, remember? What was that game of chicken you were playing with that guy down in Rio?”
“Just repaying a favor,” Cory answered. “No harm done.”
“And the lightning show afterwards was just coincidence?”
“Absolutely. Did you not see the storm that night? Must’ve been some kind of hurricane off the coast.”
Alex’s expression clearly said he didn’t believe Cory, but that he wasn’t going to press for details. “I heard there’s a new casino in Biloxi. Care to check it out? It’ll be fun.”
Aware that Alex’s idea of fun often involved more than a casual acquaintance with danger, Cory took a moment to consider. On one hand, there were always other, safer, less risky, and often more rewarding propositions. On the other, it was Alex asking. “Are we doing wealth redistribution again?”
“Of course, Robin Hood, what else would I offer you?”
“Oh, I don’t know – lies, half-truths, naked women who’ll kill me? Last time, in that lab down in Atlanta, you nearly got me introduced to Oil.” Cory shuddered at the memory. He’d bit off more than he could have chewed on that one, but he hadn’t believed Alex’s stories until he’d seen the proof, and by then he was more concerned with getting out alive and making sure that Alex made it out as well. He’d made doubly sure that the lab burned, as promised, but it had been far closer than he would have liked.
“That was an accident, I swear.” Alex held his hand up as if he was pledging an oath, but his eyes gleamed at the chance to throw Cory’s words back at him.
“Ha! Calculated risk. I know you better. You’d throw me to the wolves if it saved your skin.”
“And unlike some folks I know, you’d probably get back up and walk away. So? It’s not like you haven’t had me meet one of your enemies and confound the hell of them. The last one wanted to kill me anyway. The casino’s a front for laundering money and prostitution, with the proceeds going towards those people who think the aliens will save the planet. I just think it’s time the Defense Fund got a little bit bigger, don’t you?”
The question hung in the air as Cory sipped his beer and contemplated his answer. Stealing money from the rich and giving it to others in need was a lifelong passion. Alex’s little fund was mostly just making sure Alex had the money to do what he needed, without answering to anyone, and having seen what Alex was fighting against, Cory thought it made perfect sense. He never asked if Alex donated any of it elsewhere, though he was aware through the media and from the occasional envelopes that arrived in his mail that several organizations had benefited tremendously from very generous donations from the Alien Children’s Fund.
Cory thought about what he had lined up in the next week. There was a rumor of a billionaire in Texas who had a sword Cory had once owned, which Cory intended to investigate and appropriate if it was true; he could always sell it as “Robin Hood’s long-lost original sword”, something that was bound to amuse him even if the sword turned out to be nothing more than appropriate for the period. There was a woman in Brazil who’d offered to pay him for robbing her father’s bank, but he’d lost her address and would have to wing it if he really wanted to pursue it. There was a message on his cell phone from his first teacher about how he needed to see him, soon, about seeing him in places he shouldn’t be seen, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d blown off seeing Matthew…
Being in the eye of a stormy adventure was the only place Cory ever really enjoyed. It was the only place he really knew, between bank robbing and generally living outside of the mainstream, and he’d lived that way for so many centuries it was habit. Besides, life was too short to be taken seriously, and if Alex was offering the best game in town, well, who was he to say no?
Setting his beer down, Cory smiled as he looked at Alex, whose expression hadn’t changed as the minutes ticked away. “I think we need to book our flight to Biloxi.”
*** finis 9/14/05 ***
Author’s Notes: Lyrics used: “when the coast is clear”, “the air is turning cool” [modified], “the tourist traps are empty” [modified], “almost like it used to be”, “the same time every year”, “hello mister other me”, “that in itself’s a crime”. Title taken from Toby Keith’s take on the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” saying.
As to the story of when Alex and Cory met? With Rhiannon Shaw’s kind permission, I took the idea from her fic, “The Devil’s Own.”
When the Coast Is Clear
By: Jimmy Buffett, Mac McAnally
They're closin' down the hangout
The air is turnin' cool
They're shuttin' off the superslide
The kids are back in school
The tourist traps are empty
Almost like it used to be
Before the circus came to town
That's when it always happens
The same time every year
I come down to talk to me
When the coast is clear
Hello mister other me
It's been a long long time
We hardly get to have these chats
That in itself's a crime
So tell me all your troubles
I'll surely tell you mine
We'll laugh and smoke and cuss and joke and
Have a glass of wine
That's where it always happens
The same place every year
I come down to talk to me
When the coast is clear
(It's the only place he knows)
Where it always happens
The same place every year
I still come down to talk to me
When the coast is clear