(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
The elevator opens up to let Lloyd and Cassidy into the well-furnished penthouse, which looks over the Las Vegas strip. A large bar is set up on the far side of the room, but only one of the bottles has a label and shows signs of having been opened. The rest are more for appearance than use, which is why there is a thin layer of dust on the glass shelf. Curved couches surround a central fireplace that is sparkling clean, except for a blackened marshmallow that is fused to the fire-licked stone. There are several bookcases around the edge of the carpeted room, but the collection is filled with doubles that have been masked by uncreative editing on the spines. The only ones that are facing outwards are those written by their potential employer, a warning of his vanity that pales in comparison to the many pictures of the man that adorn the walls. All of them have been painted with care and are protected by glass that shines from being routinely cleaned by a lone maid. The exhausted woman stays in a connected room where she eats and sleeps, only coming out when buzzed in by her employer.
Sitting behind an enormous desk, Johnathan Custer stands to greet his guests and make sure they realize how tall he is. Wearing a tailored suit and a bright purple tie, he looks like a relic from the olden days when such clothing impressed people. There is a slight bagginess to the jacket and pants, which is only noticeable when the former billionaire stands still. He proves to be aware of this problem since he is constantly in motion and moves things around him to bring attention away from his suit. Fixing his flaxen hair with a gel-coated comb, he takes a moment to turn around and look at the window. Acting like he is adjusting his jacket, Johnathan is unaware that his guests can see him check his teeth thanks to a very clear reflection. Satisfied with his appearance, their smiling host turns on his heels and marches over to violently shake both of their hands. The greeting lasts for two minutes until a portly man in a stained t-shirt and tattered jeans coughs from the corner.
“That would be my advisor who has been in the country ever since the collapse. Grymer is not much of a talker, but he’s a great man,” Johnathan states as he returns to his seat. Gesturing to the empty folding chairs in front of his desk, he grabs a pen and pad to make notes from the conversation. “I want to talk about myself first. You see, I was away on business when the attacks on our great country occurred. Horrible news, especially when I realized that some of my good friends, like Grymer here, were trapped. I have spent the last ten years working with my family to save the country that I love so much. Due to the blockade, I couldn’t return until I had created enough allies overseas to assure our victories. Trust me when I say that there will be many victories once I unify this country. My friends out there will help us reclaim our place in the world and go back to doing what we do best. People like you who know this country and can fight are important to me. Just to get an idea of where we stand, how much gold would each of you want to work for me?”
“I feel like there was a lot of unnecessary information in there,” Lloyd replies while he tries to get comfortable. Making eye contact with Grymer, he shivers at the cold stare he receives from the red-nosed man. “Seems Mr. Hobo over there forgot to mention a few things about this new land. Gold is a commodity in Nevada, but the rest of the country doesn’t care. We trade in food, clothing, weapons, fuel, and whatever else we want. I know, it took me a few days to get used to it as well. By the way, soap and chocolate are probably the two most important things you can trade with.”
“Toys are another one because parents are always on the hunt for something to make their kids happy,” Cassidy chimes in, her hand still aching from the shake. Sensing that they are boring their host, she clears her throat and cranes her neck as if looking outside. “You have a great view from here. Heard a lot about Vegas still being beautiful, but it was always too expensive and dangerous to visit. How tall is this building? I ask because the button we pushed said fifty-two, but there was tape over it that said one-hundred and fifty. We weren’t really paying attention.”
Johnathan scowls at the question, his ring-adorned fingers tapping on the desk in an ever-changing rhythm. “I added floors to this building when I arrived. Nothing in the city is larger than my skyscraper and that’s as it should be. If I’m going to unify the country then I need to be high up to oversee my . . . our kingdom. Now, I’ve heard about this bartering system and I’m going to change it. The old ways were better with money and wealth being used to get what you need. That way everything is equal and nobody is able to horde supplies. Last thing we want is someone gathering every slice of pizza in the country and not sharing. Most of the food would rot, so we need money to prevent that from happening. Do you agree, my dear?”
“You know I do, father,” a slender brunette replies as she steps out of the elevator. The beautiful woman is wearing a sleeveless dress that goes down to her ankles, the red fabric glinting as if made of gems. “My name is Elaine Custer and I’m my father’s other advisor. I hope he hasn’t bombarded you with information. Commodus told me that you came here from a job, so I assume you’re still tired. As Johnathan Custer’s only daughter-”
“Dad, I really want to-” a blonde-haired woman says as she steps out of the stairwell. She is sent tumbling back by a bullet to the head, which prompts the maid to come out with a bucket and mop.
“Some people are so rude,” Elaine says while putting her pistol away. Quietly cleaning her hands, she smiles at the vacant stares that are aimed at her. “We get assassins and thieves here from time to time. Some claim to be a long-lost daughter or a former wife or a son. You can imagine all of the people who want a piece of my daddy. They think he’s easy to fool, but he’s very smart and he has me to protect him. Now, what do you say about joining our team and uniting the country?”
Lloyd and Cassidy cautiously rise to their feet and hold up their fingers to silently request some time to talk. Walking to the other side of the room, the pair whisper to avoid being overheard. It is clear that they are arguing from the way that they move their arms, most times to gesture at their hosts. The debate heats up to the point where the pair beginning shoving and smacking at each other, the fight ending only when Cassidy pulls out her stun gun. A loud crackle is all she needs to get Lloyd to back down, the serial killer not wanting to get zapped and risk peeing on the nice carpeting. Returning to their seats, the pair do a quick game of rock, paper, scissors to decide on who speaks to their confused hosts.
“We’re still not sure what’s going on here,” Cassidy admits, her attention more on Elaine than Johnathan. Calculating her own drawing speed, she remembers the swiftness of the woman’s attack on the supposed assassin and wonders if she is outmatched. “To be honest, the basic idea is something that we’re not sure about. Put aside the fact that we have previous alliances and loyalties that you might not agree with. Much of these work off the bartering system, so the gold one would cause friction. I’d rather not be in the middle of that fight since I only want what I need to survive. That’s only a small part of our . . . apprehension. Trying to think of the best way to explain things.”
“We like this place as it is,” Lloyd interjects before putting his feet on the desk. With a playful wink at Elaine and a lopsided grin at Johnathan, the serial killer leans back and casually nibbles his fingernails. “I can see where you’re going here, but the two of us don’t benefit a lot from joining you. Say you unify the country and get the blockade down, which many will celebrate. What happens to all of the killers and miscreants that joined you?”
“Thinking about the future. Very smart,” Johnathan replies, holding up a hand to stop Grymer from speaking. Leaning forward, he knocks over a small picture of him with a young girl on his shoulders, which he quickly picks up. “It all depends on what you do for me and what you want. The gold is for your services now. Promises and contracts can be made now if that will put you at ease. I’m always a man of my word and I trust my lawyers to make sure the deals are the best. Would you two want to have a political position or be in charge of a certain state?”
“I’m thinking you don’t know our reputation,” Lloyd bluntly answers. A door opens to let in seven men with the same type of suit and haircut, each one holding a briefcase. “Oh, that’s not creepy at all. Seriously though, we only want survival and freedom. You can’t have a law and order society with people like us running around.”
Gently putting her hands on Cassidy’s chair arms, Elaine leans in to get a closer look with eyes that are wide in wonder. “This one is the same. You can tell by the cold and hungry look on their faces. Both of you are predators, which is why my father and I want you on our side. We can pay you in supplies if you want because I think you would be perfect in eliminating our enemies. The warlords and organizations around the country will be a problem. Commodus told me about those you already defeated. Not saying all of them since the Librarians and many of the gangs can be useful. It’s people like the Guardians, the Miami drug lords, and that pesky Duchess of LaSalle. We want you to be our assassins.”
“Stop undressing this woman with your eyes,” Cassidy snaps before using her stun gun on Lloyd. She only grazes the serial killer, which stops him from lashing out and possibly getting them killed. “Sorry, but he gets that way around attractive women. Lloyd really should find a girlfriend to keep his libido down. As you can see, we might be too much of a liability for an organization like yours. Hired for specific jobs could work, but we aren’t the assassin type. Far too loud and destructive for the subtle stuff. I’m afraid we’re going to have to decline and go our separate ways. Promise to stay out of your way if you leave us alone though.”
“Is there nothing that my father and I can say to change your mind?”
“Sorry, but thanks for the offer.”
“That is a shame.”
“Yeah, but it’s for the best.”
“Grymer will see you to the lobby. Do you want to say anything before they leave, dad?”
Johnathan does nothing to hide his scowl and snaps the pen with his thumb, the ink dribbling over his knuckles. “I believe I’ve said all that I wanted to say. Very sad and disappointed in your decision. Thought you would know the winning team when you saw it. Hopefully, you two get smarter and realize the mistake you just made. In fact, I would say there’s a good chance you’ll be working for me before you know it.”
Confused by the open threat and abrupt change in demeanor, Cassidy keeps an eye on the billionaire while helping Lloyd to his feet. The smile on Elaine’s face is less warm than before, but she does a much better job of hiding her frustration than her father. The moment they turn their back on the large desk, the men in suits rush to surround their boss and loudly discuss business. Everyone talks at once as if they are trying to drown out the others and make sure only their voice is heard before they are waved away. Listening to the exchange, Cassidy and Lloyd follow Grymer toward the opening elevator, which is a little darker than it was when they came up.