(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
The young girl groans and rolls over, a gentle warmth on her face helping her find the strength to open her eyes. A delicious smell touches her nose at the same time she hears two unfamiliar voices. The conversation is about movies that involve talking animals, which she finds strange and comical. The girl tries to clear her throat, but it is so dry that all she can muster is a weak cough that goes unnoticed. Like being struck by a bolt of lightning, she remembers being pursued and passing out when surrounded. Gripping the blanket that covers most of her body, a wave of fear comes over her while she struggles to recall the details of her harrowing escape. She touches her arms to find bandages on her cuts, which she received from clambering over a barbed wire fence. To her surprise, she finds that she is wearing a drab skirt and a t-shirt that shows two gun-toting robots battling. Spotting a vehicle on the other side of the fire, the girl worries that she is a captive and tries to wriggle away. She only makes it a few inches before a bowl of bread and a bottle of water are put in front of her.
“We took a look through your little book to see if you could eat what we had,” Cassidy says as she sits in front of the girl. She holds up her hands while the dark-haired stranger frantically searches her clothes. “Calm down. I was the one who changed you and we put all of your belongings into an extra backpack. As I said, we couldn’t really figure out what was safe for you to eat, so we gave you the basics. Feel free to look through our supplies and take some before we part ways. Oh, Lloyd has your Koran because he was curious. Although, I think he mistook it for the Kama Sutra. Almost forgot. My name is Cassidy.”
“I am Zahra. Thank you for rescuing me,” the girl whispers in a faint voice. Taking the water, she sips at it and looks around, her eyes falling on the blue jeep. “You were the ones I saw on the road. Thank you for driving those people away, but you’ve only given me another day or two. All of us are being hunted by Judge Theo’s dogs. Not only my people, but those he has deemed opposition and in need of guidance. It’s insane. They’re even bringing people from other states here to be sentenced.”
“We can give you a ride out of New Mexico if you want,” Lloyd suggests as he joins the conversation. He jumps back when Zahra yelps and scrambles away, her eyes staying on his machete. “Sorry. My mistake. Cassidy and I are mercenaries that were passing through and stopped to help. All of those guys are coyote and vulture food by now. Nice way to stretch the legs after being on the road for so long. By the way, she hesitated, so she tended to your wounds out of guilt.”
Embarrassed and annoyed, Cassidy smacks her friend in the head with enough force to knock him over. “You didn’t have to tell her that. It wasn’t even for a minute and I explained why. Look, it’s just that I wasn’t sure what was going on. I did the right thing before anyone got hurt. That is if you don’t count the hired muscle we wiped out. If you’re one of the Silmi then we’re really sorry about shedding blood on your behalf.”
“Not every Muslim is part of a faction. Most of us simply want to survive and carve out a normal life just like everyone else,” Zahra explains, hoping to put the flustered woman at ease. Eating the bread, she is surprised how soft it is and devours half of the bowl before she continues speaking. “I understand your hesitation. We react to people as if they are the worst of their group until they prove otherwise. If I had stumbled onto you two, I would have run away out of fear of being killed. This country causes us to judge first, which is why there is so much conflict. All that being said, I’m very thankful that you saved me, but I must say no to getting a ride out of New Mexico. I want to find my parents and younger brother. We were separated and I’m worried that they were caught.”
“At least let us bring you somewhere safe,” Lloyd interjects, hoping that he is not getting too pushy. Putting his machete down, he tosses a few sticks into the fire, which crackles and billows smoke into the starry sky. “It doesn’t make any sense to leave here and wander around. We can take you to the nearest town, which might have some information. I mean, it just doesn’t seem right to save you and not see the job to the end. Anybody else hear the approach of doom on badly maintained engines?”
Floodlights turn on with loud clicks, the roof-mounted lights coming from every direction and blinding the targets. There are at least twelve vehicles surrounding the jeep, each one casting a bright beam and filled with gun-toting soldiers. None of them get out of the trucks and do their best to remain behind cover, their fear almost palpable to their cornered enemies. Multiple radio squawks can be heard, but the gibberish is too low and garbled to be understood. It soon becomes clear that their enemies are trying to whisper over the devices, but nobody is willing to answer out of fear of being distracted.
Cassidy is about to draw her pistols and fire when an abrasive voice barks an order to turn the lamps off. Everything goes dark before flares are lit and tossed around to create a softer light that mixes with the that of the fire. A long-haired man wearing a suit and carrying an assault rifle steps out of the shadows. He attempts to smile, but it only makes his cheeks chubby and lips thin lines. Chuckling from the crowd causes him to stop, the expression replaced by one of festering rage. There is a mild sense of superiority that wafts off the man, who adjusts a ring that matches the soldiers’ yellow armbands. With a crack of his neck, he rolls up his sleeves to reveal tattoos of Doberman Pinschers that are drooling blood. He watches the strangers and spits at Zahra, his disgust at the girl burning in his eyes.
“Who the fuck are you two?” the man growls, lifting his weapon. The pair take out their stolen armbands, which makes him nod his head. “You must have joined on the road or taken up the mission after everyone else died. My name is Doberman and I’m in charge of collecting refuse like this. I can give you some payment now, but I think Judge Theo would love to meet you. This one is obviously a dangerous killer and you caught it. Not only that, but it seems to trust you.”
“Racist fuck!” Lloyd shouts before he can stop himself. Every gun comes up and aims for him, his body covered in red dots. “Sorry about that. I have Tourette’s, but the television kind instead of the medical one. Keep yelling insults at people when I’m under stress. Being so close to a murderer as lethal as this woman has me on edge. I mean, she is deadly with any type of firearm, which you wouldn’t expect from the way she looks. Cock sucking bastards that deserve to rot in hell! Sorry about that.”
“I don’t know whether to laugh or groan about this,” Cassidy mutters through clenched teeth. Reaching down to take Zahra by the wrist, she hoists the girl up and keeps her away from Doberman. “Honestly, those guys hired us around lunch to help with the tracking. So, we’re not sure what’s going on here. No idea what we’ll be paid by Judge Theo, which means we’re taking our bounty to him personally. Sorry about being standoffish, but this is business for us. Seems like it’s pleasure for you.”
“Your former friends weren’t authorized to hire bounty hunters,” Doberman replies, his brow furrowing with anger. He licks his lips and makes a fist, but does not get close enough to the throw the punch. “Normally, I wouldn’t bother dealing with people who aren’t part of our organization. You can’t be trusted until we properly vet you, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong here. Both of you look right-”
“Crotch stain on humanity!” Lloyd blurts out before covering his mouth.
The temperamental man is about to raise his gun when he notices that Cassidy ready to shoot, so he begrudgingly backs down. “It will be best that your friend keep his mouth shut when you meet Judge Theo. He might not be as forgiving as me. Take this piece of garbage in your jeep and follow us. I can barely stand to be in her presence. Since I don’t know you, I want your vehicle in the middle of the pack.”
“You are far too trusting,” Cassidy says while she hands Zahra to Lloyd. Bravely turning her back on Doberman, she is not surprised when she feels a gun against the back of her head. “I’m not talking about us. Those people who hired us didn’t get killed by this girl. We had to do it because they planned on sneaking her over the border. Just look at how the lock on their cage was sabotaged to never work. Might be nothing, but I’d talk to Judge Theo about checking all of your people.”
Doberman lowers his weapon and cautiously eyes the young woman, his tongue sliding out to run back and forth along his lips. He slowly backs away and disappears into the shadows, the sound of a slamming car door signaling all of the others to start their vehicles. Cassidy hurries to get into the jeep and pushes Lloyd to the passenger seat before taking a stuttering breath. She looks in the rearview mirror to find that Zahra is curled in a ball and crying. Watching the trucks drive off, the mercenary switches with her friend and moves to the back to kneel in front of the terrified girl.
“We may have lied, but not in the way you think,” Cassidy delicately whispers as the jeep roars to life. She takes a cookie out of a bag and offers it to Zahra, who is peeking through her fingers. “Lloyd and I got on Johnathan Custer’s bad side. In return, he pissed us off, so we’re tearing down his organization. I was hoping we could get you to safety, but it seems you’re our way to get close to Judge Theo. There’s a mark in New Mexico on our map, which is probably this guy. I promise to do whatever I can to protect you, but we can’t let you go until this job is done. Not sure I’m getting through to you because you still look terrified.”
“We’re pretending to be bad guys because it means we can get close enough to killify the real bad guys,” Lloyd says from the front seat. He tosses a candy bar over his shoulder, the candy hitting Cassidy in the head. “It’s as simple as that. Don’t need some long, sappy monologue that takes you away from navigating. Seriously, I can’t see where I’m going here. Think I ran over a some freaky creature. Looked like that singer everyone hated back in the day, but with beady eyes and drool. Actually, it looked cuter.”
Rolling her eyes, Cassidy gently pats Zahra on the arm before going back to her seat. She pulls out a lantern, but it takes her a minute to add the batteries that are buried in the glove compartment. Shifting in the backseat causes her to check on the girl, who is sitting up and nibbling at her snack. Cassidy is about to speak when the jeep hits a bush and she hears scratching beneath her feet. Worried about her baby’s health, the mercenary pokes Lloyd in the shoulder and gets him to stop. Ignoring the honks from the rear truck, she gets behind the wheel and flips a middle finger out the window before continuing on her way. The entire time, she whispers apologies to the jeep for every unexpected bump and scratch.