(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
Lloyd tugs at the collar of his dress shirt, causing Cassidy to sigh and wait for him at the next turn in the stairs. She cannot blame the man for being uncomfortable since she is wearing heels and a long-sleeved dress made to resemble polished gold. A sunhat with brown bangs sticking out help to hide her real hair color and forehead scar, but she has the urge to hurl the ugly garment into the mines below. She carefully walks back down to where Lloyd is adjusting his tie and smacks his hands away from the clip-on. Both of them share a relaxing breath before continuing their climb of the central tower, which helps the warlords oversee the entire operation. Cassidy counts how many snipers they pass, the bloodthirsty guards searching for signs of trouble and a chance to shoot. The bronze star is on their backs, making it difficult to figure out what the symbol and those who wear it are supposed to stand for. Remembering that they are to be destroyed by Custer’s real army, the confused pair wonder if all of his allies are being set up to fall. Pushing the shared thought from their minds, they knock on the trapdoor at the top of the stairs and wait to be let onto the air-conditioned platform.
Surrounded by ten guards and four yawning Rottweilers, the two warlords could not look more different. The heavyset man with a furry unibrow sets in an Adirondack chair and gazes out at his precious mine. His dark suit is making him sweat, but he is sitting directly under the humming air-conditioner and gulping down iced lemonade. The warlord finishes every drink with a contented sigh before running a hand through his white, sweat-covered hair. A small fan in his other hand is used to cool his face, which has been made bright red from the sun. The other man is thin and sticks to the shadows, his pale skin untouched by the light. Wearing a light-colored suit, he stands behind a podium that has been attached to a dolly. Eyes darting from side to side instead of locking on the newcomers, he moves to avoid the drafts and prevent his papers from being blown off the tower. The only person to gain more than a second of his attention is a man wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, denim shorts, and a beautiful pair of cowboy boots complete with spurs.
“You two wait and I’ll be right with you,” the thin warlord says without looking up. He steps out from behind his podium and frowns as a ray of sunlight hits his face. “Looking at your resume, Mr. Chunk, I’m not sure if you would be a perfect fit. I can see that you’re a team player, but you have experience with science. That’s fairly disappointing because we don’t want too many facts getting in the way of your job. Now, Mr. Pritchard is in charge of the mine, so he could use an assistant to handle all complaints. Right away, I can tell you that the young woman who just arrived is a better choice for that. We all know people are less likely to whine if they have to do it to a pretty face and adequate bosom. Isn’t that right, Oscar?”
“Whatever you say, Seth,” the other warlord replies with a yawn. Looking over his shoulder, he stares at Cassidy and Lloyd while shaking his empty glass. “I don’t really care as long as I get to run my mine and make money. The girl looks nice in the dress, but that doesn’t mean she’s smart enough to do the job. Appearances aren’t everything. I mean, Reuben always looks nice, but he’s rarely at his post like today. Then again, I don’t like the way Mr. Chunk dresses. You should be more like that other young man. He may be wearing a clip-on tie, but at least he’s trying.”
Taking out a pair of glasses, the confused applicant clears his throat and does his best to appear professional. “I assure you that I know what I’m talking about. You need someone who has knowledge of science. The best lies are the ones with a piece of truth, which is how I’ve survived in the Shattered States for so long. Well, that and being an excellent dancer. Now, there are three rules that I live by that will prove I’m the perfect person for the job. One is that you should always speak with confidence even if you have to admit to being wrong. Second is that you never really admit that your wrong, but simply make a person believe that you have lost interest in the conversation. Third is . . . I knew it a second ago. It had something to do with when you’re cornered and the lies are falling apart. Practice good cardio to make sure you can run away? That doesn’t sound right.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Lloyd whispers under his breath. Walking over to one of the growling dogs, he snarls at the animal before patting it on the head. “Not sure what’s worse for him. Holding up four fingers when saying he had three rules or forgetting the third. Kind of feel sorry for him. Uh, is everyone looking at me?”
“If you have something to add then please do so,” Seth demands while sorting his papers. A scowl is on his face when he reaches the bottom of his resume pile. “Neither of you are on my list for today. There are eight more applicants for the job and nearly all of them have no experience with science. That will be tough to beat, especially for a pair of walk-ins that I didn’t expect.”
“Well, I wouldn’t wait for them because they’re not coming,” Cassidy playfully explains, her steps slow and careful. She can feel her ankles start to give, so she casually leans on the podium and blows both warlords a kiss. “My partner and I convinced them that the position had already been filled. They argued that it was for many people, but they eventually accepted that they didn’t make it in time. Now, do you really want to waste time interviewing those who could be talked out of such a lucrative offer? I assume this is lucrative and not some commission type of deal, right?”
Uncomfortable with how close Cassidy is to him, Seth moves his podium away until she is unable to touch the edge. With a frown, he takes a single page off a pile of papers and tosses the rest out of a nearby window. The man looks to the other warlord, who is signaling to his foremen with colored flags. Seth sighs and wipes his brow with a handkerchief that reeks of cologne, the smell attracting a few wasps that the guards smash with swatters. Fixing his cuffs, the man lets the awkward silence linger in the hopes of one of the interviewees giving him a reason to send them away. When it is clear that none of the three are going to speak, he moves his podium closer to Oscar and clears his throat to get his partner’s attention. The larger man begrudgingly turns his chair around, his body visibly tense and rigid now that he is unable to keep an eye on his beloved mine.
“I hope you aren’t going to make a decision now. We haven’t really given you a pitch and explained our strategy,” Lloyd states, cutting the two men off. Walking over to Cassidy, he is about to smack her on the ass for show, but she does it to him instead. “As you can tell, the young lady and I work as a team. She has some knowledge of science and I have a vague idea of how to spell it. Our method is for her to come into an area and make speeches made to educate the masses. Don’t interrupt the explanation until I stop talking. Now, I’ve already been there for a few days and have made myself some friends in town. When she starts her business, I join the crowd and openly challenge. Since both of us are on the same team, she puts up a fight designed to fail and make what I’m saying more believable than her facts.”
“Let’s take those windmills as an example,” Cassidy interjects while pointing in the general direction of the farm. She pauses to take a step, one of her heels nearly getting stuck between two floorboards. “You want people to believe that they’re killing birds. Well, I would come in first to argue that animals are able to avoid them. There’s no evidence to show that they are dying. I add that accidents do happen on occasion, which opens the door for doubt that my partner will take advantage of.”
Lloyd stretches to put his hand in Chunk’s mouth, stopping the man from interrupting their demonstration. “Now, I can go different routes with this one. Some will place feathers around the base, but you can’t always trust that. Arguing that even a few deaths is too much because she can counter by claiming the same could be said for many situation. Nope. The best bet is to state that hundreds of birds are killed and then blame coyotes.”
“Coyotes,” the two warlords say in unison.
“They eat the dead birds, which is why there’s no evidence.”
“Isn’t that a little conspiratorial?” Oscar asks as he checks his watch.
“Yes, but that’s what gives it strength.”
Seth and Oscar turn their backs on their guests, the pair leaning over to whisper and hide their faces. Left in the dark, the three applicants move toward the center of the tower and do their best to act calm. Cassidy scans the tower for a reflective surface that will give her a clue as to what is going on, but nothing gives her a clear view. Turning to Lloyd, she quickly pokes the man in the side to stop him from hungrily eyeing Chunk. Not knowing what the serial killer is planning makes her nervous and causes sweat to trickle down her face. Knowing that she cannot remove her hat without revealing her hair, Cassidy struggles to endure the heat and takes a few steps into the path of the air-conditioner. The strong draft nearly whips the hat off her head, but Lloyd is quick to put a hand on top of it and pretend that he is fixing the large flower that is glued to the decorated ribbon.
“We feel that Mr. Chunk would be the best option,” Seth announces while Oscar pounds his foot on the ground. The thin warlord waits for the large man’s chair to start lowering into the floor, the squeaking gears going silent after they have been oiled. “Please start down the stairs and we will bring you to our manor in Thomas, Mr. Chunk. Our previous hires will be waiting there and you can begin your orientation. As for the two whose names I was never given, I did like you had to say, but only in the way you said it. This operation does not want to work with any facts, which includes the one about coyotes eating birds. That could get people curious about animals in general and then they might discover the truth on their own. You let your excitement get the best of you, which I can respect. Normally, Oscar and I would argue about execution or enslavement since you came uninvited. Yet, you have given us a new tactic to refine for our own purposes, so please stay in the tower until you have rested. I take all of my paperwork with me and there are no valuables up here. That and the dogs are better at defending this place than the guards. Have a good day.”
“What just happened?” Lloyd asks while he watches Seth and the guards head down the trapdoor. He is about to follow when Cassidy catches him by the arm and leads him toward the railing. “The plan was to get hired and burn their operation down from the inside. Those engineers are rallying an army to attack this mine as soon as we take out the leaders. Please tell me that you have another idea. If it involves hiding in a wooden horse then I’d like to point out that it’s summer. Maybe we can get inside a large ice cream? Not so much to get inside the manor, but I’m both hungry and overheated.”
“I had a feeling we were in trouble as soon as I saw that other guy,” Cassidy admits while stripping off her dress and kicking off her heels. Having been wearing denim shorts and sleeveless bra underneath the garment, she turns it inside out to reveal more clothes sewn into the lining. “There’s a reason I didn’t go for the skintight one. Here’s your pants and a shirt with some smiley face thing on it. It should be time to go once you’re done getting dressed, but only if you don’t want to keep that suit. Then again, we could come back for it.”
The grinning killer tears off his clothes and tosses the shreds to the dogs, which sniff at the ruined suit. “No thanks. Pretty sure I have a rash where only a contortionist can reach. This is going to drive me nuts until we get some ointment. There is no clean way to say that word. Only way it could be worse is if I said moist ointment. So, what are we waiting for?”
“Just thought it would be sporting to give them a head start,” his friend replies with a wicked smirk. She watches the warlords get into a limousine at the bottom of the tower, the vehicle leaving with several motorcycles and trucks protecting it. “Our plans are failing left and right because we’re trying to play the game like they do. Words and manipulation over brutally violent force. I’m all for cunning plans, but we’ve been hired to destroy and disrupt. Best way to do that is with a lot of noise. Let’s get going because I’ve always wanted to do this.”