(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
The bizarre scene on the side of the road causes Cassidy and Lloyd to stop and clamber out of the jeep. Through a thin line of trees, the pair get closer to where a group of people wearing bronze star jackets are surrounding a tied up Half-Dead. Born from the radioactive wasteland that was once Washington D.C., the feared monster looks unnaturally defenseless and docile. It is only when it is struck by a cattle prod that the zombie-like creature struggles against the lead-lined chains. All of the grass around the post is blackened by the toxic blood that has seeped from the Half-Dead’s minor wounds. Its milky eyes constantly shift toward a bundle of rags and a sad moan slips from its charred lips. When one of its captors steps on the package, the creature erupts in rage and nearly frees itself. A precise strike to its head with a bullwhip takes the fight out of it, the unending pain in its body becoming stronger than its fury.
The two men who are closest to the prisoner repeatedly pop white pills that make them shudder in disgust. One of them is dressed like the others, but with a feathered hat that reminds Lloyd of an old cereal mascot. His beard and moustache are perfectly sculpted to curl upwards and remain stationary regardless of the wind. A collection of medals are on his breast, but he makes sure nobody can get close enough to see that they all have different names. The other man is wearing a leather bodysuit with enough buckles and straps to make one wonder how the garment can even be put on. Focused on the Half-Dead, the narrow-faced figure routinely walks to a nearby table and grabs another torture instrument to use on the creature. A pile of discarded tools is a few feet away, all of them having become too radioactive to touch.
“Tell us where she’s hiding and I’ll let you go. You have Bullwhip’s promise and that’s something that’s never broken,” the leather-wearing man says while plunging a screwdriver into the Half-Dead’s side. He wiggles it back and forth, but gets nothing more than unintelligible growls. “Bullwhip knows you hired me since Bullwhip is the best, Mr. Boyle, but this might be beyond torture. It isn’t proven that these things can talk. We know they understand since they take assignments for medicine, but nobody has held a conversation with one. Not to mention Bullwhip barters in pain and Half-Deads are always in agony. It’s like throwing a match onto a bonfire. Doesn’t make a lick of difference.”
“Please call me Captain William Boyle,” the other man declares as if he has heard nothing else. Leaning close to the creature’s face, he wrinkles his nose at the stench of decay that seeps from its flesh. “Such a disgusting beast. That’s why I know its kind is hiding that horrible Messiah woman. Johnathan Custer is sure this person is around and waiting to rise up against him. We need to find her before she can strike like the serpent she truly is. The D.C. ruins are the only place we haven’t checked. Where did Reuben go? Did he even show up? Could have sworn I saw him at the meeting before we left. He was supposed to have the search map. Never mind, I have it in my pocket.”
“That’s a lot of crazy to take in even for me,” Lloyd interjects from where he is standing in the circle. His hands go into the air when everyone points a gun at him, including Cassidy in an attempt to blend in. “How does that even work? Not the torture thing, but something else that I better not mention out loud. By the way, it’s great to see those pills back on the market. Hope the siblings fixed the blockage problem. I mean, my bloodlust was stopped up for days and that’s not something you want to come out in a rush. Makes a really big mess.”
“If it isn’t the psychopath that we were warned about,” Captain Boyle says as he cracks his knuckles. Wincing in pain, he shakes his aching hand and gives it a gentle kiss. “Your friend must be around here somewhere. Hiding in the trees with a rifle? Maybe she’s going to charge in with that jeep while you distract us. Wait, I get it now. One of the other groups looking for the Evil Messiah hired you to spy on us. Your friend is already on her way back to report our findings. Spread out, men, and don’t come back until you find that woman.”
The soldiers leave in pairs, those who go to the road immediately yelling that they have found the jeep. Within a minute, all of the men and women have disappeared into the distance and only their occasional shouts can be heard. Only Bullwhip notices Cassidy, who remains standing only a few feet away from Captain Boyle. The torturer tries to point her out, but his employer angrily waves at him to continue working on the Half-Dead. Shaking his head in amazement, the leather-clad man grabs one of his remaining tools and pops a pill before slashing away at the creature’s arms. For his part, Captain Boyle never looks away from Lloyd, the serial killer’s reputation for striking quickly making him nervous. His focus is so strong that the squad leader never hears Cassidy walk up behind him. The only warning he gets is the click of her handgun an instant before she shoots him in the back of the head.
“I don’t have the patience for that level of stupid,” the mercenary states, turning her weapon on Bullwhip. The man drops his tool and moves away from the Half-Dead, which is staring blankly at Lloyd. “I’m going to pretend that I’m not offended at being ignored. Maybe it would have helped if I bent over and showed off my tattoo, but that’s just pride talking. Are they getting dumber as we get closer to New York? At this rate, whatever is waiting for us there will be braindead.”
“To be fair, the rumors about your appearance don’t always match the reality. Some people describe you as having large . . . assets,” Bullwhip politely explains while inching toward the bundle of rags. Taking out the Half-Dead’s pain pills, he slowly goes back to give the creature some medicine. “No hard feelings since we’re all doing our jobs here. Bullwhip’s employer is dead, so Bullwhip has no reason to keep on working. This was a strange job anyway. Is there any way Bullwhip can release this thing and not get killed?”
“Doesn’t look that way,” Cassidy answers, her attention more on looting Captain Boyle’s body. Pocketing all of his medals and tossing a package of licorice to Lloyd, she goes about removing the combat boots. “These are in my size, which is surprising for a tall guy. If you want to get away alive then tell us what’s going on. Otherwise, we’ll let the Half-Dead out and trip you before you can run. Not that we have anything to worry about since we’d be the one saving it. Monster or not, they do have some human emotions left like gratefulness.”
Bullwhip glances at the infamous assassin, which is in a euphoric state thanks to its pain medication. “You probably got the idea from Captain William Boyle’s ranting, but Bullwhip will tell you what he knows. There are rumors that a powerful figure from the past has been hiding somewhere in the country. All signs point to this woman being near Washington D.C. or even in the radioactive zone. This could mean that she’s a Half-Dead, but nobody knows for sure. The rumors didn’t get much traction until that Johnathan Custer guy arrived and this guy named Grymer started taking things seriously. Now, they want to find this woman and kill her before she causes trouble. Bullwhip’s job was to get information, but that didn’t go anywhere. That’s really all I know. Can Bullwhip go now?”
Cassidy jerks her thumb at the road, which prompts the torturer to grabs his remaining tools and run away. She waits for the man to be out of sight before getting closer to the Half-Dead, her stomach turning as she starts to pick the lock. Being careful not to touch the toxic creature, she goes about freeing it from the lead-lined chains. Sweat trickles down her head and she is too focused on the nerve-wracking task to react to two of the soldiers returning. The men are about to shoot when Lloyd tackles them and slits both of their throats with a pocketknife. Moving faster, Cassidy gets the bonds off the Half-Dead and hurries out of reach in case the creature mistakes her for an enemy. Instead, the rag-wearing assassin calmly picks up its bundle and wanders away without a second glance.
“I know I’ve killed a few of those, but they do creep me out,” Lloyd says with a violent shudder. The Half-Dead stops and turns around, causing him to wave and grin. “That’s a compliment, Mr. Jerky. Go forth and do whatever it is you do. There we go. Just keep on walking. I told you that we should have gone through Pennsylvania, kid.”
“Not with the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh feud that we’ve almost been dragged into three times,” Cassidy replies while taking ammunition off the fallen soldiers. Not wanting to run into the rest of the squad, she jogs back to the jeep and quickly gets behind the wheel. “Ben didn’t mark this place on the map, so we don’t have to get involved. The next stop is supposed to be New Jersey, so let’s head up to Bethesda and get back on schedule.”
“Are you sure we can’t do a little digging?” the serial killer requests, flashing his best attempt at puppy dog eyes. He whimpers when his partner closes her window and the engine growls to life. “Fine, but this goes against the protagonist way of life. We don’t just find something like this and leave. If this is a video game then we’re passing up a side-quest that could get us the secret weapon needed to kill Custer. Not sure what that would be since we haven’t seen the man since the first chapter. Honestly, he’s doing a terrible job maintaining a villainous presence in this adventure. Hey, what if this leads us to an upgrade for the jeep? Like it can fly or shoot rainbow sprinkles out of the muffler. Then again, some side-quests end with useless junk like a rusty fishing hook or a weapon that’s not nearly as good as what you have now. On the other hand, unlockable costumes for us would be very cool.”
Lloyd is silenced by a loud honk of the horn and the jeep rolling down the road, its speed allowing him to easily catch up. Climbing into the passenger seat, he crosses his arms and pouts like a denied child. He only cheers up when Cassidy fishes a preserved comic book out from behind her chair and tosses it in his lap. Lloyd is about to ask how long she has been holding onto the rare item, but fears that she will take it away if he speaks. Instead, he opens the glove compartment and hands her a premade thank you card. Satisfied with the exchange, the appeased murderer leans back to enjoy his new treasure until the constant bumps in the road make him queasy and force him to put his head out the window.