(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
“How can you eat that?”
“Because I’m hungry, kid.”
“Even after what we saw a few hours ago?”
“I’ve seen worse.”
“So have I, but at least take a day before you dig into the jerky.”
“Well, we’re out of brownies.”
“Don’t judge me.”
They are halfway across the top level of the George Washington Bridge when Cassidy stomps on the brakes. A line of men and women in tuxedos block the road, all of them holding canes that are planted in the asphalt. More people swarm from the lower level to block the jeep from going backwards, all of them taking the same stance. None of them react to the honking horn, revving engine, or a gunshot that pings off the bridge railing. Protected by the armor plating and bulletproof glass, Cassidy gets to the dome and pulls out two of the machineguns to aim at both lines. She is about to pull the triggers when a bald woman steps out of the front line and waves a white handkerchief over her head. The only difference between her clothes and those of her friends is a golden tie, the fabric glinting in the sun as if it is metal. With a snap of her fingers, she gets both lines to sit down and put their canes across the laps in unison. Bowing only a few steps from the jeep, the woman patiently waits for Cassidy and Lloyd to come out before swiftly putting the handkerchief in her sleeve.
“I am the emissary of the Trade Barons who have sent me to talk,” the woman states as she stands with her legs slightly apart. She calmly puts her arms behind her back and keeps her body rigid, reminding the pair of a soldier standing at attention. “They have been told by a mutual friend that you were coming. We expected your arrival over a week ago, but our employers understand that delays happen. An agent of ours in Delaware said you were on your way, so we are glad to have met up with you.”
“That’s great . . . I mean it,” Lloyd says while inching toward the railing. He takes a peek at the lower level, but is unsure if he can drop to it without hurting himself. “Pretty sure we’re still on the outs with your employers. That’s why we’re not allowed on Long Island or very close to the bridges. In my defense, I’d only been out of prison for a few hours and a guy tricked me into killing his competitor. Nobody told me about the rules and it was really all in good fun. Any of these excuses working?”
“The Trade Barons are fully aware of the situation from two years ago,” the emissary answers, pulling out a document. Handing it to Cassidy, she returns to her original position, but with her head turned toward Lloyd. “Your inexperience and the fact that you were tricked are the reasons you were never pursued. Now, that document is a partial pardon, which will allow you to return to Long Island. Your visits will be announced and supervised to some extent for a year. If you stay out of trouble for that long then we will pretend the murder and ensuing chase did not happen two years ago.”
Not taking his eyes off the emissary, Lloyd walks over to Cassidy and holds up the document. He tries reading it while watching the stone-faced woman, but it starts to give him a migraine. Taking a seat on the hood of the jeep, he looks over the message while nodding his head. Lloyd raises his hand and opens his mouth to speak, no words coming out before he abruptly goes back to the document. He turns the paper upside down and sideways, which does not help him understand the legalese jargon. Feeling more nauseous than when he was with Glut, the serial killer hands the partial pardon back to Cassidy. She lets it fall to the ground, making no move to stop it from blowing off the bridge. The act is enough to get both lines to stand and partially draw the blades hidden in their canes, but they stop at the sound of their leader clearing her throat.
“Why do the Trade Barons care about this?” the mercenary asks, unsurprised that she is handed another document. She puts it in her pocket without checking to see if it is the same deal, her interest in paperwork nonexistent. “Not that I think they’re evil or greedy like Custer, but he could be good for business. He’s a former billionaire. Then again, he might be a current one with all of the gold he’s amassed in Vegas.”
“And there you have the problem,” the emissary points out with a nod of her head. Snapping her fingers behind her back, she gets five of her coworkers to approach and open scrolls that list thousands of tradable goods. “Our employers are the wealthiest people on the east coast since they have taken full advantage of the country’s bartering system. Johnathan Custer hates this way of business and wants to return to money. That is bad for the Trade Barons, so they want him to be stopped. It would be messy for them to get involved themselves, but you are here to do the work. Not on their behalf, of course. We have always been on the lookout for a deal to make with you two and bring you back into our circles. From our talks with the Duchess of LaSalle, we know you are good for business and she would be willing to share your services.”
“I’m not sure if I should feel like a whore or a prostitute,” Lloyd says with a grin. Sliding off the jeep, he notices a mark on the bumper and tries to clean it before his partner notices. “Well, this is a nice touch to our adventure. I was wondering if there would be a reward at the end of the road that wasn’t saving the day. Heroism is totally overrated these days. Are you going to give us any help or tips? We’re kind of going in blind.”
“Our mutual friend’s map will direct you to a tower edged with gold,” the woman explains while pointing in the direction of New York City. She pauses for a moment, her hands becoming a fist that quivers with anger. “It once belonged to the oldest Trade Baron, but he was killed when Custer’s men attacked. By the time we learned of the incident, he had already escaped to Las Vegas and he had an army inside. Many of them once worked with us, but now they are completely loyal to the Custers. We have no information about their activities. The Trade Barons have tried to spread the idea that they are a cult, but it has not gained any traction outside of the city.”
Cassidy rolls her eyes and goes back to the driver’s side door, opening it to pull out two of her shotguns. “I’m pretty sure we can hold our own. My mom has a few stashes around the city too, so we’ll check those out. She wasn’t big on explosives, but there might be a rocket launcher in one of them. I remember a wood chipper and some chainsaws too. Does any of this sound like it would be helpful?”
The emissary puts out both arms, which causes two of the people in the line to march forward with matching bags. They are handed to the woman, who calmly checks each one to make sure the contents are correct. Satisfied that everything is inside, she holds out the packages for Cassidy and Lloyd to take. It takes them a second to accept the gift, the emissary cracking the hint of a smile when they scratch their heads. With a clap of her hands, the line blocking the way to New York splits in half and the people move to line the edge of the bridge. Those behind the jeep remain in position, but are visibly more relaxed and put their cane swords on their shoulders instead of standing at attention.
“The Bronze Stars are being labeled as a cult for obvious reasons,” the emissary says while taking a walkie-talkie out of her jacket. Instead of talking into the device, she taps a code over it and switches channels after every sentence. “This is from me, but I would highly recommend using caution. Many have been sent in as spies and assassins. Some were found dead and others have disappeared, but many of them have joined the Bronze Stars. Whatever they do in there tempts the weak-minded into abandoning all previous loyalties.”
“Good thing we’re not weak-minded,” Cassidy replies with a smirk. She stops when she spots Lloyd spitting for distance off the bridge. “That doesn’t disprove what I said. He’s insane and I’m stubborn, so we’ll be fine. Although, it’s strange that you’re talking like you already know what’s in that tower. Is there something you aren’t telling us?”
The emissary steps away from the jeep and hops onto the far railing, the woman politely bowing. She takes a single step backwards and falls out of sight, which Cassidy assumes is for show. The others gradually follow their leader’s example in groups of three, only a few of them acknowledging the travelers before disappearing. Those who drop off Lloyd’s side reveal that they are landing on camouflaged cushions that have been inflated on the lower level. Alone on the top of the bridge, the pair let the silence linger for a minute before getting into the jeep and continuing on their way.