(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
“I sense that an old Jew rewarding us with a Chinese food buffet is wrong, but it tastes too good for me to complain,” Lloyd mumbles with a mouthful of beef. Getting up from the table, he goes back for thirds and scowls at one of the empty pots. “Who finished the last of the fried wontons? There were ten here last time I checked. Not many egg rolls or sesame chicken left either. How did I not see where all this food went?”
“Told you to work with more than one plate at a time,” Cassidy says while struggling with chopsticks. Having four plates and two bowls of delicious-smelling food around her, she gets impatient and skewers a piece of chicken. “Come back to the table and I’ll give you some of what I took. The flyer did say that it was free and all we could eat. Whatever we don’t finish can be road food. Beats the jerky and brownies we’ve been stuck with for a while. Hey, they just put out some more sweet and sour pork. Could you grab me some?”
“That was actually an old flyer and I have to trade for everything you take,” Ben mentions, his words falling on deaf ears. With a sigh, he writes a payment offer on a napkin and hands it to a nearby waiter. “Thankfully, I have a supply of containers that they can use. Still, I do ask that you be a little more restrained. There’s still a lot of work to do. Johnathan and Elaine Custer are still in Las Vegas, so now is our time to strike.”
Cassidy and Lloyd pause with food almost to their mouths, their sudden silence causing the handful of other patrons to get nervous. Ben remains calm even when the pair reach for their weapons and others start to inch for the door. Seeing the waiter hesitant to get closer, the old man waves him to come closer and signs off on the deal. The tension is finally broken when Lloyd snatches the last dumpling and Cassidy grabs a fork to get it back. It is a brief tug-of-war that ends when the food falls to the floor and a small pig darts out from behind a potted plant to steal the snack. Ben breathes a faint sigh of relief when his guests go back to their meals and act like they have forgotten what made them angry. It is not until Cassidy puts her hand over his soup that he realizes he is not yet in the clear.
“The good food and fond memories of stuff like this before the collapse are why you’re not dead, messiah number two,” the mercenary states, gently removing her hand. She grabs one of the plates and leans back in her chair, a threatening growl keeping Lloyd from eating what she has claimed. “As you can see, we’re a little angry and savage at the moment. Kind of happens when you’re pitted against what feels like an endless wave of idiots. The cherry on this shit sundae is that you’re not through with us. I’m guessing you want us to take out the Custers and make sure they’re no longer a problem.”
“There is nobody to rise up and take his place,” Ben says, nodding emphatically. Sensing that they are still angry, he points at an ice cream cart that is being moved out of the kitchen. “I know my plan sounds ridiculous and complicated, but it worked. Nobody will try to continue with his ambitions. The Shattered States won’t turn into a dictatorship. We can make this country something stronger for the people.”
“Isn’t that what our enemy was trying to do?” Lloyd asks, a predatory grin causing some soy sauce to drip from his lips. He blushes at the mess and wipes it away, the same motion helping him steal food off Cassidy’s fork. “Complain and I let everyone know that you’re still wearing the bikini under your clothes. Where was I? I get the feeling that-”
The serial killer is silenced when Cassidy kicks both of his shins, allowing her to continue speaking. “It may be skimpy, but I look damn good in it. Might come in handy as a distraction costume or something. Anyway, Lloyd is right. It sounds like you want to take over the country and remake it to your vision. That makes you no different than Custer. He probably says it’s for the good of the people and a positive future too. Sure, his agents turned out to be cannibals, psychopaths, and ancient relics, which made killing them rather guilt free. Still, I do wonder if we were just used to take out your enemy and clear the way for your own ambitions. It isn’t like you’ve told us all of your plans for the future and you do fall into the ancient relic category. Why shouldn’t we shoot you now and then take out the Custers?”
“Because I’m paying for your food and gas,” Ben proudly answers. He smiles at the way his guests shrug and go back to their food, the debate apparently settled. “You two are such curious creatures. I’m not even sure how to put it into words. Not so much random or chaotic, but .bu . . adaptable? It isn’t a surprise that you succeeded. This is another reason why I’m going to rethink my own plans.”
“You lost me, Guru of Gefilte,” Lloyd blurts out before trying to hog all the rice.
While Cassidy goes to get more food, Ben takes out a small, battered notebook and hands it to Lloyd. He goes back to his meal while the serial killer thumbs through a collection of ideas that make little sense to him. The old man can tell which section is being read by the expression of bewilderment and attempted concentration. Hearing a small disturbance by the buffet, he glances over in time to see Cassidy walking away from a burly biker. The large patron is doubled-over and gripping his stomach while the mercenary is cheerfully devouring the last of the beef skewers. Ben notices that she is subtly rubbing her rear and sits down awkwardly, making him think the injured biker may have rightfully earned the punch. He waves for Cassidy to give his extensive notes a read, but she takes one look at Lloyd’s pained expression and tosses the book back to the owner.
“I guess it really isn’t important since I have to rethink things,” Ben admits, a few tears welling up in his eyes. With a chuckle, he tucks his notebook into his jacket pocket and pulls out a used tissue for his face. “My original plans were for a country that was more civilized and stable than this one. You are right that I would be trying to do the same as my enemies even if I wasn’t building a body count. It is still something to work for, but I don’t want to attempt it when it pits me against people like you. Quite frankly, and as much as I hate to say it, the Shattered States belong to the survivors. Who am I to step in and force them into an ideology that would undo the progress they’ve already made? No, I think I need to wander and come up with something that will work with what has been built.”
“You could just say that we scare you too much,” Lloyd mentions, earning a loud laugh from Ben. Waving over a waiter, he points at the table and then the buffet. “Can you pack all of this up for us? We have a long trip to Las Vegas and we’re not going to be stopping for anything. Maybe sleep and gas, but only if we have to.”
“We can’t fit all of that in the jeep,” Cassidy says while staring longingly at the fresh lo mein that is coming out. Doing some quick math in her head, she sighs and waves to the nervous waiter. “Please pack up what’s on the table and give us a little bit of everything. We’ll try to come back here once we’re done. Maybe we can bring Katie and a few of our other friends along.”
“It does require a reservation,” the waiter politely claims. He gulps loud enough for everyone to hear when Cassidy pulls out her handgun. “I will write down your names and give you a discount. When do you think you will be back?”
“Probably a month to make sure there are no loose ends. Right, former messiah?”
Ben feels a chill run up his spine even though Cassidy and Lloyd are back to eating. “I will leave it in your hands. This whole thing has gone beyond my involvement. All I can say is good luck and happy hunting.”
Nodding in silent agreement, Cassidy and Lloyd finish their plates while the waiters prepare their leftovers. Once all of the bags are brought over, the pair shake their former employer’s hands and leave with their delicious rewards. As he watches them get on the elevator, Ben leans back and takes out his notebook. While munching on a fortune cookie, the old man thumbs through the pages and hums his favorite song. Reaching a blank page, he jots down a few notes about Cassidy and Lloyd, but he tears it out and puts it in his pocket instead of leaving it in the book.
“She is definitely your kid, old friend,” Ben whispers with smile.