As usual, here is your warning that this story has cursing, sex (not graphic), innuendo, and violence. It’s my Rated-R action adventure called Derailing Bedlam. This is the fourth outing (third official) for Cassidy and Lloyd, so feel free to click on one of the two covers to see how it started. Each one is 99 cents!
Leaving the jeep in the parking lot, the trio get their weapons checked and are each given a pink ticket. Having expected the security, their more expensive gear has been locked up in the electrified vehicle, which crackles whenever one of the thousands of flies makes contact. It takes another minute for the chains to be taken off the metal gate, which is connected to the towering fence. Tents, carts, and booths run far into the distance, none of them matching or showing any sign of order within the trading fields. Pushing Dick in his wheelchair, Cassidy makes sure to hit every bump and stop short whenever someone crosses their path. Her ex finally gets fed up with the treatment and stands with one of his hands still clutching his injured groin. Like sharks reacting to the presence of blood, a swarm of merchants rush forward to offer a variety of canes and crutches. With nothing to trade with, Dick does his best to politely reject the offers until Lloyd gives a woman the wheelchair in return for a splintery crutch.
“Bart’s two rows over and three more down from here,” the bounty hunter says, his voice nearly drowned out by the surrounding noise. He winces at the sensation of a splinter piercing his armpit and does his best to pick it out while walking. “Thanks for getting me out of there. I had two more weeks on my sentence and Bart won’t work on my plane unless I’m around. He keeps worrying that I’ll buy a new one and waste his time like I did last year. In my defense, this one has machine guns and better fuel capacity. So, I heard about you causing trouble in the South and messing with that Nevada warlord.”
“Good to hear that your ears still work,” Cassidy mutters as she scans the stalls for any gear that can help them retake the train. She is about to stop and check out a satellite phone, but sees that the casing is heavily damaged. “Just get us to Bart and we can go back to staying far away from each other. By the way, you look a lot uglier than I remember. I mean, you were pretty gross to begin with, but now . . . Did you try to have sex with a lawnmower?”
Nearly every man who hears the question winces and shifts awkwardly as Dick loudly declares, “I would never do such a thing! My harem and I had a disagreement. They claimed I had to choose one and I felt it was a silly request. Next thing I knew, I’m being attacked in my sleep and had to escape in my plane. When I got back to my house, every girl had left and they took most of my stuff. The scars are from one who loved to wear metal nails, which always felt cool against my skin.”
“I should stop thinking you couldn’t sound stupider or more pathetic,” Lloyd interjects before Cassidy can speak. With a yawn, he trudges behind the others and tries to ignore the delicious smells in the air. “Just want to point out that we haven’t eaten all day, kid. We could have remained in custody long enough to get lunch. All I’m saying is that I’m wasting away like a bad guy who opened the evil thing. Can’t even get my analogies right. I have a box of rubber bands and paperclips. Think I could get a kebob for that?”
“So, you really are playing for the other team, huh?” Dick asks as they walk around a food tent. He stops when he hears a loud whistle and is forced to wait for his companions to get a meal that they make no attempt to share. “All I’m saying is that you were pretty good in the sack for a novice. It’s a shame that you’re only into women now. Maybe I can remind you how good a man is and you’ll realize that you’re bisexual. Then, we can work together to rebuild my harem and share the girls. What do you say, Cass?”
The mercenary slowly chews the food in her mouth and glares at the man. “I say you have until I finish this kebab to get us to Bart’s shop.”
“Or I’ll jam this skewer in a very sensitive, small place.”
Dropping his crutch, Dick proves he is barely injured and jogs through the crowd. He shoves people out of his way, but tries to do it in a way that makes it look they bumped into him. Only once does somebody push back and he uses the attack to help him clumsily charge through a tightly packed group. Falling on his back and rolling into a crouch, Dick points at the other man, which redirects the annoyed mob’s attention. Seeing that Cassidy only has a few bites left, he risks her wrath by picking her up and sprinting down a trampled path. He can barely hear Lloyd behind him, the serial killer whistling the classic funeral dirge. The desperate bounty hunter sweats when he glances over his shoulder and watches his exe stuff the last bit of meat into her mouth. Seeing their destination, Dick hurls the mercenary at an open-air tent that has a laminated sign, which reads ‘Bart the Best’ in crayon.
Landing with a thud, Cassidy starts to choke on her food and angrily pounds her fist against her chest. It is only when a gentle and callused hand slaps her on the back that the bite comes flying out. Without a word, she whirls around and gives an old, bald man a big hug that he returns with his powerful arms. The feeling of grease and oil on her skin brings a tear to the mercenary’s eyes as her mind is flooded with memories of her time in Bart’s workshop. Having missed the smell of her dear friend and his trade, she takes a deep breath through her nose and holds it for a few seconds. The inventor chuckles and takes the hippo hat off his head before gently placing it on Cassidy. Light glints off his bullet-made teeth when he smiles and greets Lloyd with a handshake, the serial killer cringing at the way his knuckles pop from the power of his grip.
“Hey, Rivet, get out here!” Bart shouts while banging on a metal panel. A chrome-haired young man in overalls and a tan shirt wanders out of the workshop, his right leg moving with a slight limp. “I got myself a fairly talented apprentice since the last time you two came to me for help. Anyway, Rivet here begged me for a week to give him a chance and did every odd job I tossed his way. My hope was to scare him off, but this kid was too stubborn to retreat. Reminds me of you, Cassidy, which might be why I kept him around even after he got a pop rivet stuck in his knee.”
“It’s an honor to meet you,” the apprentice says with a low bow. He tries to wipe the grease from his hands, but pauses when he spots Dick. “Where have you been? I needed those parts for my radio two days ago. Bart was looking for the screws you said you would get too. It’s like working with a perverted gorilla. Bet you would have gotten it done if I had breasts and wore a bikini.”
“No, you’d still be too ugly for me,” Dick retorts before he is zapped by a stun gun. He tries to spit at Cassidy as he falls into a pile of tires, but can only drool as he collapses.
“In her defense, his name suits him,” Lloyd mentions, his attention partially stolen by a hippo fountain. Made from welded scrap metal, he gets a closer look to find that there are toy fish in the basin. “Love the additions to the collection. Your daughter would have a blast with all of these. Oh my god! Is that a hippo kiddie ride? Please tell me it works and I can use it while we talk.”
Bart chuckles at the serial killer before tossing him a key from his belt. “Knock yourself out, but get off if you hear any strange noises. Finished fixing it up yesterday, so I haven’t given it a real test. I’ll consider it part of the payment for whatever toys you need. Found another satellite phone, but I’m going to hold onto it for myself. Helps me talk to some distant contacts that I use for supplies. I have another boost system if you’re up for an experiment. Can’t offer much in terms of weapons considering you travel with an armory that would make most warlords piss themselves. So, what do you need?”
Cassidy takes off her denim jacket and heads into the tent, which is filled with machinery and unfinished projects. Sitting at the work table, she grabs a bottle and quickly cleans the grease off her favorite piece of clothing. Every time the mercenary looks up at the smiling inventor, she finds it difficult to make her request. Accepting a drink from Rivet, she downs it in one shot and gasps at the feeling of whiskey ripping down her throat. Flipping off the chuckling gearheads, Cassidy wipes the tears from her eyes and rubs her gurgling stomach. Her body tenses when Bart sits next to her and puts a gentle hand on her shoulder. Wishing Lloyd will tactlessly blurt out what she wants to say and take the heat off her, the mercenary looks to her friend. She groans at the way he is happily rocking on the hippo ride, his hands flailing in the air like he is on a rollercoaster.
“Thought this would be easy, but I’m realizing that I’m about to ask a lot of you,” Cassidy whispers before putting her jacket back on. She exhales in an attempt to relax, but the action seems to make things worse. “We were on the Holly Sage Express with the Duchess of LaSalle, but we were left behind. The conductor is working for the Nebraskan gangs and is taking the train there. They’ll probably kill everyone on board once they cross the border since it’s too much of a hassle to do it while retreating. Lloyd and I are determined to catch up and stop it, but we’ll probably have to kill the conductor. So . . . I was hoping you could come along or send us to a friend who can do it.”
“That is a heavy request,” Bart admits as he removes his apron. He goes to a sink to wash his hands with soap, which fills the air with a chemical smell. “You know, I was wondering why I saw tracks going through South Dakota when I was traveling up here. Thought they were part of an abandoned rail system that someone failed to fix. Saw some gang members roaming around here too, so I should have figured it had something to do with that train. To be honest, I really wanted to get a look at that beauty. Been a long time since I was on one of them too. Hey, Rivet, do you think you could hold down the fort here for a week or two? Dick can be a bodyguard and gofer.”
“I’d prefer that you take him, but I guess he’d do less damage here than with you,” the apprentice answers with a sigh. Feeling his ulcer act up, he takes a long drink from a canteen that is emblazoned with a maple leaf. “To be honest, I can handle the repairs for all of the current projects and most of your notes are legible. The only problem I’m going to have is packing up the shop and moving on with the bazaar. I always find myself with a few pieces of machinery that won’t fit on the truck. Do you have anything I can give to Rockspit and Mandy? Just in case I need help with that.”
“They have grandkids, so give them ten of the windup toys from the emergency trading box,” the inventor replies, nodding his head at a locked cabinet. Sliding a ring of keys across the table, he pulls out a suitcase and begins putting tools inside. “If people ask where I am, tell them I had a family emergency. There shouldn’t be much of a problem, but I’ll bring the satellite phone in case you need to contact me. Linda with the cat-shaped car has one that you can borrow throughout the month if you give her a roll of duct tape.”
“Wait a second,” Cassidy finally interrupts when she snaps out of her daze. Catching Bart by the arm, she stops him from packing up some clothes and does her best to meet his stare. “This is going to be dangerous, so you don’t have to come along. Send someone else if you’re busy or give me a book and I’ll do it. At least think about staying behind instead of agreeing without a fight. Don’t put yourself at risk for me.”
“Why wouldn’t I do that?”
“Because . . . We’re . . . Come on, Bart, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Like I said, a family emergency.”
“Could you at least say you’re doing it to get your hands on the train?”
The inventor sighs and gives Cassidy a small kiss on the cheek, his lips leaving a glossy mark of oil on her skin. “You ever wonder why I used to drop everything to give you lessons or why I give you a discount that people would kill for? That’s because you’re like a daughter to me. Same with your mother and a handful of others who have helped to keep me in business and alive throughout the years. I owe all of you more than inventions and knowledge. This problem requires that I travel with you, so I’m going to step up and pay my debt. Doesn’t matter how dangerous it is, Cassidy. This old coot isn’t the type to leave family in the wind or hand their problems off to others. Still, if it will make you happy, I’ll say I’m doing this to get my hands on the train and tinker with the parts.”
Accepting that Bart is determined to help, Cassidy takes his clothes and puts them in the suitcase. She forces herself to smile when he hands her a list of supplies and a wheeled toolbox that has been covered in floral stickers. The mercenary hurries to put everything in the designated slots and fight the urge to argue again. It is only when the inventor puts a battery-powered jackhammer and a modified bolt gun on the table that she finds the strength to fully relax. Bart notices her curious gaze and flashes an impish smile, his metal teeth shimmering in the sunlight.