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!
“I can’t believe we have another problem to deal with,” Cassidy says as she walks into the hallway. Waiting for Lloyd to finish kissing Katie, the mercenary impatiently taps her foot and points at her wrist. “Are you really going to let him go on this job? We’re talking about the Lone Horseman. As brave as I am, I’m not excited about going up against that assassin, mass murderer, or whatever it is. There has yet to be an attack by this thing that has left less than twenty bodies and nobody has ever seen what this person looks like. We don’t even know if they actually take jobs or are out to kill everyone in the Shattered States. Yet, you want me to take an injured man on this hunt?”
“To be honest, I was suggesting you split up, so he’d be on his own,” Katie bluntly replies with a smile. Lifting her boyfriend’s arm, she checks his sutures before gently putting a bandage over the spot. “Your mobility won’t be normal and excessive movement will reopen up that wound. Needless to say, I hope Cassidy finds the Lone Horseman, but Tyler demanded everyone be on this problem. We’re very close to Portland and that maniac is threatening to put poison in the water supply. Dale is guarding the central access point, so I promised you two would take the others. Remember that retreating to where someone can help is always an option. I won’t think too much less of you.”
“You’re not pulling off this worried girlfriend thing very well,” Lloyd admits when he spots a telltale twitch of the warlord’s lips. Moving his left arm, he tries to get a sense of how much he can push it before the stitches feel like they are about to pop. “Not too bad and it’s not my favorite arm. It shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance. Good thing we didn’t have to deal with the usual mess of stumbling into this problem. Is this guy or girl really that big of a threat? More importantly, how did they get a horse on the train without anyone knowing?”
“I’ve told you about the Lone Horseman before, but you always made jokes about cowboy porn,” Cassidy reminds her friend. Drawing one of her pistols, she checks to make sure the safety is off and that she has full magazine. “There’s no horse and I think the name came about because they started down in Texas. Gave it a cowboy, gunslinger feel or something stupid like that. I’d bet money on this bastard waiting in Clark Fork and sneaking onboard. By this point, Tyler would be much more interested in getting to Portland than searching for stowaways and threats. Who found out about this?”
Katie stops closing the door to her room and pokes her head out to reply, “For some reason, the Lone Horseman left a message on Tyler’s door. It was with two bodies, which is why he’s taking it seriously. Now, stop chatting and get this person. I have something else to attend to that depends on us living through the day.”
As the door is closed and locked, the confused pair shrug and go in separate directions to cover the entire train. Cassidy stops and turns to request that Lloyd stay in contact, but finds that he has already disappeared. She makes it two more steps before realizing that he was not wearing his headset, which causes her to curse under her breath. Taking her own device off, she stops in her room to drop it off and pick up two more magazines. Still feeling uneasy about the job, Cassidy checks the hallway before leaving her room. The temptation to follow Lloyd instead of continuing on her original path nearly makes her chase down the serial killer. Delivering a slap to her own face, the mercenary snaps herself out of her anxious thoughts and heads into the next car.
A wall of smoke drives Cassidy back and she lifts her gun in anticipation of an attack before she spots a passenger in the gloom. The man is puffing on two cigars and she can hear more movement deeper within the acrid cloud. All of the people are wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the smoke and ash while they enjoy the smell. Inching back into the car, Cassidy puts up her hood and closes her watering eyes. Having to depend on sound and touch, she makes her way around the smokers and tables. Every time she bumps into another person, the mercenary grips her gun and prepares for an attack. It is not until she is almost at the other door that she realizes the Lone Horseman could easily kill her without a struggle. She remembers the stories about bodies being found dismembered and carved up, which makes her more nervous than before. Bursting into the next car, Cassidy gasps for air and coughs out of fear as much as to get rid of the horrible taste in her mouth.
“That was so foul,” she says, pulling out a flask. She gargles the whiskey and lets the burning sensation cleanse her throat of the cigars’ effects. “I’m going to be smelling that for a long time. Need to clean my jacket too. Shit, now I can’t sneak up on the bastard. Those fucking idiots.”
Leaning back into the room, Cassidy shoots at one of the windows to break the glass and immediately ducks out of sight. Chuckling at the sound of screams and complaints, she jogs through the car and keeps an eye out for anyone moving in the adjoining rooms. The atmosphere strikes her as eerily silent until she opens the next door and discovers that there is a rowdy celebration. She calmly waves to Tyler, who is behind the bar and doing his best to appear relaxed. Knowing the situation is taking its toll on the businessman, Cassidy puts her gun away and weaves through the crowd. Accepting a few drinks and declining several invitations to private rooms, the mercenary tries to act casual and repeatedly lies about needing to find a bathroom. Spotting Amarillo at a nearby table, she smiles and shakes her flask at him, which is a gesture he politely returns. The mercenary spins around a drunken man who tries to hug her and gently pushes on the back of his knee with her foot. The passenger falls to the floor and creates enough of a distraction for Cassidy to slip out of the room unnoticed.
“Fuck it, I need to get to that access point,” she hisses before breaking into a sprint. She rushes through the cars until she enters the gym and hits something both solid and soft with her face. “Who the hell put a cushioned wall in my way? It’s like my face was struck by a pillow, but my forehead hit a brick wall.”
“Suck a dildo, bitch,” Luca growls while glaring at the shorter woman. She rubs her thumb against the red spot on her chest and winces at the pain. “Did you get that scar from having a metal plate put in your head? That sort of hurt. Now, get out of my way because I want to find that Lone Horseman and get the reward.”
“Nothing that way, but they’re supposed to be poisoning the water supply,” Cassidy replies, unsure of why she is being honest. She stares at her hand and wiggles her fingers to see if there are any signs of a concussion. “Do you happen to know who or what we’re looking for? I have nothing to go on.”
“This guy wasn’t really on my radar until I overheard the name an hour ago,” the bounty hunter admits as sounds of the distant party draw her towards the other car. She does not see anyone coming, but all of the doors are still open enough that she can barely make out people dancing and drinking. “There was one time the Lone Horseman showed up in Miami and wiped out a small cartel. We tried to solve the case, but there was nothing to work with. It isn’t uncommon to chase a ghost in this country, so it wasn’t that big a blow to our pride. All we figured out was that he or she uses blades and is careful enough not to leave any prints. Honestly, it makes me wonder if we’re dealing with a remorseless psychopath like your friend.”
“Lloyd is a lot less random than people think.”
“I’ve noticed that, but the level of brutality is similar.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better about him hunting alone.”
“Didn’t he take a piece of shrapnel to the armpit and nearly die yesterday?”
“He came close to drowning too.”
“And he’s on his feet? I hate to be impressed by that, but . . . well, there you go.”
The door opens and a young couple wander into the gym, both of them stopping when they see the two guns aimed at their heads. Cassidy and Luca lower their weapons and step out of the partiers’ way, both of them muttering apologies. They use the windows to subtly watch the man and woman stumble away at an agonizingly slow pace. Paying more attention inappropriate touching than avoiding the scattered weights, the couple repeatedly trip over the obstacles and come close to falling flat on their faces. It takes a few minutes for them to reach the other door, which proves to be difficult to open. Working together, they get out of the gym and stagger into the cheering crowd with a blind wave to the two women.
“Tyler picked an odd time to throw a party,” Cassidy quietly mentions. Sniffing at her jacket, she takes it off and drapes it over a treadmill. “Just need a minute to be away from that stench. Not that my skin is any better. How many cars have you checked so far? I went through a bunch and didn’t find anything.”
“I started in the one before the gym and checked all of the rooms,” Luca casually replies, her voice distant as she thinks of what to do next. With a jolt, she whirls around and pokes a finger at the other woman’s chest. “Don’t even think of asking to team up again. Katie hasn’t ordered me to do it, so I can say no. Last time was a waste and I still don’t trust you to keep your hands to yourself. This bounty is all mine, so back off. Besides, you were obviously running through the cars, which means you didn’t really check them.”
Opening her mouth to yell at the bounty hunter, Cassidy stops when the door to the sauna slams shut. Both women quietly wait to see if it happens again, the possibility of it being a breeze rather slim, but enough to make them cautious. After a minute passes and nothing happens, they draw their guns and do a quick spin to make sure they are not falling for a distraction. The small window is too foggy for them to see inside from far away, so they start to inch closer. Cassidy takes a long stride to put herself ahead of Luca, who frowns at the obvious attempt to gain an advantage. With a grunt, the bounty hunter pushes the mercenary into a stationary bike and is practically powerwalking across the car.
“Why are you racing me?” Luca asks in a hushed voice. A weight is rolled into her path and she jumps over it, but the pause when she lands is enough to give her rival the lead. “I’m trying to make a living here. Get out of my way, you pussy-eating freak.”
“Shut your fucking mouth, you dong-sucking, ball-sniffing, plastic-titted, cunt rag of a woman,” Cassidy snarls while stepping in the bounty hunter’s path. She shoves Luca back and angrily smacks the gun away when it is put in her face. “I’ve been shrugging off a lot of your homophobic crap this entire trip. Katie said I couldn’t put a bullet in you and Lloyd said I couldn’t make it look like an accident. I respect my friends’ wishes, but I’m tired of you riding my ass like it’s a mechanical bull. Insulting you won’t really make me happy or put a dent in your obvious issues. So, I’m going to kill the Lone Horseman, take the reward, and not give you any credit.”
Her face red with anger, Luca shoves Cassidy away and rushes for the door. Feeling a hand on the back of her jeans, she whirls around to hit the other woman with her gun, but swings high and takes a punch to the stomach. A club to the upper back sends the mercenary to the floor, but she immediately kicks out to catch the bounty hunter in the knee. Fueled by her pent up rage, Cassidy quickly stands and tries to tackle the stronger woman. She is unable to push Luca very far and takes another strike to her back, the pain making her legs quiver. Needing both hands, they drop their weapons and continue wrestling with neither one gaining the advantage for more than a second. Eventually, they fall into the sauna and the sudden humidity makes them gasp as they crash to the floor. Barely able to see through the steam, they drag themselves up and face off before realizing that somebody had to have opened the door while they were fighting. Before they can get out, the entrance slams shut and a tall rack of weights topples over to prevent the pair from escaping.
“I was wondering if I would have to waste time killing you, but you proved to be more entertaining to watch,” a garbled voice says from outside. A gloved hand holding a knife appears in the window, the blade gently tapping on the glass. “Then again, I’ve turned the dial up pretty high, so you could die in there if nobody comes looking. Gives me plenty of time to accomplish my single goal. Here’s a hint, ladies. I don’t care about poisoning the water or killing anyone else on this train. All I want is to face a monster who I fear has become too domesticated to survive in this world. Enjoy sweating in there. Who knows? Maybe you will get lucky and escape in time to stop me.” With a loud crash, a cabinet falls on top of the weights and makes it impossible to even budge the door. “Then again, maybe not.”