III. The Crimson Crew
A Night of Blood Spilled By Those Who Drink It...
When I saw that tough ol’ Bug soldier on out of view, back into those cobalt mists, I knew it’d be a good long minute before the pair of us got together again. She’s a good lover, just a tough one to hold down, always has been.
I clambered into Harry’s rat-rod, my steel-toed compatriot gussied up for a rockabilly square dance. Fine jeans, nice striped button-up, and the niftiest boots in the New West.
“Mighty nice of ya to do the honors Harry,” I says to him.
“Figure it’s as good a way to tell you I’m back on,” he shot back, “Not looking too bad in the new jack.”
I tipped my hat as he revved up his rat rod. Once she was good and warm, he opened her up real wide, his throttle hitting the license-plated floor with a tinny crunch. We stayed silent for a spell, the ghost of the Settlements still swimming around us. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I went the blunt route.
He looked to me with a distant gaze, like I wasn’t there at all. He drew breath, held it for an eon, and coughed up the answer.
“Scarlet’s doing fine. Sheba too. Ma and Eric been helping her stay well, and Ma and I are keeping up on the car. Pop even made a flying trip out from the School to check on ‘em both. I’ll be checking on Scarlet every morning. Commish is cool with it…with all that plus the bastard paying for it, it’s everything wrapped up.”
‘Bout all we could do for ‘im too.
“Any big news from Rod on the war,” I ask, trying to take his mind off of things.
“Same fights, different day,” he sighed, “Him and his rod Susie are always front of the platoon. Shit scares me half to death, but guess someone’s gotta fight ‘em.”
“Hell, Rod’s too big for ‘em bullets to go through anyway,” I chuckled, Harry snickering in kind. Was glad to see the ice thaw finally.
“By the way, good thing I grabbed ya when I did, Chief’s got us on a manhunt. Brief’s on my data mod.”
I flip open his module and…well well well.
“Maggie E., gray fur, a mighty 6’ even, wanted for theft of cash from the Rio Noche Bank, and…aw shit, another D.P.R.”
“That’s what I said,” came the plain reply, “She likes whipping her dick around. Just so happens to come in .32 ACP.”
“Where Rory at right now?”
“Back at Doc’s,” Harry replied, shifting up, “He’s currently chumming it up with an old family friend.”
“Which of Rod’s duelling buddies is it, this time” I asked with a sigh.
Ah yes, the Bloodsucking Queen of the Duellists. Only gal who doesn’t kill her losers, just takes a little Red Cross donation for her center console. I wasn’t exactly crazy about her. I preferred her gal-pal Lori, but the pair of ‘em were too hot for each other for any of us guys to come knocking at the back door. Feral Fay was just nuts really. Not mean, sweet in her own way, but the blood thing was too damned weird for me.
It was then that Harry took a handful of words and knocked me clean out of the seat.
“She’s our main lead on nabbing E. Eyewitness testimony to the theft. She even tried running our 4-inch wonder off the road. Her Caddy put up a helluva fight, let me tell you.”
When you put it like “our live-in Wasteland vampire is our only shot at this broad,” it sounds crazy. And it wasn’t half as crazy as what we were about to go through.
We had just gotten back to the Spot when I caught her, Rory, and Lori out front. There she was, sat on the trunk of her cherry-red Series 62, just as I remembered her. Same stampede hat, same cutoffs, same red tied-off crop top. She was rocking sandals this time, which was new, and she had an 007 knife dangling from her belt.
Lori was about the same too. Just another denim-dressed gray, nothing special, which I think was why Fay dug her so. The straight man to her routine if you will.
Then there was dear old Rory, who really was getting along swimmingly. If I remember right, I think we caught them talking about the taste of it. Blood I mean. And it was then that I learned Rory had his own ideas about flavor.
“I swear to God, type B tastes the best, you can’t tell me it doesn’t with all that meat coursing through ‘em!”
“Slow down Slick,” Fay grinned, “You ever drank Type O Negative before? That shit’s like the Sauternes of blood. I got a couple vials of it tucked in Caddy’s console if you want to taste.”
“Who the hell goes driving around with Type O in ‘em,” Rory guffawed.
“Baby,” Fay teased, pulling the white bastard close to her, “Blame it on the Bomb.”
You could see Rory’s look of utter confusion from as far as where Harry and I were. You could hear Lori’s laugh from about there too. In time, we drove up and finally met the gaggle of bloodsucking freaks. And I’ll never forget the look she had on her face when she saw Harry.
Whatever I thought of that crazy bitch, she was a loving woman when she wanted to be. She held that young buck tight as a newborn babe in her arms. Nothing could tear her away from those precious few moments between the two of ‘em.
“How the folks,” she asked sweetly.
“Ma and Pa are doing alright,” he sheepishly grinned, “Scarlet too.”
“Nothing quite like a Duelling family, is there,” she chuckled, tasseling the scruff of his head.
When the reunion wound down, I cut straight to the chase.
“We’ve got a D.P.R. on the loose with a sack of quarters and a piece. And I’ve been told Little Miss Dracula’s got the scoop. Lay it on us Fay.”
Fay smirked as she straightened up into her full Amazonian form.
“Alright, since we’re the headline Nicky,” she came on with her smoky femme fatale charm, “We’re dealing with a bona fide bitch. Rocks a Pocket Hammerless, black garb head-to-toe, no Clyde to her Bonnie. When I was chasing her, she was driving a dirty white ‘60 Beetle heading North, back towards the Burnouts. Should look pretty bent outta shape after what I did.”
“Simple,” she grinned, “Dug my claws in at 120 and had lil’ ol’ Caddy take a bite out her back bumper.”
She leaned back to kiss her car’s ass, never once taking her eyes off me.
“Also squeezed off a couple shots with the Winchester. Lori tailed me with her ‘Stang, but we couldn’t catch up. She tossed her latest dish out the shotgun side. Neither of us hit him, but he was already busted up bad. Was D.O.A. by the time he could make it to a Medhub.”
All of a sudden, something vulnerable crept into her eyes.
“Never gon’ forget that fella’s face.”
Lori embraced Fay gently, her quiet way of pulling the Missus back together. Both shot me a look, not of scorn, but of “lay off.”
I bit my tongue for the time being.
“Alright, let’s load up and head north. Richter and Madskins, keep your revolvers locked and loaded. And Fay…”
She looked at me like I called on her in the middle of class.
“Still looking bad as ever,” I warmly smiled.
I winked to her, and she to me, with a kiss blown my way to boot.
“Lori’s riding with me,” she said, straightening her hat, “Tuned up Caddy and cleaned my piece. We’re good to go.”
I tipped my hat, “Ain’t been burying your snout too hard these days, have ya?”
Lori shot me a dirty look, but Fay chuckled. She knew what I meant.
“Bitch smells like burnt coffee grounds. Can’t miss her ‘less we’re driving by a roastery.”
We shook on the knowledge and slid behind the wheels of our rides. In no time at all, the caravan had hit the road to El Quemado.
Night in the desert always held something sensual over me. The air was cooler, yet warmer. Never hot. The sky wasn’t ever black; always topaz with a flecks of white and red dotting it. Even my Hilux felt different. She felt soothed by the midnight air. I could pin her gas to the ground and she’d never roar. She’d hum ever step of the way up the speedometer.
I kept eyes on the band as they drove behind us. Rory and Harry were cruising right along, but it was Fay that worried me. She was twice as mad as any of us behind the wheel, and I could feel the ground shake as she pushed her dear ol’ Caddy to his limits. Good Lord could she make her country girl timbre cut clean through the midnight air when she wanted to.
“HE STILL GOT IT AFTER, WHAT, 400-SOME’IN YEARS NOW?”
“SURE DOES KIDDO” (20-something me says to 30-something her) “DON’T TOUCH THAT POWER BRAKE ANYTIME SOON NOW, Y’HEAR?”
She chuckled as she gave me the bird, a salute with it, and a tip of her hat before falling back behind me as I led the way. It was in the gleam of my truck’s headlights that I saw something that brought the whole caravan to stop.
Maggie left us a body.
He was a white fella, about 40 to 42 or so. He was, shall we say, debauched, and bloodied. Fresh too. Looked like Ms. E a live one, rocking at full tilt.
The gang surrounded the body. Harry said “shit,” Rory said shit, and Lori and Fay clung to one another.
“Get down here Richter. You too Fay.”
Fay gently crouched next to me, Harry dropping on sight alongside.
“Pheromones still in check,” I ask her.
She looked confused for five whole seconds before realizing I wasn’t asking ‘bout hers.
“Got the dark roast all over ‘im.”
I turned to Harry, “Where do you think she coulda picked him up?”
“Only town we passed up on the way was Tallada,” he starts in, “If I was you Speed, my money’s on this fella being a hitcher. Picked him up, had her fun, dropped him. And musta been a while, cause we ain’t got tracks.”
“NOT SO FAST,” Rory came careening, “Get a load of what we got here.”
The gang bolt over to find more than just tracks. Chick left a whole tire behind. Flat fifth of a one if their ever was.
“Good eye Madskins,” I says, “Fay, hit her with the radar.”
She flicks her nose once and catches the drift.
“Bitch’s mitts all over this change job. I say we hit the trail and see what we can do from there.”
In seconds, everyone was back in their rides and booking it for the North. There wasn’t much we could do about the body at the moment, so we left our I.O.U., took the tire, and rolled alongside that dusty little trail of Bug tracks. The impressions deepened as we went on, so we knew we were getting to the fresher stuff. The tracks started to bob and weave round ‘bout the three-mile mark. Joy ride was obvious answer. Chick wanted to catch some of that breeze in her mange.
It was when we found the cul-de-sac I knew we’d been had.
We stopped at the outer edge of the circle and just…absolutely looked a sight for sore eyes.
“Someone’s gotta’ve tipped her or something, this shit’s nuts.”
“Maybe she just knows,” Lori chimed in quietly, “Knows we got, or someone’s got, eyes on her.”
“Could just be expecting too Speed,” Harry chimed in.
I look to the circle once more, miffed. Lord knows I didn’t want to spend the night jumping at shadows like the cutouts we were being handed. But then, something hit me real hard in the old noggin. She couldn’t have erased the tracks completely. There musta been a little tail to point us the right way.
“Go over it with a fine tooth comb,” I barked, “Look for tracks that point out of the circle.”
So a bunch of us go looking over these lines in the sand. Every grain we looked over, making sure no pebble sat stray, or if one did, it’d get us somewhere. Anywhere.
Fortunately for us and unfortunately for my pride, a little discovery made by Vlad put everything into perspective.
“She backed out.”
The trail went back into the ruts and out. The sturdy ground was why the wheels weren’t leaving anything for us, little more than a faint wisp anyhow. But that meant a whole new angle: Maggie wasn’t heading North no more. This bitch was making a run for the East.
“Everybody up and at it dammit!”
We turned into a ten-ton hurricane of steel the way we tore off. I was piss-boiling mad but didn’t want it to get in my way. When my hammer dropped, everyone else’s did, and I was gonna make damn sure we didn’t lose this one to the wastes. It was full Holy Land Roller mode for the troop. Between the chopper, the truck, the rod, and the Caddy, we were damn-near rocking the ground loose beneath us, all of us making some real tracks on that rock-hard ground.
If only we hadn’t made too much noise.
I felt the shot hit the cab with a fat crash, like a cymbal being slammed at full force. If she was still rocking .32, she was either close or somebody changed the size of .32 on me. Only thing was: she was packing lead. None of the laser shit; good old American know-how hot out the oven. If we couldn’t get eyes on the muzzle flash, might as well have been ducks in a barrel. I hop on the intercom with Harry.
“Richter Buddy, show me E fast, Bitch packing it old-school.”
“Copy that Speedfreak, going recon.”
His rat rod roared out ahead of me, module screen aglow in the heat of analysis. Suddenly
Bullet rocketed right through the door of the rod. I could hear Harry cursing up a storm.
“KILL THE LIGHT MAN, NOW!”
I could hear my voice echo on his CB when he kicked the mod up, doused the light, and swung the rat rod in the direction of the gunfire. By then, the whole convoy was in hot pursuit in a blackout. We figured the angle on the hag.
We thought we did anyways.
Clean out of nowhere, I hear a scream I never want to hear in my life again.
It was Fay.
Got it in the back.
Folks would call ‘er a banshee, and by God was she when she screamed. Only thing they didn’t count on with either of our targets for the evening was the fire in their eyes. The last I saw of Lori before that bad ol’ Caddy went screaming for vengeance was a look of pure fear. The last I saw of Fay was a look of undying determination. She knocked back a vial of blood and went on her own campaign.
I let her as we soldiered on ahead. ‘Cause if we weren’t dealing with just one bitch, spreading ourselves out to take down the others wasn’t a half-bad idea.
On and on we roared until we finally caught sight of that muzzle flash.
Motherfucker socked Rory one in the chest. When he went tumbling down off that bike, growling like hell, I leapt on the radio quicker than a jackrabbit on a tin of Bennies.
“RICHTER, GET MADSKINS IN WITH YA, FAST! I’LL GET HER!”
He seethed and swung that rod back to Rory. Stopped on a dime and grabbed for him. I put the Hilux and myself between them and E. If she wanted ‘em, it’d have to be with a hole in my head.
Can’t say she didn’t try that.
Shots peppered the living hell out of that windshield. She was bulletproof, but that didn’t stop the dents, the smudges, and in time, the cracks. I drew my Smith & Wesson and cocked her back. She wasn’t gonna get away with shit.
When I swung my head out, shots were flying thick and fast. In fact, they were rocking a little too hard out the barrel. Her Colt was semi-auto, but this thing was hitting machine speed. All the same, I started letting her have every drop of laser in my chamber.
The last drops in fact.
Forgot to reload after the escapade, and here I was, caught with my pants down with this dame. She started rattling my cage as I dove back in, deep into my glove box. And in no time at all, I found something I hadn’t touched in years.
Genuine .45 Scofield.
I was ready to load the revolver when
Bullets, gun, and yours truly went flying goddamn everywhere. My head took one on the windshield, but my Hilux never let me go God bless her.
When I looked up to see what I had hit, I made the mother of all discoveries.
It was the Bug. Her Bug.
White thing was a sardine can after my killer knocked him down.
I picked up the bullets and loaded my cylinder, staggering out from behind the wheel, my leg a little game from the hit-and-run. I was ready to read that bitch the best damn screed. The kind of shit you quote with your hard-ass friends when you want to talk tough with ‘em. It was the executioner’s song to end all executioner songs.
Turns out the truck did the job for me.
Blood and brains caked the desert floor, the Bug’s shredded tire dragged clean across the body. Ain’t no one was coming back from that mess.
I hopped back in and fired the Toyota up. For a second, I thought I’d finally done her in. Her mean V8 was chugging on the key for a good second before I gave her a kick in the tank. Hiluxes don’t die though. Lord knows they ain’t built to.
I bolted back for Harry and Rory, my JD meeting me halfway.
“Mads is pretty roughed up,” Harry started in.
“Bitch paid for it,” my mad dog coughed, “Right Speed?”
“You bet your ass she did.”
Never saw the man that bloodied in my life, least with his own blood anyhow. When she got him, Lord did she get him. Went for a kit in the truck, only to realize it got jumbled by the kamikaze finish. Took some digging, and some prying, but I got it out and worked my magic on the spot.
“The hell you know this,” Harry seethed, digging out his own lead.
“First Aid’s a little something you learn on the road. Ought to make it part of the welcome package ‘ere on Patrol.”
I got Rory nice and stable, and did the trick on Harry too. Both boys needed real care, but this’d get ‘em there.
“Where’s…where’s Fay,” Rory asked.
“Heard a scuffle going on down the way,” Harry came in, “Shit sounded rough, so did the gunshots.”
I gave pause for a moment before talking.
“If the Winchester didn’t do him in, the Caddy would. And if the Caddy didn’t, then Fay herself would. And if Fay couldn’t, count your blessings Mads, Lori’s done her avenging by now.”
“But what if—”
“—None of that Mads, don’t get yourself tied in knots.”
“God I hope she made it out,” Harry coldly intoned, “If she didn’t, I will rip the asshole’s spine out!”
Harry gnashed his gritted teeth, the pain only pissing him off more.
“You two don’t get yourselves wound up over a goddamn Duellist now, you here—”
“—SHE’S FAMILY NIC!”
Harry leapt at me and sunk all eight pins of his on my neck and pulled me down to his level.
“This fucking job damn near cost me my girl, and I didn’t have time to stop it ‘til it was almost too late. If you think I’m gonna let a woman I known since I was a boy go just like that, I’ll gut your ass right here and now you black sonofabitch.”
He threw me out of his grip with a single sentence.
“Get in yer truck and follow Fuckstick.”
I coulda put a bullet in his head right then, but I didn’t. I knew where he was coming from. We were all shook up bad that night.
We both got our rides in gear just in time for two white lights greet our rear-views, careening towards us at Mach 9. I looked to Harry and he to me. We turned our rides around to greet whoever it was who came up. In time, the lights revealed the smiling face of that beautiful ol’ Series 62, and when we could see past the glow, we saw the best damn sight for our sore eyes.
“Miss us Boys?”
Fay stepped out of the Caddy, Lori following suit. The red wolf’s back was still bloody from the wound, but she shooed me away for a moment.
“I got ya some’in special.”
Fay dove into the backseat, emerging with a small burlap sack. She shed the brown bag and showed us
She had brought us the head of Maggie E. Her neck was a clotted mess, her eyes laced with all the charm of Medusa herself, fur twice as manged as the mugshot.
“She’s type B Rory. Care for a sip?”
Rory perked up and guffawed heartily. A little too heartily for his wound, but he took the offer wholesale.
I was left holding the last question of the night.
“Then who the hell’s brains are all over the sand?”
Fay gave me that confused look of hers, even as I explained the whole thing.
She never asked her. Never had the chance though, more like.
It could’ve been a lover, it could’ve been a friend. It could’ve been an enemy. Every now and then, when we’re playing a gig, a going on a hunt, or hell, sometimes when we swing by and have a pint with Feral Fay and her gal, we’ll say “Here’s to Maggie’s Boy.”
Lori told me they still got the head too. Fay had ‘er stuffed and mounted. She’s got her own little phrase for the affair etched on the mount:
“Playing with the Boys, Bagging on the Bitches.”
Now there’s something I’d drink blood to.
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