“All right.” Sven slipped a hundred nud gold coin from his pocket and flipped it into the air. It caught the light as it spun; he caught it neatly, holding it up between thumb and forefinger. “I don’t give up weapons, Kaboomer old boy.”
“Don’t call me boy,” the hustler snapped, but without heat. His scraggly beard was literally vibrating with joy at the sight of so much wealth, so shiny, so gleaming, all in one little chunk of yellow metal. It reminded the Seeder of the way Curly Girl’s furry tail vibrated happily whenever she saw Kate after a lengthy absence…except that the young cat’s tail was a thing of beauty while one rather expected lice, roaches, and wolf spiders to shake out of this guy’s chin whiskers.
Still, in its way, that beard was a thing to admire, a force of Nature as it were.
“No offense intended, man. Your price of one hundred is a lot, though. For that, I’d expect you could throw in a solid lead to a good Roller dealer. Eh?”
“Sure, Mr. Turrist, sure.” Kaboomer’s eyes were glued to the coin. “I kin tell you.”
“Good enough.” Sven tossed the coin. The Blasted caught it in midair, left handed. Every Sandfire hand in the room took note of that…and the way their new local contact’s thick accent had suddenly gotten…thinner.
“Kaboomer? The names, please.”
“Sure, Mr. Turrist, sure.” The man’s eyes were suddenly crafty. “Best motel for the money in all Pits is The Blasted Bastard. Ya jist stays on this road, down about three miles on yer right. Big ole sign, can’t miss it. An’ the Roller dealer, fer solid folks like yowall, would be Smackie’s Blasters. He makes house calls, he does, so yowall won’t even have ta look ‘im up. I kin stop by his place, tell ‘im yer at the Bastard.”
“Thank you, Kaboomer. And now, Kirsten,” he added, turning to the pro-Kaboomer waittress with the little name tag pinned to her prominent left breast, “Is that an actual cherry pie I see over there in the dessert case?”
Once they’d paid for their food and the solarchem’s recharging, a sum total some less than they’d forked over to Kaboomer on spec, it was time to move on. The old vehicle hummed happily down the concrete.
Kate, however, was considerably less thrilled than the car seemed to be. Not because of having to ride in the back with Gene while Sven drove and Pete rode shotgun; she was used to her men taking the lead. At least they’d kept the all-important backpack with them at all times, but…maybe the Seeder was still too exhausted to think straight.
“Master,” she began timidly but with determination, “I didn’t like that guy. He’s setting us up.”
“Of course he is, baby.”
“You knew? Then why–”
“Shoot, girl, it’s not like he’s exactly subtle. Pete, you’re the one with the scoop on the Blasted Lands. What are the stats on vehicles in versus vehicles out?”
“Last I read, roughly ten to one.”
“You mean,” Kate was incredulous, “Nine out of ten newcomers to the BLs don’t live long enough to be oldcomers?”
Sven laughed. “Relax, sweetie. It’s probably worse than that.”
“That’s not funny!”
“Nor was I joking. My point is that I wanted Kaboomer to set us up. I wasn’t running a freaking charity back there, you know.”
They were nearly three miles into the Blasteds. Sure enough, the sign for The Blasted Bastard could be seen looming above the building itself.
“You wanted us to be set up?” Kate generally understood her guy, but once in a while he really did have to explain himself. This was definitely one of those times.
“Yup. Pete’s pretrip research mentioned The Blasted Bastard as a very nice place to stay, considering it’s located in the city of Pits…as long as you didn’t mind waking up dead.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing–uh–sorry, Master.”
“It’s okay, Little One. Now, here’s the way I see it. Whoever runs Smackie’s Blasters, no doubt the same guy behind the Bastard–”
“Maybe, Katie. Maybe. Doesn’t really matter who it is. Point being, Kaboomie baby is making his report right now. Bet on it. Smackie and Friends are going to hear all about that 100 nud gold piece and how we must have a gazillion of the suckers in that heavy backpack we kept stashed between us under the table. Even Kirsten, the waittress, is going to put in her own two bits–how we overtipped, confirm we’re as gullible as the voters who elected Prez Gordo in 2080. The whole bit.”
“In fact, they should see us as presenting just one danger, namely that big African American bodyguard with the Thug Taker on his hip.”
“So here’s what they’ll figure, the way I see it. They’ll bring enough hardware to do the job right, but hopefully not a thousand man brigade or anything. Moving manpower around costs money and means more people get paid. These Blasteds may be ayholes, but–”
Kate cut in. “But it takes an ayhole to move the poo on out!”
“Uh, yeah. Kaboomer’s line paraphrased. Anyway, they’ll send a Roller, knowing we’re expecting one. It’ll have enough firepower to take out one rich, clueless outlander idiot–that would be me–one big bodyguard, one feeble old cracker, and one little lustable, rape-worthy, hottie tiny little redhead.”
“Do I get to kill somebody?” Kate asked suddenly. “I really need to kill somebody.”
“Quite possibly. This will be done Hoelringer style. Leave no witnesses. Except of course the station personnel, Kirsten and that bunch. They can describe us, but we won’t be going back to wipe them out.”
“Why not?” She demanded. “I want to!”
They were now parked in front of The Blasted Bastard. Sven cut the engine, ignoring his girl’s last question. Old Gene Trask added a query of his own, though.
“Sven, I know I said this sort of thing was getting to be fun, but do you have a point to all this? Except to kill people, I mean. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but I’m not sure my reflexes are quite what they were 50 years ago.”
“Oh. Guess I forgot to mention that. I figure,” he said quietly, “They’ll show me some piece of junk Roller that won’t be worth the powder to blow it to Hell. It might look good, curb appeal, but it’ll mainly serve as a decoy, get us to focus our attention on it long enough to be easily taken out. But these survivalist types are bound to have real backup.
“Which means they’ll bring along something else to keep in reserve, a serious boat designed for no-joke survival in the BLs. That’s the one we want, after we clean out the vermin.
“And now,” he finished cheerfully as he opened his car door, “It’s time to register for the night.”
“Roach Motel,” Kate muttered under her breath. “We check in but we don’t check out.”
“What?” Sven hadn’t quite made out the words.
“Nothing, Master. Just get us a room with a Gatling gun, would you, please?”