Aeyan looked west at the stretch of dessert highway and the brilliant sunset behind him. He knew they hunted him now, and they would capture him. The only question: who would find him first. He knew he had his preference. He also knew that it was simply ludicrous to be outside so close to dusk, especially on a dessert road like this. But, his car had given out five miles back, he was without a cell phone, and even if he had one, he had no one to call. Walking east wasn’t going to save him, but perhaps the car just emerging from the horizon of the setting sun would. Sticking out his thumb, he reached into a weathered red duffle bag, and his long fingers wrapped around the cold metal of his gun. As it were, the car, which turned out to be a shining blue 1968 Mustang GT, blazed past him. The young man began to resign himself to his fate at hand; he would be spending a night without cover for the first time in a long time, but as he let go of his gun, the GT slammed on its breaks and waited.
Once again, Aeyan had a hand on his pistol.
He approached the car: a tinted window rolled down, revealing a woman in the driver’s seat and a blonde behind her. “Can we help you?” asked the driver, pulling down her shades.
“Yeah,” replied Aeyan, removing his glasses as well. His almond shaped blue eyes smoldered--full of charm. “My car gave out a few miles back that way,” he pointed west. “Could you give me a ride?”
“I think I saw it. That red heap of rust?”
“That would be the one.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Anywhere with people.”
“As it happens, so are we.” She unlocked the door, and the blonde lowered her head, as if engrossed in the newspaper she was reading.
Aeyan took shot gun. The driver threw the car into drive. The GT roared down the dessert road, spewing dust in its wake.
“What are your names?” asked Aeyan.
The blonde didn’t lift her head from the newspaper and the driver said, “We don’t ask for names, and we don’t give them. Just count yourself lucky the sun was still shining.”
Aeyan resisted the urge to turn around and glance at the woman behind. That would make him look nervous, and that simply would not do. While the sun was shining? That was odd. “Where do you think we are?”
“We’re 25 miles east of Beatty, Nevada...”
“Care to look at this.” The blonde passed up the newspaper. It was unclear, who she intended to take the newspaper, but her voice tickled the neurons in the back of Aeyan’s brain, so he reached for it—took it. Stefan Lineaus Found Dead in Hotel Room, read the headline, and the article summed it up to be a gang fight involving drugs, alcohol, sex and curious dog bites.
Stefan Lineaus was dead. The Syndicate had been struggling to put him out for years, and had never gotten close. If this was MacGreggor’s work, and there were signs to show this had to be, it meant he was getting bolder, or perhaps sloppier. There was no reason for him to have those signs left. Lineaus’s body shouldn’t have been found, not yet anyway. Unless he was sending a message--he no longer had anything to fear. Aeyan felt the burn on his left forearm as he often did, and rubbed at the bite marks beneath his sleeve.
“Are you okay?” The driver asked.
“You said you’re going wherever there are people, correct?”
The driver nodded.
“Then would you mind swinging around. I need to be heading West.”
The driver braked, and took the newspaper from Aeyan’s hands, reading it quickly. She brushed her long braids back as she read, baring the left side of her neck and a tattoo of a black sun as well. “Dog bites,” hissed the driver, and Aeyan reached for his duffle bag.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Do you know who I am?” demanded Aeyan.
“Aeyan...” she reached down.
“Don’t even think it. Where did you get that tattoo?”
“It’s none of your business. Molly, why didn’t you tell me about this?” the newspaper quivered in the driver’s grip. “And I thought you said he was a friend of yours!”
“Oh but he is such an old dear friend,” said the blonde in the back.
Impending rigor mortis seized Aeyan’s body. He didn’t need to turn around to know that it was the barrel of a silver .45 caliber, single action colt defender kissing his black hair. Compact, lightweight yet incrediblly accurate and reliable. It always had been her weapon of choice. “Molly Almer!” muttered Aeyan. “You look different.”
“Yes, I cut my hair. Do you like it?”
“That and everything else you’ve done.” In the old days, they had called her, Che’s second in command, The Shape-shifter. “The new look suits you, as they always do. I don’t know if there’s anything you do that I don’t like,” he replied.
“So you really are him. Che’s all around handy man?” the driver asked.
“The last one of you that came looking for me never returned. You don’t seem to take a hint. I’m not in the business anymore. Che and MacGreggor can have their war. It’s none of my concern.”
“They call themselves Lorn now—Adryen MacGreggor’s men, and I used to work for them, briefly. Now, I hunt them. To be honest, I don’t understand why we even need the likes of you.”
“I see you’re no fan.”
“Who would be?”
Molly reached forward and touched the driver’s shoulder. “You will be returning to work for us. Just one job,” Molly said cooly, steadily.
“Just one job for you seems to lead to a lifetime of servitude. Name?” Aeyan exacted.
“You don’t need to know yet,” said the driver.
“Not the job, you.”
“Rookie. You weren’t on the lists.”
Molly retracted her gun and went back to reading another magazine.
“It was the dog bites, wasn’t it,” said Zahra.
“Yes, it was.”
“You want to go to Los Angeles, don’t you?”
“I do. How did you get entangled in this?” Everyone had an interesting story to tell as to how they ended up in society’s underbelly.
“Long story,” replied Zahra curtly, turning the car about, and heading West. “It’s 190 miles to Los Angeles.”
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