Eleanor’s eyes flickered open into a bright light, bringing her hand up to shield her face from the sudden change in ambience. She felt like she had been run over or trampled by an entire gang of raiders. Her head throbbed with pain, her limbs ached as if she had just done the mother of all gym work outs and her chest felt as if her rib cage was pressing hard against her lungs and heart. Sweat had formed across her brow, though that could have been the heat as much as anything else.
“Shit,” came a male voice, followed by the shuffling of feet, “sleeping beauty’s finally awake.” The voice sounded familiar and the tone seemed to have equal parts light hearted to concern, like some sort of odd, exotic cocktail that she would rather be sipping on a pre-end of the world beach. Somewhere in Florida. St Pete Beach, perhaps?
“Unexpected, but nothing to fret over. She should be fine, there aren’t any wounds to speak of, so she probably just forgot to stay hydrated or something,” came another, different male voice. This one was tired and seemingly apathetic, though that was not the feeling that Eleanor garnered from the man’s tone. Tired, maybe, but not uncaring.
“Hey, Ellie? Can you hear me? Can you see my face?” came the first voice as a blurry outline of a man’s head came into view. Eleanor tried to focus, but the blurriness did not appear to fade.
“Zack? That you?” she hazarded as her eyes tried to clear away the blurry mass of out of focus human face.
“Oh thank God,” he uttered with a sigh of relief, his head hanging so all she could see now was his shaved head. “What happened to you out there? What was in the house?” he asked, looking back at her now, concern all over his face.
Eleanor paused for a moment, thinking back to what happened in the house. She frowned. “It was empty. Asshole who gave me the job had his information messed up.”
“So how come we found you a few blocks away just passed out on the side of the road? What happened to you?”
“Dehydration. I don’t fucking know,” she retorted in an irritated fashion, though raising her voice caused aches in her chest to flare up so she brought the volume back down to a quiet, calm level. “I went to the house, there was nothing there so I started on my way back. Collapsed a few blocks from here and that’s the fucking tale. I didn’t drink enough water, big fucking deal.”
“It is a big fucking deal, Ellie,” Zack replied, gripping the side of the table that she lay on so hard that the edge of it started to crack. He quickly loosened his grip and took a deep breath. “People die out there due to dehydration all the time. You would have too if I hadn’t decided to check up on you.”
“Check up on me?” Ellie spoke out immediately as he finished his sentence. Even though it pained her to do so, she pushed herself into a seated position, though the other man immediately rushed over and steadied her as she wobbled from side to side. “Check up on me?” her voice grew louder and more aggressive. “I’m not some fucking child that needs to be watched and checked up on. I’m a gun for hire! I settle my own shit so well that other people hire me to settle their own! And you presume that I need ‘checking up on’?”
“Ellie, you know I didn’t…”
“Didn’t what, hm?” she interrupted, locking eyes with his, though hers were still slightly wild and out of focus. She could at least clearly make out his features now. “Didn’t think before you opened that big, stupid mouth of yours? Didn’t think that I was capable because I’m a woman? Fuck off.” She shoved at his chest, her hand impacting with the cool surface of his metal armour, though she immediately withdrew it and cradled her forearm. She still ached all over and getting worked up over Zack’s words had brought no small amounts of pain and it showed in her face. She allowed the other man to slowly lower her back down into a lying position. She turned her head to face away from Zack.
There was a brief moment of silence before she heard the sound of his metallic boots impacting with the floor of the house, before finally she head the door close. She turned her head again to look at the door, a lone tear streaking down her cheek before she closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift off to sleep again.
When she awoke, the house was empty. She pushed herself up into a seated position, despite the aches, and rotated so that she was sitting with her legs dangling over the edge of the table. Her vision had cleared up at least, she could identify medical supplies left on surfaces and in half open drawers, as well as what seemed to be a door that led to a bedroom of sorts. She got to her feet slowly, her quads aching as they took her weight. She felt at her waist, her holster was not attached to her thigh. Where the fuck did they put my gun? That should be the first problem to solve, she thought to herself. She pressed her hands to her chest, and my protective vest. Fuck. No sooner had she started to look around than a curious face poked around the corner of the bedroom door.
“Up and about already?” the face asked as the man rounded the door. It was the same man as before.
“Look, I just want my stuff and then I’ll be out of your hair, okay?” she answered, taking a step backwards, as if she was intruding on his property. The man smiled. He was older than her, age lines had long started to form on his face, with short, greying hair and a dirty lab coat. His appearance was smart, especially by contemporary standards.
“The man who was in here earlier is taking care of your belongings,” the man replied with a shrug, “if you want your stuff back, you should go talk to him.”
Great, she thought to herself, her expression dropping. She did not leave Zack on the best of terms when they conversed earlier.
“Oh, and don’t worry about the cost of care. Your friend took care of that too.”
Eleanor visibly recoiled from the statement, biting her lip and making her way for the door as fast as was comfortable. She opened the door and hurried out onto the street. She instantly knew where she was. Denver. Jameson ran his operation from Denver and had a lot of influence. This was a place where she did not wish to be. At least the problem was simple: find Zack, recover her belongings, get the hell out of dodge. Simple.
She made her way through what remained of the streets, weaving through side streets to avoid as much of the open area that she could. Reducing the chances of running into one of Jameson’s goons meant that the chances of him learning of her presence in the city were also reduced. There was not much going on, a few locals going about their daily routines, travellers bartering with merchants for food or ammunition, among other items though food and ammunition were the most valuable commodities that everybody wanted these days. She made her way to the local bar, the Denver Drop, with little problem or even interaction with others. The bar was fairly empty. Must be around midday, considering the number of clients, she thought to herself, looking around at each patron. It did not take her long to find Zack, his metallic armour made him incredibly easy to spot.
She pulled up a stool next to him, about to call the bartender over until she realised that she had nothing to barter with at the moment, so she settled next to Zack and rested her arm on the bar, staring at him. He continued to drink what remained of his beverage, placing the cup down on the bar with a heavy thud before returning the stare.
“Don’t give me that look,” Zack started, though Eleanor’s pent up anger remained evident.
“You have my stuff. I want it back.”
“Too bad?” Eleanor replied, her hand clenching into a tight fist. “What do you mean, ‘too bad’?”
“I mean, too bad. You’re not getting it.”
She considered punching him. The thought crossed her mind many times, but she held herself back and took a deep breath.
“Because you’ll go off and do something stupid. Again,” Zack replied dryly, keeping eye contact with her. He was far more calm in this situation than her and his expression showed it.
“My affairs are my business. Not yours. Not anybody else’s. They are mine.”
“Yeah, well I’m making them my business too.” Zack sighed, shaking his head. “You can’t just pull this shit and expect your friends to stand by and watch you kill yourself. We’re obviously going to intervene.”
“You think I’m going to kill myself? Shit, Zack, you know I’d never hurl myself off a building or anything like that.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about. Your antics just outside of town are a prime example of what I’m worried about.”
“Look, I did something stupid, but not packing enough water is not exactly something that I’ll be repeating.”
The two of them fell silent, the conversations of other patrons filling the ambience with drunken words of jobs gone wrong or bad trades. The only people in the bar at this time were generally down-and-outs; failed entrepreneurs or mercenaries too injured to continue.
“Fine. Keep my stuff. Like I give a fuck; just stay out of my business in future,” Eleanor broke the silence, standing up from her chair with a pronounced thud from her boots impacting with the wooden floors. “My business is mine, and mine alone. Not yours, not anyone fucking else’s, ok?”
“Not strictly true, Ms. Carter,” came a man’s voice voice from behind the two of them. Unfortunately, it was one that Eleanor recognised. She turned around with a reluctant and nervous smile.
“Harley, long time no see, huh?” she replied with a forced, friendly tone. Harley was not a large man, around the same height as Eleanor but almost twice as wide with pasty, pale skin, blonde hair slicked back and empty blue eyes. “How’s Jameson doing?” she asked, keeping her distance from him. He was flanked by a larger man with a more tanned colouring and a shaved head much like Zack. They were both wearing expensive looking body armour with stock-less, pump action shotguns in hand. Harley rested his shotgun on his shoulder.
“Ask him yourself. You have an appointment right about now.”
Eleanor laughed nervously, shaking her head and holding her hands up in a non-threatening manner. “I don’t know what you mean, Harley. My business with Jameson was concluded.”
“He doesn’t seem to think so. Word is that you burned him on the last job.”
“Look, Harley, it was simply business. He was the one who burned me, I just wanted the payment that we had already agreed on. I’ll just get out of Denver; Jameson won’t hear from me again.” She started to make her way around them and to the door when Harley lowered his shotgun and pointed it directly at her.
“That’s a no-go, Ms. Carter,” he replied, causing Zack to slowly move his hand towards the shotgun on his leg, though the other man instantly pointed his at Zack, causing him to stop and retract his hand, raising them in a non-threatening manner much like Eleanor had. “Jameson pens you in for an appointment, you go to the appointment or you get a chest full of lead. That’s how this works,” Harley continued, his tone far more threatening and sinister than it had been before. Eleanor stopped in her tracks, looking over at Zack who was obviously sizing up the two of Jameson’s goons for a fight. Stop me from doing something stupid, huh Zack?
“Fine. I’ll go.” She sent Zack a quick shake of the head as the two goons flanked her and grabbed her by the arms. She shook them off, glaring at them both before going along with them on her own accord.
The walk to Jameson’s dwelling was not long. Eleanor was escorted at gun point through the streets, earning sympathetic, yet wary looks from the merchants and their customers, as well as the locals. She was occasionally shoved forwards as a reminder of where she was and where she was going, every time replying with some snarky comment about how chivalry was dead or how ungentlemanly the two enforcers were.
They arrived at the front door and the enforcers showed her the way in. Jameson had taken up residence in what had obviously belonged to an affluent family before the end of the world, though it did not take long for the two enforcers to lead her to the door of Jameson’s office, open it and then shove her through before following in themselves. Jameson was a stocky man, his dark skin tone colliding with his off-white suit. It was clear that he was wearing some sort of protective vest beneath it. He had a lot of enemies, such as Eleanor, so the protection was perhaps a good idea.
“Ah, Ellie, I’m so glad you could make it on such short notice,” he started, standing over by the door that led on to the balcony outside and smoking what appeared to be a cigar.
Eleanor brushed herself off, a frown across her face. “Cut the bullshit, Jameson,” she retorted, glaring daggers at him. “And don’t call me that.”
Jameson turned to face her, flashing a yellow grin at her and beckoning her forwards. Harley motioned her forward with his shotgun and she started to walk towards him, eventually taking position about four metres from Jameson by the window. “Come on, Ellie. Is that really a way to greet a friend?” he asked, blowing smoke out the door and into the outside air.
“You are not my friend, you piece of shit,” she answered, earning her a hard smack to the back of her shoulder from Harley. She still ached and the hit to her shoulder did not help. Jameson frowned and shook his head.
“You see where I am now, Ellie? I pretty much run this place. Denver is my little slice of heaven in the wasteland,” he said with a proud tone, “I am its leader, its ruler; its president, if you’re feeling old-fashioned.” He flashed a toothy, yellow grin again.
“Yeah, well to me you’re still just street scum. Nothing but a fucking thorn in the side of honest people.”
“And you would classify yourself as one of these ‘honest people’?”
Eleanor broke out into a loud laugh at the concept.
“Fuck no!” she replied through the laughing, bringing her laughter back in check, “but at least I’m not a fucking parasite on society.” Jameson’s expression dropped, turning to face her with an anger all over his face. Eleanor grinned at him. “Tell me, how many cocks did you suck to get your position? Ten? Twenty?”
She was interrupted by a solid thump on the back of her head as Harley slammed the butt of his shotgun into the back of her head. “You dare speak to Mr. Jameson in such a way, you insignificant little wasteland rat!” he yelled as he stepped forwards for another hit, his shotgun raised. She fell forwards, bracing herself on the edge of the door, on the other side from Jameson, dazed and disorientated.
Jameson held a hand up, stopping Harley in his tracks.
“Ellie, you are trying my patience. If you keep this up, I will rescind my offer.”
Ellie was still trying to get her bearings as Jameson waited for a response. The blow would have been enough for her to lose consciousness in this state, but she held onto consciousness through sheer determination bolstered by her absolute hatred for these individuals.
“You still have a place at my side, if you can learn to behave yourself,” Jameson continued, walking over to his desk and stubbing out his cigar. He straightened his suit as he walked back over to the door where Eleanor had struggled back to her feet. “You would be the most powerful woman in Colorado. Think about it. Think about what I am offering you, despite your constant and unsolicited hostility towards me.”
“And all I need to do,” she spoke through the disorientation, her eyes out of focus for the second time that day, “is be an obedient, good little wife and kiss your nut sack twice a day. Fuck that.” Asher eyes came back into focus she shot him a hostile expression. “We all know how this is going to end, so just fucking get it over with and kill me before I hurt your pride even more.”
Jameson sighed, shaking his head and walking onto the balcony. He gestured for his enforcers to follow and, naturally, Eleanor as well. The two enforcers dragged her out to the balcony, following Jameson to the edge. She could see for a long way from the balcony, overlooking the town square. Denver may have been a city once, but with the way it was it could no longer be defined as one.
And by contrast, most of the population could see her.
“Didn’t want to have to do this, Ellie, but this was your choice, not mine.” He signalled at his two enforcers who forced her to her knees. She gazed out to the streets below. People were starting to look up at her now. “Got to make an example of you.”
Great, she thought to herself, summary execution in front of a crowd. I’m sure my brains will make a fine decoration for the walls.
The two enforcers held her there. Jameson loosened his belt. Eleanor’s eyes widened with terror.
Oh. Oh fuck no. This isn’t happening. You’re killing me right here, right now you fucker or not at all.
She sent her fist hard into Jameson’s crotch.
Harley’s going to raise his shotgun.
Her hand other hand darted to intercept Harley almost instinctively. She grabbed the barrel and swung it away from her face, the shot taking a chunk out of the floor and shaking her grip from it with a jolt as Jameson stumbled backwards, holding his crotch as one may cradle a child, his face now covered by agony.
Harley’s holster is shitty quality. He still needs to pump. Big and tall should be swinging right about now.
She ripped Harley’s pistol from its holster with the hand she had struck Jameson with. She pointed it behind her, under her opposite armpit and pulled the trigger. A scream of pain. The clatter of metal hitting the floor. The sound of an empty shell casing hitting the floor.
She swung around, taking a stronger kneeling position.
They wear expensive armour.
She pulled the trigger. The loud bang that exploded from the muzzle of the pistol drowned out the sound as the contents of Harley’s skull sprayed from the back of his head and ran down the wall behind him.
Not finished yet.
She got to her feet, adrenaline had long since numbed the aches and pains. The other enforcer was reaching for his shotgun. Eleanor stepped on his wrist with a heavy stomp.
She pulled the trigger. The enforcer’s brains exploded against the floor, fragments of grey matter and bone spraying away from the trajectory of the bullet and, fortunately, away from Eleanor. Her attention turned to Jameson, who had pulled himself up on the edge of the balcony. He was reaching inside his jacket.
Eleanor rushed over to him, sending a powerful punch across his jaw, forcing him to the floor. His hand was still in his jacket.
I’m going to make a fucking example of you, you pile of shit.
She reached inside his jacket, wrestling his pistol from his grasp with ease. The doors to the room inside swung open.
Like lambs to the fucking slaughter.
She darted to the door, both pistols in hand.
She unloaded the contents of both pistols into the oncoming enforcers, the bullets impacting against the walls. Against the enforcers’ bodies. They dropped in pools of their own blood.
She looked back at Jameson who was still clearly in a lot of pain, blood now streaming from his lip where Eleanor had hit him. She dropped the pistols and picked up a shotgun as she walked past the now headless remains of Harley and the other enforcer. It was Harley’s. Pre-pumped.
“Hey, listen, I…”
Eleanor slammed the butt of the shotgun into Jameson’s chest, cutting him off.
“No. You listen to me you sack of shit!” she countered, slinging the shotgun across her shoulder and grabbing him by the collar. “You should have just fucking killed me. I should have just fucking killed you last time too, we all make mistakes.”
Jameson raised his hands submissively as she slammed his back on to the floor, his head now hanging over the edge of the balcony where the railing had broken. “I never meant…”
She punched him again, hard. A trail of blood exiting his nose as it moved out of place. Eleanor recognised the look in his eyes. It was the same look that he had the last time the two of them met. Fear. She would not be so merciful this time. Not after what he tried to do.
“Shut up!” she screamed at him, shoving him further over the edge so that his head hung backwards. “You see down there? Those are honest people!”
She pulled him up again, his eyes locking with hers once again. Murderous rage had long since flooded her and her eyes showed it.
“Me? I do the dirty work so that these people can continue living honest lives!”
She aggressively slammed his body down on the wooden floor of the balcony. A fairly large number of people could be seen down below.
“And you?” she started, stomping her foot down hard on his chest, again and again, as hard as she could. She stopped after a short while and took the shotgun from its position slung over her shoulder into her hands as she heard and felt his bones fracturing. “You are a parasite who preys on these honest people. Using people like me.”
She fired. His chest exploded into a mess of bone and sinew.
She was breathing heavily now, staring at the bloody mess that used to be Jameson. She felt a tear run down her cheek. She dropped the shotgun.
More footsteps, this time quieter than before. They were moving in quietly this time.
Shit. I need to get the fuck out of here.
The drop was not far from the balcony, but the fall would break bones for sure. She could probably survive it, but it would leave her at the mercy of the remnants of Jameson’s goons. That was not something that she wished.
One of the enforcers barrelled through the door, a broad shouldered woman with a black mohawk adorning her head. She eyed Jameson’s corpse, then Eleanor, horror spread across her face.
“I’ll see you dead for this, bitch!” she yelled, levelling her pistol and squeezing the trigger, sending a bullet that shot past Eleanor’s ear.
It’s now or never.
Eleanor dropped from the balcony, holding onto the edge. She heard the sound of the woman running across the wooden floor above.
Eleanor let go.
She dropped past the window below and grabbed onto the outer window sill, though she was unable to get a proper grip on it. It did its job, however, breaking the speed of her descent at that point. She continued to fall the last story, impacting with the ground with a thud. It was a jarring thud that hurt like hell, but Eleanor did not have the luxury of waiting the pain out. Another bullet impacted near her. The woman was aiming at her from above.
Eleanor struggled to her feet and ran into the crowd. She heard enforcers chasing from the house, but the crowd seemed to make room for her, only to fill up behind her. Jameson had few friends amongst the common people it seemed.
She ran as fast as she could back to the bar where she had left Zack. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her blood was pumping.
Zack was still there, this time playing cards with two other men around a small table. She darted to the table and slammed her hand down in front of him, her breathing was incredibly heavy now.
“What’s up?” Zack inquired, a cautious look on his face.
“I really, really need my stuff back. Now.”