They had been in Little Boston over two weeks waiting for their new vehicle to arrive. Vash had insisted on a new top of the line, all desert terrain model with armor plating. Wolfwood requested the best paint job although everyone else vetoed his suggestion of flames and burning skulls painted on the sides. The vehicle dealers had to wire halfway across the country and that meant waiting a couple of extra weeks, at least, for it to arrive.
Everyone soon found out the perks of traveling with Rinnah. She always insisted on getting them a huge suite on the top floor of whatever hotel they happened to find. It wasn't exactly laying low but the three were weary of their life of cramped hotel rooms, which wasn't a guarantee they would be safe from Knives' assassins anyway. Milly never failed to express excitement and Wolfwood gave the impression of being pleased whenever he walked around the place checking it out. Vash kept his opinion to himself but everyone could tell he was satisfied with the arrangement, if they were interpreting the lack of hostility on his face correctly.
In the meantime Vash and Wolfwood had gone undercover to do some spying. They were not forthcoming about their activities until Milly had insisted on knowing what was going on and they told her. Both girls had burst out laughing at the thought of Vash with his hair and Nicholas with his huge silver cross trying to blend in enough to spy on anyone. And neither had taken kindly to the lack of faith being exhibited in their ability to go incognito. Milly had told them if they wanted an excuse to go to the bars all they had to do was say so. Miffed, they both glared at her before walking off to continue with whatever business they were conducting. Milly giggled as she watched them walk out the door. Undercover, really!
Another change was the rule about only going out at night. Rinnah and Milly had made it clear that they were not going to follow the old rule anymore. If the men wanted to sit in the hotel room until dark doing nothing but polishing their guns, that was fine by them, but some things could only be done in the light of day. One of them was to have a life.
In response to Vash and Wolfwood pointing out that they could be more easily recognized during the daylight, Rinnah's attitude was a determined and audacious 'bring 'em on, let's deal with our trackers here and now' attitude. While Milly's was more obstinate. She was dead set against becoming a night person. She already had enough problems with trying to get up in the mornings. Why mess with a system she had difficulty with in the first place?
Wolfwood saw where this was going and stepped away from the discussion. Lighting up a cigarette, he watched the smoke trail go up as he waited. He already knew how it was going to turn out but he was sure Vash didn't have a clue.
Vash crossed his arms and Rinnah knew right away he was going to try and reason with the irrational woman. "Are you trying to get us killed? There are more of them then there are of us! It is to our advantage to stay low."
"What. We'll win. We may get bruised and beaten up, but ultimately, we will win."
Vash stared at her, astonished disbelief etched into his face as his jaw hung open at her ridiculous, immature and, yes, dammit, incredibly stupid statement. Surely she didn't actually believe that! He wondered why no one had ever killed her before this. There had to be a line forming somewhere he could get into to wait his turn.
Finally, thoughts engaged again, he erupted, "Life isn't like that! You can't just cheerfully state how you want things to be and expect everyone else to go along with it! What are you, twelve? Knives isn't going to bend over backward just so you can win! He has been hurting and killing people for decades. He is good at it. It doesn't bother him to kill. I know him and... Are you even listening to me?" She was looking at him but he could tell she wasn't tuned in to what he was saying. Fuming, he thought, Probably just trying to think of a smart ass comeback.
With patience eroding, he stated again. "He. Is. A. Killer. He will kill you! He will kill us! With not a qualm! With your childish notions you are going to get us all killed! Why can't you understand that!" He had started trying to convince her with logic but was soon in her face shouting. Rinnah humphed, thinking he really needed to learn to manage his temper better than this. Milly bit her lip uncertainly, glancing back and forth between the two as the battle raged.
"Your tactic sucks. It's not working. You can't get anything done if you are sitting in the shadows sucking your thumb all the time." Vash had never felt as close to hitting a woman before as he did right this moment. One hand closed in a clenched fist.
Rinnah went on as if she hadn't noticed, "What have you accomplished with your modus operandi anyway? It goes the other way too you know. Keeping your heads low, has that worked for you? Has he left you alone?"
In a deceptively soft voice he replied, "We had to wait until we were stronger, some of us have had to recover from wounds we received from our last run in with him."
Milly nodded in agreement. She remembered what Vash and Wolfwood had looked like at the time. Vash had been in such a weakened condition and Wolfwood near death. She looked Nicholas over realizing the dark circles were fading from under his eyes and he was losing that haunted gaunt look around his eyes and cheekbones. All in all, he was looking much healthier than he had in ages. She turned back to the conversation.
"Oh yeah, Knives trounced our butts." Supplied Milly helpfully.
"I see. Well, that explains part of it, but now you are in the habit of crouching in the shadows and that isn't working anymore. Come on out of the shadows! Geez, why doncha live a little or do you enjoy being a mole?"
Milly leaned closer to Wolfwood and whispered, "What's a mole?" He shrugged.
Vash growled. A real, honest-to-god growl deep in his throat.
Curled fists twitched at his side as if he could barely hold himself back from choking the life out of her as he seethed, "God, it is impossible to carry on an intelligent conversation with you! What if we are spotted and we are up to our armpits in assassins, henchmen, and bounty hunters coming after us? Does that sound like fun? Should we have a time out and invite them over for tea!? It will be a massacre and you know it!"
"We are moving too often to get caught by amateurs, and quite frankly, I would like to catch one of Knive's assassins. I am sure we could learn a whole lot of interesting tidbits from one. In fact, I think we could easily trap..."
Two swift steps and he was roaring down into her face "NO!".
"Well, I think you should at least..."
"Woman do you ever listen to anyone besides yourself!?! I said, NO!" He spun on his heel, slamming the door shut behind him as he left the hotel room.
Rinnah studied the door before turning to the other two who were slowly shaking their heads. "Considering the source, that went well."
Having the menfolk away was a blessed relief, at least in Rinnah's book. For some reason her nose was more acutely sensitive with each passing day. In fact, it was a wretched nuisance, that's what it was.
There was only one thing she was worried about. Earlier that morning she had locked herself in the bathroom and pulled out her bottle of pills. She sucked her bottom lip as she counted out five pills left. What would happen to her when they were gone? Run stark raving mad down the middle of the street? Grab every male in sight and demand they marry her? Wither up and die? What with being half-Antressla that wasn't such an outlandish theory on her part. She wondered how much longer she had and again, with a wince, what the effects would be. Great, just freaking great! My life sucks! As she sat on the edge of the tub staring down at the pills in her palm. Tears began forming at the corners of her eyes and slowly slipped down her cheeks. See! It's happening all ready! I am already crying like a girl! I don't handle problems by crying, I handle them by blowing them up!
Since it was impossible to attach an explosive device to this problem she tried for an alternative option to help take her mind off her problems; she decided to get involved in Milly's project. Whether Milly needed her help or not was irrelevant. She needed something to do besides scour the parts and junk stores for pieces to make her traps. Milly, taking note of her friend's curious demeanor, realized she was dealing with something that she didn't want to talk about and needed a diversion. Milly was too kind-hearted to tell Rinnah that she wasn't that much a help to the sewing project. Pretty much, Rinnah's way of helping was making Milly tea and herself coffee and hunching over the fabric laid out on the floor while Milly cut, snipped and stitched. Rinnah supplied admiring "oooo's" and "ahhh's".
Milly looked up from the floor where she was hunched over the material spread out around her and giggled, "Rinnah, you don't have to do that, but it is nice to be complimented like that."
"Geez Milly, you are like some kind of genius sewing whiz." She waved her hand at a piece of fabric Milly was currently cutting out. "I can tell that you are cutting out the other sleeve. That's really great! You are making something that actually looks like something! This is going to be some great coat!"
Milly tilted her head to contemplate the material as she cut away at it. "Do you think Mr. Vash will like it? He always used to wear red."
"Well Mr. High-n-Mighty better like it or I'll give him what for!" She said firmly. Vash had better be kneeling and kissing Milly's feet after she gave him this coat and not give her the cold aloof face, that's all she had to say about it or there was going to be a major eruption on planet Gunsmoke.
Milly was making a great deal of headway on the coat. At first, Rinnah didn't think it looked like it was going to turn out to be anything recognizable, but what little wisdom she possessed told her not to make mention of that to Milly at that crucial stage in the game.
Watching Milly thread and dip the needle to pierce the fabric and draw it out, dipping and tugging, time and time again, day after day, she was amazed to watch the pieces come together. Rinnah didn't know squat about sewing, but even she could recognize that Milly was fast. At the end of the second week it was beginning to resemble a coat. It was still in the rough stages, or so said Milly and Rinnah took her word for it.
It didn't take her long before she was getting caught up in the frenzy of the project along with Milly. With Milly's infectious enthusiasm rubbing off on her, Rinnah asked her what kind of buttons she wanted to put on the coat and offered to go out and buy them for her.... at a button store, right? Milly shook her head, grabbed her coat and together they set out to find a store that also had sewing supplies.
Finding a general store, Rinnah pawed through all the buttons, until flinging up her arm and waving to Milly in triumph, holding aloft over her head some brushed pewter buttons. Milly had wanted shiny silver until Rinnah had explained that those could give off a telltale reflection if Vash needed to hide and it gave away his position to his pursuer?
"But Rinnah, Vash has a big silver gun that reflects light like the biggest moon. What about that?"
"Vash is an idiot."
Milly had nodded and agreed with the non-shiny pewter ones. She didn't feel the need to point out that Rinnah, herself, was not exactly the most cautious soul she had ever met. However, feeling quite pleased with themselves they had left the store with extra thread, more needles, something that kept needles sharp, and the buttons and had stopped for ice cream to reward themselves.
In their travels about town the two tall women had found every bakery and coffee shop within an ile radius of their hotel. Little Boston being one of the three other towns on the edge of civilization was still a bit wild. There was little in the way of law enforcement in the town. Already they had been mugged three times on the way home at night and three times Milly had whipped butt. Both women were having fun but agreed to keep the incidents to themselves and not let the boys know. News like that tended to get their aggression levels elevated, either that or the girls would be forbidden to go out by themselves any more and then what would they do for fun?
This day, after going out to buy more needles and thread, which meant of course they were bringing back several bags of purchases from different stores, they had stumbled upon a saloon, the Rusty Bucket. Milly had insisted they go inside for a drink. She said that the boys had been going out to the bars and hadn't thought to invite them even once, besides Milly hadn't been in one in ages. In fact, as a treat, she would buy. Rinnah shrugged in acceptance and walked in behind her friend, sighing in relief at being out of the heat of the day and stepping into the slightly cooler temperature of the bar. Both women stopped for a second waiting for their eyes to adjust from the bright glare from the double suns to the dimmer light within.
Finding a table near the entrance they sat down and placed their packages underneath it. Both girls sighed. They had been on their feet most of the day and it felt good to sit down and rest. Looking around Rinnah noticed that the Rusty Bucket had a couple of worn and world weary barmaids moving around serving drinks. Milly stood up and waved, getting the attention of one of them who nodded. Soon the one who had nodded was making her way over to them to take their order.
"Hmmm, I want.." Started Milly.
The woman, with dark circles underneath red rimmed eyes, interrupted, "We don't have that."
"But I didn't say what I wanted yet." Milly protested in a puzzled voice.
"I know, but it was going to be something fancy and we don't do fancy."
"Okay. I will take a beer then, in fact, bring five." The barmaid nodded, not seeming to be surprised at all by the order.
"I don't care for beer."
"Oh that's alright, I just ordered for me."
Rinnah's eyes widened. Okay.
Looking up at the pale and listless barmaid she ordered wine.
"Tol ja, we don't do fancy."
"Okay. Brandy?" A negative shake of the head. "Tequila?" Another shake of the head. "Bourbon?" Another shake. "Alright then, what DO you have?"
"We got beer. We got whiskey."
"O wow, what a selection! It's hard to choose from the plethora of options you have available here in your fine establishment. Better give me a minute to consider the variety you have on hand, hmmm, what shall it be? I wonder, I wonder." The sarcasm was wasted on the bored face of the barmaid so she just gave in and ordered what she hoped was the least of two evils. "Bring me a whiskey." She wasn't that fond of hard liquors but surely it was better than beer. Wasn't it? Well, she would find out.
Rinnah and Milly relaxed back in the chairs as the barmaid made her way back to place their orders.
Milly looked around while grinning at everyone who even remotely showed friendliness, or what Milly was interpreting as friendly. Rinnah noticed that, one by one, all of the men in the place had been turning to look at the only non-serving women in the bar. Rinnah wished Milly didn't feel obliged to return the smiles and waves being directed at them more and more frequently. She was beginning to feel the stirrings of disquiet and unease as her eyes continually roamed about the room observing the inhabitants they shared the bar with. Something was odd here. It wasn't a normal, 'check out the babes' look they were on the receiving end of. She was confident of that. The eyes were too unfocused and the smiles too empty.
She watched the next man who waved. His eyes seemed glazed over but not with drink. Dammit! There was Milly waving as if he were a long lost brother! Milly was more than a little astonished when Rinnah flung herself across the table and grabbed her hand to pull it down with a thud to the top of the table.
"Gee Rinnah, what's the matter?" Milly turned a surprised face to her.
"What do you mean 'what's the matter'?" Rinnah whispered fiercely to her. "We don't want to attract that kind of attention."
'What kind would that be?"
Rinnah stared dumbfounded at Milly. Is she serious?
"The kind that starts bar fights."
"Why would we start a bar fight? That wouldn't be very friendly."
"Milly, sweetie, you do know that not everyone is as nice as you are, right?"
Milly merely smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
Rinnah was beginning to get a very bad vibe from the place. It was a rather dingy saloon and well-worn from the looks of it. But it wasn't the atmosphere that was bothering her. It was the looks from several different groups of men at various tables. Great. Fresh meat and the sharks were circling. She wondered if they could get their drinks in a to-go cup.
Sure enough. Two men got up from where they were sitting to head in their direction.
The barmaid returned with their drinks before the men reached the table. Milly didn't notice their approach as her back was to them and she was also eyeing her drinks in a singularly greedy manner. Rinnah was only vaguely aware of the drink set in front of her until the smell of it came rising up from the shot glass to her nose causing it to wrinkle at the sharp odor of it. She looked down at the glass for a second before returning her attention to the approaching men.
"Company." She murmured to Milly who was quaffing her first beer with an enthusiasm that bordered on a religious experience. Rinnah wondered if the tall girl had even heard her.
"Well, they better bring their own beer. I am not sharing." She stated firmly.
The two men arrived at their table and stood next to Milly looking down at them. Rinnah, hackles going up, fought the urge to unsnap and draw a revolver. Controlling herself she nodded at the gentlemen. One was tall with long greasy hair and a thin face, the other was all sharp angles with a contrasting fat face and mustache.
Seeing two more men come to stand behind the first two Rinnah quickly stood up and reached her hands down to unsnap her colts, loosening them, ready to slip them out. Now that she was standing she could see that there was a growing crowd of men behind the ones next to their table and more were coming to join them. This was turning out to be quite the beach party.
"Milly, stop drinking and stand up. We got company, the kind we don't take home to meet the folks."
Hearing the tone of Rinnah's voice and a sharp glint of vigilance crossing her eyes, Milly set down her mug with a thump. Rinnah was would tighter than a twisted rubber band. Milly was quite put out with this development. Once, just once, she would like to sit down and enjoy her drinks without having to engage in any unpleasant altercations.
As Milly was slowly and cautiously getting to her feet, Rinnah saw when it happened. The eyes of all the men surrounding them went immediately blank and their jaws hung slack. It was an eerie moment and everything she had ever read about zombies came flooding back to her mind. She wanted nothing more than to grab Milly and run, never mind the packages, it was just stuff, they could always replace it easily enough. Their lives, well that was another matter. She would rather err on the side of caution and not take the chance they were going to get eaten by whiskey drinking zombie barflies.
Rinnah reached and pulled Milly over next to her so that both women were backed up against the wall.
Whispering to Milly out the corner of her mouth, "They look like they are in a trance. Let's just scoot along the wall here towards the door and maybe they won't notice we're leaving."
"Good idea." Milly said faintly. She had just got a good look at the men's faces. She had seen this kind of thing before and recognized immediately what was going on even if Rinnah didn't.
One of the men shambled closer and spoke, "You will come with us."
"No thanks, we only came to hear the band. Must be their night off, well, we'll just be moving along now. Thanks bunches." The whole time she was slowly nudging Milly toward the door.
There was no warning as she had just turned to look over at Milly and beyond her, estimating how much further before they could reach the doors. As one entity, the entire crowd of men around their table swarmed over them. Milly threw some swift punches and several men went down before she was overwhelmed and gripped by too many hands holding her firmly.
Rinnah, taken off guard, was thrown back to have her head crack painfully on the wall behind her before being pulled down and pounced on by a growing mound of men over the top of her. Even as strong as she was, she knew she couldn't pick up a dozen men dog piled on top of her. Clamped down to the floor by a multitude of hands, she still struggled, trying to wiggle out from their hold. Finally, she had to concede defeat as the crushing weight on top of her was forcing the air out of her lungs and she was having trouble pulling any back in to replace it. It was all she could do to breathe in shallow pants while still being flattened on the floor.
One would have thought with all the men involved it would have been a noisy endeavor. What made it so eerie was the lack of noise, the silence was broken only by the scuffing of boots, rustle of clothing and grunts. No shouting or talking back and forth. Just an intent and chilling silence that made it all the more frighteningly spooky then if they had been yelling threats. Even expressing some hatred or anger would have been better than the vacant look on their faces.
The hairs went up on the back of her neck when she heard a smooth voice speaking. The sinister smoothness went through her like cold diamonds on black velvet sending shivers up her spine in its wake.
"Which one do you wish, Master?" There was silence.
"Then I will bring her to you." Again, no answering voice and nothing else was said but as one, the men holding Milly lifted and pulled her towards the hallway in the back of the room that led to the ally way.
Rinnah struggled again before realizing how stupid she was being. She stopped squirming, closed her eyes, and reached down, pulling up power to throw a blast at the men, any men, wherever they were, hoping to hit someone, anyone. She didn't care who was affected. All she needed were results of some kind.
The hands holding her down didn't let up their tight grip, so it hadn't gone that way. She really needed to learn how to aim this power surge better, but there were too many people in the room right now throwing off her concentration.
Some good came of her effort though. She was able to just turn her head a little to get a glimpse of Milly freed from her captors slugging one man and then another. They would not be getting up anytime soon.
Go Milly! She couldn't speak, but she could think real hard in her direction, hoping her friend was able to fight free.
The others came at Milly again, and two more went down, but the surge of the crowd was relentless and unstoppable. She wasn't going to be taken as easily as she had been the first time but it was only a matter of time before she was overwhelmed. Another man went flying back several feet, followed by his zombie friend before the remaining ones gathered around her again limiting her range of motion. They were able to grab her arms and legs, effectively pinning her.
A shot roared through the saloon, sounding abnormally loud in the enclosed space and echoing off the walls. Everyone froze, though the men still wore the empty, blank look on their faces.
Rinnah couldn't see to the side where the shot came from as there were too many arms and legs in her way. However she could see the look on Milly's face and from what she observed there the hybrid would lay star chips that it was Milly's sweetie come to rescue her. She sighed as best she could under the press of bodies holding her down.
"Mr.... er Wolf... er Nicholas!" Milly was beaming happily.
"Big Girl, what have I told you about frequenting dives like this?" His voice was light but Rinnah heard the tight tension behind it.
And just like that, the hold over every drinker in the bar was loosed. Men fell to their knees rubbing their heads and staring around in confusion and the ones on top of her began moaning and moving, trying to figure out what they were doing on the floor in a heap.
"Honey, where's Rinnah?" Milly pointed down and Wolfwood saw one slender feminine arm sticking out from underneath a pile of men waving at him trying to catch his attention.
Rinnah felt the load lightening one body at a time as Nicholas dug her out. Her whole torso was being squashed to the point she couldn't take in a proper breath and she was beginning to get lightheaded from the lack of oxygen. She tried to breathe in shallow breaths but was almost panting from the strain.
What a good friend. She would have to give him a big hug for keeping her rib cage from being flattened into a pancake. Oh what the heck, she would give him her firstborn seedling if she could just inhale deeply again. When a strong hand with long fingers gripped her arm and hauled her to her feet she straightened with teeth flashing in a bright smile for her rescuer.
She looked up into fury. Vash's lips were pressed in a thin line while a livid face with burning aqua eyes filled with rage pierced down into hers. The smile Rinnah had ready to offer to her rescuer wilted as she beheld the forbidding scowl on his face. No doubt. She was in deep doo doo.
It had been a quiet walk back to the hotel room. Neither of the men was in a frame of mind to talk just yet. Both Rinnah and Milly were made to walk in front of them as if they were runaway children late for dinner. Rinnah didn't like it but felt it the better part of discretion for the moment to keep her opinions to herself. Milly already had ready what she was going to say, but also knew now was not the time. She would speak what was on her mind when the moment was right.
Later, over spaghetti dinner with the works that Milly insisted on fixing for their 'heroes', voices began rising as the day's events were discussed.
"Why are you accusing ME for today! If I had known it was going to happen we could have gone to Mr. Icy Yum Yum Cream for desert instead of ordering a drink! A drink, by the way, that I never even got to taste let alone finish! Being jumped on and squished by a bunch of sweaty, stinky men with bad breath is not my idea of a fun-filled Happy Hour!" Rinnah was waving her fork back and forth as Vash looked at her impassively and Nicholas with a smile, already regaining some humor and perspective.
Milly jumped in as she sat down with her second helping. "She's right. I am the one who wanted a drink and I talked her into going in for a couple."
"Or five." Added Rinnah under her breath.
Outlaw and priest ignored Rinnah as Milly continued. "It's all your fault anyway." She ended calmly, twirling her fork in her noodles.
Wolfwood gaped at her. Their fault! Oh he just had to hear the rationale for this one!
Vash asked, in a deceptively calm voice, "And just how is this incident our fault?"
Milly looked up and smiled. "Have you two ever asked us out? No, you just go off and have your drinks by yourselves with not a thought or care about us. Maybe we would like to go out too, ever think of that?"
Judging from the stunned look on Wolfwood's face, he hadn't. However, Vash was not convinced. "I don't think this happened as a random chance. He targeted us again, and this time it was Milly on the receiving end."
Spearing Rinnah with a look of disgust, he said, "This is what I was talking about. Happy now?" He got up from the table and walked out the door, rigid and tight with anger. No one spoke as they listened to his footsteps fading down the hall.
Rinnah looked down at her plate, appetite suddenly gone.
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