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Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.
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Shelly storms out on Bobby after an argument.
Abby robs her first bank with Ace and Annabelle.
Alex Harris and his companions are ambushed and capture two prisoners.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 30
The sun was rising over the eastern dunes, spreading orange and yellow across the dawn desert sky as Alex stood with folded arms. “So you questioned both of them?”
Mark nodded. “Sort of. The short one, Ayman was cooperative. He gave me lots of good information. The other one didn’t say a word. Actually, he did say some stuff in Arabic I think, and muttered some Qur’an verses or something. He repeatedly threatened me, too, but he didn’t say anything useful.”
“So what did the shorter one tell you?” Alex and Mark were standing alone on the dune, away from the truck and the other tents, including the two where the prisoners were being kept separate, guarded by John and his laser rifle.
“The Holy Warriors are being led by a man they call the Chosen One. Real original, I know. They pretty much worship this Chosen One guy. He’s some kind of religious leader who’s trying to form a new nation or something. From what I hear, sounds like a cult to me.”
“All religions are cults,” Alex said. “Some are just older than others and more ingrained in society.”
Mark frowned. “Well I wouldn’t say stuff like that to Samir, the tall one.”
“You got his name?”
Mark nodded. “From Ayman, the shorter one. Ayman keeps saying we need to kill Samir. Ayman says he’s going to cooperate with us as long as he can travel with us back over the border after we’re done in Las Colinas. He wants our protection.”
Alex chuckled. “Yeah. He wants us to kill his friend and he thinks we’ll trust him?”
Mark laughed also. “Well they obviously aren’t friends.”
“So what was Ayman doing with the Holy Warriors?”
“He claims he was forced to join,” Mark said. “He’s a Muslim and they raided the village where he lives. They forced people to join them at gunpoint, even other Muslims. Ayman claims he’s been trying to find a good chance to leave ever since.”
“How long has he been with them?” Alex asked.
“Two years, he says.”
Alex shook his head. “It just doesn’t make sense. Why did he stay with them for two years? Why didn’t he leave sooner?”
“He says they were attacking women and children,” Mark replied. “That was the last straw for him. They were killing non-combatants.”
“It’s understandable why he would leave. What I don’t understand is why he waited so long to do it.” Alex thought for a few seconds. “I think we should let them both go. I’m not sure if there’s a better choice than that.”
“Let them go?” Mark asked.
Alex nodded. “No sense killing them. And we can’t take them with us. They’d be too much of a burden. There are only five of us, after all, and two of them.”
“If we let them go,” Mark said, “they’ll go right back where they came from and they’ll probably lead the Holy Warriors right to us.”
“We’ll be gone by then,” Alex said. “We’ll be safe in Las Colinas.”
Mark glared at him. “Can you be so sure? Look, I consider it my duty to take out threats to both myself and others. If I let these two go, even if they aren’t a threat to us any longer, they’ll kill some other poor shmuck who’s unlucky enough to come this way.”
“So you just want to kill them?”
“I don’t like it either,” Mark said, “but I don’t know if we have a choice.”
“Then how are we any different from them?” Alex asked.
“They aren’t innocent civilians,” Mark noted. “They’re captured enemy combatants. The Holy Warriors kill civilians.”
Alex took a deep breath. “I’d like to talk to Samir.”
Mark chuckled. “You won’t get anything out of him.”
“I’ve studied religions in the past,” Alex said. “Remember, I’m a philosophy professor. I may know the right words to say to him. To get him to talk.”
Mark smiled and shook his head. “All right, Alex. More power to you. Be careful, though.”
“Isn’t he in handcuffs?” Alex asked.
Mark nodded. “And he’s under armed guard. But those guys are crazy. You never know what they might do.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Alex said. There had to be an alternative to killing both of them. Alex walked past Mark, who stood with folded arms, and made his way towards the two tents where John was standing guard. He looked down to see his black t-shirt and jeans, hoping the fact that he wasn’t wearing a military uniform could possibly help bring down Samir’s guard. “Which tent is the tall one in?” Alex asked John.
John nodded towards the tent to his right and frowned. “Be careful in there.”
“You’ve got my back, right?” Alex asked as he unzipped the front flap.
“I guess so,” John said as Alex ducked into the tent.
The tent was empty other than the man seated in the back with handcuffs on. Samir was still dressed in his baggy white clothes. His brown eyes were fixed on Alex, his mouth uttering words, mostly hidden by his thick black beard as his lips moved. Alex couldn’t make out all of what he was saying, but he heard the words “Kafir” and “riddah.” Alex smiled and sat across from him on the floor of the tent. “They want to kill you.”
Samir nodded. “They are Kuffar. I am ready to die by their hands for the sake of Islam.”
“I want to let you go,” Alex said. “It’s a hard case to make, though. You and other members of your group have been targeting innocent civilians.”
“They are not innocent,” Samir said. “We are fighting a holy war, my friend. Our people have been targeted by them. By Mexico, by Rennock Enterprises, and now by the International Anarchy Organization. They’ve all destroyed our towns, murdered our people, burned our holy books. Your people take many names, but we only see you as one thing. Infidels. Kuffar.”
Alex frowned. “The Mexican Territory, Rennock Enterprises, and the IAO are all our enemies also. We have common enemies. Perhaps our groups could work together instead of against one another.”
Samir laughed. “There is only that which is Islam and that which isn’t. Something your people never seem to understand. So for now you’re fighting against our common enemies? Makes no difference. One day you will be fighting against us.”
“Your leader,” Alex said, “the one who refers to himself as the Chosen One. Very few Muslims actually accept his claims.”
“They are traitors,” Samir said. “They take the easy path and ally themselves with our enemies. They are no better.”
“You’ve made your own enemies, though,” Alex said. “I’m no enemy to you.”
Samir looked him in the eyes. “Then join us. We are only taking back what is Allah’s. We took this land decades ago and it was stolen from us. This land is Dar al-Islam. It belongs to no man.”
“And you’re killing women and children in the process? No thanks. I’d rather not join you if that’s what it entails.” Alex shook his head. “How can you do such things? Even if they are in the name of your beliefs? Don’t you have a grain of guilt for the things you’ve taken part in?”
“It was for the greater good,” Samir said. “I’ll admit, at first, I sometimes felt bad for what I was doing. But I kept telling myself it was for the good of all involved. Things get easier.” He frowned. “The infidels butchered our families. I watched the Mexicans kill my parents and my sister in front of my face. What I do, I do to avenge them, as well as to serve Allah.”
“At least you’re honest,” Alex said.
“Allah calls us to be honest.”
“But not with your enemies,” Alex said. “So the things you do, you think you’re doing them in the name of Allah, but in reality, there’s one man pulling all the strings. You’re doing things in the name of the Chosen One. Don’t twist things.”
“You’re the one who’s twisting things,” Samir said. “The Chosen One speaks with authority.”
“What authority is that?” Alex asked.
“He uses the words of the Qur’an.”
Alex grinned. “He twists the words of the Qur’an. His interpretations are far different from those of most others.” Alex saw some similarities between this “Chosen One” and Pastor Oral Kenyon, the leader of the cult in Carpenter City.
“His interpretations are the correct ones,” Samir said.
Alex could see he was getting nowhere. “So he’s correct and millions of others are wrong? There are some very smart people I know of who probably know far more about Islam than your Chosen One who see things very differently.”
“A smart man can be wrong,” Samir said. “Only Allah is all knowing.”
“And also all loving,” Alex said. “So how is it you can murder women and children in his name?”
“I thought we already went over this,” Samir said with a frown.
Alex considered going into some atheist arguments, but he knew they would have no effect on a man as brainwashed as Samir appeared to be. “Well regardless of what you believe, I don’t believe in killing indiscriminately, so I’ll do what I can to talk to my friends. I’d still like to let you go, as long as I can be sure you won’t try to attack us again.”
Samir frowned. “I can’t promise you that. If your friends are going to kill me, so be it. I know I’ve died for what I believe. I will be rewarded.”
“You’re willing to sacrifice your life because you hope for a reward after death?” Alex asked. “What if there is none? What if you’re wrong?”
“I’m not,” Samir said. “Why does this surprise you? Everything everyone does is based on their beliefs regarding the afterlife.”
Alex frowned. “What about people who don’t believe in life after death?”
Samir smiled through his beard. “Then their belief of no afterlife is behind their actions, so that doesn’t change anything. The afterlife is still the strongest force behind everyone’s actions.”
“If you say so,” Alex said.
Samir looked him straight in the eyes. “Why have you come here? Is it to alleviate your guilt? Wash your hands of my murder?”
“I really don’t know,” Alex said, shaking his head. “I wanted to speak with you. I wanted to hear your words from the horse’s mouth. And regardless of what you’ve done, I don’t believe any man should have to die needlessly.”
“Ah, but there is a need,” Samir said with a smile. “The Qur’an teaches that all life is sacred. Allah loves all of his subjects, and he is forgiving. But there is a time for everything, even death and killing, if it is a necessity.”
“This isn’t a necessity,” Alex said.
“That’s where we differ,” Samir said. He frowned. “And what about that traitor Ayman? I suppose you’ll let him live?”
Alex shrugged. “I think they want to kill him, too. Why do you call him a traitor?”
“He lowered his weapon when the fighting came to us. My back was to the aggressors. I was captured and could do nothing about it. Ayman could have fought, but he didn’t. He’s always been, as you say, wishy washy.”
“You call us the aggressors, but you attacked us,” Alex said.
“Your people have been attacking my people for centuries upon centuries,” Samir said.
Alex frowned and stood. “Well I’m afraid it’s time for me to leave. I’ll do what I can, though.”
“You don’t have to,” Samir said. “I’m fine with my fate.” Alex shook his head as he left the tent and walked towards the tent where the other prisoner was being kept.
“You’ll get further with that one,” John said with a grin as he continued standing guard near both tents.
“Maybe,” Alex said as he entered the other tent to find Ayman seated on the floor with his wrists also in cuffs.
He grinned through his beard as Alex sat across from him. “A civilian among the soldiers,” Ayman said.
“I hope my friends haven’t been too hard on you,” Alex said.
“Oh, no,” Ayman said. “I enjoy sitting in a tent wearing handcuffs while a man with a laser rifle stands guard. One of my favorite pastimes, actually.”
At least this one had a sense of humor. “So Sergeant Gonzalez says you want to join us?” Alex asked. Ayman nodded. “Why should we trust you if you’re willing to change sides so quickly?”
“I was never on their side,” Ayman said. “I was forced to join them, as many of the people in my village were. They beheaded those who didn’t. Good, honest Muslims, too. They just refused to proclaim the Chosen One as their only true leader.”
“And you did?” Alex asked.
“A man does some despicable things when a gun’s pointed at his head,” Ayman said. “I’d like to think I would have been brave, but I wasn’t.”
“Sergeant Gonzalez said you worked with them for two years,” Alex said. “Did you murder any women or children?”
Ayman looked at the floor of the tent and frowned. “I had to do whatever they commanded me to. If I wanted to live.”
Alex nodded. “And how do we know you aren’t still working with the Holy Warriors? How do we know you aren’t lying to us now to gain our trust? For all I know, your animosity towards Samir could be a ruse.”
“Kill him,” Ayman said, looking into Alex’s eyes. “If you don’t, he’ll try to kill you. Or someone else. That’s what most of the Holy Warriors are like. I’ve tried to keep my doubts quiet, but I’ve been hoping to run into some people like you for quite some time now. Please let me come with you. If they find me, they’ll execute me. I can help you. I know these lands well. I can help you avoid another ambush.”
“I’m sure you can,” Alex said. “Or you may lead us right into one.”
“I’ll fight on your side,” Ayman said. “I can shoot a gun. Fairly well, not great. But I can help. I’ll cook. I’ll clean. I’ll do anything. Just take me with you. It’s all I ask. Leaving me out here would be a death sentence. You may as well just execute me and get it over with.”
“You want to work with us even though we aren’t Muslims?” Alex asked.
“To you be your way,” Ayman said with a grin, “and to me mine.”
Alex nodded. “We’ll see. I’ll talk to the others.”
Ayman smiled through his beard. “Thank you! Thank you so much! Allahu Akbar! Allah be praised.” Alex stood and left the tent.
He walked across the dunes to Mark, who was standing near the hover truck with folded arms. He appeared to be deep in thought. “So what do you think we should do with them?”
Alex shrugged. “I’d like to let them both go, but I have a feeling they’d probably kill each other. Or they’d join back with the Holy Warriors and lead them to us, like you said.”
“So you see my predicament,” Mark said. “You see why I have to kill them both.”
Alex shook his head. “Bring them with us. We can turn them over to the authorities in Las Colinas. They’re probably used to dealing with the Holy Warriors. We’re almost there. It won’t be too hard to keep them from escaping.”
“So you want to give the responsibility to someone else?”
“Why not?” Alex asked. “Don’t we have enough on our plate?”
Mark frowned. “I’ll take it under advisement.” He walked away.
“What does that mean?” Alex asked as Mark walked back towards his tent. “What do you mean by that, Mark?”
Alex returned to his tent and tried to rest, but his mind was racing. He wasn’t sure what to do regarding the two prisoners, and he had a feeling Mark was going to do whatever he felt like doing regardless. Mark needed a superior officer to keep him in line, but they were too far away from any relay centers to contact anyone. That would change when they reached Las Colinas. Alex could advise Mark, but he wasn’t military. That meant his advice often went in one of Mark’s ears and out the other. After some time, Alex dozed off.
He opened his eyes and heard the sound of a hiss, like a laser blast. He quickly gathered himself and left his tent to see Mark, Jane, John, Juanita, and Ayman all standing on the dune near the hover truck. Ayman’s handcuffs were gone and Samir was face down in the sand with blood seeping out of his head. Mark was holding a laser pistol as he glanced at Alex. “Okay,” Mark said. “We’re done here. Everyone pack your bags and get ready to head for Las Colinas.”
Alex glared at Mark. He had no idea what to say. Mark had probably planned it all along. He knew Alex would protest, but he didn’t care. Mark walked up to him and stopped a few feet away as the others returned to their tents. “What?” Mark asked. “Ayman promised to help us. I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. If he tries anything, we’ll take care of him, though. We couldn’t let Samir live, though. He’d wait for the right opportunity and then he’d kill us. Murder us in our sleep or set off a bomb and kill himself, too. You know how they are.”
“So you murdered him in cold blood?” Alex asked
“I executed him,” Mark said. “He would have done the same to us if he could.”
Alex shook his head. “That doesn’t make it okay.” He turned and stomped back towards his tent.
Eileen Traymont stood outside of the bank with Jorge Bautista and Stanley Everett, her top enforcer. “There was no security footage at all?” she asked.
“We only have eye witness accounts,” Stanley said. “They took out all of the bank’s computer systems, it seems. That’s also how they were able to open the vault.”
Eileen glanced at Jorge, who was standing with his robotic arms crossed over his huge chest. He wasn’t much on brains, but he made up for it in intimidation. Jorge was the perfect bodyguard. He didn’t feel pain, which Eileen learned was because of a condition called familial dysautonomia. When he was young, a crazy doctor who was working with some militia in Mexico got ahold of him and started doing experiments on Jorge’s brain to take away his emotions. The doctor also added the robotic arms. It was unfortunate for Jorge that these awful things had been done to him in the past, but Eileen figured she could use those evils for good now that he was working for her. She glanced at Stanley again. He also lacked brains, but he didn’t have the physical traits to make up for them that Jorge had. He was trustworthy and loyal to a fault, however. Everyone had their uses. “So there was a girl with buzzed platinum hair?” she asked. Stanley nodded. “And she was short?” He nodded again. “I believe that was Abigail Song, then. Using a disguise to try to hide her identity. And there was also a drag queen working with them. Obviously, the other two were Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose.”
“Of course,” Stanley agreed.
“Why would she rob a bank in a tiny town like this? They couldn’t have possibly had much money in the safe. Not enough for Song’s purposes, anyway.”
“I have no clue,” Stanley said. He was a short man with blonde hair and glasses. He didn’t look like much, but Eileen had heard he was good with a gun.
“It must have been a test run,” Eileen said. “They were just getting their feet wet. They’ll probably hit something bigger next. Stanley, I want you to run all of the possibilities through the computer. I’ll see if I can get Mr. Rennock to send us an EMPC or two so they can scout the desert on the way to any nearby banks. In the meantime, we’ll try to determine the most logical target and head there.”
“Sounds good,” Stanley said with a smile.
“Were there any casualties?” Eileen asked. “Any shots fired?”
Stanley shook his head. “There was a woman who said Ace threatened her, but that’s it.”
Abby had apparently killed Judith Israel, but that was the only murder Eileen could attribute to her up to this point. A murder and a bank robbery. Eileen wondered what else would happen during this crime spree. She’d suggested to Rennock that they put the word out about how Abby had joined Ace and Annabelle, but Rennock didn’t like that idea. He thought it would make it easier for Eileen to catch her if people didn’t know about it. Once she was captured, Rennock would use his news outlets to break the story and Abby’s reputation would be ruined. It would be a huge blow to the resistance. Eileen turned and walked back towards the hover truck parked in the street. “Well, let’s get to it, then. There’s not much more we can do here.” Jorge and Stanley followed her.
Abby sat on a rock, watching the flames of the camping stove flicker. They were camped near the edge of a canyon several miles away from Tequila City. They’d gone south over the Mexican Border after hitting Dark Trench, hoping that would throw any authorities off their trail. It was evening and they were getting ready to heat up some pork and beans. There was plenty for everyone to eat. “So how does the Orphan Gang sound?” Annabelle asked as she sat on another rock next to Ace. He had his arm around her as he stared off at the distant dunes.
“What do you mean?” Abby asked.
“Well every gang needs a name,” Annabelle said. “I figured the Orphan Gang works, you know, since we’re all orphans, and we’re a gang.”
Della and Digits looked at one another and chuckled. Della was wearing his black shirt and pants now, since no one else was wearing disguises, either. “Sounds familiar,” Della said. “Not very original.”
“Not very original?” Annabelle asked, eyeing Della with annoyance. “Well it’s too late. That’s what the press is gonna call us.” Ace opened a can of pork and beans with a can opener, dumped the beans into a pot, and placed it over the stove flame.
“The press?” Abby blurted. “What are you talking about? There isn’t going to be any press.”
“That’s not our style,” Annabelle said. “We always keep in touch with our friends in the press. Helps us control our image. I have a close friend who works for the Sandville Gazette. I always send her stuff first, then it gets everywhere. You know, news stories, pictures, stuff like that. She puts it up on her website on the Satellite Net.”
“What?” Abby asked. “That’s it, then. No more.”
Annabelle chuckled. “I send her stuff after every heist. Doesn’t matter. The cops’ll have it all anyway. And we can make ourselves look like heroes and all. I write all my own stories, so I make sure we come out looking good.”
“You didn’t mention my name, did you?” Abby glared at her.
Annabelle glared back with fiery green eyes. “No. I called you Ruth King, like you said to. They have the rest of our names already, though so it doesn’t matter.”
Digits frowned as Ace passed him a plate of pork and beans. “I don’t like it either, but she doesn’t care what any of us think. She does what she wants.”
“I don’t just do what I want,” Annabelle said with a defensive frown. “It’s what’s best.”
“I think it helps,” Ace said. “A lot of the people love us. Sometimes they help us evade enforcers. One couple even let us hole up at their place for a while so Annabelle could recover from some wounds.”
Della shrugged. “As long as they don’t know our real names, I’m all for it, sugar. Nobody ever accused me of shying away from attention.” Ace passed him a plate of beans.
“Whatever,” Abby muttered. “You all work for me, you know. It would be nice if you at least checked with me before you did things.”
“I work for me,” Annabelle said.
“Remember where you’d be if it weren’t for me,” Abby said. “Hanging from the gallows.”
“Why don’t we change the subject?” Ace asked. “Nice weather, isn’t it?” Though it was evening, the sun was still beating down pretty hard on the canyon and the air conditioning system in Abby’s jacket was just enough to make the stifling heat bearable. Ace handed her a plate and she started eating the bland pork and beans. It was better than nothing, though. Anything beat starving. She’d been there before. She remembered how when she’d first escaped Warrick Baines when he’d killed her family, there were times she went days without any real food. She remembered the exhaustion like it was yesterday, and the pains in her stomach and the headaches, but she pushed on through it and somehow managed to survive. When she thought in those terms, the pork and beans tasted much better. She continued eating as did everyone else, the clicks of utensils on plates filling the camp with sound that made Abby feel a little uneasy.
“Can I ask you a personal question, honey?” Della asked. Abby looked up to see he was talking to Digits.
Digits shrugged. “You can ask. I may not answer.”
“How did you lose your fingers?”
Digits chuckled. It wasn’t the reaction Abby would have expected. “Well, come right out and ask it, then. It was Warrick Baines. He caught me a long time ago, before I started working with Ace and Annabelle. Twelve, thirteen years ago? Something like that. I’d hacked into one of Rennock’s servers or something. I remember him asking how good I’d be at typing without any fingers, and he chopped off all of my fingers on my right hand.” He showed everyone his hand with the fingers gone past the first knuckle and grinned. “Good thing most computers work on voice control. He did say it was a warning and next time he’d cut out my tongue.”
“Didn’t stop him from hacking Rennock’s servers, though,” Ace said.
“No,” Digits said with a chuckle. “I was at it again the very next morning. I’ve just made sure not to get caught since then. I was young and naïve. Didn’t think anything bad would happen, so I was careless.” He shook his head. “Not anymore. Not with all of our lives on the line.” Abby glanced at Ace and Annabelle. She made sure to keep a close eye on them, as well as on Digits. They’d seemed friendly the past few days, but there was always the chance they were waiting for Abby and Della to let their guard down. She hoped Della was still watching them like a hawk, also.
Abby scarfed her pork and beans as everyone talked and laughed around the stove. Digits grinned at Abby. “You wolfed that down like there’s no tomorrow.”
“There may not be,” Abby said.
“No tomorrow,” Annabelle mused. “People still talk about the end times, but the end has come and gone. Here we are in the aftermath, still breathing, still eating.”
“Still living,” Della said. “Still dying.”
“It definitely feels like the world is still ending,” Abby said. “At least to me.”
Ace shook his head. “The world ended thousands of years ago. The centuries since have just been its death throws.”
“Well we may as well make the best of it then,” Annabelle said, “right?”
Ace chuckled. “And with that, I think I’m off to bed. We have a long day tomorrow.”
As with every night, Abby and Della took turns staying up to keep watch, and to keep an eye on Ace, Annabelle, and Digits while they slept. Abby had the first shift and she sat near the tents, staring out at the canyon in the darkness of night. When it was her turn to sleep, she went into her tent and lay down, but sleep didn’t come easy. When it did come, Abby’s dreams were haunted by the dead. This time it wasn’t Pastor Earl or her father, though. It was Judith Israel, and the enforcer she’d killed in the enforcer office, and the soldiers she’d killed in Primrose. They were all staring at her, and she ran through darkness, but no matter how far she ran, the faces were right behind her, staring at her though they were eyeless, muttering things though they had no mouths.
When Bobby finally decided to go to the Crosshairs Saloon, it was almost closing time and it was empty save for one table. Bobby had been hoping maybe to find Shelly there, maybe with Juan, but he had no such luck. She’d been gone since she stormed out of their hotel room a few nights ago and he was really starting to miss her. Alicia was working, though. Bobby had been trying to avoid her, but he knew there was no getting around seeing her eventually. Dead Man’s Bluff was a small town. Bobby took a seat at the bar and looked up expecting to see Basil Simmons tending bar, but instead he saw Madge, the pleasantly plump cook. She was a middle aged woman with a round, red face that was always smiling, as it was now. “Hey, Bobby.”
“Hi, Madge,” Bobby said.
“How ‘bout some of my chili? You’re one of the few people in town who has yet to try it.”
“I know,” Bobby said, barely managing a grin. “I don’t know if I can enjoy it right now, though.”
“Lady trouble?” Madge asked.
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. I’m not too good with women, Madge.”
“You’ve always been nice to me,” she said with a wink.
Bobby grinned and shook his head. “Have you seen Shelly in here lately? Maybe with Juan?”
“I ain’t seen neither of them for a few days,” Madge said. Bobby frowned. They probably were together, then. He felt the anger boiling inside him. “Have some chili,” Madge said. “It’ll make ya feel better. I stand by that.”
Bobby shook his head. “Not tonight, Madge. Can you go back there and tell Basil to get me some whiskey.”
“Oh,” Madge said. “The hard stuff. Must really be bad.”
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. It’s bad.”
“Listen, let me tell ya, no woman’s worth getting’ so distraught over. Still, Shelly’s somethin’ else, but she’ll come back. You know she loves ya. I know about these things. Believe me, she’ll be back.”
Bobby shook his head. “I’m not so sure.”
“She really does love ya,” Madge said as she walked back through the door that led to the kitchen.
Bobby looked up to see Alicia sitting next to him. The last few patrons had left. “Slow night,” she said.
“Please go away,” Bobby muttered. “You’re the last person I want to see right now.”
She frowned and Bobby noticed the bruise that surrounded her right eye. “All right, then.”
“No wait,” Bobby said. “You can sit. I’m sorry. I’m just not in the best mood.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. “I’m not in the best mood neither. Maybe we can cheer each other up. Like I said, it’s a slow night. Just you and me, and Basil fell asleep in the back, it’s so slow.”
Bobby chuckled. “Is that what he’s doing?”
Alicia smiled and nodded. She leaned in to whisper in Bobby’s ear and he felt her breath on his neck. “But don’t tell him I said that.”
Bobby backed away. “What happened to your eye?”
She looked around to make doubly sure the saloon was empty. “It was Chuck.”
Bobby’s jaw dropped. “Chuck? What happened?”
“He thought I was cheating on him,” she said. “He was mad because of something his awful grandmother said. She’s a horrible old cow.”
“She’s something else,” Bobby said. “But he shouldn’t be hitting you. Has he done this before?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Once or twice. He usually sticks to my legs so nobody will see.”
Bobby gritted his teeth in anger. So he did everything he could to treat Shelly right and she ran away. And here Chuck is beating his beautiful wife. “Am I the first person you told?”
Alicia nodded. “I don’t know. Don’t tell anyone. I feel I can trust you for some reason. You’re so sweet.” She smiled and her face lit up, even with the black eye. She was wearing a low cut black shirt that accentuated her cleavage, and her facial features were soft and feminine.
Bobby looked closely at her face and saw the beauty and the sadness. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Can we talk about something else though? We’re supposed to be cheering each other up.” She stood and walked around the bar, where she grabbed a bottle of whiskey. “I’ll just take this. Basil’s asleep and Madge probably forgot why she went back there. She’ll be leaving out the back soon if she hasn’t already. It’s just us.” She walked back to her seat, grabbed two glasses, and poured drinks for her and Bobby.
“What did you want to talk about?” Bobby asked as he swigged his whiskey.
“Anything that isn’t Chuck, the feud, or the IAO.”
Bobby laughed. “What else is there to talk about in Dead Man’s Bluff?”
She smiled, her beautiful brown eyes fixed on his. He forgot about the bruise for a second. “The mountains. They’re pretty this time of year.”
“How’s it any different from any other time of year?” Bobby asked.
“It isn’t,” Alicia said. “They’re pretty any time of year.”
Bobby laughed again. “Can we talk about where you’re from? Are you from Mexico originally?”
Alicia nodded. “I came up here with my family when I was young. Things were terrible down there with communism and all. We had to wait in long lines for a loaf of bread and a small bottle of recycled water. And that was supposed to last days. Sometimes the government workers kept it all for themselves. They were corrupt in my town.”
“From what I hear,” Bobby said, “they were corrupt everywhere. It’s such a shame. Communism seems like such a good idea on paper, and then people corrupt it, just like they do everything else.”
“It was never a good idea,” Alicia said. “It was doomed from the start. Too much power in the hands of the government.” She finished her whiskey and poured another.
“But what if instead of the government, the power was in the hands of the people?”
Alicia laughed. “Isn’t that a democracy?”
Bobby grinned. “I guess so. I don’t know. I’m not an expert on politics.” He finished his whiskey and she poured him another.
“Here we are talking about another depressing subject,” she said. “Why don’t we just talk about cemeteries and undertakers? That’s the next step in our conversation, don’t you think?”
“Politics and religion,” Bobby said. “Those are the taboo subjects, but what else is there to talk about?”
“Let me tell you about my dream,” Alicia said as she swigged her whiskey. “I wish I lived in a green forest, with a beautiful lake and a river, where birds sing, and animals frolic.”
Bobby spit out his drink laughing. “Frolic? Really?”
Alicia smiled. “Sure. What’s wrong with frolicking? Nothing frolics in the desert.”
“You’re getting depressing this time,” Bobby said. “You know, I went to a place like the one you just described.”
“No,” Alicia said. “I don’t believe you.”
“I did,” Bobby said. “In the middle of the Dead Lands.”
“Were there space aliens there?” Alicia asked. “And unicorns and dragons?”
“No,” Bobby said. “I’m serious. There’s a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Dead Lands. And there’s a river, and birds, and trees. Just like you said. It was beautiful.”
The smile faded from her face and she nodded. “I believe you now.”
“Nat can back me up on it,” Bobby said. “He was there, too, and he’s not the type of person who lies or jokes about stuff like that.”
“No he’s not,” Alicia agreed.
“And Shelly was there, too.” Bobby frowned. He could feel the alcohol. He was angrier than ever picturing Shelly with Juan.
“Have another drink,” Alicia said. “Shelly’s taboo subject, too. No Chuck, Shelly, IAO, feud… No Nat for that matter.”
“All right,” Bobby said as he had another drink.
The two of them talked and drank for several hours, long after the Crosshairs was supposed to be closed. They laughed even more as the night went on, and Bobby noticed that Alicia was touching his leg more often as the night went on, and he didn’t stop her. Eventually, they decided it was time to go. Alicia was having a little trouble walking, though. “Can you walk me home?” she asked, slurring her words a little. “It’s dark and the IAO is out there. Chuck’s not home tonight. He went out hunting with his brother. They shouldn’t be back until some time tomorrow.”
“I probably shouldn’t,” Bobby said.
“You’re gonna let a sexy drunk woman walk home two miles through the dark mountains all by herself? I’m too drunk to drive my hover car. I’ll crash into a rock.” She wobbled a little and Bobby helped her regain her balance. She smiled and put her arm around his back.
“All right,” Bobby said, rolling his eyes. They walked out through the saloon doors and walked down the empty main road of Dead Man’s Bluff. Bobby was looking around constantly, hoping no one saw him. The last thing he wanted was word getting back to Chuck or Shelly that he and Alicia left the Crosshairs together well after closing. They left town and started up the trail that led through the foothills to the waterfall where Chuck and Alicia’s house had been built. Bobby helped Alicia up the long, stone stairway that led to her house as the waterfall roared down the mountainside. Alicia slipped at one point, but Bobby caught her and helped her regain her balance. She felt so soft and delicate in his arms. Bobby remembered what her naked body had looked like when he’d seen her bathing. He shook off the thoughts and continued helping her up the stairway. When they reached the door to her house, she stopped and put her arms around him. “What are you doing?” Bobby asked.
“This,” she said, and she leaned in and kissed him. Bobby thought about stopping her, but he couldn’t. He put his arms around her and kissed her back, and they walked through the door together. Soon they were in the bedroom dropping their clothes to the floor, and Bobby knew there was no turning back.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 31
The next bank robbery Abby is involved in doesn’t go as smoothly as the first.
Paul flies another mission with Hell’s Eagles.
Mavery is upset by Big Ed’s actions.
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