“Listen here, you puffed up canaries,” Gator snapped, raising her fist. “You either pay the whole fare up front or you can hire some other merc to tow this hunk of junk back to Three Hub!”
Two street samurai glared at her behind their garish kimonos and bright kabuki wigs. Hair big and wild, like straw poking from the top of over-stuffed scarecrows. The Kabukimono were not to be trifled with. If those dogs smelled fear she might not get paid at all.
Stupid. Now, why’d she have to go and taunt ‘em like that? Her guts twisted up like she’d swallowed a barrel of fishhooks. But she had to keep up appearances.
The larger of ‘em towered over her, his heavy cybernetic arm aglow with neon images. Bright pixels swirled across a pair of exposed pistons. Tusked demons and Nipponese folk heroes locked in mortal combat. One thump from that beauty and she’d be in for a long nap. “You dare speak to Kamikaze in such a tone, little man?”
A spindly samurai stood behind Kamikaze, arms folded up inside his billowy shirt. Thin as a rake and half as sexy. “That, my dear friend,” he withdrew a hand and corrected Kamikaze with an upturned finger, “is a woman.”
Kamikaze swept an eyebrow back toward him. “A bit stout for a woman, is he not? And hairy.” He paused, a knowing grin turning up his cheek. Poked a friendly slab of reticulated finger into Rake’s kimono where his chest should have been. “You think I can’t tell the difference between a woman and a dwarf?”
Rake edged away. “You leave me… little retort.” His eyes darted between Kamikaze and Gator.
Gator fought the urge to swallow the lump rising in her throat. But she stood her ground. Heart pounding too damn hard to get worked up over his miscalculation of her gender. Besides, ain’t like he was the first to make that mistake. “Unless you boys plan on legging it back into town, I suggest you cough up what’s owed. Won’t be getting far in that.” She cocked a thumb at their smoking hoverbike. Front jump-jet was crunched around an oak tree, metal wrinkled up like an old blanket.
“Kamikaze will not be made a fool by some blue-collar slumdog.” The big samurai swept up his mane and secured it over his head in a messy topknot. That’s what they did when they were looking for a fight.
Shit shit shit.
If he reached for that hulking deflector sword slung across his back she’d be in real trouble. They’d find out the gun belts crisscrossing her chest and waist were just ornamental, purely for show. Not even loaded.
“This… this is no rank and file mercenary, my friend,” Rake began. “Observe the quintessential tattoos. Those hairy, muscular arms. She can be none other than a Lemieux. Who else would be clad in all those gaudy, old world revolvers?”
Kamikaze frowned. “That doesn’t make her famous. Any tattooed fool can wear six pistols.”
“Not just any fool.” Gator winced. Then did her best to salvage it, bearing her teeth in what she hoped was a confident smile. Before they saw the fear in her eyes. She hated falling back on the family name. When the day came that some mean bastard finally called her bluff, she’d wind up a grease spot. Not to mention a disappointment to Granny Lemieux and the rest of her kin.
Uno, Gator’s bulldog, watched from inside her tow truck. Impartial as a gravedigger. His tongue flopped over the red bandana tied around the rolls of his fat neck.
“Lemieux or not, I’ll suffer no such insolence. Let us see how much talking he does with a sword through his thick belly.” Kamikaze’s mechanical arm hissed as he reached for that great cleaver of a sword upon his shoulder.
Whether it was that big bastard calling her a man again, or sheer terror, who can say? But Gator went for a pistol at the same time. Drew it from an oiled holster with lightning speed. That smooth instinctual motion she’d practiced a thousand times in front of a dirty mirror.
Kamikaze froze, a Nipponese gargoyle, blade half drawn from its scabbard.
She motioned with the pistol for him to back away.
Blood pounded behind her ears so loud she was sure he’d hear it.
“This is not finished, slumdog.”
Uno panted hot noisy breaths. His droopy gaze drifted from Kamikaze to Gator, lazy as a feather.
“Call me slum dog again and I’ll see that it is.” She thumbed back the hammer on her revolver. Took everything within her to keep her hand from shaking. Had to keep up appearances.
Rake stumbled backed. Eyes wide, like a bird about to be eaten alive.
Kamikaze smiled easily and leaned against the ruin of his rumpled hoverbike, metal creaking. “So, the rumors are true. The Lemieuxs are more than just a bunch of drummed up, backwoods braggarts.”
Gator fought to keep her voice even, strong. “Well, now you know. And if it’s all the same, I’ll be leaving you two agitators right here.” If she high tailed it right now it wouldn’t be soon enough.
“Leaving us? But why?” Rake asked. “We’ve yielded.”
Gator spun her revolver and returned it to its oiled leather holster. “It’s the principle of the thing.”
“You,” Kamikaze laughed, shaking a metal column of finger at her. “I like you, little man.”
“I’ll send someone back for the pair of you.” With that, Gator climbed into her tow truck, threw it in gear, and tore off down the gravel, kicking up stones behind her.
Shit shit shit.
A mile down the road, when them bastards were well out of sight, she pulled over. Pried her trembling hands from the steering wheel. Her heart was racing like a caught rabbit. She met her eyes in the rear-view mirror, wet and terrified as a child’s. No kind of way for a Lemieux to be.
She just wasn’t cut from the same cloth as Rooster or Crawfish. Her brothers were tough as boot leather jerky.
A quiet life was the whole reason she’d opened the taxi and towing service to begin with. She stared at her reflection. Fought away the cold sweat. Forced herself to breathe easy. She was a Lemieux, damn it. And Lemieuxs could shit through the eye of a needle at fifty yards. Best she started acting like it.
Uno licked her chin, and she tousled his ears with a smile. She could always count on him to level her out.
The truck’s radio crackled to life and she near jumped out of her seat. “Hey Gator, you couldn’t give us a lift on the way into town, could you?” It was Attila’s voice. “You ain’t gonna believe this. Brig and I, uh… we, uh… lost our truck.”
She picked up the receiver. “Lost it? How?”
“Over a friggin’ cliff, man.” He laughed uneasily. “Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Uno licked the receiver at the sound of Attila’s voice.
Gator took another deep breath, smirked, and set her jaw. Appearances and all that. “Lord Almighty, you boys could make a train take a dirt road! You dingbats better be buying me a drink! After all the parts I sank into that rig just to have you wreck it!”
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