They say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” They never say anything about what you bring with you. To catch up on the story, start here.
Evie wiped her hands on a piece of crumpled newspaper. It was dated before the tweakers. The dry pages seemed to soak up the blood and viscera that clung to her fingers. She swallowed the wave of nausea. Owen carefully bolted the door after he drug the mangled bodies of the tweakers out of the room. The trails of blood and guts they left behind glinted wetly on the floor. Owen rubbed the back of his arm across his forehead, smearing the sweat and dirt.
“Thought you checked,” E said, still scrubbing her fingers.
“I did,” Owen said, sounding out of breath.
His voice was slightly louder than normal and E winced. She shouldn’t have fired the gun so close to his head but the damned stumbler came out of nowhere. E still didn’t understand how one got in. Owen must have missed an entrance. There were five, a small pack; maybe everyone was right about them not liking the cold. These moved slowly, sluggish–like they were half-frozen. E didn’t know if they could have fought them off if they were any quicker. Now that the adrenaline was leaking out of her, she felt the heaviness of the rum, the way her tongue seemed to lay in her mouth like a dead thing.
Owen was shaking his head experimentally like a dog.
“Damn girl, you had to fire that thing right by my head,” he said.
“Stop yelling,” she hissed, walking closer to him so he could hear. “Would you rather that tweaker latched onto your neck? She wanted to.”
Makes one of us, Evie thought.
The appearance of the stumblers interrupted whatever Owen planned to say and do. E was glad. Cowardly, but too relieved to care. She hoped it was the rum and the way he seemed to enjoy dredging up old memories. Her hand went to her pocket, where she stashed the lighter.
“You didn’t let her though,” Owen interrupted her thoughts, making an effort to pitch his voice low. “You know, I think there must be some hidden doors or panels around here somewhere. Makes sense in a strip club—performances and high-roller clients and all.”
“Think there could be more?” E looked around, hand going to her knife.
“Might be,” Owen shrugged. “What’re we gonna do, go back outside in that blizzard?”
“No,” E knew that was an even worse idea than staying in the decrepit club. “Besides, Greg won’t be back for a few days.”
She was still fuming that Owen’s “best mate” waited until they were high in the sky to tell them that California was no good. The closest he could get was Nevada; he heard there was a settlement near Reno. Then he got a call on a satellite phone he also conveniently forgot to mention and dropped them off in what was left of Vegas so he could pick up some supplies. As they walked through the outskirts of the once-golden city of debt and debauchery, Owen finally told Evie that he helped Greg shift some “products” in exchange for guns, ammunition, and traveling goods. Turns out, his favor was only good until a better offer came up.
“He’ll be back though,” Owen’s tone did not reassure her.
She was about to tell him, again, how tiny his brain was for gambling on someone like Greg when there was a pounding on the door. They froze, eyes locked. The sound came again, a determined knocking on the heavy metal door. It didn’t sound like a tweaker.
“Anyone in there? It’s bloody freezing out ‘ere,” the voice was muffled through the thick door.
“Weapons at the ready, love,” Owen said.
E already had her gun in one hand and long, skinning knife in the other. She nodded as he moved to open the doors enough to see out.
“Well? You thinkin’ bout letting us in or d’you mean for us to freeze our arses off out here, then?” the man standing outside was wearing a thick coat and Owen could see the gleam of a gun in his hand.
“How’s about you not point that gun at me and we’ll think about letting you in?” Owen said.
E stifled the sense of grudging admiration at Owen’s menacing tone and tightened her grip on her knife.
“All right, all right, no need to get hasty,” the man’s voice was genial enough. “There’s only three of us. We’ve sheltered ‘ere before. Let us in, will ya? Freezing my bollocks off out ‘ere.”
Owen looked at E, who shrugged. She backed away as he opened the door, keeping her weapons in plain view. The older man who was first through the door held his empty hands up and grinned at her. His face was ruddy from the cold and there was red in his shaggy beard.
“No harm meant, missy, just looking for a bit of warmth and somewhere to kip,” he sat down on the edge of the stage and proceeded to poke at the dwindling fire.
Evie turned back to the doorway to see two more figures slip in, both bundled tightly against the cold. The second was a young man, little more than a teenager, who gave her a wary look before sitting beside the man, making no move to take off his snow-coated jacket. The third figure was barely in the door before it moved towards Owen in one vicious movement.
E blinked several times until the woman finally pulled her lips off Owen’s.
“That’s all the hello I get from you?” the woman laughed, pulling off her knit hat and shaking her dark hair free. “It’s been ages!”
Owen stammered, “What are you doing here?”
“I live here. What are you doing here, so far from your swamps?” she unbuttoned her coat, never taking her eyes off Owen. “I never thought I’d see you after everything I saw on the news. Seemed like Louisiana got the worst of it.”
“I had to get something,” Owen said. A slow red flush crept up his face. “It was awful bad down there, but I had a buddy that owed me a favor. He flew us here and is coming back in a few days.”
“Us?” the woman finally caught sight of Evie. She looked back at Owen, a question in her eyes.
“This is E, from back home,” he said.
E holstered her gun but kept her knife handy, tapping the blade idly against her thigh as she looked at the other woman. She was tall with thick, dark hair that she wore long and a full, sensual mouth. Evie couldn’t help thinking of the woman on the billboard outside. She smirked. She’d bet against any casino in Vegas that this wasn’t the first time this woman had been here—not counting after the tweakers overran it.
“E? Is it short for something?” she asked.
“If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you,” E jerked her head at Owen.
“I…see,” she said. “I’m Van. Short for Vanessa,” she smiled at E.
E stared at her for a moment before turning back to the two men at the fire. The older man had gotten a decent blaze going, adding more paper and some of the precious wooden scraps they had. He had taken off his cap and his bald head gleamed. The boy was still huddled in his over-sized coat, staring mutely at the fire. Both appeared to pay no attention to the other three. E retrieved her share of the blankets and both bottles of rum, checking the stoppers on them. No sense wasting good alcohol. She glanced over her shoulder at “Van.” Especially not on that one.
“You said you’ve sheltered here before?” E directed her question to the older man.
“I did at that, several times in fact. Miss Van led us here,” he replied easily.
“Ever had any problems with tweakers sneaking in?” E asked bluntly.
“Not that I remember,” the bearded man scratched his beard.
The boy looked up at the question, his dark eyes darting around the room. E wondered who he was. He looked nothing like the red-bearded man and his thin face bore little resemblance to Vanessa.
Van and Owen made their way over to the fire. “You’ve got a fire going, lovely. I don’t know about you, but I think this blizzard may be the best thing to happen to us all week. This here is Edgar and Jessamy,” She introduced the other two and sprawled gracefully onto Owen’s abandoned pile of blankets.
Vanessa’s fluttering voice made E cringe.
“And you already know my name,” Vanessa smiled blazingly up at Owen.
He just stared at her, gaping like a fish caught on a hook. E rolled her eyes and dropped down onto her own blankets, uncorking one of the bottles of rum. She brought it to her lips and drank.
“Honey, we’ve got a name for the likes of you where I’m from,” E said wryly, “I ain’t likely to forget it.”