All Or Nothing

No matter what game you’re playing in Vegas, someone always has to lose. Find Evie and Owen’s story up until now here.

Photo © me

Photo © me

         Evie didn’t look down as she was hauled painfully upward; the rope bit into her skin. It was a relief when a hand reached down and yanked her up into the helicopter. She struggled with the knots, finally freeing herself from the flimsy, makeshift harness. The rope twisted back down again and she peeked out the open door long enough to see Jessamy gesturing at Owen before shaking his head and looping the rope around himself.
         Someone else was flying the chopper; Gregg had on a massive set of headphones and leaned over her. “Who’s the runt?” he yelled over the buffeting propellers.
         “A new friend,” Evie shouted back.
         “Good thing we brought this baby,” Gregg gave her a satisfied grin.
         Evie leaned back against the cold metal, too exhausted to pull herself up into one of the few precarious seats. Jessamy appeared a few minutes later, wincing as he shed the harness.
         “Chris’almighty,” Gregg swore, flinging the rope back down again.
         “What?” Evie asked, heaving her pack off and crawling towards Gregg and Jessamy.
         She saw Jessamy’s face turn white. Evie grabbed his arm and stared down at the building. Tweakers swarmed the rooftop; somehow, they managed to pull themselves up the icy metal rungs. Owen fired into the stumblers that were already over the edge, but Evie could see more crawling up behind.
         “Throw the rope! Throw it!” she yelled, her fingers biting into Jessamy’s shoulder.
         The rope swung wildly, buffeted by the wind and the propellers. The snow whipped around Owen and she saw him squint as he tried to grab the rope once, twice. Jessamy swung his rifle out the door and began shooting the tweakers as Owen tried to tie the rope around his torso. Evie saw one break free from the milling mass; it stumbled over another tweaker’s writhing body and stayed upright. Her scream froze in her throat as Owen gave a frantic tug at the rope. Gregg and Jessamy hauled at it so hard it knocked Owen off his feet. He struggled to right himself, to keep one hand on the rope and one on his gun.
         Evie reached out one hand—to warn him, to stop the tweaker, she wasn’t sure. But as he spun at the end of the rope like a rogue kite, the tweaker latched its grimy hands on Owen’s arm. She heard his scream as the stumbler buried its teeth in Owen’s outstretched hand. The gun dropped onto the snow and the men gave a tug that pulled Owen clear off the rooftop. Evie thought for a moment that the tweaker would come too—that he would rip Owen’s entire arm off. But Owen released the rope and drove the heel of his other hand into the tweaker’s face. Evie thought she could hear the bones shatter, but surely the roaring in her ears was too loud.
         Owen’s face looked gray as they pulled him over the edge. The whites around his eyes were showing and there was blood running freely down his hand. His thumb and most of his next two fingers were gone—mangled stubs of raw meat. They pulled him all the way in and Gregg, swearing enough to impress even Evie, launched himself into the copilot’s seat. They spiraled away from the rooftop—now completely overrun. Evie had Owen’s head in her lap and his uninjured hand clamped tightly on one of hers, she could feel the feeling leave her fingers.
         “Jessamy, in my pack there’s a black canteen,” she waited for his eyes to focus on her. “It should be in one of the side pockets.”
         She could see his hands shaking as he fumbled with the zipper.
         “Evie,” Owen said weakly; she could hear the panic in his voice.
         “Shut up,” she said, squeezing his fingers—hard.
         “Here,” Jessamy handed her the canteen, top unscrewed.
         “This is going to hurt like hell,” Evie said.
         She glanced at Jessamy and he moved to hold Owen still. The floor of the ‘copter was sticky with blood. Evie poured the moonshine over Owen’s ruined hand and felt him stiffen. A sound almost like a whimper escaped his lips and his fingers crushed hers. Evie poured a continuous stream over the seeping wound. The bright red blood didn’t worry her, but she saw the clear outline of the bite on the back of his hand and fragments of teeth. She bit the inside of her cheek. If he ripped out the tweaker’s teeth, there would have been blood. If that blood got into the bite…
         A scratch from a tweaker was fine—unless infected blood got in it. A bite might even be okay if their mouths weren’t bleeding. The problem was that the first things the drug killed were the brain’s pain receptors. The only way to make sure they stayed down was to cut off their heads, stick a knife through the eye, a gunshot to the head—anything that destroyed was left of their intelligence.
         Since they couldn’t feel pain, the stumblers tended to be riddled with diseases and infections. They staggered around bashing themselves into things, cutting themselves up. Most of them had some kind of internal bleeding. If you hit one with a car and didn’t crush the skull, the bastards could get right back up. Evie hunted one with a leg so mangled it was just dead weight. The thing kept going for miles and still had some fight left in it. Chett cut himself on something—a deep cut but not dangerous. Then, in a fight with some tweakers, he made a real mess of one and blood got into the wound. Just like that. Three days later, she put a bullet in his skull and never regretted it.
         She looked down into Owen’s gray eyes, half shut in agony as remaining fingers on his hand twitched convulsively. The eyes were the first thing she noticed when Chett started to turn.

Showdown Part II

Sometimes you have to take a gamble and just roll the dice…see how Evie and Owen got here by catching up on the story thus far.

“When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” Frank Costello, The Departed

To Evie’s dismay, Edgar kept the gun jammed into her lower back, pressing his other hand to his face.

“Don’t you move, don’t you even move you little–Jessamy, you just gonna sit there?” Edgar’s voice was thick from the blood running down over his face.

Vanessa sat on the ground, her hands clasped to the back of her head, her face twisted in a grimace of pain. Owen had her gun casually leveled at the back of the dark head. His grey eyes were hard. Evie didn’t think he would actually shoot Vanessa but she could tell from the woman’s wild eyes that Vanessa wasn’t so sure. Edgar breathed heavily, spewing insults and curses as he tried to wipe the blood off his face. Evie thought about making a run for it, but if Edgar was a half-decent shot, he could put a bullet in her before she’d gone too far. Some of his blood dripped onto her shoulder as he wrapped his arm across her chest, jerking her closer.

“Edgar…” Vanessa’s voice trailed off as she looked pleadingly up at him.
Owen pressed the barrel of the gun into her dark hair and looked at Edgar, eyebrows raised.

“You think I give a damn about her?” Edgar’s laugh was ugly, and blood sprayed from his mouth.

Evie hoped she at least knocked a few teeth loose, too. She could smell the coppery blood and the sweat that ran down Edgar’s face. She pulled her arms in close to her body, wondering if she could drive her elbows back into his chest hard enough to knock him down. Owen gave a slight jerk of his chin when she looked up at him and it took everything in her to stand still.

“No, no, Edgar, I don’t. I don’t think you care ’bout anyone other than yourself,” Owen said.
“And why should I? Look at these three, women and a whelp of a boy. They’re no good to us. You and me though, Owen. We could catch that little plane of yours and be out of here with no more troubles.
“You’re right, Edgar. We could.”
Owen raised the gun and Evie could see the black eye of the barrel staring back at her.

Her ears rang and she lifted a shaking hand to her face—it came away red. Edgar hit the stage like a sack of rotting vegetables, half his scalp blown away. Evie turned, still holding up her bloody fingers and saw Owen standing with a pistol still pointing towards Edgar’s body. It wasn’t one of the ones he usually carried—his holster still lay in the mess of his bedding—it must be one he kept hidden. She felt cold, except for the spray of Edgar’s blood that ran down her forehead and cheek. She vaguely noticed movement at her side and someone thrust a bandanna into her hands: Jessamy. He stepped over Edgar’s body as though it was no more than a pile of clothes and put a hand on her shoulder.
When she made no move to use the bandanna, he reached to extract it from her trembling fingers. Owen appeared, handing his and Vanessa’s gun to Jessamy.

Vanessa still knelt on the stage, her face white and frozen. Owen gently tugged the bandanna from her hands and slowly began to wipe away the blood spatter from her face. She realized her teeth were chattering when Owen grabbed her chin and turned her face towards him.

“You okay?” he mouthed.
Evie nodded, unable to hear him clearly, but reading the question in his eyes.

Evie remembered the first time they met. She was walking along a lonely stretch of the interstate with no clear destination in mind, she ignored the chilly wind that blew the swamp smells of mud and decay in twirling tornadoes of leaves and debris. She shoved her hands deeper in the pockets of her worn, second-hand jacket as a truck roared by. The brake lights flashed red as the truck slowed and pulled over onto the shoulder. She slowed her pace, pulling her hand out of her pocket to feel for the knife that hung from her belt. Maybe he thought he had a flat or ran out of gas. No one emerged from the car and she hesitated; the driver stuck his head out the window and gestured to her. She loosened the knife and peered through the back window of the old Ford. He was alone. She walked to the passenger side of the car and he rolled down that window, too.

They looked at each other for a minute. She stared flatly at him, aware of the yellowing bruise around one eye and the blood that still caked her nose and lips. She hadn’t taken the time to clean up.

“You okay?” he asked.
For some reason, the familiar Louisiana drawl put her at ease. He was a local, too. She shrugged and waited.
“Heading somewhere in particular?”
“Not really. You?” she resisted the urge to scrub at the blood on her face and leaned warily against the door.
“Not really. Heard there’s a bar up the road that doesn’t care what you’re wearing,” he laughed.

Evie eyed him. He wore a faded blue flannel shirt and dirt streaked his tanned face. She judged him to be a few years older than her—by the dark scruff on his jaw and the beginnings of lines around his gray eyes. She couldn’t deny he was good looking–one of the best looking men she’d seen. He smiled again as he let her look him over and his teeth were white and straight. No one back in the park had teeth like that.

“You talking about Thad’s?” she asked jerking her head up the road.
“Yeah, you know it?” his dark brows rose and she smirked as she saw him trying to calculate her age.
“There are a lot of things Thad doesn’t care about,” she said as she opened the door and slid into the seat.

Check out Ray Devlin’s page for more beautiful photography.

Showdown Part I

There are some words you just can’t take back. Catch up on the story here.

         “Wife?” Vanessa looked back and forth between the two.
         Evie resisted the urge to slap the expression off Owen’s face; his mouth was still hanging open like a hooked fish. She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath calling herself every name she could think of and making up a few. Well, it was out there and there was no taking it back. She was glad Edgar at least seemed to be ignoring them. Jessamy slouched near the fire, taking in every word.
         “Yeah, how many years has it been, honey?” she crossed her arms over her chest, only then aware that her hands were shaking.
         Vanessa looked pointedly at Owen; he still stared at Evie, but he’d closed his mouth.
         “He never could remember the little things,” Evie cocked her head as she met his gray eyes. “Our anniversary, my birthday, not to sleep with other women.”
         She was pleased to see him flinch.
         “Evie, I never–”
         “Now, Owen, love,” she mimicked his drawl. “I’m sure you didn’t mean it, didya? Although, she sure seems to think you did.”
         “You listen, here,” Vanessa closed the gap between them, using the advantage of her height to stand over Evie. “I won’t have you talk about me like that.”
         “No, you listen. I don’t know how they do things out in California, but back home, if some woman sleeps with your man—no matter how much or how little you care about him—there’s no sitting back and ignoring that, sugar,” Evie stuck out her chin.
         Vanessa was tall, but Evie knew she was soft—she didn’t grow up fighting the swamps and her daddy. She wondered how much of that Vanessa saw in her eyes, because the taller woman stepped back.
         “We—that is, I—nothing ever happened,” Vanessa’s voice rose in a desperate whine. “I met Owen at a bar in New Orleans when I was down there working as an extra on a film. We talked and had a few drinks, some laughs…” she trailed off, looking back over her shoulder at Owen.
         “Is that right, Owen? Met her at a bar, is that how it happened?” Evie turned away in disgust—but she was stopped by a steely grasp on her arm and the cold, hard circle of a gun-barrel in her back.
         Edgar pulled her tight against him, his breath hot on her ear. She could smell his breath, the foulness that could not be disguised by the watered down coffee.
         “So, Evie is it?” He murmured against her cheek. “I don’t think you’ll be wanting to move any further.”
         Owen grunted and Evie tried to turn her head. To her surprise Edgar let her. Vanessa was standing next to him, a gun of her own leveled at his belly.
         “Now,” Edgar said conversationally, “Why don’t you tell us about this little plane of yours or we’ll kill your husband there.”
         Owen laughed and Vanessa shoved the gun harder into his side.
         “You think threatening me will make her talk?” his laugh was more of a cough as the barrel jabbed him again. “She hates me, if it weren’t for the damned stumblers, she would have divorced me five times over. Besides, if you kill me, my man will never let you on the plane.”
         “How’s about if we kill ‘er then?” Edgar’s voice was caressing and the gun barrel dug into her spine. “There’s some other things I wouldn’t mind doing to your sweet’eart here…we could make you watch.”
         Owen shrugged, “She’s been a pain in my ass for every single one of the ten years I’ve known her. Not to mention the four we’ve been married.”
         Evie held her breath for a moment. Despite her jab earlier about Owen never remembering their anniversary–which was true–he never forgot how long they’d been married. Five years, last time she checked. She caught his eye and one eyelid flickered in the barest wink. She tried to relax in Edgar’s grip, to let him think all the fight had gone out of her. The shudder than ran over her at his threat was one hundred percent genuine. She wondered if the friendly script writer from England was all an act or if the threatening man that held her was the charade. No use guessing. She let her knees go loose for a moment, as though she was about to faint and Edgar wrenched her upright again.
         “None of that now, missy. Looks like we have ourselves a bit of an impasse, here. You won’t tell us how to get to your plane and we won’t let you two go until someone opens up.”
         Not for the first time, Evie wished she had a little more height. The top of her head just brushed Edgar’s chin when he stood straight, but, just her luck, he was leaning in again and she swore she felt the dampness of his tongue against her cheek. In a move she’d used against an older, drunker man many times before, Evie jerked her head up and back. She felt the satisfying crunch as her skull hit Edgar’s nose.

Trouble Part II

Vegas, no longer the rich golden oasis in the desert, is starting to wear on Evie—or maybe it’s the new company they keep. For the story up until now, go here.

         Edgar chatted as they prepared breakfast–he even had a battered coffee can and some instant coffee that he brewed over the little fire. They added more scraps of wood and paper, but there wasn’t much left. Evie eyed the flare gun tucked in the side of Owen’s pack. They were supposed to use that to signal Greg. If he came back. Vanessa, Evie noted, looked worse for her night on the floor. Her dark hair was tangled and her full lips were pinched. She refused any of the coffee and stayed wrapped in her blankets, staring morosely at the fire.
         “Sleep okay, Van?” Evie asked brightly, savoring the gritty cup of coffee like it was fresh from the corner Starbucks.
         “Not really…E,” Vanessa’s eyes darkened and she refused to meet Evie’s gaze.
         “Maybe it was the snoring. Owen always snores when he doesn’t sleep on his side,” she smiled at her. “But then, you probably knew that.”
         Owen took a gulp from his can of coffee and swore when he burned his tongue. His eyes were red and there was a tighness around them that she recognized as signs of a headache. She knew he would be regretting finishing the rum before the day was out. Jessamy kept his head down, eating his soggy instant oatmeal with no comment to anyone else. Evie downed her portion as quickly as she could with a grimace. She hated oatmeal.
         “…so we’ve been trying to make it up to Reno, where we hear there’s some sort of out post, but, I’ll tell you, it’s been a bloody time trying to make it there,” Edgar was talking to Owen now.
         He didn’t appear to be listening, his dark eyes were half shut and there was almost a pallor to his bronze skin.
         “Reno?” Evie asked. “You really think there’s anything up there?”
         “It’s what we heard,” Edgar shrugged turning to her. “Where are you two headed, anyhow?”
         “We were making for California before we heard there’s nothing left,” Evie answered, afraid Owen might reveal they shared a destination.
         “I never saw anything like it,” Edgar shook his head. “Everything was overrun. There were…bodies everywhere.”
         Vanessa shuddered and pulled her coat over her shoulders. Jessamy’s can of coffee hung from his long fingers and his eyes were unfocused.
         “New Orleans was like that,” Owen said, his voice gravelly. “The streets were full of tweakers and dead bodies and drunks who had no idea what was happening–still. All the major cities—I don’t know if Reno will be any better.”
         “It has to be,” Vanessa said somewhat desperately. “You said your friend has a plane, that he’s coming back.”
         Evie made an involuntary move of protest, the Cessna originally sat six, but with the wear and tear and lack of fuel—she was worried it wasn’t going to make it off the ground again with three.
         “What?” Vanessa turned on her. “You’re gonna take that plane and fly up to Reno and leave us to walk? You little bitch,” she leaned forward, her eyes full of hatred. “Who are you to make those decisions?” She hooked a thumb at Owen. “It’s his friend and his plane. What is a skinny little piece of trailer trash like you going to do? There’s three of us and one of you.”
         “Now, Vanessa–” Edgar said in a soothing tone.
         “It’s his friend’s plane and I’m his goddamn wife,” E said, standing up so fast she almost spilled her coffee all over the fragile fire. “And I’ve taken down twenty tweakers myself before, and they’re a sight smarter than you, so I’d say the odds are pretty damn even.”
         Vanessa blinked as though Evie slapped her and Evie realized that she was breathing like she’d run five miles through the swamp back home pursued by a pack of stumblers. Edgar pointedly began stirring the coffee and Owen gaped at her. She realized what she said and felt her ears heat. Well, she thought, it’s technically still true .

Trouble Part I

This is the next installment in the post-zombie-pocalypse story of Evie and Owen. The previous posts can be found here.

         Evie shifted in her blankets, wishing she drank enough to pass out. She never liked spiced rum or the cottony taste it left in her mouth. A hang-over would be even worse in the morning with Vanessa’s screeching. She closed her eyes, wishing for one of Thad’s warm beers and the oaky smell of the bar mixed with stale tobacco smoke, the sunlight filtering in through the grimy windows, and the faint buzz of the neon signs on the wall.
         Evie remembered sitting at Thad’s bar when she was no older than sixteen, her worn tennis shoes swinging as she perched on the tall bar stool. He gave her ice cold coca cola in a frosted beer mug and chased off any creeps that tried to bother her. Sometimes, along with the coke, he gave her a damp rag or a cup of ice–letting her nurse a split lip or a bruised cheek. She remembered the way the dim bar lights shone off the top of his balding head—like wet mud, she always thought. His round face was seamed with lines, almost black in his dark face and his crooked teeth always flashed white in a big smile for her. She hoped he was doing okay—that he was still holding down the bar.
         She stared at the dark ceiling above her; sleep fled in the wake of her reminiscing. Her gaze wandered over to where Owen sat at the very edge of the circle of firelight. It smoothed the new lines creased the corners of his eyes, the dirt, and the way his cheekbones were more prominent. It glazed his skin bronze as he tapped his machete idly against his thigh, keeping watch in case any tweakers surprised them again. She rolled over, hoping that hiding her view of him would silence her thoughts. She thought she heard a rustle and risked another glance over her shoulder. Vanessa prowled across the stage to Owen.
         “You should get some sleep,” Owen said quietly, before she spoke. “You’ll need it tomorrow when you three move on.
         “Move on? We just got here!” She said. “You’re not really worried about the stumblers are you? They’re all practically deadened by the cold, they’re easy to avoid–easier to kill. It’ll be better with us with you,” Vanessa said.
         “You and your body guards?” the smirk was audible in his voice.
         “Hardly,” she laughed.. “Edgar was in LA working on a script when it all went to hell. He thought of me for a part. Jessamy found us along the way. He was alone—on vacation and lost his family or something,” she waved her hand in the sleeping boy’s direction.
         “You’re real broken up about the kid.”
         She shrugged.
         “You’re exactly the same as I remember,” Owen turned to face Vanessa.
         Evie, now wide awake and unashamedly eavesdropping, perked up her ears. Here it was. She tasted salt and rust, realizing she was biting the inside of her cheek.
         “Oh?” the single syllable sounded obscene.
         “You don’t care ’bout nobody, never have, never will. Alls you want is someone you can use up,” Owen said evenly.
         “I don’t–”
         “You know exactly what I mean. Don’t think for one minute I give a damn,” Owen shifted again so his back was to her.
         “Time was when you gave more than a damn,” Vanessa didn’t bother to keep her voice low.
         Evie could see, even in the dim light the muscle that jumped in his cheek. Rolling over, she looked into the fire. Across the dancing flames she met a pair of dark eyes. Jessamy was awake, too.

         There was no way to tell it was morning—the only illumination in the windowless club came from the faltering fire. Evie could hear the wind wailing outside as the blizzard continued. She knew it was morning because she was awake—her body trained after months of light sleep to wake at daybreak. She sat up, groaning as she cracked her stiff neck and rubbed a sore spot on her shoulder. The blankets provided little padding from the wooden stage. She ghosted out of her blankets and prowled around the room, looking for anything she could scavenge. When that failed, she opened her pack and sorted the contents, careful not to rouse any of the other sleepers. Owen must have stayed up most of the night, but the bottle of rum that lay beside his lax hand was nearly empty. She started when he snored–a familiar sound–and shook her head. A soft step behind her made her turn, a knife leaping to her palm. Jessamy held up his empty hands.
         “Sorry, habit,” she said, turning back to the pack.
         Jessamy sat down, watching as she sifted through the debris of found objects at the bottom.
         “You’ve a lot of stuff,” he said, his accented voice soft.
         “Some of this has gotten me out of some tight squeezes,” Evie said, surprised that he spoke. She kept her eyes on the tangled twine in her hands.
         “Why won’t you tell us your real name?” Jessamy’s eyes looked very young in his hollow face.
         “How old are you, kid?” she asked.
         “Seventeen. Why don’t you like your name?”
         “Who said I didn’t?” Evie put down the twine–it only snarled further.
         “I don’t like mine,” he offered, looking at her expectantly
         Evie rolled her eyes, and relented. “It’s a silly name. Someone watched too many soap operas.”
         He waited.
         “It’s Evie.”
         “Evie,” he tested it on his tongue. “It’s nice.”
         “Less nice than when it’s shouted at you all day,” she pressed her lips together.
         “Before you get hit,” Jessamy nodded.
         Evie stared at the too thin face, the circles under dark, hungry eyes. She nodded, once. Jessamy looked over her shoulder and she knew where his eyes would go. She didn’t follow his gaze.
         “I won’t tell them. Our secret.” He paused, “Vanessa’s trouble.”
         Evie didn’t answer as he stood and walked back to the fire where the others were just beginning to rouse.

House Rules

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.”