*Luckless

Written by J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

They didn’t call him “Luckless” Armstrong Gamble for nothing.

Luckless wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and squinted at the angry desert sun. His partner, Mav, kept a close watch on the mutant chained up beside them. A big bastard covered in scrap metal and dark rags.

It was too hot to be marching a high risk bounty through El Lago. Too hot by half. Luckless scowled at the winding trail they’d cut through the sand. And further back at their smoking rig, sat at the bottom of a dune. Blasted thing started pissing radiator fluid two miles back.

Mav shook his head. “I swear Gamble, if you didn’t have shit for luck, you’d have none at all.”

Luckless ignored him. Not every comment his partner made warranted a response. Sometimes Mav just liked to hear himself talk. Luckless smacked his cracked lips. His tongue felt like wood in his mouth. Damn, but he was thirsty.

Mav pulled a canteen from his duster and took a generous swallow. “Hell’s Lake…” he muttered. “The name doesn’t quite capture the charm of the place, does it? Hell’s Armpit is a more candid assessment.” He poured the contents over his head and slicked his hair back, flinging droplets everywhere.

Luckless frowned as a few beads hit him in the face. Such a waste of water. “Maybe you ought to take off that duster.”

“Nonsense. Never underestimate the power of theatricality.” Mav shook out the wet collar of his longcoat. “Just need some shade is all.”

“Maybe we can find you a hammock while we’re at it.” Luckless gestured to the barren landscape around them.

“A little optimism never hurt anyone.” Mav passed his canteen over. “How about a short recess?”

Luckless upended the water bladder and waited. A single dusty drop hit his tongue. Just enough to make him regret getting his hopes up. Shit on his luck. He flung the empty canteen into the sand. Maybe if his partner hadn’t taken a damn bath with it.

But Mav was right. They could do with a breather. “Alright, gutter face. We stop here.” Luckless jerked the mutant’s chain, shackles clinking.

The grizzled bastard glared down beneath a tattered hood. His face was a rash of boils, his smile all jagged teeth. And he was too big by half. “See anything you like, meat-sack?” the mutant growled.

“You’re lucky I don’t put a bullet in your hide.” Luckless racked a shell in his shotgun.

Mav twisted the ends of his thin mustache. “What my sophisticated associate is trying to say is… it’s fortunate the bounty pays more for you alive.”

Luckless eyed the mutant, finger on the trigger. “Why they call you Gloom, anyway?”

“I cast a real long shadow.” The big mutant displayed his filed teeth in an approximation of a smile. “No need to explain yours.”

Luckless let that slide. Any fool could see that big ugly was right.

Mav loosened the ascot around his neck. “All this water sloshing around in my belly has got me craving a smoke.”

Luckless clenched his fists, considered all the satisfying ways he could help Mav re-tie that ascot of his. But self-control got the better of him. He gritted his teeth and peered across the expanse of shimmering air and sand. Another thirty miles to the nearest settlement, Jericho Hill. Where they had water. But more importantly, where they could get their pay and be done with this blasted job. Before he decided to wring his partner’s scrawny neck.

When Luckless turned back, Mav was sat in the big mutant’s shadow, a box of rolling papers in his lap.

Luckless kicked his boot. “What’re you doin’?”

“Building a fire. What’s it look like? Figured I’d put our malefactor’s namesake to use.”

“If anyone gets to sit in this scum’s shade it should be me.”

Mav inspected his freshly rolled cigarette and licked the side. “Agree to disagree.”

“I’m the one that took out the contract on him.”

“That’s a fact. But the way I recall it, you ain’t the one that ran him down.” Mav tapped the pearl handle of his revolver.

Gloom chuckled. “Your eloquent friend has a point, Gamble.”

“Stay out of this.” Luckless ran his tongue over his cracked lips.

Mav smiled that menacing smile he gets when he thinks he’s gonna get his way. Joke was on him. Luckless wasn’t interested backing down. Not by half. Not after the morning he’d had.

“Wrong day for that, Mav.”

Luckless hauled his partner up by his ascot and wrestled him out of Gloom’s shadow. They struggled, kicking up sand, scrambling for position. But Mav was stronger than he looked. That skinny son of a bitch yanked him across the dune with him. They clawed, rolled, punched, and tumbled down the sandy hill. Specks of rough grit found their way into every available orifice. When they slid to a stop, Luckless stood over Mav, duster collar in one hand, fist raised.

He let out a long breath.

No.

He was better than this. Insufferable or not, Mav was his partner.

“So long you miserable bastards!” a growling voice called down. The mutant cut a stark silhouette across the horizon and vanished.

Luckless scowled. Shit on his luck… He turned back toward his sprawled partner. “See what you did?”

But Mav was already making himself comfortable in Luckless’ shadow. A bent cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, he looked up with a grin. “Now that we’re not in any particular rush, got a light?”

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