Brig chewed his cigar as his heart thundered in his chest. He wrung the steering wheel with white knuckles and scoured the overgrown road for traps. They couldn’t afford to lose another tow. And damn sure couldn’t afford to get caught by vikers.
Attila sat oblivious on the passenger side in naught but his eyepatch and red long johns. A curlicue mustache swirled across his upper lip in dark ink with a level of artistic proficiency that bordered on barbarism.
Just like him to be rummaging through a sack of gear in his underwear while Brig was sweating bullets. Like they weren’t relying on this job to eat tonight. Like they weren’t smack dab in the middle of the dangerous end of Three Hub. Like they weren’t in Broken Axle territory.
Brig’s eyes pored over every crumbling structure they rolled past. Great iron dragons welded from car-halves and locomotive guts rose up from cracked buildings tangled with vines and weeds. Ribs of shifting metal hung from segments of overpass like the bones of a monstrous sea serpent. Viker marauders slathered in motor oil warpaint could be lurking around any corner, Molotov cocktails at the ready.
Vikers not unlike the one tied and gagged in the back seat. He was clad in armor riveted from hammered fenders, license plates, and scraps of tire. Smelled god awful too.
“Mmmmmhr…” the viker grumbled through the gag.
“Shhhh!” Brig clenched his teeth. “You’re gonna get us caught.”
Silence stretch out between the three of them as the cab of the junker squeaked and groaned with every pebble it bounced over.
The viker sat up and shook his head. “Mmmmmhr!” he wailed again, louder.
“What is it?” Attila snatched the wad of cloth from his mouth.
“Watch out, idiot!” It was a female voice.
Attila’s head whipped around. “You’re a chick!?”
It surprised Brig just as much, but he didn’t have time to comment. The junker rocked as a tripwire snapped away and he slammed on the breaks. A pair of engines swung down on chains from buildings on either side of them. They smashed together inches from the hood in an eruption of sparks and metal.
“Step on it!” Attila yelled.
Didn’t have to tell him twice. Brig mashed his boot to the floor, tires spun out, and the junker lurched forward. The two-ton truck plowed through the pair of dangling engines, sent them spinning away. They had to get out of this district before any marauders were alerted.
“Let me out, you idiots!” the woman yelled from the back.
Brig didn’t so much as look back. They hadn’t had an honest payday in weeks. Couldn’t possibly afford to start making exceptions now. Leastways for viker scum. “So…” He studied Attila’s long johns. “You gonna tell me what happened, bub?”
Attila retrieved a patchwork sock from his sack and slid his bare foot into it. Big toe protruding from the end, he wiggled it with a triumphant grin. Clearly he wasn’t interested in rehashing “the incident.”
But Brig knew how to get him to talk. “You’d think a hardened slinger could handle a few measly—”
“A few? A few!? A few is three, maybe even ten. It was Eagan’s Rats! Every friggin’ one of them sticky-fingered shoe-snatchers!” Attila brandished his other sock, flopping it to and fro. “The most notorious band of highway marauders since—”
A shrieking laugh came from behind them. “Are you talking about those kids?”
Attila glared back through his good eye. “There had to be at least fifty of them! Fifty ain’t a few.”
Brig frowned. “Only twenty-one by my count.”
“It ain’t easy making estimations . . . when you’re tied up.”
Brig frowned. “Tied up?”
Attila narrowed his eye. “That’s beside the point! Twenty-one hardly falls under the category of a few!”
“Not when half of ‘em are still cutting baby teeth.”
“Hey, some of them had more facial hair than I do!”
The viker leaned forward between them. “Looks like they fixed that for you, at least. You got a little speck of something right . . .”
Brig scratched at his mustache and pointed at Attila’s curlicue.
The one-eyed merc dragged a hand over his mouth, leaving a smear of ink across his cheek. He scowled at the dark smudge on his fist. “Those ornery little vandals!” He scrubbed at his face with the back of his red sleeve, until his face was covered in dark streaks. “Did I get it all?”
Brig sighed. “Well, I don’t think you missed any…”
Attila ignored his partner and pulled a boot from the satchel. His face soured as he dug frantically through the bottom of the bag. “Where’s the other one? They kept it!? What are they going to do with one friggin’ boot?” He frowned, sliding his foot back into the single worn brogan.
“I reckon the thought is: What are you gonna do with one boot?”
“I loved these boots… They made me look taller. And the left one had… Oh shit, man.”
Brig was afraid to ask. “What? The left one had what?”
“It had our licenses in it.”
“Son of a bitch, Attila!”
Attila winced. “We gotta go back.”
The viker behind them smiled. “That’s right, you can’t legally tow my stolen—ahem, rightfully acquired hoverbike, without the proper licenses. They won’t pay you a dime.”
“We aren’t… going…” he couldn’t even get the sentence out. She was right. Damn her. Damn those vikers. And damn Attila for losing his boot to a bunch of kids. They had to go back. “Think, Attila. Where did you lose that boot?”
Attila folded his arms. “We’re not talking about that.” He ducked into the satchel, coming back up with a flat-brimmed hat. “Here we are!” A jutting grin spread out across his face.
“What the hell is that smell?” Brig waved a hand in front of his face. It almost smelled like piss.
Attila gave his hat a couple sniffs and his eye began watering. He fanned his hat and Brig’s eyes started watering too.
“That’s it.” Brig snatched Attila’s hat and hung it out the window.
“You bastard!” Attila grated through his underbite.
“What? You want your hat back? Well, I want those licenses. It might fly out the window unless you start talking.”
“Fine!” Attila stomped Brig’s boot into the breaks. The junker rocked forward and slid to a stop. “You wanna hear the story? I’ll tell you the story. Just gimme the friggin’ hat!” Attila’s voice echoed through the concrete jungle.
Oh, hell. Things were about to get out of hand.
The viker in the back seat smiled. “By all means, take your time.”
. . . to be continued . . .
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