Maddie cinched her wide leather belt a notch tighter as she walked with Rosa and Annie to the front entrance of the hotel. She smiled at the sequins that stretched down the leg of her jeans and shook her blond hair. A good meal, a hot shower and a soft bed for the night made a world of difference. She tugged at the leather straps of her new jacket. "This sure is a lot of leather…," she muttered. "You sure we can't find any other working vehicles?" she asked Rosa.
"The Doc and his goons have the functional vehicles under lock and key, as well as the fuel," Rosa said. "He had years to gather them up and set up his little feudal kingdom."
Annie grinned. "It works, though. I mean, as long as we scavenge enough food to pay his 'tax' he lets us live in the building and leaves us alone."
Rosa's eyes narrowed. "Though people disappear often as well," she said. "The Doctor uses many for his experiments, we think."
"So you're the serfs and he's the master," commented Maddie.
"Not much different than it was before the virus, mija," said Rosa. "We all worked for someone, and got precious little in return."
Maddie agreed. "You're right, of course. The hardest lesson I ever learned was that security is an illusion and my government served itself instead of me."
Annie laughed. "I knew that as a little girl, gringa." She smiled to take the sting away from the words.
"Here goes nothing." Maddie stepped outside the front door and waited for the speaker to issue a challenge. Nothing happened.
Rosa stepped beside Maddie and pressed the small button under the speaker. "Hey, jefe! You there?"
There was no response.
Rosa's eyebrows knit together. "That's a little odd. Usually the doctor is watching someone, unless he needs the manpower."
"Won't they be suspicious of us leaving?" asked Maddie.
Annie reached into her purse, pulled out the lighter and lit a cigarette. "Nope. It takes a lot of work to scavenge the taxes. They let us come and go as we please." She blew the smoke into the air.
"Those will kill you, you know?" Maddie pointed at the cigarette.
Annie drew a lungful of smoke and blew it out. "Not any more, chica. We don't get sick and we don't get diseases." She grinned. "That includes cancer."
Maddie nodded, her mouth forming a small circle. "Oh. I never thought of that."
Annie shook the cigarette package, holding it out to Maddie. "Want one?"
Maddie laughed. "Not a chance, but thanks for the offer."
"So, you are free to go with us, and none will care." Rosa turned to Maddie. "It's your best chance to get a running vehicle, and frankly our best chance to get something that will easily pass through the gates of New Pueblo."
"Okay, then." Maddie looked at Rosa. "The truck is supposed to be ready at three?" Rosa nodded. "Then I guess we leave about two." She smiled at the two women. "We need to prepare."