With scratches and dents, the brown cargo truck had seen better days. It sat backed up against the loading dock of a small building in a cul-de-sac. The other buildings surrounding the area were boarded up and falling apart. One tall building stood opposite the area where they were loading, most of its glass windows still intact, though the missing ones gave it an air of profound neglect. A large bald man with a thick, old scar running across the left side of his head paused, wiping his face on his sleeve. His right eye drooped. The right side of his mouth didn't move when he spoke, but the left side turned up in a perpetual grin. "One more crate and we're loaded, Wilson," he said.
A man in a ragged, faded red baseball cap watched, his thumbs behind his belt. "Good, Abe. Let me know when you're finished." He looked around at the rest of the crew guarding the truck. "Get ready to move out, ladies." He shook his head. "I don't know where the Doc is going to get more bottles for this hooch. We're already using Mason jars and running out of lids."
One of the guards, a small, rail-thin man with stringy black hair stood smoking a cigarette. "He'll send some of the whiners to find more containers. They'll do it, too. They love this stuff." He cracked his oversized knuckles, the popping noises making the woman next to him flinch.
"They hate this wine, trust me, Neal. But it's a bitch to kick the habit and most of these whiners don't have the guts to go through the detox." She stood about five and a half feet tall, her left hand on the butt of her pistol, her eyes scanning the area. "It 'bout near killed me."
The big guy loaded the last crate and looked at her, mostly from his one good eye. "You were a whiner, Sarah? I've never met an ex-whiner…"
Sarah shook her head, her brown hair swinging and she sighed. "What did I just say, Abe?"
Abe paused. "Uh, that you used to drink the wine, but you don't."
"Put your gun away, Kiersa. This isn't a game," yelled Wilson.
A black guard with her hair in cornrows rolled her eyes and put her pistol back in her holster. "I only do this for the money, you know," Kiersa said.
Abe stepped down from the truck, the back end moving up as he did so. "I don't get no money," he said. He looked at Wilson. "I don't get a gun, either. Wilson, you said I'd get a gun..."
Wilson covered his eyes with his hand and shook his head. "Abe, I'll let you have a gun when we get back. Really. I just need to find the right one."
Kiersa patted Abe on his thick shoulder. "I was joking. I don't get money either, Abe." She grinned. "I do this job for the social standing."
Abe looked at her with questioning eyes and Kiersa giggled. "I do it for fun, like you."
Abe's face lit up. "Oh, me too." A slight pout formed on the left side of his mouth. "But I still should have a gun."
Sarah walked over and patted him on the back. "You can use mine in a little while. Then we'll find one of your very own."
Abe's smile returned. "Okay, Sarah. Thanks."
Neal piped up, cracking his knuckles again. "You know, Wilson, there's a lot of fifty-five gallon drums in those factories… I forget their names."
Kiersa grinned. "Hey, that's not a bad idea. It sure would make loading this stuff easier."
"Like you did any loading...," muttered Sarah.
"Fine wine in a drum," Neal laughed. "Beats a box, I guess."
"Or a bottle in a brown paper bag," Sarah laughed.
"It's above our pay grade, boys and girls. Our job is delivery," said Wilson.
"You're such a jerk, Wilson. Just because you were a corporal or something in Viet Nam doesn't mean you're the boss of us," said Neal.
"Yeah, in fact, it does," said Wilson. He waved his finger at Neal. "As a matter of fact…"
A screaming woman rounded the corner by the building on the left. She held the top of her torn blue dress up with her right hand, protecting her bare breasts. "Help! Help me. They jumped me. I think they're right behind me."
Neal stared at the woman's bare shoulders. "I would have jumped you too, chica," he sneered.
Wilson pulled his pistol from his holster and snapped, "Shut up, Neal. It's a trap."
Annie's face showed genuine distress. "What?" she yelled as she came to a stop next to Wilson. "They tore my dress…"
Wilson grunted, looking around. "It's a trap. Grab her and tie her up," he said to Neal.
Neal snickered as he grabbed Annie by the upper arm. "We might tear more than your dress…"
Sarah had her pistol out and she scanned the area. "Oh my god, Neal," she said. "Would you shut the hell up? I draw the line at rape, you stupid…"
"Yeah, I'm with Sarah on that, Neal. No rape," said Kiersa. She poked Neal in the side with her finger.
"Shouldn't I have a gun, too?" groaned Abe.
Sarah grabbed his arm and pulled him next to her. "You stand right there and protect me, okay?" she said.
Abe nodded and rolled his thick shoulders.
"Listen. Whoever you are, we're going to keep her with us until we get to the edge of town, so back off," yelled Wilson.
Neal yelled at the empty courtyard. "Yeah, and I'll cut her throat if you mess with us." Neal pulled a thick knife from a scabbard at his belt and waved it menacingly.
Wilson looked toward the corner where Annie came from and raised his voice again. "It was a nice plan, but we're not stupid, you know."
"A girl can hope," muttered Annie, her arm held tightly by Neal, her right hand holding the front of her dress up.
Around the corner of the building, out of sight of the truck and guards, Rosa sighed. "I hate when a plan doesn't work out," she said to Maddie.
"Plans rarely work out. Some less so than others, though. This one, not so much." Maddie stepped out and used her sling to throw a smooth stone at Neal. He saw it coming and moved to the side.
"What the hell? Throwing rocks at me? I'll…" Neal raised the knife toward Annie, whose face went pale.
Wilson grunted. "You'll do nothing, Neal. Kill her and we have to fight however many nutcases are out there. Besides, the rock missed you by a mile."
"Pretty pathetic, if you ask me. Throwing rocks at us…," muttered Neal.
"Let her go," yelled Maddie, staying hidden behind the edge of the building. "Let her go and we'll go away."
"You promise?" Kiersa sneered.
"Get in the truck, Kiersa," said Wilson. "The rest of you in the back and guard the cargo." He jerked his thumb toward Annie. "Aside from her, this is a routine mission." They started moving. "Bunch'a amateurs," Wilson muttered.
A rock flew through the air and hit Neal between the eyes, dropping him like a slaughtered bull. Annie, released from his grasp, ran for the cover of the corner of the building.
"Don't let her get away. They took out Neal," shouted Kiersa, raising her pistol to fire at Annie's back.
An arrow appeared in her arm and Kiersa dropped the pistol, instinctively pulling her arm close to her chest, blood flowing down her shirt.
"They're above us," shouted Wilson. He dropped to the ground and rolled under the truck.
When Sarah saw the arrow appear in Kiersa's arm she raised her hands and dropped the pistol. It clattered to the ground. "I'm unarmed," she yelled.
Annie ducked around the corner, hugging Maddie. "Thanks," she said, tying her dress behind her neck.
"That wasn't me…," whispered Maddie. Raising her voice, she yelled to the guards. "Drop your guns and walk toward my voice and we'll let you live."
"I don't have a gun." Abe said sadly. He looked toward the corner where Maddie was. "Can I come anyway?"
"Oh, for goodness sake, Abe! Walk next to me with your arms in the air," Sarah shouted at him.
A stream of curses came from under the truck as Abe, Sarah and Kiersa walked toward the corner of the building where Annie disappeared. Wilson's cursing continued as the other three guards moved around the corner and faced Annie, Maddie and Rosa.
Rosa wrapped cable ties around their ankles and around Sarah and Abe's wrists. Annie tore a piece of cloth from the bottom of her dress.
"This is gonna hurt, chica," she said, looking at Kiersa and nodding at the arrow. "You ready?"
Kiersa's eyes widened but she nodded her head. Annie broke the head from the arrow and pulled the shaft backward from the wound as blood poured out of Kiersa's arm. Kiersa screamed, tears flowing from her eyes.
"What the hell are you doing to them? You said they'd be okay," yelled Wilson. "You buncha cowards..."
"Says the guy under the truck," muttered Maddie.
"Thanks," grumbled Kiersa, as Annie wrapped the torn strip of cloth around her wounded arm.
"The dress was ruined anyway." Annie said. "I have to tie your hands, too," she added.
"A stinking arrow? Nobody can shoot an arrow from that high and hit someone in the arm!" Wilson started swearing again, getting more colorful and more loud. "And a rock! Who the hell can throw a rock that hard and hit someone between the eyes? That's what I want to know!"
Maddie jerked her head up and she looked at Rosa with tears in her eyes. "He's right. I only know one person who could do that."
Jed stood at the side of the building, a wide grin across his face. "That would be me."
Maddie's eyes glistened as she rushed forward. Jed met her halfway, lifting her from the ground, his lips pressed against hers.
Maddie nuzzled his neck, her arms wrapped tightly around him, her legs wrapped around his waist. "I thought you might be dead," she whispered, the tears flowing down her face into Jed's hair.
"Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated," said Jed, his mouth close to Maddie's ear. He chuckled and whispered. "I've waited my whole life to say that line." He inhaled deeply. "You smell amazing."
Finally Maddie and Jed stood apart from each other, Jed looking at her with admiring eyes. "Love the sequins," he said.
"Hi, I'm Annie." Annie stepped forward and held her hand out for Jed to shake, the top of her dress dipping dangerously low. "You'd be Jed." Annie pointed at Maddie's jeans. "I found those. Nice, huh?"
"Hate to interrupt, but what are you folks doing, and what do you want to do about the loud one?" Caru shook Maddie's hand. "Name's Caru, by the way." He looked at Annie and Rosa and smiled broadly. "You ladies can call me anything you want, any time you want to."
Lone Wolf rolled his eyes. "Even the great Achilles had a weakness," he muttered. He smiled at the two women and pointed to himself. "I'm Lone Wolf." He bowed.
"Hi," smiled Abe. "I'm Abe. You can call me Abe…" his forehead crinkled in concentration, "Well, 'cuz that's my name and I don't think I'd answer if you called me anything else."
"Oh, brother," muttered Sarah.
"Hello?" Wilson's voice was quieter now. "Is anyone out there?"