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Title: Clearing the Board (1/2)
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: R for sex and violence
Pairing: F!Courier/Benny
Summary: Sequel to Incoming/Outgoing: Grabbing the King Fink crown of Rat Mountain...for a big-leaguer like Benny, how hard could it be?

part 1 - part 2



His mind isn’t on what he’s doing, despite how dearly he’s paid for it. No, it’s like a naughty dog, always returning to its vomit.

* * *

His mind wasn’t on what he was doing. It was on that chip. He was always thinking about that chip, especially now that House had let some bright-beret’d NCR fuck and their band of mercenaries into his inner sanctum.

Benny had no illusions what they were there for, and the possibilities made his gears grind day and night. It was a roulette wheel – bet on red, that the 38 was finally cracked, and a disguise or stealth boy might get him in and House whacked before the old man’s new hired thugs took him on his own short trip upstate. Or put his big shiny chip on black – make a break for Caesar’s camp before they broke down his door, risking ambush in open country. It wasn’t likely he could con the Khans into getting between him and the meat grinder, not again.

The equally lousy odds on red and black kept him in place, jingling the caps in his pocket like one of the marks out on the floor. He’d been going through the motions of Tops business like a shuffler, thoughts circling the rim of that cursed chip, and that’s the only reason he didn’t spot her himself.

“Boss!” The blackjack croupier crept close and lowered his voice to a gravel-grinding whisper. “You gotta come scope this broad out.”

Benny almost, almost shrugged him off, lighting another cigarette from the stub of his last. “Not in the mood, Bing. Can’t you see I’ve got the world on my shoulders here?”

“Aw, take a break, boss. You’ll thank me.”

His bodyguards were already craning their necks. “Clodhoppers clumping up there, boss. Want we should break it up?”

Curiosity piqued, Benny told them to hold fast. “Not unless I give the signal.”

He took his time – the Big Man doesn’t rush – barely noticing two of his bodyguards hustling the gawkers out of his path. He settled against the tarnished railing and looked over the crowd below, nodding to the nervous blackjack dealer near the centre of the commotion.

Bing deserved a nice thick raise. The broad in question was perched on a stool, braced on her knees and leaning over to examine the dealer’s cards up close. Whether it was the ass on display or the strangely patterned pre-war negligee barely covering it that filled the pews behind her, Benny couldn’t say, but the idiots in the bullpit were working up to a Hallelujah Chorus either way. He wondered if it was worth a stroll around the railing to see if the engine lived up to the caboose.

Never one to skimp on the details, he also noticed the wickerwork of old scars on those legs, but that didn’t knock down the wattage on his leer. Benny wasn’t long enough out of the desert to look down on anyone who showed a thick skin. In fact, he felt a spark of sympathy, recognising the shape of recent gecko bites on one calf; he’d earned his tribal name that way, slaughtering a swarm of them on his own when he was 14. The council had concluded he’d run off into the desert seeking an early trial of manhood, and who was he to disrespect his elders? That version sure beat “wandered into a gecko cave while looking for a little privacy to shake hands with the insistent Mister Cock.”

* * *

“You even here, pal?”

The whore snaps her gum, bright berry stain spiderwebbed in the wrinkles around her mouth. Her knees dig into his hips, not out of passion or devotion to customer service but to keep her balance on him and the rope-strung bedframe.

She leans over to get a closer look at his eyes, still rocking her pelvis in the same lacklustre rhythm. “You jettin’, or what? You know we don’t service fiends here.”

“Just drunk enough to see you’re a Hub beauty queen, darlin’,” he croons, slamming the lid on his irritation. It’s a very short list, that of the New Reno prostitutes he hasn’t mortally offended. For now, he can’t afford to lose the regard of even this half-comatose double-stacked dolly.

Details. He was born a detail guy, even back when the details were heady matters like, “Arrowroot pisses in the spring every time she doesn’t get first crack at skinning the captives.” It’s what got him within a blade’s length of heading the tribe to begin with. But, after seven years of dealing from the bottom of the House deck, he’d forgotten the little things. That drinkable water doesn’t run outta faucets. That insults stack up when you can’t bury them under caps or sand. That a back’s awful cold without loyal boys watching it.

That ladies of quality don’t find him so charming without a roll of Tops chips left on the dresser.

Mollified, she shifts back and grinds a little harder onto his cock with each thrust. It lacks pizzazz – hell, it lacks everything but the bare minimum of physical presence, if he’s honest – but it’ll get the job done if his brain will stop shaking down every angle and get to the good stuff. Thinking too much has always been his besetting sin, the sole personality flaw that has exiled him in this back-sand beancounter-plagued one-color-neon podunk hollow.

So yeah. That ass.

* * *

To the ignorant eye it was a skinny ass, on a scrawny broad, but ripples of muscle popped as she settled back on the heels of her army boots, and he could practically feel those strong lines under his fingers. Damn if he wasn’t turning into his late and unlamented Bootrider songbird, suddenly craving a desert wildcat after so many pampered Strip pussies, but…

“Damn you all straight to the deepest, coldest and darkest! Mick said this ugly shirt would give me luck, but this bastard’s taking me right to the bucket.”

“I don’t think this is the kind of luck Mick meant. There was winking, when he said that. More so than usual. And not from the squinty eye, this time.”

Another woman at the table, and with a glance Benny pegged her as a mook. She was dressed like a lady, sure, casually caressing her ragged sundress, kicky veiled hat covering her hair, but she was squat and powerful underneath that paisley print. She had “bodyguard” written all over her, with a very thick pen.

“Let’s practice counting from one to ten again, okay? You’ve nearly got it.”

The smirk with a man hanging off it was the mookette’s opposite: a beanpole with six inches of wrist and ankle hanging out both ends of a suit that was more rips than pinstripe. Some Follower highbrow, he’d wager; their idea of swank fashion was a lab coat layered in only two junkies’ vomit. A pet egghead and a hired goon? It didn’t add up.

“Fuck the both of you. A lot.”

He knew that voice. From where? She reached up to adjust her hat, a bright red beret that meant she was some hot shit in the NCR, or maybe just draining the balls of some hot shit in the NCR; what division exactly, he had no idea, except that anyone with one of those skimmers on their belfry had their pick of the finest panting tail on the Strip…and the merc who strolled right into the Lucky 38 had been wearing one…and then she looked over her shoulder, met his gaze, and smiled.

“Hiya, Benny,” she said, just tossed a salutation at him all casual-like, and turned away to order a hit on her loser jack-and-seven hand as if that face hadn’t last looked up at him broken in half and fast disappearing under shovelfuls of graveyard sand.

“Oh…shit.” The cigarette fell to the carpet from his suddenly nerveless fingers.

“Bastard!” she growled, and he vaulted over the rail. The crowd melted back with the precision of New Vegas veterans, close enough to get an eyeful, closer still to solid cover in case the entertainment came down with a bad case of hot lead.

He reached for his piece, but his closest boys were already scrambling to flank her, pistols out and aimed more or less at her head. They’d take out everything between her and the elevators if those triggers started jumping, and he suddenly knew no one was looking at the iron-jawed bruiser or shifty braniac but him.

“Cool it!” he barked, and they heeled, shivering to be let loose on the whole damn pit. If she pulled iron on him now, he couldn’t stop them.

But she was only glaring at her hand, now a jack-seven-and-king, and at the dealer’s fingers, frozen on her meagre pile of chips. “Just take ‘em, damn you.”

“Take a break,” he told the dealer, who disappeared into the lookie-loos like spit under high sun.

Her mooks settled their hands on the table with pointed innocence, watching their boss. She swivelled her stool in his direction, and tipped her beret back to give him an eyeful of the scar dividing her eyebrow.

“You never introduced yourself last time you, ah, knocked me off my feet. Had to learn all about you from your fans. Jessup sends his love, by the way.”

The crazy dame was still smiling, and though there was an edge to it that made her teeth look pointed in the casino’s artificial twilight, she was leaning back on the blackjack table with hands dangling far from any potential weapons – not that she could smuggle anything past Swank under that translucent scrap. Hell, she wasn’t even packing a bra, not from the way her nipples pushed lovingly into the silk…

Focus.

“Let’s keep this smooth, hey? I got four bodyguards right here who can tell you a thing or two about me, and what happens to the rubes foolish enough to try anything on the Chairman’s home turf.”

She snorted scornfully, then hastily cleared her throat and pasted that smile back on. “You think I’d chase you across an entire desert just to put a bullet in that pretty head? Killing you’s the last thing I want to do today.”

He guessed that cold-blooded murder was at the end of a very short to-do list and threw some oil on his spinning gears. He’d have to kill her first, yeah, but she had access to the 38, the holy grail. Could he con her into taking him in? Unlikely. How’d the front door recognise her? Would it open the doors if he cut off her thumb or gouged out an eye to hold up to some sensor? No, better to haul over the whole body and try every part…but no, House’s equipment was probably rigged to only open to body parts with a pulse behind them. The old man was too smart, and those damn bots would probably open fire as soon as one of them fed an image of his dead employee into the penthouse, anyway. So…

“Glad to hear that, baby, just as glad as I am to see you. That night, er…” he shot a quick look side to side, counting heads avidly listening in on the conversation and cursing how many of his Chairmen were instead focusing their attention on those teasing nipples. “What happened between us, you and me, I’ve regretted it every day. Now I can finally sleep at night, seeing you here in such…healthy…shape. There’s enough bad blood on our axe, kitten. Let’s you and me bury it.”

“What?” the egghead sneered. No one looked at him but the mook, and she only grimaced in what looked like agreement. Never any love for sophisticated wordplay among the harveys.

“Oh, I don’t want to forget our history so quickly,” she purred. “After all, girls like bad boys, and you were downright awful.”

The mook slapped her forehead, then winced as the beanpole elbowed her ribs.

This was bad…probably. The boys were finally listening to the conversation, yeah, but only to make with the worshipful Brahmin eyes. It sounded like he’d treated this dame like dirt, dangled and ditched her without even leaving his name, and she’d crawled across the sand begging for more.

He was a living god to them – which was how it should be, but that meant she was a Skirt With History, and the Chairmen Code held that anyone who messed with a brother’s dame was a capital-R rat. Even if Benny ordered them to shoot her out of her boots, they’d think it was just a passionate spat and hold their fire until she was eating his still-beating heart.

How’d she know exactly how to neutralise his boys? The Code of the Eleven was a Chairman secret, and letting it slip to outsiders meant exile. Unless he was barking up the wrong hydrant entirely…

“You making a pass at me, sister? Because I thought I made it clear last time: I’m outta your league.”

She pouted, but her eyes were sly. “Only thing you made clear was you’re not above a little dirty work under a full moon.”

The boys guffawed, hands nowhere near their weapons, minds anywhere but guarding his body.

“Blow,” he told them irritably, and they backed off a respectable distance, all ears still pricked.

She made a show of waiting patiently for his reply, stretching so her back arched and the negligee slipped low, the lace at the top catching on one of those erect nipples and just barely holding back a Gomorrah handshake. It was a deliberate show – one both her companions didn’t want tickets for, he noted, instead shifting with the subtlety of cornered pigeons checking their concealed weapons were still handy – but what was her angle? Seduce him into sparing her life? She had to know her executive access to the golden palace was almost a better bargaining chip than the one duct-taped into the lining of his jacket.

“I hear ‘dirty work’ from you, kitten, and all I think of are gravediggers,” he said finally, keeping his voice low.

“You think it’s wrong to want a man who’d try to kill me?” She grinned, and he realised, with a momentary jolt of primal panic, that her teeth didn’t just look sharp. The canines were actually filed into points. “Why would I waste my time on one who wouldn’t?”

Tribal! And not one of those Fiend losers or Jackal weasels, but from a tribe as coolsville as the Bootriders, tough enough for the NCR to try to wine and dine them into civilization rather than wipe out. Those teeth were right out of the Wild East, made him think of campfire tales about busty, lusty Oklahoma amazons who’d tear to pieces any free man who couldn’t beat them…but if he could…oh ho ho…

“Did that lead scramble your egg, or have you always been a naughty broad?” he asked, dredging up a bulletproof smile of his own. He could almost swear the appreciative glance below his belt was genuine – and hell, even if she was trying to play him, it damn near had to be genuine. Those pants were custom-fit for a reason.

“Should I be some soft Hub woman, demanding a shiny ring,” she waggled the broken eyebrow, “as proof of a man’s worth? Trifles don’t interest me as much as a big gun and the hand that shoots it straight and fast.”

“Somebody warn Boone!” Mookette stage-whispered.

“Ssssh!” Egghead hissed. “He’s actually buying it!”

“I should’ve brought Boone instead!” she growled at them, her seductive act slipping. “You two go hit the…handle…pulling…things. Over there. Far over there.”

They slunk through the crowd like whipped dogs, sitting where they could watch the action, morosely plunking chips into his machines. Mookette’s slot machine was near paydirt, he remembered, maybe a dozen pulls away. He filed that information somewhere handy. That distraction might be useful if he needed to get a bullet in her guts.

The woman sighed and scratched her forehead under the beret. “Where was I?”

“A big gun and a steady hand,” he supplied, smirking at her frustration. About damn time he had the upper hand. “Scratching around first base, see if I’d be soft-skulled enough to lay down chips on what you’re sellin’. You really think I just rolled off the Brahmin train?”

She shook her head. “I haven’t lied to you once.”

“Sure, just like you got no interest in a ‘shiny ring’, not compared to my swingin’ cod, or maybe my fat wallet.” He kept his smile in place and crooned softly, but the steel in his voice could smash mountains. “Any other woman in Vegas and I’d fall for it, but not you.”

“That chip’s brought me nothing but lead,” she insisted. “It and House have almost gotten me killed a dozen times over.”

“Pull the other one, baby, it’s got grenades on it.”

She touched his sleeve, down low where a streak of Novac mud had almost covered an old bloodstain. “My team and I, we’re in way over our heads. We just want to get the hell out of town, but if House’s metal boys catch us sneaking off without delivering that chip, we’ll all be a big grease stain on the Freeside gate. You, though, you’ve got some secret way out of town.”

He thought uneasily of his elevator. He’d cement-shoed every schmuck who’d helped him build his workroom and escape hatch…hadn’t he? “I got no such thing.”

“Tommy says you were in your room an entire month once, right around the time you were shooting a load in my face.” She raised her voice for the benefit of their audience, and the boys chortled like, well, boys. Her egghead groaned and leaned on the mookette for strength. “I can add up 2 and 2, y’know?”

“Your chips on my side a’that table say different, dolly,” Benny stalled. How the hell had she gotten up to Tommy and back in that outfit without anyone noticing? And what was that damn Torino doing, hanging out the dirty laundry like that?

She scowled. “I know in a moment how many bullets will get me through any room.”

“Well that’s…how many for this one?” he asked, curiosity sparked despite himself.

“Three clips per SMG,” she spat. “I got two ten-millimeters, up in your weapons locker.”

“Sure, I guess that’s a useful skill, too, covering the spread on theoretical weapons. Must make plenty of bread outta that dough,” he needled. She definitely wasn’t beautiful when she was angry, eyes even narrower and flat nostrils flaring, but he always savoured the picture of an opponent losing ground. “Even if I had a secret escape elevator, why would I help you?”

She threw her shoulders back, in irritation rather than allure, but it still made that chest bob up like it had a mean vendetta against lace and silk. “You get us out, and we’ll keep you alive.”

He guffawed out loud, shocked at the audacity. “You? You’re gonna keep me – me, that’s the fine-draped cat in front of you everyone’s eyes are locked on – you’re gonna keep me alive?”

“I’m the velvet glove,” she interrupted. “That doesn’t get the chip out of you, House is gonna drop the iron fist.”

Egghead cheered a little, then caught himself and ducked as if his slot machine were the most fascinating thing in the Mojave.

She sighed again and flapped a hand in that direction. “He came up with that. Arcade, he’s my brains guy. Wrote a whole speech for this.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Sorry I missed that.”

“There was Latin. Some of it rhymed. Forget it. Important thing is, House has been on to you from the start. Me, when I took this job, I just wanted enough caps to keep body and soul together and drunk another month. You hear me? I’ve got nothing to do with any of this. I just want out of this mess, and maybe you.”

“And maybe me?” he echoed. “After what I done? You’d have to be some crazy kinda quin if what you’re hintin’ at were true.”

“Hinting?” she replied, exasperated, and slid off the stool. “Fine. How’s this for hinting?”

None of the boys even twitched as she pressed against him and whispered in his ear.

“Let’s you and me go up to your place for a private palaver,” she said, and ran her finger along his zipper. “All goes well, we’ll smash that chip, and I’ll get my hands on the real jackpot.”

He pulled her close, slipping Maria from her holster between their bodies and planting it in her ribs. “Sorry, pussycat. We’ll have that little tête-à-tête in the Lucky 38, or not at all.”

She closed her eyes and shrugged, her shoulder dragging on his lapel. “Wish we didn’t have to do it this way.”

“In another lifetime, baby,” he told her. “Now, move those pretty stems.”

She raised her hands in surrender, one of them suddenly detouring to drag along her neck.

“What d’you think you’re…?” he began.

“Jackpot!” Mookette yelled as whistles blew and chips cascaded out of her machine, distracting him for that crucial millisecond it took to ruin his entire goddamn life.

She hadn’t made a break for it, he realised. If anything, she’d dug herself into his body like he was some kinda vertical canoe, shoving her cheek into his, and…

And…

And damn if he wasn’t the luckiest rad-blasted dog walking this blighted earth. There was a goddess in his arms, Aphro-fucking-dite on the half shell, and he wasn’t letting her get away. Why the hell was he wasting a hand on that gun? He carelessly shoved Maria in a pocket and grabbed her hip instead, kneading the hard muscle and burying his face in her neck. There, she smelled like smoke and hardpan and harsh insectoid musk.

“Baby,” he moaned, barely noticing as her companions crept up covering their noses, Mookette with hundreds of chips gathered in her skirt, “what’s that enchanting perfume you’re wearing?”

“A damn dirty trick,” she murmured. “Ant queen pheromone. You’d wake up with a hell of a headache, if you were gonna wake up. At least you’ll go out with a smile on your face.”

“It smells fantastic,” he groaned, breathing it in as hard as his lungs could pull.

“You better move this along,” Egghead whispered. “The natives are getting restless.”

He dragged himself out of the fog of her enough to notice that the boys, even the rubes, were all inching toward his goddess with a very mortal shine to their eyes, and hauled her to the elevator. He mashed the button and informed her neck, “You’re my baby, baby.”

* * *

“Dirty talk’s extra,” the whore drones, chewing on a cuticle.

Benny fumbles after the snapped thread of memory, replying peevishly. “I don’t need to hear a goddamn thing from you. You charge just to hear a few sweet nothin’s?”

“You paid for oral, missionary, and cowgirl,” she says implacably, “and that’s all you’re gettin. And you only got five minutes left, comin’ or just goin.”

“You’re a peach among pits, baby,” he sneers, but she only lifts her face to watch a lizard crawl across the ceiling over their entwined bodies.

She’ll sing a different tune tomorrow, or next week at the latest. He’s torn between having her thrown to the ‘stalkers denned up in the runoff behind the slaughterhouse and the amusement value of making her his top girl, for a little while, her dull brahmin eyes reflecting the local gentry bowing to the new King Rat of Fink Mountain.

No. The thought of groping her in his personal elevator, the one he’ll install just as soon as he’s had eleven more floors slapped on the Shark Club, it’s too depressing. The ‘stalkers it is.

* * *

“You go with them!” Egghead was insisting.

Mookette refused, clutching her skirt full of chips tighter and snuffling through the fingers of her other hand. “Oh no, not with sex-pollen all over her – I’m not about to risk playing the meat in that skeezoid sandwich! You get your safely asexual ass in that elevator, young man.”

“A lack of opportunity does not render one asexual, as I’m sure you’re more than aware!”

Only the barest scrap of leftover tribal vigilance allowed him to even notice the two of them lurking outside the elevator, holding the doors open. Given the privacy of his personal lift, he’d wasted no time getting both hands full of that taunting ass and nuzzling under her jaw, but something about her people made him almost pull away and start to ask what –

She quickly wound one leg around his thigh and kissed him hard. He felt her hands skimming along his jacket, pausing at the hard hidden lump of the utterly useless and inconsequential platinum chip. She started to rip at the lining that held it in place.

“Oh god, now it’s rubbed off on him, too!” Egghead slapped both hands over his mouth and nose and stumbled back, scattering Mookette’s chips out of her skirt in his haste.

The elevator doors slid shut, cutting off her enraged shriek as other patrons descended on her windfall like a pack of ferals.

“Shit,” she mumbled, letting go of his jacket lining and getting a double handful of his hair instead. “Arcade was right. Got to focus. Can’t…”

She licked his cheek. “Can’t…get distracted…”

She ripped the tie from his collar, the elevator’s stuffy air a slap of cold immediately soothed by her lips, then teeth.

“I got all the focus you need right here, pussycat.”

Her tongue lapped at his neck, tasting the blood from what felt like two small puncture wounds, and it wasn’t creepy, unhygienic, or terrifying, just the most erotic caress he could imagine. He had no hope of returning that favour with his own blunt teeth, so he took the direct approach and pushed those lovely panties aside.

He’d barely skimmed the surface of her, keeping up a gentleman’s forbearance with Herculean willpower, before she groaned and pivoted her hips on his hand. Two fingers slid inside her, so hard and fast he winced in sympathy, but she was wet and more than ready for him. The thought of throwing her to the elevator floor and giving her what she was so obviously dying for nearly ran off with him, but he kept a leash on it. Somewhere in the back of his skull, a little wiseguy voice insisted it didn’t just feel like his life was riding on worshipping this goddess right.

So he held his wild horses and sent his thumb on a walk about the promised land, grinning wolfishly when she suddenly growled and ground on his hand.

“There?” He slid his thumb in a coy circle and took the nails digging into his shoulder blades as an enthusiastic yes. “Yeah, there. You just hang on to me, baby.”

The old ways are sometimes the best ways. It had been damn near two decades since one of the tribe’s crones had bribed young Benny and Swank into cleaning her milkrat pit with the promise of forbidden knowledge, but her “alphabet trick” hadn’t failed him once in the years since. Hell, it was the only reason he could still read.

He rubbed that slippery nub a few times to get a feel for it and went in for the kill, tracing first a B and then an E around the perimeter. She bucked against him, moaning something that had to be filthy.

Somewhere far away, the elevator bell dinged. He couldn’t remember, or care, what that meant. He rounded the bases with a wicked double N, crooking his fingers inside her. She shivered, fluttering around him like cazador wings, and Benny knew he had her on the ropes. He took his time on the Y, a lazy low swipe that ended in a round-and-round tail – cheating, of course, but when she broke apart in his arms –

* * *

“That’s time.” The whore hops off, avoiding his desperate grab with the minimal effort of long practice.

“That’s no time at all, dollface,” he protests. “I didn’t hear no ‘ding’.”

“It’s not the kinda timer that goes ‘ding’.” She ties a robe around her waist and, again sliding right around his attempt to catch her wrist, plucks the yellowed condom off his bewildered dick, flips it inside-out, and drops it back in the drawer she’d pulled it from after he handed over an extra five caps.

“I bought that...” he begins, trailing off with the effort of not thinking about the inside of that well used wrapper, snug around his favorite thing in the wastes.

“Nothin but rentals here, hon,” she says, fluffing out her sweat-dampened hair. “It’s been a blast. Get out.”

“Baby...” he begins, trying on his best come-hither. “Just another minute between those heavenly gams, and I’d be a better man.”

She crosses her arms.

“You wouldn’t deny a dyin’ man a bottle a filtered, would ya?”

“Out. I got regulars waiting.”

“Regular irregulars,” he mutters and struggles into his clothes, wincing as his ill-fitting shoes drag over the weeping blisters that are practically old friends. “What, no ‘thank you, come again’? You got the customer service of a slaughterhouse, baby. And twice the stink!”

He lands hard in the street and, shaking the dust out of his threadbare trader’s jacket, promises himself he’s walked Spanish out of his last fleabag Reno whorehouse. He’s still got two hours to kill before his meetup with the Loserville City Council he’s grieved to call partners, and nothing to keep his mind off everything that could go wrong.

The wheel’s in spin, and all he can do is wait for their ball to drop. And hope it won’t take his balls with it. If Bishop’s on to them…

No. Bishop’s the only cat in Reno with the nose to follow the smoke from Old Christie Wright’s overdose to the Bunsen burners under Chin’s poison still, but he won’t see past the perfect opportunity to bomb out his personal boogie men. Because Bishop still sees the Wright family as the only real threat to his hold on Reno.

Right?

His feet carry him down Virgin Street, around the Desperado Casino to the trashcan fires behind it, while his mind follows its own path. He wishes for a cigarette and automatically holds his hands over the flames, though it’s barely past sunset, the night’s chill a while off. He wishes for a good cigarette, from the boxes in Old Not-At-Home’s perfectly air-tight vault, and the pack of loyal boys fighting each other to light it for him.

* * *

“Uh…why’s he not dead?”

“Lady, ‘dead’ is a hell of a word to be throwing around near the boss.”

The elevator doors had been open for a while, given the audience they’d gathered. Two of his and two of hers, them out of breath from a sprint up thirteen floors. He jerked his jacket closed and – always the gentleman – set his lady to rights as well as he could with one hand still trapped in her panties.

“Ahem…she meant it in the classical sense, of course. Le petit mort.”

“What’s that about tits, pal?”

“Oh, for the love of…can we finish him and get the hell out of here?”

She wiggled free, catching Benny’s hand once she had both feet on the floor. “Getting to that.”

She tried to drag him through their fans, shouldering his smirking guards aside. Her beanpole refused to take the hint, holding his ground and flicking a lighter in front of one eye, then the other.

“Plan C,” the lady said, shoving his hand away. “You go. I got this.”

“Constricted pupils, flushed skin...” Egghead muttered to no one, then spoke up, eyes nervously flicking between the elevator and boys between him and the stairwell. “You’re in no shape to make the call. We’re going - all of us.”

“Boss, uh, you havin some kinda party?”

“Amscray,” he told them, the effort of getting the single word out nearly crossing his eyes.

Instead of leaping to follow his order, the boys exchanged a glance. “It’s just, our shift’s almost up, and we got some whisky and those holotapes...you know the ones Ace and Kyser found in the basement?”

“Was there a Plan C? I only remember the two!” The mookette took hold of Benny’s wrist and did something horrible with her little finger that left him numb to the elbow. She got her arm around the lady’s waist in an awfully familiar way, pausing to lean closer and sniff.

The lady tried to disentangle herself. “Scat, you two. Catch the show. Take Rex for a walk. Just go!”

“Whisky and holotapes sounds like an awfully good Plan C,” the mookette mumbled against her neck.

Benny shook some pins and needles into his hand and reached around her. The beanpole eeled in between, raised two sloppy fists and took a deep breath.

“Boss?” one of the boys wheedled. “I make some great cocktail. Just need a Nuka Cola and a couple-three cans of turpentine.”

The beanpole let his fists fall apart and dropped them...onto Benny’s shoulders.

“You smell that, Miller?” His other boy said, rubbing his nose. “Like something’s burning…”

The mookette shook her head. “Ah, hell, they’re both still covered in – ”

Those hands found the Hoover-tense muscles in his neck…and began to rub. “He’s feeling pretty damn…Veronica, promise you’ll kill me if I – ”

“Boss? So are we, uh, in?”

He grabbed the hem of her nightie and yanked her back into his arms, just before she became a three-pronged wishbone between her muscle and his. It was worse then the rubes out on the floor, the heat they were suddenly throwing at her furnace. And he wasn’t feeling great about the eyes the egghead was rolling up his direction, neither.

So much for afterglow.

* * *

Part 2

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