Layla and Quinn - Chapter 1

8/01/2017


Chapter 1
“Layla, are you listening?”
Joe knocked the handle of his knife on the table in front of her.  She was sitting in his office, even though it resembled little more than an empty room with a table and two chairs in the middle.  He always met with his employees in this room.  The table was crudely made of salvaged wooden planks and the chairs little more than stools, their back having rotten and broken off long ago.  Discolored wallpaper was missing from the walls in places, revealing water-damaged wood beneath.  It was at one of these bare spots that she stared, making pictures in her head of the lines the water had worked into the wood.  
“Woman, do you have any idea what I just said?”
She rolled her eyes at the feminine name they knew her by and looked back to Joe, “Find this couple of wandering merchants, and bring back that thing you wanted by any means necessary.  Mr. Wesson, I have been with your company for five years.  I have outlived most other associates, so why am I still doing the rookie jobs?”
“This isn’t a rookie job, Layla.  I need someone I can trust to do the job and that I trust will return with my property.  You don’t need back up; you know when to shoot and when to talk.  Just make sure you get the watch.  Here’s the upfront payment.  You’ll get the rest when I have my property,” he said, as he tossed a small, flat square of silver onto the table in front of her.
She took the square and tucked it into her pants pocket.  She was chafing at the solo retrieval jobs.  She wanted a caravan escort job at least.  Those were the exciting jobs, and they paid a lot more than five meager squares.  She wouldn’t have to rob innocent people just because her boss wanted what they had, and she would be able to afford more than just food and her gun payment each mission.  She would welcome a new pair of boots and more than a dozen bullets.  If she could get an escort job, she would have people to talk to, and shooting the occasional highway robber wouldn’t be that hard.  
She left Joe’s building and went to see Shaun, the bullet man.  Shaun made bullets for everyone in the Sharp Company, for a fee of course.  After each mission, associates brought him their casing and he would refill them.  Shaun ran his business out of an old world Post Office.  The solid brick building was the sturdiest and the most secure in the outpost and housed the only metal tables for at least 100 miles around.  He didn’t want to take the chance of accidentally catching the town on fire or someone from a rival company sneaking in a stealing his ammo either.  
Bullets as well as guns were a status symbol.  There were very few left in the world after the Day of White; Joe and Shaun were the only people in the region that knew how to build both guns and bullets.  It was a heavily guarded process, and Joe only sold guns to his employees after they had proven themselves to him.  It was how he kept his power and had been able to provide for the twenty odd mercenaries in his employ.  
All the mercenaries, who called themselves associates, lived in this small outpost when they were not out on a job.  When work was slow, the outpost echoed the sounds of associates grumbling over gardening, building repairs, and occasionally sewing.  Joe tried to keep most of the associates out on missions, letting the other towns under Sharp Company’s protection provide any supplies the outpost needed, not to mention Joe wasn’t making money when the associates were in the outpost.
Shaun produced the six shells she had refilled, “Okay Layla, this will make the last bullets that you have on that square you paid me.  Are you going out?”
“I get to go play puppy for Mr. Wesson and retrieve his lost toy.  I’ll pay for another set when I return and get my payment,” she replied.
After leaving Shaun’s, she stopped by the common house where associates slept.  The common house was one of the few buildings the associates had rebuilt voluntarily.  They salvaged part of a roof off another building to patch the holes in the steeped roof.  They had planked over the broken pieces of the stained glass windows.  The inside was mostly untouched.  The grey bare carpet had once been a lush purple.  Murals of a long dead religion faded along the walls.  They had dismantled and re-purposed the solid oak pews into platform cots and trunks for personal storage.  Most of the cots were untouched, their owners out on a job.  She stopped and rummaged in her trunk for her pack and revolver.  This was all that she owned, but it was all that she needed.

Having everything she would need, she hopped onto the back of a wagon leaving through the southern gate.  She watched as the mismatch of multi-color roofing tins and chain-link fencing disappeared into the half-dead forest.  

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