Cali felt her mood sour, as she stared into the empty cocktail glass. A few minutes ago she had caught a glance of Reil hurrying off into the back rooms in the company of some old woman. Which was fine. Great, even. Reil was free to associate with as many aged, wrinkled harlots as he could find. Sunny was still at the buffet, though he had been over briefly to share with her the wonders of some kind of hot cheese. All in all though, this party was not turning out the way she hoped. She was tired of being ignored and stared at in equal measure, and she was fermenting serious plans about harming the lead singer of the band.
The band was fine, and the girl actually had a decent voice but Cali felt a nerve twitch as the singer belted out song after song of poor lovelorn girls desperate for their men. It was wretch worthy. The latest song was the worst, some serious ballad about a Socorran girl who threw herself at some spacer as soon as he walked into a bar, and then gets all weepy eyed and teary when the spacer finally left her. What exactly had she expected to happen?
Cali was so wrapped up in this that she didn’t hear the band call a break, and only noticed that the music had stopped when she saw the singer standing beside her ordering a drink.
“What’s the matter kid, did anybody tell you it’s a party?”
“You’ve been scowling since you sat down. Mostly at me, I might add.”
Cali shrugged and finished her cocktail.
“Don’t feel much like dancing with you moaning on and on about how much you miss your man.”
It was the singers turn to shrug.
“I just play what pays the bills. People like this stuff.”
“Maybe if you were a better singer you could make money singing decent songs.”
The girl took her drink from the bartender.
“Owch.” She took a sip of the bubbling liquid in her glass, then she leaned backwards on the bar and grinned wickedly at Cali. “Did I touch a nerve?”
Cali rolled her eyes.
“No, you didn’t.”
The singer kept grinning.
“It really looks like I did.”
Cali glared at the singer.
“I don’t care what it looks like! I’m fine, shut up, and go away.”
The singer put up her hands in mock defense.
“Hey, my bad. How about I make it up to you?”
“By doing what?”
“Just watch me.”
The singer winked at Cali as she walked over to one of her band mates. At first Cali thought she was bringing the musician over to her, but they walked past the bar, and back on stage. The musician began strumming a slower tune, as the singer began.
The singer climbed down off stage and sat beside Cali again, with her eyebrow cocked.
Vera flew the coop when she was only soft sixteen
She hopped the first and fastest train with some lousy libertine
He'd spun a pretty story and he'd stole away her youth
And everyone was shocked 'cos Vera always told the truth
Oh, her slip surprised them all 'cos Vera always told the truth
Vera dumped that lying lout in the dust behind the train
He'd angled for a child but caught a heartless hurricane
He wasn't worth a blaster, she just pushed him off the side
And she thanked him for her freedom, she was eternally polite
Vera thanked him for his trouble, she was nothing but polite
Vera ran with lawless men who trembled when she talked
She never flinched, she never smiled, and her gun was always cocked
At twenty-one she terrorized the whole of the frontier
And they feared her faithful justice, they knew Vera was sincere
Oh, they ran from Vera's posse 'cos she was perfectly sincere
Vera rode along the whole of her ferocious life
She never met a boy she didn't think deserved the knife
Not a one of them was worthy in her steady steely eyes
'Cos they are fright’ed for their flaws and Vera always sneered at lies
Yeah, she found all men were liars and Vera couldn't live with lies
It was not 'till Vera's dying days her hard heart bled desire
The man who shot her through was the only man she could admire
That mortal wound awoken her, the final balm could soothe
And she said "I think I love you" and Vera always told the truth
Oh, as she died she said "I love you" and Vera always told the truth
“Vera dies? Your only song with a decent female protagonist and you kill her off?”
The singer rolled her eyes.
“God, there is just no pleasing you is there?”
“It was a pretty good song.”Then she extended her hand. “I’m Cali.”
“Dixie Dawn”, she said as she shook Cali’s hand. “So, how long have you been a music critic?”
“I’m not, really, I just spent a lot of time with this singer. . .”
“Anyone I might have heard of?”
Cali’s grin widened.
“She was nobody special.”
The two talked for a while, but then Dixie had to do another set on stage. When she finished, the party was mostly winding down. The rest of the band took off permanently, but Dixie stuck around to chat with Cali.
“So I’m stuck here until the river thaws, and I can find some work. And then I’m still stuck here until I make enough money to go somewhere else.”
Dawn leaned back in her chair.
Cali shrugged, a little more helplessly than she would have liked.
“The core maybe? I dunno. I’m new to this space traveling on your own. I just know I want to get off Taanab.”
“I know the feeling. So what kind of work are you looking for?"
“Whatever pays. Truth be told, I’d like to get myself established in something better than menial labour. Something where I get to use my guns. Nothing stupid like a swoop gang, or petty stuff; I want to be a bounty hunter, or a mercenary or something more than somebody’s cook and secretary.”
Dawn glanced askew at Cali.
“Riiiight. So killing things is your first inclination in that regard?”
Cali smiled ruefully.
“We can’t all be singers.”
“Musicians.” Dawn corrected. Then she looked pensive. “And, I don’t know if I should be telling you this, but if you’re looking for the rough kind of work, I might know a guy who’s hiring now.”
Dawn led Cali through the maze of back rooms in the hall. Cali had thought about telling Sunny where they were going, but decided against it. She had the feeling he’d encourage her towards more ‘respectable’ work, and frankly it was none of his business what she did. Finally, they came to an office room. Dawn opened the door, and inside Cali saw three men. Two were listening intently to the third, a thin, wiry man, as he lectured them.
“It’s got to happen soon; before Doyle makes a decision, one way or the other, we’ve got to show that we’re in charge, and it’s our ship. Now-”
Dawn coughed loudly.
“Uhh, Will? It’s me; I brought someone to see you.”
The thin man looked up at Dixie.
“So I see. Who the hell is she?”
Dixie was about to introduce Cali, but Cali was already stepping into the room. She extended her hand, which he did not take.
“Cali, Cali Bellum. I hear you might have work for me.”
Will cocked an eyebrow.
“I do? Somehow I doubt that very much. I already have a service that takes care of my cleaning.”
Cali retracted her hand.
Will made a gesture at her clothing.
“You’re a maid right?”
Cali recoiled like she’d been struck.
“What? NO! Why would you think that?”
Will made a confused face.
“Because you’re dressed like a maid?”
“I AM NOT!”
“You really are.”
“Yeah, that’s a maid outfit. I thought you wore it to the party as a joke or something.” Dawn chimed in.
Cali blushed a deep crimson as she fought to keep her anger in check.
“I. . .Fine. Whatever, that is not what I’m here for.”
“What are you here for?”
“Dawn told me you needed someone to handle some rough business.”
Will rubbed his temple.
“Dawn told you, while dressed in a maids uniform, that I needed help, and brought you here to be part of my nefarious criminal schemes.” He turned to Dawn. “Really, Dixie? Are you actually trying to humiliate me, or is this a legitimate effort? Because I’m not sure which would depress me more.”
Dawn held up her hands.
“She said she was looking for this kind of work, and I know you’ve got some kind of situation going on. I think you should give her a shot.”
Cali was more intrigued than angry at this point.
Will threw his hands up in the air.
“Leroy Brown is the situation. He’s a pimp, and a sore loser, but he holds his nose in the air around me, gives me no respect. I caught his boys trying to boost a ship that was left to me, and he’s afraid to settle this like a man, and goes squealing to hide behind Doyle’s skirt. Well, I’ve had enough, and I want Brown out of the way.” Will looked Cali over one last time. “But I don’t think sending in a pink maid so he laughs himself to death is the message I want to sen-”
Cali’s pistol was pointed right at his head.
“I can kill a man just as easy in a maid uniform as anything else. Are you satisfied that I’m capable, or do you need a demonstration?”
Cali put her pistol away and took a seat.
“So do you want me to steal the ship or. . .”
Will shook his head, still grinning.
“No, I have a much better plan in mind for you.” He extended his hand, which Cali shook. “My name is William, William McCoy. It’s a pleasure to be working with you miss Bellum.”
The plan was simple enough. Leroy Brown lived in an apartment above his own bawdy house. Cali could slip in the back, pretending to be one of the call girls. Apparently her dress was such, she could blend right in. She felt her face redden at the reminder. I can’t believe none of them ever told me. When this is done, I’m going to stab Reil.
Once inside, the only tricky part would be getting into Leroy’s apartment. McCoy didn’t know where or how the guards would be situated, but he figured they wouldn’t bother a whore on her rounds, and it wouldn’t be out of character for one to go to Leroy’s room.
About a block away from the bawdy house Cali stopped, took a deep breath, and checked to make sure no one could see her pistols poking out of spots they shouldn’t be. It’s going to be fine. Get in, shoot him in the face, get out.
As Cali walked through the alley that led to the bawdy house, she noticed a few other girls hanging around the back door smoking. She started preparing stories in case they challenged her at the door, but none of them gave her a second glance. Inside it was much the same, the girls were busy working, and the men were busy giving the girls work. It suddenly dawned on Cali that she didn’t know what she’d do if someone approached her. She wasn’t going off into a private room with any of these losers, but if she refused someone, they’d probably cause a big stink, and the whole plan would go to hell. Cali did her best to look unappealing and unobtrusive, as she made her way up several flights of stairs, and luckily escaped all notice.
It wasn’t until she made her way all the way to the top that she met someone who was very clearly a guard. He was standing outside the door to Leroy’s apartment, looking bored. Cali marched up to him with a confidence she was not feeling, and smiled sweetly.
“Leroy’s expecting me. Could you let me in?”
The guard gave a half smile and mumbled “sure”, and went right back to looking bored as he keyed in the entry code for the apartment. The apartment was dark, and when the door shut behind her, Cali felt like she was being swallowed by the shadows. She took a few minutes to let her eyes adjust, and to get her breathing back to normal. This was no big deal. She’d shot people before. She’d stabbed people before. Just never in their homes while they slept. Focus! This is the real thing. I do this right, and I won’t be breaking my back on some dock for crap pay. This is what I wanted, remember?
Cali drew a blaster, and set about finding the bedroom. When she did, she winced at the sound the door made as it slid open, but the lights didn’t come on automatically, and that was something to be thankful for. The bed was curtained, and she could hear breathing. Cali tore back the curtain with one hand, and leveled the blaster in the other at. . . some girl lying in the bed.
The noise woke the girl up, and for a moment, she and Cali were transfixed in time, as they stared at each other in confusion. Then she noticed the blaster in Cali’s hand, and her eyes widened. Cali saw what was coming, she knew the girl was going to scream, but she hesitated.
When the scream came it was blood curdling. Cali was already backing away from the bed, when she heard the door swish open as the guard rushed in. Cali turned, pulling her second blaster out and-
Cali didn’t feel the blaster shot cut through her stomach. She didn’t even notice dropping the blaster in her right hand. She just felt the strength leave her limbs, and she fell to her knees, facing the doorway. Then the pain hit her and her vision swam. Her other blaster was in her left hand, and she tried to point it at the assailant. He might have said something like “don’t” or “stop” but she couldn’t focus enough to make it out. She had almost leveled it with him, when he shot her again.