I had originally posted this on FanFiction.net found here, but I've been re-reading it and thought I'd repost it and then perhaps continue it after all this time. Yes, there's quite a few continuity errors, on top of the lore issues. Episode 1: Whiskey In The Jar Redding, 1807 PM, January 3, 2160 Hazewell watched as he moved his hand through the smoke that rose in wispy little clouds from the reverberating engine of the vehicle, moving stale within the confines of the small, makeshift garage. The mixed scent of sweat and burning air flared out randomly as the vehicle rumbled alive. Hazewell simply ignored the violent sensations of heat that assaulted him. The work before him absorbed all of his attention. He realized, but did not seem to care, that an entire day had passed since his repairs began. All that mattered was the completion of his work. It had been four years since he had left Century City, three years since he had found this rusting jalopy of a truck and decided to team up with his merchant friend, Smoothe. At first, Hazewell was both fascinated and reviled by the lifestyle he had chosen - traveling across the wastes to help Smoothe peddle his wares to Wasters, Tribals, and anyone else willing to spare a few caps for some junk. His desire to explore the world had brought him out here, to this town, called something like "Redding" or some backwater name like that. The place was literally built on a mountainside, overlooking the mines that provided the town's only real source of income: gold. "How's it look, Mister Hazewell?" Smoothe asked as he lit a new cigarette, illuminating bits in the shadows of the dark building. Smoothe had a nasty habit of creeping around in the shadows, in that dark blue-gray suit that kept him hidden in the shadows when he wanted to. It always unnerved Hazewell, but the young man never showed his surprise. "A little tune-up. Nothing I can't manage without a little time." Hazewell haphazardly tossed the spanner into the toolbox. The man was weary, tired. Days of the hot Wasteland sun, combined with the labor he knew he was going to put into the flatbed wearied him enough. "We're out of food again," Smoothe said, checking the dilapidated icebox that came with the truck. Smoothe had picked it up from somewhere, so long ago that even he himself had forgotten where he obtained it. "What else is new...?" Hazewell sighed. "What's up with the locals?" Smoothe shrugged, shutting the fridge. "Place is a gold mining town. I figure they're trading partners with some of the cities around here - Vault City and New Reno in particular. Other than that, not much more than some Brahmin steaks and meat jerky." Hazewell smiled. "At least that beats eating Rad-Scorpion for breakfast." "Anyway, you wanna get a drink? Coupla locals said there's a bar up near the center of town... Get this, it's called the Malamute." "Sure, sounds like fun." Hazewell smiled, cleaning his hands free of oil with the cloth, putting on his coat. Smoothe shrugged, heading out the door first. "Come on, kid. Let's go." The Malamute Saloon, 2311 PM, January 3, 2160 Her name was Tara McCulloch. And, for the past three years, she'd been in the employ of the Malamute Saloon as a... woman of relaxation, a professional caretaker, or a masseuse of ill repute... All of these terms could be used, but it simply meant that she was a prostitute. Years ago, she was a promising young list-maker in Vault City. Her beauty was one that was exceptionally well-known, and it broke many a man's heart when she married a traveling merchant who had big dreams of making it big in the gold industry. It had been some time since then... her husband was long gone, and the memories in her mind faded, along with her dreams and hopes. She awoke on the corner of her bed, in the small room that the women in the Malamute called the "Clean" room, mostly because the women of the Malamute never used it for clients, just to rest on. "Lil' Miss Star-Eyes... Wake up, y' got a coupla customers," a voice said. The sound belonged to Stan, the owner, bartender, and manager of the Malamute Saloon. Stan had never mistreated the woman, and Tara was thankful for that. Stan protected her, clothed her, fed her... and she responded by giving him more than his fair share of her wages. "A 'couple of customers,' Stan? I ain't that kind of girl..." Tara roused sleepily, her mind dragging itself tiredly to the job at hand. She never imagined that her life would take her to a dive like this one. But here she was, and there was no way to escape that. "Well, if they pay right, you might wanna change your opinion on that..." Stan said. The outfit she wore was a pretty, but very simple blue tunic and a whitsh grey skirt. In her line of work, it's best not to wear anything complicated. Straightening it out, she checked herself out in the mirror, fixing her straight, long brown hair. She strode towards the door, slowly implementing a hip swivel with each step. Her slim features would be accentuated by every one of her careful motions, Tara was not one to waste a movement or even a word. She entered the bar room, striding seductively past patrons and the other girls, towards where Stan had seated her potential customers. Two men, miners from the looks of it, sat with their back turned to the bar. Big, scruffy looking miners usually had a lot of stress to work off, and it was easy work for a girl in her profession. She sighed and put on her best face, then tapped one of the miners on the shoulder. Tara's eyes widen in recognition, fear, anger, as the miner turned around, slowly. Big grinning fang-like teeth, those beady eyes, that demonic face... It was the Morton Brothers, the strong-arm thugs of the Hill Gang. "Big Bill and Little Ray Morton... what the hell do you two bastards want?" Tara said, her eyes widening in horror at the two as they turned around and stood up. They were cruel men, if they were men at all. They were more like monsters. The smaller of the two men smiled. "Why you, of course, lil' Miss Tara. We heard you was workin' as a whore in this shithole, and we thought we'd... sample the goods for sale." "Y-you get away from me, Ray..." Tara backed away slowly. Memories of their previous cruelty towards her flooded back, and anger mixed with fear mixed with even more hatred stirred in her mind. "Don't you be startin' no trouble in my bar," Stan said from behind the bar. Tara blessed how much Stan cared for these girls. It was too bad that Stan was just as afraid of these men as Tara was... The Morton brothers were just as powerful and influential in town as the rest of the Hill Gang. "I ain't gonna do nuthin' of the kind, Stan, so just back off or I'll rip yer sorry ass apart!" Bill said, advancing on Tara. His eyes told the young woman that he wasn't going to be gentle. Powerful arms reached out and grabbed the smaller woman by her shoulders. "Nooo!" Tara yelled, summoning her strength to fight. Malamute Saloon, 2315 PM, January 3, 2160 Losron Baramatthews Smoothe, or "L. B." as he liked to be called, found himself in a dingy little dive called the Malamute. It ran about par with the other bars he'd encountered in his travels over the years. He was a merchant, an entrepreneur as he liked to call it. He was part of the economic backbone of the Wasteland. Making money, helping people help themselves in exchange for some caps or another valuable Wasteland commodity. One could trade water and brahmin steaks for some battery packs and some weapons for caps and some luxury items. Providing what people need or want. Smoothe was smiling at the company he was keeping. He was some kid from somewhere in South America named Hazewell. The kid was nothing like any of the people from the New Aztec Empire, or anyone actually that Smoothe had ever encountered. Not that it bothered Smoothe, he was too busy trying to line up his next big score. Smoothe examined the glass in his hand, swishing the porous liquid around. "There are three kinds of bars in the Waste, kid. First, there's Old Geezer bars - the places where old guys hang out... They're no fun, unless you want to listen to people tell stories all night. "Second, there's Ganger bars - Too much noise for me, thanks. There's lots of drinking, not enough to do aside from playing a round of pool or play some poker. New Reno's got those bars in the spades." "Third, and the most important one are Waster bars. Yeah, this place qualifies as a Waster bar... Low-lifes, dregs, bounty hunters, raiders... anyone looking for a place to gamble... Hell, I bet there's some prostitutes out back... What say we get you laid, kid?" Hazewell looked at Smoothe wryly, before he slung back a shot of whiskey, resting his eyes as he laid back in his chair. He didn't like dives like this, but Smoothe seemed to enjoy it, and it was also the only place in town with a bed. Smoothe daydreamed about the cool, soft feeling of a real bed underneath him. Years of hard ground, sand, dirt, rocks, and whatever else lay out in the Wastes had done it's work on his body. Smoothe wanted a bed, and almost couldn't wait to jump into one. He was especially interested in a bed with some... female companionship. Hazewell slumped in his seat, looking around. Not much of a scene, even for a bar. A few tired miners getting their kicks on talking to some of the women in the bar. Another miner being led out back by one such girl told Hazewwell everything he needed to know about the bar and tavern. It was Smoothe who first saw the girl being hassled by two rough looking men. He could profile them even this far away. Relatives... roughly the same age and build. Probably brothers. Big strong, worker-types... though they did carry themselves a bit differently. Some raiders Smoothe had run into looked more like these folk. An audible sigh slipped from his lips, and he knew Hazewell would investigate. "Trouble?" Hazewell asked, not even turning his head. He wasn't too anxious to get into another fight here. He was tired, and he was. "Maybe," Smoothe had that matter-of-factly tone in his voice. And sometimes, it would get on Hazewell's nerves. Smoothe knew it'd be inevitable for Hazewell to step in... guys like him always did. Hazewell finally turned his head, and locked into the scene. Women were always his weak point, and watching a woman trying to fend for herself in vain hit him like a ton of bricks. "Don't do it," Smoothe warned him. "We don't need the trouble." "I thought trouble was your middle name," Hazewell responded, standing up as he finished his last shot for the night. Smoothe sighed and finished his drink, before he followed suit. It was going to be a long night. Malamute Saloon, 2320 PM, January 3, 2160 "You keep away from me, Bill! Get your filthy, stinkin' hands offa me!" the woman screamed, her small hands beating against the larger man fruitlessly. "Shut up, bitch!" Bill said, using the back of his hand to slap the taste out of the woman's mouth. His second strike was a bit more potent and his punch tore and ripped some of the skin on the top of her head. Blood flowed free as Tara crumpled onto the floor, and the two miners picked her up and roughed her up a little more, moving towards the back room. His sense of right and wrong being his ruling instinct, Hazewell coolly walked up to the scene and pulled the young woman away from the two miners, and leaned her weak body up against a table. "Excuse me! The lady asked you to leave her alone," Hazewell said, standing between the two miners and the young woman. "This ain't none o' yer business, stranger," the foulest one, the larger of the two said, puffing stale, odorous smoke into Hazewell's face. "Maybe I should make it my business," Hazewell said coldly, staring into the eyes of the rough miner before him. Neither man flinched. "Ray! Get this-" Bill Morton was cut off by the sound of a gun clicking under his throat. The barrel of an 18mm Glock pressed up underneath one's throat would do that to almost anyone. "I think not. Leave the lady alone, and I won't have to make your wife a widow," Smoothe said, his right hand on the Glock... his left hand pointed at Ray with his finger on a Desert Eagle II. "This ain't none o' your business. Our business is with the whore," Bill said, obviously under duress. Hazewell glared angrily at Bill. "Look, pal, before you end up with your brains all over the wall, I suggest you apologize to the lady and walk away." "Fuck no-!" Bill Morton tried to resist, but Smoothe had the gun pressed right into his chin. Resistance... was futile. "Apologize to the lady," Hazewell said sharply and curtly. "I-I'm sorry." The words didn't come to Bill's mouth easily. "What was that? I don't think she heard you!" Hazewell said with even more vigor. Bill growled. "I said I-I'm sorry!" "Good... now git outta here. And don't come back, else I open a can o' whup-ass on ya!" Hazewell said, dragging Bill Morton out by the collar, and throwing him out into the ashen street. Smoothe sighed, staring at the remaining Morton. "I wonder what we should do about this guy. What do you think... Ray, was it?" "Go ahead, pal. You kill me, you got a hundred guys come gunnin' for ya... you're dead, muthafucka, you dead, boy!" Ray spat on Smoothe's jacket. Smoothe had that look of disappointment on his face that seemed more like Ray had just recommended Japanese sake at room temperature, rather than insult him and his intelligence. "Tsk, tsk. Bad form, pal. See, I was gonna let you out of here the easy way, cuz I thought you might actually be civil, but now..." Hazewell stepped aside as Ray Morton was thrown out of the bar... through the wall. Ray Morton crashed the ground next to Billy, splinters sticking out of his skin. "Think they'll come back?" Hazewell asked grimly, watching as both Billy and Ray Morton ran off into the darkness. "Not soon," Smoothe said, holding up the Beretta 300 that Ray Morton carried under his shirt. "Get yours?" Hazewell nodded, tossing Billy's matching matte-black Beretta 300 to Smoothe. He brushed passed the startled bar patrons and kneeled next to the young woman. She was dazed and confused, the result of a blow to the head. Hazewell's utility light showed that the woman's eyes were dilating slowly. "You two boys better get outta here... Billy and Ray'll be back here with a posse to string you boys up with," Stan said nervously as he went to survey the damage done to his bar. "I apologize for our behavior... Here, keep the tip," Smoothe tossed a bag of caps to Stan, more than enough to cover the cost of replacing the section of destroyed wall. Smoothe sighed, pocketing the weapons. "Hazzy, is the girl alright?" Smoothe asked, pocketing the guns. "Don't call me that, and she may have a mild concussion. We need to get her out of here," Hazewell said, pocketing his utility light and helping the girl to her feet. Smoothe sighed. "Come on, there's probably an extra tent we can rent out from the caravan master..." Hazewell nodded, and soon the two supported the girl all the way to the Caravan Master's office. A tent in the Caravan Master's arena, 0146, January 4, 2160 Hazewell examined the wound on Tara's head under a combination of candlelight, Hazewell's utility light, and a desklamp that Smoothe had procured. A stimpack would heal the wound, but there was still a question of the possible concussion. Tara winced. The young man was still somewhat rough, despite his careful treatment of her. Gruff, calloused hands moved over head as he examined her. They were rough, but not so rough as the miners who put their hands all over her on an almost daily basis. Hazewell struck Tara as an educated, well-termpered man. He certainly didn't sound like someone from the Waste. He was too... civilized. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Smoothe as he sat quietly at the foot of the cot that came with the tent, examining the Berettas they'd picked off of the Morton brothers. She pegged Smoothe as the merchant of the two, perhaps even a mercenary. There was something about the way he carried himself that told her that. "What's your name?" Hazewell asked. As a medic, he probably made it a point to make sure the patient was talking while he was working on them. The idea was to make sure the patient was conscious and under control, or something to that extent. "Tara," she said, watching in the mirror as he treated the cut on her head. "Tara McCullough... What's yours?" "Hazewell..." he spoke, focusing solely on the woman's wound. Steadiest hands she'd seen, including the old tribal shaman that served as the town's only healer. She winced as Hazewell slowly padded the wound down with a cloth. "Is that your first or last name?" "It's just Hazewell," he said calmly as he bandaged the woman's forehead. "I don't have another name." He wasn't too convincing, almost sarcastic in his tone. There usually wasn't a reason for someone like him to hide his identity, unless, of course, he was on the run. "You seem to have something personal against those guys... Who are they?" "The sorriest pieces of shit this side of the Waste... Billy and Ray Morton, a coupla two-bit thugs who work for the Hill Gang. And yeah, I got plenty a' personal problems with them. They killed my husband. The pieces of shit." "Hey, easy... You don't want to reopen that wound," Hazewell warned as he pulled back Tara's soft, flowing hair. It amazed him that someone with such... alluring features managed to make it out here in the Waste. "I don't care any more, they ruined my life... I even said that I'd pay anyone to kill the whole lot of them." Hazewell frowned, but continued to work. "Whole lot?" "Y'mean ya don't... well, I s'pose you couldn't know. Big Billy and Little Ray Morton work for the Hill Gang, a buncha thugs who're pushing drugs to miners in trade for gold. Bad bunch, if you ask me..." "There's a sheriff in this town, ain't there? Can't you go to him?" She laughed bitterly, as though it were like asking her to take a wooden spoon to a Deathclaw's scales. "He can't do nuthin'. They broke his leg and his arm for speaking out of line. He's just like the rest of the folks around here, too scared of the Hills to organize any resistance to him. He'll be able to perform some of his duties, but he's had to look the other way when it comes to the Hills..." Hazewell took what she was saying consciously, as he healed the wound with a stimpack. No concussion, fortunately for Tara. "What about you two fellas? Y'all are the only people left in town who's ever stood up to the Hills." The woman sighed. Her heart sank as she spoke, almost as though she knew was going to regret asking. "What? Us? You want us to-?" Hazewell said, dropping the cloth into a box. "I'll pay you in advance..." Tara pleaded, her eyes welling up with tears in desperation. "I've got the caps, you can have it all up front. I've got the money hidden, and I'll drop the caps off at that garage you mentioned. Please... you're my last, best hope." There was a long pause after those words, Hazewell was almost ignoring Tara's pleas. There was something in her voice that screamed for compassion, some semblence of hope for a hopeless case. Hazewell glanced over at Smoothe, who was unloading the Berettas and pocketing the ammunition. Smoothe never looked like he was paying attention, but under that cool, cold demeanor, Hazewell knew that Smoothe was listening to every word. Tara shifted her weight, bringing Hazewell back into the present. She was almost done, the stimpack working its magic on the wound. She didn't say anything else, but just sat there quietly. "You're done," Hazewell said. He tossed the expended stimpack into the box in the corner, and shut off the utility light. Smoothe reacted first, on his feet wordlessly. He marched over to the two, and looked at the girl with two ice blue eyes. "I have to know something, Ms. Tara McCulloch," Smoothe said in that very blunt, very aggressive manner. "Are you serious when you ask us to kill this 'Hill Gang?'" "Y-yes... very serious," she stammered her words, as she looked back into his eyes. Smoothe just turned around, deep in thought. A moment to pause... and just as though he were about to turn and speak, Smoothe walked out. "That was... abrupt," Tara said, standing up. Hazewell was packing up his bag. "I suggest you stay here tonight, those boys might be looking for us," Hazewell spoke softly as he cleaned his hands off. He wasn't too pleased with the events of the night. "So..." Tara said as she walked to the slit of the tent and looked out into the sky. "What's your story?" Hazewell turned slightly and looked at the moonlight bouncing off the woman's hair. His mind clicked all the information that he knew about her. It was simply his way of analyzing, psychoanalyzing, profiling this woman. He didn't like doing it, but he was trained to do it every time he met someone new. "I don't have a story," Hazewell said, believing his own lie. "I'm just a guard for Smoothe." "Bullshit," Tara replied, smiling out of the corner of her small, thin lips. "Everybody's got a story." She was attractive, young... By her bearing, her posture, and her speech, Hazewell concluded that she simply was not from the town, her accent lying between a rural West Virginian to an educated Mid-Western "school-marm." A slight twinge, but excellent pronunciation. The way she spoke, though, puzzled him. She was angry and vengeful... but also sad and innocent. That always suggested that she was a victim of some great trauma, and given her crude and somewhat primitive surroundings, it wasn't hard to figure out what it was. "Same as all stories. I'm out here, trying to find something I lost," Hazewell simply said. He zipped his bag shut and slung it over his shoulder. "What did you lose?" She asked, clutching one of the folds of the tent as she stared up and out. Something told Hazewell that she was getting sentimental, as though she were remembering something happy in the back of those sad, azure eyes. Hazewell sighed, contemplating whether or not to tell this complete stranger. He hadn't spoken to anyone about what he'd been through during his time in the waste, and didn't think anyone would really care. "I lost something special to me, and I made a vow that I'd go and find it again," Hazewell said. Tara looked at him, almost sad, but inquisitive. "How do you know it's still out there?" "Oh, it's out there, I know it. Thing is, I have to find it." "What is it? People come through here with all sorts of things, bring all sorts of stuff with them. Maybe I might have seen it." "What is it called? " Hazewell laughed. "I call it the 'Moon in the Lonely Night Sky.' That's about all I can tell you..." Hazewell half-said, half-remembered. It was something of a sensitive subject for him. Tara looked almost through Hazewell. Her shoulders dropped slightly, as though they were now carrying some great weight. She brushed past him and sat wearily on the cot. She smelled of... roses. Scented soaps? In the waste? Or was he imagining things? Hazewell didn't know, but it kicked in his other thoughts, and his heart started racing. Panic? Or was it something else? Hazewell started slowly for the door. "I... think I should be going-" "No, wait..." Tara said, cutting him off. "I don't want to be alone tonight." "Uh, look, Miss Tara, you're very attractive, but I don't think-" "Then don't..." Tara sighed, then kicked her shoes off and lay on her side, looking up at him. "Look, it's nothing, but I'd just feel better if you stayed here at least until I fall asleep. I-... I just don't want to be alone right now, 'tis all..." Something in the back of Hazewell's mind clicked, struck by the tone in the woman's voice. The need and the hopelessness of the young woman's dilemma. She was so alone, and she just wanted someone to stay with her for a while. Hazewell immediately cursed himself as he sat on the edge of the cot. Tara softly tugged on his arm and he lay down next her on the small cot. Neither of them said anything, Tara just wrapped her arms around the larger Hazewell and snuggled against him. Tara laid her head against Hazewell's chest, their combined warmth fighting the cool night air. Again, Hazewell found something about this moment that struck him. She was crying against him, her arms latching onto him as though he were her saving grace. He didn't know what else he could do. "I-I'm sorry," Tara said, looking up at his face. Tears ran free down her cheeks. Her eyes reflected the lone candle in the room, and she leaned in closer. It struck Hazewell again a third time. "No, no, it's alright... get it all out," Hazewell replied, cradling the woman in his arms. "Why don't you just go ahead and let everything out... okay?" The Garage, 0611 AM, January 4, 2160 They sat wordlessly in the cab of the flatbed when Hazewell returned. The two knew that they had differing opinions. Neither Smoothe nor Hazewell believe that they could convince the other that they were right, so they never bothered. Hazewell seemed quieter, sadder than he usually did. It wasn't fatigue, Smoothe knew, for Hazewell never seemed to sleep. "So, what are you going to do?" Hazewell asked of L. B. Smoothe. Smoothe walked to the back, pulling out a black ceramic case from under the sink, putting it on the table. "Fifteen thousand. Three heads. Remote area. I can do this with no questions asked." Hazewell stared at Smoothe, either shocked or disgusted... Hazewell himself didn't know which he was. Smoothe sighed, opening the case and checking the length of the Artech silencer. "She gave us the caps up front... I consider that a business transaction, and I always fulfill my end of a contract." "I'm not a hired assassin, pal. I don't kill for money." Hazewell was very adamant about his honor code. Smoothe was sickened by it sometimes. "Well, what would you kill for? Love?" Smoothe knew it was low, but he used it against Hazewell because he knew it was true. Hazewell stared directly into Smoothe's eyes. "I don't like killing for any reason." "Your choice, pal," Smoothe huffed, producing a Colt .357 King Cobra and a cleaning rag. "But if you think your little friend there is going to stop looking for someone to kill these people, then you're wrong." Hazewell sighed, leaning back in the chair. "I ain't a cold, heartless mother fucker like you, Smoothe..." "You're right." Smoothe said, snapping the silencer onto the barrel of the weapon. "You're not cold, and you're not heartless... but I think you want to do this, for other reasons." Hazewell stared coldly at Smoothe. "Be careful, kid. You know how you are with women. When was the last time you heard a happy ending?" Smoothe opened a box of ammunition in the case, loading Jacketed Hollow-Point rounds into the weapon. "Don't let this one get into you, too." "Shut the fuck up, Smoothe. You don't know what I think about this. No, I don't want to have anything to do with either you or the girl, got it?" "Heh. Got it. You leave her alone, she goes to someone else for help. Someone who probably won't have our extensive experience. He fucks up the job, she dies." Hazewell sighed wearily. "You ain't gonna pull me into this one, man. You. Will. Not." "Didn't say you had to at all," Smoothe said, cocking the gun. "I'll do this myself If I need to." Hazewell sat up indignantly. "Fuck, man! I don't need this shit. I do not." Hazewell spoke more as though he were convincing himself of what he said. He had been battling himself for hours, and found himself losing. Smoothe nodded and stood on the ground, heading for the door. "Wait... Let me have a talk with the Sheriff," Hazewell said, defeated. "I'll get some info from him... maybe we can just throw the lot of them in jail or something." "Something like that, then," was Smoothe's only reply. A long pause followed. "I hope she's worth it." "She is," Hazewell replied, before standing and walking out. A stride had replaced the trodge in Hazewell's step. He was determined to get this done... Sheriff's Office, 1115 AM, January 4, 2160 The Sheriff wasn't what Hazewell was expecting. He was small, frail looking, young. The Hills' work was obvious to see by the cast on the Sheriff's leg and arm. The man was lying on a couch in the small building that served as the jail. The young Sheriff had his eyes closed. "Sheriff? You mind if I have a word with you?" Hazewell said, yanking on the back of the Sheriff's shirt and pressing the barrel of a gun to the back of his head.. "Urng-? Yeah, what?" the Sheriff said, rousing from his nap. "Who the fuck are you?" "I got a quick question for ya, Sheriff," Hazewell said in full businessman mode. "I hear you've been having problems with a group called the 'Hill Gang.' I wondered you might say if I could tell you that the Hill Gang will not be a problem any longer." The Sheriff shook his head, not exactly getting all of that. "What?" Hazewell smiled mischievously. "What would you say if I could deliver, say, half of the Hill Gang to you... tonight?" The young man looked shocked. "How in the name of holy Hell are you gonna do that? There ain't nobody in town that can stand up to the Hills-" "First," Hazewell interrupted. "I need to know where the Hills operate. How big their operation is, and what their usual operations entail. When I know this, I can tell you with a certainty that it will be done." The Sheriff nodded slowly. "W-what did you say your name was?" Hazewell smirked, his heart racing. He was doing his best L. B. Smoothe impersonation, and he didn't want to mess up. "It's not important... What's important is that I can guarantee that the Hills will not be a problem for you any more." "And how did you say you're gonna do this?" The Sheriff asked inquisitively. "An accident for some... for the rest? That's where I need your help," Hazewell said. "Murder is a crime in Redding, no?" "Yeah... punishable by death," the Sheriff said. "Good," Hazewell said smartly. "I will have evidence that proves that two of the Hills' men murdered the others in cold blood. And I'll also bring them in for ya. Call it a bounty that no one else needs to know about..." The Sheriff looked at Hazewell, half-confused, but half seeing an opportunity. "If any of those bastards deserve it, it'd Vince Hill... I'd love to have him swinging from the gallows." "Vince Hill, huh?" Hazewell nodded in agreement. "Think about it, Sheriff... you'll be a hero. The 'Man who cleaned up Redding,' they'll call you. You'll have the citizens on your side again, and you'll have the Hills off your back... legally." The Sheriff looked off into space, as though imagining something. "Tell me more..." Morningstar Mine, 2000 PM, January 4, 2160 Hazewell stepped out of the lift and walked into the cavern, his Colt .450 resting in his hand. The tactical light mounted under the barrel was on, a narrow cone of light moving about the mine walls. The Sheriff had told Hazewell that the Morton boys spent a lot of time at night in the Mines. Doing what? He didn't say. He was alone. Smoothe opted to go and visit the Hills, while he went after two vicious and deadly criminals. The Morton Brothers were robbers, murderers, rapists, and overall vile creatures spawned from the feces of the earth. Hazewell's raged burned as he recounted the Sheriff's details of their pillaging and corruption. Fresh tracks indicated that someone was in here. Two men. One dragged his foot slightly. It was the Morton boys, and by the looks of it, they were still here. Hazewell crept into the mineshaft quietly, despite the light on his gun. If the Mortons were shrouded in darkness, Hazewell wouldn't have a chance. Risky business, hunting down two men alone. Noises up ahead told him that the Mortons were nearby. Lots of shuffling, like they were moving rocks around. What could those boys be up to? Hazewell switched his light off, no use ruining the element of surprise, even if it means fumbling around in the dark. Hopefully, his memory would not fail him, and he'd be able to navigate the loose rocks in the mine with no problem. Hazewell crept forward, the pistol in his hand readied. The sounds of the two men were coming from around a bend in the cavern, a faint trickle of light showing Hazewell the way. Slowly, he turned the corner, bumping a support beam softly. Up ahead, there were two forms working by the light of a lantern. They were working by some old rails for a mining cart, which probably led up and out of the cave somewhere. From the looks of it, they were burying a bag under some rocks. "C'mon, git movin', we need to git this stuff in here," Ray's unmistakable voice stammered under the labor. He was heaving rocks up over his shoulder. Bill Morton seemed to be grabbing some items in sealed containers and stacking them inside the hole. "That's enough, boys..." Hazewell said, stepping out from behind the beam. The two men pulled a pair of shotguns and fired on Hazewell, who managed to get back behind the support beam. It wasn't exactly the reaction Hazewell was looking for. "Fuck you, boy! Yer gonna regret messin with the Morton Boys!" Billy said, scrambling into the darkness. Ray followed suit, only in the other direction. Hazewell ran out into the open cavern and dropped with his back against a mining cart. Cast iron... old even before the War. It would afford him some protection, hopefully. "BILLY! GRAB YER FLASHLIGHT! WE'LL FLUSH 'IM OUT THAT WAY!" Ray yelled, the echo too distorted for Hazewell to determine position. Where Hazewell sat, he saw the shadow of a tool sticking out of the mining cart. A super-sledgehammer, probably used to break down rocks or hammer in spikes, or something. It also made a wonderful weapon. Light. Two flashlights were roaming the cavern, looking for him, from two points in the open cavern. One belonged to Big Billy Morton, and the other belonged to Little Ray Morton. Billy was an out and out vicious beast of a man, apparently well-versed in the art of torture and death. Ray was second only to his brother in their vehement disregard for others. Hazewell's rage burned even further as he imagined what they had done to Tara. Hazewell held his breath, listening intently... footsteps... coming closer. It was one of the two brothers, and he was walking towards him. Light against the cavern wall, right around the cart. It was still on the other side, but it proved to Hazewell that one of them was headed right for him. Closer, they stepped, only Hazewell couldn't tell precisely where they were coming from. So he guessed. Summoning all of his might, Hazewell jumped up and swung the powered sledgehammer in his hands, connecting squarely with Ray's chest. The sickening thud, mixed with the crack of ribs smashing into internal organs, more than satisfied Hazewell that the blow was successful, and he took off running for the cavern entrance. Billy Morton ran blindly into the darkness, as Ray's light rolled down further into the mine. Morton fumbled for his flashlight, too late to catch Hazewell, and too late to save his brother, who he saw crumple under the sheer power of the blow Hazewell dealt him as his light found the mark. "ULK! Ray gasped. Hazewell had caught Ray Morton square in the chest, driving shattered bone into his right lung. The force of the attack knocked Ray off of his feet and Ray crashed in a dull heap, his consciousness and breath leaving him. Dropping the hammer, Hazewell fumbled for the Colt .450 as he ran for the hole that Billy and Ray were working on. Billy followed, firing his shotgun one-handed as he gave chase. The shots flew harmlessly into the mine walls. "You bastard, I'm gonna kill ya, you fuckwad!" Billy shouted as he chased him, losing Hazewell as he passed the Mine Excavator. Hazewell dove behind the large machine, the Colt readied in case Billy decided to jump him there. "I know where yer at, boy," Billy said, stopping in front of the Excavator. He might have been a backwater hick, but he wasn't stupid. "I'm gonna kill you, and I'm gonna kill that whore ya seem ta like so much." Hazewell said nothing, catching his breath. He was running simulations in his mind, going over what would happen if he tried to jump out and hit Billy with the pistol. In no situation did a pistol ever beat a shotgun. "Yeah, I remember fuckin' that whore... She begged for more as we all took turns wit her... I can't wait to do it again. What do you think of that?" Billy Morton was doing something similar, imagining how to hit Hazewell. He'd be a sitting duck if he just jumped around one side, especially if he picked the wrong side to come around. So, inside that devious little mind of his, Billy formed a plan. "I think you're gonna pay for what you did to that girl..." Angered by Bill Morton's words, Hazewell slowly got to his knees and banged his fist against the Excavator, hoping to fool Billy of his location. Both men knew it'd only take one shot to end this, and neither wanted to take a foolish chance. "Heheh, hell, You wanna be mah bitch instead, boy?" Billy prodded the Excavator with his hand. Solid as a rock. He could crawl on top of it, and not make a sound. Billy slowly slid onto the top of the equipment and inched forward carefully. Hazewell relied on more than his senses and his instinct in any encounter, he also had an impeccable memory. The glance he got of Bill Morton told him a number of things. One thing he remembered was that Bill was right handed. He'd be much less accurate with his left hand than his right... Hazewell heard a sound, coming from neither side of him, but directly over him. "Shit!" Hazewell rolled to the left side of the Excavator, just as Bill Morton jumped clear off the top of the Excavator, the shotgun drawn downward. Both men locked eyes, as each other's weapons were brought to bear. Hazewell gritted his teeth and pulled the trigger of the Colt, as Billy Morton fired his own weapon. A flash of light later, and it was done. Billy's airborne body hit the ground with a dull thud, his head smacking off the top of a flat rock. Billy's shot went wild, and hit the dirt in front of Hazewell, kicking dirt up into Hazewell's face. Hazewell's shot might have been called a magic bullet by some, as it seemed to blow completely through Billy's flesh, shattering the bone, and spinning Billy mid-air, as it struck Billy's arm above the elbow. If he had fired an eyelash earlier, Hazewell would've put the bullet through Billy's chest. Hazewell sat there for a moment, in shock. He was still trying to believe that he was alive. He'd done it. He'd taken the Morton Boys on his own. They weren't exactly unharmed, but they were alive. And Hazewell knew the Sheriff wouldn't care too much if they were slightly hurt to hang 'em. Hazewell slowly got to his feet and took the shotgun out of Billy's hand, then dragging the dazed Morton over to his brother. Both alive, but both were hurt. Ray had a piece of bone in his lung, but he'd survive the next coupla days... if he weren't gonna be hanged in the morning. Hazewell huffed, and slapped Bill Morton awake. "Hey, wake up. Pick your brother up. You're gonna carry him to the Sheriff's office. Now." Bill Morton looked down the barrel of the shotgun pointed at him, and just nodded in compliance. Outside of Redding, 2000 PM, January 4, 2160 James Hill wasn't one for conversation. He was a long-lost member of the Bishop Family in New Reno. He'd been exiled to Redding to spend the rest of his days with his family. He'd settled for controlling Redding from the shadows, his small group of men his only reminder of the man he once was. He lived outside of Redding, in a nice home he and the Hill Gang had set up, where he usually tended to a small field to provide some food for his family. A knock on the door was what he least expected. James looked up from the book of numbers he was updating, and picked up a lit candle on his way to the door. A pleasant surprise waited for him on the other side of the door. "Losron Smoothe, the Devil himself... What brings you out here?" Smoothe smiled, dressed in his usual outfit consisting of that dark blue suit, white collar shirt, and a pair of black polished shoes. He was a consummate business-man. "Business as always, James... I heard you were here in Redding, so I'd thought I'd drop by and... pay you a visit." "Or pay you back on the debt I owe you?" James half-joked. He really did owe Smoothe a favor in return. "Well, do you have my money, bitch?" Smoothe joked back. James laughed and stepped aside to let the other man come in. "Come in, come in... Take a load off." James led Smoothe down the hallway into the living room. The whole house was made of wood, a nice strong grain of wood that would hold up to the elements. Unusually domestic accommodations. A pair of couches, some extra chairs, and a table situated between them all. James' desk sat visible in the next room, placed squarely in the room, so that he could get a good position in on his guests, so that he would be the center of attention, everything would point to him. "Do you like my new home? I've worked quite extensively for the past couple years to put all this together..." "It is... quite a home." A shapely woman appeared from the kitchen door. "Honey, who is it?" "You remember my wife, Jessica. Hun, you remember the Devil, don't you?" "Of course. How are you, Mrs. Hill?" Smoothe said with a smile and a half-bow. "Losron Baramatthews Smoothe... it's been a long time," Jessica said, giving a small hug and kissing him on the cheek. "Far too long, I believe, madam." "Why, it's been such a long time since we've had some guests... I must look terrible..." Jessica fumbled with her hair and her apron. "Would you like a drink, Mister Smoothe?" Smoothe grinned innocently. "No, thank you. I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by. But, it does warm my heart to see you again, Mrs. Hill." "You are such a dog, Mister Smoothe... I'll, uh, get you boys something. You play nice, now..." Jessica Hill nodded, blushed, and walked back into the kitchen. "It's nice to know some things haven't changed." Smoothe chuckled. "Come. Sit for awhile," James said, beckoning Smoothe into the inner chamber. Hill gestured to the leather couch, while James sat on the padded one. A form moved in the darkness. Small, kind of chubby, young. A young boy. Ten, maybe eleven years of age. A mop of black hair covered the young boy's face, and the sleepy child came up to James. James waved the boy over, who latched onto his arm. "This is... my only surviving child. I am lucky that he survived, when the others perished. Exposure to the waste, years of abuse I put my body through, the Century Cigarettes, the Mentats, everything that I've done in the past twenty years is reflected in my son. Come, Bobby, say hello to our visitor." The boy hid behind the couch, and stared frightfully even as Smoothe waved to him. Smoothe sighed and looked back at James. James continued. "He is not mentally sound for his age, too simple to play with the other children. I thought it would be best to raise him out here, away from the insults of hurtful children. Indeed, nothing is more pure and cruel as a child..." "I am just trying to be a good father now... a good husband to a good family." Smoothe sighed and nodded. "Now, how can I help you? Surely, the Smooth Operator himself doesn't just drop in to collect on an old debt." "No, I'm afraid not..." Smoothe said, adjusting himself more comfortably. "Actually, I just wanted to ask you a few questions." "Shoot." "What do you know about a woman named Tara McCulloch?" James Hill sat back and thought back. "Yes, I remember her. She was newly wed to a merchant named William McCulloch. I remember they borrowed some money from us in order to make a new life for themselves..." "What happened?" James asked. "William couldn't make enough money trading to pay us back. I remember him sinking into a deep hole of his own, and the next thing I know, he's killed himself. And Tara, that young lady took it upon herself to pay her husband's debt..." Smoothe nodded slowly, realizing that James thought that it was the truth. "Unfortunately, James, that is not what I know." James look towards a room in the back, the realization hitting him. "Vincent... It's my brother, isn't it? He... did some terrible things to that woman, didn't he?" Smoothe simply nodded. Hill sighed, adjusting his shirt. "And now he has forfeited his life for it... I see." James Hill turned to his son, whispering something into his ear. Shortly, the boy ran off and into another room. "I believe it is worse. Vincent was never smart enough to hide his indiscretions from you..." Smoothe simply looked in the direction of the kitchen. James sighed, knowing what Smoothe had meant. "And... my own wife has hidden this from me... I don't know what to tell you." "You tell me where Vincent is right now. You tell me that your wife is in the kitchen. You tell me that you will go to the Sheriff and tell him everything you know." "I-... I cannot do that, Smoothe. They are my family, first and foremost... And I cannot let you or anyone else take that from me... now can I?" Smoothe simply nodded. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Devil-Man," James said, gathering his composure. "I was looking forward to working with you again. We had such good times, didn't we?" Smoothe nodded, his face like a cold tombstone. "Yeah, yeah we did. And I'm sorry it has to come to this." "The price on our heads outweighs the debt I owe you, I bet," James said. "It does," Smoothe coldly replied. "Well..." James took a deep breath, eyeing Smoothe intently, but sadly. "How should we do this?" Smoothe said nothing, did nothing. His breath was still, his eyes never leaving the gaze of the man before him. Two men, eyes locked like two Brahmin bulls butting heads. Each man knew death awaited one of them. Smoothe had a number of guns on his person, but he was going to go for the Berettas he picked up off of the Mortons. Hill would likely have a pistol hidden somewhere on his person, probably his ankle or so. "So," James said, his sad eyes piercing Smoothe. "So..." Smoothe said. "Let's play." A blur over movement was what followed, as Smoothe dove out of his chair, rolling to his feet immediately, a pair of silenced Berettas drawn. One he fired into the head of Jessica, as she ran bursting through the kitchen door with a double-barreled shotgun. The other he shot almost point-blank into James Hill's chest, blowing through James' lung. Smoothe walked forward, slowly, both guns still drawn on the two slumped forms. James Hill was still alive, though coughing up blood, and bleeding all over his couch. "I lost again, didn't I?" Hill coughed. "Thought you mighta been bluffin' again..." James coughed, blood spurting out of the corner of his mouth. Smoothe nodded and ended James Hill's existence by putting a bullet through James' skull. Smoothe said nothing else as he stepped over Jessica Hill's corpse, and walked closer. On the other side of the house, young Bobby Hill shook his uncle awake. Vince Hill muffled the boy's mouth and dragged him out the back door. The sound of the back door slamming shut alerted Smoothe, and he quickly ran out the back, only to see a single, large shadow running in the darkness. It had to be Vince... or a witness. Either way, Smoothe had to kill them. Smoothe chased Vince into the field, moonless night covering the open field in an almost pitch black environment. He was certain that Hill was alone in the field, and no one would come to his aid. Smoothe stopped and aimed dead center-mass. A chest shot would kill the unarmored man cleanly. Quick, clean, fast. A better fate than he deserved. Smoothe did not move as he aimed in the darkness, his finger resting on the trigger until he was certain he would hit. Pressure from his finger on the trigger increased and he finally clicked it. Bang. Smoothe's face recoiled in horror as the shade of one form became two... the bullet shattered skull and destroyed flesh, flinging the second, smaller body to the ground. Vince turned and looked down in horror, at the young boy's body sprawled at his feet. Fear kicked in the panic response, and Vincent Hill ran as far as he could. Shock passed through Smoothe's mind quickly, before his instinct kicked back in. The Beretta was instantly raised again and snapped off three shots, each hitting their mark. The three rounds blasted through Hill's chest, completely blowing through his panicked heart and lungs. Smoothe walked to the front of the boy's body, looking down with a look on his face somewhere between aghast and horrified. The boy had pushed Vince in an effort to push him out of the way of the bullet. "Fuck..." he said, looking down at the boy's body. He'd shot the boy on accident... the bullet wasn't meant for him. Now the child was dead. Smoothe's mind went to work immediately, as he picked up the child's body and slowly walked back to the house. He'd originally wanted to leave the body's where they were, and leave the Mortons' Berettas to be found... The boy's death complicated the matter, and now, he'd have to hide the evidence. When the Sheriff came out to investigate a fire out in the distance later that morning, he found a gruesome sight. The Hills' house was burned to ground, the corpses of James and Jessica Hill and their son, Bobby, burned beyond recognition... each killed by a Beretta found partially melted on the porch. The remains of Vince Hill were found in a field, three shots blown through his chest. Outside the Malamute Saloon, 0718 AM, January 5, 2160 Against the morning sunrise and in the shadow of a pair of men dangling by their necks, Hazewell ran with all the celerity his feet would give him. Panic and realization hit him, driving him farther and faster. She wasn't in the tent. She wasn't at the Malamute Saloon, although Stan told him that Tara had a small hovel back next to the newlywed Rooneys. Hazewell stopped, and his breath stopped just as quickly, as he saw the sight before him. His knees buckled under the weight of the broken pieces of his heart and he dropped to his knees into the barren earth. Tara lay on the floor, dressed in a simple white dress that made her look like on an angel. Her hair flailed out in all directions, like the strands were trying to root themselves out and find their way to truth. Her face was pristine, with a smile on her face... a single, drying tear had come and fallen off her face. Hazewell checked her over. No pulse. No breath. No warmth... She was dead. Poison. The vial has fallen next to her cold body, a fast-acting thanoseptic poison... Hazewell said nothing, trying to hold back his tears, as he leaned forward and kissed Tara's forehead. He slowly stood up, tears beginning to win and stream down his cheek. He bowed his head, and said a silent prayer for the young woman named Star-Eyes. Hazewell walked out for the Sheriff's office to tell him of Tara's passing, each step like a weight of lead bound him to the earth. In the darkness, Hazewell cried. Outside of Redding, 1014 AM, January 5, 2160 "Where are we headed now?" Hazewell said, slumping into the passenger seat. "New Reno," Smoothe said calmly. "I figure we can swing south afterwards and head to a place called Shady Sands." Hazewell weakly grunted a reply. "Look, man," Smoothe tried to console his partner. "If you want to talk about it-" Hazewell cut him off. "She's dead, L.B. She wanted to be with her husband, after she got those men back. Let her rest in peace..." Smoothe said nothing, starting the engine and pulling out of the town. "And it's not Shady-... bah, forget it." Hazewell slumped in his seat, tipping his cap over his eyes to sleep.