Not that it was cold in Novac at night, or well anywhere in the Mojave for that matter, but I could almost feel myself shaking in my boots. I was tempted to pull the hood of my raggedy pink hoodie over myself, but honestly, I figured I'd look like even more of an awkward, spooked outsider than I already did. After busting my ass to get to a bed I could call my own, here I was, helping some jerk of a....what was he? Soldier, ex-soldier? get revenge on his dead wife.
It was less than 24 hours since I'd met Craig Boone, and he unsettled me, to put it bluntly. He spoke cryptically, more like some kind of fortune teller than a big man with a big gun. In the short span of our relationship, I had spoken with a few people about this "Carla" who apparently everyone despised, even Manny...and Manny was one of the few people in the town I'd actually gotten to like. Yet it ended up being No-Bark who gave me the most helpful advice. Figures. After all this was over, I decided I was definitely going to relate to Boone how I stepped right onto No-Bark's bear trap and ended up with nice chunks of my leg missing. No-Bark......
My hands were shoved into the hoodie's deep pockets. My right hand crushed Boone's beret, and inside that, folded up neatly, was Carla's bill of sale. That's why I was going through with this, mind you. Reading about a pregnant woman being sold like a slab of Brahmin meat infuriated me more than I can really convey in words. After hearing Jeannie May prattle on earlier this week, about how Carla probably left Boone, and then tearing this shit out of her safe.....the anger sparred me to continue. Justice is my number one rule.
Justice made me nervous. The hand that wasn't clutching Boone's beret like it was my last Stimpak rose up to rap hurriedly on the motel lobby door. I didn't have to wait long. Rustling inside could be heard, and I stepped back as Jeannie May exited, locking the lobby door and turning to me.
"Well hello there dear...is there anything I can get for you? I was just about to head home. Your room okay?"
She glanced at me; I'm sure my cheeks were pale as death...well, they always were, but still. My heart was racing. You bitch, you murderer...
"What's wrong child? You look like you've just seen a ghost!"
"Ma'am," I said, licking my lips, and turning my nerves into what I hoped was a genuine grimace of fear, "I think....I think there's a Legion raiding party coming. I was just out for a walk and saw..."
"Oh, no!" The Legion scared Jeannie for an entirely different reason....the woman had slave dealings with them after all. She definitely wouldn't want anyone to show up and ruin her secret. She'd be ruined. Wrecked. Lynched, probably, and she knew it. I was going to use her fear to coax her into Boone's sight, if I could. She breathed, "Have you told Boone, up in the dinosaur?"
I had been working on my reply all afternoon, while Jeannie ran the lobby and Boone slept, prepping for his night shift. I shook my head frantically. "No ma'am...I...I'm not sure if it IS the Legion and if it isn't, I don't want to bother him...I talked to him yesterday and he was really rude so...."
It was believable. For someone whose first words to me were literally, "Goddammit! Don't sneak up on me like that!" with such vehemence that I felt like pushing him out of Dinky's mouth, it wasn't hard for anyone to accept that Boone was a bit of a.....douche. Someone I think most people here avoided.
"Good point," she said, accepting the bait, and pocketing her keys, turning fully to me. "Boone is a good boy, his heart's in the right place, but he's just not been very hospitable since his wife left him..."
I pressed. "I was hoping you could come take a look just to make sure. Before we wake everyone up. They're pretty far away. I don't know if Boone sees them, but I don't think he has, because I haven't heard gunshots. If it's merchants...or....or.."
Playing a timid, stupid outsider --who couldn't even tell a merchant band from a Legion raid party crossing Clark Field-- suited me well. I can't tell you how that realization thrilled me. Maybe I'm just a good actress.
"Let's hurry us up and have a look. If it's the Legion, I'll know. And we can tell Mr. Boone, and wake up Manny and the others." Jeannie wrapped her shawl tightly around herself, and headed toward the field with no hesitation. She walked hurriedly, and I jogged to keep up to her. Huffing as we went along the hard rock, I tried very hard not to look behind me at Dinky the Dinosaur's big doofy smiling face. Ahead of me, Jeannie halted. We were far now, about thirty yards away from Boone, who was lurking in his comical death shack, undoubtedly watching my every move.
"Where did you see them?" she said, looking very hard into the ill-lit night, breaking my train of thought......my thoughts of Boone.
"Hang...hang on. They were.....over there..." I said, pointing to a random spot. The older woman's head shot in that direction, and I withdrew something else I had in my pocket...a pair of binoculars. "Here, I saw them with this," I supplied helpfully.
She snatched the binoculars and brought them up to her sight. The angle Jeannie May was looking turned her back toward me, so she didn't even see what I did next. Exhaling slowly, butterflies fluttering around, I withdrew Boone's beret, unfolded it, seeing a blur of red in front of me, and pulled the itchy cap down over my blond hair.
He had made sure that the stranger knew he didn't trust her. He had been cynical enough to not hope for anything. Yet out in the peaceful night, she hurried across the rocks with Jeannie May. Boone recognized the stranger's platinum blond hair, her untidy locks gleaming in the faint moonlight. And the sniper's sharp eyes knew Jeannie as well as anyone.
"What the......." Boone breathed. Was this a coincidence? Did the stranger have a habit of taking old ladies out on midnight strolls right in his line of sight, or was this it? Not that Boone believed Jeannie more innocent than anyone else in this fucking town. But was he was about to taste revenge......? Although his hand was steadily resting against the trigger, his face as dark as ever, that long-dead part of Boone flared up with excitement.
The stranger spoke with the woman, but Boone was too far away to hear what was said. The older woman took a set of withdrawn binoculars, and looked out west with them, obviously enraptured for whatever the stranger had told her existed out there in the desert. Still, Boone only half-held his rifle at the ready. The tall, lean stranger withdrew something else: something red. Boone's shrewd eyes widened slightly, and then his dark brow lowered. He brought the sight upward, glaring down the familiar scope.
Now the outsider was magnified, her porcelain face stony as she put the beret on. That was all Boone needed. Some part of him, somewhere deep down, though she'd presented no evidence as of yet, trusted this woman......
He redirected his sights.
I could almost feel the sniper's cold eyes on me as I pulled his beret down. A pit was growing in my stomach, and my hands fell at my side, limply. There was nothing more for me to do.
Jeannie had seen my movement, and now paused, turning from my binoculars to look at me, confusedly. She suspiciously eyed the beret, and my probably horrified expression. "Why are you wearing--"
I have never seen a cleaner shot, nor have I ever stood so close to someone whose head just got ripped off by a .50 cal bullet. I blinked, twice, as the squishy-exploding sound rang in my ears, and Jeannie May's head literally exploded, a mere three feet away from me. Blood splashed onto my cheek and neck, and my lips pursed, nostrils flaring instinctively. The cadaver seemed suspended for a moment, then it plopped to the ground. Without inspecting it too thoroughly, I bent down and retrieved my binoculars.
Turning in the moonlight, I saw the tip of a smoking rifle disappear between two rows of sharp T-Rex teeth. Although I wasn't pleased to have her blood splashed on me, I was happy that I had helped bring justice to Boone. Adjusting the beret, and feeling better than I had in over a day, I made my way back to Dinky the Dinosaur, both nervous and excited to see his deadly inhabitant once again.
So many had fallen under his rifle, Boone was used to it. But a shiver of adrenaline ran up his back as Jeannie's body floundered. Adrenaline, and disgust. He lowered the rifle as the stranger turned toward him. She was looking directly at him, it seemed, and Boone paused, caught off-guard. Then she adjusted the beret--his beret-- and began to walk back towards Novac's entrance. Although he was nowhere, nowhere near willing to admit it, Boone thought the beret looked good on her.