Chapter Twenty-Five | The Man Comes Around

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Sweetwater Casino was practically glowing with glitz and glamour. Boss had decided to throw a party in honor of the untimely demise of her only competition, and all of Lead Belly was invited. Bodies of every shape, species, and size pushed through the spinning doors and into the already bustling gambling hall.

Cash adjusted her black duster with a tug as she made her way down from Boss's office, where the two had been having an impulsive tet-a-tet. The sound of Csy's singing overtook her almost immediately. The therian was clad from head to toe in a white jumpsuit, tassled at the shoulders, that clung tightly to every square inch of their, currently, androgynous form. The song that spilled from their lips was something about an old earth brothel, the entrapments of vice, and a rising sun. Cash was too distracted by the warm crackle of their tone as they leaned dramatically into the microphone to make much sense of it.

Asimov and Gideon were at the bar, watching their mutual love interest with contrasting and yet somehow identical expressions of pride and ardor. Cash patted them both on the back as she passed, making her way through the throngs of people toward the gambling half of the institution. Tate stood at the entrance to the casino, directing a new security guard in her duties. Cash tipped her hat in his direction, and Tate waved, a toothy smile lighting up his face.

Cash moved through the crowds. Taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Boss's success. A feeling of pride overwhelmed her, and she pushed against the tide of bodies until she found herself outside on the street that paralleled the entrance. She sat on the edge of the curb and withdrew a cigar from her jacket pocket. The warm and sharp bite of smoke that filled her mouth gave some comfort as she took in a puff and then released it slowly, letting the smoke curl and blow away in the breeze.

Cash felt a cold chill overtake her as if the hand of death had run its fingers over her bones. She looked over the burning tip of her cigar, down the long road running from the casino to the center of town. Businesses and apartments seemed to lean toward its gravity. The sun was setting behind the jagged edge of the caldera, sending long tendrils of shadow down the pavement toward her and turning the sky around it a deep blood red. Through the smoke of her cigar, a shape slowly made its way down the center of the road. Motors and bikes honked as they moved around the ambling form, curses streaming past Cash as they continued on.

Cash stood slowly, her cigar hanging limply against her bottom lip. The sounds of the celebration behind her seemed to dim into a dull roar. The blaze of a twilight sun rippled the air in waves. Turning the city around her into a mirage. Dread began to boil in the pit of her stomach as the figure moved ever closer with an even step. The darkening sky shrouded their approach in shadow, and Cash instinctually steadied her hand against the handle of her pistol.

"Cash!" a familiar twang rang out as the figure drew closer, their voice echoing down the corridor of the roadway. "Cash Guthrie!"

The twang of their voice slapped her across the face.

"No fucking way," she murmured to no one in particular.

Cash waited as Calvera's gleaming white suit grew ever closer and more defined.

"Cash!" he yelled again, voice unmistakable and harsh as it battered Sweetwater's doors. "Come face me, Cash!"

Cash looked up as Tate's brutish form lumbered up beside her.

"Calvera," he said simply, "this surprise."

"You're telling me, bud," Cash said with a sigh, taking a long drag from her cigar.

"I get, Boss," he said, turning to the door. "You got this?"

Cash nodded. "I got this," she said before taking a step onto the road. The air had grown eerily still. Calvera stopped in the center of the street, a motor with his now dearly departed casino's logo painted on it halted behind him, blocking most of the road. Curious, other motorists stopped and emerged from their modes of transportation, gawking at the two people taking up more than their fair share of the street.

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