Chapter: Gunpowder and Old Lace
“Madame Lettie.” I stopped at the doorway to her office. We had moved all the rugs and most of the furniture out earlier in the day to make up our new hospital wing on the lower floors. She stood at the mirror in the far corner. She held a leather corset around her bare torso.
“Zip me up, darling.”
I swallowed and shuffled across the floor to her. “Yes ma’am”
My hands were sweaty, so I wiped them off on the leather armor I’d been given. Gods she was beautiful. Even in war, she smelled nice. Up went the zipper and I gently tapped her shoulders. Padding? Even with the padding, she had all the right curves.
“Thank you doll.” She turned and smiled. “Come out to the balcony.”
“Over there by the scope.” She pointed to a mounted telescope. “Bring the couch over here boys.”
I turned to see Benny and Rob carrying a low couch between them. They set it next to the railing on her balcony.
“It’s too tall, lift it for a minute won’t you?”
They grunted and did as they were told.
With a few quick thrusts, she knocked the legs off the couch with her tiny fists. They’d been wrapped by the doctors earlier. Like the boxers, I’d seen on fight night.
“Thank you boys” She kissed each of them on the cheek and waved them away.
“Um, Madame Lettie…” I wiped my hands on my apron again.
“I heard you’ve got nice sharp eyes.” She walked over and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Do you think you could do me a favor and look through that scope and call out nice and loud everything you see for me?”
I swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”
Then her fingers raked through the hair at the back of my head and I shivered. She gently pushed something into my ears making sounds go fuzzy and soft.
“What about your ears?” I blurted.
She smiled and kissed me. The world stopped for a bit of hot breath and soft lips.
I watched her saunter over to the couch and pull out a large rifle case.
“Oh, light.” I breathed. That was the biggest rifle I’d ever seen. It was Lettie’s favorite gun, the one they said you’d die for touching. She laid down on the couch and embraced that weapon like a lover, kissing the stock next to her face. Then she gave me a thumbs up.
I swallowed hard. We were really at war. I looked through the scope to see dust trails pluming up in the distance. I squinted at them
“Mesh is out front with two on her ride. A shield on the back.”
I swallowed again raising my voice. I was too quiet. Swinging around I saw the rides chasing her. Iron Works.
“Iron Works are hot on her trail.”
Panning the scope.
“They got a gunner on the third from the left ride.”
A second later I felt thunder. The ride I’d named burst into flames and careened off to the left.
“The center one is gaining on Mesh.”
More thunder. This one didn’t burn but it swerved into its neighbor.
“Second from the right looks like it’s full of shields.”
Two peels of thunder. They flipped, bodies flew everywhere, crushed under the wreckage. I panned the scope only two left in pursuit.
“Last two, they’re swerving back and forth.” I stole a glance to see Lettie smile before she pulled the trigger twice.
I looked back into the scope to see burned wreckage from where the two rides had collided. Men stumbled from them and thundered rumbled till there wasn’t a soul standing. My legs gave out from shaking.
Lettie looked over and blew me a kiss.
Happy Birthday Sam
“Come in darling.” I said licking my fingers.
I raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
Mesh shook her head and walked across the kitchen to me.
“You sure about selling?” She nuzzled my cheek.
I brushed at my apron. “Hmmmm? Oh yeah.”
“Lettie what’s on …”
“Does this look right to you?” I waved to the cake sitting on the table.”
“What?” I brushed at my flour covered hair.
“He’ll love it.” She purred.
“I ain’t a cook so…”
“So you made a mess.”
I nodded looking at the carnage of the kitchen. Should tip the maids today.
“Hey Madame… may I ask you a question?”
“How can I help you?” I turned to the horse faced remnant. A postman Malcolm.
“Well how much for you to sing someone happy birthday?”
“One.” I said with a smile. “Who darling?”
He pointed over my shoulder to a dark haired lad in a white coat.
“Let’s go celebrate.”
Mesh licked me.
“Why?” I asked, falling out of my thoughts
“Cause you’re sweet.”
“Liar.” I growled.
“Not while you’re covered in sugar.”
I untied my apron. “I’ll be in the bath then.”
“Send that along won’t you?”
“Of course, I’m sure Sam will love it.”
“No peeking.” I ordered pulling Sam along.
“I’m not.” He purred as he patted his blindfold.
Into the little dining room right off his bar we went. He grunted as I pushed him into a chair.
“What’s all this fussing about?”
“You.” I whispered into his ear and then pulled off the blindfold.
His table had been set for three with candles, a simple white cake in the middle and a basket of fresh baked bread. Both bought off a local baker with a loan from Betsy. Worth the soreness on my ankle.
“Aww Lettie.” He chuckled and kissed my cheek.”
“Besty will be along shortly with some drinks and later we can have a bath.”
“You’re spoiling me.”
“Someone has to.” I said kissing him.
I leaned back in my armchair in my little alcove on the second floor, as the singer took the stage. She was a pretty little Baywalker in her combat clothes. A King’s Court guest prone to warbling who paid a few pennies to my players for a bit of the spotlight.
I smiled at the bar boy, holding out a tray of a wine bottle and a pair of glasses.
“Over here sweetie.” I patted the little table to my right.
“Yes ma’am.” he smiled. “Give me a ring if you need me.”
I smiled, brushing his cheek with my knuckles. “Sweet cherub.”
“Madame Lettie.” Mesh held out a writing desk.
“Here Mesh.” I patted my lap.
She shooed away the bar boy and gently placed it. I pulled out a set of letters from my dress.
“I thought you finished the mail.” Mesh purred, nuzzling my knee.
“Just signing these.” I unfolded the letters and sipped my wine. Then it was a few quick slashes of my pen and a kiss of lipstick.
“Those two huh.” Mesh looked over the letters.
“Yes Mesh, they are the ones wanting to dance.” I ran my fingers through her hair.
The music turned from jazzy jigs to lament lullaby. I brushed Mesh’s hair and sang along.
“I saw an angel of that I’m sure.”
Mesh rose a few moments later and kissed my cheek.
I smiled as she poured herself some wine.
“Exercising your lungs?”
“Practicing for a special request.” I said, fixing my shirt. A small piece of paper fell out. I picked it up and stared at the simple pictures on it. A pair of stick figures in dresses at a campfire. Then a pot of food and wine bottle.
“A request.” Mesh said, sipping. “You seem to like them in writing.”
I folded it and tucked it into my dress. “Cheeky girl.”
“Jealousy isn’t becoming.” I chided, sipping my drink.
Mesh snorted into her drink. She blushed beautifully.
Hands on Learning
“So Pix, i heard a rumor about you…” I grinned, “being a lady of pleasure like me.”
Shock, fear, and worry crossed her face for a moment before a smile crept onto it.
“Now don’t look so worried.” I beamed at her and Church. Church was a hedon priest who rant the temple we now sat in. “ I don’t mind healthy competition, but are you trying to go professional or is it more of a side gig?”
Pix looked concerned. “It is a side gig currently but I would like to go professional.
“Excellent.” I gave her a wolfish grin. “Well if you need any lessons.”
“Come by the house.”
“Oh that would be marvelous. Thank you.”
“I need to get my hands on some money.” I told Sam as I nursed a hooch.
“For that house?”
“And to hire a couple other workers.” I groaned. “I can’t be on my back and run the place.”
“You can do plenty on your back.” He grinned “But not everything.”
I blew him a kiss.
“I guess you could always ask Betsy for a loan.” He nodded to the fiery headed Yorker drinking at a back booth.
“Doesn’t she run the Butcher Shop?” I asked watching her.
“And gives out loan.” Sam shrugged. “Just a bit of a special deal.”
“Oh?” I turned back to him.
“You should ask her. She explains it better.”
“So I can come and learn?” Pix asked with wide eyes.
“Yes darling.” I purred. “I believe the best way to learn is a hands on method.”
She nodded eagerly.
“Hands on me, hands on them. Everyone enjoys.” I winked at Church.
“I’d say so.” Pix echoed Church’s nod.
I smiled at the eager girl. She wiggled and giggled prettily. I’m sure she had skills. But every gem could use a polish. Training up never hurt anyone either.
I smiled as Winnie walked in. He was a beautiful blusher. Ok, lesson one.
“Why hello Winnie, come to indulge?” I grinned.
He blushed. “Hello Madame Lettie.” Then he swallowed and eyed the door.
I winced as Betsy began to tattoo her mark into my chest. Her needle stabbing at a steady pulse.
“No whining.” Betsy mumbled.
“What's a little pain next to pleasure.” I grinned and gritted my teeth.
“Pleasure?” Betsy scoffed. “You broken in the head?”
“No just in the wallet.”
“After this that’ll be mended.”
“And I better get your heart when you die.”
“If I die.” I corrected.
She laughed again.
“Just wait and see the house I build.” I smiled “It will be something grand.”
“Let’s see it.” Betsy grinned evilly and pressed on.
New Year Kiss
Pop. The wine bottle cork flew across the bar. I slapped it still.
“What are we drinking Sam?”
“Something Sinful.” he said pouring into two glasses.
I could use a taste of sin. I smiled at Sam, watching his muscles ripple under his shirt. He looked older than I knew him to act.
“What is the occasion?”
He slid into the stool next to me.
“New year with new friends.” He slid me the glass.
I held it up. “A salute to you Sam.”
“For what?” he chuckled, raising his glass.
“Saving me and serving the best booze.”
He clicked our glasses together. “Someday I’ll be making my own.”
“Oh?” I tilted my head. I licked my lips and the wine on them.
“Got me a still, gonna brew now.”
“Can I taste test?” I leaned closer to him.
“Sure.” He shrugged giving me a crooked grin. “Hope it doesn’t burn your tongue.
“You can always check it for me after.” I sipped and wiggled my eyebrow.
Sam reached over and grabbed my chin, tilting my face towards his.
“Why Sam.” I cooed, setting down my glass.
“Lettie.” he leaned closer. “Wanna share my bed?”
The clock began to chime. 12...11...10...9…
I nodded. “Thought you’d never ask Sam.” 8...7...6...5…
He chuckled. “Waiting for a moment.” 4...3...2…
“Waiting wh…” 1
Sam’s kiss cut off my question. I gasped in my breath and felt fire.
First kisses always burned like Hooch.
“Well you’re a real tough cookie with a long history/of breaking little hearts like the one in me.”
I stood beside Cuppe’s table waiting on a sweet hot cup drink. Sergius snuck up beside me and I grinned. Come to play with fire?
“I heard you’ve been looking for me?” I grinned at the wary soldier. I could use a spar.
He looked away.
“Aren’t I pretty dangerous? You sure you wanna come close?” I watched the blush creep up his cheek as I stepped closer.
“Ummm yeah, but it is you.” He grunted.
I giggled. Brave boy. “So what were you looking for?”
“You staying for a bit?” He asked, sneaking glances at me.
“Yes, all night.”
“Good.” He growled and walked off.
I smiled. Run run
“That’s okay, let’s see how you do it/Put up your dukes, let’s get down to it.”
“Getting something pounded Sergius?” I purred sneaking a peek over his shoulder.
“Just a gift…,” he said blinking and blushing.
“Oh gift?” How sweet.” I giggled.
He stood and stared.
“Can’t wait to see it.” I walked off to my lounge. Darling deer.
“You come on with it, come on/You don’t fight fair/That’s okay, see if I care.”
I twirled the sparkling glass vial now hanging around my neck. “Thank you, Sergius.”
He shivered and turned to face me. He and his people had set up defenses by the door.
“Well thought you needed something as pretty as you are.”
“And as dangerous?” I smiled. The vial was full of powdered nightshade.
“Well yes, it is you.” He smiled.
“So are you giving me just the gift tonight?” I stared at him, serenely smiling.
He blushed more. “No…. I want you.”
Brave boy indeed. “Oh?”
“Yes, Madame Lettie.”
“Well now. That can be arranged.” I grinned at him.
“I know I’ll probably have to pay.”
Everyone pays. “Let’s sit and talk about it.”
“Knock me down, it’s all in vain/I get right back on my feet again.”
“I want to know what you want. What the great Madame Lettie wants.” Sergius said as I sat on his lap, arms around his neck.
“I want…” I looked at the door for a moment before grinning. “I am a lady of pleasure.”
“I want to see the real you, not the chameleon for everyone. I want to see what you desire. What do you want.” He passionately pleaded with me. Determination hardened his blushing cheeks.
I considered his question, finger tapping my chin.
“Why did you have to be a rotter?” My mother
“I thought you wouldn’t even want me.” Scrimshaw
“Better get you a mask girl, no on will want you.” I want to be loved.
“I want to give. I truly enjoy it.” I said nuzzling Sergius’s cheek.
“Well, I want to give to you.” He said squeezing me in a hug.
“I would hope so since you want me.” I gave him a wink.
“I’m sure I can keep up,” he grunted, proudly puffing his chest.
“Are you sure I am a Hedon with an appetite. Lust is one of my favorite virtues.”
He blushed. “I’d happily die for that.”
I nuzzled his cheeks again. “Dangerous choice.” I purred.
He smiled. “Worth it.”
“Before I put another notch in my lipstick case/ You better make sure you put me in my place.”
Sergius buried his nose in my collar, taking a deep breath. “Ahhh. That’ll keep me.”
I smiled and ran my fingernails across his scalp. He shivered and melted under my hand. Sergius had postponed his request, choosing to be a diligent guard for the Hearthlands.
“Are you sure?” I gave him a wolfish grin.
He nodded. “But I’ll want more next time.”
“Playing with fire.” I cooed.
“And I’ll happily burn.” He purred back.
“Hit me with your best shot/Fire away.”
Wrestling with Worry
I shook off my coat as I walked into the Heartland house.
“Welcome home.” one of my girls called as she took my coat.
“Has Mesh arrived yet?”
“Yes. ma’am she’s checking your rooms.”
I walked past the girls with a small wave.
“Ahh Madame Lettie.” Happy called from behind Rations cooking. We should talk.”
“Where’s Betsy?” I called back. Rumors had already reached me. I wanted answers not awkward mumbles and vacation tales.
“We should talk.” Happy scrambled around the table. “Your place or mine.”
“Let’s do yours.”
I looked out my window onto the dark woods.
I turned to see Mesh standing on the carpet behind me.
“You should rest.”
I turned back to the window.
“Are you worried?”
I shrugged, smiling.
She growled and I felt her arms around my waist.
Then I was being thrown. I hit the carpet and rolled. Mesh landed on top of me.
“Don’t do that to me.” Mesh barked.
“Excuse me”?” I brought my hand up to push her off.
She grabbed my wrists and held them. “Hide how you feel, she growled leaning closer to my face.
“Mesh, get off.”
She gave me a quick kiss and a playful smile. “Make me.”
I sighed and rocked us both. Then it was tumbles and tangling of limbs. Punctuated with growls and grunts until I rested on top pinning Mesh down with arms wrapped around hers and hands on shoulders.
“Enough!” I leaned over her, glaring down.
Mesh relaxed. “Are you worried?”
“She was taken by the Buckeyes.” Happy said, looking at the ground.
I sighed, biting my lip. Ruining my lipstick.
“Seems she antagonized them.”
“Of course she did.” I laughed. Nerves clenched my gut.
“We are working on getting her back.I’m putting together a group to find out more.” Happy gave me a grin.
“Ok Happy, I’m sure she’ll be fine.” I smiled at him. Can’t let people see me worried. “Thank you Happy.”
“Of course.” He patted my shoulder.
I leaned down and kissed Mesh’s nose. Then untangled myself. I went back to the window.
“Yes Mesh.” I sighed. “Of course I am. We bleed the same as everyone else.” I wiped away blood and ick from a rot patch on my arm.
Mesh walked up and hugged me. “She’ll come home.”
I nodded. “We need to be ready to welcome her.”
“Yes ma’am.” Mesh nuzzled into my shoulder.
Don’t break my heart.
“Is that the reports from Berry’s place?” I asked. Paperwork piled around the edges of the desk as my ledger sat opened before me. Numbers daned faster than the girls during a gala. I hated it.
Mesh nodded. setting down a sheaf of papers.
I growled. She walked over and nuzzled my shoulder.
“You are the one who asked for everyone to report to you.”
I raised my eyebrow.
“I’m done Madame.” She said nuzzling my cheek before standing and fixing her new fur skirt. A gift from me gloriously filled by her.
“I do hate this work.” I sighed.
She nodded. “There is one more thing here for you Madame.”
Mesh walked over to my sitting area and pulled out a large length of fur. She held it up. White and golden tan and soft looking.
“A giftymas delivery.”
I smiled. “Did she leave a note?”
“Just said it’d keep you as hot as you look.”
“Of course she did. Ain’t they getting ready for a gala at the trade meet?”
“Yes, Sam said he was opening a few kegs for it.” Mesh smiled. “Are you going to go?”
“I’m going to finish this work first. Maybe I can catch them between trades…..or at the next one.” I said picking up the paperwork that Mesh had brought.
“Ain’t ever celebrated a Giftymas with such pretty ladies.” Sam said as he set down a tray of mugs.
“You’re such a sweetie Sam.” I said leaning over and kissing his cheek.
“Now that ain’t true.” he said chuckling. “Y'all settle down. I’m gonna go check to see that everything shut up properly for the night.”
Betsy eyed me from her seat. A rough and tumble gal that spoke her mind, loudly.
“Here.” She said chucking a small paper wrapped package at me.
I picked it up and tore open the paper. Two shiny metal rings dropped free of the package.
“Well ain’t these something.” I cooed, turning them over in my palm.
“If you don’t want it I’ll take them back.” She growled, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You keep your hands to yourself unless you want to run them up and down my body.” I said with a wink. “I love them.”
She huffed a bit more until I walked around the table and kissed her cheek. “Thank you Betsy.”
“Well you needed something as pretty as you are.” She mumbled.
“Then I’ll just have to keep you on me.”
Betsy burned with a blush as I reached for a cup.
“To a very merry Giftymas.”
“Go and get the upstairs hearths going,” I ordered two of the bar boys.
“Yes, Madame.” They nodded and jumped to work.
“Good." I pulled up the shawl around my shoulders at the nippy bits of cold breeze coming through our constantly opening doors. Other girls sat curled up in laps with shawls and blankets covering them and their patrons. I nodded smiling to the eyes that followed me around the room. It would be a busy season for my house. Cold brought people in, the company kept them. Season of snuggles after all. I bustled up the stairs, My office held a pile of paperwork and a cheerily crackling fire started by Mesh.
“Good girl.” I purred, sitting down beside it and warming my back. I hated the cold, it made me ache in all the worst ways. The door opened on me stretching near the hearth.
“Yes? What is it?” I asked of my girl leading in a tall Retro lad. I wasn’t accepting any clients in my office.
“This man would like a job.” She said with a curtsy.
“Oh?” I waved him in. “Go on back to work darling. I’ll handle this.”
She nodded and fled. He stepped in, looking sheepish. He was tall and muscular with a few scars marring his cheek and hands. I eyed him with a smile. A few swishing hip steps later I put my hand on his face, tilting his chin up.
“Hello, Madame Lettie.” He blushed. “My you are just as pretty as they say. I was hoping I could get a job guarding for you over this cold season…”
I put my finger to still his lips. Man has a mouth on him. “Hush up.” I grabbed his forearm with my free hand and squeezed it. “You’ve got some meat on you.”
He blushed again. “Well thank you. I used to do lots of lifting and packing for the last caravan I was on.” He said around my finger.
I traced my finger down his chin and slowly circled him, pinching and poking arms and legs. He jumped a few times making me grin.
“Why did you leave the caravan?” I asked as we faced each other again.
“I wore a sack to hide my face and while good work it got bad during the summer when I was sweating like mad and not sure I want that freezing to my face.” He said, rubbing his neck.
I stepped forward and put my leg between his, tracing up it. Then I pulled his left foot forward with mine and pushed. Down he went to the floor. I straddled his waist and sat on him.
He stared up at me, wide-eyed. “I heard looking in your eyes was like looking into a beast hunting for dinner.”
I giggled and leaned forward. “And don’t folks just line up to be devoured.”
“I uh… I got kicked from my caravan.” He stammered.
“Why?” A troublemaker and a talker.
“Got into a fight about wearing that mask. Heard you didn’t have to wear them in the Heartland.”
“That’s true.” I smiled down.
“So can I work for you?” He asked with large puppy dog eyes.
I raised an eyebrow. “Maybe.”
“I will have to see how you do. Tonight there will probably be one or two troublemakers starting fights. Get the girls clear and chuck the men outside to cool off. “ I told him as I stood up.
He laid red-faced for a few moments.
“When your groins settled, get up and get yourself something to eat before we get packed.”
He nodded and stared up at the ceiling.
I returned to the fire to warm myself some more. The cold brought everyone in. The company kept them.
"Lettie!" Mesh yelped tearing around the parlour door with a glare for my guest. The pureblood huffed.
I put my hand on his knee, leaning forward. "Douglas, would you please give me a moment?"
The pureblood blushed, but nodded.
"Mesh?" I'd give that girl something to yelp about.
I raised my eyebrow.
"Madame Lettie, may I speak to you privately?" She hissed, eyes darting to Douglas.
Douglas looked at me like a dog worried he'd be put out.
I sighed and rang a bell.
"Douglas won't you get comfortable in a bed?" I said as one of my gals sauntered in.
I smiled and kissed his hand.
Mesh kneeled by my chair.
She waited as the door closed, practically vibrating.
"Did you die?"
"Last trade did you die?"
"Does it look like Betsy butchered me?"
"Do I look that bad today?"
"Douglas likes my look."
"Lettie!" Mesh hit the floor.
She recoiled as I cuffed her. Blood dribbled down her chin.
"Explain then." I ordered.
"There is a rumour running like fire. You died to raiders and went to the gravemind. Then made a deal with it to take the raider instead."
"And that you stole a remnant's voice so you could sing for it cause it really wants a lullaby and Madame Lettie is the best to take to bed.”
I put my finger to Mesh's lips.
"I'm sure I did no such thing. Betsy would've cleaned my carcass if I had. And why are you licking me?" I removed my hand and wiped it in her hair.
"Cause weren't you drunk?"
I narrowed my eyes, "Yes, for a while there. So?" That was nothing new.
"How do you know it didn't happen?"
"But she was shitfaced too." Mesh interrupted.
I cuffed her again, getting a whine. With pursed lips, I stared at her. Ain't wrong there. I didn't remember more than a warm feeling in my gut after that shot of Orphan Tears.
She stared, "So?"
"Did you die?"
A growl from Mesh.
I patted her head. "Is that all?"
"No," She pulled out a bundle, "Sam sent along letters."
"Oh goodie, mail time!" I clapped my hands.
"Stop that," I shooed her out with the bundle.
“Welcome home Madame Lettie!”
I smiled as I settled my skirt and sat in the chair behind my desk.
“Thank you Mesh.”
The smiling Natural One scampered in with bare feet. Mesh walked over to my desk as I pulled out the ledger book. “How have things been?”
“Quiet enough. Couple troublemakers tossed out a week ago.” Mesh leaned against the desk her fur skirt cushioning. She had thick thighs that defied the constraints of pants far too often.
“Anyone get hurt?” I scanned the numbers . They’d been kept meticulously. Must of been Maria this time.
“Not any of ours.” Mesh tucked her hands behind her.
I laid my hands on her thigh palm up.
Mesh put her bandaged wrist in it.
“Someone shot my shield.” She grimaced at the memory. Her aversion to guns ran deep. “Who carved on you?”
“Doctors in Betsy’s shop.” I gently rubbed her wrist.
“No she ain’t ever getting that money back.” I dropped her wrist. Not even with Scrimshaw paying.
“So everyone got Vault sick?”
I nodded, smiling up at her painted face. White lines carved down from the corners of her eyes were always crisp while the red from the tip of her nose to her mouth was always smudged.
“So did that cook come back?” Mesh leaned in with a wolfish grin.
I nodded. “He did. We had a little chat.”
“A courting chat at that.”
I closed the book and stroked her chin. “Your spies been busy.”
“Ain’t I supposed to keep you safe?” She asked nuzzling my hand.
“I pay you to keep this house safe.” I told her.
“You’re the life of this house.”
“If that were true.” I took my hand away. “I’d never leave bed.”
She giggled. “Don’t think many would be unhappy with that.”
“So what else did they tell you?”
“That you and Sam made up, a little doctor sang to you and you were drunk.”
“Then they missed the man calling me a flower.” I leaned back in my chair.
“Oh?” She stood up
“Apparently I’m a nightshade darling.”
“I’ll have to talk to them about missing such things.” She whispered.
“Do it later. We need to prepare for all the travelers. Twelve Knots is upon us and people will be needing beds before and after that meeting.” I waved my hands at the house. “We’ve got work to do.”
“Yes Madame.” Mesh bowed and headed for the door.
“Tell the girls to light the hearths. Everyone will need a welcome home.”
I dipped my fingers into the large brass bath. The water was delightfully warm.
“Bath is ready Sam. “ I called slipping out of my robe. My freshly carved skin was still pink where the doctors had cut off infected rot. We had been scrapped, sliced and stuck with our shots in the comfort of Betsy’s back room.
Sam hobbled around the screen without his kilt and his shirt sliding off his shoulders.
“My my Sam ain’t you had a bath since I left?”
He shook his head no.
“Good. Glad the girls listened to me.” I slipped into the tub with a soft splash. “And you ain’t charming them past sense.”
“Hey!” he softly growled. “That’s my bath.”
“It’s ours or simply mine.” I gathered my hair into a horse tail.
He grumbled as he joined me with a plop. Water sloshed on the floor.
“Hey Lettie, did you buy that dress with my money?”Betsy called as I walked up.
“How else would I buy it.” I swished my hips.
Betsy nodded. “Looks good on you.”
“Looks even better on the floor.” I gave her a wink.
Betsy smiled. “Sounds about right.”
“You coming over later to see?” An eyebrow wiggle.
“I just might.” The gruff yorker said, looking me up and down.
I giggled and walked away.
Sam moaned over the side of the tub as I rubbed his leg. He always had knots like rocks in his calves.
“Sam sweetie you need to rest more and not deliver so many letters.”
“Ok when you give up your whoring.”
I smiled, pressing down hard.
He gasped then purred.
I laughed. “We’re getting old Sam.”
“You ain’t.” He purred. “I’ve been old.”
“Young where it counts.” I kept massaging.
“Hey!” a man called as I staggered to my feet. Blood bubbling from a cut in my lips.
“What’s going on here?”
The men who had been picking a fight glared at the man. “Just teaching a rotter a lesson.”
I spit and sneered.
The man was also a retrograde with a staff in his hands. “Get out of here.”
They eyeballed us, grumbling but leaving.
I sank down onto the dirty street. My fists were bloody, as much from my own punches as from blackening eyes. “Thanks.”
He nodded, reaching out for me. “Come on. You don’t have to sit on the street.”
I smiled. “I’m Lettie.”
“I’m Sam.” He said taking my hand. “The Saloon Man.”
“You don’t say, I sure could use a cool drink.”
He smiled and winked. “Well best come with me, Miss Lettie.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
“I want to know what you do.”
“I’m a lady of pleasure. I do what makes people happy.” I settled into my seat across from my client.
“Well I guess I’d like to know what you do in the be...bedroom.”
I smiled at the bashfulness. “Usually sex.”
I giggled at the blush. “Usually the thrusting of an erect penis into a hole to the mutual enjoyment of both.”
My client was red and avoiding my eyes.
“Sex isn’t the only thing my girls and I do.” I fiddled with a bit of my skirt. “We also provide other calming services like baths and cuddling. Things that bring pleasure.”
“Oh ok. Well um…. can I ask how you….how you became...”
“A lady of pleasure.” I smiled before sighing.
“You don’t have to answer.”
“I can’t keep feeding you.” My mama said her back to me. “You need to find work.”
I scratched at the rot on my face.
“And you need to wear your damn mask.” My mama hissed turning around. Her fist were clenched.
I pulled my mask back down onto my face. “Yes Mama.”
“Well get on with it.” She jerked her hand at the door.
I raced out onto the dirty streets.
“I found out that if I was real nice to men, and used my charming personality that they would give me money.” I smiled at my patron.
“That makes sense, you just used your strengths to make money.”
“Yes, I liked to make people happy and then I found my faith Hedon. Everything made sense.” I flattened my skirt.
“Ain’t like any of them are gonna touch a rotter.” a retro growled from his table in the corner. He and his friends had come in to celebrate payday, guards from the look of them. They scowled at the girls ignoring them.
I rose and straightened my skirt before strutting over. “Hey boys.”
All heads turned.
“How are the roads tonight?” I leaned over on the table.
“Hello doll, why you heading out?” the closest one asked, eyeing my dress.
“Well I’m a bit bored tonight so figured I’d go home to bed.” I licked my lips and gave them a small smile.
“I’d hate for you to have to walk alone, wanna stay and have a drink?” he asked with a smile.
“Will you walk me home after?” I blinked a few times at him.
“Yes, I’d be honored.” he said, grin widening.
“Won’t be too much trouble?” I smiled wide.
“I don’t think so.”
“So did you….study?”
“Yes, if someone was better than I was at something I’d save up and hire them. Then spend the night studying.” I gave a wolfish grin. “Those were some of my favorite nights.”
“Thank you for talking to me.”
I smiled at the blurted words. “Of course. You’ll come to me if you have more questions won’t you?”
“Wonderful. I’m here to help.”
Pride Before Fall
“Then I’ll die!” Scrimshaw snapped at the doctor.
In my lounge, she had explained the procedure to cure our Vault sickness. Scrape off all the visible rot, blood transfusion from a clean source and an inoculation to stop the repeat of the illness. She was crestfallen at his answer.
“Scrimshaw.” Gentle voice, hesitant hands.
“No I’ll die first.” His hands clenched into fists.
He looked down. She left to find him hope.
“Duncan.” he hollered, barely in control.
The workbench pounding slowed. “Yeah?”
“They need to see under my mask. I don’t think they’re ready for that.”
“For the procedure?”
“I can do it. I’ll figure it out when I’m done here.” Duncan called back
Scrimshaw dug into the arms of my chair.
“Interesting.” I purred past my hand. Fucking idiot.
“What is?” Scrimshaw snapped, agitation still clouding his action.
“The way you talk to folks and how quickly you chose death.” I kept my face covered.
“You really don’t have any pride in who you are do you?” I asked.
“I’m plenty proud.” He snapped at my prodding.
“Are you really?” My hand dropped.
“Yes. The masks keep us safe. They’re for...safety.” he stuttered finally noticing my frown.
“Liar.” I kept my tone even.
“Lying? Right now the safe thing to do is take off the mask and get the procedure done, But you would rather die.” I growled. “So don’t feed me that lie. This is a matter of Pride.”
“I don’t understand the laws.” Cassandra asked as we sat in our three person Hedon meeting.
“What parts?” I smiled at the priestess.
“Well the honoring the dead is the most confusing.” she mumbled.
I settled back in my chair. “You know the dead are lost loved ones, and the Keepers are very old. Some of those zed could be their friends, loved ones or friends of their friends.”
“They ask you not to be assholes to those they’ve lost. It's the same reasons they ask we keep our faces uncovered.” I waved to my rot. “This would get me shot elsewhere but here they recognize that we’re close to death and ask those around us give us respect. They gave me pride. so I will gladly honor their requests.”
Cassandra smiled. “That makes a lot of sense.”
“The keepers have made a home here for more than just themselves.”
We sat in silence. Scrimshaw stared at the floor. My wrath bubbled.
“You need to find your pride.” I said rising in a rustle of skirts and marched away. My trigger finger itched and Scrimshaw needed to think about his choices.
“No one is gonna love a rotter. Look at how ugly you are.”
“Better find yourself a mask if you want any work girl.”
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? Put your fucking mask on.”
“I’m not hiding who I am ever again.” I repeated under my breath before smiling as the Hedons called me over.
“May I introduce Madame Lettie?”
“No.” The red clad guard said giving me his back.
“Oh?” I smiled.
“You’re dangerous.” He mumbled, still turned away.
“Little ol me?” I ran my hands down my sides, pistol shifting in the lacing of my dress.
“Oh yes you.” He shot a look over his shoulder, letting out a gruff laugh.
I smiled wide.
He blushed and turned back away. “Things as pretty as you are just as dangerous.”
I giggled. “Why thank you.”
He shivered, back muscles bunching. “Hmmm.”
“Sure you don’t want to know me?” I whispered leaning a little closer, winking over my shoulder at Vivian.
He whipped around, a little surprised at my proximity. “Yes, you’re like a cobra, pretty scales and poisonous. or like the Nightshade flower, all pretty purple but deadly.”
I stared into his eyes, smiling serenely. “Go on.”
He shut his mouth quickly and turned away. “You’re trouble.”
“One, two, three, they gonna run back to me/ ‘Cause I’m the best baby that they never gotta keep.”
I strutted over to the benches near the newly christened hot tub. The little remnant, Winnie, I had sang for was sitting on the ground.
“It’s you, the birthday boy.” I said as I sank down.
A blush flashed across his face. “Hello Ma’am. How are you?”
“I’m doing well.” I coughed a little. The illness still burned through my lungs.
“Feeling alright?” he looked concerned.
“Just a little ill, from the Vault.” I said waving it away.
He tilted his head. “If you say so ma’am” He looked down.
“Did you want to play doctor with me.” I gave him a wink.
There was the blush again. “I don’t think I would need to play that.”
“You could play with other things.” I giggled.
He blushed and smiled. “Are you a priest?”
“No.” I shook my head leaning forward.
“I bet I could have you calling the almighty all night.” He said quickly ducking his head to hid his smile and blush.
I laughed. “Why not come over and try.” I whispered.
“One, two, three, they gonna run back to me/ They always wanna come but they never wanna leave.”
Sergious the red clad yorker, had flitted back and forth all day. Sometimes brave enough to tussle with words, other times scampering away.
“You’re like a cat with a mouse.” Winnie had said when I’d baited the boy into a blush.
“Oh, I’m a kitty now am I? I thought I was a flower.” I lifted my voice to innocence.
Then Sergious was gone again, flustered.
I laughed. I enjoyed playing.
“Ex’s and the oh, oh, oh’s they haunt me/ Like ghosts they want me to make ‘em all/ They won’t let go”
Scrimshaw leaned over the little yorker Dodger. They were deep in conversation. I watched, curiosity tickling.
“Is that green I see in your eyes, Miss Lettie?” Sergious asked from his seat nearby.
“Green, brown, really any shade they need to be.” I said with a smile.
“I meant, you look a bit territorial.” he said, giving a little smile.
“Why? He’ll come when I call.” I flipped my hair and turned my attention toward him.
Sergious laughed, nodding.
“So the hearts keep breaking, and the heads just roll/ You know that’s how the story goes.”
"Sure I'll have another one it's early/Three olives, shake it up, I like it dirty."
I swished my skirts as I walked up the road to the tavern. My lungs felt like fire from the Vault opening, but my dress was a beauty bought with Betsy's money. Vivian my hospitable Hedon hostess followed behind. Time to stir trouble. There was Scrimshaw scuttling away.
"Guess that B stands for Bunny." I called out.
He froze. "It is good to see you Madame Lettie."
I walked past him. "Ain't it though."
"Tequila for my friend it makes her flirty"
I sat on a table near the workbench pounding of Duncan, the rover commander of Scrimshaw. He and the talkative doctor had paid their respects to Vivian and I when Scrimshaw walked up.
"We need to have words." Scrimshaw blurted.
"Oh do we?" I raised my eyebrow. Excuse me.
Scrimshaw's friends began to snicker.
"May we have words Madame Lettie?" Scrimshaw amended. That's better.
I looked over to Vivian. "Will you be ok if I go off?" Better learn patience pet.
Scrimshaw shifted from foot to foot as he waited. Vivian nodded. "Of course."
"If you need me, come find me." I told her.
She nodded. Ok pet let's see what you've got.
I rose to my feet. "We can have words." I waved him ahead.
"Wind me up and watch me go/where she stops, nobody knows."
I smiled in the sunshine, Scrimshaw's letter on my lap as he finished stumbling through his confession.
"So what do you want to do about it?" What does this mean to you?
He looked down. "Well I didn't think you'd want to court me."
I laughed. "I'm not the one who ran away when we met."
His mask may hide his face but that blush burned through.
"I think you need to decide if you want to court."
He looked down. "I want to court.
Do you now? "Ok." I giggled
"How does one go about courting the famous Madame Lettie?" He asked, grin on his voice.
Infamous in this dance.
"There is a song about me." I snuggled into the hammock. "Gifts,spending time together, kind words are usually how courting goes."
"We'll I can get you a gift." He mused.
"Everyone pays." I mumbled.
"I'm not ever paying for your time." He had said as we sat on our date. So full of fire.
"I'm making an investment." He said with just a touch of a growl.
"Oh like Betsy?" I said, running my hands over the many marks she left on my skin.
"No.... With time." He stumbled.
Time is as good as money. I smiled. "Sure sugar."
Scrimshaw and I chatted on about courting. Sweet Cherub.
"A good excuse to be/a bad influence on you."
"Heartbeats hammering into town, new faces should be shown around." warbled the drunk courtier as our caravan rumbled along.
I lounged on the group's bed rolls.
"There's Betsy the Butcher...."
"Not that verse...."
I smiled at the rowdy Hedons. "Oh be nice."
One crawled up to pat my knee, a pretty boy merican. "But we've got THE MADAME LETTIE. We should sing about her."
I reached out and patted his head. "Don't forget those two are dear to me."
He smiled and tapped Betsy's mark on my thigh. "I can tell."
"We all have debts to pay."
He nodded. "Can I get a discount?"
"Inhibiting my Greed?" Sweet dumb cherub.
"No ma'am. But had to ask." He crawled up to lay his head in my lap.
"No you didn't." I parted his hair and began to hum along with the courtier.
New beats bringing life to my town. I smiled. Gets a gals blood pumping.
“I wanna settle down/ I wanna settle down/ Won’t you settle down with me?”
I sipped at my hooch while my companion purred. She was a remnant with rich friends and soft fur covered ears.
“Care for a sip honey?”
She nuzzled my stomach before shaking her head. There would be rot rubbed into my shirt.
“Then lean up darling and I’ll brush out your hair.”
Obedience. My favorite trait in remnants. The girl purred again as I began to work out all the knots in her long brunette locks. I’d already run the girl a bath, wrapped her in soft blankets and held her close for two cups of hooch.
“We can settle at a table/ a table for two/ won’t you wine and dine with me?”
“Ma’am…. would you um…”
“Spit it out.” I said smiling at the bumbling rover before me.
“Well, I was wondering if you only do sex?”
I couldn’t stifle a giggle. “I’m a good time dear, any good time.” I winked at the lad.
He blushed beautifully. “Oh well…. how much to make my friend here feel loved.” He motioned to furry eared lass behind him.
“How do you want to be loved honey?” I asked the girl.
“I wanna feel like I have a family.” She squeaked out before hiding her face in her hands.
“Ten, and a room for the night.” I told the rover.
“I wanna raise a child/I wanna raise a child/Won’t you raise a child with me?”
“Where is the blanket?” my mama yelled from across our shack.
I raced over. “Here it is mama. I washed it for you.”
She snatched it out of my hands and quickly unwadded the cloth. She sighed as she reached the still damp middle.
She sighed again and draped it over a chair, by our fire.“Come here child.”
I walked over slowly.
She grabbed a brush from the mantle place. “Sit down dear.”
I did and mama began to brush out my hair. She hummed softly as she gently worked through the tangles.
Mama pulled me into a hug.
“I love you mama.”
“She wants to take you far/from the city lights and sounds deep into the dark.”
I pulled the blankets up around the remnant, brushing her hair out of her face. “Comfy darling?”
“Do you need anything else?”
She shook her head, eyes closing.
I bent over and kissed her forehead. “Sleep well child. Have sweet dreams.”
Letters from Home
I rolled out of my pile of pillows to the thunderous knocking.
Betsy needs another souvenir.
I growled, grabbing my pistol from between the silken sheets.
“Stop.” I said as I yanked open the door to a winded messenger. His black hair fell into his eyes as he stared at me.
“Yes?” I brushed my hair out of my eyes. My fingers shifted the half mask I had on.
“Letters Ma’am.” he held out the pieces of paper.
I took them and caught his shoulder as he turned to leave. “ You’re one of Sam’s boys right?”
“Ask downstairs for a bed and a meal.”
“Yes ma’am.” He began to walk away as I slammed the door.
Damn punctual Postmen. I flopped back down on the pillows. The heat of Gatorland left me sweaty. Not even in the good way. I sighed. “Now who sent me a letter?”
You told me to write you a letter. So I chose the letter P. Cause you are pretty.
I laughed, clapping my hand to my forehead. The mask shifted down into my eyes. The painted leather had absorbed my sleepy sweat, saving the hard work I had put into my makeup. At least as much as you could when you felt like you were swimming through the air. I peeled off the mask and a few small scraps of skin. Blood rolled down my cheek.
“Stupid heat.” I set Scrimshaw’s note aside, smiling. The second note was made of better paper.
Leo got the labels in recently, pleased as punch they all are about it too. I grabbed you a few when he handed them out. Come on home soon.
Also bring back my pants.
My smile grew. Sweet Sam. I picked up the labels that had fallen onto the bed from the center of the paper. They were gorgeous.
“I can see why Leo was so pleased.” I tucked them into the cloth wrapping around my chest. Best to keep them close to my heart.
I waved the bath attendant away as the lascarian shuffled in. Some tunnel Scavenger recommended for his carving skills.
“You called for me?”
“Yes. I need a trim.” I said lifting my left leg from the hot water. Green moltled skin against the length of smooth pink.
“Cut off the dead meat up on top won’t you?”
He nodded, hunger on his lips. “Yes'um”
I tapped his forehead as he knelt. “Only the top layer. Get greedy and you'll get nothing.”
He nodded again, drawing his blade. I swigged down hooch as the slices began. Sam's got better stuff. I sucked down the hooch and air. Pleasure and pain in balance.
Blood hot on my thigh.
“Why couldn't you have been a leftover?”
Skin pulled tight.
“Not a rotter. Anything but!”
The hum of the blade scraping bath's edge.
“No one's gonna love a corpse.”
My mother stood at the door. Rain washed the blood off my face. She hit like a mule's kick.
“Stupid girl. You'll wear your mask or get shot.” She barked. “Why don't you listen?”
Fear in her voice. She yells cause she loves me. I'm all she has left.“I'm sorry Mama.”
“Sorry ain't gonna save you. Get cleaned up.” She slams the door shut.
The rain will wash me better than any rag in our shack.
Sharp pain. My eyes open to the sheepish grin of the Scav as a line of blood darkens my bath.
“Sorry.” He mumbled.
I sighed. “Greedy gets nothing.”
He bristled, blade quivering.
I lifted my pistol from the bath side table. “Wanna see who's quicker?”
He slouches down.
He scurries away.
I retract my leg into the bath.
It'll wash away. Always does.
“Should've waited for Betsy. She'd have trimmed me right.”
“One step, two steps, counting tiles on the floor.”
People pranced in and out of the party with drunken staggering and slurring words. I floated between them toward the cushion covered corner room. The dashing guards put up a hand to stop me.
“Name?” They ordered.
Oh honey. “I’m the Madame Lettie from the Heartlands.”
They glared for a moment at my smiling face. Take a good look boys.
“After you ma’am.”
Damn right. I sauntered past them. The quieter back bar was less crowded and easier to maneuver through. I slid up to the bar, waving for the barman.
“Three steps, four steps, guess this means that I’m a whore.”
“Did you hear there some famous whore hanging around town.” A man whispered behind me at a table.
Speaking of the devil boys.
“Yeah but from what I hear she’s some SATE. You really want to be with a rotten corpse?” his companion’s disgust was palpable.
“I heard she’s a damn fine time. Extra holes or not.”
“Ain’t no rotter worth that. Should all be shot, especially if they ain’t got the decency to cover their faces.”
Oh bless your heart, you dumb fuck. I sipped at my drink, continuing to sloth.
They rose from their seat and walked by my table toward the bar. The grumpier of the two hissed as he passed my table. “Put your damn mask on rotter.”
I finished my drink. “No.” Time to indulge.
His hand went to his dagger. “Do as your told woman, or I’ll cut your tongue out.”
Before he could step closer, I fired my pistol. The vibrations rattled up my legs from where it had been lovingly cradled.
He sagged to his knees, clutching his stomach. I sauntered over, tosseling his hair.
“You should’ve minded your manners so I could’ve slothed.” I whispered into his ears and I put my pistol to his sword shoulder.
“Bitch Rotter.” He hissed.
“Now I guess I’ll indulge my wrath.” One shot, two, three, four. Off came his arm. He fell to the ground screaming. His friend stepped forward. I pointed my gun at him.
“Be a lamb and get me a sack won’t you?”
“What?” he stammered.
“I need a bag to wrap this up.” I kicked the arm. “Betsy is just gonna love it as a souvenir of my vacation.”
“I promise no more walks of shame,/ So walk this way!”
Pay for Play
“You wouldn't be here if they hadn't paid you.” He said, eyes glaring.
Oh you dumb cherub. I bit back the retort on my tongue. “How would you know. Didn't you run when I said hello.”
“No….they paid you first.” He stumbled.
Boy this ain't your battle. “No they paid me after to make you blush, more.” Honesty hits hardest.
He froze brain racing. His commander, a rover man, stood beside him nodding to my words.
“She’s right.” The rover offered.
Damn right I am.
“So have some fun.” The officer ordered with a clap on the back.
Everyone thinks fun is easy. It's an art. An art of aesthetics, of acting, of advice.
He mumbles more. Some other little hate. He's been out in that wide world too much. It breaks the good people. Good thing I ain't ever been good. Bestys brand covered scars just as prettily as my rot.
“So now that's settled, tell me about yourself.” I settle in. He'll be a proper soldier and fight but he don't have a prayer of winning. I don't fight fair and there's no rest for the wicked in this world.
“Then there is this Bitch.” Betsy called, loud enough for me to hear. My biggest fan.
I laughed. “Wanna come over and have some tea? You did pay for it after all.”
I laughed again.
We danced around each other, always a pleasure of barbs. A little show for all the new blood bumbling around our home. For now we we're glitz and glamour.
A swish of hips, loss of my travel vest, a few hellos, til that retro ran. A masked man, suddenly shy. Rare sight here in the Heartland. His friends called me over for merry mischief.
“How much for you to talk to him for fifteen minutes.” asked with hands on pockets and smiles.
“It'll take one.” My hand outstretched.
Then the game was on. Innuendos like breathing, hips swinging with each step of the chase. Blushes to match the blood red corset and roaring laughter from his friends. I know my fun and am fantastic at it. Besides we all have debts to pay and the easiest money comes from those at play.
Blood seeped into the rug, staining the braided fabric. The corpse lay face down, hole blown through his chest. His naked body had a towel covering his waistline. Next to him, kneeling at the edge of his blood puddle was a hooker.
The rest of the brothel staff lined the walls of the room, hands clasped at their sides. Hookers in their thin nightwear, guards in leather armor and bartenders in black vests and aprons. Everyone waited in silence, ignoring the sobs of the hooker in the center.
The door to the room opened with a click people jumped as the brothel’s Madame strode in. Her hair trapped in curlers was piled on top of her head. A painted gold and black mask covered the top half of her face. A silky pink robe covered a white silk shift. She walked to the corpse and kicked it over with a slippered foot.
“What happened?” her voice was gravelly and stern.
“Sammy shot him dead with his own pistol.” A gal walked forward presenting the weapon. The madame waved her away.
She kneeled down and stared into the lifeless eyes.
The sobbing stopped for a moment, as the girls head turned to face her.
Tears streamed again. “He tried to cut a new hole in me.”
The rest of her explanation was lost in sobs. She was a retrograde and her rotting skin had been delicately trimmed into as appealing a sight as possible. Makeup had been layered over the top.
“Sammy.” The madame reached out and tilted Sammy’s face toward her. “Quit your crying.”
A sob stuttered out and more tears down her face. “Wha?”
“Quit your crying. I paid good money for your makeup.”
Her sobbing continued for a few more seconds before the Madame’s first met her temple. Sammy crumpled onto the carpet. the madame wiped off her hand on the towel. She looked around the room.
The two men jumped. “Yes. Ma’m.”
“Haul his body down the street won’t you?”
“Delilah scrounge his things.”
The girl nodded.
“Someone roll up this rug, get it out to be cleaned.” The madame waved to the floor, before kicking Sammy in the gut.
The girl woke with a gasp. Tears at the edges of her eyes.
“No not a single tear.” The madame said. “Get on your feet.
The girl slowly stood up shaking.
The madame grabbed her face and gently wiped her eyes. Careful not to spoil more of the makeup.
“Now hush up. Did he pay you to put a hole in?”
Sammy shuddered a breath before shaking her head.
“Go get cleaned up.” The madame let go of her face. “You need to be able to work off your debt.”
Sammy sniffed. “Debt?”
The madame laughed. “Yes dear, that carpet wasn’t cheap and I will need to fix your face.” She brushed Sammy’s hair over the bruise temple.
“Go on dear.” The madame stared at her small smile on lips but her eyes were steel.
“Yes ma'am.” Sammy nodded.
“Everyone else get back to work. We all have debts to pay.”