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Blood Money

Bron peered over the top of the warrant in his hands at the old woman shuffling down the street. He had heard of her before, and knew the tales of her medical prowess. Unfortunately, he’d also seen her ugly toothy grin before: smiling back at him from the warrant. He received warrants like this on a fairly regular basis, odd jobs that people wanted taken care of. Bron’s military experience prepared him for this sort of occupation, and he was very good at what he did. He reached down, comforted by the feeling of his trusty M1911, and decided to see how this woman had managed to piss off his employer so much.

She walked, or rather shuffled, slowly towards the Doctors Guild, leaning heavily on an old wooden staff. Her ratty clothes barely held on to her thin frame, which was as gnarled as the stick supporting the rest of her weight. Bron noticed most people avoiding her, wrinkling their nose as she passed, and parting around her as easily as Moses’ Red Sea. Some, however, he saw walk up and embrace her, thanking her profusely for something that he couldn’t quite make out. From what he knew about her, Widow Maxon the warrant said, she often helped the sick population who couldn’t get the help they needed elsewhere.

Those people, Bron knew, often tried just about anything to get their hands on the medicine they needed. Too often he’d accepted a warrant, only to have to go find some poor sick person, who’d robbed a supply caravan, only to die by his hands rather than the disease’s. Bron didn’t particularly care for that specific part of the job, but he’d rather make enough money to not have to resort to such desperate measures. At least for now. Perhaps his good conscience might change in the future, but right now he had a job to do.

Starting out of the rickety chair barely held him up anyway, Bron looked around for potential adversaries, as well as places to go about his business quietly. There weren’t too many people mulling about the area - there weren’t too many people left in Columbus. Still, he didn’t want to cause a huge scene, especially with someone who seemed fairly well known. Famously or infamously. Bron also liked to keep an eye out in general, a hold over from his military training. Knowing your surroundings is crucial to surviving in the wasteland; he’d made it this far and didn’t want to start slacking now. Approaching the woman from behind, he started angling towards a nearby alley way, which looked perfect for what would come next.

It’s funny, he thought. Most people didn’t know him from Joe Schmoe across the city, and yet they seemed to avoid him just as readily as Widow Maxon. It didn’t bother him, but made him smile. People had some sort of sixth sense that pushed them out of his way without really knowing why. He knew why they avoided her. The first four senses. They saw her shuffle, heard her cough, smelled her rotting clothes, and didn’t want to touch her. So they steered clear, and really prayed that they would never need to taste her.

Someone in the shadow of a doorway stopped her as she walked past. Bron stopped too, less conspicuously, and kept an eye on her. He could barely hear them talking, making out just enough words to get the gist of their discussion. It sounded like the person in the doorway had injured themselves at work, and thanked Widow Maxon for getting them better. He couldn’t tell where they worked, but it seemed pretty important to the hidden companion, and from what he heard the injury had been pretty serious.

Bron knew how she helped the people of Columbus, but had never experienced it himself. He stayed more than healthy, and on the rare occasion he caught some minor illness, could always pay the people at the Doctor’s Guild to patch him right up. A lot of his injuries were work related anyway, which he didn’t need an old medicine woman to help cure. But some friends of his, of which there were few, did actually catch something more serious, and they’d gone to see Widow Maxon for help. She often helped them, and many more, and really did some good in this godforsaken city. Bron didn’t know what to think; he’d never done anything other than take. Hell, he’d even had warrants for people, when all they had done was dive under the river trying to find crates that fell off of the old Doctor’s Barge. They wanted to do a little good in the city, and he’d stopped them purely for a little bit of cash.

Widow Maxon had started moving again, and as Bron paced behind her, thinking hard about their separate pasts. She’d spent her life keeping diseased bodies out of the bottom of the river. He’d spent his putting them there. But what did it really matter. Bron set his teeth, as his hand went back to the familiar grip of the pistol on his hip. They’d all done something that his employers didn’t like, and when they had the money and you didn’t, well. And she’d done something pretty big judging by the size of the reward on her warrant. Bron didn’t know what, but he didn’t need to know, he thought, as he stepped closer to Widow Maxon past the doorway she’d stopped in earlier.

“I hope you’re not planning anything funny. I’d go home for the day if I were you, and think long and hard about what you do next.”

The man who stepped out of the doorway in a Veriza’s Forge work shirt looked like the baby of John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Years of hammering hot heavy metal down on an anvil to forge it into something useful, had forged this patient of Widow Maxon into someone Bron didn’t exactly want on his bad side. Not that he couldn’t take him, just that Bron knew from experience that people like this usually had friends, and those friends could likely take a few more bullets than Bron could dish out at once. Bron’s doubts had all materialized into one massive guardian angel, and they were telling him to leave. Perhaps the blood money wasn’t worth the guilty conscience after all.