It was a longer and harder road than it once had been to get between the Outland Empire and the Eastern Empire. Bandits were a problem, as were the general lack of mechanics and spare parts. But perhaps worst of all for the poor souls attempting to drive from coast to coast was the near-total lack of entertainment options.

Winona Greenwood had aimed to change that for going on ten years now.

Her businesses, side by side, straddled the old road right as it emerged from the mountains. The one that people saw first was “Treasures for Lovers – Romanticals,” Winona’s combination adult bookstore, adult novelty store, and exotic dancery. If ever anyone needed a little extra push through the door, its sister shop “Treasures for Livers – Intoxicants” was there.

Quaddlebaum ran the businesses day to day for Winona. He had an accountant’s mind for detail and was the only one capable of managing the enormous amount of scrip that came through the door, everything from universal exchange e-credits to Outland Empire scrip to silver coins pounded out on some godforsaken die in Ativia. But only Winona had the showman’s eye, the nose for glitz, that such an enterprise demanded. Quaddlebaum, she often said, would have squeezed the life out of the business in one very profitable week.

When he came to her in the office she kept above Treasures for Livers (the alternative was too loud), Winona was sure it was another minor dispute to be smoothed over with a smile or a sixgun. “One of those Beral boys refusing to pay for diesel again?” she said on seeing his face. “Remind them that it’s not killing the earth if the damn thing’s already dead.”

“No, Ms. Greenwood,” said Quaddlebaum. His wispy hair, what remained of it, was in even more disarray than usual. “We have a joiner.”

“Tell them to get lost.” Many people thoughout the years had thought to work at Treasures for Lovers after stumbling out of the mountains. Compared to the hard work of crossing the continent, handing out novelties and pole dances to a paying crowd must have seemed a pretty sweet deal. Winona only hired locals, though. Until you put down roots, you had no business working for her as anythong more than a shovelboy.

“That’s just it, Ms. Greenwood,” Quaddlebaum continued. “She is…quite insistent.”

“Do I need to get Jacobs down there with his rifle?” said Winona. “You know how much good bullets cost.”

“Far from it, Ms. Greenwood,” Quaddlebaum replied. “The lady in question has taken Jacobs hostage with his own gun, and says that it’s employment for her or death for him.”

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