By Steve Crow A tale of Deadlands Weird West

Cort Williams stepped into the lobby of the Golden Mare Hotel as he stepped into any unfriendly territory, with three glances. The first was a quick one to take a body count. One woman, behind the desk, no threat. The second was a bit more caution, to determine any hiding spots that might conceal a bushwhacker. The third glance assessed potential exits: both those the original architects had intended, and those they had not.

Satisfied, Cort stepped up to the front desk, scrutinizing the woman there more closely. Mid 30's, although attempting to appear younger. Blonde hair, good looks. Cort had caught a glimpse of Lilith Vandekamp shortly after he had first arrived in Gomorra. She had been pale then: now she was bone-white. That, combined with her blank stare and near-immobile manner, leant her the appearance of a china doll.

"I'm looking for a girl. Chinese. I'm particular, and I hear you've got a good one."

The woman blinked, slowly, then turned her head to face the gunfighter. Her mouth dropped open. "No customers until nightfall. Come back then."

Cort frowned, and scrutinized the woman more carefully. No holes on the neck, but he knew from hard experience how little that meant. He withdrew a wad of Union currency from beneath his duster. "I'll pay top price."

"No customers until nightfall. Come back then."

This would be harder than he thought. Reaching into another pocket, Cort withdrew a highly polished .45 caliber bullet. He held it up in his right hand, into one of the shafts of light that filtered into the lobby through the windows. As he began to twirl it between his fingers, the light reflected off into Vandekamp's eyes.

She blinked, as if awakening from a nap. "Ummm...?"

Cort tossed the wad of currency onto the counter in front of the woman. "The China woman. Which room?"

" 22." Hesitant, as if she was afraid it would bite her, Vandekamp took the money without counting it and thrust it through a slot in the counter top.

Cort tipped his hat and strode up the stairs without another word to her. For such a large man, he moved quietly, and the thick carpet further muffled his footsteps. Still, he knew that the prey he sought possessed greater-than-human senses, and no other noises emerged from behind the doors he passed, noises that might further conceal his passage.

Moving like a ghost (although not 'The Ghost', Cort thought to himself with a moment's irony), the gunslinger moved to Number 22. There was nothing to distinguish it from the other second-floor rooms. Without a moment's hesitation, Cort kicked in the door and strode in.

The woman standing by the window spun. If she had been a mere human, she might have mistaken the sudden appearance of the gun in Williams' hand for magic. Her senses and reflexes were greater than human, even during the daylight hours, however. She knew who had entered her room, however, and knew that in her somewhat weakened state, her abilities would not be sufficient to deal with her new visitor. "Cort?"

The gunslinger sighed, wearily. "Meizhu." Just as he had suspected.

The prostitute was indeed Chinese, and if Lilith had been pale, this woman was paler still. Her dark hair and blood-red slash of a mouth helped the effect further, lending vivid contrast to her skin. Her pale white undergarments further accentuated the effect that some ghost-like creature stood before him. "Have you come to kill me, then? And with a mere gun?"

Her English had improved since their last meeting, Cort noted. "Blessed bullets, Meizhu. They'll kill you as quick and sure as a stake. Or whatever it is that will do you in."

Meizhu made no effort to defend herself, knowing it would do no good in any event. Taking a small, dainty step to the side, she leaned back against the wall next to the window. "Then get it over with, and quickly."

"Is that what you want?"

The prostitute feigned a sigh (All the better to disguise her true nature, Cort observed dispassionately). "I know not to expect sympathy from you. Not after Shan Fan."

"I didn't have a choice."

"And if you had known what powers I would embrace as a result of your departure?"

Williams shrugged. "No choice. So do your new powers aid Kang?"

Meizhu smiled sardonically. "They serve myself, and no other. Was that what drove you from me? Your pride that another man 'owned' me?"

"Like I said," Cort replied tersely, "Duty."

"And now 'duty' brings you back to me. How ironic. So what are you waiting for? Doesn't your 'duty' dictate that you kill me?"

"Would you kill me, given the chance?" the gunslinger asked in return.

The prostitute pondered his question, but only for a moment. "No. You, never. The people of this town, though, are scum, and a few more dead bodies will never be noticed."

"We noticed them. And now it's time to put an end to it." Cort raised the pistol, and sighted carefully down its barrel, pulled back the hammer...

...then paused. "Your choice, Meizhu. I won't do it, but the ones I work with will be coming for you. Slate and Rocescu won't give you any sympathy. Forty-eight hours is all I can give you."

"What if I don't want sympathy? Yours or theirs?"

"Then you'll get none, rest assured of that. This is the best I can do. If you want to...'live', then take my advice and get out of Gomorra. Now."

"And if I don't?"

Cort shrugged. "That's your choice, then. Not mine."

Meizhu sneered. "How convenient. Your 'duty' leaves you blameless in abandoning me, and now you clean your hands of me by leaving my execution to someone else."

"It's all I have to offer."

The prostitute sighed, as if weary of the whole situation. "A handful of dust is all you ever had to offer." She considered for a moment, then nodded to the pristine bed. "I've said it once, and I shall say it again. By my ancestors, I swear you are safe with me. Would you join me in one last dance?"

"Before the execution?" Cort replied. "I don't think so, Meizhu. There's no going back. I'm sworn to my service, and you've sworn yourself to...whatever." The gunslinger stepped back to the door, still careful never to let his eyes or his gun leave the woman before him. "Forty-eight hours, Meizhu. That's all you've got." And with that, he slipped out the door, disappearing quietly.

The prostitute turned back to contemplate the view out the window. The eaves of the Golden Mare and her north facing allowed her to look out on the world in daylight without exposing herself to the damaging rays of the sun. "It's all I've ever had," she sighed, making no effort to pack her few belongings.