“This is the building I've been telling you about,” Carpenter said, glancing at his clients in the backseat. “Most of the main structure is still standing, and almost forty percent of the units have intact walls.”

Mrs. Dethblayde craned her too-long, almost serpentine neck to look through the slit in the armored door of Carpenter's nitro-rig. It was a small mutation but noticeable. “We were hoping for something with outdoor space.”

Her husband, Dragg Dethblayde, nodded, his leather armor - studded with teeth pried from the mouths of his many victims - creaking with the movement. A successful raider, he’d pillaged long enough to afford Carpenter’s services and, more importantly, the neighborhood.

Carpenter grinned. “You're in luck. The, uh, tenant added a balcony to the unit we’ll be looking at today and she's ready to move.”

“Oh, excellent.” Mrs. Dethblayde clapped her hands. A snake-like neck wasn’t her only mutation. The fingers on her right hand flopped long and boneless, like thin pink eels, when she struck her palms together.

Carpenter grimaced. He detested mutants. Still, the Dethblaydes had the goods, and Carpenter was eager to get his commission. “Okay, let me just park on the street.” A gang of raiders, about twenty men and women wielding crude clubs and axes, charged out from the building and howled toward them as Carpenter pulled up to the curb. “As you can imagine, there's always competition for the good spaces.”

He triggered the .30 caliber Gatling cannon at the front of his rig, and the raiders came apart in a shower of gore and body parts.

“Amateurs,” Mr. Dethblayde snorted.

“Oh, so true, Mr. Dethblayde, but I'd recommend adding machine guns to your nitro-rig for ease of parking.”

“Noted,” Mr. Dethblayde said.

Carpenter shut off his rig, got out, and looked up at the building. It soared twenty stories, the bottom half a skeletal wreck completely open to the elements. As he’d promised, the top floors were intact. Carpenter drew his pistol and went around to let his clients out.

As Mr. Dethblayde exited the vehicle, he removed a sawed-off pump shotgun from a scabbard on his back. The rare and powerful weapon marked his considerable status. Carpenter led the Dethblaydes through the bottom of the building, the naked girders making it feel like they were picking through the fossilized carcass of some long-dead monster.

“This area is contested by the raider gangs I mentioned, so you may have to clear the bottom floors occasionally,” Carpenter said as they made their way through the rubble to the stairs.

“Isn’t there a concierge?” Mrs. Dethblayde frowned.

“There was, but muties killed and ate him last month,” Carpenter said, then winced.

“Muties, Mr. Carpenter?” Mrs. Dethblayde’s long neck snapped back like a cobra ready to strike. “The proper term is homo mutalis.”

Carpenter blushed. He could smell his commission slipping away and that would not do. “My sincere apologies. My, uh, age is showing.”

Mrs. Dethblayde scowled and pointed one long pink finger at Carpenter. “Well something is showing, but I don't know if it's your age.”

“Why don't you just show us the unit,” Mr. Dethblayde said, scratching at the ragged hole beneath his eyepatch.

Mrs. Dethblayde wound her tentacular fingers around her husband's arm, pulled him close, and smiled. "I agree. Mr. Carpenter, please do your job."

Realizing he'd been let off the hook, Carpenter motioned his clients up the stairs. “Please, this way.” They climbed thirteen floors, then Carpenter opened a door to a long hallway lit by ancient sodium yellow bulbs. More doors with numbers painted on them in a fresh red spray lined the hallway.

“Oh, look, dear,” Mrs. Dethblayde said. “Working lights.”

“Ah, yes, I forgot to mention the building's amenities,” Carpenter said. “There are working lights, three gun turrets on the roof - you need to schedule ahead of time if you want to use those - and an armored personnel carrier for group excursions.”

Mr. Dethblayde nodded approvingly. “Excellent. The Scorpion Dogs and I haven’t raided this area. A carrier would be handy.”

“You should talk to Orgo Bloodspike in 13F," Carpenter said. "He’s been raiding around here for years."

“Orgo Bloodspike lives here?” Mr. Dethblayde grinned. “You didn’t tell me the building had a celebrity.”

“I’ll see if I can introduce you after we look at the unit.” Carpenter felt the swell of excitement that always heralded an impending sale.

They reached 13B and Carpenter opened the door. The smell that wafted out was one of old blood, newly cooked food, and almost overpowering body odor.

A narrow hallway led to a wide-open room, the wall facing the city was composed entirely of grimy glass windows, all intact. The resident of 13B stood on the balcony, a rickety structure of scavenged boards clinging to the side of the building god knows how. She was huge, muscular, and the ancient dollar bills stapled to her forehead marked her as a member of the Greenbacks, a minor raider gang. With a strangled cry of rage she charged into the main room clutching a butcher's cleaver in each meaty hand.

Carpenter stood back and waited as the raider closed the distance. Mr. Dethblayde’s shotgun boomed, and the charging Greenback’s head disappeared in a spray of red mist and bone shards.

“Oh, honey!" Mrs. Dethblayde cried, jumping up and down, her head bobbing on her weird serpentine neck. “Thank you so much! I love it. Look at the outdoor space!” She all but skipped into the great room, stepped over the twitching corpse of the former occupant, and made her way to the balcony.

“Well, that’s the fastest offer I’ve ever received,” Carpenter said, chuckling. “The corpse is, of course, part of your down payment and my commission, but we’ll need two more edible bodies before we hand over the keys.”

Mr. Dethblayde racked the slide on his shotgun. “That won’t be a problem. She’s right. I mean, look at that outdoor space.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War novels published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, On Spec, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.