Payne looked up at the giant neon arrow, the red and blue light playing off the face shield of her blastmaster helmet. Goodneighbor seemed the best bet to find a safe place to take a breather. Well, at least safer than any place she had found so far in Commons. At least it has some decent defenses.
Pushing open the heavy metal door with a creek, two storefronts greeted to her that both appeared to be open. Payne quickly scanned around. The street appeared to be mostly deserted, which seemed about right given the time of night. As she stepped into the street, a man strode into the street light, blocking her path.
“Welcome to Goodneighbor. First time, eh? Sounds like you might need some insurance.”
Payne ignored him and walked towards what appeared to be the general goods store. As she passed, his hand shot out, roughly grasping her arm.
Growling, the thug spat “I don’t think you heard m…” Payne shifted her weight and came down hard with a boot to the back of his knee. Falling forward, he let go of her arm to catch himself. As her momentum carried her, Payne spun, smoothly grabbed her combat knife from behind her back and slid it under his chin. She drew him up, slowly, until his ear met her chin.
“I said I’m not interested. Understand?”
Sheepish and wide-eyed, he nodded in acknowledgement as thin beads of blood ran down his quivering neck. Payne released her grip, wiped off her blade and put it carefully back into its sheath hidden behind her ragged black duster. She continued to the merchant.
“Now now, just look at that. I was going to close up shop for the night, but you put on such a good show… I’m going to stay open just for you!” the ghoul behind the counter chuckled. “Daisy’s the name. What are you looking for? I’ve got a little bit of everything. KLEO next door has all the weapons you can shake an irradiated stick at.”
After a few minutes of searching, Payne has picked out a smattering of food and meds, while putting up a stash of junk for trade.
“What else is there to do in this town?”
“You can wet your whistle at The Third Rail. Magnolia’s voice is the loveliest this side of the Charles River. The Memory Den draws a… particular crowd, interested in reliving their pasts in the Memory Loungers. I wouldn’t recommend it. Most things are better left in the past. If you don’t want to sleep on the ground and have some measure of privacy, there is the Hotel Rexford. Man, that place used to have the best parties. You can pick up chems there too. Look for Fred Allen.”
As Payne packed up the newly purchased goods she thanked Daisy and headed over to see what KLEO had to offer at the aptly named Kill or Be Killed. A jet-black robot stood tracking her with a single glowing red laser. From Payne’s observations in the Commonwealth, assaultrons could quickly turn a situation lethal if they became hostile.
“Hello. I have to say, I like your style. Very assertive.” The robot purred. “What are you buying, baby? Oh, and don’t worry. I only test the weapons on the customers I don’t like.”
While browsing the ammo, an item on back shelf caught Payne’s eye. It was bright white, as sterling as a used piece of armor could be, stood out between the gunmetal and worn leather that packed the place.
“What’s that?” Payne inquired, nodding with her chin. “That white helmet in the back. I haven’t seen anything like that before.”
“You must be new around here.” KLEO brought the helmet closer for Payne to inspect. “Surprised you haven’t at least heard of the big bad boogiemen of the Commonwealth, the Institute with their Synths. Robot body snatchers. This piece right here is a helmet from one of their uglier models. Not classy, like yours truly.”
Turning the helmet over, Payne nodded in approval, her gloved fingers trailing down the full faceplate. “Do they ever show up in black?”
“Sorry, sweetie, the Institute just loves the shiny tin man look.”
Payne handed the helmet back. “Thanks, but maybe another time then. I will take this ammo though.” Slinging her bag back over her shoulder, she headed off down to The Third Rail.
Heading past the tuxedoed bouncer and down the stationary elevator, Payne sauntered up to the bar. The mismatched stools appeared like broken soldiers lined up in the sultry light. Only a few patrons peppered the scattered ratty couches and stained tables. Payne placed her helmet on the bar and shook out her long black hair as the Mr. Handy bartender wearing bowler hat jetted lazily over to her.
“Name’s Whitechapel Charley. Whatya have, guv? We got beer.”
A single black eyebrow cocked up. “Really?” Payne nodded towards the back of the bar which was lined with row of colorful, and sometimes glowing, glass bottles. “Then what is all that? Is that Nuka-cola Dark? Man, I haven’t seen one of those in ages.”
“Very cheeky. You actually planning on buying anything?”
“Whiskey.” Payne placed her caps out on the bar. The ghoul sitting a few seats down slid down into the seat adjacent to her.
“So, new to Goodneighbor? How’s she treating you?” his coarse voice rolling over a silvered tongue.
“Well, if you like getting the shake down as soon as you step in town, then great.” Payne growled.
“Oh, really? Let me guess. Tall, bald guy wearing leathers.” Payne nodded. “That is not a very neighborly way to act, now is it? Finn should know better.”
“I handled it. If things like that continue to happen, though, I may just lose my temper.”
The ghoul cocked his head and a sly smile splayed across ropey features. “No need for that, babe. Everyone is welcome here, if you play nice. You can play nice, can’t you?
“As long as people play nice with me.”
The lights dimmed, drawing everyone’s attention to the stage, set up with a single silver microphone.
“Now you are in for a treat. Magnolia has the loveliest pipes around.” Payne looked towards the stage. As she did, the ghoul nodded to the bartender, retrieved his tricorn hat and quietly slipped out. A slim woman dressed in a sparkling red evening dress and pin straight hair mounted the stage. Just as promised, the air soon filled with the honeyed tones of her sultry jazzy voice. Payne sat sipping whiskey, the notes tickling long forgotten memories.
When the house lights finally returned, Payne rotated back to face the bar, the wistfulness draining from her eyes. Sentimentality was no friend to a wastelander. As she finished the last drops of her whisky, Whitechapel Charley returned.
Taking her glass and whipping the bar, he asked. “So, what brings you to town. Looking for some work?”
Payne’s eyebrow arched. She was starting to run a little low on caps. “I’m listening.”
“I got a dirty job that needs to get done. Anonymous client who wants the job done clean and quiet. Still interested?”
Payne nodded. Dirty work normally paid more anyway. “How much?”
“200 caps for a total clean up. Payment after the jobs done and don’t worry, I’ll know when it is. 3 locations, warehouses in town. No witnesses. You can understand why I can use my regulars.”
“Consider it done.”