My half-formed plan for attacking the bandits in the old casino went down the crapper the minute Marv came back from scouting inside. He had counted fifteen adults... and at least six kids. Suddenly we needed a different approach.


We ended up just walking into the place. They didn't have a guard posted in the daytime, and the lock on the front door was a piece of garbage that I picked in about two seconds. Inside, the building was cleaner than I'd expected, and smelled surprisingly fresh; they either had running water or an outdoor latrine.

When they spotted us, the “bandits” shouted and showed weapons, but they were backing away, huddled together in a close-packed group that would have made Hurgin scream his head off. These weren't bandits, or even combatants – they were squatters, just using the building for shelter. Bindi did most of the talking for us, something I wouldn't have thought possible. She handled it perfectly, too. No direct threats, just talk about the law and proper title to the real estate. She might not have appreciated my war-paint gesture, but killing seemed to have brought out another side of her, one that was assertive and didn't mind looking capable.

The leader of the squatters, a thin, balding older guy clutching a quality rifle, caved in a matter of minutes. He didn't argue about ownership of the building, didn't bluster or threaten to fight. He just wanted to keep his people indoors.

The place had more than enough room for all of us. We could afford to be generous. In less than half an hour Bindi had a working arrangement with him. We would be running a gambling business in the main hall (Marv's eyes lit up at that). They could occupy the rest of the building, and any of them that wanted to could be part of the staff and share in the profits. By the end of the talk the guy with the rifle was grinning, eager to shake on the deal.


The pirates attacked the place about ten minutes later. Roland had an ongoing quarrel with them – I never got all the details straight – and the rest of us had manhandled one of their enforcers when he wouldn't let us pass by on the road. They had tracked us here, ready to collect on the debt.

I poked my head out the door for a look at them. They'd brought around twenty men, all with guns and quite a few with swords.

I looked around the place. All the windows had boards across them – good. If they wanted in they'd have to use the door. And right now we had them in the open, on a street with no cover. We could pick off quite a few of them before they reached the building.

I turned to the rifleman. “Get everyone with a gun on those windows,” I said. “We need to hit as many as we can while they're in the open.”

“What kind of trouble did you bring on us?” he shouted. “We oughtta just hand you over-”

“You think they're gonna stop with us?” I roared. “How many women are in here? GET YOUR PEOPLE ON THE WINDOWS!”

He was still pissed, but he didn't have any better ideas. He waved his people forward. More guns and crossbows came out and I was suddenly glad we hadn't attacked the place. I barked orders, placing them where they'd have clear fields of fire and a line of retreat, and was pleasantly surprised to see them obey. I told a couple of people with pistols and everyone without ranged weapons to take cover and be ready to deal with anyone who got inside. The door was mine. It was the chokepoint, the only place they could easily enter, and I didn't trust anyone else to hold it. Roland placed himself behind me, a bit to my left, covering the door. Bindi picked her own spot, far from me as usual. Marv took off, probably to make sure the kids were protected.

I'd never fought from inside a fort before. In a way, it was funny.

The boss of the pirates was counting down. I got sick of waiting, poked my spring gun out the door, and fired in his general direction. The pirates opened fire as I ducked inside, and the squatters at the windows shot back. I drew my knives, squatted, and waited. They'd be coming soon, and the door was mine.

I slashed the leg of the first guy to enter and he fell, howling. His buddies would have to stumble across him to get inside. More of them came, in a rush, and I was in my element, a big idiot grin on my face, cutting and dancing among them. It had been a long time since I felt so at home.

The gunfire at the windows died down as the remaining pirates massed at the door. Some of them got past me while I dueled with a swordsman. I took a deep cut to my shoulder, hard enough to drive me to my knees, but someone shot my attacker before he could finish me. It was loud and fast and bloody and confused.

When it was all over, Roland lay still with a knife in his heart. I was bleeding from a dozen places, barely on my feet. Some of the squatters were wounded, but they were all alive. They sent up a cheer.

I felt about ten feet tall.


EPILOGUE

It'll be a while yet before we can get this place running as a gambling establishment. A few of us are trying to get some of the really old slot machines - the ones that don't need electricity - in working order. Marv is teaching dice games to everyone who will listen. He's a hit here, especially with the kids. There's an ongoing debate over what we'll call the place; I suggested "Roland's", but it will have to be put to a vote. There was already a sort of garden out back, a sorry looking thing that Bindi has taken over. I expect it will improve. I've been setting up defenses – adding firing steps at the windows, reinforcing the doors, building sniper nests on the roof - stuff like that. A lot of the squatters are afraid of me, but when I talk about combat they listen. On everything else I have one vote, same as everyone else.

Officially, I'm a bouncer here, but a lot of them call me "The Doorman". It'll do.