Dahlia sighed and wiped the line of sweat forming at her upper lip. The sun was setting in the Mojave Desert, and it was time to pack up and head to the gates of Freeside for the night. She didn't fancy sleeping in the Wastes, campfire or no, so she signaled Boone from his post and shouldered her supply bag. Boone capped the sights on his sniper rifle and waited for Dahlia to lead the way.
That's the way it was with them—words were never needed, Dahlia simply knew that her friend would stick close behind, keeping watch over her shoulder as he followed wherever she led. There was nothing more comforting in the dead, dry Wastes than catching the red of his NCR-issued beret out of the corner of her eye. In a land devoid of shelter, he made her feel safe.
They were a perfect team—quick and cunning, Dahlia would lure their enemies into his sights, and the fight was over before their victims knew what hit them. He was strong, silent, and a surprisingly good cook. She was light on her toes, charming, and knew how to pick a lock like nobody's business. Together, she believed they were invincible—a hard to come by feeling these days.
Before it was too dark, they made it to Freeside and set up camp on the second floor of an abandoned building. Boone hung tarps over the blown-out windows, lit a lantern and sat down on a cot to clean his gun while Dahlia rigged a few bear traps on the stairs. She preferred mines to the mess of traps and reminded herself to buy a few in the morning. Having to release the caught culprit from the rusty old traps always made her squeamish, so Boone usually had to do the cleanup.
After a long, hot, hard and unsuccessful day of gecko-hunting, Dahlia was ready to wind down with a barstool and a bottle of whiskey. Boone was never much of a drinker, so she'd be going it alone tonight. Once upstairs, she rummaged in her bag for some civilian clothes.
"Don't look," was all she said to Boone as she shrugged off her leather armor and shimmied into the slinky little pre-war number she'd found while looting a Nipton house earlier that week. She looked at herself in a shard of mirror she kept in her bag and sighed. Her pale skin was smudged with soot and sand, and her dark hair was pulled back in a tangled ponytail. The dress was frayed and ripped in certain places, but mostly intact. At least it wasn't covered in gecko-blood, she thought.
All the while, Boone watched her, this tiny slip of a girl he had chosen to follow. How could he have known that one girl could get herself into so much trouble? It seemed they had been all over Nevada and back, making fast friends and enemies of everyone they met. She just couldn't keep to herself, this one. Had to put her perky little nose in everybody's business. Just recently, she had convinced him to sneak into the home of a mob boss with her and steal his private records. And then she insisted on spending her nights in the local bars drinking and gambling with the resident scum.
But the glimpse of her lily white shoulder blades as she dressed kept him from objecting. He couldn't argue with her, she'd just flash those big, green, seemingly radioactive eyes and pout her lips a little and he would be like putty in her hands. From the time he saw her cock that red beret on her head and lead that wretched slaver into his crosshairs, he was hooked. He couldn't say no. She reminded him so much of his wife…the light-hearted laughter, the crinkle of her eyes when she smiled, the hitch in her step like she had no-place better to be. But he couldn't tell her that. He could only grunt his approval as she twirled around in the lamplight, white thighs gleaming through the swirl of silky material.
"Do you like it? And don't tell me to wear my armor underneath it, because that's just dumb. No one will bother me with my pistols at my side." Dahlia grinned and bent over to kiss her older companion on the forehead before she scurried out the door, calling "Don't wait up for me, and watch the back right window—there's a couple of boatflies milling about out there!"
So Boone went back to cleaning his gun with a gut feeling that something wasn't quite right.
The Atomic Wrangler casino was packed with drunks, prostitutes, gamblers and no-goods that night, same as any other. But the Garret twins ran that place with tight fists, and nothing happened there without their knowledge. When the courier Dahlia showed up without her bodyguard, James Garret shared an unnoticed glance with his sister, Francine.
She was well-known throughout the state at this point as an upstart young courier with a habit of making things happen—someone who was as likely to break into your house and rob you blind as she was to risk her life to help you out. Cursed by some and beloved by others, Dahlia was not someone to underestimate, and the Garret twins took this very seriously.
They had a rather profitable surprise planned for the courier that night, and had taken all necessary precautions to make sure everything went smoothly. The casino was crawling with security, and all windows and doors had been fortified for tonight. The customers had all been indulging in the special free drinks and none were even close to sober. Everything was in place as Dahlia sauntered up to the bar and asked Francine for a drink, 'something strong.' Oh, it would be strong, alright.