SWAT Mad Max Fan Fiction Archive
 

Hotel California
by The Lady Razorsharp
 

Printed by Night Rider and The Lady Razorsharp, 2001
Reprinted by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team, September 23, 2003


This Fan Fiction is given to us by The Lady Razorsharp. I am sure you will enjoy this as much as I did. I am very happy to say that we will be seeing more fan fiction by The Lady Razorsharp in the future. Please let her know how you like the story either by leaving feedback in the guestbook section or by e-mailing her. Also, please visit her Transformers Web site.

Lady Razorsharp's Transformers Web Site
http://www.angelfire.com/ms/melodysilver/main.html
ldyrazor73 AT aol.com

Till then, enjoy!
 
 

It wasn't that big of a place, even before the Wars. There's a picture of it nailed above the bar, with my grandfather standing outside, waving to
the camera when the place was new. Hotel California, reads a glimmer of neon scrawled against the tiled portico.

The only claim to fame the bar ever had was the jukebox -- the only juke in a 70 kilometer radius. Nowadays it's the only thing in the place that looks just as new and shining and hopeful as it did 40 years ago, back in the 20th.

Oh, people always warn me up one side and down the other that the scags are hoing to trash the place and chop the juke up for spare parts, but I always tell them the scags will have to get through me to get to it.

Since we don't get many visitors in this part of the country anymore, it was hard not to miss the stranger as he walked through the door.  It was
hot that day; the air was moist and miserable. Thunder rumbled, and the few fitful gusts of wind that stirred the yellowed lace curtains smelled of rain.

I had just finished polishing the juke and scurried back behind the bar as the stranger pulled up a worn barstool and sat down.

"What can I get you?"

His pale blue eyes took in every detail around him, cataloguing every image with robotic precision. "Seltzer."

I turned over a glass, spraying it half full from an old-fashioned mixer bottle.  "Ice?"

"How much?"

"Half a litre for two cubes."

Shaking his head, he reached for the glass, sliding a fuel exchange coupon across the bar. "At least it's wet."

I couldn't help but smile. "Cold costs fuel."

"Everything costs fuel."  He tipped the glass back, draining it with a polite slurp.

"Don't I know it?"

I went about what I was doing for a few moments, and the stranger sat staring at nothing for a while.  I slipped a few looks at him while he wasn't
watching, my curiosity getting the drop on me. Nothing out of the ordinary; early forties, hawk-like features, short dark hair. Not bad looking,
really; he reminded me of someone, an old movie star, maybe? The name skittered away from me, unimportant.

What was different were the eyes, those blue eyes that didn't miss a thing. At second look, I noticed that he couldn't be more than thirty -- it
was the haunted look in his eyes that seemed to age him. One of his thumbs rubbed across a bright gold ring on his left fourth finger as he stared off into space.

I stepped into his field of vision.  "Anything else for ya?"

His head snapped up as if from a deep sleep. "Could use a place to crash."

"Sure. Old place out back, if you wanna check it out."

He rose, collecting his black leather gloves from the bar. "Much obliged."

He went out the front door and climbed into a compact, low-slung car, the harsh Outback sunlight glinting from the chrome blower sprouting through the hood.  I retrieved my keys from a nail by the storeroom door and pushed open the screen just as the stranger pulled his car around to the tiny bungalow behind the bar.  He perused the scene through squinted eyes, taking in the burnt grass, the cracks in the plaster walls, the dirty windows.

"Not much to look at, is it?" I said, leading him onto the small porch.

He touched the rocker on one of the rusty tin chairs with the toe of his boot. The metal sounded a pathetic squeal of neglect. "It's not bad," he
said thoughtfully, following me inside once I had unlocked the door.

I laughed, but not from amusement.  "Wonder where you came from, to make you say that this mousehole isn't that bad."

The stranger's blue eyes were like icicles in the stifling room, the soles of his boots making dull thumps on the worn boards. "You don't want to know."

 Shrugging, I let it lie. Everyone these days had a past, myself included, so I didn't pursue it. "Don't bother trying the sink, the pipes are busted.  I'll get you some water from the well. Privy's behind the house." He nodded understanding, then sat down on the bed, which sang with a
symphony of worn springs.  I winced for his sake, and continued. "The regulars show up for breakfast around here about daybreak. It's not fancy but it's edible."

He was looking around the room, still cataloguing everything in that robotlike way of his. Then his gaze came to rest on me, finally giving me
his full attention. "Where did you learn to cook?" he asked.

I laughed again. "So you were listening."

"Sure I was."

"Alright, my grandfather taught me." I folded my arms across my chest, feeling sweat trickle down my back, plastering my thin white shirt to my
skin.  In contrast, the stranger, who was clad in slim-fitting black leather breeches and black leather jacket, looked as cool as August rain. While I explained how my grandfather had raised me out here in the bush, the stranger removed his jacket, revealing a tight, sky blue t-shirt that had seen better days. My eyes widened as I saw the faint outline of a bloodstain covering most of the right sleeve. Maybe he was right; I didn't want to know.

"Well, I need to get back to work.  See you tomorrow, if you're still here." I turned to leave, knowing he'd be long gone by morning. I didn't
blame him; I'd leave too, except for the juke.

"Hey."

I hesitated just inside the door.  "What?"

"What's your name?"

I leaned against the doorframe, a small smile quirking one side of my mouth. "What, are you a Bronze or something?"

Something deep in his eyes flinched, but his face betrayed none of it. "Just wanted to thank the hostess."

Grinning, I acquiesced.  "Charlie."

He smiled, giving me a glimpse of what he must have looked like in happier times. "Charlotte?"

"Charlie," I said flatly, "After my grandfather." I scanned his lanky form, now stretched out on the protesting bed.  "And you, Mister . . . ?"

He opened his eyes, hands behind his head. "Max."

"Mr. Max?"

"Just Max." He closed his eyes again wearily. "Thanks, Charlie."

"Mmm." I turned and left, closing the screen behind me.
 


*     *     *



It was late when I finally kicked the last stragglers out onto the board sidewalk, knowing they would probably pass out where they came to rest.
Water sometimes was hard to come by, but liquor was still cheap and in plentiful supply.  My grandfather had always said that no matter what, bars would always stay in business, especially during times of hardship, and so far his words had been true.

I went back into the bar and locked the door, covering the juke with a protective canvas for the night, then went out back and shut off the
generator.  On my way back inside, I caught sight of Max, sitting on the bungalow's front porch with his back against one of the overhang pillars. The heat had finally gotten to him; he sat stripped to the waist, sweat beading on his lean chest and shoulders. By the light of an old Coleman lantern, he cleaned a high-calibre pistol, his strong hands caring for the weapon almost lovingly.

He looked up at the crackle of the dry grass under my bare feet. "Hi, Charlie." Max finished wiping the gun with a worn cloth, then fitted the
clip back into the gun and smacked it closed with his palm. "What brings you out here?" he asked, ignoring my curious glance.

"Nothing, just closing up for the night."  I closed the door on the shed that housed the generator. "How's it going?" I fished.

Max looked up into the night sky, watching the black and silver clouds roil along the horizon. "It's gonna rain soon, you know."

Nodding, I headed for the back door. "Well, goodnight, Max."

"Goodnight, Charlie."

After slipping into my faded cotton nightshift, I blew out the candle and went to the window, looking across the yard at the bungalow.  Max still sat on the porch, his gun within easy reach on one of the tin chairs, one leg propped against the opposite pillar.  I saw a tiny point of light in the
darkness, followed by a wisp of smoke.  He must have caught sight of me then, because he waved.  I returned the wave, wondering where on Earth he had managed to get cigarettes.

"You'd better hide those around here," I said, leaning my elbows on the sill.

Max chuckled, grinding the smoke out on the plaster of the pillar. "If you'll keep my secret, you can have one."

"No thanks, I don't smoke."  I looked up at the sky again. The clouds were low, pregnant with rain that still hadn't fallen. "Where's that rain
you predicted, Mr. Weatherman Max?"

He lit another cigarette, the smoke wreathing his head like some forgotten dream. "It's coming, listen."

I cocked my head to the side.  Sure enough, a pattering came across the brittle grass, drumming against the porch roof with a bell-like echo.

"Where'd you learn to predict the weather?"

"My father taught me."

Smirking, I turned from the window and laid down on my bed, leaving the sash open as the cool, sweet air filled the stifling room.  A few moments later, I heard the screen door squeak as it was pulled open, and the sharp noise it made as it slammed againt the doorframe.  I closed my eyes and was instantly asleep.

Morning dawned sweltering, black clouds gathering in the distance. I had just finished dishing fried potatoes into Skinny Joe's plate when the door opened, revealing Max in a clean sky blue shirt and black leathers. The entire assemblage at the makeshift table looked from Max to me, and I nodded. "Good morning."

"G'morning," Max responded politely, finding an empty seat at the end of the table.  He helped himself to potatoes and toast, not minding the fact that I had scorched the bread.  I finished scrambling the few eggs I had managed to glean from my stringy hens, peppering them well and scraping them into a chipped crock.  Max had already devoured half of his potatoes when I set the eggs on the table, and I sat down in the only empty seat left -- which happened to be at his left hand.

All was silent except for the clinking of the battered flatware against the dishes until Max looked up and asked, "Please pass the eggs?"

Stunned, the roughnecks at the table exchanged glances until one of them -- Dan Silver, a former truck driver who had been stranded here when the scags hijacked his tanker--slowly reached for the crock and passed it down. "Coming around."

"Thanks." Max nodded to Dan, taking the crock from my hands and spooning out a modest share of the spoils. He handed it back, and I passed it down again as he picked up his fork.

"Where you from, stranger?" Dan asked, emboldened by the sudden departure from the normally sullen meal.

Max chewed and swallowed. "South of here."

Skinny Joe nodded. "What brings you northward?"

"Scags."

There was a chorus of nods from around the table; scags had run roughshod over the entire country, maybe even the world -- what was left of it, anyway, after the fallout had swept everything clean and lifeless.

"I hear even the Bronzes can't stop the scags now," muttered Pete, a shopowner whose store had been raided and burned by scags six months before.

"I hear for every Bronze that joins up, the scags kill another."

Max scraped his plate, mopped the last of the egg up with a wisp of blackened toast, and pushed his plate away.  He nodded a silent thanks to me, then turned the iciness of his gaze to Pete. "What makes you say that?"

In surprise, Pete's fork stopped on the way to his mouth.  He looked at Max as if he were an unruly child who had spoken out of turn. "Because I seen it."  He glanced around the table, roping the others in with a bit of morning drama.  "I saw a whole pack of  'em gang up on a Bronze once.  They flipped his car and shot a hole in the gas tank.  Then one of them lit a cigarette, and threw it at the car. The Bronze, poor bastard, was just
a-screamin' his head off, beggin' that scag not to do it." He shook his head. "Poor bastard."

Shoving his chair away from the table, Max stood abruptly. His hands clenched into fists, and for a moment I was sure he was about to clean Pete's clock right there. "Yes," he whispered, almost to himself.  "Poor bastard."

He strode to the door with quick, hard steps, letting it slam behind him. In a few moments, I heard the rumble of the car's blown engine, the tires
squealing as he brodied onto the asphalt in front of the bar.

Standing to collect the plates, I shook my head. "Well, I hope you're all satisfied. We won't see him again, that's for sure."

Skinny Joe piped up, "Well, at least he won't be bothering you none, Miz Charlie."  He looked at the sullen group. "We was worried 'bout you last night, didn't want him comin' in and takin' advantage of you."

I chuckled. "Sure, that's why you all drank yourself silly and passed out on my front stoop last night." I stacked the plates and carried them
behind the bar. "Okay, breakfast's over. You all get on to work, now."

The group muttered thanks to me for the scanty meal, then went to their assorted tasks. I let them hang around on the property in exchange for what they could earn at the settlement down the road, or by keeping up the vegetable patch.  Some of them repaired the building with what materials there were, or at least what I could beg, borrow or steal. I laughed to myself, knowing that half the lumber on the building was as hot as a tin roof in December.

Still, as I dried the last of the dishes and went to throw out the dirty water, I wondered why Pete had said that, and moreover, why Max had reacted the way he did.  I looked at the bungalow, and found myself drawn across the grass toward the squat, crumbling building.

Setting the dishpan on the porch, I opened the screen and moved through the house into the bedroom. Everything was just as it had been before, with the exception of a shiny piece of paper on the nightstand next to the rickety bed. I picked it up; it was a Polaroid instant picture of a lovely young woman and a blond toddler, both smiling and waving to the camera. I wondered who they were, and if they were important to Max, why he would have left the picture behind?

The roar of motorcycle engines brought me out of my reverie, and I ran to the window just in time to see a scruffy procession of bikers slow along the road in front of the bar.

Scags! Oh, God, the juke!

I stuffed the picture into my pocket and took off at a full run, forgetting the dishpan on the porch in my haste.

Bursting through the back door of the bar, I was just in time to hear someone yell, "Can't anyone get some decent service around here anymore?"

"What do you want, Jack?" I snarled at the mangy biker. "I told you I didn't want you here."

I went to the CB radio on the desk in the back room. "I'll call the Bronzes on you and you'll be in a world of hurt then."

This time, the threat didn't work. "That's why we're here, missy. We know there was a Bronze holed up here last night. Where'd he go?"

I shook my head. "There wasn't any Bronze here last night." Thumbing the button, I spoke into the microphone. "This is K30X94, calling Patrol.
Come in, Patrol."

A scratchy response came through the tiny speaker. "This is Patrol, K30---" The voice suddenly went dead, as well as the rest of the lights in
the building.  I dropped the microphone and ran straight into Jack's leather-clad chest. He smelled of sweat and road grime, his blackened
fingers grasping my hair. He yanked my head back roughly.

"Now, we can't have that. Where's that Bronze, did you stash him somewhere?" he purred, his beady eyes roaming my body.

I felt like I was going to vomit. "What Bronze? I told you, I haven't seen one in weeks."

Jack dragged me by the hair out the back door, his compatriots jeering. "Tire tracks.  Not just tire tracks, but Interceptor tracks. Only Bronzes
drive those." He grinned. "The last time I saw one of those, it was on fire, Bronze and all."

Beyond the fear, my grandfather's spirit boiled up inside me. "You're such a coward, Jack. You couldn't even face him in a fair fight; instead,
you had to set the poor bastard on fire."

Immediately, my midsection exploded with pain. The world went white, then black as I threw up my breakfast all over Jack's boots.

I awoke in a sea of pain, listening to a cacophony of raindrops hitting the roof of the bungalow. I was trussed hand and foot, laying on my stomach on Max's bed, my dishrag between my teeth.  I tried to spit it out, but it was no use; the damp cloth was tied around my head. From inside the bar I heard noisy laughter and a snatch of music, punctuated by the occasional shattering of glass.

Struggling, I flipped myself over and managed to sit up, the rusty bed screaming so loud, I thought someone must have heard it. When no one came, I swung my legs around and knocked over the bedside table. The hurricane lamp shattered as it hit the floor, and I went down on my knees beside the puddle of sparkling shards.  Easing myself into a sitting position, I cast about with my bound hands behind my back, trying to find a big enough piece of glass to cut the ropes. After several tries, I found one, though the sharp pain in my middle finger let me know it would cut more than the rope.

When my hands were free, I untied my ankles. Blood was everywhere by the time I was done, but I didn't spare the gash a second look as I scrambled to my feet and hit the screen running.  I ran straight into a column of black leather, my  heart nearly leaping out of my chest. Before I could scream, a black leather glove clamped over my mouth, and I saw Max's icy blue eyes over the seam of the glove.

"Don't scream."

I shook my head, and he released me. "They're looking for you. They know you were here last night."

Max shoved me behind him, then pulled out his gun, seeming not to have heard me. "Stay right here. Don't move." He left the porch and stole
silently across the grass, ducking into the open back door.

I did as he asked until the sound of more glass shattering made me retrace his steps from the bungalow to the bar.  I heard shouts, then two
shots and a bloodcurdling scream.  Dashing into the room, I expected to find Jack standing over Max's body, a smoking gun in his hand, but to my surprise, it was reversed.  Jack lay in a growing pool of blood on the floor, his gun still in one lifeless hand. His minions were scattered around the room with eyes widened in terror.

Calmly, Max swept the crowd with the muzzle. "The rest of you get out, or do you want the same?" When no one moved, he gestured with the gun. "Get out.  Leave the bikes."

In less than half a minute, all of the scruffy band was gone. Max holstered his pistol and walked toward me. "They'll be back. You're not safe
here."

I shook my head stubbornly. "I can't leave. I made a promise to my grandfather."

Max was insistent.  "Charlie, I'm taking you to the next town. They'll  come back and kill you if you stay here."

"No! I made a promise--"

He gripped me by my upper arms, bringing me close to his lean face. "Don't talk to me about promises. I made one too, and I watched people die
in spite of it." His icy eyes roamed my face. "There's no promise worth anything, except the promise of life." Max looked at me steadily, "Your life, Charlie."

Reluctantly, I nodded. The juke glittered out of the corner of my eye, bittersweet reminder of what used to be, and now could never be again.
"Alright.  I'll go."

A movement behind Max caught my attention. Jack's hand, tightening on the gun as he dragged himself, impossibly, to a sitting position. He was dying, but he intended to take someone with him.  "MAX!" I shrieked.

Max whirled, gun in hand. Two shots flashed from his hip, the bullets slamming into Jack's chest. The roughnecks' body jerked with the force of
the hits, his finger tightening reflexively on the trigger of his pistol. Half a second later, I realized that my left thigh was on fire, no longer able to support my weight.  I went down, seeing and hearing Max from a long way away.

"Charlie!"

I watched as Max's face washed out into a white blankness, then dimmed into darkness for the second time that day.
 


*     *     *



"Charlie."

I was awakened to the sound of my name, vaguely realizing I was lying in an extremely soft, comfortable bed.  I opened my eyes and saw Max standing there, looking down at me with another of his rare smiles.  "You're awake." He twisted his gloves in his hands. "Well, I just wanted to stay and make sure you were okay. I've got to be going."

"Wait." I reached into my pocket, bringing out the Polaroid. I saw his heart leap into his eyes, melting the ice.

"Where did you find this?"

"On the nighttable in your room. Who is it?"

He looked at the photo for a moment more, smiling a little. "That's my wife, Jess, and our son Steven. We called him Sprog."

I leaned up on my elbows, feeling my leg twinge uncomfotably. "Where are they?" I asked.

The iciness had returned, and he put the picture in the inside pocket of his leather jacket. "They're dead. The scrags killed them."

"I'm sorry."

"Mmm."  He backed away. "I've got to go, Charlie. Be seeing you around." Turning back a few steps away, he smiled at me. "Thanks for
everything."

I nodded, falling back on the pillows. I dozed for a while, and when I woke up, he was gone.