Clementine Dunn, who was all of thirty-two years old wore her long, dark hair plaited in two braids that hung past her waist. Wearing overalls and high boots and a crop top, Clem looked nothing like the head of an underground moonshine operation. She was near one of the pigpens that was close to the slaughterhouses, but the stink of blood and flesh, warm and spoiled, was barely noticeable to her anymore.
There was a large bundle, wrapped in rags, covered in, what smelled like garbage. She leaned over the fence, looking at the pigs in the pen, who kept watching her with their dark, beady eyes. She smiled, pursing her lips together, making sounds at the swine who stamped their hooves in the mud. They hadn't eaten in days.
She had called a meeting of those she trusted--along with a surprise guest. Things were changing all over Panem and she aimed to get ahead of the game--but she would need the rest of them to make this happen. "Soooooie!" she whooped, her voice lilting and echoing into the air. Clapping her hands, the pigs began to shove against each other, ravenous, eager to be fed.
Shielding her eyes with her hand, she looked to those arriving.
"Time to eat!"
It was only two years ago that Ness shivered at the prospect of meeting up with any of the more elite Bootleggers. Now, he walked to an assigned meeting place with his hands heavy in his pockets, a slight slouch to his step, his head leaned sideways as a demonstration of arrogance. In his jacket was a gun. He never went anywhere without one.
Two years ago, he had sat down at his brother’s table, listening to him rant about his trials and tribulations - and to his promises. Kraft had always been a neat little package oaths and swears and reassurances. When they were younger, he had sworn that he would protect the goats and the cacti that had filled the Muldvarp family with hope for the future and joy for the present. Five years later, he killed every single goat; he turned the cacti wine, whose recipe was a family heirloom, into corporate pig-swell that failed its first week. Two years ago, Kraft Moldvarp had sworn his brother the paycheck of a lifetime, so long as he put on a little act for a certain audience. Ness had been on stage for two years now; he’d read his lines, followed the blocking to the best of his ability. And he had seen only hairs of the price promised him.
Ness didn’t need to think long and hard to know that Kraft had no money, and that he was soon running out of time. Ness had tried soothing the issue with deadlines, interest, et cetera. Kraft shrugged it all off. It burned Ness to a crisp, but he shouldered the burden, despite it all. Ever since an incident when they were fourteen, Ness tried to avoid giving his brother too much trouble or woe. It was the brother in him.
But times change.
When one lies for long enough, they become the lie. Ness had started off as a liar, passing off as another cock-fighter, distilling for the Baron and his passe, calm and quiet and never blinking when a bruiser crashed in and dragged some poor bastard off into the night. He spent two years of his life never blinking. A few times, he even helped bury the body when the bruiser was done with it; once, he even helped finish it off. And at the cusp, he had sworn an allegiance of betrayal with the fair mistress of the Bootleggers. He had, and was still, doing his part to help her, to help his brother, and most importantly, to help himself.
The latter was supreme. The former had offered him more than he had ever bargained for. In creating such a blood tie, Ness had found a place. If he wanted, he wouldn’t ever have to go back to the slaughterhouses as another pig murderer. He had power in the bootlegger system - nothing like Clem’s, nothing Shannon Rigby’s, nothing like any of the bruisers, and he would never have anything like the Baron ever had. But power could go a long way in the right hands.
And what did his dear sweet brother have for him but debt?
Ness took his hand out of his jean pocket, and caressed the gun in his weathered jacket. He breathed in the fumes of death as he walked about the slaughterhouse: the memories of shrill screams, bloody hands, and empty stomachs filled him; he walked on, his face stiff. No one seemed to be there except him and a couple of dumb animals that stared at him with trembling eyes, each huddled over in the corners of their enclosures. A few days ago, an explosion had racked the Justice Building and whatever important political offices of District Ten; the workers treated the oncoming political apocalypse as if it were a holiday. Ness couldn’t blame them. He was rather excited for it himself. He found that he rather liked change.
He turned around a corner, entering the stalls of pig-pens. A few feet away, Ness noticed the lovely Baroness that truly ruled the Bootleggers. She even made plain farm clothes look good. He smirked a little, his eyes glinting, neither predatory nor sweet, but rather as though he had just thought of some stupid joke only he would find amusing. He approached her. He did not fail to notice the large bundle caked with garbage, and felt only a slight elation. With unforced casualty, Ness piped up to her: “Lovely mornin’, Clementine. Not as lovely as you.” The flirting was a game he liked to play with her - such was how he played with most women of her caliber. Some of them found it charming, even flattering; Clementine seemed to usually find it exasperating: his favorite. In terms of sexuality, Ness had not really grown past those boyhood days of shoving girl’s pig-tails into ink.