The expedition had pushed through Logansport, Indian in the darkness of early night. The single person they saw gave them the stink-eye as he noted where they had come from. Walt guessed that the locals knew of the ambush site and assumed the expedition was affiliated with them.
That colored Walt’s decision to push on the entire 25 miles for the day.
Trusting his memory of the map, Walt turned the wagon to the south to get it off the road after they had traveled what Walt judged to be the appropriate distance. They set up camp with a railroad grade to the north of them breaking the wickedly cold wind. After caring for the horses and eating a cold dinner, they turned in for a sleepless, cold night.
The half-day layover started out awkwardly. They didn’t have a tightly choreographed set of chores and were at loose ends. It did not help that they were wooly-headed due to a lack of sleep.
Walt took the time to introduce Sally and Steve to his battle-field pick-ups.
He gave Steve a fresh box of 20 gauge ammo, twenty-five rounds of high-brass, #7-1/2 shot.
Then he laid out the handgun and the SKS for Sally to look at.
“These are both yours, if you want them” Walt said.
Sally could not imagine shooting a human but then she recalled the two times she had been in jeopardy of being raped, all within the last week. In the case of the ambush at the bridge, likely she would have been kept around as a camp-ho until they were tired of her at which point they would have dumped her in the river.
She had been thinking about that. The only reason they had not kept her was because it was less work to have local girls walk over and service them rather than have one more mouth to feed.
“How do I wear this?” Sally asked, picking up the belt and holster with the small S&W semi-automatic.
“We have to figure that out” Walt admitted. “But first I have to give you the twenty minute safety and shooting lesson.”
After Walt was sure Sally had a grasp of the fundamentals with an empty handgun, he loaded up a single round and let her shoot it at a stump to get a sense of the recoil.
Then he tied up one of the ubiquitous, disposable plastic grocery bags to the same stump and had her shoot a string of three rounds from four paces away.
She missed two of the three shots.
“That is actually pretty good shooting for a pistol” Walt said.
That was only half of a lie. It was not bad shooting for somebody’s first time EVER and shooting a small handgun.
“It is not like the movies, is it?” Sally said, ruefully.
Walt shook his head and mouthed the word “No” in agreement with Sally’s assessment.
“So how did you shoot all those villains?” Sally asked.
Actresses actually use words like "villain". They are a different species.
“I used a long gun...a rifle” Walt told her.
Then Walt pointed at the SKS. “A rifle like that one.”
Sally assessed it the way she would have looked at a stage prop. It looked very modern and mechanical and competent. It did not pulsate malignancy the way “assault rifles” did. The SKS still had the original, hinged, 10 round magazine and it looked sleek and aerodynamic, a greyhound rather than the pit-bull look of an AR or AK.
“How do I carry it?” Sally asked to the men’s surprise.
Walt said "We will have to figure out some kind of sling."
Walt went through the same training with the SKS as the handgun.
This time, though, he put the grocery bag out ten times farther, finding a tree forty yards away.
He scratched out in the frozen mud what the sight picture was supposed to look like. He had her use a steady rest and dry fire it until the muzzle didn’t dip when the hammer dropped.
Then Walt loaded up three rounds and had her shoot at the bag.
Belatedly, Walt cursed himself for not checking the sights before Sally shot. It would be just like some yahoo to not have it sighted in.
Sally followed Walt’s advice. Aim small, miss small.
There was nothing wrong with the sights. The three holes in the bag could be covered with a 3” by 5” card, which was plenty good enough for social work.
The temperature continued to fall through the morning and Sally decided to fill the tick-mattress that Helen had given the expedition at Bazylewizc compound.
The ground was frozen which made it easy to cut the armfuls of dried cattail leaves and swamp grasses needed to stuff it full. The mattress was large enough to sleep all three of them.
“We got lucky” Walt said as they were harvesting grass.
“Yeah. I know” Steve said. “They could have killed us on principle or taken the whole wagon and put us on foot. Then you wouldn’t have had your gun.”
“I suppose we could hire guards” Steve said “But we don’t have money for that.”
“Maybe we could ask towns for guards to the next town?” Walt said without much hope.
“They would want to get paid” Steve said. “And mostly we are avoiding big towns.”
“Frankly, I am surprised none of the ones we passed haven’t tried to shake us down for a percentage of our cargo” Steve said. “I just know that is going to happen and then we will lose our asses. We can’t battle an entire town.”
“Yeah, we need a plan” Walt said gloomily. “Some kind of story that makes them afraid to screw with us.”
Steve stretched, then picked up a bundle of grasses and carried them up to camp.