Friday, April 10, 2020
Quest:...trampling out the vintage...
After leaving the wagon, Walt peeled off the bright, puffy ski parka that Helen had given to Sally. It was just the thing when sitting in a wagon as it traveled into a head-wind. It was the very worst thing to wear when stalking human predators. Walt was far more comfortable in his tattered, stained, brown work coat.
Walt moved parallel to the road but approximately one-hundred-fifty yards south of it. He replayed in his mind the topography of the approach to the bridge from both the east and the west.
One of the reasons he didn’t have any premonition of an ambush, a fact that bothered him more than he would ever share with Steve or Sally, was the fact that the landscape in the immediate vicinity of the bridge was as bare as a baby’s butt.
That had to mean that the ambushers lurked beneath the bridge exactly like the troll in the child’s story Three Billy Goats Gruff.
The highwaymen had probably heard the expedition clip-clopping their way...although there was a possibility of look-outs. Hence Walt working his way east and staying off the road.
One thing that had been beaten into him through the hundreds of skirmishes Chernovsky’s Defenders had engaged in was that it was far better to spend four hours scouting and four seconds pulling triggers than to do it the other way around.
The few times squads had been in a hurry, it had taken longer and far more bullets had been launched their way. Having bullets whine inches from your ear is apt to make a man turn prematurely gray.
This was to be an execution, times seven. Not a battle. That is, if Walt had his way.
Walt had the belated thought that it would have been smart to have set up communication with Sally and Steven. The last thing he wanted was for them to come traipsing back down the highway just as he was about to drop the hammer.
Working his way down a fence-line overgrown with trumpet-vine and poison ivy, Walt pulled out a pair of compact binoculars. If he could only recover one thing the highwaymen had taken, it would be Lucky the horse. And one thing was certain, Lucky was not camped out beneath any bridge.
Taking his time, Walt glassed all of the surrounding country and came up dry. However, his inspection revealed an unexpected elevation that offered good concealment. It was on the opposite side of the road and a whopping fifteen feet higher than most of the surrounding fields.
Walt patiently worked his way back the way he came. Then back away from the bridge. After crossing the road it was a scant thirty minutes before he found himself on the knob.
It took him about ninety seconds to find Lucky tied to a maple tree with a short lead. Walt instinctively thought “Lucky ain’t gonna like that.” There was no way Lucky could graze with that short of a lead. Another thirty seconds of glassing revealed the guard on the leeward side of a tree, trying to catch a little bit of warming sun.
The guard was more a matter of form than function. Walt did not recognize him from the ambush but he was convicted due to guilt by association.
Walt did not like to leave things to chance. His rifle was sighted in with a zero for 75 yards. All trajectories are compromises. Given his druthers, Walt preferred to eliminate as many variables as possible.
Walt is sure he could have put a fatal shot on the guard at 200 yards. He had the drop and windage numbers written on a card taped to the side of his stock. But shooting from long distances is a show-off move. There is always the risk of a rogue breeze or the guard could raise alarm before he lost consciousness.
The guard was more obsessed with the fact that he had been cast out from the inner circle of highwaymen than with his task of guarding an extremely valuable horse. Walt had no difficulty in closing the distance to less than seventy yards. Shooting from the prone position, the bullet hit the guard a half inch behind his right ear lobe
The suppressor did its job and so did the 36 grain bullet.
Walt left Lucky hitched to the tree. He had bigger fish to fry.
Walt crossed back over the highway to the south side. He wanted to approach the bridge from the south. His memory was that the river angled from northwest to southeast and the bottomlands south of the bridge should offer a better view of what was beneath it.
The highwaymen were having a party.
The expedition was the best “score” they had in two weeks. The locals had quickly figured out that this was a bridge best avoided and pickings had gotten slim until Walt, Steve and Sally had dropped into their laps.
They were passing one of the Mason jars of 190 proof alcohol they had liberated from the wagon as they sat around the roaring bonfire. One of the hams was roasting over the flames.
Walt just shook his head. Given the height of the flames, more of the ham was going to be burned than cooked.
Walt counted eight hostiles. Based on the raucous jesting, Walt concluded it was not the first Mason jar of booze that had been cracked.
Two of the men obviously could not hold their booze. The were leaning forward, one with his head almost touching his knees. He was either falling asleep or nauseous.
Walt was loath to start a fire-fight with eight men. The odds weren’t very good and the river valley was strewn with the logs that would be a pisser to run through. That made dropping back to a fallback position problematic.
Then he had an idea.
Just before it was the leader’s turn to take another hit of the white lightning, Walt drilled the leaning man through the top of his head and he soundlessly toppled to the ground.
The cycling of the semi-automatic action was no louder than the crackle of of the flames.
Then, the leader laughed and lifted the jar to take a swig.
Walt shot the nearly full jar, showering the man with splinters of glass and 190 proof alcohol. Some of the alcohol spattered as far as the bonfire and the leader and the men to either side of him were instantly transformed into balls of fire.
That provided the distraction Walt needed. All attention was on the three, screaming men. Walt methodically started servicing targets, putting a single round through the middle of of their chest cavities.
A ninth man, one who Walt had not seen, must have figured out they were under attack. Picking up his weapon, the hostile started spraying the far side of the river.
The man was standing still while shooting. Walt shot him in the head. That man toppled into the fire like a side of beef that had slipped off the hook at the slaughter house. The insensate body feel athwart the bonfire.
The lowly, .22 Long Rifle cartridge can kill animals far beyond what most people expect. But it does not kill them quickly unless it connects with the upper half of their central nervous system.
A deer shot in the rib-cage with a .22, will run fifty or a hundred yards and then lay down to lick where “the bee” stung it. Over the next half hour or hour, the deer’s lungs will collapse or it will bleed out internally.
Men are about the size of deer but they generally don’t lay down and die. Usually, they panic which ends up in their dying in half the time it takes for the deer to die.
Walt’s dilemma was that he had killed the lot of them, but most of them weren’t dead...yet. He edged his head down, slowly. Then he looked at his watch and started waiting.
He had first one, then a second wounded hostile go crashing through the brush fifteen yards from his hide. He let them go. Nothing tips off a hostile like using a dead body for a welcome mat.
Walt waited a full hour before slowly raising his head above his log to survey the carnage. The leader was still alive, clawing at his eyes and moaning. In the chaos of shooting the hostiles, Walt had neglected to shoot the leader.
The bonfire had burned down to coals. Walt was thankful the wind was blowing the smell of the burning ham and human flesh away from him.
Walking up to the leader, Walt said “By all rights I should let you live so you can confess to folks what you done wrong. I know you had folks around here looking the other way. Maybe they will decide helping folks like you isn’t very smart.
"Who are you? What do you want?" the leader asked as he attempted to rake the glass splinters from his eyeballs.
"Where I come from, a lot of folks call me 'Preacher'" Walt said.
“The Bible is pretty clear that the punishment for stealing somebody’s livelihood is death because stealing someone's livelihood is to kill them” Walt said. “I figure I need you to to spread the word that stealing ain't a healthy way to make a living. So I decided to split the difference between killing you now and letting you live.
Walt shot the leader an inch below his belt-buckle and then started walking back to collect Lucky. They would have to bring the wagon back to collect their goods, but the delay was inevitable.