I was less pleased. The donkey would be slower than our horses, and there wasn’t enough room on it for the gear we had managed to find in town, so it all had to be put onto Flecha and Charlene’s roan. Well, we couldn’t go very fast anyway, since we would be keeping pace with a stupid donkey.
Before we left town, we stopped by Ramiro’s shop and thanked him one last time for his hospitality. Tanner tried to give him a few coins, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I told you before, friend, that we’re here to help each other. You never know when you might be entertaining an angel unawares.”
This made Tanner laugh. “Either that, or the devil. But I hope God rewards you as if I were an angel.” Then he looked at me and Charlene. “With such pretty ladies as these for guests, maybe you did get to entertain a few angels.”
Charlene ducked her head and smiled at the compliment, but I just motioned toward the road with a jerk of my head. “Come on. At this rate we’ll all end up angels when we lose our way in the dark and die on the side of the road.”
And so with Ramiro’s blessing we were off, heading east along the main road.
The road followed the path of a small river, and I wondered aloud how long that would last. “If we’re still by the river when we make camp, maybe we can catch some fish.”
“That would be good,” Charlene said. “I’m tired of beans and venison.”
“Fish are good for you,” Tanner said. “They make you smart.”
This didn’t sound likely to me, and I said so.
“Oh, but they do! All the smartest people in history lived near water and ate fish." He then rattled off a number of names, most of which were unfamiliar to me. “And they all ate fish, which was what made them so smart.”
“I’m sure plenty of stupid people have eaten fish, too,” I said.
“And were smarter than they might’ve been,” was his answer.
This was too silly for me to argue about, so I contented myself with watching the landscape go by while Charlene and Tanner talked some more about fish.
I turned my attention back to them at his mention of the Manzano mountains.
“The feds had nukes hidden there, but they had to leave them behind,” he told Charlene. “One day a goat herder found his way into the federal tunnels by accident and now his whole family is rich. They take out the radioactive ore, which glows in the dark, and make little lamps out of it. They sell them in the villages all up and down the main road, and—”
“No, they don’t,” I said. “I’ve been down that road through the Manzanos. There’s no glowing lamps for sale anywhere.”
Tanner didn’t even bother to blush. “Well, they probably don’t make them available to people just passing through. They don’t want to attract too much attention, you know.”
What a liar. I went back to looking at the trees.
Around mid-afternoon, we passed through the remains of a village. There was no one living here, and the buildings that hadn’t collapsed showed fire damage.
“Too bad,” Tanner said. “I hate seeing these little villages disappear. It means the world’s population is shrinking.”
“It could be increasing in other places for all we know,” I pointed out. “And why would it be so bad if there’s fewer people? Seems like less competition, if you ask me.”
“People are what grow the economy. People need things, so that means someone has to produce and someone has to buy. More people means more buying and selling, which means more prosperity for everyone.”
“But doesn’t that also mean more sickness, more crowding and more fighting? Isn’t that what the resource wars were all about?”
Tanner waved his hand. “Don’t be silly. More is always better.” He cast a sly look at Charlene. “Especially when it comes to money and pretty ladies.”
Charlene giggled at this, and I couldn’t help wondering just what it was they had talked about when they were alone yesterday, and how much money he really had. The remark about “pretty ladies” especially irked me, but I kept my mouth shut and wondered instead how far it was to these bottomless lakes he hoped to find, and whether or not he planned to jump in.
Late in the afternoon we made camp by the river.
The first thing we did was set a few lines for fish, then Charlene and I began setting up camp while Tanner went in search of firewood, saying he didn’t think we “ladies” should be wandering around alone. “Might be dangerous, you know.”
It crossed my mind to point out that it had been we “ladies” who had found him in danger in the woods just the other day, but I concentrated instead on making camp. Once he was out of earshot though, I turned to Charlene. “I don’t know what inspired you to invite this mentiroso to come with us, but I wish you hadn’t.”
“Why do you call him a liar? I think he’s interesting.”
“So is a coyote, and I don’t want to travel with one of those, either.”
Charlene stopped digging in a pack and looked at me. “I think you’re jealous.”
I had been clearing a spot for our fire, and now I sat back on my heels. “Jealous of what? Don’t tell me you actually like this guy.”
She gave a little shrug and turned back to her pack, taking out cookware and cups. “Maybe you don’t need a man, but I do. And I need one fast.”
I stood and went over to her. “You can’t be serious.” When she didn’t answer, I put a hand on her arm. “Don’t make the same mistake I made and go running to a man just because you’re in a bad situation. The worst decisions are the ones you make in a panic. Besides, you don’t really know anything about this guy. Even if he would have you, it might be for all the wrong reasons. You’d regret it, and—”
She jerked away from me. “Don’t go telling me what I’ll regret and what I won’t. Just because your decision wasn’t right for you doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been right for someone else.”
She moved away and I let her go. After a moment, I went back to preparing the ground for our fire, and had everything ready when Tanner came back with an armload of dry branches.
We had a nice supper of fish, supplemented with food from our packs. I thought about suggesting we try the sardines Darrell had encouraged me to buy last week, but decided instead to save that experiment for some other day.
We divided up the watches for tonight, but I have a feeling things aren’t going to work out according to plan. It’s already late, Tanner is supposed to be on watch, and instead he and Charlene are still whispering by the fire. All I can say is he better be keeping an eye out for trouble, because I’m not rescuing him a second time.
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