With equal amounts of relief and leg cramps, Roll and Jack waded across the ill-named Lazy River. The icy water rushed by up to their knees, trying to knock them over and carry them away. A couple of times Jack almost let it. It might have been easier to just let the river drag him away from the raiders; he’d just have to push himself toward the eastern shore. The pack on his back kept him upright. It was heavy. It was unwieldy. It was his duty.
Finally they found the thin muddy shore on the eastern side. Their boots squicked and squawked as they took a few steps into the tall yellow grass, and as if on cue they stopped together, turning around. Even with a day’s walk ahead of them they were already in Colton territory. Kill a man in the no man’s territory west of the Lazy River, well, that’s just business, son. Kill a man in Colton territory and the Coltons WILL come for you.
“They’ve stopped,” Jack said, bending over his knees.
“Let’s keep walking,” Roll said. “If we sit to fix ourselves here they’re liable to come get us and drag our bodies back into the no man’s.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “They’ll do that? I thought the treaties were absolute?”
“They’re raiders, what do they care for treaties? I’ve seen it happen with these two eyes, son. We don’t have to run. We just have to not stop.”
With a final glance back at the line of raiders watching, Jack reluctantly stood up and began the process of forcing one leg in front of the other. Roll had been a liner for nearly thirty years, working the supply lines since the war, almost. Jack had been desperate to train with him, and that desperation would mean nothing if he didn’t listen to everything Roll had to say. Roll kept them on a slow, but steady, pace, until they crossed the rest of the field the river cut through and entered into the forest. Before the trees swallowed the view, Jack could see the raiders were gone.
“Right here, these rocks. Oofta, I’m getting too old for this.”
Jack smirked as he sat. “What are you talking about? You’re fitter’n me.”
“Physically? You bet. I could kick your ass from here, son. Mentally? I might just be getting tired of dragging bags of supplies back and forth while dodging thieving slapnuts. Ahh, shit.”
Jack didn’t need to ask what happened. Roll sat down on a large rock a few feet away from him and tried to sling his bag around him as he talked. A raider’s arrow must have gone through the bag, just near the strap. Not enough to break it then. Enough to break it now. A tearing sound ripped through the clearing and the contents of Roll’s bag was spilled onto the soft dirt and leaves between them.
Roll stared at the mess, the supplies strewn across the forest. The supplies that still needed to be brought to the Coltons, only now the bag was a useless pile of canvas. Roll screwed up his face, his cheeks turning a dangerous red color and his hands grasping for something to scream into it. After a few seconds he relaxed, blowing out a long breath of air and using his hands to smooth out the lines between his eyes and massage his jaw.
“Dogshit,” he said. “I guess I’m teaching you how to mend a bag today. Get that stuff out of the dirt, for now. Put it up here.”
Jack carefully took his own pack off and put it on the ground with a gentle touch before going for the supplies. The last thing they needed was two broken bags. He’d have to inspect before they began again. In a way, though, he was glad Roll’s bad had broken. He’d never been good at stitching, and he was sure the old man-
All thoughts in Jack’s head came to a deafening halt the second he realized he had picked up a magazine with naked women on it. The magazine was older and battered. The woman on the front was blowing the camera a kiss.
Jack looked down. Magazines, everywhere. All with a naked woman in a sassy pose. Oh, no, there’s some naked men. It wasn’t all magazines, though. There were a few boxes that had been sitting at the bottom of Roll’s pack. It took Jack a few minutes to know what they were, because while he had heard of dildos before, he hadn’t actually seen one.
“What’s the matter, kid? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. You know anyone in those? Ha!”
“We have been walking for days. Crossed the mountains. Skirted around Cadillac City, knowing if anyone of them heard us we’d be on a spit over a fire before we could ever scream. And then just spent the last three hours running from raiders…for porn? All of this…was for porn?”
“Keep your voice down!” Roll hissed. He looked back toward the river. “If those raiders are still hanging around and they hear you, they will definitely come for us.”
“I thought we were transporting important things! Vital things! Things people need to survive! You know…supplies.”
“Jack, sit down. No, I mean it, sit down. There’s no talking to someone when they’re this riled up. Sit.”
With a huff, Jack sat down. He realized he was clutching the magazines and tossed them down with disgust.
“Now, you’re only partially right here, kid. We are transporting important, vital things. Yes, supplies. But not just for people to survive. We’re well past that. We’re transporting things so people can live. Of course, we also carry food, fresh water, seeds, tools. Necessities. But we’ll also transport games. Not just jeans and flannels, but dresses and suits. Music. You know I once went all the way from Bosshead to Dawn’s Break carrying nothing more than a violin? And yes, sometimes we will transport porn. People need to live, Jack. They need to have a little fun every now and then. So maybe all of these things are necessities, too, in their own way. Does that make sense to you, kid?”
Jack sniffed. “I guess.”
“I mean, after that little dust up, wouldn’t you like to just relax? Sit for a spell, maybe read a book?”
“Yes,” Jack admitted. If they could somehow sit here for the next hour or so, Roll playing his harmonica while Jack massaged the ache out of his feet, he would. “Not with porn.”
Roll swatted the air at him. “I don’t want you to do that, either. But somebody back in Colton does. And don’t they deserve a break, too? Don’t they have the God-given right to relax while looking at some long-dead woman’s breasts?”
“Well, now I’m sad for an entirely different reason,” Jack said, looking down at one of the magazines. “I guess your point stands. People need porn.”
“People need porn!” Roll said. “Now get out your stitching kit, we’re going to have some fun.”