©2022 Michael Raven
Winter was in no condition to have a conversation with him, judging from the way she stormed out of the tent, her head down and a razor-sharp scowl meant to discourage conversation, but Lucas never let such trifles stop him in the past, nor was he about to let them now.
“Shut up, Lucas.”
He felt that was being extremely unfair. Lucas hadn’t said anything at all yet. He had barely opened his mouth to ask–
“I mean it, Lucas. I’m in zero mood to talk right now. ‘Sides, I’ve got to ‘interview’ my little charge to see what she can tell me.”
— if she could use some help with her assignment. Lucas had numerous bad habits, most he might admit to. Others, like eavesdropping, he’d only admit to under duress. Or when advantageous.
This was one of those latter cases.
“See — that’s what I wanted to talk about, Winter. I overheard and thought I could help you.”
Winter stopped dead in her tracks, looked into Lucas’ eyes for something before melting with laughter. Other people in the area stopped to see what she was going on about.
Lucas didn’t see the humor in his offer.
“I could protect you.”
“You?” she asked again. “Shit, Lucas. That’s rich. I have to scour the local area for the girl’s people, if she even has any, and the guy who can’t hit the side of a freight train with a shotgun at ten feet…”
She couldn’t hold back any longer. This time, both hands went to her knees to stabilize her body as laughter poured out.
“You may have a point,” he admitted. “But I have other skills that might be useful. I have a knack for, umm… forage?”
He let the last hang on the air.
Her laughter ceased almost immediately.
To Winter’s credit, she was known as a great listener. Even, it seemed, when she was busy laughing harder than he’d ever seen her laugh.
“True,” she admitted. “You’re very good. And can manage to fit in tight places when needed.”
He bobbed his head with enthusiasm. He found his hook — now, to reel her in.
“Yep, was a yoga teacher before the ‘fell.” He was no such thing, but he being a good liar was something else he’d a knack for. “I’m pretty damn flexible and can squeeze into tight spots.” Not lie.
Her eyes narrowed.
“What’s in it for you?”
He had his story ready for such a question.
“Folks have been saying I haven’t been carrying my weight lately.” Truth. “Some have even been openly asking why Ben keeps me around if I’m just gonna freeload.” Also truth.
“I figure I could do a bit of forage for you so you didn’t have to backtrack to camp to resupply and I could seem useful again.” Lie. Partial truth. “I can be great company when you’re –“
“Oh, lay off the bullshit, Lucas. We both know you’re terrible company.”
He clutched both hands to his chest. Wounded! they said.
Winter was unimpressed.
“Fine. You can come. Get your gear, foodstuff and something to use as a weapon. Meet me back at my tent at dawn. I’ve got to go talk to the girl in red and I’ll then we leave at first light.”
Lucas did a fist pump and raced to his tent. It had been easier than he’d expected when it first became clear that this would be his chance. He thanked several nameless gods that he’d caught whiff of opportunity passing by Ben’s tent and overheard the discussion earlier.