#10 - Gunslinging 201
Troy kept his word. Reed had not truly known a hard day's work until that morning. Before the sun had risen, he had repaired a number of structures in the town. His muscles burned, but he pushed on, not questioning the Sheriff since that usually just brought another load or another whack on the head. He had barely finished nailing another support beam to the main building when Troy called him back over.
"You done good so far. You still want to handle a gun?"
Reed grunted, glaring at him. His patience was beginning to wear thin.
"Most of 'em fainted by now," Troy said to himself and then to Reed, "I do believe you're the first to make it this far." Reed didn't know if this was a compliment or an insult. Though with Troy it usually tended to be the latter.
"I'm growing tired of this," Reed said, throwing down the hammer in his hand, "I have been working like a dog. I have listened to your words. Will you teach me to wield a gun or not?"
Troy frowned. "I don't know if you're ready."
"Then I must go." Reed turned away and began to head out of town. So much for this. He had wasted enough time here trying to please this man who obviously could not be pleased. He should have left immediately guns or no guns.
Reed halted, but did not turn around.
"I've been hard on you, son, but it's only because this is a hard world nowadays. A gun doesn't make you invincible."
Reed turned. "That is not why. You still do not trust me. Is it because I am a Xylem? Because I am different than you?"
They stared at each other. Troy seemed to be sizing him up again. Reed flinched defensively as Troy pulled his gun. The old man laughed.
"Glad to see you ain't forgotten number one. Now don't go running on me. I ain't gonna shoot you this time. Hold out your hand." Reed wasn't so sure of that, but he held out his hand anyway.
"My father gave me this one the day I finally come of age. A lot of the parts been replaced o'course, but it's the thought behind it. Better that I pass my guns on now before I get too shaky to hold 'em."
Reed opened his light green palm as Troy placed the revolver in his hand. It weighed more than he thought it would. Troy drew his other one slowly. "I want to make something very clear. These aren't toys. If you're going to point it at someone, you point it because you're aiming to shoot. I don't ever want to see you doing any of this," he waved his arm about like rubber, his gun pointing all over. "Idiots do that. And they're the first to get shot."
"I got something else for you too," he continued, "Hold out your other hand."
Troy placed a long metal tin into Reed's hand. He pressed a latch on the edge and it gently opened wide, revealing a series of tools and brushes.
Troy began disassembling the gun he held in his hands. "The first thing I'm gonna show you is how to clean it, how to take it apart and how to assemble it. If you get in a duel the last thing you want is it blowing off your own hand. Part of that is cleaning and repairing. You learn that, any gun will serve you a long time."
They sat on the porch of the main building in town as he taught Reed everything he knew about firearms. He told him about the popular models, the bullets made for each one, how to make gunpowder, even how to create a makeshift gun if it ever came down to that. Reed felt overwhelmed by so much information. He took in what he could. The rest he hoped would come with time, if he lived long enough to need it.
Reed seemed to be doing well until the grip slipped from his hand. He fumbled for it and stepped backwards, but the wooden piece snapped like a twig under his boot heel. He sighed.
"No! Dagnabbit, Greenhorn! I told you to be careful! Now I'll have to carve another handle," Troy said, "There ain't any good wood around here!"
Reed unstrapped the small bag of possessions he had carried since his flight from his village. Unwrapping the dried leaves, he pulled out a curved chunk of wood. "You may use this."
Troy whistled deeply as he touched the smooth surface, red and dark as cherries. "I've never seen wood of this quality. Boy, what is this?"
"It is the heart of my mother. The soil sickness turns the heart to stone and the branches to dust. I am the only one who survived its touch."
Troy's eyes softened, for a moment he seemed unsure of Reed's request. They exchanged a long look. Reed held it out to him. Troy stared at it before removing his hat and placing his hand over the heart. "It would be my honor."
Reed watched over his shoulder as Troy sat in a rocker and took a knife from his pocket. He skillfully carved the heart into two smooth pieces, one for each of the guns. Onto each grip he detailed leaves, the same shape as those on Reed's head. Reed watched with much interest and approval. After he had finished, Reed installed them onto both of the handles. He added a special liquid on top and polished them until they shone and held them out for Troy's approval.
Troy gave another low whistle, "They look better than the day I first held them. Better than new."
Reed held them out to Troy, but he held up his hands, "No sir, I told you I'm too old for this. They're yours now, sure as the wind that blows."
"I still do not understand how to use them properly. I do not deserve them."
"In that case, you're finally ready," Troy said with a smile as he carefully stood up.
~ * ~Compared to everything else he had been ordered to do, shooting was easy. Troy improved Reed's stance, showed him how to draw it quick, and how to sight down the barrel. Reed again felt barraged with instructions overlaying instructions, but he found he could process it now. Again Troy relentlessly criticized every movement and breath he took, but Reed knew he was doing well. Well enough. At last Troy began to applaud and Reed stopped.
"Time I gave you these," Troy said, draping a shoulder holster onto him and tightening the straps. Reed placed one gun there as Troy belted another around his waist. "You remember what I told you. You always keep this one hidden," he patted his shoulder, "make 'em think you just got the one. Then you pull this only when you need it. She's your last hope."
Reed slipped back on the long coat, concealing both of them for the moment. "What now?" he asked.
"That's all I got. You bled me dry, son."
Reed frowned, "I still feel like I know nothing."
"That's good. My pa always said a wise man is a man who knows he's a dummy."
"I do not understand."
"That's okay. You will in time, I think. Meanwhile you git now! I wasted enough time training your sorry ass."
"Where should I look for Reinheart?"
"He's a tricky one. However, I do know where his gang hangs out alright. Head East from here towards the Mesa, you can't miss it, it's huge. There's a compound up top there, an abandoned wind-mill farm. Lord knows you're gonna need some luck to get in there, with these tornadoes everywhere, but I did my part. If you do make it up there, and can bring back my people, more power to you, I says." There was a deep sorrow in his eyes, one that spoke very clearly. I've lost hope.
"I will rescue them," Reed said. "I will find Anna and perhaps her father as well."
"God protect you," Troy said and then suddenly embraced Reed. Reed seemed surprised. He had never received a hug before. It was a human gesture, but he found himself returning it, a feeling sweeping through him. This man was crude and harsh, but he was something else as well.
Troy let him go, "Come back if you can, Greenhorn. There aren't any good guys left around here."
"I may be the last of my kind," Reed replied, "but I will always stand tall. That I promise you."
"Glad to hear, son."
~ * ~
As soon as Reed could get everything ready to leave, Troy gave him a small satchel of food. Reed placed it in the saddlebag and mounted his horse, Abe. He rode off as the sun set before him. Troy watched him go until he had long disappeared from view, straining his eyes against the sun. The young plant man may have been dense as a boulder, but he had a good heart and a fairly intelligent head on his shoulders. He hoped that was enough against Reinheart's men. Time was not on his side either. They needed a miracle. He hoped Reed was to bring it. The town wouldn't last much longer.
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