A scouting mission.
That's what Kenny and I used to call it when one of us would feel out a town and figure out where it was weakest. He was better at picking out the cracks--a crooked sheriff, greedy banker, lonely housewives, gamblers with more money than sense--so it was usually Kenny who laid out the plan, and I did the heavy lifting.
Which I loved.
There's nothing quite like waltzing out of some backwater burg with a bag full of someone else's silver, knowing he won't breathe a word to anyone because he was stupid enough to put it in your hand with a sloppy grin splitting his greedy face. It's even better when you push your chair out from under a heavy back-room table after three hours of five-card, leaving four other men with nothing but the cards on the table wondering what they were gonna tell their wives.
I loved the cards.
And the ladies.
Kenny used to roll his eyes and say to me, "Morgan, I'm laying odds on whether a gambler or a husband is gonna put a bullet in your brain first."
I wish he was still around to roll his eyes.
Not that anyone plays cards since the ice came. No one has time for games anymore, and I'm getting too old for the ladies. Hell, I'm nearly as old as Kenny was. Still, everything's a gamble these days, and I do like to play the odds.
I've been picking my way south through the ice fields since I heard a trapper in Shreveport mention green grass. No one else paid any attention because they wanted to hear about the bandits that ambushed him on the ice, took his pelts and left him for dead. He'd managed to crawl into the settlement, and the locals had enough pity not to eat him. He was pretty cagey about where he'd been, but a shot or three of whiskey loosened him up enough that he let it slip he'd been working a trap line in Mexico before he came north to trade furs.
The settlements are so isolated that everyone thinks they're alone on a sea of ice and better off scraping an existence out of bear meat and dead wood, than trying to find someplace warmer. When a stranger comes to town, they usually think he's just a lucky lunatic, and I haven't said anything to convince them otherwise, but I know there has to be someplace left on this iceball where the sun still shines, and I aim to find it.
Maybe I am a lucky lunatic. It's not easy living on the ice, especially when it digs so deep into your old bones that they feel like they'll never thaw again, but if you keep your wits, if you have a good horse, and you can shoot straight, it's just possible to make it from one settlement to the next. That's something else Kenny would roll his eyes at. I never used to carry a gun. Always figured brains were better than bullets. Besides, when people don't see a gun at your side, they always wonder where you're hiding it.
Now I keep a rifle in a sling and a revolver on my hip. Most people don't get a chance to think about where I'm hiding my backup pistol.
So I stagger into what's left of Houston and decide I better sneak a look around and figure out how best to make my presence known, when I hear something that I thought vanished with the sunshine and clover.