As soon as Bonner decided to go, he swung into action. There were preparations to be made. The key to any successful ride—and a successful ride was one where the rider came back alive, whole, or at least, without having lost too much blood—was proper preparation. Bonner was always amazed that people inbound for hostile territory would take along a rusty old Marlin rifle, half a tank of gas, and a great deal of faith that they were meaner, tougher, and faster than any man they were likely to meet. Sometimes these guys came back. They would spend a week or two in Chi getting blitzed at Dorca's, then they went out again. Bonner had seen them come into town and a couple of times had been present when they went—-permanently.
Life was hard, thought Bonner, but it was much harder if you were stupid.
There were two important struts that supported a rider on the road, two granite blocks that were the foundation of any man when he went out to do battle. He had to have a reliable means of transport and he had to have a weapon he could always depend on. The right gun had to fit a man like his skin and he had to be able to use it as if it was an extension of himself. It had to be as flexible as a whip, yet as hard and as strong as a well-worked-out muscle.
Bonner was a master of the knife. Time was when three heavy, razor-sharp knives hung from a holster on his hip. They were ready to fly through the air with unerring accuracy. They would cut deep into the bodies of his enemies, silver, fine-edged extensions of his own power. The steel would snap through the flesh, the gristly muscle, the soft pliant veins and arteries, of those unlucky enough to have tried to take Bonner down.
He backed up his blades with a shotgun, 12-gauge, two barrels, instant death. Bonner could whip his gun from its nest and lay down a carpet .of fire that devastated all those who opposed his will.
But Bonner had suffered a setback, a humiliation. On the last raid into the Slavestates he had lost his weapons. Leather had them now. Bonner could get new ones, a gun and a set of knives that men might even consider better than his old ones, but he could never replace the ones he had lost.
But replacements had to be found. Bonner never cut comers on his arms. He wanted the best and he didn't care what he paid. He could have gone to the bazaar, that teeming, noisy, cramped shopping center on the Loop, and buy alongside all the other raiders, smugglers, and riders that were looking for weaponry. But Bonner was prepared to pay top slate for his weaponry. Cut corners there and you were cutting your own throat. Bonner went to the Armorer.
The Armorer had a shop over on the South Side and his four or five dark rooms were filled with weapons of every variety. He rarely left his lair. The Armorer would not sell to just anyone. He had to be sure you would take care of his babies and he had to be sure that you knew how to use them, appreciate them like a connoisseur.
"Why should I bust my ass," he would growl, "to sell to some pile of meat whose only qualification for my stuff is that he can pay for it?" He would harumph indignantly. "Any fuck can get hold of money."
Bonner saw in the Armorer an embodiment of a certain type of man the ancient authors had written about with much respect: an artist. If there was such a thing as an artist in this new, deadly age, the Armorer was it. Bonner recognized that what the Armorer could do with tubes of steel, pieces of wood, and tiny wasps packed with gunpowder and lead was as important to that day as what the great artists of the past had done to theirs. The Armorer worked within his medium to create those things that would destroy in the cause of good, or at least, work to the advantage of those men who were not as bad as most. Men like the Armorer, Bonner, Seth, and Starling sensed that things were badly out of kilter in the world, that everyone was guilty of crimes, but that some were guiltier than others.
Bonner rapped smartly on the Armorer's door. His knock rang in the silence. From the other side of the door there was nothing but quiet. Bonner knocked again. A heavy, even tread advanced toward the door. '
"Who?" demanded a voice from within. "Bonner."
A lock was snapped, a bolt shot back. "Bonner," said the Armorer, swinging the door open. He spoke through a dense mat of black beard streaked with gray. "What brings you to me?" "I need some weapons" . The Armorer was a tall man and always wore a long, lose robe; he looked like the pictures of the Old Testament prophets that Bonner had seen in his books. He must have weighed three hundred pounds and his forearms glistened as if they had been oiled. He spent long hours at his anvil, hammer in hand, and he had arms as strong and as hard as tree limbs.
His vast face darkened. "So what happened to your old stuff?"
"I lost it," Bonner said simply. The huge oaken door slammed in his face. Bonner looked at the door and smiled. He knocked again. Time passed. Then, from the other side, the Armorer spoke.
"Come on," said Bonner.
"Why should I fit you again? You're only going to lose the stuff I present to you."
As far as the Armorer was concerned, he never sold you anything. He loaned it to you. It was always his, and if you lost it, misused it, or destroyed it, he considered it as serious as if you had hurt one of his children.
"Armorer," said Bonner, "I need help."
A bolt was shot back and the door swung open.
"You're lucky I like you," he said. "Get inhere."
The room smelled of wood smoke and hot metal. Bits and pieces of a thousand different weapons littered the weighty oak tables. The forge glowed dully, heating the room.
"Take a seat," said the Armorer. Bonner settled himself in a chair and the Armorer sat across from him and leaned on the table. "Now," he said, "before we talk about your new stuff, suppose we have a little chat about what happened to your old stuff.''
As quickly as he could, Bonner recapped his long, long, bloody strike deep into the dark gut of Leatherman's empire. He spoke flatly, telling the Armorer only the details he needed to know. Bonner wasn't big on war stories. He finished by telling him that Leather now held the weapons.
"And he's probably slicing the shit out of his slaves right now," said the Armorer.
"No," said Bonner firmly, "he's not."
"How do you know?"
"He has no hands," said Bonner matter-of-factly.
The Armorer looked puzzled. Bonner wasn't the type that went in for mutilations.
Bonner seemed to read his thoughts. "It was an accident," he said.
"You accidentally cut off his hands?"
"I was trying to kill him."
"What did you use to bring him down?"
Bonner said nothing about the circumstances of Dara's death. That he had not been able to save her was a shame he would never allow himself to forget. Nor would he be able to forgive himself so grotesque a failure.
"Tough time all over, sounds like," said the Armorer sympathetically. He sat back in his rickety chair. "So what do you need?"
"Knives, shotgun . . . some ammunition."
"Yeah, I can fix you up." The Armorer stood heavily.
"Have you ever heard of a gun called a Steyr AUG?" asked Bonner.
"I got a book that lists it. Never seen one. You have one?"
"Yes. Picked it up in New York."
"How is it?"
"Semi-automatic, fast, tough, ugly."
"Do you have any ammunition that'll fit it?"
"You making a change, Bonner? You never carried an automatic before."
"It came in handy."
' The Armorer's eyes narrowed. "You headed out again?"
Bonner's mouth set in a hard line. "Yes, guess so."
"Yeah," said the Armorer, "I got some ammo that should help you out some."
"Shotgun first." The Armorer rooted around in the metal mess and tangle that littered the rooms. He came up with the object of his search a moment later, a long slim bundle wrapped in an old gray blanket. The Armorer slipped the gun out from its covering, his eyes bright with admiration.
"Nice," said Bonner.
"Purdy Special," said the Armorer. "They're old, very old, but its the finest work I've ever seen. Back then, Bonner, in the old days, they knew how to do things."
Bonner took the gun in his hands. It was a long, slim, elegant piece of work, and somehow it reminded him of the body of the girl. He could feel the balance of the gun in his hands, and as he ran his fingers over the butter-smooth stock and barrels he could sense the sure hand of the long-dead craftsman who had fashioned it.
"Can you cut it down?"
A look of intense pain dashed across the Armorer's face. "Yeah, I can," he said, "but it won't be the same gun."
"I know," said Bonner bluntly. He couldn't allow himself to worry about besmirching this thing of beauty. He needed the firepower.
"Knives," said the Armorer, producing three flat-bladed, razor-sharp blades, the identical counterparts of Bonner's old ones. They had the same weight, the same black bone handles, the same cold assuredness of purpose as the knives that Leather now had.
The Armorer found ammunition to fit the shotgun, the Steyr, and even threw in a belt or two of the ammunition that would fit the heavy machine gun that Bonner had mounted on his car.
"What do I have to pay you."
"A thousand slates," said the Armorer. The price was high but fair. Bonner was not the sort of man who would haggle. The Armorer wasn't the sort of man who would cheat him. Bonner paid in the currency of the day: odd pieces of gold and silver that had been melted down and re-stamped into rough, round wafers.
The money lay glittering on the table, but the Armorer paid very little attention to it. His large brown eyes were fixed on Bonner. "Do me a favor," he said, "try and get your old stuff back from Leatherman."
"Will do," said Bonner.
"And be careful about it," added the Armorer, knowing that would be impossible for the Outrider.
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