On the ninth day west of Des Moines, the little company came across a crumbling Ferris wheel tilting drunkenly above a starveling cornfield. Here and there, crows picked among the scant remnants. They showed no alarm at the squeaking wagon's approach.
Angler flapped the reins and Missus Hammeril's pair of horses came to a halt.
"Oh," Missus Hammeril said, a little sadly. "Orry and I rode one of those, when he was first courting me."
Angler, facing forward with his mistress behind him, rolled his eyes. Exactly who he was rolling them for, he could not say. The crows, maybe.
"Copper!" Glee bloomed in Mr. Bugle's voice. "Every one of those rides is wired with copper. We strip that and bring it to the next encampment, we'll--"
Be rich. Excitement built in Angler's chest. If we can hold it, that is. He looked to the shotgun leaning against the bench, counted shells in his head.
"Some people are never satisfied, are they, Angler dear? You'd think travelling across the country with an entire wagon of hundred dollar bills would be enough for any sane man, but--"
"Have your man bring us closer," Mr. Bugle told her. The tone pricked at Angler, as it always did, but his mam had always said that men of vision were to be given certain latitude. Angler swallowed down his irritation and twitched the horses on.
"Stop this wagon immediately," Missus Hammeril said. "I will most definitely not risk my horses' safety by going one step closer to that rattling deathtrap, Rueford Bugle. If you want to go fall into a hole or get crushed by a falling funhouse, that's your own decision, but you will not risk my property or person in doing it."
It was a lungful for her. When Angler stopped the horses again and looked back, her face was red beneath her wild white mountain of hair. She looked, he thought, not unlike a strawberry covered in whipped cream. He hoped she wasn't about to stroke out like the late Mr. Hammeril, God rest his soul. Angler didn't relish the thought of digging another grave on this trip, but he knew himself and he wouldn't be able to sleep if she was left to rest unburied.
"There is, you know. A certain sense," Angler ventured. "To what Mr. Bugle is saying. Not everyone"--not anyone, he meant--" still believes that the sort of money we're carrying has much value anymore. Something more, you know, concrete. Might be useful."
His mistress' nostrils flared. "So you're both against me now? I suppose this sort of thing is to be expected of a man like you, Rueford, but Angler Hook, after all these years I thought better of you."
"Not in the least against you, Beatrice dear," Mr. Bugle said. "The government may well come to save us all, one day. But until then, it behooves us to look out for ourselves. It's simply more practical to bring the horses to the copper than the copper to the horses."
Missus Hammeril sniffed. "These horses were my husband's pride and joy. If something were to happen to them--"
Well, then, we'd all be dead. But we'll be dead anyway without food, and feed corn and crows make for miserable eating.
"Now, Missus Hammeril," Angler said. "I'm sure Mr. Bugle won't let anything happen to Duke and Daisy."
"Rueford Bugle would shoot every horse on every estate from here to Kentucky if it would shave an extra dollar from his tax bill," Missus Hammeril said.
"Nonetheless," Mr. Bugle said. "Copper is heavy stuff, and you don't want to wear your man out carrying it."
"But surely you'll help him!" Missus Hammeril said.
And that, right there in a nutshell, was why Angler Hook was still travelling with the unlikely pair of them. Because Mr. Bugle wasn't just practical, he was smart. And if Mr. Bugle was right, and they were on their own, Angler would need to be needed by smart people, wasn't he? And if the government ever came back, well, someone like Mr. Bugle was going to go places in the reconstruction, and Angler could certainly do worse for himself than to be nearby.
"Sorry, ma'am," he said, and he twitched the horses forward again.
This one was from a writing prompt over at http://www.reddit.com/r/fantasywriters/. Given three characters with distinct relationships, write a scene. My random generator gave me an abandoned amusement park, with the genre a cross of picaresque and military SF. The SF got stuck in the background - the apocalypse - and the picaresque makes this one more place they visited. I really wanted to bring someone in to really make the picaresque work, but since I couldn't per the challenge rules, I had to find the conflict in the park itself. Once I realized that, and sketched in why they'd be together, the rest more or less fell into place.