The Old Man - Persistence

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Old Man had just poured the coffee when the table began shaking and the dishes began rattling on their shelves. Suddenly, as the entire house shook, he heard the engine noise. Chimney soot fell to the open hearth of the fireplace, billowing a cloud of black smoke in the den. The Old Man shielded his eyes from the glare and then as the plane climbed in its path back toward the house, he recognized the unmistakable signature on its fuselage – cow manure.

The Old Man broke into a laugh as he hurried to the truck.

“I’m a coming Mathew Parker. Meet ya on the hill.”

Mathew Parker was now on final approach to the hilltop pasture. He cleared the last tree line, cut the power, and immediately put the little tail-dragger into a slip, falling sideways toward the ground until, at the last moment, the plane straightened itself. Mathew added power again and softly touched down,completing a perfect soft-field landing. The Old Man cackled at the ease in which Mathew flew airplanes.

“Did I miss supper?” Mathew yelled as he stepped from the plane.

The Old Man stopped the truck and got out. “Reckon I can round up up something to eat. How you been, Mathew?”

Mathew smiled. “I’m not complaining, and you?”

The Old Man shook his hand. “Tolerable, things have been pretty tolerable. Let’s go get some coffee.”

At the farm house the Old Man filled two mugs and set the pot on the table between them.

“How’s the family?”

“They’re fine, everybody’s doin’ good,” said Mathew.

“Did Jess ever marry that pretty little girl on the next farm over from yours? What was her name?”

“Cary.” Mathew smiled. “Plannin’ a wedding in the spring.”

“Good!” smiled the Old Man. “I bet you’re proud.”

“It’s about time. They’ve been talking marriage since they were about ten years old.”

Mathew paused. The Old Man stirred the black coffee.

“Did you know that they had made Jess the manager on that new wildlife area the state got last year?”

“No, I didn’t.” said the Old Man. “That’s a rough job startin’ a new area. How big is it?”

“About 50,000 acres.”

Mathew stirred his coffee slowly, creating a twirling funnel of steam. “You must be right . . I mean about it being a rough job. Jess doesn’t complain, but from what I can gather, he and the county officer are having a hard time with some of the local people. They don’t respect. The judge doesn’t seem to care about wildlife violations. It bothers me that they are working so hard . . making really good cases . . . and nobody seems to care.”

“Who’s the officer?” asked the Old Man.

“McCullock’s his name. Heck of a nice guy. He and Jess get along real well.”

“He’s a good officer. I know him. The problem is, Mathew that the people in that area are . . . well . . .”

“Mean,” said Mathew, He paused. “It’s hard for me to believe, but when it comes right down to it, there are people who would kill a man over a deer. Am I right, Sam?”

The Old Man sighed. “Afraid so, Mathew.”

“You ever worried about one of your children? I mean really worried?”

The Old Man smiled.

Some two hundred miles to the east, Jess Parker sat on the porch of his house. Slowly he dished a pineapple ring from its can with his pocket knife. He was lucky he thought, that this old house was provided on the area. It was a good house, mainly because of the front porch that extended its full length. Jess had always been fond of big front porches, and had made a habit of watching the last moments of the day from this one. He only wished that Cary was with him. The winter was lonely here, he thought. There were times when her absence . . .

The shot was not particularly loud, but its clarity echoed from the ridge in front of him. Jess threw the can of pineapple to the porch floor and disappeared into the house, only to reemerge immediately, tucking a pistol into an empty holster on his belt. Running to the truck, he started it, and was gone before the first drop of pineapple juice had found its way between the boards to the ground below.

Only one mile away, two men were gutting the doe they had shot from the road.

“You hear a car?”

The second man stopped working.

“Maybe.”

They listened.

“I hear a car.”

“Yea. I hear it. Get down.”

Jess spotted the old Chevrolet that had been parked hurriedly on the side of the road and pulled in front of it. He quickly checked the car and in the corner of his vision saw movement in the field. Repeating the license number to himself, he ran back to the truck. Scrambling in the glove compartment for a pen that would write, Jess jabbed a nail half way through his thumb. Without a pause, he wrote the number down and took out across the field. His thumb ached as he ran.

The two men were now in the woods, but the darkness was taking its toll. They fell often and limbs brought blood across their faces and arms. Jess stopped at the edge of the woods, breathing hard. He could hear them above him, and he started running again, only slower this time; more deliberate. He crossed the top of the ridge and stopped again. He heard them down below at the creek, and continued down the hill, across the creek, and up the bank on the other side. He was approaching the darkened form of an unusually large tree when he remembered that he hadn’t heard their footsteps since the creek. It was then that he felt the blow to his face and darkness overtook him.

Sometime around daylight, Jess awoke with pain shooting through this head. He slowly crawled toward the sound of the creek and upon reaching it, he rested waiting for full light. He heard the footsteps from the other side of the creek. With his heart beating wildly, he quickly pulled a fallen limb across his back and covered his head with leaves. Finally, through the half light, he made out McCullock walking slowly toward him. Jess rose slowly from the leaves, and they talked in yelled whispers across the creek.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Jess made a feeble attempt at standing. “It was such a fine morning, I thought I’d Just take a swim.”

“You come out here chasin’ those spot lighters by yourself, didn’t ya? Uh-huh, I told you this would happen, working by yourself. Who do you think you are anyway, John Wayne? I realize that this area is your responsibility, but we could work together on this. Your problem is that you’re too . . uh . . that’s the word . . impulsive! You need to think things out before you go diving head first . ..”

“Hey!”

“What!” McCullock spat tobacco juice into the moving water.

“Will you shut up and come help me across? I’m not sure I can walk too good.”

McCullock waded the creek and together they stumbled back toward the road.

“Hey, Parker, they broke your nose, did ya know that? It’s sittin’ kind of kitty-wompus. Cut your head, too. Maybe they beat some sense into you.”

“Will you shut up, McCullock! I really get tired of listening to you.”

McCullock spat again. “You just stick with me, Parker. I’m gonna teach you about game wardenin. Got any idea who it was?”

“I got a license number.”

“That’s good,” said McCullock.

“That’s nothing. We’ve been makin’ good cases and all the judge does is turn’em loose. All I’ve got is a number on a car parked in the area. I can’t prove anything.”

“That’s true, but we’ll know who it was,” McCullock smiled.

Two days later, McCullock pulled into the yard of Jess’s house. “Hey, Parker!” he yelled as he got out. Jess appeared at the door wearing a nose splint. He walked to the porch steps and sat down. McCullock pointed.

“You’re really ugly with that thing on,” McCullock was laughing.

“You’re no picture of beauty yourself,” Jess returned.

“Hey, you better be glad my sweet mamma can’t hear you, God rest her soul. She thought her baby boy was the most handsomest thing since Slim Pickens.”

Jess laughed. “I guess she was right.” He walked over to the truck and inspected the large crate in the back. “What’s that?”

McCullock leaned over the bed of the truck. “Mr. Farley down at the post office asked me to bring it out to you.”

“Was there any letter or anything?”

“Yeah. It’s on the dash.” Jess reached through the window and retrieved the letter. They stood there, looking at the box.

“What do you think?” asked Jess.

“What’s all the mystery? Open the danged thing up.”

“You do it.”

“I’ve gotta go in the house and use your phone.” He started toward the house.

Jess suddenly grabbed McCullock’s arm. “Listen, something moved in there.” A low gutteral sound came from within the box.

McCullock turned. “So there’s something moving. What are you scared of? Open the thing.”

“What if it’s a skunk or something?”

“Ain’t no skunk. Skunks smell. Do you smell a skunk?”

“You open it then!” Jess turned toward the house and began opening the letter. “Think you’re so smart.”

“O.K. I’ll open it. My mamma didn’t raise no coward. What could be harmful in there anyway? Nothin’ I tell ya. Can’t put a shark in a box like that, and that’s the only thing that scares me, and that’s only because I’ve never seen one.”

McCullock lowered the tailgate of the truck, removed the latch from the crate, and threw the door open. Inside stood the meanest, ugliest dog ever created in the history of the world. He had short hair and no neck. Muscles bulged from every anatomical location. The dog grunted once and McCullock yelled, moving backwards all the while.

“Oh, no!”

McCullock started for the house, falling once over his own feet, but he was up in a flash because the dog was right on his heels. Jess cleared the porch in one giant leap and entered the house. McCullock was yelling, “Open the door! Open the door!” and running like when he was a kid and it was dark, and he was sure that a hideous monster was right behind him. As McCullock reached the door, it opened just long enough for him to dive through. He lay on the floor, breathing really hard. Jess was at the window looking out.

“Are you alright?” asked Jess.

“I don’t know. I’m alive . . I think.”

“Did he get ya?”

“I’m afraid to look. Is he still out there?”

Jess paused. “What is it?”