The Old Man - Persistence, Part II

Friday, July 7, 2017

McCullock answered angrily. “It’s a mean, backside biting dog, stupid. What do you think it is? Give me that letter.”

Jess threw the letter across to McCullock, who was now sitting up against the wall. He read aloud,

“Dear Jess . . . We all have been terribly concerned after hearing of all your run-ins with the poachers.

Anyway, we decided that you and McCullock needed some extra protection. Your father and Mr. Kenton flew down to Texas to get him, and we all pitched in to pay for him. He cost us a pretty penny, so be gentle with him. He’s already trained and his name is Toby. Be careful and I’ll see you soon . . Love. . . . Cary.”

McCullock broke out into laughter.

“Be careful with him,” he mimicked.

“I’m working with crazy people. Crazy people are on my side! Do you know that, Parker? Sending a killer dog in the U.S. Mail.”

Jess talked to the window. “We gotta make friends with it.”

“Look here, Parker, I’m not spending the rest of my life in this house. There’s only one thing to do. Where’s that elephant gun the Old Man gave you?”

“No,” Jess said flatly.

“I’m gonna shoot him. You can tell your lady he got squished by a truck or something.”

“I said no!” Jess hurried into the kitchen and came back with a piece of country ham.

McCullock jumped on a chair and drew his pistol. “How you gonna get that ham out that door?”

Jess smiled, “I’m gonna open it just a little.”

“I’m telling you, Parker. I’ll shoot him. I will. I’m gonna shoot your dog.”

Jess opened the door just a bit. “Hey, boy. Hey, Toby, want some ham?”

Toby, at the mention of his name, transformed into a tail wagging picture of gentleness. Jess opened the door all the way and let the dog in. He growled at McCullock before finding a corner and laying down.

“Yes sir, I think he’ll do fine. Think we ought to take him with us tonight?”

“I’m truly working with crazy people.” McCullock remained motionless on the chair.

Sixteen hours later, Jess and McCullock were parked at the tree line of a large clover field. They had been there since dark.

“It’s midnight,” mumbled McCullock.

“They’ll be here,” said Jess.

“How come you’re so sure?”

“I’m not . . I’m just trying to be optimistic, and with you in the truck it’s kind of hard.”

McCullock poured a cup of coffee from his thermos bottle. “Would you care to go work coon hunters for a while?”

Jess was persistent. “They’ll be here, I tell ya.”

McCullock mocked him. “They’ll be here I tell ya. Shoot.” McCullock rolled the window down and spat out the used tobacco.

“Hey!” Jess grabbed McCullock’s arm spilling hot coffee in his lap. “Look!”

The light pierced the blackness, sweeping along the tree line. Finally, it stopped four hundred yards from their truck.

McCullock whispered, “Take it easy now, they found the deer. Just sit tight. Let’em shoot . . “ the shot was thunderous, but the silence returned quickly. They sat there, waiting and watching and listening and waiting some more.

“You figure they got it loaded yet?”

“They’re gonna run like crazy when we go after them. You know that don’t you? They’re gonna run.”

Jess nodded. “Now?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Cause I say so, that’s why.” McCullock’s left leg was burning from the coffee, but he didn’t feel the pain. He paused. “O.K. Let’s see how close we can get before they run.”

Jess started the truck and eased from their hiding place, skirting the side of the field to the road.

When their tires hit the gravel, he felt better. Without the use of the lights, the gravel sounds helped him to navigate his path.

The engine of the other car suddenly revved, and immediately the night was filled with sounds. McCullock slammed the blue light on the roof of the truck. “Let’s get’em. Go!”

Jess and McCullock had sneaked to within one hundred yards of the old Chevrolet before the race began, and now the two vehicles were bumper to bumper. Jess hit the siren, but it had no effect. Every attempt to pull them over became a confusion of spinning tires and close calls with nearby trees.

Luckily, after two miles, the rear tire on the old car blew, sending the car into an uncontrolled spin. It stopped abruptly against a 200-year-old beech tree, bearing dated initials cut on all sides.

Immediately, a man jumped from the car and scrambled through the woods, but McCullock tackled him 50 yards from the truck. They rolled through a briar thicket before stopping. McCullock rolled the man on his stomach.

“You’re under arrest.”

The man on the ground strained under the wight of McCullock on his back.

“So, don’t mean nothin’, Mr Game Warden. This don’t mean nothin’, smart boy. I’ll be out before you get home. Only thing you done is made me mad. That ain’t smart.”

McCullock rolled him over. “Does it look like I’m too concerned about makin’ you mad. Huh! I’ve had a belly full of your kind, Mister. Get up and walk back up that hill. Now!”

The man stumbled to his feet and started toward the blue light flashing on the road. When they arrived, Jess had the other man spread eagle against the hood of the car. Toby was sitting at Jess’s side looking deliberately at the man who was now talking.

“Please, Mister, keep that dog back! Don’t turn him loose on me.”

The man who had run stopped short when he saw Jess and the dog standing in the lights of the truck.

“What’s that?” he asked McCullock.

“It’s a dog, stupid, what do you think it is? Keep moving.”

“I ain’t never seen no dog looks like that. Will he bite?”

McCullock smiled. “Don’t look like no lap dog to me.”

The trunk of the car was open, revealing the recently shot deer. Jess caught McCullock’s eyes through the revolving blue light.

“Care for a chew?” McCullock offered a wrinkled pouch.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Jess. “Appreciate it.”

McCullock offered the pouch to the dog. “Want some ‘baccy there, boy?”

Toby growled.

“Never mind,” McCullock whispered as he backed away. “Just tryin’ to be friendly.”

Two weeks later, the courtroom was packed with onlookers. The recent arrests on the new wildlife area had promoted interest in local sportsmen. After hearing the case involving the deer, the judge removed his bifocals, and rubbed his eyes. There was a seriousness in his voice that Jess and McCullock had not heard before.

“Gentlemen, when this little escapade began, I was of the opinion that there was not a whole lot wrong with occasionally killing a deer out of season, to feed a family or whatever. Times are hard, I know, but you fellas are beginning to irritate me. Now, these wildlife officers here have impressed me over the last six months as much, I guess, as I have been impressed in years on the bench. I know they don’t make any money workin’ for the state, so I thought to myself, why do they continue to keep placing their lives and limbs in danger. I came to a very brilliant conclusion.”

The judge paused and wiped his glasses.

“Mu conclusion is this . . . they care. They care if you kill deer out of season and in unsportsman like manner. They care about what happens to the reputation of honorable hunters, because of what a few slobs do to downgrade it. Gentlemen, and ladies and gentlemen in the audience, I want it known that when I was a child growing up in this country, if a deer was even seen, it was a cause for a drinking spree by some. There were no deer around here 50 years ago, and it’s only because of the efforts and persistence of men like these officers here that we can see them today. So, what I’m trying to say is that if they care . . I care, and from this day forward, if anyone is brought before me because of illegal hunting activities, they will receive the same sentence that these outlaws are going to get today. I find you both guilty as charged and do hereby fine you the maximum amount by law, or more if I can arrange it, and all the jail time I can find in this book. Next case.”

Jess turned. McCullock looked modestly at the notes in his hand.

“Well?” Jess whispered.

“Well, what?” said McCullock.

“What do we do now?”

McCullock smiled. “Now . . . we slow down. Now we get real careful. Now, we work real hard. Now, we earn our money.”