Short Story: Roadkills and White-lies

by on December 3rd, 2010
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A steel gray, November sky bullied away the low-slung Indian summer sun while the last of autumn’s tenacious leaves finally succumbed to aggressive winds out of the northwest.

Familiar smells, musky in nature from decaying forest leaves and ground duff filled the air with the certainty that Nature was making Her perennial announcement: “Buck season rides a hurried wind …” And this signaled a time for sacred indulgence for the infamous, two-man rank and file of the Bullseye Bunch, Infallible.

And rest easy, these are two, no-greed-stricken, poor shooting, loathsome, litter tossing, disrespectful to Nature, men, these men of the B.B.I.. They’d spent weeks in preparation getting things just right, clothing, rifles, and hickory-smoked jerky for quick, woodland snacks. These men well respected the quarry of the season upcoming, the whitetailed deer, and each harbored a deep-set love for all wild things, and wild places and nurtured that fondness on a continuing and highly relentless basis. In this sense, then, and perhaps only this aspect of their lives, were they in fact, infallible.

Little Joe’s phone rings early Sunday morning: “Has to be Big Bill, again!” Joe said as he stumbled to the phone. This, according to accurate records written upon a scratch pad near the phone, was the ninetieth call from Big Bill in his child-like excitement over the buck season upcoming. Calls that came at all hours of the day and night and for all reasons, mostly unimportant insofar as substance! But, that was Bill, the giant pussycat in the huge body of a man; little things meant a lot to his big, Teddy Bear heart and childish mind. And, as abstract and bewildering as it seemed to Joe, Joe loved his buddy regardless.

“Hello, hello, hello, short shooter! Is your sleepy, burned out mind aware of what Sunday it is?”

“Yeah, yeah, Porky, I know what Sunday it is! Pick me up in thirty minutes and don’t forget your rifle, shells, targets and a big thermos of cinnamon tea, the tea being for your illustrious leader! And also, Fat Boy, if you’re driving don’t forget your vehicle!”

“How could I forget my Ram, little buddy, and what’s this tea business?” Bill questioned.

“Yes, whacky Willy, tea! It’ll be easier on the nerves than that 10W, 40-weight coffee we usually drink and enable us to hold steadier on the sand bags. Bye! See ya in thirty!”

The initial shots from Big Bill’s .32 lever fell nearly a foot low and another half-foot right. “Good grief waddling Willy, it’s no wonder you never got a deer what with the way this saddle gun is shootin’! You are fortunate to have befriended the master of the Bullseye Bunch. Just watch what a few expert adjustments and an eagle eye will do.” In short order, Bill’s venerable old, thirty-two Winchester clustered three rounds tightly and centered just about 2-inches above the bull. “There ya go, Billy me deer slayer. Why you could cover that group with a nickel.”

So, the two were pretty much ready. Joe literally pounded the last minute hunt instructions into Bill’s resilient mind. “And don’t you dare bring a single eucalyptus cough drop with you tomorrow. Not in your pocket, anywhere! Bill, can you even imagine what those awful things smell like to a deer?” Bill was rather addicted to these aromatic lozenges and always carried a good supply in just about every pocket.

“No cough drops, Little Buddy, I promise!”

“And,” Joe added, “no aftershaves, stinky hair tonic, no flowery smelling anti-antiperspirants and please, none of that terrible watermelon bubble gum you’re forever gnawing at!”

“Nuttin’ stinky Joe, I promise. Nuttin’ stinky. I promise!”

“Okay,” Joe said, “now get your flabby derriere home and be at my door by five a.m. in the mornin’. Got it?”

“Got it Little Buddy, got it. But what if I come around a little early?”

“Don’t!” Joe said, looking sternly into Bill’s little-boy sky blue eyes, “Just please, don’t!”

Bill’s knock on Joe’s door the following morning, must certainly have registered in the low fives on the Richter scale! And yes, it was 3:45 a.m.! “Bill, for cryin’ out loud, I just went to sleep a few hours ago! I thought I told you.”

“I know, Little Buddy, I know! I was up and about and all set to do as you asked this mornin’ when I discovered I was outta dental floss. And ol’ Billy here can’t do nuttin’ before he flosses. Got any floss, partner?”

“Shut up and get in here before you awaken the neighbors! Geezooey, Bill, you’re like a dadblamed kid!” Joe went and turned on the radio for weather information as Bill, heavy-footed, stepped into the kitchen.

As Joe fumbled with the radio, Big Bill paced about the kitchen. “Shhh! Geez, Bill, you sound like a rhino walkin’ on a hollow log. You’re gonna wake everyone!” Joe switched on the kitchen light, turned to look at Big Bill and was immediately blinded! “Holy mackerel, Billy! That’s more fluorescent orange than I’ve ever seen in one place! Good grief, man, you look like the Orange Bowl with feet!”

“Looks pretty doggone nice, heh Partner? Whaddya say?”

“Yeah, Bill, real nice. Looks real nice. Factory most likely shut down after making that outfit, no doubt outta dye! Why I never realized there was that much hunter orange in the county, fer cryin’ out loud! Now, go into the powder room there and get your floss.”

Moments later Bill emerged from the powder room. The radio weather report called for “increasing cloudiness with high winds expected until early evening.” Bill’s hollow-sounding snow-pak boots echoed throughout the kitchen. Walking up to Joe, he whispered, “Can’t go nowheres, ‘specially huntin’ before my flossin’, Little Buddy.”

Joe looked up at Bill and saw he had a horrendous amount of dental floss which had the distinct likeness of a rather large bird’s nest, save the trailing strand that Bill directed between his pearly whites. “What in blazes you doin’, Bill? Goin’ bass fishin’ or deer hunting? Why there’s enough floss there to fill the spool on a deep sea fishing reel!”

Poor Big Bill. He stood there like a kid, embarrassed to the point where his eyes watered profusely. “Yeah, I know Little Buddy. I couldn’t get that there little blade on the container to cut ‘er off and it just kept comin’ and comin’ and comin’. This here’s the whole roll! I owe ya one partner, sorry.”

“Just drink your coffee Bill, and let’s get rollin’, okay?”

Bill began to laugh and having difficulty getting out what he thought was joke of the year! “Hey, Short Stop, how’s about we take along this here floss and drag out our deer with it?”

Joe just shook his head left to right and smiled sincerely at Big Bill’s unique, lovable way, then said, “Billy me lad, you get your deer today, old Rank here will personally carry it out on his shoulder! Now. Let’s go!”

Bill followed Joe to Mr. G’s farm. Joe had a story to cover at the deer check station and Bill mentioned that he may want to hunt past noon, which was when Joe planned to leave the woods, deer or no. The weather promised a miserable first day, too, and Joe was worried about Big Bill’s success, wanting him to get his buck in the worst way. “You just hunt if I decide to go, Bill. No sense both of us cutting our first day short.”

They parted at the vehicles and went to their respective stands, the better of the two being “given” to Big Bill. “Good luck, Little Buddy!” Bill whispered.

“And the very best of luck to you Big Boy. Put one down and out in my honor, will ya?”

“Try,” Bill whispered back, “I’ll sure try. Thanks!”

Joe thought about Bill all the while he pussyfooted to his stand, thinking, “It would be the most wonderful thing in God’s world if that big-hearted teddy bear got his buck and by golly the big lug deserves to feel the thrill of that at least.”

The winds of promise blew savagely. Decaying trees were uprooted and fell viciously to the ground, while large limbs snapped and were tossed onto the ground all around Joe’s stand. Clouds raced by in the threatening sky and the morning hunt was fast losing its flavor. Joe thought, “I’d best go after Bill and call it a day. Nothing will be moving in this weather but the trees…” However, even before Joe got himself together to leave, he saw a blinding mass of fluorescent orange walking toward him.

“Howdy there Little Windbucker! Think we ought to pack ‘er in?”

“Yeah,” Joe said disgustedly, “let’s just head for the Palace and hope for a better tomorrow.” Joe at that moment, was able to easily detect the strong aroma of eucalyptus over-powering the muskiness of the forest, which in itself was powerful on this damp morning. “Cough drops, Bill?”

“Yeah. I know, I know. I promised Joe, but that daggone wind had me a nervous wreck. I just knew it was blowin’ away our day and it’d turn out to be a total loss, so when I found a few cough drops I had stashed away in that old oak tree hole, I couldn’t resist. But at least I waited til the wind was so strong I kinda knew you’d call off the hunt. Not mad at ol’ Billy, are ya?”

Bill’s look made Joe spare him a good tongue lashing, and off they headed toward their vehicles. Big Bill’s Ram headed out first.

As Joe came down Mr. G’s red dog drive, he could see up onto a mountain directly in front of him. Several hunters were lining up to drive out a big section of woods. “By golly,” he thought, “they may just push one outta there!” So, instead of turning left toward town, Joe went right then parked his truck as the first wide spot on the dirt road. He climbed part way up the mountain to the open field where the hunters had lined up for their drive, then situated himself in a good vantage point where he could see anything that may slip back through the hunters. It was strangely flat there, a bench of sorts on the smallish hillside.

He’d no sooner caught his breath when he heard shots. One then two more. Several moments of silence followed and Joe’s eyes were watering from the wind blowing into his eyes and the strain of staring into the woods’ edge. Just as he was about to call his plan a futile effort, two deer burst from the woods-unaware he was there-and raced across the opening. On one knee, Joe followed them through his scope. “Tough shot, quartering away…” His mind raced, the bucks turned giving his less “away” angle and he touched off a round at the deer on the near side, fortunately, the larger of the two. The rest is history. Old “One Shot, Thirty-Aught” had done his job again.

Field work done, liver and heart in a plastic bag and secured in his jacket, Joe headed downhill toward the pickup. “Easiest draggin’ I ever done…”

As Joe pulled into the Palace parking lot he saw Big Bill pacing like a huge, orange mother hen just inside the big window in the front of the restaurant. Bill ran outside to greet him, hollering even before he was all the way out the door. “Where in tarnation you been, Joe? Why I was worried sick! Been here well over an hour and was just about t’come after your hide. What happened, I was so worried I could hardly eat!” Bill’s sincerity was evident in his puppy-dog blue eyes and he reached over and gave Joe a bear hug, shaking him with the affection of a partner who really cared about his well being. Then, Big Bill spotted the big eight-point buck in the back of Joe’s truck.

Joe saw the shock in Bill’s eyes, and at the same time, the hurtful look. Joe’s mind raced again, for he wouldn’t hurt Bill for the world and all its big bucks. “What is that Little Buddy,” Bill asked, “ya mean t’tell me you got ya a buck after I left you?” Bill’s face was bland, drained of all its color and Joe knew it hurt Bill seeing that buck, knowing of course how badly Bill had wanted one. Joe felt one Lily White Lie wouldn’t make his Maker angry?

“Naw, Billy. That there’s a roadkill I picked up on my way in. Some hunter musta wounded him up in the woods and he got hit when he was crossin’ the road? I phoned old Warden Regis from the filling station and he said to bring it on in if I wouldn’t mind. Gonna take it to the orphanage, I’d guess?”

Wide-eyed, Bill rubbed the thick brow tine on the antler. “Boy, Joe, he’s a dandy ain’t he? Wish we could’ve seen him out there this morning, huh?” Not giving Joe an opening to answer, he went on. “Ya know, Partner, I wouldn’t have cared who got him, me or you! Golly, he’s beautiful, ain’t he?”

Joe left, broken-hearted at best, and told Bill he’d best get the buck to Warden Regis. “Howdy Rege, how’s about giving this buck to the orphanage for me?” The warden thanked him and he left for home, feeling rather certain he’d done the right thing, proper in that it would spare his buddy Big Bill any hurt? But somewhat saddened himself, thinking he may not have his cherished winter venison.

Their buck season, even though Joe’s secretly ended earlier, went without incident. Joe accompanied Bill just to share the usual joys that seemed to forever follow this pair known as, the Bullseye Bunch. Bill went without his first buck even with Joe helping and driving out different areas. Joe’s buck filled the stomachs of precious orphans.

“Well, Billy, Monday is the start of antlerless season and neither of us have winter venison. Ya gonna score Big Boy or ain’t ya?” Bill shrugged his shoulders and worked that smile onto his face that completely dimpled his rosy cheeks.

“Well, by jiminy, Joe,” he said, “I’m a ready as a Freddy. I’m just hopin’ things go better than they did for our two weeks of buck season! You?”

“While we are on the glorious but unproductive subject of buck season, Billy me boy, do you, the second highest ranking official of the B.B.I., recall telling your leader of same, that you were so worried about my tardiness opening day, that is when I arrived late at the Palace, you could hardly eat? I then, would like to share with you, you blue-eyed blimp, this list I compiled consisting of the things Rosie the waitress told me you ate in the hour or so you awaited my arrival.” The list was obnoxiously lengthy: At least one and one-half pots of coffee, four uncommonly large slices of tooth-rottening pie of various types, a large bowl of music-making chili con carne, three foot-long chili dogs, several dozen saltines complete with whipped butter for combating indigestion, two large glasses of strawberry milkshake topped with whipped cream and maraschino cherries, a softball-sized blueberry muffin and a handful of after-dinner mints. Joe then held the list to Bill’s bulbous nose. Bill’s face reddened and carried that familiar, childish look of guilt, much like a cat who’d just devoured his master’s blue-ribbon goldfish.

Bill squealed, “I was worried, Joe! Truly, truly, I was. I told you that, yes. But I never said I wasn’t hungry, just that I could hardly eat!” Joe patted Bill’s mammoth shoulder to help him through this moment of emotional stress.

“Bill,” he said, “was that hardly eat, or heartily eat? Your in-shape, well-muscled leader here doesn’t eat that much in a week’s time!”

The doe opener found the two B.B.I boys together in the darkness on the ridge above McGinnis Hollow. They drank tea at the vehicle, whispering their plans for the day back and forth, then parted company with the customary, “Good lucks.” Joe, tough as he’s not, whispered silent prayers for Big Bill’s success all the way to his morning stand. “I love that big poop, by golly, and I sure hope he scores this mornin’.”

Joe, on stand, “Ten o’clock and nothing? Guess I’d better do some pushing for ol’ Bill.” He got up and walked toward Bill’s stand, some distance away and within say, 100 yards, he could detect the heavy (very heavy!) odor of cough drops, eucalyptus no less, and when he got to Bill, he discovered Bill’s cough drop addiction to be at an all-time high!

“I though I told ya no cough drops, Sneaky Pete?” Bill’s stand area was completely surrounded by strewn wrappers, which certainly he always burned prior to leaving. But Joe was hot under the collar and stared sternly into Bill’s glazed eyes.

“Didn’t have a one Little Sherlock! Not one! So there, put that into your pipe and puff it!”

“Then Billy, how do you account for all these wrappers I just waded through?”

“Just watch this!” Big Bill unwrapped another cough drop, telling Joe to sit and be still a moment. He then tossed it to the base of a hickory den tree about 15-yards away. A large gray squirrel appeared from inside the tree, apparently watching them all along, picked up the cough drop, then scampered right back into its den. “See there, Little Buddy, told ya!” Bill said, “Been feeding that little nut buster these things all morning. Dunno what in tarnation he’d doin’ with ‘em, but he grabs and runs every time I toss one out there!”

“Yeah, yeah, Bill. And you’re all the while hoping your next squirrel fricassee tastes like eucalyptus, right?”

Bill began elaborating loudly on what a fine idea that might be when Joe cut him short. “C’mon, let’s go get us some venison.”

“Bill, I’m gonna push out the hollow down there.” Joe pointed, adding, “You stay right here and don’t move a layer of blubber until I come after you, understand? And good luck!”

Not long after Joe began his push, he heard the sounds of deer moving way out ahead, then seconds later, bang! Then bang, again. And two more bangs! Joe wondered, “What in the world is that gorilla doing? That little thirty-two of his is right on the money?”

After Joe got to within ear-shot of Big Bill, he could see the giant of a man pacing back and forth like an expectant father and soon was able to see that Big Bill was standing over one fat doe of the season! Joe was ecstatic, running the last 35 or 40-yards.

“Billy, me deer slayer of the chubbiest kind, ya got one! Your first deer, Billy, way to go!” Joe all but broke Big Bill’s back, slapping it over and over, but rest easy, Bill couldn’t feel a mortar hitting his back what with all the blubbery layer beneath his clothing. The joy was shared, and Bill stood there smiling ear to ear, unable (a rare moment!) to speak as Joe scrutinized the deer walking around it over and over and over. Joe’s heart was a full as it had ever been which was proof of the love he had for his partner.

“Why did ya have t’shoot four times, Billy?”

“Well, Little Buddy, she was over the gully there, just lyin’ up in the laurel and I didn’t want to shoot her lyin’ down so I shot three times b’fore I could get her t’movin’. By jiminy, Joe, if I’m gonna be a deer hunter, I’m gonna be a fair one always!” Joe thought, what a heart this big bear of a man had, deepening his respect for Bill.

Joe dragged Bill’s plump, corn-fed deer for nearly an hour toward the truck. “‘preciate your draggin’ her out for me, Joe, I’m whupped!”

“Billy, I promised you I’d carry her out on my shoulders if ya got one, didn’t I?”

“Yep, ya did at that, Joseph!”

“One thing about your leader, Billy, is he never tells a lie. Especially to a fellow member of the B.B.I.”

“Izzat right, Shorty and teller of the lily-white lie?”

“That is keeerect, m’friend, keeeeeeerect!” Joe said.

“Then how come,” Bill questioned, “old Warden Regis found a neat little thirty-caliber hole in the neck of that eight-pointer you told me was a roadkill back in buck season?

“Was a roadkill, Billy!”

“Was not, ya short fibber!”

“Was, Billy. It was!”

“Joe!” Big Bill’s blue eyes watered, begging for the truth.

“Well, okay,” Joe said, head down shamefully, “but if a guy looks real hard up there on the bench where I shot it, there are faint, ancient tracks where there used to be a loggin’ road!”

“Ya know what?” Bill said, his heart melting, “If you wasn’t so dadblamed short and fragile, I’d love ya t’death with one a’my famous bear hugs! That was the biggest buck you ever shot, Joe and I knew then why ya did what ya did, least I thought so. That’s why I questioned old Regis. Still, I sorta thought when ya left the diner that day, ya’d take that ol’ buck home and hide ‘im in the deep freeze.”

“Billy me lad, that buck would have put the coupe de grace on my old heart had I eaten a single tenderloin off him. Remember, William, in this B.B.I. organization, the other guy always comes first and your leader merely did what his heart dictated.”

Doe season ended and Joe hadn’t gotten one since all his opportunities were too chancy. After his first day back at the Observer newspaper, he came home tired and in a dismal mood, common to the deer hunter when seasons end.

He walked into the kitchen and upon the table lay a note, reading: “Hi, Joe! There are two tender Porterhouse steaks in the frig for you and the wife for supper. And if you’ll look in the deep freeze, you’ll find your kindly wife allowed me to stock you with a grand side of grain-fed beef. Anyone who would give away a whole venison, the biggest buck of his dumb life, deserves to suffer through beef all winter!” Of course this letter was written with proper spelling and grammar for the sake of the readers’ understanding and it was signed, “Your Best Pal, Big Bill The Deerslayer.”

There was a post-script which said: “Under all that tender beef is exactly one-half of my deer. Your share of the winter venison ya big dope! Eat it in good health cause next year I ain’t givin’ you a single pound of my deer! But then again, I just might. Especially if I stumble upon some old road kill on Mr. Georgetti’s farm with a thirty-two caliber hole in it! Bye! Billy!”

Ya just gotta love this guy, don’t you?

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