Authors: Pete Hautman
For my brothers, who hunt,
and for my sisters, who don’t
He hunted game in the moonshine bright,
With never a thought of harm,
But he got quite a fright when there hove in sight
Teddy, armed to the teeth with a knife and a sheath
And a rifle beneath his arm.
The colonel plugged him with a laugh,
While Kermit took his photograph.
Said he, “Those Wall Street boys would cry,
If they knew how near I’d been to die,
Oh, this country’s bull, bull, bully,
I’ve enjoyed it full, full, fully,
For it euchres the best they can show in the West,
That’s so wild and wool, wool, woolly.”
SONG PERFORMED BY “MISS SHOOTER” FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT OF PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT DURING THE FAMOUS ROOSEVELT EXPEDITION OF 1909
You have lunch with a guy, that’s good. You do a round of golf with him, that’s even better—long as you don’t make him look bad. But you go hunting with a guy, get out there and kill something with him, man, he’s yours forever.
—RICH WICKY, DISCUSSING CLIENT RELATIONS WITH A REGISTERED REPRESENTATIVE
HE OPEN-TOP HUMMER CLIMBED
out of the dry creekbed onto the bank, turned its blocky nose to the north, and growled up the steep side of the coulee, seeking gaps between the larger trees, rolling over the smaller saplings and herbaceous plants, flattening the mat of autumn leaves. The two men riding in the back seats gripped the padded roll bar. The Hummer lurched over a log, crushing rotted wood with its thirty-seven-inch tires.
“Feels like we’re gonna tip over, Doc,” said the young man in the insulated camouflage coveralls. His name was Steve Anderson, an appellation that perfectly matched his unremarkable Nordic features.
Dr. Nelson Bellweather, a pudgy, mild-looking, soft-featured, small-eyed man with thin, pale hair and smooth, polished cheeks, laughed. He wore a pink western-style shirt with silver snaps and collar points, Ralph Lauren dungarees, and ostrich-hide cowboy boots by Lucchese. His tenor laugh was practiced and frequent.
The Hummer suddenly lost purchase, skidded five feet back down the forty-five-degree slope, and stopped with its back bumper jammed against the trunk of a twisted basswood, precipitating a shower of yellow and brown leaves.
“Holy shit,” said Anderson. He was sweating profusely. His new coveralls, designed to be comfortable down to zero degrees Fahrenheit, were overbuilt for this sunny October afternoon.
The doctor laughed again and brushed leaves from his lap. “Don’t worry about it, Stevie. These Murphys know their business.” The doctor leaned toward the front of the vehicle. “Isn’t that right, Shawn?”
Shawn Murphy, the chubby ten-year-old boy in the front passenger seat, said, “Yup! We know our business, don’t we, Unc?”
The driver, his narrow head in the grip of a worn, mouse-gray Stetson, nodded. He twisted the steering wheel to the right and attacked the incline from another angle. The powerful fuel-injected diesel rotated the big wheels; the Hummer resumed its climb up the leaf-littered slope. The sound of the diesel intensified with the pitch of the landscape. Anderson clung to the roll bar, staring back down the precipitous slope at a swath of crushed vegetation. The Hummer growled, lurched, and crackled its way to the ridge. At the crest, they turned onto a narrow but clearly defined track and came to a halt. The engine subsided to an almost subsonic rumble. Ricky Murphy turned to his passengers and raised a thin blond eyebrow. His sun-toasted face, framed by the worn Stetson, made him look like a famished version of the Marlboro Man.
Anderson said, “Damn, I thought we were going over backwards.”
Ricky grinned. “Hell, that weren’t nothin’. Didn’ even need the winch.” He pulled a bag of Red Man from his shirt pocket, extracted a stringy wad of tobacco, and pushed it into his mouth. He offered the bag to the boy, but when Shawn reached for it Ricky pulled it away, tucked the bag into his pocket. The boy pushed out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout, looked back at the doctor.
Dr. Bellweather grinned and gave the boy’s crew cut a friendly rub.
Ricky said, “Whaddya say, Doc? You into a little cat action?”
The doctor looked at Anderson and winked. “That okay with you, Stevie? My cat first, then your buff?”
“Fine by me,” Anderson said, his heart still pounding from the ascent. He’d never been hunting before. He hoped he wouldn’t do something stupid. His boss at Litten Securities, Rich Wicky, had told him not to worry. “What, do you think he’s gonna shoot you or something? The guy just lost a bundle; he needs some hand-holding is all. If he didn’t like you he wouldn’ve invited you. Let him show off, whack a few beasties. Tell him he’s hot shit.”
Ricky dropped the Hummer into gear and followed the crest of the ridge.
Anderson’s new Weatherby, which he had never fired, rested in its case in the back of the Hummer, bouncing every time Ricky hit a rock or rolled over a fallen log. He’d told the salesman at Big Don’s Outfitters that he needed a buffalo gun.
“Now are you talking
?” the salesman had asked.
There was a difference?
“I don’t know,” Anderson had answered.
The salesman had sold him the Weatherby. Twenty-five hundred bucks, including the Leupold scope. The coveralls, boots, and safari hat had cost him another six bills. He hoped he could write it off.
A hundred yards up the ridge, the Hummer slowed to a crawl. “Hang on back there,” Ricky said over his shoulder. He turned the wheel hard to the left, and the nose of the Hummer went down. Anderson clamped his arms around the roll bar. The hillside was no steeper than that which they had climbed, but it felt like they were going over the edge of a cliff. The Hummer bounced and skidded down the slope, taking out trees up to three inches in diameter, its tires leaving a pair of foot-wide gashes in the earth.
They landed at the edge of a flat clearing covered with the matted brown remains of the summer’s vegetation. To their left, they could see the river through the trees; the land rose precipitously to their right. Anderson stood up, still keeping his grip on the roll bar. A narrow dirt road was visible at the far end of the clearing.
“How come we didn’t use the road?” he asked.
Dr. Bellweather said, “The ride’s part of the safari package, Stevie. This is what you call your total experience. Now you can say you rode up and down the side of a cliff in a … what do you call this thing, Shawn?”
“Hummer!” said Shawn.
“Same as we used to kick Saddam and the rest a them sand niggers’ asses,” Ricky added. He rolled his jaw and expelled a brown amoeba of mucus. “I got your cat over t’other side there.” He pointed across the clearing. The outlines of a molded tan plastic cage with metal mesh sides—about the size of a large dog carrier—stood out against a rocky wall.
Ricky reached under the front seat of the Hummer and pulled out a black case slightly longer and wider than a telephone directory. He opened the case and took out an oddly shaped object that, at first, Anderson did not recognize. It looked like a power tool. He looked closer, then realized with a jolt that Ricky was holding some kind of gun, a metal box eight and one-half inches long, a little more than an inch thick, and two inches high. A short metal handle was attached at right angles to the bottom of the box, a little toward the back, just behind an oversize trigger guard. Behind the handle, an elongated loop of quarter-inch-thick steel wire, both ends attached to a pivot, was bent up and over the top of the box. A two-inch-long threaded barrel jutted from the other end of the box.
The entire device was made from dead-black metal. Anderson stared. He had never seen such a thing outside of the movies.
Ricky rotated the wire loop back, then pulled it out from the body until it snapped into place, forming an eight-inch-long stock.
“You used this baby before, right, Doc?”
Bellweather nodded. He unfolded a pair of military aviator’s sunglasses and installed them on his face. Ricky handed him the gun, then produced two twelve-inch-long rectangular clips. “Thirty rounds each. Cock it, then shove that clip right up the handle there. Push it in as far as it goes.”
“I know, I know.” Bellweather took the clips and climbed out of the vehicle. He pulled back a knob on top of the gun, then inserted one of the long clips into the base of the handle, his manicured hands moving with precise, graceful, economical motions. Surgeon’s hands. Anderson could feel his heart taking off. Was this hunting? Bellweather looked at him and grinned, his eyes obscured by dark lenses. He lifted the gun, displaying it proudly. “You ever see one of these, Stevie?”
Anderson shook his head.
“MAC-10. Forty-five caliber, full auto. George lets his best clients use it.” He turned and started across the clearing, using slippery clumps of dead grass as stepping-stones.
Ricky strapped on a belt holster containing a long-barreled, large-caliber revolver. The gun looked enormous on his narrow hip. The heavy brass belt buckle, an oval four inches across, carried an inscription in raised letters:
Cowboys Do It in .45 Caliber
“You stay here,” he said to Shawn. Ricky headed directly for the cage, his lanky body gliding easily across the uneven ground. The boy stood up and sat on the back of his seat, his arms resting along the roll bar. Anderson opened the case and took out his Weatherby. Just in case.
“Are you gonna shoot too?” Shawn asked.
Anderson shrugged. He didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. This was Bellweather’s scene; he was just following his client’s lead.
“I shot a pheasant last month,” the boy said. “Me and my dad.”
“That’s great,” said Anderson. He wished the kid hadn’t come along. He felt self-conscious playing the great white hunter. Having a ten-year-old audience made it worse. But Bellweather seemed to like the kid, and it was his show. He wondered what it would be like to grow up in a place like this, with all the guns and wild animals. The kid seemed happy enough.
Anderson shouldered his rifle and followed the doctor across the lumpy, spongy surface of the clearing. The peaty soil made sucking sounds under his new boots. A few yards from the cage, the land rose slightly. Ricky motioned for them to stop.