What is there about a chilly November day and the thought of venison on the Thanksgiving menu that drives the residents of West Burville to saddle up before daylight…and get themselves in trouble with the law before lunch? And in case you don’t remember: Hooter, Bunchy, old Mel and a few of the other rifle toting Counter Dwellers have, in the first couple of hours of the first day of deer season, dispatched Millie, a prized heifer, and mistaken something for something else. What were the names of those two game wardens?
Hooter was feeling conspicuous. And the game wardens knew it.
“Mornin’, Hooter,” said Ardent Fecteau, the senior game warden, who was standing just far enough away to enjoy watching Hooter wiggle and twitch. “You and your boys have anything you want to share?”
Ardent Fecteau was one of the Fecteau clan who pretty much had the game warden thing sewed up in Piney Woods County. Armed with biceps the size of Easter hams and the “Fecteau Face”, a granite jaw set in a deadpan expression, his enthusiasms leaned toward bagging hunters who misinterpreted the fish and game laws and availed themselves of out-of-season game.
“I don’t believe I heard you,” Ardent repeated.
Hooter was in the pickle barrel now. Sweating little chilly rivulets down his orange collar, and trying to extricate himself from old Mel’s pawing, he had the feeling that saying he and Bunchy and old Mel had encountered a bear and were running for their lives wouldn’t cut it. And what was that yelling behind the treeline that was coming closer?
And what was Millie doing on the tailgate of Ardent’s truck? And why was she staring at him?
“Wow! What happened here?” Hooter gasped in his Sunday best awestruck voice.
“Somebody done shot poor old Millie,” explained Bunchy. Hooter could have kicked him.
Old Mel, seeing Millie, staring off into Eternity, opted to sidle behind Hooter and make an oblique slither for the trees. “You hold up there, Mr. Twitchel,” said the vigilant Ardent Fecteau. “I’d like that explanation now.”
Lacking any knowledge of the science fiction the rest of the Counter Dwellers might have cooked up for the Fecteau boys, Hooter wasted no time on fancy explanations. The Truth Will Out. Without so much as a glance at his colleagues, Hooter applied his most dazzling smile to the occasion. It was a toothpaste sort of smile but without the gums. It was the same one he used on his customers at the auto repair shop when they came in growling homicide.
Averting Millie’s accusing glare, and avoiding any eye contact with his compatriots, Hooter launched into a breathless account of seeing Bert Moran’s prize heifer turning stiff as sheet rock in the field and feeling the need to put the poor beast out of its misery before some of Piney Woods more enthusiastic predators decided to inflict pain and suffering on an already terminal patient.
Out of the corner of his eye Hooter saw the other game warden, Ardent’s cousin, Pernell, peel himself off the side of his green state truck. And what was that dangling from his hand? Handcuffs! Hooter swore Pernell was headed his way. Since when did he get to play the fall guy for this crowd?
With his heart pumping and his armpits working overtime, Hooter noticed the trees were swaying like Hawaiian dancers around one of them campfires. Hooter’s vision was filled with brown, dirt brown, as the ground came up to meet him. Everyone stared. Hooter lay on the ground, as much embarrassed as planning what he would say when Ardent and Pernell hauled him to his feet. Maybe he could say that he was so alarmed at seeing Millie all seized up and at the possibility that she might suffer that taking her Beyond the Pale was too much for him. Sort of a delayed shock reaction.
As the Fecteau boys were hauling him to his feet, and the gang from the diner were busy amongst themselves yelling and arguing about what happened, it dawned on everyone there was a ruckus just up the road. What was that? It sounded like rifle fire, which sent everyone diving for cover behind the state pick up. The Fecteaus, weapons drawn and ready, steeled themselves to confront the peril.
Around the bend came the backfiring pickup, fenders held on with baling twine, driven by the crazy person who had chased them through the woods. It was hard to tell which was scarier: the misfiring, the swearing and fist shaking and blasting of the horn, or the old rifle hanging out of the window. It didn’t take a high school graduate to notice no one was steering.
Down the road it came, a juggernaut careening in a generally forward direction, give or take a ditch or two, and in the back could be seen four brown plaster legs swaying and a huge plaster head heaving this way and that and twirling end over end on its massive antlers.
With a mutual shout of terror and alarm, the little tableau at the tailgate dove for the safety of the pricker bushes. With a curse and a screech the pickup slammed to a halt inches from the front bumper of the Fecteau’s state truck.
Jumping from the cab and waving a rifle that looked like it could bring down a wooly mammoth, the flannel shirted driver fired a few volleys into the air. This incited the two game wardens to draw their weapons and the Double Axle’s patrons to scuttle to the rear.
After several minutes of yelling and gesturing and threats and some more yelling, the story emerged from the deranged driver that two men in hunting clothes had blasted his beloved plaster lawn ornament to smithereens with him standing about ten feet away. As proof he dragged the four stiff legs and the leftovers from the underbelly out of the truck. The head was by now jammed by the horns under the back window and wouldn’t budge.
When the Fecteau boys asked the question, “What are your intentions toward the perpetrators of this offense, if it is an offense?” he emphatically stated he intended to kill them and where the hell were they hiding?
About this time it began to dawn on Hooter that none of the hunting party were in the best of spots, what with Millie being dead and slung over the tailgate of the state truck and now this lunatic threatening to kill them if he figured out it was the little crowd of orange clad hunters whimpering in the underbrush that had dispatched his prized plaster buck. If they stood up, they were goners. If they high tailed it into the woods, they’d only get lost again.
The problems that had multiplied like field mice when the Fecteau clan had arrived on the scene were solved a few minutes later with the arrival of Sheriff Les Good and his boys. Hunkering down in the shrubbery and waiting to be called out, it was a wonder no one heard the groans of despair emanating from the Counter Dwellers. To a man they knew that the sheriff was secure in his reelection and had no real need to be anything but downright nasty. Still, until such time as their expertise was called upon, they squatted and listened as the events of the day were recounted by the two beleaguered game wardens, who were yelling over the swearing driver they were holding at gunpoint.
Turning his mirrored sunglasses and his most shark-like grin on the pricker bushes, Sheriff Les invited Hooter and Bunchy and old Mel, Flock, Lumpy, Lambert, Dayrel, and Ludovico, who swore he was only passing by, to step out.
The questioning proceeded as it always did with exclamations of innocence punctuated with “you don’t expect me to believe that do you?” or “I should throw the book at you.” It was amazing how much you could cram into a conversation before lunch. Sheriff Les decided it would be a good idea to move the party to his office at the county seat in North Pineyville.
After more discussion about cooperation and handcuffs and who was riding with whom, old Mel nearly scuttled the sheriff’s good humor by telling him that “no way in hell” was he going to wear any bracelets or those handcuff things. Never wore jewelry and never would. One of the sheriff’s boys was heard to grumble under his breath that this was going to wind up being more trouble than it was worth.
After a few minutes of musical police cars, the party led by Sheriff Les, with the green state game warden truck bringing up the rear, headed toward the county seat.
Over in North Pineyville, the office staff at the Sheriff’s Department craned their necks at the commotion in orange that came tumbling through the doors. Heads rotated in time to see eight hunters, several deputies, a wild old man with a plaster deer head, and the sheriff slam into the main lobby. As the doors slowed closed two game wardens and a stiff dead heifer, Bert Moran’s late prized Millie, were seen parked just outside the main entryway. In fact, Bert had telephoned ahead to let everyone know he was bringing his thirty-aught-six and planned to do “a little hunting” himself.
Rolling his eyes, Sheriff Les Good echoed Hooter’s sentiments of earlier in the day and mumbled that this was going to be “one doozy of a morning.” After a few more minutes of getting the crowd sorted, it was determined that everyone was probably guilty of something so everyone was charged with something. Words like “unlawful” and “trespassing” and “vandalism” were mentioned.
The sheriff was on the phone for awhile with the state’s attorney trying to figure out where Millie fit into the galaxy of charges pending against Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers. While he was doing this, the boys were lounging in the limited comforts of the county lockup.
Old Mel complained about the hard benches and his lumbago and Bunchy became testy with Lumpy when the latter raised the subject of “just who did kill that cow?” Hooter wished he had had something for breakfast besides the killer feed that was now congealing in his stomach like a boat anchor.
After a time of self-reflection and stupefying boredom all eight were released. They were informed by a nasally personage that they were being released “on their own recognizance”, would probably be going to trial sometime in the winter and maybe they should get a few lawyers between them ‘cause the sheriff wasn’t through with them. Lumpy said he thought it might be a different sort of way to beat Cabin Fever and was rewarded by a swift one in the ribs by Flock. Old Mel said he wasn’t going anywhere until that big word was explained to him proper and it better not mean they were going to try to send him to state prison as they’d never take him alive. Hooter realized this might be a good time to hustle Old Mel and the rest out the front door.
Stepping out into the crisp November air and the sunshine of another first day of deer season, Hooter and the boys allowed as how you just couldn’t tell from one minute to the next and wasn’t it a humdinger of a Big Day.
The next topic was lunch. Someone speculated that Linda Mae and little Vonda Sue were probably serving up the Double Axle’s legendary Meatloaf Supreme with Cowboy Coleslaw and some of the special Pecan Festival Fantasy pie Linda Mae always served with a smile and a little cleavage.
And over at the Double Axle, Linda Mae circulated with the coffee pot and a dazzling smile and agreed with the locals that this was definitely one first day of deer season for the record books.
The End. See You In Court.