Those boys met up every year for deer camp — both buck and anterless — and had done so for 20 or more years. They’d spend the mornings hunting, or “waiting” as J.T.’s wife called it, and the rest of the day and night drinking. She’d have a big breakfast waiting for them with eggs, bacon, biscuits and hot coffee to ward off their hangovers. It was a wonder they could ever get up at sunrise to make it happen, but they were die-hards about their effort.
Deer season was one of the reasons they worked hard year-round and brought home their measly pay. The daily grind of an assembly line certainly wore on a person’s nerves … and knuckles … and knees. The annual trip with its companionship and shared commiseration made the drudgery and mandatory overtime a little more bearable.
J.T. owned a strip of wooded land where the deer bedded down and a bit of pasture where they’d creep out for a bite of clover before returning to hiding. Sometimes the guys were lucky and one of them hit the mark. The other one would help him field dress and clean the game, and they’d share the spoils, but rarely did they ever both get to claim their tags. It was tit for tat, you help me and I’ll help you. Otherwise, that just meant more 12-ounce curls. Schlitz was their poison, and they put away at least a couple cases before the weekend was gone.
Planning and forethought were never quite right. Sometimes their supply ran out early, which made for two sore losers, and the beer was inevitably gone before the sloppy pair thought they were done. Their saturation point was long past, but they were just shit-faced enough to think it was time for a liquor run. A well-kept secret was their supplier who lived just down the road a ways and was open round the clock.
Old Hawkins ran a distribution chain of sorts. He made his own homebrew and sold his wares during deer season, but rumor had it that the beer he distilled would make you sicker than a dog shittin’ peach pits. So Tulley and J.T. purchased whiskey from Hawkins instead. They figured it’d get them drunker quicker anyway. Tulley drove his ancient Oldsmobile, with its dented passenger door from when his wife once sideswiped the house, and pulled into the Hawkins’ drive and up to the kitchen window. The old man had fashioned a drive-through lane through his side yard where he conducted business from just inside the sill. The television was visible from this resting place, and he could reach the stash of hooch without having to move very much.
The Olds’ tires spun some dirt on the packed-down path leading to the house with Tulley accelerating more than needed to reach their destination. He slammed on the brakes just in time, and the cars’ occupants lurched forward and back at the sudden stop. A screech of metal-on-metal from absent brake pads aroused Hawkins from a state of semi-slumber at his post. His darkened comb-over shifted slightly when he startled awake, Grecian Formula almost dripping from it, and the man peered out at them through thick glasses fogged with age and the film of too many days perched in a grease-filled kitchen.
A duct-taped window slid open, and Hawkins queried, “What ya’ll need?” He’d seen these fellas many times but didn’t want to appear too familiar. Repeat customers didn’t make for friendly visitors.
Putting the car in park, Tulley leaned out his car window to order. “Gimme a fifth of that rot gut you call whiskey,” he ordered. “It’s 20, right?” Hawkins kept his eyes averted, hard at his task of wheeling his chair a couple inches backward to reach for a bottle, and shook his wispy-haired head. “Na,” he told him. “Price gone up. That’ll be 40 dollars.” He turned to scowl at Tulley as he handed the bottle out to him.
Tulley had a 20-dollar bill crisply folded lengthwise and at the ready between his index and middle fingers. He guffawed and shouted back, “Forty damn dollars? You kiddin’ me, old man?” With his extended left hand, Hawkins pulled the $20 back in and stuck it in his stained front breast pocket. His right hand arose from his lap and slowly pointed the pistol in its grip at the two surprised customers. He calmly stated, “You’d best not abscond without paying the price I told you.”
In the split second of Tulley trying to shift the car back into gear, Hawkins fired a single round in a trajectory over the adjacent barn. Gunsmoke trickled from the barrel of his Colt 45, and his glare never left the driver.
Before firing again, perhaps this time putting a slug in Tulley or his buddy, Hawkins squinted just enough to spy someone else slumped and wide-eyed in the back seat. A skinny tow-headed boy, maybe all of eight-years old, sat staring back at the man and frightened to his core. His cartoon pajamas were at least a size too small, and it was plain to see from the state of his hair he’d been drug from his sleep. Dirt smudges on his faces hinted that the tike hadn’t bathed in days, which he probably didn’t mind but his momma probably didn’t know. She likely didn’t know he was there with this duo in the middle of the night.
Hawkins said, “Ya’ll get on outta here. That boy done saved your sorry asses.” He spit a stream of tobacco out the window, barely missing Tulley’s door. “Take him home to his momma,” he smirked.
His hand still rested on the gear shift, so Tulley quickly shifted into drive and spun the threadbare tires again to get back out onto the gravel. Priorities had suddenly changed. It was just a few miles back down the road to J.T.’s, and Tulley couldn’t get there fast enough.
*This post was prompted with “gunsmoke” at Studio 30+, an online writing community.