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“When does deer season open?” Sloane asked.
“Middle of October,” Jack said. “Of course we could go after bear. They’re predators on this side of the mountains, and the season’s always open.”
“Stick that bear hunting in your ear,” Mike said. “First you’ve got to have dogs; and second, you never know when one of those big hairy bastards is gonna come out of the brush at about ten feet. You got time for about one shot before he’s chewin’ on your head and scatterin’ your bowels around like so much confetti.”
“Yuk!” Sloane gagged. “There’s a graphic picture for you.”
“No shit, man,” Mike said. “I won’t go anywhere near a goddamn bear. I shot one just once. Never again. I had an old .303 British—ten shots, and it took every goddamn one of them. That son of a bitch just kept comin’. Soaked up lead like a blotter. The guys that hunt those babies all carry .44 magnum pistols for close work.”
“Hell, man,” McKlearey said, “you can stop a tank with a .44 mag.”
Mike looked at him. “One guy I talked to jumped a bear once and hit him twice in the chest with a .300 Weatherbee and then went to the pistol. Hit him four times at point-blank range with a .44 mag before he went down. Just literally blew him to pieces, and the damned bear was still trying to get at him. I talked to the guy three years later, and his hands were still shakin’. No bears for this little black duck!”
“Would a .45 stop one?” I asked.
“Naw, the military bullet’s got a hard jacket,” Mike said. “Just goes right through.”
“No, I mean the long Colt. It’s a 250-grain soft lead bullet.”
“That oughta do it,” Jack said. “Just carryin’ the weight would slow him down enough for a guy to make a run for it.”
“I’ve got an old Colt frontier-style stored with my clothes and books in Seattle,” I said, leaning over and refilling my beer mug.
“No kiddin’?” Jack said. “What the hell did you get a cannon like that for?”
“Guy I knew needed money. I lent him twenty, and he gave me the gun as security—never saw him again. The gun may be hot for all I know.”
“Ah-ha!” Sloane said. “Pawnbroking without a license!” He giggled.
“It’s got a holster and belt—the whole bit,” I said. “I’m going to have to pick up all that junk anyway. I’ll bring it on down.”
“I’d like to see it,” Jack said, “and Sloane here knows about guns—he takes in a lot of them in pawn—he ought to be able to tell you what it’s worth.”
“Sure,” Sloane said, “bring it in. Maybe we can dicker.”
“Hey!” Mike shouted suddenly. “Shut up, you guys. I just thought of something.” He leaned forward, his slightly round face suddenly excited. “How about the High Hunt?”
“Are you kiddin’?” Jack demanded. “You really want to try the ‘Great White Hunter’ bit?”
“What the goddamn hell is the High Hunt?” McKlearey demanded harshly.
“Early high Cascade Mountains deer season,” Mike said, his eyes gleaming in the firelight.
“—In some of the roughest, emptiest, steepest, highest country in the whole fuckin’ world,” Jack finished for him.
“It’s not that bad,” Mike said.
“Aw, bullshit!” Jack snorted. “The damned boundaries start right where the roads all end. And do you know why the roads end there? Because there’s not a fuckin’ thing back up in there, that’s why. Man, most of that country’s above the timberline.”
“All alpine meadow,” Mike said almost dreamily. “It gets snowed in so early that nobody ever got a chance to hunt it before they opened this special season. Some of the biggest deer in the state are up there. One guy got a nine-pointer that when four hundred pounds.”
“Eastern count, I’ll bet,” Jack said.
“Eastern count my ass. Full Western count—the number of points on the smallest side not counting brow tines. Eastern count would have gone twenty—maybe twenty-one points. That was one helluva big deer.”
“And the guy got a hernia gettin’ it out of the woods.” Sloane giggled.
“No—hell, they had horses.”
“… and guides,” Sloane went on, “and a wrangler, and a camp cook, and a bartender. Probably didn’t cost more than a thousand a week for two guys.”
“It’s not all that much,” Mike said tentatively. “I know a guy—a rancher—who’ll take out a fair-sized party real reasonable. You could get by for fifty bucks apiece for a week—ten days. Food extra, of course. He’s tryin’ to get into the business, so he’s keepin’ his rates down for the first couple years.” Mike’s voice was serious; he wasn’t just talking. He was actually proposing it to us as a real possibility. His face had a kind of hunger on it that you don’t see very often. Mike wanted this to go, and he wanted it badly.
“Who the fuck wants to pay to go up in the boonies for ten days?” McKlearey demanded harshly, putting it down.
It hung there, almost like it was balanced on something. I knew that if I left it alone, McKlearey’s raspy vote for inertia would tip it. At that moment I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go up into the high country, but I was sure of one thing; I didn’t much like McKlearey, and I did like Mike Carter.
“It’s what we’ve been talking about for the last hour,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “All you guys were so hot to trot, and now Mike comes up with something solid—a real chance to do some real hunting, not just a little Sunday-morning poaching with a twenty-two out of a car window—and everybody gets tongue-tied all of a sudden.”
“Didn’t you get enough of maneuvers and bivouac and shit like that in the Army?” McKlearey demanded, his eyes narrowing. I remembered what Jack had told me about crossing him.
“I did my share of field-soldiering,” I told him, “but this is hunting, and that’s different.”
“Are you gonna pay to go out and run around in the brush?” He was getting hot again. God, he was a touchy bastard.
“If the price is like Mike said it was, and if we can work out the details, you’re goddamn right I will.” A guy will make up his mind to do something for the damnedest reasons sometimes.
“You’re outa your fuckin’ skull,” McKlearey said, his voice angry and his face getting kind of pinched in.
“Nobody’s twistin’ your arm, Lou,” Jack said. “You don’t have to go no place.”
“I suppose you’d go along, too, huh, Alders?” For some reason, McKlearey was getting madder by the minute. He was twisting around in his chair like a worm on a hot rock.
“You damn betcha,” Jack said. “Just give me ten minutes to pack up my gear, and I’ll be gone, buddy—long gone.”
“Shit!” McKlearey said. “You guys are just blowin’ smoke outa your fuckin’ ears. You ain’t even got a rifle, Alders. You sure as shit can’t go deer huntin’ with a fuckin’ shotgun.”
“I could lend you guys rifles from the pawnshop,” Sloane said very quietly. He was leaning back, and I couldn’t see his face.
Mike swallowed. I think the hope that it would go had been a very faint one for him. Now, a strange combination of things had laid it right in his lap. “I’d better get a piece of paper and figure out a few things,” he said.
“The bugs are about to get me anyway,” Sloane said. “Let’s take the keg into the kitchen.”
We carted it inside and sat down around the table in the breakfast nook to watch Mike write down a long list with figures opposite each item.
McKlearey straddled a chair over in the corner, scowling at us.
Mike finally leaned back and took a long drink of beer. “I think that’s it,” he said. “Figure fifty for the horses and the guide—that’s for a week or ten days. Food—probably twenty-five. License, ammunition, stuff like that—another twenty-five. Most of us probably already have the right kind of clothes and a guy can always borrow a sleeping bag if he don’t already have one. I figure a guy can get by for a hundred.”
We sat in the brightly lighted kitchen with the layer of cigarette smoke hovering over our heads and stared at the sheet of paper in front of Mike.
I glanced out the window at the rusty glow of the dying fire. The hills over on the peninsula loomed up against the stars.
“I’m in,” I said shortly.
Mike scratched his cheek and nodded. “A man owes himself one good hunt in his life,” he said. “It may start a small war in the Carter house, but what the hell?” He wrote his name and mine on the bottom of the paper. “Jack?” he asked my brother.
“Why not?” Jack said. “I’ll probably have to come along to keep you guys from shooting yourself in the foot.”
Mike put Jack’s name down on the list.
“God damn!” Cal said regretfully. “If I didn’t have the shop and the lot and—” He paused. “Bullshit!” he said angrily. “I own them; they don’t own me. Put my name down. I’m goin’ huntin’. Piss on it!” He giggled suddenly.
Mike squinted at the list. “I’m not sure if Miller—that’s this guy I know—will go along with only four guys. We might have to scrounge up a few more bodies, but that shouldn’t be too tough. You guys might dunk about it a little though. I’ll call Miller on Monday and see if we can’t get together on the price of the horses and the guide.”
“Guide?” Jack yelped. “Who the hell needs a goddamn baby-sitter? If you can’t find your own damn game, you’re not much of a hunter.”
“It’s a package deal, shithead,” Mike said. “No guy is just gonna rent you a horse and then point you off into the big lonely. He may not give two hoots in hell about you, but he wants that horse back.”
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