Friday, April 17, 2015

Bird Hunter

Jack the pit’s barking roused Jim Boy LeBeau. Tucking his Colt magnum into the back of his pants, he staggered onto the porch and kicked the animal to silence then lit a Marlboro as a new Grand Caravan jounced over the rutted hard-pan to his shack.

Jim Boy’s only visitors were bikers who cooked the blue crystal he sold and the toothless hillbillies who bought it. Strangers made him nervous. The last time a mini-van had pulled up in front of his house it had been full of forensic technicians from the coroner picking up Courtney, a city girl who OD’d on Jim Boy’s crystal.

The guy who got out of the Caravan made him relax: he was older, clean cut and just starting to go to flab, dressed in chinos and a polo shirt with his hair cut like a Marine. He looked straight but didn’t give off a cop vibe.

“Hey,” the stranger said in a friendly way. “The guy at the liquor store in town said you had a Remington twelve gauge for sale. I’m planning to try my hand at shooting some birds. I’d like to look at it.”

Jim Boy relaxed a little more. His ad had run in the county shopper. There was nothing illegal about selling some suburbanite a bird gun for hunting.

“Yeah,” LeBeau said. “Let me bring ‘er out.”

The gun was a Remington Model 870 with a pistol grip. It looked more like a tool for robbing banks than a hunting weapon. In fact, its last owner, a heist artist, had swapped the gun to LeBeau for a half kilo of Tina.

Jim Boy handed the weapon to the stranger, who racked it and pointed it at a pine tree on the other side of the house. It clicked when the man with the buzz cut pulled the trigger.

“You from around here?” Jim Boy asked, shaking out another Marlboro and lighting it with a battered Zippo.

The stranger shook his head as hefted the gun with one hand, sighting down the barrel at the tree. “Nope. My daughter used to live in Blaine, though. She died a couple weeks ago. I’m in the area to settle her affairs.”

He handed the shotgun back to LeBeau. “How do you load the damned thing?” he asked.

Jim Boy dug in his jeans for a shell and demonstrated how to insert it.

“When you’re ready, rack a round and release the safety,” LeBeau said, handing the gun back. “Then you rock and roll.”

Buzzcut squeezed the trigger and a big chunk of the pine turned into sawdust.

To LeBeau’s surprise, the stranger immediately fed the gun a handful of shells from his own pocket.

“You say your daughter died?” Jim Boy said, his tone making it a question. “What from, an auto wreck?”

The stranger shook his head. “Courtney was a speed freak. I had to ID her in the cooler at the coroner’s office.”

Courtney. At hearing the girl’s name, LeBeau swallowed loudly. The stranger turned the barrel toward his midsection and released the safety.

“Cops in town said they think she got the dope from you,” Buzzcut said. “They couldn’t prove it, though.”

LeBeau swallowed again. His Colt was under the back of his shirt. To draw he’d have to reach around his gut. He weighed 280, so there was a lot to reach around.

“This county has more meth than manzanita,” LeBeau stammered. “She could have got the stuff anywhere.”

The stranger nodded. “True,” he said. “But they found her body here.”

Buzzcut jiggled the shotgun up and down. “Nice weapon,” he said. “Good for shooting birds. People, too. I used to carry a twelve on a fire team in Iraq. It’s been a while since I held one.”

LeBeau’s hands were shaking. There was no way he could reach the Colt before Buzzcut fired.

“You said you were planning to do some hunting,” he said nervously, hoping to distract the man. “Birds, you said. What kind of birds are you after?”

The stranger smiled mirthlessly as he pulled the trigger.

“Just one,” he said as the shotgun roared. “A shitbird.”