D oc was the last to join the Hunting Club members gathered around the large corner table in Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café. “She here yet?”
“Nope,” Wrong Willie sipped at his coffee. “But we need to have a plan. Delbert, you don’t get to talk at all.”
Delbert started to say something, but Woodrow put his hand out. “He said, ‘silent.’”
“Cap’n. No philosophizing.”
“Doc, no tangents.”
“Rev, no discussions about the good old days.”
I started to pout, then changed my mind when she pulled into the parking lot, as it shimmered in the July heat. “Check, and Willie, no history from you. We’re just going to make a good impression on this landowner and finally get us a deer lease for next year.”
Behind the counter, Doreen giggled hysterically. “You guys are going to mess up.”
“No we won’t,” Willie answered and shushed everyone when Mrs. Byrd stepped into the café. We expected the rich lady to be driving a BMW and wearing furs, but she was dressed in a western shirt, jeans, scuffed work boots, and a sweat-stained cowboy hat.
Her mere presence woke Jerry Wayne, who gave a start when he saw her. He quickly sipped at his coffee to pretend alertness, not realizing that Doreen had just topped us all off. He sprayed coffee all over the table, and on Doc and Willie.
“Good going,” I said. “First rattle out of the box and you’ve already…”
“I didn’t know this coffee was hot enough to scald hogs!”
“Howdy boys,” Mrs. Bryd said. The woman owned more land than most counties were made of, but she quickly pulled a handful of paper napkins out of the dispenser and threw them on the spill.
Shocked, Doreen flung a damp towel across the café and then realized in horror at what she’d just done to the rich lady. Mrs. Byrd caught the towel with a flourish and quickly wiped the table.
“This reminds me of when I was cooking for the boys over at the Bar Rail back in the sixties. They were always fighting and spilling.”
“Howdy…” Willie said.
She interrupted him as if he hadn’t uttered a sound. “You know, we’ve owned our ranch since Great Granddaddy got back from a cattle drive with Mr. Goodnight, you guys know, of the Goodnight Loving trail…”
I started to answer, but Willie jabbed me in the ribs. It wouldn’t have made any difference, though, if I’d recited the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Byrd was on a roll.
“Well, Great Granddaddy made two trail drives and knew he didn’t want to work for another man all his life. So, he took what little money he made during those two years and bought the first piece of our little place not far from Ranger.”
“We heard…” Doc mumbled.
“The ranch grew from there,” she said, picking up an empty cup from the table and wiping it out. Without taking a break from her story, she walked behind Doreen’s counter and filled it from the pot.
“He bought section after section until he had everything he wanted. Then he just started raising cows and kids. That’s where I come from.”
“Yes ma’am,” the Cap’n said. “You know…”
“Anyway, we’re looking for some boys to take over on the lease because that bunch we had on there last year are liars and thieves.”
“Sorry to hear…”
“I don’t mind if y’all bring some friends out, but only one friend per person and they can’t stay for weeks at a time.”“We won’t…” I started.
“Y’all look old enough to know better. She squinted at Doc. “How old are you?”
Taken aback, he frowned. “Well, uh, on the backside of sixty.”
“More like seventy,” she said. “You’re closer to my age. How long y’all say you’ve been hunting together?”
“Some of us since we were kids,” Willie answered, proud that he’d completed a sentence.”
“Y’all know how to close fences and know the difference between a heifer and a deer?”
“I don’t mind you boys having a little fun out there,” she winked at us. “But I expect folks to be sober when me and Bill come around the fire at night. He likes bourbon, you guys ain’t teetotalers, are you?”
Her eyebrows raised.
I jumped in. “We’ll have a taste after the guns are put up at night.”
She smiled and the deep crowsfeet at the corners of her eyes kinda made me swoon. She got up, went back behind the counter and patted Doreen on the shoulder. Without a word, she opened the cooler, found some cream and brought it back to the table. I took it and added some to my coffee.
“I ain’t saying y’all are on there yet, but I like what I see.”
“Anyway, Bill has the final sayso, and he hasn’t really kicked those other creeps off yet. They won’t be gone until their lease runs out the first of August. If you boys are still interested, well, we’ll give you a good looking-over once you come out to the ranch.”
She gave us directions so fast I finally wrote them on my hand with the only thing in my pocket, a permanent marker.
“All right, we’ll see you boys. After I call, you might want to wash that permanent marker off before it soaks in too deep. Bill don’t much like tattoos. See ya.”
She was out the door before Jerry Wayne could finally sip his coffee. We stared at the woman as she stomped across the parking lot, jumped into a diesel dually, and sped away, with a horse trailer in tow.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“I think she wants a job here,” a rarely stunned Doreen said.
“I don’t care,” Doc said. “But even if they don’t let us on at her ranch, I want her to hunt with us from now on.”
Email Reavis Wortham at
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]