by Byron Bailey
Part 1 appeared in issue 121.
AMAZON.COM: MORE THAN BOOKS. He clicked to the paramilitary section, scanned through a long list of knives, binoculars, and bombs before he came to the section he was searching for: GOGGLES — INFRARED. There it was, catalogue order number 5899-3224-6522. He salivated over the intriguing green-tinted goggles that would make him look more like a praying mantis than a man. He intended to become a praying mantis of sorts, a relentless destroyer of those who would destroy the farmer’s harvest. And all for only $255.99. He’d like to see the varmints try to hide in the night now!
About to check out, he scrolled down quickly when a black gleam caught his eye. He stopped, scrolled back, and saw the laser sight. It would look beautiful on great, great, great grandfather Elijah’s gun. After all, with only one shot before reloading, he had to make every shot count.
Gone were the days when a gun in a common citizen’s hands could spray bullets into a crowd. The second amendment God-given right to shoot varmints was essential to freedom. But a machine gun to blast a coyote? Back when the constitution was written, the term “varmint” was a little too broad, including blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans, and the British. He could readily understand the need for more firepower when the varmints could shoot back. Now that blacks, Native Americans and Mexicans were voters, though, the need for more advanced hunting technology was gone. Black powder, single shot was good enough for the founding fathers and was good enough now, even with the British still lurking about.
He ordered 5-hour express delivery for an extra thirty dollars. If the order didn’t arrive within five hours, then he would receive a free medium, two-topping pan pizza! He waited and waited. Five miserable hours came and went. He wandered outside, looked anxiously down the mile long dirt road that was his driveway.
He flinched at the damage he saw in the fields — at least $10,000 worth of destruction a day. He didn’t mind varmints — at least not too much. If a pack of wolves wanted to eat a few steaks every day, he could endure. But they weren’t simply eating a few steaks. They took a bite out of one and then moved on to another. What a waste! He could never sell a steak with a bite out of it. The FDA would never approve. It wasn’t like canine spit didn’t wash off, either. His eyebrows straightened to a pair of angry arrows aiming at a spot directly above his nose. He just didn’t understand. It was perfectly all right to spray the crops with carcinogen after carcinogen. But a little bit of doggie spit was a serious health hazard? Mary wasn’t planning on going to college anyway.
* * *
The delivery didn’t arrive the next day or the next day. Thomas went out to the fields every morning and cried. He walked along the rows for an hour and a half before he finally came to a plant that still had all four of its steaks intact. He took out his pocket knife and sliced each of the steaks off. Even if they weren’t ripe yet, it couldn’t hurt to get at least a meal out of the crop. He probably wouldn’t get much more.
It was when he was peeling the thin, green rind off the steaks that the delivery driver knocked. He opened the door, looked down at this short man with the long nose who had dared to destroy his life. The neat brown uniform didn’t impress him. Nothing in a uniform impressed him much anymore.
“I have a delivery here for a Thomas Sutton.”
“You’re staring at him.”
“If you would please sign, then I could give you the package.”
“Not so fast.” Thomas stood on his toes and puffed out his chest. “When I pay for 5-hour delivery, I expect 5-hour delivery.” He looked down at his watch like an eagle about to dive at a tasty rabbit. “Not sixty-two hours and twenty-three minutes plus or minus ten seconds delivery.”
“Well, if you’re not going to sign, I guess I’ll leave.”
“Wait. I’ll sign.”
“Let me give you a little advice,” the delivery man said. “Don’t waste your money on 5-hour delivery. The only difference is that you’re spending an extra thirty dollars for a ten dollar pizza. Oh, by the way, enjoy your pizza — pepperoni and sausage if I’m not mistaken.”
"But I don’t like pepperoni.”
“You should have requested your toppings when you requested the 5-hour express. Otherwise, the default is pepperoni and sausage. Sorry.”
When the delivery man left, he tore the package open. The smell of pepperoni made his eyes water. Still, he pulled the pizza wrapped in foil out, tossed it down on the table. Below it, a smaller box drowned in fluffy packaging dandruff. Infrared goggles. Below that, a smaller box. Laser gun sight. He reached through the packaging dandruff and clutched for his one chance of turning his varmint damaged crop into a year that might almost break even. A little hope always made him hungry. He fried the steaks in the skillet. “Dinner time. Come and get it,” he yelled.
No one came. He trudged up the stairs to Mary’s room. She was lying on her bed, her face buried in a chemistry book with a picture of a cratered field strewn with bodies. Ahhhh — the new program to make the sciences seem relevant to the young. His favorite was the textbook Physics and Life. Its poignant portrayal of Marie Antoinette, a bunch of funny physics symbols hovering over her head while the guillotine was raised, always made him try to imagine what funny symbols were hovering over his head when he worked the fields.
“Time to eat,” he said.
She glanced up from her book and stared at him quizzically. That was what he wanted to see in her daughter, a little bit more questioning of authority. Too bad that the only authority she ever seemed to question was his. “I’m not hungry. I have a lot of studying to do.”
“Pizza and steak,” he said. “Can’t get better than that.”
“I’m still not hungry.” She frowned for a second and then buried her nose back into the book.
He felt suffocated by her room, by the twenty teddy bears lining the shelves, their yarn lips grinning at him. Varmints each and everyone one of them! In fact, it seemed almost as if his daughter had created an entire shrine to varmintdom. Now that he took a closer look, some of those teddy bears seemed awfully like real varmints. That one with the black mask around its eyes could only be a mangy, steak-clutching raccoon. The grey one with the triangular ears pulled back into a snarl had to be a wolf. “It’s been a while since we’ve eaten a meal like we were a family. I think you should close that book and come down and eat. If you don’t like the food, just push it around on your plate for twenty minutes. I don’t care.”
Shrapnel seemed to burst from her eyes. Finally, she slammed the book down on the bed. “Fine. Let’s eat.”
They trudged down the stairs into the dining room. He dropped a slice of pizza and the smallest of the not-quite-ripe steaks on her plate. The smell of steaks had always filled his lungs with a comforting heartiness: fat and protein combined into an elegant package of love and tenderness.
Even with the pepperoni, the pizza wasn’t that bad of a smell, either. Together, though, they smelled unnatural, conflicting aromas fighting for dominion of the dining room. Mary grasped for her slice of pizza and nibbled. He wondered how much sugar those pizza people put into the dough.
“So, what do you plan on doing after high school?” He asked the question nonchalantly, a lost stranger asking how to get to county road 780.
“What do you care?”
He chomped down angrily on a piece of steak and continued chewing until he felt a littler of the heat dissipate from his forehead. He never thought that he would hear it from his own daughter, the old stereotype that said that a man who worked the land couldn’t have any more sensitivity than a chunk of land. “Why would you say that?” he said slowly. “Of course I care. You’re my daughter.”
“You never show it.” She pushed the pizza away from her face. “Never.”
“Of course I do. I get up every morning and work myself near to death and for what? You! One of these days, this farm will be yours. I don’t know what you’ll do with it, probably not farm.”
But it’ll be yours and it’ll be because I care about you.”
“You didn’t even remember my birthday three days ago. That’s three years in a row without cake and ice cream.”
Mangy varmints! How was he supposed to remember things like birthdays when his livelihood was being consumed. Still, he should have remembered. “I’m so sorry. I really am. Think of it, my little girl is now seventeen years old.”
He flinched. “I mean eighteen. Eighteen years old. It looks like you’ve lost weight. Have you been on a diet?”
“No. I haven’t been on a diet.”
“Yeah, oh. Oh, by the way, now that I’m eighteen things are going to be a little different.”
“Different? Like how?” He felt a fist clenching in his stomach, an angry snowman with ice knuckles tensing up to wallop him.
“I’m eighteen now. Eighteen. Do you know what that means? I can do whatever I want and there is nothing you can do to stop me. The first thing I’m going to do is move out.”
“But where will you go?”
“Talbot’s place. He said that I could live with him. He loves me and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Talbot?” he asked. “The same Talbot that owns the Agriware House? The same Talbot who has almost a millions dollars worth of liens against my property? The same Talbot who never sweats because the blood in his veins is ice? The same Talbot who has got to be at least twenty-five years older than you?”
“You’re overreacting,” she said. “He’s only twenty-three years older than me. You were older than mom.”
“Two years,” he said.
“And I resent what you said about him being cold-blooded. He is not cold-blooded at all. He just has a circulation problem.”
“But you hardly know him,” Thomas said.
“I know that he loves me. That’s all that matters.” Without saying another word, she stormed out of the house. It had finally happened. He had lost his daughter. What next? His soul?
His fingers trembled. Somehow, he managed to put the batteries in the infrared goggles and the laser sight on the gun. He was armed, dangerous, deadly, alone. Normally, alcohol and guns weren’t a good combination. Nevertheless, he pulled the refrigerator door open, pulled out a six pack of beer. Outside, the light was fading.
He scanned the fields for varmints. Nothing. He knew they were out there eating his fields. Probably a whole pack of them. He shook his goggles. Maybe he should have gotten ultraviolet.
Suddenly, he saw a blob of red then another blob of red and another. Twelve total. His gun suddenly felt heavy in his hand. He now knew why the NRA was so insistent about the right to bear automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Occasionally, there was more than one varmint at a time needing a hole in its skull.
He turned the laser sight on and then crept forward until he was within range. A distant barn screeched. He held his breath as he cocked the firing mechanism. He aimed, red laser dot from the sight against a grey pelt. He pulled the trigger. Click.
He didn’t know a whole lot about guns but wasn’t there suppose to be a big bang and then once the smoke cleared, a dead wolf? Wasn’t that the way it was supposed to be? This click was more than a little anticlimactic. He cocked the firing mechanism again, took careful aim. Click.
Great, great, great grandfather Elijah would have been proud of him. With a determined scowl gleaming in the starlight, he charged. A quarter mile, a quarter mile, a quarter mile onward, all in steak-encrusted fields charged Thomas Sutton. And he charged and he charged and he charged, scattering the pack before him like the grain from his reaper. And he charged and he charged and he charged some more until he could charge no more. The pack snorted at him then began gnawing tentatively at a few steaks. Thomas Sutton dropped the gun on the ground, didn’t bother to pick it up as he staggered back to the house. He was in serious trouble. He needed serious help.
He made the call.
* * *
The gray-blue prison bus lurched down the dirt driveway. Fifteen Bobby Knights in gray-blue prison garb staggered out. God bless the Prison Work Release Program! It was a bright day with orange wisps of cloud streaking the evening horizon. A truly glorious day unless you happened to be a varmint. He wondered if varmints looked at the sky and said, “Orange wisps in the west. Bad omen. Let’s get moving to Kentucky.” They were never going to make it out of the county, not with the Bobbies on the job.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” The guard twirled the shotgun like a baton in his hands.
“We have so many model prisoners who could do a better job. These Bobbies, they’re kind of unpredictable, if you know what I mean. Can’t turn your back on them for a second without problems happening.”
“They’ll do just fine,” he said. “Besides, someone has to give them a second chance. That someone might as well be me.”
The guard laughed, shook his head. “Okay. Whatever. They are your responsibility. Two dollars a piece per hour. And remember, you have to provide meals for them. Nothing spicy, please. We at the prison still have to live with them.”
To be concluded...
Copyright © 2004 by Byron Bailey