Toonces T. Cat
Since Feb 4, 1998
February 5th of 2005 will mark 7 years for me as a daily reader of, and sometimes contributor to, the Free Republic. While cleaning out a few files over the weekend, I came across the following piece of fiction I cranked out a few years ago after my friend Bill was killed in an accident.
I wrote it for two reasons: 1.) to put my own life in perspective after losing someone I cared a great deal about and 2.) for Bill's sister, Sue. I wanted her to understand that although his life had been cut short, it had been rich and full and his true worth could be measured, to some degree, by how his friends remembered him.
Having read it again after this much time has passed, it came to me that y'all might like it as well...The story does contain some moderately harsh language, so please understand that fact if you choose to read it. The characters are simply who they are. I could not change that aspect of them and still be true to who they are, and were, in the context of the tale.
Selective Memory - by Toonces T. Cat
Sue settled into the silence of her mind. The quiet of the moment was gently reinforced by the steady rocking motion of the car and the perfectly timed hum of the steel wheels rolling down the segments of iron track. She hadn't traveled this way in many years. Each section of rail was acting as a tooth on a gear in a clock running backwards. The train had become a time machine carrying her back to her youth.
The last time she'd ridden the train home, Bill and his hounds had been with her. The rhythm of the ride hadn't taken her thoughts back then. Bill was a talker. Wild-eyed in his curiosity and enthusiasm for everything that life had to offer. Moments of silence around Bill were rare commodities. He was, by nature, an incredibly passionate man. His interests ranged far and wide and they were often all consuming. Sue never really knew if he cared more for the rocks, the caves, or the dogs...The train's chant began to take her away...She slept and dreamed of familiar things from a not too distant past...
"Get the hell outta the truck ya jackass!," George shouted. The hound stood on the tailgate staring at George as though he were insane to ask such a thing.
"For God's sake," Bill quipped, "He's a Saluki not a Deerhound. He's only gonna get out of the truck if it suits him. Now, put a slip on him; lift him out of the bed and he'll do what ya want once you got'im on the ground and on a lead."
"Why on Earth do you keep this pain in the ass of a dog?," George asked.
"Why do I keep him? I keep him 'cause he can catch hares...You've seen him run," Bill replied.
"Aw shit boy, you got ten dogs can catch jacks. You don't need this ornery son of a bitch. You just like him don'tcha? I mean I can understand that. He's a damn fine lookin' critter." George placed a lead on the hound and lifted him out of the truck. The Saluki quietly loped along behind him as he headed toward the kennels.
"Tell you the truth, I keep him 'cause I feel sorry for him. Looks like a dog doesn't he?" Bill asked, "Well, don't let'im fool ya. On the outside he's sure 'nuff a hound, but inside that nasty little skull'a his there lurks the brain of a cat. I'm convinced the critter's a mistake of nature, George."
"No shit? You really think so?," he answered, "I mean besides him bein' the stubbornest damn thing I've ever encountered, he seems pretty normal to me." By this time they'd reached the gate area and George placed the errant Saluki in his run. They stared at each other though the chainlink mesh.
Bill really loved old George, but standing there watching the two of them, man and Saluki, look at each other he really had to wonder which one of them had the greater intellect...Yes indeed, it was a puzzle for the ages.
Both men returned to the truck and started taking the feed sacks and other stuff out of the bed. George took two large hand-held lights out of the space behind the seat and plugged them into outlets mounted behind the truck's cab. He flipped the switches to test the lamps and with the second light managed to shine it directly in Bill's eyes. A million and a half candle-power is a lot of light even in the afternoon.
"Geezus George, watch what your doin' there," Bill grumbled, "Aw hell, I didn't need these retinas anyway."
George apologized and quickly stowed the lamps back behind the seat. "Who's going tonight?," He asked.
"David and Carlos are gonna run the lights," Bill said, "and I thought we'd take Queenie'n Jack'n maybe a couple'a the Whippets...What'd you think?"
"Uh, okay, sounds good to me. Nothin' better than watchin' those two Greys runnin' hard on something," George replied. "Let's get some eats and we'll be all set as soon as the boys get here."
Bill lived for these nights. It was an out and out return to a primeval ritual that made him feel slightly less civilized; a little less human; and a whole lot closer to the hounds. It was a way for him to refute everything that was politically correct and acceptable in polite society. It was an open admission that the prey instinct was alive and thriving in the man as well as in the dog. It wasn't about killing. It was about living. It was about sharing a moment of the past that laws and time had tried to erase. In his other life, Bill would pick up his tools and do his job in the best way he knew how. Day in and day out he worked and strived to be a useful part of his community...not here, and not tonight. This was his time to revert and slip back into another age. He could watch the hounds run free and let every bit of tension that was locked inside him follow. He could even howl at the Moon if he wanted to...and love very minute of it.
He walked over to the Greyhound's run. He didn't have to call them. They were already standing at their gate; frozen like statues made of brindle marble. Bill watched them stare at the truck in the distance. Their eyes were unblinking and only a slight tremble in their frames betrayed them as living creatures. Texas Jack and the Panhandle Queen were the fastest pair of Coldbloods Bill had ever owned. Speed was not their only asset. Bill had trained them with the errant Saluki over the last year and now they had come close to matching his endless wind. When they ran together, it was with the purpose and precision of a military drill team. They both knew the ways of a wily jack, but they also knew each other. Their gift was to be two separate hounds that could truly run, react, and think as one creature. In Jack and Queenie's case, the sum of the two dogs was far more than the individual hounds could ever be.
Bill knelt down and whispered to them, "Are you two ready to catch some jacks?" The Greys began to shake more visibly at this point. "Are you ready to get in the truck?" A distinct whine began to come from Jack. "Are we gonna chase some critters tonight?" The pitch and volume of the whine rose perceptibly and Queenie joined the chorus. "Yeah, we're gonna get us some rabbits, " he continued. The whine escalated to a shriek. Both hounds were shaking and screaming at a fever pitch! Bill threw open the gate. Jack covered the distance to the truck in a few strides, leapt into the bed and slid across the steel deck and slammed into the back of the cab. Queenie followed behind him and cushioned her slide into the truck with Jack's body. Both of the Greys moved to the tailgate barking commands at Bill and George to hurry up.
George emerged from the other side of the kennels with two of the Whippets on leads. Bill shook his head. George had selected Willie and the Spook...This would undoubtedly be an interesting night. Bill had always assumed that hounds could have mental problems just like humans. Many years ago he'd had a long talk with Bruce about it. Bruce was the only vet Bill knew that really understood these dogs. He knew that lots of vets could handle them medically, but getting in their heads; only Bruce had figured that one out. Willie had been the impetus for their discussion...Now Bill didn't really believe that Willie was insane, just real different. The dog had an amazingly one track mind. Once he committed to a run, God help anything that got in his path. It was sort of a Wiley Coyote cum kamikaze attitude that he displayed. Bill never doubted for a second that if Willie had a credit card, he would have done all of his shopping at Acme Products.
"Hey Bill, what'd ya think?...Willie'n the Spook...Good choice, huh?," asked George, "Ya know this Willie is crazier'n a road lizard in heat, but he's jes hell on wheels with them rabbits."
"Oh yeah, real good pick there George," Bill smiled and shook his head. A few years ago a friend of Bill's had liked to draw cartoons of the dogs. His favorite had been one of Willie and the Spook. It was a sketch of the two Whippets standing over the dead body of Bugs Bunny...little Xs for eyes and all. The balloon over Spooky's head had him saying to Willie, "We can't let anyone know about this." Bill had to laugh a bit whenever he thought about it. George had a special affinity for Willie. They'd shared an early bonding experience together. When the pups were around six months old, Willie had developed a nasty habit of biting to get attention. George had been really good and had put up with a lot of the pup's nonsense. Bill had been in the kitchen one afternoon when he heard a terrible commotion in the other part of the house. He walked in just in time to see George bite Willie on the end of his nose. George said later that he was damned tired of the "little sucker" bitin' him all the time, so he bit him back. George and Willie were nearly inseparable after that...go figure.
The Whippets were in the truck and were exchanging amenities with the Greys. Clearly Jack would be the Alpha dog on this hunt, but Bill had no doubts that Willie would give him trouble before the night was over. He closed the tailgate, but nothing short of dynamite or a hare would get the hounds out of the truck now. Bill looked back toward the house and saw Sue standing on the porch watching the proceedings. "Hey Sis, you wanna go with us tonight?"
Sue shook her head no and then said, "No thanks guys, but I've got some dinner laid out in here if you can tear yourselves away from the dogs for a few minutes."
Sue hadn't even finished speaking and Bill could barely see her through the cloud of dust George was raising in his rush to get to the table. George had never met a meal he didn't like. Bill told the four hounds to stay put. They looked at him in a unified show of disappointment that they would have to wait to run.
The meal was almost beyond description; veal topped with artichoke hearts stuffed with crab meat, and all of it doused with an absolutely unbelievable sauce made of mushrooms and capers...Sue had really gotten into gourmet cooking when she moved home after the divorce. Not that it bothered them, but Bill and George didn't even know what they were eating most of the time anymore. As they finished up they heard David and Carlos out by the porch.
"Go on you two...get going. I'll clean it up tonight," Sue said, "You can get all the dishes tomorrow. The ice chest is filled with Cokes and Dr. Pepper. It's by the back door...Ya'll have fun and be careful."
Bill looked over at Sue, "Thanks Sis...I love ya...I really do. We'll be careful. I'll see ya in the mornin'."
Sue walked over to Bill and kissed him on the cheek, "I love you too little brother."
George already had the ice chest in the truck and Carlos and his brother David were in the bed with the hounds. Carlos was around 25 years-old and worked as an x-ray technician at the local hospital. David was your typical testosterone fueled 15 year-old. Carlos was a solid citizen and a heck of a nice person. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and had more than his share of maturity. David, on the other hand, had left his maturity in escrow with someone else.
Two years earlier they'd been after coyotes and had two very aggressive Borzoi in the truck. Bill had stopped on the way out to the fields to buy a few sodas and fill up the gas tanks. He and Carlos had gone inside the Quick Stop and had left David with the Wolfhounds. While they were in the store, a redneck yahoo had pulled in with his Dobermans hanging out the windows of his car. When he got out, he just let his dogs come over to the truck and start harassing the Borzoi. After hurling what, David claimed, were countless mortal insults, he challenged the kid to "Let those skinny mutts loose so his Dobes could take care of them." Well, of course, David accommodated him and by the time Bill and Carlos got outside, one Dobe was dead and the other had taken off for parts unknown. Bill was certain he'd be sued but Mr. Redneck turned out to be a drug dealer whose personal standards of machismo, and inherent dislike for courtrooms, forced him to behave like a stand-up guy. Bill never saw him again but David became a regular. The older folks, however, had learned to keep him on a very short leash.
"Hola Amigos," Bill reached out for Carlos' hand, "Ya'll ready to run some jacks?"
"Right now pendejo...bring'em on," spouted David.
Carlos instantly cuffed him across the back of his head, "Watch your mouth David. Show some respect."
"Sorry Bill," David tried his best to look remorseful...No one was buying it tonight, "I'll be cool, no problemo cuz."
Bill checked the equipment and the hounds one last time, waved good-bye to Sue and climbed in the driver's seat. George was already in his seat. In the rearview mirror Bill could see Carlos holding Jack and Queenie's leads with his right hand and the back of David's neck with his left. Bill and George looked at each other and grinned. Fifteen years ago that had been them in the back of the truck. Time and many things had come full-circle for both of them.
"Your ticket Ma'am. May I please see your ticket?," the conductor asked.
Sue stirred and, in a few seconds, was awake enough to reach in her bag and retrieve the ticket, "Here it is Sir...How much longer to Laredo?"
The conductor checked the pass and handed it back to Sue, "Around an hour Ma'am...not too much more'n that anyway. They'll meet you at the station. The railroad always notifies the proper folks for things like this...You needn't worry about a thing Ma'am.
Sue thanked him and turned back toward the window and the brush country beyond it. She loved this place in spite of its rough and arid complexion. There was an eternal beauty in the mixture of mesquite, cactus, and scrub oak. It could be a very hostile place but only for those that didn't understand it and, of course, for those who foolishly rushed in to try to change it. As she stared into the distance, the rocking motion began to take her again and the dreams and Bill returned...
Bill turned the key in the ignition and the twenty-year-old motor came to life. He could afford a newer truck, but that wasn't the point. The faded and dented Ford had a personality of its own. He didn't consider it expendable. Trading it off would have been like selling a friend. "She's still got a little life left in her," he said. George nodded in agreement. Bill put the truck in gear, engaged the clutch, and they were on their way.
"I was thinkin' about headin' up old 83 to Pipeline Road 'n then takin' it North to 490...That'd be 'round 20 miles of dirt road, no traffic, and a mile'a open country on each side of us. What do ya think?," George asked, "Ought'a be lots'a jacks and maybe even a few 'yotes if ya wanna give Jack'n Queenie a run on one."
George was beaming...as close to beaming as it was possible for George to get. He was past sixty now and all the years of hard liquor, chewing tobacco, fast dogs, and even faster women were truly beginning to catch up with him. Bill loved him like the Father he'd never really known. He wasn't well educated and had no social graces, but George was the most genuine human being Bill had ever encountered. He could not have loved him anymore if he were his own flesh and bone...Bill knew that it worked both ways.
When they reached Pipeline Road, they turned North and traveled about a mile up the caliche before Bill pulled the truck over. "Alright, piss break folks...Bleed the brakes guys. Next stop is after the first run. Let'em off the slips so they can warm up a bit."
David and Carlos released the hounds. The four dogs instantly mounted the rubber panels on the bed and launched themselves over the side. They sprinted full-speed for around 100 yards before they realized that there was nothing to chase. George set up the lights and tested them once again. The Sun had almost disappeared below the horizon. As the hounds made their way back to the truck in wide looping circles, the final rays of light blinked out and the dusk quickly slipped into night.
"Load'em up Carlos. Get'em on the slips and you and David get set with the lights and we'll get goin," Bill climbed in the cab and looked back at the bed, "Everybody ready?" The slap of hands on the truck's roof meant yes.
The tightly focused beams of lights played over the fields on both sides of the road. All of the sorghum had been harvested and only the stubby remnants of the stalks remained in the crop rows. A lot of the grain would have been shed during the cutting process and these tasty morsels would lure in many hares from the brushy areas outside the tilled land. The Greyhounds would be slipped first. A good hard chase would take some of the spunk out of them. As hard as the Whippets were to control, they were still far easier than a pair of large and very fresh Coldbloods.
They had traveled less than a quarter mile further when Bill heard David cry out "Rabbit!" He saw both lights swing over to the left side of the truck. In the sorghum, maybe 150 yards out, Bill could see the hare moving away from them down a furrow. He wheeled the truck over hard to his left, slammed through the bar-ditch, and began to accelerate into the field. After about 50 yards, he began to slow down and then yelled to Carlos, "Let'em go!" The lights had now swung back over the front of the truck and were trained on, and ahead of, the hare's position. As he oriented himself to where they were, Bill caught a glimpse of Jack and Queenie flashing past him toward the hare. He pressed the pedal to the floor, wound up the engine, and quickly shifted into second gear. They were doing around 35 mph at about 100 yards behind the hounds. The Greys were pulling away from them and the hare was pulling away from the dogs.
After a half mile or so things began to slow a bit. The hare jumped a few furrows to his right in an effort to shake his pursuers. This gave the Greys the opportunity they needed. Jack put on a spectacular burst of speed and pulled even with the hare while Queenie began to hedge to the right. The fence line and the brush beyond it loomed ahead giving the dogs less than 200 yards to turn the hare or this chase would be over. Jack began crossing rows toward the hare. Sensing the pressure, the hare turned, in a spectacular 180 degree flip, back toward the truck.
Bill slammed on the brakes, "Hang on...He's comin' back!" The hare ran directly at the truck. A few yards out he began moving to the North and obliquely away from the vehicle. The lights and the Greyhounds followed. As Bill began to start the truck moving again, he could see Queenie traversing rows in a last ditch effort to cut off the hare's escape. She gradually began forcing him toward Jack. In another 100 yards Jack lit up his afterburners and made a phenomenal lunge forward followed by a diving catch. The truck slid to a halt beside the two Greys and their quarry.
"Yes sir!," George exclaimed, "That's how it ought to be done...But son you drive like old people screw...Kind'a loose'n sloppy...Know what I mean?" Laughing under his breath, the grizzled old man climbed out of the truck and began hugging and petting the hounds. His love for the dogs was apparent even while he was busy complaining about Bill's driving.
Willie and the Spook were standing on the roof of the truck barking their approval of the Greyhound's efforts. Willie kept hopping from the roof to the bed and back again...Which is Whippet body language for, "Hurry up!" David had all he could do to keep them in the truck, "These are some damned crazy dogs you got here Bill."
Carlos had Jack and Queenie back on their slips and George had already sacked the hare. Bill climbed back in the cab, "David are you ready with the little guys?."
"You bet mi Patron, let's do it," David leaned hard against the side of the bed as the Whippets struggled with their leads. Keeping them on the slips till the next hare appeared was going to be a challenge. The lights began playing across the fields again as the truck slowly moved North up Pipeline Road. "A grove comin' up on the right Patron. We're gonna put both lights on it," David moved alongside his older brother. "Hey Bro, whas shakin over here?"
"Only your mouth little brother, only your mouth." Carlos threw his head back and laughed. David was David and there was nothing to be done about it. Carlos knew that time would do the job of changing him and that would happen all too soon, "Why don't you try slowin' it down a bit and pay attention to the grove and the dogs...Rabbit, rabbit Bill! Three rows down and up ahead of us...over there. He's movin'...I'm gonna let'em go."
Willie and the Spook shot over the side of the bed like a pair of air to ground missiles. Bill started moving the truck forward to the Northern end of the citrus grove. Carlos and David played the powerful beams of light across the trees. The light reflected off the shiny green leaves and spread itself as a gentle glow throughout the orchard. "I've got'em!," David shouted, "They're headed North with him...Speed it up Patron. We can pick'em up when they break out of the tree line."
Only the Whippets could run in these conditions. All of the other hounds, even the Greys, were just too large to navigate around the trees with enough speed and agility to keep pace with a jack in full flight. Willie was the undisputed king of the trees. His reckless abandon and commitment to the work made him perfect for the task. Bill glanced over and caught sight of the two hounds racing North hot on the trail of the hare. He floored the accelerator as they neared the end of the last row of trees. The truck was moving at close to 60 miles an hour as they left the grove. They were ahead of the hounds and the hare. Bill began to slow down as Carlos and David continued to work the lights over the trees.
"If he don't cut back, we got him," George said, "They were right on his ass when we passed'em 'bout 100 yards back...Yes sir Bill, hot shit that Willie ain't he?"
"Here they come Patron!" David had the light on the hare and the Whippets were pressing him hard, "They've almost got him...Go Willie! Run you little fart."
The hare moved into the field and the Whippets began to close the gap. The Spook started hedging to the outside while Willie pressed for the catch. Bill began to move the truck in an effort to stay parallel with the chase. He shifted up and the engine died. The electrical system shut down and the lights went black. This jack would live to run another day.
Saved by a loose battery cable...stranger things had happened. Bill closed the hood and looked at his hounds and his friends. He was a lucky man and he knew it. This was the perfect moment for Bill. His favorite hounds and his closest friends sharing a cool breeze and a quiet moment in the South Texas night...If his life could be distilled into a single instant, this would be his choice...He'd share this with Sue in the morning.
The train began to slow and Sue knew that the time for reflection was over. She saw the station coming up and there, waiting for her, was David. No longer a wild teenage boy, but a grown man. David had followed Carlos' lead and had gone to the university and now was about to graduate from medical school. She was very proud of him...as proud as Bill had been. Bill had never married and David was as close to a child as he'd ever had. When she stepped down from the train car he was there to greet her.
"Hey Sue, are you doin' okay?," he asked.
"Bill died on a mountain, David. That's what he always wanted...to go out doing something he loved," she said, "I know that's only cold comfort right now but I think it may help me get through this. Maybe in the long run I can find some peace in it."
"Is that the Patron over there?," David pointed to the simple wooden coffin on the freight dock, "I brought the old Ford truck. I got it out of the machine shed. It hadn't been run in years. I hate to make you ride in it, but I thought the Patron would like it."
"That's nice David, really sweet," she said, "Is everything else ready?"
"Yeah it is Sue. You know my Momma thinks this is pretty weird. Carlos tried to explain it to her. I don't know if he got through to her or not. You need to be ready to deal with it. She won't be there now, but she'll be over to see you later," David looked at her, "It'll be okay."
The trip to the ranch was completed in silence. David and Sue exchanged looks and glances, but neither one really knew what to say to the other. As they drove up to the mesquite trees behind the main house Sue could see Carlos and George waiting for them. Sue could also see that they'd been crying. David stopped the truck. She hugged Carlos and kissed him on the cheek and then she lied and told him that everything would be alright...She looked at George and he wept openly while she held him.
She looked out across the brush and the fields and all of the memories came rushing back just as they had on the train. Bill really did know himself better than most. This place was where he belonged. Not just among strangers in a strange place. Resting here was the right thing for him. She looked at the empty grave and then on either side of it. Now she knew the dream had been more than a dream. On the left were two very small memorials that read "Texas Jack" and the "Panhandle Queen." on the right there were two even smaller markers that read "Willie" and the "Spook."