FICTION: Bounty Hunters by Fred McGavran

Bill Bob is not the first person I would think of if I were looking for a hunter. He rattles. That’s because he always carries a few extra beers in his pockets in case his regular supply runs out. Some kinds of hunting, though, like sitting in a duck blind until your ass freezes over don’t require much moving around. That’s how we sold ourselves to Myra and Breckenridge Johnson, who wanted to clear Shawnee Village of coyotes to avenge poor Lonnie, snatched away in the night by the pack.

Now Shawnee Village is our most expensive suburb with homes like English mansions, the most exclusive country club in town, riding trails, and fox hunting, all stretched out over thousands of acres yet unmarred by a single McDonald’s® or Target®. Bill Bob and I would drive through in the truck on garbage nights, looking for treasures set out by people too rich to care what they were throwing away. In fact we got most of our furniture and electronics that way and did a pretty good business in reselling used goods, until the night we saw the sign on the pillar at the end of the Johnsons’ driveway: “$1000 Reward for the coyote that got poor Lonnie.”

Of course we thought a coyote had run off with one of the kids, so when Breckenridge Johnson said, “What do you want?” over the loudspeaker on his security cam at the gate, we both just teared up.

“Poor Lonnie,” I sobbed.

“I been in the coyote hunting business thirty years, and I never seen a worse case than this,” blubbered Bill Bob.

“You’re coyote hunters?” the voice asked.

“At your service, Sir,” replied Bill Bob.

“Stand back,” he said, and slowly the gates swung open, revealing a mansion grander than Downton Abbey.

We drove up the lane and parked in the circular driveway. Pulsing red lights on security cameras followed us as we ascended the steps to the front door. Bill Bob pushed a button beside the door. Out popped a little camera to scan us into the system followed by a series of clicks just like the ones when you go through security in a jail, the door opened, and there stood Myra and Breckenridge Johnson, flushed and tanned from a day on the golf course and dinner at the club. She was wearing one of those loose white dresses to show off what was left of her arms and legs, and he was wearing white pants, loafers and a light blue blazer. Since it was a work night for us, I can’t say Bill Bob and I looked as good in our cargo pants shorts and T-shirts with the sleeves ripped off. From their ages, I figured Lonnie was probably a grandchild there on a visit.

“Nobody else has brought us a single pelt,” Mr. Johnson began, obviously an experienced businessman who did not want to hire the wrong people for the job. As he spoke, Mrs. Johnson’s diamond-encrusted fingers touched his hand to calm him down or egg him on. “What makes you think you can do the job?”

Now a $1000 reward is a highly motivating factor.

“Ain’t a coyote I can’t bring in,” Bill Bob said, cocking back his head to meet his eye. Bill Bob’s only about five foot four and has a gut so big he has to lean back to keep from falling forward on his face. I was afraid he was going to topple over backwards, but he caught himself just in time.

“I asked you how you were going to do it,” Mr. Smartass Johnson said.

“Country ain’t right for running them down with dogs,” said Bill Bob. “And there’s too much tree cover to do it from the air.”

“And so?”

“It’s like squirrel hunting. You don’t go tramping off in the woods looking for ’em, because you’ll scare ’em off. We’ll just camp out in your back yard and wait for them to come to us.”

That did it. The Johnsons were so impressed with our coyote hunting résumé that they led us around the house to the rose gardens on a terrace overlooking the swimming pool. The whole area was bright from security lights mounted all over the house.

“This is where they got poor Lonnie,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Below the pool were several acres of lawn greener than a golf course.

“Once they get a taste for blood, they’ll be back,” Bill Bob said.

She shivered in terror or delight

“Turn out the lights, and we’ll lie down and wait ‘em out.”

That sounded good to the Johnsons. I followed them back around the house.

“Aren’t you going to stay with him?” asked Mr. Johnson.

“I got to get our hunting supplies. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Now Bill Bob carried a .38 police special under the dash in case anybody tried to take our stuff, but we needed a twelve pack and some beef jerky to pass the time until the coyotes got curious and something to put them in after we nailed them. I found an old burlap bag in the truck bed and got the rest of our supplies at the gas station at the edge of town.

We figured we could get some sleep before they came sniffing around us and still be sharp enough to nail them before they figured out it was a trap. Trouble is you never know how Bill Bob is going to respond to beer on top of all those meds he gets from the VA. It took them years to get his dose right, probably because they never knew what else he was taking. So maybe a six pack was enough to put him into a light sleep, or maybe if he drank it along with the extras in his pants, he wouldn’t wake up until afternoon.

Well, what the hell, I thought. If we miss them tonight, we’ll come back tomorrow. Besides, Lois his wife was pissed about something and wouldn’t let him in the house. For some damn reason my wife Darlene was on her side, so I couldn’t go home, either. Believe me; sleeping in a rose garden is a lot better than sleeping in the back of the truck, even if you’d picked up a half-decent mattress that evening.

I was the first to drift off. At first the only thing I heard was the sound of Bill Bob pissing on the roses. After another beer he went back to sleep, burping and farting so loud it damn near lifted him off the ground. As I was drifting back off to sleep again, I heard this “Yip! Yip-yip-yip!” like somebody warming up new shoes for a clog dance. I was dozing off again when I heard it panting.

What the hell do I do now, I thought frantically. I could smell its foul breath. And then I felt it: something was licking my face.

“Oh, shit!” I cried, jumping up. “It’s trying to kill me!”

Bill Bob wasn’t moving real fast, but he got off a half dozen shots before the damn thing flopped down beside a rose bush.

“Good eye, Buddy!” I cried. “Sure saved my ass.”

The security lights popped back on, brighter than the lights for a night time lineup at the state pen, while I rummaged through the beer cans for the burlap bag. Holding my breath, I reached out, picked the damn thing up by a paw, and dropped it in.

“We just got us a $1000 reward,” I said.

The door to the terrace flew open, and out came Mr. and Mrs. Breckenridge Johnson in his and her matching light blue bathrobes with “B.J. No. 1” and “B.J. No. 2” monogrammed on the pockets.

“Here you are,” I said holding out the burlap bag. “We got your coyote.”

It was flopping around so much he could hardly hold it.

“Must have just winged it,” Bill Bob said.

Breckenridge Johnson opened the bag and looked inside.

“You idiots,” he said.

“Now what the hell?” cried Bill Bob. “We just earned us $1,000.”

“This isn’t a coyote,” he said. “It’s a Pekinese.”

Gently he lowered the bag to the ground and a little dog scrambled out. Mrs. Johnson was going into hysterics. The dog started to go “Yip! Yip-yip-yip” and she picked it up and hugged it.

“He’s not dead yet,” said Bill Bob, reaching into his pockets for some more ammunition. He told me later he thought Pekinese was something that turned your toenails black. I always thought it was someone who liked Chinese food.

“Don’t let him shoot him, Breckenridge!” Mrs. Johnson screamed. “It’s Lonnie.”

“Then I guess we solved your problem, lady,” Bill Bob said. “We’ll take the reward in cash or check.”

“You pissed all over the roses,” Mr. Johnson said, surveying our campsite.

“We aren’t responsible for collateral damage,” I replied.

When you’re dealing with rich people, you got to set some limits. Bill Bob had found a few more bullets and was reloading the revolver.

“Let’s just call it a night,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’ll bring you the check out front. Come on, Myra. We’ll take him to the all night veterinary for a checkup. ”

Two Shawnee Village patrol cars were out front, lights flashing, when we got there. One of the Rangers was looking at our truck the way they do before conducting a warrantless search. Mr. Johnson came out the front door with our check just in time to prevent another case of false arrest.

“Who are these guys, Mr. Johnson?” one of the Rangers asked him.

“The best damn bounty hunters I ever met.”

*

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FRED McGAVRAN is a graduate of Kenyon College and Harvard Law School, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. In 2010 he was ordained a deacon in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, where he serves as Assistant Chaplain at Episcopal Retirement Services. The Ohio Arts Council awarded him an Individual Achievement Award for The Reincarnation of Horlach Spenser, a story that appeared in Harvard Review. Black Lawrence Press published The Butterfly Collector, his award winning collection of short stories, and Glass Lyre Press will publish his latest collection of stories in 2017. For more information and links to stories, please see www.fredmcgavran.com.

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