Kristin put her papers aside.
"Christian ethics," she said, as though she were weighing their general usefulness. "I dont think Genesis likes hunter-gatherers much. I think it favors the shepherds."
"I must look it up. You always learn something, right? Reading Genesis." Early the next morning, two of Michaels colleagues from State came by in a Jeep Cherokee. Kristin served them coffee and handed out bagged sandwiches to take along.
Alvin Mahoney, a tall, balding historian with a rosy drinkers face, presented Michael with his hunting piece.
"Remember this? Remington twelve-gauge?"
Michael jammed three deer slugs into the magazine and pumped them forward to get the feel of the gun.
"You can put six in there," Mahoney reminded him. "Only if you do remember theyre there."
"Yep." Michael lowered the shotgun, unloaded it and stuffed the shells in his jacket pocket.
The third hunter was a sociologist named Norman Cevic, whom students liked to think of as coming from New York, though he was actually from Iron Falls, a tough little smelter town on the lake not far away. Norman did his best to affect a streetwise quality for the small-town adolescents at the university. He was about the same age as Mahoney, twenty years older than Michael, though he seemed younger.
"Norm went out opening day," Mahoney said. "Straight out of the shotgun. So to speak."
"Wasnt it a zoo out there?" Kristin asked. "I mean humanwise?"
"Not if you know the territory," Norman said. "I didnt see a soul."
"You took the canoe?" Michael asked.
"Sure." Norman Cevic had a gravelly voice that amused the students. "Had to use it to get in there. Didnt see a soul," he told them again.
No one said anything. Paul was lurking in the kitchen doorway in his bathrobe. Norman took a sip of coffee.
"Except," he said, "Hmongs. I saw some Hmongs in the distance. Probably walked all the way in there. No snow yet."
"They need the meat," Kristin said. "They live on it."
"Roots," Norman said. "Winter greens. Squirrel. Raccoon."
"How did you know they were Hmongs?" Paul asked from his half-concealment.
"Good question," Norman said. "Smart kid. We should take him hunting next year. Want to know how?"
Paul looked to his father, then nodded.
"How I knew they were Hmongs," Norman declared, as though it were the title of a lecture. He had been cradling a Mossberg thirty-thirty in one arm while he drank his coffee. Now he put the cup down and let the rifle slip through his fingers until he was holding it by the tip of the barrel just short of the end sight. "Because," he told Paul, "they carried their weapons by the end of the barrel. Sort of trailing the stock."
"Huh," said Alvin Mahoney.
"Which is how they carried them in Vietnam. And Hmongs are very numerous in Iron Falls. So," he said, addressing himself to young Paul, "when I see a man in deep woods carrying a rifle that way I presume hes a Hmong. Does that answer your question, my friend?"
"Yes sir," Paul said.
"Hmongs are a tribal people in Vietnam and Laos," Norman told Paul. "Do you know where Vietnam is? Do you know what happened there?"
Paul was silent for a moment and then said, "Yes. I think so. A little."
"Good," said Norman. "Then you know more than three quarters of our student body."
"Mr. Cevic was in Vietnam during the war," Kristin told her son. She turned to Norman, whom she rather admired. "How long was it that you spent there?"
"A year. All day, every day. And all night too." Just before they left the telephone rang. From his wifes tone, Michael knew it was his teaching assistant, Phyllis Strom. Descended from prairie sodbusters, Kristin did not always trouble to enliven her voice when addressing strangers and people she disliked. She had a way of sounding very bleak indeed, and that was how she sounded then, impatiently accumulating Phylliss information.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Stone. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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