THE CHAIRMAN 0F the board pulled the door shut behind him, stacked his rifle against the log-sided cabin, and walked down to the end of the porch. The light from the kitchen window punched out into the early-morning darkness and the utter silence of the woods. Two weeks of nightly frost had killed the insects and had driven the amphibians into hibernation: for a few seconds, he was alone.
Then the chairman yawned and unzipped his bib overalls, unbuttoned his pants, shuffled his feet, the porch boards creaking under his insulated hunting boots, Nothing like a good leak to start the day, he thought. As he leaned over the low porch rail, he heard the door opening behind him. He paid no attention.
Three men and a woman filed out of the house, pretended not to notice him.
"Need some snow," the woman said, peering into the dark. Susan O'Dell was a slender forty, with a tanned, dry face, steady brown eyes, and smile lines around her mouth. A headlamp was strapped around her blaze-orange stocking cap, but she hadn't yet switched it on. She wore a blaze-orange Browning parka, snowmobile pants, and
carried a backpack and a Remington .308 mountain rifle with a Leopold Vari-X III scope. Not visible was the rifle's custom trigger job. The trigger would break at exactly two and a half pounds.
"Cold sonofabitch, though," said Wilson McDonald, as he slipped one heavy arm through his gun sling. McDonald was a large man, and much too heavy: in his hunting suit he looked like a blaze-orange Pillsbury Doughboy. He carried an aging -30-06 with open sights, bought in the thirties at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York. At forty-two, he believed in a certain kind of tradition - his summer car, a racing-green XK-E, was handed down from his father; his rifle came from his grandfather; and his spot in the country club from his great-grandfather. He would defend the Jaguar against far better cars; the .30-06 against more modern rifles, and the club against parvenus, hirelings, and of course, blacks and Jews.
"You all ready?" asked the chairman of the board, as he came back toward them, buttoning his pants. He was a fleshy, red-faced man, the oldest of the group, with a thick shock of white hair and caterpillar-sized eyebrows. As he got closer to the others, he could smell the odor of pancakes and coffee still steaming off them. "I don't want anybody stumbling around in the goddamn woods just when it's getting good."
They all nodded: they'd all been here before.
"Getting late," said O'Dell. She wore the parka hood down, and the parka itself was still unzipped; but she'd wrapped a red and white kaffiyeh around her neck and chin. Purchased on a whim in the Old City of Jerusalem, and meant to protect an Arab from the desert sun, it was now protecting a third-generation Irishwoman from the Minnesota cold. "We better get out there and get settled."
Five forty-five in the morning, opening day of deer season. O'Dell led the way off the porch, the chairman of the board at her shoulder, the other three men trailing behind.
Terrance Robles was the youngest of them, still in his mid-thirties. He was a blocky man with thick, black-rimmed glasses and a thin, curly beard. His watery blue eyes showed a nervous flash, and he laughed too often, a shallow, uncertain chuckle. He carried a stainless Sako .270, mounted with a satin-finished Nikon scope. Robles had little regard for tradition: everything he hunted with was new technology.
James T. Bone might have been Susan O'Dell's brother: forty, as she was, Bone was slim, tanned, and dark-eyed, his face showing a hint of humor in a surface that was hard as a nut. He brought up the rear with a .243 Mauser Model 66 cradled in his bent left arm.
Four of the five - the chairman of the board, Robles, O'Dell, and Bone-were serious hunters.
Copyright © 1998 John Sandford
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