I had a whole gaggle of 100-point bucks in my sights, sleeping peacefully on their feet, like cows. The way they were lined up, I could take down the whole clan in a single shot of gun, clean through their magnificent oversized brains. That’d be enough (deer) meat to last Nora and the baby through the harsh Amarillo winter. I shifted my weight in my hidey spot, snapping a twig and pouring more pepper on the fire by muttering, “God dammit all to hell.” But like any hunting man worth his salt, I was wearing camouflage—that swirly brown-and-green stuff you sometimes see on bandanas. The deers, famously self-assured creatures, didn’t budge. They were awake now, munching happily on some squirrels they’d killed for food, the carnivores. But now they were the squirrels in this equation, which felt somehow ironic. I reached for that old liquid courage—a dented flask full of industrial-strength Jeff Daniels. Then I lined up those deers, took a breath, and pushed the trigger. There was no kickback.
I knew that rattle anywhere—like a baby’s rattle or a maraca, but with more horse powder. “Hang tight, old girl,” I said, patting the Chevy’s underbelly and taking a deep pull from a fifth of Jeff Daniels. “This old grease monkey’s got a few tricks up his hairy sleeves.” I fetched my tool belt, dangling faithfully in the garage like some psycho’s hostage. Hammer, nails, screws, screwdrivers (flathead and bumpy), measuring tape, Scotch tape, scissors, glue, paperclips, and every wrench, nut, bolt, button, and safety pin known to man. The gang was all there, if a little fatigued from overuse. I ate a couple of the nuts and strapped the belt to my waist like a less-effeminate Batman. Then I rolled up my flannel sleeves, exposing my prodigious forearms, and lay down on one of those square wheely things we used to play with in gym class. I slid under the old girl’s sleek, ageless body, and set my greasy paws to work on that carbmuretor.
I hefted the wrought iron fishing stick, felt its familiar leaden weight. “Teach a man to fish…” I said, smiling wistfully. The forest enclosed me like some sort of massive tree convention at the Javits Center. I gazed out over the serene creek, jealous of its shimmering ignorance. Then, after a deep breath of Amarillo’s sweet mountain air, I threw the fishing string out into the salty water. Before it even reached the surface, a 200-pound perch leaped out of the creek and took the snaily bait. I bit off a big hunk of chewing tobacco, swallowed it down, and reeled like Nora’s life depended on it (it did). After a three-hour tug-of-war, the bastard came ashore, lungs a-panting. I gutted him the way my daddy’d taught me—from ass to ears—before cauterizing the wounds on a hotplate of my own design. Then I threw that behemoth back in the water, confident the ordeal would prove to be a potent metaphor.
We were sailing down the Mississippi at a brisk fifty knots, coasting on the coattails of a mighty crosswind. If I had to guess from the air pressure, I’d say we were alee. But it was impossible to know for sure, even for me, a salty old hot dog who’d prowled the Mekong during the first Korean War. Sweat dripped down my brow as I admired the bow, the mast, the stern, the rig, the hull, and most of all the keel, my all-time favorite sailboat part. I knocked on the big flagpole thing affectionately. Solid oak, redwood to be exact. “They don’t make ’em like they used to, eh old girl?” I said aloud, as overhead wheeled a flock of bald eagles. I was the only man on this skiff, so it fell on me to steer us all the way to Amarillo, and through a 7.9-richter storm at that. But—feeling especially brash thanks to one Mr. Jeff Daniels—I let the wind take the wheel, and in doing so set a course for adventure, and later shipwreck.