PREY FOR US ALL...
THE WATER IN THE WELL IS DARKER THAN YOU THINK --
“So, am I correct in assuming that you only go for our white women?” Richard asked, spearing the slice of grilled pork with his fork and jabbing the meat into his eager mouth.
Here it was. The moment of truth that Nathan had been dreading since before he arrived. The question, delivered with such revulsion that his many hours of mental gymnastics had proven inadequate preparation for the sting once the words finally sliced through the tenuous air.
He shot a sly glance across the table at his host.
“Richard, it’s obvious you and I come from different worlds, but we’re not all that different,” Nathan responded, the frozen eyes from the faces of so many dead animal heads mounted on the walls staring down at him, urging him to continue. “In Philly, questions like that don’t get asked. It doesn’t matter how others live their lives. My guess is that if you look deeper into the well, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“You got that liberal north in you…boy,” Richard spat the last word.
Inside, Nathan’s stomach churned.
“It’s a simple question, with an equally simple answer,” the older man continued. “Let me show you how easy it is, Nathan.” Pausing. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I’ve never had any interest in any woman that wasn’t a white woman. My crayon box has no colors. So, I guess I can understand your particular…shall we say…fetish?” He finished, chewing on his words as much as the food in his mouth.
It had probably been a mistake to visit Christine’s father. Not to mention taking the 800-mile trip to southern Indiana without her knowledge. But, against his better judgment, Nathan had done just that. And he now found himself sitting at the dining room table with the man from whom Christine had spent so many of her own years running away from.
“For the most part, Christine and I feel it’s not what’s on the outside that makes us different. We also don’t necessarily agree about what’s on the inside,” Nathan said, thinking about the girlfriend he’d lied to about a last-minute business trip to L.A.
“That Christine… Always a bit of a wild hare. Gotta give ‘er that one! No matter how we tried, her mother and I never could seem to get her to understand the importance of tradition. Ever since she was little she went her own way. Even becoming a vegetarian; can you imagine?” Richard said, popping another bite of meat into his mouth. The trophy heads hanging on the walls of the room listened in silence. “Never raised her that way. Just up and changed — was the darndest thing. I blame the liberal colleges she attended.”
Nathan remained silent, non-committal.
“So, I take it you’re a hunter, Nathan. How does that square with Christine?” Richard asked, changing the subject.
Christine had shared many tales of her father’s exploits. Had explained how he prided his ability to track down and kill any type of game — the wilder or more exotic the better. The mounted heads of antelope, buffalo, kangaroo, and boar, along with the more mundane deer and moose that lined the walls of the dining room were testaments to her tales. From just above his own head, Richard’s pride and joy, a massive grizzly bear, growled down at Nathan.
“Why else would I be here, Richard?” Nathan responded, rhetorically.
“One time…many years ago, Christine brought home a Chinese boy she’d been dating. Again…back in college…the root of all her problems, I’m convinced. Didn’t raise her to associate with the others, but the free-willed person she was, she went on and did it anyway,” he finished, pointing his empty fork at Nathan, punctuating his words.
“I believe Jon was Vietnamese,” Nathan corrected him, remembering Christine’s account of her first boyfriend meeting her father. According to her, it hadn’t gone well. Nathan now understood why.
“Is there any difference? All Orientals…” Richard stated, matter-of-factly. “Did you see my oriental rug?” Pointing at the floor beneath the table. “It came from Japan. In the Orient.
“Anyway, that one, he didn’t last very long. Didn’t have the right stuff, I guess,” he continued. “Too much of the same color in his crayon box. Yellow, ya might say. That’s when I started questioning my daughter’s choices. So what makes you think you’ll fare better than he did?” He asked, sucking the meat from a rib, his lips smacking obscenely.
“Growing up in eastern P.A., I spent a great deal of time in the Poconos,” Nathan explained. “I know a thing or two about the hunt. I’d like to think I’m pretty capable with a gun…or a knife… Or anything else, for that matter,” he said, throwing a smirk at the older man, who refused the bait.
“That so…?” Richard stated, more than asked. “Guess we find out tomorrow. I believe maybe you think you’re gonna show me a thing or two. I can smell it on ya. Just a warning though, sometimes I don’t play fair…” Richard said, his voice all sincerity. “So, wake-up call’s 4:00am. We’ll see what you’ve got, City Boy. And, remember, winner takes all.”
“Winner takes all,” Nathan agreed.
They had driven to a location about 50 miles outside of town to a spot Richard claimed offered the best hunting around. Most importantly, it was far enough from the prying eyes of the law, he had explained on the trip into the country.
With the morning sun bleeding into the sky, the two men walked as quietly as possible through the dense forest. Each armed with their own Browning auto-loader, more than a few field dressing knives and enough ammunition to take down a whole herd if need be. Their meandering path through the woods kept them off the well-worn trails but close enough to see any movement on them. Speaking very little during the hour or so hike, they left all the talking to their footfalls — an ominous reminder to each why the other was there.
Richard broke the silence, his hand shooting into the air to halt Nathan who followed a few steps behind. Whispering, he pointed. “There, ‘bout 20 yards to the east, just beyond that copse of trees.”
In the distance, Nathan saw movement behind the brush — flashes of white, brown and tan among a sea of green.
“Looks like we got us a couple,” Richard said. “See there, a beautiful white-tailed doe out for an early morning stroll, with her magnificent buck in tow. No inter-species mingling goin’ on there,” he chided, almost chuckling at his own bad joke.
“Indeed, she’s a beauty. And what’s he, about a 4- or 5-pointer?”
Richard ignored the question.
Raising his rifle to peer through the scope, Nathan watched the magnificent creatures step from behind a stand of trees. He thought he noticed a slight twitch in the buck’s head, potentially signaling the hunters’ undoing. The moment passed, and they trotted on.
“We’re ‘bout to see what you’re made of, Mr. City Boy,” Richard said. “You got one shot. And remember, all or nuthin’.” The look in his eyes almost a gleam.
Nathan could almost hear the smirk in the old man’s voice.
“Gotta do this together, if we aim to bag ‘em both.”
“I’m with ya, old man,” Nathan said, aware that the shots, if not almost simultaneous, would spook one of the animals into bolting. And, considering he’d come this far, he wasn’t about to make a mistake, knowing full well the repercussions.
“You take the female. I’ll get the male. Okay?”
“Just as I’d prefer,” Nathan said.
“On three,” Richard’s voice barely above a whisper.
Nathan steadied the butt of the rifle against his shoulder and peered through the scope, positioning his magnified crosshairs on the animal’s chest.
Richard stared into the face of the buck whose brown eye blinked once before turning his head directly into the hunter’s sights, inadvertently lining up the shot on his own forehead.
The bullets flew from their chambers.
An explosion of red burst from the doe’s chest as Nathan’s shot entered just above her heart. The buck’s skull splintered as Richard’s bullet drove its way home. The female wobbled on unsure legs before bouncing into a tree and falling to the ground. The male collapsed where he stood, Richard’s aim point blank.
“Looks like you ain’t half bad with that rifle after all,” Richard said, almost congratulatory.
The hunters shambled to where their kill now lay on the ground. The male had died instantly. Richard grabbed his legs, flopping him unceremoniously onto his back. His head, lolling awkwardly from a lifeless neck, was a shattered mass where the exit wound had blown out the back of his skull. Nothing that taxidermy couldn’t fix.
Nathan’s female was drowning in a pool of blood, struggling for life. A few labored breaths bubbled red out of her nostrils and from between her lips. Unsheathing his dressing blade, he mercifully jabbed the sharpened steel into her stomach. With a motion more precarious than planned, he slid the blade through her rib cage and up to her gullet, splaying open her chest cavity and emptying its contents onto the ground. With the blood-stained point of his blade, he flipped aside her jogging bra, sending a spray of red into her blonde hair. Her porcelain flesh now exposed, Nathan sliced a large section of flesh from her breast and popped it into his greedy mouth, the areola bouncing between his teeth.
“Well, Nathan, even if you do look a bit like a raisin in the sun,” Richard said, “seems like we’ve got more in common than I thought. Guess it’s true what they say about a daddy’s girl. No matter what, she always finds someone who’s just like her dear old pa.”
For the first time that weekend, Richard Morgan smiled.
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