CheckmateMature

The adventures of two young hunter/beggers and a Casanova ranch foreman

Checkmate

 

Dwight and I agreed. The whiskey just wasn’t working like it once did. Getting a hunting invite out of Wayne Denny used to take no more than a couple of rounds at his favorite watering hole. Recently, however, his wife Teresa’s spy ring had hit a few out of the park and Wayne needed more than a few to take his mind off “T-Rex” waiting for him back at the double-wide.

Wayne was the foreman of a 28,000-acre ranch near the ghost town of Thurber, Texas. Though much of the ranch was leased to deer hunters, it was also excellent hunting for ducks, doves and quail. At 24, we lacked the serious doe-ray-me needed to lease the hunting rights so we depended instead on our well-honed begging skills. In Texas, talking folks into letting you hunt for free is a cruel, embarrassing exercise in futility, replete with heart crushing confrontations with sadistic money-grubbing power crazed egomaniacs. There is also a negative side.

Even though Wayne was our “best friend” each hunting season, getting a hunting invitation out of him still required a combination of fancy fabrications, artful begging and spot-on timing. Wayne’s receptivity to our blandishments was heightened by the judicious application of adult beverages in just the right setting. The only right setting we ever found was the Tap in Mingus, Texas.

Mingus is not the kind of place you would go if you had any other choice. The town had proudly resisted such corrupting urban influences as indoor plumbing and dental hygiene.  It was also free of useless big city artifacts like a City Hall, police station or pay phones. The population takes civic pride in the fact that the town has no churches even though several had tried. The town’s ready availability of high quality heathens seemed to attract them. Realistically, no church could compete with the Tap. They were doomed by the fact that folks in Mingus spent most of their income on liquid nourishment and the rest on tips. 

The Tap served as the area’s center of social, political and cultural enlightenment.  It also served an important educational function. In Mingus you are considered fully educated when you can read bumper stickers, bar menus and other folks tattoos, all of which the tap provided for free.

Dwight and I used our waiting time at the Tap for educational purposes. There was a lot education to be had if you were patient and willing to listen in on the snippets of conversations that rose in volume with each drink. We learned a lot.

1.     Proximity to former spouses is not necessarily a good thing for the queen currently on that throne

Husband: speaking to wife, “I’ve noticed that you have been watching that guy at the bar for a while. Do you know him?

Wife: Yes. That’s my ex-husband. He has been drinking like that since I left him seven years ago.

Husband, shaking his head: I wouldn’t think anybody could celebrate that long.

2.     Men frequently use the Tap to celebrate their spousal dominance

Patron at bar speaking to the bartender: “Pour me a stiff one. I just had another run in with the little woman.”

Bartender: “So how did this one end?”

Patron: “When it was over she came to me on her hands and knees!”

Bartender: “Really? Now that’s a switch. What did she say?”

Patron, dropping his head: “Come out from under that bed, you little chicken-shit!

3.     We learned why married women get fat.

“Single women come home, see what's in the refrigerator and go to bed. Married women come home, see what's in the bed and go to the refrigerator.”

4.     We learned that women get minks “The same way minks get minks.”

5.     We learned that life is sexually transmitted

6.     We learned that the high cost of living has not affected its popularity

7.     We learned that the three words that a woman hates to hear while she is having sex is “Honey, I’m home.”

8.     We learned that marriage changes passion “Suddenly you’re in bed with a relative.”

9.     “If electricity comes from electrons does that mean that morality comes from, morons?”

10. We learned the secrets to a happy relationship from a very attractive lady at the bar.

It is important that a man helps you around the house and has a job.

It is important that a man makes you laugh.

It is important to find a man you can count on and doesn't lie to you.

It is important that a man is good in bed and loves making love to you.

It is important that these four men don't know each other.

For all its faults, Wayne frequently stopped by the Tap for some serious “T-Rex prep” before heading home.  The conversations at the bar had become so scripted they seem to happen almost without human intervention. “How bad is it gonna to be tonight?” Spike the bartender would ask. Reviewing his most recent sins, Wayne would answer, “Better make em doubles, Spike.”

Teresa had once been a sweet and trusting bride, but ever since an ill-fated fishing trip the previous year, Teresa had morphed into T-Rex and dedicated her life to disassembling Wayne Denny one chunk at a time. Teresa knew, as did we all, that Wayne was way too good looking and way too weak around loose women to not slip now and then. What she did not realize before the wedding was that Wayne basically saw life as one big slip and slide game.

To Wayne it seemed like only yesterday that he and his best friend Jesus Smith had concocted a bulletproof plan that would guarantee Wayne a few glorious days in Mexico with his then current hottie. The cover story was that Jesus was going to take Wayne down to a secret Mexican bass fishing hot spot. Unfortunately, due to its secret remote location and lack of phone service, he would be unable to explain exactly where he was going and would not be available by phone for at least a week. Jesus and Wayne both agreed it was an elegant plan.

Wayne knew he could trust Jesus. After all, they had been friends since the days they played six-man football at Strawn High School. Jesus Smith’s name was an example of the dire impact that multiple marriages had on local naming conventions.  Over the years Wayne and Jesus had become proficient at covering each other’s backs.

What Wayne failed to take into account was Jesus’s gambling habit. The day after Wayne and Jesus were supposed to be in Mexico, Jesus got drunk and thrown in the Palo Pinto County jailhouse after the police broke up an illegal gambling operation and nabbed Jesus in the raid. “I was drunk and disoriented,” was the only explanation he later gave Wayne as to why he called Teresa that night to come bail him out of jail. She seemed more than happy to pay his bail at the time. She determined then and there that it was going to be Wayne that was going to pay….big time. The next morning Teresa unveiled her new “T-Rex” attitude and started recruiting her spy ring.

So there Dwight and I sat, pouring good whiskey down poor Wayne and looking for the kind of opening we could wangle an invitation through. Dwight, frustrated, decided on the direct but sincere approach. “Seen any ducks lately,” Dwight ventured? “Lots,” Wayne said distractedly staring at the set of bodacious Ta-Ta’s that gave meaning to Barbara Joe Brown’s tee shirt message “I Wish These Were Brains.”

After Barbara Joe was no longer the center of Wayne’s attention, Dwight took up the chase again. “Doctors say that Dotty, my little two-year old niece, might live if we can just get enough of a special nutrient found only in duck meat,” Dwight said reaching for a napkin. The over-served Wayne asked, “Duck meat? What kind of duck meat?” I could feel Dwight preparing to set the hook. “Free range. Has to be free range ducks if we’re going to pull her through,” Dwight replied peering over the top of the napkin as he pretended to wipe his eyes. “Never heard of em,” Wayne admitted. “But, I aint no ichthyologist. You’re welcome to come out and shoot em if you find any.” “If Dottie were here and had the strength, she would hug you neck,” Dwight concluded, blowing his nose. “Check!” he hollered to the bartender.

Given the fact that the weather had turned rainy that winter, we had the near-perfect hunting vehicle. It was my 1968 VW wagon. It had the “big” 65hp electronically fuel injected engine over the rear wheels. It could go almost any place, and it had. I named the vehicle “Ward,” after Ward Cleaver, Beaver’s dad; the internationally recognized symbol of dependability.          

We launched our “free-range” duck hunt the next Saturday. Wayne’s place was covered in tanks, many of which held ducks. By noon we had about 20 ducks. When we stopped to clean them Wayne pulled up in his truck. “You boys seen the house I moved to the back pasture,” he asked? “I don’t believe we have,” Dwight replied. “Well, I had to find me someplace where I would be safe from Teresa’s spies, and I think I’ve found it,” Wayne informed us.

We hopped into his truck cab and headed toward the most remote part of the ranch. The house was located on the backside of the last hill on the property. Large cedar trees on three sides naturally blocked any view of the house. If you didn’t know where to look, it would have required satellite photography to find it. 

The two story Victorian house was freshly painted an earth-tone brown and had hunter green shutters on all the windows. A big Texas sized porch ran the circumference of the building. The roof tiles were a perfect color and texture match to the surrounding rocks. “Wayne must have confused Teresa’s home grown spy ring with the KGB,” Dwight observed.

We left our boots on the porch as we walked inside. There was not a single of piece furniture in the house. There was also no electricity or running water. “So how do you like my little fixer-upper,” asked Wayne with a conspiratorial grin. “Nice,” we said in harmony. “I expect I will be spending a lot of time out here over the next few years.” In fact, just to be on the safe side, I built a storm cellar too,” Wayne said proudly.

Back on the porch we put on our boots and walked over to a camouflage painted solid steel door set in the ground. “Being the outdoors types, maybe you boys can give me some pointers about how to provision my storm cellar,” Wayne said as he popped open the heavy-duty lock attached to the big steel door. As soon as the steel door opened an electric light came on to light the stairway down to the cellar. As we descended the stairs Wayne locked the steel door behind us.  At the cellar door there was another heavy-duty lock to open before we could enter. “Hope you get lots of advanced tornado warning what with all these locks and all,” I observed. We entered the dark room and Wayne flipped on a light switch. Before us stood, what can only be called a 5,000 square foot den of iniquity and if I do say so myself, iniquity never looked so good.

There were expensive leather couches circled around a freestanding gas fired fireplace. The centerpiece, however, was a huge four-poster king sized bed with mirrors on the wall and ceiling. Any iniquity that went on could be captured by 2 video cameras that surrounded the bed on tripods. There were stereo speakers everywhere. The length of one entire wall was devoted to a four-person shower, hot tub, bathroom and sauna. Another wall was the bar. It had at least 200 bottles in front of the mirrors, with a wine chiller, beer keg, icemaker and a 16-foot long solid marble bar and matching barstools. “My guess is that you spend a lot of time praying for bad weather,” Dwight offered. “Let’s just say I’m on my knees a lot down here,” Wayne responded. "Slicker than the pathway to hell," Dwight observed.

“Why are you showing all this to us?” I asked Wayne. “Well boys, there are several reasons. First you boys are not from around here so you probably are not part of Teresa’s spy network. Second, you must really want to hunt this place bad because you tell the stupidest lies I ever heard just to get an invite. So I know I can trust you. Third, I might some day sell memberships in my rainy day club so think of this as a pre-sales tour.” We allowed as how we would think about it on our ride back to Ward.

After Wayne left, I turned to Dwight “Damn it! Now he’s on to us. I just knew that Dotty thing was over the top,” I said with an accusing squint. “Sure, and that Bob Whites for Boy Scouts thing of yours last year was any more believable?” Dwight retorted. We both shrugged. They say beggars can’t be choosy, but it was obvious that we needed a better line of bullshit if we were going to continue to entice Wayne. Maybe, somehow, by showing us the rainy day clubhouse, Wayne had given us some leverage.

As the afternoon hunt was drawing to a close, we found ourselves on one of the roughest parts of the ranch carrying an additional 25 ducks. Not long after driving Ward over some unusually large boulders, we began to smell the first hints of burning wires. We made it about another quarter mile when the cab filled with smoke, Ward died and we bailed out. In the gathering twilight, we stepped back and let the smoke dissipate. “You may have to change Ward’s name to Marlboro Man,” Dwight suggested.   

Holding my temper, I got out my flashlight and began following the key wires from the fuel injectors and starter back toward the dashboard. Every important wire had shorted and burned off its insulation. “In my professional opinion, we’re screwed,” I summarized. Dwight ever the optimist, ignoring the underlying meaning of my summary said, “So, what’s the plan?” “Plan? There is no plan! Every wire we need is burned to a crisp.” I explained. “Ok, so what’s the plan?” Dwight persisted. After my intense desire to choke him passed, I began to gather together the elements of what would become my greatest plan ever.

“How far is it from here to that big truck stop back on I-20?” I asked. Getting one of those old mountain-men looks in his eye, Dwight looked at the stars, did a slow 360 degree circle, thought for a minute and said “Hell if I know.” I said, “Well, the way I see it, the dirt road that runs to 1-20 is about 5 miles in that direction. Once we get there it can’t be but another 5 miles to 1-20 and a couple more to the truck stop.” “Yeah, that’s about right,” Dwight agreed. “So then what’s the plan?"  I didn’t mind his single mindedness now because I had a plan. “Once we get to the truck stop we can call for a tow truck to come and get us.” I informed him. “How much you reckon that’s gonna cost?” Dwight said effectively killing my plan. “You’re right. If I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be driving Ward, now would I,” I admitted. Before I could stop him, he said “So, what’s the plan then?” “Plan B is to buy up every role of black electrical tape they have at the truck stop, walk back here and tape only the wires that we need to restart Ward.” I said much to my own surprise.

Fortunately, Ward had come to rest on the crest of a hill so finding our way back would not be too hard given the near-full moon we had. It took an hour of stumbling effort, but we finally reached the dirt road. After about 30 minute of walking toward I-20 we saw a pickup truck parked on the side of the road about half a mile ahead. Hoping above all hope that we could get the driver to give us a ride, we picked up our pace.

As we approached the pickup things got weird. “Aint that Wayne’s pickup?” Dwight asked. “Looks like it to me.” I replied. “What the hell is wrong with it?” Dwight questioned. Sure enough, the pickup was rocking side ways back and forth. “I don’t feel no earthquake.” Dwight offered. “I don’t either, but my guess is that somebody is rocking Wayne’s world,” I replied.  I knew it was coming, but before I could get a hand over his mouth, Dwight said, “So, what’s the plan now?” “Well, we can’t up and interrupt him if we expect him to be in a generous mood. Let's just wait until things calm down and then ask him for a ride." “Knowing Wayne, this could take a while. Why don’t we sit on the road and lean against the rear bumper. That way we will know when things quiet down enough,” Dwight suggested. “Sounds like a plan to me.” I agreed.

We spent the next half-hour sitting on the road leaning against the bumper. The rocking truck massaged our backs and stimulated our imaginations. Neither of us said a word. We just sat there trying to hide our goofy grins from each other. The truck finally stopped moving.  After a respectfully short wait, Dwight and I snuck back up the dirt road. We then waived our shining flashlight in the sky and hollered out “Hey Wayne. It’s us. We need some help!” Sure enough, Wayne figured that we had just come on the scene and needed a ride. He seemed glad to do so.

Dwight opened the passenger side door and a wave of hot pheromone moistened air hit us like a perfumed hammer. If we could have bottled that stuff we could have beat Viagra to the market by 20 years. There sat the hottest and most beautiful redhead Dwight and I had ever seen or would ever see again. She was buttoning up her blouse and fluffing her shoulder length red hair trying to evaporate the sweat.

On the ride to the truck stop we learned that Susan was a professor at Ranger Junior College and was married to the owner of the truck stop. We surmised correctly that Wayne would not be hanging around the truck stop waiting to take us back. “I’ll drop Susan off back at her house and catch up to you boys back on the dirt road,” Wayne said. As they pulled out of the truck stop Dwight spoke for us both when he said “Damn, if I knew what higher education had to offer I might have been a Ph.D. by now.”

We were able to purchase 34 rolls of black electrical tape. After 4 cups of coffee, we set off at 1:30 am to begin the walk back to Ward. Good to his word, Wayne picked us up after we had gone only a few miles.

As we headed back to the ranch, Dwight unexpectedly opened up a new line of negotiation.  He said, “You know Wayne, what with us knowing about your rainy day program and your interest in higher education, we shouldn’t have to scrounge hunting invites from you any more.” “Are you saying that you no longer feel obligated to buy me whiskey?” Wayne replied, hoping not to lose his favorite perk. “No, what I’m saying is that before today you had all the hunting and all we had was free whiskey and sob stories. Now we got a lot more on our side that you’ve got to consider.” “Well boys, I have to admit, you have me in something of a bind here. I can’t give you a key to the place, but I can’t afford all the whiskey I need and I sure as hell don’t want Teresa’s spies to get wind of things.” Wayne concluded.

Stalemated, we drove on in silence for a while. “Let's just agree that the free whiskey continues as before, but Dwight and I get to hunt when we want.” I offered as a compromise. “The free whiskey works, but free run of the ranch aint much of a compromise. People pay thousands of dollars for hunting rights out here. Are you boys expecting me to let you two just waltz around here like you owned the place?” Wayne asked. Nobody said a word, but Wayne knew that was exactly what Dwight was asking. “You got me boys. Given the circumstances I don’t see anyway around it,” Wayne said in apparent defeat.

At 2:00 am I started the chore of rewiring while Dwight tried to repair Wayne’s hurt feelings. Unfortunately my plan had a single but important weakness. While we did capture half the western world's supply of electrical tape, we forgot to get any more batteries for the flashlights. I taped until the last light of the flashlight faded. “I’m about 75% complete,” I said to Dwight and Wayne as I climbed out from under Ward. “Lets get some sleep until dawn, then we can start fresh,” Dwight suggested sensibly.

“I don’t see any blankets, so how are you boys planning to sleep out here in the cold?” Wayne asked. Plan-less, Dwight and I just looked at each other recognizing right away that Wayne was still too pissed off to offer us lodging. “Why not take the ducks out of the back and split them in half. One of you boys take the front seat and the other the back seat. Then I’ll cover each of you with ducks,” Wayne suggested. “Will that be warm enough?” Dwight asked. “I’ve done this before. I know exactly how it works. These ducks got more than enough down on them to keep you boys warm,” Wayne said confidently.  “Sounds like a plan to me,” I said hoping it was true.

Boy was it. I snuggled under my pile of ducks, got that warm feeling and immediately began drifting off to sleep. As he was leaving Wayne said with way too much levity, “Well, boys I’m off to do battle with T-Rex. She’s a lot less formidable when she has to get up for work in 3 hours.” Thirty seconds later Dwight and I were fast asleep.

Sometime just after dawn, I came unwillingly to a state of semi-consciousness. I was warm. I was comfortable, but something was amiss. What was amiss was a simple fact of biology. Ducks are ducks and people are people. Both have their own set of species-specific parasites. For instance, ducks carry a large number of lice. That is all well and good until the duck dies. While lice may have the IQ of Tic Tac, they do know warm from cold and alive from dead. That knowledge and the four hours they had to make their transfer was the reason why I suddenly came fully awake to realize that every lousy louse in my pile of ducks had relocated to me. Head to toe, I was suddenly crawling. “Son-of-a-biiiittttcccchhhh!” I screamed as I bolted out the door.

My screams awoke Dwight to the same realization. In seconds we were both outside the car stripping off every stitch of clothes we had on and launching them toward all four points of the compass. We swatted, we cursed, we danced, we spun, we rubbed, we swore and we twisted into impossible shapes until we finally agreed to take turns picking the lice off each other. The situation could have come to a mutually satisfying conclusion if Wayne, who knew exactly what to expect, had not been sitting in his truck with one of the video cameras from the cellar. By the time that Dwight and I realized we were on candid camera we didn’t care. After about 30 minutes of intense interpersonal interaction, we able to mop up the stragglers by ourselves. As a few of his senses returned, Dwight observed, “Hard to believe its 20 degrees out here, aint it?”

When we no longer looked contagious, Wayne strolled over. “Well boys, looks like we’re back to free whiskey, bullshit and begging for hunts,” he said with a grin as he tossed us each a blanket. “Well, I’m not so sure about that,” Dwight said wrapping himself in Wayne’s blanket. “We’ve got you on the rainy day club, the whereabouts of your secret house and that higher education thing. Lord only knows what Teresa’s spy ring would to with that kind of ammunition,” Dwight reminded him.

Wayne’s big grin never wavered as he said “And I’ve got a video showing a couple of nude range nymphs engaged in some serious cavorting,” Wayne said like a man holding four aces. “Hell, our wives will just laugh at that video. They know we’re straight,” Dwight replied hoping it would never come to that. “I was thinking more of what the folks over at the Tap might think once we start running the video on that TV behind the bar,” Wayne suggested.

Instantly we both realized that if Wayne went through with his threat, we would never be safe in Erath or Palo Pinto County again. Seeing that the fight had gone out of us, Wayne added with great satisfaction “Checkmate.”

 

The End

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