Sunday, February 10, 2013

Farmer Near Dai-Lac Pass

I watched him for a while before he committed.  After checking the night smells and satisfied of the quiet, he came, slow and easy across the pasture like a ghost.  He knew every brush in the swale by the banana trees, and it occurred to me this must be his father's field.  His field.  He never knew we were there.  Mega watches for spooks, and I, flat down beside a knee-high bush, behind a Remmington Model 700 sniper rifle, gaze through a starlite scope designed specifically to shoot people from ambush in the dark.

The 700 is a fairly heavy weapon, and with the bipod supporting the barrel, it was ridiculously easy to keep the cross-hairs on his neck.  "Just above center-mass," our old gunny used to say, "let the bullet drop, and you still get somethin." It's one soft trigger squeeze, and the echo of the sound, wop! or smack! tells you if you hit gut or bone.  He turns, testing the night, and the peculiar cant of a rifle swings out from behind his back, funny gap between barrel and gas tube gives it away.  He's packing an AK-47, an ugly thing with a stock made of pine, or quakie, and a pitchfork.  He's carrying a pitchfork.

"We had a hired man," my Dad would say, "about the strongest I ever saw. He'd get tired and just break his fork handle--we were feeding loose hay then--and he'd be done. You can't work with a broken fork.  This was along in November.  So I told the old man about it, and he got mad and wanted me to can this guy.  I'd bought about a half a dozen handles by then, and that was quite a sum. I told the old man, 'let me keep him for a couple more weeks, I think I can get some work out of him.' I went to town, and got Sam, the blacksmith to make a muscle-proof fork for our muscle-man. Handle, tines, everything was made out of drill steel. That damned fork weighed ten pounds or so. I put it under the wagon to have it ready, but our boy didn't break a fork for a couple of weeks. I guess he wanted to rest at Christmas, so he did his little trick, and got ready to ride home sitting down on the hayrack."

It took Dad a while, the steel fork was froze to the wagon frame--but he finally got it out. "Merry Christmas, Dave," he says, and presented him with that steel son-of-a-gun. Dave strained like a champion to break or bend that fork.  He tried and tried.  Tore big chunks out of the tops of the stacks, moved slabs of ice most men wouldn't even try.  But he never even so much as warped a tine on that fork.  He hurt his back on New Years, and quit on the 3rd of January.

"I had good help for about a week," Dad said.

The fork stood behind the anvil in our old shop for years, until my youngest brother Jimmy cut it up for gate sticks in FFA shop class.

My enemy steps out into the open, where I can see the way he drags his left foot.  An old war wound? Probably.  This man has never known a life without war.  He swings his head in time with that bad leg, a reptilian movement that makes him seem Neanderthal.

"He could climb just like a monkey," Granddad's eyes twinkle at the excuse to tell this, his favorite story. "He would take two pitchforks, one in each fist, and pull himself right up the stack hand over hand.  Good stacker, good man. Except," twinkle, twinkle, "he was afraid of heights. Terribly afraid of heights."

"We finished a stack one afternoon, and somebody moved the Jenkins stacker before he could get on it and climb down. I heard him yelling. He wouldn't even come over to the edge of the stack to look down. "It's going to be alright," I yelled to him, "I'll get a rope."  It took a while, but I finally convinced him to hold onto the rope, and slide down, while I held the other end around my hip. "You ready?" he says. "Ready." "Holding the rope good and tight?" "Good and tight," I said. "And then," Granddad can't hold the chuckles back any longer, "PLOP.  He hit the ground right beside me."

Mega suddenly stiffens beside me, and I know he has finally seen the farmer.  I feel the subtle pressure of his elbow, and push it back. Yeah, I see him.  He is so close, so easy, I could waste him now without even looking through the scope.

"Goddam Zip," his words are as soft as flowers in my ear.  His smells mix with the whispering.  "Shoot him."

"He's a farmer."  The risk we take moving and making noise at this distance grows with his every step.  I wish he would hear us.  If he jerked that rifle down, I would know who he is, I could protect my partner and myself.  I could feel justified.  "He's a damn farmer."

"Bullshit," Mega snarls in my ear, "he's got a rifle.  Shoot him."

I don't want to kill him.  I don't want to feel justified.  I don't want this pitchfork story.

"Shoot." Mega's whispered screaming pressures my head, trembles my right index finger.  "Shoot."

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