Cats, Cougars and Three-legged Dogs (Dogbite Ten)

DOGBITE TEN

By Chris Adam Smith

 

 Dan Crow walked into the near empty bunkhouse covered in dust encrusted sweat and thumped himself down on the old barroom chair he favoured. Henry Lee looked up from a week old Dogbite Bugle he was reading and said. ‘You look a bit dusty there, Crow.’

Crow rolled himself a quirly, examined the result and, satisfied, fired it. ‘Bad morning. Lee, too hot for digging post holes, I’ll have this smoke and jump in the tank out by Mile High. You coming? I got us a jug’

‘I think I will, it’s been a sure enough hot one.’

Twenty minutes later the two men were enjoying the warm, late afternoon sunshine sitting by the Mile High water tank in their wet drawers and sipping moonshine laced with ice cold water from the well that fed the tank.

A very relaxed Crow said, ‘Lee, you remember old Bob Harrison up on that run off from The Big Muddy, him as lost his leg to a rattler bite? Lived with his sister, she only had one eye as I recall. You remember them?’

Lee thought about it for a long minute feeling one of Crow’s yarns about to be born and wondering whether or not he was up for it. ‘Sure, Crow, I remember them, didn’t know them well like you did. I never rode for them, just knew them in a passing kind of way.’

‘Well I rode for them for a couple of years just before I came to the W to join you. Strange couple right enough and they had some strange animals as well, not cattle, their cows were mostly normal but they kept a couple of pets close by. She had a cat that lost its tail in a trap old Bob had set for a cougar, you get a few cougars up there. Old Bob, he was partial to an old spotted hound he called Honker, a three-legged dog. He kept that old mutt, kept it as a pet not as a working dog.’

‘Born like that?’ Lee asked.

‘No, old Bob accidently shot off the dog’s front leg when they was hunting. Near broke his heart, he was so fond of that animal he couldn’t put it down as we would have done but nursed it back to a decent sort of life.’

‘Good job it wasn’t a back leg.’

‘Does it make a difference? A three-legged dog is a three-legged dog, not much good for anything except petting?’

 

‘Would have made a big difference to the dog had it been a back leg.’

 

‘How come?’

‘Well for starters it would have fallen over every time it cocked its leg to take a piss and as for taking a dump…’

‘I get the point,’ said Crow, ‘but it makes no never mind as it was a front leg.’

‘Ok, so go on. They have any other odd animals?’

‘No, just the two. So, the story goes that a cougar came down out of the hills sniffing out the spring calves and stumbled upon the cat…’

‘What colour was the cat?’ Lee interrupted.

‘How the hell do I know, it was all over when I joined the crew, this is the story as I was told it. Sandy, I think, yes a red cat and stop interrupting for once.’

‘Sorry, I just like to get the whole picture in my head.’

‘Well get this into your head, the cougar tore that pet cat to shreds and pissed on its carcass.’

‘They’ll do that.’

‘It’s a filthy habit.’

‘Next time you meet a cougar you tell him that.’

‘Well, anyways, the old dog found the cat and started in howling like the north wind in winter, and took off after the cougar at a three-legged run. The noise shook old Bob and his sister awake and Bob winter’s up in his cold weather gear, gets his twelve gauge and sets out on foot after the dog. He found old Honker late that afternoon all tore up and deader than a hat and stinking of cougar piss.’ He paused, ‘Still life is like that I guess.’

Lee turned to Crow. ‘Like what for God’s sake, why is life like that and what is the point of that miserable story?’

‘Well life is like that, you know, you have an eye short, a leg short or a tail short or you’re maybe just born too short, no matter what hardship or bad luck some folk have in life there will always be something worse waiting around the corner to bite their ass or kill them. You would think that life couldn’t get any tougher for those critters and bang, a cougar kills them both. Then old Bob lost his leg to a rattler and she only had the one eye to begin with. And life just got harder for them and all I’m saying is that life is like that. Them animals and the Harrisons both had it rough and it just got rougher when their pets met that big old wildcat and Bob got himself bit by a rattler.’

‘So, what’s your point?’ Lee asked, irritation creeping into his voice as usual. ‘Life is not like that for everyone, it’s not for us, we got it pretty good here, we got all our limbs and we don’t got a dog or a fucking cat so life is not like that at all, you can’t generalise on something you heard but never actually saw up on the Muddy twenty years back. Some folk are just plumb unlucky. There’s nothing bad waiting for us around the corner ‘cept maybe old age and even that is not for sure.’

‘Well,’ Crow said quietly, ‘you never know, there might just be.’

‘For who?’

‘For whom. It’s for whom and it could be waiting for you or me right now.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘You heard about old Stacy?’

‘Ben Stacy?’

‘You know more than one Stacy around here?’

‘No, can’t say I do.’

‘Then stands to reason it must be him!’

‘Ok, what haven’t I heard about Ben Stacy?’

‘Shot himself in the foot.’

‘How’d he manage to do that?

‘Pulled the trigger I guess.’

‘I mean an accident, or what?’

‘Can’t think of a reason he would do it on purpose.’

Henry Lee gave a deep sigh. Crow was in one of his moods and there was no good in fighting it. ‘You going to tell me what happened and the why of it all in one go without me asking a lot of fool questions.’

Crow smiled to himself, Lee was just too easy. ‘He was fooling around with that old thumb buster of a Civil War Colt his daddy left him, didn’t realize there was still a capped charge in the cylinder, cocked it and blew his big toe clean off.’

‘Ruined the boot?’

‘Yes, sir, he’s going to have a limp in an uncomfortable boot for the rest of his life and it’s sure enough going to be worse in winter. Poor old Ben, you just never know what’s awaiting you around the next bend of the river. He got up this morning feeling fine and this evening he is going to be a different man.’

Lee grunted, hoping that was the end of the story but knowing it wasn’t.

‘You ever think about that, Henry Lee, about not knowing what is waiting for you just around the corner?’

Lee said nothing.

‘What would be the chances of there being a fireable round in that rusty old gun after all of those years. A lead ball just set there waiting for old Ben’s big toe to come along and bang…’ Crow paused for effect. ‘Is there an old Colt round awaiting for you or me somewhere out there, Lee?’

But Henry Lee was not listening, Henry had drifted off into a cold moonshine and hot sun induced sleep and was riding an old swayback, somewhere far away, across a distant range littered with cougars, cats and thee-legged dogs…

 

Copyright Chris Adam Smith June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 comment on “Cats, Cougars and Three-legged Dogs (Dogbite Ten)”

  1. Keith Overington says:

    Another classic, darker than usual, but I like the picture of the two old timers passing the time over a meal while the rain and wind batter the windows. These stories are out of the mainstream and deserve a omnibus edition, a wider audience. Muchos gracias senor Smith!

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