He was the “assistant foreman” on a ranch in West Texas. I had a gate key to that ranch and permission to hunt quail, but nothing else.
At dusk on a January afternoon, I was parked on the edge of a CRP patch when Luther came clattering up the road in his derelict Ram Charger. His two Blue Healers were standing on the toolbox and peering over the cab. I clipped my pointers to the tailgate and filled their water pans as Luther ground to a halt in a cloud of red dust. He left his truck running because it likely wouldn’t start again if he didn’t.”
“Any birds in that?”
When the dust and exhaust fumes cleared I caught a whiff of a sickly perfumey smell wafting from his open truck window. He was somewhat shaven and his hair was slicked back. He had on a black felt hat and one of those patchwork Garth Brooks type shirts.
“Luther, where you off to?”
That could have been any number of places but I assumed he was referring to Lubbock.
“What’s the occasion?”
“I got a date.”
“Are you wearing Hai Karate?”
He flashed a sheepish grin and I noticed that his scraggly mustache had been touched up with a grease pencil, a Sharpie, or something similar. It didn’t do much for me, but maybe she would like it.
“Who’s the luck lady?”
“Gal I grow’d up with. I ain’t seen her in years. She’s lately divorced and living back with her mom, and them.” He leaned over to his rearview mirror and checked his teeth; then he plucked a toothpick from his hat brim. “She’s a real looker.”
“Head twirler back in high school.”
Luther looked at me with a wink and a nod. I turned and looked at his dogs. They turned and looked mine.
“So, where you taking her?”
“Kenny Chesney concert. She won some free tickets through the radio. She answered four trivia questions about livestock and politics and all.”
“You taking your dogs to the concert?”
He pointed into the bed of his truck with his thumb. “They’ll be fine back yonder. Anybody tries to steal em will thank better of it when he has to pry some teeth off his boys.”
He waited for me to reply to that but I didn’t. He watched me unclip my pointers and open their boxes. It was getting dark and I had an hour on the road back to my motel.
“Whatta you give for a bird dog like them?”
“A lot; depends on their breeding and their finish.”
He studied the dogs as they spun and jumped into their boxes. “You gonna hunt again tomorrow?”
“Not sure; sounds like we’ve got some bad weather coming.”
“Well, if you do, I seen a big covey at that wire gap going into the croton pasture this morning. Least I thank they was quail—mighta been doves—do they run along the ground?”
“No, not as a rule.”
With that, he let off the clutch and his trucked lurched and sputtered down the road. After about fifty yards he stopped and hung his head out the window.
“Hey—if you come by the house in the morning and see my truck but I don’t answer the door….”
“…don’t keep on knockin, cause I might be doin some good?”
It was 22-degrees and spitting snow when I turned out my dogs the next morning. I hunted for a couple of hours before the wind picked up and it started dumping. On the way out of the ranch I drove past Luther’s house. His truck was out front with the driver-side door standing wide open. The snow was blowing sideways into the cab. His two Healers were sitting on the porch.
Two weeks later the paper said that Luther had been arrested for public intoxication and assault on a gal that was once a head twirler. I hunted that ranch one more time on the last weekend of the season and Luther’s house was locked up and dark. I never heard what happened to his dogs, and I never found that covey by the wire gap leading into the croton pasture.