Category: Short Story
Genre: Juvenile adventure short story
Approximately 22 printed pages (or about 18 minutes to read).
A boyhood adventure with bank robbers and dynamite. What sacrifices are true friends willing to make for each other?
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James Thackeray scooted his chair back from the table. “Interesting, Mr. Bell. Benjamin Franklin said ‘Life is a kind of Chess, with stuggle, competition, good and ill events’ but your story about Giuoco Piano, or soft game, really takes things to a whole new level.”
Thackeray stood, using his cane to help himself up. As he spoke, he ambled over to the open window. He stuck his head outside and inhaled, catching a slight whiff from the rose bushes below. He sighed, lamenting the passage of years; the sense of smell is one of many things which diminish with age.
“Before the next story, let me share a small discovery.” He stepped back from the window and, using the cane’s tip, pulled the curtain aside, revealing a boy no older than thirteen. The boy stepped forward, his eyes darting around the room.
Those seated at the table looked as startled as the boy.
Thackeray pointed at the boy with his cane. “You’re Widow Hennessey’s son.”
The boy crossed his arms over his chest. “Billy’s my name.”
Thackeray hobbled back toward the table. “Son, you neglected to note the curtain’s length. Your dirty, scuffed loafers stood out like a beacon, advertising your presence. You also failed to realize any movement made behind the curtain is magnified—you brush the bottom and the entire curtain moves. Had you stayed perched on the stepladder outside the window, you may have remained undetected indefinitely.”
Billy didn’t reply.
Thackeray settled into his chair. “Rogers,” he called out.
Rogers stepped forward, appearing almost magically, and bowed slightly. Perhaps the Majordomo had been there all along, unnoticed until needed.
“Please have our young interloper escorted out.”
“I got a story,” Billy said to save himself.
As one, all heads turned to the boy.
“I been listening to all yours and I got one even better.”
“Very well. But I warn you, should your story be either juvenile or maudlin, I’ll have my man Rogers send you out the window whence you came, headfirst.”
This is the story of the last time I thought I’d ever see my best friend, Duffy.
It was last summer when me and Duffy Jenkins went fishing over to Trundle Creek. This was when I lived in Warner’s Crest. It’s in Washington State. The town’s so small it only gots two buildings. The Sheriff and Post Office share one and Sanfordson’s Mercantile is the other. You can get just about anything you need at Sanfordson’s and if they don’t have it they can order it from Spokane and get it on the next week’s shipment. The sign coming into town says “Welcome to Warner’s Crest” on both sides so you can see it either direction you’re coming from.
It was one of those lazy summer days where time moves slower than molasses. If you don’t have nothing to do, you can sit and relax for hours. We sat on the Mill Road Bridge over the creek, our legs dangled over the side, and our fishing line dangled between our legs. The fish weren’t even nibbling. I didn’t care, but I think Duffy was getting a mite itchy for some action.
“Wanna play Injun?” Duffy asked.
“And do what?” Playing Injun meant either tracking or scouting.
Duffy had this grin that was one part trouble and two parts fun. I call it his “shit-eater.” When he used this grin, you knew an adventure was coming. He flashed his shit-eater at me, saying “My old man says he saw a grizzly in the woods north of the creek.”
“Ain’t no grizzlies here. Brown bears, maybe a few black.”
Something I got to tell you about Duffy. A body couldn’t ask for a better friend. He was the best friend I’ll probably ever have, but he had it rough. His old man distilled fruit, mostly apples, to make liquor. He drank most of it but sold some to make money to buy more apples. Duffy’s old man was a mean drunk. Duffy was always coming to school looking like he had played chicken with a locomotive—and lost. One time he had a broken nose, a broken arm, and an eye so purple and swelled up there weren’t nothing but a slit for him to look through. He said he fell down the cellar stairs. Nobody believed him, but nobody said nothing about it. What a person did to their kid, as long as they didn’t kill them, was their own business.
Duffy’s brother, J.J., weren’t no better than his old man. J.J. was a thief and spent some time in county lockup down to Spokane. His mom wasn’t so bad, but when his old man was on a bender, which was most days, she’d go stay with her sister in Deer Park, leaving Duffy with his old man and good-for-nothing brother.
So when Duffy said his old man saw a grizzly, I knew there weren’t no truth to it. His old man was probably lit up like Chinese fireworks and seeing all kinds of things that weren’t there.
“Let’s go find the grizzly’s tracks,” Duffy said.
I started bringing in my line, spinning the reel fast so the wet line sent water drops onto my face. Refreshing. “What’ll we do if we find the grizzly? Poke him in the eye with our fishing poles?”
He pulled out his prized possession, his pocket knife. It had two blades, a big one and a small one. Duffy kept it sharp enough to shave with. Of course, neither of us had no whiskers yet.
I laughed. “If a grizzly sees you chasing it with a three inch blade it’s going to plumb fall over laughing.”
“No, dumb-ass, we use the knife to make some spears.”
We stashed our fishing gear under the bridge, found a couple straight branches, and sharpened their ends to points. The spears wouldn’t have been much protection against a barn cat, let alone a bear, but they were good enough for the game we were playing.
After we had our spears, Duffy had the idea to follow the creek. Bears had to drink and we might pick up tracks. We went upstream, not seeing a thing.
“You know what bear shit looks like?” I asked.
“It’s black but depends on what they’ve been eating. If they’ve been digging at roots and stuff then you’ll see some in their scat. If they’ve been eating berries then you might see some undigested bits. Hard to say.”
One thing about Duffy, he knew his shit.
As we kept moving upstream, the woods varied from sparse trees, easily navigated, to underbrush so thick we had to walk dozens of yards out of the way to get around. At one of these detours Duffy looked back at me and stuck a finger to his lips. We crept to the edge of a clearing. In it, four men sat around a campfire.
Duffy wore his shit-eater again. He whispered, “Let’s spy on these guys.”
I nodded and squatted down next to Duffy. They were a rough looking bunch. Definitely outlaws. The back of my neck shivered.
Duffy kneeled down next to me. “I can’t believe it. The man with the beard is Dry Gulch Davis.”
My look told Duffy I had no idea who Dry Gulch Davis was.
“The bank robber? His picture is up in the post office.”
“Oh that Dry Gulch Davis,” I said.