Dec did a masterful job of steering us through cross currents sweeping in at the mouth of the Big Indian when we reached the intersections of the two rivers. He guided that motorboat right up alongside a sandbar, and Baxter and Cooper excitedly sprang out of the boat and darted up the river bank to romp in the fields beyond.
I followed the dogs over the side of the boat, a line in hand to tie us off with. Dec cut the engine and it spluttered to an abrupt halt, leaving us in silence for long moments. And then sounds came back to our ears. The smooth hiss of the river passing by. Birdsong from a copse of trees on the west bank. The wind blowing through the leaves high above our heads. And then, Baxster and Cooper let out ferocious barks as they ran through the field out of sight above us.
“Best see,” Dec said, stepping out of the boat, “what those two mangy mutts scared up.”
He landed in deep sand beside me. After inspecting my tying job, seemingly satisfied that it would hold the boat tight to the sandbar, Dec said, “Good job, Hawk. You tied a real fine knot there.”
I said, “Well, I should have been the one to drive the boat, too. After all, that’s how the Hawkins’ clan ended up in Beatrice.”
Dec asked, “In a motorboat?”
I said, “No, my great grandpa was a river boat captain. It’s how he met my great grandma. There was some flood over in Ohio, right along the route Jessie Hawkins drove his river boat. A big steamer. When a flood swept through Ohio, Jessie rescued Rebecca Bower. They mar-ried, traveled up the Mighty Mo to Brownsville, then the Platte to Salt Creek, then the Blue and on into Beatrice. That’s how the Hawkins clan ended up here in the sticks.”
Dec and I stood for long moments, watching our two hounds chasing a rabbit. Cooper, with his longer legs, outdistanced Baxster, the short-legged beagle. Before long though, Baxster changed tactics. Instead of bounding through the thickets lining a copse of elm trees, he stationed himself along the trail that doubled back out of the stand of trees.
In this way, Cooper did all the work. Staying right on that rabbit, running himself ragged as he tried to keep up. Soon, one rabbit springing ahead of my dog, turned into two. And then, three. Those rabbits were having a hay day, springing ahead of Cooper. I think they were confusing the hell out of my dog, leaping one way and then another, able to change directions within a split-second.
Cooper worked one rabbit away from the rest of the gang, forcing him to double back toward Baxster. Poor Baxster would have sprang out and nabbed him, too, but suddenly out of the blue, a big dark shape came hurtling out of the hedgerow, bowling both of our dogs over.
It was Dum-Dum, the Catlin junkyard’s guard dog. Though ‘guard’ would be a laughable joke to any who trespassed in the yards after dark. Dum-Dum was a strapping black Lab and he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. In fact, most customers who ventured to Catlin’s place, had a good laugh at his expense. Especially the days he thought he was a pig, and went rolling in every mud puddle he could find. Most folks greeted by him had to shoo the dog a safe distance away, for he was usually covered head to tail in a slimy coating of black mud.
“Dum-Dum!” called a voice from the small woods between us and Catlin’s junkyard. The big lab began wagging his tail as a slender, raven-haired girl stepped out beside a tree as if materializing like a magical forest dryad. Katherine Catlin, the only daughter of Daniel Catlin, owner of the junkyard, came from a long line of Irish gypsies. With her dark, smooth skin, her doe-like brown eyes, and her wild tangles of black shoulder-length hair, Kat greatly resembled a fairy princess.
She had once stood up to Big Ty when he’d caught some middle school kids drinking down near the tracks. Ty had lined those seven kids up in a row, marched them out to the old railroad bridge, and ordered them to jump off and plunge down into the dark waters thirty feet below. Kat and her brother, Chris, happened to be fishing beneath the old Northern Pacific bridge. They had watched Ty badger those kids, and heard all of them begging Big Ty to let them go, swearing they’d never drink again.
Ty had just been pulling out his pistol when Kat and Chris strode to the middle of the old bridge. Those drunken kids hightailed it and ran from the bridge. So there were no real witnesses as to what happened next. The way rumors spread, Chris leveled Ty with one punch, knocking him out cold.
Kat actually told me the true story later. Contrary to popular belief, Chris never landed a fist on Ty’s face. He’d simply scared him so bad by speaking up on behalf of those bawling kids nearly wetting themselves, the dumb galoot had dropped his gun. No one ever did explain why he’d pulled it on seven unarmed kids in the first place, but Ty had drop-ped his pistol and it fell down, slipping through the railroad ties, landing on the pylon ten feet below.
It had been Kat who climbed down off of that bridge and retrieved Big Ty’s pistol and returned it to him.
But it was Chris who walked away a hero that night.