Five minutes later, Dec steered us around the bend in the Blue, where we saw two men having a fight up on the riverbank ahead of us. “That’s Hiney!” I said, staring at the huge man going fisticuffs with Roman Kowski. Those two big brutes were wailing away at each other. Roman was wildly throwing haymakers, his fists barely landing on Hiney’s brawny body. Hiney wasn’t feeling those little bee stings either. For every fist that whizzed past his nose, he landed a meaty thwack that rocked Roman all the way to his toes.
It was Cooper and Baxster who spoiled the moment. The two dogs started barking anxiously at the two brawlers up on the river bank. Cooper ran back and forth on the deck of the boat, whining and barking, and carrying on like he was going to a fire. Baxster, true to his nature as a coon dog, started howling like he’d treed a big raccoon, his, “Arrooo! Arooo! Arooo!” carried all the way downriver.
Upon hearing the dogs, Hiney looked out at us cruising toward the fight zone, and took a fist to the eye. Another of Roman’s fists plowed into Hiney’s nose, and blood spurted through the air. I grabbed onto Cooper, clamping a hand over his mouth. Dec tried to catch Baxster, but the wily little dog dipped, dodged, and darted away like a scalded squirrel, leaving Dec’s outstretched hands empty.
And that’s when we suddenly had troubles of our own to deal with.
The boat engine spluttered and died. That old engine growled like a cornered badger and gave up the ghost. Dec looked at me. I looked back at him. There was bewilderment in his eyes. There was fear in my own. If we didn’t have a running engine when we reached the cut in the channel ahead of us, we would be swept right over the dam some two-hundred yards in front of us. It was a five-foot fall to the river below.
My little sister, Donna Hawkins, had once been catching frogs near the dam, when she fell into the river. She had been swept away by the rushing water and swept over the dam. In that black water she had been churned like weekday work clothes thrown into the Sunday wash. That terribly swift water had her bouncing like a cork, slammed to the river bottom, sucked back to the surface, twirled round and round, then sucked back underwater again. Yes, she lived, but my Uncle Bill nearly drowned pulling her out of the mad-dog suck of that river.
I could tell Dec knew how desperate our situation was. I could tell, too, that he was tempted to jump overboard and swim for the nearest shore. But I wasn’t about to go into those swift, deep waters. And I wasn’t risking the life of Cooper to have him follow me.
Dec said, “Either we abandon ship, or we take the rodeo river ride, down and over the dam!”
From the nearby bank, we heard Roman squawk, “You sum bitch!”
He then did almost a perfect cartwheel down the set of wooden stairs stretching from the upper bank and down to the shoreline of the river.
That poor fool must have made twenty clunking sounds as his head, his elbows, his butt, his knees, and his clod-hopper boots came in contact with the rotten boards of those steps. We didn’t see the mighty punch that sent Roman clumsily falling down the staircase, but we did see Hiney scoop up a large burlap bag the two men had been fighting over.
The big, red-haired giant carefully slung that sack over one meaty shoulder. He laughed out loud, spraying blood from his smashed nose all down the front of his overalls as Roman somersaulted into the river.
“You shouldn’t have tried to kill the babies,” Hiney said. “Rome Kowski, you are a bad man! A cruel, bad man!”
Dec and I, however, had no more time to see what Hiney did next. Dec gave a mad twist on the steering wheel, trying to steer us over toward the bank to get us close enough to jump. Cussing and muttering, Dec cranked hard on the wheel, all his straining and pulling had little effect on the direction that boat was going. It was headed right toward the middle of the dam. Baxster and Cooper started barking. Cooper ran over to me, head-butting me gently. Baxster ran back and forth from bow to stern, whining, yipping, and growling.
Still cranking hard on the wheel, Dec looked ahead of us and his eyes got round as Aunt Betty’s silver-dollar pancakes! He cried, “Hawk, we’re going over in the next two minutes!”
My eyes closed as I said the first earnest prayer I had said in the last five years. I suddenly heard Dec say, “Oh, holy Jesus!”
We were then thrown forward on the deck, bumping heads with each other as the boat came to a complete stop right there in the middle of river. In total amazement, Dec and I looked over the stern of the boat to see Hiney Scrabble standing chest-deep in water in the middle of the river, and holding onto the tow rope of the boat with one hand. The big goliath still had the burlap bag slung over one shoulder and he was having one heck of a time juggling both the rope and the bag around to keep from losing his grip on either.
“Gotcha, boys!” Hiney said, acting as chipper as the collection priest on Easter Sunday. “Hiney won’t let you drown!”
Dec said, “How in the hell is he keeping us in place? That is the most incredible feat of strength I’ve ever seen! He must be strong as an ox! Maybe even stronger than Samson! Why, he’s a damned Viking!”
It was a miracle! The boat was not moving! It was being pulled down stream by the suck and flow of the river, but Hiney, with a big grin on his furry face, was keeping it in place by holding onto the tow rope with one hand, keeping us from going over the dam.