The sky outside my kitchen window was overcast, dark and drenching the city in thick droplets of rain. The city needed the relief – two straight weeks of heat and humidity had people on edge, ready to snap at a moment’s notice for the tiniest perceived slight. When it breaks, the city becomes a beast that’s rolled over to show its soft underbelly, kinder, more compassionate towards others.
That’s not what I had coming down the pipe though; what I had coming down the pipe was the former.
I had time to put things in order after losing to Farthington…after Mike Best slammed the cage door on my arms. He knew – they both knew that one on one? No interference? Twitter feeds would have exploded with news of a new champion, and it would have made them both look like asses, mouths agape, trying to understand what happened.
Farthington was right though, I should’ve expected unfair odds. I should’ve known his “best friend” would get involved. But, that’s in the past, and I can’t lament about it…it’s time to push on. Time to worry about the next challenge – and my, what a challenge it is.
The man who wants a piece of Lee Best. Lee. Best.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure everyone has wanted to knock that chip off the old man’s shoulder at one time or another, but Kostoff had the gall to actually call him out. He went way further than calling him out, he basically walked into the man’s den and pissed on the floor to mark his territory. Like an aggressive wild animal.
As I gently ran my hand over my chest, I could feel the three hard, raised lines of scar tissue that ran from my right collar bone to the middle of the pectoral – the remnants of the last aggressive wild animal I had the task of putting down, and still a vivid memory.
It was a juvenile, we could tell from the scat – and obviously eating healthy from the smell. Sonny and I drew the long sticks at the morning meeting, so we got to choose what we did that day, and without hesitation we both smiled at each other and chose picket.
Picket was what we called security, which meant we got to carry rifles, and we potentially got to shoot things if they got too close – win/win in my books. Not only did I get to keep everyone else safe, but if we managed to get a deer? Venison all around!
Sonny was a weird character. He was a native from back home, we both graduated from the same program at George Brown, and we both ended up at the same camp. We didn’t even know each other until second year, but we hit it off like peanut butter and jelly. What I wasn’t good at, he excelled at, and vice versa. We were like two peas in a pod.
On one of our rounds of the perimeter we noticed the steaming pile of…Cecilworth Farthington, the claw marks on the tree trunk, and the dug up earth. It was marking its territory. Almost like Kostoff, minus the pissing on the carpet part. I mean, he didn’t literally do that, but maybe it just sounds better that way!
We knew to be on the lookout, we knew it couldn’t be far away, at least not judging by the drips of liquid one could only assume to be bear piss clinging to blades of grass near the pile of dung (or Cecilworth Farthington, take your pick).
We rounded the back half of the camp and looked southward down the clearcut slope. The sight was wondrous, almost like one of those stock photos in picture frames, but right in front of us; almost as if we could reach out and touch it.
We told a few off colour jokes just to enhance the beauty of the place, at least to us, and we moved along, rounding back to the “main road,” which in reality was just a bulldozed pathway from the old logging road halfway down the mountain up to the entrance of our camp. Probably 4 kilometres of potholes and divots, and a single lane to boot. I’d seen a few traffic jams even in the few months I’d been there: a trucker in a hurry forgetting to call ahead, then having to back down the road to let a full load out.
That’s when it happened, and I’ll never forget the look on Sonny’s face. We had made it across the road and to the treeline on the far side of the main camp when I had to take a leak. Well, as we all know, when you stand up to pee, the world is your toilet, so I rested my rifle against a tree and slipped into the brush with all the subtlety of a brick in a dryer – if something was in there, I wanted it to KNOW I was coming.
Sonny kept watch, he knew the drill. He was usually the one who had a pea-sized bladder, and I always did the same for him. Neither one of us was ready to stare death in the face that day, but it stared at us, almost with narrowed eyes.
I heard his scream as I shook the piss from my ween – it was a scream of sheer terror, like when those marines get carted away by those xeno things in Aliens. Then the loud crack of a rifle round being fired, and the low growling of something…something big. I didn’t even have time to tuck it all back in, I just took off running towards the sound.
I stopped only briefly to retrieve my rifle before smashing through the underbrush again. As I crested the small hill I was using for cover, I could see Sonny in a panic, his rifle at the ready, pointed into the treeline off to my left. That’s when I noticed the movement. I noticed the brown bear just inside the treeline, not a grizzly, hell if it was a grizzly I wouldn’t be here. But that bear had Sonny’s attention, and had no idea I was even there…so I knelt down and locked my iron sights onto the side of the bear’s chest, not forty feet from where I was standing.
The shot struck true, hitting the lungs made for a quick death at least. At least that was what we thought.
We both closed in – and that, my friends, was the most rookie mistake we could have ever made. I got there before Sonny (he was still trying to clean his underwear), and all I wanted was a picture with my kill…my first big game. I’m sure dad would be thrilled with this!
As I laid my hand on the bear’s back I felt its muscles tense one last time as it half rose up and swiped its massive paw towards me…and if I was playing Dungeons & Dragons, this would be where I rolled a 1 on a Reflex roll. It landed on my chest with so much force it knocked the wind out of me, and as I landed I felt the burning pain…
But that was then. I’m not green any longer…and I sure as hell won’t be closing on a beast for a celebratory selfie without making damned sure it’s down and out. The only difference this time? I don’t have a gun.
Maybe I should call Sonny and see if he wants to come to Chicago, just in case…I mean, a little insurance policy never hurt, right? Just in case that animal Kostoff needs to be put down for good?
Maybe cage him up? Put him in an enclosure? Hell send him to Alcatraz with Hughie…maybe it’d do some good. Hughie could use the company. I’m sure it’s hell locked up in that prison…I mean, hell, I know all about prisons…I just wish I could break the fuck out of this one.
The Bandits are trying to help with that, thankfully…so with any luck, Learn To Speak English for Beginners will pay off. None of them would tell me who bought it, but my money’s on Doozer…guy’s got a plan for everything…kinda like Hannibal from the A-Team.
As I smiled, I gently ran my hand along the scars on my chest. I remembered the words Sonny said to me a few days after I got back from the hospital, he said it was an old Cheyenne saying:
“Beware of the man who does not talk, and of the dog that does not bark.”
No words could be more applicable to Saturday’s situation.