Smoky Here, Smoky There

Ellie S. Thomas


© Copyright 2011 by  Ellie S. Thomas



Photo of a table full of deer meat cuts.

Smoky ran his sleeve across his forehead, this was one close call that he didn't need. That new guy with the DEC had nearly caught up with him as he'd bragged he was going to do: 'he'd catch that wily old out-law that the others hadn't been able to nail!'

There'd been a on-going battle, all unspoken, of course,  between the conservation officers, as they used to be called, and Smoky,  for years and today had almost ended it.  How the boys over at the gas station would laugh. 'Ole Smoky finally got caught up with. Ha, ha, ha.'

Smoky didn't see himself as a bad guy and probably many of his cronies didn't see it that way, either. A man had to feed his family, didn't he?  And if he took some trout, or a nice fat doe, well, as long as it was the right time of year and she wan't carrying young or leading a fawn, okay. Just don't over-do it, don't kill anything without reason, or need. He spat out his chew of tobacco and plunged ahead through the well-worn path towards his home, now discernible in the distance.

Smoky could see the slanting roofs of his barn, his house, the outbuildings. His wife's freshy washed clothes danced on the clotheslines. The kids were playing in the yard; he could see one rolling an old tire and as he approached and the dog began to bark, the younger ones ran to meet him.

None of the children asked any of the usual questions, 'Where have you been?  Did you get anything?' No, they were better trained than that. At least the younger ones were quite discreet but the oldest one was a more trusting soul and had been known to tell a caller, 'No Dad isn't here. He said he was going fishing... but he took a gun!' Such an indiscretion might well cost a man hundreds of dollars in fines and possible imprisonment so they had to learn the rules...early!

 They continued on to the house where Smoky would have a light snack and wait to see if anyone had gotten worried. Then he'd return to the woods, making sure he wasn't followed, that no one had heard the report of his gun, and he'd cut pieces from his deer which he'd already dressed out as soon as he'd killed it. He'd lug the bits closer and closer to home, hiding the meat in the underbrush each step of the way. By the time he'd gotten it all within sight of the house, he spied a vehicle approaching.  It was the new DEC officer and his sidekick.

Smoky straightened up and strode around the barn where he stashed his gun in the hay. The officers remained in the car and Smoky neared them, calling out, "Hey there, what are you fellas doing today?'

He knew one of them already but the passenger was new to Smoky and the driver confirmed that. 'Howdy, Smoky. I just wanted to drive over and make you acquainted with my new helper.  This is Officer Thibeault, he's gonna work this area from now on and would appreciate any help you can give him.'

The new officer held his hand out the window. 'Hello, Smoky, glad to make your acquaintance,' he said, thinking mentally 'and see what the worst outlaw in the county looks like at the same time, too.'

Smoky held out his hand to shake, keeping a blood-stained palm turned downwards and praying the Deity would help him act casual enough. The men chatted briefly and then the officers said they had to be going, there'd been a report that someone was 'jacking' deer off towards the south.

After they left, Smoky stationed one of the kids in an upstairs room to watch the road where a spool of dust could be seen almost a half mile away. He brought the meat inside and began the laborious job of cutting it up and washing off the hairs. Getting rid of deer hairs was one of the worst jobs of the operation, washing them off...they were so easily identified. One of the most brittle of hairs, they clung and bent, making a straight-forward proclamation what species they'd come from.  He and his wife worked frantically, erasing all evidence and they'd just finished storing the meat in the cellar and washroom in a barrel when the lookout upstairs began to call, 'Somebodys coming.'  

Smoky's wife jammed a platter of meat into the oven and ran to wash her hands. The kids ran into the other side of the duplex to warn Grandpa what was happening so he got prepared. Then the car drove in, it was the officers again! 

The men got out this time and approached the door.  They spoke to the wife and old man, inquiring if they might 'look around.' Someone had heard the report of a gun  and they must do their duty,' so Smoky's wife stood aside. 

The officers looked in the woodshed and under the porch. Then they went to the barn and poked throug the hay, then back to the house where Grandpa offered to light the lantern and take them into the cellar. They acquiesced and the old man took them below. They poked around, getting their nicely pressed uniforms dusty and brushing off cobwebs. Finally one straightened his back, the ceilings were very low here and did little for one's comfort. They began to realize that they'd been conned. 

"Let's go,' they told each other, 'there's nothing here.'  They climbed the stairs. Either someobdy had lied to get revenge on Smoky, or he was more clever than they realized. Either way, they'd had it for the day.

The men continued their way out through the shed, they didn't want to walk though the woman's house again, hadn't she endured enough this day already? They stopped in her washroom and leaned against the pork barrel to light a cigarette. Smoky stood with them keeping his eye on the freshly cut up venison below them and wondering aloud just who might be trying to cause him trouble? All the people around knew that he was a law-abiding man!  The officers looked at each other, put their cigarettes out and walked out. There would be another time!

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