As soon as he woke, Hunter was standing and looking out of the window. The truck wasn’t there like he thought it would be. But the past had taught Hunter that stray dogs don’t creep too far from their lair. They’d be here someplace. Or heading this way. Even if they didn’t, if this wasn’t their town, he had a good idea where he’d be able to find them.
Tipping the jug that he found on the dresser, full of clean water, he washed his face and torso in the basin bath. The pretty girl had been kind enough to leave a fresh flannel; now it was covered in a few day’s dirt. Hunter took a clean shirt from the holdall, black. His hunting uniform. On his way out, he didn’t see anyone downstairs. Too bad that he didn’t feel that he’d be sticking around to find out how deep the girl’s interest was in dirty cash money. Maybe. But if it came to a chase, he didn’t think that he’d be seeing the inside of Holly Bluff again any time soon. Maybe he could stop by on his way to collecting the rest of his loot. Share a little cash for a victory dance with the girl.
Hunter slung the holdall in the trunk. The pistol was inside his jacket. Didn’t want to be caught out without, like he had been that morning. The track road had seemed like a safe enough place to sleep a night, even if he had been prospecting for what happened in the forest of a night. Turns out that it might just be the viper’s nest that he was seeking. There was only one way to find out, but the day was still too broad.
Standing outside the bar, beer in hand, Hunter watched the street. If anything it was even quieter now than it had been earlier. Watching was just a part of his job. Hunter never felt the need to hurry anything. He had deep satisfaction for the vocation that had chosen him. Like this Helland, he too had worked for The Law. The pay was too lousy and the authority too oppressive to keep him; realised that young. Trained by the way of the cannon was all that Hunter needed to take with him, on to his new path of content.
The view up the road was straight and clear, giving him time enough to retreat back across the road if he saw the truck coming. Nothing came but a few motors carefully driven by old timers by the time that the dusk was settling in. He hadn’t seen the one other thing that he’d been watching for either. He had seen only white faces. He smiled to himself. It was time to bring the car out front.
A little further on from the bar, Hunter sat in his car at an intersection of streets. Soon enough, a truck pulled out from a side street, heading towards the Delta Forest, followed by a smaller car. It wasn’t his truck, but they had crept so slow that Hunter had enough time to see what he had wanted. Inside the truck were two older boys, bearded and rough like the good ol’ boys of that morning. A few younger bucks were in the car behind, their expressions severe: not young fellas heading out to raise sand. Sure enough, the nocturnal animals were coming out to play. With headlamps off, Hunter followed behind from a distance. He had been pretty certain of the track that the convoy would be heading for, so was surprised when they instead carried on down the road, with the forest to their right.
Waders were out in the swampy land to the left, catching supper. With the windows open, Hunter could hear the restless noise of the forest critters, the wild before the quiet of night. Ahead, the cars had disappeared around a corner. He’d allowed the gap between them to grow. His Plymouth wasn’t the sort of vehicle that came bumping around out here when the sun was going down. When Hunter rounded the corner, they weren’t to be seen.
Smiling to himself, he continued on past a different track road, tighter and more inconspicuous than the one that he’d woken up on. Parking up in the forest would be to announce his arrival. Hunter’s intention was watch, see what was exchanged, hear what was said. It might yet be that he’d only stumbled upon a bunch of wild hick geese. Somehow he didn’t think so; his guts told him different. Small town folks have their small town predictable ways about them. Without The Law around, they govern the way that things are done. Without The Law around appealed to Hunter and his vocation.
Ahead he saw a building of some sort, a barn away from the road, a scar on the horizon half-hidden within the tall grasses. That would do as a fine place the leave the car; maybe shelter for the night if the meet ran late or the good ol’ boys fancied themselves a hunt. Crawling forward, he found the road that led towards it. The chassis of the car didn’t like the deeply-potted road. Hunter held onto the window frame, bumping his head a couple of times on the roof of the Plymouth.
Now that he was closer to the barn, he could see that it was large and in an extreme state of disrepair. The roof had multiple lengths of wood missing. The sides were as sparsely clad as a row of teeth in the gums of an old boy out here in the wilderness towns. Within the last light of the disappearing day, the lights that were coming from inside the barn hadn’t shown up from the road. Heading along the track, nothing on either side of him but impassable terrain, nowhere to turn, Hunter noticed that in the shabby dereliction someone was home.