The syrupy Southern Comfort warmed me through the chest and made a hot glow in my stomach. I gave it back and Greg had another and put it in his pocket. He said it was his grandfather’s, who’d always taken it hunting. In the ’30s, before it was illegal, his grandfather shot two grizzlies that approached a mule’s carcass set out for bait.

“Let’s have some music,” Bud said. “Set the mood.”

“Coming up.” Greg opened a console and pulled out a tape.

“Don’t it make my brown eyes blue — ”

I sat sideways on the seat as Crystal Gayle’s voice filled the cab.

Joyce had brown eyes.

“Put on the Gatlin Brothers,” Bud said.


The Gatlins sang about all the gold in California. It was locked in a vault in a bank in the center of Beverly Hills.

Twice, early hunters passed with antlered heads sticking up from their pickup beds, and Greg and Bud nodded silently at one another, then looked out at the dry hills as if glassing them with binoculars.

The music played loudly but the two boys had entered the hunter’s mind, visualizing a great stag in their crosshairs as they sighted a ridge. Once you captured the image, the spirit of the deer, you only had to find its match, the Indians believed.

It would come to you and ask to die.

The sky looked colder and closer, darker with shapeless whitish clouds, and I kept expecting to see snowflakes falling against the windshield. We drove due north toward the hunters’ hidden valley, up the two-lane highway that goes all the way to the Canadian border, through Troy and St. Regina and the fenced buffalo preserve.

Alder and Bolt.

Every five or six miles a pickup came up with men in hunting caps.

“Look at that,” Bud said.

A fast silver truck had a deer with wide antlers roped to the cab, its open eyes and mouth sticking up like a masthead.

“They’re all over,” Bud said. “Christ.”

“Come on,” Greg said. “We’re going somewhere else.”

We passed miles of bare hills and bigger wooded mountains east and west in the white distance. The country road was busy and more pickups went by with gun racks and tarped beds.

“They’ll get ’em all,” Bud said.

“Don’t worry,” said Greg. “They don’t know my granddad’s spot.”

“I hope not.”

“Let’s hit the music.”

“Play Crystal Gayle again.”

“You serious?”

“Sure. She’s hot.”

“Don’t it make my brown eyes blue — ”

“Do you want me, Bill?” Joyce had asked from the bed where she lay with her sleeping baby.