Night fell, with my wife Trapper snug against my shoulder, and one last winding leg of the trip stretching out before me. A nice buck ran across the road, eyes deep in the lights. I glanced back at my empty gun racks, remembering my promise, and after a little chuckle, kissed Trapper on the forehead. The buck scooted right up the mountainside, into the trees.
“Your lucky day, my friend,” I said, with a laugh.
Didn’t take long to find the place. Had a big sign out front, “Paradise RV Camp.” RVs all over, everywhere. I gave Trapper a nudge, her blue eyes opened. She smiled. Cute as a woodland creature, I tell you. Make me real happy.
“Looks nice,” she said, after giving me a kiss.
“Don’t look too bad. Where’s the camping?”
She pointed to a sign hanging awkwardly off a pine tree.
My Dodge took to the road as it should, handling them potholes without much trouble. Trapper bounced up a couple times, laughing, then rubbed my shoulder.
“We’re the only campers,” said Trapper, big grin.
“Sure looks that way.” I felt my buck knife pressed against my leg.
It was real dark, so I had a hard time getting a feel for the place, but sure didn’t like the fact nobody else was camping. The RVs up on the hill from the campground looked pretty well kept. Sure made me miss my fifth wheel. Really hurt my pride having to let her go.
“Earth to Oldie.” Trapper gave my arm a little shake. I gave her a kiss.
“Let’s get the tent set up,” I said, with a big smile and a nod. I glanced in the rear view, those damn wrinkles carved around the green of my eyes. Now they always seemed to have a yellow sheen, red all around. And those damn grays just kept on coming. Oh, well. I still had Trapper.
“It’s darn pretty, Trapper,” I said, getting out of the truck, eyeing the river only a stone’s throw away. I spotted something shiny down by the river, decided to check it out: a metal ladder, some hedge cutters wedged in between it, and an old shovel.
“What is it?” hollered Trapper, gear spilling out of the truck. “Damn it,” she said, picking up two chairs and walking over. I kicked my work boot against the heap, the hedge cutters clanking against the ladder. I picked up the shovel. “Suppose they grave digging,” I said, inspecting the edge of the shovel. “Pretty darn sharp.”
“Now don’t start with your imagination,” said Trapper, pulling the shovel from my hands, tossing it on the ground. She stared at me like them wolves where she come from, letting me know she was in charge—on this trip, anyways.
“All right, Trapper, I’ll just tidy up this mess and join you.” I picked up the hedge clippers, noticed a crack on one of the blades. Thought of someone’s toe getting snipped right off.
“Move your ass, Oldie!”
“On my way, girl. Damn, you give an old man a heart attack.”
“Grab this,” she said, passing me the folded up tent. Then we heard the sirens.
“Well, I’ll be…” I started to say, when the ambulance rushed into the RV park above us, tires spinning in the dust. It came to a sudden stop, rushed forward, stopped again.
“What the hell?” I said, dropping the tent, pulling my ball cap out my back pocket, sliding it on my head. “Someone down for the count.” I grabbed the bill of my cap, moving it up, down.
Trapper slugged me on the shoulder, eyes a little sad, “Keep moving.”
“I’m sorry, baby.” Then she burst into tears. The ambulance turned the siren off, and then back on, sped around the corner. The headlights run clear across my chest. “This some odd behavior,” I said, then turning back to Trapper, reaching my arms out.
“You promised,” she said, not allowing me to get my arms around her.
“Now, Sugar, my promise is good. I’m not going to ruin anything. Come here now,” I said stroking her hair. She opened up to give me a hug.
“Oldie, you’re a sonofabitch, but I love you anyways. Let’s geterdone.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself, baby. I love you.”
I tried to ignore the ambulance that took another lap around the park. I set up the tent, placed the two chairs out next to the river. Trapper never looked up once at the ambulance, just smiled, going back and forth from the truck, prepping the nest inside the tent. My little woodland creature always makes things so cozy, keeping this old varmint in line. I love her so much.
“Baby, what would I do without you?” I said, lying down on the many layers of sleeping bags, quilts and fluffy pillows.
“Rot like the old fig that you are,” she said, smiling.
“You think that’s funny?” I said, tickling her side, not stopping till she was nearly in tears.
“Stop it, Oldie, come on, please.” Those teeth bright as the moon. That’s when we heard the noise.
“Sounds like we have a visitor,” I said, hearing what sounded like a black bear pounding on someone’s dumpster across river. “I’ll grab my slug gun just in case,” I said, then remembering. “Oh, man. Well, she’ll just have to do,” I said, removing my buck knife. The blade glistened under the small plastic lantern we hung from the roof of the tent.
Shaking her head, Trapper scolded, “Oldie, it’s just a bear, and that knife wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”
“Just a bear, ’til he smells that jerky I got in the truck. I’ll just go tidy up.” I stepped out of the tent, the bear relentlessly attacking that darn dumpster. I headed for my truck wishing I still had my old Ruger stashed in the glove box—that was the first gun Trapper made me get rid of when we met. “Be part of nature, Oldie, not at odds with it,” she always said. Hell, I’ll always be at odds with some animal fixin’ to rip my guts out, stretch my intestines from California to Arkansas. I tucked the jerky deep in the back of my truck and pulled out an axe. Near the river’s edge, I listened to that big bastard thrashing about until that damn ambulance made another lap around the RV park. I decided to move the ladder, shovel, and hedge clippers under my truck; didn’t like the thought of all that weaponry just lying around, if you know what I mean. What the heck was it doing there anyway?
Trapper poked her head out of the tent. “Oldie, get back in here!” She covered her chest with her arms, starting to shiver. “You have five seconds before I put my clothes back on.” I held the axe behind my back, staring at her droopy lower lip, hair draped over her back. She owns me, there’s no doubt about it. I took one last look at the stars, the bear and ambulance long gone, and dove into the tent—not without stashing my axe under the pillow.
Morning got there quick enough, along with a layer of dew coating the tent. Trapper was still sound asleep. I released my grip from the axe, which I’d been holding since the bear started acting up in the middle of the night. I thought I’d hit the river before Trapper woke up and all hell broke loose. She’s got a thing for the morning.
I grabbed my fly rod out of the truck, a nice Sage 5wt I’d picked up for a good price on eBay, matched with a standard Orvis reel—love them reels, last forever. I rigged up a fresh leader and stimulator with a red copper john dropper. Now if I could catch a summer steelhead on a dry fly, that would be something for the boys back home. All the while, my eyes drifted up to the RVs looking for any movement. But it was quiet. The ladder, shovel, and clippers were still under my truck, layered in morning dew.
“I hear you out there, Oldie!” I cringed. “I’ll give you thirty minutes, and you better bring your old ass back here. I mean it!”
Now thirty minutes worked for me, enough time to get into something. I headed for the water, wading right out in front of the tent, working my way downstream. The stream was only thirty yards wide, shallow and chock-full of salmon. I wanted the steelhead that hopefully followed them all the way from the ocean, sucking up loose eggs. I stripped line and worked hard to keep a drag free drift. A white heron, wings spread wide, blessed the morning. I started to breathe out all the stress from work, the hits we been taking in the financial department and smiled at the thought of Trapper and that darn beautiful river, the Kenai, where we fell in love.
“Oldie!” I heard Trapper yelling.
Now this old man ain’t moved that quickly in a long time. I trudged through that water like a damn ox until I hit solid ground. The RVs came into view for a second, but I continued along the river’s edge, through the shrubs and into the campsite, breathing heavy, ready for war.
“It’s OK, Oldie, this gentleman was just walking his dogs, caught me off guard.” Trapper said this dressed in her PJs, her cleavage slipping through the buttons, which she tried to cover with her arms.
“Get back in the tent, Trapper.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Oldie!” she said, glaring back at me.
“I’m sorry to stir things up. Better keep it going,” said the gentleman. He was about six feet tall, missing all his teeth, at least ten years older than me. He wore red suspenders, holding up his blue jeans, a red and black flannel on top. His face looked like a damn mine field, holes and more holes. Sorry old bastard.
Trapper reached out her hand. “My name’s Trapper.”
“My hands are full, young lady” he said, pulling along his two basset hounds. “Take care now.” He walked slowly away.
Trapper stormed into the tent. I was still breathing heavy, water dripping off my waders, my line tangled around the tip of the fly rod.
“Sonofabitch,” I said, throwing my hat on the ground. The gentleman chuckled, not looking back. When I noticed his limp, I decided not to respond.
I poked my head into the tent. “Trapper?”
“Save it, Oldie. I don’t need you to protect me.”
“Then why all the screaming? I was just fine on the river, then I hear you going off like a damn bird gone lost its mind.”
She hid below the sleeping bags and turned her back to me.
“Now, Trapper, you acting like a little girl. Come on now…” But she just hid there, the heat from her anger ready to burn the darn tent down. “Now you done it, Oldie,” I thought, zipping the tent up and walking over to the picnic table. I stared up at the RVs on the hill, noticing a young man walking around with a backpack, waving someone over. Just didn’t feel right, none of it!
“Oldie?” I heard through the thin tent wall.
“What is it?”
“There’s a spider in here.”
“Well, hell Trapper, if it ain’t one thing, it’s another. You confusing the heck out of me.” I started taking my boots off.
“Hurry up, Oldie,” she said, inching up against the wall of the tent.
“I’m on my way, but why don’t you just get out the tent?”
“He’s blocking me! He’s greasy!”
“Well, it’s a greasy world, darlin’, and your hero is on his way,” I said, getting my big feet out of the waders. “Let me at him.” I walked over with a little chuckle.
“Stop, he’s right there on the mesh part,” she said, curled up in the corner, layered in sleeping bags.
“Now, Trapper,” I said, slowly pulling the tent zipper down, “no need to worry, this guy ain’t gonna do you no harm.” I picked up a twig, and let the spider crawl on board. “Now, quit squirmin’, Trapper.” She hid under the sleeping bags. I walked him over to a tree, practicing a little catch and release.
I walked back to the tent, chuckling again. “You OK?” I asked, dipping my head in.
“What did you do with him?” she said through the mop of hair hanging over her face.
“Trapper, that’s some mighty fine hair you got going.” She brushed it out of the way. “Where did you put him?”
“Just out by the tree.”
She growled. “I hate those things. Stop laughing!”
“You supposed to be a part of nature, right?”
“Spiders aren’t nature, they’re children of the devil!” She snuggled up next to me. “I don’t want you leaving me in the morning.”
“Sure thing, Trapper.” I gave her a big hug. That’s when a shot fired out.
“What the hell?” I jumped to my feet and out of the tent. Up on the hill, near the RVs, couple young fellows were firing off a revolver—sounded like a .22. “Don’t like this one bit.”
Trapper stormed out of the tent. “You make it sound like you ain’t shot a gun before.” She looked up on the hill. “They just some kids, Oldie. Relax now. Let’s make some breakfast.”
“Don’t like it at all.”
“Oldie,” she said, tugging at my flannel shirt. “Breakfast.” She stomped her foot.
“I don’t know…” My eyes stayed glued to the skinny fellow, who shot off another round. The entire group laughed.
“Fine! I’ll eat alone!” Trapper said, making all kinds a noise with the pots and pans.
“Just calm down,” I said, eyes fixed on the skinny fellow with the gun. But then I turned to Trapper with a smile, “We’ll be on that river in no time.”
“I’ll probably out-fish you,” she said, not making eye contact.
“It ain’t no contest, Trapper, but if you want to make it one…”
After breakfast we drove along the river, right up near that impressive dam. Them salmon were leaping out of the water at the gates of heaven and we knew them steelies were right in behind, gorging on bright eggs, getting nice and fat.
“We’re keeping one for dinner,” said Trapper, getting into her waders and hooking an animal bone to her belt that she used as a club.
“Now that thing is just downright scary, what kinda bone is it?” I said, taking my time getting ready.
“I’ve told you a million times, it’s an Alaska thing.” She pulled her fishing vest over the top, put her sunglasses on, ball cap, and with rod in hand walked right past me.
“Well, I’ll be damned! Now, hold on a second, girl,” I said, trying to catch up.
“You’re too slow,” she said, “especially with that knee of yours.”
“Trapper, you low, real low, but I love you anyways.” She stopped, leaned back to give me a little smooch on the cheek. I love it when she does that.
We navigated down the hill, rock hopping the best we could until we reached the river. Now, Trapper, she always wades right in up to her chest without looking back. She was damn near halfway across by the time I assembled my wading staff and tried to get three points of contact. I could feel her laughing, then I saw her laughing when she reached the other side.
“I’m almost there, you just go ahead and cast. Keep moving,” I grumbled.
“No, I’d much rather watch you,” she said, bent over laughing, that darn bone dangling around her waist.
She gave me a big hug when I got there and we both closed our eyes for a kiss.
“Now, get on, you little critter, throw a cast,” I said, hordes of salmon swimming around the deep hole, every ten seconds one leaping into the air—some nearly 30 pounds.
“Them steelies must be right behind ‘em,” I said, my boots crushing the gravel below.
“Quiet, Oldie,” she said, stripping line out of the reel and whisking back an October caddis.
“Little early for that fly, don’t…”
“Shut it, Oldie,” she whispered, landing a cast right in behind the salmon. That fly floated right down the slick as though having slipped right through the dam from the lake—natural as can be.
Now, I thought Trapper set the hook a little early. That fish’s mouth had just opened when she jacked that rod high in the air. But I’ll be. “Fish on,” she said, big smile. The slack line shot through the guides, and that fish tore off yards of line and jumped right in the air. That rainbow stripe on its side in front of the massive dam and crystal clear water just did something to me. It was beautiful. She worked that fish right in, unclipping the bone off her waist and with one deft slug, knocked it out.
“I guess it’s a keeper,” I said. She smiled up at me from a crouched position and lifted the fish up by the gills, a gentle stream of blood drawing a bright line down the silver scales.
“Nice fish, Trapper, that’s a real beauty.”
“I’m a process him out right now,” she said, filet knife in hand. I watched her do this on the Kenai when them damn sockeyes are running. The filets are off them fish before they done flopping around, practically could throw it back, all bones, and it would swim right off.
She tucked the filets into a zip lock bag, letting the carcass float down river. I watched it snag on boulders and ease back into the current, convinced it would swim away.
“I’m going back to the truck, put these on ice.” She glanced around. “Glad we ain’t got no brown bears around here.” I hadn’t even taken a cast, just watched her aggressive stride across the river, fish in hand and that darn bone dragging through the water behind her like a rudder.
After a long day on the river, not sticking a single fish, I decided to call it quits. Now, I put in a full day, don’t get me wrong, but them damn fish was stingy—nothing! I waded across the river where Trapper sat back on a rock reading one of her darn mystery novels. She loves them whodunits.
“Well,” she said, marking the page where she left off. “Good thing this Alaskan girl was able to provide some dinner.” She slapped the book on her thigh, “Or we might just have gone starving.”
I shook my head, not meeting her gaze. I struggled to make it up the hill.
“Need a hand there, Oldie?”
“I’m fine,” I said, sticking my wading staff in the loose dirt. I didn’t say a word the entire drive back to the RV park.
On the way in, I spotted them young jokers hanging around. The skinny fellow held a bottle of Jack Daniels, stumbling around, trying to fire up the barbecue.
“Don’t trust that fellow one bit,” I said, turning down the gravel road toward our tent.
“Oldie, don’t!” said Trapper, looking away.
“OK,” I said. “We better get them filets on the grill. They sure are some nice ones.” I rubbed Trapper’s leg.
“That’s the spirit, Oldie.”
I parked the truck, staring in the rear view at them jokers up on the hill. Trapper slammed the door to the truck. When I stepped out, I noticed the ladder and shears were gone. I studied the area, peeked in the tent. Trapper slammed the back window of the truck, the fish down on the table.
“Oldie!” she yelled, her eyes firing buckshot. “Get it in gear.”
“All right, Trapper. You got it.”
A chainsaw fired up in the bushes less than fifty yards away. Branches began to fall. Now they was cutting right by the river. No reason for that. Someone was just plain out of control.
“What the hell?” said Trapper, stormed over there, that darn bone dangling off her belt loop. She shrugged me off when I tried to follow her.
“Hey!” she yelled, but the saw just got louder. The boys from up on the hill stared down as Trapper walked right into the trees. I ran after her. Once inside, Trapper and I watched a woman, protective goggles on, twirling around in circles, cutting branches, stepping right, left, with no idea where she was and no idea we were there. I took Trapper’s hand and slowly escorted her out of there.
Walking back to camp, I could feel them boys staring from up on the hill. The familiar gunshot popped off. I looked up, and them boys quickly turned their backs.
“Trapper, don’t think we’re too welcome. You think maybe we should…”
“Shut up, Oldie.” She walked ahead of me, unfolded the plastic red and white tablecloth and spread it on the table. Now, before I could respond, this old Plymouth descended the hill and was heading straight for the trees where the saw just wouldn’t quit. The car stopped. Three gentlemen stepped out and one young lady with god-awful tattoos and dyed yellow hair.
“This ain’t looking good, Trapper.” She slammed a pot down on the table and ran inside the tent. Now, one of these gentlemen, with greasy black curls, baggy pants, white T-shirt, red ball cap flipped back, opened the trunk, then ran and popped the hood, then returned to the trunk, lifted it up, slammed it, and repeated this five times, then back to the hood and again, five times up and down, up and down.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Trapper, we’re getting the hell out of here.” I kept watching, and he just wouldn’t quit. The girl and other two fellows walked around lost in some world of their own. And that damn saw kept on cutting. Trapper slapped her hand three times against the inside of the tent. “I’m coming,” I said.
I poked my head inside. “Oldie?” she said, and just started crying her eyes out. “This trip was for us, everything’s been so hard at home. I just…”
“I know, baby,” I said, leaning awkwardly inside the tent to give her a hug. “We can keep it going, let’s just move on to the next spot.” She kept crying. “Now, Trapper, I’ll start packing up, just stay here.” As I backed out of the tent, Trapper yelled, “Oldie!”
“We’re not leaving!” and she rushed out of the tent. “I love you,” she said, and went right back to preparing the table. She ignored the folks next to the car. Now the boys from up on the hill had joined them, passed off a backpack and then headed back up the hill. The others got back in the car, and kicking up a cloud of dust to the chorus of the chainsaw, skidded outta there, up the hill past the boys, and peeled out into the street.
“Well, I better get them coals going,” I said. Trapper cracked a little smile, wiping a few tears off her face.
I took a deep breath as I prepped the little Weber I always bring on my trips. Got them coals nice and gray, oiled up that grill and had them steelhead slabs cooking in no time. I added some last-minute garlic and some lemon. “They looking good, Trapper.”
Trapper hadn’t said anything in quite some time, but when we sat down to eats, the fire blazing behind us, a couple candles on the table, she looked at me and told me how much she loved me. The saw had finally disappeared and only the sound of the river could be heard and the crackle of the fire. We tried to let the events of the day flow right down that river, all the way down to the sea.
“This is one tasty fish, Trapper.”
She looked up at the stars, tilting back a glass of wine, “Sure is.”
Hell, that’s when them damn headlights lit up Trapper’s glass. I stared at that wine, all them purple tannins looking like a darn blood clot. I turned and then got to my feet, only to see a truck speeding down the hill, heading directly for our campsite.
“Trapper, get your ass in the Dodge. Boy, did she listen. I handed her the keys, unclipped the button on my buck knife. The truck kept right on coming, blazing over the tall grass, potholes, and making its way straight for the site, finally, skidding to a stop just twenty or so feet away. I walked right at ’em, shaking my head, ready to welcome just about anything. They turned the lights off, stationed in the shadows, revving the engine. Reminded me of them damn bar fights gone wrong out in the sticks in Arkansas.
I stood my ground only ten feet from their truck, “Let’s do this, boys.” Again, they revved the engine. “Still here.” I told ’em, walking up to the truck and sticking my knife right in the hood. They put it in gear and drove right at me. I jumped out of the way as they peeled out, my knife deep in the hood. I walked back to my Dodge, ignoring Trapper, who yelled at me to get in. From the back, I removed a crowbar, slapped its cold surface against my free hand. Their truck sped right up the hill and disappeared in the RVs, which weren’t very well lit.
“Get in here, Oldie, let’s go!”
“Oh, now you ready to leave? Well, we have a camp to clean up,” I said, lighting a cigarette after leaning the crowbar against my leg. “Sure you don’t want to stay now?” I said, removing a flask of whiskey from my flannel pocket. “You wanna play, huh?” I said, taking one more swig, slamming the back of the Dodge and heading up toward the RVs.
This is the point where everything became peaceful to me, the river trickling in the back, my ears acute to the noise from them boys up on the hill, each little step they took. Like little rats they were, scampering about, as kids will do. My knee hurt a little as I climbed that hill. Seemed like I got there pretty darn quick, though. Right in their faces, to be exact.
Their bonfire crackled, the flames lighting their white, pockmarked faces. The folks from the truck emptied out and walked in my direction—six total. I spotted the skinny fellow’s gun tucked in his trousers, a smug look on his face. Their shadows danced against the RVs in the background as the old gentleman with the basset hounds approached in the distance. I could see him rubbing those toothless gums together, limping along. He decided to wait back in the shadows.
That’s when I heard my old Dodge creeping up the hill, the headlights blinding everyone. Trapper pulled up next me, rapping that darn bone on the side of the truck. When I refused to look her way, she hit the truck harder, putting a little dent in the door. “Get in!” she said, honking that horn, scaring off half the pack. Some of them boys tripped over one another. She honked again.
“For the love of God, Trapper!”
She struck that bone a third time, digging into the paint.
“In!” She pushed the door open, sliding over to the passenger side. I let the cigarette fall, keeping my eye on the fellow with the gun, and stomped it out. The elderly gentleman disappeared in the shadows when I hopped in the truck. We headed out the front gate and through the rear view I could see them boys waving goodbye, spitting tobacco in the fire.
The game warden pulled up next to us on our way out. He signaled for me to stop and leaned out the window of his white truck. “How we doing today?” Had a pleasant tanned face, around fifty years old—a real gentleman in his uniform.
“Just fine,” I said. “But you got some boys back there in ‘Paradise RV Camp,’ creating some trouble for folks.”
“Paradise!” He chuckled. “We call this here ‘Felony Flats,’ friend! I’ll make the rounds. Take care now.” He tipped his hat and was on his way.
“I love you, Oldie,” said Trapper after I gave her a little gas, a little kiss on the cheek.