Slaps the Tail - Chapter Three
After excusing himself from the rat race and a promising career
on the crime beat at the Chicago Sun Times, Mike Hacker had
relocated to Southwestern Colorado and Mangas Mesa where he hoped to
take advantage of his aunt's empty cabin and the peace and quiet the
woods allowed to get some real writing done. As a jittery, citified
insomniac who who had always done his writing mostly at night, it was almost a month before he
happened to be out of bed early enough in the morning to notice
Jordan Dane and her daily run around the Loop. On this initial
sighting, he hadn't noticed any mountain lion.
Watching her pass below his window on that first day, as the sun
crept above the Sneffels Range bringing with it the limpid light of
an undeniable mountain morning, he stood mesmerized as she moved
fleetingly in and out of view between the swimming summer leaves. He
felt suddenly that he might be still asleep and dreaming. Animals
seemed to swarm around her, for one thing, which added to the
surrealness of the scene and while some could have been dogs on
leashes, others definitely were not. It appeared to him that she had
set off on a jog and the animals of the wood had fallen in behind
her as if she played a pied pipe and was headed out of town.
City transplant Mike Hacker retreated quickly to the kitchen and, as
he rummaged the shelves for some form of caffeine, decided that what
he'd seen might be as normal up here as watching a carjacking on the
street below from his window back in Chicago. It wasn't totally out
of keeping, at least, with what his preconceived notion of what life
high in the Rockies might involve. Now there's a girl who loves
animals. Enjoying a run with her friends to start a glorious day. As
in tune with nature as he himself would soon be.
It wasn't lost on him either that the girl was striding through this
nature at a pace that would have left him on his knees heaving after
the first few hundred natural yards. From when she had first come
into view through the copse by the creek until she dropped from
sight beyond the crest of the curve, she ran with the effortless,
efficient grace of the well-trained athlete.
Hacker also noticed the purple running shorts and her legs of
course. The orange sports bra straining to do its job. A
sun-streaked ponytail of kinky golden curls bouncing over a taught
brown back. For a Rush Street rat known to have an eye for the
ladies who now lived alone in the woods, these would have been hard
details to ignore.
As he watched her glide by on the fourth morning, he still had no
perception of any puma. He did however hatch a plan to commence a
jogging regimen of his own, or at least appear to do so, one which
would take him around the Loop in the opposite direction. Initiate
some chance meetings. Get to know some of his more active neighbors.
A man could never tell when he might need a friend out here in the
wild wild west.
So on the next morning that he was up early enough, Hacker broke out
some workout clothes, or at least his Mizzou School of Journalism
Sweatshirt, a pair of cut offs, and some flattened by packing Chuck
Taylors. He stood above the road, behind a clump of trees on a
knoll, nervously waiting for her to pass and then gave her a good
head start before setting off at a respectable clip in the other
direction. After a few hundred feet he became lightheaded and nearly
passed out. Taking a blow and getting himself together, he then
experimented with a fast walk and then a slow one. On the first
grade, the thin air, compounded, Hacker reluctantly supposed, by
five years of big city physical lassitude and newsroom cigarettes,
had him stooping to lean on his knees every fifty feet or so. It was
in this position that he noticed a dog, then two more, some various
other scurrying critters, and then the runner herself, descending
the corner by the Gotham driveway. Hacker pulled himself upright and
as casually as he could, wandered over as if to inspect a coupling
in the horse fence that circled the commons.
He was rehearsing his icebreaker in the meanwhile, using the fence
as a prop, lolling and leaning in the most nonchalant ways he could
muster. When he finally turned in anticipation of his face-to-face
moment, he found instead that she had exited the Loop up a rutted
driveway and was disappearing into the aspen shadows. Hacker turned
back to the fence and continued his inspection until he had assured
himself, or more accurately, would have assured anyone who might be
observing from a distance, that he had determined that particular
section of the fence to be up to snuff. He then slunk back to the
Hacker House hoping his aborted attempt at exercise hadn't been
observed by anybody. He found his spirits buoyed by the fact that he
seemed to have a blonde running girl as his closest neighbor.
On a later morning he waited behind his tree again to make sure she
was safely by before hopping in his jeep and driving up to the
Loop's apex. He parked just inside the Proud's gate where,
brandishing a pair of binoculars he'd found in a junk cupboard, he
would do some ersatz bird watching. Stationing himself on the edge
of the road, he practiced snapping the glasses to his face,
intending to be discovered staring into the undergrowth when she and
the pack approached. He sensed them coming almost immediately and
noticed out of the corner of his eye a large tan creature bounding
towards him ahead of the rest.
And while not many who knew him would say they thought of Hacker as
any kind of animal lover, he was normally comfortable around the
beasts others chose to keep as a pets and, in this vein, he
commanded "Down Boy," in what he hoped was a confident
voice. Keeping the glasses screwed to his eyes as if he had in his
sights the last albino, pygmy spotted owl, he tried to remember some
of his rehearsed and witty openers. "Ahoy Noah, lead me back to
the ark for I'd like to volunteer for the human pairing," was
one. "Morning, can I bum a beast off you." was another.
Instead, at crunch time, "sit still." was all he managed,
hissing it lamely and waving his free hand as he sensed something
closing in. "What I'm scoping here is a rare..."
The beast hit him from the side with a whump sending him sprawling
into the ditch bottom. He thrashed around blindly from his stomach,
flailing behind him to defend the relentless bounding and pouncing
he felt on his back and buttocks. Still clutching the binoculars for
no good reason he managed to get rolled over on his side and plant a
stiff forearm into his aggressor's neck. Strangely silent, the
animal was lithe and persistent as it muscled down and he felt the
hot breath as it fulfilled what seemed to be an urgent need to clean
his cheek and ears with its tongue.
Throughout this ruckus, Hacker was hindered somewhat because he was
hoping to save a little face with his new neighbor by appearing as
casual as he could as if wrestling animals along the roadside wasn't
any big deal to this particular man of the world. When it became
clear that this strategy was only getting him extensively tongue
whipped, he tossed the glasses to the side and concentrated his full
efforts on grabbing a hold of the creature's head at each jowl and
holding it at bay. It was when he had succeeded in controlling the
beast that he realized he hadn't been battling some love hungry cur
and stared instead into the gaping, grinning maw of an enormous cat.
"I've never heard a man scream like that," Jordan Dane is
fond of intimating when asked to recount the making of Hacker's
acquaintance. "Bird watching Phooey. He wouldn't know a grackle
from a grouse from a grebe."
"I was watching birds," Hacker protests. "Hence, I
was bird watching."
"Yes, and your wailing scared poor China Cat right up a
pine tree. And you know that poor China Cat doesn't even have the
claws to climb trees anymore."
"Yes, poor China Cat," Hacker would mutter. Poor clawless
two hundred pound kitty."
This initial encounter occurred roughly a month before that weekend
in August when One Bloody Word played Rico. Jordan and Hacker had
become casual friends by this time and had made the drive over from
the mesa to see the show together because Jordan was a live music
junkie and Hacker, although certainly not a fan of reggae, needed
something to do. Hacker, who found that he enjoyed the show much
more that he'd expected, insisted that Jordan run him into town
after the concert so he might check out some of the after hours
gigs. He was all wound up from too many beers enjoyed along with the
body thumping rhythms of the Word and was hoping Jordan would join
him but she begged off, claiming to be burned out by the local
scene. After a spate on small town life that seemed rehearsed and
was peppered with words like stultifying, claustrophobic and inbred,
she finally said that getting a little sleep sounded like a wiser
and healthier choice.
Athletes, Hacker had muttered disparagingly. Perpetually in
Not that he expected to run into the future Mrs. Hacker or anything
in town that night but one never knew. One thing was for sure; he
wasn't excited to return to his lonely cabin. He was becoming all
too familiar with what that was like.
Worried about how he'd make it back out to the mesa from town,
Jordan had tried to entice him with a bottle of wine and a game of
Scrabble by the fireplace but he had declined saying that his head
was still ringing from the show and attempting to sort tiles into
seven letter words might bring up his dinner. A cozy cabin with
crackling wood fire. Good conversation. A fine Merlot and random
curled up mammalia. A beautiful almost veterinarian, almost
vegetarian-slash-waitress-slash-downhiller with a musician boyfriend
who seemed to be perpetually on tour. Hacker tried not to think
about these things when they were together but usually he did. And
on that night he didn't need the frustration.
Hoping to keep a foot in the journalistic door in case his book
didn't pan out, Hacker had started writing for the Telluride Daily
Lode soon after he'd arrived in town. The job seemed much like
playing Scrabble for a living to Hacker anyway and he had just
endured another spectacularly boring week at the news desk. He
needed a break. If he didn't find his way home or someplace else
serendipitous to rest his bones he assured Jordan he would just
wander over and sleep on the couch in the old stone building that
passed for a newsroom. Still something of a big city night owl who
did most of his best work in the wee hours he reminded her that it
wouldn't be the first time he'd suffered the night through on a
couch in the drafty former livery stable turned Daily Lode
headquarters. Unfortunately, the sight
of the scaly crack of the print driver's big ass waking him in the
morning as he bent to fill the paper bins with the freshly printed Lode was
something Hacker' was growing accustomed to.
And besides, sleeping in town would give him an early start on some
of Saturday's breaking news. Some celebrity missing in the
mountains. Maybe a mama black bear rumbling down Colorado Avenue
with a couple of drunken tourists on her back. An avalanche of rock,
rastafarians and microbusses tumbling down Tomboy Road into town
when the commune got so big that the road finally gave out and slid.
As it turned out Mike Hacker didn't get much sleep anywhere that
weekend. And all the breaking news was out on Mangas Mesa.