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A Hero in a Sneak Box
Ezra Bowen
September 01, 1969
A worshiper of sports idols, the author forever abandoned Louis, Musial and DiMaggio in favor of A Hero in a sneak Box
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September 01, 1969

A Hero In A Sneak Box

A worshiper of sports idols, the author forever abandoned Louis, Musial and DiMaggio in favor of A Hero in a sneak Box

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"Splendid. Right on the rise," said Heilner quickly, generating a genteel lie designed to blot out my blunder. I wanted with all my soul to believe the brant had indeed been flying, but I could not help noticing that as the lie drifted away with the faint smoke of my gun the blind fell markedly silent, while the guide, eschewing the congratulations usual to the felling of the first birds, sculled out to retrieve the floating corpses.

To my mild surprise, the rest of the flight flared off only a short way, and in a few minutes the same birds wheeled again toward our set, this time coming low and straight from the front. They coasted over the decoys, right toward us.

"Up!" said Van.

We stood, and the birds bunched as if they had flown into a funnel. For a long moment the whole flight hung directly over us, gabbling, croaking and, to my wild eye, in every way darkening the sun.

Due to their peculiar habit of balling up they sometimes present a target that is difficult to miss. I have known eight to ten to be killed....

And I have known none. Cool and gracious even now, Heilner said evenly, "Take your shot." I took all three, my gun being a borrowed automatic. Somehow every single one of those hundreds of lead pellets went rushing through the solid, overhanging cloud of birds without disturbing a feather. This was an extraordinary piece of shooting that may not soon be equaled. Surely it will never be equaled by another alumnus of the weathered cottage in Beach Haven.

At almost the same instant I was aware of two shots to my immediate right. And when I pulled myself together there were two birds on the water. No, three. Two dead ones and one wounded, which Heilner finished off right away. "Nice shooting," he said, without the slightest trace of irony. "One for each and one for the pot. I missed my second; matter of fact, I think that down one swimming off was yours."

One more flight came in just before dusk, and this time I really did hit a flying bird. Between that joyful feat and another intervening hour of hypnotic talk by Heilner, with the lowering sun turning the marsh to a luminous russet shade, I gradually lost my mortification and became invaded with a happy, giddy kind of fatigue. When it was not yet too dark to see the channel, the guide came over to pick us up in the motorboat, and we went back to the clubhouse for a dinner which, to my relief, featured stuffed veal.

After supper Heilner suggested we take a walk along one of the tiny thoroughfares that meandered through the marsh behind the clubhouse. It was a lovely clear night, with the wind blowing gently from the northwest. Above us the stars gleamed in the clean autumn air. It was too far to the inlet to hear the bell buoy, but as we stood on a point of land, the high tide washing fresh salt over the flats, we could hear the wind sighing through the marsh grass. And for one quick moment I thought I heard the whisper of wings passing overhead. It had been a perfect September in the marshes, a real September. And tomorrow it would be October, for me and for the last of my heroes.

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