"Move that tub of worms and there's room for you two to crash in the west wing of this suite," the Lieutenant said.
We moved the worm tub and got the single mattress out of the truck from under six or eight pieces of driftwood I had picked up at Muncho Lake on the Al-can Highway. I insisted that John sleep on the mattress. I would sleep on the front seat of the pickup where I had been sleeping for six nights, ever since the driftwood got the mattress.
"Where's everyone else?" I asked. "How many gunners do we have? Where's the pheasants?"
"Dad and Mom's in the camper," the Lieutenant answered. "Jug's in his camper. My brother and his kids are in the basement. There's a friend of Jug's somewheres. We got eight walkers and two blockers, and the pheasants is sleeping like we ought to be."
I took the hint and turned the lantern off and bedded down in the pickup. I lit up a smoke and put the sound track from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on the cassette player. Somehow it was just right for midnight before pheasant season. I rolled the window down and let the warm night air rush in, moist and heavy with the smell of things still green and growing. Eight gunners and two blockers. It seemed like too many people. And four dogs. Four black Labs. All questionable. There was Tar, 13 months old and starting to retrieve ducks but never on a pheasant hunt before. There was Pete, who had seen too many pheasant hunts and had to be helped in and out the back of a pickup. And my friend John had brought his two Labs from Denver, well-trained dogs that were excellent retrievers and had won ribbons in field trials, but this would be their first pheasant hunt, too. In Michigan, where I grew up, I always preferred hunting with two or three people and a pointing dog. But it was different in Kansas, the Lieutenant kept telling me. The fields are bigger and you need to drive the birds. Then they get into the draws and you need two or three people in the draws and a bunch more up above and at the end.
I could hear the rain pattering on the cab and the leaves rustling in the trees and the music was going into a crescendo and I was trying to imagine what the big fields and draws must look like and thinking how Terry looked different from the mental picture I had drawn. I was also thinking that if anyone could handle the movements of 10 hunters in the field it would be the Lieutenant and how I was going to be on my best behavior in the morning and do everything he told me even if I didn't agree and if things didn't go well with so many in the hunting party John and I could take his two dogs and hunt by ourselves. Then someone was pounding on the door of the truck asking if I wanted to sleep through the opening morning of bird season.
It was good to see the Lieutenant's father again. Clyde is 72, short and wiry, white-haired. He stands up to your shoulders and goes over your head with his dry humor. Clyde and Pete, the 13-year-old Lab, belonged together like the white ring on a cock pheasant's neck.
It was still drizzling when we got to the first field. There was no sunrise and the sky was equally twilight in every direction. It was going to be one of those slate-gray mornings where there is no real brightness until noon. I was interested in the country. I could tell it was a land of gentle rolling hills, long hills, and treeless, except in the draws and the creek bottoms. The land was slate gray like the sky. It was still too dark to get a good look. Everyone was wondering what would be best to wear in the wet fields.
I had the perfect thing, an old pair of waders, the rubber so cracked and un-patchable that I had cut the feet out of them. I had thrown them into the truck just before leaving Alaska, stiff and frozen and useless. Now they were the envy of the hunt. Clyde came up and asked how much I had paid for them and if they didn't leak. I told him they leaked only if I went into the water. Then it was time to get into the first field, which was wheat stubble—eight hunters spread out a gun range apart walking across the grain of the field toward a draw where the blockers would be. The Lieutenant caught up to me and explained that ordinarily we wouldn't walk across the grain of a field because the birds don't like to run across the grain, but since it was the first day they should be sitting tight. Then he asked what gypo outfit I had bought the leggings from and hurried on down to the swing end of the line.
" Abercrombie & Fitch," I hollered.