Jesus the Game Warden, a short story

September 30, 2015

 

Jesus the Game Warden--short version

 

            J..J. scanned the lake from his vantage point on the knoll, looking for

fishermen to check for permits. Below, he saw a small girl toddle away alone from a family gathering while her mother dug into a cooler for a beer. The parents soon realized their daughter had wandered away, and panic and wailing spread at the fish fry.

As the child’s pink sunhat bobbed toward a thicket of salt cedar beside an inlet, J.J. bailed from his truck and ran down the slope, “Hey, little girl, little girl!”  She turned at his call, one foot poised over the water. The parents collapsed to their knees with relief when they saw J.J. walking along the bank, their child propped on his hip. They spread the word that this was one good, albeit big and dark, Mexican.

It was his second week on the job. The rescue demonstrated his gift for appearing at crucial moments and won him respect as the first Hispanic game warden in that part of the country.

J. J. Rodriguez would dedicate his career to patrolling the back roads of Sandstone County. At first, his job concentrated on nabbing night hunters and handing out tickets to people fishing without a license. Over time, more danger crept into the work. Eventually he developed an arsenal for the roving gangs of feral hogs that reproduced like rabbits and for the scum that operated portable meth labs out of beat-up cars with guns hidden under the seats. So he carried a 357 Magnum, a 30/30 lever action carbine, and a 12-guage shotgun. 

            J. J. was a friend to most but a bane to those who wanted to exploit the darkness of a country road. He was a surprise to evil-doers who came off the Interstate, most notably a murdering boyfriend digging a fresh grave for his girlfriend, whom he had beaten to death with a tire iron one starlit night when she got too shrill because he wasn’t changing a flat fast enough. 

As he aged, every time he cleaned his guns, he counted the months until he could retire.

            His real name was spelled J-E-S-U-S, pronounced “Hay-soos,” but as a rookie, he knew that his name badge should read “J. J.,” the name he’d gone by since high school. When he played football, the announcers would call him “Jesus,” as in Jesus Christ. He couldn’t concentrate when he heard the loud speakers proclaim, “JE-sus breaks the defensive line.” Even in college, some of his professors thought he was “JE-sus.” Bilingualism was limited then. With relief, they made a note on their roll sheets when he raised his hand and said, “Just call me J. J.”

            He became a respected law officer. Over the years, he also became one woman’s nemesis.

. . .

 Their first run-in happened when he was still the new game warden.

One spring night, Bonnie and Jack went parking on a country road . . . until J.J.’s flashlight beam intruded through the window of Jack’s GTO. Bonnie plunged about desperately for her T-shirt and slid from the back seat over the cold console. Frantic dressing rocked the car as the beam shot around them. The shadow of a cowboy hat leaned toward them behind the flashlight beam, and a large, dark fist knocked on the window.   

Bonnie caught the glint of a badge hovering somewhere below the cowboy hat.

 “You kids are parked under a turkey roost,” said the voice behind the flashlight. 

            Jack stepped out of the car to show the game warden his ID. She didn’t care what happened now, as long as her parents didn’t get involved.

            The officer left Jack leaning on the hood of the car and questioned Bonnie at the side of the road. “I’m Joan Smith,” she lied. She brazened through a story that she was a college student visiting her fiancé, Jack. Said she was 19. She was really barely 16.

“What’s your major?” he asked quickly, as would a person experienced with liars.

“Science,” she said without pause. She blushed, thinking how dumb that sounded. She should have said, “Biology.” Especially under these circumstances. There was no way she was going to provide a trail to her parents, who by now were sleeping in their ignorance. They still entertained the illusion that she was a virgin.

            He pushed his hat back, and she could see his eyes.

“Well, you look pretty young to be out here like this.  If you were as old as you say, you’d have a better place to go.”

  Then she babbled. Claimed she and Jack were visiting town to make wedding plans while her Dallas-based parents toured Europe.

When she trailed off, he said, “I don’t believe you.”

 She replied sweetly, “Well, I guess I can’t help that. Besides, all we’ve done is park under a turkey roost.”

He sighed. “O.K. Just go home.”

            “Oh, thank you,” gushed Bonnie, showing too much relief, she realized.

            On the drive back to town, Jack looked at her. “You sounded like an idiot,” he said.

            “Oh, so I guess the truth would have been better? You could go to jail for statutory rape, you know, so my lame lies saved us both.”

Jack drove on.

After a minute she added, “I’m not the one that parked under a damn turkey roost!”

. . .

            A year later, she met the game warden again. A small group had gathered for a pasture party. Bonnie was singing and kicking up dirt to a song that blasted from the car stereo. That’s why they didn’t hear the truck rolling toward them. The lights of the large pickup flashed on, erasing the moonlit night.

            The game warden, silhouetted by his spotlights, walked toward them.

“What’re you kids doing out here?”  He turned toward Jack.  “Where have I seen you?” 

 “I don’t know, sir,” Jack said.

            Bonnie wondered how many teenagers this guy had busted for parking under a turkey roost. He had to remember Jack.

            Turning to the drunkest boy, who swayed on a car bumper, the game warden said, “You kids wouldn’t be drinking, would you?”

            Before anyone could answer, Bonnie said, “Oh, no, sir. Pete had too much to drink at home.” 

She knew the warden would find only empties in the trunk—the only alcohol on the scene was already safe inside their bodies.

            “Where’d this mess of cans come from?” he asked as he peered in a car’s trunk.

            “Oh, these are Pete’s dad’s.” Bonnie was winding up to tell the warden more, but he held up his hand. He looked at Pete, the drunk boy.

“You’re not driving, are you?”

            “No sir.” Pete wobbled as he stood.

            “Well, you others get him home.”

            The warden followed the teenagers’ cars down the highway.  Bonnie was relieved when he turned off onto a dirt road.  “Maybe he’s checking his turkey roosts,” she giggled.

Jack just shook his head.

. . .

Bonnie survived and grew up. Thoughts of the game warden slowed her down on the back roads.

With high school far behind her, Bonnie again encountered him when she and her new husband Larry were back in town visiting her parents for the weekend. They packed a lunch for a day of lake fishing, Larry’s favorite sport, and found a spot beside a perfect little slough with some reeds sticking up near the shoreline.

Soon, Larry’s rod bowed, and after a minute of expert grappling, he stood whooping over a six-pound bass. “This one is HUGE! Get out the knife!”

Inspired, Bonnie decided to try out the fishing. She picked up the rod where Larry had left it with a shining lure attached, and she cast along the edge of the reeds. As she looked around to check on Larry’s fish-cleaning, she saw him.

The hulky game warden was ambling up the bank.  She couldn’t believe it.  He stopped beside Larry. 

 Bonnie casually put down the pole.  She moseyed away toward the scrub oak. Time for a bathroom break. Surely José—or whatever that guy’s name was—wouldn’t follow her.

 Larry smiled up from his fish-gutting. The game warden checked his permit and turned his attention to Bonnie, who knew she had no permit.

            “Ma’am!” called the game warden.

            She pretended not to hear and kept walking. But of all things, he began to jog toward her. 

            Her only choice was to stop and argue.

            Yes, she was casting, but she had not intended to fish. She argued while he wrote in his ticket book. When he handed her a customer’s copy of the citation, she stared at the deadline she was given to contact the Justice of the Peace lest there be a warrant issued for her arrest, at the notation that she had attempted to evade a law officer.

She looked up in time to see him walking back down the shore line. If he had recognized her, he didn’t show it.

Bonnie stayed until Monday so that she could argue in person against the unfairness of her ticket. As she headed to the courthouse, she was confident.  A sign on the frosted glass office door read “Janet Broman, J.P.” 

The J.P. turned out to be the former Janet Youngblood, who had dated Jack in high school after he and Bonnie broke up. Janet had been jealous of Bonnie for being Jack’s former girlfriend, and throughout their senior year, she had glared at Bonnie whenever their paths crossed.

            Despite the passage of years, and the fact the Janet, too, had broken up with Jack, Bonnie found sitting behind the J.P.’s desk the same resentful Janet, radiating disapproval and a sense of petty power.

Bonnie tried to sound chipper. “Hi, Janet. Imagine our meeting like this. We really must get caught up.”

            Janet stared at her with flat eyes. She studied Bonnie’s ticket as if it might be tampered with. “Hmm . . . no permit . . . evasion.  The fine’s 150 dollars.”

            Bonnie glumly handed over the check.

“Nice to see you again,” Janet smirked.

            “Yeah, sure.” Bonnie carefully shut the door as she left. The game warden might arrest her for slamming the frosted glass out of the J.P.’s door.

. . .

            Many more years later, as J.J. headed down a county road, he mentally calculated whether he could afford to retire. He was distracted by a dust cloud, kicked up by a car on a parallel road. He stopped instinctively and peered across the cedar-studded flats to see what was up with the late-model Buick.

            In the car, Bonnie was yelling at Larry.

            “You have a bladder the size of an acorn! This is not the kind of country to pee on the road. You could be seen by anyone coming over that rise.  Why don’t you hold it, dammit!”

            Larry smiled. Who the hell cared? He stopped and left the car running so Bonnie would have air conditioning.

            J.J. saw a tall man step out from the driver’s side.

The warden wasn’t patrolling for roadside pit stops, but was keeping an eye out for Billy Sanchez, a fugitive. He knew that he had to be hiding somewhere in the low cedar thickets. Billy could hide for days when he didn’t want to be found, and now, he was using all those skills. His last traffic stop had resulted in a cocaine possession charge. He had skipped his court hearing and robbed the Gas ’n Grub with no weapon other than bluff. The Law in four counties was looking for him.

            Beyond the car, J.J. spotted Billy as he stood up from the brush and began to trot toward the Buick. He hadn’t ever been violent, but now he was desperate.  The people in the car were vulnerable . . . the possibilities ticked off in J.J.’s mind.

            “Oh, hell,” said J.J., “that guy’s taking a leak and looking the other way.”

            All J.J. could do was lay on the truck’s horn and wave an arm out the window at the man on the road, who was oblivious to everything except the satisfying yellow stream.

            Larry looked up. “Jeez,” he muttered, “I’m being busted for pissing on a dirt road.” He zipped up.  

            Billy was moving faster toward the car.

            J.J. geared down and roared away, fearing that he couldn’t make it in time to avert a disaster.

            Bonnie and Larry gawked at J.J.’s speeding pick-up.

            “He’s coming for us!” As Larry twirled around to complain to Bonnie, he saw Billy reach the Buick in a run.

            Billy threw the door open and grabbed a horrified Bonnie, jerking her out and slinging her headlong into the bar ditch. Larry marveled that she was as quiet as a crash dummy.

            Billy dove into the car and in no time spun out dust and gravel, leaving Larry standing over Bonnie, who was beginning to sit up, groaning.

            “Don’t touch me!” she cried. “My arm’s broken!” She rose to her knees and vomited.

Larry looked around, helpless, just as J.J. pulled up beside them.

            He called for an ambulance and put out a radio alert, reporting Billy’s location.

             “Ma’am, you’d better lie down here.” He got his rolled-up rain poncho from the truck and spread it out. He positioned her head-down for shock.

She moaned, “Larry had to pee. Then that bastard threw me out of my car. Just let me lie here.”

            Bonnie looked up at the face leaning over her. Through her shock, she recognized her old buddy the game warden, gray at the temples.

            “Oh, Jesus!” she moaned.

            “Sorry, it’s ‘Hay-soos’,” he smiled, “but you can call me J.J.”

 

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