Just the other day, I was driving from Texas up to deliver a car in Baltimore. I cut through Kentucky, very excited that I was going to see Steve Jackson, my best friend from High School. He lives on a farm there with his wife Sandy, and together they run a quaint little General Store. I drove all through the night, and just after dawn Riff called me.
"Just where in the hell are you?"
"Riff, I am making very good time, so back off."
"Good time? Is that what you call it? You are the slowest son of a bitch I have ever seen. In a race between a snail and a turtle, you'd be the one who'd come in last."
"You could trying being a little nicer sometime."
Riff turned up the patronizing. "Oh, I'm sorry my little gumdrop. Is my baby lamb feeling hurt? Well kiss my ass, you need to be in Baltimore by sunset."
"I'll have the car there by noon tomorrow, Riff." And with that, I hung up. I was tired, and what I really needed right now was a good friend. I steered the SUV on the twisty two lane highway as I neared Steve's place. As soon as I pulled into his driveway, Steve came out of the house with a big smile on his face. Seeing him instantly brought back a hundred happy memories. Steve Jackson is a wonderful guy, and has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
"Bill!" he shouted.
I climbed out of the car. "Hey, Steve."
Steve rushed over and threw his arms around me for one of his patented bear hugs. "I am so glad to see you. Didn't expect you this early, though."
"I'm sorta surprised that you're up so early."
"Once that darn rooster starts crowing, nobody can sleep. He just has to tell everyone its time to wake up, like it or not."
"Is Sandy up making breakfast?"
Steve looked sullen. "Sandy's been gone about a month now, Bill."
"She left you?"
"No, uh... she went to meet her maker."
"You mean... you mean Sandy's dead?"
"I've been trying to deal with it. I can really use a friend right now."
"What happened? What did she die of?"
"Well, Sandy, she used to hate it when cars would go whizzing by here. Remember?"
"It made her mad as a hornet."
"Oh, I remember."
"She'd run out in the middle of the road and scream at them. I do believe she would have chased them down if she was fast enough."
"There was this one pickup truck in particular that would come by everyday, and she would always be ready for him. She'd take a bag of stones and throw them at the truck."
"She threw stones?"
"You heard me right. But this one day, she was standing there in the middle of the road throwing stones and didn't see a moving van come barreling over the hill."
"So the moving van hit her?"
"Smashed her flat as a pancake." Steve's bottom lip began to quiver. "Well, not a pancake, but, you know." Steve began to chuckle.
"Steve, are you laughing?"
"I guess I kinda am. It's been happening a lot since she died. I guess it's my way of dealing with the grief."
"Are you gonna be OK?"
"I feel a lot better now that you're here. Poor Sandy, her temper always got the best of her. And no one could ever do anything to please her."
I nodded. "Yes, she was unique."
"Sandy, she had some emotional problems, God rest her soul." Steve laughed hard, and I couldn't help but join in. It was downright infectious.
"I'm glad you can laugh about it."
"I believe it's God's gift to me, my way of dealing with the loss."
"Then I say enjoy the gift." I let out a whooping laugh, and Steve laughed louder and harder."
"Thank you so much, Bill."
"For being here. For your friendship. For a million things."
"I love you, pal. Always have, always will." Two dogs came running out of the woods and were very glad to see us. "Howdy, fellas."
I was delighted to see them, as I normally am when I meet a new dog. "When did you get these pooches?"
"They're not mine, they live next door. But they just love to come over and visit. Hello Punkin, hello Tater, does Tom know you're here?"
I bent over to pet them. "What are their names?"
"This is Tater, he's kinda pudgey and slow. The spry one here is Punkin."
"Hello, Punkin." The dog responded by leaping into the air, licking my face, then landing on the ground on all fours. He did this repeatedly, and what amazed me was that he did this without ever putting his paws on me. Jump, lick, land, again and again. When he landed, I reached down and scratched him behind the ears, which he obviously loved. Then Punkin jumped up to lick my face again, and a gunshot rang out. Punkin hit the ground dead, much to my shock. I looked up and saw a Farmer in overalls aiming his rifle in my direction.
"Tom, put the gun down," Steve said in a very firm voice.
"I told them not to do that," said Farmer Tom stoically.
"OK, now put the gun down," Steve said with authority.
"Told 'em at least a hundred or more times," Tom continued.
"Tom, the dog is down, you need to lower that rifle," barked Steve.
Tom suddenly seem to notice for the first time that he was still aiming the rifle, and lowered it to his side. He ambled over to us, as Tater ran between Steve's legs and whimpered. "Mornin', gents," Tom offered.
"Good morning, Tom," Steve said with caution.
"Hi, good morning, I'm Bill." I couldn't believe that he had just killed a dog right in front of me. I didn't like this guy, but he was scary.
Tom shook his head. "I told that dog again and again not to jump up on people. Seems like he just don't get the message. Well, next time I bet he'll think long and hard about it before he jumps on anyone."
"I bet you're right," agreed Steve anxiously.
"You betcha I'm right. Punkin won't be jumping on anyone again soon, lest he wants another taste of my boot."
"You gotta be givin' that tough love so they know you mean business. I got chores to do, you gents have a fine day." Tom grabbed Tater by the scruff of the neck and dragged him towards home.
Steve shook his head. "Well, I'll get some shovels and we'll bury Punkin, and then I'll cook us a good country breakfast."
I couldn't believe it. "That man just executed his dog!"
"Yeah, Tom isn't quite right in the head. He's been known to kill his dogs when they misbehave."
"That man is certifiably insane."
"All I know is that you don't want to be anywhere near his sights when he's holding that rifle."
"Do you know how scary that sounds?"
Steve shrugged. "Life on the farm, I guess." Out of respect for Steve's recent loss, I decided not to pursue it. I just stayed and visited with him all day, and we talked and laughed and cried and reminisced. Steve is a very good man, and he really did need a good friend at that moment. I was just glad and honored that I could be that friend.
When I left the next morning for Baltimore, I called the local Humane society and reported Farmer Tom. I love Steve just like a brother and didn't want to upset him while I was there. But I also love dogs, and couldn't tolerate the thought of this maniac shooting man's best friend. By the time I write this, Farmer Tom may be shooting it out with the authorities.