From Magic City Morning Star

M Stevens-David
The Poacher
By Martha Stevens-David
Apr 17, 2014 - 12:03:33 AM

Sonny Campbell was a game warden. His father and grandfather before him had been game wardens. It was often thought by folks around town that there wasn't any way that Sonny could have been any thing else. After all, hadn't his great, great grandfather been one of those Campbells who'd come from the area over around New Brunswick and his grandfather looked exactly like the pictures of the Indians in all the history books. There isn't a better game warden than a man with a little Injin blood now is there and everyone knew that if you came from over that way, you had to have some Micmac or Malaseet Indian blood in you.

Sonny still lived in the house where he was born, that his grandfather had built at the turn of the century. The old Campbell place was located on the Garfield Road in Garfield Plantation. The house was built in a very strategic spot high up on a bluff that overlooked the rolling Aroostook County country side for miles around.

All Sonny had to do was stand out on his crumbling front porch and look down across the open fields to where the Aroostook River lay like leaden silver in the late afternoon sun. Hearing gunshots, he'd cock his head, listen intently and after a couple of minutes he could pretty much tell you where the gunshots came from, the caliber of gun and most probably who had done the shooting.

Sonny wasn't really a large man. He stood about five feet ten in his stocking feet but he hadn't an ounce of fat on him. He had a shock of dark black hair that strayed out from under his warden's hat no matter how he combed it or cut it. His eyes were deep brown and the whites of his eyes had a bluish tinge to them. It didn't matter if it was summer or winter; his skin had a mahogany cast to it that never changed with the seasons. His most prominent feature was his nose. It was the thing that one noticed first about his features. Folks often said that if you turned Sonny sideways and looked at his profile, it looked exactly like the Indian on the old Indian head nickel.

His only companions in the old house were a mangy Maine Coon cat and a Blue Tick hound named Percy that someone had left to die up in the woods on the old Realty Road. Sonny had brought the dog home and nursed it back to health and there were times when he deeply regretted keeping Percy. On nights just before the full the moon, the hound would sit out on the front porch and bay until it nearly drove him and the neighbors crazy.

After the neighbors had complained for the umpteenth time about the dog keeping them up all night, Sonny would keep a close eye on the moon. When it was due to be full, he'd herd Percy into the pickup and take him for a long drive up into the Great Northern woods where there wasn't another living soul around to disturb. Sometimes though, he'd run into folks who were camping. The campers would come back to town and laugh about the crazy game warden and the howling dog. They said he spent the night driving up and down the deserted timber roads while his dog lolled his head out the window and bayed at the moon.

Sometimes, he'd pitch a tent and spend the night. Once, Sonny made a mistake and the moon wasn't full until the next night but the hound didn't care. He slept straight through the first night without a single howl and began howling right on cue the next. There wasn't any fooling that dog. Percy's howl began at a very low pitch and gradually climbed into the higher range until it ended on a note that set your last teeth right on edge. The sound could make someone who wasn't used to it or had never heard a hound dog howl before, very nervous and jumpy.  Especially when you've left your nice snug home in suburbia and driven five hundred miles into the northern Maine woods with nary a sign of civilization anywhere.

A lot of campers checked out of their camp sites earlier than they intended the day after the full moon. It was usually the out-of-staters that the howling affected the most. The gatekeepers knew that the morning after a full moon, they were going to be asked a lot of questions about what kind of animal might have caused that howling. Mostly, the campers blamed the howling on a wolf or coyote.

One gatekeeper told of how he'd overheard one camper talking to another as they were getting ready to leave. "I really don't know what the hell it was or what it wasn't but you can be God-damned sure, I ain't never coming back! When I heard that sound, I was so scared, my testicles crawled up inside my belly and I may never see them again!"

Sonny was well-known and respected by all those who knew him. He had the reputation of being fair and that carried a lot of weight in our neck of the woods. A game warden actually has more power under the law than a policeman but Sonny didn't abuse it. He worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He loved his job and didn't really consider it work.

Sonny was also known for his even-tempered disposition. It took a lot to get him riled and most folks couldn't recall the last time they'd ever seen him angry. There was one thing that made Sonny angry though and that was a poacher.

Sonny might look the other way if he caught a hunter hunting out of season, especially if that hunter was simply trying to feed his family. He was even known to look the other way when he caught a bunch of kids fishing without a license but there was one thing that he wouldn't overlook and that was poaching. He hated poachers who killed just for the sake of killing and left the animal there to rot. He would go to any means to catch them.

The notorious Sharp family was the ones that took up most of Sonny's official time as a game warden. He was always chasin one or another of them for various infections of the law. Personally, he would have liked to gather them all up and put them on a slow boat to China, he was so sick of dealin with them.

The Sharps all congregated in the same little area called Squa Pan which was located about halfway between Ashland and Masardis. Their homes consisted of several shacks and many rusty trailers which were in a continual state of disrepair. It wasn't uncommon to see kids, dogs, chickens and pigs all erupting from someone's doorway. There were so many kids that most of the mothers only clearly remembered the names of their first-born and who their father's were. It didn't really matter anyway because the kids ate and slept wherever they were when it was time to eat or go to bed.

They didn't have running water but, they sometimes had electricity which was usually around the first of the month after their AFDC, Unemployment, Disability or Social Security checks arrived. The first things they bought were whiskey, cigarettes and beer. Whatever money left over was squandered on whatever whim they had that week.

The local cops used to dread the beginning of the month. They knew that sooner or later there was going to be a call from a pissed-off citizen that there was a problem at the Sharps. The Sharp trip was usually designated to the newest rookie in the area. He'd turn on his lights and siren and come tearing down the Masardis Road around eighty miles an hour and pull to a screeching halt in front of the Sharp's dwellings. He'd hop out of his vehicle, stride to the nearest shack, trailer or shanty and demand to know what tha hell was going on. Sharps of all shapes and sizes would come pouring out of the shacks and trailers. When they saw it was the law, they'd usually throw whatever was handy at the poor cop. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, the rookie would high tail it back down the Masardis Road at the same clip he had just driven up it, hoping like hell that he'd never have to return again.

Even though none of the Sharps worked at a regular job, they wanted for nothing. If you happened to drive by their place on any given day, you'd find their yards filled with all kinds of expensive recreational equipment. They all drove new pick-ups with long antennas for the latest CB's and they had new snowmobiles strewn around everywhere. There were color television antennas sticking up on poles all around the shacks. Out behind the settlement were several banged up skidders and bulldozers just rustin away. They had the latest in hunting rifles and there were a couple of Old Town canoes lying in the knee-high grass along the road. Several newer ATV's, in various states of disrepair, lay on the grease stained ground in front of the trailers.

Denny Sharp usually stayed with his elderly father when he was home. From time to time, he'd shacked-up with several women in the area but he didn't want to have to pay child support so, he never stayed with anyone too long.

It was no secret that our town poacher was Denny Sharp and he made no bones about it. Each and every time he broke the law and got away with it, he'd drive like a bat-out-of hell, down the bumpy Masardis Road to Ashland to boast and brag about what he'd just done.

Denny hadn't attended any school long enough to really say that he'd gone to school. He came from a long line of non-attendees. Folks used to say that the Sharp kid's aversion to school was something hereditary and there was no use bothering with them. The whole Sharp clan didn't do anything like "normal" people did. They didn't work, they didn't clean, they didn't go to church, and they didn't marry. But there were a lot of things that they did do. They smoked, they drank, they stole, they lied and they cheated. There were so many kids by so many different women that one couldn't tell one kid from another. If the law had to call on the Sharp's because one of them had broken the law, usually the cops just gave up. The kids were so close in age and some even had the same first names that one really couldn't be certain just which Sharp they were looking for.

Sonny and Denny had been adversaries for a long time. It irked the hell out of Sonny to have to drive through town and hear all the stories from the old codgers about how the poacher had bagged another one. Everyone, including Sonny, knew who the poacher was but knowing it and proving it was another thing. Try as he might, Sonny hadn't been able to pin anything on Denny. He'd even pulled a surprise search on old man Sharp's house and nothing had turned up. He'd taken to stopping Denny every time he'd had a chance and a good excuse and still couldn't find where he was hiding the poached goods. Sonny was beside himself, there had to be something he'd overlooked.

Sonny was a damned-good game warden. What with his Indian blood and all the knowledge from his years in the woods, he couldn't understand why he couldn't catch his man. Every time Sonny heard another poacher story about Denny, his guts burned and shriveled up inside him until he couldn't stand it. He'd lie awake night after night and try to put himself inside Denny's head to think like him but nothin helped.

Denny still went his merry way and every time the two of them passed each other on the road, they would slow down and glare at each other. Denny, with a big smirk on his face, would give Sonny the old middle finger salute and drive on by.

Sonny finally caved in and asked his boss if he had any ideas about how to catch Denny. After hearing the entire story, Sonny's boss laughed, shook his head and said, "What makes you think you're so special? I tried to catch his father, old man Sharp, for many years and I was outsmarted for a long time too. I did finally catch him but I've never told anyone where I finally found the poached bundles of meat and fish." Sonny looked at him and waited. His boss looked out the window for a couple of minutes and then he said, "Old man Smart's mother was sick abed and he went in and lifted her legs and hid everything under her legs." "Well," Sonny asked, "How'd you know it was hidden there?" "Well, it was a Christly hot day and that room must have been a hundred and ten and the old lady kept complainin that she was friggin cold! It took me a good while to figure it out. Just remember one thing, when you're dealin with that kind of mind, expect the unexpected!"

What used to be a desire to catch the poacher now became an obsession. Sonny's plots and schemes and plans took up all his time and energy. He was like a general preparing for battle. He drew maps and diagrams of the surrounding areas that Denny was known to frequent. He bought all kinds of military equipment from the Army Surplus Store over to Presque Isle. He sent away for a night vision scope for his rifle. He tore the engine out of his warden's pick-up and replaced it with a suped-up engine from Fenton's Junkyard in Presque Isle. He changed the suspension on the warden's truck until the truck was jacked-up off the ground by about two feet. He scouted around until he found four oversized all terrain tires and mounted them on his truck. Then he drove over to Loring Air Force Base and purchased a beacon runway light that he attached to a portable generator in the back of his truck. When he flicked it on, the illuminated area lit-up like a light from hell. Then, he drove to Fort Kent and wrangled a winch out of an other warden and they welded it to the undercarriage of the truck. The green, State of Maine warden's truck now looked like a modified military Humvee.

Now he was ready! Sonny loaded old Percy into the truck, slapped his warden's hat on his head and turned the key. The truck sprang to life like a creature from the jungle. The engine shuddered, caught and roared to life and black smoke poured out of the two chrome pipes running up the back of the cab. When Sonny downshifted into low range the huge engine purred like a contented cat.

Sonny tore out of his driveway and down the Garfield Road so fast that the thrust of the engine caused old Percy to fall backwards in the seat. Percy, not used to being treated this way, shot Sonny a look of pure venom, and then he crawled off the seat and lay on the floor with his head between his paws. Every time Sonny tore around a sharp corner Percy emitted a loud howl and dug himself deeper into the floor mat.

Sonny crossed the bridge into Ashland at an illegal rate of speed then he floored the truck as he came up over Station Hill. He slowed down a dite and turned the truck into the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife building. He ground to a stop in front of the building. Upon hearing all the noise, the other wardens came flying out to see what the hell was going on.

Sonny strode past them into his office. "Jaysus Sonny, what the hell have you done to your truck?" One of the wardens asked him. "That's for me to know and for you to find out." Was the curt reply. Sonny stuffed his ten-cell flashlight and some extra clothes into his knapsack and went out to his truck. He wheeled out of the driveway and straight up over the hill to Main Street. He drove slowly down the Main Street of Ashland and folks, hearing the sound of his truck; rushed out of the stores to see what tha hell kind of vehicle was makin all that noise.

When Sonny reached the intersection of the Presque Isle road and the Masardis road, he kicked the truck into high and for the first time in his life, left black marks on the tar behind him. He flew down the Masardis Road with the speedometer hovering around seventy. He slowed to a crawl as he came upon the Sharp settlement and when he reached old Mr. Sharp's house he stopped and gunned the engine a couple of times. Black smoke roll out of the chrome pipes and drifted upwards in the clear, blue sky.

Heads popped out of every door and window to see what was goin on.  He gunned the massive motor a couple of times more just for good effect. "That ought to do it," he grinned to himself. "It shouldn't take too long before the friggin news gets around. I'm the warden and I mean business! The shit is really goin to fly this time!" He patted old Percy on the head to stop his trembling and headed for home.

Sonny stuck pretty close to home for the next couple of days hopin to hear something and when he couldn't stand it any longer, he headed for town to see what the latest news was. He stepped off the porch and snapped his fingers at Percy who was lying at the far end. Percy lifted his mangy, old head and looked at him. "Come on old feller, want ta go for a ride?" Sonny asked the dog. The hound dropped his head onto his paws and didn't move a muscle. No matter what Sonny did, Percy couldn't be persuaded.

Sonny hitched up his pants, climbed up into his super-charged truck and turned on the ignition. The engine came to life with a mighty roar and a cloud of black smoke permeated the air behind him. Percy commenced to howling like he never had before. His howls blended with the whine of Sonny's engine and he looked at the dog in amazement. As Sonny pulled the truck out onto the Garfield road he looked in his rearview mirror and all he could see was Percy slinking off into the woods at the side of the house.

Sonny glanced up and caught his reflection in the mirror and he was shocked at what he saw. His black hair was sticking out of his hat in every direction and his brown eyes shone like two bits of coal in the moonlight. Sonny decided that it was just about time to get his ears lifted and he headed down the road for town.

He rolled down the Main Street in Ashland and came to a stop in front of Philbert's Barber Shop. The sight of his suped-up truck caused all of Philbert's reluctant patrons to come rushing outside. Sonny elbowed his way into the shop and sat down in the empty barber's chair.

Old Philbert turned his watery blue eyes on Sonny and asked, "What'll it be mister? Say, are you new in town?" Sonny knew it was hopeless to try and explain anything to Philbert and he said, "Cut it the same way you always do, Philbert. Only, I'd like one sideburn this time instead of two." Feeling that somehow he'd been insulted, old Philbert commenced to cutting with a vengeance. He zoomed up one side of Sonny's head and down the other with his electric razor. Sunny felt a tightening in his belly as thick black hair flew in every direction and he began sweating just a little. When he looked at his reflection in the mirror, he couldn't believe his eyes. For the very first time in his life he had a Mohawk! Sonny ripped the barber's apron from around his neck and threw it on the floor. "For good God's sake! Philbert, you've really done it this time!" Sonny bellowed. "Look at me for Christ's sake!" Old Philbert shuffled as close as he dared and ran his watery eyes over Sonny's head. "Don't see nothin wrong with your hair. If you ask me, it coulda been a little shorter! And besides, you moved!" Shot back old Philbert.

Hearing the commotion inside the shop, all the hanger-ons crowded through the door to get a whiff of what had just happened. There was dead silence as they looked at Sonny's head. The nostrils in Sonny's large nose flared and the anger he felt inside came through as two red patches warmed themselves up on his high cheekbones.

He didn't wait to hear any comments. He pushed past the gaping onlookers and hitched himself up into his truck. The last thing he heard as he drove away was, "Jaysus, Philbert, you've turned the game warden into a friggin Comanche!"

Now that his truck was ready, Sonny commenced to set a trap to catch the poacher. He didn't eat and he didn't sleep. He spent night after night sitting at his kitchen table. He tried to coax old Percy into the house to eat but the old hound came as far as the screen door of the kitchen and after one look at Sonny's hair, let out a blood curdling howl, turned around and high tailed it back into the woods.

Sonny slowly began baiting his trap. He let it be known around town that there had been some poaching up along the Canadian border and he'd be staying up to Churchill Lake for a while. He figured that this ought to trickle down to Denny and sooner or later, he'd let his guard down and Sonny would finally have his man.

Sonny examined every map he could find of the areas that Denny was known to hunt. He tried to put himself in the poacher's shoes to try and determine just what spot he might choose next. Sonny circled some spots on his map and decided that he'd give these areas a try. He knew that poachers liked to strike just at dusk, or in the wee hours of the morning. If he was going to catch Denny, he had to start thinking like him.  He decided that first he'd have a little look at the area behind the Sharp settlement to see if Denny was still hanging out there.

Around four o'clock that afternoon, Sonny doused himself with the tried and true fly dope, "The Woodsman's Friend," pulled on his old army fatigues and drove down to Rafford Flats which were located about a mile behind the Sharp's settlement. He locked his truck, picked up his heavy knapsack and started off through the woods. He moved carefully as the trailers and shacks came into view then he slipped his gear off his back and hid it in some bushes. Then, he dropped down and began crawling on his belly through the waist high grass towards the shacks.

As he crawled closer, Sonny noticed that off to his right behind old man Sharp's shack was a newer looking outhouse. It wasn't the run-of-the-mill-outhouse either. Looking at it from the rear, Sonny noticed that a great deal of attention had been spent on the small building. Not only did it have a cinder block foundation, it also had electricity! "Leave it to the Sharps to think of that." Thought Sonny. "They're probably the only people in the whole State of Maine who have an outhouse with electricity!" He maneuvered himself around the other outhouses until he had what he thought was the optimal view. Then, he settled down to wait.

The long nights slid into days and Sonny, bleary eyed, bug bitten and hungry, roused himself so that he could watch the comings and goings of the Sharps. Sonny had been on many stake outs during his career in the warden's service, but this had to be one of the most miserable of all. It was now the middle of June and every conceivable insect that the northern woods are infamous for was now feasting on his tired body.

He'd hidden in the tall grass not daring to move for the better part of two days and he'd lain awake for the past two nights and nothing had happened to arouse his suspicions. The only thing he'd noticed was that Denny or his elderly father made frequent hurried trips to the newer outhouse behind his father's shack. "Must be having a touch of the runs." Sonny chuckled to himself. "Maybe some of that poached meat was just a little rancid when he cooked it." It made Sonny feel a little better to think that his prey wasn't faring any better than he was.

He was sun burned, wind burned and so bitten by insects that he could barely see out of his eyes. The fly dope he'd slathered all over himself just plain didn't work and the smell, a mixture between tar and kerosene, was making him sick. He had bug bites all over his body and his skin twitched as he stifled an intense urge to scratch. His ears rang from all the noise the kids made as they played around their shacks. His heart had leapt into his throat when some of the kids began playing hide and seek in the tall grass around the rusted vehicles and he knew it wouldn't be too long before they made their way in his direction. Sonny decided he'd give it another twenty-four hours and if something didn't happen pretty soon, he'd slink off home to recover for a few days.

As the sun sank out of sight and the mosquitoes and no-see-ems began their nightly onslaught, Sonny crawled a little closer to the outhouse to get a better look at the building. "Funny," he thought to himself, "There's no smell and no flies either." As the moon came up over the ridge behind him, the door at the rear of the shack opened and Denny came out and headed down the path to the outhouse. Sonny flattened his tired body against the ground and tried not to breathe as Denny passed by within a few feet from where he lay.

The poacher opened the door of the outhouse, turned the light on and stepped inside. He left the door ajar and Sonny heard what sounded like another door being opened and closed. Then Denny turned off the light, stepped outside and closed the door. It was then that Sonny noticed the heavy bundle that swung to and fro in Denny's hand as he made his way back up the path to the shack. "Now ain't that odd." He thought to himself. "That's got to be the first time that I've seen a man go to take a crap and come out of an outhouse carrying a bundle."

It took a few minutes for all this to sink in and then, Sonny realized what he'd just seen. It wasn't too long before the tantalizing smell of poached deer meat cooking in a bed of fried onions wafted across the tall grass to where Sonny lay. His mouth began to water and his stomach constricted as the aroma reminded him just how long it had been since he'd eaten.

Finally, around midnight, all the lights in the settlement went out. When he was certain that everyone was asleep, he slowly crawled over to the small building. He stood up and quietly turned the door handle and the door opened. He didn't need to turn on a light to know that this wasn't really an outhouse. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw that there wasn't any toilet seat either. In its place was a large, shiny, upright freezer.

He stepped inside and opened the freezer door. Sonny smiled for the first time in two days as his tired, bloodshot eyes slid over the neat packages of poached fish and meat lying on the shelves. He carefully closed the freezer door and stepped out into the warm summer night. Suddenly, the bone tiredness he'd felt just a few minutes before, slid away like dust in the moonlight. All his aches, pains and itches were gone! He felt fine! He felt wonderful! He'd caught his man!

As he loped off through the tall grass towards his truck and home, all he could think about was how he'd been out smarted by an outhouse. He could just imagine the flack he was going to catch when all the other game wardens and old cronies around town finally got wind of this.

Martha Stevens-David

Autobiography of a Simple Soul

Memories, Another Place - Another Time

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