Monday, April 22, 2019

Good With Animals by Gary Ives

Emma Goldfarb, a high-flying commercial artist, has almost given up finding a partner who matches her intellect and ambition when she meets Glenn, and discovers a new kind of peace; by Gary Ives.

Em glanced through the window over the sink to see Glenn down on one knee rubbing Tuck's huge head while talking soft and low to Nip. The oxen were still yoked. She knew he wouldn't come in to eat until they'd been unyoked and rubbed down, and he had washed up at the outside spigot. She had a thick piece of fresh salmon to poach with a little garlic and ginger. Glenn had grown fond of these two critters and she reckoned he was anticipating separation anxiety as they were due to return to the owner soon. He was funny that way with oxen and mules he trained. He'd spent three months with this pair and, as always, grown attached to the animals. Noticing him washing up, she put the salmon filets into the pan but did not light the fire. "Let's have a beer on the porch and catch the sundown before we eat,' she said.

Years earlier Emma Goldfarb had stumbled into this strangely comfortable relationship with Glenn Harka. Now they spent most nights together at her place on the lake but sometimes at the A-frame up on Henderson Peak. He came down to the city only to hit the book stores and then only rarely as he loathed the traffic, the noise, and crowds. He was that way. Twice they'd vacationed for a month, once in Oaxaca and another time on Skye. Emma Goldfarb had family money and she had grown up rich but ambitious too, enjoying a very successful career as a commercial artist. While still a young artist she had a breakthrough when her submissions to Paulson-Palmer Agency secured a fat renewable contract with a nationwide fast food giant. This was followed within a year by another contract with Tabu Perfume. She thrived and by her 30s had reached the comfortable plateau of being able to turn down job offers. She was steadfastly independent and while she had enjoyed a few relationships, none of the men measured up to her idea of love and certainly not commitment. Each relationship had ended when she asked the man to leave. Experiencing these men, a Silicon Valley tech, a realtor, and a professor, had left her with a strong dislike for pretty boys, pretense, greed, drugs, and inflated egos. So few men of her acquaintance could engage any woman as an equal much less a superior in any field of endeavor or intellect. Whoever claimed that men were the more rational gender had it wrong. By 40 she had come to the belief that needing a man was a weakness.

Glenn she met when searching for a carpenter to install a new butcher block countertop at her condo in the city. He had come down to the city when a bad recession hit Oregon particularly hard. He'd been living in his camper, jobless and reduced to scabbing for work every morning like many others at an intersection by Lumber Liquidators. On any day he might be hired to sheet-rock, or dig lines for plumbers, or anything construction. These contractors paid Mexican wages, in cash - just enough for food and gas. Emma's building superintendent hired Glenn who worked one weekend on the countertop installation which had been tricky, necessitating difficult cuts to accommodate a corner placed range, a grill, and an odd shaped wet bar. So impressed with his work and his quiet, smooth demeanor, she asked him if he'd be interested in a longer project converting the small barn at her lake property into a studio. Later would come the boathouse. Then the loft apartment in the barn. Initially Glen lived in his camper parked behind Em's barn. On weekends Em invited him to use the kitchen and in time to lunch with her in the lake house. She held a master's degree in Fine Arts and owned her own studio employing two illustrators. Glenn had nothing but his tools and his truck. He was older, self-taught, intelligent, and polite, if a little shy. He was widely read and an amateur naturalist. She perceived him not as handsome, but attractive by way of his body carriage, the graceful way he moved and worked, and with a rugged face which Em thought made him look like a gangster or a pirate.

Early into the project Glenn adopted a stray kitten that just showed up one day. This cat seldom left his side. "Maybe she's my guardian angel, Em," he'd said, and so he named the kitten Gabriella. Emma insisted that he let her have Gabriella spayed as she did not want other cats around. Glenn said there was no need, that he could fix Gabby himself once the kitten was a little older.

"And how you gonna do that, Dr. Glenn?"

"Don't worry Em, I'm good with animals," was all he said. And he was good with animals. He could call the crows that lived near the lake and blue jays took peanuts from his hands. He was taming two squabs which had hatched under the barn's eaves to ride on his shoulders.

In mid-summer she closed her town studio for a month and moved to the lake house. Soon the shared lunches advanced to shared beds as the pair drew in to one another. She told Glenn to stop work on the studio and proceed with the loft conversion so that he could move there before winter. Afterwards he could resume work on the studio and boat house enjoying more comfortable living arrangements. To anyone inquiring, Glenn was simply the hired carpenter. In the city her friends cautioned her about housing this carpenter. "You don't know anything about the man, Em. For all you know he's a thief or worse yet a serial killer. You've got no protection out there. He could get drunk and try to rape you; you ever thought of that, huh? You're takin' a big chance, girl."

And she knew that. But, ever headstrong, as always, she trusted her instincts. Glenn was something rare in a man, quiet, strong, sure of himself, without an ounce of braggadocio. He reminded her at times of Gary Cooper's High Noon cowboy. He made no demands on her. Over the table and in bed they had fascinating conversations. An excellent listener, he never challenged or criticized her views. He was widely read and loved discussing books and ideas. Glenn himself had some quirky ideas about reincarnation and had ventured the idea that all of us are possibly inhabited by the spirits of countless predecessors. He told her of having once undergone hypnosis which suggested he had lived a previous life as a teamster and wagon master in the Nineteenth Century. To test this, he had taken a job on a ranch in western Oregon where he broke horses and trained mules. "It came to me as natural as getting up in the morning." He had learned carpentry from his dad who was Cayuse Indian. After the death of his mother who had been shot dead by a drunken hunter, he and his dad moved around Oregon and Washington, working as itinerate carpenters, farriers, and animal doctors. "Dad," he said, "eventually located the hunter and killed him; he died in prison at Walla Walla. He was a very good man and I loved him. He was the only person I've ever known who was always right. Right about everything. Always." She would later learn that refusing to answer his draft notice during the Viet Nam war, Glenn had moved to British Colombia to work on a large cattle ranch, returning to Oregon only after the general amnesty had been issued. "That war was so wrong," was all that he'd say about this.

"Bother you any, that I'm from Jewish stock?" she had once asked to which he'd replied, with a chuckle, "Bother you any, that I'm from Indian stock?" Asked about his plans, he smiled and said, "I guess I don't plan more than a few days ahead. Reckon I just float on time; it seems to work for me." He cared nothing for money. "If I have my truck and tools I can survive," he'd told her. His passions were books, wood, and animals. A smooth, thoughtful lover, though shy with affection, he never made promises or plans. Emma Goldfarb considered Glenn Harka a treasure, a rare treasure.

One Labor Day weekend a Porsche 911 honked from the gate. Em looked up the hill and sighed. "Aw shit, it's Larry Spooner, an old roommate." Spooner was indeed the realtor with whom she'd cohabited for seven months, a spoiled fat-head whom she was sorry to have ever known. He got out of the car and squeezed through the gate's side, bearing a bottle of wine.

"Hey Em, good to see ya. Thought I'd drop by. Hey, get this, I just closed on a prime Queen Anne on Russian Hill. Thought maybe you'd like to celebrate with me."

"No can do. I've got clients coming out here later. Besides Larry, I thought I made it quite clear that you and I were through. Fini. I've got nothing to say to you so just get back in your car and leave."

"Damn, Emma. Well at least give us a little catch-up time. A little champagne won't hurt. Come on, that's my gal."

At this she sensed trouble and turned on her cell phone's video app. She could see he was quite drunk which rattled her even more. "I am not your gal, Larry. I thought we made that quite clear ages ago."

"Listen, draw those horns back in, babe, if just for old times' sake, huh."

"No! dammit. I really don't care to see you Larry, and I have work to do. Now just leave!"

"Nope, I won't leave until you talk to me, Emma. C'mon girl, one little glass of champagne for old times' sake. Is that askin' so much, huh?"

Glenn stepped from the barn and quietly approached the two.

"Oh, so you must be the hired man. Yeah, I've heard about you, hombre," Spooner said snidely.

Glenn saying nothing stood stock still, feet apart, casting a penetrating, menacing stare at Spooner. Then Glenn advanced. Spooner backed out of the gate, opening the Porsche's door.

"Just leave, you asshole!" Emma shouted. "If you don't leave I'll call the sheriff," she said brandishing her cell phone.

Glenn closed toward the drunk.

"Oh, I'm leaving all right. Yeah I'm outta here," he bellowed, then hurled the champagne bottle, hitting Emma squarely in the face.

"You animal!" she screamed.

He quickly entered his car, locking the door, then revved the engine and nudged the Porsche slowly into the gate, warping the galvanized slats and bending the metal gate posts. Before Glenn could reach the car, Spooner had backed out and sped up the drive toward the road throwing gravel and dust. Glenn dashed to Em then walked her back to the house, fetched a cold towel to place against her bloody face and broken nose.

"I'll have that animal in court, I will. Look at this Glenn," she said handing him her cell phone. On it he watched and listened to the video, a complete record of the entire event.

"C'mon Em, let's get you to the emergency room for a couple of stitches and then a little more iron-clad, court-worthy documentation at the sheriff's office."

"A broken nose, and four stitches above the blackened eye. Whaddaya reckon that's worth in a civil suit, cowboy, not to mention assault with a deadly Porsche."

The trial netted Larry Spooner a felony conviction for assault and battery, a hefty fine and a three months (suspended) jail sentence. Further, under the California Code he lost his realtor's license. The civil suit followed which by late summer of the following year was settled out of court by Spooner transferring the deed to ten acres and an A-frame atop Henderson Peak, ten miles up from Emma's lakeside home.

In time Glenn refurbished the A-frame, erected a pole barn with stalls and a woodshop, and established a niche stable for the training of oxen and mule teams. First from California and eventually from all over the country, wealthy hobby owners sent young oxen and mules to Glenn for three months of training which would produce teams able to obey simple commands. Trained, these creatures could move right, left, and back up. They could haul a load and were accustomed to being hitched to wagons, and importantly for clients win contests at rodeos, fairs, and the yearly auctions in Tennessee and Texas.

Glenn loved the site, a level plateau atop Henderson Mountain, served by a miserable rutted road away from neighbors and quiet save an occasional aircraft. He believed quietude was essential to training his animals. "They don't like noise. Noise scares critters." Emma loved to watch him putting a team through its paces. For two hour stretches he would work his yoked animals with his soft voice, a lead, and just a light touch of the rod to a shoulder or haunch. "Haw, Nip, Haw Tuck. That's my boy. Now giddyup Nip, now giddyup, Tuck. Gee Tuck, now Gee, Nip. That's my good boys." Laying down the pole, he'd give the soft command to stop. "Stop, Nip, Stop, Tuck." Then he always knelt and massaged the boys' necks and withers, speaking soft, sweet endearments to the oxen. "You cannot praise an ox too much, Em," he'd said to her at least fifty times. "You're magic with them, Glenn," she had told him as many times.

"Yep, I'm good with animals."

Often she spent Saturday afternoons at the A-frame, fixing lunch, napping and watching him work. Glenn had put new floors, plumbing, and insulation in the A-frame, and while Em wasn't particularly fond of the small A-frame she loved sipping beers or rum drinks with Glenn on the porch watching sunsets from the mountain top. After he had stabled a team for the night they'd drive down to the lake house. The arrangement was so comfortable. Glenn's independent, monastic, hermit-like life style matched her escapes from the city. Their arrangement was so compatible. She brought his groceries, he fixed her fences, toilet, the dock, mowed - whatever - and even paid her rent on the A-frame. The weekend shared meals and bed were a satisfying comfort to them both. Life was good. So good, she wondered if the situation might endure. He was the best man she had ever known. Glenn had assembled a little woodworking shop in the pole barn where he crafted 5", 7" and 9" yokes. His yokes became in demand for their smoothness and a design that ensured greater comfort for oxen and mules. And on the far side of the barn he was experimenting with the construction of a full-sized wagon. The metalwork - wheels, springs, hooks, rings, axles, etc. - was ordered from specialty hardware outfitters, but Glenn approached the wagon's woodwork with the eye and practice of a master craftsman. He concentrated his skills on wagon boxes, using white oak or hickory for the singletrees, undercarriage, and crossbeams, cypress for floors, and a combination of finely finished poplar, pecan, and cottonwood served for side rails, tails gates, and seats. When he wasn't working on his teams, he was wagon building.

One Saturday evening after their sunset beers on the A-frame's porch, she indicated it was time to leave. Glenn said he wanted to finish dressing a side panel, but that he would drive down for supper later. When he drove up to Em's gate he was puzzled that it was closed, as she normally left it open for him. He left the truck and called to Em who did not answer. Leaving the gate area, he walked toward the house. Noticing boot tracks he picked up his pace. Em lay in her doorway, semiconscious, groaning and bleeding from her face and hands. At the community hospital, nurses alerted police who questioned Glenn as a suspect for an hour and a half, eventually releasing him once Emma regained consciousness and told them that her assailant was Larry Spooner. "He was in a drunken rage. Said I had ruined his life. He threw me down and kicked and stomped on me until I passed out. He said he'd kill me. Where's Glenn, I need to see Glenn." By then Spooner was well on his way to his shabby motel room in Elko, where he worked as a bartender at the Nevada Grande Casino. The police traced Spooner to Elko but could do nothing in that jurisdiction.

The scarring of Emma Goldfarb's face was not the worst damage Spooner had inflicted. He'd broken bones in both hands, hands she needed to draw. True she had illustrators who worked for her and could interpret her ideas. But she needed a pen, a pencil, a marker, or brush in her hand for the magic to flow. During the rehab she spent months between the outpatient center and her studio in the city, continuing to spend weekends at the lake house with Glenn. Em, now fifty-two, decided it was time to flick it in. She accepted a generous offer from a large ad agency, listed her condo, said goodbye to the city and moved permanently to the lake house. She thought she might try designing wagons for a change - buckboards, surreys, buggies...

With a copy of the police report Em had shown him, Glenn was able to easily locate Spooner's shabby motel in Elko. With only three rooms rented the place was dark. Spooner's room was at the farthest end where Glenn parked his truck behind the darkened motel, put on the rubber gloves and walked around to the front. The lock on the door of the yesterday's mom and pop motel yielded easily to a credit card. Just before midnight, he slipped silently in, holding a pillowcase. He unscrewed all the lightbulbs then stretched out atop the bed. Spooner finished his shift at midnight but drank at the bar until 2am. At 2:20 he entered his darkened room unsteadily. The taser brought him down as if he'd been pole axed. Glenn stood over him, his boot pressed lightly on Spooner's neck, his tactical flashlight blinding the quivering drunk who lay in a puddle of piss.

"You gotta bill to pay, animal. I ever tell you that I was good with animals? No?"

Spooner lay quivering. Glenn bent down, pulling Spooner's shirt from his waist then, untying his pillowcase, guided the 22" sidewinder under the shirt, taking care to agitate the angry snake over and over again, satisfied only when he saw the rattler's head emerge from Spooner's collar to strike him rapidly twice on the neck then slither out the door into the night. Glenn picked up the pillowcase, replaced the light bulbs, then silently returned to his truck. Three days later the police called Emma Goldfarb to inform her of the suspect's death by snakebite in Nevada.

Sipping beers on the mountaintop porch the following Saturday she said, "Damned snake bit the poor sonofabitch all over his chest and neck. Police figured he must have fallen down drunk on the rattler then made it back to his motel too drunk to call for help. Case closed."

6 comments:

  1. Really interesting and enjoyable story, very well written, with plenty of incident. Good to see Spooner get what he had coming.

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  2. Very good character development with relevant and interesting use of back stories and an engaging plot.

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  3. a well written story with well developed and credible characters and convincing dialogue
    Mike McC

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  4. Backwoods Clint Eastwood style justice tale...

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  5. I liked it, though it made me sad. People can be so cruel.

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