HUNTER'S HONOR A Novel of Suspense (Chapter One) (ADULT - FICTION)
Shiloh Lawson shut off the engine and watched in the beam of her headlights as billowy clouds of dust from the dead end, gravel road began to settle around her truck.
When the lights went out it took time for her eyes to adjust to the darkness around her. The cuticle shaped moon provided little light.
She hesitated, struggling with an irrational fear, not of the dark, but of the family whose land bordered hers. Too stubborn to give up her favorite hunting area, she turned the dial to prevent the truck’s internal lights from coming on before opening the door of her white, crew cab Chevy Silverado. The cool air rushed in to caress her face.
She paused, listening to the silence. “Winter is a long time going,” she whispered to herself.
Legal shooting time was still several minutes away. She shivered and zipped up her jacket before sliding out of the truck.
A great horned owl hooted in the distance. Another one answered it. The familiar sound eased her mind.
She pushed away negative thoughts and let the calling fill her heart. That same calling had pulled her from a warm bed. It had reached into her soul and pulled her to the woods. It was something ethereal that words failed to explain. Only another hunter would understand.
She twisted her shoulder length, auburn hair into a pony tail, readjusted her cap and slowly closed the door, careful not to make too much noise.
Although she had roosted turkeys along the distant field edge the night before, there could be others within hearing distance. A life-long hunter, being quiet in the woods came natural to her.
Already dressed in full camouflage, she retrieved her camo turkey vest from the back seat and slipped it on over her jacket. She unzipped the brown canvas and leather gun case and pulled out her twenty gauge shotgun. The weight of the gun felt natural, hanging by its sling, over her left shoulder. The single shot TC Encore had been a gift from her father on her thirteenth birthday. It patterned well out to fifty yards and she had confidence in it.
Birds were not yet chirping, but it wouldn’t be long before daylight brought new life. Spring was winning; slowly easing winter back into its proper place as the seasons fought over control of the land.
Hardwood timber on either side of the road hid her approach to the field. She kept to the middle of the gravel road as she walked. The damp, dew covered weeds softened her footsteps, making her approach to the field edge as quiet as possible. She wore knee-high rubber boots whether deer, squirrel or turkey hunting, just like her dad had always done.
She didn’t need a flashlight. The trek was familiar. Shiloh had hunted on their western Kentucky farm with her family most of her life. Sadly, she lost her father to cancer at an early age. Her older brother Syder, moved west not long after he shot and killed one of the Dugan brothers. It was a long story. One that Shiloh played over in her mind all too often.
When she reached the metal gate she stood in silence to listen and survey the grassy meadow. A marshy area filled the center of the bowl-shaped field. The sun was beginning to glow on the eastern horizon. There was barely enough light to make out the dark, black, shapes of her uncle’s cows scattered throughout the two hundred acre pasture surrounded by barbed wire. Shiloh unlocked the gate and opened it just enough to step through, careful not to show herself in the open. She closed the gate, thankful she had taken time the night before to spray lubricant on the hinges to stop them from squeaking.
She stood quietly next to a big, white oak tree. Her uncle once told her the great hardwood was estimated to be more than two hundred years old. It had been a sapling when her ancestors arrived on the farm. It was the matriarch of a giant stand of oak, hickory, walnut and elm trees surrounding the pasture. A diverse mixture of vegetation traversed ridges and creek bottoms for miles around her.
The Lawson family moved to Kentucky not long after the United States Congress made it the fifteenth state in 1792. The state’s official symbol, a gray squirrel, was stirring in its nest of leaves above her. She sighed in disgust at herself for not looking up into the oak’s mighty branches as she approached the field. She hoped the turkeys were not roosted directly over her head.
She loved being in the woods just before sunrise. The inability to see well in the early moments of the day somehow heightened her other senses. The scent of fresh earth and floral bouquets mixed with the odors of wild things, some pleasant, some not. A skunk had passed through the undergrowth some time during the night not far from where she stood.
Shiloh waited for the turkeys to begin their morning conversations from the treetops. From the first moment a big gobbler answered her call she had been hooked on turkey hunting. She loved hunting with her family as a child. Now, years later, wisdom learned from her father and uncle, along with experience garnered through hours in the woodlands, told her to wait. She had learned long ago patience was a powerful yet difficult component of turkey hunting.
As she listened for the first calls of her quarry, Shiloh felt a twinge of sadness. She missed her father and older brother Syder. They had hunted this field together many times.
When Shiloh had been born, in a bold gesture her parents let Syder pick her name. He was seven years old at the time and his big dream was to go out west to work on the Shiloh ranch with his TV hero. Syder was obsessed with the television series, The Virginian. After careful consideration Syder announced that his new baby sister would be named Shiloh. She was just glad the boy hadn’t named her Trampas, after the top cowboy hand in the TV series.
Shiloh’s mind wandered back to the night Al Dugan was killed. She was seventeen at the time, visiting her older brother at his apartment in town. Syder was living alone and working odd jobs to save money to move out West. He had been reluctant to leave once their father had been diagnosed with cancer. He delayed his move away from Kentucky when the doctors told them they didn’t have many years left with their father.
Shiloh and Syder had been up late that fateful night watching yet another western movie re-run.
Syder brought popcorn to Shiloh. Her older brother was six feet tall, physically fit with reddish blonde hair, freckles and green eyes. He took after their mom’s side of the family. Shiloh looked more like her dad, tall and slender, with auburn hair and brown eyes. No freckles.
At midnight a desperate pounding started on Syder’s front door. He told Shiloh to stay put and went to look through the side window to discover a young woman crying and clutching her arms. Shiloh thought she looked terrified, and cold.
Syder recognized her and opened the door. He asked, “Becky, what are you doing here? What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
Becky Woodsen scrambled through the open doorway. She slammed the door shut and fumbled to lock it. She turned to Syder and sobbed out the words, “I can’t get it locked, here, lock this, hurry! It’s Al. He’s gone crazy. He’s been drinking all day. He thinks I’m having an affair. He says he’s gonna kill me!”
She ran into the living room as if looking for a place to hide. Her bleached, blonde hair needed a touch up because her true hair color, black, was visible at the roots. She wore a low cut, tight fitting, pink tank top that left little to the imagination, and a black skirt covered with pink sequins. The skirt was short, which left plenty of leg showing between the hem and the top of her black and pink cowboy boots.
Syder locked the door and followed her into the room. He grabbed her arm and forced her to look at him before he gruffly said, “Becky, you and Al are always fighting. I doubt he is going to kill you over this argument.”
All three of them were startled when Al Dugan beat on the door. He shouted, “Becky! I know yer in there! Is this who you been running around with behind my back? Syder, I’m gonna shoot both of you fuckers!”
Becky wrenched her arm away from Syder and looked wildly around the room.
Al started kicking the wooden door. He fell over twice, but was able to get back on his feet and resume assaulting the door. He was balancing a beer in one hand and a gun in the other. Al was an intimidating figure, six feet tall and stout with a bushy brown beard and thick neck. He wore six-pocket camo pants and a black T-shirt with a white skull and crossbones on the front. His black ball cap was turned backward.
Syder whispered to Shiloh, “Get behind the couch and take her with you. And be quiet, both of you!” Syder grabbed his phone from the desk and dialed 911. While he waited for an answer he retrieved his Glock forty-five caliber handgun from the safe.
Becky started screaming obscenities at Al, which only fueled his rage. The door started to break a little more with each kick. If not for his drunken state Al would already be inside, but he kept losing his balance with each try. Becky pleaded with Syder, “Please don’t let him get inside. He’s out of his head. He has a gun. I know he is gonna shoot me, I know it!”
Syder yelled, “Al, just calm down. Stop kicking the door. The police are on their way!” He looked at Shiloh and said, “Just stay behind the couch. I have the police on the line now they will be here any minute.”
Al was oblivious in his drunkenness and more determined than ever to kick in the door. He kept at it, making progress with each strike of his heavy steel-toed boot. The door was giving way. Syder moved away from the entrance, and away from Shiloh, to the opposite side of the room. He intended to draw Al’s attention away from the girls hiding behind the couch if Al succeeded in breaking through before the police arrived. Syder put the phone on speaker, placed it on the countertop and gripped his pistol with both hands and shouted, “Al, stop it! I have a gun and I will have to shoot you if you come through that door!”
“Officers are less than five minutes away,” said the dispatcher.
To Shiloh, the whole experience seemed to play out in slow motion. Even though hidden behind the couch, she had a clear view of everything that was taking place.
Becky was face down on the floor, with her hands over her ears, crying and babbling, “Don’t let him in! He’s going to kill us all! He’s crazy!” She kept repeating the words between sobs.
Suddenly the door gave way and Al burst through in a stumbling lunge that carried him into the foyer. He stood with legs apart, swinging the gun all over as if looking for a target. Al was holding a Smith & Wesson Governor revolver capable of carrying six rounds of ammunition. His finger was on the trigger. When his eyes focused on Syder he froze. “Where is she? Where is that bitch hiding? I know she has been coming here!”
Syder tried to keep his voice calm as he said, “Al, you’re drunk. Becky and I are not having an affair. Now put the gun down.” When Al didn’t comply, Syder pointed his gun at him. “Al, we can talk this out. Al, listen to me.” Syder sensed his words were making no difference so he raised his voice and warned, “Put the gun down Al, don’t make me shoot you!”
What happened next was burned into Shiloh’s memory with strange clarity. It seemed to play out in slow motion. Al stood still, staring at Syder. He took a drink from the long-neck bottle of Budweiser and lowered his gun hand. He blinked a few times as if reasoning out the situation. Then Becky screamed and all hell broke loose.
Al threw his head back and took another long drink from his beer, while rolling his eyes in Becky’s direction. He threw the bottle at Syder and pointed the gun at Becky. With a drunken punch of the finger he pulled the trigger. A bullet shattered the glass lamp on the table next to the couch, and buried into the drywall, missing Shiloh by less than an inch. At the same moment the airborne beer bottle spun past Syder’s head, but he didn’t flinch. Al swung the gun up in the air and shot at the ceiling. Then his eyes focused on Syder with a look that would have terrified a rabid dog. He started to slowly lower the gun in Syder’s direction, about to take careful aim.
Syder shot three times. He didn’t miss. His bullets hit their mark and Al went down as if he had been dropped lifeless from the sky.
The silence lasted two seconds, and then Becky began to shriek. “You shot him! Oh my God, you shot him! Al! Al, baby! Are you alright! Oh my God!” She crawled across the floor on her hands and knees toward Al’s body. “You bastard!” she screamed at Syder. “You idiot! You killed him!” Becky threw herself across Al’s lifeless body and sobbed.
Shiloh and Syder stared at each other for a moment. They were dumbfounded and in shock over what had just happened. Syder came to his senses and quickly kicked the gun away from Al’s lifeless hands. He wasn’t sure if Becky would grab it in her state of mind, which seemed oddly irrational after all she had said upon arrival at his door just minutes before.
Shiloh ran into Syder’s arms. “You saved our lives. You had no choice.” Syder put his gun down on the table behind him and held Shiloh close. They stood together, trembling, as the police arrived and took over.
Syder was cleared of any wrongdoing. Becky told the Dugan family a wild tale that was nowhere near the truth. They never forgave Syder for killing Al and proceeded to make life miserable for him. The oldest Dugan, Henry, and his dad Hank, kept up a string of harassments. Syder’s tires were punctured more than once; his dog was poisoned and various other aggravating misdemeanors finally drove Syder to go ahead and move west to pursue his dream of working on a ranch, just two months after their father died.
Although no one could prove the Dugans were responsible for the harassment, Shiloh and Syder were certain those two were guilty.
Fortunately not long after Syder left, someone called in an anonymous tip and the two Dugan men were eventually convicted of selling marijuana and several other drug related offenses. They each got hefty fines and prison terms. Hank’s sentence was greater since he had a long history of run-ins with the law. He also had a storage locker filled with stolen property. He became violent when they came to arrest him, striking out at the police officers, which added years to his sentence.
The oldest son, Henry would be out not long after Shiloh’s college graduation. His release could rekindle problems for her and Syder.