Pete stood on his patio shoving shells into the shotgun and mumbling to himself. I was afraid to interrupt him. Actually, fear had nothing to do with it. I really wanted to see what Pete would do. I had no idea he owned a shotgun. He’s not a hunter and I would not classify an expensive long gun like that as a personal protection firearm. Pete has never mentioned owning any sort of gun or pistol, so this was all new to me. I had a front row seat and I intended on catching every second of the action packed adventure that was about to take place. It wasn’t quite noon, but a showdown was about to commence.
I had half a beer in my left hand and there was a fresh beer on the table, the one I had fetched for Pete before I lost him. The wicker chairs were calling my name, so I sat in the one closest to the beer and got comfortable. I didn’t know how long this would take and I surely didn’t want to run dry before the end of the show. After loading the gun, Pete gently sat the box of shells on the table. He turned and looked at me. He raised his eyebrows, smiled, and nodded. He had that “watch this” look about him. He did an about-face and marched towards the middle of his yard. I quietly sipped my beer.
This is where things got a bit dicey.
You see, we live in the suburbs. It’s a quiet neighborhood of families and retirees. The houses are large, and the lots are small. The families consist of a mom and dad who work and usually two or three kids who roam the streets during the evening and play sports on the weekends. I’d say on average everyone owns a couple of cars and maybe a boat or RV. It’s a Norman Rockwell lifestyle, a modern day kind of old style living.
This being a weekday, early afternoon, there weren’t too many people at home, and most of the kids were in school. The busy body who lives on the northeast corner of Oak and Maple makes sure that strangers are accounted for. She has 911 on speed dial for those times when someone that doesn’t belong in the neighborhood wanders into the area. She can be on the phone with the 911 operator faster than Usain Bolt can get out of the starting blocks. She has every face memorized and every automobile catalogued. She’s better than any surveillance system money can buy. She’s so good that the tech industry came to her when they began developing facial recognition software. And her hearing is better than directional microphones they use at the major league ballparks.
I can only imagine what happened in that rose colored house on the northeast corner of Oak and Maple when Pete pulled the trigger on his Benelli for the first time. Inside the enclosure of his small backyard the sound was deafening. When the double-aught buckshot embedded itself in that manicured Kentucky bluegrass you would have thought a small grenade had gone off. I don’t know if it was the shockwave or the tensing of my body, but I was lifted six inches out of my chair. Dirt and grass flew in all directions. Pete was tossed backwards onto his ass like a puppet on a string being pulled off the stage. Newton was right. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Pete was the equal and opposite reaction.
I found out later that when Pete pulled the trigger that day it was the first time he’d fired a weapon since he’d left the army at the age of 21. I guess a person forgets a lot in 49 years. Pete definitely forgot what the kick of a shotgun was like. It damned near broke his shoulder. But, it didn’t slow him down. He struggled to his feet and wracked another round, took aim and pulled the trigger again. This time the birdbath paid the price. The thing slowly toppled to the ground like a pine tree that has been cut down for firewood. I guess after 49 years a person’s aim is not what it used to be. He staggered back a couple of steps, but stayed on his feet. Pete wracked another round. He took aim, and pulled the trigger. That shot followed the path of the first.
Pete had the satisfied look of a successful hunter on his face when he walked back to the table where I sat. He dug into the box of shells and shoved another three into his shotgun. He reached down and grabbed the full bottle of beer off the table, turned it up and drained half of it. I knew then that we were in for a long afternoon of beer drinking and gopher hunting. The old lady on the northeast corner of Oak and Maple had different ideas on the matter, I’m sure.
Three more trigger pulls and another tip of the bottle and I was out of my chair for two more bottles of America’s best. By the time I got back Pete was lined up for another shot. This time, though, he had the muzzle of the shotgun in the hole in the ground. When he pulled the trigger Newton took over again. The double-aught buck blasted off in one direction and the shotgun went the other. It flew out of Pete’s hand and landed about five feet from where it had started its journey.
I stared in awe as Pete took two steps back, bent down, and grabbed the grass stained stock. He was favoring his right hand. Later, we discovered that Newton’s third law of motion resulted in one fractured hand. Actually, it was Pete’s trigger finger that sustained the greatest amount of damage. It was broken and his thumb was severely strained. The hand was mostly just bruised. That forced him to switch to a left handed stance for his next shot. Not a good move on his part. He should have called it a day at that moment.
That first left handed shot put him on his ass again. This time he got up favoring his shoulder, a grimace plastered on his face as he rotated his shoulder in an attempt to lessen the pain. That only slowed him slightly. He raised the gun and pulled the trigger. Once again grass and dirt filled the air.
Pete strolled leisurely back to the table and picked up his beer. The satisfied look on his face told the tale of the joy he was experiencing. “We’re giving him hell, aren’t we? You want a piece of this action?”
Folks, I should have said no. But, the beer and the excitement led me down the path to my undoing. “Why not!”
Pete shoved shells into the gun and handed it to me. He was rubbing his left shoulder and flexing his right hand. He took a seat and propped his feet on the table. He had a great view of the action and I had the beginnings of a story to tell my wife, one that she did not think amusing.
I fired off three quick rounds and hit my mark every time. Pete’s Kentucky bluegrass paid the price. My shoulder is still bruised from that day, but it’s a soreness that comes with satisfaction and pride.
When I got back to the table Pete was sitting there with a smile on his face. With his right foot he pushed a chair towards me and nodded for me to take a seat. We sat and quietly contemplated that which we had accomplished. Pete didn’t know if we’d chased away the gopher, but he was confident that the critter would think twice about calling this particular patch of grass home. I tended to agree with him. I figured that varmint was packing his bags for a move to a quieter neighborhood. It was for sure his current home was no longer livable.
Now, unbeknownst to us, there was activity aplenty in front of our homes. The busybody on the northeast corner of Oak and Maple had done her civic duty. The boys in blue had arrived and identified the location of the blasts disrupting the quiet of the neighborhood. While we were busy disrupting the life of Pete’s gopher they were busy evacuating the families within two blocks of our location. The SWAT team had deployed and they had us surrounded. We were clueless. As it were, we began discussing the fact that we were running low on beer and trying to decide whether we should get another 12 pack before, or after, we blasted hell out of the gopher again.
As I was retrieving the last two bottles of suds Pete was lining up the empties along the path he thought the gopher tunnel had taken. All of those brown bottles sitting on top of that green grass offered a beautiful contrast in color. Pete made the decision that we were well within the range of the shotgun, so we should be able to blast hell out of the underground gopher highway by firing at the base of the empty bottles. And we could do that without leaving the comfort of our chairs.
Pete took the first shot. Green grass and brown bottle plastered the back fence. He had taken out two bottles with that one shot. I made a wager I could hit three. That shot cost me five dollars. I missed the bottles, but I did hit the grass. Pete laughed so hard he fell out of his chair. That pissed me off. I walked over to that line of bottles and aimed downward, the barrel of the shotgun swallowing the top of an empty. The explosion lifted the gun out of my hands and sent it skyward, and blasted glass in all directions. It tore holes in my jeans and sent shards of broken glass into my shins. Damn, that hurt. Pete rolled on the patio and laughed even harder.
I plopped down in my chair and raised my pant legs. Blood leaked from the small holes the glass had created. I poured beer down my shins to wash away the blood. Pete declared me good to go. I agreed with his assessment and observed that we were precariously low on beer. We made a unanimous decision to go for more.
Several years ago we had to replace the fence that separates our properties. At that time we decided to put a gate in the fence. That way we could go from backyard to backyard without having to walk all the way around to the front and back again. It was quite handy when we were barbecuing or when we just wanted to gossip, or sit on the patio and drink beer.
Well, since we decided to take my car to the stop and rob again, and it was parked in my driveway, we pushed through the gate and then into my garage. We didn’t bother to close up. It’s a safe neighborhood and we felt confident that our homes were safe from intruders. We even left Pete’s shotgun on his patio table. We planned on using it when we returned, so there was no use in putting it away just to get it out again. Pete was hoping that the we might even find more shotgun shells someplace close by. We were down to our last six.
We got about a block from home when we were stopped by a helmet clad cop. He wanted to know what we were up to. I informed him that we were on our way to the store for supplies. We had a barbecue planned and seemed to be low on beer. And the wives needed more wine. That seemed to convince the young man that we were a couple of men on a mission. Neither Pete nor I mentioned the gopher. The young policeman let us pass.
We had to take a circuitous route to the store. It seemed like every intersection was blockaded by cop cars and hunkered down men. I had to make use of the alleys to get out of the neighborhood. Pete and I wondered what all the excitement was about.
Our roundabout way to the stop and rob took us past the local gun store, where we stopped and picked up two more boxes of double-aught shells. You can never have enough shotgun shells when there’s a gopher destroying your lawn.
Since we knew about the roadblocks into our neighborhood, we took the back route home. I parked in the alley and we hopped the fence. About the time our feet hit the ground we were surrounded by a platoon of heavily armored men carrying AR-15’s and shotguns. It looked like they were dressed for combat. After we picked ourselves up off the torn up lawn the man in charged asked what we were up to. Pete told the story of the gopher and our need to chase the critter from the yard.
Something you have to understand here is that we live in a gun friendly neighborhood. Thank goodness for that. Since neither Pete nor I have ever been in any trouble, and our activity had not put anyone in any real danger, the sergeant in charge told his men to stand down. But, he did confiscate Pete’s Benelli and issued us both citations. He left us with the shells and beer, and the extra large bag of pork rinds. Then he let us in on a little secret.
It seems we were going about getting rid of the gopher all wrong. Shooting at the thing would never get the job done. We had to gas him out of his house. Pete and I looked at each other with confused looks. Gas? As it tear gas, or mustard gas, or some other form of chemical aerosol we’d never heard about? The sergeant noticed our confusion. He motioned for us to sit, took off his hat, and pulled up a chair of his own. Then, he shared with us a secret that his grandfather had shared with him many years before.
Like most homeowners with manicured lawns, one of us, Pete or me, was probably in possession of a lawn mower. Those contraptions ran on gas, unless you were one of the environmentally conscious people who have laid out a chunk of change for an electric mower. According to the sergeant, all we had to do was pour a small portion of gas in the gopher hole and let the fumes kill the critter. We’d need to keep a watch on things, because the gopher could possibly, usually not the case, though, have another route to fresh air and freedom. If that were to happen we could catch him, kill him, and properly dispose of the body. Problem solved.
Pete thanked the sergeant and sent him on his way. I skipped home for the five gallon can I had tucked under my workbench. I had just filled it up the week before, so I knew there was at least four gallons of unleaded that would do the trick.
When I got back, Pete was already digging into his chewed up bluegrass. It didn’t take him long and he unearthed an opening into the gopher’s house. The tunnel was small, but plenty large enough for what we had in mind. I upended the gas can and dumped it’s entirety into the hole. Then Pete laid a board over the opening. We didn’t want any of the fumes to escape. We wanted to make sure that there was enough fouled air to either kill the gopher or chase the critter from the yard. Then we sat down with a fresh beer to wash down pork rinds as we kept a watch on our handy work.
After about 20 minutes we were out of beer. I marched off to the garage for another two bottles of suds. By the time I returned Pete was rummaging through the grocery bag for a box of shotgun shells. I thought he might have another long gun hidden away, but he assured me that was not the case. But, he had a plan. The fumes from the unleaded was going to need a little help, he surmised. I handed him his beer and sat down across from him. I shoved a pork rind in my mouth as he told me of his idea on how we might speed up the process of ridding his yard of his hated gopher.
Good night, Mrs. Jackson, wherever you are.