The eastern horizon was beginning to glow. Bailey picked up the deer horns he had inherited from his father, six points on each side, held together by a leather strap. Four years ago, when Bailey was twelve years old, his father died in an automobile accident. He was way behind the learning curve hunting deer and his friends ragged him unmercifully.
Uncle Carlton had invited him to spend this week hunting on his south Texas ranch. In the days before the season opened, Carlton had taught him how to rattle up a deer and the finer details of knowing and understanding his quarry. If there was a trophy buck within hearing range of the banging and brush whipping that he was about to commence, he was confident of success.
As the shadows mellowed Bailey was able to discern the shapes of gnarled mesquite and openings in the black brush. It was time. He began to clash the horns, twisting and banging them together, pausing, then whipping them against a clump of brush and spanking the ground. He hoped he was imitating the sounds two bucks might make fighting over a doe in estrous. And hoping another buck might come to chase the interlopers off to maintain dominance in his territory.
Carlton had taught him not to overdo it; he paused periodically, scanning for movement that confirmed his technique was working.
A sinking feeling began to descend upon him. Surely, he thought, he would have harvested a bragging rack by now. A slight movement caught his attention, and his breath. His heart commenced a bongo-beat. Inhaling deeply, he released his breath slowly and picked up his rifle to look through the scope.
What he saw chilled him to the bone. A Mexican boy, about his age, was dragging himself down a cow path. The boy’s right thigh had a blood soaked bandana tied around it. Bailey’s heart lurched into his throat. That boy shouldn’t be here. There goes my chance of getting a deer. Should I stay hidden and let him crawl on? There was no one to tell him what to do.
Laying his rife down Bailey stepped from his hiding spot and called a greeting, “Hola!”
The boy’s head jerked around, a look of panic sweeping across him like a rabbit targeted by a greyhound The Mexican would have run if could, but wounded and exhausted, he only mustered enough strength to twist into a sitting position and stared warily at Bailey.
“Amigo,” Bailey said, remembering that word meant friend. “Como se llama?” That was about all the Spanish Bailey knew.
The boy mumbled, “Luis.”
Bailey approached him, handing him the water canteen from his belt holster.
“Gracias,” Luis said, gulping the water ravenously.
Bailey patted the air with his right hand, urging Luis to take the water slowly. He sat on the ground in front of him. Thoughts were running through his mind. Where did Luis come from? What happened to him? He must be an illegal. The ranch was not too far from the border.
“Sometimes,” Carlton had said, “river-crossers leave tracks in sandy arroyos on the ranch. But I’ve seldom seen them. They head north seeking work to make their lives better.”
“Señor,” Luis said. “Please help me? I’ve been shot.”
“Why … how… who?” Bailey stammered.
“The coyote we paid to get us across the border shot us. The other five are dead, I think.”
Bailey’s hands were trembling. “Stay here,” he said. I’ll get my uncle.” He jumped up and started away, then turned back and got a sandwich from his pack and handed it to Luis. “I’ll be back in an hour.” He grabbed his rifle and jogged down the trail to his pickup. It took three attempts before his shaking hands could fit the key into the ignition switch.
His uncle called the border patrol. Before Luis was loaded onto a care-flight helicopter he reached out a dirt-stained hand and squeezed Bailey’s fingers weakly. “Gracias, amigo.”
“Vaya con Dios,” Bailey replied.
Later, comforted by his uncle’s strong arm around his shoulder, Bailey poured out his anger. “It’s not right. Luis just wanted to help his family. He didn’t deserve…” Tears streamed down his cheeks.
“Bailey, I’m proud of you. Luis will be a better memory than any deer you ever bag. Just keep him in your prayers. God always has a surprise or two in store for us.” Carlton laughed. “You never put shells in your rifle, hombre. Buck fever, huh?”
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