With a trembling hand, Ellie scrawled a note to his wife saying he'd be back from the hunt by breakfast. Quickly, he removed his camo gear from its nail, slipping it on before he scooped up his shotgun and grabbed the turkey vest, which clattered to the fl oor, lumpy and awkward from pockets filled by turkey calls and shotgun shells. He bent for it, and when he rose up he saw comets of light in the corners of his vision. His heart hadn't stopped pounding since he saw the boss's face.
Ellie jogged out to the Range Rover, climbing into the passenger seat and smelling the familiar scent of its fi ne leather and somewhere the hint of her favorite perfume. His boss reversed the SUV out to the main track and headed up the hill, then ran the ridge before dipping down into the river's wash, across a steel bridge, and up the other bank, talking all the while about his wife being a dirty slut who didn't deserve a Range Rover and slurring his words until the SUV came to rest at the bottom of a field plowed for corn. His boss killed the engine and the two of them sat listening to it tick down to nothing while the boss turned a shotgun shell end over end with his manicured fingers.
Ellie watched and waited until he could stand it no more. He pointed up the fi eld toward the wooded ridge and said, "Them birds are up on top."
His boss smiled funny at him and got out. They eased the Range Rover's doors closed. Elijandro let the silence of predawn settle on them for a moment before he cleared his throat, cupped a hand to his mouth, and let fly the low sonorous call of a barred owl. Nothing came back at them but the echo of his call as it bounced away between the low hills.
Elijandro eyed the eastern sky. A line, pale yellow and fl ush with the horizon, had begun to melt away the ink of night to a navy blue promising day. The storm would come from the other side of the knob, where the flicker of lightning continued to illuminate the oncoming clouds.
Elijandro cleared his throat, then tried again.
Halfway through the call, the big tom erupted from the top of the knob with a gobble that sent a surge of blood through Elijandro's heart. He grinned at his boss and in the dark saw his boss's teeth. His boss raised his shotgun in one hand as though victory were already theirs, and together they pulled camo masks down over their faces.
"Let's go kill him," his boss said.
Elijandro set off into the woods, keeping just inside the trees and following the edge of the fi eld up toward the top. By the time they were fifty yards from the far end of the field Elijandro could hear his boss's labored breathing. He directed his boss to the base of a big oak close enough to the edge of the woods for a good clean shot and slipped out into the field, the newly turned dirt damp and sucking at his boots. He set the decoys, crouched, spun, and darted across the soft ridges of dirt toward the spot where he'd left his boss. He found an old stump in a clump of bracken not twenty feet from where his boss sat, but closer to the decoys so that his call would better match their location. He settled in, resting the lower part of his back against the trunk, and glanced over his shoulder at his boss, who gave him a thumbs-up.