I used the pay phone to call a tow truck and arrange for a room at a nearby motel. I took a seat at the bar and resigned myself to an evening of brooding and boredom. The barmaid strode over from the far end of the bar, and snapped, “What you want, boy?” “Wh-What kind of draft beer do you have?” She scowled and gestured over her shoulder with her thumb. “Names onna taps. Ain’t wuddicall a life changin’ choice.” I asked for and received a glass of a well-known, national lager. The barmaid asked, “Anythin’ else?” “I’ll probably have something to eat a little later, but this’ll be fine for now.” Her mouth twisted into a mock smile and she did an exaggerated curtsy. “Wall you jes’ lemme know an’ I’ll resh right down to bring ya whatever y’ lordyship deesires.” She stalked off to the far end of the bar, plopped into a chair and resumed watching television. From my left I heard a deep, raspy whisper. “Don’ keep dat talk agin’ her, City Boy. She’s tryin’ t’ quit smokin’ an’ she ain’t inner right mind.” I turned to my new friend and we looked each other over. He was tall and slender with a tanned, weather beaten face. He wore a red fertilizer cap, a gray cotton work shirt and blue denim pants. He looked at my scuffed, black, dress shoes; mud spattered wool
slacks and sweat stained, white dress shirt. He shook his head and grinned. “You look as tore up as a blind dawg at a cat party. Whatinhell happen’?”
I told him my story. He shook his head. “Damn good t’ing you got clear a’ dat swamp. Dere’s t’ings in dere a man cain’t comprehen’, let alone visit wit’.” I looked at him with a combination of curiosity and skepticism. “Like what?” He drained his glass and pushed it forward to show the barmaid he wanted another. “Angels.” I tried to hide my smile. “Angels?” “Oh, I ain’t talkin’ on no church statue Christmas card angels, nossah. Dese is plenty bad Angels. Angels o’ death.” The barmaid put a fresh beer in front of him and stalked away before he could nod his thanks. He raised the glass and took a drink. “Ya’ll jes’ don’ comprehen’ true fear till you face t’ face wit’ dem bastids. Dey got eyes so black an’ sharp it’s like they peekin’ right in y’r puny little soul an’ laughin’ at it.” He took another drink. As he lowered his glass to the bar I saw an eight-inch scar along the inside of his forearm. He saw me staring. “Yeah. Got that from an angel ‘bout six y’ar back. Big sucker wit’ wings so white, if you seed ‘im in de sunlight you be blind.
Dat’s why we go after ‘em at night. Dey ain’t so much in de dark.”
“But that’s ridiculous!” “Ridiculous? Tell dat t’ da nine y’ar old girl what jes’ found ‘er 4-H lamb spread crost de barnyard like rhubarb jam. Tell dat t’ da lil’ boy what got naught a’ ‘is puppy but t’ree paws an’ de collar.” He drained his beer and stared at the empty glass. “I, I had no idea”, I stammered, “Here, let me buy you a beer.” I waved to the barmaid and pointed at our glasses. She scowled, drew two more and put one in front of each of us. He lifted his toward me and said, “T’anks City Boy. I regrets dat outbreak of true feelin’s. But it is jus’ so ‘ard fightin’ again’ dese monsters.” “Why’s it so hard?” “De gummint, a’ cuss. Dey come after us wit’ dere ‘You cannot shoot ‘ere’, ‘Dat dam’ gun’s illegal’ an’ ‘Tell me ag’in what you wan’ wit all dat dynamite?’” He frowned and took another sip of beer. “Otter day Yves an’ me was talkin’ on ‘ow we could start up a guide service – teach folk ‘ow to do de angel ‘huntin’ wit’out bein’ maim or otterwise kill. Den dey could go shootin’ too.” “Why would people pay to go shooting angels?” “Dey pay guides t’ slay dem ducks. Hell, dey pay to shoot quail in fence’ in yards, not dat I would do dat. Huuh! An’ dis is more fun den dat. Dis one time me an’ Yves was out night fishin’. We was jus’ drift’ along. Den I ‘ear a rustlin’ wooshy kinder sound. I look up an’ see dis shape flyin’ right at us. Lucky t’ing I ‘ad a’ old .22 target pistol, in case we hook’ a snappin’ turtle. I pull it out an’ emp’y it at de shape. It hiss an’ fly away pretty damn quick, you bet.” The barmaid came by to refill our glasses. “Night fishin’ my ass! Poachin’s more like it. An’ you know damn well that was a swan or a goose. An’ jes’ how many waddiyacall beers did you drink on that scow?” “Now, Mattie, you was not dere an’ I was.” She rolled her eyes and walked away. My friend lowered his voice. “Her an’ me got de history l’amour. Comprends?” I nodded. “She is a nice looking woman.” “Oh, certainment. An’ once she get pass’ dis smokin’ t’ing she be back’ to ‘er own sweet self.” For the next two hours he told me stories of angel hunts in swamps, deserted barns and along rutted, gravel roads. As the beer flowed and he told his tales my skepticism gave way to belief and became enthusiasm. During a pause in the story telling, I became aware of a massive human presence behind me. I turned and saw a short, round man with arms as big as a normal man’s legs. He wore a tattered black T-shirt, blue jeans and a dark green baseball cap and was holding a one gallon insulated jug. My friend said, “Dis ‘ere’s Yves Bonhomme. An’, by de way, my name’s Claude Le-Guy.” I shook hands with Claude and reached back to shake with Yves. He gripped my hand firmly and grunted. Claude said, “Yves, he don’ talk so much.” Then he stood and I saw he was about to leave. “Wait a minute.” I started fumbling through my pockets pulling out clumps of bills. “Start the guide service tonight. Let me be your first customer. Here I got ten, twenty, forty, forty eight dollars.” Claude rubbed his chin. “I dunno.” The barmaid walked down and collected the glasses. “Claude, that jug a’ beer Yves just got put you past your limit. No more credit ‘til you pay down your tab.” I pulled out my American Express card. “I’ll pay off your tab.” “You sayin’ you pay all my tab an’ plus gimme forty-eight dollar cash?” I nodded. He turned to his partner. Yves shrugged and Claude’s face split into a yellow, crooked toothed grin. “Well den Hell yes! Les’ go shoot us some angels!”
In the parking lot I clambered into the back of a rusty, red, pickup. Claude climbed into the passenger seat while Yves performed the ritual washing of the tire. I said to Claude, “Isn’t this your truck?”
“Very true, mon ami. Technically I cannot drive jes’ now. Anudder of dem gummint rulz. ‘Sides, Yves be de better steerer. I de better shot.” As soon as Yves’s bladder was empty, he climbed into the
driver’s seat and we were off. We careened down two lane roads and bounced up gravel
paths barely wide enough to allow us passage. Branches raked along the side of the truck and whipped at me over the sides.
Claude filled a large, Styrofoam coffee cup with beer and handed it to me through
the sliding back window. He and Yves passed the Thermos back and forth while I crouched in the back and held onto the side of the truck for dear life.
I was getting fairly good at holding the cup with one hand, the side of the truck with the other and timing my drinks between bumps when we hit a pothole. I lost my grip and tumbled backwards into a pile of burlap sacks, cardboard cartons and empty beer and
soda cans. The beer spilled down my face and neck. In the hot night
air it felt icy cold.
I crawled back along the pitching bed of the pickup to the front of the truck. Claude poked the barrel of the shotgun out the back window and yelled, “Duck, City Boy!” I flattened myself amidst the debris. Claude racked and fired the shotgun six times. With each shot a bright, orange flash illuminated the bed of the truck and I felt the heat on the back of my neck. When I was sure Claude was finished I cautiously pulled myself up and peeked into the cab. He was ripping open a box of shells. “Were you shooting at angels?” “Nah, just burnin’ off stale ammunition. You bes’ duck again. Now I gotta test fire some o’ dis new stuff.” After three more rounds of test firing and two more stops to wash tires, we skidded to a halt beside a bayou. Yves and Claude climbed out of the truck and stood facing the water. The gentle peeping of frogs and the soft calls of night birds filled the air. Claude
lifted the beer jug, took a long drink, passed it to Yves and said, “Sure is nice out here.”
Yves said, “Hunnh.” Claude said, “Peaceful. Real peaceful.” Yves passed the jug back to Claude and said, “Hunnh.” Claude tilted the thermos back and drank. Then he passed it to me. “Finish it, City Boy. You got work to do.” I raised and emptied the jug. Then we climbed back into the truck and Yves started the engine. Claude slid the shotgun out the back window and pointed at a moonlit cloud formation overhead. “Dere dey be, City Boy. All you gots to do is start blastin’. Dey so thick up dere you get two or t’ree wit’ every shot.” I stood in the back of the truck, raised the gun, braced myself and fired. The recoil knocked me over. My fall was somewhat cushioned by the cardboard and burlap, but the empty cans stabbed me in the butt. Claude let out a “Whoop, whoop, whoop,” while Yves jammed the accelerator to the floor and popped the clutch. I racked the gun and fired skyward as the pickup’s tires threw mud and gravel into the air. We roared along the edge of the bayou. Feathers rained into the bed of the truck as I fired my last shell and the truck jammed to a halt. Claude stuck his head out the passenger side window and swore, “Sumbish! Look at what dem wily bastids done! Dey transform demselfs into de Whooping Cranes!” Yves climbed out onto the driver’s side running board and grunted. I pulled myself up into a sitting position and said, “Whooping Cranes? Aren’t they endangered?” Claude said, “Dam’ straight. Dat what make it so wily.” Yves grunted. Claude said, “Gummint’s gonna be piss at me again!” He jumped down from the truck holding a white and blue striped pillow that had been ripped open and lost most of its feathers. He took back the shotgun and thrust the pillow into my hands. “’Ere, City Boy. Take dis ‘ere game bag. Leg back down de road
an’ grab any crane carcasses dose wily bastids ‘ave plant to get us in
trouble wit’ Game Control.”
I was no more than ten feet from the truck when the engine roared and the tires threw mud and gravel against my back. I knew it could mean only one thing: Government agents were closing in and my friends were bravely drawing attention to themselves so I could escape. I slipped into the brush by the side of the road and hid seven dead birds in a rotting log. Then I crouched down, swatted at the mosquitoes that were swarming around me, and promised myself I would wait there in silence until sunrise. Just when there were no more places left on my face for the mosquitoes to bite, I heard a familiar voice yell, “City Boy! Plop y’r ass in de truck! We gonna miss las’ call!” We got back to the tavern with seventeen minutes to spare. Claude refused to even let me buy a beer for myself and managed to put three rounds on his tab before Mattie chased us out of the bar with a mop. Claude and Yves drove me to my motel and dropped me off. I staggered into my room, collapsed onto the sagging, worn out mattress and slept like a rock. The next day I picked up the car and continued my drive to the city. My face was swollen from mosquito bites, my stomach churned and my head throbbed; but still I knew a serenity I had not experienced before. It was a feeling of deep peace and satisfaction that I owed entirely to Yves Bon Homme and Claude Le-Guy: Chivalrous knights of rural America and angel hunters par excellence.