Hunter's Lodge on the Osage
"Love truth, but pardon error." (Voltaire)
Stunned into silence after our first and immediate verbal outbursts questioning each other's identity, trying to ascertain the legitimacy of the other persons presence in this private place, I felt his eyes sweep over me from head to toe and back again as if each and every physical and hidden feature or attribute I might possess was being critically evaluated! If it was muscle, brawn, or athleticism he was seeking, I fear he is quite disappointed, or elated, depending on his purpose, for I possess none of those. I am but a seventeen year old white male, five foot eight inches in height, weight about one hundred thirty pounds, and rather slight in appearance. I don't have the brawn or muscles in the physical abundance of a linebacker or hardy wrestler, but just those physical characteristics of an average teen, albeit somewhat small and lean – probably not worth a damn in a street fight, but excellent at hasty retreats!
My nemesis, however, appraising me as I did him, was, as I determined on my first sighting him in front of the Lodge, a light-brown, more copper colored I should think, African-American male, approximately six foot in height and not very hefty either; more lanky, long boned, slim through the waist and hips, average through the shoulders, thinner lips and face than what the stereotypical black male was portrayed having, and not more much physically developed than me. His hair was cropped quite close and his eyes were grey-green, not dark as I would have thought, but as he looked at me with them, they didn't seem harsh or piercing, more inviting, pleading with me! I was coming fast to the conclusion I had nothing to fear from this handsome stranger.
My appraisal of him was interrupted when he extended his hand, saying, in a voice softer than I imagined it would be, "Winston J. De Lacy, my friends call me 'Wedge'," and smiled; a smile that left me almost defenseless, it was so radiant, effusive, welcoming, and absolutely brilliant!
"Jeremy Sanborn," I responded, clasping the proffered hand. As I held it, longer than I suppose I decently should've, I could not only feel the warmth and the softness of it, but also his pulse, racing just as rapidly as mine, indicative of the anxiety and uncertainty we both felt during the heat of our previous exchange. Awkwardly, we both released our grip at the same time, yet the finger tips lingered just a nanosecond longer.
"Hell of a situation isn't it?" allowed Wedge softly.
I couldn't agree more and wondered how we were going to resolve it. Finally, I took the lead and said, "Why don't we sit down and talk about it?"
The kitchen table was the handiest, so we each sat, opposite from each other, facing across the wooden platform. Wedge smiled, disarmingly I should say, and, shrugging his shoulders with surrender, began, "Since I was here first, it's only natural I should explain why I'm here."
Clearly, I thought, he's not the run-of-the-mill, thug who makes a practice of breaking into other peoples cabins? Come to think of it, he didn't break in here, he had the key! At least he's got some class and good manners to boot, so I nodded my acquiesce allowing him to do so!
"My grandfather was part owner of this property. He and five other close friends, many years ago, purchased it and built the Lodge. I'd come up here with him while visiting him in the summer time."
Somewhat taken aback at his announcement, I raised my hand, indicating I wanted to interrupt. He nodded, and I asked, "When were you here last?"
Wedge thought a moment, then sorting his thoughts aloud, frowning as he did so, answered, "Well, he died five, almost six years ago, so maybe seven years ago when I was like, ten."
Oh my God! This was the grandson of the last of Grandpa's Hunter's partners! Wedge had no idea his Grandfather's share had been sold to my grandfather. He was going to continue, but I begged his attention for a moment more.
"Are you aware the partners had an agreement to sell their share of the Lodge to the others or had the first right of refusal if the share was offered for sale if a partner died or wished to sell?"
"No," he answered as his face fell and took on the countenance of dismay. "Do you mean….?"
"Yeah, my grandfather, Tom Hunter, bought the last share five years ago, evidently after your grandfather died."
"No shit, Sherlock!" he groaned, clearly dejected and distressed. He stood, pushed his chair back from the table, picked up his motorcycle helmet, and said apologetically, "I'm sorry Jeremy; I've trespassed on someone else's property by mistake. The key was where it always was when I was little, so I assumed it was alright to make myself at home."
Starting toward the door, looking back at me, he apologized again and said, "I guess I'll be on my way. I came here hoping to find some sort of relief or a place to duck out of sight for a while, but I'll just look elsewhere!"
Standing, I quickly cautioned, "Now, don't be hasty! Let's talk some more; can't you at least do that before you leave?" It was pretty obvious he'd been mistaken his grandfather still was a partner in the Lodge and was honest in telling me about it.
As crazy as it sounds, I liked the guy and could perceive no threat to my person or the property from his presence. What did I have to lose? Besides, I was curious what would cause him to seek some place of "relief" or a "place to duck out of sight." Deep down, I had a feeling he might have a similar reason as mine for doing so, but I wanted to find out for certain. He sat back down, although clearly uncomfortable, a guilty look on his face, but with eyes pleading with me to let him stay!
"I don't remember ever seeing you up here," I declared, "and I've been coming up here ever since," hesitating for a moment, undecided if I should speak what entered my head, but took a deep breath and continued, "my folks divorced and I started spending more time with Grandpa Hunter up here in the spring and fall."
He nodded sympathetically, saying, "I'd ride the train to Racine after school was out and spend a month or so with Grandpa and Grandma De Lacy. It'd give my mom a break and me the opportunity to spend some time with them. Momma had me as a result of a live-in boyfriend she had in Chicago. She met him where she worked for the Chicago Transit Authority. Come to find out, he was already married and for some reason forgot to tell her that little fact! He got booted out and she had me to raise alone. One of her brothers and one of her sisters both offered to take me, but she'd have none of that. She had a good job and we did just fine! How about you?"
Talking with Wedge was like talking to an old friend, even though we'd met only minutes before. It wasn't long until I dumped the whole sordid tale on him and why I was here. By the time I finished, the shadows in the yard were growing longer, portending the coming dusk and evening.
Wedge noticed it also and quickly announced, "I'd better get going if I'm going to find a place to stay tonight!"
"Don't go," I pleaded, quite unexpectedly, but willingly, "at least help me get my truck unloaded and stay the night. I've got plenty of food and there's plenty of room, so bring your duffle bag in."
Relief flooded his face and he smiled at me again, a warm, damn nice captivating smile!
"Thanks," he responded and left to bring in his duffle. While he did, I flipped on the solar electric system, started the hot water heater, checked to see if the pump was working bringing water to the Lodge, and was going to turn on the refrigerator and freezer, but noticed they were already on.
I was scratching my head in wonderment, when Wedge came striding in; "Problem?" he asked, seeing me standing there somewhat perplexed.
"Did you turn the appliances on when you came in?"
"Nope, don't have clue how to do it," he confessed.
It was then I remembered Grandpa always had our neighbor down the road, come by in the spring, before fishing season opened, and ready the Lodge for occupation. After deer season, it was drained down and made ready for winter use. In the winter, the few times we were there, we carried our water in so we wouldn't have to worry about pipes freezing. Of course, if we kept outside furnace going, nothing would freeze!
I showed Wedge a spare bedroom, there were three bedrooms in all, and told him to stow his bag there on one of the twin beds located in there. He looked around and asked, "When was electricity put in? I didn't see any power line coming in."
Quickly explaining the solar system, composting toilet, and water system as we walked to the front door of the Lodge, he seemed impressed, as I was every time we used any of it after Grandpa had them installed. The Lodge was a good ten miles from the nearest power lines and he'd refused to spend the amount of money required to have the power run here. The cost would've not only included running the power from the road to the Lodge, but to run the power line down the road to our lane also. On top of that, there was a seasonal, monthly use charge whether the lights were on or not. Our own power kept us off of the grid and entailed fewer expenses, once the initial investment was made. I was never certain if it was cheaper, given the costs of the generating system, solar panels, batteries, and inverters, but he seemed to think it was the thing to do.
"My truck is up by the storage garage near the front gate," I said, "let's walk up."
It didn't take us long to reach the top of the ridge and the gate where my pickup was parked. Wedge rode shotgun while I maneuvered the truck down the grade to the Lodge. He was quiet as we rode and so was I; each of use deep in thought, full of questions, speculation, and anticipation. I, for one, was enjoying his company and he seemed quite comfortable around me. Glancing at him while he surveyed the forested slope slowly slipping by the truck window, I found myself admiring his slim, blemish free, almost hairless face, and overall attractiveness.
Shaking my head in despair and disappointment, all I could think of was how would a skinny, white guy like me be an attraction to a handsome African-American like him? Knowing the luck I'd had so far this spring, there wasn't a chance in hell. How did I know that he wasn't hiding away from a wife and five kids somewhere?
Before we began to unload, I went to the Lodge, retrieved the key to the storage shed nearby and suggested Wedge put his motorcycle in there for the night.
While we unloaded the truck, I explained I usually left it up on the top of the ridge, in the garage, and used the ATV for transportation around the property.
"If it we get a hard rain or late in the fall, a wet snow, the road from the ridge can be slicker than snot on a doorknob," I explained, "and I really don't want to wrap the truck around a tree or get stuck down here at the bottom, unable to get out."
I was carrying my duffle bag full of clothes into the other bedroom, opposite the one Wedge was going to occupy for the night, just getting ready to put it on the double bed in there, when I heard him step in.
"Where do you want these?"
Placing the duffle on the unmade bed, I turned and noticed he was balancing two large boxes in his arms. "In here!" I answered as I stepped around him, heading for the truck and another load.
A couple of more trips by the two of us and we'd unloaded everything, including all of my fishing gear, except the guns! I picked up the two gun cases holding the rifles and the one with the pistol in it and asked Wedge to bring in the other two cases with the shotguns inside.
"Why so many guns?" he asked cautiously.
"I like to hunt and, if I decide to stay here all winter, I can supplement my food supplies with game. Do you hunt?"
"Nope- never shot a gun or even held one," he responded as we put the weapons in the bedroom.
The unloading done, not the putting away of things, I took a deep breath and announced, "I'm hungry; let's eat!"
"What're we having?"
"Just burgers and chips tonight; everything else is frozen," I answered reaching into the ice chest containing the items needing to remain cold. "I have milk and some soda to drink, depending what you want. I figured I could do some shopping in the morning. It's about twenty miles or so to a town with a market in it."
I started messing around in the kitchen, sorting out pots and pans, finally settling on a medium-sized frying pan for cooking the burgers, when Wedge tapped me on the shoulder, saying softly, "Let me do this!"
Only too willing to let him, since I'm a meat cutter not a cook, I nodded my approval and stepped aside. He began looking through the cupboards, finding containers with spices in them, located some unopened boxes of prepared pasta with dry sauces in them, selected one, set it aside and began shaping the hamburger into rather large patties.
"Hamburger steaks," he explained, "with a side of noodles alfredo."
Letting him work, I put the rest of the items from the ice chest in the refrigerator.
Watching him work, obviously at ease a kitchen, and dying of curiosity, I finally had to ask, "Where did you learn to cook?"
He grinned, winked, and said, "Just natural, I suppose!" and then grinning again, added, "Not really, I took an exploratory class in middle school on foods and found I just loved it. I went to work while in high school, first at a fast-food joint, then picked up a job in a small restaurant/supper club. It was there I learned how to fix, not only fast food, but entrée's, desserts, and sides. I really want to become a chef someday, if I can ever afford to go to school for it, but only time will tell. How about you?"
I explained I'd learned the basics of meat cutting in the meat department of the supermarket where I'd worked until four days ago. I also wanted to go on to school, probably one of the tech schools, to become a meat cutter. There was a lot I didn't know about the job and wanted to learn more. Oh, I could do all of the basic stuff, but marketing, displays, and specialty cuts were skills I was sadly lacking and really needed to have those techniques under my belt before I felt really comfortable in the job.
The burgers and the pasta dish were excellent, cooked just right, and flavored with just the right spices. As far as I was concerned, Wedge could cook for me the rest of my life – as if that was evenly remotely possible!
After we cleaned up, we settled ourselves in the living room and, once comfortable, I asked, "You know why I'm here so, how about you?"
Wedge hesitated then began to tell a story that chilled me to the bone and left me wondering how safe we were sometimes from those who are supposed to protect us from the unsavory elements found in our society.
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