To Kill A Common Loon
by Mitch Luckett
My playful guide led me through an underwater snarl of tree roots in the river logjam. I had no trouble keeping up until I came upon some long strands of kelp-like stuff. A faint pink color seeped from the black kelp. My tongue tasted a sweet sanguine saltiness, drifting with the current. A danger signal went off in my brain.
But it was too late. I got hung up in the stuff. That black kelp clung to me like magnetic tape. Insistent, thick, cloying stuff hanging down about three feet, sighing and sashaying in the vigorous current. The kelp was anchored fast in a tangle of olive-green vine maple branches above my head. My ears heard a noise like water whispering secrets. My animal instincts suddenly recoiled. Warning! I needed air anyway, and about dashed to the surface. But I couldn’t suppress a certain curiosity.
Parting the dark, strand-matted path in front of me, I ran smack into a blue-brown, naked nose.
I reared back, but not before I beheld the face of an Indian woman, with a pair of stunned, onyx eyes. Those eyes, in the aqueous turbulence, cried buckets of tears. The pink liquid seeped out of a jagged round hole above her right breast. A bullet exit wound. Back shot. My heart fell to the bottom of my malformed feet. I gagged. The long strands of turbid hair closed around me like live octopus tentacles; whispering, squeezing, imploring. A voice spoke in my mind, “Old one, find my killer. Avenge my death.”
Good Times and Breakdowns
“Faded Love,” is a country-bluegrass tune with a soulful melody, and I knew it by heart. I’d played a crowd-clapping rendition a thousand times before on banjo or blues harmonica. I slipped an ‘A’ harmonica into a steel-framed holder and carefully strapped the holder over my scalp scar tissue and bony shoulders. “So,” I said to Medusa, my dog riding shotgun, “Dr. Rothenberg thinks he’s a music critic. Well I’ll show him. I’m gonna coax a decent tune out of this little rascal this morning or die trying.”
Medusa, a Tibetan terrier/pit bull mix, coughed a rank, meat-flavored alarm in my direction.
At midnight, I’d left Portland, Oregon, heading north on Interstate 5. Near Tumwater, Washington I turned left and followed the signs for Port Townsend. I was still in that gray zone between dark and dawn traveling on twisty Highway 101, skirting Puget Sound, an inland sea, on the eastern rim of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. My headlight beams illuminated several fireworks stands as I passed through the Skokomish Indian Reservation. According to hand-scrawled signs attached to the plywood stands, I could get rockets from ILL EAGLE, bombs from CUTTHROAT and M-100s from MADDOG. I speeded up.
Dr. Rothenberg, a Veteran’s Administration Psychiatrist, claimed playing harmonica while careening down the road is a reckless and dangerous attitude. Picking and driving doesn’t mix, he said.
What did he know about attitude? I’d been playing music while driving the highway since I ran away from home at age sixteen. It’s simple, if I hadn’t played music while driving down the road I wouldn’t have played much. It’s the way I learned. It’s the way I lived.
Just ‘middle-of-the-road’ tunes, though. Nothing on the cutting edge. Waltzes like “All The Good Times Are Past And Gone,” cause you to lurch down the freeway at 15mph in three-quarter time. Kick-ass tunes such as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” vibrated my old, blue VW Bus down the freeway at warp speed threatening to sail asunder any second. Semi-trucks and passenger cars tend to screech their brakes and blare their horns at you, breaking your all-important rhythmic concentration.
Motorists can be so insensitive.
“Faded Love,” was a perfect 35 mph tune for coastal highway 101. Unfortunately “Faded Love” does have some devilish sharps and flats in it, suggestive of long-legged shore birds chasing willy-nilly the outgoing tide. You been to the sea shore, you’ve seen them in the sand weaving this way and that.
That spring afternoon I’d received a package from my deceased friend’s lawyer.
The package revealed an oyster-colored plastic box containing Josh Whittier’s ashes, a sealed legal letter and a map to Josh’s wilderness property on the Dosanomish River, the final destination for his remains.
Copyright ©2001 by Mitch Luckett