By Matt McCaskill
We ran into the old man while making our escape. Worn and leathered with his arm hanging out the window of a late-70’s Ford pickup, he looked to be not a day over 98. He was jet black, gin drunk, and laughing like hell because he knew we were trespassing and seemed to have an appreciation for it. He lived in the cinder block house by the road and kept an eye on the place for Miss Sarah.
“Y’all do any good?”
We held up a stringer with 20 titty bream* on it. For an hour’s worth, we did real good. He laughed again.
“Oh yea, that’s a good mess. But y’all be careful. Miss Sarah awful particular about who comes on her prop-a-tee.”
I looked at my buddy, David, who was looking at me and thinking the same thing: he’s not gonna tell on us, is he? We decided that we were safe for the moment, and that some taxes were worth paying.
“Sir, do you like fish?”
It’s worth noting that while casing the joint, we found that an old jon boat was at the water’s edge, flipped over and waiting for us. Being two enterprising lads, we carried a trolling motor and a battery into the woods along our rods and tackle boxes. Being poor and relatively stupid lads, we used the battery from the truck.
Taxes paid we made it out to the road and loaded the gear, trolling motor, and 10 bream with a sense of relief. The battery was reinstalled, and we hopped in for a hasty getaway, but when I turned the key, we both turned pale at a ticking sound that might as well have been the last few seconds of our lives counting down.
“Well this sucks.”
“No shit. My dad will kill me. What are we gonna do?”
“I don’t know but somebody is gonna come down this road anytime now and if it’s Miss Sarah, we’re done.”
The next few tense moments dragged on for what seemed like hours until we both hit on ideas simultaneously.
“Let’s go ask the guy for a jump.”
“Ooh-let’s try to pop the clutch first. It’s parked on a downhill. We can push it enough to get it going, and then I’ll jump in and try it. We don’t have time to walk to the old man’s house.”
I put her in neutral and we both pushed hard to get the truck rolling. I jumped in, jammed the column shifter into first, and let out both the clutch and a ‘please God.’
It worked. It freaking worked. 250 cubic inches of fury roared to life. We closed the doors and high-tailed it out of there amid screams of joy and promises to God to never trespass again. We kept our promise too—in that pond anyway.
Twenty years later and now a game warden, I received a complaint from a local hunt club president about trespassers fishing in the exact same pond. They were easy enough to catch: two guys drowning crickets near the same flipped over jon boat. Combat veterans who didn’t run or lie or make excuses, except to say that one’s uncle—since passed away—used to live in the block house out by the road. A quick phone call to the president and he agreed to let them off with a warning so long as they didn’t do it again. They were appreciative and apologized for the trouble as they started to leave.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If this is the worst you’ve ever done, you’re doing just fine.”
My hypocrisy only goes so far.
Editor’s note: “Titty bream” is a southern term for a sunfish too large to hold with one hand so they have to be pressed against your chest in order to keep them still and remove the hook.