The Eagle and the Buck

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

"Although the eagle was the superior hunter and a beautiful animal, I would show no hesitation in cutting it down if it got between my prize and I."

Two estranged brothers vie for control of their family's land. One sits idly while the other begins his hunt...

Silently and gracefully, the bald eagle surveyed his hunting ground from the skies.

He was almost completely motionless, hovering delicately on the zephyr just below, like a dinghy in shallow water. I counted the seconds as he hovered there:





Then, effortlessly, he dipped his right wing and began heading east.

Seventy-five feet below, I too turned and began making my way east. I tried my best to keep the eagle in my sights. It wasn't easy, even with the best pair of binoculars money could buy, and twenty-twenty vision which had not yet begun to fade. The forest was thick in places though, and more than once I panicked momentarily as my adversary temporarily disappeared from view behind a large branch. However, the eagle was fairly easy to spot anytime the trees thinned out. It was an imposing sight; its wingspan was easily seven feet across, and the white feathers of its head gleamed brightly in the sunshine. That being said, it was flying about four thousand feet above ground, and travelling at easily twenty miles per hour. I needed to be swift and sure of foot to maintain my pursuit.

Further impeding my pursuit was the bulky rifle that I was carrying. It was a 1967 Colt M25 hunting rifle. It was a beautiful weapon, perfectly marrying brute force with elegance and precision. In essence, it was the perfect weapon for the task that lay before me. I counted myself lucky that I had access to such a fine instrument of death.

The M25 was originally designed for military combat during the early years of the Vietnam War. It was meant to give soldiers a weapon that wasn't as chaotic or random as its predecessors to render it useful for fighting in the thick forest that covered most of southern Vietnam. Ultimately though, it was deemed to be too heavy and too expensive for general army issue. In the end, only eleven were ever produced. My father received one as a retirement present from the President of the United States himself; a fitting present for one of America's longest serving Republican senators. Fortunately, after years of it wasting away from disuse in my father's gun room, the M25 came to me in my father's will after he passed.

God bless Uncle Sam.

Although it would've made a worthy trophy to a lesser hunter, the eagle was not my prey as I stalked quietly through the forest of my deceased father's estate. There are unfalteringly strict laws against killing bald eagles in the United States. The bald eagle is our national animal, and under The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1972, the penalty for killing one of these animals could be a $5,000 fine and up to a year imprisonment.

Not that such rules apply to a man like myself.

No, the eagle was not my intended target. Indeed, the two of us were rivals: two predators stalking the same prey. That prey was a strong and agile young buck whom I had been trailing, or attempting to, since five-thirty that morning. I had taken to referring to him as “Stan”, for my brother. I am not a man given to acts of sentimentality, and it was more out of contempt than compassion that I had given my prey this moniker. The buck, while a splendid animal, had a very distinct habit of making reckless decisions and then escaping its fate by the narrowest of margins. This was a good description of the majority of Stan’s adult life: getting himself stuck in the middle of stupid situations that any man with half a brain would avoid. As hapless as he was though, he always managed to emerge from these situations unscathed and smelling like roses. In essence, he was an aspirational figure for all in the American two per cent.

The buck was no different. Deer are notoriously frightened creatures, and tend to land heavily on the ‘flight’ side of ‘fight or flight’. This buck, however, seemed incredibly unaware of its surroundings. The eagle had already made two attempts at taking down the buck, and neither attempt had resulted in the buck running for its life. In fact, after both attempts, the buck had sauntered off in a manner so nonchalant that it left me incredulous that the animal had survived this long.

Sooner or later though, fate catches up with us all.

Having followed the buck's trail for more than two and a half hours and subsequently losing it, I had noticed the eagle above me. It was as I followed him, in search of a rather bittersweet consolation prize, that I noticed the buck's tracks in the dirt, moving in the same direction as the eagle. I realised then, the eagle and I were hunting the same animal, and that I no longer had any need to track “Stan”. The eagle was, and always would be, the superior hunter. I needed only follow my foe and he would lead me right to my prize.

I had learned a lesson long ago that ability and talent were no guarantees of success. The real Stan was the perfect example of that. The elder brother, he had been worshipped by our parents in his youth. He was a star athlete, a good conversationalist and aesthetically very handsome to boot. He was every inch the role model, all-American Senator's son; a son that any man would be proud of.

It made me want to retch.

It always angered me that my parents either didn't see, or chose not to see the other side of their "beloved" eldest child. I had seen him at his worst on several occasions from our earliest years right up until we were grown men. Each time I had been witness to one of his failings, I had been sworn to secrecy. In our youth, I had been threatened with physical retribution if I let slip what had happened to our parents. As we grew older and we matured, it would come down to the same idiotic phrase: "We are brothers, and brothers look out for each other. I need you to look out for me on this, okay?" I would promise with my hand on my heart that I would protect his latest secret.

It never occurred to me to give up any of Stan's secrets unnecessarily; if I did that, I would lose his trust. For I knew there would come a day when Stan and I would stand toe to toe, and having all of his secrets in my arsenal would be the crucial factor in my victory. Stan had gotten by in life on looks, charm and athletic talent, but overall, it hadn't brought him the same level of success that I had achieved. The same applied to the eagle. For, although the eagle was the superior hunter and a beautiful animal, I would show no hesitation in cutting it down if it got between my prize and I.

As I continued my pursuit with my rifle slung over my shoulder, my mind drifted briefly to my brother. He was in Seattle at the moment with his wife, Ellen, and their son, Adrian. I had never had much patience for either of them, no more than I had patience for Stan himself. Ellen was a shrill woman, judgmental and snooty. I couldn't remember a kind word out of her mouth in all the time I had known her, much less an intelligent one. Adrian was eight years old and already the image of his father. I will concede, he wasn't half as pig-headed or irritating as his father was at that age, but I could see many of the characteristics that had led me to detest my brother in his son.

Since Stan was in Seattle, our father's ten thousand acre Oregon estate was currently under my rule. And how I relished my chance to rule. The estate was nothing less than a kingdom; ten thousand acres of prime Oregon forestry surrounding a magnificent mansion house that lay at the centre. The forest had everything from thick brush and weathered hilltops to gushing rivers and spacious meadows. It also contained deer, eagles, wolves and bears, all of which were mine to hunt. Here, on my family's property, I could avoid PETA and all the other animal rights shitheads that had a tendency to interfere with my favourite pastime. Here, I was allowed to kill prey where I pleased, as God intended. A lesser hunter would be daunted by the vast scale of the forest and the dangerous beasts that lay within.

Luckily, I was not a lesser hunter.

My father's estate was my favourite place on earth. Over his tenure as first a successful CEO and subsequently US Senator, he had owned many beautiful places, but this one was different. It was special. Stan had never cared for it in the same way I had. Where I saw peace and solitude, he saw only isolation and disconnection. That was Stan's problem: too much desire for action, not enough desire to fucking think about things. It was this fact that made it sting all the more when, after our father's death, I learned that it would be Stan who would inherit this Shangri La in his will. A rage erupted in me that day that would not be quelled until what was rightfully mine was in my possession. Fortunately, as I said, my brother made mistakes, and significant ones at that.

Two years before, Stan had travelled to Tijuana, Mexico for his best friend's bachelor party. After a night of heavy drinking, he had gone home with a young woman, despite the fact that he was married and the girl was nearly half his age. They returned home two days later, but three months afterwards, I intercepted a call meant for Stan. It was the same young woman whom he had spent the night with, and she was pregnant with his child. After I gave Stan the phone, a two-hour conversation ensued. He pleaded with the woman, whose name he had never actually learned, to have an abortion, which she flatly refused. For you see, the woman was no fool; she already knew exactly who Stan was, and she knew exactly what it would mean for him if she were to come forward and tell the world who the father of her bastard child was.

If she revealed what Stan had done to the press, on top of the fact that the moron had asked her to have an abortion, Stan's life would effectively be ruined. He would lose his wife and child, that much was certain. However, he would also lose all of the lucrative sponsorship deals that he had acquired in his tenure as American's golden boy while our father was Senator. He would no longer have any source of income beyond his inheritance, much of which he had squandered on bad investments, and he would be a social pariah forevermore.

Having been left with no choice, Stan gave in and agreed to pay her off on the condition she never reveal the child's identity to the press. Surprisingly, she was true to her word, and there had been no word from her since. That was when he swore me to secrecy once again with his old tried and tested line: "I made a mistake, but we are brothers, and brothers look out for each other. I need you to look out for me on this, okay?" With my right hand over my heart, and my left hand in my pocket with fingers firmly crossed, I gave Stan my word.

A screech from above brought me back to reality. It was a warning call from the eagle. He had spotted me; he must have known that I was after the buck as well. I smirked, he wasn't going to get rid of me that easily. Up ahead, I could hear the faint pitter-patter of hooves on the rugged forest floor. The buck was close now.

I smiled wickedly, took my rifle off my shoulder and swiftly loaded three shells. My target was drawing its final few breaths.

I quickened my pace, taking care not to step on any dry twigs. Twice my prize had evaded me, it would not happen a third time. As I ran, I went over in my mind the three shots I would take: one shot to the buck's abdomen, one to its head and one shell for my high-flying foe if he tried to interfere.

I stopped.

Ahead of me, about eighty yards away, was the buck, nibbling at a patch of grass. This was my chance. This was the moment that would make the past six hours that I had spent in this forest meaningful. I planted my feet firmly, shoulder-width apart. I picked up a few pieces of grass and allowed them to float in the wind. They didn't travel far. There was a light breeze at best, almost ideal conditions for shooting. I raised the barrel of my M25 rifle and got the buck positioned in its crosshairs. I chose a kill shot, at the base of the neck where it meets the abdomen. I put my finger on the trigger and readied myself. You're mine.

No sooner had I begun to draw my finger back than the silence was broken. It was the sound of an engine however, not a gunshot. It was coming from the dirt track that was located on the height directly behind the buck. The noise was enough to convince my prey to move along in its classic nonchalant fashion, but it was enough for my shot to disappear.

I stared in disbelief; my chance was gone. It could take me another four hours to get a chance like that again. Infuriated, I made my way angrily up to the vehicle to see what dumb asshole had managed to ruin my afternoon. He would consider himself lucky if I didn't shoot out his tyres.

When I arrived at the road, an old, beaten-up Range Rover sat parked, waiting for me. Sitting behind the wheel was the head butler of our mansion, Arnold. They had obviously used the GPS tracker in the jeep to locate me. Arnold remained in the jeep, but the man in the passenger seat stepped out to greet me. He was wearing a very fine Armani suit that fit him like a glove. His dark hair was slicked back with enough gel to dam a river. He was my personal assistant, and his name was Edward Malcolmson. He looked down from the height to see me emerging from the trees, seething in anger.

"Mr. Haven, I apologise. I know you asked us not to disturb you."

"And yet, you already have. You just cost me a shot that I've been chasing all goddamn day so you better have a good reason for being here Edward. Otherwise I have a good mind to shoot you."

I was only being half-serious, but Malcolmson knew that tone well enough to know that if something that resembled a reason didn't come out of his mouth in the next three seconds, there would be hell to pay.

Nervously, he replied, "I apologise, Mr. Haven. But we've had word from your brother in Seattle."

That was a good reason for him to be here. "And?"

"He asked me to inform you that as long as you don't reveal the story to the press, then the estate is yours. He said you can expect to receive the deed and other relevant legal documentation by courier tomorrow."

I smiled. "Well, that's fantastic news. Thank you for that, Edward. You may leave me now."

Malcolmson relaxed, seeing that he had not incurred my wrath this time. He nodded dignifiedly, and returned to the jeep. Arnold did a three-point turn and they began the drive back to the mansion house, leaving me alone. I turned around to observe the forest.

My forest. I had waited so long to call it that.

I spared no thought for Stan and his family. I doubted if I would ever see them again, and I can't say that that didn't sweeten the victory even more. They were inconsequential, collateral damage. My brother had been inconveniencing me for all of my life, and now, that inconvenience had been dealt with.

I took a breath of fresh forest air. The kingdom was mine, forever.

Then suddenly, I heard another screech from above. It was the eagle to the south-east of me. It rose slightly on the breeze, and then dived. I smiled, took my rifle off my shoulder once more and ran after it. I admired the eagle's determination, but in my world, there's only ever one winner.

Submitted: August 29, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Andy Cornell. All rights reserved.

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