ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Leon dipped a rag in the bucket to soak up another application of epsom salts solution, and then began to daub it in the wounds of the huge, white, whimpering dog beside him.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Leslie,” he said to his blonde-haired friend who sat beside him. “Look at what they did to my Pyrenes last night. Usually he’ll kill any coyote that tries to get the sheep, but this time they tore him all up. Darned near tore his ear off. Must be a pair of problem coyotes working together to have a chance fighting him, or maybe it’s dogs. But I’m losing a sheep about every fourth or fifth day.”
Leon motioned at the 200 white, wooly animals that grazed winter wheat pasture on nearby slope. “I have a good sized flock, but I can’t stand these losses for long. Usually between my dog and my llama, they keep any coyotes away.”
“Look, Leon,” said Leslie to his big, square-built friend, his face suddenly krinkling up in anxiety, “I know of somebody who can help. At least when we had a problem coyote, he trapped him right away.”
“Great! What’s his name? Do you have a phone number?”
“Well, I’m not really sure I should give it to you, but maybe it would be OK.”
“Why not? What would be better than to take care of whatever problem coyotes or dogs it is, so I can get on with business? Doesn’t the guy work for anyone?”
“I don’t know whether he’ll do it for you or not,” Leslie hesitated, looking at his friend worriedly. “I guess I could give you his name, but the one thing is, you can’t tell him who told you about him. I suppose he’s harmless, but still, I don’t know if I want him to know I told about him. Just say you saw his name on a bulletin board somewhere.”
“For crying out loud, why?” asked Leon, gently cradling the dog’s head on his lap.
“Well, they call him the spook. Only don’t say anything about spook around him. You’ll see when you meet him, he’s like he has a sixth sense, kind of spooky. He calls the coyotes ‘charlies’ like he’s back in the Vietnam War or something. As a matter of fact, anything that’s against him or that he’s after seems to be a charlie. You’ll see. Just be careful, and remember I never said a thing. Let’s see, here’s his name and number in my wallet, Oswald K. Underfoot.”
“Yeah, Oswald K. Underfoot, not Ozzie, not Mr. Underfoot and not Oswald Underfoot, but Oswald K. Underfoot, and never say anything about spook or spooky even if he does.”
With that description, Leon hesitated. But when another ewe disappeared in four days, he made the call.
“Hello, this is Leon Gambel. May I speak to Oswald K. Underfoot?”
“Who gave you my name?”
“Hssss, never call me that! Mr. Underfoot was my father.”
“I’m sorry. Are you Oswald K. Underfoot?”
“Who gave you my name?”
“I saw it on a bulletin board, and I guessed you were really good, and I’m having lots of trouble with some dogs or coyotes killing my sheep. I need help, please.”
“Liar! Nobody would put Oswald K. Underfoot’s name on a bulletin board. It’s the charlies made you desperate, huh? You called me cuz you need charlie dead, right? Why should I help you?”
“I’ll pay you whatever your fee is for fair work done. Please, I need help. Usually my dog or llama puts a stop to any sheep killing, but-“
“Hssss, I’ll do it. Be there tomorrow morning.”
The next morning opened with gray overcast sky and a steady north wind. Leon was down in the long tin barn checking the lambing pens where individual ewes stayed with new lambs or awaited birthing. He heard a vehicle’s engine, and looked out the door to see a two-tone yellow and white 1970’s-type International truck parked in the driveway with nobody in it. Then he heard someone clear his throat, “Ummh.
“Oswald K. Underfoot here.”
“Oh, you came up behind me. I didn’t see you. How did you get in the barn behind me anyway?”
“Oswald K. been circling,” the small, dark man under a huge black and red cap with earflaps replied. “Always circling to see where charlie’s been and where charlie’s going.”
Oswald K. Underfoot raised his bushy dark eyebrows, looking Leon up and down as he tilted his head sideways making a snuffling noise through his long nose. Leon could swear he was sniffing him from three feet away.
“Was you ever in the Nam?”
“Excuse me?” replied Leon. “You mean Vietnam? No, I was too young. I was just a kid during that war.”
“Hmmm, at least you didn’t run away. I think I might like you OK. You just call me Oswald. But you don’t ever lie again about bulletin boards. Tell your sneaky friend, Leslie, Oswald K. Underfoot can bite back nasty, sneaky charlies. Oswald has been in tunnels after charlies. Yes, I know he’s been here. I sniffed him out. Show me where the sheep stay,” Oswald said, drawing his lips back over strong, white teeth.
Leon walked the perimeter of the sheep pasture with Oswald K. Underfoot who at times stooped, and bobbed his head up and down, then paused sniffing the wind. He would turn to study the ground on both sides of the fence, then look up to study the horizon both ways.
“Now, Leon, we’ll drive out to that hedgerow way over there, and Oswald will pick the places for traps. Lock your dog up so he doesn’t get hit by friendly fire.”
The bed of the International was covered with an assortment of traps, stakes, ropes and other paraphernalia. “Just push those bottles on the floor out of your way, Leon.”
Oswald K. Underfoot started tiptoeing at the first big spreading tree in the hedgerow, hands extended, palms downward, in front of him, turning his head from side to side to look warily around him.
“Now, old charlie, he’s walking up this hedgerow, snuff, snuff, and he’s hungry, really hungry, poor old belly shrunk up under his ribs, snuff, snuff. Can’t just jump out there though, Somebody might see the poor old coyote. Snuff, snuff, ah-haah, halfway up the hedgerow, what’s old charlie smell, snuff, snuff. Sheep, there’s sheep for the eating out there. But what’s charlie going to do about that dog cuz he’s a whole division just waiting, snuff, snuff.
“Now charlie stays low, walking out here in the grass, and here’s this big clump here where charlie’s going to turn. Ah-haah, then he puts one foot down here to raise his head like this, and sniffs the sheep he’s going to eat, and looks around for that dog, and-clank! We gets him because we put a trap here, don’t you see, Leon? And charlies is as good as dead right here because we’ll be out for him. But oops, oops what if charlie moves this way. We still put a trap here, and then one here so we get another chance at him.
“Aah, but what if charlie has a partner that’s a good coyote partner, and it’s going to be back here a ways, backing charlie up for the final rush, and he’s ducking down here to watch, so we put another trap here. And, ahh, what’s this?” Oswald K. Underfoot jumped excitedly up in the air.
“What’s what?” asked Leon, still puzzled over the entire performance.
“It’s a bigger charlie, much bigger. You’re lucky Leon. Oswald K. Underfoot has wanted this charlie a long time, old and hungry, mean and lean. Oswald’s got you now,” the little man ran in place, waved his arms, and gave a jump.
“What? What is it, Oswald?”
“Old and desperate, belly caved in, gone to sheep cuz they’re easy, not fast like deer. Oswald’s got you in the throat. You’re dead, big charlie.”
“What do you mean?”
“Cougar, mountain lion-you got a big cat, Leon. It says so right here.”
“Lord, that’s spooky.”
“That’s what? Snuff, snuff, what did you say to old Oswald K. Underfoot? What’s that you said,” Oswald said sticking his face up under Leon’s throat.
“Nothing, Oswald. I didn’t say anything. I mean, this is unusual. The government says there’s no mountain lions in the state.”
“Government’s always said charlie isn’t here anymore, just in Oswald’s head. But let me tell you, Leon, Oswald K. Underfoot knows charlie is here. Got him now, I do. I’ll take you home now, then Oswald will be back to lay the traps. Can’t leave lots of scent around. Surprise, charlie, Oswald K. Underfoot is here.”
“Wait a minute, Oswald. We have to call the government. It’s illegal to kill a cougar.”
“You said it, Leon. Isn’t any cougars here. Oswald can’t kill something that isn’t here, can he? Just poor old Ozzie the spook killing charlies, smile, smile government, but not you, Leon, cuz poor old Oswald K. Underfoot might cut your heart out,” the small dark man said, smiling at him wolfishly.
Four days went by, and Leon saw no more of Oswald K. Underfoot. He began to feel a sense of relief. Maybe it would be better to just get out of the sheep business if any more were killed.
Then on the morning of the fifth day, as Leon came out of his house, the yellow and white International was setting there with Oswald K. Underfoot leaning on the hood watching him.
“Oswald K. Underfoot is here for his fee. Your sheep are saved,” he said, and held out a big cat’s paw seven inches across for Leon to see. “The thing that wasn’t here isn’t here anymore, and isn’t buried out by your hedgerow either. Only us spooks here now,” he said with a grin.
“Gosh, I guess that’s good, Oswald. But I hope we don’t get in any trouble.”
“No, Leon Gambel, only charlie is in trouble because he met Oswald K. Underfoot out in the dark, charlie and-only time will tell-maybe your sneaky friend, Leslie.”