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Walter B. Frampton, II, Esq., has never been an avid hunter like his forefathers or even his best friend, Drake Wingo. He'd rather be sipping sour mash whiskey, reading ...
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Walter B. Frampton, II, Esq., has never been an avid hunter like his forefathers or even his best friend, Drake Wingo. He'd rather be sipping sour mash whiskey, reading Vanity Fair, and listening to Mozart. But when Drake and Cliff Dickens, another old friend, ask him along on a grouse-hunting trip, he decides to go. One ruffed grouse is already bagged when Walter and Drake hear three shots—a distress signal—from Cliff. The unthinkable has happened—the fourth member of their group, a quiet, polite stranger, has been accidentally shot and killed. But when the details don't quite add up, Walter begins to have his doubts: Was it an accident? Is his friend a murderer? As events begin to spin out of control, only Walter can find out what really happened that fateful day on the mountain ridge.
I tasted salted blood of my cut lower lip as I scrambled up from ankle-deep snow, retrieved my father's sixteen-gauge Parker side-by-side, and staggered after Drake Wingo as we climbed toward the ridge of Blind Sheep Mountain. I licked the blood and hunched my chin into my parka's fur collar.Why am I, Walter B. Frampton II, here, I asked myself, when I could be warm and secure at my law office or apartment in Jessup's Wharf? Unlike Drake or Charles LeBlanc, I felt the urge to kill birds, deer, and bear existed only feebly in my genes. I respected the hunting tradition and the fine men who pursued it, but I would much rather have been sipping George Dickel's Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky, reading Vanity Fair, and listening to a Mozart quartet.
Drake had already bagged a ruffed grouse—a clean shot of the bird as it canted into hemlock shadows, which draped a dark cloak across snow. I moved obliquely through slush, the Parker heavy in my gloved fingers. Drawing hard for breath, a stitch in my side, I hurried to keep pace with long-striding Drake. Kraut, his German short-haired pointer, coursed ahead.A shot faintly heard stopped Drake and me. He peered westward along the wooded slope. When he resumed climbing, two more shots and a laggard third—three, the agreed-upon distress signal.
“What?” Drake asked, not to me, but stared toward a gauzy stratum of meandering mist. He legged downward, and I again stumbled as I dodged fluted trunks of the great hemlocks whose drooping black-green branches released shards of snow. Drake paused and raised a hand for silence. The liver pointer stood watching and waiting for command. Aslow thawing caused rivulets to run unseen beneath us. I dabbed at my lip.Drake moved into a lope traversing the mountainside. I, following, attempted to see beyond a sea of wet, glistening laurel.
“There,” he said and pointed.
The figure on the steep grade waved and bounded downward, his arms flapping, his cap gone, his camera tossed about by its neck strap—Cliff Dickens frenzied, his legs looping so high his booted feet appeared hardly to touch the ground. When he reached us, he bent over, winded and retching, and I saw the blood on his hands and hunting jacket. Where was his Beretta?
“Wendell, quick,” he said.
He straightened and turned to climb back along his own tracks, his steps uneven, his body reeling, his arms swinging as if deboned. He slipped to a knee, yet rose without breaking stride. Garbled words choked his breathing, and an arm curved forward weakly to gesture us upward.
“What?” Drake asked.
For an instant Cliff slowed and looked back wildly before again flinging himself at the mountain, a drunken gait, swerving and lurching back on course. Kraut, running ahead, turned to watch.
Cliff halted, tottered, and sank to his knees at the huddled figure lying on his side in the thrashed drift. Snow melting from Wendell's body heat had diluted blood that seeped through the cashmere scarf used to stanch the wound's oozing. Wendell gazed upward from his deadpan face, his set eyes now seeing far beyond any earthly vision.
Drake knelt, laid his ear close to Wendell's mouth, and lifted away the scarf. Torn, powder-burned pieces of Wendell's Woolrich jacket and bits of a plaid shirt lodged in the imploded scarlet breach of his chest.
Drake lifted his gaze to Cliff.
“I tried carrying him,” Cliff said, weaving, slumped, racked. He stared at his bloody palms and pushed his hands away as if to disown them.“But what the hell?” Drake asked while Kraut circled wanting to sniff Wendell's body. Drake ordered the pointer to stay.
“A bird flushed,” Cliff said. He sank to his knees and pushed his hands under the snow to rub off blood. “I thought Wendell was on my other side. I tried to stop the bleeding and carried him down the mountain far as I could.”
“You swung into him?” Drake asked as he pushed up. He helped Cliff to his feet.
“I believed he was to my right,” Cliff said. “Brought up my gun, led the bird, and fired just as Wendell stepped in front of the load.”
He swayed, flung snow from his fingers, and shook his head as if to cast off memory.
Drake handed me his twelve-gauge Savage and crossed to an immature hemlock, drew his sheath knife, and hacked the blade at the slender trunk. He yanked the tree loose and arranged it alongside Wendell before rolling the body onto the boughs, causing Wendell's arms to flop and his face to find rest against a mud-smeared cheek.
“The authorities won't want him moved,” I said.
“I don't want authorities screwing around on my mountain,” Drake answered.
It was like him to think of possession, of Blind Sheep's being his even when confronted by the hideousness of death. He used the hemlock as a makeshift litter to begin hauling Wendell's body feetfirst down toward the cabin. Kraut ran ahead, still hunting. The weight on the hemlock's branches left a streaked, orderly wake as if the snow were being harrowed in preparation for planting. I assisted as best I could, adjusting Wendell on the litter, cradling my Parker and Drake's Savage, guns I wanted to throw aside. The way down was softly treacherous. While Drake's strides continued long and sure, I took short, quick steps to slow my descent. Cliff wove his way behind us, head lolling, his body giving itself to gravity.
Posted November 20, 2000
Although Virginia writer William Hoffman has long enjoyed the enthusiastic approbation of critics, the popular success he richly deserves has been elusive. Surely it will come with his superb 12th novel, Blood and Guile, a partial sequel to the equally laudatory Tidewater Blood (1998). It begins as a time of conviviality - a hunt high in the mountains, the pursuit of ruffed grouse. Drake Wingo, owner of Grizzly's, a sporting goods store, and an avid woodsman, has organized the party, inviting two life long friends, Walter Frampton, a timid, low key attorney practicing in Jessup's Wharf, Virginia, and Cliff Dickens, an aspiring artist who shocked Richmond society with an exhibition of homoerotic photos. The three have been pals since boyhood, once swearing their fealty to each other in blood. To round out the foursome Drake has brought along Wendell Ripley, the quiet owner of Drake's rented hunting property and a stranger to the other two men. A member of The Watchers, a small religious commune, Ripley is congenial but appears withdrawn. The outing ends abruptly in tragedy when Cliff accidentally shoots Ripley to death. The man, Cliff contritely explains, had suddenly stepped in front of him and caught the shots intended for an elusive grouse. However, a savvy county sheriff isn't quite satisfied with that explanation, and begins an investigation of his own. Soon, to Walter's surprise, Cliff is arrested on a charge of murder. Walter stands by his friend and is determined to free him, although he finds Cliff's story puzzling at times and Drake's behavior even more of a conundrum. There are secrets being kept from him, Walter is certain of that, yet he persists in championing Cliff, which draws him into a Machivellian scheme and in danger of losing his own life. Mr. Hoffman is a master builder of suspense, drawing one along from a cabin in the West Virginia hills to the midst of Richmond's gay community to the sun washed street of Fort Lauderdale. Just as Walter uncovers shocking interrelationships, long hidden secrets, the reader is captured not only by these revelations but by the author's tightly woven drama which leads to a spine tingling conclusion. If only a first rate mystery, Blood and Guile would rest on its merits. However, the generously talented Mr. Hoffman laces his tale with memorable scenes of Tidewater communities, landscapes of nature's abundant growth, and beautifully poetic descriptions of incredible wild creatures. Reading William Hoffman is such a rich and rewarding experience that writers in his genre pale beside him. He delivers a banquet, others a box lunch. - Gail CookeWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2012
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