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THE FALCON SHIFTED UNEASILY, SENSING DANGER. From her perch high up in the rocky cliffs she could see a figure far below crossing open snow. He was a mile away, a solitary blemish against a vast white landscape, but the falcon's keen eyesight enabled her to clearly distinguish his features. She could see the rifle slung over his shoulder and the deep tracks he'd made leading back toward the trees.
Every now and then the man stopped and turned his face to the sky as if searching for something. He shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun and looked all around; then, after a moment, he walked on. The falcon was wary of him, though she didn't know why. She'd seen him several times over the last few days, and her instinct had warned her to keep her distance.
A week ago, storms had ravaged the area, bringing high winds and snow from the north. For days the winds had blown the falcon south from the icebound land she knew as home. For much of the time she had sheltered as gales whipped up blizzards and turned her world into a maelstrom of swirling white. In the end, hunger had driven her to the air and she'd been carried in the path of the storm until the worst had abated. Now she found herself in an unfamiliar landscape. The mountains rose in the distance, blue gray against the sky; the valleys beneath her were forest-clad, dark green. High up above the tree line there were only rocky cliffs and snow.
In some of the valleys there were rivers, and lakes of deep aqua. Food was plentiful. Two days ago she had killed a ptarmigan, stooping down from above as it flew across open ground, but now she was hungry again. Earlier, she had seen a hare feeding on a patch of grass that lay in the cover of a rock where the snow lay thin on the ground, but the man had been close by and she had let the opportunity pass.
A breeze blew across the cliff and the falcon let her wings hang open, the flow of air teasing her feathers. She was dusky cream in coloring, with chocolate markings across her breast and thighs. Her wing primaries grew darker toward their ends, where the cream became light gray. At twenty-six inches in length, with a wingspan of more than three feet, she was of a race of falcon that is the largest and swiftest on earth. She had no natural predators. Only man threatened her.
THREE QUARTERS OF a mile away, Ellis paused for breath.
"Goddamn," he said hoarsely. Phlegm rattled in his throat and he spat to the ground. He was tired from the long climb and warm beneath his parka. With each step he sank to midshin, crunching the surface of the snow. It was heavy going, and his head ached.
But for the lure of the money, he would still have been home in bed. He shifted the strap of his rifle and looked to the sky. There was nothing there but the odd drifting cloud and the glare of bright sun. The light bounced off the snow and made him squint. It felt like needles being shoved through his eyes into the back of his head. Ahead, dark rocks rose in a sheer cliff four hundred feet high. He wiped a thin sheen of sweat from his brow and rubbed his eyes, which were bloodshot from all the drinking he'd done the night before. He was regretting that now. He figured he'd spent more than sixty bucks buying rounds and drinking Wild Turkey chasers. Red Parker and Ted Hanson had asked how come he was so damn generous all of a sudden, but he hadn't told them, except to say he was about to come into some money. They'd started buying him drinks after that, probably hoping they could share in his good fortune, but he was too smart for that.
"Come on, Ellis, you got some rich old lady we don't know about, gone and left you all her money?" Red had asked.
"Well, maybe I have," he'd answered, "but I ain't saying one way or the other."
Hanson had snickered. "You damn stud."
Ellis frowned. Maybe he'd been a little hasty, talking about the money. Could be he'd exaggerated things a little, too, when he'd seen they doubted him, let them think he was going to get his hands on a fortune. Maybe there wasn't going to be any damn money at all, he thought sourly, and then he was going to look stupid. He'd been walking now for two hours, and there was no sign of the falcon. His head was hurting and his mouth felt like he'd been chewing sand. He knelt down and took off a glove, then scooped snow into his mouth with his bare hand. It tasted slightly bitter but it quenched his thirst. He took off his cap and rubbed a little snow over the stubble on his scalp. It helped to ease the pain. He blew on his hand before he put his glove back on, then beat his arms against his sides. Once he stopped walking, it became cold real fast.
It could be the falcon was long gone, or even that he'd been wrong about its being an arctic gyr. Uncertainty worsened his mood. The idea of losing out on an easy thousand bucks was bad enough; that he might be wasting his time up here when he was suffering from a king-size hangover just made it worse. He thought about just turning around in his tracks and heading back to his truck, and for about two seconds it was an appealing notion. Then he thought about the money again and decided he'd give it a while longer.
It occurred to Ellis that for all the trouble he was going to, it was still Tusker who was getting the better deal. They'd agreed on a thousand for the gyr, but now that Ellis thought about it, Tusker had rolled over with hardly a murmur, which Ellis realized probably meant he was getting stuck with the short end of the stick.
He'd seen the falcon for the first time three days ago, early in the morning, when he'd stopped to take a leak. At first he'd thought it was a peregrine; then he'd decided it was too big. This had made him curious. He knew from the shape of the wings that it wasn't a hawk or an eagle. He'd watched it ride a thermal over the trees; then it had turned and dropped, flying low, and he'd caught a glimpse of its coloring, a pale flash. He would have shot it right then, but his rifle was back in the truck and there hadn't been time to fetch it. Since then he'd never been as close.
Later he'd had to deliver an order of lumber for a guy who was building an extension on his house over toward Williams Lake. The guy had really screwed him on the price, but what the fuck, business was lousy and any kind of sale was better than no sale at all. He'd made up for it anyway by putting some second-rate crap in among the load, which the guy wasn't going to find until it was too late. Afterward he'd driven on to town and stopped in at the library to see if he could find something that looked like the bird he'd seen. As soon as he'd found the picture of a gyr falcon, he recognized it. He didn't know how it had come to be so far south, since the book said they were generally found way farther north, but when he'd read that the species was rare, especially one so light colored as this, he'd had a feeling Tusker might be interested.
Tusker had been working on a grizzly when Ellis walked in the door. It was a female, posed in an aggressive stance, up on its hind legs, menacing teeth bared, huge and frightening. In the dim light of Tusker's workshop it had looked almost alive, and Ellis had involuntarily hesitated. Tusker had glanced toward him, his sharp black eyes flashing with amusement.
"Looks pretty good, wouldn't you say?"
"I guess so," Ellis had said. He didn't like to go to Tusker's place; the sharp smell of the chemicals Tusker used in his work made him feel sick to his stomach — that, and the underlying stench of death that always clung to his clothes long after he'd left. He'd looked around, feigning a casual air, not wanting Tusker to get the better of him.
"What can I do for you?" Tusker had said, straightening up and wiping his hands on a grimy rag.
"I might have something for you."
"Business ain't so good right now."
Ellis had looked away, a quick bitter anger rising. Tusker always said business wasn't so good, just to establish ground rules so nobody would think he was going to pay much for anything a person might be hoping to sell. The showroom out front was filled with Tusker's work. Raccoons and beavers; foxes slinking through grass; salmon, even, mounted and fixed with a plaque all ready to be inscribed. Tusker did a good trade in selling trophies to fishermen who went home and bragged about the fight their fish had put up before they'd finally hauled it in. Lotsa guys like that, wanted something to show for the hours they'd spent standing in freezing water. Tusker said some of them even got so they almost believed the stories they made up in their heads. Ellis had to admit that Tusker was good at what he did, though it was hard to imagine a more unpleasant way to make a living. Surrounded by dead things all day, ripping out their guts and flesh, which all went into a stinking drum out back that attracted swarms of fat blackflies when the spring weather came. Ellis stared at a fox that stared right back at him, its eyes glinting, looking about ready to turn tail and run, so lifelike he would almost have sworn it moved.
"You ever get people looking for falcons?" Ellis had finally said. It hadn't come out as casual-sounding as he'd wanted, and he didn't miss the way Tusker hesitated, his eyes getting narrow before he answered.
"What kind of falcon we talking about?"
"An arctic gyr."
There was a pause. Tusker turned back to his work. "Where you going to get a gyr falcon, Ellis?"
Ellis had seen the look in his eye, the sudden quickening of interest he'd tried to hide, and his confidence jumped a notch or two.
"You got some people you sell to, if I remember right," Ellis had said. "Collectors and such. Think maybe one of them might be interested?"
"Maybe. Thing is, Ellis, a gyr falcon, that's a protected bird."
Ellis had snorted, amused that Tusker should even think he'd believe that such a thing would be of any concern. "Well, if you ain't interested, that's fine by me. I just thought I'd give you first pop since we've done business in the past is all." Ellis had started to make as if he were heading for the door, which both of them knew he wasn't.
"You're sure about it being a gyr falcon?"
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't," Ellis had said.
"They don't usually come this far south," Tusker had mused. "What's it look like?"
Ellis had described it. "Almost pure white, too," he'd added. "That makes it a pretty rare bird, I'd say." Then he'd told Tusker what he wanted for it, plucking from the air what he'd thought at the time was a pretty outlandish sum.
"A couple of hundred is no good. I want a thousand."
Tusker had hesitated, but just barely. "That's a hard bargain, Ellis, but okay, I guess I could go to maybe six hundred."
Six hundred! That one bird could be worth so much had just about floored him, but Ellis had hidden his surprise. Coming on top of that and almost as quick was the thought that Tusker had never given six hundred dollars for anything in his life without it being worth a hell of a lot more than that. Ellis had stuck to his guns and shook his head, hoping like hell he wasn't pushing things too far, a nervous lump forming tightly in his throat.
"A thousand," he'd said emphatically.
Tusker had frowned, pursed his lips, then stuck out his hand. "You got a deal."
As Ellis had left, hardly able to suppress the grin forming on his face, he'd caught sight of a cage in a dark corner, something moving around in there. He'd paused long enough to recognize a bear cub, which suddenly started snuffling and crying in a high-pitched wail. Tusker had followed his look.
"Guy brought it in a week ago, with this." He gestured with his thumb to the female grizzly already stuffed and mounted. "He shot the mother, then found the runt. Said he didn't know what he could use it for, so he brought it in."
"What you going to do with it?"
"Put it right next to its momma," Tusker had said, grinning. "Female grizzly protecting her cub. It'll look good in some city guy's house. He can tell all his friends about how he just almost got himself killed. Make quite a story, I'd say."
Ellis had felt bad for the cub. It seemed a sorry fate, and he'd turned away, Tusker's laughter following him through the door. There was something wrong with a person who could find such a thing amusing.
Now that he'd had time to think about it, it seemed to Ellis that Tusker had accepted his terms a little too easily. Ellis had sold him stuff before, mostly to order, and he knew Tusker wasn't stupid. That son of a bitch was probably going to make five times what he was paying for that falcon by the time he'd finished.
Just thinking about it got Ellis steamed up. He felt like Tusker had taken him for a sucker and was trying to cheat him. What he ought to do is tell him the price had gone up, that he wanted two thousand for the gyr, maybe even more. Could be he'd underestimated its value altogether. He felt like he should try some other dealers and see what kind of price he could get elsewhere. There were plenty of taxidermists around, though maybe not all of them were as unscrupulous as Tusker.
He reminded himself, however, that before he could do anything, there was the small problem of finding the damn bird. He stopped again for a breath; the cold air made his lungs ache. He was above the tree line, crossing a broad open snowfield that was getting steeper all the time. He searched the sky, but it was empty.
Ellis wiped his hand across his unshaven jaw. He was beginning to think that if he didn't find the gyr again soon, the damn thing would just move on. He raised the glasses he wore around his neck and scanned the sky, then swept around to the cliffs ahead. Just as he was about to drop them, something moved, and he swept back until he saw the flick of pale wings.
THE FALCON WATCHED the figure far below, which had stopped moving. The wind coursing across the rock face ruffled her feathers, giving a slight tempting pull to her wings. She turned her attention back across the valley in the direction of the forest, dark green, covering the slopes downward. Hunger pangs gripped her, and she searched for movement. A solitary bird appeared, following the course of the valley slope, coming toward her. She could see the rapid beating motion of its wings rowing it through the air, the turn of its head as it warily surveyed the landscape, itself in search of food and alert for danger. The falcon watched, and turned her body slightly toward it. She felt the pull of the wind and the need to satisfy her hunger, but she was wary, made nervous by the continuing presence of the figure coming from the opposite direction. Something held her back, warning her, a deeply embedded instinct she could not ignore. The approaching bird was closer now; its light gray plumage and the fat-breasted flight that gave it an awkward sculling motion marked it as a pigeon. If she left her perch and rose, she would be poised above and slightly behind it, her descent from the sun giving her cover. The pigeon was unaware of her presence, but soon it would be close enough that it would see her as she left the cliff and would then have time to veer away and drop for the sanctuary of the trees. Again the falcon shifted, opposing instincts compelling her. She looked again to the far figure, uncertain, then hunger drove her forward and she took to the air, leaving her perch with rapid wingbeats until she felt rising air currents sweep her aloft.
ELLIS WATCHED THROUGH the scope on his rifle, his finger resting on the trigger, tightening the pressure. He saw the color of the falcon's plumage clearly against the dark rock as it took to the air and knew he hadn't been mistaken. He was already thinking about the money and grinning as he followed the falcon in his sight, waiting for the right moment. The falcon was farther away than he would have liked, but he was a good shot. He could have killed it then, but he wanted one clean body shot. Tusker wasn't going to pay much for a bird with its head blown off.
He watched the falcon stoop toward the pigeon, moving so fast he lost it in his sight, then found it again as it leveled out. The angle wasn't right and he hesitated, starting to squeeze the trigger.
"Come around, dammit," he muttered.
He was tempted by an image he imagined: of himself walking into the bar and taking out a roll of bills, buying drinks for everybody. Maybe he'd take Rachel somewhere to eat and this would be a whole new start for them. Things would pick up at the yard, they wouldn't fight so much, he'd quit drinking the way he'd been. All he needed was one clear shot.
ON OUTSTRETCHED WINGS, the falcon banked and turned. Positioning herself, she waited until the pigeon was closer; then, judging time and distance with effortless precision, she closed her wings and stooped. She gathered speed quickly, her wings folded back into a tight V, and from the ground she was simply a blurred shape, too fast to follow. The sound of rushing air roared in her head as she plummeted earthward; beneath her, the pigeon wavered in its course, sensing danger, but by then it was too late. The falcon came from behind, throwing her feet forward to strike with the long talon on her back toe. As she swept by, there was a split second of impact, a cloud of feathers, and the pigeon dropped limply toward the earth. The falcon turned and came around to catch it fifty feet from the ground, then carried it toward the cover of nearby trees.
RELUCTANTLY, ELLIS DROPPED the sight. The falcon was too small a target and, as he watched, was quickly lost from view.
"Damn," he said bitterly.
His chances of seeing it again that day were remote. Once it had fed, it might not take to the air for hours. He lit a cigarette, then coughed and spat into the snow. His head was pounding now and he was starting to feel dizzy. He turned around and started back on the long walk down to the road.
He'd come out again in the morning. Right now he just needed to get some sleep and maybe a beer to quench his thirst.
Posted January 9, 2013
Posted June 27, 2003
This was an excellent book. It gives the reader insights into the blessings and the burdens of being a member of a family with a precedent for perfection, drive and ambition. It delved into the struggle George W. had with being accepted for himself. He is in my mind, a role model for all to follow. The values the family carries is noteworthy... Excellent!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2001
This book is a great story of George W. Bush and his life. It chronicles his childhood all the way up to his election to President. The book touches on his relationships with his father, mother and other family members. It is a quick read and is full of neat facts and insights into the things that shaped him into who he is today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2001
This is an excellent read! George W. is a good 'Cancerian' son to 2 'Geminy' parents! A man must be a lucky man to have TWO parents who are both of the brilliant Gemini sign. George W. has a fortress of brilliant support in his brilliant family.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2001
First Son is a well authored book on the life and stuggles of our new President. Shows the well natured and inspirational view of a great and compassionate man. Though the book was too conspiracy typed to a family only hopeing for what we all want in, to pursue the American dream. It did not show the focus of the life of a humble and noble family man. But, all in all, it was a fine piece of work. I recommend it to anyone interested in what Americano is all about.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.