From my latest Carson Reno Mystery Series novel ‘Deadly Decision’
Let me set this up for you. Carson has traveled to a remote fishing camp located on the Tennessee River called Harmon’s Creek.
But before he can chase the bad guy, he must deal with the old man that runs the bait shop. I hope you enjoy this humorous exchange between Carson and the old man who doesn’t hear too well.
There was only one car parked at Harmon’s Creek Country Store when I drove past, a black 1962 Dodge with a Shelby County license plate. I made the left turn and continued up the shallow hill toward Harmon’s Creek.
After parking the Ford in a spot marked ‘Visitors’, I stood in the grass for a moment looking at my surroundings. A narrow foot path led off to my left and up a small incline; at the top of the hill were three weathered cabins – all identical. Standing in front of me was a small grey building next to the river, and several green aluminum boats resting upside down in the grass. Beyond the boats was a well-used gravel launching ramp connected to the water. A sign hanging across the front entrance of the grey building read: Bait, Boats and Boarding. I walked onto the slim porch, opened the wooden framed screen door and stepped inside.
Air in the large, cluttered room was stuffy but surprisingly comfortable, helped along by two giant ceiling fans turning slowly, but consistently. Two of the three walls I could see were lined with heads and bodies of long-ago departed animals; their petrified remains on display for the enjoyment or admiration of visitors to Harmon’s Creek Fish Camp. Deer with large antlers, Bobcats showing sharp teeth, wild hogs, oversized large mouth Bass, and even a turkey in flight gave the room an odd aura – more like a museum rather than a bait shop. I assumed the dead fish and animals were intended to represent what the successful hunter or fisherman could expect from their visit. However, the prey I expected from my visit to Harmon’s Creek would be different; quite different.
Light for the dark room came mostly from outside, with just a single lamp burning somewhere in a far corner – I couldn’t see the source. Several large windows surrounded most of the building, and an open screen porch next to the river provided an almost natural atmosphere to a room crowded with dead animals and dusty fishing gear.
To my right, fiberglass rods and cane poles stood in the far corner next to three metal shelves, which were mostly empty; holding just a few plastic containers of fish hooks, lead weights and rolls of fishing line. The near corner held a wood burning stove and a half-dozen straight back chairs surrounding a small table and checkerboard – exhibiting an unfinished game.
A glass counter to my left was almost completely covered with various pieces of fishing tackle, plastic bait buckets, dated outdoor magazines and unopened boxes of night crawlers. I walked up to the dusty counter, gently tapped on it and spoke to what I thought was an empty room.
Near the unidentified light source in the rear of the building I heard a rustling and saw an old man stand up from an overstuffed chair that I hadn’t noticed.
He peeked at me over small wire rim glasses, ran his right hand through what was left of thin grey hair and took a step in my direction. The small gentleman didn’t speak, and it seemed that I might have interrupted his nap.
“Hello,” I said again. “How’s the fishing?”
He took another step in my direction and blinked his eyes several times before speaking. “We don’t sell whiskey here. This is a fish camp. You’ll need to go back down the hill to find any whiskey.”
“NO,” I said louder than before. “HOW’S THE FISHING?”
He walked closer, removed his glasses and used a loose shirttail to wipe the lens. Replacing them on his small nose, he peeked over the top and gave me a hard stare; as if he had just discovered me being in the room.
“I wouldn’t know,” he snorted, and then took another step in my direction. “Haven’t been fishing in years.”
I stood silently, not knowing what to say next.
Still peeking over his glasses he asked, “Are you wantin’ to go fishing?”
“Well…yes, maybe,” I was stumbling over my words and wondering why I was being questioned.
“Make up your mind, mister. It ain’t huntin’ season, so fishing’s what we offer this time of year.”
“Yes…yes, fishing would be great.” I was watching him stare at me.
“What?” he said louder than necessary. “Speak up, mister. I can’t understand you.”
“YES…YES, FISHING WOULD BE GREAT.”
“I don’t know whether the fishing is great or not, ask the fish.” He took another couple of steps toward the counter and where I was standing. “You need a boat?”
“Ah…well, no I’m not going to need a boat…”
“What?” he interrupted.
“NO…NO I DON’T NEED A BOAT,” I shouted.
“Mister, you ain’t gonna catch no fish from the bank. You need fishing poles? You need bait?”
“Ah…well, no. I don’t need bait.”
“What?” he said again.
“NO…NO I DON’T NEED POLES OR BAIT.”
He leaned to his right and peeked over his glasses at my Ford sitting out front.
“You don’t need a boat, you don’t need bait and you ain’t got no fishing poles that I can see. You come in here looking for whiskey and ask me about the fishing. Mister, just what are you up to?”
“I…I wonder if you might have any cabins to rent? Just for one night,” I stuttered.
“What?” he said again.
“CABINS…DO YOU HAVE ANY CABINS TO RENT?”
“Mister, can’t you see all them cabins up the hill? That’s what they’re for – people to rent while they go fishing. But, I ain’t real sure that fishing is what you got on your mind.” He was still peeking at me over his glasses.
“HOW MUCH?” I managed.
“How much what?”
“The cabins, how much to rent one of the cabins?”
“HOW MUCH FOR THE CABINS?”
“JUST ONE CABIN…THAT WOULD BE FINE.” I was losing this conversation.
“How many people?” he snorted.
“AH…WELL…FOUR, IT COULD BE FOUR OF US,” I continued to stutter. “WOULD THAT BE ALRIGHT?”
He leaned to his right again and looked at the Ford. I anticipated his question.
“They’ll be joining me later this evening – driving up in separate cars.” I forgot to yell.
“Are you going fishing or not? Sounds like you’re here to party. I don’t allow no partying at Harmon’s Creek Fish Camp.”
“FISHING…WE’RE GOING FISHING. WE’LL DECIDE ON A BOAT AND BAIT WHEN MY FRIENDS GET HERE.” I was yelling and he was standing only a few feet away.
“Humph,” he snorted. “Can’t catch fish from the bank and without bait.”
“How much?” I asked again.
“What?” he said again.
“HOW MUCH? HOW MUCH FOR THE CABIN?”
“Twenty dollars a night and I don’t allow no partying at Harmon’s Creek Fish Camp,” he added again.
I laid a twenty dollar bill on the dirty counter; he picked it up and stared at it. “I don’t allow no partying at Harmon’s Creek Fish Camp,” he said for the third time.
“I understand…no partying,” I said for his benefit. He didn’t hear me.
“What’s the name?”
I assumed he meant a name for the cabin rental. “Nathan Battle, register the cabin in the name of Nathan Battle.”
“Who?” He was frowning at me.
“NATHAN BATTLE, REGISTER THE CABIN IN THE NAME OF NATHAN BATTLE.”
The old man picked up a dusty pad and wrote something, I assume the name Nathan Battle.
“Have you got a phone?” I forgot to yell.
He gave an odd stare, still peeking over his glasses.
“I know you’re alone, I can see that.” He turned to walk away.
“PHONE,” I shouted. “HAVE YOU GOT A PHONE?”
“Sure I got a phone.” He was walking away from me.
“I NEED TO USE IT,” I shouted.
“The toilet is around back, and that cabin you rented has one too. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t make a big mess. The maid doesn’t come but once a week.”
“A PHONE, I NEED TO USE YOUR PHONE.” I was frustrated and getting louder.
“There,” he said, pointing to a phone hidden under the bait buckets. “And local calls only, I ain’t paying for no long distance calls.”
“BOOK…PHONE BOOK, HAVE YOU GOT A PHONE BOOK?” I was talking so loud it was hurting MY ears.
He brushed away some of the bait buckets. “There’s the phone…directory is underneath,” he turned to walk away again.
“Key,” I said, but not loud enough.
“See what?” he peeked over his glasses and frowned.
“KEY…KEY TO THE CABIN,” I was shouting again.
“Don’t need one, they ain’t locked.”
He wandered back to the overstuffed chair and I thumbed through the small phonebook looking for the Harmon’s Creek Country Store.