There was only one car parked at the Harmon’s Creek Country Store when I drove past – a black 1962 Dodge with Shelby County license plates.  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 there were several green aluminum boats resting upside down in the grass. Beyond the boats was a well-used gravel launching ramp connected to the water. The sign hanging across the front porch read: Bait, Boats and Boarding. I walked onto the slim porch, opened the wooden framed screen door and stepped into the building.

 

 

 

     Nathan Battle was holding more money than he’d ever seen in one place.  Hell…it was probably more money than he’d ever seen in his life!

     Staring at the money with an open mouth and wide eyes, he sat down hard on the damp steep grassy slope that adjoined the highway. Shaking his head in disbelief, he glanced over at the bloody man lying near the wrecked car and clutching a .45 automatic pistol – Nathan knew he had to make a decision and had to make it fast.

~

     It was only a few minutes ago that he’d been in his car, headed up Highway 70/79 toward his brother’s house and looking for a place to pee.  Just somewhere next to the road where he could stop for a moment, relieve himself and then be on his way - somewhere along the dark, deserted highway.

~

     The fight with his wife, Susan, had been one of their worst and started over the usual subject, money. This one began loud and then got louder and uglier as they screamed and shouted at each other.  Nathan had had enough; he grabbed the car keys, stormed out of the house and headed to his favorite bar - The Wet Spot. 

     Too many beers later Nathan decided he wasn’t going back to his apartment, back to the constant arguments with Susan about money - she could go to hell.  He’d get out of town, away from the fighting; go visit his brother, Evan, for a few days and get his head straight.  No need to call ahead because Nathan and Evan were close, like brothers should be. Besides, Evan didn’t have a phone anyway so what did it matter.  Evan lived only 80 miles up the road from Memphis in a small town named Humboldt. Evan would be glad to see him; and if he hurried, he could be there before dark.

     The beer finally caught up with Nathan about 30 miles from Humboldt, while he was driving across the narrow levee road that traveled through the Hatchie River bottoms.  There was no traffic, the road was dark, empty and he needed to relieve himself.  After pulling his car off the highway onto the small gravel shoulder next to a bridge, Nathan walked partway down the steep slope that adjoined the road and led underneath the bridge. He figured to just get out of sight in case someone happened along;  but in reality, he was just trying to be nice and could care less whether someone saw him or not.  The night breeze was fresh from a recent light rain, and he’d forgotten how nice it was to breathe air without all the pollutants offered by a big city.

     “Put it up and zip it up,” Nathan heard in a weak voice coming from very close behind him. “And don’t turn around.”

     Nathan turned around.

The air inside 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 largemouth 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 had a wooden stove and 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.

“Hello…anybody home?”