Chapter Fifteen

Arty was beginning to feel excited, his black dog was getting nervous.

Arty hung around camp for a few days before flying back to Fairbanks; he was down in the dumps, and it took all his resolve to stay away from bars. He’d learned long ago that booze made his sorrows worse,  never drowned them. But he was still sorely tempted so bought some basic supplies and hitchhiked to Harding Lake, about 45 miles south of Fairbanks and it’s drinking establishments. He spent the next few days trying to shake the black dog that was giving him such a hard time, but it wanted to stay. By Friday he’d had enough of doing nothing and hit the road to see what it had to offer in the way of excitement. As it turned out, not much, but it was better than loafing around in a tent. He caught a ride with an elderly couple who were not that good at conversation, and after a couple of hours, he got them to drop him off in the middle of nowhere on the Dalton highway. They happily obliged. His next ride was a retired farmer who was good at talking but not at listening, which suited Arty. While the old timer droned on about all the woes of the world and how to fix them, Arty caught up on some sleep and felt a little more upbeat by the time they arrived an outpost called Coldfoot.

Coldfoot had a population of about ten people, a small restaurant, some basic accommodation and not much else. It was his kind of town.

He said his goodbyes to the farmer and walked to the restaurant to grab a meal. Apart from the owner and a couple of people it was empty. While he munched his way through one of the best burgers, he’d had in a long time, a customer had a good look at his bow. Arty pretended not to notice and eventually the guy gave up looking. Arty paid his bill, asked where he could get a bed for the night and was directed to an old converted miners camp. It was basic, but basic was all right.

He was on his step reading a hunting book when a guy wandered past with an old green pack on his back and a key in his hand. It was the same fellow who’d been looking at his bow in the restaurant. They nodded a greeting to each other and Arty went back to reading his book. His neighbour re-emerged from his unit a few minutes later and  Arty decided to be a bit more social and said hello. It proved to be a good move.

The bloke’s name was John, and like Arty, he was at a bit of a loose end, had been for years. Somewhere in the conversation, he mentioned he was a Veteran, but it wasn’t a topic for discussion. Like Arty, John was unable to settle and was a keen bow hunter.

John wasn’t a man who liked too many questions, you just waited for him to say whatever was on his mind, Arty worked this out quickly and soon the two of them were getting on well. They got onto the subject of bears and Arty told him of his run in with Mac and the loss of his trophy. John got seriously worked up and if Mac had been around he would have been in deep trouble. By the time they walked to the restaurant for an evening meal they were firm friends.

John told Arty about the mountain lion as they were chewing their way through a couple of huge steaks. John still had friends in the army, and one of them had seen a black cougar while out on reconnaissance on a training exercise. People had mocked him, as wildlife experts were adamant that no such animal existed in the US, but John maintained his friend saw what he saw. They’d fought together, and John said once you’ve been in a firefight with someone, you get to know the mettle of their character. His friend was no dreamer.

Arty was beginning to feel excited, his black dog was getting nervous.

“Has anyone shot it?”

“To the best of my knowledge, no. It’s in a very safe place for a cougar.”

“A wildlife sanctuary?”

“May as well be, it lives in the the Yuma proving ground.”

“What kind of place is that?”

“It’s a military training area, one of the biggest in the world; it’s over Arizona way.”

“How do you get in there to hunt?”

“You don’t, least not where he saw the cougar, it will probably die of old age.”

Arty was so excited he couldn’t stop grinning. John looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What’s made you so pleased with yourself ?”

“I’ve got a proposition to make, want a coffee? my shout.

More on Arty in the next blog.

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