Iggy is a salt n’ pepper Australian Cattle Dog with a cool, attentive temperament, and big black eyes whose innocence could rot out the abyss in the toughest of ironhearts. The runt of the litter. So damn loyal he’d go for the throat of a grizzly if it meant giving the rest of us a ten second head start. He trots along, weaving in and out of the brush, emerging at last with a stain of deer scat on his backside. On the puddling trail, he takes us as far as the first creek, but stops short and begins to whinny like a horse spooked by the cliff’s edge.
All of us cross the concrete steps, everyone except me and little Iggy—c’mon little Iggy! You can do it, bud! He hops the first concrete step, the second, the third. But the fourth is lopsided, and has a considerable gap before it. The creekwater is high and quick, and it raises the white claws of its rapids. Iggy looks back to me on the near shore. The others call to him from afar. C’mon Ig! Iggy, buddy, you got this! Iggy! Iggy!
He leaps, but the lopsided slab throws him off balance and he spreads into the water. Frantic, he dashes to the other side, letting out a squeal after his paws rake and muddy the creekbed. He circles for a minute, favoring his one leg. When he looks at me for assurance, I nod. His stoicism overcomes it, and he leads the pack on.
The kindling worked up a knee-high flame, and the chill breeze fanned it, and the fire felt good against our backs. We had just finished our bottle of champagne. Now the hard shit hit the table—Irish whiskey, roasted porters, vanilla moonshine. I’d just popped open my first bottle with a Bic lighter when Jessica said under her breath, “Park Patrol.”
I’d scrubbed garbage barrels and picked up litter for the forest preserve for an entire summer. I’d been around a ranger or two. I knew how these cats liked to ravel you in their balls of yarn, pussyfoot around with you and hiss in your ear a little. Give a man a crowbar’s worth of leverage over the next man and he’ll milk it for all it’s worth. It’s like sex without the attachment, murder without the conviction; it’s power in its stablest form.
“Park Patrol,” she said so everyone could hear it this time. Flasks slipped behind belt buckles, bottles were tucked under tires, the coolers rattled and clinked. Then we all sat like a bunch of racoons around a ravaged dumpster, guilty but refusing to own it. He pulled up in a white truck. The drive belt was shot under the hood, and it squealed like a pig.
He rolled down the window and his steely spectacles sat on his thin wiry face like an extension of what lied beneath. He had high cheek bones and a chin like a miner’s pick. His nose came to a point, and worked like a dog’s. His eyes were little pebbles hammered deep into his skull. When he spit, the the saliva burst, and little white beads clung to his stubble. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
“Ya’ll got a parmit?” he said.
His accent was over-saturated, affected. His mannerisms were a farce. He looked like John Wayne coming down from an amphetamine high. He’d watched one too many Westerns, I supposed, and this was the closest to his fantasy he’d ever get.
“Sure do,” I said. “See here.”
I showed him my permit.
“Gotcher I.D. on ya?”
I pulled out my wallet and handed it to him.
“’Laska,” he said. “Don’t see too many yer kind in these parts.”
“No,” I said. “I guess not.”
“Lookin’ roun’ here… I see three cars.”
He pointed to each one.
“One. Two. Three.”
“We’re not staying the night,” Helen shouted from the picnic table.
He raised a flat hand above his head, and brought it down slowly and deliberately.
“Whoa thar missy, ya’ll just ‘lax a little, a’right? Parmit’s only good for two cars. Ya’ll want a little company, thas fine by me, but ain’t no company pas’ 9 ‘clock. Unnerstood?”
“Won’t be a problem,” I said.
“Ya’ll ain’t got no glass now do ya?”
“Bottles, jugs, flasks, pints, stems, anything o’ the sort?”
“Nothin’ but the windows in our cars,” I said.
He snorted, and the back of his throat gurgled on the phlegm.
“And no boozin’ neither. No hollerin’ after dark. No pissin’ in your neighbors’ neck of the woods. Unnerstood?”
“Under-stood,” I said.
He rolled up his window and pulled away real slow. It became harder to tell if the pig squeal was coming from under the hood or from inside of the cab. Larry pulled the flask from his belt and took a pull.
“You hear officer law?” he said. “Ya’ll just ‘lax a little a’right.”
“We’ll relax more than a little,” Dave said.
I grabbed my beer from behind the tire and took a swig. Then I unzipped my pants and pissed into the woods.