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TRAIL OF THE TREE % by the time Howard returned to his suite in the Manse he was so weak with fatigue from the excitement of finding the body and the long car ride from South Texas that he didn’t even have the energy to crack open a beer and have a bowl of stew. He went right to bed, slept through supper, into the night, until dawn kissed his cheek and whispered , “Go pee.” He hurried to the bathroom. Birch and the other young people of Geek Chorus Software routinely slept later than the average hibernating bear, so in the early morning Howard had the Manse pretty much to himself. He didn’t like the experience. The place was too big and historical without the sound of human beings. He made himself a cup of instant coffee and went outside to the stew pot. There was a skim of ice on the liquid of the stew and the embers of the fire were cold. Without Cooty to keep the fire going Howard figured eventually Birch and his minions would lose interest in the stew pot. Just then a young woman in blue jeans, parka, Russian fur hat, and an effervescent demeanor bounded out of the wood shed with an armload of kindling. It was Luci Sanz. “Too bad Cooty can’t keep his stew pot fire going anymore.” Howard said. “He will again when the treatments take hold,” she said. “The old man’s up and around. Why don’t you visit with him? When the pot heats up, I’ll bring you both a bowl of stew.” “Thanks, Luci,” Howard said, and he went into the cabin, just as he always had—without knocking. Cooty was sitting at his tiny table whittling a stick. He wasn’t carving so much as following the natural contours of a cherry wood branch. He was dressed in his baggy outfit, which had been laundered. Cooty hadn’t looked so alert in months. 109 “Hi, Howie,” he said, as if he had expected Howard. “What are you doing, old man?” Howard said, pulling up a stool. “Luci, she brings me whittle dee-dees.” Howard watched while Cooty held the stick against his body and worked the knife blade to remove the bark. “Kinda looks like the curves of a woman,” Howard said. “Yeah, it’s Pasha.” “You remember her?” “Oh, sure. We named our tank after her. She was like a sister to me.” “I thought you forgot all that.” “It’s the treatments, Howie. My memories are coming back and I’m feeling chipper,” Cooty said. When the assemblage was complete Cooty notched a ring around the stick, wrapped a string in the groove, and hung up the stick with others on the pine board walls. Cooty stood for a moment before his crooked window, then he bent his neck so that his head was at the same angle as the window. “You need a bigger place,” Howard said. Cooty pointed to the great beyond behind the glass, and said, “Not really, my cabin goes on into the forever.” Howard wondered what Cooty meant, but he didn’t really want to hear what was sure to be a discombobulatory explanation, so he held back his question. Soon Luci came in with two wooden bowls of stew and wooden spoons. Howard recognized the spoons as handmade by Birch at his shaving horse. Birch’s spoons were not as finely made as his father’s, but they were more daring and expressive with quirky twists and flutes. You looked at F. Latour’s spoons and you thought, this carver knows himself and his craft. You looked at a Birch’s spoons and you thought, this carver is seeking. After Luci left the cabin, Howard wanted to tell Cooty about Billy Jordan getting himself shot dead, but he remembered that Cooty would tell Luci who would pass on the knowledge to the game builders, so he said, “Big doings at the auction barn.” Cooty’s eyes grew moist. “I know the whole sad story, Howie,” Cooty said. The tears flowed down the creases in his ancient face and spread out into a sheen. The face looked like one of those pictures relayed 110 from the Mars mobile unit. “I don’t like carrying around all this knowledge . It presses on my bladder.” “Well, relieve yourself and tell me,” Howard said, his mind a little turvy-topsy. Cooty stood and sauntered over to the curtain...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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