“Ya hear ‘im? Bruno’s just found ‘im another rabbit!” Uncle Alfred was jubilant. He had bet Uncle Jack fifty dollars that Bruno could out-hunt Jack’s beagle Stumpy. We called him Stumpy, ‘cause once he had gotten his tail caught in a rattrap, and Uncle Jack had to end up cutting half his tail off. Stumpy warn’t half bad for rabbit hunting, as far as beagles go, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Bruno, not a-tall.
You see, Bruno was Muh’s pet poodle, and he was the best rabbit dog in the parish, bar none. I know what you’re thinking, poodles can’t hunt. But you’d be wrong, mighty wrong. Bruno was a rabbit hunting fool; he’d smell ‘em a mile off. Then he’d “Yip! Yip-yip!” and Uncle Alfred would say, “Go get ‘im, boy!”, and Bruno would take off, long, curly hair just a-flying. We trimmed his hair once, so he wouldn’t get all full of ticks and cockleburs from traipsin’ in the woods, but Muh got mad at us for that.
“Is y’all done lost y’alls minds? Look at my dog! Look at ‘im!” Muh was hot. “He’s a poodle, he supposed to have long hair! Y’all got him lookin’ like a plucked squirrel! Look at ‘im!”
We both looked, ‘cause Muh was holdin’ a hatchet in her hand at the time, she had been choppin’ wood, and she had done worked up a good sweat. One of us, I forget who exactly, had borryed ol’ man Spencer’s hair clippers and went to work on Bruno. Alfred swore up and down it was me, but I said Mister Spencer wouldn’t-a lent his clippers to me, but Uncle Alfred said Spencer would lend me anything I ask for, ‘cause he was sweet on my Aunt Do. Aunt Do couldn’t stand him, said he was too ugly to fool with.
“Dat nigga so ugly, when he was born, the midwife put on a blindfold! Reached over and slapped his momma! I told her, ‘I done tole you, stop foolin’ with that mule!’ Humph! Tryin’ to date me? He so ugly, he can’t get a date offa calendar!”
Anyways, Muh was grippin’ that hatchet mighty hard, so we looked at po’ Bruno. We had shaved him mighty close, I had to admit. “What I wants to know,” Muh said, heistin’ that hatchet, “was whose bright ideer was this?”
Alfred gulped, real loud. I looked at him, ‘cause he sounded like he was swallowing concrete. “Uh, Mom, uh, it was my idea, trimmin’ Bruno, ‘cause, you know, runnin’ rabbits inna woods is kinda hard on a long-hair dog, so we trim ‘im to keep from havin’ to comb the cockleburs outta his hair.” He held up the sack of rabbits. “See? Ol’ Bruno hit his limit!” He grinned.
Muh put the hatchet down; a good sign. “I see,” she said. “When you clean ‘em, send half of ‘em here.”
Alfred opened his mouth to speak, and Muh leaned down towards her hatchet. “You was ‘bout to say somethin’?” she asked.
“No! Oh, no!” he answer real quick. “Me and the boy here gonna clean ‘em, and you get half of ‘em ‘fo the end of the day.”
Muh eyed him. “No, nigga you gonna clean ‘em, the boy gonna finish choppin’ my wood! Come here, Bruno!” She walked off, with Bruno close behind.
“You best get to cleanin’,” I said, laughing.
“You best get to choppin’,” he answered, grinning…
Anyways, Bruno was yip-yip-yippin’ a mile a minute, and Uncle Alfred was waiting.
“See, boy,” he told Uncle Jack, “That there dog ‘bout to show Stumpy how it’s done. Stand back, make yo’self useful, an’ hold my sack!” He pulled his .22 up, and waited.
“Yip! Yip!” Bruno was getting closer. Ten, fifteen more seconds, and Alfred could make his shot.
“Humph! Aint no poodle got no business huntin’ rabbits better’n a beagle,” Uncle Jack said. I could tell he was jealous, but what could he do? Stumpy wasn’t in the same class as Bruno, and we all knew it.
“Take dat dog back to Texas, nigga, teach ‘im how to roll over, play dead, fetch a newspaper. Dat’s all he good fo’.” Uncle Alfred grinned around his pipe.
“Growwwllll!”A funny noise came outta the woods, a kinda deep noise.
“What the hell?” Alfred said. “Dat aint Bruno.”
I answer, real quick, “Dat aint no dog!”
We waited a second or two, not real sure what we ought’a do. “Yip! Yip!” Bruno was barkin’ his fool head off, and the “Grrrowwll!” noise was getting’ louder and louder.
All of a sudden, we saw the dangdest sight you ever wanna see in your life! A big ole black bear came crashin’ through the woods, just a-yellin’ and growlin’ to beat the band! That didn’t faze us none; we had seen our share of bears in them woods before. Funny thing about this one, though, was the little brown-and-white spot on his back, goin’ “Yip! Yip!” an’ holdin’ on for dear life.
Bruno had done jumped the bear, dead in the small of his back, and was bitin’ and scratchin’ and yippin’ that bear to a frazzle! Bear was twisting and turning, tryin’ to toss ol’ Bruno, but no soap. Bruno looked like a big fat tick on that bear’s back, ‘cept ticks don’t go “Yip! Yip!”
The bear shot by us, and I thought about makin’ a break for it, but since Jack an’ Alfred was stayin’ put, warn’t no need for me to run. I figgered if the bear started chasin’ us, I didn’t have to outrun the bear, just Alfred an’ Jack.
But that bear wasn’t studdyin’ n’ar one of us, he was just tryin’ to get rid of Bruno. Try as he might, tho’, Bruno was stuck on his back tighter than a fat lady’s drawers after Christmas dinner. “Yip! “Yip!” Bruno barked.
“Grrrowwwlll!” the bear roared.
“Well, if dat don’t hairy-lip the buzzard,” Uncle Alfred said, sticking his pipe in his pocket. Jack didn’t say much of nothin’, for a minute, then he frowned.
“Where’s Stumpy?” he asked.
I didn’t answer right off, ‘cause we had a bigger problem to deal with. I figgered Stumpy was bein’ digested at the moment, but if we didn’t bring Bruno back home, Muh was gonna digest us.
But Bruno was doin’ pretty dang good with Brer Bear, diggin’ his claws in his back, yippin’ and bitin’ him, wasn’t hurtin’ him none, but being one helluva botheration an’ embarrassment. The bear climb up a tree, tryin’ to scratch Bruno off with one of the branches, but Bruno was too smart for that trick. He lay low, deep in the bear’s fur, steady yippin’ and biting, and the funny thing was, he looked like he was enjoyin’ hisself.
“I guess I need to put dat b’ar outta his misery,” Uncle Alfred said. He put his .22 down, and reached in his holster for his old mule leg, an antique .50 Navy Colt pistol Cousin Howard had brought back from the war. Or so he says. You caint believe much ‘a nothin’ come outta Howard’s mouth.
“Where’s po’ Stumpy?” Jack asked.
“Jack, I kin ask the b’ar, or I kin shoot ‘im. Which one ya wants?” Jack was plum mizable, but it couldn’t be helped. Stumpy was up a tree, in more ways than one.
“Yip! Grr! Yip! Yip!” Ol’ Bruno was havin’ hisself a time! Alfred hesitated a bit, and said, “Wanna shoot ‘im, Jack?”
I eyed Uncle Alfred. I ain’t never disrespected my uncles none, but I came close to cussin’ him, cuz he knowed dang good an’ well Uncle Jack had a shaky hand with a clear shot, and with Bruno carryin’ on, you could forget it. Besides, I didn’t trust Jack not to shoot Bruno, just outta spite.
“If you too scared to shoot ‘im, Alfred, hand me the gun,” I said, looking him straight in the eye.
“Sheet,” he answered, then he said, “If it warn’t for dat crazy-azz poodle, I’d let ya.” He raised the pistol, then dropped it. “Hell, that just aint sportin’,” he said, then turned the pistol upside-down, and braced it on his arm.
“Fifty bucks say you miss,” Jack say. I dug in my pocket. “I got ten o’ dat,” I said quick, before Jack got some sense and changed his mind. Besides, I knew he was just tryin’ to rattle Alfred, but he should’a knowed better’n that. Alfred could shoot the fly off a frog’s tongue at fifty feet, and never make him jump.
“Deal,” Alfred says, then: “Bruno!”
Bruno bit that bear one more time, then bailed offa that bear’s back, landed on the ground, then took off back in the woods. Alfred pulled the trigger, “BLAM!!”, and the bear swung for a minute, then hit the ground like a sack of bricks.
“Pay up, nigga,” Alfred says, and po’ Uncle Jack dug in his pocket and fished out some bills. “Go get yo’ truck, so we kin get this b’ar outta these woods befo’ the game warden catch you.”
“Me?” Uncle Jack stared at Alfred.
“I’m huntin’ rabbits, nigga,” Alfred answered, and bust out laughing. “Come on, Neph, let’s get that dog an’ go home.”
Well, a minute or so later, we could hear Bruno yippin’ and yappin’, along with an “Arroo-oooo!” every ten seconds or so. Then, we saw Stumpy walking slow, with Bruno nippin’ at his heels, just herding him along, til they make it back to us.
“He’s all right?” I asked.
“He fine,” Jack says, real slow, “He just shame, is all.”
Muh stood at the end of the driveway, hands on hips, a grim expression on her face.
“Okay, boys,” Alfred says. “Which one of us gonna tell Mom Zora what happened?”
I pointed at Bruno. “She might believe him,” I said. “Ya think?”
“Yip! Yip!” Bruno answered.