The Adventures of Scruffy Lomax By Dennis McKay
Friday, July 31, 2009
Not rated by the Author.
Tall tale of legendary, iconic adventurer back in the day when men were men.
“Must have been some storm to kilt’ ole Scruffy,” said a prospector, Ed “Needle Nose” Lagos. “He was a good fella’, always buy you a drink if you was down on your luck.”
Pistol Pete Pidantes piped in. “I always thought Lomax was too damn ornery to die, figured he’d live fer’ever.”
The crowd at the Lone Wolf Saloon was mostly trappers and had come to Big Bear to sell their furs and throw a few back.
Pistol Pete took a long swallow on his beer and wiped his handlebar mustache with the back of his hand. “I remember it must have been back in the winter of ‘01 or ‘02 and me and Scruffy were running lines way up in the Kosars, when we come face-to-face with the biggest griz you ever did see.” Pete shook his knobby head. “And Ole Scruff, calm as could be, look that bear right in the eye and gave ‘em the grin. Not any grin, but the Scruffy one-sided grin. Damn if that bear didn’t turn tail and run.”
Tall tales about Scruffy went on for some time. At last, Needle Nose raised his mug in a final toast when the double doors swung open. Bigger than life in walked a short powder keg of a man holding under one arm the stiff body of a little dog, its scraggly coat covered in knots of ice.
Pistol Pete’s droopy eyes widened. “Scruffy!”
The patrons exploded into cheers, greeting Scruffy Lomax with back slaps, like some long-lost messiah.
Scruffy headed toward the bar like he owned the place. “Yessir, quite a winter, quite a winter indeed.”
He placed the frozen body of his mangy dog on the bar and said, “Barkeep, give me a shot of whiskey and a sarsaparilla.” His voice had a sing-songy way about it, but with a gravelly cadence thrown in for good measure. He was low to the ground, but with very long arms and gnarled hands that belonged on a much bigger man. His face was ruddy and flecked with grey-white stubble, and his blue eyes had the gleam of a true rascal.
Scruffy took in the timber-framed saloon, his gaze settling on his dog’s reflection in the stenciled glass plate mirror behind the bar. He laced his fingers together under his chin and bowed his head. “Boys, if you might, a moment of silence for Rusty.”
The tap of Scruffy’s whiskey being placed on the bar broke the hush that had fallen over the room. Scruffy swished the liquor a bit, threw his head back, and swallowed it down. “AAhhh...give me a moment...to collect myself and I will tell my story.”
He scratched his scrubby beard, his glance shifting to ice melting off the tail of his dog. Then the tail flinched. “Well, well, will you lookie’ there, that little son-of-gun has come back from the dead, just like m’self.”
Scruffy barked. “Hah. Hah. Hah. Barkeep, a shot of cognac for Rusty and a round fer the bar.”
The dog’s head moved and the body raised and lowered shedding the icicles and revealing a dark-red fur like steel wool. Rusty sat up on his haunches and stared right at the barkeep with a bulging glass eye, making it stranger still. With his good, front paw — the other was missing — Rusty batted the shot glass of cognac into range and lapped it up lickety-split. You could have heard a pin drop. “Another cognac for m’ Rusty the wonder dog,” said Scruffy.
A growling sound like exhaust from a blacksmith bellow drew all eyes to the doorway. There stood, gasping for breath, the biggest man ever seen in these parts before or since. There was a wild, untamed quality about this giant with a tangled thicket of dark hair and beard, and glowering black eyes that darted about the room until they honed in on Scruffy.
The doors swung open. Clomp, Clomp, went the boots, double a regular man’s size. This giant was Frenchy Dupree, Scruffy’s half-brother on his mother’s side. She was part Eskimo and part injun’, but that’s a story for another time.
“Scruffy Lomax, you a son-of-a-vitch, you leave Frenchy Dupree to die.” The big man bellowed in a deep booming voice that damn near rattled the rafters. Dupree went toward Scruffy with his huge hands extended. Rusty, still on his haunches, sidled over in front of Lomax and stared right at the big French Canadian with his glass eye. “Aah!” screamed Frenchy, “not the evil eye.” Then, that damn, little dog grinned out of one side of his mouth, revealing a row of tiny, but sharp teeth – it was an outrageously wicked grin like a doggy Scruffy.
The giant stood there frozen; nobody moved. Frenchy Dupree feared no man, or beast for that matter, but that little dog put the fear of God in him.
“Now, now, young brother is this anyway to greet me before I have a chance to explain,” Scruffy said smooth as silk. “Sit yourself down across from me and give me a listen.”
Scruffy stared into his whiskey and looked up and smiled like he hadn’t a care in the world. “Last you saw of me was when the storm hit and we lost the dogs and sled, ‘member you went half-crazy from the white-out.” Scruffy threw his whiskey down and signaled for another. “Rusty and me left you in the lean-to. We didn’t get far when a landslide hit, lucky to get out alive. Rusty lost his left paw and I patched it up best I could. I lost three toes to frost bite, lookie here.”
Scruffy ripped off a raggedy boot, revealing three black nubs; the big toe and second, both God-awful crooked and gnarly. “Rusty and I took cover in a big tree hollow.” Scruffy scratched his chin like a card shark holding four aces. “I blacked out, and next I know, me and Rusty in a giant lair of tree branches and mud. Smelled somethin’ fierce, worse than skunk.
“Then, I hear some rustlin’ and in comes the biggest damn creature I ever did see. It was a Sasquatch, 9 foot tall followed by two smaller ones, must have been the Mrs. and daughter.” Scruffy slashed his sideways grin, revealing a missing bicuspid. “Both had breast, so help me. The ones on mommy...would stop a team of oxen dead in their tracks.” Scruffy clucked out of the side of his mouth and took a sip of whiskey.
Needle Nose asked, “Was you scared, Scruffy? I never come across one, but I hear they can be downright ornery.”
“I knew I couldn’t show fear.” Scruffy finished his whiskey and started on a sarsaparilla. “Sides, them big, old smelly things didn’t scare old Scruffy. I motioned toward the berries, and the big one grunted quick-like.
I took it to mean, help myself. I went to the corner and grabbed a handful – right tasty. After a bit, I gave a little raw rabbit to Rusty who was calm as could be.
“Later, I secured Rusty under my arm, thanked them for the vittles, and started to leave. The biggin’ took a step toward me and growled to indicate we were to stay. I turned Rusty so the evil eye pointed at him, and m’ old red dog gave him the grin. Well you’d thunk that big, old ape had seen his maker. He let out a shriek damn near deafened me. I then sashayed out of the hut, nice and easy like holding Rusty close.
“After two days on the tundra, Rusty froze up on me, figured he’d died.”
Frenchy opened his arms toward Scruffy, but jerked back. “Scruffy! Tell the red devil no evil eye.”
Scruffy smiled his crooked smile. “Rusty, enough. Barkeep another round for the house and cognac for Rusty the Wonder Dog.”
The patrons let out a roar in recognition of: one, a free drink; two, having been reunited with a fellow trapper thought dead; and three, hearing once again the greatest storyteller this side of Anchorage.