Big Burt decided to take his two sons and me on an expedition to the Red River. On the long drive north I wondered if the river was, indeed, red.
Skip, Hank and I got into a skirmish, as usual, while Burt drove in silence.
"If we left you out yonder you'd be dead in two days," Hank said.
"One day," Skip added.
"True," I replied. "But what would you two shit-kickers do if you found yourself in New York City? Harlem, say."
"Yes. Where all the Negroes live." The terms Black and African American weren't part of the language in those days.
"Sheeee-IT," Hank said. "You'd never find me in a bunch of Nigras."
"Besides," Skip said, "the bible says that races shouldn't mix."
"Oh?" I said. "How about 'God hath made of one blood all the nations of men?'"
"But any damned fool can see it ain't natural."
I might have told him that Big Burt had himself committed an unnatural act by marrying a woman who was three quarters Souix. Which would make his sons half-breeds. But I didn't.
"What you studyin' at that fancy university?" Hank asked.
"Huh. What good is it? Does it put food on yer table?"
"Someday it might."
"Me, I'd rather go fishing."
"Hey, Yankee," Skip said. "How come they call you Harry? I don't see a hair on that skinny white body of yours."
I smiled. "Know why I don't have much body hair?"
"Because I'm more evolved than an ugly, hairy ape like you."
"You sayin' I come from a monkey?"
"Look in the mirror, cowboy."
I was as arrogant and as shameless as they were. Or at least I worked hard to appear so.
The four of us walk waist deep in the red water. I'm surprised at the power of the current, and its coldness, despite the great heat of the sun. The place is strange and alien. Like Mars. The mud of the shore is nothing like anything I've ever seen before.
Big Burt raises his forefinger, commanding silence. He stands motionless. Then, suddenly, he dives in, disappears. The water's surface is disturbed by rising bubbles.
Burt reappears. In the grip of his gnarled hands is a large silver-white fish, with an evil-looking narrow snout.
"A gar!" Hank shouts.
"Gad-DAMN, daddy!" Skip says.
I have no idea how the big man managed to do that. The water is opaque. And swiftly moving.
"Get me a piece of that branch," Burt says to Hank.
Hank returns with a foot-long twig. Burt squeezes the fish's head, and shoves the stick cross-wise into the back of its open jaw. The fish bites down with its pearl white pointed teeth. Burt tosses it into the water, and it furiously swims off.
"That fish'll drown in a couple minutes," Burt said.
Hank and Skip nod.
"Yep," Skip says. "It sure as hell will."