Soon, however, I learned that despite his genius, Nibble was absent-minded and forgetful which he blamed on his nose, always finding excuses to interrupt any train of thought and send him following some scent.
'You dog,' I exclaimed when, after a week's absence, Nibble's shadow next darkened the barn door. 'You left me hanging; what about Irving Allen? Did they get him? What about Crystal?"
Climbing onto a bale of alfalfa, one paw slipping imperiously over the other, Nibble yawned languidly.
"Tut tut tut," said he. "We'll come back to them in good time. First we have to go on a little trip to North Carolina - a few miles west of a place called, Cullowhee, nestled in the foothills of old Turkey Nob on a tributary of the little Tennessee River. "
'Weren't we in New York?' I asked.
"Not any more," said Nibble. "Listen... this is important. It's been raining there for over two weeks. In the kitchen of a cabin he built on his return from Vietnam, one Dexter Scoggins the Sixth is rocking back and forth in front of an old wood cook stove.
"The first thing you would notice about Scoggins is his size, about two hundred twenty-five pounds of solid meat - not exactly muscle, not exactly fat. The second thing about him that would catch your eye would be his long black hair and beard. And on this particular evening you certainly couldn't have missed his scarlet tee-shirt emblazoned with two copulating pigs and the slogan Makin' Bacon."
"Pulling up this tee shirt, Scoggins exposed his substantial hairy belly to the warmth of the old wood stove. "Phen-on-a-mal," he muttered, looking down at his bitch Bluebell who lay in her whelping box."
"The Scoggins family had been breeding coon hounds in those parts for as long as anyone could remember, but no one could recall having seen a dog as fine as Bluebell, male or female. Bluebell of Turkey Nob was her full name registered with the American Kennel Club. Her nose was long and finely shaped with an aristocratic arch to it and a tip like a black truffle."
" 'Should never have let her out,' muttered Dexter to his wife Georgina. Three weeks t' go and I had t' let her loose. Now she's gonna have her pups premature. This dampness ain't good for pregnant bitches."
"Outside, although the evening sky glowed pink, a late spring rain drummed mercilessly on the tin roof. Peering over the side of the stove,
Georgina giggled. 'Prune nose, looks 'xactly like one 'a them Disney dogs.'
Heaving a sigh, Bluebell raised her droopy eyes and gazed adoringly up at Georgina.
'Poor Bluebell,' Georgina murmured, 'Can't you give me a wag on that ole tail of yours?'
"Like her husband, Georgina was large. As they said in her hometown, a place called Gay, Georgina was born fat and kept on growin'. But though her flesh was constantly bursting the seams of the dresses and blouses she ran up on her Singer, there was something almost delicate about her happy, wholesome nature."
"Hardly a connoisseur of delicacy, Dexter had been attracted by Georgina's large breasts. In fact, he'd been so afraid someone else would get to them ahead of him, that before he left for Vietnam he married her."
"Georgina was fifteen then and when Dexter returned three years later, they hardly recognized each other. Why had he let his hair grow so long and why had he grown a prickly beard that tickled when he kissed her? Georgina would not have minded these transformations so much if he hadn't moped around the house doing opium and hashish. That bothered her. Besides the farm and all the animals, she had a four year old kid to care for, a little girl born while Dexter was in Vietnam. Keeping things together was hard work. That Dexter should spend his time lazing around smoking dope, running hounds all night and sleeping half the day was getting on her nerves But Scoggins men had never been known for their ambition and Georgina guessed Dexter was just following in the footsteps of his ancestors."
"Hounds, hounds and more hounds; that was the Scoggins' way of life. Herself, she was into 4-H activities, raised prize winning hogs and won blue ribbons for her flower arrangements at the County Fair."
"And it was chops from her latest prize porker that she was frying up now for dinner. She loved her pigs. She would have preferred to sell them and buy hamburger and hot dogs, but Dexter said they needed the pig fat for the hounds - hounds, always the hounds. If they had to go out and buy all the fat those hounds ate - twenty-three of them - they'd go broke. Georgina knew pigs were born to be eaten but wished someone else would do the butchering. Killing the sweet pink things with intelligent looking little eyes frightened her. She hated the nights when Dexter slaughtered them; he got tanked on homemade whiskey, did opium, marched down to the barn and blew their brains out with his Colt 45; all night long hacking up carcases, wallowing in blood and guts. The fences of
the barnyard were hung with stinking hides which Dexter bartered for coffee and sugar. Imagine how that made the other pigs feel, looking at those hides all day and smelling them!"
'They say the first litter can be small,' observed Georgina as she poured coffee on the sizzling chops to make red-eye gravy.
'I say eight,' Dexter said. 'Look at the size of her belly, big as mine almost. Look at them lumps there, I counted 'em. What'll you bet it's eight?'
'Can I bet, Pa?' chirped Buymeah. 'I'll bet it's seven.'
"Buymeah, who had just learned to count, was Scoggins' four-year old daughter. She'd been given that name by Dexter's grandpa because during Georgina's pregnancy, while Dexter was overseas and the old man was caring for her, Georgina kept asking him to buy her things. "Buy me a this," and "Buy me a that," she would say, for she knew the old man had a hoard of cash hidden around the place and reasoned that since he was eagerly awaiting the arrival of a descendant, it would be a good time to get him to cash in. After the old man had spent more money than he had in years and before anyone could say different, when the child was born he'd gone to the County Courthouse and registered her name as Buymeah Scoggins."
'Buymeah, what makes you think it's goin' to be seven?' asked Dexter.
'I counted seven bumps,' she answered proudly, holding up her Barbie doll. 'Look, Pa, she's gonna go to sleep in her mobile home tonight, isn't she lucky? Can we have a mobile home someday."
'When we sell these pups maybe we might,' Dexter said
'I'll stick with five,' said Georgina hoping, since she knew she would have to clean up after them, that the litter would be small.
'Five would still be $4000,' Dexter said, 'even that ain't too bad.'
'Thought you said you could get $900 apiece for 'em,' Georgina said.
'You gotta knock off some for expenses,' Dexter replied.
Just then Bluebell let out a particularly human sounding groan and rolled over.
Reaching down, Dexter patted her tenderly. 'She feels cooled down, infection's nearly gone, I'd say. Look how big she is. I'm sticking to eight."
Georgina pursed her lips thoughtfully, bent over Bluebell and peered at her. 'S'pose you could be right,' she said grudgingly.
'And look how swollen her vagina is,' observed Dexter clinically.
'That means she's due soon,' Georgina blinked.
They sat down to dinner and ate in silence, listening to the soft yips and internal rumblings which issued from the whelping box.
'Goddamn, if it doesn't sound like they're barkin' inside her,' Dexter laughed.
"After the dinner dishes were done, Georgina and Buymeah went off to bed and Dexter, lighting up a joint, rocked in his chair and listened to the rain; whenever it rained, his mind went back to Vietnam - Nam. It was raining there the day he got hit. Up till then he'd been having a pretty good time. Vietnam had not been that much different from hunting partridges back home. He was an expert marksman and a valued member of his company. In another war he would have been a hero. The family Bible was filled with the exploits of brave Scoggins, from Ticonderoga where the first known Scoggins had marched with Rogers Rangers, on through history to Guadacanal where his father lay buried. Being very naive about the outside world, Dexter Scoggins had gone off to Vietnam fully expecting to march in the footsteps of his ancestors. But he lucked out and got put in a company of city boys from Detroit and Boston who got lost unless they were on a road, panicked at the sight of insects and ran from snakes. On top of that, the company commander was a young lieutenant fresh out of West Point who had tantrums when he couldn't find the enemy. Frustrated and disgusted, Dexter found solace and relief in the cannabis and opium available everywhere. One night on patrol, stoned out of his mind, he'd fallen into an ambush and woke up three weeks later in a hospital somewhere with no left foot and fifty stitches in his back. Anyway, as part of his therapy, he got a nice tan and made out with some of the nurses."
"When he'd limped off the bus in Cullowhee with his crutches and his reconstructed foot, Grandpa had burst into tears, which had really impressed Dexter because never in all his life had he seen the old man show any emotion."
"Later on, however, Grandpa reverted to his old self. For generations Scoggins' had been making illegal whiskey so they could pay taxes and stay on their land. 'You gotta think how you're gonna take care of your family, Sonny,' he kept on saying. 'You're the only one left on my side I'm countin' on you to stay on this land - and sellin' hounds once in awhile ain't gonna see y' through. You'd better learn the whiskey business an' settle down."
"But Dexter had his own ideas. His cousins down the road had raised three successful crops of Cannabis Indica which was sure easier than brewing whiskey. So he limped around doggedly, planting seeds, worrying over each plant, harvesting, cleaning buds and marketing them in Asheville. The first two years he was moderately successful and was able to buy himself a new Chevy pickup and Bluebell."
"On hearing her name, Bluebell stared up at him with her big brown eyes, showing her teeth the way hounds do when they're enjoying something.'Good girl,' Dexter whispered, patting her gently on the belly. 'Don't worry, you ain't sick, everthin's gonna be fine. This here's gonna be our lucky year.' He was thinking of his crop again. This was the year he was really going to make it. One hundred female plants up at the spring, hidden in the nettles and poke weed which grew there. With stems so thick it would take a chain saw to cut them down, by October each plant would be worth at least a thousand dollars - or more. 'Not bad for a hillbilly livin' in a two by four cabin collectin' disability, huh, Bluebell?' Dexter chuckled,leaned over her box and scratched her under the chin. Trembling, the dog sighed, rolled over, let out a piercing yelp and suddenly, her head down between her legs, licked furiously as a tiny rat-like looking thing came sliding out."
" 'Goddamn,' Dexter breathed, 'Glory be,' he yelled excitedly turning up the kerosene lamp not sure if he wasn't hallucinating 'Hey Georgina, Buymeah, wake up... here comes Number One... wake up and start countin'.' "
© Elwyn Chamberlain 2009