The prairie dog knows The Mint Bar is west of Two Dot. Outside the bar, a blue heeler paces, panting in the dry heat. He isn’t there to be petted. He’s looking for something to eat.
Same with the prairie dog, except petting is never involved. He’s busy with a cheeto puff caught in the weeds by the tiny, red fire hydrant.
If he had opposable thumbs he could father a new universe. The way he dispatches the cheeto with full economy, licking every bit of orange, cheesy coating off the puffed curl of uh, what? He discards the nuded curl and scurries back to the prairie, filled with gopher holes. The black and white cattle dog ambles over to eat the cheeto crust.
Trudy, the bartender, steps outside to ask Hewhoknowshowtomakeanoose for help. She’s too small to lift the trap door to the basement of the bar, which is where she’ll find some rope. Behind the bar is a rubber chicken she intends to hang. It squeaks, wears a purple bikini, and has bold green letters inked across its back: Because I love you Doug.
The chicken will dangle above the reward poster she’s taped to the mirrored wall:
Lost: One orange fishing pole with fish attached. Reward is for the fish.
She’d like to see the fish that was strong enough to take off with a pole weighted with a ten-pound anchor. Fishing talk ensues.
The Bair is stocked with rainbow, Martinsdale is giving up big browns. But if you want the Kokanee, you drive over to Deadman’s Pond.
The Kokanee, explains the noose-maker, are salmon without the taste of ocean in their meat. They are salmon who never made it to the ocean, who never will make it to the coast. You can hear a hint of wistfulness in the way he talks; years ago he traded Oregon for this semi-arid life.
Six other people sit at the bar. None of us know each other but we’ve each taken a break from fishing to watch the Little League World Series on the only TV available in a one-hundred mile radius. For the first time ever, Montana has fielded a team that has made it as far as the semi-championship. ABC TV tells us the entire State of Montana has 29 Major Little League teams. The State of California has 827.
On the wall lining the far side of the bar are mounted heads of large bucks. Engraved on small, brass plates beneath each deer’s face: Vinnie Sockapoulgi, 1944; Walter Leendan, 1943.
Frankie’s buck, 1927, is missing its right eye. The six-year old grandson of the fisherman who drove in from the Whitetail campgrounds stops playing with a cue stick from the pool table. He scoots a chair across the chipped linoleum floor until it is beneath the eighty-eight year old trophy. He climbs up on the chair to stare up into the buck’s wide, black snout — nostrils still captured in mid-flight, full flare.