Last week, I left off where we were driving past some trees on a two-lane highway in Texas when Hondo, one half of a two-man DI team of which I was the sane half, suddenly yelled something, yanked up the emergency brake on his Chevy, skidded onto the soft shoulder, grabbed his loaded .270 rifle, and bailed out ...
With the car still rolling.
When the car finally lurched to a halt, I got out and looked around. So did Sullivan, another DI who had come with us for a day of plinking on a large ranch out near Seymour, Texas.
We scratched our heads. No sign of Hondo. No sign of movement among the trees and brush. No nothing.
“What did he yell?” I asked Sullivan.
He gave me an odd look. “Beats me. He’s your partner.”
I knew that look well. I’d seen it before when people found out I was Hondo’s partner. It fell somewhere between awe and pity.
About 15 minutes later, as we stood scratching our heads and looking around, we heard the familiar report of Hondo’s rifle and caught sight of something falling out of a tall gray snag about a hundred yards off the road.
A few minutes later Hondo appeared out of the trees, smiling from ear to ear. “What the devil did you yell?” I asked him.
“Hawk,” he said, calmly sliding his rifle back into the car.
Not another word did he utter. Nor did we ask him anything else. That was how you learned things from Hondo. He did something that seemed nuts. You thought about it. After a while you realized it was as normal. For Hondo, that is.
In Hondo’s mind there was no need to say any more. To him, what he had done was so matter-of-fact, so completely in tune with his own little world, that it needed no explanation.
Works like this:
You’re driving down the road. You see a hawk perched atop a dead tree. You bail out, slip up on said hawk, and ...
That’s that. To Hondo, doing anything else would have been as illogical as letting a rat chew off his lips.
He grew up on a farm. Farms have chickens. Hawks eat chickens. Ergo — as the Romans used to put it — if you see a hawk, you shoot it.
Had I asked him about it, he would have given me a pitying look, one that said, “What else would a guy do?”
To Hondo, the world was complete, self-contained, and fully explained — if you were a boy growing up on a farm in Missouri. And even though he was neither a boy, nor back on the farm, he still acted as if he was. If he couldn’t be back in Missouri, he just dragged Missouri around with him.
It didn’t matter where Hondo was, mentally he was always back in Missouri.
And if you were with him, so were you. I suppose it worked something like the way things work in an American Embassy. Doesn’t matter that the embassy is located smack dab in the middle of — say — Tibet, the spot it sits on is U.S. territory.
As an ex-New York City boy, I found that a bit hard at times, but I got used to it. And it was worth it. I picked up a lot of useful stuff from Hondo, all in just two short years.
I don’t know how many weapons Hondo had. Sometimes it seemed like he had one of each. One beauty I loved to shoot was an ancient .22 caliber Remington falling-block rifle with a heavy octagonal barrel and open sights. That thing was so accurate that we used to hang spent .22 long casings on the tines of a barbed wire fence, back up a hundred feet, and use them as targets.
And hit them!
Hondo, always glad to help a fool, took me in hand and showed me the error of my ways where shooting was concerned. He knew all the little things, the things you never think of. Where he learned them I don’t know, but he sure wasn’t shy about sharing them.
One afternoon I dropped in at his apartment while his wife Barbara — he called her Barb of course — was frying up a mess of dove breasts, the result of Hondo’s morning, which he had spent sitting by a cattle tank with his beautiful double barreled 12-gauge. While waiting to eat, he handed me a pair of revolvers, one in each hand, told me they were loaded — he was always very safety conscious — and asked me to heft them. They were perfectly matched.
“Take a close look at them,” he told me.
I did and was amazed to see that one was a .22 and one a .38.
“K-22 and K-38,” he told me. “Matched pair.”
I’d never heard of them. “Why would you want ...?” I started.
“Quick-draw. Costs too much to practice with a .38.”
Later that afternoon he demonstrated his quick-draw out on the firing range. Do I have to say it? He was lightning fast and accurate. I tried it myself with the K-22, downright worried about shooting myself in the foot. I didn’t improve much, but at least I finished the day with the same number of toes I started with.
I had little respect for a .45 automatic until I saw Hondo fire one, but once I saw what he could do with one I spent a lot of time on the range working at it myself. Never quite got as good as he was, but I came close. I still love firing the .45. Ever since those days it feels like it grew in the palm of my hand.
I must have picked up seven thousand million expressions from Hondo, everything from, “Great gobs of greasy gopher gravy!” to “Fire when ready, Hedley!” So if I sound a little like a Missouri farm boy once in a while you’ll know where it came from.
And then there was my driving. Every time Hondo was in my car I’d wait for that rifle crack voice of his. “Gerr-ITT!” he would yell. I drove, it seemed, “Just like Barb!”
Try as he would, though, he couldn’t break me of the habit or teach me how to drive like a madman.
Of course, now that I’ve been here in Arizona for 25 years ...