We called him “the Bear Killer,” because he said he used to kill black bears with a hatchet. He was absolutely serious.
He was in his mid-fifties. He had red hair that shined in the sun for all the hair gel in it. He sported a red mustache that looked slicked down too. His head was a rectangle and his face had to be about as thin a face as I’ve ever seen with ears that looked like moth wings poking out of either side. I couldn’t help notice he was missing a good many teeth.
He was security guard in the building where I worked. He walked over to my co-worker, Ben, and I where we stood on the sidewalk outside our building one chilly day, lit a cigarette and spoke to us as if we’d known each other all our lives.
He told us he was “deadly” in the martial arts. He didn’t look deadly. His security guard uniform hung on him like a blanket on a stick. His arms were shaped like tubes – no muscle definition. Same with his legs. Sometimes he wore his shirt half unbuttoned and you could see his ribs under his T-shirt.
The subject of fighting bears came about when I mentioned I worked on a dairy when I was a kid. He said he worked on a dairy, too. Then he added “I used to have to keep the black bears away from the cows when they were calving and all they gave me to kill them with was a hatchet.”
Of course, we were supposed to ask, “You killed black bears with a hatchet?”
“Yep,” he said, then took a long, dramatic draw off his smoke. He went on to explain it like this: You entice a bear to chase you. You run behind a tree. When the bear pokes his head around the tree, you whack him down the center of his skull with the hatchet.
“Are these big bears?” Ben asked, keeping the skepticism out of his voice.
“My biggest was 350 pounds,” the Bear Killer said.
He even played “leap frog” with the bears. He would run straight at a bear then launch himself over it by pushing off its shoulders. Thank goodness he never got his timing wrong. He might have wound up singing soprano.
Apparently, killing animals with a blade ran in the family. His father once grabbed a two hundred pound boar by the tusks, wrestled it down and cut its throat with a pocket knife. Or, so that is what he told us.
Ben and I worked with hogs as young men. Boar tusks are like surgical blades. You can’t grab them. It would take Hercules and half his family to wrestle a two hundred pound hog to the ground.
“Wow,” is all I could think to say.
“That’s something,” Ben said.
He was a millionaire, the Bear Killer. His family owned millions of dollars worth of trees in Montana. Why he had to work as a security guard, millionaire that he was, he never said. Seems he could have at least cut down enough money to fix his teeth.
We never challenged anything he told us. We just let the Bear Killer tell his tales. Truth is, we enjoyed them.
As a boy he invented a device that used electro-magnetism to fire a metal rod through the air at a high velocity. It had no moving parts. He tested it in his room. Before it shorted out his entire neighborhood’s power grid it blew the metal rod through the floor and into the ground beneath his house. The device burned up and the rod was never recovered even though the electric company used an excavator to find it. He never explained how an excavator dug a hole under the floor of his room.
As a teenager in the Navy he invented a Voice over IP system. “Voice over IP” means transmitting someone’s voice over the internet (“IP” is short for “Internet Protocol”). What made his invention truly remarkable is, given his age, he had to have developed Voice over IP before the internet was invented.
That was a pretty good trick even for the Bear Killer.
Perhaps the Bear Killer’s greatest gift to mankind was his political acumen. He assured us life in these United States would improve one hundred-fold if everyone stepped aside and let the Bear Killer take over. He had a long list of politicians, local and national, that were in bad need of a “course correction” and the Bear Killer did not mince his words when it came to them.
His politics was his eventual undoing.
The Bear Killer went missing.
We figured maybe he was on vacation. Maybe he was back home in Montana counting the trees that made him a millionaire without actually having money. One week passed; then the next. After a few weeks of not seeing him, I asked one of his co-workers what became of him? Turns out the Bear Killer said the wrong thing to the wrong person and they transferred him.
We both miss the Bear Killer, Ben and I. Life is more interesting with the likes of a Bear Killer or two around. Now and then, just to make life a little more interesting, I offer Ben fifty bucks if he will at least try to leap frog a bear.
So far, he hasn’t taken me up on it.