The man behind the desk looked up when the tiny brass bell over the door rang out its tinkling melody. A wide smile crossed his sun-browned face, revealing a row of perfectly straight white teeth. "Well, Hank Brito. Haven't seen you around here in a coon's age!"
Hank nodded. "True 'nuf. I've been up north. Good huntin' up there."
"That's what I hear. Did your dad go with you? Man always was one of the best hunters I knew. Had a real sixth sense about which way things were coming from."
"Dad's been gone almost a year now. That sixth sense wasn't enough, I guess." He took one of the pens from the cup, wrote a dollar amount on the tiny form, and slid it across the counter along with some rumpled bills he'd fished from the pocket of his jeans. "Actually, I'm just here to pay this. It's the last tax bill on his house. We found some buyers so we'll be shot of it in a few weeks."
The older man stood and walked around the desk to the other side of the counter and took the bill, stamping it a little more forcefully than was strictly necessary. He was shaking his head the whole time. "I can't believe it. Just can't believe it." He sorted the money into a drawer and came up with $7.64 in change. "I have to ask..."
"Tomato," the visitor said with the air of one who has stated a hard truth so many times it's become routine. "No one even thought - that time of year, you know? It was spring. We thought maybe we'd get some leafy greens or a few onions. Nasty bugger was in the tree, right over our heads. Jumped on him and got him by the neck before any of us even saw it. Dad's buddy, Ken Peatree - you know him?"
The clerk nodded, his wide eyes clearly showing his feelings about the news. "Known Ken for years."
"Yeah, well, Ken shot it. Took it down. Four shots before it stopped fighting. By then it was too late."
"A shame. A real shame. I can't even tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Your dad was a good man. The world is worse off without him."
"Thanks." The man stuffed his change carelessly into the pocket of his faded jeans. "Good to see ya, Walt." He turned to leave and then stopped. "You know what the worst part is? It's thinking that there was a time when people would just walk outside and pick their food up off the earth. They didn't give it a thought. They probably weren't even grateful half the time. It was a chore to them, ya know? And then the dang scientists got their greedy hands in the dirt and started meddlin'. Puttin' animal genes in a friggin vegetable. And why? Because they didn't want to pull weeds? No one wanted to deal with the bugs? Well, now the weeds are gone and the bugs are extinct and guys like me have to spend nine months out of the year hunting for what would have grown in my grampa's back yard. Couldn't leave well enough alone. Couldn't give a thought to the next generation."
Another nod of agreement. "True words, son. True words. It's a cryin' shame. I tell ya'," he said pointing a sage finger. "People just never learn to stop messin' with nature and be grateful for what they have."
"Yeah. Well..." he started to leave once more and, again, he stopped and turned. "By the way, heard your girl's trying out for a pro ball team."
Walt beamed. "That's right! Doc said her new legs should be in top shape by fall. She started with natural talent, of course. Must have gotten it from her mother's side of the family," he chuckled a little. "She'll be able to jump nearly the entire length of the court in a single stride."
"Isn't that something?" Hank mused. "Well, I'll be keeping an eye out. Wish her good luck."
"I'll do that, Hank. And good luck to you... you know... in your hunting and all."
Hank smiled. "Thanks. I'll be seeing ya." And with that, he headed out into the bright afternoon sunlight, careful to tuck his long tail behind him as the door swung shut.