Yessir, that was one interesting day in ... well, I'll jus' call our little town Bear Lick, on account of folks 'round here wouldn't take kindly ta having their town used in a story like this'un. I think I remember seein' there's a Bear Lick somewhere in Tennessee, but I don't rightly remember where I saw it. Anyway, if you live in Bear Lick, Tennessee, this story ain't really 'bout your town, so don't you fret none.
I was cuttin' Edward Jellico's hair, not a really interesting thing, you'd say, 'cept that Edward - he won't answer to Ed or Eddie - only comes in for a haircut once a year, the same time he comes down off his mountain to sell his furs, wild honey and ginseng. He takes the money, and loads up with a year's supply of salt and cornmeal, and then goes back up.
As you can prob'bly imagine, Edward was purty shaggy, so that haircut was takin' a while. It was a Saturday, and my shop was fillin' up with men wantin' a fresh haircut for church the next day. The county sheriff, Jimmy, was sittin' there readin' a fishin' magazine 'bout two years old, and Jack Ransom - he owns the hardware store – he was lookin' out my big window at the cars goin' by on Main Street. Bill Malloy and Jeff Jackson were playin' rummy on the table in the corner. Right then is when the second interesting thing happened that day - Ripley showed up in town.
No, not that Ripley, the Ripley who keeps track of the biggest ball of string and who wrote what on a pinhead and what's the longest anybody's ever sat in a tree. This Ripley was Ripley Kerns.
I was just finishin' up one side of Edward's head when Jack jumped up and said "Geeze Louise, who the hell is that?"
Well, everybody in the shop stopped whatever they was doin' and went to look, 'cept me and Edward. When you got as much hair as Edward did, it's purty easy for a barber to lose his place and I didn't wanna have to look for mine. Edward didn't seem too interested anyway. Edward never seemed to be interested in much of anythin' 'cept getting back to his mountain.
"Damn ... will you look at them long legs."
"Ain't her legs I'm a lookin' at. It's them titties. You ever see any titties move like that?"
"Holy shit, them little shorts almost ain't there."
"Uh-oh. Must be sump'in wrong. She's headin' fer the Sheriff's office."
"Well, maybe I oughta go see what the little lady wants then. You hold my spot, Tom. I'll be back soon's I find out what she's after."
Jimmy came back a few minutes later. He was smilin', something Jimmy didn't do much, what with being in charge of keeping the peace and all.
"Her name's Ripley, Ripley Kerns, and she's a wildlife photographer. She want's to take pictures of deer and bears and turkeys and make a book out of 'em. Says she already did one in Texas – that's where she's from - and thought our mountains'd be a good place for another. Wanted to know if we had any guides who'd show her around."
Well, you couldn't hear yourself think for a while for all the offers and comebacks.
"I got I place I'd like ta show her."
"Yeah, and Doris'd have your pecker nailed to the barn door soon's she found out."
"What that little lady needs is somebody who knows where the critters are an' can git her close to 'em."
"Jeff, the sheriff said she wants a bear, not that mouse in your shorts."
Jimmy interrupted the banter.
"I told her I'd ask around, see if anybody was interested. She's gonna stay over at Mabel's for a day or so. Wish I had more'n one deputy. I might take on the job myself. You oughta see her suntan. Don't seem to stop anywhere I could see."
Well, I got Edward all clipped, combed and dusted with powder about then and held up the mirror so he could see hisself. He just said,"OK", counted out the charge from a pocket full of bills and coins, and left.
Took me a while to get from my truck to my shop Monday morning, because there was a young woman just standing there outside the bank like she was waitin' on somebody. She had the longest legs ... well, her jeans rode low enough I figured if she bent over, her butt crack'd show just a little. Them legs went all the way from there down to her little hikin' boots. One of them big cameras like they got down at the newpaper was hanging around her neck, but the straps had to kind of spread out to clear her breasts. They were pushin' out the little check shirt she had on 'til it looked like the buttons were gonna pop clean off.
Just about the time I made it to the door without trippin' on somethin' while I was watchin' her, she started across the street in my direction. I finally got the key in the lock, opened the door and went inside. I got the lights on, and there was Ripley standin' at my door. She lifted up her big sunglasses, propped them on top of the coal-black hair she'd pulled back in a ponytail, and looked through the window. I waved at her to come on in.
"Well, hello there Miss. Somethin' I can help you with?"
I'd never heard a real Texas drawl before, but if that was what Ripley had, it sounded real nice. The words just kind of dripped out of her mouth sweet as maple syrup from a pitcher ... or maybe it was just because the rest of her that was pretty sweet too made her sound that way. I don't know. Whatever it was, I liked her right off.
"You're the town barber, right?"
"Yes I am. I'm Tom Wingate, and you'd be... ?"
"Ah ... the girl Jimmy talked to yesterday."
"If Jimmy's the sheriff, I'm the one. What'd he tell you?"
"That you're a photographer who's takin' pictures fer a wildlife book, and you were lookin' fer somebody to show you around."
"Well, that's kinda right. What I want is to get to more than squirrels and raccoons, and 'possums. The smaller animals are important, but I want pictures of deer and bear doing what they do naturally."
"Well, there's definitely deer and bear up in the mountains."
Ripley smiled and the room seemed to light up just a little.
"My uncle was the barber back in Calf Creek, and he knew every man in twenty miles. He'd heard all their stories too. Wasn't too hard for him to tell which were true and which weren't. I figured you might be same. So tell me, if you were gonna go up in the mountains looking for animals, who'd you pick to go with you?"
I thought about it for a second. No ... she'd never fit with him and I didn't really think he'd like havin' her up there much. Still, he was prob'bly the best for what she wanted.
"There's a man name of Edward Jellico happens to be in town. He could show you what you're looking for and prob'bly some things you haven't thought of."
She smiled again.
"Sounds like the man I need. Where would I find him?"
"Well, Miss, before you go and do that, there's some things I oughta tell ya 'bout Edward. You might change your mind.
"See, Edward's kind of an odd sort of guy. He must be, oh, forty by now, and he stays up in the mountains except for a couple days a year when he comes down to sell his furs and stuff. Nobody really knows where he lives. Nobody really knows him at all for that matter. You might be getting yourself more than you can handle if you go up there with him."
"You think he's dangerous?"
"Nah. Edward's just a loner, and he's pretty tame. He's just ... kinda different."
"I can handle different if he gets me the shots I want."
"OK. Well, he's prob'bly down at Mercer's getting' stuff to take back with him. He'll be leavin' today, I imagine."
About an hour later, I saw Ripley drive past in a Jeep with Edward sitting in the passenger seat.
The next Saturday, Ripley walked into my shop again.
"Think I could get you to drive me up the mountain this afternoon?"
"Well, sure, but why?"
"It's just what I'm looking for up there. It's gonna take me a while to get everything I want, so I'm gonna stay up there with Edward. I just came down to get some things I'll need, and I don't want to leave my Jeep parked up there at the end of the road."
I drove her up Snake Road until it stopped. Ripley picked up the backpack she'd stuffed everything into and slung it over her shoulders.
"Well, Tom, I don't know how long this is gonna take, so I'll see you when I see you, I guess."
I saw her waving in the rear view mirror as I drove her Jeep back to town.
.... There is more of this story ...