It was a kill my grandmother would have hated—multiple shots through a sniper’s scope across the mile breadth of Kainalu Valley. “Bloody coward,” I imagined Gramma saying. She felt a hunter should give a buck a fighting chance by firing only one shot through open sites within one hundred yards. My big brother Ben had just fired five times at a buck on the opposite ridge and now it was lying on its side in a clearing. He’d let me shoot too, just for fun, through the open sites of his old .22.
I picked up two brass casings Ben’s rifle had ejected—they were still warm. The air smelled of gunpowder, the scent of celebration. It was the same acrid firecracker odor that lingered in the islands every July Fourth, New Year, and Chinese New Year.
Ben studied the buck through his .270’s scope. His blond hair glinted like gold. The hairs on his neck and arms were blond too. Gramma called him a “sissy” because he had our Irish mother’s looks. I took after our hapa haole father with my dark complexion and rugged features. Strangers didn’t think we were brothers at all.
“Big horns?” I asked.
Ben shifted the butt of the rifle so it rested lower down on his shoulder. “Not bad,” he said. “Can’t find the entry wound.”
“Where’d you aim?”
“Maybe he’s bluffing.”
“Bluffing, my ass,” Ben told me. He lowered his .270 and cradled it in his arms. The wooden stock glowed like honey and its black barrel was shiny from oilings. Ben picked his nose. “No buck lies on his side like that,” he told me.
Ben had been trying to shoot his first buck all summer. It was something he could tell all his Diamond Head pals back home in Honolulu, boys he considered losers for idling away their summers surfing, smoking pakalolo, and chasing after girls at the Kahala Hilton. The only friend he respected was a popolo boy named Barry who had a summer job selling hotdogs off a cart in Waikiki.
“Bet Barry’s making planny kala,” Ben had said.
“How much can you make selling hotdogs?” I’d asked.
He’d chuckled. “That’s not all he sells.”
My brother was determined to start sophomore year at Punahou School with another trophy hanging off his bedroom wall. He thought of himself as the De Niro character in The Deer Hunter, a crack shot sportsman with a cool head and a hoard of idiot friends. Everything he was wearing today was camouflage: shirt, pants, and even a cap. He’d bought the outfit at Big 88 Surplus in Honolulu, along with an olive-colored plastic canteen and a matching belt. A Buck knife and a hatchet hung in leather sheaths attached to the belt. Gramma had told me Ben’s outfit was “silly business” and that “the Prince of Wales couldn’t hit the side of a barn.” This was our ninth straight summer on our grandmother’s ahupua’a, a 250-acre ranch starting at the shore and reaching up to the skyline. The ranch was an ancient Hawaiian land division that recognized the sacred elements of land, water, and sky.
* * *
I followed Ben down through wild guava and mountain apple trees. The .270 swayed on a sling off his right shoulder. His Army boots left deep tracks. The ground was muddy from a recent rain so I held on to the branches to steady myself. I had on a t-shirt, swim trunks, and Keds. The day pack slung over my left shoulder contained a pair of binoculars, a skinning knife, laundry cord, and burlap bags. The knife was rolled up in the burlap to prevent the blade from stabbing me. The barrel of the .22 poked out of the top of the pack.
Ben took a narrow trail covered with ti plants. He didn’t look back to see if I was keeping up. It was as if he wanted to reach his kill in the shortest possible time and it didn’t matter if I fell behind. I followed a path of crushed ti. He sidestepped the thick trunk of a koa and examined a mound of droppings that resembled Chinese black beans.
Ben crouched. “Goat,” he said.
I dropped to one knee. There was the aroma of fresh-cut grass.
“Wanna shoot one?” he asked.
“I dunno,” I said.
“You dunno ‘cause you’re chicken.”
“We don’t eat goat meat.”
“The dogs will. That’ll save money on canned food.”
“But the dogs love their Friskies.”
Ben shook his head. “If you don’t start shooting soon, Jeffo, you’ll never be a hunter.”
“I’d rather be a fisherman.”
“Fishing’s for wimps,” he told me.
“What about sharks?”
“What about ‘em?”
“What if you spear a hammerhead like Daddy?”
“What if, what if,” he mimicked. “What if the rabbit hadn’t stopped?”
Now Ben was using our grandmother’s “what if” chiding against me. It was as if Gramma was on the hunt with us. It made me feel like a baby.
Ben stood. He adjusted the sling on his rifle. “I was two years younger than you when I shot my first billy,” he said. “You’ve gotta make this your goat summer.”
“Should I use the .22?”
“I’ll let you borrow my .270 when I sniff one.”
“Billies pee on themselves to turn on the nannies. Imagine if we had to pee on ourselves to get chicks?”
“I’d never do it.”
He smirked. “You’d take pee showers if you knew it’d turn on Debbie Mills.”
“I don’t like Debbie.”
“Liar,” he replied. “You’d fuck her like a horny rabbit.”
Ben’s goat head hung off his bedroom wall back home in Honolulu. He always invited boys into his room to look at it. Most were impressed. He’d fired three .22 hollow points into the billy’s back but the billy ran into a ravine and it took Ben all day tracking the blood. He’d finally found it breathing heavy under a fern—that’s when he pulled his knife. The billy didn’t impress Gramma. In her hierarchy of hunting, the goat was below the lowly pig.
“Hum ha,” Gramma had scolded him, “get outta my house.”
“What for?” he’d asked.
“You stink like a god damned goat.”