This article is part of the Fur Trapper Saga series.
I HAVE PERSONALLY MADE A MISTAKE
P.B. Fouke, a man truly humbled.Trappers and shippers, you have long been my faithful companions and allies in this great journey, and together we have brought joyous death and utility to the beasts of this world. We have tracked and trapped dangerous prey, traversed distant wilderness, AND DRAPED OUR WOMEN IN THE FINEST QUALITY FURS.
That is why it pains me so greatly to admit that I have failed one of you. And as steadfast compatriots in this noble enterprise of fur trapping, to fail one of you is to fail all of you. I come before you as a humbled man to lay out in detail my misdeed. Nothing shall be left off the record, lest I be guilty of the sin of omission. Should you choose to forgive me, it will not be out of ignorance. If you judge my crime beyond the scope of absolution, then I will accept the consequences in full.
I must warn the more sensitive among you that the particulars of my crime are not for the faint of heart. The words that follow are a graphic account of the incident, and they may leave you feeling weak of stomach. Let me also state, as a courtesy to my business associates, that I alone am accountable. There were no other parties present or involved, save for me and my unfortunate victim.
I, PHILIP BOND FOUKE III, FUMBLED THE EXECUTION OF THAT MOST SACRED OF BUSINESS CODAS: THE HANDSHAKE
I have shaken hands with more than three million men, and all of them will attest that my handshake was solid and reaffirming. All of them but one. That man, Mr. Rutherford B. Portlout, deserved far better than what he received. It was a ghoulish spectacle, one that has played out again and again in my imagination. I have labored over every painful second, reliving the horror that transpired. Sensitive readers, again I implore you to proceed cautiously.
MY FINGERS WERE NEEDLESSLY PRODDING
I do not know what unnatural force guided my hand, but as I reached outward my fingers poked into Mr. Portlout's wrist. At one point a finger become lost under his watchband, and another made its way into the sleeve of his shirt. I apologized, but already my resolve was shaken. He, too, seemed unnerved. Friends, I spare you no details here: he gasped in horror as my unruly digits poked and prodded him. I had turned what was to be a natural and reassuring conclusion to a fruitful discussion into something profoundly obscene.
MY PALM WAS EXCEPTIONALLY DAMP
Mr. Portlout's look of horror only intensified as he felt my hand lock onto his. The wetness of my palm, comparable to some cursed bayou swamp, caused a great pallor to fix upon him. While no man -- and thankfully no woman -- witnessed the event, I can only surmise my own complexion mirrored Mr. Portlout's. It was as though the grand flow of time was made to move at half pace, if not stop entirely, so that we both might contemplate the unfolding tragedy with all our faculties.
MY GRIP WAS AT FIRST WEAK AND FRAIL
Unsteadied by the trouble uniting our two hands, I offered only a limp grasp. The grip was strong enough such to transfer the sweat from my hand to his, but not enough to reassure him of my strength as a business partner. To make matters worse, it was only when his hand started to slip away that I squeezed down. By this time my whole body was in a sweat, and I could see the strain in Mr. Portlout's wary brow.
I MAINTAINED THE HANDSHAKE FOR TOO LONG
Something terrible came over me, for I did not release the handshake at the appropriate time. True, nothing of this handshake was appropriate, but there was no reason to belabor it for so long, turning a fleeting mistake into an ongoing ordeal. As the handshake lingered on, I became fearful to let go, for in that moment we would both have to come to terms with the event. As long as the grip held, I would be free from consequence.
I held Mr. Portlout's hand tightly. It is true he tried to free himself on one occasion, very early in the shake, but once he saw I was not ready to let go, he acted as a gentleman and maintained his side of the grip with proper conviction and authority. Although he did not protest and was entirely polite, the truth cannot be denied: I HELD THAT POOR MAN HOSTAGE WITH MY DISGUSTINGLY MOIST HAND.
As time marched on our resolve was tested. Our arms strained to continue not just the grip, but to continue the momentum of that most underrated aspect of the endeavor: the shake itself. Hours passed, and our shared horror only intensified. At times he wept softly, cooing like a lonely widow mourning a lost love. At other times he sobbed like a child, loud and thundering. I, too, broke down and wept. I had made Mr. Portlout an unwitting participant in something unseemly.
Still more hours passed. At times one of us would take a knee, or even both of us, so that we might rest and recuperate. No words were spoken, and yet he had the professionalism to maintain eye contact at all times and not try to escape.
I could see it in those eyes of his, those big bloodshot eyes, that he understood the gravity of the situation. That he had been party to something that would forever scar me, and sully my reputation with the entire fur industry and the hundreds of thousands of trappers it employs. When I finally relinquished my grip, we nodded, and he left. Two days had passed, and neither one of us had slept, eaten, or had a drop to drink.
DOCTORS COULD FIND NO MEDICAL REASON FOR THE FOUL HANDSHAKE
As much as it would please me to offer some medical reason absolving me of guilt, I cannot. My doctor and personal shaman, Dr. F. Gerald Thornton, carefully examined all aspects of my anatomy for defect, but none could be found. I even tasked him with examining my brain, which he did with much enthusiasm. He gently sawed open my skull, but observed no tumor or malady that might explain the handshake. I shall repeat it once more: I ALONE BEAR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS GRAVE TRAGEDY.
Should you see fit to forgive me, I will gladly continue to receive your pristine pelts and pay above-industry prices. And I would be delighted to sell you the finest trapping products at the lowest imaginable prices.
Finally, I offer my sincere apologies and condolences to the family of Mr. Portlout, who are now without husband and father. Mr. Portlout, being a man of exceptional integrity, saw fit to end his own life rather than serve as living monument to my one and only mistake. He graciously hung himself to protect me from the shame. Trappers and shippers, believe you me: IT IS A SHAME I EARNED. I come before you a man humbled, a man begging for forgiveness.
If you are still with me, then I invite you to join me in celebrating Mr. Portlout. Together, we can ensure that he did not die in vain. Mr. Portlout gave his life to protect my name and reputation and that of the fur industry as a whole. I can think of no more honorable a deed than that. In his memory, I invite you to kindly deduct thirty per cent (30%) from all printed catalogue prices. May his heroic sacrifice live on in the form of savings to the brave and forgiving men of this sacred profession.
And here's my name to say so.
P. B. Fouke,
President and General Manager
The Fouke Fur Company
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