It was the killing that made him feel alive. That’s what he told me. Jonathan Oldsman Martin III. That was his birth name. To me, heck, he’ll always be Deadpan Johnny. I first met Deadpan when I was 16 years old. I’d been hunting rabbits with my brother, Jesse, out near the old train tracks north of town. Somehow or another, me and Jess got separated. I sat down on a rail track to kind of catch my wind, and there he was white beard and all. Nearly scared the living shit right out of me. He had a couple dead squirrels tied to his waistband and a big ol’ shotgun slung over his left shoulder. The man was like a giant. He had to be close to seven feet tall in his stocking feet. I tell you he nearly scared me right to death, he did. It was them eyes that done me in more than how big he was. They was gray and beady. He could have killed you with their cold stare. And there he was standing with that damn stare on me! He didn’t move, and I didn’t move. For a full five minutes we just stared at each other. My mouth was so dry. I couldn’t have talked if I wanted to.
Even when he raised his gun and pointed it right at me, he was just staring. Now when I get scared or nervous, well, I start laughing and can’t control it. So there I was with this crazed looking hunter staring at me with eyes and gun, and I start laughing. This was not your normal hehe kind of laugh. This was your gut hurting, rolling over and begging it to stop kind. And I did, roll all over the ground, I mean.
Old deadpan didn’t know if I was crazy or clever. Either way, it bought me his admiration and a seat at his table. He grabbed me by the collar, brought me to my feet and moved me along with the butt of his rifle. Eventually we made it to his cabin. I couldn’t to this day tell you the way. He had me zigging and zagging until I didn’t know which way was which. When I walked in, well, it blew me away. There was animal skins and bones everywhere and books…more books than I’d ever seen in one place. Most were them medical books on dissecting and such. The whole place just gave you the willies.
He took them squirrels he had on his belt and skinned them without a word, dropped them in a pot full of water and set it to boil on the woodstove. He took off his jacket and then gestured for me to remove mine, which I did.
He finally did speak. It was after we had eaten them squirrels. He lit up a pipe and told me that he was wanted in 48 states for murder. He told me he was going to teach me to kill and skin a man before the night was over. And he did. My brother was lying out in back of the cabin in a red patch of snow. He put the hook into the back of his neck and set him up on the hanging tree for educational purposes. Yep, I learned quick and I learned well. Meeting deadpan was the best damn thing that ever happened to me. Too bad I had to kill him. He was a damn good teacher.