Travelers Digest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
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Luke Larson and Carl Stoker were fishing in a central Missouri lake when Carl's dog discovered something that would soon change their lives. Join them as they, along with a country sheriff and a resourceful medical examiner, go to the tiny backwoods town of Gretna to expose Dean Bowman, the architect of one of the most grisly series of murders in American history.

Submitted: October 30, 2018

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Submitted: October 30, 2018

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©1996 James Alexander III

TRAVELERS DIGEST

by

James Alexander III

 

For
 Shirley


WARNING
The following "literature" contains extremely distasteful persons and events. Further, it may also be offensive to people of low intelligence, homosexual tendencies,  a particular political party or who are overweight. Also, the contents do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or thought patterns of the author.
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Luke Larson and Carl Stoker were fishing in a central Missouri lake when Carl's dog discovered something that would soon change their lives. Join them as they, along with a country sheriff and a resourceful medical examiner, go to the tiny backwoods town of Gretna to expose Dean Bowman, the architect of one of the most grisly series of murders in American history.

1

Charlie Groves was driving west on SR 32 in Central Missouri. The road sign said Kansas City was still 125 miles. No way, thought Charlie. He was about to fall asleep as it was so you could hang up driving two more hours. Charlie didn't like interstate highways. He always used the back roads, usually US and state highways. But right now he was wishing he was on I-70 because he needed a good bath and eight hours sleep, so what better than a motel?

Charlie worked for Tri-Star Investments in Boston. When he had first gotten on with Tri-Star in 1979, he was fresh out of college and all ready to go out into the world and be an ass-kicking success. He had graduated from Boston College with a degree in business. But now it was 1983 and Tri-Star was failing and was trying frantically to find another investment firm to merge with to keep from going under.

Charlie was elected by Tri-Star to make the flight to Los Angeles for the purpose of talking to Golden State Corporation, one of California's largest investment companies. Golden State wanted a solid set of proposals from Tri-Star before month's end. Charlie had left Boston in his Chevy Chevette on June 15. What the hell, he figured. I've got two weeks. Why not drive and see the sights?

The last five Missouri towns he had gone through showed no signs of life, not even a cat running across the road. It was only eleven but Charlie thought, well, in this neck of the woods they probably close up shop around seven. He drove on, and by eleven-thirty had all but given up on a motel, but had not given up on the possibility of at least getting a hot meal, even if he did have to sleep in the car.

The next road sign said "Gretna 1 Mile." Probably another bust, he thought. Then as he drove through he saw a lit up building near the end of town on the left. As he got closer he saw the dim neon sign that said "Gretna Cafe - open til midnight." Hot damn! Looks like I'm gonna get that hot meal after all. But Charles Leonard Groves would never have thought in his wildest dreams that he would soon be one.

2
Spring 1984
Paul Milligan was now two weeks overdue. He had been in Salt Lake City on business. Paul owned and operated Presto Incorporated,  makers of typewriters and photocopiers. He had been interested in opening a branch in the Utah capital for some time now. He had left Salt Lake City for Atlanta three weeks ago in his Mustang GT and even at a leisurely pace the trip should have taken no more than a few days.

Paul's wife Sarah had long since notified Atlanta Police about her missing husband. They in turn had put out a tracer on all points between Atlanta and Salt Lake City that might be on the path of a man traveling by car. The police departments of hundreds of cities and towns now had a description of Paul Milligan and his car.

Sarah Milligan had been making excuses to their children, Paul Jr., age ten, and Heidi, age seven, concerning the whereabouts of their father. But Sarah knew why Paul was late. He had found himself a little damsel to shack up with, if not more than one. Perhaps one at a time, all the way back. He cheated on her right here in town so why not on trips? It was twice as easy. The one thing that bothered her, however, was the fact that he was not calling in giving her all these bullshit stories about why he was late. This worried her, in spite of his unfaithfulness.

Presto Inc. was left to Paul by his father after his death in 1977. Harlan Milligan had been a bitch to work for as most of his employees would attest, including Paul himself. And now Paul, as most of his employees would agree, was also difficult to please. It was like someone once said: "When your boss is the boss's son, it makes for a real long day." But they would no longer have to worry about it. Paul Milligan had been served ala carte with lima beans and potatoes two and a half weeks ago at the Gretna Cafe (open til midnite) Gretna, Missouri.

3
Cannibalism had been going on in Gretna, Missouri for seven years prior to the disappearance of Charlie Groves. Not everyone in this town of three hundred knew about it but some did.

The "proprietor" of the Gretna Cafe was Dean Bowman. Dean was born into a low income family on Kansas City's east side. He was a fairly nice looking man of five feet eleven and 160 pounds. To those who didn't know him better he seemed like a textbook "nice guy." To those who didn't know him better, that was. Dean was forty-seven years old with gray, thinning hair.

Once as a child in Kansas City Dean witnessed a serious automobile accident in which one of the victims (who later died) had his arm torn off as he flew through the windshield of his car. The arm had landed near the side of the road, as yet unnoticed by police and paramedics. As Dean and his family progressed slowly by the accident scene, he saw the severed limb and immediately jumped out of the car, skinning his knees, ran over and picked up the arm and began eating the torn end of it ravenously. Dean's father quickly pulled the car over as his mother and others screamed. A Missouri state policeman on the scene ran over and separated Dean from his meal. Dean was only five years old and that was the only reason the policeman did not make an arrest. He turned Dean over to his parents and strongly suggested psychological evaluation for him. Dean's parents, however, could not afford this and after a time the incident was forgotten. Dean Bowman, for the next thirty years, never tried to satisfy his strange appetite in front of witnesses.

Dean was one of three children in his family, having two older sisters. However, when the family sat down to the dinner table, everyone except Dean enjoyed ham and eggs, vegetables, salad, etc. But Dean's opinion of such foods, or even steak and lobster, was the same as the average person's opinion of sardines. He knew where the good eating was.

When he graduated from high school his first job was as an orderly at Kansas City General Hospital. He was often put on the garbage disposal detail. It had always amazed Dean how these people could throw away perfectly good amputated limbs. Yes, Dean loved his job.

In 1976, Dean moved to Gretna because of his desire to get out of "the big city." He had been with Kansas City General for eighteen years and now it was time to move on. The little town was just what he needed. He soon landed a job at the Gretna Cafe as a waiter. Two years later he was the owner. In Dean's eleven year "career" at the cafe, he either murdered or had had murdered sixty-three people, all for the purpose of nourishment. The vast majority of these were transients, but a few of them were mouthy locals who threatened to expose him and his M.O. One of these was the town drunk, Ira Porter. Ira was always hounding Dean for a free meal. Dean finally tired of it and one day in the summer of '81 when Ira was puking up his guts in the restroom, Dean buried a meat cleaver in his back. His corpse was hung in one of the cafe coolers for "future use."

4
September 1987

Let's tell this now, because the sooner it's told the sooner it can be forgotten. There are some things you figure just can't happen here in the good old U S of A. Maybe in Africa or New Guinea or South America, but not here.

Luke Larson and Carl Stoker were on a fishing trip at Lake Forrester. The lake was about thirty miles north of Jefferson City. Carl was a fifty-five year old retired  USAF bomber pilot. He had participated in some of the B-52 bombing raids over North Viet Nam in 1965 and 1972. His wife had died in 1980 of lung cancer. Luke met Carl at a gun show in St. Louis in 1982. He had just moved to Jefferson City himself. He kept trying to convince Carl to move out of that St. Louis rat hole and come to a smaller town. He finally too Luke's advice.

This fishing trip had been particularly rewarding. They must have caught three dozen trout. Carl's dog Mitzi was running around the lakeshore. Around 5:30 p.m. they decided to call it a day and head  home to cook up some of their catch. As they approached the dock, Luke turned off the five horsepower outboard and Carl tied up the boat. As they were getting out, Mitzi came running down the makeshift pier barking to beat the band. "Whutsa matter girl?" Carl asked, taking her head in his hands. Mitzi ran back toward the shore then turned and looked at them. "I think she wants us to follow her," Luke said. The dog led them to a spot near a large oak tree. She started sniffing around an area of loosened earth that was slightly mounded. Just to satisfy her, Carl started kicking the area Mitzi was sniffing the most. As he did, all he could feel was dirt. Then on about the tenth kick he hit something firmer. It was unearthed enough to see that it was off-white in color. Carl reached down and grabbed hold of whatever it was and pulled. As he did, the truth was unveiled. Before them lay a human rib cage.
"Holy shit!" Luke gasped.
"Well put," said Carl.
Mitzi started tugging at the bones again.
"No girl!" Carl ordered. She backed off, growling.
"Come on, let's call the cops," Carl then said.
They hopped in Luke's car and headed for the picnic area across the lake where there was a pay phone.

After a thorough search of the dirt mound and immediate area, police discovered a skull and a right shin bone to go with the rib cage. They took all the remains to the Callaway County Police Station for study by the medical examiner, who called Luke and Carl to his office a couple of days later to tell them of his findings.
"What we're looking at here is the skeletal remains of a male homosapien," he said. "It looks like the guy was about five foot nine, medium bone structure. As far as finding out who he was, we'll explore the usual avenues, dental records, etc."

As Luke listened to him, he couldn't help but wonder why the M.E. wanted them to know these things. He didn't wonder for long.

"There's one thing about the remains that I wasn't sure if you guys noticed or not, but I couldn't take a chance, so I called you in," the M.E. continued.
"You've got my curiosity up now, doc. What was it, a mob hit?" Carl asked, with interest.
"No, if that was all it was I wouldn't have bothered you." He hesitated then continued. "The skeleton you guys found out there was just that when it was buried, a skeleton. The only trace of organic tissue we found was a small amount hanging off the ankle."
"How the hell could it have been a skeleton from the start?" Luke asked, stunned.
"I'm getting to that," said the M.E. whose name was Daryl Crooks. "On the right fibula, just below the knee, I found what has now been confirmed as teeth marks."
"Christ, you mean the poor bastard was eaten . . . by a wild animal?" Carl asked.
"I don't think the doctor is talking wild animals here," Luke said, staring at Crooks.
"Your instinct is accurate," Crooks said to Luke. "You gentlemen must understand that the information I'm about to give you must be kept confidential." After they agreed to this, Crooks told them,
"The tooth marks on the fibula are human."
"Say what?" Carl asked after ten seconds of silence.
"That's right," Crooks said. "At some point, somebody got tired of hamburgers."
"Are you suggesting cannibalism?" Luke asked, rubbing his chin.
"What else?"

5
Carl had been staying with Luke since his move from St. Louis. All his belongings were still in a moving van downtown. Luke lived in a small place on Jefferson City's north side. They stayed up most of that night discussing their visit with Daryl Crooks as they digested their huge trout dinners.

"Can you believe that shit, man? Cannibalism, for God sake," Carl had said.
"Yeah, it's pretty hard to swallow, no pun intended, but Crooks seemed to know his business."

After talking for another three hours, Carl finally went to bed, as Luke fell asleep in his chair. As he dozed off he started thinking about how something like cannibalism could be a part of our so-called civilized society. He could think of only two documented accounts of it in the United States. One being the Donner party. Some of its members, after being hopelessly snowbound on the eastern slopes of the Sierra-Nevada mountains of California, had, by their admission, eaten the flesh of dead party  members, but only after they had dined on all of their horses and oxen that had drawn their covered wagons. Upon their rescue, one man was found to have been carrying several fingers and toes around in his coat pocket to be used for snacks. It was a shame too because they had started out in Ohio and had almost reached their destination, which was somewhere to the west of the Sierra range. But that was in 1846, for Pet's sake.

Then there was Juan Corona, the fruit grove worker near Yuba City, California in 1975. Corona had murdered twenty-five of his co-workers and before burying them in different spots in the groves partially devoured the bodies.

And who could forget the Uruguayan soccer team that was on its way to Chile for a tournament. Their plane crashed in the high heights of the Andes mountains, killing twenty nine of their forty five passengers. They waited three months before being rescued and in the interim were forced to feed on the dead to survive.

* * *
Luke drove into the parking lot of Capital City Shell about 9 p.m. on Monday and parked right in front. This was one of two Shell station-food marts he owned. Both were in the Jefferson City area. As he was getting out of his Buick Grand National, he looked in and saw Becky Simmons, his evening cashier, behind the counter smoking a cigarette. Becky was fairly well known to most of the young men (married or not) in the northeastern part of town as a "hot number." She worked the three to eleven shift and on occasion one of her after work activities was giving blow-jobs in the car wash.

You could say it was a shame that a girl like Becky turned out to be a promiscuous tramp, but things just turn out that way sometimes, and in her case, not without good reason. Becky was a five foot three inch read head with a body resembling that of an Olympic gymnast. And at twenty-one years of age, she was just starting to "prime out" physically.

Luke walked in and greeted a customer who was just leaving the store.

"Wud I tell you about smoking inside, Miss Becky?" Luke asked.
"Yessss sir," Becky said, as she rubbed out her cigarette in disgust.
"That's better," Luke said, nodding. "I'll be in the office if anyone wants to know. If the phone rings I'll answer it in there. I'm expecting a call."
"Got it," she said, with a tinge of sarcasm, then thought, What the hell is he doing here at this hour?

As Luke was in the middle of finding out the midnight shift was fifteen dollars short, the phone rang. It was Carl Stoker.

"Hey Luke buddy, Carl here."
"I know, I recognized your voice," Luke joked. "What's hap'nin?"
"Well, I was out hunting a place to eat and I stopped at The Kettle coffee shop for dinner and before I went in I picked up a paper and . . ."
"Hey, slow down," Luke said, concerned about the urgency in Carl's voice.
"Okay, sorry. Like I said, I picked up a Kansas City paper and started reading about this cat named Charles Groves whose half devoured carcass was found by a hiker just outside this little burg called Gretna. Sound familiar?"
"The town doesn't but the rest of it does. Which Kettle are you at?"
"Well, there's a Motel 6 right next to it and a K-Mart across the street," Carl explained.
"Yeah, okay, stay put. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"You got it."

They discussed the possible tie between their discovery and that of the hiker for about an hour before deciding to drive to Gretna the following Sunday. But this was only Monday, Luke thought. He had a whole week of dealing with assholes, on both sides of the counter. The service station business was tough but lucrative.

6

When Luke arrived home he saw that Mitzi had just laid a fresh turd on the carpet. Carl can stay but this bitch has got to go, he thought. Carl had wanted to keep her inside, but since his lawn was fenced in, Luke told him it was either outside or the dog kennel. Carl agreed, or so Luke had thought.

Luke had the KC newspaper with him and as he sat in his easy chair with it, he started thinking about their upcoming trip to the Missouri boonies and sticking their noses into something that could well chop them off. When he sat down it was 11:30 p.m. When he woke up it was 1 a.m. to the sound of Carl coming in the front door. Mitzi greeted him enthusiastically.
"Yo Luke, didn't doze off did you?"
"As usual. Where you been?"
"Oh, I went over to the bowling center for a drink."

Mitzi walked over and licked Luke's dangling right hand. Luke wasn't your average dog fanatic but it was Mitzi that had made the startling discovery at the lake.

"You want the good news first or the bad news?" Carl asked.
"Gi'me the good."
"I found a place to dump my load."
"Great, now what's the bad news?"
"I'm taking Mitzi with me."
"Aw darn, just when I was learning my way around all the dog shit on the rug."

The terrier looked up at Luke as if she had understood, and yapped twice.

"Yeah, you heard me," Luke said to her.
"So where's your new pad?"
"It's down on Laurel, pretty close to one of your stations. It's one of those fixer-up-ers, but it's real roomy."
"Sounds good. Say, you wouldn't need any part time work, would you? I'm having some problems with the evening shift help at the Capital City station.
"Heyyy, I'm retired, remember?"
"I forgot."

7

It was now Friday and every day this week Luke had sworn he would get out of the service station business. He drove to Carl's place, which was on the south end of Jefferson City. When he got there he saw Carl sitting on what passed for a front porch, smoking a cigar. His Dodge pickup sat in the driveway, close to the house. Carl saw him and waved. Luke climbed out of his Buick and walked through foot-tall grass to the porch. As he climbed the steps, the boards squeaked fiercely.
"Have a seat there, junior," Carl said.
"Junior. I like that."
"Well, you're junior to me."
"Only by fourteen years."
"That makes it biologically possible for you to be my son, son."
"Thank God I'm not."
"You better," Carl said, as they laughed.
"So this is home?" Luke said, looking around at cobwebs and a few rotted boards.
"I know it doesn't look like much now but just you wait."
"I wouldn't mind helping you but there aren't enough hours in the day as it is."
"Forget it. You got your stations to tend to."
"Hey Carl buddy, what say we go out and get a steak tonight, maybe hit a club or two?"
"You serious? Sure, I'll go if you're buyin'."
"I'll get the eats if you'll get the drinks," Luke proposed.
"You got a deal."

They arrived at Sir Sid's Restaurant about nine. Sid's was fully equipped with a bar, a band and a dance floor. It also had several fireplaces. The group playing tonight was called The Bodacious Band. They were playing oldies and they were good. Luke and Carl could hear them from the restaurant side.
"Not a bad group, are they? What'cha havin'? Luke asked.
"I'm a Perry Como man myself," Carl said with pride. "I'll get the T-bone."
"Perry Como?" Gi'me a break!"
"Well, the Beatles are okay too."
"Perry Como?" Luke repeated.

The waitress came and took their orders as the Bodacious Band started playing "You Really Got Me" originally by The Kinks. The dance floor was full as they rocked out at high volume.
"We're goin' in there when we're done here and if we see the right young lady I'm gonna see how well your fifty-five-year-old ass can dance," Luke told Carl.
"And which SWAT team did you say was gonna drag my fifty-five-year-old ass in there?"
"Aw, come on, Carl baby, I heard all you ex B-52 boys had some sense of humor."
"Where'd you hear that?" Oh, hell, all right, but you'll owe me one for this, buddy boy."

They finished eating and headed into the bar, ordered two beers and got a table not too close to the dance floor. The band was just wrapping up one of those "tit grabbing" songs, "The Worse That Could Happen" formerly by The Brooklyn Bridge.
"Take a look around you, Carl. Have you ever seen so many pussy in one spot in your life?"
"If you're speaking of the ladies in our midst, yes, not a bad array."

There were two girls sitting at one of the tables closer to the dance floor. One looked about twenty-five, the other closer the fifty. They looked enough alike to be mother and daughter. They appeared to be giggling and looking Luke and Carl's way.
"Hey, Carl, check it out."
"Check what out?"
"Those two over there."
"What about 'em?"
"Pay attention, dad, the older one's eye'n ya. Why don't you ask her to dance?"
"The next Perry Como number."
"Aw, fuck Perry Como, man, get serious."

The band then started "Boogie Nights" first recored by Heat Wave. Luke was about to prod Carl again when the older lady approached the table.
"Look out, Carl, she's got hungry eyes."
"I need you to dance with me," Jackie Phelps said to Carl.
Carl stared in disbelief for a moment.
"What else do you need me for?"
"That depends on how you dance."

Luke burst out laughing and attracted the attention of surrounding tables. Jackie extended her hand and Carl took it as  he stood up.
"I'll get you for this," he told Luke.
"Get him for what?" Jackie asked Carl.
"Never mind."
Jackie was an exceptional dancer but Carl just went through the motions. When "Boogie Nights" wound down, "It's All in the Game" started. "Many a tear has to fall . . ." it went.
Aw shit, a slow song, Carl thought, then thanked Jackie and headed for the table.
"What's your hurry? I love this song," she said. "Don't be shy, just take my hand and put your arm around me."
At six feet, Carl had to bend over quite a bit to embrace Jackie, who was only four-foot eleven. And as he did so he looked over at Luke with cold blooded murder in his eyes. Luke tried unsuccessfully to suppress the laughter.

They finished the number and danced once more to "All Day and All of the Night" also from The Kinks. Luke asked Julie Tanner, Jackie's daughter, to dance and she accepted.

Luke and Carl then returned to their table and the girls to theirs.
"Man I'm too old for that bullshit," Carl said, winded.
"You looked great out there, chief."
"I prob'ly looked like a damned fool."
"Nah, trust me. Why don't you ask the two ladies to join us?"

So Carl did, and they all talked and had a couple of beers each. As they walked to the parking lot, Carl managed to get Jackie's phone number, then they left.
"Nice kid," Carl said of Jackie as they drove away.
"Yeah, I could tell you thought so."
"Her daughter was kind of cute. You get anything going with her?"
"She's married."
"Yes, but did you get anything going with her?"
"No, Carl."

8
October

Luke picked up Carl at 10 sharp Sunday morning. After breakfast at The Kettle they hopped in the Grand National and headed for Gretna, which was out US 50 and up SR 32 about an hour from Jefferson City. As they drove they tried to devise some sort of a plan along the lines of what they would do first upon arrival. They agreed that they should try to locate the hiker who had discovered Charlie Groves' body, or what was left of it.

No sooner had they turned onto the state road than they saw a sign that said: Macmillan 17, Gretna 39. Forty-five minutes later they were there. It was 1 o'clock. The first thing they saw was Gretna's only service station. It bore the old "Pure" name.
"Let's pull in here and check out the phone book, see if that hiker ain't in there," Carl said.

As they pulled in, a man with a bald head and a pot belly was washing a customer's windshield.
"You remember the name?" Luke asked Carl.
"I got the paper right here. Le'me check. Yeah, here it is, Mike Weathers. There's the pay phone by the front door. Why don't you ask the attendant if he knows this Weathers kid. In a town this small, everybody probably knows everybody."
"Right," Luke said, his voice lacking confidence.

The Gretna phone book included all of Moniteau County. To Carl's delight, there was only one Weathers listed. It was for Barbara Weathers at 9000 Edelbrock Road. He put a quarter in and dialed.
"Yeah," a female voice answered.
"Yes ma'am, Mike Weathers, please."
"Who-ziss"?"
"My name is Carl Stoker and I wanted to ask him some questions about a discovery he made last week."
"He don't know nothin'," Barbara Weathers said as she hung up.
"Thanks very much," Carl said to a dead line.
Luke had just walked over to talk to the attendant.
"Afternoon, sir, I'd like some information."
"Try city hall," the attendant said with a frown as he walked away. Then the station owner, a tall lanky gentleman of about sixty walked out and introduced himself to Luke.
"Name's Jeremy Parthemore. What can I do for ye?"
"Is everybody in town as charming as your man there?" Luke asked, pointing to the pot-bellied attendant.
"I wouldn't know," Jeremy said. "Help ye?"
"Indeed you may, sir, I was looking for a young gentleman by the name of Mike Weathers. Perhaps you . . ."
"Never heard of him," Jeremy said. "Anything else?"
"No . . . guess not," Luke said, staring at Jeremy.

He knew Parthemore must be lying because, as Carl had said, everyone in a town like this must know everyone else. He met Carl back at the car and asked him what he'd found out.
"Not much, but plenty," Carl said.
"Meaning?"
"As soon as I told Barbara Weathers who we wanted to talk to and why, she hung up the phone. I gather she's the kid's mother."
"You sure you got the right Weathers?"
"Only one in the book."
"Interesting."
"Yeah."

* * *

The childhood of Luke Larson was about as typical and unexciting as that of most fellows who grew up in suburban St. Louis. His mother, Linda, was a housewife and his father, Scott, a career construction worker. When Luke entered high school in 1961, he was as physically mature as he was going to get. At five eleven and 170 pounds he would never play fullback for the Kansas City Chiefs. He did, however, excel at basketball and was on the starting unit all three of his years at Plains High School, where he maintained a 3.0 scholastic average. Luke was an only child.

During one of the home games in his junior year, Luke noticed one of the cheerleaders showing what appeared to be more than a casual interest in him. Nancy Morris, a senior, kept her eyes glued to him every chance she got. Even as he sat on the bench during his water breaks she stared at him. He pretended not to notice her but Nancy was completely taken with Luke's wavy brown hair and blue eyes.

After this went on for several more games, Luke finally broke down. He saw Nancy in the school lunchroom one Monday and sat down beside her. "Aren't you Nancy?" he asked. "Uh-huh. Aren't you Luke?" Two weeks later Luke Larson lost his virginity on Nancy's living room sofa.

After committing themselves to each other, they dated for the next three months. Luke then found out that Nancy was secretly seeing another boy from the senior class. He immediately broke off their relationship and didn't have another until college.

* * *

On the way out of the Pure station lot Luke yelled back to Jeremy Parthemore, asking him if there was a restaurant in town. "Yessir," he said, pointing down the street. "Try the Gretna Cafe."

9

Although Dean Bowman didn't exactly look like your average cannibal, he had a certain strange look about him. As Luke and Carl drank their Cokes and ate their onion rings, they noticed the cafe had a faint odor to it.

As they were paying up, they asked Bowman about Mike Weathers. He also said he'd never heard of him. Luke then showed him the newspaper article.
"Did you happen to read this?"
"Yeah, it's enough to give you the willies," Dean said.
"Ain't it though?" said Carl.
"Thanks anyway," Luke told Bowman. They left.
"Before we come here again, remind me to eat first,"1 Carl said.
"Seriously," said Luke "Did that dude in there seem a little strange?"
"Noticed that, did you?"

* * *

After driving around for three hours they finally located the Weathers place. It was about a mile off 32 at the end of a dirt road. The street sign that said "Edelbrock Road" was barely readable as it was full of bullet holes. They lived in an old one-story house with an unkept lawn. Carl saw a young man in the side yard chopping firewood. The road ended in a driveway on the north end of the property. As they parked, Luke saw a Plymouth Duster parked at the rear of the house. Carl was looking at the kid chopping wood.
"Looks like we got a live one there."
As Carl was saying this, the young man approached them, ax in hand. He was a big kid with brown hair, about sixteen.
"Watch yourself," Carl said as Luke got out.
"Help ya?" said the boy.
"I hope so. Name's Luke Larson and that's Carl Stoker. We're from Jefferson City.
"Hi, Mike Weathers," he said, half waving at Carl, who half waved back.
"I guess you know you made the Kansas City star," Luke told Mike.

Luke and Carl's discovery had also made the news but it was not given the attention the Weathers' find had gotten. Their names were left out of the news at their request.
"I done told the cops all I know about that."
"Would you mind discussing it with us?"
"Don't know why I should. I don't even know you fellers.
"We found something much the same as you did up near Lake Forrester," said Carl.
"Was that y'all?"
"Yes, it was, son," Luke said. Carl was now standing next to him.
"That was just a skeleton, wasn't it?
"That's right, so you read about it?"
"Yeah," Mike said after a moment of hesitation.
"You know Jeremy Parthemore?" Luke asked him.
"Sure, we been gittin'' gas from him fer . . ."
"Mikey, whoozat out there?" Barbara Weathers yelled from the front porch.
"Just some fellas, ma."
Barbara came down off the porch and across the yard in a businesslike strut. She was a forty-year-old carrot top of medium height, about twenty pounds overweight. The extra pounds made her look older.
"Who are you people?" she demanded.
"You must be Barbara," Carl said.
"And who might you be?" she asked with a smirk on her face.
"Carl Stoker. I called a while ago."
"What the hell did I tell you on the phone?"
"Mrs. Weathers, we . . . " Luke started to say.
"I don't wanna hear it! Now why don't y'all git on outta here 'fore I call Frank Melrose."
Frank Melrose was the sheriff of Moniteau County. He had been a deputy until five years ago when the then sheriff, Jake Waterford, was blown out of his socks during a traffic stop on old County Road 73 on Fourth of July eve. Evidently, Jake was working the highway alone because he was short on help. Half his deputies either just didn't show up for work or had called in drunk.

As Jake got out of his Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser and approached the car, which was a 1973 Chevy Bel Air four door with faded brown paint, the driver, a long-haired hippie type with buck teeth was looking back at him. The hippie was waving and smiling as if he was glad he had been pulled over. What Jake didn't notice was that the left rear window had slowly rolled down about two inches, just enough to stick the double-barrel 12 gauge  shotgun through.
"What the hell are you grinnin' at, ya damned shaggy haired faggot?!" Jake had said and these were his last words on Earth.

It seems that these three "gentlemen" (yes, there was another man in the front seat, riding "shotgun," as bad a joke as that is) had just knocked over a convenience store in the nearby town of Warren. They were en route back to I-70 when Jake stopped them. Then the next night, during a July 4th celebration in Phillipson, a town just off the interstate, these same three assholes tried to rob what they didn't know at the time was an off duty highway patrolman at the gas pump. When they drove up next to the trooper and the filth bag with the shotgun got out, no sooner were his feet both on the ground than the 357 magnum projectile proceeded through what passed for his brains, blowing most of them all over the roof of the Chevy. As the shaggy haired driver hit the gas, he took a slug in the kidney after it passed through the door. He let out what the trooper would later call a "delightful scream" and drove out of the gas station lot weaving his way down main street Phillipson. The highway patrolman hopped in his Ford pickup and gave chase. The street was crowded with 4th of July celebrators and the hippie almost ran over three kids near the curb before passing out and crashing the Bel Air into a utility pole. The third man got out and ran through the housing area and into the woods, but was later rounded up by the local PD. The hippie driver died of internal hemorrhaging two hours later at Boone County Hospital. The trooper, whose name was Joshua Hadley, was later quoted as saying, "They should have let the motherfucker bleed to death behind the wheel."

* * *

"Who's that?" Carl asked.
"Well, he ain't the local pastor," Barbara said.
"Okay, we get the message," Luke said to her. Sorry to have disturbed you ma'am."
"Don't mention it. Just take off."
"Let's go," Luke said to Carl.
"But . . ."
"Come on."

10

After getting back on Edelbrock and heading to the main highway, Carl looked at Luke and said, "Are you just gonna let it go at that?"
"What do you think?"
"Well, then, why . . . ?"
"Let's just take a nice drive and see the countryside while I figure our next move."
It wasn't a bad looking afternoon as they cruised slowly down the dirt road. Luke watched the tall pines swaying gently in the light breeze. It was hard for him to understand how such a simple thing could settle his nerves, but it did.
"That kid was just starting to talk to us when that queen cunt butted in," Carl said.
"Yeah, I'd say that's a fair description of her."

As this conversation was getting underway, Jeremy Parthemore was calling the Gretna Cafe.
"Hello, Dean?" Jerry Parthemore."
"Jerry my man. How's things?"
"Not so good. There was two city dudes snoopin' around askin' where they could find the Weathers place, and nobody has to tell you why they're lookin' fer it."
"Already taken care of, my man," Dean said. "Those same gentlemen were here at the cafe for a while."
"What the hell . . . ??!"
"Settle down, my man. I've arranged for those two boys to have it pointed out clearly to them how we here in Gretna feel about inquisitive strangers."
"Oh yeah, I gotcha," Jeremy said.
"And if that doesn't do the trick, then, well, you know I'll think of something, don't you, my man?"
"You bet," Jeremy said, laughing and hanging up.

* * *

Corruption and infamy were not introduced to Gretna, Missouri by Dean Bowman. It already had something of a shady past.

In 1911 the town was nothing more than a livery stable and general store owned and operated by a Mr. Vince Adamson. Unfortunately old Vince did a little bit more than sell retail goods and horse grain. He happened to be one of the main suppliers of opium in the Midwest. His business thrived for twenty-three years until one day in 1934 Homer Pilson, one of Vince's disgruntled former employees, informed on him. Vince wasn't aware of Pilson's knowledge of his opium dealings but this made little difference to federal agents. Poor Vince, at age sixty-five, was sent to the Missouri Federal Penitentiary upon conviction, along with two of his ""colleagues."

After the demise of Vince Adamson and friends, a group of legitimate businessmen took his store and turned it into a legal and successful enterprise. Gretna soon started to grow.

In 1937, the First Lutheran Church was established by the young Reverend Horace Carson, formerly of Joplin. People from miles around attended his services, and as time went on, some of them came to settle in the Gretna area. Yes, Rev. Carson was a fine young man of the Cloth and was considered a saint by a great many of his followers. And a saint he may well have been if he hadn't been balling half the female congregation. Carson had gotten away with his antics for some time until one cold night in 1939, as he sat in the church office preparing his next sermon, the door suddenly flew open with a crash. Raif Bannister stood there with fire in his eyes and a gun in his hand. The reason he was paying the reverend a visit was because Carson had apparently popped Raif's wife one too many times.
"You knocked her up, you slimy son of a bitch! And I'm gonna de-nut your motherfuckin' ass!" Git up!" Raif shouted.

Three days later, county deputies found Rev. Carson tied to a tree in the woods about two hundred yards behind the church with his testicles stuffed in his mouth and left to bleed to death. Bonnie Bannister was discovered in her home lying in a pool of blood with her throat slashed and a butcher knife inserted in her vagina. The fetus later proved to be Carson's.

After a two week search for Raif Bannister, he was finally cornered in an old tobacco barn twenty miles from Gretna. He shot and killed two deputies before being taken down. He was later hanged.

Amazingly enough, Gretna led a peaceful existence and grew to its present population of three hundred until the arrival of Bowman nearly forty years later.

* * *

Luke and Carl turned onto 32 and headed back to Gretna. Luke wanted to go by the Pure station one more time and talk to  Jeremy Parthemore. They drove into the station lot and parked about half way between the road and the pumps. Dust engulfed the Grand National, then slowly cleared.
"Sit tight will you Carl, this won't take long," Luke said as he got out of the Buick. As he approached the station door, Jeremy was right there.
"Y'all fergit sump'um?" he asked Luke.
"No, I just wanted to tell you that we found the Weathers' place."
"Good for you, son."
"You'll never believe what young Mike told us."
"I give up."
"That they're steady customers of yours."
"Wutter you tryin' to git at mister?" Jeremy asked, his voice taking on an impatient tone.
"I just said it," Luke replied, and walked back to his car. As he did, he heard the front door of the station slam.

Highway 32 was a two-laner, and a narrow one. They were driving at about 40 toward the US highway when about ten miles south of Gretna they rounded a curve and saw that just ahead not one but both lanes were blocked. One by a one-ton flat-bed truck up on a jack and the other by a red Dodge van that looked as though it might have stopped to render assistance. But why would he be blocking half the highway? Luke thought. They stopped behind the truck and after sitting there for a few seconds Luke honked the horn. No one to be seen. "I guess it's nice to own the friggin' road then you can park wherever you want to," Carl said in disgust. They got out to take a look. Luke tried briefly to summarize what he saw. This was a lightly traveled state road and there was a broken down truck in one lane and a van blocking the other. Then there were three big powerful men. And there were fists.
11

Moniteau County Hospital in Latham was situated on a hilltop and looked more like a mansion than a medical center. Luke was in Room 309 on the west wing, which had a nice view of downtown Latham. Carl's room was on the rear face, overlooking the hospital dumpsters. Luke had suffered a broken nose, three cracked ribs and assorted nicks and scratches he sustained when the assailants threw him into a briar patch on the side of the highway. Carl had one fractured rib, a concussion, and to top it off, his left arm had been snapped below the elbow when one of the apes that jumped them stuck his forearm in the door jam of the Buick, then slammed the door on it. Their doctor, whose name was Marty Galinski, told Luke to look forward to at least three days here. The afternoon after the assault, Galinski walked into 309.
"Let me ask you a dumb question," the doctor said.
"Shoot," Luke replied.
"How you feeling?"
"A dumb question deserves an even dumber answer. I feel like I could kick Mike Tyson's ass."
"Well, you'd be the first."
"How's my friend Mr. Stoker?"
"He's a little worse off than you are, son," Galinski said as he straightened his glasses and ran a hand through his thick white hair. "He's looking at every bit of two weeks before he gets out of here. If it weren't for that concussion, it would be a lot less. And he's not exactly a young fellow either."
"Yeah, but he's a damned tough nut, I can tell you that."
"I believe you," Galinski said, chuckling. "And listen, if you're feeling up to it, I've got the sheriff out in the hall and he's dying to ask you some questions."
"His name wouldn't be Frank Melrose, would it?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Lucky guess."
Galinski gave Luke a puzzled stare and said, "I'll show him in."

As Melrose entered the room, Luke was surprised at what he saw. He had somehow expected the sheriff to be a tall, thin gray-haird man in his fifties. Instead, Frank was a five-foot-nine-inch, powerfully built young man of thirty seven. All that was left of his hair was a black horseshoe.
"Sorry to bother you while you're hurtin," Frank said as he introduced himself.
"Oh, don't mind me," Luke said as they began to discuss the incident.
"Did you get any kind of a look at these people?" Melrose asked with a high degree of concern on his face.
"I got to lock eyes with the one that nailed me for about a half-second before his fist met my snozz."
As he described the man, Melrose nodded as if he knew exactly who it was. "Nothin' about the others?" he asked.
"You'll have to ask my  friend, Carl Stoker."
"I'd love to but the doc says not yet. Looks like between the two of you, he got the worse of it."
"Yeah," Luke said, as if he'd heard this before.
Melrose looked at Luke for a moment, then reluctantly asked him, "Say . . . Mr. Larson, what exactly were you guys doing in Gretna anyway? You got kin up there?"
"Just checking out the countryside, sheriff. I've been thinking of moving out of Jefferson City someday so I thought I'd take a drive and see what's available."
"I just talked to Barbara Weathers, Mr. Larson."
"Congratulations. Who's that?" Luke said, looking out the window."
"She said y'all were up at her place asking her boy Mike about some things that flat don't concern you."
"We were only asking for directions, it's easy to get lost up there."
"Were you also asking Jerry Parthemore for directions?"
"If I've broken any laws, sheriff, why don't you just tell me, then you can go out and round up that bunch of gorillas that jumped us."
"It's against the law to stick your nose in police business," Melrose said as calmly as he could. "And don't tell me you don't know what I mean because I know better."
"Oh I wouldn't try to put one over on you, chief," Luke said as he turned off the lamp next to his bed. "I think I'll get some shuteye. I guess it's been nice chatting with you."
"Sure thing," Melrose said, and walked out.

As Luke was falling asleep, he thought about the assault and how fortunate they were not only to get out of it alive, but to come to before dark and struggle their way into his car and then to find a hospital.

Two days later Melrose questioned Carl Stoker about the incident. Carl was able to tell him about the "fat slob" with the shaved head that racked his hand against the fender of Luke's car with enough force to bend both the fender and his head. He also described the two vehicles blocking the road.

A week after this conversation Luke and Carl were on their way back to Jefferson City. As they drove, they talked.
"Is it just me or did that country sheriff seem like he just didn't give a flyin' fuck about what happened to us?" Carl said.
"Well, I don't think you'd be completely out of line if you thought that," Luke replied.
""Sucker might even be in on all this crap."
"No, he doesn't strike me as the type."
"Well, those bastards sure struck me and I'm still feelin'  a little dizzy."
"Take it easy, old buddy, you'll be back to normal soon enough."
"Now what's the good news?" Carl said, then laughed. As he did, his head throbbed and he cringed in pain.
"Why don't you let the seat back and take a nap? It might do you some good," Luke suggested.
Carl did.

12

They got into town about 7 p.m. that Wednesday. The Buick pulled in the driveway of Carl's bungalow.
"Well, old buddy, what's our next move on this bullshit?" Carl asked, as he yawned, just waking up.
"I've been thinking about that all the way home and I'll be damned if I know. Now that everybody, including the law, is on to us it's gonna be a royal bitch to keep it up the way we started out. Get my drift?"
"All the way."
"Why don't we cool it for awhile and lick our wounds?"
"Yeah, I could dig that," Carl said, yawning again.
"I've got to check up on my damned gas stations and see if there's anything left of 'em."

Luke had kept in contact with his station managers during his hospital stay. Things were going smoothly they told him each time he called. He took comfort in this, so he stayed in the hospital guest facility after his release while waiting for Carl. He was considering going back the day of his release then returning when Carl was ready. But in view of the circumstances that landed them in the hospital to begin with he decided against it.

As he was doing paperwork the next day at the Capital City station, he decided to call Frank Melrose to see if any investigations were underway. Melrose politely told Luke to mind his own business and that he would handle things.
"Yeah, I bet," Luke said, as he hung up. He then called Dr. Daryl Crooks, Callaway County Coroner. As he listened to the phone ring he thought about the ordeal in Gretna and how it ended. He thought about waking up on the ground amidst what he thought must have been about three million thorns, his face and shirt blood-soaked and the lightning bolts of pain that wreaked his body with three cracked ribs. He remembered finally making it to the car and seeing Carl lying on the ground, not moving. Luke knew he was dead. After reviving Carl he recalled the monumental effort it took to help him into the Buick. His memory of driving to the hospital was blurred. He had absolutely no recollection of how he found it.
"Hello, Callaway County Medical Examiner's office, Patti speaking."
"Yes ma'am, I was trying to reach Daryl Crooks. Is he in today?"
"May I ask who's calling?"
"Luke Larson."
"Moment sir."

Luke was now on hold. Here we go, he thought. There was something about being put on hold that always seemed to bug him, but at least he was getting to listen to Rod Stewart sing "Maggie Mae" while he waited. The song finished and as The Monkees started "I'm a  Believer," some one picked up the phone.
"Mr. Larson. How are you, sir?" Crooks said, sounding delighted.

Two months before Daryl Martin Crooks graduated from Ozark High School in 1967, he received a baseball scholarship from Kansas State University and from that point on he had only one thing on his mind. Major league. He was a crackerjack third baseman and proved it early in his career at KSU. Daryl could see it now. He would be drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals upon graduation. At six-two and 210 pounds, he had the physical tools.

But as Daryl was about half way through his tenure at the university, he had developed an overwhelming interest in forensic science. This was somewhat encouraged by his biology professor Wally Pridgeon, who had been with the Kansas City Coroner's office for twenty years. Pridgeon convinced young Crooks to change his major to biology. It was a decision Daryl did not regret. He graduated with honors and was accepted at the Missouri School of Medicine in 1971. After ten long years of studying day and night, Saturdays and Sundays, he woke up one day to find he was Dr. Daryl Martin Crooks. He worked with the KC Coroners office for two years after being recommended by Professor Pridgeon. He later landed the job with Callaway County.

He was never drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals or any other team. He didn't care.

Luke told Crooks the entire story, in detail, about the trip to Gretna. Crooks felt very badly for Luke and Carl, then said,
"You know what your biggest problem is going to be if you decide to pursue this, don't you?"
"God knows."
"It's what they let pass for a sheriff down there."
"Yeah, I was sort of getting that feeling," Luke sighed.
"I had the pleasure of working with him on one occasion a couple of years ago."
"What happened?"
"Well, some drunk got himself killed in a fight down at the Four Deuces Lounge, which just happens to sit smack on the Callaway-Moniteau County line. And after half of both police departments and forensic teams showed up on the scene, a real nasty disagreement about jurisdiction ensued. But to make a long story short, Frank Melrose and I ended up acting as peacemaker for each side and we decided to work together on the incident.

"So you . . . " Luke said, interested.
"But from what I've always heard about this guy, most of the time he looks the other way on just about everything that happens over there. I mean, he'll bring in a drunk or bust up a fight every now and again just to make it look like he's doing his job, but if it's something heavy, the sucker's likely as not gonna ignore it."
"It seems to me that his deputies or somebody would get wise to that shit, or get tired of it," Luke said.
"Well, you know how deputies are. They get used to those paychecks. But you have to remember one thing, Luke, Frank Melrose is the son of Jake Waterford's best friend and Jake was the sheriff in Moniteau County for twenty-five years before being killed in the line of duty in 1982. And he had more pull around those parts than Hitler did in Nazi Germany."
"That's a lot of pull."
"You got it, and Melrose may still be the sheriff in Moniteau when we're trippin' over our beards."
"I think I get the picture," Luke said.
"Say, if you ever get a mind to stick your nose in it again, gi'me a call. I've been known to do some pretty off the wall shit in my time."
"Luke laughed and said, "Thanks Daryl. Can I call you that?"
"Of course."

When Luke hung up his phone was lit up like a Christmas tree. He took the calls one by one. The calls were two salesmen and a bill collector, in that order. As soon as he finished with the bill collector and hung up, the phone rang again.
"Hello, Capital City Shell."
"Hi Luke," a sexy female voice said.
"Hi, who's . . . ?"
"It's Paula Parker, remember m . . . ?"
"Oh jeeeeez!" Luke said, surprised. "How are you? Where are you?"
"I'm doing fine and I'm right here in town. I've got a week off and I'm staying with my parents."

Paula Marshall and Luke had been friends and lovers almost their entire careers at the University of Missouri. They met when he was a sophomore and she a freshman. Luke majored in business, Paula in home economics. When Luke graduated in 1967, he immediately acquired a position with Shockwave Electronics in East St. Louis. He worked as a salesman for ten years before being promoted to managerial status. He left the company in 1983 to go into the service station business.

Paula became a flight attendant with Midwest Airlines shortly after her 1968 graduation. She and Luke had talked about marriage off and on during his final year of college but their plans fizzled as they realized that their choice of professions would keep them apart most of the time.

Paula continued talking about her vacation but much of it was going in one of Luke's ears and out the other as he started thinking about the old days and that set of world class knockers she had. He wondered if she still did.
" . . . I called a couple of days ago but your manager said you were out of town," Paula continued.
Yeah, I was up in Po-dunk, Missouri chasing cannibals and getting the shit beat out of me by redneck assholes, Luke thought, but said, "I was seeing some people about a possible site for another station."
"Oh yes, I remember the last time we talked a few years ago you had just started your first Shell station."
"That seems like an eternity."
Paula was flattered by this, thinking he had said it because he missed seeing her. He had, but that wasn't the real reason.
"That bad, huh?" she said.
"Well, it's a living. You still flying?"
"Yep, and loving every minute of it."
"It must be nice to love your job. It's something I've never experienced."
"Aw, I'm sorry babe," Paula said sympathetically.
"Never mind that. You still married?"
"Hey, nothing like a loaded question I always say!" she said, laughing.

Paula had met Jim Parker at a Midwest Airlines employee party in Indianapolis in 1981. They married three months later and Jim, a pilot for Midwest, continued to do what he had been doing the whole time he had known Paula. Cheat. Yes, it seemed as though there was just not enough nooky in the world for old Jimbo. When he took a layover in some city, it was just that. Paula had even caught him in the shower with a girl once, but somehow managed to forgive him and start over, but it continued. No two people's professions could keep them farther apart than hers and her husband's. When she flew one way, he flew another. This was certainly one way to put the wedding vows to a test, she thought,  but Jim was failing the test with "flying" colors. Paula put their stormy marriage out of its misery in 1985.
"No, Jim and I have been divorced two years now. It finally got to be too much for me. And maybe it wasn't exactly all his fault but it just seems like before we got married things went so smoothly and we were having so much fun and then as soon as we got married everything fell apart and . . ."
She was starting to cry and Luke couldn't make out the last few words.
"Would it make you feel better if I took you to dinner tonight so we could talk about all this bullshit face up?" he asked softly.
"Maybe that would be nice," Paula said, starting to calm down.
"We'll make it nice," he said. "About seven?"
"Okay, the new address if 8215 Maxwell."
"Got it."

13

It wasn't as if Berny Bigelow was the sorriest excuse for a human being ever to be born unto this earth but one could say he was a top contender for the honor. All of his 275 pounds were evenly distributed onto his six foot two inch frame in layers of snow white blubber. But he was nonetheless a strong man. He had once lifted a fully dressed 350 c.i. Chevrolet engine from the ground onto the back of his flat-bed truck. And Berny always took pride in his appearance. In addition to his forty-six inch waistline, which eternally hung over his belt, he was also very proud of his skinhead haircut. It seemed he did everything he could to keep the girls away, including smelling like a French whore twenty-four hours a day. But it didn't matter because Berny was a full-fledged faggot and hugged every root he could get his hands on.

Berny was a tow truck driver by profession and worked out of Jeremy Parthemore's Pure service station in Gretna USA. At age thirty-one, he had worked for Jeremy for ten years. His parents had disowned him when he was fifteen when his mother caught him in the basement of their house sucking off the family dog.

The day after he and his two buddies used Luke and Carl for punching bags, he showed up for work late, as usual. The pot-bellied attendant who had been so "nice" to Luke had recently quit due to relentless bullying and sexual advances by Berny.

"Hey, yer early today, only a half-hour late," Jeremy had said.
"Yeah, well I was all tuckered out from whuppin' up on them two city fellers."
"Whopped 'em a good one did ye?" Jeremy said, chuckling.
"Good 'nuff to where I don't think you'll be a' seein' 'em back up here again," Berny said.
"I hear tell they ended up in county hospital."
"Well, Mr. Bowman wanted us to do a job on 'em so that's what we did.
Jeremy laughed again.

14

Carl Stoker sat on the porch of his cottage smoking a cigar and reading the Jefferson City newspaper. He hadn't seen anything in it about their misfortune near Gretna since they got back and thought it was just as well. He put the paper down for a moment and gently stroked Mitzi's back as she lay beside the rocker. He began to think about his air force days. He was fresh out of flight school at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and was told by his superiors that most of his flying hours would be racked up in B-52s. The Stratofortress was a fairly new bomber at the time and hadn't as yet had an opportunity to prove itself under war conditions. It finally got the chance eight years later in 1965 in Vietnam. The aircraft was originally designed to drop thermonuclear bombs on enemy soil, Russian soil in particular. But this was something that had never happened, even though many B-52s carried two such weapons on daily routine flights.

Carl had been flying them since '57 and most of his flights were maneuvers from Eglin to Beale AFB in California and from there to Alaska and finally back to Florida. Carl was all set to be a bachelor and fly for the rest of his natural life. But then he met and fell instantly in love with Nancy Culpepper, a secretary whom he met in a Pensacola night club in 1958. Two years later they married and went on to have one son, Carl Jr., who now resides in Spokane, Washington.

Carl was a co-pilot for eight years before becoming "skipper" upon being promoted to major in '65. The timing could not have been better. That was the year the United States commenced bombing raids on North Vietnam. He flew a total of nineteen missions during his two tours in Southeast Asia and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

"Hey Mr. Stoker," said Monte Lindstrom, Carl's new neighbor and landlord as he approached the porch snapping him out of his deep thought. "I'm glad to see you back. What the hell jumped out in front of you!?" Monte continued, noticing Carl's arm cast.
"Don't ask," Carl said as cordially as he could. "Thanks for taking care of Mitzi for me. I was beginning to think I'd never reach you on the phone."
"Oh I'm sorry about that, sir, but I've been runnin' all over hell's half acre working on my properties." Monte rented out several cottages in the Jefferson City area.
"It's okay, I appreciate what you did."
"No problem."

As Monte Lindstrom walked back to his house, Carl fell asleep in his rocker with Mitzi in his lap.

15

The world class knockers were still there, Luke could see as Paula answered the door.
"Oh Luke, it's been so long," she said as they stepped toward each other and embraced. Luke could feel the you-know-whats pressing against his chest and he was starting to get an erection.
"Yeah, too long," he said, as they separated.
"My God, honey, what happened?" she asked as she saw his face.
"I got mugged the other night at the shopping center. They roughed me up a bit."
"I'll say. Did they catch them?"
"What do you  think?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry honey," she said, hugging him again. "Come on in."

The Marshall's had a new home on three acres of property in suburban Jefferson City. Luke was impressed as Paula led him to the living-room, where her father was sitting.
"Hey Lukey!" Ray Marshall stood up and said. Luke walked toward him and extended his hand. "How've you been Mr. Marshall?
"Good!" Ray said, shaking his hand briskly.

Ruth Marshall then entered from the kitchen with a tray occupied by four glasses of lemonade. She  had harbored a resentment for Luke ever since he and Paula broke up after college. But Paula had wrongly led her to believe that Luke had dumped her for someone else. And although their separating was more his idea than hers, he had never treated her harshly.
"Hello Luke dear," Ruth said, as she placed the tray on the coffee table.
"Mrs. Marshall," he replied, as he hugged her (no erection this time) then they sat down.
"Why the hell have you been making yourself so scarce Lukey?" Ray asked. "And what the hell did you run in to?
He didn't mind being called "Lukey" by his friends, but when Ray Marshall had done it, Luke couldn't help but detect a tinge of sarcasm.
"Well, it seems as though I've been getting up at 5 a.m. and running two service stations my whole life."
"Yes, early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, right Lukey?!"
How corny can you get? Luke thought, then said, "Well, healthy and wise maybe."
Paula laughed at Luke's reply and Ray looked a little annoyed having just been had.
"Are you still with the FAA, Mr. Marshall?" Luke asked.
"Hell no, man, I retired five years ago. Thirty years of that crap was about thirty-one years too many."
Regardless of Ray's minus one year with the FAA, he was still receiving a dandy pension check at the first of every month.
"Did you ever marry, Luke?" Ruth asked.
He pondered this question briefly before answering for fear of stirring up any ill feelings Ruth may still have toward him. And then, as if heaven sent, the perfect reply came to him.
"No ma'am, the only girl I've even considered tying the knot with is sitting here beside me."
Paula blushed as she tapped him on the leg. Now Ruth had also been had. She looked at Ray, expecting him to say something, which he did.
"Well, I'd sure rather have you for a son-in-law than that goddam fuck stick Parker."
"Raymond!" Ruth bellowed in disgust.

Luke put his face in his hand and snickered as Paula turned red as an apple. "Can we go now, Luke?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, looking at the floor. He thought laughing at Ray's comment about Jim Parker would have been in bad taste. He also thought his effort to keep from it would be like putting a tarpaulin over Mt. St. Helens.

As they drove toward town Luke suggested dinner at Sir Sid's.
"Oh, yeah, I haven't been there in years," Paula said.

The Grand National turned onto Academy Boulevard and soon arrived at Sid's. As they entered the night club, Paula marveled at the improvements that had been made since she was last there.
"This place is so much nicer now," she said.
"Yes, they've added the fireplaces along the walls," Luke explained.
A hostess approached them with two menus. "Good evening, two for smoking?"
"No, two for eating," Luke said. Paula chuckled then pointed to a small table for two in a remote corner. "Could we have that one?" she asked.
"Certainly," said the hostess, as she gave Luke a contemptuous look. Luke shrugged his shoulders as they proceeded to the table. They hadn't been seated ten seconds before the waiter was there to inquire as to their choice of beverages. As Paula inspected her menu, Luke took a quick look around the restaurant to see if anyone he knew was there. He was glad to see there wasn't.
"Wutcha haven' babe?" he asked Paula.
"I'll take one of everything," she said, then laughed.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. They serve some ass-kickin' grub in this place."
"Does that mean they have good food?" she asked.
"Uh-huh."

They ordered their drinks and the waiter soon arrived with them. As he placed them on the table, Luke noticed his name tag said "Rodney". What a name to have to go through life with, he thought. Rodney was a tall, skinny kid of about nineteen with blond hair. He looked like a boy working his way through school.
"Yes ma'am?" he said to Paula, pen and pad in hand, awaiting her order.
"I'll have the broiled flounder and whatever goes with it."
"Yes ma'am, and you sir?
"The same, only fried."
"Yes sir." Rodney said, as he picked up the menus and left.
"Fried food is bad for you, dear," Paula said.
"I know, so's tap water. I heard it causes cancer."
"HA-HA."

As they waited for their food, they talked, and when it arrived, they ate. When they finished, the band was in full swing in the lounge.
"You bring your dancing shoes?"  she asked him.
"I don't own any."
"Well I guess the ones you're wearing will have to do."

He paid for the dinner and they headed for the lounge. They took a table near the band as they played Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood". Several people were on the dance floor moving to the rhythm. Luke noticed a fat couple dancing in the corner of the floor.
"They don't leave much room for the rest of the folks, do they?" he said as he watched their blubber bounce up and down.
"Oh YOU!" Paula said, hitting him lightly on the shoulder. She was wearing semi-tight red slacks an a blouse to match. Her long black hair shined in the dim lights and Luke thought she looked simply stunning.

 As "Knock on Wood" came to a close, "I Lost on Jeopardy" by Weird Al Yankovic began.
"Ready?" Paula said as she stood up and extended her hand to him.
"I'll give it the old college try if my ribs can take it."

He remembered from their college days how good a dancer she was, and, as it turned out, she hadn't lost her touch as she locked eyes with him and got down to business. He stared in awe as the world class knocers began to swing in a circular counter clockwise motion. Then like magic they swirled clockwaise. He couldn't remembe his eyes from them as Paula burst out laughing."
"What are you looking at?!"
"JUst reminiscing," he said, the smiled.

The song continued as her five-foot-four-inch, 120 pound body twirled about the dance floor. Then the band started playing The Casinos' "Then You Can Tell Me Good-bye." Paula put her arms around his neck as he put his around her waist. "Tell me you'll love me for a million years, then if it don't work out, then you can tell me good-bye" the song went. A thousand memories stirred as Luke felt the WCK press against his sore ribs.

After leaving Sid's they went to a Denny's restaurant where they drank tea and discussed old times for two hours. Then they headed for Paula's, and as they drove south on Academy, Luke said, "Let me ask you something, darlin'."
"You want to take me to your place, right?" she replied instantly.
"Just for a game of gin rummy."
"Right."
"I've been thinking about it since you called that day."
"Oh, I know honey, so have I," she said, as she leaned over the console and put her head on his shoulder.
"Well, I'll just drive toward my house until otherwise instructed."

* * *

She let out a soft groan as he entered her. After the pain stopped she smiled brightly as she turned her face to the left. Luke's tongue explored her right ear as he took a double handful of the you-know-whats.
"Are you in heaven yet?" he whispered.
"Yesssssss!" she gasped.

They finished about 3 a.m. and he took her home. Paula had told her parents she would be back "not too much past midnight" (give or take three or four hours).
"Did you have as good a time tonight as I did?" Luke asked her as they stood on the front porch.
"What do you think?" she said, as she hugged him, crying.
"Yeah, I know," he sympathized, holding her.
"All I need is to get involved with you again," she said.
"You already have."

16

Oscar Silliphant, of Philadelphia, was enjoying his steak so much that he didn't even notice he was the only one in the place. The only one except Berny Bigelow, and, of course, Dean Bowman.
"How you likin' your meal, my man?" Dean asked, as he walked up to Oscar who was seated at the counter.
"Not bad, not bad at all," Oscar said as he looked around at the empty cafe, noticing Berny slouched in one of the booths near the juke box giving him a penetrating, almost hungry stare. "If your grub's this good, I'm surprised this place isn't packed, especially this time of day (it was just before noon)," Oscar continued, talking with his mouth full.
"Well, it's a small town," Bowman said.
"Yeah, I can see that. It looks like your diner here takes the honor for the tallest skyscraper," Oscar said, laughing through his mouthful of food. Dean smiled faintly at this poor attempt at humor and continued to stare at Silliphant. Oscar took another bite of his meal then looked up at Bowman, who was still staring.
"Something wrong, mister?" Oscar said, as the nine inch blade entered his back just below the shoulder blades, piercing his heart. He was dead even before Berny grabbed a handful of his hair and slammed his face down into the ketchup covered steak and potatoes. Berny then withdrew the knife and slid it back into his sheath without even wiping off the blood.
"Hurry, let's get him to the back!" Bowman said.
But Berny, almost as if not hearing Bowman's command, bent over and stuck his tongue as far as he could into Oscar's knife wound.
"Cut that shit out you goddam moron! You want somebody to walk in on this shit!?" Bowman screamed.
"Then we'll fuck them up, too" Berny said, with the usual goofy look on his face, his lips covered with blood.
"If you don't help me get this bastard into the cooler I'm gonna fuck you up! And you know I can do it!"
Dean was a physical wimp in comparison to Berny but Berny feared him nevertheless, much the same way a native tribesman fears a witch doctor.
"Okay, boss," Berny said, as he easily threw Silliphant over his shoulder and hauled him to the "special cooler" in the far rear corner of the diner.

Inside the cooler were six large meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. The first three were occupied by the remains of the last three luckless customers. The first with only a torso, the second and third with the torsos and both legs. The skeletal remains of the eaten portions dangled freely. Oscar Silliphant was now the proud occupant of the fourth hook.

As they left the cooler, Bowman turned and secured it. It sported three giant hasps with large Master locks to match. Each lock took a different key, all of which were possessed only by Bowman.
"That'll tide us through for a while," Dean said.
"I was gonna cut off his nuts and use 'em for snacks," said Berny.
"Well you shoulda thought about that before, dipshit," Dean said, putting his face in Berny's. "Now go get rid of his car! Put it in the usual place."

The "usual place" for dumping their victims' automobiles just happened to be Lake Forrester, where Luke and Carl had been fishing.

Berny got in Oscar Silliphant's Toyota Corona and headed for the Pure station. The reason he was doing this was to see Hoagy Plimpton. The reason he wanted to see Hoagy was to have him follow him out to the lake to dispose of Oscar Silliphant's car. You see, Berny and Hoagy along with one other Gretna, Missouri sperm face were the trio that assaulted Luke Larson and Carl Stoker.

17

Luke parked his car neatly in front of his office at South Side Shell. As he got out and was about to go in, he saw two young men working on what appeared to be a souped up Chevy Nova. They both had their heads under the hood as Luke heard them talking.
"This baby'll hit twelve flat in the quarter," one said.
"Quarter of what?!" said the other.
"Of a mile, what else?"
"Gi'me a break, man, this thing wouldn't hit twelve in the quarter mile with Christ driving it."

Luke chuckled to himself as he walked into his office. Somehow he just couldn't picture The Savior behind the wheel of a hot rod Chevy Nova.

His first order of business was to phone Paula. She told him she was going back to Indianapolis that night.
"What's the rush honey? I thought you'd be here through next week."
"Well, I was, but a friend of mine called and said she needed to go home on an emergency and wants me to work a couple of her flights."
"Oh, nothing serious I hope," he said quietly, not believing her.
"She didn't say."
"Well . . . will I see you again?"
"Not this time honey. You've got my number in Indy. Call in a few days."
"Okay, I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too," she said after a moment, then hung up and began to cry.

As he placed the phone back in its cradle he couldn't help but think that the reason Paula was leaving was because she was afraid of further involvement with him. He was right.

18
After Berny and Hoagy finished their business they headed for the Circle K, Gretna's only convenience store. Hoagy parked his truck next to the gas island. As they entered the store, there was a long-haired kid with no shirt playing the video game in the back. The clerk, an elderly gentleman with half-inch thick glasses, sat behind the counter reading the newspaper, which he held extremely close to his face.
"Hey Jasper!" Hoagy said, loud enough to startle him into dropping the paper.
"Why don't you scare the shit out of me, ya damn asshole?!" Jasper retaliated.
"Now that's no way to talk," Hoagy said, as Berny slammed two cases of Busch down on the counter.
"Why don't you have a beer?" Jasper said.
"Hell, this won't last us to the first read light," Berny said.
"There's only one in town you dumb shit," said Hoagy.
"Well, the first green light then," Berny said, letting out a sickening raspy laugh.
"Nineteen bucks," Jasper said.
"Jeeez, when did the price go up? That's friggin' highway robbery."
"Aint' nobody holdin' a gun on ye."
"Well here's a twenty, gi'me the rest in gas," Hoagy said.
"Takin' a trip are ye?"
"Fuck you, old man," Berny said, as he slung both cases of beer under one arm then he and Hoagy walked out.
"It'd be the best piece of ass you ever had!" Jasper yelled back.
Hoagy stuck his head back inside the door and yelled "Boo!" so loudly it made Jasper jump a foot off his stool.
"That's one thing about ole Jasper," Hoagy told Berny, as they walked toward his truck, both already nearly finished with their first beer. "If he draws a line and you cross it, he hauls ass." Hoagy then released a laugh that sounded as if his throat was seventy-five percent obstructed by a puss-filled dog turd.

As Berny heaved the beer cases onto the seat, Hoagy proceeded to pump their dollar's worth of fuel. The gas nozzle looked like a toy in his huge hand. He was freakishly large at six-foot seven and 310 pounds. And damned little of it was fat. But although his face looked like the south end of a northbound baboon, he readily made up for it with his intelligence quotient of fifty-three.

They drove to a remote area south of town, and after they were drunk enough, they performed double fellatio.

19

Monte Lindstrom's phone rang about 10 a.m. the next Friday. He put down his cup of cocoa, put the television on mute then got up and caught it before the third ring finished.
"Hello, Lindstrom here."
"Mr. Lindstrom, this is Luke Larson. I'm a friend of Carl Stoker's. Do you . . . "
"Yeah, Mr. Larson, I remember seein' ya over here a couple of times. How goes it?"
"Very well thanks. And you sir?"
"Well, I can't complain a hell of a lot, I guess, long as everybody keeps payin' their rent."
"You're coming in loud and clear there. I wonder if you could tell me if Carl's home. I need to speak with him."
"Come to think of it I saw him about an hour ago foolin' around with that little mutt out in his front yard. If you wanna hold the line for a minute I'll go see if he's still there."
"Sure."
As Luke held on he could hear the traffic passing in front of Lindstrom's house. There was also the far off sound of a chain saw. He then heard  Mitzi's unmistakable bark. About a minute later Carl picked up the phone.
"Yeah, Luke boy, where you been the past week?"
"I've got two gas stations to run, remember, old man?"
"Well, don't expect any pity out of us retired folk."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that."
"So how's your ribs feelin'?" Carl asked.
"Well, I'm not exactly ready to play rugby. What about your arm?"
"Oh, still got that nice cast on it. Can't wait for you to autograph it."
"Yeah, will do. What about your head?" Luke asked.
"That's the worst part. Every time I cough or sneeze it fuckin' kills me."
"So don't cough or sneeze."
"Har-de-har."
"Well, from what I've heard about those concussions, the passage of time is the only cure."
"Yeah, well any time it wants to clear up it'll be okay by me."
"Hey . . . Carl?"
"Yeah, I know, Gretna, right?"
"You think we should just let it go and hope that butt hole Melrose does his job or do you think we should follow through on it?"
"You wanna know what I think?"
"Yes, I do."
"Why don't we wait a few weeks so we can heal up a little more and I can get this damned cast off my arm. Then we can make a few subtle inquiries, if you will, to whomever, and if the replies to said inquiries are not to our liking, then maybe we ought to make another little trip up there. Only this time we'll go a little better prepared, if you know what I mean.
"Read you five by five, amigo," Luke agreed.
"The only problem, Luke, is that how's an over-the-hill two man army gonna be any match for what might be goin' on up there? I mean, whoever the mastermind is for this bullshit might have accomplices out the ass."
"Yeah, I know. We've already met at least three of them."
"You got it."
"Hey, you know, now that I think about it, we might be able to make it a three-man army."
"Who?"
"Remember Daryl Crooks?"
"You mean the M.E.!? You gotta be shittin' me."
"Something tells me he's not exactly beyond a little extra curricular activity. Especially after the phone conversation I had with him a while back."
"I'll be," Carl said, pleased.
Monte walked back in his front door after having gone out on the  porch for a smoke and to give Carl some privacy.
"Luke, why don't you float on over here tomorrow and we'll come up with something on this thing, okay? I'll be here all day."
"Okay, man, I gotta get movin' myself. Got paperwork and then some. Later buddy."

* * *

A few days later, they made the "subtle inquires" Carl had spoken of. The replies were "not to their liking."

20
7 WEEKS LATER

The phone in the Callaway County Medical Examiner's Office rang twice before Patti picked it up. Luke told her who he was and she remembered him.
"Hold on a sec I think he's busy."
"Okay."
As he held the line this time he heard the last part of "Hey Jude," na-na-na-nah it went as it faded out.
"Mr. Luke Larson," Crooks said as soon as he answered.
"Hi Daryl. How are corpses?"
"Still dead."
"Thank God for that," Luke said, as they both laughed.
"I bet I know why you're calling."
"I bet you do too," Luke said quickly. "Did you ever find out whose skeleton that was up at Lake Forrester?"
"Yes, I did, and my ass could be seriously scorched for telling you. But I'm going to anyway considering your present involvement in this bullshit. His name was Paul Milligan of Atlanta, age thirty-seven. It seems he drove to Salt Lake City on business and only made it half way home before somebody butchered him."
"I wonder what he was doing traveling off the beaten path. You'd think he'd have been on one of the main roads."
"Hell I don't know man, try to figure out half the shit people do," Crooks said, sounding a little exasperated.
"I gave up on that long ago," said Luke. "But I'm sure going to put everything I've got into finding out what the hell is going on and if the root of the problem is in good old Gretna. So, listen, my friend Carl Stoker is with me one-hundred percent on this so what I want to know is this. When we go back up there, and we're going to, would you like to tag along?"
A moment of silence followed, then Crooks said, "I should have figured you guys were gonna take well enough and fuck it up."
"You didn't answer my question."
"That kind of activity on my part would cost me my  job, and a lot more, not to mention our lives and your buddy's."
"You still haven't answered me, Daryl."
"Well . . . my deputy's been aching to run this place by himself for a while so now he'll get his chance.

Crooks told his superiors he had an out of town emergency and that he might be gone a few days. The county commissioner had known him his whole career to date and had no reason to doubt his word. He didn't even ask what the emergency was. Crooks was thankful for that.

21

Luke spent the days before the departure to Gretna at his stations. He wanted to brief his managers on any and all affairs that might come up in the next few days. One day, before leaving South Side Shell, he was talking to manager Greg Parsons.
"You know what to do when they come to fix the cooler, right, Greg?"
"Yeah boss."
"And make sure you send those tax papers out on time. It's about that screw-up last April. I don't want the IRS getting fiscal with us."
"Hey, that's a great one, boss!" Greg said, laughing.

Luke was out the door and gone.

* * *

About the time Luke fired up the Buick's turbo-charged V-6 engine, Barry Worthington's neck snapped, courtesy of Hoagy Plimpton. Then, under the careful direction of Mr. Dean Bowman, he was dragged from his table to the cafe kitchen where he was systematically dismembered.

Barry's head was place in a garbage bag and immediately disposed of in the cafe dumpster. His other extremities were put in the kitchen cooler. His torso would now be installed on meathook number five in Dean's special cooler. But Dean and his cohorts would never taste a bite of Mr. Worthington, originally from Baltimore, Md. He would be the cafe's next lunch special.

22

The place selected by the fearsome threesome for their "pre-mission" meeting was the same Denny's restaurant Luke and Paula had gone to. As they walked in, Luke asked the hostess for a table in the most remote corner. The last thing they needed was for someone to overhear a conversation about cannibals. But it was 2 p.m. and there were only a few customers in the place. As they sat at their table drinking iced tea, they discussed what their plan of attack might be upon arriving in Gretna - where would they stay, eat, etc. As the conversation continued, it finally got around to Frank Melrose. They could all define the sheriff with one word: "suspicious."
"Two months now and we haven't heard a damned thing from that sheriff," Carl said.
"Yeah, there's always been something about Melrose that just doesn't ring true," Crooks added.
"Maybe he's queer," Luke said, smiling.
"No, worse," Crooks said. "He's a democrat." This caused loud laughter by the three of them. So loud in fact that their waitress looked over at them, then approached the table.
"Care to let me in on it?" she said. Her name was Bambi.
"It's a private joke," Crooks said, as he asked her for the check.
"Sure you don't want something to eat?"
"Not this time."
"How about some dessert then?"
"Sure, have a seat," Carl said. Bambi turned red with embarrassment as she placed the check on the table and quickly walked away. "Must not have been a waitress for long if that's all it takes to flush her cheeks," said Carl.

23

Mike Weathers rode up to the Gretna Cafe on his bike, not knowing what was in store for him. Nor did he know that his mother was wise to the antics of Dean Bowman. He was also unaware that the only reason Barbara was mum on the issue was because of threats on his life by Bowman if she opened her mouth. Mike laid his bike down next to a car stop and entered.
"Hey Mikey!" a grinning Dean Bowman said.
At that moment, Milton Blanchard put his left hand over Mike's mouth and his right arm tightly around his neck. Mike struggled, trying to free himself, then blacked out.

Milton was the third and final member of the trio that assaulted Luke and Carl. He was comparable to Berny Bigelow in physical size and intelligence, but had a much more active criminal past. It had always irritated the police when he smiled for the mug shots. His arrest record consisted of offenses ranging from extreme animal cruelty to sodomizing his grandmother. Milton had been known to capture small dogs and take them to a secluded area where he would use a spoon to pluck out their eyes, then free the dog. He would laugh as they ran away, blood pouring from their eye sockets. In the sodomy case, Milton's grandmother showed up in court and told the judge, much to the dismay of the prosecutor, that it was the best thing that ever happened to her. "Then what are we doing here?" the judge asked Myrna Blanchard. "I don't know" was the ignorant reply.

When Milton was born on April 1, 1960, the doctor said "Until now, I've never seen an ugly baby."

24

On an overcast Saturday afternoon, Luke, Carl and Daryl left Jefferson City in Luke's Buick and headed for Gretna. They had decided in advance to stop at a motel in Clarkton on US 50 near the Gretna cutoff. As they arrived at the Show Me Motel, Luke parked near the office and turned off the engine.
"This must be the place," Carl said from his passenger side seat.
"I'll go book us a couple of rooms. Be back in a flash," Luke said, as he got out and entered the office. A slim blonde girl with glasses approached the desk.
"Help you sir?"
"Yes ma'am. I'd like two rooms, a double and a single please."
"Yes sir, I have two such rooms side by side near the back, if that's okay."
"Sounds fine."
He paid with his Visa card and returned to the car. He noticed Crooks was hanging his foot out the window.
"Excuse me there, "Quincy," Luke said to him.
"Sure thing," Crooks said, as he pulled his foot back in. "Whoever designed these Grand Nationals didn't have roomy back seats in mind."
"You and Carl can alternate riding shotgun."
"Thank God."
"Would you believe eighty-seven bucks for the rooms?" Luke complained. "For that price I ought to shit on the floor and wipe my ass with all the towels."

Crooks used the single room while Luke and Carl shared the double. After cleaning up, they walked across the street to the Lady Marmalade Coffee Shop for dinner. They sat at the counter and ordered.
"What's a man got to do for a refill around here!?" a voice cried from across the restaurant. Carl turned around and looked at the table nearest the door, where two sheriff's deputies were seated. Looking intimidated, the waitress grabbed the coffee pot and hurried to their table. She then returned to the counter.
"Like some more, fellas?"
"Sure, if Starsky and Hutch over there don't mind us drinking some of their coffee," Crooks said, as he turned to look at the deputies.
Carl laughed, nearly causing him to choke on his coffee.
Betty, the waitress, a frail, middle-aged woman with short hair, refilled their cups then placed the pot back on the burner. She then went to give the deputies their checks. As the one with the loud mouth reached into his pocket for some change, a penny fell to the floor and rolled to the stop under the center of the table.
"Uh-oh! There went your tip," he said to Betty. She walked swiftly back into the kitchen.
Starsky and Hutch, whose real names were Fenton and Milford, paid up and left.
"Got to be two of Melrose's boys," Carl said.
"Got to be," Luke agreed.

When they finished they paid Betty at the cash register and left her with a consoling word and a fat tip.

25

When Mike Weathers woke up he was locked in the cafe's inoperative cooler across the hall from where Bowman's vittles were hanging. A 25-watt bulb shed dim light over the foul smelling cubicle. Beside him were a box of shredded wheat and a gallon of water. He yelled for help but his voice would never be heard through the two foot thick cooler walls.

26

Barbara Weathers was worried when Mike had not returned by dark. She drove to the cafe looking for him and found the place closed and dark. Can't be, she thought. She then used the pay phone on the corner and called around, looking for him. The last call she made was to Jeremy Parthemore, who lived in a cottage behind his station.
"Hello Jerry, you haven't seen Mike, have you? I sent him down to the cafe to pick up some dinner around three and he never came home."
"No, can't say's I have, Barbara."
"He should've been home by five and I'm gettin' a little concerned."
"Oh hell, he prob'ly went traipsin' off with some of his friends. Either that or he spent yer food money on himself and now he's scared to come home. Knowin' that kid, the latter is prob'ly the case."
"Thanks a fuckin' lot!" Barbara shouted and slammed the phone down.
"Any time," Parthemore whispered to the dead line, then softly hung up.
"Must have been that Weathers bitch," Dean Bowman then said.
"Yep, you got it."
"Of course I do, my man, of course I do."
"What we gonna do about her, boss?" asked Hoagy Plimpton.
"I don't know yet, fuckface, but you know what they say. Dead men tell no tales . . . dead women either."

Berny burst out laughing as did Jerry, while Milton Blanchard poured himself another Scotch.

Barbara drove forthwith to the county sheriff's office in High Point. It was seven thirty when she arrived, and the only deputy there was the duty officer.
"I need to see Frank Melrose," she told Deputy Hanson. Her voice was shaking.
"He's long since gone home, ma'am. Is there anything I . . ."
"No, I gotta see Frank now, please, my boy's missing!"
"Well . . . let me see if I can raise him on the phone. Why don't you jess have a seat?"
"Okay," she said, uneasily, then sat down on the bench next to the door.

Hanson called Melrose and explained the situation as best he could.
"Let me talk to her," Melrose said.
"Ma'am?" Hanson said to Barbara as he handed her the pone. She got up quickly and grabbed it.
"Frank, Mike's missing. He didn't come home today after I sent him over to the cafe for some food and . . ."
"Hold on now, Barbara, Mike's a sixteen year old kid, no tellin' where he . . ."
"Oh, you sound like that asshole Parthemore! And besides, it just ain't like Mike to . . ."
"I'm comin' down there, sit tight," Frank said, and hung up.

* * *

That evening at the Moniteau County Court House, Barbara told Frank Melrose what she knew about Dean Bowman and about the threats on Mike if she ever went to the law. She had known about Bowman long before her son had discovered Charlie Grove's remains. But Barbara was not aware of the involvement of Jeremy Parthemore and several other Gretna residents. After she signed a sworn statement, Melrose allowed her to return home. The following day, he and six of his deputies in three patrol cars drove to Gretna in search of Mike Weathers. The main thing on the sheriff's mind was to have a nice long heart-to-heart with one Mr. Dean Bowman. But when they arrived at the cafe, the place was, of course, closed. After checking the outside thoroughly, they broke the padlock on the rear storage shed with a hammer (also known as a "Missouri search warrant"). Inside, they were something less than surprised to find Mike's bicycle.

27

The night before this discovery, about the time Barbara Weathers was spilling her guts to Melrose, Luke and Co. were  about to bed down for the night.
"Which bed you want, Carl ole buddy?" Luke asked.
"I'll take the one without the dried cum on the sheets."
"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Luke said, as he threw his bath towel against the wall in disgust.
"Now don't tell me that turns your stomach, lookin' at what we may have to  deal with up the road here the next couple of days," Carl said, laughing.
"I'm gonna sleep on the fuckin' rug," Luke snapped.

The next morning after breakfast at the Lady Marmalade, they headed for High Point.  Upon their arrival, Frank Melrose and his boys were still in Gretna checking out Barbara Weathers' story. They were told by the duty officer that Melrose was due back "sometime before dark."

It was only 11 a.m. so they sat in the courthouse parking lot and talked.
"So what the hell we gonna do for the next seven hours?" Carl asked.
"Why don' t you take a nap in that nice roomy back seat?" Daryl suggested.
"Funny man," Carl said. "This is damn near as cramped as a cockpit, an that's cramped."
"Why do you figure Melrose is in Gretna?" Luke asked.
"Maybe he heard that somebody ran the traffic light," Carl quipped.
"I wouldn't put it past him, but he's in Gretna and that's where we're going so how 'bout the hell with sitting around here all day. Why don't we go talk to the man we came to talk to in the place we wanted to talk to him about," Luke suggested.
"Let's haul ass," Carl agreed.

* * *
They didn't take the time and go to the trouble of coming back to Gretna USA and not be prepared for eventualities. And it wasn't as if they were going to confront the Harvard alumni of Berny Bigelow, Hoagy Plimpton and Milton Blanchard just to point their fingers at them and say "shame, shame, shame" like Gomer Pyle. In the trunk of the Grand National were Luke's nickel plated Smith & Wesson 44 magnum, Carl's government issue 45 ACP and Daryl's hickory mattock handle. Crooks also carried a 22 caliber pocket pistol.

Upon arrival in Gretna, Carl noticed Jeremy Parthemore in front of his Pure station servicing a car. They pulled in next to the Premium pump. As Jeremy collected the money from his customer, he walked over to the Buick.
"Help ye?"
"Uh-huh, fill 'r up," Luke said with a hint of sarcasm.
"I know you?" Jeremy asked cautiously.
"Yeah, we were up here looking for Barbara Weathers' place a couple months back," said Carl from the roomy back seat.
"Oh yeah, I think I remember."
"I bet you do," Luke said, staring at Parthemore. "Wash the window while you're at it, okay, chief?"

When Jeremy finished, Luke paid him and asked if he'd seen Frank Melrose.
"No, can't say's I have gents. Matterfak I ain't seen Frank in quite a spell now."
"Zat so?" Luke asked, still staring.
"Yeah, matterfak I heard he didn't leave his office too much anymore. Must be gettin' lazy," Jeremy said, then laughed.
He received no laughter in return. "Why you guys lookin' fer 'im? Sump'n wrong?"
"Matterfak," Luke said as he cranked up and sped away from the pumps.
Jeremy glowered as Carl looked back at him.

As they got back on the highway Carl saw a one-ton truck parked behind Parthemore's cottage.
"Hey Luke, did you see . . ." Carl began.
"Yeah I saw . . . Okay, let's just drive on down the road a piece and then we'll ease on back here and check it out."
"What's up?" asked Crooks.
"One of those filth bags that assaulted us drives that truck parked behind Parthemore's cottage, and Jeremy Parthemore just sold us some gas," Carl explained.
"So that old man's in on this shit?" Crooks asked.
"Among others," Luke added. "Let's get some coffee at that little greasy spoon we stopped at last time, then roll on back to the Pure station."
"Sounds fine. I could use some," Crooks said.

But the Gretna Cafe was closed and Mike Weathers was the only one there.

They waited for Parthemore to close before returning to take care of business. When they did, they parked about two hundred yards down the main street in Gretna in a vacant lot. It was nearly dark. There was a wooded area between there and the cottage. The men got their weapons from the trunk, then started through the woods. As they reached the far edge they could see that a light was on in the cottage, and movement therein.
"Let's do it," Carl said anxiously.
"All right, but let's not let them see us before we reach that front porch," Luke said, as he surveyed the cottage carefully.

28
Earlier in the day, after giving Gretna and metropolitan area a reasonably thorough going over, and finding no sign of Mike Weathers, Frank Melrose sent five of the six deputies he had brought with him back to High Point. The deputy he kept on was the one he considered to be the most capable of the group. Deputy Elwood LeMaster was a six-foot-three-inch, 265 pound ten year veteran and as black as the proverbial ace of spades. He could bench press 460 lbs.

About the time Luke, Carl and Daryl were observing Jeremy Parthemore's cottage, Melrose and LeMaster were on their way to see Barbara Weathers.
"I'll tell you something between the two of us," Melrose said to Elwood.
"Yeah, boss?"
"I think Barbara Weathers is a damn liar."
"You mean about sending her kid to the cafe for food?
"Exactly. I mean, how much sense would it make to send the boy that far on his bike to buy food from that frigging ptomaine palace and then have to carry it all the way back? Hell, the kid's bike didn't even have a basket on it."
"Yeah, it wouldn't make a lot of sense would it? But my question is this, boss. It's something I've been wondering about all day. Why didn't we crash the cafe, I mean, since we brought the hammer with us and all?" LeMaster inquired.
"I figured you'd ask me that and I'll try to answer you. The answers to a bunch of questions I've had about this town for the past ten or twelve years might be locked up right there in that cafe. And as soon as we finish talking to Barbara Weathers, I think we'll hop on back down there and take a peak inside."

Shortly after Melrose knocked on Barbara's door, she answered it.
"You find Mikey?"
"I think you know the answer to that," Frank said. "You got something else you want to tell us?"
"What do you . . ."
"Aw, come on Barbara, you didn't send the boy to that damn cafe for food, now did you? What the hell do you take me for, a fuckin' idiot?! I could have busted you right there at the courthouse after what you told me about Bowman! So you wanna spill it or do we take you back to High Point for a little high tech interrogation?"

She finally broke down and told Melrose about how Dean Bowman had "wanted" Mike and how he had told her "it's his ass or yours." She had been willing to sacrifice her son's life to save her own.
"I'm soooorrry, I'm soooooo sooorrry!" Barbara cried, as she sobbed uncontrollably.
"Take this bitch out of here before I fuckin' puke!" Melrose told LeMaster.
"Where to?
"Back to High Point and book her! Use her car!"
"Okay, boss," LeMaster said as he gently put his handcuffs on her. "Let's go ma'am."

29
Berny Bigelow walked out the front door of Jeremy's cottage. He stood and stared at the woods for a moment as he scratched his nuts.
"There's that skin-headed motherfucker that busted my arm!" Carl whispered in excitement, nearly too loud.
"Shhh," said Luke "Let's watch him."
Berny then walked around to the side of the cottage to urinate.
"Oh this is beautiful!" Carl gasped. "Gi'me that hickory stick, Daryl. Cover me in case he turns around, okay, Luke?"
"What are you gonna d . . ."
"I'm gonna knock this bastard into the middle of next century."
"Be careful buddy," Luke said as Carl advanced across the fifty-foot clearing to where Berny was standing. As he got within six feet of Berny's back, "Pssst."
Berny, who was not yet through pissing, turned around just in time to receive the business end of the mattock handle squarely in the mouth. All three of his teeth tumbled down his throat. He fell on his back with a thud, his genitals still exposed. Carl then raised the club and brought it down hard on them. Berny let out a scream that could surely be heard on the near side of Andromeda.
Jeremy hurried out the front door to see what was going on.
"Berny, wh . . ."
Luke now had him by the throat, slamming him against the wall under the porch light. He shoved the barrel of the 44 magnum under his chin with enough force to make Jeremy yell in pain.
"Talk to me or die!"
"I don't know wh . . ."
"I don't like to repeat myself, you hillbilly fuck!" Luke said, as he pulled back the hammer of the Smith & Wesson.
"It's Bowman! For Christ's sake, it's Bowman!!! Don't kill me! Please don't kill me!"
"Bowman," Crooks said, thinking. I think he runs that little diner. There was something in the paper a while back about somebody getting sick after eating there and wanting to sue the place."
"Is that who that is? I knew there was something about that son of a bitch!" Luke said, still holding fast to Parthemore, whose face was now turning its sixth shade of purple.

Berny was out cold, but Carl kicked him as hard as he could in the ribs just for the fun of it.
"You got a phone in there?" Luke asked Jeremy, who nodded slowly.
"Show me."
He released Jeremy long enough to follow him into the cottage, accompanied by Crooks. Luke then shoved Jeremy down onto the sofa.
"Don't move a muscle, asshole."
Luke asked Crooks to get the sheriff's office on the phone. He dialed.
"Moniteau County Sheriff's Office, Milford speaking."
"Yes, this is Daryl Crooks. I'm the Callaway County Coroner."
"Yes sir, what can I do for you? Somethin' wrong?"
"Yeah, listen, a friend of mine named Luke Larson was in there earlier today looking for Frank Melrose. Did he ever get back from Gretna?"
"Yeah, I remember Mr. Larson. He came in about the time I went on duty, but Sheriff Melrose is still out there. He just sent some woman back down here with Deputy LeMaster to be booked for something."
"What's her name?"
"Barbara Weathers, I believe."
"Weathers?
Luke then grabbed the phone, still watching Parthemore.
"Hello, this is Luke Larson. Listen to me carefully. Dr. Crooks, myself and my friend Mr. Carl Stoker are detaining two men here in Gretna who we're sure can answer some questions about some disappearances that have occurred in this area the past few years."
"What!?" Milford said.
"Just get Frank Melrose on the radio and tell him to come to Parthemore Pure in Gretna ASAP!"
"You mean Jerry Parthemore?"
"The one and only."
"I'm on it right now, Mr. Larson. Stay where you're at."
Luke hung up and they waited. Carl came in briefly to give Crooks back his hickory stick. Luke told him Melrose was en route.

Barely fifteen minutes later a police cruiser came screaming up to the front of the cottage. The first thing Melrose saw when he got out of his car was Carl sitting in a porch hair, 45 in hand, guarding Berny Bigelow.
"What the . . . ?"
"Hi Franky baby," Crooks said as he walked out onto the porch, Luke at his side.
"Crooks?!"
"Thats' my name, cannibal hunting's my game, along with my friends here, of course."
Melrose then recognized Luke and Carl.
"Does somebody want to tell me just what the hell is going on?!"
After bringing Berny in and seating him on the sofa with Jeremy, the three of them told Melrose everything they knew, and about Berny's part in the Highway 32 assault. Getting Jeremy to testify wasn't a problem. He sang like a magpie.

Dean Bowman, along with Hoagy Plimpton and Milton Blanchard, were at Hoagy's cabin which was located in the forest north of town. Behind the cabin a new "storage" bin for future victims was under construction. Dean had become more and more worried in the past months that the contents of the cafe might be discovered. The new cubicle was now near completion, and Dean couldn't wait because this was where Mike Weathers would be "taken care of." He would first let Berny, Hoagy and Milton take turns sexually assaulting him. Mike would then be slowly dismembered while screaming for his life, and finally dined upon.

After this, Dean would deal with Barbara, but what Mr. Dean Bowman did not know was that she was in the county lockup and had already informed on him. (Another thing Bowman didn't know was that Luke Larson, Carl Stoker, Daryl Crooks and Sheriff Frank Melrose would soon be nailing his shiny ass to the Hebrew cross.)

30
"So the Weathers woman knew all about this bullshit, huh?" Carl asked Melrose as they sat at the table in the cottage.
"And tried to lie her way out of it three ways to Tuesday, but she finally gave up."
Luke had made some coffee and was drinking a cup as he stood and stared at Jeremy and Berny, who were now handcuffed together on the sofa. He asked Carl, Frank and Daryl if they wanted some coffee. Crooks immediately took him up on it. Carl said, "Only if it's decaf, I never drink the regular stuff when there's a full moon." Melrose laughed as he poured himself a cup.
"I'm gonna call in and have these two assholes picked up," Frank then said.
They all listened as Melrose told the duty officer to send Elwood LeMaster and one other deputy to Parthemore Pure in Gretna, pronto. It was 9 p.m.

31
Mike Weathers had long since drank the jug of water and eaten the food left him by his captors. He had also urinated on the floor of the cooler several times and, even though he did this in the opposite corner, the smell was still overwhelming. The lightbulb had blown and it was so dark in the chamber of terror that even seeing his hand in front of his face was impossible. And it was cold. He hadn't worn a jacket when he came because for some odd reason he didn't think he'd  be spending the night in a Gretna Cafe cooler. Besides, it had been a reasonably warm early December day (for central Missouri, anyway) so why not wear a T-shirt? But Mike was scared and he wondered how, where and when he would be done in. His mother had to be worried about him. Didn't she? She would certainly come to his rescue. Because when his momma set her mind to something, she did it. Right? Of course, he thought.

If Mike knew where his mother was right now and why, he might surely die of a broken heart.

32
When LeMaster and Deputy Fenton arrived about nine-thirty, Melrose met them outside.
"Did you get the Weathers woman locked up?" he asked LeMaster.
"Snug as a bug in a rug, boss."
"Good because I've got two more customers for Fenton to take back. Come on in."

As they entered the cottage, Luke and Co. instantly recognized Fenton from the Lady Marmalade coffee shop in Clarkton. He did not remember them, however. LeMaster walked over to the sofa where Jeremy and Berny were seated.
"I see you messed up again, Jerry," he said as Parthemore just looked up at him, then back at the floor.
"It looks like you're  goin' up the road for good this time, Berny boy," LeMaster then said.
"Fuck you, nigger."
"Just for that I think I'm gonna pay you a visit when I get back to the jail."
"If you get  back," Berny mumbled through his toothless mouth.
LeMaster just smiled and walked back to where Melrose and Luke were standing. After a brief conference the three of them walked back toward the sofa and stood before Jeremy and Berny.
"Which one of you wants to tell me where Bowman is?" Melrose said.
No answer. They just sat there staring at the floor.
"You could save yourselves a bunch of prison time if you talk now. If you wait, the offer's closed."

Carl and Crooks now joined them. Jeremy looked nervously toward Berny.
"They're up at Hoagy's shack north of town," he said as he looked back at Melrose.
"Shut your mouth, you crazy fuckin' old man! He's bluffin' you!" Berny said through bleeding gums.
"Aw fuck it! They're gonna git 'im anyway!"
"You know where Hoagy Plimpton's place is?" Melrose asked LeMaster.
"Yeah, it's on County Road 17, about three miles north o' here."
"Who else is up there?" Frank asked Jeremy.
"Jest Bowman, Hoagy and Milton Blanchard."

After obtaining this and other information they loaded Jeremy Parthemore and Berny Bigelow into Fenton's squad car and they were driven back to the courthouse.

Berny made the trip fully shackled - in the trunk.

33
As the men sat at Jeremy's coffee table they formulated a plan of attack to capture Dean Bowman and his accomplices. Crooks was given complete descriptions of them as Melrose reiterated Barbara Weather's story.
"By law, I shouldn't let you guys participate in this, you know," Melrose told Luke and Co.
"Then we'll participate anyway," Luke said. LeMaster chuckled.
"I thought as much," Melrose answered. "We leave at dawn."

* * *
As the sun cracked the horizon, on what appeared to be a five palm Sunday, Melrose and LeMaster, along with Luke and his men, were just finishing breakfast. It consisted of coffee and some of Jeremy's eggs and potatoes.

As they all walked out to the police car, Luke told Melrose where his car was.
"You gotta be a damned trusting soul to leave your automobile sittin' there overnight," the sheriff told him.
"It was a short night."

Luke and Co. piled into the back seat of the patrol car. One minute later they pulled into the vacant lot next to the Buick.
"Why don't we check out that damn diner before we head out?" Luke asked Melrose.
"No sir. I'm gonna let Mr. Bowman give me the grand tour after we get him sitting where you are right now. You guys just get in your hot rod there and follow me closely. Remember, I'm running the show here. Y'all are just backups. Got it?"
"Yeah," Luke said as he, Carl and Crooks got out.

The cutoff was only half a mile west of town on the main drag. As they arrived there they pulled over on the shoulder, where Melrose gave final instructions. They headed up CR 17.

Hoagy's cabin sat at the bottom of a pine tree lined dirt driveway about one hundred yards from the road. As the patrol car and Luke's Buick approached, Frank pulled over and signaled Luke to drive up beside him.
"Those assholes are prob'ly still sleepin' it off, but as soon as we're on that driveway let's cut our engines and coast on down there just in case I'm wrong."
"Gotcha," Luke said.
Before they started in, Melrose told LeMaster to take the shotgun and work his way through the woods to the rear of the cabin.
"On my way," Elwood said, as he grabbed the Winchester pump.

The two vehicles then entered the driveway. They cut their engines and coasted slowly down to the cabin. As they stopped, they sat for five minutes and watched for any sign of activity, and to give LeMaster a chance to position himself at the back door.
"You work your way to the rear and back up the deputy, okay, Carl?" Luke asked.
"Will do."
"Hey . . . be careful, huh?"
"Yeah," Carl said as he climbed out of the passenger seat of the shiny black Buick.
Melrose then got out and walked back to Luke's car.
"Where's the other guy?" he asked Luke.
"I sent him to help the deputy."
"Well, I hope Elwood don't mistake him for one of these dirtbags."
"Carl knows what he's doing."
"If you say so."
"What's the plan? Luke asked.
"Okay, you and Crooks get out and go with me. I'm gonna get this shit over with right now," said Frank.
"I can dig that."
There was a massive oak tree in front of the cabin and it helped conceal their vehicles. At the left side of the cabin, between it and the new "chamber of horrors," sat the familiar looking Dodge van. They had now reached the steps of the cabin. Melrose and Crooks started up. Daryl positioned himself to the left of the door with his famous hickory club as Melrose drew his 357 magnum from its holster. Luke stood fast on the ground at the foot of the porch steps behind the railing.

A shotgun blast then rang out from behind the cabin, followed by eight rapid pistol shots. Hoagy Plimpton had been standing watch in the woods and had seen LeMaster approach the back of the cabin. This was something Melrose did not foresee. LeMaster's shotgun discharged as Hoagy had snuck up behind him and cut his throat from ear to ear. The other eight shots were Carl Stoker emptying his 45 automatic into Hoagy. This was something Hoagy had not foreseen. But it didn't matter because Hoagy Plimpton was now strung up by his balls in the fire-iest corner of Satan's domain.

In what seemed like no more than one-tenth of a second, Dean Bowman, followed by Milton Blanchard, crashed the front door of the cabin. Bowman jumped the porch rail and took a shot at Luke, narrowly missing. He was nearly to his van about the time the famous hickory stick was exploding Milton Blanchard's right knee. Milton fell down and held his knee in silence, but the look on his face described all the pain the world had suffered for the past five thousand years.

As Melrose approached him, he rolled from his back onto his right side, quickly producing a small automatic pistol from his pocket. He put a slug in the sheriff's left shoulder, throwing him to the floor. This was the final act of Milton's miserable existence as Crooks brought the mattock handle down full force onto his skull, which gave way with a sickening crack. Both of Milton's hands and feet quivered momentarily as thousands of outraged nerve endings died. He had now joined Hoagy.

As Crooks was going to the sheriff's aid, Luke, in anticipation of Bowman's next move, sprinted to the Grand National and fired up the Intercool six cylinder powerhouse. At that very moment, Dean screamed up the dirt driveway and went north on the highway, leaving a tremendous cloud of dust behind him that engulfed Luke's car. He went after Bowman, saying to himself as he turned onto the county road, "I'll chase this bastard into hell if I have to." Finally getting onto the pavement, he jammed the Buick's accelerator to the floor. As the blower kicked in, the car shot forward as if propelled by a catapult. Bowman had a good lead on him but the gap quickly closed. They were now on what appeared to be about a three-quarter mile long straightaway. Luke tried to pass the van but Bowman swerved, cutting him off. On the next attempt, Bowman tried the same thing but Luke got around him and quickly pulled in the front of the Dodge.

* * *
"I've gotta get to my car!" Melrose said as Crooks helped him up.
Carl had now joined them on the front porch. He picked up the sheriff's gun and handed it to him. "I tried to help your man back there, sheriff, but he was dead before I got to  him."
"GODDAMMIT!!!" Melrose shouted.
They all hurried to the police car where Melrose immediately got on the radio.
"Car One to Base! Come in Base!"
"Go ahead, sheriff, this is Base."
"I want you to get every unit we've got, along with one fire rescue unit out to County 17 right now! I'll take it from there, got it?"
"10-4, sheriff. What gives out there?"
"Fuck that! Just get 'em out here!"
"Will do, boss!"
"Can one of you guys drive this thing? We need to get after Bowman. I want his ass about five shades of bad."
"Ill drive it," Crooks volunteered, and climbed behind the wheel.
"I'll ride shotgun," Carl said as he got in the passenger side, slammed the door and crammed another clip into the pistol. "With a forty-five."
"This is the first time this trip we've both sat in front," Crooks said to Carl as Melrose sat in the back. They drove up 17 at 90+.

* * *
As Luke hit the brakes, the Dodge van rammed his rear, severely damaging the Grand Nation's bumper and trunk. The two vehicles came to a halt. In what seemed like no time, Bowman was out of his van with a sawed off twelve gauge automatic shotgun. He then began to empty it into the Buick's rear window. Luke lay sprawled across the console. He then dove out the passenger door and onto the ground. As Bowman threw his empty shotgun back into the van, Luke quickly took the 44 magnum from his waistband, expecting to see Dean at the right rear corner of his van. He lay on his back, zeroing the Smith & Wesson on that spot.

Six Moniteau County police units were now racing toward the cutoff, and attracted a lot of attention as they screamed through Gretna at breakneck speed. The fire rescue van soon followed. Carl, Daryl and Frank were now within a minute of where Luke was about to confront Bowman.

"You fucked up again, my man," said Bowman as he suddenly appeared at the front of the Buick. As Luke heard this nauseating line, he tried to react.
"Easy my man!" Dean said with a sickening grin on his face, as he leveled his 9mm Glock on Luke's head. "Just drop the piece and get up. And do it sloooowwly."
Luke knew he had a choice. He could die lying on his back, or standing up.
"GO FOR IT!!!" Luke screamed as he rolled onto the grass shoulder of the road. Bowman fired three quick shots at the place where Luke was a half second earlier. As he swung the Glock toward him, the 44 thundered, blowing away the entire right half of Bowman's neck. The second shot caught him center torso. Dean's liver and spinal cord now lay on the road behind him. He fell like a puppet with all its strings instantly slashed. Luke got up and walked cautiously toward him, the 44 magnum pointed straight at the corpse. At that moment, a southbound produce truck drove slowly by. The driver stared, his eyes the size of billiard balls. Luke heard an approaching car from the south. It was a county police unit.
"Have a good time in hell, MY MAN," Luke said, staring at Bowman.

Seconds later, Daryl Crooks slammed on the brakes. The patrol car came to a screeching halt in the southbound lane even with the Buick. Carl was the first to get out. He walked over to Luke, then looked down at Bowman. "Hey sheriff, got any Bandaids?"
"Aw, cut me a break, man," Luke said as he lowered the 44 and put his left hand over his face. "He almost had me."
"Yeah, I was gonna say, you could have been seriously killed."
Melrose had now joined them as Crooks was inspecting Bowman's van.
"You got any idea how much money you just saved the taxpayers?" Frank asked Luke.
"No, how much?" he asked, still staring at Bowman.
"A shit load," Frank said as he flagged by a passing pickup truck.
Then came the sound of sirens from the south.
"Ah, the cavalry," Carl said as he turned and looked.
Hardly a minute later, the paramedics were tending Frank Melrose's wound. Before he and the rest of his men departed he told Luke and Co. to "pay him a visit" in High Point before going home.
"Yeah, sure," Luke told him.
"That thing drivable?" Frank asked, looking at Luke's car.
"We'll manage."
After the paramedics loaded Dean's carcass into their van, all the police units drove south toward the main highway. One deputy drove Bowman's van.

Luke Larson, Carl Stoker and Daryl Crooks now stood in front of the buckshot riddled Buick and talked. Carl looked down at the part of Dean Bowman still lying on the highway.
"They better clean that up in a hurry, considering the appetites some folks have in these parts."
"You're not gonna slice me a break, are ya, Carl? Luke said.
"Don't go 'way," Carl said as he walked to what was left of Luke's car and reached into the glove box. He came back with a pack of Garcia y Vega Elegante cigars. Three of them had been ruined by Bowman's shotgun. But there were three left, just enough. Carl then produced a red Bic lighter from his pocket. They lit their cigars.

EPILOG
The men drove the battered Buick a long, roundabout way back to Jefferson City, ignoring the sheriff's request that they go to High Point to give their statements. One week later, however, they returned, this time using Daryl Crooks' Chevy Corvair (with an even less roomy backseat). Three months later, they came back one more time to testify against Berny Bigelow, Jeremy Parthemore and others.

The day after the County Road 17 incident, Frank Melrose and his deputies returned to Gretna to search the soon-to-be famous cafe. The discovery of a dirty, hungry and terrified Mike Weathers was imminent. A search of the "special" cooler, the padlocks of which were blown off with a 458 rifle, revealed that which made some of the deputies gag on the floor. Mike Weathers was taken to a Jefferson City boys home to recuperate. He remained there until age 18, as none of his relatives would take him.

After looking through Dean Bowman's van, a deputy found an ice cooler in the back which contained the right hand and forearm of Oscar Silliphant. A ring was still on one of the fingers.

Bowman's family was notified of his death and the events leading to it. They made no effort to come to any service that might be held for him, as they had not heard from him since 1976.

En route from the county highway to the morgue in High Point, the rescue van, along with Frank Melrose and Deputy Jess Milford, went by Hoagy Plimpton's cabin to retrieve the bodies of Elwood LeMaster, Milton Blanchard and Hoagy.

Elwood LeMaster was unmarried and had no surviving relatives that could be located. He was given an impressive police burial with officers from six surrounding counties attending.

A fierce interrogation of Berny Bigelow produced the burial sites of thirty-seven of Bowman's victims. At the start of these interrogations, Berny had been most uncooperative and at one point deputy Fenton threatened to bash his face in and had to be restrained by other deputies.

The future of Frank Melrose was decided. The local citizens, and even those statewide, could not help but wonder how such heinous activities could go on year after year unchecked. Melrose was not re-elected sheriff.

Carl Stoker's dog Mitzi was, of course, glad to see him as he walked into the yard of his landlord Monte Lindstrom. As he sat on his porch one evening smoking a cigar, he began to think about Jackie Phelps, the lady he met at Sir Sid's night club. He went inside and, after finally digging up her number, called and asked her out to dinner. Jackie was glad to hear from him and readily accepted his invitation. They dated steadily for the next three months before marrying and settling in the suburbs of northern Jefferson City.

Luke tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Paula Parker and was told by her former roommate that she had just gotten on with TWA and was now stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. Six months later, she married a German heart surgeon after having retired from flying. Luke never saw her again. He eventually decided to get a new car, as it was not economically feasible to repair the badly damaged Buick. He purchased a Honda Civic and after the warranty expired, so did the car. So he wised up and bought an American product, a Ford to be exact. He got a brand new Thunderbird with all the extras. He tried to sell the Grand National to a used car dealer, but the owner said, "Even if you gave it to me  I'd be getting ripped off."

Daryl Crooks remains the Callaway County Coroner to this day, and is now married to Patti, his secretary. They have a seven-year-old daughter. He still sees Luke and Carl on occasion, as they would be friends for life. A few months after the ordeal in Gretna, he received a call from the producers of 60 Minutes to appear on their show along with Carl and, of course, Luke.

After being "gutted" (no pun intended) for evidence, the Gretna Cafe was finally put out of its misery via one pass of a D-16 bulldozer. Just before this occurred, Frank Melrose made a chilling discovery in the cafe office. It was a vanity chest with several small drawers filled with the fingers, toes and genitals of some of Bowman's past victims.

Gretna would spend the rest of its existence never having a population greater than three hundred.

The trials of Barbara Weathers, Jeremy Parthemore and Berny Bigelow resulted in stiff sentences. Barbara was given twenty years in the Missouri Institution for Women. Jeremy was awarded forty years at the state penitentiary without hope of parole for fifteen years. He died there in 1991. And good old Berny was sentenced to death by lethal injection. This joyous little even finally took place in 1995. Berny screamed, spit, cursed and kicked at prison guards as they strapped him to the table. He was denied his last meal request of broiled human thigh and fried testicles. But before being executed, he was given a complete physical examination by the county veterinarian.

TH-TH-TH-THAT'S ALL, FOLKS!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 James Alexander III. All rights reserved.

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