Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story of the bonds that develop during childhood, and how by living thru tragedy, families can grow stronger.

Submitted: September 25, 2019

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Submitted: September 25, 2019

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Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick

 

1.

Family Business

 

Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick went down the logging path for the last time. It was during the fifth and final summer of making the trips on days when the weather was dry. Of course, they hadn’t needed to if it was rainy, and rain water was better anyway. During the first couple of summers; Pepsi bottles had been made of glass and came in a 32 ounce size. They could carry four full ones each, but the trick was carrying them while riding on Rick’s Honda Trail-70. It was an often hilarious balancing act while dodging holes, ruts and mud churned up by the logging trucks. More water was spilled from laughing and goofing than it was from the bone jarring ride. White Oak Lumber owned only four of the massive 18 wheel logging trucks, but it was enough to keep the saw mill - the family business, going along nicely. Back when they still answered to their childhood nicknames; Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick had played for the White Oaks, a little league baseball team sponsored by the family business. Pete was one of the starting pitchers (at bat he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn), and Rick played 3rd, batted clean-up and hit well over .300 every season. They were born just over a month apart, grew up in houses separated by a dirt road and together they had explored every square foot of the 22 acre virgin pine forest their Granddaddy had inherited.  Of course, by the time they started making treks down the logging path and lovingly caring for their plants; the nicknames Pistol and Ranger were long gone. Neither of the cousins had gone to work for the mill; their Uncles wouldn’t have it. The homegrown they grew kept them in what little mad money they needed (and of course, all the buzzes they wanted). On the last gardening trip they’d ever make, one thing is certain; they were inseparable to the very end.

Dave Luster was out to make a name for himself. Being sheriff of a shit-splat county in Eastern North Carolina didn’t cut it. He wanted to go places, fry bigger fish. Make a name for himself and then some. Serving up warrants to men who violated restraining orders and chasing teens who ran off without paying for their gas didn’t amount to squat. “Got me a chance to make it happen, I do believe.” He thought. He looked up from his word search puzzle when Lynne Freeman, his Chief Deputy knocked twice and walked in.

“Those two boys sure had a green thumb; when we found the plants, they were huge!” Lynne said without even a hello.

“Yeah, the marijuana plants. That’s been a week now. You destroyed them right? Burned the whole crop? I bet you stood downwind when y’all did. How about Junior, did he try to sneak some when you weren’t looking?”

“Dave, what you’re calling a crop was eight, ten plants at the most. Junior? Well, he did ask for some samples for “analysis”, but it was just a joke. Junior’s too full of himself now that he’s Corporal Harris and wouldn’t do a thing that might get his rank pulled. All I was saying was Pete and Rick excelled at gardening, just like everything else they did.  I’m not sure how the families will get all this behind them. Not to mention the Church and the Rec League. They helped grow, raise and cook a lot of the food the families and the loggers ate. Remember the pig pickins those two put on? You ought to; you ate plenty yourself. The White Oaks were headed to state finals; they’ve never had a team like this, ever. Pete and Rick are… were the best coaches I’ve ever seen. The kids adored them.”

“Shit, Lynne, slow down. They were 19 for crying out loud. They weren’t coaches, they were fucking dealers! I don’t want to hear you gushing over them again; especially in public. We are THE law and selling marijuana is a crime!” You or no one else around here is gonna clear those crooks’ names just because they could put a pig on a friggin’ grill. According to Percy, they’re gonna keep the logging business shut down at least another week. He’s pretty tore up about his grandsons, but that’ll change once I give my statement in the morning and he realizes those boys were drug dealers.”

Lynne didn’t say another word. She had to bite her tongue first, though. She just walked out.

The Honorable Sheriff Luster got a few butterflies in his considerable stomach when he thought, “Man that was a damn grizzly scene out on Percy’s logging path. Lead right to those boy’s stash too, by god. This is gonna make the news. I’M gonna make the news!” He grinned to beat the band as he wadded up his puzzle and tossed it. He couldn’t figure the stupid things out anyhow.

Lynne was reeling when she turned and left the Sheriff’s office. She had all intentions of going back to her desk, but at the last minute she realized she didn’t wanna be anywhere near her boss and she didn’t wanna go sulk in front of Junior. So instead, she ducked out of the building and fast paced it to her car. She wasn’t kidding herself, however. She knew why she left. “Am I ready? How will I tell him?” She wondered. Perhaps, she should have thought on it a bit more.

Lynne stopped by her house to change out of her uniform. She wanted to be as approachable as possible. Percy and his family (all four sons, both daughters, 12 of the 18, make that 16 grandkids and three great-grandchildren) were gathered at the ball field for a family remembrance. Twenty-two family members total. Rose, the matriarch and Percy’s soul mate of 49 years had passed away not quite six months ago. It had been a freak accident; one of their hunting dogs had somehow gotten into the breezeway, and Rose tripped over him on her way to the washing machine. Unable to catch herself with her arms full; she fell and fractured her skull on the meat grinder. Percy hasn’t been able to put a bit of guilt behind him, no matter how much time goes by. He still thinks of her every day and on the lonelier nights; he cries himself to sleep. He had forgotten to move the grinder after making a tub full of family-recipe sausage links. He’d been too wrapped up with getting them out to the smokehouse. Dinner on the Ground is gonna be provided by Tempest Baptist Church; the same church where Mrs. White is now interred. Lynne wanted, no HAD to speak to Mr. White. If he learned about his grandsons’ secret from Sheriff Luster’s self-important “news briefing”, it would break his heart. And the dear man’s heart has been broken enough. Certainly some of the family members knew about Pete and Rick’s little weed garden, but Lynne was sure none of them had broached the subject with Mr. Percuvial White. They respected him far too much. He was the man who had gone hat in hand and all alone to the bank, back when banks were much harder to deal with. He managed to convince them to put up a loan for what was the first of many saws. The logging trucks would come a little later. Now, White Oak Lumber has 19 employees including three of his sons. “If there’s a silver lining to these shitty clouds, Lynne thought, I might be there when the food is brought over. Dinner on the Ground is a real treat. Of course, I’m gonna have to get Dave’s big announcement bullshit out of the way first.” Lynne pulled onto the road and headed toward what would soon make the sheriff’s dream of headlining the news come true. But not at all like he had planned.

The boys had died on Friday afternoon. The White Family laid them to rest on Tuesday and on the following Friday they gathered at a place the boys had once loved. Uncles, aunts and cousins were huddled in small groups, looking for and providing comfort. Percy was walking alone by the visitor’s dugout. His mind was reeling back and forth between the long standing grief of his dead wife Rose and the newer, harsher grief of his dead grandsons, Pete and Rick. He didn’t notice Chief Deputy Sheriff Freeman making her way across the infield. She was lost in thought as well trying to steel her nerve enough to walk up, shake Mr. White’s hand and say, “Tomorrow morning at nine, Sheriff Luster plans to let the press and the public know how he believes illegal drugs are the very bane of society, and just what he thinks of those who sell them. I’m so, so sorry, Mr. White, but we found some marijuana plants growing not far from where Pete and Rick’s bodies were discovered. We have evidence that show the plants were theirs. I didn’t want you to find out from Dave’s press briefing. That’s why I’m here.”

 

 

2.

Wildlife

 

On that fateful Friday afternoon in the woods; the cousins were more preoccupied with the evening plans than they were with their trek to the garden. The trek was necessary however; what they were going to get was integral to the plans. 

“Pete, step it up man; can’t you keep up?” Rick hollered back over his shoulder. He wanted to get done and back to the house before his sister brought Janice over to study. He had some studying in mind himself. Janice in her halter top and Daisy Dukes would make for an interesting subject. He thought he could be a straight A student.

“Damnit, hold your horses, I gotta pee! Lemme shake the monster first.”

“Need a thimble?” Rick asked. They both cracked up, even if this was an old joke. Sometimes the old jokes were the best.

They both knew, but didn’t want to say out loud; this would be the last summer of growing their own pot. Rick had accepted a job as a ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail. He wanted Pete to go too, but he knew good and well Pete wasn’t going to leave Luanne. They’d only been dating for a few months, but they had hit if off really well. The job wouldn’t start until March, a half a year away, but even still, this was the last growing season. Pete zipped up and jogged to catch up with his cousin.

When the boys first started out, they relocated their little garden from season to season. They had the notion of crop rotation, just like the uncles did with the family farm. They figured it couldn’t hurt. As they got older they came to realize it didn’t make a bit of difference. However, they continued their ways from year to year mostly because they loved the woods and scouting around in them. This year their plants were located about a quarter of a mile in. On the far side of a scum covered pond it was 50 paces to a pine tree they had marked with a notch and bit of white paint. A right turn lead between two more pines and then it was just a short hike to their garden. They both knew their way around these woods like the backs of their hands, but marking their paths was another old habit they liked and therefore stuck with.  Scum ponds were plentiful throughout the woods and when they wanted to go for a dip they never hesitated to clear the thick algae with whatever limbs they could scrounge. Then a cannonball or shallow dive into the green water would knock back the heat nicely. It was sometimes creepy squishing their feet on the slimy bottom and it was always imperative to be on the lookout for cottonmouths that would occasionally swim by. Everyone said they couldn’t bite you in the water, but no one wanted to test that theory. Wildlife, including snakes, was as much a part of growing up in the South as was working on the family farm, playing ball and spending endless summer days out amongst the pines.

Pete, lagging a bit behind was taken down first. The black bear, stood on her hind legs and then brought her paws, claws extended, down on the back of Pete’s head. The force of the swat was enough to send Pete flying into the trunk of a pine tree. He was rendered unconscious immediately and was bleeding from his neck down to his lower back. Rick heard the commotion, turned around and saw his cousin lying face down. Rick didn’t see the bear and having no idea there was one nearby, sprinted full speed to where his cousin lay. Rick grabbed Pete up and proceeded to run him out of there. Black bears, though more rare in Eastern North Carolina than in the mountains of the state, are among the largest of any bears in the country. They are not usually aggressive and retreat is primarily their first choice. A sow will, however, show aggression if she thinks her cubs may be in danger. Pete and Rick had seen a large variety of animals in the wild as they were growing up, but never a bear. This particular sow was out with her two cubs near the weed garden when the cousins showed up to harvest a few buds. She loped behind Rick as he was doing his best to run while carrying Pete. His only thought was to get somewhere, anywhere Pete could get help. If he’d have thought to leave Pete behind so he could run for help faster; Percy would have had to bury only one grandson instead of two. Rick wouldn’t have considered it for a second. The mommy bear, protecting her baby bears caught up to Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick a few yards shy of the scum pond.

Rick’s sister Marie and her friend Janice were walking out to the car now that band practice was over. Pete’s girlfriend Luanne saw them, waved and walked over. She was hoping to tag along and maybe see Pete. She knew her friends’ plan to study was just an excuse to cop some of the weed the boys were bringing back. A buzz sounded like a great idea now that the week was over.

“No problem, jump in!” Marie said. When it came to partying; the more the merrier. She drove from the high school parking lot to her house in the usual 20 minutes. When they pulled onto the gravel driveway she noticed her brother’s three-wheeler wasn’t parked over by the potato barn where he usually kept it. “They’re not back yet; what do y’all wanna do while we wait?” Marie asked. They ended up doing a little studying, a lot of chatting and some listening to music. After a couple of hours, the girls were starting to get bored and more than just a little worried. Marie’s dad had ridden to work with her uncle Mark and therefore his Ford F-250 4x4 was out back. She was allowed to drive it when she wanted, just as long as she washed off any mud when she got back. Growing up on a farm; you were put behind the wheel as soon as you could see over it. Boys and girls alike were often needed to drive something, somewhere. The girls decided to take a ride down the logging path. Under normal circumstances; going baha’ing or mudding as some called it, was a blast. Now however, they had a serious reason to take the truck. Only Pete and Rick knew the exact location of their garden from year to year, but most of the siblings and cousins knew it was always planted somewhere along the path.

It was Marie who spotted the three-wheeler, just by pure luck. Rick had pulled it off the path and parked behind a patch of briar-berry bushes. She saw the bushes and was thinking about Grandma White’s “brarberry” cobbler when the low-lying sun’s reflection caught her eye. She came to a stop and the three girls jumped out. They only paused for a moment at the three-wheeler and continued on a straight course into the woods. They were calling out the boy’s names louder and louder as they went in. Of course, there was no reply; only the occasional twitter of birds and the chirp/bark sound of tree squirrels. The woods were deepening in shadows and it became increasingly hard to see any useful distance ahead. Janice and Luanne had about decided they wanted to go back and get help or at least get flashlights, when Marie, who was leading them by several yards spotted the pond. “Let’s check around that pond first and then we’ll go get help.” She yelled back. The other two girls caught up to her at almost the same moment she found the ripped clothes and bloodied bodies of Pete and Rick. It looked like they had been holding on to each other right up till the end. Marie’s last thought before she greyed out was; “Look, they’re still wearing their White Oaks ball caps…pete was the pitch...” Luanne took off running full blast back toward the truck with the intention of going to flag someone down. She was just passed the pond when it dawned on her that she didn’t have the keys. When she got back to the others, two alive and two not, the full weight of what had happened came crashing down on her. By the time the three girls regained enough composure to make it back to the truck, it was dark. Under the full moon, they were able to find the three-wheeler and push it out from the bushes. There they left it as a marker.

Rick and Marie’s dad, Wilt and Pete’s dad, Mark had spotted the three-wheeler and were headed into the woods. Less than 30 minutes had passed from the time the girls came running into the house crying. After promising to call 911 immediately; Marie tossed her dad the truck keys. The men grabbed a few things and left the house. They were charging ahead and breaking limbs out of their way while toting big four-cell flashlights in one hand and thirty-aught-six rifles in the other. The scene was how the girls had described it, only much worse in person. Percy’s two eldest sons dropped their flashlights and their guns and held each other. Silently they remembered how Pete had had a Pistol of a pitching arm and Rick had always wanted to be a Ranger. They remembered and they wept in the very woods where the boys had grown up. And they did so under a cold and lonesome moon.

The 911 dispatcher took Marie’s call and Deputies Freeman and Harris arrived on the scene a few minutes ahead of the VFD rescue squad. Lynne and Junior were able to persuade, with a gentle but stern tone, the boy’s fathers to leave the woods. Wilt and Mark put up little resistance and were led away by another deputy sheriff who had recently arrived. After all the preliminaries were done, the paramedics removed the bodies from scene. Once they were gone, Lynne and Junior scouted the area. At the perimeter of the area they’d plan to check; they found the plants. Lynne was fairly certain it was the boy’s garden but didn’t want to make a hasty decision. The two different sets of sneaker prints would have to be identified. She took imprints and then made the coroner’s office her first stop. Although she didn’t want to; she left there and went to fill the sheriff in on the details. Protocol dictated that she must do so.

 

 

3.

News

 

Several groups of mourners saw Lynne on her knees beside Mr. White as he lay on the ground near the visitor’s dugout. They had turned to look as gasps and utterances of “Oh My God!” went up. It wasn’t long before Wilt, Mark, and their two younger brothers Abe and David were kneeling beside her. Shortly after that, Percy’s two daughters and the cousins were gathered around in more or less a big circle.

“Lynne what happened?!” Wilt practically shouted.

“I don’t know. Is he OK? I was just talking with him and then his eyes rolled up and he just slumped.”

Abe was checking for a pulse and someone suggested not to move him. Abe couldn’t find a pulse or any other signs of life. He was a member of the volunteer fire department and had recently had a refresher on CPR. When he began administering it; several people in the crowd either went to their knees or sat down altogether. Marie had already run to the concession booth, grabbed the phone and dialed 911. She fended off the horrible déjà vu that threated to overwhelm her.  Many family members were in shock by the time the rescue squad arrived and some of the others couldn’t bear to stay any longer. Wilt spoke to his sister Joan and told her not to let Lynne leave. He had quite a few questions for her. Wilt and his brothers followed the rescue squad.

Much later that evening, the immediate family gathered at the home place. The two sisters came in from the breezeway and put on coffee. When it was served up, Wilt asked the questions everyone had wanted to ask as well.

“Lynne what exactly did you say to Daddy? Why did you come to the park in the first place? Didn’t you know this was a family gathering?”

“Wilt, I came to break the news to Mr. Percy in the most gentle way I could.” Tears stung her eyes when she said, “I guess I didn’t do it gentle enough. I wasn’t going to let your Daddy find out from Luster.”

Lynne then went on to explain everything she knew, and most of what she suspected. They took it better than she could have hoped. Or at least, they seemed to. She suspected they weren’t too surprised by the pot; but they were furious about the sheriff’s plans. Especially when she told them she believed the sheriff was trying to benefit from the tragedy. When it was all said and done, the sisters gave Lynne a heartfelt hug and the brothers led her out to her car. They didn’t say much while they did. Wilt and Mark sat up talking long into the night.

The F-250 4x4 came to a halt at the curb beside the sheriff’s office. Wilt and Mark pushed thru his door and walked in briskly. It was just before 8:00 AM and Sheriff Luster was still in his civvies. He looked up with a mixture of surprise and annoyance in his eyes.

“Hey fellas. Just reading about your father. I’m so..”

The sheriff didn’t have time to finish; Wilt grabbed one arm and Mark the other. Dave was a stout man, but the brother’s didn’t even seem to notice. They had him out to the truck and stuffed in before Dave could utter one, maybe two protests. Percy’s youngest son, Abe was at the wheel and they were back on Poplar Road in short order.

My Mama, my boy Pete and now my Daddy! Your bullshit about my dead son was what killed my Daddy!” Mark screamed at the sheriff while restraining the urge to choke him.

Dave replied, “I did NO such a thing. I am THE duly elected sheriff of this county, YOUR county and I demand you to take me back to my office, NOW! I have an important meeting in less than an hour.” The sheriff, trying his best to sound like a hard-ass, couldn’t even look them in the eyes. He was instead, looking out the window and saw that they were on Poplar Road. He assumed they were headed to Percy’s house.

At the side road ahead, Abe didn’t even signal. He just swung his brother’s truck onto a well-worn dirt road. The family saw mill lay ahead.

 

As the news always does; it eventually swung its attention to other matters of the day. Several weeks of probing by the local police, the FBI and even the DEA turned up nothing in regards to the disappearance of Sheriff Dave Luster. Nothing except for the fact he was gone. Disappeared without a trace, so to speak. Being long and upstanding members of the community, the Church and the Youth Rec League, The White family wasn’t even questioned. Dave had held the dirt on Pistol Pete and Ranger Rick close to his chest; wanting to make the most of it. Chief Deputy Sheriff Lynne Freeman assumed responsibilities of Sheriff right away and easily won the position when the special election was held.

Every member of the White family that was old enough to do so, cast their vote for her.


 

 

 

 


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