“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

Another Varmint Co. Halloween and Thanksgiving have come and (thankfully) gone, and I’m proud to announce that they passed without major mishaps or fatalities, despite the locals’ best efforts to the contrary. 

The haunted high school went off without a hitch: no stray corpses from Clyde Junior’s funeral home, no explosions to amount to anything and no spray painting the walls of the cafeteria.

There was one minor incident when Goober McNew, portraying a vampire, tried to put the bite on cheerleader Melanie Bagwell. Goober’s fake fangs drew a little blood, so Melanie bit him back, chomping down hard on Goober’s right hand.

Unfortunately, Goober is also the starting point guard for the Viper basketball team and Melanie’s overbite broke three bones in Goober’s shooting and dribbling hand, three days before the season opener against the Potts County Pit Bulls.

With Goober sidelined, the point guard duties fell to freshman Hamp Harwell, Judge “Hard Time” Harwell’s grandson. Hamp did a fair job of handling the ball, but got a little rattled when Potts County defenders started pressing and fouling.

Ten minutes into the game, poor Hamp had turned the ball over half a dozen times and had been fouled hard a dozen times, only three of them called by the officials.

During a timeout, Judge Harwell walked down to courtside and had a friendly chat with Hobert Krug, the head referee. The next few times Hamp brought the ball down, the Pit Bull defenders were whistled for fouls and began to back off the freshman guard.

“What’d you say to the referee, Judge?” B. O. asked Hard Time at halftime. “Those officials are whistling Potts County for fouls if they just give Hamp a mean look.”

“I reminded Hobert Krug that his brother-in-law is coming up in my court next week for sentencing on a string of car theft convictions. I also reminded him that his sister and her five kids are going to be moving in with Hobert while her husband is serving time,” the Judge explained.

“I advised him that depending on my mood next week, I could sentence Hobert’s brother-in-law to anything from time served plus probation up to three to five years at the state pen,” Hard Time added with an evil grin.

Since the last outdoor privy in Varmint County was destroyed last year during that unfortunate incident in Haig Hollow, mischievous youngsters have been forced to find other methods of Halloween entertainment. Egging cars, burning old tires in the middle of the road and rolling lawns with toilet paper are old hat, but the more inventive boys always try to add their own pranks to the collection of Varmint County Halloween lore.

That’s no easy task. For instance, how can one top some of the tricks from Halloweens past, such as the time a young Archie Aslinger, Hugh Ray Jass and B. O. Snodgrass hauled a wagon and two jackasses to the roof of the old Primroy Elementary School and left them stranded there, each jackass splayed with one set of hooves on either side of the roof’s pinnacle.

It took the Lower Primroy Volunteer Fire Department two days to figure out how to get the mules down, with Chief Gumbo Jenkins at one point suggesting that they just shoot the animals and have done with it. That plan was abandoned when the owner of said mules, Cornelius “Corney” Jass, suggested he might shoot Gumbo Jenkins instead.

But back to the present: modern day Varmint County tricksters have quite a challenge to come up with pranks that can be memorable in light of the accomplishments of past generations.

With a little help from the notorious Arlie Hockmeyer, one group of lads managed to pull off a stunt this Halloween that might just make the top ten list.

It just happened that October 31 this year was also the scheduled beginning of the annual drawdown of Mud Lake. Every year in the late Fall, the Army Corps of Engineers begins releasing a large volume of water from its tributary dams, allowing the reservoirs to increase their capacity to hold water during heavy storms and help prevent flooding downstream.

Mud Lake is a rather small lake by comparison, and the drawdown occurs quickly. Ike Pinetar, operator of Mud Lake Marina, says that it’s not unusual for the lake to drop six feet or so in a mere 24 hours if the Corps opens all the floodgates.

Naturally, Ike and his workers must hustle around like mad to push the marina docks and rental houseboats away from the shore or risk them being stranded on dry land for the entire Winter.

Halloween is also the time when lawyer Philbert McSwine hosts his annual “Blind Justice” poker marathon out on his luxury houseboat next to Lakewood Estates, a fancy gated community in the next hollow over from Ike’s more or less “working class” marina.

There is no love lost between Ike Pinetar, who caters to fishermen and local good ol’ boys, and the owners of the marina at Lakewood, which caters to the jet ski and wine on the patio set.

So it was that the Pinetar cousins and their Pennywell buddies sat down to plot a Halloween prank to better their feat of the previous year, when they tipped over Granny Haig’s privy – with Granny inside.

“We ought to do something to that bunch of lawyers and judges that always gather out on the lake to play poker on Halloween,” Peanuts Pinetar suggested. “Maybe Uncle Ike can help us come up with a plan.”

“Well boys, dressing up as pirates and robbing the poker players has already been done,” Ike advised. “Besides, Judge Harwell has joined the poker game for the past couple of years and he always packs a loaded .45. He would shoot anyone who tried to interfere with a good hand.”

“We could swim out and drill holes in the barrels and sink the houseboat,” Corky suggested.

“Boy, where you been? They quit using empty metal drums to float houseboats years ago. Now it’s all foam blocks,” Ike pointed out. “Besides, you don’t want to actually destroy property. That would land you behind bars for a long time.”

“I might have a suggestion,” Arlie Hockmeyer cut in, “but it would require an inside man to pull it off.” Arlie was hanging out at Mud Lake Marina following his latest brush with the law, a little matter involving moonshine, one of his old wreckers and a wild chase through two counties and downtown Lower Primroy.

“I think we might just have the man. Judge Harwell has always had a wicked sense of humor and doesn’t much like half the lawyers and prosecutors that practice in his court,” Ike suggested. “Let’s hear your idea, Arlie.”

So, early on Halloween night, lawyer Philbert McSwine, Sessions Judge Cameron Feathers, District Attorney General Lucien “Habeas Corpus” Coakley, Criminal Judge Hubert “Hard Time” Harwell and half a dozen defense attorneys and personal injury lawyers were gathered around the mahogany poker table in the middle of Philbert’s spacious houseboat.

A trio of scantily-clad female law clerks from Philbert’s office buzzed around the table, emptying ashtrays and refilling bourbon glasses while the lawyers tried to decide whether to call Judge Feathers’ bluff or simply fold and hope for a favorable ruling on their next case in his court.

“Excuse me a minute, boys. I have to make a phone call,” Judge Harwell announced as he folded his hand. “This is rather personal so I’ll just go outside on the deck.”

“I’ll bet the old buzzard’s got a mistress,” DA Lucien Coakley snickered.

“Not likely. His wife is the only person in the county that Hard Time is afraid of. More likely he’s calling a bookie,” Philbert countered.

Instead, Hard Time was calling the Lakewood Estates security office. “This is Judge Harwell. My Cadillac blew a head gasket and I’ve called a tow truck to pick it up. Let them through the gate when they arrive,” he told the guard. “I’ll catch a ride with one of the attorneys in the morning when we finish our game.”

Shortly afterward, Arlie Hockmeyer drove up to the gate.

“What are you doing with two tow trucks? Judge Harwell just has the one car.”

“This is Judge Hard Time Harwell’s Caddy. I’m going to make sure we don’t get a single scratch on it while loading it, or there’ll be hell to pay,” Arlie replied. “Thought I’d bring an extra tow cable just in case.”

Down at the water’s edge, the Pinetar and Pennywell boys met Arlie. Shivering from the cold water despite the fact that they all wore wetsuits, the boys reported, “We’ve got all the cables in place under the houseboat. I still don’t see how you can lift that big old houseboat with only two wrecker cables, and especially without them lawyers all feeling it.”

“Don’t need to lift it. We’re just using the wrecker wenches to tighten up those cables you strung underneath, then anchoring the whole mess to the edge of that big concrete pavilion over there, and across the hollow to that old rock crusher left over from when they built the dam. The Army Corps of Engineers will do the rest between now and daybreak.”

Beginning shortly before midnight, the Corps of Engineers opened the flood gates on Mud Lake Dam and began spilling 250,000 cubic feet of water each second down the channel of the East Fork of the North Branch of Mud River. The water levels on Mud Lake slowly receded, at the rate of about six inches in the first hour, then, as the lake grew smaller in volume, the drop increased to ten inches, then twelve inches each hour.

Floating securely in a deep channel away from the shore, the flower of Varmint County’s legal establishment were deep in their cups, intent on utilizing all of their courtroom skills to win the growing pots of cash and blissfully unaware of the changes going on outside.

The whole idea was that when the lawyers left the table to return to their cars at dawn, they would find themselves suspended high and dry six feet or so above the lake surface and the floating catwalks leading to shore. As it turned out, the prank worked out even better than expected, when Judge Feathers decided around 6:30 a.m. that his need to answer the call of nature outweighed judicial decorum while the single bathroom was occupied.

Daylight Savings Time not yet in effect, it was still pitch dark outside at 6:30 when Judge Feathers teetered on the edge of the deck and relieved himself.

The resultant splash came several seconds later than expected, and was only faintly audible, causing the judge to peer unsteadily over the edge. He quickly lost his balance and toppled into the water six feet below.

Judge Feathers’ cries for help brought Habeas Corpus Coakley out the door to the edge of the deck, where he too, lost his balance and pitched head first into the water. 

“Hold one boys, this deck is rolling around whenever someone gets too close to the edge. We’ll all wind up in the drink if we’re not careful,” Philbert McSwine warned. “We need some light out here to see what’s going on.” 

By this time, a suddenly sobered Judge Feathers and District Attorney Coakley had managed to swim and thrash their way to shore. Only after Philbert brought out some spotlights to illuminate the deck did the lawyers realize their poker party was suspended from tightly strung cables stretching across the hollow while the water and shoreline rested six feet below.

The next morning the prosecutors and attorneys assembled at the Varmint County Courthouse to determine how many criminal charges should be brought against Arlie Hockmeyer, whether to name Ike Pinetar as an accessory, and which juvenile detention center should receive the Pennywell and Pinetar boys.

“I guess you’ll have to press charges against me as well, boys. I was in on the joke and helped the Hockmeyer boy bring his wreckers past security,” Hard Time Harwell announced.

Needless to say, all involved quickly decided not to press charges. The prank was more or less harmless, since nobody was injured beyond a good soaking and it only took Fire Chief Stanley the Torch Aslinger a couple of hours to figure out how to extract all of the lawyers from the suspended houseboat.

“The only bad news, Philbert, is that I can’t figure out how to release your houseboat back to the lower water level without doing a lot of damage,” Stanley declared. “Looks like it will have to stay suspended in the air until the Army Corps brings the lake levels back up in the spring. Maybe you should pray for a flood.”