Boomer Winfrey  

Varmint Co. Correspondent

While Doc Filstrup’s poker gang was off tempting fate once again on a group road trip in the Bahamas, all Hades was breaking loose back here in Varmint County in what is already becoming immortalized in local folklore as the “War of the Roadhouses.”

As you may recall, Corky “Little Poison” Haig runs the county’s most popular watering hole, the Dead Rat Tavern, located up near the interstate. It is so popular that even the members of the rival Hockmeyer clan frequent the Dead Rat when they’re in a mood to blow off steam.

But one Hockmeyer, old Caleb’s youngest son Barney, got it in his head that the Hockmeyers needed a tavern of their own. Barney, as it happens, owned a little tract of land up on Rocky Top Peak, which looms over the Hockmeyers’ stomping grounds in Stinking Creek, pronounced “Stankin’ Crik” by most of the locals.

Yes, that’s Rocky Top, as in the Bluegrass fight song of the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee actually has several “Rocky Tops” – there’s the mountain in Cocke County over in the foothills of the Smokies. There’s also a failed gated community that was called Rocky Top, along with Rocky Top Ridge, in Middle Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau (where all that beautiful Crab Orchard stone comes from).

Then there’s Rocky Top Peak in Varmint County, on the opposite side of Stinking Creek from its sister mountaintop, McCracken’s Neck. The Town of Pleasant View, you might recall, tried to change its name to Rocky Top a couple of years back, to attract investors looking to build a theme park.

The state legislature thought it was all a big joke and instead passed a bill to change the town’s name to “Confusion.” Pleasant View got the last laugh, as the Chinese investors thought the town was named to honor the ancient philosopher Confucius and built an even larger theme park.

But back to Barney Hockmeyer’s Rocky Top. Barney bought his twenty acres on the cheap after Lazy Boy Coal Company strip-mined the top of the mountain a few years back, leaving an ugly pile of clay and black shale instead of an old-growth hardwood forest.

Barney talked old Caleb into loaning him enough money to grade and gravel the haul road to the top of the mountain and build a ramshackle building. Since several cable TV companies had already located transmission towers on top, electricity was also available.

Soon, Barney Hockmeyer opened his new tavern, which he named the “Rocky Topless Lounge.”

Half of the males in Varmint County rushed to the top of Rocky Top Peak, expecting to see topless waitresses dispensing beer. Instead, they were disappointed to see everyone thoroughly clothed.

“What kind of topless lounge is this where nobody’s topless,” Ike Pinetar’s nephew Curly complained.

“Well, this used to be Rocky Top Peak but as you can see, there ain’t no top anymore since it got stripped away. Now it’s Rocky Topless,” Barney quipped to a roar of laughter from some of the less sober patrons.

“If you want, I’ll take my shirt off,” Barney added.

Mentally picturing Barney Hockmeyer without a shirt, a chest full of thick hair and numerous knife scars, Curly shut up, sat down and ordered a beer.

“Boys, I know the name is a bit misleading but it’s meant as a joke,” Barney told the crowd. “Plus, I wanted to get y’all up here one time so I can point out the advantages of doing your drinkin’ on top of the mountain. The Sheriff’s deputies ain’t gonna waste their time driving all the way to the top of this here mountain lookin’ fer drunk drivers. They’d rather hang out down around the interstate and the Dead Rat Tavern.

“Now, if y’all want to step outside and smoke some of that wacky weed, I’ll just look the other way. Ain’t nobody up here on the mountain to complain, and I charge a quarter less for beer than old Corky Haig does. This is gonna be one jumping joint in a week or two,” Barney predicted.

Sure enough, by the time the poker pals returned from their Bahamas fishing misadventure, the Rocky Topless Lounge was the talk of Varmint County.

Sheriff Hiram Potts sent deputies up to the Rocky Topless Lounge a couple of times in the first week, to make sure there were in fact, no topless females dancing on the bar. He quickly did the math on the wear and tear caused by the rough road to his aging fleet of patrol cars and proclaimed the Rocky Topless Lounge to be officially no man’s land.

“First, if anybody gets stabbed or shot up there, they’ll bleed out long before an ambulance can get there. Second, we don’t have to worry about some drunk driver leaving the bar and hitting some innocent motorists. They’ll weave off the side of the mountain long before they get to a public road,” Hiram told Judge Hard Time Harwell. “Anybody who chooses to do their carousing up there is on their own.” 

Little Poison Haig was one person who was not amused by the opening of the Rocky Topless Lounge. Business at his tavern dropped by half the first week after his rival opened. The Dead Rat dropped its beer prices; Barney Hockmeyer dropped his prices even more. 

Little Poison announced special “all you can drink free” with a cover charge at Friday Happy Hour. Barney Hockmeyer announced “all you can drink free” without a cover charge at his Friday Happy Hour.

“Son, how can you just give beer away free for an hour and still turn a profit?” Caleb asked his enterprising son.

“Simple, Pop. After Happy Hour ends, we charge double for beer. By then the customers are all so lit up they don’t even notice.”

Finally, Corky Haig turned to desperate measures. “Old Barney has a topless lounge, but I’m gonna give ’em topless gals for real. We’re sponsoring a female mud wrestling contest next Saturday at the Dead Rat Tavern,” he announced. “First prize will be a thousand dollars.”

Camilla Clotfelter, who everyone in the county suspects of being a witch, popped her head into Penny Haig’s office next to the Varmint County High gymnasium.

“Penny, you need to sign up for that mud wrestling contest,” Camilla insisted.

“You know I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be fitting for the basketball coach to get involved in such a sleazy business. Besides, you know I’m a teetotaler!

I haven’t seen the inside of a bar since college,” Penny replied. “Why would you even suggest that?”

“Well, I thought you might want to be there to keep your baby sister from getting herself killed,” Camilla said matter-of-factly. An hour later, Penny cornered her sister Chloe at Granny Haig’s cabin.

“You know that’s just a cheap sexual thing that Uncle Corky is putting on to compete with that bar up on the mountain. It’s beneath you, Chloe, and besides, you don’t need the money.”

“Wrong, sis. Grandpa helps me out with whatever college expenses my basketball scholarship won’t cover, but he put his foot down when I told him I wanted a car of my own. He told me he wouldn’t buy me one and I’d have to work to come up with the money myself.

“I can manage a part-time job but I need a down payment. He just says I don’t need a car ’til I get out of school and go to work,” Chloe whined. “Grandpa doesn’t understand a gal needs to be self-reliant. This ain’t the 1940s!” 

“Chloe, there are going to be some big, rough women in that competition, all wanting that thousand dollar prize. How do you expect to compete?”

“You forget I wrestled in college as well as playing basketball. I’m no pushover, sis.”

“Yeah, I also remember all those fights you got into in high school. Got thrown out of… how many games? Was it twenty-two or twenty-three?”

“Twenty-five, counting the regional play-offs. But we’re not talking about street brawling. This is a wrestling match with a referee in a ring… of sorts.”

“Yeah. And the “ring’ is simply a pit filled with mud in the backyard of the Dead Rat Tavern. That creepy old lawyer Philbert McSwine, who used to wrestle in high school, will be the referee – and the crowd will be mostly drunk men hoping to see the women tear each other’s clothes off,”

Penny sighed. “And you, dear sister, are only a little over five feet, two inches and barely a 110 pounds. They’ll eat you alive.”

“Hey – I’m five-three and 126 pounds! I grew a whole inch since high school and I’ve been working out with weights. Forget it, Penny, I’m going to win that thousand bucks.”

…To be continued next month! Will little Chloe win? Will she survive? Will the Rocky Topless Lounge put the Dead Rat out of business or will the tavern wars reignite the ancient Haig-Hockmeyer feud and result in bloodshed?