Boomer Winfrey 

Varmint Co. Correspondent

November is only a month away but you hear little discussion about the national election in Varmint County’s bars and pool halls these days. Likewise there’s little talk about Coach B. O. Snodgrass and his undefeated Varmint County Viper football team, the recent local election in which Varmint County females nearly took control of the county commission, or the upcoming Halloween season.

Instead, all the talk hereabouts is about the recent demise of one of the county’s most well-known characters, Corky “Little Poison” Haig, late operator of the infamous Dead Rat Tavern and sole surviving son of clan patriarch Elijah “Big Poison” Haig.

The past year had been anything but kind to Corky Haig. When his paw fell into a coma and appeared near death a little over a year ago, Corky, considering himself the heir apparent to the title of clan patriarch, began negotiating with a cable TV network for a reality show, similar to the “Duck Dynasty” series, but featuring the Haigs.

Corky and lawyer Philbert McSwine were in heavy negotiations for a pilot episode based on the expected funeral of the clan patriarch when Elijah himself walked in the door.

The old man had emerged from his coma, and learning about his son’s shenanigans from granddaughter Penny, he had checked himself out of the hospital and arrived at the Dead Rat just in time to stop the contract from being signed. Elijah gave the network officials 10 minutes to leave town and Lawyer McSwine five minutes to take a long vacation, then disinherited his youngest son, announcing that Penny Haig would assume leadership of the Haig Clan when Elijah did finally cash in his chips.

A few months later, Corky had to deal with another kind of trouble when rival Barney Hockmeyer opened up the “Rocky Topless Lounge” on the pinnacle of Rocky Top Peak. Barney’s lounge siphoned much of Corky’s business away, at first because patrons were curious to see if there were actually topless dancers at the bar (there weren’t), and later because it was so far in the sticks that Sheriff Hiram Potts declared the joint “no man’s land” as far as his deputies were concerned.

Corky countered by scheduling a female mud wrestling tournament at the Dead Rat, but that, too, went badly when Penny Haig’s little sister Chloe, all 5-1/2 feet and 110 pounds of her, entered the tournament hoping to win the prize money for the down payment on a car.

Scrappy little Chloe, toughened by years of fighting at basketball games, won the tournament but when she turned to hold up her arms in a victory stance, the large woman she had just bested blindsided her and pushed her facedown in the mud.

Big Sister Penny, a statuesque 6-1/2 feet and 180 pounds, had attended only to make sure her little sis did not get injured. She intervened and whipped the other wrestler, whipped referee Philbert McSwine, whipped her Uncle Corky, two security guards, two bartenders and six leering male onlookers before she took her baby sister home for first aid and a bath.

From this point Corky’s prospects seemed to have bottomed out, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before his life took a turn for the better. First, Barney Hockmeyer, flush with the success of his mountaintop tavern, actually began to feature topless female go-go dancers at the Rocky Topless Lounge. 

The ill-fated Muddy Topless Fracas, as it was popularly called in the offices of the Varmint County War Whoop and Exterminator, could also have accurately been described as “Penny Haig kicks butt and takes no prisoners.”

The ill-fated Muddy Topless Fracas, as it was popularly called in the offices of the Varmint County War Whoop and Exterminator, could also have accurately been described as “Penny Haig kicks butt and takes no prisoners.”

Old Caleb Hockmeyer, the God-fearing, always-at- church-on-Sundays patriarch of the clan, had loaned his oldest grandson the money to build the lounge, so felt no hesitation in burning it to the ground when he learned about the topless dancers. The Hockmeyers and the other patrons slowly began drifting back to do their drinking at the Dead Rat Tavern once again, where Corky had found a brand new attraction that was bringing in new customers by the droves.

You might recall, back last Thanksgiving, that our retired county judge, Colonel Hugh Ray Jass, hosted a reconciliation feast, inviting all the Haigs and Hockmeyers to attend and officially sign a permanent treaty ending their century-long feud. Also imposing himself into the ceremony was Carlisle Gump, also known as Chief He-Who-Runs-With-Wolves Blackfeather of the Kisokonee Band of the Eastern Cherokee Nation.

Carlisle, uh, Chief Blackfeather, had unsuccessfully petitioned to be admitted to the Cherokee reservation after his third wife left him, but with the assistance of Lawyer McSwine, had petitioned the federal government for recognition as an official tribe – and had even secured promises from Chinese investors for backing of a casino.

Carlisle conned a very inebriated Elijah Haig and Caleb Hockmeyer into signing a “treaty of reconciliation” with his tribe that turned out to be a deed to all the Haig and Hockmeyer lands that were purportedly stolen from Carlisle’s tribe in the 1830s. The plan backfired when Sheriff Hiram Potts informed the new owner of Haig Hollow that the lands he had just acquired had a delinquent tax bill dating back 60 years, and was arrears somewhere in the neighborhood of $63 million, plus penalties and interest owed on the property.

Destitute, Carlisle needed cash to pay Lawyer McSwine’s tab for continuing the legal efforts to get federal approval for the Kisokonee Band. He hocked his genuine Sioux war bonnets to Smiley down at Smiley’s pool emporium, sold his war drums to a traveling rock & roll band and approached Corky Haig with his last tangible asset, a pet black bear named “Beer Barrel” that he had bought off a failing roadside attraction over in North Carolina.

Beer Barrel had been rescued from a trap while still a cub and raised with the idea of making a dancing bear out of him. State laws against abuse of wild animals intervened, however, and the owner soon found himself saddled with a fully-grown black bear with an expensive taste for beer.

Carlisle, thinking the bear would make a nice addition to his reservation casino, bought Beer Barrel for next to nothing and taught him how to beg for beers, dance to the beat of a war drum and a few other tourist-pleasing tricks, but now, with no reservation and no casino anywhere near becoming a reality, the bear was an expensive liability.

Instead, he sold the bear to Corky Haig, to serve as a mascot and the latest attraction at the Dead Rat Tavern. Corky had always wanted to have a bear mascot, ever since he saw a Paul Newman movie on late night TV about Texas Judge Roy Bean and a pet bear who saved the judge’s life from a gang of assassins.

It wasn’t long before Beer Barrel was the hit of the joint, swilling beers as fast as patrons would buy them for him, belching loudly, roaring in gratitude and eventually plopping over in a alcoholic trance while various drunks hooted and hollered their approval. 

Corky, of course, was happy to sell his customers all the beer they wanted to feed the bear’s growing appetite for booze.

Then came this past weekend. Bartender “Gopher” Haig arrived at the Dead Rat shortly before 11 a.m. to begin preparing for the usual Saturday morning crowd. He walked into a room turned upside down from one end to the other, bottles broken and scattered everywhere, the jukebox turned on its side and busted, broken pool cues scattered on the floor and in the middle of it all, the prone body of Corky “Little Poison” Haig, very much dead, and sprawled over the corpse, the unconscious mass of Beer Barrel the Bear.

As various Haigs rushed to the scene, their first inclination was to slaughter the hapless bear, which had obviously mauled their cousin to death. However, it was Corky’s father, Elijah Haig, who prevented his clan from carrying out vigilante justice on the poor animal.

“Boys, this bear is just a dumb animal. If he did kill my boy, he’ll have to be put to sleep but we’ll let the wildlife people do it humanely,” Elijah insisted. “Now, some of you drag that bear off my son so I can clean him up and make him decent before his Granny Haig sees him.”

It was then, when poor Corky was turned over, that his death took a new twist of fate. 

“Boys, I ain’t seen everything there is to see in this old world, but one thing I’m pretty sure about,” Elijah proclaimed as he stared at his son’s silent face. “No bear I ever heard of can pull the trigger on a gun. You better go get Sheriff Potts right away.”

Corky was dead all right, and Beer Barrel the Bear was found unconscious and draped over his prone form, but there, squarely between Corky Haig’s eyes was a neat little bullet hole, origin unknown.

Next month we will continue the saga of “Who Shot Corky?” as the list of potential suspects grows to include ex-girlfriends, cousins, a loopy Vietnam veteran, an Indian chief and any number of Hockmeyers.

Sheriff Potts, aided in his investigation by former Sheriff Smoky T. Bandit and Doc Clyde Filstrup Sr., will race against time in their efforts to solve the case and head off a new civil war between the Haig and Hockmeyer clans.