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The Lay-About at Levelland
The rain pounded on the roof of Double Dog’s truck, the Cannon Wagon, hard enough that it nearly drowned out the Rev. Holger Fire’s Thursday afternoon sermon. Buckskin Betty was riding in the back seat of the Cannon Wagon, drinking ginger ale and wishing that she had a pair of those fancy noise-canceling headphones. Between the rain, the Reverend, the two guys complaining non-stop up front, and the snippets of the Rev’s choice of background music, she was developing one huge headache. She listened to the sound of the windshield wipers – ‘brrrip-fwaap, brrrip-fwaap’ – and tried to block everything else out.
“Hey – all I’m saying is they should have told us a little further in advance. I don’t think a week is enough time to prepare for a shut-down. And making us use our vacation time for it? That’s just low.” Gappy Jack had been grumbling about the topic for three days straight now. The brewery where Gappy Jack and Double Dog worked did a full shut-down every three years; the six weeks were used for cleaning and equipment maintenance. Regular employees had been told they needed to use their accumulated vacation time, and would receive additional half-pay for the time off. Even at that Gappy was not happy.
“They’re giving us an extra half, so it’s like we’re getting paid to be on vacation. It might be a good time to get stuff done around the house.” Double Dog turned his left signal on. “Am I clear back there?” he asked Betty. She twisted around and looked through the back window, where she could see Gappy’s Jeep hitched to the back of the truck, and Gappy’s tear-drop ‘dressing closet’ hitched to the back of the Jeep.
“Yeah – you’re clear.” She sat back in her seat and looked out the side window. Texas rain storms were serious business: the sky was a steel grey, and the rain was heavy-looking. On the radio, Rev. Fire had that darn song on a loop: ‘I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus….’ The headache was definitely coming. “Can we turn the radio off? I can’t really hear it well anyway.”
“Oh, sorry,” Gappy said, turning it up. “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t hear it?”
The two men went silent for a few minutes, allowing the Rev. Fire’s voice to take over: “Folks, we got rain coming down today that would make Noah start packing! Be safe out there! And don’t forget to take Jesus with you wherever you go!” In the background, the singing continued: “… dressed in rhinestones, sitting on a pedestal of abalone shell…” They almost didn’t hear the siren behind them.
Betty caught a slight glimpse of flashing lights in her peripheral vision. She told Double Dog, “I think they want you to pull over.”
“Oh, damn it,” he muttered, signaling carefully and pulling onto the left shoulder.
"Great – now we’re in for it!” Gappy said.
“Don’t worry – I can talk my way out of anything,” Double Dog reassured them, turning down the radio. He watched as the state trooper got out of the car and slowly approached his side. The trooper was at least six feet tall and solidly built, and wore mirrored aviator glasses despite the weather. Double Dog rolled down his window and smiled. “Hello, officer – I was going exactly the speed limit.”
As the trooper got closer they noticed it was a woman. Gappy couldn’t help himself: “Oh, great – now we’re really in trouble.”
“License and registration, please,” the state trooper commanded. She was wearing a heavy yellow rain jacket with reflective strips.
“Certainly,” Double Dog responded, reaching for his wallet. “Do I get to see yours?”
The trooper did not smile. “Do you know why I pulled you over, sir?”
“’Cause you wanted to know where you could get a cowboy sticker like the one I have?” Double Dog replied, laughing.
Gappy closed his eyes, shaking his head a little.
“You can’t tow multiple vehicles hitched together in a line like this, sir,” the trooper told him.
“Well, we tried tying them side by side, but they kept bumping into each other when we went around corners,” Double Dog told her. “You know – like how women with really big butts always seem to bump into you at the supermarket?”
“Step out of the car for me, sir.”
Double Dog unbuckled his seat belt and got out. “Crap! We’re all going to prison,” Buckskin Betty said behind him.
Gappy and Betty turned in their seats and watched as the trooper put Double Dog through what looked like a sort of sobriety test. She had him walk in a straight line, stretch his arms out and touch his nose with one finger, and perform a few jumping-jacks. She then made him spin around three times in one direction, then three times in the other direction, before having him walk a straight line again. Then she had him walk a straight line backwards while touching his nose with alternating hands.
“You might as well hand me a diet Coke – we’re going to be here a while,” Gappy Jack sighed. They looked out the back window again, and saw that the state trooper had Double Dog doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe.
When Double Dog returned to the truck he was soaked through. “Even my butt! I got a wet butt!” he complained.
“Why don’t you turn on the seat heater?” Gappy suggested.
“No – then it’ll feel like I pee’d,” Double Dog said. He turned on the regular heater and within a minute the windshield started to steam up. The state trooper approached the truck again.
“Where you folks headed?” she asked, handing Double Dog his license and insurance cards back.
“We’re going to Levelland to a cowboy match.”
“I do those matches too, sometimes. I didn’t know there was going to be one in Levelland this weekend.” She handed Double Dog a small form. “I’m letting you off with a warning. If you get pulled over again just show this to them. Don’t do it again, all right? Drive safely. Ya’ll have a nice day.” She walked back to her cruiser.
“Told you we shouldn’t have them daisy-chained like that,” Buckskin Betty grumbled.
“Actually, I think it was the butt comment that did it.” Double Dog started the truck and they headed off.
Friday morning dawned clear and not too hot, making for a near-perfect day for the cowboy match. The range was well-maintained, with lots of shady trees and modern restrooms. Wooden benches had been placed at each of the ten stages, which were evenly spaced. Sutlers were lined up in a row along a grassy area about fifty feet behind the stages, and the usual gunsmiths, engravers, leather-workers and clothing peddlers were interspersed with vendors selling lemonade, hot sandwiches and funnel cakes.
Gappy Jack, Buckskin Betty and Double Dog Darrenger were on the same posse, and all three were ready to shoot well that weekend. The first stage had three very large buffalo targets set up, with most of the shots directed at them. As they waited for their turn to shoot, they tried not to laugh when a few of their posse members missed those targets. When a new shooter actually missed all the targets, Double Dog couldn’t help himself. “How could anyone miss the buffalo? One of them is only about five yards away!”
“Careful – you’ll jinx yourself,” Betty warned him.
Double Dog ignored her comment, and shot the stage clean. “See? Nothing to it!” he told her. But he soon regretted his pridefulness. He unloaded at the end of the stage, and was getting ready to re-holster his pistols when another shooter asked if they were new. “Yes – I just got them. They’re really lightweight and well-balanced.” Forgetting all the rules, he twirled one pistol once, neatly sliding it into the holster at the end of the twirl. Within seconds, the posse marshal informed him that he had been disqualified from the entire match. He knew he had done something wrong, so he didn’t argue – but that didn’t stop him from moping and sulking for the rest of the weekend.
He took his cart and all his gear back to the truck, then returned to the posse, where he sat with his arms crossed and his hat pulled down low. Gappy pointed him out to Buckskin Betty, who burst out laughing at the image. “All he needs now is the pouty lower lip for the picture to be complete!” she told him.
At the second stage, they were joined by a new shooter who had gotten to the match a little late. She wore a long tan duster and fringed red moccasins, and when she walked towards him, Double Dog recognized her as the state trooper who had pulled him over. Her long blond hair was in a braid, and she had a beaded headband with a number of feathers dangling from it.
Double Dog found the posse marshal. “Why is this person on our posse?” he asked.
“She asked to be on this posse, and since we had an open slot we let her. She’s going to shoot the first stage later.” He handed the score sheets to Double Dog. “Wanna keep scores?”
Double Dog scanned the posse list but did not see any unfamiliar aliases. He moved to a closer bench so he could hear the times called. When the state trooper was up, she took off her duster and tossed it over the top of her small gun cart. Everyone froze.
She was impressive looking, to say the least. She obviously worked out, and obviously believed in tanning. But what really caught everyone’s attention was the outfit she had chosen to shoot in. She wore a red leather bikini with long fringe; some of the strands had brightly colored beads on the ends. The top resembled a small vest-like garment, with large silver conchos in place of buttons. The bottom had long fringe on the front and back, cut to resemble a fringed loincloth. When she twisted to one side to adjust her matching rig, she displayed a more than generous butt.
“She can’t shoot dressed like that!” Buckskin Betty uttered.
“Technically she can – she’s appropriately covered, and it’s almost like the outfits you see on the Native American women in some of the B-westerns,” Double Dog said. He called to the new shooter. “Do you have a cowboy alias?”
“Yes – I’m Hokey Pokey Hontas!”
“Yikes,” was Gappy’s only comment.
The state trooper shot that stage clean – and all the other stages as well. She came in second overall in the match, and was the number-one female shooter. She went to the Saturday night dinner and happily accepted the awards that were handed out, posing for pictures in an extra-short, bright purple saloon girl’s outfit, with fishnet stockings. “At least she’s not wearing her bikini,” Buckskin Betty grumbled. Hokey Pokey Hontas, after hearing Betty’s comment, spent the rest of the evening flirting like crazy with Gappy Jack.
In all, about three hundred shooters participated, with many shooting better than they normally did. Perhaps it was the pleasant weather, or the nice surroundings, or maybe it was the fun stages and the sense of camaraderie. Whatever it was, everyone had a nice time at the match – except for Double Dog, of course. He had spent most of the weekend angry with himself for his stupid mistake. When he wasn’t pouting on a bench somewhere, he was downing copious amounts of lemonade and surfing the Web on his phone. By Saturday night he was depressed as heck and bored out of his mind. Wanting to leave the match, but not wanting to abandon his friends, he had come up with a plan to make himself feel better.
“Since you guys can take the trailer with the Jeep, I’m not going back to Houston just yet,” he announced over dinner.
“Where are you going?” Gappy asked him.
“Well, since I didn’t have anything else to do, I did a bunch of research online, and I decided to do a road trip. So it’s Deadwood or bust!” he said excitedly.
“How are you going to manage that?” Betty asked.
“Simple. I called and rented a small trailer for a month. I pick it up in Amarillo on Monday.”
“Yup! I mapped out a route, so I can go see some friends and hit up a couple of shoots on the way. I always wanted to see Deadwood.” Double Dog smiled, pleased with himself.
“And you’re just going to go by yourself?” Gappy asked.
“Yes. I didn’t think you’d be interested – but you’re welcome to join me.”
Gappy looked at Buckskin Betty, who shook her head. “No,” she stated flatly.
Gappy looked back at Double Dog. “You know what I think that means? I think it’s Deadwood or bust!” Within minutes, the phrase echoed around the room.
Deadwood or bust; Double Dog would not be going alone.
Table of Contents:
The Layabout at Levelland*
The Tombstone Trials
Oh! Sedona - Where They Can't
Say When They Last Saw
Who the Bleep is That?
The Great Train Robbery
The Bad, the Worse, and the
Even More Worse
Are We There Yet?
This is a work of fiction. Names, charcaters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dea, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
DEADWOOD OR BUST!
A Quest Book
Copyright 2017 by Madeleyn Questman
All Rights Reserved
Published by Questman Tales Publishing, LLC
Battle Ground, WA
First U.S. Edition: May 2018
Printed in the USA
Questman Tales Publishing
The boys are back in town, but not for long. After a disastrous match, Double Dog decides he needs a break. Hoping to leave everything behind for awhile, he plans a road trip to Deadwood, South Dakota - a sort of mecca for anyone who is a fan of the Old West. But he won't be travelling alone.
Come and meet a new group of friends as they tag along on what should be a pilgrimage of sorts, and instead wreak havoc almost everywhere they go! As the boys try to sort things out in their own inimitable way, they are reminded of the true meaning of friendship, and what the code of honor of the cowboy is really all about.
Party on, dudes!
“Hey – all I’m saying is he could’ve told us a little sooner that he was planning this. I would have packed differently.” It was just after nine in the morning and Gappy Jack was running on four cups of coffee, three doughnuts and a diet Coke. He weaved in and out of traffic on the freeway, the ‘dressing closet’ trailer following faithfully like a tail. Buckskin Betty didn’t answer: she had been listening to Gappy’s rants since 6:30, when Double Dog had called to let them know he was headed up early to Amarillo to pick up the trailer he had rented for the month. She was aggravated at the prospect of having to sleep surrounded by all of Gappy’s dusty old cowboy shooting outfits; just the thought made her nose itch.
They pulled in to the parking lot behind Double Dog, and watched as he got out of his truck and headed towards the rental office. “Besides,” Gappy continued, “I hate driving.” Betty hoped that the trailer Double Dog was renting had space for at least two people; if not, maybe she could find inexpensive motels near the camping sites where they were headed. She focused back in on Gappy’s ramblings: “either way, I’m teaching him a lesson….”
An hour later, Double Dog had a twenty-foot camper-trailer hitched to the back of the Cannon Wagon, and they were headed up to the Amarillo Ranch RV park in Amarillo. “Why Amarillo?” Buckskin Betty had asked Double Dog the night before.
“Because it’s the flattest place on earth!” Double Dog told her. As she got out of the Jeep and looked around, she had to agree.
As Gappy and Double Dog headed to the registration office, a group of campers waved to Betty from a nearby site. There was no mistaking Pink Pistol Petunia’s buzz-cut, or Dead-Eye Darling’s grating voice. They had apparently gotten to the RV park earlier, and had already set up a nice camp site, with a pop-up shade next to the ancient RV that Sam and Darlene owned. Plastic flamingos on long thin metal poles were stuck in the ground around a large patch of plastic grass. Dead-Eye and Petunia sat in folding camp chairs, accompanied by Hokey Pokey Hontas. Sorry Sad Sam emerged from the camper with a small ice chest. “Hey – you made it!”
“How did you all get here so fast?” Betty took the wine cooler Sam offered her.
“As soon as ShanDee sent us a text and told us what Double Dog had planned, we packed up and headed out. We’ve been here since yesterday,” Petunia offered.
“And you all got the time off?”
“It’s dog days. No one wants to do anything when it’s this hot. It was easy!” Petunia laughed.
Betty noticed that Hokey Pokey Hontas (a.k.a., ShanDee) was wearing a cervical collar. “Did you get hurt at the shoot?”
“No – I got smacked in the jaw by the buckle to my seat belt, and I think it might have caused some nerve damage in my neck. I’m on disability for a couple of months.” Hokey Pokey Hontas stood and stretched, removing the collar. “I’m taking this off for a while – it’s making me sweaty.”
Great; another queen bee was going to try to take over the hive.
Doc U. Mint arrived in his rusty red 1941 Chevy COE truck just as the boys were heading to join the group. Petunia, he told them, had called earlier and told him the group was doing a month-long caravan. Since Doc was retired, he didn’t need to clear a month with anyone – he had simply packed his old truck and his old dog and driven up. The brindle Dutch Shepherd, rightfully named ‘Tex,’ perched in the seat next to Doc, looking out the windshield excitedly.
After selecting their camp spots (all clustered together, of course), the group discussed their plans for the day. The guys wanted to head over to the Big Texas Dunlop Steak Ranch to do the ‘Four-and-a-half-pound Challenge,’ but the girls were having none of it: they suggested a day by the pool and a group barbecue. Someone suggested tossing a coin to break the tie, and someone else suggested a wrestling match, but no one wanted to volunteer to wrestle. They were about to launch into a game of ‘Fire-Grass-Water’ when someone pulled up in a restored bright pink VW camper van, covered in pink bows, pulling a small U-Haul trailer and honking the horn wildly. Petunia jumped up and ran to the VW; behind her, Dead-Eye squealed under her breath: “hweee-hweee-hweee…”
The tiny woman who got out was wearing bright pink ‘unmentionables:’ long ruffled cotton bloomers and a matching ruffled camisole cover. She sported a pair of beige Victorian boots and tiny granny glasses. Petunia escorted her to meet the group. “This is my friend…” she started to say, when Double Dog jumped in: “Don’t tell us – Pink Pistol Pansy?”
“What? No!” both women said, looking at him with confused glares.
“I’m Boones Farm Annie,” said the underwear-clad woman.
“Interesting name,” Gappy Jack told her. “Is there some background behind it?”
“I’ll show you.” Boones Farm Annie led the group to the back of the U-Haul, where she opened the doors to display several dozen cases of wine and a dozen boxes of expensive cigars. She also had a few boxes of assorted spirits, several cases of mixers, and a dozen large packages of red plastic cups. “I like to bring my own party with me.”
“Barbecue or four and a half?” Betty asked.
Boones Farm Annie, who lived in Amarillo, did not need the choices explained. “Barbecue,” she said without hesitation. Hokey Pokey and Doc offered to go get the supplies. Doc said he’d drive, but Hokey Pokey resisted getting into his truck, saying it reminded her of something out of ‘Jeepers Creepers.’ Everyone assured her that Doc was harmless.
They returned with ‘some of everything,’ and set up the half-barrel barbecue Doc always had with him. The others, meanwhile, had partaken of the offerings in Annie’s party trailer and were heading towards the large indoor pool at the RV park. Since they had the place pretty much to themselves, they all decided to go swimming, and the pool was quickly filled with a variety of sagging, jiggling flesh, flopping boobs and bulbous bellies of all sizes. Jokes and hilarity ensued, with friends old and new offering good-humored jabs and wisecracks about each other. Annie kept the wine flowing, and Double Dog ate some of everything, then went back for seconds. Even Tex, who had been treated to the only filet mignon that Doc and Hokey Pokey had purchased, had a great time. Everyone helped to clean up, then enjoyed a last glass of wine before heading off one by one to their own camp sites to dry off and change.
One steak, one large sausage, half a chicken, three roasted Russets and a bottle of cabernet later, Double Dog fell asleep propped against the stairs in the large Jacuzzi. His arms were stretched out over the edge, and he snored loudly; the snoring echoed through the pool’s enclosure. “It’s like standing outside the gates next to Ellington,” Betty told Gappy Jack. “We should wake him up so he can go open his camper. Maybe he’ll let us sleep there.”
“I got his keys. Hey – you just gave me an idea.” Gappy tiptoed over to the Jacuzzi and quietly stepped in. Moving almost painfully slowly, he managed to slide Double Dog’s swimming trunks down and off. Climbing back out of the Jacuzzi, he quickly ran back to where Betty stood, trying not to laugh. Double Dog continued to snore. “Let’s go hang ‘em on the handle of his camper.”
“That is so mean,” Betty said with a laugh. “How’d you do that so easily?”
“Simple: he always wears his pants at half-mast, and I figured his trunks wouldn’t be any different. I told you I’d get back at him for making me drive myself.” They closed the door to the pool house quietly, and made their way to the camper.
They watched from the windows of Double Dog’s camper as Hokey Pokey Hontas set up her campsite. She had driven in on a restored WWII motorcycle with a sidecar, dragging a tiny trailer. She unlatched a series of flip-latches all around the four-foot square box and pulled out an insert which was nearly the size of the whole shell. Opening a few more latches, she pulled up the main shell, creating a taller section. She unzipped the flap on the taller side and climbed in, zipping the flap closed and switching on an inside light, making the pop-up shelter appear almost like a large coffin that had been lit from within. “See? She’s some kind of vampire!” Betty mumbled.
The lack of noise woke Double Dog quickly, and he sat up and looked around with a snort. Not seeing anyone else, he started to stand up and suddenly noticed a slight chill: his trunks were missing. Trying not to panic, he scanned the pool enclosure for a towel or something to wrap himself in, but found that everything had been picked up and the enclosure was spotless. There weren’t even any flyers pinned to the bulletin board! He started to climb out, but ducked back in quickly when he spotted one of the groundskeepers making his evening rounds.
When the groundskeeper was out of sight, he climbed out and scooted over to a corner where he had spotted a small white trashcan. The empty trashcan had no liner, as he had hoped, so instead he picked it up, turned it upside-down, and stomped down hard on the bottom, detaching it from the sides. He then wiggled the small trashcan up, an inch at a time, to cover his lower half, and taking tiny mincing steps he made his way out of the pool house and down the path to his camper, where Gappy Jack and Buckskin Betty had made themselves comfortable at the small dinette inside.
“You did this!” Double Dog exclaimed when Gappy started laughing.
“Yup! That’s what you get for making me drive myself. Now we’re even.”
“Even? Not even close – it’s on, Brother Jack. This will not go unpunished.”
The next day, the group was awakened around ten by the sound of pistol fire nearby. Hokey Pokey Hontas, awaking before everyone else, had gone off to an empty area about five acres away from the campsites. She set up a row of empty beer cans and was practicing her pistol-shooting, gunfighter style. She hit every one in order, sending the cans flying up in the air: ‘Ting-ting-ting-ting-ting-ting!’
Betty heard the shots and went to get her rig.
“Where are you going?” Gappy asked her.
“If she can do it, I can do it,” Betty told him defiantly.
Soon, all the women in the group were out with Hokey Pokey, shooting at empty beer cans. They started by lining up rows of beer cans and seeing who could shoot the whole row, any style, the fastest. Hokey Pokey came in first and Dead-Eye was last, although she only trailed by three seconds. Next, they made pyramids of the cans; the shooter was instructed to aim for the center can. After several tries, they each got to be pretty good; Petunia had the best aim of the five.
"You know what would be fun? Skeet shooting!” Dead-Eye suggested.
“No problem!” Hokey Pokey told them. She gathered all the cans back together in a pile, stomped on them to flatten each one into a neat disc, then stood off to one side and tossed the cans as hard as she could in a long arc. Boones Farm Annie prevailed in that contest: she managed to hit seven out of ten. After a while, the ladies were laughing so hard they decided to finish up their games and clean up.
Double Dog, comfortable in his camper, was the last to get up. He had heard the pistol shots earlier and had sleepily assumed that they were at a range somewhere. When he finally opened his eyes and looked around, he remembered where they were. He got up to investigate. Seeing the women way off in the distance, he dressed quickly and went to stop their obvious shenanigans. The women had picked up all the cans and the brass and were headed back to camp.
“What were ya’ll doing?” he demanded.
“Practicing!” “Having fun!” “Working on our aim!” “Nothing!” came the volley of answers.
“You can’t be out there shooting like that!”
“Why not? There’s nothing around for miles! Besides, we were using rubber practice ammo,” was Buckskin Betty’s reply.
“But you weren’t following the rules!” Double Dog continued.
“We’re not at a match,” Dead-Eye told him.
“We were being careful – it was safe,” Petunia offered.
“It’s okay – Hokey Pokey Hontas deputized us all,” Boones Farm said with a laugh.
Hokey Pokey finally spoke. “We were exercising our ‘stand your ground’ rights – those cans were intruding on our territory and threatening us. Besides, I’m a state trooper – so shut the hell up.”
Double Dog retreated to his camper and slammed the door. When he finally emerged, close to two in the afternoon, the rest of the group was waiting. “It’s your trip – what do you want to do?” Gappy asked him.
“Did everyone eat already?”
“No,” came the chorus, “we were waiting for you!”
“In that case I want to go do the steak challenge!” Double Dog gestured towards Buckskin Betty. “I’m sure after your morning exercises that some of you ladies would prefer a salad of some sort, so maybe we can all meet back here for dessert.”
Pink Pistol Petunia crossed her arms. “Do you think we’re not up to the challenge? I’ll bet at least one of us can actually finish in time!” She and the other women had experienced a boost of confidence following their practice routines. Minor insults were exchanged, including inferring doubts about parentage and questioning the size of various body parts. The group agreed to head over to the steakhouse, where they would all participate in the eating contest. The last to finish, they all agreed, would cover any tab for those that did not win the challenge. They rode together in the various vehicles, although they once again resorted to a game of ‘Fire-Grass-Water’ to determine who would ride in Hokey Pokey’s sidecar. Doc got the honors, and spent several minutes hugging and reassuring Tex before climbing in and putting on the spare helmet.
At the steakhouse, the group was seated at a long row of tables – all except Hokey Pokey Hontas, who sat at a separate small table and watched the proceedings while she slowly consumed a small baked potato. The others all asked for the steak challenge, and everyone except Double Dog ordered beer to go with it. Double Dog instead requested two large pitchers of ice water.
They all began at the same time, drawing a crowd of spectators who secretly wagered on possible winners (with most choosing Double Dog as the most likely). Another round of insults was exchanged between the diners, until about ten minutes into the challenge when most started to feel full. Double Dog kept a steady pace, followed by Pink Pistol Petunia. Dead-Eye gave up after another five minutes. “My jaw hurts!” she told Sam.
“Ha – that’s what she said!” muttered Boones Farm Annie, thinking that no one else would hear.
Amidst groans and muted sounds of retching, the group members gave up, one roughly every five minutes. All except Double Dog and Gappy Jack, who were determined to win the challenge. They struggled through every bite, with Gappy chewing frantically, and Double Dog, sweating and red-faced, following each bite with a large gulp of water. They both looked like they might actually finish in time.
They had four minutes to go, when suddenly Double Dog put down the piece of steak he was working on and thumped himself in the chest a few times. Gappy, concerned for his friend, stopped chewing and asked if Double Dog was all right. “Yeah,” he answered, “just think sometimes everything gets stuck halfway.”
They continued to the bitter end – but both were defeated by the clock. Time was called, and Gappy still had another ten or twelve ounces to go; Double Dog had at least five. The crowd of observers gave a collective moan of disappointment.
The manager appeared at their tables, flanked by Hokey Pokey and Boones Farm. Hokey Pokey had a huge smile on her face. “Take your time, and enjoy the rest of your meals, gentlemen – we have a new challenger with an interesting proposition!” the manager announced to the crowd. “Our new friend here has informed us that she can do the challenge in half an hour, and we decided to accept her challenge. If she loses, she has offered to pay for all your meals, but if she wins, we’re comping you all! It’s never been done before, so let’s get to it!”
A table was cleared and Hokey Pokey sat down. She requested her steak to be cooked medium-rare, and all she wanted was a single glass of water with it. The other four ladies of the group offered words of encouragement and advice, and the contest began.
While Double Dog and Gappy Jack slowly ate the rest of their dinners, they watched Hokey Pokey, fascinated by the relatively slow pace of her actions. She took the steaks and cut each one into long narrow strips, about six inches long. Then, using her fingers, she picked up each strip by one end, and swallowed it whole, following each with a sip of water. The boys sat mesmerized; Gappy paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. No one knew whether to laugh or scream, but all were engrossed by Hokey Pokey’s performance; all of the guys, and most of the girls, watched with their mouths open in expressions of amazement.
She beat the timer by four minutes, and the crowd went wild. A large group of patrons had gathered to watch, and when she was done several of them decided to take the steak challenge themselves, planning on putting her techniques to the test. While the boys stood together in a small perturbed cluster, the ladies in the group applauded her efforts, offering praise and pats on the back.
“How in the world did you do that?” Betty asked her, in awe.
“I used to date a traveling circus performer. He taught me how to swallow swords,” she told them.
Dead-Eye snorted. “That’s not what they called it in my day.”
“Well, I’m sure such things were frowned upon during the Victorian times,” Hokey Pokey retorted with a smirk.
Dead-Eye did not respond, but she did not take the comment well either. She would get back at the little upstart one way or another. ‘Just you wait, Hokey Pokey,’ she thought; ‘just you wait…’
Gappy looked at Double Dog. “Well, I guess we got served. At least we don’t have to pay for it. We should head back to the camp.”
Double Dog thought for a moment, then told Gappy Jack, “I’ve got a better idea. Since we didn’t have to pay for the first one – let’s have another steak!”
The boys finally rolled back to camp about ten-thirty that night, having consumed another round of steaks and a fair sampling of beers from the restaurant’s extensive list. They had asked for boxes so they could take their leftovers to Tex, but when they arrived they found Tex passed out just inside the doorway of Doc’s truck, belching loudly in his sleep: he had participated in his own steak challenge, eating all the leftovers that the others had brought back for him. It hadn’t totaled seventy-two ounces, but it was enough to give him quite the steak-hangover the next day.
No one was interested in eating anything the next day; they agreed instead on a day by the pool. Pink Pistol Petunia headed over first, but immediately came running back, waving a light green flyer. “Look what I found!” she exclaimed to the group.
The flyer was an announcement: ‘Announcing the Fourth Semi-Annual Shoot-Out at the Sonic Corral! Open to the public! Group match and one-on-one! Bring your own PPE – other equipment provided! Ten-dollar match fee. Sponsored by Pi Pi.’
“Is this some sort of cowboy group?” Doc asked.
“I don’t know – but it might be fun. What do you think?”
“I think I need to do some moving around, so this might work. What time does it start?” Double Dog asked.
“It says ‘high noon.’”
The group agreed to do the match. At eleven-thirty they were dressed in their lightest cowboy shooting outfits and ready to go. They caravanned to the address on the flyer, and found themselves at an abandoned Sonic drive-in on the outer edge of town. Pulling into an open lot next to the Sonic, they saw a number of people milling around the tables and outer structures, as well as inside.
Double Dog took charge. “Let me go see what the deal is,” he told the group. He came back several minutes later. “Well, it’s not exactly a cowboy match, but I think we’ll do okay. Leave your rigs here and bring your safety glasses – they want to start soon.”
The group followed Double Dog to the back of the main building, where they encountered a number of guys in their early twenties, all wearing camo and sporting safety glasses. One of the guys stepped forward. “Wow – I can’t believe we finally got some participants!” The cowboy shooters paid their match fees, were each given special dark sensor-vests to wear over their outfits, and were handed bright red paintball guns. They went over rules (e.g., one point per shot; no shots closer than about ten feet; body shots only; only direct shots count towards the scores – no splash-backs; first match one hour max; second match: one-on-one, random draw), then each group headed to their side of the main building to strategize. The cowboy group was given several bags of light green paintballs; the other group had pink paintballs.
Dead-Eye, who was chosen to not shoot and instead to be one of two ‘overseers’ (along with a member from the other group), went back to Double Dog’s truck for a moment, then came back quickly with a small pad of paper and a pen. She then went to every person in the cowboy group, patting their backsides and wishing each good luck. Tex stayed in Gappy’s Jeep to keep an eye on the large cooler of water and snacks; he watched out the side window and barked encouragement.
When both groups were ready, the overseers hoisted a large green flag to signal the start of the match. The groups quickly spread out, ducking behind smaller structures and trying to see where opponents were. After several quiet minutes had passed, a member of the other group (frat boys, as it turned out), darted out from behind the edge of the main building. He ran across the parking area, fired off a few shots towards the dumpster enclosure, then somersaulted behind an old sign. Gappy and Double Dog, who were peeking from around the dumpster enclosure, looked warily at each other.
“Hey – these guys are serious,” Gappy said.
“That’s okay – we’re cowboy shooters, we can take ‘em!” Double Dog stated, then ran out towards a cluster of bushes along the back of the parking lot. He was immediately hit with nearly a dozen bright pink shots. He reached the bushes and found two opponents, crouched down on the other side. He managed to get in two shots each before they were out of range.
Hokey Pokey slid silently along the side of the main building. She had managed to spot the opponents’ flag about a hundred yards away, on a pole surrounded by bushes and old tires. More bushes, old signs, and a few clusters of trees stood between her and that flag. She decided to create a diversion, and fired three paintballs into a nearby cluster of shrubs. “Hey!” came Petunia’s startled voice. Some of the frat boys, hearing the commotion, headed around from their side of the main building towards the shrubs. Hokey Pokey ran out and got as far as a few feet from the first cluster of trees before she was met with a hail of pink paintballs, all directed at her ample ass. Unbeknownst to Hokey Pokey, Dead-Eye Darling, while enthusiastically offering the cowboy shooters encouragement, had pasted a large sticker to Hokey Pokey’s backside; the sticker, clearly visible against the darker material of her Daisy Duke-style shorts, said: +10 points.
Doc U. Mint actually used up all his paintballs rather quickly, indiscriminately splattering signs, bushes and walls with bright green paint splotches before someone finally explained to him the point of the game. Once he understood the goal, he continued to splatter everyone – his opponents and his own teammates – with well-aimed shots, going for distance. Sorry Sad Sam, on the other hand, quickly lost interest; he found a shady spot on his team’s side, took out his phone, and googled road maps out of Amarillo.
Buckskin Betty had the easiest time hiding from the enemy. She had on a sand-colored outfit of a plain cotton shirt and suspender pants, and her slight figure allowed her to hide behind individual trees. Double Dog, on the other hand, had the hardest time: no matter how carefully he tried to hide behind signs and buildings, his ‘dun-lop’ always gave him away.
In the end it was Boones Farm Annie who managed to capture the enemy’s flag. She had found an old sandwich-board sign and had hidden between the two sides, moving a few steps at a time towards the pile of old tires. No one had paid attention to the sign’s movement: they were too busy firing at Double Dog’s ‘dun-lop’ and Hokey Pokey’s ass. The overseers, watching through binoculars, saw the pink flag disappear and quickly hoisted the red flag to end the match.
Both groups were exhausted and decided to forego the one-on-one matches. Instead, they lined up to have their paint splotches counted. A final score could not be determined, as the pink splotches on Double Dog and Hokey Pokey were impossible to count. The groups shook hands. Someone suggested meeting for a celebratory dinner.
“How about the Dunlop Steak Ranch?” Dead-Eye offered.
“Yeah – we can have an eating contest,” one of the frat boys said.
“Good idea. Pick your fastest eater – losing group pays,” Double Dog stated.
“Nick here can do it in fifty-seven minutes,” another frat boy said proudly, “so we’re definitely going to win.”
“We’ll see about that,” Petunia told him. “Wait till we get there. Then you can go up against our secret weapon.”
“Yeah,” Dead-Eye added, “I can assure you: you’ve never seen anything like it.”