“Maybe he really is lost,” said Izzy, voicing what the others had wondered, but no one else admitted.
“Yeah, and maybe he's a Yankee in disguise, too, you nitwit,” growled Lonnie. “Peetie's a grown man with more miles on him than any three of us combined. How exactly do you reckon he'd get himself lost?”
“I'm just sayin'…”
“You always are,” interrupted Lonnie, directing a stream of Mail Pouch that would have polished the toe on Izzy's boot if he hadn't moved it.”
Izzy glared back and set his bag of pork rinds on the hood of Peetie's new Cadillac. “YOU were sayin'?”
Hooter grabbed the kid's pop gun that had become the new favorite possession of Delmar Jacobs and popped it a couple of times. “I think what you're both saying, if you'll pull in your horns, is that we need to find Peetie, that's all.”
“Yep,” said Lonnie.
“Uh-huh,” said Izzy, but he left the pork rinds where they were.”
Shopping loses its Luster
It had been the perfect day until now. Peetie had chauffeured the boys to Fort Worth for their first visit to Cabela's—the outdoorsman's mega store—all expense paid by the wives and significant others.
“Remember to tag up out front here at 3 o'clock, sharp,” Peetie had instructed before everyone scattered. “That's when the pony runs, whether you're here or not.”
Peetie's imposed departure time was now 45 minutes in the rear-view, and still no sign of him. The collective feeling of those baking on the asphalt next to Peetie's car was an even mix between worry and aggravation.
“Well, l-l-l-lets go fin-fin-fin-get him,” slurred Delmar, grateful for the flask he always kept in his boot for emergencies ranging from snake-bite to the hour of the day.
“Delmar's right,” said Jackson. “I doubt that he's lost, but Peetie is more punctual than a banker's reminder. Something's up.”
“Let's just ask the folks who work there to use the intercom and tell him to get his rear in gear,” said Izzy.
“Even I wouldn't do that to Peetie,” said Hooter. “If word ever got out that we were looking for him like a lost pup, he'd never hear the end of it.”
After a couple of long minutes reflecting, Lonnie spat and said, “I reckon you're both right, much as I hate to admit it. Hooter's right in that we don't want to embarrass Peetie. And, the lug nut with pork rinds is correct in putting technology to work for us...” Lonnie dug into one of his sacks.
“I bought four walkie-talkies; now's as good as anytime to try them. Hooter, you and Charlie take one and start at the east side of the store, ground floor. Me and Jackson will take one and start on the west side, and then we'll repeat on the upper floor if necessary. And Izzy, before you go getting all sulky, you'll take one and watch the front doors; you're a good two hands taller than any of the rest of us.”
A plaintiff pop came from Delmar's pop gun.
“And, Delmar, you have the most important job of all. You'll keep this last radio and stay here at the car in case Peetie finds a back way out. Plus, you'll be able to watch our stuff so we don't have to cart it back in.”
“The r-race goes to the sw-sw-swi-fastest,” said Delmar.
“By the way, anyone know what he was wearin'?” wondered Jackson.
Of course, no one did.
As they prepared to head back inside the store, Lonnie whispered, “Let's not make this real obvious.”
False Starts and Buck Fever
Hooter and Charlie had barely begun when Hooter swore he spotted Peetie by the fishing lures. Before Charlie could stop him; Hooter had already spun the man around and begun haranguing him about the time. The miss-identified shopper was less than impressed.
“That a way, Sherlock, real low key,” chided Charlie.
“Well, he had the same color hair,” said Hooter.
“He was bald.”
“That's what I mean.”
Lonnie and Jackson weren't fairing any better, but they hadn't offended anyone so far.
As for Izzy, he lasted about three minutes by the front doors before he had a better idea. Why not get upstairs where he could not only keep an eye on the front doors but have a clearer view of the entire first floor? Once positioned and able to see both search teams carefully making their way across the store, another idea came to him.
“Breaker, breaker Pig Pen, am in pursuit of a Caucasian male, appears to be about six-feet tall, a little less around the middle, wearing an Apache Flats Feed and Grain cap.”
Hooter and Charlie got a chuckle out of Izzy's description of Lonnie. Lonnie was less amused, though he assumed Izzy still was by the front doors; he'd forgotten to turn the volume down on his two-way and a crowd of shoppers was now staring at is shirt pocket.
“Izzy, you idiot, keep the channel clear.”
“Roger that, Pig Pen, now engaging ninja mode. By the by, you might want to check your zipper.”
Before he could help himself, Lonnie was reaching for his fly, and then he turned the shade of a scalded lobster. “I'll kill him.”
“Time for that later,” soothed Jackson. “Besides, I'll help you.”
On it went to the middle of the store, still no sign of Peetie. The two teams had the same success upstairs by the time they hooked back up.
Congregating by the turkey cookers, Lonnie pushed the button on his radio and demanded, “Delmar, you see anything out your way?”
There was a long silence filled with static, then a distant burp: “Neg-neg-neg-nope.”
“Izzy, how about the front doors?”
“Secure, captain,” whispered Izzy. “Ninja leader, out.”
“I swear, I'll kill him,” said Lonnie to the boys.
“Hey,” crackled Delmar's voice, “Did you l-l-loo-see inside stuff, too? There's some real comfortable rafts and such to rest in.”
Lonnie was about to buzz back with his thoughts on Delmar's question when Charlie said, “You know, he's got a point. Me and Hooter never looked inside any of the tents and stuff.”
“Us, either,” said Jackson.
“Roger,” said Lonnie into the walkie-talkie. “We'll get back to you.”
Hooter and Charlie headed down to the blinds, while Lonnie and Jackson made for the camping department.
Lonnie was just pulling the flap back on the last floor-model tent when something grabbed his ankle and shouted, “Boo!”
Lonnie shrieked and jumped back, knocking Jackson over. They never saw Izzy slipping out the other side. As he made his getaway, Izzy opened up the radio, trying to contain himself: “Breaker, breaker. Capn' there seems to be a commotion upstairs, copy?”
Hooter and Charlie were having the same luck below, sans the drama.
Hooter was backing out of the last blind when he swore he saw the mannequin on the cot move. He moved back inside and poked it.”
“Hey!” shouted a familiar voice.
“Peetie, what in tarnation are you doing holed up in a pup tent?”
Hooter handed the walkie-talkie to Charlie, who informed the rest, “The bald eagle has landed, repeat the bald eagle has landed—first floor, blinds.”
“I said what in tarnation are you doing holed up in this deer blind, all decked out in camo bibs?” It wasn't just bibs; Peetie was also wearing matching hip waders, and a boonie hat that had been covering his face.
“You're lucky I didn't have that new knife out of the package,” gruffed Peetie, trying to will himself alert.
“I was just checking it out. Then I figured why not try on these bibs in here, rather than find one of those change rooms. Then I thought I'd try the cot, and well, I guess I fell asleep,” explained Peetie.
“Guess so,” said Hooter with a laugh.
“But what a dream,” said Peetie, rewinding it in his mind. “I was in this clear, cold stream with a bamboo rod and a dry spinner, and I was catching cut-throats by the creel-full. And there were all these persnickety types out there with these fancy fly rigs and they weren't catching squat.”
“You know those boys are to the fishing world what headers are to team roping, don't you?” said Izzy in a low, conspiratorial tone.
Lonnie shaded up again at the sound of Izzy's voice.
“What time is it anyway?” wondered Peetie.
“Past time for us getting West,” said Hooter.
“Sure enough,” said Peetie. “But before we go, I'm buying this stuff right here, waders, blind and all. If you couldn't find me, the old lady will never be able to.”