All of the rest of the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association (RRCA) posed the question to one another at about the same time. It was hotter than a habanera firecracker—magnified by the sticky asphalt parking lot—but Peetie had driven the boys in his brand new Aggie-colored Cadillac, so they had no keys.
“Last time I saw him, he was with you, Hooter,” said Jackson. “Looked like you two were smashing enough pennies in that machine to make souvenirs for half of Apache Flats.”
“They are an elegant remembrance,” said Hooter, showing one to the circle of friends. “But you have to realize that machine takes 50 cents to squash your penny, so you've got 51 cents into every one. Back home we can squash a whole roll on the tracks for nothing and get change back.”
“But it wouldn't be from here,” mumbled Izzy as reached into a seemingly bottomless bag of pork rinds.
“Far as Peetie goes, the last I saw of him was about three hours ago; said he was on his way to see what they had for gobble boxes and plastic birds,” said Lonnie.
“Maybe he's still at the shootin' gal-gal-gal…range,” slurred Delmar Jacobs as he popped his brand new pop gun for effect.”
“If you pop that thing one more time, I'm gonna' bust it over that hollow noggin of yours,” growled Lonnie right before drilling a stream of Mail Pouch near Delmar's feet—which drew everyone's attention to the fact that his work boots had been replaced by a pair of sky blue moccasins.
“Which one are you ‘sposed to be, Saciwegea or Tinker Bell?” grumped Jackson.
“Don't you mind sour puss,” said Hooter in defense of his friend. “Jack boy there is still just sore about them not having the flavor of jerky juice he was after.”
“Well, why in the world would you drive all the way here if you had to order it from home anyhow?” demanded Jackson.
“For exactly the same reason folks drive to that rat hole you call a saloon, when they can drink all of the Cold Pearl they want at home for less money and none of the attitude,” said Lonnie, this time aiming a stream at Jackson's boots.
“Besides, those moccasins are right smart looking,” said Hooter. “I bet they're comfortable, too.”
“L-l-l-like walking on a cl-cl-cl…air,” said Delmar as he popped his pop gun again.
A Gift for Kings
The boys were trading insults and opinions in the parking lot of the Cabela's store at Fort Worth. None of them had ever been to this or any other of the massive outdoor outfitter's retail stores. But all had harbored the dream since they made their first mail-order purchase years before. Their wives (significant others in the case of Hooter and Izzy) understood this, intuitively, just as surely as they always knew where everything was, always and without fail.
In a fortunate confluence of cosmic kismet, the girls each came up with the same notion at about the same time: an expense-paid trip to Cabela's; that might score enough Brownie points to finally start making some headway in the honey-do list.
Individually, the boys ultimately agreed to go, but only after they agreed collectively and unanimously that the visit qualified as an educational field trip for the RRCA.
“How else are we ‘sposed to know what new stuff poachers might be wearing?” Izzy had asked.
“Motion passes,” Peetie had said, slamming down the Copenhagen can that served as his gavel.
So it was that they had loaded up in Peetie's new car and hit the road at 5 a.m. sharp.
“We'll be there by 10, easy,” said Peetie as he punched the accelerator. “No rules, boys, other than the fact that I'll skin any of you who wipes Cheetos dust or the remnants of some other ungodly concoction on these new seats.” He was looking directly at Izzy in the rear-view.
“What? It's cheese, ain't it?” said Izzy.
During the rest of the five-hour trip the boys thumbed through their dog-eared catalogues and talked about the treasures they new they'd find—a whole lot like neighbors convoying to a bull sale.
“What're you after, Hooter?” his cousin asked.
“Well sir, I want to get Bugsy one of those cartoon fishing poles.”
“A whaaaat?” wondered Delmar, sipping from one of several thermoses he'd brought along.
“I guess they've got short fishin' rods with closed-face reels, done up with pictures of cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Tigger.
“Ain't never seen anything like that in the catalogue,” said Lonnie.
“Me neither, but I called them and they assured me they have a whole wall full. How about you, Charlie?”
“Well, you know, Brenda's always had a thing for bears. Thought I'd see if they had some shower curtains with bears on them.”
Around the car it went, each citing their shopping lists, followed by everyone pausing for more mental window shopping.
Heaven on Earth
Their expectations were fulfilled from the get-go, like kids being met at the gates of Disney by their favorite characters.
“Would you look at that,” said Lonnie in appreciation, pointing to the kennels where folks could leave their dogs while they shopped.
“Even a place for horses,” said Peetie.
“And the boats, just look at all the boats. I always wanted me a boat,” said Izzy.
“You need water for a boat, lightening rod, ever think of that?” said Jackson.
And on it went as Peetie herded the car to a spot far enough a field to protect the paint job.
“Remember to tag up out front here at 3 o'clock, sharp,” Peetie had instructed. “That's when the pony runs, whether you're here or not.”
The boys had a ball, too, scattering like quail in a hail storm as soon as they got through the doors, then hooking up inadvertently and intermittently throughout their adventure.
To be accurate, Izzy actually began his shopping before he got inside, stopping at a log-cabin cook shack just outside for a bag of pork rinds and a cherry snow cone.
Hooter made a beeline for the fishing section, after about an hour spent watching and lusting after the catfish, bass and turtles in the store's gargantuan aquariums. He found a Tigger fishing pole that he knew Bugsy would love, but decided to get a Tweety Bird one, too, just in case. As he was turning around: “An Ugly Stick, at that price? Lord, I'd better get a cart.” And he did.
He was on his way to the gun section when he ran into Izzy, meandering down the aisle with his pork rinds, a giant pillow shaped like a fish and a new slingshot. “The pictures just don't do it justice,” he sighed and kept on sauntering.
Almost to the scopes, Hooter ran into Lonnie who was on his way out. “What'cha got there?”
“Oh these,” said Lonnie. “New grips for the missus; her birthday's coming up.”
“The romance just grows and grows,” said Hooter.
Rather than waste time jousting, Lonnie spied Charlie. “Hey Charlie! Hooter's looking for you, here he is.” Lonnie set sail for the Bargain Cave.
“Looks like you're loaded for bare,” said Charlie.
“Speaking of which, Griz, let's go look for those shower curtains of yours. I see that you're empty-handed so far.”
“Yeah, I was over looking at that African wildlife display. You seen it yet?”
“Ever heard of a Greater Kudu Bull? As tall as 64 inches at the shoulder and can weigh a little over 600 pounds. How'd you like to draw a bead on that?”
“Or rope it,” said Hooter.
On their way, they ran into a large crowd gathered around the laser shooting gallery. Squeezing in for a closer look, the main attraction—oblivious to the attention—was Delmar. He had the rifle to his shoulder, a stack of tokens on his machine, and he was firing like a mad man, all the while serving up commentary in a voice that sounded exactly like Elmer Fudd.
“Come heah, you wascally bobcat. Kapow.”
Leaving Delmar to his glee, Charlie and Hooter saw Peetie across the crowd. It was the last any of the boys had seen of him.
…to be continued.