When we snuck away from Sheriff Les Good a week or so ago, he was popping Tums and speculating on why Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers were slinking around. It just might be time for some surveillance…
Hooter and Bunchy were deep in conversation spiked with grunts and wheezes.
“This surprise party ain’t a good idea, Hooter. I said that before.”
“Yes, you did. Now pick up the other end of this sack.”
The sack was a hundred pounds of prime little red butterfinger potatoes Hooter had acquired from Bucky LeBlanc’s Fancy Fruit and Vegetables Emporium over in Higgins Corners. Nothing was too good for Sheriff Les and the possibility that a belly full of butterfingers would contribute to dropping the final thirty-seven hours of scraping paint and spit shining sidewalks.
“If we can pull this off, we’re free men,” Hooter grunted as he heaved the potatoes into his pick-up.
“And if we don’t, Hooter, we’re gonna be on some chain gang the Fecteaus probably got going the other side of the county.”
“You seen one of them “chain gangs”, Bunchy?”
“No, I ain’t. But people talk,” Bunchy shot back. ” They say old Zeff Ott come to a bad end on one of them gangs.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Just ’cause you ain’t heard of him don’t mean the Fecteau’s weren’t at the bottom of that well.”
“What well? What?”
“Never you mind, Hooter. Just remember I said so,” Bunchy pointed out as he walked away.
“What’s gotten into him?” thought Hooter.
At about the same time as Hooter and Bunchy were chucking potatoes, the Sheriff was watching Ardent slope through the front door.
“How ya doin’, Ardent? Good, now get in here,” yelled the Sheriff.
“What you want? Pernell and me’s got some state business over in East Bugbee,” Ardent shot back.
“I got a job for you two. Gibson and that bunch over at the diner. I want some surveillance. I’ll supply the snacks,” the Sheriff said with a particularly toothy grin.
Ardent surveyed the Sheriff’s piggy little eyes and the unsettling way his teeth seemed to grow points when he mentioned Hooter.
Sheriff Les cleared his throat and launched into a story even little Prudence, listening at the door jamb, thought was a bit far-fetched. According to what Prudence and Ardent could make out, Sheriff Les was considering that Hooter and the boys were planning something even stupider than their usual stupid. Maybe even something worthy enough for the national news. Sheriff Les started sweating just imagining how he was going to explain this one to the voters.
“Listen here, I want you and Pernell to surveillance those boys. Follow ’em around. But don’t be seen. I’ll get Prudence to whip you up some coffee and sandwiches and those bitty cakes with the chocolate filling and I want your butt cheeks stuck to the seat until you find something.”
“I’ll talk it over with Pernell and get back to you.” Ardent gave the Sheriff one last look like maybe Sheriff Les was scooting around the edge of being over the edge and make a beeline for the door.
“Don’t give me that crazy eye look, Fecteau,” the Sheriff yelled at Ardent’s back.
“I got you now, Hooter. I got you now,” he grinned.
Back over at the Double Axle, Dayrel, Flock, Lambert and old Mel were contemplating a menu they were pretty darn sure would be a palate pleaser.
“Something with lots of ‘tatoes Hooter said,” announced Flock. “He’s over at Bucky’s pickin’ up a sack o’ them little ‘tatoes what look like little fingers with bumps.”
” How’s about some of Mabel’s Cowboy Coleslaw?” suggested old Mel. “I’m partial to them little marshmallows and them beans she stirs in.”
“Hooter wants an old-fashioned picnic and that’s what we’re doin’. I ain’t trying my hand at no la-di-da French stuff,” Dayrel chimed in.
“It’s a surprise party. Remember? You can’t be lugging no fancy stuff over to the ball field and retain the element of surprise, ” Lambert pointed out.
And the menu planning meandered off in a new direction…
“Prudence, I want you to call your brother Orcutt and tell him we gots ourselves a situation and get his ass over here pronto,” barked the Sheriff.
Prudence was on her break and getting a bit het up over the handsome but depressed and brooding Dunsmore Cavendish and his unrequited passion for the third under-chambermaid, Mary Louise, over at Beardsley Manor. In the distance, somewhere over the chill moor, she heard the Sheriff bellow. “Now what?” she said, slamming down her Candlelit romance.
“Call Orcutt and tell him to get in here.”
“I’m on my break.”
“Get on the horn, Prudence. Do it now,” hissed the Sheriff as he headed past Prudence toward the lock up.
Prudence gave him a look that was anything but her usual convivial flutter and twitter and punched in Orcutt’s number.
“He wants to see you. Now.” Prudence slammed down the phone and drifted back across the moor to the place where Dunsmore waited…
Hooter backed his truck up to the ramp behind the Double Axle.
“Flock, Dayrel, heave them taters down the cellar and guard ’em with your life,” Hooter wheezed. “Damn, a hundred pounds sure weighs more than it used to.”
“What you on about, Hooter?” old Mel asked. “Why’s we guardin’ them ‘tatoes? I ain’t dyin’ for no tater salad, if’n that’s what you got in mind.”
“These here red butterfingers are the cornerstone of our freedom, boys. Now chuck ’em in the cellar.”
After five minutes of swearing and grunting a hundred pounds of prime baby potatoes were nestled against the cellar wall of the Double Axle and Ho0ter was surveying the menu the boys had worked on for the past five hours.
“Hot dogs and hamburgers? That’s it? That took five hours? Damn, boys, this ain’t gonna get us more’n maybe ten hours off that thirty-seven. Keep at it.”
By the time another hour had elapsed, the Counter Dwellers had devised a menu that highlighted some of the best of West Burville cuisine. Old Mel was the first to say it, ” We get an “O” for “original, boys. I don’t think anyone’s put them ingredients together just that way. Except maybe Effie Squires, Edna’s sister. But she passed on right after, kind of funny like…”