When I was a sophomore in high school, a boy named James Buchanan moved to town. There was always a honeymoon period for new students, and they had to walk a fine line to fit in. They have to be open and friendly, but no too outgoing so they don't appear to be forcing themselves into the established social structure. If a new boy is too friendly with the girls, the other boys instantly hate him, and the same happens when a new girl is too outgoing with the boys.
James was a junior, so we only had one class together. He sat behind me in science class since we were put in alphabetical order the first day. He felt the need to talk to me at every opportunity, and being nice, I fought the urge to tell him to shut the hell up and leave me alone. He mostly told me how the girls were crazy about him and all the great adventures he had on a daily basis.
A few weeks into the school year, I found that several of my friends had James, or "Buck," in their classes as well. We began trying to come up with a prank to pull on him, but for a while nothing came to mind. Okay, we probably shouldn't have, but there wasn't much else to do.
One Saturday morning, one of my friends, David Douglas, and his mom were in front of a store on the courthouse square visiting with some friends. One very pretty girl was David's age and was from out of town. While she and David talked Buck happened to drive by in his brother's old Thunderbird. He honked and waved so David and the girl both looked and waved, mostly out of reflex. Buck was smiling like a jackass eating briars when he saw a pretty girl showing him some attention.
Buck cornered David first thing Monday morning to ask who the girl was that waved at him. David immediately began to stroke his ego. He told Buck her name was Pat and she was from Austonio, a small community west of Crockett. He also told Buck how impressed she was with him and his hot car, and that she couldn't talk about anything else after he had driven by. Buck begged David to introduce him, but class was about to start, so David said they would talk about it later.
David told the story to several of us at lunch. A plan began to come together to put Buck in his place. We each contributed some ideas, and by the end of the break we had a working plot. We met after school to compare notes and then get our stories straight. There were six of us involved, and coincidently, we were the only ones who talked to Buck on a regular basis. If the six of us kept our stories straight we knew we could pull it off. Whatever David came up with, the odds were pretty good the other five were the only ones with whom Buck would likely check the facts.
David began laying the groundwork. When Buck looked him up to get some details on Pat, David was more than happy to fill him in. He told Buck that Pat was a senior at Austonio High School. Austonio exists, but the high school does not. Pat was said to live in a large house on a hill just outside of Austonio, about twelve miles from Crockett. All the details were vague so they couldn't be easily verified. David repeatedly told Buck that Pat wanted to meet him in the worst way, and Buck was getting wound up and hot to trot. David knew he was taking the bait.
David asked Buck if he would be free the following Friday night to meet Pat. Buck was a member of the high school stage band and they had a concert, but he said he would be ready to go as soon as it was over.
David threw in the key part of the story he had to sell to Buck. Pat was a little on the wild side, which exited Buck even more. Her father was very protective of her and was also a raging drunk. He normally was at a bar every Friday night, but if he happened to be home they wouldn't stop at Pat's house. It would be too dangerous for all concerned if he was home when they arrived. Buck said, "Don't worry about him, I know how to handle fathers!"
Pat's house was a large house on a ranch owned by a friend of my family. They practically raised me and I had use of the place anytime I wanted. It was only used by deer hunters a few weekends each winter, otherwise it was unoccupied. It had a large porch completely across the front of the house. The front door opened into a hallway that ran to the back of the house, with all the rooms located on either side. At night with the front door open and light coming from the far end of the hall, only the silhouette of someone in the main entrance would be visible. It was a hundred yards off the highway and not clearly visible to passing traffic. It was the perfect location for the prank.
We couldn't allow Buck to be driving the car, so David had to supply the transportation. David's parents were going to be out of town for the weekend, and a friend of the family offered David the use of their second car while they were away. It was an old Corvair, which had by then become a collector's item. They had no idea what it was about to be put through, but neither did we at the time.
Friday night while David and Buck were at the concert, the rest of us were setting the scene at the ranch house. We all rode out in Ray Craycraft's pickup. The gang consisted of Ray, myself, Charlie Jackson, Eugene May and Wayne Stone. The truck was parked behind the house and out of sight, and the light at the back of the porch was turned on to set the stage. Charlie was the tallest of us and had the broadest shoulders, so he was selected to be Pat's drunken father. He put on an old felt hat and a floor-length army coat. I brought along a long-barrel single-shot shotgun and a couple of shells. I cut off the ends of the shells and dumped out the pellets. The concert was over at 9 p.m., so by 9:15 we had taken our places and were waiting. Charlie was armed and ready in a room near the back of the hallway. The rest of us hid in a darkened room at the front of the house.
As we waited, we began to discuss the possibility that Buck wouldn't fall for the trick at all, but would just laugh at us for thinking he was stupid enough to believe all the crap he had been told. Although we had all promised to keep the plan to ourselves, in truth each of us had told several friends, so by Friday night the plan was known to at least twenty other people. We could only hope nobody liked Buck enough to tip him off, but we couldn't be sure.
At 9:30 David turned into the driveway and eased up the hill to the house. He positioned the car so the headlights shone across the bottom of the steps of the front porch. They could see down the hall and out the back of the house, but not clearly. David turned off the engine and removed the keys from the ignition, but left the headlights on. Buck remained in his seat while David walked onto the porch and knocked on the door. Charlie Jackson came stomping down the hall yelling at the top of his voice, "I warned you bastards about coming out here to see my daughter!"
David began slowly stepping backwards toward the porch steps. Charlie kicked the screen door open and leveled the shotgun at David. It happened in a matter of seconds, but it seemed like an hour as we looked through the window. David continued to back away as if nearly frozen with fear. As he reached the bottom step Charlie fired a blast directly at his chest. David grabbed his chest with both hands and fell on his back, landing squarely in the headlights of the Corvair.
As was planned, David wore a white dress shirt. While backing off the porch he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sandwich bag full of ketchup. At the moment of the shotgun blast he smashed the packet onto his chest and made a fatal looking wound instantly appear.
As soon as David hit the ground Charlie shook his fist in the direction of the car and pulled another shell from his pocket and reloaded. At this point we feared Buck would emerge from the car and laugh at us. Boy, were we wrong!
Charlie was wondering what to do next as he closed the chamber on the shotgun. At that instant the Corvair's engine roared to life! Buck shifted into reverse, backed down to the highway in about a second, and headed for Crockett. David sat up with a stunned look on his face. He held the keys up for us to see as we yelled in unison, "Why didn't you take the keys out, you idiot?"
We now know a Corvair can be started without the keys as long as the steering column isn't locked. There was a visible cloud of smoke from the exhaust of the Corvair as Buck sped toward Crockett at a high rate of speed.
It quickly sank in that Buck had bought the entire bill of goods. He was driving full blast toward town at high speed and was scared out of his mind. All six of us piled into the pickup and took up the pursuit. We didn't know how fast a Corvair would go, but we were confident we could overtake him before he reached town. We were wrong. We could see his taillights topping the hills in front of us and we didn't seem to be gaining an inch. We were nearing one hundred miles per hour and were starting to fear for our own lives as well as Buck's. We were also wondering what he was going to do when he got to town.
Two miles from Crockett, Buck came upon a carload of guys who had stopped on the side of the road to pee. Buck hit the brakes and slid up behind their parked car in a cloud of dust. They were all drunk, and Buck bearing down upon them was a scary sight. They all dove into the car and locked the doors as Buck came running up and started banging on the windows. Buck began yelling about his friend being murdered and the old man was chasing him. He begged them to take him to the sheriff's office, but they were convinced he was crazy and wouldn't let him in.
Thirty seconds later we arrived in the pickup. The drunks in the car decided Buck must be telling the truth, so they hit the gas and headed for town, leaving Buck standing on the side of the road.
Buck had a look of horror on his face when our headlights hit him. He ran down into the ditch along the road and up the other side, where there was a barbed wire fence. Now, Buck was a little over five feet tall, which meant he only had a couple of inches on the fence. In a fit of panic he decided to attempt a swan dive over the fence. He landed on the top wire, slid over, and landed on his face in the pasture. He got to his feet immediately and started running across the field.
Buck was over the fence and moving fast by the time we got out of the pickup. We were trying to yell at him to stop and it was all a trick, but we were laughing too hard to get it out. Finally someone was able to yell at him and get him stopped. As he walked back toward us it was apparent how frightened he really was. He was sobbing uncontrollably and tears were streaming down his face. His pants were shredded from the barbed wire fence and he was covered with mud. He was wearing what had a few seconds earlier been his nicest suit and he had a couple of nasty cuts on his legs from the rusty wire.
We herded Buck back into the car and David was going to drive him to the emergency room for a tetanus shot. Buck wanted to stop at his house and change clothes. He lived in an apartment over a store on the highway we were on. We walked with him up the steps to his door, but let him go in and face his parents alone. As he entered the room his Dad looked up and saw him covered in mud and his best suit in shreds. He asked, "Son, what have you done?"
Buck launched into a vague rambling story about going armadillo hunting with some friends and running into a fence. He said he guessed he should have changed clothes first.
His Dad's only reply was, "Son, you have sinned!"
When Buck emerged in his jeans and we started down the stairs, three sheriffs cruisers went flying by with sirens blaring. They were going toward Austonio. We looked at each other and hoped it was just a coincidence. We took Buck to get his shot, took up a collection for a new pair of pants and took him back home.
With David's parents out of town, we met at his house to go over the events of the night. We didn't figure Buck would be eager to tell anyone what happened, and we were getting scared to tell anyone ourselves in case the sheriff was looking for us. We agreed to keep quiet about what happened for at least a week. Everyone swore they wouldn't breathe a word of it.
After church services on Wednesday night, my Mother spent an unusual amount of time talking to Betty Douglas. I was getting a bad feeling about it. When we got home my Mother sat me down at the kitchen table, looked me straight in the eye and asked, "What did you do last Friday night?"
I had a feeling she already knew, so I told her every detail, from start to finish. She picked up the phone, called Betty Douglas and said, "Jimmy told me the same story practically word for word."
David had told his parents as soon as they returned home. Since they hadn't heard a word from anyone else, they decided everyone else involved had clammed up, or he had gone completely insane.
We had kept quiet for the most part, which was a minor miracle given all the people involved and how we had all blabbed about it the previous week. We were feeling proud of ourselves when the sheriff called Ray Craycraft's Dad. The drunks had driven into town and reported a possible double murder. The only description they had of the alleged killer was a white Chevy pickup pulling up as they sped away. Since the Craycrafts lived on the same highway, the sheriff hoped they might know something. Mr. Craycraft knew nothing, but he also knew Ray and a bunch of his idiot friends were out riding around on the night in question. When Ray got home from school his Dad confronted him and he spilled his guts. He was then made to call the sheriff and tell the tale. After that it was out in the open.
We were local legends for awhile. Buck was asked about it countless times, and each time he related his version, he was more cool and collected than the time before. After a week he had played the trick on us. He moved away a short time later and we had a great story to tell for the rest of our lives.