by Loren Harder
Pete Reload was just settling in to his lunch at the Busy Bee
Luncheonette when his police radio crackled to life. He was proud of
how his radio crackled to life, just like in police novels and TV
shows. It used to sound just normal, like a voice over a telephone,
but Pete had taken it apart in his workshop one evening after he got
off duty and put waxpaper over the speaker.
he wasn't too pleased with the timing. He was hungry and now there
was some sort of disturbance behind the Farmer's Co-op Elevator. By
the way, his wife had called, would he please pick up a 40 pound bag
of the generic dog food while he was there? This has to be some
kind of a joke, Reload remembers thinking. How did she know there
would be a disturbance at the Co-op?
He thought about his wife, Alice, how her auburn tresses seemed to
burst aflame in the summer sun. How they actually did one time when
she used her decrepit hair dryer, the one she good-naturedly called
"Old Flame-Thrower", after putting on too much hair spray.
She never complained, even though she had pleaded with Pete for
months to fix the monster. He threw it away the same day and promised
to get her a new one but he never had.
And she never complained about his dangerous life as a cop although
Pete was sure it had taken years off her life. She seemed proud of
his choice to serve others as a law enforcement professional.
"Oh Petey, how can you eat donuts all day and still chase me
around the bed at night?" she'd kid.
His eyes misted over. Pick up a bag of dog food for his
long-suffering wife? Sure, he could do that. Here was an expression
of thoughtfulness that could start their marriage down the road to
healing. But dog food could wait. Thelma Lou had just delivered a
steaming bowl of goulash.
12:03 Off duty volunteer firefighter Clemente Santantos, (not
his real name) just happened to be driving past the Farmer's Co-op
when he saw something he thought looked suspicious. That wasn't
Bert and Gertie's boy, or was it? What in the Sam Hill was he doing?
Did he work at the Co-op now? Couldn't be. He should be in school.
How old would that boy be by now? Let's see, how old was he when Gert
and Bertie's son, What's-his-name, ran off with What's-her-name, that
woman from wherever she came from, and the boy's mother left the boy
with Bert and Gertie and was never seen in Beemerville again? What
was the mother's name? And what's the boy's name anyway? Boy, she was
a looker! Not the mom, the other woman. Or am I thinking of the mom?
So many questions were spinning in his mind...
12:06 Dispatcher, Ernestine Merriweather had just received a
second call regarding a disturbance behind the Co-op elevator. This
time the caller was clearly distraught.
"Ernestine! Listen to me! He's going to blow us up! He's not
kidding! He's taken my Walter hostage..." Walter was Myrtle's
cat. (He was apparently severely traumatized by this event and
required constant care by a veterinary psychologist for the next
three and a half years.)
"Hold on now, try to stay calm," Ernestine responded in a
soothing voice. "Try to think happy, peaceful thoughts while I
find my paper with what I'm supposed to ask in situations like
this... now Myrtle you have nothing to worry about, they went over
all of this with me when I first started. Okay, here it is.
Everything's under control. We're doing everything we can at this
end. Now, can you describe what you were doing when you first became
aware of the hostage situation?"
12:09 "Could I have some Tabasco® sauce?" Pete
asked Thelma Lou. He couldn't get his mind off Alice. Absentmindedly,
he shook shot after shot of sauce into his goulash.
"Say, Pete, I know it ain't none of my business, Honey, but
didn't you just get a call on your radio?" Pete didn't hear
Thelma Lou. His mind was on Alice. He had a mouthful of Tabasco®
sauce and it reminded him how Alice used to make him feel.
12:08 Clem O'Donnelle (not his real name either) couldn't
shake the eerie feeling he'd had ever since he thought he'd seen Gert
and Bertie's boy behind the Co-op. He tried to remember: what was
the boy doing? Make yourself remember, Clem. Make yourself remember!
He was standing at the back of the gasoline delivery truck. That's
right, he was turning the valve and it appeared that something was
dripping out. What was dripping out? Think! Gasoline. It must have
been gasoline. What was he holding? It seemed as though it was
something shaped like... a potato?... no... an
Aim&Flame®? yes! an Aim&Flame® ...or was it a cat?
(Actually it was both: an Aim&Flame® in his right hand
and Myrtle's cat® in his left.)
A feeling in Clem's gut was screaming out that something was not
right about this scenario. He just couldn't put his finger on it.
Instinctively he reached for his antacid but for some reason turned
on the pickup radio instead.
"This is John Wrong in KFDY Mobile Unit 31... make that 41. We
have the report of a possible hostage-taking in Boogerville, I'm
sorry, that must be... Beggarville. Huh? Beemerville, and I'll be
beheaded that way. We will keep you posted as the situation
undevelopes, er, uh unravels. My main concern right now is figuring
out where the heck Boomerville is. Back to you, Dan, and again, we'll
keep you up-to-date as the situation deteriorates."
8:16 PM Howard M. Bushtail had just locked the doors of his
Squirrel Emporium when (sorry, wrong story)
12:44 So that's it! Thought Clem. What's it?
Suddenly, he couldn't remember what was what. The questions were
spinning in his mind again. The mom, the boy, the other woman.
Which one was good-looking? Which one had the nervous breakdown? Why
is everything I think in italics? Why are those trees going round and
round my truck?
Spinning, spinning, out of control. Suddenly, he realized it wasn't
just the questions that were spinning...
Today, Clem (Clemente) Gufenheimer (his real name) shares the story
of his remarkable recovery with students across the nation.
Everywhere he goes he warns his listeners about the dangers of
thinking and driving.
Pete and Alice have been married now for almost 30 years. Alice
credits the "Gas Truck Incident" with changing their
"I think the danger Pete was in, the split second decisions he
had to make and the knowledge that the responsibility for hundreds of
lives was on his shoulders made both Pete and me aware of how brief
and precious life is and just how much we really mean to each other."
Pete is more modest.
"It was the dog food," he claims, "It had a little
logo on the bag that said, 'Pamper Your Pet!' Well, Alice here has
always been my pet, ever since High School. That day I just decided I
would love her a little more."
The unsung hero of the whole story is one Richard Klugmeyer, (real
name, except he spells it, "Williams") driver of the
gasoline delivery truck. At exactly
12:59, he awoke from his regular noon-hour nap in the cab of
the truck. Unaware of the commotion around him, he simply started the
engine and drove off. Somehow he never saw the crowds, the police
barricades, the police, sheriff, highway patrol and state trooper
cruisers, the S.W.A.T. team, the bomb squad, the helicopters or the
press. In fact, he knew nothing of his cool heroism or the danger to
his own life until he arrived at his first delivery. There, at the
home of farmer Al S. Chalmers, he watched in amazement as his
"miraculous escape" was replayed and analyzed on CNN.
Richard was honored by the Governor of Kansas for single-handedly
saving an entire town and countless lives from destruction. He has
since appeared on numerous TV and radio talk shows and plans to write
The teenage boy, whose name, by the way, was Tom, (not his real name)
promised he would never, ever do anything that stupid again. He was
released to his grandparents, Bert and Gertie (a.k.a. Gert and
Bertie). He was not charged with any crime. As then-mayor Ronford S.
Tittle said, "it's never been a crime to be stupid in
Beemerville." Tom is now married and the father of eight
children. He works in the insurance industry as a specialist in
disaster risk assessment.