Dear readers, tonight with us is an alcoholic game warden, drawn into a police murder investigation when a dead gangster is found on a farm’s food plot.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I grew up in the Holler, a small wooded valley in Kentucky. There’s lots of woods, some small farms, but mostly beat up houses, shacks where most folks live. It’s pretty country, but the people are nearly all poor. And now, even in the year 2029, you think yur takin’ a step back in time when you go to the Holler. You’ll see the cinder block saloon next to a gravel road by thick woods and a couple of country stores with gas pumps out front. You’ll notice fields of tall weeds and scrawny trees with plenty of space between the small houses.
Folks usually have vegetable gardens, sometimes well-tended, but there’s the feelin’ that if you take a few too many steps, you’ll be walking into a dump, yur feet crunching down on crumbling, rusty cans between the tall islands of grass. On the edges of their properties people throw out garbage. There’s general junk, broken glass, and maybe some old furniture. They don’t have garbage pickup in the Holler. You have to drive your trash bags to the dump, but some folks don’t do it all the time. There’s the occasional rusty car or old, smashed pickup with rotten, flat tires, just sitting there on overgrown lawns. Folks often leave their clunkers next to their gravel driveways or off to the side of their houses when their vehicles stop working.
The first thing I remember when I think back to when I was a little kid was the rough wooden floor in the living room, if you could call it that. I had to be careful not to get splinters stuck in my fingers when I played with my plastic, toy soldiers. It was the biggest room in the clapboard house. I slept on the old, worn couch with my face against the back, ‘cuz it usually was still light in the house when I went to sleep. My eyes burned from the tobacco smoke. My little sister slept in a crib in the kitchen, and Mama and Paw slept in the only bedroom.
We didn’t have many close neighbors. Those that lived closest to us ignored us. Most likely that was because of my mama being an immigrant from Naples, Italy. Her accent made her seem even more foreign. She was a Catholic, but Paw was born in the Holler and was a Baptist. Before I was born he was in the Navy working at an airbase in Italy as an airplane mechanic. My parents met in a bar in Naples.
Dad was a drinker and got kicked outta the Navy ‘cuz of it, according to Mama. My guess is he got her pregnant with me. She really didn’t want to move to the Holler, but Paw had inherited an old house and a few acres after his parents died. He got a job fixing cars and trucks. He didn’t make a hell of a lot of money, and there wasn’t much left after he bought his booze. Mama wasn’t innocent, either. She ended up on pills and died of an overdose. Paw’s liver rotted away. They died when I was in my early twenties. Now, fifteen years later, I have a drinkin’ problem. I guess I got a few bad genes from my parents, but that ain’t a good excuse. I’m fightin’ it. It’s tough, but admitting you got a problem is half the battle.
Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
I can’t think of a favorite toy, but my favorite thing was a BB gun my Paw gave me. I used to shoot mostly sparrows with it. I even killed a mouse in the shed oncest. After a while though, I felt sorry because I’d killed a bunch of innocent birds. They were gentle, pretty creatures. I had cut their lives short, and I never forgave myself totally for that. I guess that’s why I eventually became a Kentucky game warden.
My favorite memories are from when I was a little older, in middle school. Me and my best friend, Jim Pike, played hooky from school, and fished in the creek. Later on, in high school Jim wanted to be a psychologist. Sort of a funny choice for a kid from the Holler, huh? Well, though he got his college degree in psychology, he ended up as the county sheriff. He couldn’t find a psychologist job. But he told me a few times that studying psychology helped him a bunch when he became a peace officer.
What do you do now?
I’m a game warden. Truth be told, that wasn’t my first choice. I really wanted to write about the animals of the Holler and Kentucky. You know, the deer, the possums, turkeys, fish. To do that, I wanted to be a public affairs officer for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
When I was a kid in school I read a lot. Maybe that’s ‘cuz most kids ignored me except for Jim Pike. Anyway, there was this old bus that the county converted into a library on wheels. I got books from it. Actually, you won’t believe it, but I can write a lot better than I can talk. But writing about wildlife didn’t work out. There aren’t many people doing that job, so I did the next best thing. I became a game warden. We have to carry a pistol. Technically, we are law enforcement officers. But mostly we deal with poachers and people fishing without a license.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Jim Pike gave me a call one Sunday morning. A man had been killed on a food plot. I guess you might not know what the purpose of a food plot is in Kentucky. Deer hunters plant corn and other crops on small plots of land to attract deer. Later, in hunting season the owners of the plots can shoot does for meat and bucks for trophies. Since the victim died on a food plot, Jim asked me to help. I’ve helped him on a couple of cases before, too.
This death occurred on the first day of black powder season, when hand-loaded weapons are used to hunt deer. We weren’t sure at first if the man had died because of an accident or because of murder.
What did you first think when you saw the body?
When I first saw the body of the man on the dirt amongst the cornstalks, my gut told me it was murder. Though there were bushes, the scene of the death was pretty much open except for the corn and some skinny trees. I thought the shooter wouldn’t have mistaken the man for a deer. But what was the victim doing in the food plot, anyway?
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
I’m usually not too scared ‘cuz often times something just happens, and I react. A man don’t have time to ponder. It’s only after the dust settles that you think about what could ‘a happened, like being hurt real bad, or dying. Just like those sparrows I shot, death would’ve been forever.
What is the worst thing about helping in the investigation of a death?
It’s not so much seeing the bodies because to me they look like rag dolls, harmless. I feel sorry for them, even the so-called bad guys. They had mamas and paws. Somebody loved ‘em. I get these ideas of what happened. I sort of take a trip back in time to imagine what happened like it’s in a movie. The worst thing for me is trying to present my ideas without making folks mad. I guess sometimes I can be a bit blunt.
What are the best things about being an investigator, really a lawman?
The things I like are meeting people, even bad ones to see what makes them tick. And being from the Holler, and having lived in a cramped small, house when I was a kid, I like being outside in nature. I like the quiet, the deer, the fawns, the fish, the sunshine, and the fresh air. I’d hate to be cramped up in an office somewhere. If I did somehow get to be a public affairs officer for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, I’d sit outside somewhere with a pencil and a tablet and write. I’d like to interview people just like yur interviewing me.
Tell us a little about your friends.
My main friend is Jim Pike, like I told you before. He’s really my only good buddy, except, funny as it may seem, I kind of identify with some of the criminals I met. They ain’t all bad. Nobody’s totally bad, or totally good. I try to look for the good in ‘em.
As far as Jim is concerned, he oncest told me that he got interested in psychology because of me. We hung around a lot together during the time we was in middle school and high school. I guess he was trying to figure out how me and my sister survived, seeing that our parents were kinda negligent, I hate to say.
Any romantic involvement?
I’m divorced. My ex, like my mama, got hooked on pills. Drugs and alcohol are the pits . . . . I’ve had a couple of girlfriends over the last few years. Mostly, it was all about sex, but lately I found a lady I really like. She stood up to me, and it kinda opened my eyes.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
I don’t really hate anybody. What I hate are the circumstances that caused people to go astray, such as being poor, not getting a chance to get out of bad situations. The Holler’s an example. It’s a pretty place, but the school could be better. I wish people had a chance to get good jobs and better themselves, fight their way up to a better life, really to enjoy themselves instead of fester.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
Lately I’ve switched to ice tea. I’ve been trying hard to reduce drinking alcohol. I like walking through the woods, keeping my eye out for wildlife.
What does the future hold for you?
Jim Pike told me I got a talent for figuring out how and why crimes happen. So, I’m sure I’ll be involved whenever he might call on me.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
There’s something I haven’t told anybody, even Jim. I want to see more of the world. I been think’in I might want to take a cruise and check out Alaska, or maybe go to Yosemite out there in California. I got a cousin, Lou Simmons, who works at a NASA research center a few hours’ drive from Yosemite.
John Bluck retired from NASA in 2008 as a public affairs officer. Earlier, he was a broadcast engineer at WMAL-AM/FM radio in Washington, D.C. Before that he worked as a cameraman for WMAL-TV covering crime, sports, and politics, including Watergate. He was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington, during the Vietnam War.
You can find Luke on the pages of Death in the Holler.
Dear readers, to meet a young man trying to stop monsters from invading his world. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.