Wednesday, April 16, 2014

P is for Peeper, Peter, and Pio: Blogging the #atozchallenge.

It would be hard to imagine three men who are more different than Peeper, Fr. Peter, and Pio. Peeper Baumgratz from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall is a mechanic, woodsman, hunter and trapper with a gift for screwing things up. Father Peter Black from Each Angel Burns is a devout priest facing a difficult challenge to his vows. Pio Romeo from The Old Mermaid's Tale is a handsome, ambitious young fisherman whose longing for adventure is at odds with his love for Clair.


from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
The sun was low in the sky when Peeper Baumgratz woke up and figured it was safe to leave his hiding place. He knew the sheriff and the Staties wouldn't venture this far into Opelt's Wood once it got dark. He hadn't expected things to go the way they did. Damn that big brute Grant Caruso anyhow, what the hell right did he have to steal his truck? Peeper had every intention of notifying the police about his accident once he got back to town but it was barely five-thirty in the morning when he lost control of it and went into the slide that resulted in the unfortunate situation. Peeper didn't believe in cell phones and other stupid gadgets like that but who the hell would want to be called out at five-thirty in the morning anyway? All he intended to do was walk his trap line and then he'd go straight back to town and make his report. He'd be back before Henry Werner was out of whoever's bed he was in. Now his truck was gone and he was likely a wanted man. Just more of his never-ending bad luck.
Thank God he'd built this latest hideout. Opelt's Wood was as good a place in which to live as any, if you had to. Ever since the year 2000 arrived Peeper had been waiting for the Big Change. He knew it was coming. He knew chaos would ensue when the world fell into the hands of terrorists and zombies and Mormons. They'd take over everything and the only way a man could be free was if he took to the hills and lived on his own terms. The Apocalypse was near just like the Mayans predicted and he, at least was prepared.
Water wasn't a problem. The Seneca Highlands was home to thousands of springs and streams, some of the purest water in the world. And he could hunt or fish for whatever else he needed. He'd set up a network of hideouts throughout a fifteen mile area. Every chance he got he took a trip to the Army-Navy supply store in Shippensburg and stocked up on canteens, lanterns, sleeping bags and other supplies that he distributed throughout the woods in his secret places. Thank God he'd had the foresight. He might never see another human being again but that was all right with Peeper.
He watched the fading light barely visible through the hemlock branches that spread down over the entrance to the small cave he was in. It was really little more than a hollowed out space under a rocky outcrop. Earlier, as he made his way through the woods, he shot a nice fat rabbit and he intended to start a fire now that he was sure there wouldn't be anyone up here to see it. He hadn't planned to sleep as long as he did but what else was there to do? He'd skinned the rabbit and packed it in snow, then curled up in the stashed sleeping bag and was only waking up now. He could barely make out the hands on his watch but it had to be close to three o'clock. Grant Caruso's shift would be over and Henry Werner had no jurisdiction out here. He giggled, congratulating himself on his foresight, and climbed out of his lair.
As he straightened up he took a deep breath and then pounded his chest with the sheer joy of this life of rugged freedom he was about to embark on.
“Hello, Peeper. Have a nice nap?”
He spun around while trying to run backwards at the same time. Oliver Eberstark was hunkered down between the rocks but he lunged forward and, with one long arm, snagged the back of Peeper's jacket.
“Hold up,” he said in that deep baritone of his, “somebody wants to talk to you.”


from Each Angel Burns
When Father Pete showed up the third Thursday in August everyone was a little surprised, not that they weren’t happy to see him. But it was the fourth Thursday in a row that he’d joined them and that was unusual. He was, as always, his laid-back, good-humored self and they were glad he was there. Pete had a mystique about him that had started back in high school and only grew with the passage of time.
Peter AbĂ©lard Black was, by the agreement of nearly every female who ever met him, one of the most perfectly handsome men the good Lord had ever graced the earth with. In high school he was elected to every position of distinction—from class president, to captain of the swim team, to King of the Winter Festival—merely on the basis of his relentless good looks. By his senior year he stood just shy of six feet four inches tall and had the sort of body fashion designers, photographers, girls of all ages, and every gay man who ever glanced at him, drooled over. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, and his muscles long, perfectly delineated and elegant. His thick ravens-wing black hair had just the suggestion of a wave to it, and the flawless, dusky complexion that hinted at his Algonquin ancestors was the ideal setting for bottle green eyes that actually made women gasp the first time he looked at them. Added to that was a disarming smile, and a soft laugh that had been known to bring a blush to the cheeks of the nuns who were fortunate enough to have him in class at Christ the King High School. In fact, it was Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton who commented that Peter Black was living proof that God wasn’t above showing-off.
The real irony, of which Sister Elizabeth and her fellow nuns were unaware, was that not only was Pete an example of God’s artistry, he was also completely and utterly devoted to his Maker. He had been born with a heart that was as flawless in its devotion as his face and form were flawless in their beauty. On the night after Pete announced his intention to enter the Jesuit seminary in Cambridge immediately upon graduation, half the female student body of Christ the King cried themselves to sleep.
He’d been an outstanding football player—he and Gabe had been the two best linemen Christ the King’s Crusaders had seen in its sixty year history. With Charlie Pikawski as quarterback, they’d carried the team to its only Eastern Conference Championship, an accomplishment that had not been repeated since. The fact that after all these years Pete still liked hanging out with his old team-mates, and drove up from his teaching position at Boston College to drink with them, secretly pleased all of them. They teased him gently about his vocation but all were proud to count him among their friends.
This is actor Steve Reeves, not Pio. But in the story
Clair says that Pio's muscles and beard remind her of
Steve Reeves--can you blame her for falling for him?


from The Old Mermaid's Tale
Candles flickered in tall red glass containers on the altar by the garage. No one was in attendance now and I stopped in front of the statue of St. Peter to study him. He was a fine looking saint, big-shouldered and brawny with a curling brown beard and a receding hairline. He cradled a small wooden ship in his arms and his hand was raised over it in Benediction. I wondered who thought up these statues.
“Praying for us fishermen?”
I turned. I knew it would be Pio standing there looking perfectly edible in tight jeans and a white cotton T-shirt that showed off his muscles and his tan. His eyes were as black and alluring as I remembered them and his mouth, surrounded by that devilish beard, as tempting.
“Yes. Think St. Peter will listen to me?”
He smiled at me. Angela was right, he looked better than ever.
“How could he resist you?”
“You look great, Pio. Congratulations. You got your boat.”
He came close and took my hand. “Come here. I’ll show you something.”
He led me along the side of the house through a growth of honeysuckle and down along a brick wall covered with creeping myrtle. There was a tool shed surrounded by piles of fishing nets, chains, and other paraphernalia overgrown with vines. He ducked through the bushes to the back of the shed and held a branch aside for me to join him.
“Look.” He pointed. On the back of the shedwall was a faded painting obviously made by children long ago. He hunkered down in front of it and I knelt beside him. It showed a fishing boat at sea. Grinning fish leaped out of the waves and a smiling sun with long rays shone down on it. He pointed to three stick figures of men on the boat who bent over the side hauling up fish-laden nets by hand.
“That’s me,” he said pointing to the figure reaching down the farthest grasping the net. “This is Tony, this is my Dad. And over here.” He indicated two small boys in the stern of the ship cutting up fish. “This is Dante and Mario. And here.” He pushed back a clump of ivy to reveal a crude but recognizable drawing of St. Peter. “That’s St. Peter looking out for us.”
“Who made this?”
He sat back in the grass and rested his forearms on his knees. “Me and Tony when we were kids. Before our Dad died.” He looked at me. “There was never a time in my life when I didn’t want a life at sea.”


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