Pete loved to fish. His preferences were for bait casting and dynamite, although he had tried various schemes involving small makeshift dams on brooks with nets in spillways to catch brookies and browns. The topic Thursday morning in Hardwick, however, was his periodic attempts at trolling. Pete only trolled when he had been drinking heavily. He never trolled in his hometown, perhaps because at the time Morrisville was a dry town and Hardwick wasn’t. In fact no one could remember Pete trolling anywhere except in Mer-Lu’s restaurant, noted for the bottles without labels on the bar and the lack of a printed menu.
As Lou — the “Lu” in “Mer-Lu’s — told it, Pete had been drinking alone since mid-afternoon. The bar filled up around 6:30, becoming unusually rowdy for a Wednesday night. All the booths were filled with customers and there were only two open seats at the bar. A crew of loggers stood around the juke box sipping beer from glass pitchers each held in their gnarled hands. The juke box alternated between Patsy Cline and Hank Williams most of the evening, with a repetitive favorite being Hank Williams’ Cajun classic “Jambalaya.”
Pete was sitting in a booth by himself nursing a small Mason jar of hooch that he brought with him. He couldn’t imagine paying for liquor when he made so much himself, so he usually ordered one drink from the bar and replenished it from his own stock. In the course of the evening, friends would drop into the bench across from him for a visit but sensing “a mood comin’ on” would eventually leave in search of better weather.
“Jambalie, crawfish pie, filé gumbo….” infiltrated the loud conversations around the bar. Having gotten an urgent call from Lou that the place was “hoppin’” and she needed help, Mercedes came in about eight-thirty. Lou had set a plate full of bologna sandwiches and jars of mustard and mayonnaise on the bar to dissuade hungry patrons from ordering anything from the kitchen. The mound of drying and curling sandwiches made clear to all that the kitchen was closed.
According to Lou’s telling, Pete started trolling around 9:15 and left a few minutes later with Rena Fournier, the cook at one of the nearby logging camps in Worcester. Pete fired back a shot glass, emerged from the cramped booth and went into an empty corner where he proceeded to unbutton the fly on his green and black Johnson Woolen Mill pants and remove what Lou later referred to as his “trouser trout.” Then with a broad grin he slowly tiptoed backwards from booth to booth eliciting hoots of laughter and salacious remarks. “Cute minnow, but I ain’t boitin’,” muttered Betty Aseltine, looking up from her pitcher half full of beer with a shot glass lying in the bottom. The men at the table roared with laughter as Pete proceeded slowly backwards to the next booth where a huge mound of a woman named Tiny Leriche lifted her greasy glasses up on her forehead, stared for a minute and said simply, “Dace.” Relieved at the rejection, Pete continued stepping backwards slowly and deliberately. At this point the place was packed and, according to Mercedes, she saw Pete and Rena leave a few minutes later.