The Owl Head Solution by Author David B. Barnes

Dr. Rankin Williamson Shepherd was in his mid forties with graying black hair, a professionally trimmed beard, and was athletically built.  He owned his pharmacy, which was successful, and he hid his upbringing nicely.  He was raised deep in the Blue Ridge by a strict but loving father and grandfather.  Both his mother and grandmother had died from flu complications years apart and his maternal grandparents were estranged.  Shepherd’s family made money by being outlaws.  Well, outlaws in the governments’ eyes.  All of his grandfather’s adult life and then his father’s were spent making and selling white liquor…moonshine, in a remote section of Jackson County.  The men always took care of problems themselves; that’s why they were successful or so they told Rankin.  It was a matter of family pride.  

Both father and grandfather had insisted that Rankin better himself and they paid for his advanced schooling.  After college and pharmacy school he had moved to Asheville, North Carolina, just a couple of hours from home.  It was 1976 and there were great looking girls everywhere, lots of cocaine and pot to enjoy, and his business was better than he’d ever dreamed.

On an early October Saturday afternoon he fired up his Corvette and backed it out of his garage.  When he started down the street toward Kimberly Avenue he turned up the radio.  La Grange was pulsing out of his customized Pioneer stereo.  Shepherd was on his way to a golf outing with his good friend and fellow pharmacist, Buzz McDonald.

Buzz was built like Shepherd and resembled him, except he had no beard and used a hair dye to hide graying temples.  He also drove a nice car, a BMW.  Both men owned neighborhood drugstores.

Shepherd loved these Saturday golf outings.  On the course they did the normal goading one would expect between friends who were also intense competitors. The friends drank beer, talked smack, snorted coke, and bet against each other.  The two drug stores were making good money.  Neither of these men were missing meals; neither of them had any real debt.  They weren’t married or engaged.  They were living the good life.

A couple of years before, during a golf outing at Pinehurst, McDonald had introduced Shepherd to the magic of cocaine.  It wasn’t hard to find, was decently priced, and wasn’t addictive.  To prove this to his friend, McDonald had found a magazine article stating that while cocaine was illegal it was non-addictive.  Once Shepherd was convinced, the golf outings got a lot more enjoyable.  McDonald had the cocaine connection and sold eight balls to Shepherd for nearly what the coke cost him. 

One cloudy Saturday afternoon they were through with their round and were finishing the last of their beer.  The friends were sitting on a wooden bench just at the edge of the gravel lot of the golf course.  As they drank, laughed, and looked out at Beaver Lake, each knew they had it made. The men were pretty satisfied with the way things were, but one of them was more satisfied than the other.

  On this Saturday McDonald stood up and lit a cigarette.  He tilted his head back and dramatically blew the smoke out.  McDonald looked at Shepherd and asked one question.

“Do you have enough money?”  He inhaled heavily again, and again dramatically blew the smoke into the air. 

Neither said a word for a few minutes.  McDonald offered Shepherd a cigarette; he took it and lit up.  They looked at each other, Shepherd stood up, stretched, and asked, “What in the hell are you talking about?  We make great money.  Buzz man, are you getting greedy all of a sudden?”

“Shit, you never, ever have enough money.  Never.”  McDonald was now standing too, but he’d dropped his cigarette and looked behind Shepherd at a now nearly empty parking lot.  He fumbled around in his golf bag, found some coke shake in a baggie at the bottom of one of the pockets.  He lined what was there on the back of a scorecard and snorted it.  He grabbed his nose and closed his nostrils so he wouldn’t sneeze any out. 

“What exactly are you getting at Buzz?” Shepherd asked.

“Look,” McDonald began, “We could pool our money, invest it with the guy I get our coke from.  He runs a string of coke dealers in clubs from here to Hickory.  We’d make a fortune and a tax-free fortune at that!   You go to clubs nearly every weekend.  Rankin, you know what I’m saying.  Right now that’s where this shit’s sold.  The street ain’t the game.  It’s clubs and if I’m reading this right its only going to get bigger. 

“Dope dealing?  Man, that’s ghetto shit!  I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole!” Shepherd wasn’t at all convinced of this kind of idea.  “I didn’t go to pharmacy school to be a drug dealer.”

He paused and looked at his friend but couldn’t find any other words to say.  Shepherd started rummaging in his golf bag for a smoke.  The only one he found was broken.  One half was just barely still hanging on.  Shepherd tore the bottom half off and lit the other.

McDonald sat back down on the bench.  He turned and looked to see if anyone was listening.  No one was in the lot now except them.  He lit another cigarette and leaned back on the bench and paused just a bit.  As he looked out over the lake he laughed a sarcastic laugh then said,

“ Rankin, that’s exactly what we are. There are housewives all over Asheville strung out on Valium and Librium and Seconal.  I’ve got the same ones doing amphetamines to counter the Valium.”

He pointed his cigarette at Shepherd, and said, “So do you.  Getting this coke deal going could save us money…we get ours at a discount from the guy.  He gets us a nice return on our investment.  It’d be tax-free money, brother.  Tax-free.”

Shepherd suggested they give it some thought and then in a day or two get together to see if they could come to an agreement.  As the men drove away in their expensive sports cars each knew what he’d say at the meeting.  Money was king.

A phone call from McDonald set the meeting at his condo.  Shepherd was there promptly at 7:00 PM.  Each man settled with some Scotch in crystal tumblers and after a few minutes of silence McDonald asked the question:  a one-word question.


A couple of hours later their new business was set. McDonald was friends with a guy, Frankie Rizzo.  Buzz explained that Rizzo was originally from New York City, had moved to Miami. He came to Asheville around three years ago and owned The Speakeasy Bar and Dance Club out near the airport.

Buzz said he’d go in a bit to the Speakeasy and talk with Rizzo. 

“Tomorrow night. We’ll meet up here and I’ll let you know what’s up.”

Shepherd arrived for the meet on time.  He climbed the steps and went inside the condo.  McDonald was all smiles. 

“Rankin, I think we can do business with the guy.  He’s all ears buddy; he wants to meet you and get more details though.”

McDonald picked up the telephone, and looked at Shepherd, “Well?”

Shepherd nodded in agreement and the call was placed.  In about thirty minutes a Mercedes pulled up to the condo and a short, stocky, olive skinned man of about forty got out and walked up the steps.  McDonald opened the door and shook the hand of Frankie Rizzo. 

“Come on in Frankie..” McDonald motioned Frankie toward the living room. 

Shepherd shook hands with Rizzo and asked, “Scotch?”

He was watching Rizzo closely and was already getting a funny feeling about the guy.  Shepherd couldn’t place his finger on why that was.  Maybe it was Rizzo’s attitude, his arrogant walk, or maybe it was the fucking pinky ring.

“Sure thing.”  Rizzo replied.

Shepherd poured the drink, handed it to Rizzo, and motioned for him to sit down in a leather chair facing the two partners. 

“Tell me a story.” Rizzo said as he sipped his drink.

The guys explained what they wanted and how they wanted it to go.  At first Rizzo showed little interest.  He told them he had a nice thing going already.  After some haggling over investment amounts and returns on investment, Rizzo was satisfied.  He said he’d like to stretch his profits by stepping on his coke with something different.  Rizzo knew his new partners were pharmacists and he had a question of his own about a deal.

Could one of the pharmacists provide him a steady supply of medical cocaine?  It would make a great cut.  He said he’d been using boric acid but something like Procaine would make his product sell and sell fast. 

McDonald said it would be too hard to get the amount of Procaine Rizzo would need.  He couldn’t fake that many purchase records.  After he stopped talking Shepherd stood and walked behind the sofa.  Looking at the back of Rizzo’s head, Shepherd drained the rest of his Scotch.

Shepherd said, “Caffeine’s what you want, Frankie.  It’s white; it’s a stimulant; I can get it all day every day.  It’d be no problem.” 

At that Shepherd walked to the bar and poured another larger drink.  No ice this time.

Rizzo sat; his head tilted back looking at the ceiling, saying nothing.  After a few minutes he agreed to the suggestion.

Before Rizzo left, everything was settled; the money would be in cash and Rizzo would have it in two days.  Shepherd said he’d have several pounds of caffeine ready to go at the same time. 

At the door Rizzo turned back to the two men and pointed at them.  He swept his hand back and forth.  Rizzo smiled and said laughing,

“You guys are the Country Club Mafia, real gangsters.”

Shepherd stepped out on the deck and heard Rizzo calling them real bad guys, real mobsters as he walked to his Mercedes.  He got in the car laughing and shaking his head.

When Rizzo got back to his club he made a phone call of his own.

“Lemme speak to the Boss.  Yeah it’s Rizzo.  Hey Boss, how’s it down in the sunshine and palm trees?  Yeah?  Well it’s all rainbows up here.  Listen you ain’t gonna believe what just fell in our laps.”  Rizzo took out a nice Cohiba, lit it, and explained what was going to happen.  He ended the conversation saying he’d keep the boss informed.

After a few months Shepherd and McDonald were at Shepherd’s condo after a late golf round.  McDonald was relaxed but he could tell Shepherd had something on his mind.

 Shepherd finally said, “I never, ever thought I’d say this but we’re making too much money.  I’ve got cash all over my condo.  It’s even in the trunk of my car in a couple of shoeboxes.  We keep this up and I think it’s going to be a much worse problem.”  

McDonald said it was piling up at his house too.  The two pharmacists didn’t know what to do about it. 

Shepherd had a PBR in his hand and took a short pull.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and asked,

“Why don’t we take a break from this for a bit. We’ve got plenty of cash.  Man, I think I could stop working, sell the drugstore, and never have to strike a lick again.

We’ve got more money than we could spend in ten years and nowhere to spend it without somebody asking questions.  I think we should just to try to figure out what to do.  Last thing I want is a bunch of narcs rolling up to my place and doing a search.”

McDonald was getting angrier by the minute. 

“You’ve had it easy.” McDonald said.  “A good family who sent you to college and Pharmacy School; I had to grind my way through.  Working and going to school isn’t a cakewalk, pal.  No way I agree to stop; not for a fucking minute, not a second.” 

McDonald threw his half empty beer into the garbage, walked to the sliding glass door and stared out mumbling to himself, shaking his head.   Shepherd didn’t say anything, just lit up another cigarette and looked past McDonald, out the glass door.  When McDonald turned around he said,

“Let’s talk to Rizzo.”

The next evening Rizzo came back to the condo and sat drinking his Scotch, waiting on someone to tell him why they were meeting.  He wasn’t angry or upset just curious. 

After draining his scotch McDonald told Rizzo of the problem, and what the men were thinking of doing.  Rizzo was obviously shocked at the plan to stop investing the money.  He stood up, walked to the bar where he fumbled around and found some bourbon that he poured into his tumbler.  When he turned around his face was calm but they could tell he was pissed.

“You guys.  You Country Club Mafioso’s.  You guys are a pimple on a goat’s ass!  You don’t wanna stop.  You wanna move your money so you can use it.  What the fuck is the matter with you?” Rizzo had started softly and as he ended he was red faced and nearly yelling.

“That’s why we called Frankie.  What do we do?” McDonald asked.

Rizzo sat back down on the leather sofa and sipped his bourbon.  He looked at each of the guys but Shepherd didn’t think he was really seeing anything.  Rizzo was thinking.

After a few minutes Rizzo finished his drink and stood up.  His face was now calm and he was smiling.

“Look you guys.  All you need is a good accountant to set up a corporation that sends money to an off shore account.  I got the accountant and he can set something up with a bank in the Caymans.  Then you invest in the corporation using the accountant and he leaves the money there gaining interest.  Every so often the corporation sends you guys a dividend and everything’s good.  Or you can get me the money.  I’ve already got a set up like that going. It’ll cost you a point and two points to the corp cleaning the cash.”

McDonald swallowed the last of his drink and asked, “What’s the best way to do this Frankie?”

“Mine is set and running.  There’d be no lag time.  Get me the cash and I send a runner south tomorrow.  You’ll get clean money in a week.”  Rizzo was standing and his arms were spread wide.  He was grinning.

Shepherd answered first. “Give us a couple of days and we’ll get the money to you, Frankie.”

Frankie turned for the door and over his shoulder said, “Give me the word boys.”

After Rizzo left Shepherd said, “Buzz, I didn’t come from the kind of family you think.  My family knows trouble when they see it, and I know this kind of guy.  He’s going to be a problem.  Damn it, I think he knew this would be an issue when we started. The asshole was just waiting for a time like tonight.  We need to stop for a while.  At least until we get our own way to launder this money.” 

There was a silence until Buzz finally said, “OK.  Let’s cool out for a bit.  Thinking about this I think I agree that Rizzo may well have just been waiting to get deeper into our pockets.  Damn it.”

“What about Rizzo?” McDonald wondered aloud.

“I’ll talk to Frankie.  It’ll be fine.” Shepherd said.

The next day Shepherd arranged a meeting with Rizzo at Beaver Lake.  They talked a bit.  Rizzo wanted to know what they intended to do.  Shepherd reassured Rizzo and said McDonald was still thinking about it but would have a decision by the next day.

“We’ve got a late golf game tomorrow.  It’s nice weather and we’re all inside most of the time.  Let’s meet at the dam side of the lake.  You want to have dinner with us or just meet about ten o’clock?”  Shepherd stood and put out his hand.  Rizzo took it.

“I got other plans.  I’ll meet you guys.”  Rizzo was grinning.  Shepherd just nodded back.

The next night at ten Rizzo pulled in to the gravel lot at the dam.  He got out of the car and asked, “Where’s Buzz?”

“He had to break away from a young lady.  He’ll be here in a few.  Relax Frankie.  We’re going to be making money for years.  This coke stuff is just starting.”

 Shepherd was looking out over the lake.  He stretched his arms wide, looked at Rizzo, and said, “Look out there Frankie.  Just think of all the money we’re gonna make…all the people out there waiting for our coke.” 

Rizzo took out a cigarette, lit it, and looked out at the lake, nodding his head.  Shepherd stepped back and took his Grandpa’s Owl Head .32 from his back pocket.

Frankie never heard the shot that killed him.  He just fell.  Dead.

The next day it was on the news.  The body of a nightclub owner was discovered near the dam at Beaver Lake.  A fisherman had found it in a gravel lot near the spillway.  McDonald was upset.  He wondered what happened, called Shepherd, and asked what he thought. 

“Buzz, with a guy like that there’s no telling.  Only thing for certain, his hands aren’t anywhere near our pockets now.”

Shepherd hung up the phone, turned his stereo up, sat down with a tumbler of the finest Jackson County moonshine, and smiled to himself.  Problem solved.

About the Author

David B. Barnes is 71 years old and a recent graduate of the
UNC-Asheville MLAS program.  From 1971 when I graduated college to 2001 I was a law enforcement officer.  Two years I was a uniformed patrol
officer and the rest was spent doing varied criminal investigations for
the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.  I’m new to writing
and publishing.  Recently “Crosscut,” one of my short stories was
published by  This story is about two pharmacists
and how they cross into illegal lives.  I make no judgements-just tell
the story.

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