Boo Jacoby hated loud noises. Even when he could see it coming, a sudden surge in volume made him stiffen and shudder like a Yankee-bred horse stumbling across its first West Texas rattler.
The funny thing was that noise never used to bother Ezekiel, then known as “Zeke” Jacoby. In fact, wherever Zeke went, the cacophonous sounds of a party in progress always seemed to follow. He was young, realer than 18 percent interest, and more unattached than a lost rein in a whirlwind. He ran cows during the week and was a crowd-please ring man on the weekends. His was a carefree adventure and the whole world was his oyster as they say.
Then, about 12 years ago, Zeke Jacoby was out checking tanks on his favorite gelding, Skipper. It was one of those early spring days where the freshness in the air, the grass in its baby clothes and even the storm clouds dancing across the horizon promise the possibility of anything and everything good in the world.
Zeke had just put his foot in the stirrup from checking his last tank when every hair on his body stood at attention and there was a dazzling, sudden flash of light. The next thing he remembers of the event, he was coming to with old Doc Benson poking and prodding him on a steely cold table at the Rio Rojo County Emergency Medical Center.
Hooter had found the dazed Zeke Jacoby, a long-time friend, trudging along Highway 316 in nothing but a wild rag and his scuffed boots, seemingly oblivious to the toad-strangling rain.
When Hooter unloaded Zeke at the clinic, he'd explained to Doc Benson, “I told him to climb in the pickup and all he did was look at me like he didn't know me, or anybody else. And, he just kept muttering something about fire, big fire.”
Piecing the events together, it became obvious that a lightening bolt from the approaching storm had blasted Zeke clean out of his knickers and everything else. Skipper didn't fare as well.
Since then, thunder and lightening courted Zeke like a jilted lover, popping up at the most unexpected of times and leaving internal destruction in its path. Zeke had been struck by lightening three more times. An old Indian woman he'd consulted about the matter had convinced him he would continue to play tag with Mom Nature's flash light until he helped it find a new favorite son. Whatever that meant.
That's why he always walked around looking over his shoulder like some prairie dog at a hawk's convention. That's why he didn't like loud noises, and why folks had taken to calling him Boo instead of Zeke.
To make matters worse, Boo had a keen eye for cattle and the numbers they wrought. He stopped working the sale ring soon after the first explosion, but a following of seedstock producers wouldn't leave him alone. “He could cross a horned toad with a porcupine and come up with something worth using,” they'd say. So, one by one, they'd pester Boo about helping select cattle and craft their mating schemes until he'd give in. It made him good money but it also meant that most weekends he was on the road, trying his best to sweat out one noisy sale or another until his prospects had all seen the ring.
Although there was something almost comical about it, Boo's friends couldn't help but feel sorry for him and his misery at having to sit through what used to be his favorite times of life. He'd hunker up his shoulders, white-knuckle the catalog and give a start every time the gavel bounced on the block. He'd even been known to go Justins over Wrangler patch if a bull unexpectedly rattled the gate or panels. Put it this way, it would have been easy and fun sport to sneak up on Boo and slap your chaps or snap a rope, but no one ever did, out of respect.
So it was that Hooter was sitting on some metal bleachers beside a typically somber and goosey Boo, shopping for a couple of clean-up bulls for his and Charlie's spanking new AI program.
“How ya been, Boo. I ain't seen you in quite a spell.”
“Same ol', same ol',” said Boo, forcing a smile and glancing over his shoulder at an opening in the sale tent. “I heard we might get some weather today. You see anything on your way in?”
“Yeah, I heard that, too,” said Hooter, offering Boo a dip of Copenhagen. “It looks a little stormy on North. Who knows?”
The auctioneer was just starting into his welcome comments and the owner of the cattle was drumming his fingers on the in-gate, anxious to see if he was going to make enough money to stay in business another year.
“Boo!” came a loud voice from behind Hooter and his jumpy friend. “Well, ain't this a surprise, I'll be working this section today. You just let me know what we need to do.”
Quick as the voice had exploded, Hooter instinctively thrust an arm in front of Boo to keep him from cartwheeling over the first four rows of spectators.
They already knew whose voice it was before staring into the toothy, manicured grin of Hunter Richardson, III. Hunter was able enough ring help, and he tried to look the part with his hat creased just so and wearing enough starch to open a Chinese laundry, but unlike most road agents Hooter knew, Hunter didn't have many friends. He just tended to rub folks wrong. And, his daddy owned the publication that Hunter worked for, which made him suspect in the eyes of many. Worst of all in the current situation, Boo and Hunter had a long-running feud, supposedly over some gal that had long since departed from both of them.
“Yes sir!” shouted Hunter, trying to draw attention to himself and fully aware of the effect his presence and his volume were having on Boo, “Looks like a top offering today. What'ya say boys!”
Boo glared at the ring then started to get up, but Hooter still had his arm in front of him. “I don't want to sit in his section,” said Boo through clenched teeth.
Hooter just grinned. “Naaa. Sit down. He'd just follow you. Besides, it might be fun, never can tell. Now hush, the first lot is fixin' to come in.”
Just as the first bull sauntered into the ring, a clap of thunder crashed around the tent, making everyone jump. Boo was whiter than a sick ghost, eyes wide, nostrils flaring.
“Easy does it,” said Hooter, putting a hand on Boo's shoulder. “Just a little thunder.”
The auctioneer was chuckling into the microphone, trying to calm the crowd and keep the buyers in their seats as rain began to bounce softy upon the tent canvas.
“Boys, it doesn't get any better than this. Good bulls to put in your pasture and some rain to make pasture with. Now what am I bid?”
The first bull brought $17,250 from someone sitting in Hunter's section. The tent could barely contain his ego, as if by taking the winning bid in his section he had somehow made the bull, the crowd, the money all possible.
“What did I tell you?” shouted Hunter, above the thickening rain. “I told you these were top genetics and that money will look like a bargain by this time next year. What'ya say boys?! A little rain never hurt anybody!”
Thunder rolled in the distance and the whispering tent flaps gave periodic view to lightening playing hide and seek on the horizon. Boo was sweating like a pot bellied pig running a marathon.
So it went, the weather and Hunter playing havoc on Boo's mind and the bulls bringing solid money. Hooter had one bought for $1,850. Boo already had three in the bank for twice that and only two more to wait for.
“Ladies and gentleman,” said the auctioneer. “Now, you're in for a special treat, something that wasn't even mentioned in the catalog. Your hosts have generously agreed to sell the first daughter of their exciting Wind Walker bull and donate the proceeds to the county cattlemen's association. Jenny, bring that outstanding heifer in here.”
Hunter was leaning casually on the ring, one foot perched on a rail, and one arm dangling inside the ring. He glanced over his shoulder with a knowing smile: “Boys! Wait ‘till you see this!”
The heifer may have been news to the crowd, but its introduction and entrance had been planned for a long time. The lights were turned off, the Star Wars theme song began to play softly, then louder and louder. Then suddenly the lights came back on and the announcer shouted, “Here she is! Wind Walker's Sunburst!”
At that moment, some kind of high-powered pyrotechnics were supposed to go off on either side of the auction block, introducing the next genetic revolution. Instead, something went wrong. There were no sparks and flames, just a deafening BOOM!, followed quickly by one of Mother Nature's own firecrackers with a bolt of lightening thrown in for good measure.
In a single instant, the crowd let out a terrified gasp and jumped to their feet in order to flee what sounded like the first few bars of World War III. Boo had already leaped over the people in front of him, and in the process, accidentally or not, smashed Hunter flat into the panel where he received a wholesome green dowsing from the horrified heifer that had hit the end of her lead and spun.
As spectators flooded from the tent, another flash of light, another crash of thunder and the sound of ripping canvas, smoke everywhere.
“Boo!” hollered Hooter through the phosphorous smoke. “Boo, you all right!?”
It was deathly silent, save for what sounded like a child whimpering. Hooter moved toward the sound, waving at smoke as he went.
There, pulled up into a fetal position, buck naked, hair standing straight up, eyes glued open to saucer-size and covered in an odd blend of green and black, no starch to be found, was Hunter Richardson, III.
The torch had been passed.