"I still don't see why we're taking a night out for this. It'll never fly, you wait and see," said Izzy with the confidence of a man betting on a tape-delay football game.
Peetie Womac slid another quarter into the War Wagon jukebox. "Yeah, but in a time in history when Bill Clinton can get elected president, not once, but twice, anything is possible. This is time well spent."
They were both referring to the special meeting of the Rio Rojo County Cattlemen's Association, called to discuss exactly what Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was going to mean to them. It was called hastily that very afternoon once it was learned that Reese Beauxprez (he pronounced it Boo-Pray) had come to town unexpectedly to tend to some of his family's business.
Reese wasn't from here exactly, but his family had owned the Cat's-Eye Ranch west of town for three generations. Reese had never lived there, was a little naive in the way of the country, but as the elder Boo-Pray's only son, it was up to him to drop in when necessary to take care of bank notes, etc. He was book smart, dressed like a band leader and had a gift for gab that would make a magpie blush.
Somehow or another Reese wound up as a lobbyist in Washington, then he hung out his shingle as an agricultural consultant. Judging by the senators, representatives and world leaders he hauled out to the ranch each year for his customer appreciation deer hunt, either he knew more than the boys gave him credit for, or all the rest of those folks knew less.
"I don't know," said Izzy. "It's hard to believe a guy who hunts the way he does could know too much."
Nods all around. "Well, you got a point there, I'll grant you that," admitted Peetie.
Specifically, they were referring to the time a few years back when Reese had brought some of his high-powered Washington pals out to the ranch for a deer hunt. Far as anyone knew it was the first time Reese had ever hunted on the ranch. Turns out, it was the first time he or his friends had ever been hunting, period.
Reese's folks had recommended that he see if Hooter would act as the guide, which of course, would be another strike against the intelligence available in Reese's gene pool.
Hooter had told Reese and his crew to show up by 6, straight up. At plenty past eight, Reese's brand new Suburban--chrome brush guard, chrome wheels and dual whips—skidded to a halt in front of the gate.
Realizing early on he was dealing with folks longer on ideas than action, Hooter set them up where he knew a blind man couldn't miss with a rusty pistol. They all did. By the next morning, Reese was the only one who wanted to give it another go; why, Hooter had no idea.
Hooter took him to another spot that was just as inviting. Soon enough a Fish-and-Stream kind of buck sauntered into the clear.
"Now," mouthed Hooter, nudging Reese, who was decked out in every Camo article of clothing Cabella's ever thought about offering. He blended into the brush like an Abram's tank blaring rap music in front of the local bank at 3 a.m.
Reese pulled the trigger. In the same instant he was doing a backward somersault off of the knobby hill. When Hooter got to him, Reese was sprawled in a heap, bleeding profusely from a head or face wound; it was hard to tell which. The result was so vicious Hooter thought there must have been a misfire. Turned out, buck fever got the better of Reese. In his enthusiasm he never got the gun or the scope snug, resulting in 17 stitches he was rather proud of.
"Did I get him?" asked Reese.
"No, but I think there's a Mesquite Tree squealing," said Hooter trying to stifle a smile.
"Just lay quiet and I'll go get a 4-wheeler," Hooter had told him.
"D-d-d-you think it's safe," asked Reese. "I mean I might have made him awful mad. You don't suppose he'd try anything while you're gone."
Hooter had turned away to hide his giggle. He shouted over his shoulder. "I've no doubt he'd like to come and finish you off, but I suspect he's too busy laughing to do much else."
"What's that? What's that, Hooter, I can't hear you. You're not leaving me are you..."
Chasing a Rainbow
So it was that the Rio Rojo Cattlemen were suspicious of what they might get out of Reese Boo-Pray, no matter the lofty Washington circles he ran in.
Once they had Reese wedged in at the War Wagon's largest table, a frosty Pearl in hand, the COOL questioning began.
"What we want to know," said Peetie, "is if the law stands as is, what exactly are we going to have to do to comply?"
"Nothing more than verify their country of origin," said Reese serenely, taking a mighty draw on the bottle.
"Well sir, that's the point," said Peetie. "What kind of information and identification are we going to have to provide?"
"That's easy," said Reese. "When the law becomes mandatory, it will spell all that stuff out."
Some uneasiness among the crowd. Cousin Charlie gave it voice. "Well, that's what we're wondering, seeings how by the time the law is made mandatory there won't be time to bring all of the cattle under the law into compliance. Seems to us there's a lag time there, like some of the cattle trading, starting here in the next little bit are going to have to be under some kind of system because they'll be coming out of the feedlot after the law becomes mandatory."
Reese scrunched up a furry eyebrow and raised his empty bottle in Jackson's direction. "Well, as you know USDA can't define any kind of system. That's defined in the law. Therefore, since there can't be a system defined you can't really put them under a system until it is defined."
More uneasy silence. Hooter took the ball: "Well, that's pretty much our point, Reese. I mean the law says we have to do something by a certain date, but doesn't give us any of the specifics about what we'll have to do to comply with the law. Never mind the fact it tells us the date for the law but not what the specific law will be at that time."
"Exactly," said Reese, twisting the top off his fresh Pearl.
"Huh?" said the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association in unison.
Reese gave them a satisfied grin, much like the one the deer was wearing when he pegged Reese. "Well, doesn't it make sense if you were supposed to comply with the law, they would tell you how?"
"Again, that's our point," said Hooter. “There's a law we're supposed to comply with but no instruction on how to comply, or exactly what the fine points are we have to comply to."
"I don't follow," said Reese.
Izzy began clapping his hands together. "That's the only thing you've said so far that I understand."
Before the comment could unduly tax Reese's Washington brain, Hooter tried again. "Let's try this tack. Suppose that C.O.O.L. law is just swell the way it is and all. What me and the boys would like you to do is carry the water for a new law called C.O.L.D.--Consumer of Last Destination."
The boys looked at him but said nothing. "See, if the consumers want to know the country of origin of their beef, and by law want to sort out everything in this country rather than sort in what comes in from other countries, we figure it's only fair that we know where our product ends up, and whether or not the consumer is fit to consume it," explained Hooter.
It was Reese's turn. "Huh?"
"See,” continued Hooter, “the government would keep a data base on all of the beef-buying consumers. If one of them ever claimed they'd gotten e-coli or salmonella or some such from beef, we'd test them out, give them a little quiz to see if the product was the problem or if they were. You know, questions like: Have you ever eaten raw eggs? Did you leave your groceries sitting in the car in the summer sun for three hours while you got your nails done or settled up with your bookie? Or, heaven forbid, have you ever cooked the hamburgers at the company cookout rare or medium rare after the second keg?"
"How in the world would we ever do such a thing?" wondered Reese. "The logistics boggle the mind."
"Just make it a law and they'll figure it out," said Hooter. "You know, build it, and they will come."
Reese thought long and hard, or at least appeared to. "That's ludicrous. You can't make a law with no way to comply. I mean the infrastructure would already have to be in place. That would take a fair bit of time."
"But they already have," said Hooter. "It's called C.O.O.L."