ya'all remember that Eunice Nicklecock?” asked Lonnie over the
top of his week-old USA Today.
Hooter grinned widely at the bishop he was about to use in attacking cousin Charlie's queen across the makeshift chessboard the boys had made from a Purina gunnysack; a temporary solution that had so far lasted better than eight years.
“How could we ever forget our fair-haired, squat-legged and misguided Mizz Nicklecock,” said Hooter. “After all, she's the one who put my white armadillos on the map.”
For the uninitiated in Apache Flats lore, Eunice Nicklecock was the senior executive strategist for People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL) about five years ago when she made the mistake of locking horns with Hooter after he had orchestrated retaliatory strikes against each new inane promotional campaign PETAL had come out with.
When the organization launched a campaign announcing they had research proving corn and soybeans had feelings, too, Hooter had called on his old buddy, Wild Bill Jimmenez to take his crop duster and dust PETAL headquarters with fresh hog manure.
When PETAL took out ads ranting against the senseless fire ant slaughter going on in the Southwest, Hooter had another pal stuff wasps in PETAL's mail slot.
It was when Hooter infiltrated PETAL's Midwestern, “Snakes Are Our Friends, Too,” rally that the muck really hit the fan, though.
The rally tent was jammed with people eager to see the different serpents PETAL had on display. In fact, there were so many people it was almost too easy for Hooter to drop a couple of comatose rats in the python cage, then scream, “Murderers!” at the top of his lungs as the snake gobbled up his newfound treasures. During the ensuing stampede Eunice Nicklecock was catapulted, knickers over hairpins, into the snow-cone machine. A local newspaper photographed her trying to squeeze the life out of an electrical cord she mistook for an escaped snake.
Duly embarrassed and outraged, Eunice made a beeline for Apache Flats, vowing revenge. The end result was that fearful she was being attacked by white armadillos in the dark of night, and somehow convinced these legendary creatures were death multiplied, the last anyone had seen of her she was running half-naked down the highway, screaming and firing an empty cap pistol. The Rio Rojo County police had picked her up, charged her with disturbing the peace, then shipped her back to Yankee Land. PETAL fired her for actions unbefitting a national PETAL spokesperson. Next and last thing the Apache Flats crew had heard, Eunice Nicklecock was doing time in some fancy nuthouse.
Free at Last
Without nearly the detail or the color, that's what the story in the paper recounted.
“Says here she was at a place called the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute at the time of the escape,” continued Lonnie. “Says she began acting strangely right after the annual Halloween party…”
“Strange compared to what,” said Izzie Franklin.
“Shhhh!” said the others.
“According to this, about a week after the party she started pestering the other guests to sign a petition in support of, get this, a bill of rights for all cactus in captivity. Then, she showed up at supper one night wearing nothing but an orange feather duct taped to her forehead and yelling, ‘I'm a Phoenix! You can shoot me down, but you can't destroy me, not even VooDoo trash.'”
“Lord, talk about trauma treatment for the other paying guests,” said Izzie.
“According to a Doctor Gingerviscous, ‘Ms. Nicklecock was making great strides in her treatment. We didn't classify her little outburst as a relapse. We thought perhaps she was just getting caught up in the holiday spirit.'”
“I'd hate to see what she'd do on the actual holiday,” said Izzie.
“When asked what she meant, this sawbones reckoned how the Phoenix comment was obvious enough, that she was saying her spirit would prevail over any of her challenges. As for the VooDoo part he said he didn't have any idea,” continued Lonnie.
There was an uncomfortable silence, everyone looking at Hooter. “Why the pasty faces, boys? Miss Loony Nicklecock had it all coming to her and more. I have to admit, though, I'm surprised she knew Sherry was in on it.”
Sherry, Hooter's ex-wife—the marriage only lasted a matter of days—was an avowed practitioner of VooDoo who had helped Hooter scare Eunice out of her wits and out of town.
“Anyway,” continued Lonnie, “That same night it appears Nicklecock made her escape by overpowering night-watchman, Luther Vanderpoll, age 83, who told ‘em, ‘She's short but she's huge. I told them they should have let me keep my gun.'
“Says here Luther heard a commotion in the recreation room. He found Eunice opening the doors on all of the bird and hamster cages. Then she turned over the community fish tank ranting and raving, ‘Run wild, be free.'”
“'I've seen some kooks in my time,'” read Lonnie, “'But that one takes the cake and frosts it besides,' said Mr. Vanderpoll.”
“Well said, Luther,” shouted Peetie Womac with glee. “Well said!”
“Check,” said Hooter.
“Check what?” wondered some of the others.
“Check. Charlie, check, as in you best be moving your king.”
“Oh,” said Charlie. Like everyone else but Hooter, Charlie had forgotten he was in the midst of a chess match: loser buys the chicken fried steak on the next trip to Lubbock.
“Wait, there's one more thing,” read Lonnie. “Here at the end it says when they went through her things they found a note that said, ‘I'm fine now, thanks. I'm off to see the leader of the white armadillos.'”
Everyone looked at Hooter, who was intently studying the chessboard, waiting for Charlie to do something.
The Prospects of Doom
“What?” said Hooter with a hint of irritation when he realized the game was over for now and everyone was looking at him.
“Could be trouble, if she really is coming back to look for you,” said Lonnie.
“A lunatic like that, I figure would be worse'n a mindless horse in a parade,” said Peetie. “She might do anything.”
“Only thing is, she's got to find the parade, first,” said Hooter. “What do you reckon the odds are she could find her way back down here with a map and seeing eye dog, much less on her own?”
“Yeah,” said Izzie. “Her pencil box was missing a crayon or two before, but it appears she's lost all the basic colors.”
“If she does come looking for you, though, all I'm saying is she could be even more trouble than the last time because there's no predicting what someone like that might do,” said Peetie.
“That's a sizable if, though,” repeated Hooter. “One thing about a fruit loop, you never know which way it will roll. You just have to wait and see, but you can always hope. Anyhow, it might be kind of fun to see ol' Eunice again.”
The boys looked doubtful.
“Besides, you boys are forgetting who helped me sic the armadillos on her in the first place,” said Hooter. “From experience I can tell you that you don't want Sherry after you. If she hears that bit about Voodoo trash, it's not Eunice you have to worry about.”
The boys had to agree with that. All of them had seen Sherry on the warpath at one time or another, and it was a force of nature to behold.
“Plus,” said Hooter, looking in concentration over the top of some starter feed, “You boys seem to think that out of sight, out of mind means gone forever when it comes to the white armadillos. I notice none of you ever asked what happened to ‘em.”
“You're gonna have to try harder than that, Hooter,” said Peetie. “We all know what you scared her with were some little York pigs that she thought were armadillos.”
“But there were armadillos before that,” said Hooter.
“Yeah,” said Charlie, “The ones you were painting and trying to sell as armadillo yard prevention to those folks in Lubbock.”
“True enough,” said Hooter. “But, Charlie, remember how you tried to get the paint off ‘em when I wasn't around, and there were those few you wondered what kind of paint I used because you couldn't get it off?”
“You mean…surely not…”
“All I'm saying is, bring her on,” said Hooter.
To be continued sometime in the coming months.