Give Robbie Jay Gleason credit. The star repairman for the Comanche Rural Electric Association (CREA) could have turned his service truck around, but he didn't, even though the scene before him suggested retreat would be the sanest course of action.
It was coming on deep dusk. There was Hooter—though Robbie Jay had never met him before—on the west side of his shop lighting what appeared to be a sparkler, but not just a sparkler; apparently the sparkler was attached to something smaller and more square. As Robbie Jay watched, Hooter launched the burning sparkler into the air with some sort of slingshot contraption, shouting with glee as he did so: “Die varmints!”
Robbie Jay saw all of this in shadowy relief, except for the sparkler, of course, since the sun was setting behind Hooter. There wouldn't be any other light, for a while, but for fire and headlights. That's why Robbie Jay was here.
After the phone calls started to come in, the CREA had used some rather mind-numbing technology to track the problem to a blown transformer that was located at the residence of one Hooter McCormick. Actually, it was a series of transformers, which the CREA had dubbed Hooter's Junction.
Hooter was in the midst of firing up another sparkler when Robbie Jay hollered, “Excuse me sir. Would you be Mr. McCormick? We've got a report of power being out.”
“I said excuse me sir, are you Mr. McCormick?”
As if waking from too few winks of sleep after too many hours awake, Hooter cocked his head, “Yep, I'm Hooter McCormick. Who are you? What time is it, anyway?”
The repairman couldn't help but wonder if the sparklers, the apparently addled man, and the detritus his truck's headlights illuminated through the shop door had something to do with the blown transformers.
“When did you first notice the power being out here?” wondered Robbie Jay.
“Huh?” asked Hooter, still trying to roust himself back to reality.
“The electrical power, sir, when did you first notice it was out?”
“Out? I didn't know it was. What time did you say you had?”
“It's about a quarter past eight,” said Robbie Jay, becoming more convinced that he was dealing with someone as incapacitated as the power. “Sir, do you mind me asking what you're doing, shooting those sparkler in the air?
Hooter scratched his head. “I'll be. Lord, I been at this since about 10 this morning. Oh, and those aren't sparklers, they're ear tags.”
It was Robbie Jay's turn: “Huh?”
“Well you can't very well shoot a flyswatter in the air with much success, not even one of those electronic ones.”
Hooter studied the expression on the repairman's face, glanced around at his assembled tools and fireworks then began to laugh. “I'll bet you do think I'm nuttier than a fruit cake. Let's grab us a coke from the cooler, and I'll try to bring your dance card up to speed.”
One Thing and Another
“This is what I've been working on,” said Hooter, reaching into a bucket. It was an ear tag, all right, but with some sort of small electrical motor and wires attached to it.
“They're prototypes,” said Hooter, in reply to the puzzled expression. “Let me start at the beginning…”
Hooter told Robbie Jay how he had come out to the shop with the intent of piecing together a rubber band gun for Bugsy. Not just any rubber band gun mind you; Hooter had a notion that he figured would at least double the velocity and make Bugsy the envy of all her pals. As he worked on his idea, he got to thinking about an article he'd seen somewhere about someone constructing what they called a fly gun—basically a high-powered kid's dart gun, far as he could tell, but with the face of a small flyswatter on the end of the dart rather than a rubber tip.
And, that got him to thinking of flies in general, and about all of the ways folks had come up with for getting rid of them. In turn, that led his thoughts to another article he'd read about electronic flyswatters—basically hand-held bug zappers.
Robbie Jay took another deep draw on the coke, forgetting for a minute what he'd come for to begin with.
Next, Hooter said, the notion of handheld bug zappers got him to thinking about what pests flies were, especially as summer began to unfold for real, and the fact that he needed to think about getting some fly tags on his cattle. And, obviously that made him think of Boomer the bulldog, may he rest in peace.
“Boomer the bulldog?” wondered Robbie Jay.
“Yep, the last time I saw him he and Jiggs Callahan had come over to help me with one of Earl Brinkley's ideas, may he rest in peace, too. Did you ever know Earl? Kind of a high strung, but brighter than a new penny. Anyhow, it wasn't long after that, Jiggs and Boomer got hit out on the highway. He was cross-eyed, you know, that's what did him in.”
“No sir, Boomer. Reckon he saw a rabbit, or two of them in his mind, and he set to chasing the wrong one, and Jiggs went to get him off the road, and well…”
“What's that got to do with this,” demanded Robbie Jay, holding up the ear tag prototype.
“Oh. Well, the project of Earl's I was helping him with was what we called a fly whacker. Earl had figured out, or thought he had figured out a way to basically electrify the hide of cattle with some sort of device he'd attach to a special ear tag. Only problem was, whatever the goo was that he used to make the tags actually attracted flies rather than repelled them. And, the electronics or electrics, whatever it was, didn't work, so there you were with more flies than you started with.”
Robbie Jay's brow was creased in concentration. He studied the ear tag in his hand. “And, that's what this is? You're trying to get Earl's idea to work?”
“Of course not,” said Hooter in an offended tone. “I never did think Earl had the thing figured out. The concept wasn't bad, but how he was trying to go about it never added up for me. Nope, what you're holding there is the result of me thinking about those electronic flyswatters I was referring to.”
Hooter grinned at the invitation. “Well sir, I got to thinking, what if you could apply the same bug zapper technology to an ear tag, just fry the little buggers.”
“But, how's a tag going to get rid of many of them if the fly has to hit it for it to work?” wondered Robbie Jay.
“You've stumbled on to the beauty of it,” said Hooter, slapping the repairman on the knee. “What's a big bug zapper, like those that folks hang up in barns and such? It's really the same as a bunch of smaller bug zappers all strung together, but the same technology.”
Hooter extracted another proto type from the bucket. “You hang these little bug zappers on enough cattle, and when they go to bunching up when the flies are bothering them, what have you got? A giant bug zapper. Kind of a fly-sizzling foxfire.”
Robbie Jay contemplated the notion. He had no idea whether it could work, even if the tags did, but he had to admit the logic of it.
“But what about the sparklers tied to them, and the slingshot?”
“It ain't easy rounding up a bunch of flies. I figured if I shot the tag through the air, I could snag a few.”
Before Robbie Jay could ask the obvious, Hooter added, “I coated the tags with super glue so the flies would stick if they got zapped.”
“And the sparklers?”
“Made it easier to find the tags. It sure threw the aerodynamics all out of proportion, though.”
Robbie Jay set down his coke bottle, long since emptied. He surveyed the silhouettes of the power poles and the dead transformers, growing darker as the moon grew brighter. “And, these transformers. You reckon your bug zappers flying through the air had anything to do with that?”
“It's possible,” said Hooter, crooking a finger under his chin. “Now that you mention it, I might have heard something early on. I thought it might be the zapper hitting its mark. I've never done this before, you know?”
“Well, whatever knocked them out, I best be getting them fixed. Thanks for the coke.”
Hooter followed Robbie Jay to his truck. When the repairman opened the door to radio back into headquarters the cab was alive with flies.
“Are those flies in there?” said Hooter with a spark of interest that Robbie Jay recognized too late.
“Yes sir, I should have rolled the windows all the way up.”
Hooter grabbed the repairman's arm. “Hold on, I'll grab a tag. It shouldn't take but a minute to rig it up to your cigarette lighter.”