It was Eldon Thomas at Apache Auto in the next town over who gave Hooter the bad news: “The main seal is shot and the transmission is hanging on by a couple of teeth.”
“But it's barely got 250,000 miles on it, and it's hardly 10 years old,” pleaded Hooter. “How much are we talking?”
“I'd have to do the sums, but I can tell you it will cost more than the pickup is worth.”
Eldon set out putting the estimate together, checking his parts book a couple of times, shaking his head more than that, then glaring at Hooter each time he began drumming his fingers on the counter. He slid the estimate across the counter. “That's what you're talking, give or take.”
“But that's more than the whole pickup is worth!” squealed Hooter.
Eldon glared at him in silence.
“Well, I drove it in here. I reckon I can take it back home and figure out what to do,” said Hooter, more to himself.
“You can if you hook it up to a 10W-40 I.V. unit and never shift out of second. There's no telling how many more miles you can get out of it that way,” chided Eldon.
“Yeah?” muttered Hooter, lost in thought.
If there's one thing he hated it was paying the price of a new pickup. The only thing he hated worse was having to go through the process of trading. The few times he'd had to he always walked away feeling like he'd been in a poker game with a stacked deck. Even when it looked like he'd won he couldn't help but feel he'd been taken.
They See You Coming
That's how Hooter came to be at Terwilliger Pontiac-GMC in Lubbock the next day. Cousin Charlie lent Hooter his pickup to make the trip, though he couldn't understand why Hooter wouldn't nurse-maid his own gasping wreck to the dealership. Hooter's pickup wouldn't even make a good beater now. The McCormicks, and about everyone else in Apache Flats traded solely at Terwilligers. So, unless Hooter was hankering for some pasture art with a tailgate, Charlie didn't understand why Hooter would want to make an extra trip for them to see his trade.
“I don't want them thinking they've got me cornered,” said Hooter. What he didn't tell Charlie was that he also was hoping he might happen upon an unfamiliar salesmen who would see Charlie's loaded, pristine pickup and assume that was going to be Hooter's trade. If so, Hooter figured the salesman might shoot him a better deal that would be tough to squirm out of once he finally saw what Hooter was actually trading.
Sure enough, after idling around Terwilliger's lot long enough to be sure that Charlie's pickup had been seen, Hooter was approached by a salesman he'd never seen before. Even though Hooter hadn't been here for nine years since the 36,000 mile warranty was up on his current ride, he knew the salesman was fairly new because there was always someone back home trading or getting a vehicle serviced here. They kept up on old man Terwilliger and his staff like distant relatives.
“Al Schmekelheim,” said the young man, sticking out his hand with a broad smile.
“And you're Hooter McCormick,” interrupted the salesman. “You bought a 1995 model heavy half from us in November of 1994, I believe. The big eight, regular cab, towing package, four-wheel drive, manual transmission.”
“But how did you know that?” wondered Hooter as politely as he could.
Al grinned and pointed toward the office. “Mr. Terwilliger saw you arrive in your cousin's pickup, and he suggested I take the opportunity to get acquainted.”
Hooter squinted over Al's shoulder and could just make out Mr. Terwilliger waving at him enthusiastically through the plate glass.
“I'll have to thank him,” said Hooter. “How is Willie, anyway?”
“Just capitol sir, couldn't be better.”
“And his wife, Millie, she in the pink, too?”
Hooter was trying to figure out how to proceed now that his cover was blown. “How long you been working here?”
“Only six months, sir. I married the Terwilliger's daughter a little over a year ago, and you might say they pulled me into the family business.”
“Congratulations,” said Hooter. He was trying to envision how the past decade had treated the gawky, bucktoothed and whiny Willomina Terwilliger he remembered. “Schmekelheim, was it? Willomina Schmekelheim, that has quite a ring to it.”
“Thank-you sir, now how can I be of service?”
Let the Games Begin
The choosing was the easy part. At least that's what Hooter had figured when he arrived. He knew precisely what he wanted down to the color: pretty much like the old one, though with Claire and Bugsy in mind he had decided to allow himself the luxury of an extended cab. Hooter dictated the particulars to the newest Terwilliger.
“You're in luck,” beamed Al. “I believe we have exactly what you want. We won't even have to order it. There's one on our lot in Amarillo.” If he'd hoped for an excited hurrah from Hooter he was disappointed.
“The only difference,” Al continued, “is that since you purchased your last vehicle, you can no longer get a manual transmission with the heavy half-ton, only automatic. It's standard equipment now, no extra charge. Won't that be a nice change of pace?”
It was like hearing they'd quit making chocolate ice cream. “No, that wouldn't be nice at all. I've always driven a standard transmission, I need a standard transmission and that's what I aim to drive.”
Al ignored the venom in Hooter's voice. “That's not a problem, sir. The manual transmission is optional in the three-quarter ton.”
“But I told you I want the heavy half, not the three-quarter.”
As Al led Hooter to his office he leaned in as if to share a secret. “Actually sir, the heavy-duty half-ton is built on a three-quarter ton frame, so for all practical purposes you've already been driving a three-quarter ton.”
Hooter knew that. He'd tumbled on to it a long time ago and figured it was a way he could save a few dollars and still get the pickup he needed, primarily for pulling light to moderate loads up and down the highway.
So it went for the next hour before the subject of price ever came up. Hooter had a pretty fair idea of what the new pickup was going to cost before he arrived. That didn't mean he couldn't complain, though.
“There,” announced Al after the first 90 minutes of dickering. He pushed a newly revised deal sheet toward Hooter. “That's $200 over invoice. That's the best I can do.”
Of course, Al had said the same thing with each new figure arrived at following a visit to Mr. Terwilliger's office.
“We might be getting closer,” said Hooter without expression. “But that's more pickup than I came for, seeing as how what used to be options are now standard and the standards I want are no longer options.”
Al had heard a different rendition of that point all afternoon. In fact, if there was any way to pick up the phone, call GM and tell them to stick a manual transmission in a half-ton, he would have done so and gladly paid the price himself. What both Al and Hooter suspected, though neither mentioned it, of course, was that there was plenty riding on this deal for the young salesman. It wasn't a coincidence that Mr. Terwilliger gleefully turned his new son-in-law loose with one of the dealership's most cantankerous customers.
“And, that's not the employee discount that ya'all have been bragging about,” said Hooter.
“As I mentioned, Mr. McCormick, that incentive is no longer available.”
“So you said. And that zero percent interest isn't anymore, is it?”
“No sir, as we have discussed, interest is going up, and the product prices have increased since the last time you traded. But isn't it fortunate that you find yourself in need of trading at a time when cattle prices have also gone up?”
“Price ain't profit,” groused Hooter.
“Don't I know it,” smiled Al. He made a flourish with his pen and pointed at the price on the deal sheet.
That gave Hooter an idea. He'd noticed early on during their negotiations that Al Schmekelheim fancied himself to be something of an outdoorsmen. The walls of his office were littered with picture: here he was with a scraggly buck in one, holding up a string of anemic looking bass in another, and so on.
“For inflation supposing to be so low, it sure has rocketed ahead on some things by the time you include all of the costs,” mused Hooter. “I bet you've seen that with your hunting.”
Al perked up like a kid with a new Christmas catalogue. “Isn't that right, Mr. McCormick? It cost us $2,500 per man for our deer hunt last year, and it wasn't even that good.”
“Is that so?”
Hooter had never sought folks to hunt his place, and he'd never charged the friends and acquaintances who had turned up. “Tell you what, Al, the deer on my place are pretty fair. You give me an extra $300 on my trade, throw in a bug screen and running boards, all for the price you've got there, and I'll shave my price to $1,250 per man for you and your pals.”
Al thought, but not for long. He stuck out his hand. “You've got yourself a deal. We'll have your new pickup ready by the end of the week. Oh, and by the way, we'll also send you home with a 25-pound Thanksgiving turkey, our compliments.”
“All due respect, Al, I'm thankful and I do appreciate the offer, but you can tell Willie to keep his turkey. I wouldn't carry one of those filthy creatures home, dead or alive, if you paid me.”