Hooter hated that bird, always had, ever since the grizzle-combed rooster dove off Aunt Pinky's clothesline to attack him.
That was the first time he and the gargantuan Rhode Island Red head met almost 10 years ago. Unbeknownst to Hooter, his aunt traded a couple of knitting patterns and her prickly pear jelly recipe for the brute rooster she nicknamed Spike, and a half dozen hens. Aunt Pinky swore she missed her old flock and the eggs, but Hooter guessed she really had a hankering to go into the cockfighting business. At least that's what he came to suspect after he made his first escape from Spike.
The mammoth cockerel had flogged him with turbo-charged wings, and toe nails and spurs that cut like jagged glass. Hooter swore Spike didn't peck at him with his twisted beak as much as try to impale him.
Surprised on that first occasion Hooter tried fighting off the rabid marauder with flailing arms and a blue streak of obscenities, but Spike had him back peddling all the way to the pickup where Hooter grabbed a hotshot and a rope. The feathers really flew then until Aunt Pinky pulled Spike off him, cussing at him every step of the way, cussing at Hooter that is.
“Hooter McCormick, what in the name of Sam Houston are you trying to do to my rooster? If you so much as ever look at him again I'll have your scalp!”
“I swear I'll never know what could have come over you; this is the sweetest rooster I've ever seen.”
“I'll be lucky if your little stunt hasn't rendered him useless. I swear, attacking a poor, defenseless chicken.”
“But…” then Hooter noticed something, mad as he was. Spike was nestled in the crook of Aunt Pinky's arm, calmer than a stuffed animal. But those eyes of his glared and taunted. “But…”
“You zip it mister. Come on Spike, mama will take care of you.”
So it was that Hooter—looking like he'd been on the wrong end of a collision with a newly strung weed whacker—limped home to lick his wounds.
Hooter hated that bird. Every time he visited Aunt Pinky after that he had to give Spike a wide berth, lest he get crosswise with Aunt Pinky again. If she was around, Spike just glared and scratched the ground. If she was out of sight, though, he'd fly at Hooter like he was crazed.
Hooter hated that bird because Spike also proved to be bad luck. After that first meeting Hooter had lost two ball bearings from an ancient axel bearing he'd put in his shirt pocket. He'd never been able to replace them, leaving his latest farm sale bargain little more than an eyesore.
Even after Spike came up missing a couple of years ago, Hooter kept right on hating that bird for the misery he'd caused.
Of course, Aunt Pinky suspected Hooter had something to do with Spike's disappearance. But even she had to admit that Hooter still walked a little faster when he passed the chicken coop or Spike's favorite clothesline perch.
Bird Shot and Peanut Oil
They'd shown up like a page out of a Cabella's catalog, Al Schmekelheim and the four buddies he'd brought to deer hunt at Hooters. There didn't seem to be a gadget, button or bell they didn't have, all of it with show room fresh sparkle. Hooter quickly discovered, though, between them, Al and his boys couldn't hit the side of a barn with a bucket of paint at 12 inches.
“Somewhere, Elmer Fudd is turning over in his grave,” Hooter told them after the fifth likely target dove safely between a couple of Mesquite and out of sight. “You sure you boys ordered those elephant guns with straight barrels?”
Three days and all Al's crew had to show for their efforts was some equipment that was finally starting to look used. They must have had plenty of fun, however, because here they were again two weeks before Thanksgiving scouting for turkeys.
And, here Hooter was again trying earnestly to find them targets that he knew they'd never hit short of Divine intervention.
It was about three in the afternoon when Hooter saw him with his field glasses. Could it be? He looked a lot worse for the wear, missing a couple of toes and a spur, best as Hooter could tell, wattles and comb merely a dull reflection of the rosy red they used to be. But those eyes, those crazed eyes hadn't lost any of their grit or defiance. That was Spike alright.
Hooter's heart leapt with joy. Finally, here was that miserable bird, the source of so much frustration and he was in Hooter's sights, sort of, far away from Aunt Pinky.
Hooter's heart plummeted to his boots. Here was Spike but Hooter didn't have his gun. He had an idea, though.
Hooter let out a low whistle, and in a hushed voice, told Al in his gang, “Quiet now boys, unless my eyes deceive me, you fellers have a crack at the prize of a century.” He was pointing toward Spike in the distance, keeping him pegged with his binoculars.
After way too much commotion, Al finally whispered too loudly, “Where you looking, that's just a chicken.”
“A chicken?” said Hooter. “Al haven't you ever heard of a Peruvian Flatback Quail? Legend says they used to be thick in these parts, a true and secret delicacy of the Indians that roamed here. And now, for the first time in my lifetime, you boys have stumbled across one.”
There was silence. Hooter was a little surprised but the tale must be too tall even for this crowd. Finally, though, one of Al's buddy's whispered, “Yeah, I think I remember hearing something about that.”
“Me too,” whispered another.
“He's mine,” said Al, and Hooter heard him cock his gun.
“No, wait,” whispered Hooter, grabbing Al's rifle. “If you've heard about Peruvian Flatbacks, then you've surely heard how fast they are, quicker than a flea on a hot skillet. Great instinct, too. I've heard from the old-timers you could shoot at one with and they could dodge every piece of shot.”
“Then how did they ever get ‘em?” wondered Al.
“Well sir, the Indians used arrows, remember. Maybe the birds couldn't hear them until too late. As for using guns, I hear tell the only chance you have is in a pack, several people firing at once, too much shot for the Flatback to outrun.”
“Yeah,” said Al.
“Yeah,” agreed his buddies.
Hooter knew this was his only prayer to put Spike out of his misery, but even he didn't expect they'd come close to him.
“OK boys, nice and slow. Everybody get a bead on him, let me know when you're ready and I'll count three.”
“Ready,” said Al.
“Ready,” said his pals.
Hooter had his fingers crossed and his eyes glued to the binoculars. “OK, one, two, three.”
Bam! Bam! Bam!, it sounded like an assault on a small country. Shot going everywhere but close to Spike. Hooter watched as Spike raised his head, cocked it to one side, then simply stepped into the brush.
“Wait here boys, if we didn't get him maybe we can still get another crack at him.”
Hooter crept toward the brush where he'd seen Spike escape. He didn't hold out much hope they would get another crack at the horrible creature, but it was too close not to try.
As Hooter eased into the brush he couldn't believe his eyes. There was Spike, spurs up to Heaven, deader than a door nail, but not a scratch on him. “Must have been a heart attack,” thought Hooter. He poked him just to make sure. Yep, dead, finally.
Hooter raised him over his head and shouted for Al to come see his trophy.
“Wow,” said Al's entourage in admiration.
“But it doesn't look like we even shot him,” said Al.
“That's the thing about Flatbacks,” said Hooter quickly, “Tough hided, but tender meat. Usually it's an impact wound that gets them.”
“Yeah, an impact wound,” agreed one of Al's buddy's.
“Yeah,” said another.
So it was that Thanksgiving night Al gave Hooter a call.
“We tried cooking that Flatback today,” said Al. “Deep-fryed him for as long as the instructions said. He was still tougher than mule leather.”
“That so,” replied Hooter with satisfaction. “You nail you a Flatback, eating quality is the least of your worries.”
“I know,” said Al happily, pride oozing through the phone line. “You'll never guess how I know just how tough he was.”
“When we dressed him we found two of the biggest pieces of shot I've ever seen. Lord, Hooter, they looked like ball bearings.”