by: Wes Ishmael

If you've ever had one of those dreams, the kind where you can touch, smell and feel every aspect, then you know why it took Hooter a while to find his bearings.

The sun wasn't quite up. Hooter's night shirt was soaked in sweat. He couldn't help but look over his shoulder, believing they still had to be there. It was several more minutes before Hooter realized he was clutching his bedside lamp tighter than a rusted nut. The knuckles of that hand were white and the joints sore; he must have been holding it for a while. The lamp cord had been jerked out of the socket; the lampshade was nowhere to be seen.

Some dream.

Hooter rubbed his head and pulled at his moustache, trying to remember what he'd been chasing or been chased by. He happened to glance down and see the copy of Cattle Today he'd been reading, and it all came flooding back…

We're Here to Help

He'd just fallen asleep and someone was banging on his door. He pulled on his boots and tucked his bowie knife inside. When he got to the door—someone still banging from the other side—he jerked it open to find two linebacker-sized, scowling men wearing black suits and dark glasses.

“You Hooter McCormick?”

“Far as you know,” Hooter growled. “And who in blazes do you think you are caterwauling on my doorstep at this hour?”

“We need to talk.”

“Get on with it, then.” Hooter peered around the two goons to see a long black car.

“This!” said one of the men, dangling a piece of paper in front of Hooter; he could see the handwriting was his own. “It's a felony offense to threaten a federal official.”

“I haven't…yet,” said Hooter.

“It's also a felony offense to incite a riot.”

“I haven't done that yet, either,” said Hooter. “But unless you cut to the chase, we're fixing to have one right here.”

“Then, what do you call this?” said the other man, stabbing a stubby finger at the paper held by his partner.

Hooter squinted his eyes at the paper again and realized it was the letter that he'd finished penning only hours before. He grinned. “I call that a personal letter to the Secretary of Agriculture.”

“Then you don't deny it?”

Hooter's Irish was past the yawning stage. “If you mean writing the letter, of course I don't deny it, you mindless troll.”

“Then you'll need to come with us,” came the same toneless voice. “For threatening a federal official.”

“That's not a threat, it's a fact,” said Hooter. He leaned casually against the door frame, his right hand feeling for the old branding iron hanging on the wall, which the two visitors couldn't see. “If you got past the third grade, you ought to be able to read the letter, which by the way, reading someone else's mail is in fact a federal offense. And if you can read, you'll plainly see that I inform him that if he ever sells his house, he'd better offer it at a price equal to the lowest price house in the city or I'm going to sue him, which I will. So it's not a threat.”

Hooter couldn't see their eyes behind the dark glasses, but he was guessing they looked a might confused.

“None of that makes any sense at all,” said one of the men.

“Exactly,” said Hooter, folding his arms and grinning. “Now, you're starting to get it.”

“Huh?” said both men in unison.

“Telling someone they'll be sued if they won't sell their home for the lowest price in the market is just as ludicrous as telling beef packers they have to buy cattle of differing value for the same money or else they'll be sued.”


“The rule, you nitwit,” Hooter shouted. “GIPSA's proposed rule. It' all right there,” he said, stabbing at the letter still dangling between the fingers.

“It doesn't say that,” said one of the officials.

“Sure it does,” Hooter replied. “It says no one has to prove harm in order to sue a packer because they think they've been discriminated against when it comes to the price they receive for their cattle.”

The two visitors turned toward one another, whether looking for help in understanding or plotting their next move, Hooter couldn't say.

“You reckon that means packers will pay more for cattle or less?” Hooter shouted. “You suppose the price ceiling goes up or the floor gets lowered?”

“We don't have any idea what you're talking about,” said one, making a move to step through the door.

“Obviously not,” Hooter said. “Neither does anyone else who had anything to do with writing that load of tripe.”


“You wasted all of my time you're going to,” Hooter shouted. “Far as I know, we're still allowed to own property in this country. This is mine. You're on it. Get out!”

One of the men tried to step inside. That's when Hooter grabbed the branding iron      and began thrashing with the same gusto of Aunt Pinky brandishing her hoe when she spied a snake in her garden.

“And another thing!” Hooter shouted, backing the men toward their car. “Don't raise any dust with that bucket of bolts or the EPA will be after you.”

No, We're Here to help Ourselves

That's when Hooter awoke, clutching his bedside lamp. His souvenir San Antonio snow globe was busted and leaking across the nightstand. There were a couple of holes in the dry wall. His boots were on and the knife inside.

It had all seemed so real. Hooter shrugged off a shiver. Hooter spied the article again, the one that told about the GIPSA rule. He may have dreamed the encounter with the men in dark glasses, but he hadn't dreamed the rule. That was the nightmare.

Hooter wandered into the kitchen, stamped the envelope addressed to the Agriculture Secretary. He checked his hidey hole, just in case: three boxes of shells, five cans of Copenhagen and emergency radio. Then he headed for the mailbox.


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