THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK - - THE BULL STUMPER

by: Wes Ishmael

It was only 7:30 in the morning, but already the mercury had pushed past 85°; no clouds, no breeze, jut dust wherever you stepped.

“I swear, Hooter, I've looked high and low for him. You could see a jackrabbit lying in a ditch, it's so open. That bull just ain't here,” said Peetie Womack, as restless as his horse was.

The bull in question was a coming two Angus sire that Peetie had imported from one of the northern states at a hefty price tag.

“When's the last time you saw him again,” wondered Hooter, giving his cinch an extra tug.

There was no answer. Hooter figured Peetie hadn't heard him, what with his ears and those blasted, honking geese Mrs. Womack insisted on having around. So, he tried again, louder, “When was the last time…”

“I heard you the first time,” Peetie snapped, then apologized. “See, Hooter, it's like this: I unloaded him, stuck around for a good while to make sure everything was in order.”

Hooter could tell Peetie was embarrassed, like he'd missed a count or sorted one wrong. “And you haven't seen him since?”

“Nope.”

Hooter swung into his saddle. “Just for the sake of conversation, when was it you unloaded him, exactly, relative to now, I mean?”

“Just past a month ago,” Peetie said fast, looking away.

Hooter peered through his binoculars as they rode along. The pasture was small by West Texas standards, not much brush, one big tank, square in the middle, and about 30 Tiger Stripe heifers. Hooter was trying to figure any possibility that Peetie hadn't pondered by now.

“When did you start hunting him?”

“About five days after,” Peetie said, quicker than usual, again. After some pause, “I checked every day. The first few days when I couldn't see him, I just figured he was brushed up somewhere, you know how it is.”

“And, you've been over every square inch?”

Peetie started getting grumpy again. “Of course I have, too many times to admit, and he ain't here.”

“And every fence is up?”

“Tighter than one of mama's jelly jars.”

They rode in silence for a while. Hooter could tell the lost bull was eating Peetie good. Nobody wants to lose one, but it was more than that.

“So, the bull ain't here, except that there's something that makes you think he still is?”

Peetie stopped and looked at Hooter square. “Hooter McCormick, sure as we're standing here, I'll swear to you all those heifers are bred. And there's something else. They're sure enough eating more cake and mineral than they ought to.”

Hooter puzzled on it a while and then began thinking out loud: “Well, if the fences are up and the heifers are bred, and you haven't been able to find the bull, he'd pretty well have to be dead, wouldn't he? Got ‘em bred, crawled off somewhere and died.”

“No sign of it that I can tell,” Peetie said. He answered Hooter's next question before Hooter could ask: “I don't reckon he drowned, either. That tank isn't so deep, and neither is the water.”

Peetie stopped again and gazed up at the clouds. “There's one other thing, too. I had Jack Henson bring his plane over. I went up with him and we must have scouted this pasture for an hour. Nothin'.”

Hooter was peering through the glasses again, first this direction and then that one. Nothing he could see, so still that not even the Mesquite leaves were quivering, just a gentle ripple in the tank, the heifers lazing in some shade.

Hunting a stray in these circumstances was a whole lot like sticking your head under the hood of the neighbor's pickup when both of you know that neither one of you has any idea what the problem could be, and no idea of how to fix it if you did.

“You know, prices being what they are, the ingenuity of thieves and whatnot, you suppose someone took him and then put the fence back up?”

“I rode every fence, outside and in,” Peetie countered. “There aren't any tracks. Besides, if you were going to go to that kind of trouble, wouldn't you have taken as many of the heifers as you could get loaded?”

“Yep.”

     

The little things that niggle

More riding and thinking.

“You remember that old scrub bull Pockets Geronimo had that we helped him try to find?” Hooter said.

“I do. The biggest mystery to me is why Pockets wanted him found to begin with. That was one no-count bull. Pockets knew it, too. And, it wasn't like he couldn't afford another one. This is different.”

“How so?” Hooter wondered. But he was thinking it was pretty much the same. Peetie was just as stubborn and prideful as Pockets had ever been about cattle and his ability with them.

“For one thing, you could drive a Mack Truck through Pockets' best fence and never scratch the sides,” Peetie said. “For another, that country has lots more places to hide.”

Pockets Geronimo was a trusted friend of all the boys, but especially to Hooter. Pockets died a few years back after amassing what turned out to be sizeable cattle and land holdings, most of which no one knew about.

Pockets hadn't seen that bull for five years and then he just showed up again, looking for all the world fresh as the day he was turned out. They never knew whether he'd vacationed somewhere else or just hid that good.

“Ol' Pockets wanted us to hunt for that bull because he knew he was out there, that all. Just like you I suppose,” Hooter said.

“I suppose,” Peetie replied. He wiped his brow. “Probably should have collected that grub magnet on the principle of survivability alone. My Lord, it's still out today.”

“Yep, neither whisper nor breath,” Hooter said. Something was teasing at his brain, but he couldn't quite catch hold of it.

“Peetie, where was it you said you got that bull from?”

“Some folks up north.”

“How far up north?”

“The Dakotas.”

“And about the time you got him here is about when it turned off hot, wasn't it?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Just wondering,” Hooter said, as he reined his horse towards the tank. “Neither breath nor whisper, just a gentle ripple,” he was thinking to himself.

“Where you going?” Peetie hollered after him. “We haven't hardly got started.”

“I think I'm going fishing,” Hooter hollered over his shoulder.

Peetie followed Hooter to the edge of the tank. Though the tank wasn't that big, Hooter was using his binoculars.”

“Hooter, I really don't see…”

“Shhhh!”

“There was the gentle ripple, lazy but constant, almost undetectable, unless you were looking for it. Or, in Hooter's case, unless the sun's glare off it caught only the raveled shirttail of your attention.

Sure enough, out toward the middle, there it was. Hooter urged his horse into the water. Before Peetie could ask, Hooter grinned and said I'm going fishing for a bull.”

“Huh?”

Hooter continued toward the spot he'd kept his eyes glued to. Before he got there, there was a lunge and a beller like some crippled whale trying to roll ashore. There was Peetie's lost bull blowing water and snot, half running, half paddling to get to the other side.

Hooter would have been proud at confirming his suspicions, except for the fact that his understandably startled mount took it so hard. Hooter hung on, but looked like he'd been for a swim by the time he got back out.

“I don't believe it,” Peetie said, more surprised than someone finding a full grown frog in their bowl of Post Toasties.

“But how…”

“I got to thinking about that ripple,” said Hooter. It was all he could do to contain the laughter. “And when you looked close enough, you could see them.”

“See what?”

“His nostrils. You got yourself a snorkeling bull!”







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