by: Wes Ishmael

Part II

Maybe it was sipping a cold beer in the same bar where Teddy Roosevelt, Captain Richard King, Robert E. Lee, Babe Ruth and so many other American icons had once sat.

Maybe it was the stories Hooter had heard over the years about how it was that the Menger Hotel was haunted—everything from a ghostly Captain King returning to his rooms, to a murdered chambermaid toting clean towels down the halls, to spirits floating over from the Alamo.

Whatever it was, Hooter had an amazing dream as he slumbered peacefully at the Menger on his third night in San Antonio for the annual cattlemen's convention.

There was a translucent version of the rotund Eunice Nickelcock, deposed executive of the misguided People for the Ethical Treatment of All Things Living (PETAL). He'd seen her that very day for the first time in years, shilling fictitious facts along San Antonio's storied River Walk.

In his dream the PETAL activist seemed to be chasing a steamship with an oversized flyswatter. Then in the midst of the illogical logic of the subconscious, Hooter realized Eunice wasn't chasing the steamboat at all; she was fleeing from what looked like a herd of tiny white piglets, running as fast as her ghostly legs could waddle.

Another snore or two, and Hooter realized they weren't pigs at all, but white armadillos gliding after Eunice like the final, indelible puzzle pieces of her destiny. There behind them, riding a paint stallion, bareback, decked out in war paint, was Hooter's buddy, Sammy Beaver Teeth, laughing like a banshee and tossing flaming spears at the fleeing Eunice Nickelcock. One more shudder and snort, and Hooter realized those weren't burning spears at all; they were a jillion camera flash bulbs, popping incessantly, trying to capture the tender-nerved activist.

There was the J. Geils band megahit from the 1980's blaring as the soundtrack to it all: “My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold, my angel is the centerfold…”

Then Hooter realized the music wasn't only in the dream, it was coming from the clock-radio next to his bed. He sat up and stretched, more refreshed than he'd felt in longer than he could remember. He knew exactly what to do to rid the River Walk of Eunice Nickelcock.

Delayed Ignition

If Eunice hadn't drawn first blood in the war between them, Hooter could almost feel sorry for her now. Checking in on her from the bridge where he'd first spied her, Hooter noticed she seemed more nervous, more like she seemed the last time he'd seen her in Apache Flats. That had been Eunice's second visit there. Both times she'd gone there she had intended to issue a citizen's arrest for Hooter McCormick. Hooter had gotten PETAL's dander up for retaliating to the organization's attack on the livestock industry. Eunice aimed to make Hooter pay for the trouble he'd caused PETAL.

The first time she fled Apache Flats, she thought murderous white armadillos were attacking her. When the law caught up with her, she'd been placed in one of those facilities where they do their very best to keep folks from hurting themselves.

The second time Eunice had visited Apache Flats—after she'd escaped the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute in Wyoming—she left believing she'd been attacked by those pesky white armadillos yet again.

Her return trip to the Wyoming doctors seemed more successful. She never tried to escape again; actually begged them not to make her leave when they said she was cured, or at least stable enough for polite society.

When Eunice left the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute, she had no intention of ever thinking of Apache Flats, white armadillos or that miserable Hooter McCormick for the rest of her life.

In fact, she'd buried the memories so effectively that she hadn't even recognized Hooter when he walked right up to her on the River Walk. Hooter knew she hadn't. Watching her from a distance today, though, he also knew that there was something deep inside her searching for a missing bit of information it knew it possessed once upon a time.

“This is too easy, but necessary,” Hooter thought. “We ride at twilight.”

Details are the Show

Twilight—that brief time of day when the sun hangs precariously just below the horizon—is a magician's best friend. Hooter had learned that from an old rodeo pal, Squeak Jablowski, who had gone on to become a top magician.

There's something about the surreal glow of twilight that obscures reality just enough, for just long enough, that makes you look twice at what you thought you saw.

In shows of illusion, Squeak had taught him, it was all about melding together details that added up to the effect you wanted the audience to experience. Twilight would be part of Eunice Nickelcock's third encounter with the legend of the white armadillos.

Sammy Beaver Teeth would be part of that encounter, too. He was another of Hooter's longtime pals. At the cattlemen's convention, they'd had a chance to sit and entertain one another face-to-face for the first time in years.

Among Sammy's many talents was his ability to sound like most any animal you could name. He could growl and scream so much like a bobcat that frightened hunters had been known to fire on him. He could sound so much like a hawk that unsuspecting prairie dogs had been known to have heart attacks.

But there was one sound in particular that Hooter wanted him to provide, stationed amid the decorative brush near to where Eunice was standing in the center or the River Walk, mindlessly shoving her handouts into the chests of passersby.

Way back when Eunice's mental elevator first failed to make the top floor, it was the squealing of pigs that she'd mistaken for the horrific white armadillos she'd been warned about.

The Power of a Piggin' String

It was easy to walk up behind Eunice while she focused on the foot traffic in front her. It was easy to slide the tail-end of his piggin' string through one of her belt loops, then run that end back through. It was even easier tying a half-hitch on the other end through the handle of a half-filled milk jug. Hooter had scrawled giant cartoon eyes on the milk jug. He just grinned and gave the quiet sign to any pedestrians who seemed curious about his actions; they suspected it was all just part of the tourist show that is the San Antonio River Walk.

When everything was ready, Hooter faded into the shadows and gave Sammy the high sign.

“Sq-sq-sq-squeeeeeeeal,” went Sammy, sounding exactly like a litter of pigs running for supper.

Eunice froze, twitched a couple of times, then whirled around. As she did, Sammy gave it all he had: “Squeeeeeeeeeal, sq-sq-squeeeeeeeal!”

Eunice whirled back left, then to the right, then she seemed to do a little dance from one foot to the next. Suddenly, she jumped straight into the air and then dove into the river, dragging the milk jug after her.

The last Hooter saw of Eunice Nickelcock, she was lunging more than swimming up the headwaters of the San Antonio River—which is bordered on either side by the River Walk. There was a police boat idling along behind her; between her and them, the half-submersed plastic milk jug chased her as fast as she paddled.


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