THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- LEARNING FROM A MASTER

by: Wes Ishmael

Wind blustered through Apache Flats, pelting everything and everyone with a mix of sleet and ice. The boys were warming themselves beside the wood stove in Lonnie's feed store when Lonnie slammed down the phone.

“Idiot telemarketers; there ought to be a law against them,” he grumped.

“There is, Sunshine. Haven't you ever heard of that do-not-call list?” wondered Izzie, unwrapping a Twinkie with the loving care a child reserves for his Christmas presents.

“Nope, you're the only one here bright enough to have figured that out,” Lonnie growled. “Of course I have. They still try, though. How many of those are you gonna eat anyway. I swear, you'll turn into a Twinkie, right after you keel over from them.”

Izzie kept eating and smiling. “I'll have you know I'm on a diet. Obviously, you're behind in your current events again.”

Lonnie wanted to say something, but spat a stream of Mail Pouch instead. “Alright, I'll bite.”

“A professor at Kansas State University, a professor in human health, set out to prove that it's the number of calories not the quality of them that matter most in weight loss. He limited the number of calories he ate, but basically ate Twinkies for almost two months. His weight loss was substantial.”

Lonnie smiled with satisfaction. “I'll bet his weight loss was almost as substantial as the number of clogged arteries.”

“Nope,” Izzie grinned. “That's the beauty part. His cholesterol and blood pressure both went down, too.”

A couple of the other boys nodded in agreement. They'd read about it, too.

The phone rang again. Just as suddenly, Lonnie yelled into it, “I'm on the do-not- call list. Get it? Do not call…me…ever …again.” The boys ducked, Lonnie slammed the receiver down with such ferocity.

Izzie offered him a Twinkie.

Hooter by any other Name

“You need to have Butch Lancaster train you up,” Hooter said. I only thought I knew how to handle unwanted phone calls. Butch humbled me, though. It was a thing of beauty, a masterpiece to behold.”

“I doubt that,” said Lonnie, shooting another stream of Mail Pouch into the coffee can. “I've heard of all the tricks—the air horn in the receiver, just laying the phone down and walking off, trying to sell them something. Acting nuts. It never works.”

“You never tried this,” Hooter said. “You don't know Butch. I wish I had it recorded. Sheer poetry, I tell you.”

Butch Lancaster was one of Hooter's old rodeo pals. There was a time folks got him and Hooter confused with one another. They were that much alike in their outlook on life and how to approach it. Hooter had paid him a visit recently.

“You really should hear this,” Charlie said.

Are you sure you want this number?

“Well, we're sitting there shooting the breeze. The phone rings. Butch looks at the caller ID and says, ‘Must be a sales call.' Then he turns on the speaker phone so I can hear.”

“Hello!”

“Hello, Butch Lancaster, please.”

“Who? Oh. Hey, hang on a second.” Then over his shoulder like a bunch of people are there. “Hey, Smitty, will you quit walking over the top of him. You sure you got everything dusted? Make sure you take a sample from the pool in the corner.”

Then, back into the phone: “O.K. How is it you know Mr. Lancaster exactly?”

There was a pause. “I'm sorry. I was calling for Mr. Butch Lancaster. If you're not him or if this is a bad time…”

“In fact, this is a lousy time for Mr. Lancaster. He's dead. Murdered by the looks of it. It's a mess. He was just found. I'm investigating. So, how is it you know him.”

In a hurried voice: “Oh, how terrible. I'm terribly sorry. I don't know him at all, I mean I didn't. I'll just let you…”

“What you'll do is stay right here on the line if you know what's good for you. You think we don't already have this call traced? Now, for the last time, how is it you know Mr. Lancaster, and when was the last time you saw him?”

The silence was deafening. Then, cautiously: “No offense sir, but there is a mistake being made here…”

“There always is. That's how we catch them. Quit stalling. What's your name and home address?”

“I'm calling from work.”

“We already have that address, lightning rod. Did you just hear me tell you we had already traced the call?”

“Look, this is making me feel uncomfortable…”

“Imagine how Mr. Lancaster feels. Name and address!”

The boys were rapt. “And you know what, the guy calling gave him his full name and address,” Hooter said. The guy's name was Eugene. You got to know Butch. He can keep a straight face.”

“O.K. Eugene, let's say for a minute that I believe you didn't know Mr. Lancaster. What about his family? Know any of his family. There's a picture here on the counter. I'm guessing it's a family photo of Mr. Lancaster, his mom and sister. Not the most attractive folks I ever saw, but there's no accounting for taste. When's the last time you took the sister out?”

“Huh?”

“Oh that's right, I'll bet you never even met her. Bet you don't even know her name. Eugene, that broken record of yours is getting old. If you cooperate, we can make it easier on you.”

“Look, sir, there really has been a mistake and I really must be going…”

“Go if you want, but if my people get there and you're gone, it's going to be double tough on you.”

The voice was downright scared. “A car. You've sent a squad car over here? Oh my gosh. I really think I'd better get my supervisor…”

“Your supervisor know Mr. Lancaster, too? You both in on it? No, we'll deal with your supervisor later. Right now, you're in the spotlight, Eugene. That's what it usually boils down to is attention. Isn't that right?”

Silence. You could hear a sniffle and a choked sob.

“Eugene! You still with me son? You better be.” Then over his shoulder again. “All right, tell him I'll be right with him. Smitty! Let me know as soon as they get to Eugene's”

Then back into the phone: “Eugene, the coroner is here. I got to talk to him. Don't you break this connection, though. You understand…Eugene, I said do you understand me?”

Silence. Then very softly. “Yes sir. I understand.”

Hooter stretched out, set his feet on top of a wood crate, placed his hands behind his head.

“Then what?” asked Lonnie and Izzie in unison.

“Then Butch and me goes to get a hamburger.”

“What about Eugene. Was he still on the line?”

“Don't know. The battery was dead when we got home. But ol' Eugene never called back.”







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