by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter hated birds.

It might have been his vague memory of the barn owl that somehow came down the chimney when Hooter was a toddler. When they surprised each other the next morning, the owl spooked Hooter right out of his official Buck Rogers PJs.

Maybe it was the wrath of Aunt Pinky when Hooter was 12, after he'd sighted in his first real bow and arrow on a mangy old rooster that used to chase him. Right through the heart … toughest chicken Hooter was ever forced to eat.

It could have been Aunt Pinky's cantankerous geese that hissed at him, spread their wings in mock power and tried to pinch him when he was sneaking out or in as a teenager.

Mostly, though, Hooter's aversion to anything fowl had everything to do with Floyd, an ancient and bedraggled parrot Aunt Pinky bought when Hooter was barely out of high school. Aunt Pinky called him Pretty Boy, as in Pretty Boy Floyd. Hooter called him lots of things unfit for even sordid company.

You see, Floyd was one of those gifted parrots that could mimic most anything. He became especially adept at imitating the range and inflections of Aunt Pinky's voice. Floyd's timing was impeccable and he delighted in making Hooter yell.

Hooter lost track of the skinned and scuffed knuckles, noses and shins endured when he was flat beneath one piece of equipment or another, fixing, greasing or replacing when he'd hear Aunt Pinky, “Hooooooter! Hooter McCormick, you get up to this house this instant.”

Sometimes it was Aunt Pinky with a bee in her bonnet about one thing or another. Usually, though, it turned out to be Floyd. Hooter would have one boot on the front porch when he'd hear Floyd's maniacal laugh, then a perfect Bugs Bunny voice, “Hoo boy, what a putz, what a shmoe.”

If Hooter busted through the door cussing, visions of parrot fricassee dancing through his mind, Floyd would let out a deafening shriek that sounded just like a young woman: “Help! Help! Hooter's on the War Path” Heeeeelp!”

Of course, Aunt Pinky would come running and scold Hooter for scaring Floyd. “He's a delicate creature, after all. You can't come running in here like a bull in a china closet.”

“But how am I supposed to know if it's you or that twisted critter calling me? It's like the little boy crying wolf.”

“For Lord's sakes, Hooter. Are you trying to tell me Pretty Boy is smarter than you?”

To which, invariably Floyd would chime in, “Pretty Boy's smarter than Hooter, Pretty Boy's smarter than…”

“Isn't that the cutest thing you've ever seen,” Aunt Pinky would say, rubbing Floyd's head and beaming with pride.

There was no way for Hooter to win. If he ignored his aunt's summons when he was in the shop, and if the voice indeed turned out to be Aunt Pinky, then he'd catch what-for. If it was that psychopathic bird, by the time it got done shrieking Hooter was in trouble, too.

Even when Hooter was in the house for a meal, Floyd would wait until Aunt Pinky left the room, then half-whisper in that Bugs Bunny voice: “Pretty Boy is smarter than Hooter…what a putz, what a schmoe, hoo boy.”

Convicted by Wishful Thinking

That's why Hooter's heart sank when he saw Doc Bulger pull up in Aunt Pinky's drive when he was tinkering in Aunt Pinky's shop.

Doc Bulger was the county's only large animal vet. He was supposed to be retired these days, as retired as vets can get. Doc Bulger is the one who operated on Floyd three years earlier after what Aunt Pinky still referred to in a trembling voice as The Supposed Accident.

One day Floyd came up missing. Hooter was Aunt Pinky's prime suspect, of course.

“I told you I haven't seen that miserable chicken all day,” Hooter had said, fighting hard to hide his hopefulness.

“Then you best get busy and help me find him,” said Aunt Pinky, more frantic than Hooter could remember. “Pretty boy never misses his afternoon grapes. I just know something has happened to him.”

“But he could be anywhere. The way you leave that window open so he can have the run of the place.”

Actually, it was worse. Aunt Pinky browbeat Hooter into replacing one of her kitchen windows with plywood and a parrot flap so Floyd could come and go at various hours of the day.

“He needs his exercise,” Pinky said.

Rickety and faded as Floyd appeared, Hooter was surprised by how high and fast the bird could fly when he chose to.

Unfortunately, it was Hooter that found Floyd, about half mile from the house, a couple of buzzards trying to figure out exactly what the creature was.

Best as Hooter could tell, it looked like Floyd had been shot; no doubt by someone else regularly harassed by the foul creature. Hooter was envious. He thought Floyd was dead, so he radioed the news to Aunt Pinky.

Soon as Aunt Pinky roared up in her Lincoln, scattering rocks and soap weed, she began to accuse Hooter.

“I wouldn't have wasted the powder on him,” Hooter said.

Then they both heard it, a hoarse, forced Bugs Bunny voice: “Putz.”

So it was that Hooter was forced to carry Aunt Pinky and Floyd, fast as the Town Car and roads would allow, to Doc Bulger's 30 miles away. It was the first time Hooter could ever remember finding the good doctor at his clinic.

Hooter knew Doc would rather pull his own teeth than work on anything smaller than a new calf. He also guessed correctly that Doc Bulger had never attempted to revive a bird of any kind. Unfortunately, Hooter also knew Doc Bulger was sweet on his aunt—purely one-sided at the time.

“I'll see what I can do,” Doc had said in his knowing, unflappable manner, no pun intended. As he pried Floyd from Aunt Pinky's grip, he looked at Hooter. “You come help.”


They'd barely got the door closed and Doc had Floyd on the operating table and was washing up.

“Doc, you've got to be kidding…”

“Hooter, it's my responsibility. The odds are against it, but I told your aunt I'd do what I could.”

Doc located a pulse. He thought for a minute than grabbed the anesthesia mask, lowered it over Floyd's beak and toyed with a couple of knobs until Floyd would no longer curl his toes when Doc tickled the bird's feet.

Sure enough, Doc found a couple of buckshot pellets. When he pried out the second, the blood flowed freely. As if he'd done the same with a thousand parrots before, Doc instinctively grabbed for his cauterizing iron and touched it to the wound.

Hooter heard Doc utter, “Uh-oh,” at the same time he heard and saw a small explosion.

As the feathers wafted to the floor, Doc muttered, “Hmmm, too much gas, definitely a bit heavy on the gas.”

All Doc or Hooter could ever tell Aunt Pinky was that Floyd never came out from under the anesthesia.


Dogged by the Unlearned

Now, three years later, here was Doc pulling from his crew-cab, a covered square shape that reminded Hooter of the size and shape of Floyd's cage when he was napping.

Doc looked guiltier than a politician with a conscience when Hooter walked up.

“It still troubles me,” Doc said.

“That varmint couldn't be saved; had a death wish from the start.”

“I know but…what do you think?” Doc pulled the cover up on one side.

Sure enough, sitting there contentedly crunching sunflower seeds in it's beak was a brand new parrot, looking a lot younger than Floyd ever did.

“You wait here. I'll go get your aunt.”

Hooter was speechless.

He looked at the bird; the bird looked at him.

Then he heard the voice, a whole lot like those old Humphrey Bogart movies: “You and me kid, see, we'll get along just fine...”

Hooter could have sworn the bird winked.


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