by: Wes Ishmael

It couldn't be.

It had to be.

Hooter hadn't seen Norvis LeRoy Underwood for almost a decade, just a couple of years after what the folks in Apache Flats remembered as the Great Weed Whacking Incident of 1999.

But there he was, looking just like he always had: tall, lanky frame, massive hands, a nose just a little too big, eyes that appeared just a little too small, and a single bushy but lengthy eyebrow across his bony forehead.

Instead of the faded overalls Hooter had always seen him wear, Norvis was wearing a pressed button-down shirt and Wranglers. That's why Hooter had to look twice to make sure it was him. That and the fact that Norvis was seated at a shiny trade show booth beneath a sign that blazed, “Underwood's Miracle Balm—Comfort at Your Fingertips.” Then in smaller letters below that, “For sore udders, chapped skin and other such ailments.”

Hooter walked up as a customer was leaving and stuck out his hand: “Heya' Norvis. How you been? I haven't seen you in a coon's age. You are Norvis aren't you?”

It took a while for recognition to seep into Norvis' gray eyes.

“Why, Hooter McCormick. I never in a million years would have ever thought I'd say this, but it's good to see you.”

As Norvis took Hooter's hand, he added, “And yes, it's me and not that mangy cur dog of a brother of mine.”

You see, Norvis had a twin brother that looked identical. No one in Apache Flats was aware of LeRoy Norvis Underwood until he tried to get Norvis fired from his caretaking job at Victory Hills Cemetery by weed-whacking the pumpkins Hooter was propagating on his plots there, as well as the offsite and prized flower gardens of Nelda Isselfrick and Hooter's Aunt Pinky.

Figuring he was doomed by mistaken identity, Norvis had hightailed it out of town on the cemetery's rusty Ford 8-N tractor, mower still attached. He was leaning into the throttle south of town, screaming along at about 5 miles per hour when they caught him.

Norvis' brother, LeRoy, was picked up soon after going the opposite direction on a stolen bicycle with a yellow weed-eater lashed to handlebars.

A Life Reclaimed

“I'm proud for you,” Hooter said as he surveyed the neatly stacked plastic jars of Underwood's Wonder Balm. “When did you get into all of this?”

“Actually, I owe a lot of it to you, if truth be told.” He handed Hooter a jar.

“There was something about those chewed up pumpkin flowers, when I had to clean all that mess up that my brother caused at the cemetery. Them and the juice in those vines just had a different feel to it. I finally figured out that's what healed a cut on my hand so fast. I ain't saying that's all of the secret ingredient, but it's part of it.”

Hooter had picked up a brochure while Norvis explained. It looked plumb professional: bar graphs, a picture of Norvis cited as the founder and lead chemist, and a whole page of testimonials:

• “Since using Underwood's Wonder Balm mastitis is a memory and my cows look forward to milking time…”

• “Warts, bunions, corns…all gone, thanks to Underwood's Wonder Balm.”

• “With Underwood's Wonder Balm I just feel friskier than I used to…”

As Hooter was reading, an elderly lady with a cane pushed herself between him and the counter. She looked at Norvis with moon eyes: “Young man, could I get a discount if I bought two of the large jars? It really helps me with my arthritis.”

Norvis made moon eyes right back at her: “I'm sorry miss, but the high cost of production prevents me from offering a discount unless you buy at least three of the large jars.”

The lady cackled and dug into her purse. As she tottered down the aisle with the weight of her purchase causing her to lean, Norvis said under his breath, “She's a groupie. I see her at every event.”

“Like I said, Norvis, I'm proud for you. Looks like you're taking the world by the tail in ways you never could back home.”

Norvis leaned on the counter. “It's a funny thing, Hooter. When LeRoy done what he done, I figured my life was ruined. I'm sorry he done it, and he shouldn't have, but it set me free in a way.”

Hooter unscrewed the lid and sniffed deeply. The odor was mild and pleasant, kind of a cross between new mown hay and some sort of flower.

“That's part of the secret,” Norvis said with a smile. “It don't have to smell bad to work good…Hey, that's not bad. I'll have to remember that for the next brochure.”

Hooter screwed the lid back on. “Whatever happened to LeRoy anyway?”

Norvis' eyes grew to about normal size and his single eyebrow knitted tighter. “I figured he still had my old job at the cemetery. Doesn't he?”

“Nope. He left town a few months after you. We just figured you two had drifted on together.”

“You don't say.” Norvis began rearranging the jars that didn't need it. “Well, wherever he is, I haven't ever heard from him. And, good riddance, too.”

Hooter tossed the jar of Wonder Balm in the air and caught it. “I'll give it a try. How much do I owe you?”

It took Norvis a while to come back from wherever his mind had wandered. “Huh? You don't owe me a thing, Hooter. Like I said, if it hadn't of been for you and those blasted pumpkins, well…”

“See there? I told you those plots were the perfect place for a patch. If it makes you feel any better, the cemetery board did get around to re-writing the rule book to prevent us land owners there from using it for anything that might be construed as a commercial purpose.”

Norvis smiled at that, like the falsely accused finally vindicated after so much time and so many attempts.

Another little old lady pushed Hooter to the side and began making eyes at Norvis.

“Great to see you Norvis,” Hooter said as he backed away from the booth. “Good luck.”

Norvis gave him and grin and a wink and went back to business.


Funny how things work out, Hooter thought. If LeRoy Underwood hadn't of betrayed his brother, Norvis likely would never have found his entrepreneurial spirit. There wouldn't be any Wonder Balm. If Hooter had left the exhibit hall by any other door, he never would have walked by Norvis' booth and seen him. For that matter, if it wasn't for an unquenchable hankering for cotton candy, Hooter never would have ventured into the trade show to start with.

He was thinking that as he made his way to the parking lot, hoisting his stick of cotton candy with one hand, bouncing the jar of goo in the other.

And there was good old Norvis again, heading back into the exhibit building. Hooter would have waved if he had a free hand.


As he watched the door close, Hooter could have sworn it was Norvis. But he'd just seen him at the booth. And, this Norvis was wearing faded overalls and carrying a purple umbrella…

To be continued…

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