by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter should have known better. He'd kicked rocks at enough livestock shows and even horse shows to know how sensitive some folks are about the stock they trot out in hopes of recognition.

Of course, he wouldn't have been in this particular store to begin with if it hadn't been for his despised shirttail cousin, Priscilla. She'd shown up to Aunt Pinky's for her semiannual visit with a new pup—all hair and eyes—the dog, not the cousin.

Aunt Pinky knew the two cousins always mixed like politics and straight answers, but she demanded Hooter take Priscilla and her fluff-ball to some high-end pet store in Lubbock so she could shop.

“But Lonnie's got dog food at the feed store,” Hooter had tried.

“Both the breeder and my veterinarian emphasize that Pasha must adhere to a strict diet. The brand that Pasha eats is organic,” Pricilla said, holding up the pup and looking at it like a mother would her new baby. “Isn't that right Pashakins? Besides, if I had known we would be such a bother we never would have come.”

“Which would have been swell,” countered Hooter, before Aunt Pinky could interject. “Or at least you could have had sense enough to bring the food with you.”

“I've already explained to you that Pasha and I were running late at her grooming salon.”

“That explains why her hair ain't combed out of her eyes,” Hooter said sincerely.

“But it is…that's how she's supposed to…” Pricilla was just about to find first gear with the water works.

“Hooter McCormick,” said Aunt Pinky raising her voice. “Enough chatter. Take these two ladies into Lubbock to get what they need.”

Explaining That Which Needs None

That was about two hours earlier. Now, Hooter was seated across the desk from the manager of the canine boutique. The manager, a thin, pale, goateed middle-aged man—a Mr. Higgins—was clearly more uncomfortable with the meeting than Hooter.

“Mr. McCormick, I'm sorry to have to ask you in here. But Mrs. Biddington is a dear and long-time patron of our store. When she makes a complaint we must take it seriously.”

Hooter didn't say anything. The only reason he'd agreed to what Higgins termed a conference was that Pricilla hadn't ranted and railed against him when Mrs. Biddington started causing such a fuss. The way his cousin and the troublemaker looked at each others' dogs, it was plain that each thought theirs superior—a classic clash of egos set for launch. Give them enough time together, and Hooter figured he'd be the least of Mr. Higgins' problems.

Mr. Higgins plucked a paper from his desk and eyeballed it as if he'd had time to compile a history of some sort.

“The lady says you growled at Mr. Freckles,” explained the manager, trying to appear friendly.


“Ahem. Mr. Freckles is the peek-a-pug in Mrs. Biddington's care.”

“You mean her dog, or are we chatting about a dog she doesn't even own?” Hooter asked.

Mr. Higgins cleared his throat again. “Mr. McCormick, we don't use the ownership term here. There are care givers and those who receive care, stewards and those stewarded—journey partners.”

As far as Hooter was concerned, Mr. Higgins was taking the matter entirely too seriously; he even had the store's rent-a-cop sitting in the corner.

“So?” Mr. Higgins prodded. “Surely, Mrs. Biddington—such a sweet lady besides--must be mistaken about you having growled at Mr. Freckles.”

“First off,” said Hooter, leaning back and folding his arms in defiance, “Five bucks says old lady Biddington wouldn't know a lady if one slugged her. Second off, I only growled at that pitiful excuse for a dog because it growled at me first.”

“I see,” Higgins said, a look of concern growing coast to coast. “According to Mrs. Biddington, Mr. Freckles, a purebred peek-a-pug, by the way, growled because you threatened him.”

Hooter leaned forward in his chair, which made both Mr. Higgins and the security guard lean back.

“The only thing that would threaten that bowl of lard is a heart attack,” Hooter said. Aren't they supposed to at least be on a leash when they're in here?”

“We leave that strictly up to the stewards and those they steward,” Mr. Higgins said firmly. “We've never had any problems whatsoever with Mr. Freckles or Mrs. Biddington.”

“Anyway, I was minding my own business admiring the $10 price tags on the 10-cent merchandise when that wrinkled, hacking wreck comes up blowing snot all over my new boots, sounding like he's about one good biscuit from keeling over. If that roly poly worm magnet doesn't have chronic shipping fever with all of that coughing and gagging it would be a miracle. I simply asked that quinine sow to keep her mangy, snorting mutt away from me.”

“You can't say that.”

“Granted, I'm no vet, but I've seen my share,” Hooter said, glaring through the plate glass window of the manager's office. Mrs. Biddington and Priscilla were glaring at each other. Pasha and Mr. Freckles were, too.

“I don't know anything about this shipping fever business, Mr. McCormick. I'm saying you can't call her what you just called her.”


“The derogatory reference you made toward Mrs. Biddington just now,” said Mr. Higgins quietly. “You called her a quinine blank.”

“I did not call her a quinine blank. I called her a quinine sow. If memory serves, that's also what I called her to her face when she started calling me every name in the book for pushing that little wheezer away.”

Mr. Higgins seemed to muster a momentary spark of courage. “Again, Mr. McCormick, we won't tolerate such slurs on these premises. Unless you can control your tongue I'm afraid I'll have no recourse, but to ask you to leave and prohibit your future patronage.”

Hooter felt like he was stuck inside some sort of weird cartoon. Almost to himself he said, “Remember when political correctness meant law makers doing what they said they'd do rather than an excuse for the nut cases to blame someone else for whatever happens to be wrong in their lives?”

“What's that? I'm afraid I couldn't hear you,” Mr. Higgins said. “And, why are you smiling?”

Hooter had been watching the scene unfold beyond the obviously sound-proof glass. Apparently, Mr. Freckles had insulted Pasha, and then Mrs. Biddington had said something to offend Priscilla. Far as Hooter could tell, a middle-aged cat fight was in progress—hair-pulling, merchandise knocked down and thrown, the whole works. Hooter simply pointed out the window. Mr. Higgins eyes grew wide. The security guard seemed petrified in sheer terror.

“Tell you what; I wouldn't darken your doorway again if you had the last bit of kibble on earth,” said Hooter, slapping the desk to pry Mr. Higgins' attention back to the matter at hand. “In the meantime, call up any pig association you can find and ask them whether they think it's unduly insulting to a pig to call an old sow like that a sow. Don't let them see her though…They may want to keep her.”

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