by: Wes Ishmael

Peetie Womack was rubbing Hooter on the noggin—as he'd been known to do on the rare occasion when he'd made too many trips to the punch bowl. It was the annual Apache Flats St. Patrick's Day/Rebel Proud Winter's End Fiesta. Delmar Jacobs' Quonset hut was packed with revelers. Peetie had just asked Hooter to make a wish when the door burst open ushering in a late-winter blast of frigid air and a strange, unsettling apparition.

There was no mistaking the fact that Eunice Nicklecock had arrived once more in Apache Flats.

Peetie looked at the creature silhouetted in the door, took his hand off Hooter's head and examined his fingers like an old team roper trying to remember where a finger or thumb had gone. He drained what was left in his punch cup and wandered off into the shadows.

Eunice had that kind of effect on people. Never mind that no one familiar with her had heard about her, much less seen her, for more than a decade. The last time was when Eunice was sprawled out cold in front of the old Thayer place.

Round 2

It was the end of her escape from the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute.

Eunice had hitchhiked, walked and generally slid through a West Texas ice storm in the name of finding Hooter to even the score.

It was in early spring, the annual Kiss or Treat celebration…don't ask.

Poor Elmer Franks was the only Apache Flats casualty on that trip. The long-time widower suffered a near myocardial infarction when he swung open his door. There was the deranged, chubby face of an unwashed Eunice Nicklecock, greasy hair matted to the creases in her forehead. It didn't help that she wore the same faded blue hospital gown she had on when she left the institute. She was wearing orange sweat pants beneath the robe. Over the top of these she wore a patched green jacket, at least three sizes too small, with a hood fringed in matted fake fur. She sported a pair of holey, purple Chuck Taylor high-tops that were at least two sizes too large. She held a rusty golf club in her left hand. Hanging around her neck were what appeared to be the musty, fuzzy remains of road kill.

This pilgrimage ended with Eunice scared beyond her wits once again, met at the rickety old door by what she was sure was a white armadillo. Frozen stone cold solid in fear, she toppled from the rotting porch like a statue. The rusty golf club she used for protection was still raised high. Her eyes were as wide as hubcaps. There was a stuffed white kitten sitting on her ponderous chest. The note pinned to her sodden clothes gave her name and the phone number for the Institute with a simple request, “I'm not well. Please send me home again.”

That had been the second chapter of Eunice Nicklecock's demise. The first chapter came to a conclusion a few years earlier.

Round 1

Eunice Nicklecock had been the senior executive strategist for People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL). She'd made the mistake of coming after Hooter to demand retribution for the retaliatory strikes he was orchestrating against PETAL at the time.

After PETAL members put up “Rodeo Kills—Outlaw Cowboys!” posters at the Grand National where Hooter was helping set some buddies down on rough stock, he phoned PETAL headquarters and informed them a pet bunny would be waxed for every day the posters remained. He wasn't serious, of course, but he had a buddy in Wyoming send a rabbit's foot to PETAL every day until the posters finally came down.

When PETAL announced it had research proving corn and soybeans had feelings, Hooter hired a crop duster to blanket PETAL headquarters with fresh hog manure.

When PETAL took out ads decrying the senseless fire ant slaughter in the Southwest, Hooter had another pal stuff wasps in PETAL's mail slot.

The last straw came when Hooter infiltrated PETAL's Midwestern, “Snakes Deserve Respect,” rally.

The rally tent was jammed with people eager to see the different serpents PETAL had on display. It was almost too easy for Hooter to drop a couple of comatose rats in the python cage, then scream, “Murderers!” at the top of his lungs as the snake gobbled up his newfound treasures. During the ensuing stampede Eunice Nicklecock was catapulted, knickers over hairpins, into the snow-cone machine. A local newspaper photographed her trying to squeeze the life out of an electrical cord she mistook for an escaped snake.

Duly embarrassed and outraged, Eunice vowed revenge and headed for Apache Flats to have it out with Hooter. It didn't take long—with the help of Hooter and his legendary white armadillos—before Eunice began to unravel. Convinced that the mythical white armadillo was worse than the blackest magic and devil's revenge combined, and believing she was being attacked by them in the dark of night—with the help of Hooter—she'd gone off the rails. The police picked her up about a half-mile out of town, half-naked, screaming and firing an empty cap gun at nowhere in particular.

That earned her a pink slip from PETAL and her first one-way trip to Gentle Balance and Peace Institute.

Round Next

Now, here Eunice Nicklecock was again, screaming, “Hooter McCormick!” at the top of her capacious lungs as if a pack of banshees or white armadillos were nipping at her heels.

Eunice spied Hooter immediately and made for him like a hungry monkey trying to finally capture a slippery banana.

Instinctually and collectively, various parts of the crowd formed a human shield between Hooter and this raving lunatic. They needn't have bothered. Eunice was about two paces from the snack table and four yards from the human shield. Her empty eyes were glazed and unblinking. There was a thunderous crack. Nelda Isselfrick, bless her heart, caught Eunice square in the shins with her cane and a Mickey Mantle swing.

As large of a woman as Eunice Nicklecock is and as close to the ground, it's amazing how far she can roll. She took the snack table and punch bowl with her, wrapping herself in the tablecloth along the way.

“Cow!” shouted Nelda, holding up the remnants of her shattered walking stick. “Look at what you did to my cane!”

Prone and gasping for air like a beached whale too far from water, Eunice stared into the faces peering at her. “Hooter…Hooter McCormick. Tell him I need his help.”

Then she went to sleep.

To be continued…

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