THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- PHOENIX HALF-LIFE

by: Wes Ishmael

From the last episode: Apache Flats revelers were gathered in Delmar Jacobs' Quonset hut for the annual St. Patrick's Day/Rebel Proud Winter's End Fiesta. Hooter had just hitchhiked his way back from California. Eunice Nicklecock, the deposed senior executive strategist for People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life—and a longtime nemesis of Hooter—showed up unexpectedly.

Instinctually and collectively, various parts of the crowd formed a human shield between Hooter and Eunice. She 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 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.

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.

Delmar Jacobs could be deceptively quick.

Eunice Nicklecock had barely rolled to a stop. Yet, here was Delmar, with the motor to his power washer roaring, the wand in his hand, taking aim…

“That may not be our best option,” said Doc Bulger in a calm but firm voice as he lifted the wand from Delmar's hands. Doc nodded at Charlie to unplug the confounded thing.

“She could be in shock. She could be wore out. She might be having some sort of fit,” said Doc, as he bent over to study the slumbering face. “Ladies, if you'd kindly unwrap her…unroll her…whatever, as gently as you can and place something soft under her head. I'll go get my bag.”

Doc Bulger was the best and only large animal vet for miles. He was supposed to be retired for a while now. Best as anyone could tell, he'd been too busy to get around to it. It's a credit to those assembled that none questioned his wherewithal to attend a human patient.

Speculations on Doom

“What do you reckon she wants with you?” asked Cousin Charlie, handing Hooter a fresh can of Pearl. “And, why in the world would she think you would help her? And, help her with what?”

The same questions, in one form or another, were being swapped amid various groups. After all, this was this same woman—now beginning to snore thunderously even while being unrolled and unwrapped—who swore vengeance on Hooter McCormick. It was her first misguided attempt that earned her a ticket to the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute. Subsequent escapes and attempts yielded the same results.

“It's hard to say,” Hooter told Charlie, more to himself than anything. “My experience with folks like her is that every now and again, that bubble slides back to square center, so you best be paying attention.”

“Huh.”

“At least now I know I wasn't seeing things the past few days.” Hooter had told the gang he thought he saw Eunice Nicklecock tailing him on his recent trip out west to scout pasture.

“Give her some air!” boomed Doc Bulger as he made his way back through the crowd, which was shoulder-to-shoulder trying to get a better look at the legendary visitor. “Have you no couth? You run ‘em into the fence and then wonder why they ran through it. I swear…”

Then, out of habit, as he set his bag down and settled to his knees beside the patient, “If I catch any dogs trying to help out, we'll be exploring the mysteries of euthanasia.” Three people and two hounds beat a hasty retreat.

Doc squeezed his beefy hands into a pair of latex gloves. He pulled the mini-light from the holster on his belt. He shined the light into her eyes, then into her mouth. He lowered his ear to Eunice's ponderous chest to give a listen. He pondered a moment. “Ladies, I appreciate you unwrapping her. Now, if I might have two glasses of water.”

“Maybe you ought to get gone,” Charlie whispered to Hooter.

“And miss the fun?”

“There'd be no shame in it, at least until we know for sure what she wants with you.”

“Nope. She busted up a pretty nice party and I want to know why.”

Two glasses of ice-cold water made their way along a bucket line to Doc Bulger. He drank one down in a couple of greedy gulps. He took the other one and upended it into Eunice's face.

“But…” Delmar squeaked, holding up the wand to his power washer in obvious frustration.

“It's about sequence and degree,” Doc said, holding up his hand.

Eunice flinched a couple of time and one eye seemed to struggle for an opening, then the snoring resumed.

“More water,” Doc Bulger said calmly. “And Delmar, if I hear that power washer start up again, I'm going to make you a necklace out of that wand.”

Throw A Sleeping Dog A Bone

“You reckon we ought to at least call Sherry,” Charlie whispered in Hooter's ear.

“Trust me. She'll already be knowing,” Hooter said with the slightest of grins. “That's the other reason not to worry.”

“Or, one more reason to,” Charlie said.

Sherry Waters was Hooter's wife a long, long time ago and only for a few days. They got along great and tied the knot in a hurry. That was before Hooter realized his new bride was a Voodoo princess, literally. He couldn't get his head wrapped around that and skedaddled. They remained great friends, though—after the dust had settled anyway. Sherry had helped Hooter put Eunice away for the first time just for fun. The second time it was because Eunice had made the mistake of referring to Sherry, in a newspaper report, as Voodoo trash.

“She neither forgets nor forgives,” Hooter had said when reading the article. “You get crossways with Sherry, it's for all time.”

The air in the Quonset grew icy. Everyone turned toward the door, though there was no noise. It opened slowly. Here came Sherry, gliding across the floor toward Hooter, the crowd parting quickly in front of her.

“Mon Cher,” Sherry said. She reached up and gave Hooter a loving peck on his cheek. “I hear that we have a visit from an old acquaintance.” She looked long and hard into Hooter's eyes and smiled. “Do you like?”

Since he'd last seen her, Sherry had capped her eyeteeth in glittering gold.

“Like icing on the cake, Sher.”

She kissed him again.

Doc doused Eunice with a fifth glass of cold water. Finally, she gulped, sniffed and raised herself up on her elbows. She looked around slowly, obviously at first completely unaware of where she was or why. Then, just as slowly as the sun clearing the horizon, the light began to dawn. “Hooter,” she said, searching the faces gathered around her.

That quick, it was Sherry who kneeled beside her.

Eunice turned the proverbial whiter shade of pale. Her eyes looked like hubcaps.

“It's not a dream this time,” Sherry whispered.

That's all she said.

Eunice tried to scream but couldn't. She fainted dead away.

Doc Bulger looked at Eunice, looked at Sherry, shook his head, picked up his bag and walked away.

“It doesn't matter,” Sherry said, wrapping an arm around Hooter as if they were still a pair. “I know why she's here.”

To be continued…







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