THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- SIX DEGREES OF MITIGATION

by: Wes Ishmael

Part 3

Operation Bald Coyote

     

Myron led Hooter from his office the way they'd arrived. At least it seemed the same way: through a number of doors, up and down stairs until he arrived back at the black limousine that would return him to Vernon.

“What about the others?” Myron asked. “The minions in the middle?”

“They're mine,” Hooter grinned, shaking the corporate protagonist's well- manicured hand. “I expect there might be a career change in their futures.”

“We'll be in touch,” shouted Myron as Hooter took his seat. “Click, click,” he said pointing to the blinking gadget he'd taken out of is pocket once again.

Hooter chuckled. Myron may have missed the exit to Normal years and miles ago, but he could be trusted.

Which was a lot more than could be said for those yet-to-be-identified minions in the middle, the members of the Pet Protection Society (PPS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL) who had used Eunice Nicklecock and then thrown her away like a flavorless wad of bubble gum, aggravating him along the way.

All the way back, Hooter considered possibilities for exacting some form of retribution from them. He wasn't sure yet. But, like knowing Myron and Roy Bean “Benny” Wilson were the right fit for their jobs, Hooter knew no one on earth could bring anyone to their begging knees like Sherry.

Besides, he needed to check in to see how Eunice was holding up. The last he'd seen of her, she was still snoring mightily, sprawled across the cold cement of Delmar Jacob's shop floor. He'd skedaddled before Sherry and Auntie Marie had collected her for a trip to an anonymous but well-equipped, semi-abandoned ranch house on the north end of Rio Rojo County.

Phoenix Blooming Season

“Mon cher,” Auntie Marie cooed at him before pecking Hooter on the cheek and inviting him through the door. “I still say my Sherry made a mistake letting you go. Perhaps it's not too late, no?” Her black eyes danced.

“Auntie” giggled Sherry. “You mustn't reveal all of my secrets and possibilities.”

Hooter had never gotten used to how Sherry could seem to appear from nowhere. She kissed Hooter on both cheeks.

“Speaking of secrets…” Hooter began.

“See for yourself,” said Sherry, pointing him toward the back door.

Hooter looked through the dusty glass. All he saw was one of those old courting swings dangling from an ancient but sturdy tree branch. A middle-aged and attractive woman was letting the stiff West Texas breeze waltz her slowly forward and back.

“Like I said,” Hooter shouted over his shoulder, not realizing Sherry was all but resting her chin on it. “Where's Eunice?” He was a bit concerned.

Sherry said nothing. Again she pointed to the window.

Hooter looked again, lots harder. Nawwww. Couldn't be. Not possible. It had only been a week or so.

“But…” Hooter looked at Sherry.

“How…” he looked at Auntie Marie, then back out the window. Eunice, if that was her, still had some size, but her hair was combed and clean. She looked fit and healthy. Her clothes fit. Good Lord, from where he stood it even looked like she must be wearing makeup and jewelry.

He looked at his Voodoo ex-in-laws again, “But…”

“Mon Cher,” said Aunty Marie, stroking his check with bony but soft fingers. “All flowers bloom when you take care of them. You should know that.”

“But…”

“Wait until you see her next time you're here,” said Sherry, pushing him firmly in the back toward the front door.

“But…”

“It will be best if we re-introduce you to her slowly,” Sherry said, opening the door. “In the meantime, I learned the names from her and shared them with Benny as you asked. He sent these for you.”

She'd placed a thick manila envelope in his hand as she kissed him on the cheek once more. “We'll be in touch.” She closed the door.

“Yep,” said Hooter to no one, looking at the envelope, rubbing the warm spot on his cheek, utterly lost in amazement. “We'll all be in touch. You, Myron, all of us…”

Rodents By Any Other Name

The names in the envelope represented the vermin who had sacrificed Eunice, and who knew who else, on the altar of easy money. Turned out, there were three of them.

Vernon Caterwauller: second in charge at the Pet Protection Society, who was a junior executive when he recruited Eunice while she was in college to find someone to work for the circus. That someone ultimately took pictures and tried to frame the circus.

Subsequently, Caterwauller hired a man named Ernest Nimblewimp to establish PETAL for two reasons: suck more money from gullible donors and to serve as a landing ground for Eunice in order to create some distance.

Marsha Caterwauller: the senior director of the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute where Eunice had been kept between escapes after going rogue. Conveniently, Marsha was married to Vernon; they owned the joint. Vernon skimmed money from PPS to build a nest egg.

“Well, isn't that convenient,” Hooter said, swapping files back and forth with Cousin Charlie. “Their kind always run in packs.”

“You hear about this kind of stuff, but to actually see it…” Charlie allowed.

“Yep, but I reckon they may howl a new tune after we're done with O.B.C.”

“Huh?”

“Oh,” beamed Hooter. “I haven't told you yet, have I? O.B.C. stands for Operation Bald Coyote.”

Then, before Charlie could ask the obvious, Hooter continued: “There's nothing more sneaking and filthy than a coyote, just like these folks we're after. And, we're going to strip them down so the rest of the world can see them for what they are, too.”

Charlie thought for a minute. “So, there's these three. What about that Highbottom feller that Benny and Myron are working on.”

“We'll see soon enough. I get the idea he doesn't know where his money goes, especially when it comes to giving,” Hooter said. “Mind you, that doesn't excuse him, but I think he might could help us to help him.”

“Huh?”

Start Your Engines

In fact, Cornelius Highbottom III had no idea where his money went, let alone how much he had. Born with the proverbial gilded spoon in his mouth, he had never known. So completely did his dad corrupt any sense of purpose in his son's life that he'd left a trust to pay for folks to attend to Cornelius' every need for all of his life.

“But father, what am I to do with my time?” Cornelius had asked the old man one time on a brief visit from boarding school, during an even briefer conversation.

“Enjoy the fruits of your family's labor, my boy. That's why we did it.”

Cornelius had thought for a moment, having a nagging suspicion that his dad hadn't done anything directly to generate the vast sums of wealth that he enjoyed.

“Father, who exactly is they who did this, made the money, I mean?”

His father looked at him like he'd just been confronted by a little green man from Mars inquiring about the quickest way to St. Louis. “Your family, boy, your family, my family, our family. The details don't matter. Just enjoy. All you have to do is, what?”

“Not embarrass the family name.” His father had drilled that into him since Cornelius could remember. That's why Cornelius never learned to drive; it was beneath his station in life he'd been told; being anything less than the aristocrat he was born to be would be, well, embarrassing.

That's why Cornelius never did lots of stuff he thought he'd like to do. And, that most certainly included not just driving, but driving like the wind, fast like the NASCAR world he was obsessed with but could only enjoy, guiltily, via satellite, properly cocooned behind locked doors.

That's what he was doing when his private phone rang. Unlike many, Cornelius relished even sales calls in order to have someone to talk to, if only for a minute or two.

“Mr. Highbottom?”

“Speaking.” Cornelius had made double sure the sound on his widescreen TV was muted.

“Mr. Highbottom, you don't know me. My name is Billy Jim Hurstknob. I'm president of the Wildcat Super Sport series racing outfit.”

Cornelius' heart did a couple of extra laps. His palms were sweating as he looked around the room, then peered between a crack in the drapes. A racing outfit? How could anyone know?

“You won't have heard of us, Mr. Highbottom. We're brand new, but we think we have a format that can challenge the big boys.”

“How…how did you get my name?” Cornelius asked, his mind spinning with how embarrassing it would be if anyone found out.

There was a chuckle on the other end. “The better question, Mr. Highbottom might be how you found us.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, you see…”

Cornelius cut him off, his mind jumping by instinct into damage control. “I have staff who handle any contributions or business investments. Let me give you a number for both.”

That chuckle again. And then Cornelius heard the strangest string of words he ever had.

“But, Mr. Highbottom, sir, we don't want your money,” Billy Jim explained. “We want you. We hear tell that you might have the makings to be a world-class driver.”

Amid the shock of what he'd heard, Cornelius was vaguely aware that his face hurt. He felt of it to see why. He was smiling, grinning like a castaway spotting a boat.

“Hello…Hello…Mr. Highbottom…Hello?”

To be continued…







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