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

by: Wes Ishmael

PART 2

Friends and Masterminds

At a certain tree, in a non-descript and sparsely populated part of Montana, the right people, if you know them, can leave a certain artifact in a particular cranny. Either Myron calls you or he doesn't. Hooter knew Myron would call because Hooter was possibly the only person alive who could provide the authorities with a physical description of the erstwhile corporate protagonist. Hooter never would reveal Myron's identity, of course. Myron knew that. All the same, professional courtesy paid.

Hooter's phone rang.

An ancient and scratchy feminine voice proclaimed, “You want heavy or medium starch?”

“Heavy,” said Hooter with a grin.

“It is done.” Click.

There was no reason to look at the number of the incoming call. The lady who phoned, if it was a lady, would be the sixth or seventh in a string of human dominos that would deliver a message Myron wanted sent. A similar bucket line would deliver the reply back to Myron. None of these carrier pigeons knew each other or the meaning of what they carried. They would be utilized once and only once. Hooter had no idea how Myron put it together, but it seemed to work...

It was a black Lincoln limousine that picked up Hooter at a rest stop near Vernon. The windows were painted black on the inside, including the one between the drivers seat and the passenger compartment where Hooter was the lone occupant. He knew from past experience there was no need to try the door. It would remain locked until Myron wanted it to open.

“ETA approximately 53 minutes,” came a clipped British voice over the intercom. “The bar is at your disposal.”

Roy Bean “Benny” Wilson was in charge of the overall strategy Hooter would use to exact payment from the activist organizations for inflicting Eunice Nicklecock upon him. He could hardly believe it, given their dustups through the years, but Hooter wanted as much to see the organizations suffer consequences for what they'd done to Eunice.

Myron (just Myron)—was who would handle the execution of the strategy.

Exactly 53 minutes later, the car came to a stop and Hooter heard the door locks disengage. The door opened and there was Myron.

Hooter stuck out his hand.

Myron hadn't changed much in more than two decades: barely 5' 5” and fit—neither chunky nor slender—with a happy, child-like face and unkempt, shaggy gray hair over his shoulders. He wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with “I Am The Problem,” and faded Levis. Over these was a long, wrinkled, tan trench coat that Hooter knew to contain an endless number of seemingly bottomless pockets.

Based on appearance alone, Hooter would have described him as an ambitious looking hippie.

Prey Plotting

Hooter glanced around the elegant, if eclectically designed office Myron had directed him toward, up and down countless flights of stairs. Hooter knew it could be real or a storefront used frequently or constructed for this lone occasion in either case. The car that brought him could be right outside one of the many doors, or a mile away at a different elevation.

Myron sat behind a massive oak desk that was real enough, enfolded by a high-backed leather chair that also looked real enough.

Hooter leaned back in his own high-backed leather chair. “I've already talked to Benny, and he's in.”

Myron raised a shaggy gray eyebrow only slightly upon hearing the name. “You still talk to Benny, huh?”

“When I need to.”

“Fair enough.”

Benny had reason to make Myron's life miserable and the ability to do so even if he didn't know what he looked like or where he lived.

“The end game?” wondered Myron as he offered Hooter a jar of red licorice. Hooter declined, pointing to the Copenhagen in his lip.

“Bottom line, we want Mr. Highbottom to cease funding the Pet Protection Society, the People for the Ethical Treatment of All Animals and other money-grubbing activist groups through his holdings' philanthropic organizations. And, we want him to encourage other of his ilk to do the same. Along the way, we want him to provide the funding necessary to move the victim plumb off the grid.”

Myron nodded his head, staring off into space. His shaggy hair reminded Hooter of a sheep dog he had once upon a time. “As you know, I don't specialize in the grid thing like I used to, but…”

“You know somebody,” Hooter interrupted. “That's why I came to you.”

“Hold on,” said Myron. He opened what must have been a massive drawer and hoisted out what looked like a gargantuan version of those old bag phones. He spun a rotary dial.

“Listen,” Myron said into the mouthpiece. “I need you to start thinking. We've got a grid jumper.”

Myron listened to the response, then “How far? You remember Hoffa? Further.” Click. He offered Hooter a jar of jellybeans.

“But, she can't know,” Hooter said.

“Huh? Excuse me,” Myron set the jar down harder than he'd intended.

“The victim. We need to give her a chance to start over, but she can't know she's gone off the grid.”

Myron perched both elbows on the desk. “Complications. With you, it's always something else.”

“Don't worry,” Hooter grinned. “I've got another person helping with that part of it.”

Myron looked as cross and concerned as he ever would. “This is going to be Grand Central Station. You sure you know what you're doing.

“Nope.”

“Fair enough,” Myron said, smiling again. “Quiet or public?”

“Depends on whether you call Mr. Highbottom holding a press conference to denounce the organizations in question a private affair or not.”

Myron beamed. Though they weren't the ones he was born with, his teeth were perfect, including the gleaming gold eyetooth, which reminded him a lot of the ones Sherry sported these days.

“That's my boy.” Myron reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out an electronic gadget with blinking blue, orange and green lights. He leaned forward and set it on the desk about halfway between Hooter and him. The device emitted a soft, rhythmic ticking sound.

“What about the invitation to Mr. Highbottom, big and sudden or a series of unfortunate events?”

“Best as I can tell so far, he's not paranoid as much as he's sure everyone's out to get him, so I'd say the timely series of unfortunate events. I'm not opposed to something sudden and loud toward the end, though.”

“Excellent,” Myron said. He leaned forward to point to the blinking, ticking device. “Know what this is?” The ticking had grown more urgent.

“No idea,” Hooter said. “Especially if it's been gathering dust in your pocket.”

“Exactly,” Myron said, leaning back into his chair.

Having Everything and Nothing

Suffice it to say, Cornelius Highbottom III was the living embodiment of the fact that money can't buy happiness.

He was in his 40's but looked at least a bad 20 years older. He was tall and slender—downright wormy looking—with deep worry lines running the breadth of his narrow forehead, which was topped by well-groomed but brittle salt and pepper colored hair. His constant thin-lipped expression and sad eyes made a Basset hound look jubilant by comparison. He also had a nervous habit of adjusting and readjusting his designer spectacles about every 30 seconds, wearing them as comfortably as the knowledge he'd done nothing to earn any of his familial largesse.

Cornelius Highbottom III would never want for anything material, nor would any of his few remaining family members. There were always staff and glad-handers aplenty, but no friends ever.

So, he spent his days meeting with who his staff said he should, signing documents he was told to, attending social engagements where he was expected, always wearing the facsimile of a painted-on smile.

Truth be told, Highbottom's single pleasure in life came late in the evenings when he was alone. He'd close the drapes to all of the windows in his penthouse apartment, turn out all of the lights, double-check the door locks and turn on his satellite T.V. Though he always felt guilty about it, given his breeding and education, and though he feared what his friends would say, if he had any, he couldn't help himself. There in the dark, Cornelius would watch NASCAR and any sort of other mechanized race he could find, whooping and hollering like a kid with his first cap gun.

To be continued…







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