by: Wes Ishmael

The distance between villain and tragic figure is often among the shortest in literature and in life.

Witness Eunice Nicklecock, sprawled and slumbering on the cement floor of Delmar Jacobs' shop. She was Hooter's enemy for all those years—the deposed director of People for Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL)—a left wing, animal rights activist with seemingly little sense and less couth.

“It seemed to make so much sense, even after I understood what was going on, just a visible way to make a statement,” Eunice had explained in an otherworldly voice. “They just asked me to find somebody who would like to work for a circus, preferably with the animals, someone who thought animals should receive good care, someone handy with a camera, too…”

Aided by her homemade voodoo elixir, Sherry Waters revived Eunice enough to induce an explanation for why Eunice had escaped the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute seeking Hooter's help.

“Let me see if I've got this straight so far,” Hooter whispered to Sherry. “When Eunice was in school, a bigger animal rights outfit than PETAL asked her to recruit someone to go undercover in order to trump up false charges against the circus?

Sherry nodded.

“She didn't know what she was doing, just some wide-eyed idealist and those activist folks took advantage of her. By the time she figured out what the other organization was doing, PETAL had already hired her thinking she was as conniving as them, but she was just dense.”

Sherry nodded again.

“The light finally dawned on her when the other organization filed suit against the circus, citing abuse of the elephants. But Eunice had her job with PETAL and did what she thought she was hired to do. But, she was a total flop at it…and,” Hooter stopped a minute, his eyes widening. “…I was the bait. All of this was just a sideshow, a way for them to get her out their hair.”

Sherry nodded yet again. “So, there's some scores in need of settling, and it's not with Eunice.”

That changed everything.

Like finally recognizing the king was in fact streaking through the village, it became clear that Eunice was a well-meaning but misguided idealist who had unwittingly become a pawn in the big money business of activist membership organizations. For those groups, it was always about money, never about a cause.

Priming the Pump

“You have some ideas?” Sherry asked.

“Lot's of ‘em,” Hooter grinned. He looked down at Eunice who had returned to full-throttle snoring. “But, what about Eunice?”

“She'll be safe,” Sherry said as she looked toward the shop door.

A wrinkled and leather-faced old lady, barely five-feet tall and dressed all in black, glided more than walked toward them. She held nothing in her hands. Her only accessory was a small pouch worn around her neck.

“You remember Auntie Marie,” Sherry said, wrapping an arm around the old matron.

Hooter hadn't seen her since the wedding to Sherry all those years ago, the one he mostly liked to forget…not the wedding but what came after.

“Miss Marie, you're a sight for sore eyes.” Hooter reached out his hand.

“Mon Cher,” Auntie Marie said, obviously delighted to see him. Instead of shaking his hand, she raised up both arms, rubbing her fingers together, like a small child asking to be picked up.

Hooter hugged the old woman and felt her kiss both of his cheeks.

Aunt Pinky and Nelda Isselfrick were hovering near by.

“You,” the old lady pointed at Aunt Pinky. “It is a pleasure to see you keeping so well.

“You,” Aunty Marie pointed at Nelda, “I still do not like you. Please do not speak.”

The old lady turned to peer down at Eunice. “Yes, yes, great possibilities I think.” She turned back to Hooter and placed a gnarled hand gently on his cheek. “She will be safe for as long as you need.”

Wiring the Network

First stop in assembling the team of retribution was a closet-sized office in downtown Amarillo. This is where Roy Bean Wilson does business when it it's more conducive than folks making the long trek to his ranch.

Roy Bean was first on Hooter's list because he knew the cantankerous rancher would rather fight a rabid badger hog-tied than see a bully get away with it. Roy Bean had a law degree too. He'd gotten it after a corporate bully tried to hoodoo him out of some property by filing a series of frivolous lawsuits. Ultimately Roy Bean won and held on to the ranch, just barely. From that day forward, he sought vengeance through the court system, selecting cases where he felt he could do the most good.

“It's not the organization you're after, Hooter. It's the money behind the organization, the biggest donors, many who don't even know what organizations they're contributing to,” said Roy Bean. “Folks with that much money have entire businesses set up to dole out the loose change in such a way to buy the most goodwill for the brand.”

“The brand?” Hooter asked.

“Their name, who they are,” said Roy Bean, cutting a sizable slice from a black tobacco plug. He slipped it beneath his white walrus moustache. “You need to read your history, boy. Rarely can you name a captain of industry clear back to the founding of this country whose family fortune doesn't include a tale of ill-gotten gain, transformed into a fairytale over time with the pen of philanthropy.”

Hooter thought of the stories he'd heard over the years and nodded.

“Apparently, Eunice's troubles started with an outfit called the Pet Protection Society. Any idea who the big money donors are to that one?”

Roy Bean ground the plug in his cheek, directed a stream at the brass spittoon beside his desk and grinned, blue eyes ablaze.

“Take your pick. Lots of names most would recognize as being among the richest. But the sugar daddy for that outfit is a trust owned by Cornelius Highbottom the third.”


“Exactly,” said Roy Bean, slapping his desk with a meaty fist. “Hardly anyone has heard of him or his family, but they maintain sizable interests in some of the most well known companies in this country and others.”

“How do you know?” wondered Hooter, aware of his mistake the instant he made it.

“Because I make it my business to know!” Roy Bean shouted. “You should know that by now. You want my help or not?”

“Put the crease back in your boxers,” Hooter said as he picked up a round, crystalline paperweight from Roy Bean's desk. He began tossing it casually with his left hand. He knew that drove Roy Bean nuts. “He's wealthy?”

“We're talking Gates and Buffett kind of money, except you never hear about him because that's the way he wants it. Unless I miss my guess, and I hardly ever do, there's not much he wouldn't do to keep his name and face out of the headlines especially with a matter as tawdry as this.”

“Well, then I figure he's first on the list, but there's probably at least four or five others involved,” said Hooter.

“I'm listening,” Roy Bean grunted as he uncapped his fountain pen.

“There's the guy or gal in charge of the Pet Protection Society, whether or not they knew what their minions were up to. And there are the minions at PETAL who worked with them and knew exactly what they were doing.”

“Do you know who those minions are?” Roy Bean wondered, as the nib of his pen scratched at his legal pad.

“We will soon enough with Sherry's help,” Hooter said. “Oh. There might be another person or two if someone at that Gentle Balance and Peace Institute was keeping Eunice off the streets when she shouldn't have been. They need to answer too.”

“Indeed.” Roy Bean stabbed his paper so hard that it tore. “Who else is on the team?”

“I wanted to get you first. I'll call Myron next.”

Roy Bean grinned and shot another stream into the cuspidor. “Sounds like Mr. Highbottom is fixing to have a very bad day.”

To be continued…

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