THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- STICK IT IN THE CURVE

by: Wes Ishmael

Six Degrees of Mitigation-conclusion

“What do you mean she just disappeared?” Vernon Caterwauller repeated into the phone. His face turned a paler shade of bleached chalk.

One of the henchmen he and Ernest Nimblewimp dispatched to Florida was trying to explain how it was that Eunice Nickelcock walked into one side of Platform 9¾ at Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but never came out the other side just a few feet away.

This same crook failed to mention the scrawny lunatic (Hooter McCormick), who did emerge on the other side, dressed like a woman, squalling like a scalded banshee, blowing an air horn and brandishing an umbrella. Nor did he mention that Hooter obtained a signed statement implicating Vernon and Ernest, in exchange for not pressing charges.

“Never mind,” Vernon said without emotion. “I'll take care of it myself. In case there was any question, you're fired, of course.”

Though disappointed, Vernon's myopic arrogance remained. He and Ernest still had Claude Dickens, the man who showed them evidence Eunice supposedly possessed, incontrovertible evidence of the money they had embezzled from the Pet Protection Society (PPS), laundering it through the People for the Ethical Treatment of All Animals (PETAL) and then through the Gentle Peace and Balance Institute, which was owned by Vernon and his wife, Marsha. Claude told them he could get rid of Eunice for a price.

“What if he knows we tried to double-cross him and get Eunice without paying him?” Ernest wondered.

“Of course, he doesn't know, you ninny. How could he possibly?”

The embezzlers had no way of knowing that Claude was sent by a man named Myron—just Myron—who was in charge of executing the strategies of Operation Bald Coyote (OBC). They had no way of knowing that OBC was devised by Roy Bean “Benny” Wilson, a crusty old rancher who earned his law degree for the sole purpose of getting retribution from a corporation that tried to seize some of his land, a man who lived to put away corporate cheats.

Moreover, Vernon and Ernest didn't know Hooter McCormick was behind it all, exacting payment for them unleashing Eunice upon him all those years ago and for what he discovered had been done to her in the name of greed.

     

Chase History

Cornelius Highbottom III, (aka Flash) was just as clueless.

Until recently, he knew little about his family's many successful companies and trusts or that one of those trusts was a key financial contributor to PPS and PETAL.

Had he known, he wouldn't have much cared. That was until the relationship threatened his nascent racing career.

“Just never embarrass the family name,” his father pounded into him over the years. “Never act like a commoner; hire it done.”

Unbeknownst to everyone, Cornelius nursed a private fetish for racecar driving—what his father deemed a commoner's sport.

That passion was how Hooter and Benny targeted Cornelius as hammer rather than nail in Operation Bald Coyote, in order to unleash the full weight of prosecution upon the embezzlers and their organizations, and to figure out some way to bankroll the news chapter in Eunice's life.

The budding romance between Flash and Eunice was icing on the cake. Neither was aware of their spidery, tangential connection. For that matter, between her various breakdowns—the most recent being the most severe when she sought Hooter's help, collapsing on the cold, cement floor of Delmar Jacob's shop—and the elixirs Auntie Marie and Sherry used to coax her back from the edge, Eunice had no memory of the animal activists or what they'd done to her.

So it was that Myron persuaded Billy Jim Hurstknob—founder of the legitimate but fledgling Wildcat Racing Series (WRS)—to invite Cornelius to a driver tryout. To everyone's surprise—especially Cornelius—he was a natural.

Cornelius hadn't told anyone about it, though, until Billy Jim announced the WRS couldn't keep him as a driver if looming criminal charges against PPS and PETAL executives implicated Cornelius via his family trusts that funded the organizations.

That's when Myron had the same Claude Dickens help Cornelius plot a strategy to vindicate the family trust and maintain Cornelius' WRS ride.

Checkers in Sight

Hooter was pleased that Myron was seated with him at the control panel to assure the final pieces fit into place. He was surprised, though; Myron usually kept on the down low and out of sight.

Myron turned from the video monitor: “It should go without saying, but you do understand that I'm not here.”

“Gotcha,” Hooter smiled. “Wouldn't know here to find you or the last time we chatted. You're sure the cameras are ready to record?”

“Of course,” Myron said. “Plus, we'll be streaming live; look at this.”

Myron pushed a button, igniting another row of monitors. One showed the interior of the same room, but at the bottom of the screen, bold red letters proclaimed, “Watch Vernon Run.”

“Huh?” Hooter asked.

“We've built quite a following on our blog by the same name. There's no telling how many are glued to their computer screens in anticipation,” Myron explained. “You'd be surprised what folks will bet on. Besides, it just seemed like too much fun to waste on a few in the legal profession.”

“Showboat.”

“Guilty,” Myron grinned with the shrug of helplessness. “Speaking of which, it looks like the guests of honor are right on time…”

Squeak's Other Masterpiece

“Now remember, we knock three times and then go in just like Claude said. We can't afford another screw up,” Vernon ordered. “We give him the money and follow his instructions to the letter.”

Claude motioned for them to close the door and sit down.

“So, you still want me to do it?”

Ernest was starting to quiver. Vernon took the lead, as always.

“Yes we want you do it. Why else would we be here?”

“You want me to get rid of her?”

“Yes.”

“For a while or permanent?”

“Permanently, of course.”

“What was her name again?”

“Oh for goodness sake, we've been over this already,” Vernon grumped. He stood up. “You know her name is Eunice Nickelcock and we want you to take care of her. Why all of the questions? What are you playing at?”

“Target practice if you don't shut up and sit down.”

Hooter was hunched over a monitor. “You got it?”

“Yep.”

Vernon hesitated.

“Which reminds me,” Claude continued. “What were you and simple Simon here playing at by sending those clowns to Florida?”

Vernon didn't sit down, as much as his legs gave way.

Ernest was shaking like marbles in an earthquake. “But, Vernon you said…”

Vernon stopped him with a well-placed elbow. “I'm afraid I don't follow.” He offered the moneybag.

Claude took it. “You better start tracking real quick.”

“I ummm, I…”

“Hush,” Claude whispered. He pulled from his pocket the device Hooter recognized from his first OBC meeting with Myron. It was black and square with blinking blue, orange and green lights. It emitted a soft, rhythmic ticking sound.

“Know what this is?” Myron had asked.

“No idea,” Hooter replied.

“Exactly.”

“Here's what's going to happen,” Claude said, pointing to the blinking device. “I'm going to leave. You don't get out of those chairs for five minutes. If you do, I'll know. And you don't want that. Savvy?”

The crooks nodded.

Exactly 23.72 seconds after Claude closed the door, Vernon made a dash for it.

“No Vernon, no,” said Ernest with his head in his hands.

“Shut up.”

Vernon learned the door was locked just as the light went out.

Myron flipped another switch.

“Wh-wh-what's that?” Ernest sobbed as the lights flickered back to life.

There was a noise, at first soft and static-like, then loud and scratchy. Suddenly, dozens of glistening white armadillos with demonic red eyes were closing in on the embezzlers from all sides.

Ernest melted from his chair to curl up into a blubbering ball of hysteria.

Vernon's eyes were wide with terror. He picked up his chair and started flailing away, trying to bludgeon the creatures to death.

“Look at that!” Myron said excitedly, pointing to the other row of monitors. “We've gone viral.”

In actuality, there were no armadillos in the room. Squeak Jablowski—Hooter's magician pal—borrowed a page from the annals of magic history to construct the illusion based on something called Pepper's Ghost.

Vernon was kicking and flailing at the air, but PPS and PETAL supporters were as horrified as if the monstrous armadillos were real.

“And now,” Myron said after a few minutes, flipping a couple more switches…“Tadaaa!”

The door flew open. A crowd of policemen rushed in, trailed by a gaggle of media types.

“Vernon Caterwauller and Ernest Nimblewimp, you are under arrest…”

Victory Laps

Subsequent headlines and footage trumpeted the private undercover work directed by Cornelius Highbottom with exposing the villains.

“We and other supporters of these organizations were victims of greed and larceny,” Cornelius said. “But, we were also victims of our own ignorance. None of us should donate a dime to any organization unless we understand how our dollars will be used.”

The society pages announced the engagement between the wealthy tycoon, Cornelius Highbottom III and a mysterious woman named Eunice.

The sports pages chronicled the WRS sensation, Flash Highbottom.

“Hey, what exactly were your blogosphere buddies betting on,” Hooter asked Myron.

“How long before the first one got out of his chair; they could double down on who would be the first to bolt.”

Hooter nodded. “One other thing. That blinking gadget you had that Claude showed them. It doesn't really do anything, does it?”

Myron giggled and clapped him on the back. “If you have to ask, it does nothing and everything.”







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