by: Wes Ishmael

Spend enough time around livestock and the people tending them and you'll come to figure you've seen it all…until you once again witness something you never imagined.

Hooter had seen his share.

Some sights were uncommon, but not necessarily unique: riders and tack jerked, yanked and busted in all kinds of directions by various means; cattle finding there way through the smallest gaps and into the mostly unlikely straits…

Others were once in at least a dozen blue moons.

For instance, the Angus bull that went missing until Hooter and a buddy noticed the slightest ripples in a stock tank and found him, nostrils-deep, trying to get out of the July heat.

There was the skid steer standing vertical on its bucket, perfectly balanced up and down. The pasty-faced driver had no idea how it came to be there, either.

Few would forget the colorblind judge who mistakenly slapped a Black Baldy steer champion when a Hereford was supposed to win, or so the judge claimed.

There was the noted university animal scientist draped around the exhaust of a tractor, in his underwear, trying to escape a newly purchased bull with an unforeseen disposition problem.

There was Spike, of course, the cross-eyed bulldog. His vision was restored by a well-aimed kick from the last calf in the processing pen that sent him rolling down the alley like a fuzzy bowling ball.

Cousin Charlie would always remember seeing Hooter launched from the south side of Aunt Pinky's roof, as she sped away in Hooters pickup parked on the north side, unaware that he was dangling from a makeshift harness to hang her Christmas lights—with the harness tied to the trailer hitch of his pickup.

Along for the Ride

What Hooter beheld now was almost magical, like some sort of camera trick: a bull calf calmly sauntering back and forth along the top of a gleaming straight-floor livestock trailer that was backed up to a loading chute, hooked to a sparking metallic purple Kenworth. The pot was empty and the rest of the load penned. Someone, apparently the driver, was staring at the ground. Hooter couldn't tell whether he was thinking or praying.

“Peetie's got a meeting in Lubbock, asked me to stop around to see if you needed a hand,” Hooter said, trying not to startle the driver, although Hooter didn't know how he might shock the man more than the calf.

“How'd he know,” said the driver, pointing to the calf.

“He doesn't. Like I said, he just wanted me to stop by in case you had any trouble loading them by yourself.”

“Nope, no trouble at all, haven't even started. I was just grabbing a quick wink, and when I came back....”

Both men gazed in silence for a time, appreciating the mystery and rarity of the situation.

“How you reckon?” Hooter wondered.

The driver shrugged and stuck out his hand. “Bobby Connor, by the way.”

“Hooter, Hooter McCormick.”

They gazed for a while longer, each pondering the question that needed no voice: how were they supposed to get the calf back down to earth in one piece?

“A 30.06 is the most logical thing and the last option,” mused Hooter.

“Lord, even if we tranquilized him, it might be a stretch for a loader bucket, if we had one,” said Bobby. “I reckon we could try to rig up some sort of ramp. “Mind you, it would still be pretty steep and burn half a day in the building.”

“What if you just eased forward and then hit the brakes?” Hooter wondered. “Might be able to roll him from the trailer to the roof of your truck, down the windshield and over the hood—lots less drop that way.”

“That's if he went straight and made the gap across.” Bobby was watching the possibilities unwind across his mind. “Besides…” He unfurled a bulky arm toward his sparkling rig.

“Yeah, there is that.”

Then Hooter remembered the haystacks.

Simple Plans

“A few miles back up the road and about a mile west,” Hooter explained. “There's some old haystacks that Peetie got in a trade. It wasn't even worth using for bedding. At least there used to be—I haven't been that way in a couple of years.”

“Square bales or round?” Bobby asked.

“Does it matter?”

“How far in total?”

“Maybe five miles.”

“S'pose we should call Peetie?” Bobby was fishing for his phone, saw the look on Hooter's face. “No, I s'pose not.”

“Go slow, like grandma slow, and I'll idle along behind. Stay on the phone and we'll see how far we get.”

So, they set off, at a crawl.

Bobby's hands were glued to the wheel and his eyes bulged a little, like he'd lost his brakes on a mountain curve in the middle of a blizzard.

Hooter had his phone stuck to his ear, ready to holler stop.

To the calf's credit and unbelievable to Hooter, it drifted to the center of the trailer when Bobby eased off the clutch. From then on, the calf seemed to enjoy the interminable journey, watching the slow-moving scenery on the left, then turning to watch it on the right and back again. Even when they got off the main road, there wasn't a dip or bump that seemed to bother the calf. Finally, the haystacks were just ahead. Best as Hooter could discern, the top of the stack would be about four feet below the top of the trailer—lots better than the alternative—but only two round bales wide with a gap between.

“End to end or side to side?” Bobby breathed into the phone.

“That's a right good question,” Hooter replied. “Either way, there's only one right answer for your passenger. If it was me, I'd pull along tight beside it.”

So, Bobby did.

The calf remained calm, but disinterested. It just stood there. Bobby climbed out of the cab, slow and quiet, eased himself to the ground. He took a slow and wide walk back to Hooter's pickup.

“Just give him some time,” Hooter said.

After a half hour, the calf was no closer to taking any sort of a plunge than when he was first discovered.

Hooter thought it might help if the calf could see someone at eye level. He left Bobby, pulled his pickup even with the end of the trailer, on the opposite side of the stack. He figured he could get on top of the first bale that way, then use some rusted hay hooks he kept behind his seat to scale the second one.

Maybe that calf was smarter than obstinate. The hay was so rotten than Hooter was wading knee deep before he got to the second bale. When he did, his hooks just tore at hollowed remains. He was vaguely aware of two things. First, he might get sucked down inside the bale he was standing on and/or, if there was anything left to the bale on top, it could roll over the top of him. Second, the bull calf was peering down at him from the edge of the trailer. At least that's what he thought he saw through a thick fog of dust and mold.

Hooter sneezed. The bale he was standing on collapsed, carrying Hooter to the ground on a wave of straw. And, according to Bobby, that's when the calf turned tail and bolted, fast as he could down the length of the trailer. Then he jumped, missing the cab completely, destroying the windshield, apparently rolling over the hood and taking an antenna with him somewhere along the way.

“And?” wondered Hooter.

“He was still running, the last I saw of him. He's out there somewhere.” Bobby motioned to the vast expanse of mesquite in all directions.

“Like I said, maybe just tap the brakes and roll him…”

Watch for part 3 of Hooter and Faked Out next month.

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