by: Wes Ishmael


“Mama's Best Protein—bet you can't tell the difference.”

That was the straightforward deceit behind Marsha Caterwauller's plan to build a fake meat company that could beat the fake meat competition by selling real meat, but calling it fake and charging higher prices.

Such simple plans and designs are sometimes hard to conquer or improve, like the flyswatter or mousetrap, for instance. Others are just as simple to derail.

“All we have to do is get her to solicit funding and prove the fake meat isn't,” Benny Wilson said to Claude Dickens.

Ignorant of Claude's previous role in Operation Bald Coyote, and thinking she had the means to blackmail him, Marsha elicited Claude's help in her Mama's Best plans.

After long deliberation, Hooter, Roy Bean “Benny” Wilson and Myron-just Myron, decided the surest way to derail Marsha's plans was to shine a light on the fraud by getting her to share her plans, product and monetary requests with a genuine potential investor.

Cornelius Highbottom III aka “Flash” was the obvious candidate. For one thing, his family's labyrinthine corporation had business venture around the globe. Flash had no idea how much he was truly worth.

Besides which, Marsha and her minions, without realizing it, had threatened his nascent racing career. He wasn't about to let that happen again.

Through his previous help—Flash was still unsure of exactly what he'd done—he helped put Marsha, her ex-husband and another partner behind bars for embezzling money from sham animal rights organizations. Also without realizing it then and now, Flash helped extricate his bride, the former Eunice Nickelcock, from their clutches.

“We have the necessary interested investor,” Benny continued, answering the question he knew Claude would pose. “Cornelius Highbottom the third, or Flash as we best know him. You just need to introduce that Caterwauller woman to him.”

Via conference call, Benny explained to Flash and his racing mentor, Billy Jim Hurstknob, “Bottom line, we need a contract from her soliciting an investment, and we need a sample of her fake meat product. Once Billy Jim gets those to us, we'll do the rest.”

“Easier than 30-weight on a hot day,” said Billy Jim with a chuckle.

“And, for what it's worth, we'll have an inside man at the meeting, so nothing to worry about,” Benny continued.

Claude, acting as Marsha's partner, would be that nearby someone, of course.

Poking the First Domino

The meeting took place just off an Interstate highway, at one of those ubiquitous, uniquely shaped former Stuckey's restaurants. In its most recent incarnation, this one was apparently an indoor flea market. Through binoculars from afar, Myron had his eyes set on a black velvet painting of dogs playing poker.

The chauffeur-driven limousine hired by Marsha for the occasion blended as seamlessly into the parking lot as the one owned by Flash—it still chaffed him that he had to let the chauffeur drive.

Both elegantly dressed drivers exited their respective luxury seats and acknowledged each other with a brief nod. Marsha and Claude stepped from their limousine and were ushered into the other to meet Flash and Billy Jim.

Marsha offered her hand. “Thank you for meeting on such short notice. You won't be disappointed.”

Rather than take her hand, Flash adjusted his glasses. “I'm obviously interested in your proposal or I wouldn't be here. Your associate told me you have a unique process for the cultured meat space.”

“Proprietary, of course,” Marsha emphasized. “I think you'll be amazed by how much it tastes like the real thing.”

“Indeed. Before tasting the product, I assume all of the state and federal paperwork is in order?”

“Of course,” Marsha lied. “There wouldn't be much point in meeting otherwise, would there?”

“Very good. If all checks out, I'm considering a sizable stake in your venture,” Flash said. “Terms?”

Marsha launched into her rehearsed presentation, complete with charts and graphs depicting the kind of return on investment that would make a casino owner blush. She left the presentation and a contract with Flash, along with a complimentary cooler containing several of Mama's Best steaks.

Back in her own car, Marsha announced to Claude, “I hooked him. He's in. We're off. We'll have his money and be down the road before he knows what hit him.”

One car away, behind dark window glass, Flash held up the ream of papers and explained to Billy Jim, “Even if this wasn't a scam, you'd have to be an idiot to take these terms.”

In the Genes

Then, it was just a matter of sending the samples to two different labs for confirmation of what they suspected they already knew. When the results were in, Benny invited Myron and Hooter to the same dusty miniature golf course where the adventure began.

“USDA Prime grade, genuine beef,” said Benny, offering the test results to Hooter across a rusty metal picnic table. “Nothing cultured. Every steak in the cooler, nothing but genuine Prime beef and aged to boot. No surprises there, and certainly enough for a fraud conviction, given her previous legal issues.”

Benny stared hard at Myron, who sucked contentedly on a long string of purple licorice and stared at the cloudless sky.

“There was one surprise, though,” Benny growled, never taking his eyes off Myron. “I have no idea how you did it, but they had to go all the way to the Smithsonian to identify the DNA of something else they found in the meat.”

Hooter's heart sank for a minute. Surely, Marsha hadn't actually gone to the trouble of trying to legitimately replicate meat. “What was it?”

“Ivory Billed Woodpecker,” Benny announced. “Which, of course, opens up prosecution under the Endangered Species Act.”

“Ivory Billed…” Hooter began saying out loud and then he crumpled into a fit of hysterical laughter.

When he pulled himself together a few minutes later, he looked at Myron with keen admiration. “I thought they were extinct.”

“Far as you know.”

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