When last we saw Hooter and his gang, they were holed up at the War Wagon Saloon and Pool Hall as the sun came creeping, plotting strategy on how to turn the tables on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which recently made the inane and public announcement that they hoped Foot and Mouth Disease did infect the livestock in this country. Hooter had just announced that passive aggression powered by technology was the key.
“So, Claude?” asked Hooter excitedly. “Is your nephew, Whizzer home from school or is he still in College Station? And, do you think he'd sure enough help us out?”
Puffing with the pride of a puppy perched atop a June Bug, Claude lowered his voice, eyes furtively darting around the room in search of strangers, which any nitwit could plainly tell you weren't within 100 miles of Apache Flats, let alone within earshot.
Claude leaned close to Hooter and lowered his voice, eyes still searching the crowd of familiar faces. “He rolled in night before last to help out for a while. If it has to do with computers, he's your guy. I bet Whizzer would be happy to help, but I might could ask him better if you told me more directly what you have in mind.”
“Don't worry about that, Claude,” said Hooter with a grin. “You just lead me to him or him to me. I'll do the talking.”
“Right now?” exclaimed Claude, then catching himself, he repeated in a whisper, “Right now? It's barely 6 in the morning.” For emphasis he tapped the face of the scuffed silver pocket watch that was forever dangling from a chain in his third button hole, swinging madly from side to side as is if he was attempting to hypnotize the world as it came his way.
Hooter slapped Claude on the back. “Come on boys. If young Whizzer is old enough to vote then I reckon he's old enough to get up on time.”
Claude waited around for Hooter at the back of the pack while the rest made their way into a moonless twilight that was still darker than Dopey's gray matter. “Um, Hooter, I'm all for doing what we need to do, you know that…it's just that, um…well, what I mean to say is that…well, Whizzer's my nephew. What you got in mind to ask him to help with…it ain't exactly illegal is it?”
Hooter draped a comforting arm around Claude, leading him out the door. “Not exactly, Claude. Not exactly as far as I know, you know or he knows. Got it?”
“Got it, Hooter. Thanks.”
It's come to this.
On the short ride over to Claude's sister's place to find Whizzer, the rest of the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's committee was also starting to wonder what exactly this passive aggression strategy was all about.
“Look, it's like this,” explained Hooter, lost in a world of sight and sound that only he was experiencing. “I always figured there were only two reasons folks ever stirred up trouble with a bunch of nonsense, especially when it doesn't seem like they have anything in particular against you personally: either they want to get attention, or they've got too much time on their hands, or both. Doesn't matter whether you're talking about Uncle Sam, the local PTA or those scum suckers at PETA.”
“So, tell us something we don't already know,” hollered Izzy Franklin from his scrunched position on the back floorboard of Charlie's Suburban. The crew had long known that Izzy was not what you would call a morning person.
“So,” said Hooter, “If somebody figures they can climb on a different horse that gives them more attention or wraps up more of their time, they'll flip faster than a flea on a skillet. Which means they don't have any time left to ride the horse you don't want them on to begin with.”
“So?” said Izzy. “We're all with you so far, but I swear I could work half the calves in this county in less time than it's taking you to uncoil your rope.”
Charlie skidded to a soft spot in the drive of their destination. Claude snuck out the passenger door and tiptoed around the corner of the house in search of Whizzer's room as Hooter continued.
“Just laying the groundwork, Izzy,” said Hooter with glee. “You know nobody likes a grump this early in the morning. And you know you couldn't work that many calves that fast unless you had a cherry picker there to haul your walrus carcass back up after every one.” He waited for a response that never came. “Anyway, I'm betting lots of those PETA members are these urban professionals glued to their idiot boxes, be they computers or TV's day in and day out, playing with that Internet stuff, right?”
“Go on,” said Charlie. “I'm with you and I think ol' walrus rump is too numb to talk.”
“So, what if a bunch of these folks ended up getting an e-mail pen pal from another country confiding to them that they knew of a disease that would wreak more devastation on the livestock industry than any five Foot and Mouth outbreaks combined? Don't you suppose these folks would want to find out more, would want to take the time to be the champion for their team, doing what no one else had ever even heard of yet?”
“Pardon me for thinking that your nuts,” said Izzy in a cold voice. “But just what disease are you talking about. There is no such thing.”
“There sure as the world is,” challenged Hooter. “You're supposed to always be in the know Mr. County Agent. Haven't you read the reports coming out of Siberia? Raatenfagen Wartemus is what they're calling it. Say it's way more contagious than Foot and Mouth. Starts with packrats, then moves to humans, then humans can pass it on to ruminant animals.”
Peetie Womac had been listening in rapt concentration. “No kidding? Really? That's just what we need another disease. What's it do?”
“Ahhh, Peetie, he's just pulling your leg,” said Izzy. “There ain't no such thing as Ratameus Whateveramus.”
“There sure is,” said Hooter. “But if you don't want to know about it, that's fine.”
Peetie was fidgeting in his seat. “No, come on Hooter, tell me.”
“Well sir, the stuff I read on it, they're not real sure how it started and they danged sure don't know how to control it yet. Some folks think it's some virus that got nuked and mutated in that Chernobyl deal somehow. Anyway, the packrat is the carrier, and I guess you can't tell it. They supposedly look right as rain. But the carriers shed the virus and can infect people.”
Peetie's eyes were getting wide. “What's it do to people?”
“Besides making ‘em sicker than a parakeet puffing a cigar, I guess it gives folks some of the dangdest warts you ever saw, all over the ears and face, big old bumpy, scabby warts that don't go away.”
“No kiddin',” said Peetie, shaking his head.
“No kiddin',” said Hooter.
Izzy couldn't stand it. “So, then what's it do to the livestock? They can only get it from humans, right?”
“That's exactly right,” said Hooter, with a serious grin. “So far, it doesn't look like they get the warts, but I guess it'll add about 10 pounds to a calf's weaning weight but knock about 12 pounds off a mature chicken.”
As the logic began to sink in, Hooter couldn't help but bust up.
“I told you he was lying! I told you there wasn't any such thing!” shouted Izzy, incredulous that he'd taken the hook at the last minute. “If I could unfold myself, I'd hammer you good.”
“You do what you want,” said Hooter, still laughing, “But, you bought it, and you supposedly know something. Why wouldn't those folks that don't know anything about stock buy it?”
Whizzering in to the Future
Claude emerged from the shadows leading what for all the world looked like the proverbial cave man, albeit a baby faced one that appeared clean, but a hunch-shouldered caveman, nonetheless with bushy eyebrows and thick, straight hair cascading down his back.
“They let you go to school looking like that, boy?” asked Hooter seriously.
“Only when it's my turn to teach,” came Whizzer's confident reply.
“Whizzer,” said Hooter sticking out his hand with a grin. “You and me are going to get along fine. Your Uncle tells me you know all about computers.”
“Yes, sir. If you think it, I can figure out how to do it on a computer.”
“And this cyberspace stuff, you know how that works?”
“Yes sir. You might be surprised some of the places you can get to without ever leaving home.”
“I hope so,” said Hooter, throwing an arm over Whizzer's shoulder and leading him to the Suburban. “I sure do hope so. As an example, it would be possible to find out who the members of a certain organization were and what their e-mails were? Then it would be possible to send them an e-mail, all slightly different, and correspond back and forth with them, without them ever really being able to find out who the person was?”
As Whizzer climbed into the Suburban, he said, “Mr. McCormick, I could do all that sort of stuff when I was in the eighth grade.”
Hooter was happier than a pet coon with a new mirror. “And all of this stuff isn't exactly illegal is it?” asked Hooter, glancing at Claude, who looked like he was awaiting his own execution, even though he had absolutely no idea what was going on or who was on first.
“No sir, not exactly,” said Whizzer. “Not as far as I know or you know. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it,” said Hooter. “Now, it's their turn to get it.”