“What do you mean I'm too old,” demanded Hooter, “I'm barely 40. You can't tell me that you can't use an extra hand. Besides it might interest you to know that I have some militia experience, not those right-wing or left-wing idiots, mind you, but Apache Flat's own Minute Men.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line while Marine Sergeant Gallegos gathered his thoughts. “Mr. McCormick, once again, we appreciate your interest in the United States Marine Corps, and your patriotism. Unfortunately, the age requirement for joining is 17 to 35, and you don't qualify.”
In a flash, Hooter thought about arguing, lying about his age, or getting a false ID and calling someone else. He knew he was had, though.
“I understand. Thanks for your time. God Bless all of you,” said Hooter quietly. “God Bless our country.”
Hooter hung up the phone, wandered out to the ramshackled front porch of his adobe hacienda and sat down beside his cousin, Charlie.
“I missed my chance,” said Hooter like a man tossed overboard who always had every intention to learn how to swim. “All those years I could have gone and signed up any time I pleased. I guess I figured since I registered for the draft all those years ago, they'd call me if they needed me. They never called me and I never called them and now it's too late.”
Charlie just stared out to the west, watching a couple of stray clouds rub the horizon. A barely murmuring breeze made the Mesquite trees pretend to dance.
“How could they?” said Hooter, looking at the distance, too. “How could anyone have that much hate inside them? The yellow-hearted, low-life, lily-livered bastards.”
Hooter and Charlie had just returned from the daily noontime prayer vigil Apache Flats began the day after terrorists attacked the United States, claiming more lives in a single day than Pearl Harbor and D-Day combined, most all of them civilians to boot.
“You know,” said Hooter, almost in a whisper, “I never cottoned to Yankees much. Still wouldn't agree with them on lots of things, but they were family, too. You just don't do that to family.”
Trying to Make Sense
So it was that ever since the shock of the initial reports September 11 allowed, Hooter's unequivocal response had been, “Sign me up! Where do you want me?” For the first time in his life America had been attacked. For the first time in history a foreign enemy had attacked her on her own Continental soil.
“It ain't ours to do the judging,” said Hooter matter of factly. “And, I've never doubted that vengeance is the Lord's to mete out, but what about justice? What are we supposed to do.”
Charlie stirred for the first time, hoisting his boots from the porch rail and placing them squarely beneath his chair. “Yep, that's a tough one, alright. Try explaining it to your kids.”
They were both silent for a long time. Finally, Charlie said, “You know, what Pastor Jim said today made plenty of sense. Don't seek evil for the sake of trying to do God's will, but when evil comes, be willing to stand against it and pray to Him to show you how. And, just love each other, even the folks behind all of this, hate their sin but love them.”
Hooter was idly chasing a spider with the toe of his boot. “Yeah, I suppose. But you know what, I'm human enough to want to track every one of them down and pistol whip them with a Saguaro branch, then turn a pack of rednecks loose on them with a case of beer and a box of shells.” His face was flushing pinker than the nose of a newborn Red Merle. His hands were clenching the arms of his chair.
“I know,” said Charlie. “I feel the same way. That's not up to us, though. Best I can figure, every one of us has a job to do. Namely, support those leading the charge, those on the front lines and being more mindful of what we can do to help others.”
Hooter was up and pacing slowly now. “I guess it's our turn,” he said, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “Every other generation in our family has had to go through something like this. You know, I asked Aunt Pinkie how all this compared to Pearl Harbor. She said it was a lot the same, that it was a total shock then, too, nobody expecting something like that. Said it was different, too, though, that this one isn't just about us. Said just look at how the world wept for us and over us. They were weeping for themselves, she said, because if freedom can't live in America, it can't live anywhere.”
Finding the Hot Iron
“Vigilance,” said Hooter, pacing a little quicker, now. “Wasn't it ol' Tom Jefferson who said something about protecting this new form of government, this democracy based on personal liberty requiring sleepless vigilance on the part of every one of it's citizens?”
“I don't know, could be,” said Charlie.
“Well, when was the last time we really looked our pastures over end to end. I mean not just drive by or ride the corners, but really scouted it out?”
“Can't say as I ever remember doing it on purpose,” said Charlie.
Hooter sat back down, the look in his eye growing more intense. “Well, maybe it's time we did. I ain't saying be paranoid and go around looking over your shoulder, but just really start looking things over on a regular basis, make sure those tire tracks we see from time to time are just poachers or moonstruck kids. Make sure we're not allowing our resources to be part of the problem. That make any sense?”
Charlie wasn't sure he liked the way the conversation was heading. Like a green-broke horse perched on the edge of a steep ravine, experience told him it was even money which direction Hooter would jump.
“Yeah, I'd say it makes sense for everybody to pay attention and question anything they see that seems out of place,” ventured Charlie.
“You know, the other thing we could do,” said Hooter, more to himself, “We could rig up scatter-guns, about tire-high, to a trip-chord. Anybody try to drive in uninvited would get their Goodyears blasted!”
Charlie's face took on the hue of a well-laundered sheet.
“Then,” said Hooter, “We could rig up old Harley Burnson's crop duster with infrared, a nail gun, and balloons filled with creosote, then…”
“Hooter!” interrupted Charlie with a cross voice. “You said yourself, sleepless vigilance, not sleepless vigilantyism, that's a whole ‘nother horse, and one I'm not going to ride.”
Hooter had a grin wider than a West Texas brim. “I know that, Charlie. Just had to get it out of my system, I guess. The notion is solid, though. What if we just got the boys together and kept on eye on things. Let it be known we're there to help anybody who needs it. They ought to know it already, but make ‘em know for sure. And, let these young roosters sowing their wild oats know that there's just some things we're not going to let go by anymore, and they have to answer to us.”
“You mean kind of like these neighborhood patrols they have in the big towns?” wondered Charlie.
“Yeah, sort of. But on a countywide basis. Just be there to look out and to help out.”
“No guns,” said Charlie firmly.
Hooter chuckled on his way inside to retrieve a pencil and paper. “Are you still hung up on that? I ain't going to search their pickups, but that ain't the point. All I'm saying is let's work together to be deliberate about keeping an eye out, and over time folks from outside the county will know we got our eyes open.”
Charlie was trying to figure all the angles. He called through the screen door, “Well, I don't see anything wrong with the idea, long as you don't let it get out of hand.”
Starting to scribble notes on the paper draped across his knee, Hooter said excitedly, “You know, this is just the kind of thing ol' Pockets Geronimo would have loved, God rest his soul. Not taking things for granted, getting at the bottom line, working together.”
“What in the world are you writing down so fast?” wondered Charlie, turning a whiter shade of pale.
“Got to get the recruitment list together. Too old, huh. Experienced, that's what I am. And in honor of ol' Pockets we'll call ourselves the Apache Flats Bearcats. You remember how he was always toting that bear fetish with him, going on about how bears symbolized internal fortitude and power? We'll have a cross and a bear claw for our brand.”
Charlie got up to leave. Once Hooter got rolling on a new idea you'd have more luck prying a good swamp dog off a cow's nose.
“Oh yeah,” said Hooter with a wink Charlie couldn't see, “And we definitely have to see if Jimmy Harper still has that old Gatling Gun oiled and ready to go.”