Nothing. Just his name and address typed on the small manila envelope and an Apache Flats postmark. Inside: A hard-to-find Willie Nelson cassette that Hooter had been searching for high and low ever since his 8-track version got shredded some miles ago; and a typewritten note saying, “I know this is one of your favorites.” And it was signed in loopy red cursive, “Your Secret Admirer, but not secret for much longer.”
Hooter couldn't think of much worse news.
On the one hand, even within spitting distance of 40, he couldn't keep his heart from shuddering an extra beat at the thought that someone might be interested in him.
On the other hand, Hooter knew from experience that he and long-term romance mixed like fire and a warehouse full of fireworks. In the beginning the promise of unimagined sparks and fire was too blinding and too tempting to leave alone, but the same combustible fuel always left complete and bewildered devastation in its wake.
“Only difference between her and a rabid Rottweiler is lipstick,” is how Hooter would describe his ex-wife, with a shudder, to anyone if the subject came up. He was serious, too. His marriage to Sherry Waters, Baton Rouge's own answer to legendary Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux, lasted only a week. “But it done made a Christian out of me,” he'd told his cousin when he turned back up in Apache Flats.
Come to think of it, Sherry and the matrimonial meltdown were why his Willie tape got shredded to begin with. For hundreds of miles he'd played, “I Can't Let You Say Goodbye,” over and over, cranking up the volume during, “…the flesh around your throat is pale, indented by my fingernails…”
As if all that wasn't enough, how in the devil was he going to figure out who the secret admirer was so she couldn't sneak up on him?
That's what was zipping a circular blur around Hooter's mind as he stood by the door to his box, reading and re-reading the note in vain hope for some clue.
A familiar voice to his left made him jump.
“Well, well, looks like someone is sweet on somebody,” said Nelda Finkelfrack with a chuckle.
Without thinking, Hooter stuffed the incriminating evidence inside his coat. “What're you getting at, Nelda?”
“Your letter there, boy, what do you think I'm getting at?”
“But you don't even have your glasses on. There's no way you could see what it said, let alone read it,” said Hooter.
Nelda sniffed the air dramatically. “With perfume like that, I don't need to read it, boy.”
Hooter didn't know what it was, but he realized for the first time there was indeed a musky sweet scent oozing off the paper, which definitely wasn't stickum glue or the saliva that went on it.
“Well, who is she?” pressed Nelda, obviously pleased to see Hooter's discomfort. “Someone we all know, somebody from out of town? Does your aunt Pinky know?”
Hooter slammed the door to his box shut, then smiled, “Well, Nelda, you caught me dead to rights. This being Ground Hog's Day and all, well, I just got my answer from the gopher. Says here six more weeks.”
“Huh?” wondered the flummoxed busybody. But he was gone.
All the Usual Suspects
Hooter headed for Hangman's Point west of town. He needed time to sort this out.
Hmmm…could be the boys trying to get his goat; it would be easy for them to get somebody to write the note. But, Peetie and Jackson never went in for those kinds of things; Lonnie and his family were still in Florida; Charlie was family; and Izzy, well he'd be too cheap to spend any money on a joke. Still Hooter couldn't disallow the possibility.
What about Lucy Springer? He'd dated her back in high school, and she'd fairly well beat the daylights out of him. After she came back to teach Vo-Ag at Apache Flats a couple of years back, he'd asked her out a couple of times, more for old times sake than anything else. But ever since he'd bought her boxed meal at the 4-H Carnival boxed supper auction last fall, announcing to the world it was a far greater thing that he donate the meal to charity, rather than sit and eat with her, she hadn't shown much interest.
Then there's that second cousin of Jackson's. What's her name? Not half-bad, thought Hooter. But he'd only met her a couple of times and odds were good that Jackson would dissuade any of his kin from having more than a passing interest in Hooter. Besides, how could she know about the Willie Nelson tape, and the song. Heck, even Lucy Springer probably didn't know about it.
A chill ran up Hooter's back: Sherry. That would be just like her, thought Hooter; never make a peep for all these years then come sacheting back into his life like a wrecking ball at a glass convention.
She knew about the Willie tape, and the song. Good Lord, what rotten luck, thought Hooter. Last he knew she'd taken up with some carnival midget eater who day-lighted as a New Orleans Meter Mister.
But why? Sure, she still cared for him in her own peculiar chew-them-up, take no prisoners kind of way, but even she knew there wasn't enough Voodoo magic in all the world to make them get along.
Maybe she was just trying to louse up his life again. Yeah, that's it, thought Hooter. She's that mean; nothing better to do so why not take another crack at ol' Hooter. Naaah. Last time he'd seen her, they parted on great terms. Sherry'd even helped him scare the moxie out of that Yankee animal rights lady named Eunice Nickelcock.
With Sherry you could never be sure, so Hooter decided he'd have to maintain her as a possible culprit, like the guys, although not a very likely one.
“…but not for much longer…” What in the world did whoever the secret admirer was mean by that? What, she's gonna take an ad out in the Rio Rojo Register and announce it to the world? Hooter was about to laugh at the absurdity of such a notion when he realized it could happen.
“You can't trust a secret admirer,” he said aloud, “You can't even trust them enough to know who they are.” And, the statement made sense to him, his wires were so frazzled.
He was watching the Hula Girl suction-cupped to the dashboard slowly sway back and forth with the vibration caused by the wind threatening to peel the paint off the north side of his pickup: Carolina Coburn!
That must be it. Hooter saw her about every time he went through Lubbock; not officially saw her in terms of taking her out, but he always stopped by Tina's Tin Star Café for some pecan pie, and it seemed like every time Carolina was waitressing the counter. She seemed to like his company, too, chatting about everything from food safety to that slugg-butt, Hillary Clinton. And, wasn't it just last month when he was savoring a wedge of Tina's finest that Carolina had made a point of telling him there wasn't a man worth shooting with a nickel cap pistol within 200 miles of Lubbock.
Bet that's it, thought Hooter. Unless of course, she included Hooter within that worthless man cap pistol radius. And, it was possible she knew about the Willie song, but no sure thing. Hmmm. Another possible but unlikely.
How Do I Mail Thee…
The hula girl was picking up steam when Hooter realized he'd never dropped by Aunt Pinkey's to give her the mail. Maybe she could help him sort through the possibilities without her ever having to know what's up. “You want to know what the enemy thinks? Go ask them,” is what Pockets Geronimo had always told him.
Hooter was feeling good about his plan. He was walking across Pinky's front porch when a gust of wind swung a hanging pot of Christmas Cactus off its hook to shatter behind Hooter. As he turned to see what had happened, another knocked off his hat. In a fit of rage, Hooter pitched that one as far as he could, then he turned back to kick the pot that had already broken, along with its guts of potting soil and roots; grumping and yelling about the sad state of America when a man couldn't even walk across someone's front porch, to do a favor, without being accosted by some worthless greenery, and besides…
“Hooter!” shouted Aunt Pinkey from the door. “What on earth do you think you're doing to my plants, young man?”
“Me?” said Hooter crossly, “You ought to be asking what these godforsaken plants are doing to me. Here's your mail.”
Aunt Pinkey was enough like her nephew to understand and even get a bang out of the ridiculousness of his momentary rage.
“Get in here. Why all the dust and fuss, scowls and growls, anyway? I haven't seen you this distracted since the last time you thought you fell for somebody.”
“Who do you think you're trying to kid. It's all over town that you've got a secret admirer.”
Hooter didn't know whether to be relieved, mad or just dumbfounded. “How's that possible. I was just at the post office not more than an hour ago; this letter here says it was sent yesterday…” It finally dawned on him he was giving the game away so he quit.
It didn't matter.
“You'd be surprised what we know and how we know,” said Pinky with a wheezy chuckle. Besides, I know who your secret admirer is. Haven't you figured it out yet?”