Hooter had to admit that Aunt Pinky's purchase of seedstock for a bucking bull program wasn't the worst idea she'd ever had.
Not only had the bred cows turned out to be quite the ladies, folks had already offered hard money on the calves they were carrying.
Plus, the retired bull she bought so they could start figuring out how to test the bucking potential of the calves had turned out to be everything Hooter hadn't counted on. “Old Teddy,” as Hooter had taken to calling him was more mannered than most bulls Hooter had kept around. In fact, rather than fencing off part of Aunt Pinky's pasture, Hooter let Teddy have the run of his yard, basically fencing him out of his own pastures and pens rather than trying to fence him in.
Of course, Hooter was more amenable to non-traditional revenue generation these days. Between fuel prices running higher than the nosebleed seats on Mt. Everest and the kind of drought that was making the Mesquite gasp, Hooter had taken to considering something he never had seriously contemplated before: getting a paying job working for someone else.
The very thought pained him worse than a toothless beaver in a patch of seedlings. It made him feel worse than the notion of driving an import or voting for a Democrat. Though he knew it wasn't, he had to admit supplementing his cattle income would feel like a failure somehow, or worse, a betrayal of his dreams.
Opportunity Steals Away
Fortunately, this is when Nelda Isselfrick was victimized by thieves, or so she claimed. In a single night someone or someones had made off with a rusty lawnmower that Nelda nor anyone else had used in recent memory, two ancient, though not antique bird baths and about a mile of dog chain (no one could ever remember Nelda owning a dog). To top it off, the culprit or culprits also made off with the shiny sign hanging by Nelda's front steps which proclaimed: “This property under the watchful eye and constant vigilance of The Deadwood Home Security Agency.”
That's what gave Hooter the idea.
“It can't be that hard, Charlie. A blind possum could have seen someone carting off Nelda's stuff. Besides which, you wouldn't even have to see it. You know the right questions to ask and you can figure out who did it.”
Hooter had been working for the last hour to convince his cousin that they should partner up on a home security business. “Not just burglar alarms and stuff, either, how many people around here you know who have smoke detectors, asbestos kits, mold detectors and all the rest of that stuff?”
“How many do you know that would want any of that stuff?” countered Charlie. “I'm guessing just the surveillance is harder than it looks. Don't those outfits have operators on call 24 hours a day to call the authorities if a light blinks saying there's a problem at a client's place?”
“That's the beauty of it,” explained Hooter. “We don't have any authorities around here, so there's nobody to call.”
“That's not exactly my point.”
“Well then, what exactly is your point?”
“We're looking to make more money, not spend a bunch more trying to get something else going. In the meantime, we still have plenty to do around here. I don't know how we'd provide anybody 24 hours worth of anything without some extra help.”
Charlie should have known better than to invite trouble.
“You forget who you're talking to, cuz, I've got that all figured out.”
“Norvis Underwood!” cried Charlie when Hooter revealed his recruiting selection. “He's lucky they didn't lock him and his brother up after that weed whacking fiasco. Nobody would trust him, meaning nobody would trust us if we hired him.”
For latecomers to the World of Hooter, Norvis LeeRoy Underwood used to be the caretaker at the Victory Hill Cemetery just south of Apache Flats. One fateful day, Aunt Pinky and Nelda Isselfrick had their prized flower gardens pulverized by a hit and run weed whacker. Hooter had lost the pumpkins he was growing on his cemetery plot, too. All the evidence, pointed to the caretaker's guilt, including the fact that Norvis was found trying to make his getaway on the cemetery's Ford 8N mowing tractor. Turned out that Norvis had a twin brother no one knew about—LeeRoy Norvis Underwood—who had committed the crime and tried to frame Norvis. Both brothers avoided prosecution, but Norvis lost his job.
“See, that's exactly why no one would ever suspect Norvis was the shadow behind our agency,” explained Hooter. “When's the last time you saw him around? He's harder to see and remember than a wisp of smoke at midnight.”
Charlie reached into his pickup, pulled a soapstone from the console and started tuning up his pocketknife, which he often did when contemplating Hooter's plans. “Well sir, never mind Norvis for a second, you've got me confused. You started out talking about a home security agency that installs alarms and security cameras and whatnot, then you veered over to having a shadow like some sort of detective agency. Which is it?”
“All of the above,” said Hooter. “That's what will set us apart. We'll be a home protection agency, meaning we can provide preventative security, along with settling the score services if the security doesn't pan out.”
“In other words, if we fail at one, hopefully we'll succeed at the other.”
Charlie kept grinding at the knife blade methodical and slow. “I tell you what, I think you're right. Norvis is the man for the job. In fact, I'd say if we can't enlist him, then we need to come up with an entirely different plan. No Norvis, no agency.”
“No problem,” said Hooter. “I'll have him signed up by sundown.”
What Hooter didn't know at the time, and what Charlie suspected was that first and foremost Norvis wouldn't go to work for any sort of agency because he'd stumbled into a fairly lucrative sideline himself. Moreover, Charlie already knew what had become of Nelda's sundry losses and why.
Hiding in the Open
“Oh it's just you,” grunted Norvis when Hooter wandered into what passed as the former caretaker's shop.
“Come on, Norvis, I thought you'd be more civil after what happened to my pumpkins.”
Norvis bit down noticeably on his pipe. “If you recollect, it wasn't me that did anything to your pumpkins. In fact, if you'll recollect, one of the reasons they let me go is that you didn't stick up for me with the cemetery board.”
The Irish was starting to get the best of Hooter. “Didn't stick up for you! How can anyone stick up for anybody running away from the scene of the crime? How can anyone stick up for anybody who tried to deprive them of using their own land as they see fit?”
Norvis wasn't in the backing down mood. “It's not land, it's a cemetery plot. Growing vegetables on it ain't right. But that's a long time ago. I'm busy.”
Hooter surveyed the flatbed stacked precariously with every sort of garage sale fodder the mind could conceive: a busted aquarium, lawn chairs with the webbing rotted through, rusty tools, broken furniture, a hodge-podge of toys with missing parts and ironically enough, a weed eater that had seen better days.
“That's what I wanted to talk with you about,” said Hooter. “Me and Charlie have an idea for a new business and we were thinking you might be the man for the job.”
Norvis never even looked up.
“You see,” continued Hooter. “We were thinking if starting a home protection agency, alarms and the like…You heard what happened to Nelda Isselfrick, I suppose?”
Norvis stopped what he was doing. Hooter knew that he'd been sweet on her clear back to grade school. “Nelda? No, what happened to her?”
“Well sir, two nights ago someone made off with some of her stuff, including the sign that her previous security supplier had hung right by her front steps.”
Just like that, Norvis busted out laughing so hard that he about choked, dropping his pipe along the way. Far as Hooter could tell, the interview wasn't doing much to bolster Norvis' chances.
“Let me guess,” gasped Norvis. “The thieves took off with an old mower, some dog chain and a couple of flea bitten old bird baths that even a grackle wouldn't set foot in.” Then he busted up in another phlegmatic round of laughter.
Hooter started looking around the shop. Could it be…
“That crazy old bat,” snorted Norvis. “She always has been wrapped looser than a 30 pound bale.” He motioned for Hooter to follow him to a shed behind the shop.
Here was everything that the stuff on the flatbed wasn't. Used to be sure, but first-class condition, fresh paint, new screws, all the parts. Sure enough, among the cache, Nelda's missing but refurbished ephemera.
“There it is,” said Norvis pointing to each one of the filched items. “It's been a while back, but when I used to do some yard work for her, she said I could have this stuff.” He started laughing again. “You've got me dead to rights on that security sign, though. I don't see so good anymore. I thought it was that old Grape Nehi sign she used to have hanging there. I thought it seemed like it was extra sparkly.” Then he started laughing again.
“But, Nelda said someone had stolen it,” tried Hooter. “She said…” Then he remembered how forgetful Aunt Pinky said she and her lifelong rival had become of late. Good Lord, there were times they almost forgot they didn't like each other.
After Norvis had collected himself once again, Hooter stuck out his hand. “Well sir, I owe you an apology, not for your views of land ownership, but for this sure enough.”
Norvis accepted the hand. “Apology accepted. That's the best laugh I've had in forever.”
“Don't mind be asking, Norvis, what do you do with this stuff?”
Norvis dipped his pipe into a threadbare tobacco pouch. “You can't believe what folks in Lubbock will pay for this kind of stuff at the flea market. A new spark plug here, a little paint there on stuff nobody wants, it's a pretty good business.”
“I'll bet it is at that,” said Hooter, thinking of the possibilities.
“But this detective agency sure interests me,” said Norvis, then he broke into peels of laughter again.