by: Wes Ishmael

From the last episode…

The crowd gathered around, taking silent bets on how anyone would be able to revive Eunice Nicklecock—deposed executive staff of the activist organization, People for Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL). She shocked everyone by busting through the door, literally tripping and stumbling through Apache Flats' latest community celebration being hosted in Delmar Jacobs' shop. As surprising was that Eunice was not only asking for Hooter McCormick, but saying she needed his help. Hooter, after all, was generally credited with driving the activist beyond the pale and into the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute the first time. It was Hooter's ex-wife, Sherry Waters, who was credited with sending her over the edge with Voodoo the second time.

Doc Bulger had been trying to revive Eunice when Sherry showed up, which was almost as surprising. Eunice had just opened her eyes when Sherry knelt next to her: “It's not a dream this time.”

Eunice fainted dead away yet again. Doc Bulger looked at Eunice, looked at Sherry, shook his head, picked up his bag and walked away.

“It doesn't matter,” Sherry said, wrapping an arm around Hooter as if they were still a pair. “I know why she's here.”

“So, why's she here?" Hooter asked Sherry as he studied the slumbering carcass that was Eunice Nicklecock.

Everyone was looking at Sherry, wondering the same thing.

“She has two purposes for seeing you Hooter, both of equal importance to her. First, she's on the run again and is hoping you can tell her how to stay hidden from who she perceives to be her pursuers.”

“Lord, she must be out of options,” Izzy Franklin observed.

“And, she seeks to make amends with you and others for past transgressions. She believes it's the only way to remove the curse.”

Hooter had been studying Eunice but looked hard at Sherry after the last comment.

“What curse?”

“The curse that she believes we cast upon her all those years ago with the white armadillos.”

Suffice it to say, Sherry and Hooter had convinced Eunice that white armadillos were the blackest magic on earth. With the help of a few wayward armadillos and spray paint, they'd made a believer out of her.

“There ain't no curse, and if there was one, I wasn't the one tossing it around,” Hooter said. “Not that I wouldn't have.”

“You're correct of course, though, there could have been a curse as you know.” Sherry narrowed her eyes at hooter ever so slightly.

Hooter felt a distinct chill, less to do with the semi glare and everything to do with the fact she had agreed with him so easily.

“Feels kind of like déjà vu the first time,” Hooter muttered to Charlie.

“Why's she figure a curse is on her when there isn't?” Hooter asked Sherry. “Who's she think is chasing her and why in the world would she figure I'd do anything to help her...aside from the fact that she ain't right?” He tapped his noggin.

Sherry reached inside the small pouch worn around her neck and pulled out a vial containing a clear liquid. She unscrewed the cap.

“It all has to do with the elephants,” Sherry said wistfully.

“Elephants,” Hooter growled. “What's any of this have to do with elephants? I've never had anything to do with elephants. Well, there was that one time, but that was way before I ever ran into her…”

Sherry raised a hand to silence Hooter as she reached out to place the vial in front of Eunice's well-developed nostrils. “It will all be clear soon enough.”

“How do you know?” Hooter wondered, understanding that she did. He watched her give the vial a gentle wave back and forth. “And, seeing how she turned toes up again when you got here, are you sure you're the first one she needs to see?”

“We've been chatting in her dreams, though she doesn't know it,” Sherry said matter of factly. “And, I think you'll find she will be much calmer.”

When the Past Gains Ground

Like slow-motion film of an emerging sinkhole, Eunice opened her mouth. “You know why I'm here,” she said. It was a statement, not a question. Her eyes remained closed. None of the rest of her moved. Her voice was trance-like.

Hooter looked to Sherry, not knowing if he was supposed respond or if she was. Sherry nodded to him.

‘Well, I reckon there's not much use in asking how you are…”

Sherry gave him a stiff elbow to the ribs. She whispered into his ear.

“Well, Eunice, I reckon you're here to tell us all about the elephants.”

Eunice nodded her head almost invisibly.

“I'm so, so sorry,” Eunice whispered. “You know, I loved the circus when I was little.”

“Huh?” Hooter couldn't help himself. Sherry elbowed him again.

There was a rising murmur among the bystanders. Sherry held up the vial. They were silent. She stared back at Hooter.

“Other than the odd clown, I think most of us like a good circus Eunice. What about the elephants and why now?”

Eunice unleashed a great sigh as if shedding an unseen weight.

“It seemed to make so much sense, even after I understood what was going on, just a visible way to make a statement.”

Hooter looked to Sherry for guidance again. She simply nodded again.

“Ummm…I'm sure it did Eunice. How did it come about?”

“They just asked me to find somebody who would like to work for a circus, preferably with the animals, someone who thought animals should receive good care, someone handy with a camera, too.”

The crowd began tittering again.

A giant, single tear threatened to breech the confines of Eunice's left eye. Her voice began to quaver. “I never knew they'd sue the circus for animal abuse. There wasn't any. I saw the films. I'm so sorry. You know, I loved the circus when I was little.”

At least part of the puzzle was coming into view for Hooter.

“I'm sure you did, Eunice. That was a long time before you went to PETAL wasn't it?”

“I was still in school,” said Eunice, in that same trance-like voice. “That's one of the reasons PETAL gave me the job, but I didn't realize it at the time because I still didn't know what they intended.”

“Of course, you didn't,” said Hooter in a soothing voice. “You rest for a bit Eunice.”

He motioned for Sherry and the rest of the gang to join him on the other side of the shop. A circle formed around Hooter and Sherry.

“Poor girl needs a shave,” Nelda Isselfrick whispered loudly.

“Look who's talking Fuzzy,” said Aunt Pinkie.

Before Nelda could respond, Sherry silenced them both with an icy glare.

“Let me see if I've got this straight so far,” Hooter whispered. “Eunice over yonder recruited at least one of the people that went undercover in order to trump up false charges against the circus?”

Sherry nodded.

“She didn't know what she was doing, just some wide-eyed idealist with no knowledge, and those activist folks took advantage of her. By the time she figured out what the other organization was doing, PETAL had already hired her thinking she was as conniving as them, but she was just dense.”

Sherry nodded again.

“The light finally dawned on her when the suit was filed. But she had her job and did what she thought she was hired to do. But she was a total flop at it…and,” Hooter stopped a minute, his eyes widening. “…I was the bait. All of this was just a sideshow, a way for them to get her out their hair.”

Sherry nodded yet again.

“So, there's some scores in need of settling, and it's not with Eunice.”

Based on the questioning looks and whispers, the chain of events leading Eunice to Delmar Jacobs' shop was less than clear.

“I still don't understand the curse thing, though,” Hooter said. “There wasn't one on her, so why does she think there was?”

“Bars don't necessarily make a prison,” Sherry explained. “People can have the freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they want and still not be free. The curse in Eunice's mind is no less effective than the real thing.”

Hooter mulled that a bit. Looked over his shoulder at the slumbering Eunice. “So what's the next step?”

“Helping her settle some scores if you want.”

“I want.”

To be continued…

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