by: Wes Ishmael

You could always tell the rare occasion when Peetie Womack had spent a might too long at the punch bowl: sooner or later, he'd get around to most everyone, rub them on the noggin, his eyes sparkling. He'd look long and hard at the noggin owner as if he was going to make a wish or offer some profound insight that never came...and then he'd move on.

Peetie had just given Delmar Jacobs his second noggin rubbing of the annual Apache Flats St. Patrick's Day/Rebel Proud Winter's End Fiesta when the door to Delmar's Quonset hut burst open, ushering in a blast of cold air and Hooter McCormick.

“Hooter, you fibbing pole cat, I thought you said you couldn't make it this year, that you'd still be out of town,” Peetie shouted.

“Thought I was, but I'm not,” Hooter replied with a shrug, making a beeline for the watering trough.

Even by Hooter standards, he was looking more wilted and bedraggled than a stray cat emerging from a downpour into a gale. The circles under his eyes looked permanently bruised. The crows' feet and study lines were deeper than a fresh furrow; shirttail half in and half out, one of his trouser legs torn at the knee.

“You look like you been pulled through a knothole backwards, after a pistol whipping by a large ape in a small room,” said Lonnie Johnson, leaning against the makeshift bar.

“What happened to you, cuz?” asked Charlie, wiping the moisture from a cold can of Pearl before handing it to him.

“I went to California.”

“I know that, but it doesn't explain your sorry state.”

“Well, I flew there, as you well know because you're the one who took me to the airport. But I didn't stay long, and I danged sure didn't fly back.”

Spying the Future in the Past

A friend whom he'd only identify as Jack had asked Hooter to go scout some potential pasture on California's central coast.

“Best time to look, when it's dry and no one's thinking cows,” Jack had told him. “I'd go myself, but I need to keep my involvement on the down-low. Besides which, I'll be looking in Oregon at the same time.”

So Hooter went.

“Things went fine until I got to security,” Hooter explained, taking a long pull on the can.

“Uh oh, I see where this is heading,” said Izzie Franklin. The others nodded in understanding, recalling Hooter's previous experiences and offenses.

“Nope. It's not what you think,” Hooter said. “Those security folks were almost nice to me.”

The problem came when the TSA folks were patting him down—Hooter always opted out of being scanned based on both principle and a firm distrust of the technology.

“I even had my jeans starched extra heavy, just in case,” Hooter said to no one in particular.

“Oh no,” said cousin Charlie.

“Oh, yes,” Hooter said. “That feller was patting down the inside of my legs. I missed the belt loops and there they went.”

Stiff as the jeans were, they slid over his skinny posterior, revealing his Tasmanian Devil boxer shorts to anyone who cared to look.

Other than turning lobster red and hiking them back up, there wasn't much else Hooter could do or say. Had the cotton been on the other cheek, he would have cackled, too.

“Then came that quinine cat,” Hooter said.


“I'm sitting there waiting for the plane. I cinched my belt an extra notch, I might add. Minding my own business. This lady sets one of those travel cages beside me with the door facing my direction. It was the ugliest cat I ever saw, big splotches of fur missing. I wouldn't have noticed, except for the fact that it was sneezing, wheezing, coughing and hacking. You know I never have cottoned to cats, but I tried to be nice. Then that filthy varmint hacks up a fur ball.

“I asked the old gal if she could at least turn the cage so her critter was hacking on her instead of me. Suffice it to say, we exchanged some pleasantries.”

As it turned out, the lady had the two seats across the aisle from Hooter. She sat the cat in the aisle seat.

“It was a bumpy ride,” Hooter explained. “It's been a long time since my cup fell from beneath the coffee in it. But it did during a big bounce. About the same time that cat cage went tupsy turvy and apparently that coffee ended up inside the cage. Lord, you never heard such caterwauling in your life. That was the cat. The old gal was worse. She punched every button she could find to call some help, yelling that I'd scalded her precious cat and that she'd sue everyone from me to the airlines to the Wright brothers' own heirs.”

By now, the music in the Quonset wasn't even playing. Everyone was gathered around to hear the tale.

“Well sir, as luck would have it, there's this big ol' boy sitting in the same row as me, next to the window. Other than saying howdy, we hadn't talked. He reaches his arm across me to give the lady a business card.

‘Madam, the man you're insulting happens to be my client. While you're gathering your legal counsel, please inform them that my client and I are suing you for the potential exposure to foreign animal disease. I believe your pet is an Argentine Pampas Cat. It is a threatened species, illegal to possess in that country let alone in this one. The massive hair shedding that has left your pet with such a loathsome appearance is obviously indicative of a nervous disorder or worse.'”

The gang was speechless.

“Was all of that true?” Izzy wondered.

“I have absolutely no idea. But it shut her up quick. Last I saw of her, she was hightailing it through the San Jose airport, that cat squalling and that big ol' boy was right behind her.”

Hooter crushed the empty can in his hand and reached for a refill.

“So, then you went to look for pasture?” Charlie asked.

“Nope. I had just gone three rounds at the rent car counter, being credit checked and double-checked because I had the audacity to pay with a debit card instead of a credit card when Jack calls me. Found all the pasture he needed in Oregon.

“And that was just as well. I already knew it was past time to skedaddle after I could swear I saw Eunice Nicklecock a couple of different times.”

Eunice Nicklecock had been the senior executive strategist for People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL) when Hooter first locked horns with her years earlier. Ultimately, her loose-strung psyche had jumped the rails. Last Hooter knew, she was in an institution to protect her from the public and visa versa.

“So, how did you get back home so fast if you didn't fly?” Charlie wondered.

“You'd be surprised what kind of time you can make hitching rides if you ain't picky,” Hooter said. “It was a whole lot less stressful than that plane ride, too, even with the mariachi band, the amateur rugby team and the Mack driver who claimed he was from outer space.”

Delmar was fixing to ask for more detail when Hooter felt Peetie rubbing his noggin.

“Make a wish,” Peetie said in a merry voice.

Before Hooter could, the door to the Quonset burst open. There was no mistaking it this time: there stood Eunice Nicklecock.

To be continued…

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