by: Wes Ishmael

Here a Snake, There a Snake

Hooter couldn't remember the last time the inside of a crew cab felt so good. His partial round of miniature golf with Myron—just Myron—on a blustery West Texas morning left his hands beyond numb. He knew they'd sting like blazes when they started to thaw.

Myron, who it turned out was a putt-putt all-star, didn't seem to notice the change in temperature. Of course, Myron seemed immutable. Over all the years and intermittent times Hooter had seen him, no matter the weather, Myron always wore faded Levis and a black T-shirt beneath his ever-present, long, wrinkled, tan trench coat, which seemed to contain an endless number of bottomless pockets. He never shivered or sweat when others did.

The pickup belonged to Roy Bean “Benny” Wilson, the irascible West Texas rancher who earned a law degree after a corporate bully tried to wrongfully procure some of his property. Benny loved justice.

“Hooter, we can't go into all of the details here,” Benny said. “But, moron there has something to listen to that you might find interesting. Remember Operation Bald Coyote?” He was looking at Hooter in the rearview mirror.

Benny never worked with Myron unless there was any other way.

Somewhere in the depths of his rumpled trench coat, Myron retrieved another stick of licorice, a deck of cards and a voice recorder.

Myron flipped the switch on the voice recorder. There was the low hum of conversation in the background, the sporadic tinkling of plates and glasses, then one very loud and unladylike belch from up close. No apology.

“I can't believe it took those two oafs so long to get caught.” That was presumably from Miss Manners, delivered with a nasally deep voice, like a whiner with a perpetual cold. “I saw you leave, and I knew when the time was right, you were the one who could help me.”

Myron hit pause.

“That would be Claude Dickens that she's talking to,” Benny said.

“And, she didn't see him leave,” Myron explained. “Claude let her see him leave, let her follow him to gather enough information to think she had something on him.”

Hooter looked flummoxed. There was something familiar in what the two were telling him, but he'd missed way too much of the movie.

“You remember Claude,” Benny said. It was more an accusation than a question.

Of course, Hooter remembered Claude. Claude was the one who led Vernon Caterwauller and Ernest Nimblewimp down the garden path of their undoing, during the penultimate phase of Operation Bald Coyote (OBC).

“That other voice, Hooter, is the voice of one Marsha Caterwauller. Ring any bells?” Benny asked.

“Really? Nawww, it can't be. Really? When was this taped? She should still be locked up.”

“She should still be locked up,” Benny growled, gnawing the plug tobacco in his cheek. “Your justice system at work.” He aimed a heavy stream out the window, which he'd forgotten was closed. He got like that when he was concentrating.

“And you call me a pig,” Myron said with a chuckle. He shuffled through the cards, finding the ones he wanted. “I thought visuals might help keep track.”

“Dunce,” said Benny.

“This queen of spades will be Marsha and these two jokers will be Vernon and Ernest, got it. And, Claude, of course, will be the king of diamonds because he got the money.”

Requiem for justice

For those unfamiliar, Marsha was Vernon Caterwauller's wife, now ex-wife. Vernon had been an executive at the Pet Protection Society, which had little interest in anything other than soliciting donations from an unsuspecting public. Ultimately, Vernon hired a man named Ernest Nimblewimp to establish another organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life, in order to solicit more money from donors, and more important at the time, to distance Vernon from Eunice Nickelcock, whom he had hired previously to conduct some skullduggery of which she was unaware.

Marsha, along with her husband, had owned the Gentle Peace and Balance Institute, funded will ill-gotten gains from the sham animal rights organizations. That's where they tried to shelve Eunice in case she finally understood the damning evidence she possessed, concerning the organizations and their leaders.

OBC was an elaborate and successful plan—orchestrated by Hooter, Benny and Myron—to extricate Eunice from the clutches of Vernon and Ernest, while putting an end to the two organizations they fronted. When it all came crashing down, Vernon and Ernest were convicted of all sorts of crimes, including soliciting Claude to find Eunice and bump her off. Marsha was convicted of sundry lesser charges.

“It's beginning to look like Marsha was the brains behind the outfit all along,” Benny said. “If not the brains back then, she's the one running the show now.”

Hooter's mind was searching lots of directions all at once.

“But how…what show…this was years ago…how do we know any of this about her now or have this recording?”

Myron fished out more licorice, a long string of what appeared to be grape. “Let's just say, once they're on the radar…” Myron explained. “Besides which, the proceeds from the online betting pool was more than I could have ever envisioned.”

Revealing the guilt of Vernon and Ernest included streaming video of their confessions, soliciting Eunice's demise, as well as the abuse of white armadillos.

“So, she got away with it,” Hooter said.

“So far, but that will take care of itself,” Benny explained. “It's this next bit we find lots more interesting.” He nodded to Myron, who hit the play button. He paused it again right after Marsha Caterwauller said, “…Mama's Best Protein—Bet you can't tell the difference.”

Myron and Benny gave Hooter some time.

“The old double-reverse,” whispered Hooter, mostly to himself. He shook his head slowly and then thought out loud. “So, she's setting up a fake meat company, but she's going to beat the competition by using real meat and calling it fake.”

“Admittedly, somewhat brilliant in its simplicity,” Myron said. “She can offer a lower-cost, fake product, one that tastes just like the real thing because it is the real thing.”

“But the regulators…” Hooter began.

“Who says this company is set up in the U.S.?” Benny said. “By the time anyone catches up with her, if anyone does, she's already pocketed investor and consumer money—loads of it—and is living her days out in luxury, wherever it is that snakes like her go.”

“Not to mention the fact that, if successful, she leaves the door open to other more unfortunate possibilities,” Myron said.

To be continued…

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