A Character Study by Rod Lindsey
Had to give Linda kudos for straightforwardness, at least. The woman would get all over Hoot’s ass at a moment’s notice if she thought he had it coming. Usually…he did.
He remembered a time when the kids were still at home, the oldest in high school, youngest in elementary. Hoot was breaking-in a new partner named Mark Cooper, and Linda invited Cooper to dinner one Saturday night, one of those get-to-know-ya affairs. A young deputy marshal, still new to the star, when Cooper arrived the kids were all over him, driving him crazy. So, real smooth-like, Hoot invited his new partner to run down to Sears with him. Do a little shopping before dinnertime. Get away from the Wild Bunch for a while.
“I want to pick up a new bench grinder while they’re on sale,” he’d said. Instead, he took Cooper to a bowling alley that had a card room in back. Cooper didn’t gamble, didn’t even know how to play cards, but he knew how to bowl, so he subbed on a league team while Hoot played poker.
About four hours later, Cooper was long done bowling, and Linda showed up. She was clearly pissed off. And she walked straight over to the table where Hoot was playing. He was up by about $500. A big stack of chips in front of him.
“Ezra Monroe Hooten…you shit! Get your ass up from there right now!” Linda said without a Hi, How ya doing – or anything. Linda was a tiny, compact woman. Hoot would one day realize that a lot of tiny women are forceful, but from the start Linda set the standard. She could roil herself up like a Komodo dragon if she thought the occasion warranted it – and apparently this one did.
Hoot considered himself a man of keen survival instincts. His entire adult life was testimony to that fact; that he had lived through it was evidence enough. Now, his instincts were telling Hoot that he was in trouble with the wife. But he’d finally broken an evening-long losing streak, was on a roll, and the devil inside didn’t want to leave. He replied, “Just let me finish this hand, Honey. Then I’ll go.”
He’d been drinking pretty heavily while playing cards, and Hoot wore his most becoming, just-mellow-out-a-little-and-everything-will-be-alright expression spread across his face, his never-miss smile fitting as perfectly as a top hat on a tomcat. Linda hated that look, and, without warning, she started hitting him on the head with her purse, calling him a lying bastard, demanding that he get up right now, and complaining that dinner was ruined several hours ago.
Hoot was drunk enough to think it was hilarious as hell that Linda was swatting him with her purse, so he just ducked the blows and fended her off with his free hand, trying in vain to protect his chips and his drink with the hand that held his cards. “But I’m winning Linda,” he pleaded. “I can’t just quit in the middle of a hand when I’m winning!”
“The hell you can’t!” Linda screamed, and whacked him again.
“Now, Linda, just settle down,” Hoot said, still languidly defending his head from the battering vengeance of her purse.
“That’s my money you’re playing with there Hot Shot.” She said. “So just gimme those chips!”
And that’s when a wild fusillade with her purse knocked his pile of chips onto the floor. “Okay! Okay! I think I’d better fold, guys,” he said to the other players. Scrambled down onto his knees to gather the strewn wealth.
Linda paced around the table, cussing him out, cussing the other players, raking him with horrible verbal broadsides, taking out his rudder and flaying his back with the purse every time she came near, her anger insatiable.
Hoot cashed-in, gave her the money, and Linda stomped out of the card room with the cash in her fist. At the exit door she stopped in front of Agent Cooper and hissed in a stage whisper that could’ve easily reached the back row of The Met, “I don’t care where you take him, but don’t bring him home!”
Hoot made Cooper drive him home in spite of Linda’s ultimatum. Insisted that his new partner stay and eat the ruined dinner too. Burnt pot roast, dry and stringy as charcoal-flavored beef jerky. Withered potatoes the texture and taste of leather. Hoot raising his voice and praising Linda’s cooking, swearing that it wasn’t burnt too badly, while she fumed in the other room, refusing to sit at the table with them.
It was awful. But as soon as Cooper had left, soon as the dishes were done and the kids were in bed, Hoot and Linda made up and made love with significant passion. They used to do that a lot back then…make up and make love – he missed it.