Monday, July 29, 2013
Those Dang Pesky Varmints
Fade in on a rugged landscape of harsh rocks and scrub in a desert setting. The camera zooms in on a tall, equally rugged man with a tanned face and wiry limbs. His Stetson sports an eagle feather, and a necklace made from bear teeth hangs around his neck. Cue the steel guitars.
“My name’s Billy Bob Beebe,” the voice-over announces over a montage of the man pursuing and grabbing various raccoons, foxes, skunks and opossums bare-handed, as well as one extended shot of him wrestling a buck deer. “I been hunting critters since I was knee-high to a bronc. Size don’t matter. They set up shop where they ain’t wanted, that’s when I step in.”
Tight close-up on Billy Bob’s face and his best Clint Eastwood squint. The title appears on screen, with a slash like claw marks through it. “I’m the Critter Catcher.”
# # #
“Son of a bitch,” Clu said. “I think we’re lost.”
Billy Bob and his sidekick, Skunkmeat, traded a look in the back of the van. Neither had been in favor of this Wild West Critter Roundup shit the producers had dreamed up, but with ratings dipping of late they had to do something. Arizona had been fun, and those girls in Colorado—hoo-whee! But that was two weeks and three episodes behind them. Tonight they were stuck somewhere out in Buttcrack, Montana, thanks to Clu’s overreliance on maps instead of GPS. As a cameraman, he was second to none. As a driver, he sucked ass.
“Hold it,” Skunkmeat said. “That a house up there?”
So it was, and with lights on. It looked just shoddy enough to invite critters in. “Attic or basement?” Billy Bob asked Skunkmeat.
“Basement. Whatever it is, they can’t drive it out. Gal sounded desperate.”
Desperate women. His favorite. Billy Bob puffed out his chest. “Hope she’s a looker. If she is, get lots of close-ups.”
They pulled up into the yard. Nobody came out of the house. Skunkmeat knocked on the door, then tried the knob. “Door’s open,” he announced. “Go in, or what?”
“Might as well start filming. The varmint could be in there now. We can get shots of the owners after and edit ‘em in later. You check around the outside and stand by with the cage. Clu, you’re with me.”
Inside they found a sink full of dishes and a sticky kitchen floor, but no homeowners. “They might’ve run off,” Clu suggested. “Especially if it’s a skunk.”
“Somebody should’ve told ‘em we were coming. That asshole Bennington probably dropped the ball again. Hey. Hush up a sec.”
Billy Bob tiptoed to a doorway standing open a crack. Clu caught his stealthy approach on camera. “Cellar,” Billy Bob whispered after a quick check. “I hear scratching. What the hell, let’s go earn our paychecks.”
The two men crept downstairs. A single forty-watt bulb on a string cast wan yellow light over an earthen-floor basement that was one step up from a crawl space. Shelves crammed with canned goods lined the walls, and an ancient freezer hummed in a corner.
In another corner, a big furry lump dug industriously at the dirt. Billy Bob aimed his flashlight at it.
“Coon! We got us a coon!” All the noise was for the camera. So was his headlong plunge off the steps. The viewers liked a lot of noise and action. He’d chase the critter around the basement, provoke it into a fight. Once Clu had enough useable shots he’d grab the beast and yell for Skunkmeat and the cage. A simple formula, but one that had won him and his buds thousands of fans and a rich payoff. People were entertained by just about anything these days.
The raccoon froze in the light, stunned to immobility. Billy Bob swung a kick at it to get it moving. The stupid thing just stood there. Swearing, he lunged and caught it by the tail. “C’mon, you damn fleatrap. Show a little fight. I got sponsors to keep happy.”
It didn’t fight. It blurred. Suddenly Billy Bob found himself face to face with a scruffy guy with a beer gut and eyes that glowed red in the flashlight. A naked scruffy guy.
“Wallet’s upstairs on the bureau. We don’t have any silverware,” the guy said. “Just don’t hurt us.”
Clu dropped the camera.
Billy Bob’s voice dried up. He found enough spit to wet his throat and croak out, “Whu?”
The scruffy man leaned forward and squinted. “Hey, I know you. You’re that jerk from the Animal Channel. You catch poor scared little animals and stuff ‘em in cages. What are you doing in my house?” He cast a suspicious look at Clu. “Are you scrapbooking this?”
Billy Bob made sputtering noises.
“We got a call,” Clu quavered. “Some varmint in a basement—”
“Oh.” The erstwhile raccoon nodded. “You want the Zinns. They live about a half mile up the road. They got a possum in their rec room. I think it’s Albie’s brother-in-law. His wife’s been trying to get that moocher out of the house for weeks.” He transferred his glare back to Billy Bob. “You want to get your hand off my ass?”
A sudden shriek caused all three men to whirl toward the basement stairs. A woman in a housecoat stood there, clutching the wooden rail. “What the hell are you doing to my husband?”
The raccoon had married a wolverine. (“I like feisty women,” he said later.) What followed wasn’t pretty. Watching the carnage from the basement window, Skunkmeat lurched away and blew chunks into the pansies.
# # #
While Billy Bob was recuperating in the hospital, somebody uploaded a video to YouTube showing the Critter Catcher with his hands on another man’s naked ass. His show was cancelled the following day. The home invasion charges were eventually dropped.
“Let this be a warning to everybody,” wildlife control officer Hannibal Ewing addressed the populace over Talbot’s Peak’s cable access station. “If you find a human in your home, contact your local authorities. Let us handle it. Don’t try to catch it yourself, especially not by hand. You don’t know where they’ve been.”