Chill Pill--Hank's pet nine banded armadillo. Chill Pill is no ordinary 'dillo. Hank has trained him to, among other things, come when called (most of the time), walk on a leash, and use a litter box. Chill also seems to have a nose for the nefarious.
Heloise Thibideaux--Hank's younger sister, married to fellow Ranger, Anton. Mother of Eloise. Mother of...
Eloise Adorine Thibideaux--Hank's seven-year-old niece. She lives up to her name's definition of 'well known warrior'. It doesn't bother her father, Anton, much, but her uncle Hank despairs of her ever being a 'lady'.
Logan Berryman--longtime college buddy of Hank, ex-DA, now an entertainment lawyer in California. He is deeply in love with...
Tina Bergeron--Logan's lady friend, an assistant producer at BLAB! Over worked and under paid, but very good at her job. The apple of her eye is...
Chase Bergeron--Tina's son. He's very happy about his mother's relationship with Logan. Chase is learning to rap from...
Beau Trinity--Also known as T-Beau. Security guard/receptionist at BLAB! Also employed at BLAB! are...
Devin Tarnower--host of Good Morning, Glendale! Believes in gaining a laugh at the expense of his co-host...
Cerise Stone--a pretty, ambitious woman, who believes she should be the sole host of her show, like...
Hunter Overend--An attractive chef/host of Round-the-Table. He's a very personalble young man, not like...
Pogey Penneman--An abrasive wheelchair bound activist and host of Yes We Can! Who is very likely not what he seems. Unlike...
Wilson Bates--An old school adventurer, now hosting Let's Talk About Pets! He's had dealings with...
Averill Montrose--mysterious lawyer, charged by an even more mysterious client with acquiring stock in BLAB! It's possible that he could be working for one of the major owners of BLAB! Perhaps...
Marva Barbee-Clutterbuck--A former starlet who specialized in grade Z movies before she married Tobias Clutterbuck. So far the liaison hasn't launched her into media stardom, like she expected. Part of that is because she's always butting heads with...
Suelynn Clutterbuck--Tobias Clutterbuck's first wife. Suelynn bears a big grudge about the break-up of her marriage, but she is one of the few people who believes that Tobias has met with foul play rather than actually committing foul play himself.
Tobias Clutterbuck--Former furniture magnate, turned television enterpreneur, disappeared before BLAB! Really got up and running--along with a chunk of change that wasn't strictly his own. Is he deceased, or simply enjoying ill-gotten gains? In any case, he left behind a mess.
Herbert 'Hank' Crank finished tucking a half-quart of milk, two sticks of margarine, a small block of Velveeta, and part of a package of olive loaf into a small cardboard box, then he put it back in the refrigerator. The little light inside had barely had time to shut off ("If it does shut off," Hank had said more than once. "I'm not entirely convinced it does. That would go a long way toward explaining some of my light bills.") when there was a knock on the door.
He walked to the front of the house, boot heels clocking on first the slate kitchen tile, then the hardwood floors. He peered through the spyglass set in the heavy oak door, and a smile lit up his face, edging it from pleasantly craggy over into downright handsome. He opened the door and immediately squatted down.
This brought his face on level with the little blonde girl, who looked like a shorter, blonder version of the pretty woman standing just behind her. Hank said, "Well, hello there, Miss Priss. Fancy meeting you here."
The child giggled coyly. "Unca Hank, you knowed we was coming."
"Yes, I knew you were coming, Eloise." He looked up at the woman, who was smiling indulgently. "Hey, Heloise."
"Hey, big brother. Sorry we're late. Eloise's soccer game ran a little late."
Hank turned his attention back to his niece. The little girl, all of seven years old, was dressed in a much stained soccer uniform. The uniform, and the child herself, were liberally decorated with both mud and grass stains. "Did you win?"
The girl nodded vigorously. "We open't uppa can of whoopass on 'em."
Hank frowned. "Language, Lissy!" The little girl looked abashed. "Heloise, you ought not to let her get away with that."
Heloise shrugged. "I'm just glad she doesn't pick up worse. Don't worry--wrestling has been banned."
"I should hope so, especially after that incident in the ball pit at McDonalds."
"Hey, that boy was three years older and had about twenty pounds on her. I'm proud of my baby."
"I am, too, but I think that kneeing him in the privates was a little extreme for pulling her hair." He shook his head as he stood up. "She's your girl, all right."
Heloise shrugged. "Anton insisted on naming her after me. I told him that a name meaning 'well known warrior' might have an influence."
Hank stepped aside. "Come on in, you two. I don't need to be air conditioning the whole neighborhood." He shut the door after his visitors, and said, "Actually, you're right on time. I was just finishing up my preparations. All I've got left to do is shut off the central air and the gas to the stove, then get Chill Pill."
"Are you sure about taking him along, Hank?" asked Heloise as they walked back to the kitchen. "I wouldn't mind keeping him for you, and you know that Eloise would be thrilled."
"Yeah!" Eloise piped up. "He could play in the back yard with Bogus." Bogus was the Thibideaux's pet pug. They had allowed Eloise to name him, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure had been in heavy rotation on cable the week before the wiggling bundle of fur was brought home.
"Honey, I'm sure Chill would have a fine time with Bogus, but you know your Daddy would have fits if Chill dug up that pretty back yard. That man just about kills himself to keep it nice. And besides, y'all have a hurricane fence, and Chill might just climb right over it and go looking for me."
"No he wouldn't!" Eloise protested.
"Never can tell, darlin'. Those claws are handy for climbing, and I think he'd get lonesome for me." Heloise snorted softly, and Hank gave her a severe look. "You didn't have any trouble believing that Bogus pined for you when you left him here that time you went to Orlando." Hank opened the refrigerator and took out the box. "Here are the perishables. You have the key?" Heloise held up her key ring, showing Hank the house key that was threaded on a separate loop. "Good deal. All you'll have to worry about is getting the mail and watering my plants. I have the lights set on a timer."
"Right. We'll look after the place, Hank. But I gotta tell you, anyone who'd break into the house of an ex-Texas Ranger, which is situated next to the house of another Texas Ranger is so stupid he needs to be put down before he can breed and screw up the gene pool."
Hank shrugged. "I have to agree, but there's such a thing as ignorance, too. And I told you before, Heloise, there is..."
Heloise and Eloise chanted the rest of the sentence, "...no such thing as an ex-Texas Ranger."
He smiled, nodding. "That's right--only current, retired, or dead ones." He took a jar of uncooked oatmeal out of the refrigerator. "Want to go help me call Chill Pill, Lissy?"
Hank picked up the plastic pet taxi that was sitting beside the kitchen door, and they went out into the spacious back yard. It was surrounded by a six-foot-high redwood fence, and shaded by two towering pecan trees, and a smaller, graceful mimosa tree. The three walked to the back of the yard, toward a corner that was more built up than the rest of the surrounding area. The yard was covered with grass, but this little hump was bare dirt, and there was a hole in the base.
As they walked, Hank lifted his voice, calling, "Chill Pill, c'mere, boy!" He whistled sharply. There was a hint of movement at the entrance of the hole, but no other response. "Chill! Darn it, don't you give me a hard time. We need to get on the road."
Eloise squatted down and peered into the darkness. "I can see 'im, Unca Hank. He i'nt in very deep." She turned her head to look up at him. "Want me to try an' pull 'im out?"
"No! Lissy, don't you ever go reaching down into a hole. You never can tell what might be waiting out of sight. Besides, remember what I told you about Chill. He wouldn't want to hurt you, but if he gets stubborn and starts trying to brace himself against the walls, he might catch you with his claws." He unscrewed the lid on the jar. "We're just going to have to appeal to his greed."
Eloise bounced up and down. "Let me, let me!"
Hank held the jar toward her, and she reached in, feeling around in the flakes. "Get two, darlin'--one to get him out, and one to apologize for tricking him."
Heloise wrinkled her nose. "I don't know how she can stand to handle those."
Hank gave her an amused glance as the little girl withdrew two tiny balls, not much bigger than buckshot. "Oh, come on, Heloise--they're just pill bugs. We used to race them when we were kids."
"I outgrew it."
Eloise squatted at the hole again, and extended one of the little insects toward it. "Here, Chill Pill. Nummy, yummy." There was a questioning snuffle from the hole. "I think he's comin'. Unca Hank, say the 'dillo pome."
"You ought to know that by heart, Eloise."
"I do, but you say it. C'mon, Chill Pill. Eat the bug. It'll make your grow big an' strong."
Hank started to recite. "If you give an armadillo a fright, he'll stop, and drop, and roll up tight. He sort of gives himself a hug..."
Eloise said the last few words with him. "...like a giant roly-poly bug. Here he comes."
The first thing to appear was a pointed, twitching, nose, then the rest of the wedge shaped head. After a moment, the little creature waddled into view. It was a grayish-beige color, about the size of a large cat, and looked like something that had escaped from Jurassic Park--junior division. Eloise backed up a little, luring it till it was completely free of the hole, even its long tail. Eloise held the pill bug on her open palm, and Chill Pill shuffled up to her, nosed in her palm, and ate it. While he munched, the child petted him, and said, "You feel kind of like a real old football, Chill Pill."
"He looks more like a soccer ball when he rolls up," said Hank. He'd opened the pet taxi. Now he scooped the 'dillo up and pushed him into it, moving quickly, so that the animal wouldn't have time to spread his legs. That was the trick to getting any sort of animal into a carrier--get the legs in, and the job was ninety-per-cent done. While Chill was turning around for an escape attempt, Hank shut and latched the barred door. "Sorry, old son. I'll let you out of that once we're on the road for awhile, but you're gonna have to settle down before I let you go running around in the RV."
Eloise pushed the second pill through the bars, and the 'dillo ate it, shifted a little, grunted, then settled down. "Unca Hank, whatcha gonna do when Chill needs to use the potty? You can't take him in the men's toidies at the gas stations, can you?"
Heloise laughed so hard she had to hold her sides. When Hank gave her a questioning look, she wiped her eyes, saying, "Sorry. I had a mental flash of that animated pine cone sitting on a toilet, tail raised up, reading a newspaper."
Hank's lips twitched, but he managed not to smile. "Between you and Anton, I worry about that child. Lissy, Chill will do what he does when he's in the house--he'll use the litter box."
They started toward the house. "And I still wish you'd let me send that story in to the World Weekly News," said Heloise.
"Sis, those rags are good for only one thing, and I know good and well you keep a supply of toilet tissue on hand."
"Yeah, right--they probably wouldn't believe it, since it's true. But hey, we could get fifty bucks for it."
They walked through the house, with Heloise retrieving the box of food, and Hank shutting off utilities, then went out the front door. Hank locked his house carefully, then opened the door of the big RV parked in the driveway and stepped inside. There was a frame on the back of the passenger seat, and he buckled the carrier to it, testing the straps to be sure they were secure.
That done, he scooped Eloise up into his arms for a hug. "You be a good girl while I'm gone, darlin'. Try not to go beating on anyone."
"I'll try," said Eloise reasonably. "But I can't help it if'n they're gonna go be poopy-heads."
Hank sighed. "Let me tell you from experience, sweetie--if you fight every poopy-head you run into, your life is going to be one long battle." He put her down, then gave Heloise a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
She slapped his shoulder. "You drive careful. I don't like the idea of you driving across West Texas during the day."
He shrugged. "I wouldn't do it in spring or summer, Sis, but it should be all right. I had the RV looked over just two days ago. Don't worry. Remember all the driving I've had to do in my life. I know what I'm doing."
She nodded. Hank had done ten years as a state trooper, often driving thousands of miles a week. "I'm going to expect a call from you every evening till you get there," she warned. "And remember, if you see Tommy Lee Jones while you're there in Los Angeles, I want an autograph."
"Will do." He got into the driver's seat, buckling up, and started the engine.
Eloise and Heloise had started across the lawn toward their own house next door. Heloise grinned and called, "And if you see Keanu Reeves, I want you to pinch his butt for me!"
Hank laughed. "Not gonna happen, Sis." He backed out of the driveway, and headed west, humming 'It Never Rains In California.'