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:: Smoke by Kaye George
Smoke by Kaye George
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Imogene Duckworthy, who yearns to be a PI, has landed a job assisting Mike Mallett in Wymee Falls, Texas. Bringing home a pot-bellied pig as a birthday gift for her daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, Immy discovers the body of the owner of Jerry's Jerky hanging in the smokeroom. Now she has her chance to prove her skills.
Imogene Duckworthy did not like pigs. She was fairly fond of cattle, having grown up surrounded by them. She hadn't been around pigs much. In fact, this was the first time she'd ever driven toward a pig farm.
Immy drove the ancient Dodge van out of Saltlick, a small Texas town with at least one foot planted firmly in the last century, and down the highway where cattle ranches, thickets of mesquite, and a few old oil wells stretched to the horizon. Cowboy country, not pig country. Not a pig in sight.
Her daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, three-years-old-going-on-four, was squealing like a pig in her car seat. Drew adored swine. She had recently transferred her passion from Barbie dolls to pigs (with a brief interlude of worshipping hippopotamuses—because she liked saying the word). Since Immy loathed the fixation on Barbies, she was trying really hard to like pigs.
In fact, she was on her way to pick one out for Drew's upcoming birthday.
"Pig, pig, pig!" squealed Drew. "I'm getting a big, big pig!"
Immy cringed. Not too big, she hoped.
Immy would do anything for her daughter, anything in the world, but she wondered if this was the right thing.
Her mother, Hortense Duckworthy, thought Drew should have a pig. Drew certainly wanted a pig. But the money to pay for it was making a dent, a ravine—no, a crater—in the pile Immy had saved to buy herself a car. A nice, clean, used car that had shiny paint and no rattles. Or maybe less rattles than the van.
After the dent made by the payment for her online PI course, her pile of savings was more like an ant hill. Not a big fire ant hill, either, a puny mound made by those Yankee red ants.
Ralph Sandoval, who had come along to help handle the animal, shifted his weight to look back at Drew. "Yes. A big, big pig."
Immy glanced over to see both of them grinning like maniacs.
Ralph sure hung around a lot lately. Ever since that first electrifying kiss in the spring. Immy wasn't stopping him in case there might be more of those.
"They're miniature potbellied pigs, y'all," Immy said. "Not big ones."
Her statement didn't dampen their enthusiasm at all. They kept up a chant of "Big, big pig," until she spotted a wooden sign swinging from a post: AMY'S SWINE. She turned the van up the dirt road that led to the pig breeder's place, just outside the town of Cowtail. The van bumped along the dry dirt ruts, raising even more glee from Drew.
The bilious green van belonged to Immy's mother and was their only family vehicle. But it was a trusty old thing and kept bouncing down the road.
Road dust blew in the windows and Immy reluctantly rolled them up. The van had no AC and Texas, this close to the Fourth of July, was damn hot. Immy didn't like the windows closed. Confinement made her feel like she couldn't breathe. Maybe that came from living in a small single-wide with her mother and daughter. Or maybe that time she locked herself in a closet for three hours when she was five had scarred her for life. Whatever caused the fear, her breathing became shallow and quick with the windows up.
By the time she negotiated the ruts and arrived at the house and outbuildings, Immy was drenched in sweat. She took a moment to mop perspiration off her face and hands with the paper towels she kept on the floor behind the passenger seat, then climbed out and unbuckled Drew from her seat in the back.
Drew, growing shy now that she was free to run to the pigs in the nearby pens, clutched her mother's jeans with the hand that didn't hold a small rubber pig.
Ralph came around to stand beside them. They almost looked like a little family, Immy thought. Well, except that Ralph wasn't little. The sole underling to the police chief of Saltlick, he was ex-high-school-football-player large. Out of uniform, as he was now, he was only slightly less intimidating. He hoisted Drew to his shoulder. Immy worried that her daughter was so awfully far from the ground. Drew didn't look scared at all.
Immy surveyed Amy's farm as they walked toward the smell. A neat white ranch house with a storm cellar off to one side, a sparkling clean, white pickup parked at other side. A red barn and tractor shed twenty yards or so to the right. A few large live oaks dotting the front yard. She glimpsed more trees hanging over the pens in the rear. The scene was serene, idyllic. The stench was not.
As they reached the backyard, a short woman came out of one of the pens. "I heard you coming. I'm Amy JoBeth." She wiped her hands on her overalls and looked down at them. "Maybe I'd better not shake hands. I have your piggy dumpling ready." She squatted down to Drew's level. "So. You're going to be four years old?"
Drew gave an enthusiastic nod, setting her glossy chestnut curls bobbing in the strong afternoon sunlight.
"Your piggy is right here." Amy JoBeth stood and waved for Drew to follow her toward the pens. "Come see him."
Immy wondered if it was true that people came to resemble their pets. Amy JoBeth was pig shaped, with a nice round middle and skinny arms and legs. Her nose even turned up. Her short, brown, wiry hair, if it were thinner, might look like coarse pig hair. Her overalls were practical, Immy supposed, for a pig person.
Immy had gotten the name of the pig farm from Ophelia Jenkins, a Saltlick resident who sold leather harnesses to breeders of miniature pigs. According to Ophelia, Amy JoBeth had started raising the smallish porkers after her recent divorce.
Amy JoBeth started walking and Drew took her hand saying, "I wanna walk wif the pig lady."
Immy followed. When they rounded the corner of the house, she was stopped in her tracks by the sight of the pigs. Three pens of spacious, woven-wire-fenced dirt plots held neat rows of pig houses lined up under the trees. Each pen also had a soft-sided pool of muddy water. Several animals lay in each. They were the size of, and kind of resembled, Immy decided, Basset hounds, with their thick bodies and stubby legs.
In the second and third pens, some pigs lay outside their door flaps, their eyes closed in contentment. The wooden houses looked like backyard playhouses minus windows, with mansard roofs and wildflowers painted on the sides. The fourth pen was smaller and held a single small pig. Amy JoBeth headed for that one.
On the other side of a substantial fence, a mean-looking bull regarded them with bad intent.
"Is that your bull?" asked Immy.
Amy JoBeth made a face. "No. I don't keep cattle. That bull belongs to the rancher across the road. I wish he didn't have it right there."
The incessant west Texas wind ruffled the tall grass outside the pens and rustled the tough leaves of the live oaks.
Published by: Kaye George
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