A warm breeze carried with it the scent of honeysuckle and cow manure, rustling the leaves in the nearby trees. The bluebirds in the nest resting on the rafter overhead chattered to each other quietly – no doubt discussing their three lovely eggs cradled gently within. Wayne Eastwood swayed gently in his rocking chair on the porch, eyes closed, enjoying the lazy afternoon.
A siren pierced through the air.
He put his foot down, spur clinking on the heel of his boot as he straightened his back and looked down the long driveway – as if he’d be able to see straight into downtown to see what the ruckus was about. There were never sirens in the sleepy little town they called home.
He stood, unable to bear the curiosity a moment longer, and went through the creaky screen door, calling to his wife within. “Martha, put the news on, hon!”
“What happened?” She looked up from her laptop as he shuffled into the living room where she was working. She had papers strewn across the couch and on the floor, books piled haphazardly on the coffee table, coffee cups littering every unoccupied surface available. Her doctoral dissertation couldn’t be over fast enough to suit either of them – how he’d love to get their home, and time together, back. It’d been months since he’d seen a genuine smile on her face.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Where’s the remote?”
“It’s—ahh… I mean… it’s gotta be here somewhere,” she said, digging through her various papers. She picked up a throw pillow, then set it down again. “I just saw it… I think it was earlier today. Definitely yesterday if not… today is Wednesday, right?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He strode forward and turned on the television manually, then sat down on one of the less-precarious-looking stacks of books on the coffee table. “I heard police sirens. I want to see what’s going on.”
“Oh, did you?” She blinked, hesitating a moment, then quickly typed on her laptop. “Oh my!”
“What?” He sprang to his feet and rushed to her, craning his neck to see her screen.
There was a video buffering, but the thumbnail showed, clear as day – blood all over the steps of the court house. A reporter came on the screen a moment later. “—here at the – court house – where – … officials are saying – likely the work of…”
“Oh, for goodness sakes!” He threw his hands up in frustration.
“I told you we need faster broadband!”
“Fine! We’ll upgrade it when I get home!” He started across the room again, grabbing the keys off the hook. “I’m going to head into town to see what’s going on.”
“Remember Clint borrowed your car for the afternoon,” Martha said. “And mine is in the shop.”
He sighed, tossing the keys back down. “Fine! I’ll take Breeze, then!”
“Be safe! Love you, sweetie!”
“Love you,” he muttered, walking through the kitchen and out the side door.
He quickly crossed the yard towards the barn. He’d been on horseback all day and wasn’t too keen to mount up just when he’d thought he was done for the day – but if there was any advantage to being a cowboy, it was motor-free transportation on demand.
“Shoo! Get on now!” He waved his arm, scattering the flock of chickens between himself and the barn, then quickly walked inside and grabbed a bridal and a small bucket of grain. He walked to the back field and shook the grain, calling to the horses. “Come and get it, boys!”
A dapple gelding pranced up the fence, and he lured him through the gate with the promise of grain. He gave the horse a few bites of the grain, then slipped the bridal on him, and hefted himself up to the horse’s back.
“Aye, that’s the magic touch, isn’t it?” He patted the horse’s neck. “Give a little grain and you’re a friend for life, ain’t ya, Breezy?”
Wayne leaned into Breeze’s smooth canter, relishing the feel of the wind on his face as they hurried along in the grass next to the gravel road. Soon, the small town came into view. Wayne clucked to Breeze, carefully steering him between the various police cones set up as he saw his older brother, the county Sheriff, next to the courthouse.
“Hey there Big Brother,” Wayne said, sliding off of Breeze’s back. His spurs clanked as he struck the ground, and he loosely flopped the reins over Breeze’s neck, realizing there was no saddle to rest them on.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking up from the notebook he was writing in.
“Tryin’ to see what’s going on.” Wayne craned his neck, trying to get a look at his brother’s notebook. “Whatcha writing?”
“I’m just writing up the initial police report.” He closed the notebook with a snap.
“We’re not sure yet.” He lowered his voice, stepping closer to Wayne. “There were hog corpses littered all around the precinct when we got in this morning.”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “But the odd thing is they were all missing their hind flank.”
“Weird,” Wayne said, rubbing his chin. “You reckon someone got the hankerin’ for some ham and bacon?”
He wasn’t saying something.
“Oh, well out with it, then,” Wayne said impatiently. “I’ve known you my whole life. I can see when you’re tryna hide something from me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Uhuh, sure ya don’t.” Wayne looked at the blood stains on the nearby steps. “Well I didn’t hear the sirens this morning, so what else happened?”
“Well… we’ve been looking all day, trying to see if we can figure out where all the swine came from, and we tracked it down to Miss Betsy’s ranch.”
“You can’t honestly think she is responsible—”
“Of course not.” He waved his hand dismissively. “But we went out to check on her, see if she knew she was missing some hogs and… well…”
“Well what?” A sinking feeling was settling in Wayne’s stomach. “I swear if someone killed her, I’ll go—”
“No, no, no – she’s fine. She’s just… different.” He rubbed his face. “When we got out there, she was the curing hundreds of pounds of bacon.”
“Oh. Well, that’s not a crime.”
“No. But when we started asking her about it, and why she’d dumped all the corpses around the precinct, she started swearing like a sailor and grabbed her shotgun and peppered one of my deputies in the leg so we had to bring her in.”
“You arrested Miss Betsy?” Wayne said incredulously. “I swear, Ma would whoop you upside the head if she knew that you arrested that little old lady—”
“I didn’t do it!” He was getting flustered. “And what was my Lieutenant supposed to do, just stand there while she reloaded?”
“Alright, so, mystery solved, then, right?”
His brother took a deep breath.
“Right?” Wayne pressed.
“Well… not exactly… she kept going on and on about how her beaux was never gonna let us get away with arresting her.”
Wayne’s eyebrows shot up. “Miss Betsy’s got a secret lover?”
“Well who is it?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Yes, you can!” Wayne stepped forward, looking at his brother earnestly. “Especially if he’s a suspect and still on the loose. Who is it?”
“Well make it unclassified!” Wayne said.
His brother lowered his voice so that only Wayne could hear. “We didn’t get a name out of her yet. But he goes by an alias, and has been tied to a string of other hate crimes all around the state.”
“And what’s the alias?”
“Some people call him…” He glanced around to be sure that no one was close enough to overhear, then whispered. “The Egg.”