5. The Things We Miss

N_96_12_325 Lowry House

Continued from last week’s installment of Digging in the Dirt.

Sheriff Daniel Coyle huffed up the long, gradual hill a few acres from where he’d parked his gray Ford Crown Victoria by the storage barn at the small, family-run pig farm. Moist winds blew the mixed scents of fertilizer and grass around the field. Once at the top, he saw that the pigs had been rotated to a section of the field on the back side of the hill by the apple trees. He was relieved. It could have been much worse.

He approached Forrest Smythe over by the pig shelters. He was a tall, wiry 30-ish guy with a slightly overgrown red beard; he was the owner of Smythe Farms. Forrest had been expecting him.

“Well,” Sheriff Coyle handed a photo of a dead pig to Forrest, “Is she yours?”

“Yep.” Forrest, leaning on a bow rake, looked at the photo and chewed hard on his orange bubble gum. He handed the photo back. “That’s Halifax, for sure.”

Sheriff Coyle, a small, stout man, looked slightly up at the pig farmer, and raised an eyebrow. “That’s a nice name.”

Forrest walked over to a hay bale and began to dismantle it. “Where my second girlfriend ever was from.”

“Really? Well, I’m sorry, Forrest.” The sheriff pulled at some of the twine that held the bale together, so Forrest could spread the hay around the pig shelter. “Hate to see anyone lose an animal.”

Forrest raked while maintaining eye contact. “Still missing eleven of ‘em. Y’all have any ideas?”

“Eleven? Ok. Well, right as I was drivin’ here, I got a call. There’s two more in town.”

At that, Forrest stopped raking. “Two more? Dead?”

Coyle looked down and shook his head. “Yeah. ‘Fraid so. I’ll go down and take pictures. Maybe I can swing by later?”

“I hate to think of it, Sheriff. I just hate it. Yeah, I’ll be here later.” Smythe turned his attention back to the ground and dug into his raking with angry vigor.

The sheriff walked to his car and his phone rang.

“Coyle? That you?”


“Coyle, it’s Russ Flannery. I need to talk to you about a robbery.”

Harris Flannery sometimes sat in his tan, corduroy recliner with the cup holder right there in the arm, and a pouch on the side for his remotes and The Enquirer. Plus they still sent Guideposts and sometimes he looked through that.

His sons Russ and Jim both agreed he probably wasn’t really reading, though Todd swore he’d recently seen him working on a crossword puzzle. Dad slept a lot, but when he was awake he set himself about fixing things. Or breaking things. Since Jim was between jobs anyway, he usually watched him. Sometimes Jim’d go to the bathroom or to his bedroom for a minute, and come out to find his dad in the shed. An old 70, Harris couldn’t figure out the toaster, but he could get that shed unlocked no matter where they hid the key.

They suspected some kind of dementia, but no one wanted to know the truth that comes with a doctor’s visit and a diagnosis. They contented themselves with making sure he didn’t kill himself tinkering around. Sometimes they’d stop him from messing with the tools. But if no one was busy and they could keep an eye out, they just let him go. He seemed to be having a good time, and no one knew what else to do with him, anyway.

On this Thursday evening he was taking apart the old lawn mower with a set of pliers. Thing hadn’t worked in years. When Jim checked on him, a confetti of nuts and screws had been strewn across the shed floor. Dad was grunting as he wrestled with one of the wheels.

It was an overcast but warm autumn day, and the smell of decaying leaves got kicked up into the air as Jim shuffled back to the porch. He picked up a newspaper and resumed going through the classifieds.

He circled a few third-shift jobs. Once Todd got home from the technical school, Jim thought, he could catch some sleep before a third-shift started. Todd could watch Dad. That kid needed something useful to do, anyway.

“UPS. That’s a good job. I could load trucks.” He began to imagine himself in a brown uniform, and remembered something he’d said to Louisa. It didn’t matter whether they called him “Jim” or “James” if he worked at UPS. He shook his head out of the thought, and returned his attention to the paper.

Off in the distance, he could hear a motor. It didn’t turn over, but it was clicking. He thought for a moment, then threw down the paper and ran to the garage. Dad was standing over the machine, tugging the pull cord. Finally, the mower engine kicked in.

“All set,” Dad yelled over the noise. “Do I do the front or the back first? I forget.”

“Hey Coyote, c’mere an’ look at this.” Rosie was sitting at her kitchen table in the rented two-bedroom townhouse, glasses on instead of her usual contacts, studying several large texts and a stack of scribbled-on looseleaf paper.

Coyote was sitting on the couch, currently a Level 24 Fighter in The Binding Wars, and in the middle of a melee with some giant angry seahorses. He hit “pause” on the game controller. “Wut,” he shouted from the other room.


Coyote trudged over to her.

“Some of these translations are wrong, I think. They’re close, but they’re wrong, see?” She pointed at one of the suspicious Latin words with the correction fluid bottle. “Can you double-check this to make sure it was done right?”

“Does it matter?”

“Does it… yes, it matters!” Her eyes were wide and her voice was a little louder than he was used to hearing it.

“It’s just a bunch of words.” He thought that perhaps she was missing an opportunity to relax for a change. “You’re the only one knows what it means,” he pointed out, “No one’ll know if you go off with a bunch of Latin-y words.”

I will know.” And here she gave him an icy stare that reminded him how much he disliked her obsession with details.

“You know,” he began, already knowing this was a bad idea, “We never talk about anything but this church anymore. And we never do anything… else.”

“This is a big deal for me,” she looked at him over her glasses. “We’ve talked about this.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just…” Coyote leaned on the back of her chair, “we never get to see each other. Y’know?”

“Honey, when this first one is done, we’ll see each other lots. But I gotta focus on Sunday. My first big service. I have to practice. It’s the dart team.”

“Yep, I know. Okay.” He missed her, though. “You still want my help?”

“Yeah. These words at the end look all messed up.”

“That was my fault,” Coyote said in a low voice. “I was watching Jeopardy when I was helpin’ with that part.”

Rosie’s side eye was legendary. Coyote shrugged. “Is what I been practicing this whole time even Latin?” she complained under her breath.


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