Mystery in a Pigsty
“Man Abandons Wife and Baby Daughter” That was the headline 13 years ago. You wouldn’t see a headline like that in a big city but a small country town makes news out of everything. Mr. Van walked out on his wife and baby daughter, Darlene, never to be seen again. Mrs. Van always wanted money and prestige, she was greedy, but Mr. Van was a traveling salesman who made an honest living and nothing more, and had no desire to be wealthy. They fought a lot about money. It was not uncommon to hear them screaming at each other. Evidently, or so the story goes, on the night of his disappearance they had a whopper of a fight and he told her he’d had enough and walked out. People around here were surprised because he doted on his baby daughter Darlene. Darlene was all he seemed to really care about and it came as a surprise that he would desert his beloved daughter. About a year after Mr. Van’s disappearance Mrs. Van married his best friend Mr. John Smythe III. Mr. Smythe had tons of money, old family money. All he cared about was money and position, a good match for Mrs. Van. He had arranged for Mrs. Van to get an uncontested divorce and they were married in a huge wedding on Mr. Smythe’s family grounds anyone who was someone was invited. Darlene is the baby in this mess and she is one of my best friends, Caity is the other. Those headlines were 13 years ago by the way.
I just heard a knock on the door. One cool thing about my bedroom is I can look out my window and see who’s at the door. The porch roof ends before my bedroom so I can see down there. Two girls are out there, Darlene and Caity. We’ve been like the three musketeers for about 10 of my 14 years. Darlene is an only child. Darlene’s mother is annoying. Always wants everything and has no time for Darlene. It upsets Darlene that she never talks about Darlene’s father and got rid of all of his pictures. Caity on the other hand is the only girl in an Irish family of six boys. Her parents are darlings. They settled here from Ireland and I love to listen to them talk. The only fighting in their house is among the boys, not like Darlene’s. You see, Darlene’s mother and stepfather fight a lot too. Darlene said they seem to argue about what happened to “him”, him being her father we suspect. Of course in my house my brother Boo is the one who usually starts everything but that’s okay because he’s younger than I am and I usually win. The three of us are always getting into trouble, Darlene, Caity and me. We’ve been stalking Mr. Artemus Zinc for about three years now. Mr. Zinc owns a pig farm and is very suspicious looking. (We love a good mystery.) Mr. Zinc has dark, close set eyes and doesn’t talk to anyone. He just nods his head and says, “lo.” We stalk him a lot trying to find out what he’s hiding and every time we do, we get caught and have to go to his place and do chores. We’ve cleaned his kitchen, brought in wood, even done his laundry. He never talks while we’re there, he just stares at us. I sometimes think he looks forward to us getting caught so we can do some chores, cause he’s too mean to do them himself. Being a country town there’s always rumors of bodies floating around somewhere. Once there was talk of a gangster burying a body under the old railroad trestle. We dug for days but couldn’t find a thing. Another time people said a woman drowned in the creek and they never found her body. You guessed it, we spent weeks diving and looking but never even found a clue. So, we’d go back to looking for something on Mr. Zinc’s property to see if we can solve any mysteries.
One sunny day we decided he must have something hidden in the barn. He had lots of straw in the barn for his pigs. Pigs like to sleep on clean, dry straw. He always kept the pigs clean, I think cleaner than his house. Anyway, we knew Mr. Zinc didn’t use the second story of his barn very much so that was our plan for the day, find something suspicious upstairs in the barn. Darlene and Caity came to get me early in the morning. We walked openly on the road to Mr. Zinc ‘s but as we drew near his farm we started to try to hide ourselves, after all we didn’t want Mr. Zinc to catch us again. We quietly crept into the back door of the barn and up the ladder to the second floor. It was filled, and I do mean filled, with straw. Straw is a little different than hay. Hay is made out of grasses and cut and dried to feed animals. Straw is made out of leftover stalks and is used for bedding. Pigs eat almost any kind of food, including dead insects, worms, trees, bark, garbage and straw. So Mr. Zinc uses straw for their bedding and to supplement their diet and that’s why there’s straw everywhere! We decided to divide the area into thirds, one third for Darlene, one third for Caity, and one third for me. This way we could search the whole upstairs and hopefully get out of there before we got caught. Of course we had to roll around and throw some straw at each other first. We tried to keep the giggling at a minimum. By the time we started investigating we looked like scarecrows with straw sticking out everywhere. Once we started investigating we got quiet so we could concentrate on what we were doing. Digging through straw seems almost impossible because it keeps falling down and flying all over the place but we kept at it. I was digging in this one corner when I saw something white buried underneath. I quickly dug it out and found it was a man’s white handkerchief. It had a “V” embroidered on it. A “V”? An initial for someone's name...Could this belong to Mr. Van? But what would Mr. Van be doing in Mr. Zinc’s barn? Before I had time to think any more about it we heard Mr. Zinc enter the barn. We all held our breath. He walked over to the ladder, shook it, and said one word, “Down.” Darn, snagged again. As we started down the ladder we heard other people enter the barn. When we got all the way down there was Caity’s mother and my mother. Caught! Darlene’s mother wasn’t there because she was getting her hair done. My mother looked at the three of us suppressing a smile. “Get into the car, all of you” she said. Naturally we obeyed immediately. Once we were in the car she explained to us that we would be cleaning out Mr. Zinc’s pigsty tomorrow. We all groaned at the same time. “You have to learn to leave poor Mr. Zinc alone. He may not be friendly or sociable but he deserves his privacy. Maybe this will do it.” She said. She dropped off Darlene at her house then drove to Caity’s where she dropped off Caity and Mrs. Derry. When we got home she told me to go hang out in my bedroom for the rest of the day. I did as I was told. When I got upstairs I remembered the hankie I had stuffed in my bra. Yes, my bra. I knew if I put it in my pocket it would disappear of its own accord and never be seen again so I figured the safest place was my bra. I did sneak downstairs and get a couple of plastic bags to contain my evidence. I knew from watching all those crime shows on TV you should keep your evidence as clean as possible and bag it right away. I had already contaminated it but hoped it wasn’t too bad. I was hoping there was DNA present, after all DNA evidence can last for years. Like Czar Nicholas. He was assassinated in 1917 and they were able to identify his body in 1995 by using the DNA on the body! If this was Mr. Van’s hankie it was only 13 years old. Of course it now had my DNA on it but it had to have other DNA as well. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell Darlene and Caity about my find but the more I thought about it I wasn’t really sure I wanted to tell Darlene just yet. She knew her parents had a major fight on the night he left and always resented her mother for him leaving. Telling her about the hankie wouldn’t help matters any. I’d just put the hankie in a plastic bag and hide it in my junk drawer. That was the only drawer my mother wouldn’t go in, too much junk. In spite of all that had happened I went to bed early. Darlene, Caity and I had agreed to meet at Mr. Zinc’s around 10:00 in the morning, no need to get there too early after all we didn’t want to wake up the pigs! My mother reminded me to wear my oldest rattiest clothes because they would be thrown out when I came home as she had no intention of putting them in the washing machine. Fortunately my old, torn jeans had one good pocket left. I stuffed a couple of plastic bags in the pocket just in case I found any more evidence.
When I got to the pigsty the girls were already there and so was Mr. Zinc. He had moved the pigs to a second sty so we could clean. Pigs need a clean, dry, draft-free area under a roof to sleep. So that was one area we’d have to clean out. Fortunately Mr. Zinc had rubber boots for each of us to wear in the pig sty. The old straw had to be removed from the ‘building’ area and the rest of the sty. Okay, we had a lot of dirty work ahead of us. Mr. Zinc laid a bunch of large green garbage bags on the fence of the pig sty and laid shovels and pitch forks along the fence. Did I mention the pig sty was smelly too? Oh well, we started to “dig” in. By noon we had filled two garbage bags and it looked like we were making headway. Much to our surprise Mr. Zinc provided us with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lemonade which he served with a scowl. After we ate we went right back to our chore. I don’t think this pigsty had been cleaned out in a long time. We found some strange things under the straw, an empty can, some kind of comic book or magazine, and what looked like an old shoe. I stuck my pitchfork into the straw, I was getting near the bottom now, and noticed something shiny. I bent down to take a closer look and saw it was a ring of some kind. I grabbed one of my plastic bags and picked it up and bagged it. Again, I didn’t tell anyone about it. Our day ended around 3:00 when we all agreed to head home for showers and clean up. We were still grounded today but agreed to meet up tomorrow.
After throwing out my clothes and taking my shower, I went to my room and locked the door. I took out the ring. It was a man’s gold wedding band, no imitation. I went and washed it off and looked it all over. There was an inscription inside the ring, “Eternally Wanda.” OMG! Wanda! That is Darlene’s mother’s name! Why was Mr. Van’s hankie and wedding ring at Mr. Zinc’s pig farm? Why would Mr. Van go there? What if Mr. Van really didn’t disappear? OMG! What if Mr. Van was really murdered? But, Mr. Zinc? He was strange but he wouldn’t hurt a fly, all he cared about was his pigs. I had no choice, I had to tell someone, this was really real. I ran down the stairs, yelling, “Mom, I found Mr. Van’s wedding ring!” My Mom put her hand to her mouth, "How can you know that and where did you find it? and then said, “We always thought there was something fishy about his disappearance." She told me people had speculated for a long time after he 'left.' We both decided this was real evidence and my Mom said she'd have to call the police. The police were skeptical at first but when she read them the inscription inside the ring they decided to send a man out. He asked lots of questions about what I was doing at the pigsty and why I was there, then he asked where exactly I’d found the hankie and ring and thanked me for bagging them. After he left my mother explained more about the belief that Mr. Van had met up with foul play. Leaving his wife was not a stretch at all, she was such a shrew. What made people most suspicious was that he was never heard from again. The police did a cursory search but since Mr. Van was a traveling salesman and he and Mrs. Van had had so many fights, the abandonment story was plausible and no one ever got murdered in our small town! The police searched for a short time but found nothing. Once or twice Mr. Smythe had made strange remarks when he was drunk and he was drunk a lot. People were suspicious but nothing could ever be proved. What would the police find? Was Mr. Van murdered and if so by who?
You decide the end of this story
Who do you think killed Mr. Van or did he just disappear?
Other Mysteries I've Written
- The Face in the Mirror
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- The Empty Beds Mystery
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