I came out of the back office of the gas station. Sherman stood behind the counter talking to Sue.
?I hope he don?t find nothing,? Sherman said.
Sue waved off his worries. ?Oh, he won?t find nothing. It?s just a rumor anyway. If it weren?t, we?d all know about it by now. You can?t keep a secret in a small town.? She smiled in a motherly way as I walked up.
?Who won?t find nothing?? I asked.
Sherman started but Sue cut him off, ?Oh, there was just a reporter here. He said he was from the Daily Democrat.?
?Yea,? interrupted Sherman, ?He was looking for the sheriff?s office. He said he?s investigating the pig whistle.? His scrawny, teenage frame shook with the excitement.
I smiled. That rumor was good for a joke, but I didn?t realize the press was going to look into it. ?So, what did you tell him??
Sue jumped in again, ?I just told him how to find Sheriff Lecky?s office.? She pointed a plump finger in the direction of the office. Sherman nodded corroboration, causing his chest and belly lever back and forth.
?Did you tell him anything about this pig whistle non-sense??
Sherman shook his head from side to side. ?No sir, I just told him I didn?t know nothing about it and that as afar as I was concerned it weren?t none of my business.?
?Good boy, Sherman. How about you, Sue??
Her chubby face turned bright pink under her short, grey curls. ?I pretty much told him the same thing as Sherman here. Of course, I told him that if there was such a thing as a pig whistle, I hope that who ever is using it gets a medal. We don?t need no corporate hog lots coming in here and shutting down family farms. I said Old Man Nowicki should be ashamed of his self. That?s what I told him. Oh, that and how to get to the sheriff?s office.? She pointed toward sheriff again.
Sherman took a swallow and breath, meaning he was about to talk. His Adam?s apple slid up and down his skinny throat. ?Do you think there is such a thing as a pig whistle, Mr. Lomax??
?No, Sherman, I don?t think it exists. I think Nowicki is having trouble meeting business goals and has decided to blame us locals. If his pigs really are getting agitated in the middle of the night, there may be some wild dogs in the area setting them off. That?s much more likely than some mystical whistle that only pigs can hear. Nowicki just needs to learn how to run a business.?
Sue frowned and put her fists on her wide hips. ?Jake Lomax, your grandfather would never take that attitude about corporate hog lots. He raised pigs on the very land that hog lot is on now. If you hadn?t sold the land to him there wouldn?t be none of this.?
I rolled my eyes and sighed. The townsfolk weren?t very happy with my decision to sell. ?Now, Sue, we?ve been over this before. My father sent me to college to study business. He didn?t want me to be a hog farmer. He said there were better ways to make a living and that?s what I?m doing. Selling the farm was how I could afford this gas station and the caf?. You wouldn?t want poor Sherman to be out of a job, would you??
Sherman?s eyes grew wide. ?No, sir, I sure wouldn?t want that.?
Sue lowered her gaze. ?I?m sorry. I just get excited sometimes.?
?That?s alright. Now, I?ve got to go over and do the books at the caf?. You don?t keep Sherman from his work much longer. He?s got sweeping to do. Isn?t that right, Sherman??
Sherman came to attention. ?That?s right, Mr. Lomax.?
?Good boy, Sherman.? I walked out.
Our little town isn?t much different from any other little Midwestern town. Our official population was about eight hundred. There were a couple of hundred more on farms beyond the city limits. There?s the grain elevator, the only reason to have a town here. There?s the school, no longer in use now that the kids get bussed over to the consolidated county school. There?s the sheriff?s office. There?s the general store. There are houses. Finally, there?s my gas station and my caf?. I?d never grow rich in this town, but it?s home.
The grey sky matched the grey asphalt of the paved road through town. The puddles in the potholes matched the gray sky above. That seemed right.
I walked to the road, waited for the pickup roll past. The glare on the windshield kept me from seeing the face, but I watched the index finger come off the top of the steering wheel. I nodded back.
Once the truck was past, I stepped quickly to the other side to the parking lot of the caf?. I was proud of the fact that my caf? and my gas station were the only places in town with paved parking lots. There were still puddles.
Business was usually slow in the cafe at ten in the morning. Inside this morning was Rob and Pasquale, a couple of semi-retired farmers without much to do. They always came in to gab and drink coffee. In the corner, Netty served pie to Unexpected Bill.
?Good morning, Lomax,? Rob shouted.
?Good morning, Rob, Pasquale. What?s the gossip today?? I wiped my feet on the rug just inside the door and walked behind the counter.
Netty came back around the counter from the other end. ?Good morning, Jake. How are things going??
?The gas station is doing fair. All this rain has got the farmers coming into town.?
She nodded, ?You should have seen it earlier this morning. I think every farmer in the county came in for breakfast.? She grabbed a cup from the shelf behind us, filled it with coffee and handed it to me.
?That?s what I like to hear. Business is good.? I took a sip of the coffee. ?So, have you seen the reporter yet??
Netty raised an eyebrow. ?Reporter??
?Yea,? I said, ?Sherman says a reporter from the Daily is in town asking about the pig whistle. The boy and Sue Childs directed him to the sheriff?s office.?
?Reporters are like flies,? said Bill loudly. ?You know what they?re looking for.?
Pasquale and Rob chuckled.
?Behave yourself, Bill,? I said, ?We don?t want to have to call your doctor again.?
?Bah,? said Bill and went back to his pie.
Netty asked, ?So, do you think he?ll find anything??
I shook my head. ?I don?t think there?s anything to find. There?s no such thing as a pig whistle.?
Pasquale set his coffee down. ?You don?t believe in it, Lomax? I think you protest too much.?
?Yea,? said Rob, ?I figure you sold your farm to Nowicki just so you could bug him.?
?You boys keep saying things like that and I?ll have Netty put decaf in your cups.?
A car pulled into the lot. It was some sort of generic, brown sedan. Everybody in the caf? turned to look. Nobody recognized it.
A man got out and headed to the door. He was about five foot seven, hundred and forty, and about twenty-five years old. He didn?t look rich but he didn?t look rural either. He carried a notepad.
He came through the door and looked around. Seeing the five other faces looking back at him, he smiled. ?Hi. How?s it going?? He turned to Netty. ?Am I too early for lunch or too late for breakfast??
Netty pointed to the stool at the counter. ?Have a seat; we?ll see what we can get you.?
?Thanks.? He straddled the stool and plopped his notepad on the counter.
Netty held up a cup. ?Coffee to get you started??
She poured him a cup and sat it down with a menu. She stepped back.
He turned to me. ?You must be the owner. What was the name? Jake Lomax??
I reached around to offer my hand. ?Yea, that?s right. Who might you be??
He took my hand and shook it. ?I?m Tom Cove. I?m a reporter for the Daily Democrat. The sheriff tells me that you?re the man I need to talk to.?
I took my hand back. ?Really? He must have known you were hungry.?
A quick, puzzled look ran across his face before the smile reasserted itself. ?Oh, no,? he said, ?I?m here doing a story on the so-called pig whistle. The sheriff said you know everything that goes on in town. Actually, he said you own most of the town.?
?He?s exaggerating. I only own the caf?, the gas station, and my house.?
?Don?t forget your underground research place,? said Bill.
Cove looked over at Bill and then at me. ?Who?s my new friend??
I smirked. ?That?s Unexpected Bill. Don?t encourage him.?
Rob and Pasquale laughed. ?Yea,? said Rob, ?he?ll say the most unexpected things.?
Tom turned back to me. ?So I should ignore the underground thing, right??
?What can you tell me about the pig whistle??
I took a deep breath and sighed. ?There?s no such thing as a pig whistle. There?s no scientific basis for a whistle that is only heard by pigs. If such technology could be developed, it?s not likely to be developed in this little town. Any other questions??
He finished scribbling while repeating back, ??little town.? He looked up from his pad. ?That makes sense. I?m more interested in the origin of the myth of the pig whistle. When did the story start??
?Day after tomorrow,? said Unexpected Bill.
?Maybe the day after,? suggested Pasquale.
?Could be the next week,? said Rob.
The old farmers laughed.
I waited till they settled before answering. ?The story started about the same time Nowicki?s profits started dropping. He needed something to tell his corporate masters. Next thing you know, there?s the rumor of the pig whistle. Naturally I have no proof that he did anything. I?m just speculating.?
?? just speculating.? He finished scribbling. ?Is that all there is to it??
Cove flipped to an earlier page in his notepad. ?Ah, here it is.? He read quickly over his notes. ?It?s been suggested that you have a grudge against the hog lot because you got shorted on the deal. If the lot looses money, you may be able to buy back what was your family?s farm at a profit. Any response to that??
I sipped from my own coffee. ?All my cash is tied up in the two businesses and my mortgage. Even if the lot came onto the market I couldn?t afford it. Then there?s that stuff about there being no such thing as a pig whistle.?
?You tell him, Lomax,? said Rob.
?So this is just more rumors?? asked the reporter.
?Since I haven?t heard it yet in this small town, I think of it less as a rumor and more as slander.?
Pasquale piped up, ?I bet it was the Nowicki. I don?t think he likes you, Lomax.?
?Yea,? added Bill, ?His whore don?t go all the way down.?
The farmers cracked up.
?Bill!? I yelled. ?What have I told you? If you don?t keep it clean you can?t come in here. This is a family establishment.?
Bill scowled and lowered his head while sliding down in his seat. He muttered something no one could understand.
Cove stopped chuckling and turned back to me. ?Just for the record, it wasn?t Nowicki who told me that.?
?I know,? I said, ?I?ll talk to Sue about it later.?
Cove?s eyes and grin widened. ?You sure know your town.? He threw a fiver on the counter and gathered his notepad. ?Well, I?ve got to be off. Got an appointment with your friend Nowicki. Anything you want me tell him??
?Just tell him to have a nice day.?
He turned to go. ?Anything Unexpected Bill wants me to tell him??
Bill looked up, opened his mouth, and then glanced at me. He shut his mouth, shook his head no, and slid down further in his seat.
The reporter opened the door to leave. He stopped. He turned slowly back to face me. ?You know, the pig whistle story sort of reminds me of something I overheard once while doing an interview of an advertising guy. There were these guys chatting about ways to increase awareness of a small town with little to offer the visitor or small business. Of course, I?m sure it?s just a coincidence.?
?I?m sure it is,? I said.
Netty collected the coffee cup and cash. She glanced suspiciously at me.
I watched the reporter get into his car and drive off.
Rob and Pasquale turned to face me. Bill looked up.
Netty rang up the coffee and then carried the cup back into kitchen.
?Well?? asked Rob.
?Well what?? I answered.
?Is it true what the reporter said??
I smiled at the boys. ?Do I seem like the kind of guy that would do anything bring extra cash into this town, especially if it doesn?t cost anything??
Pasquale and Rob exchanged glances and grins. ?No,? said Pasquale, ?You don?t seem like that kind at all.?
?The aliens will be here Thursday,? said Unexpected Bill.