Agent Ritter stared into his computer screen while sipping on a glass of middle shelf bourbon. A small dog sat looking expectantly at him. “Yeah, I know. Dinner time, right?” Ritter asked, the tiny dog blinked and cocked its head. Ritter sat up and walked to the kitchen where he opened the refrigerator. “Steak tonight then, eh?” the pup looked up and chuffed. Ritter pulled out a plastic bag with a while t-bone steak inside. After slicing a large chunk of meat off of the bone he looked at the tiny canine and said, “This part’s for me.” and started pretending to nibble at the t-bone. Whuff! Exclaimed the canine. Ritter smiled and threw the little bone into a small dish. Bzzzzzz! The phone next to Ritter’s computer rang as he walked over. A picture of Skully’s face looking unamused stared at him from the screen.

“Body snatcher speaking, how may I help you today?” Ritter asked “Just a doppelganger looking to score some brains.”  from the other end. “Well, that’s fantastic. We can keep each other company, well that’s besides agent Bot here.” the half boston terrier half chihuahua had a mouthful and looked up with eyes that could meet two different people across the room. Ritter stared back thoughtfully, “What are you up to tonight, Skully?” “The reports are done and filed so it’s just fun fun silly willy until the next case comes up.”  Skully replied. “So what’s up then?” Ritter asked, “So what’s the deal with Wells?” Skully asked. “And by that do you mean, why is he a kleptomaniac lunatic who makes uncalculated risks?” “Um, yes that.”

After twenty minutes of Ritter describing what goes on in the head of Wells, Skully had had enough of an earful. “Okay, I can see there’s a lot to unpack with that guy. We should probably go over it in detail tomorrow, should we grab lunch?” she asked, “Absolutely, there is a place off of Miller avenue and 20th street we can go to, it’s got the best cold brew in town.” Ritter Responded, “What’s it called?” Skully asked, “The Guild.”

****

    Outside of the barn, Old Bruce was watching the sun set over the mountains while locking up his tractor for the evening, “G’night Bessie.” he said while clanking the lock. He strolled past the sheep pen that was twenty yards from his house and counted them. Twenty-six and more on the way. The chicken coup didn’t look disturbed so he nodded and went his merry way. He looked over his crops, the potatoes were just planted and the zucchini looked as though they were pretty healthy. His cornfield was impressive, 333 acres and about 16 feet high, he had to adjust the scarecrows from time to time because the birds would get used to them. No birds today though, it looks like Old Bruce fooled the lot of them.

    “Moooo!” Old Bruce heard it from the other side of his house, “Dirty Debbie!” he turned and hobbled over as fast as he could to see what the ruckus was about. Luckily he had his flashlight on him from working on the tractor, he pulled it out as he got over to his prized cows. After clicking the blasted thing on he shined it towards the noises he heard. Dirty Debbie, his prized cow was standing there with a glazed look in her eye breathing heavily. After looking her up and down he couldn’t see what was wrong until he shined the light behind her. The biggest and corniest pile of manure lay behind Dirty Debbie in all its golden glory, “Aw jeez, I thought you were in trouble, I can go to the doc tomorra’ and get you a laxative or something, that’s one helluva shit!” Old Bruce pulled out a small pad filled with chicken scratch and wrote down “helluva shit, buy lax” then clapped it shut. “Bahhh!” a sound from the side of the house he was just on, Old Bruce rolled his eyes and took his time walking back over, “I was just there, if one of you dumb sheep is squealin’ because you took the worlds biggest dump I’m gonna …” he looked over the pen. The sheep were all to the side closest to his house. “What in the hell are y’all doin’?”  then he counted them again. Twenty-five sheep stood while bleating incoherently. He shined his flashlight in the opposite direction of the scared heard and all he saw was cornfield moving in the wind.

****

    After arriving at The Guild, Ritter walked in and signaled for two. He was seated and two menus were placed down, one in front of him and the other in front of the empty seat. An attractive young woman walked up to the table, “The usual today, Schwartz?” she asked, “Yup, just a black cold brew for now. But I will likely be eating this time since I am meeting someone here.” “Oh, a lunch date?” she asked, “No, my new partner and I have some things to discuss.” the restaurants front bell rang as the door opened and Skully walked inside also signalling for two, “Hey Skully!” Ritter waived she nodded and closed the hand she was signalling with.

    Skully sat down and picked up the menu. “I could have checked the menu online but I figured I would surprise myself.” she said as she looked over the assortment of culinary masterpieces. “Wings, tacos and burgers huh?” Skully said as she put down the menu. “From what I gather, only the best in town. They also have the biggest selection of coffee and tea. Not to mention the whole spectrum of whiskeys.” Ritter responded, “Are we planning on getting blasted while going over this?” Skully asked amused. The young woman walked back and stared a bit at Skully in her colorful yet practical suit while handing Ritter his coffee, “Here you are Schwartz.” she said, “They know you on a first name basis here? You must be a regular.” Skully said, “Not exactly a small town but the people here know my name.” Ritter said as he gave a nod to the server. “You must be the new partner he was talking about. Can I start you off with something to drink?” Val asked, “I will have a hot coffee, almond milk with sugar free vanilla sweetener.” Skully responded.

    They then ordered their meals, Ritter requested the eye watering “Volcano Wings” and Skully went with the “Prehysteric Dino-Burger”. After the Val left they continued their conversation from the previous night. “So yes, Wells can be quite an interesting fellow. His background is all over the place as I mentioned last night.” Ritter started, “Law enforcement, military and FBI that’s quite a resume.” Skully added, “How many of those positions did he leave willingly?” she asked, “Honestly, I think all of them. Wells has the attention span of a . .” A woman with shoulder length dark hair wearing a Twin Hills Sheriff’s uniform and a pair of sunglasses walked up to the table, “Hello, Agent Ritter. And partner.” she said as she nodded to Skully, “How many people know you have a new partner in this town?” Skully asked Ritter. “This is sheriff Emm Jay.” He said respectively. Skully looked up at Sheriff Jay waiting to see why they had been interrupted.

    “Old Bruce had a run in last night, and I think this one is under your jurisdiction.” she dropped a file in front of Ritter. “How do the police get to decide what and what isn’t in our jurisdiction?” Skully asked Jay, “We don’t, but when it comes to animal disappearances we know its something you like to handle.” Jay replied. “Did I just hear animal disappearances!?” someone sitting behind Ritter exclaimed. Ritter turned around to see a figure dressed in a cheap brown trench coat with a black mullet stand up and turn around, he had a large blonde handlebar mustache wore a pair of glasses with no lenses in them, “Wells.” Jay said and nodded, “That’s a keen eye.” Wells said as he took off the black wig, glasses and mustache. “Why are you here?” Ritter asked, “That’s an easy one, Ritter. Just making sure there are no plots out there that need squashing.” Wells replied, “Did you tap my phone again?” Ritter asked while giving a thin smile, “If you knew I’d tap it again, why would you talk about me over the phone?” Wells chimed, “Maybe so you’d get a clue and start acting like a normal human.”

    Val came back with two plates and noticed four people occupying a two person table, “Should I get a bigger table for you?” she asked, “No.” Ritter and Skully said in unison, “I’m comfortable here.” Wells said, “I am actually on my way out.” Sheriff Jay said as she pointed to the file, “Just read through it and try to visit the farm today if you can, it would be helpful. See you later.” she added and turned to walk out the door.

    “These wings are really spicy, Ritter.” Wells said with a mouthful, Val was still holding the plate and glared at him, “What? Oh, I’m not supposed to talk with my mouth full of food, that’s alright I learned to breathe, talk and eat all at the same time so, it’s safe.” Wells said while smirking and chewing. “I will get you a new plate.” Val said and placed the plate in Wells’s hands. Val then handed the burger to Skully who made eye contact with Wells while shaking her head, she clearly wasn’t going to let Wells get his greasy mitts on her prize. Val then walked back to the kitchen mumbling to herself. Skully’s burger came with a side of garlic french fries and a large ear of corn.

   After considering it for a moment she said, “Y’know what Wells?” Wells looked over curiously, “You can have this corn, I didn’t even know this was a part of the plate I ordered.” Wells looked at it like an angry child would, “Have you seen the genetic manipulation they’ve put corn through!? It’s disgusting. That stuff has been pumped full of chemicals, steroids, sugars and who knows what else to keep it growing as big and fast as anything we’ve ever seen.” Wells continued to stare at the golden grain sitting on Skully’s plate. “Okay Wells, enough with the cornspiracy theories.” Ritter interjected while trying to make light of the situation, but Wells continued, “They clone it, and sell it on the black market too. Kids have been cooking it up and then grinding it down to shoot up into their veins. They call it corn poppin’! People are addicted to that stuff.” he said as he continued to bob his head up and down looking between the other agents looking for an agreement nod. Ritter and Skully resigned and decided to let Wells’s rant take its course, but he was finished.

    Ritter looked towards the kitchen where Val popped back out with a fresh plate of wings, as she walked up and placed it front of him Wells said, “Take it away, I don’t want to see it.” Val looked down, “These are for Schwartz.” she responded, “No! This.” Wells said as he pointed to the corn. “I’m sorry, I had no idea you were allergic. It’s a promotional new item on the menu.” Val said, “Promotional, what’s promotional about corn?” Skully asked. “Old Bruce just started growing it a few months ago and has been giving to us to test out with our patrons.” Val responded. The three agents exchanged glances, “We will need boxes.” Ritter said, “Maybe you do.” Skully said chewing halfway through her burger like a starved wolf, Wells hunched towards Skully and asked, “Do you want to know about potatoes?”

****

    The midday air was crisp, and the sun hung overhead like a bright hot ward. Old Bruce sat in his swinging bench with his cat El Gato sitting on the porch next to his feet. “Mow” the cat looked up at him, “You’re lucky I let you stay out here with me right now. It’s dangerous for you little critters. Someone took Flannagan last night, whatever it was I don’t think it has discerning tastes, ya hear?” Bruce said, “Mow.” El Gato replied.

    A dark grey sedan rolled up and parked next to his rust bucket of a truck. “Well, looks like the cops have finally arrived. Bout damn time.” Bruce said as Ritter and Skully stepped out of the car. “Oh, not cops eh?” he mumbled to himself. Ritter and Skully walked up casually and greeted the old man, “Hello there Bruce.” Ritter hollered from the car while waiving with a smile. “That’s OLD Bruce to you. What are you science nerds doing here? I called the cops because something stole my damn sheep. You gonna do a bunch of sciency calculations to tell me that-in-fact-it-was-stolen?” he said as he leered at Skully and Ritter. “Scientists?” Skully whispered, “Yeah, not everyone in this town is savvy to the TH agency. As far as he is concerned, we are biologists.” “Maybe something that could have been brought to my attention on the way?” Skully asked, Ritter nodded his head in agreement. They started walking up to the porch.

    “How many scientists does it take to figure something like this out?” The old man asked as he looked off in the distance. Skully and Ritter halted their advance and turned around to see another dark sedan sliding on the dirt road kicking up pebbles and dust as it went along. It slowed down and parked right next to Ritter’s car, just close enough for Ritter’s driver side door to be blocked. Wells stepped out, licked his teeth and walked up to Skully and Ritter while combing his brown hair back. “I know you two want me on this case, so let’s get this over with okay?” Ritter sighed and continued walking. The other two followed. “Okay Old Bruce, you know me. These are my colleagues.” Ritter introduced Skully, “Greetings, I am Professor Skully of the Botanical Institute.” she lied. Ritter looked to Wells, “My name is Agent Mercury Wells, I work for a secret group of elite operatives who look out for the well being of this city and moreover the world. Have you experienced any flashing lights at night or maybe possible anal-probings? Accidental ones count too.” he said as he pulled out a small pad and pen. Skully and Ritter looked at Wells in anguish, Old Bruce responded, “Haha! You’re one sarcastic sunnova bitch. Follow me.” he said and motioned to his right.

    They walked towards the sheep pen, “Did you see anything?” Ritter asked, “You mean other than twenty-six sheep one minute and twenty-five the next? Nope, sorry. I looked around a bit and felt better about going back upstairs to get some sleep. Whoever took my sheep is gonna get it, these little critters were so scared they almost kept me up all night with their damn bleating.” they walked around the pen looking at the wooden beams keeping it together. “Do you have any competing farms adjacent to you?” Ritter asked. “None yet, but I’ve had offers for my land. Mostly corporate types, real wussies. Dressed kinda like you.” Ritter looked over to Skully and Wells, “Yeah we are real pushovers.” he said as he stood over the fence. “Take a look at this.” Wells said while crouching near the side closest to the corn field. Skully and Ritter walked over and looked at a small brown-red smear on the horizontal wooden beams.  “Whassat?” Bruce asked while nodding, “It looks like it could be blood.” Skully said. Old Bruce hobbled over and took a look himself while scowling, “Sonnova biatch! I’m gonna git’ meh boomstick and show em’ what for the next time they show their ugly faces ’round ‘ere.” Bruce’s accent was getting thicker and thicker as his anger rose. “Now hold on, what if the sheep was just spooked and squeezed itself through the pen’s beams? Maybe it scraped itself on the way out.” Ritter suggested, “You don’t want to go looking for your sheep with a gun, what if you get spooked yourself and accidentally shoot it?” Ritter continued. Old Bruce thought about it for a moment then nodded his head in agreement, “Good point.” he replied.

    “So you mentioned that you’ve been getting offers from corporate types?” Skully asked, “Yeah, they’re comin’ around here looking for farmland. They told me they had new and improved soil that would help grow crops bigger and faster than before.” Bruce said, “So why would they ask you for your farm? Why not build another somewhere else?” Skully asked, “Probably because they need a farmer still, I’m sure they’d pay me but it wouldn’t be my land anymore. This is the only thing I have left since my wife passed.” Bruce replied, “Did they say where they were from?” Ritter asked. “Yeah, they even gave me some sample bags to try out. Call themselves Utini Corp.” he said as he pointed to a couple of black bags with large golden “U”s on them, inside of the “U”s were golden crosses. “I guess we have our next lead” Skully said and picked up one of the bags. “What? You think those guys were the ones who took my sheep?” Old Bruce asked, “We can’t rule out the possibility of their involvement.” Ritteer responded. “Tell them to give me back my Flanagan!” “We will call you when we get more information.” Ritter replied. They headed to their cars, “Do you mind?” Ritter said as he pointed to Wells’s car that was parked too close to his driver side, “Yes, yes I do.” Wells responded and stepped into his car, turned it on and shot pebbles everywhere as he skid out of the lot.

****

    As they pulled out of the farmer’s lot Skully watched the cornfield sway back and forth, “Hmm” she said. Ritter glanced over, “What’s up?” he asked, “There’s a lot of weird shit out there. I mean, who takes a sheep? There is no gain to that.” Skully said, “I have a feeling they didn’t take it either but I can’t rule out their involvement.” Ritter replied, “They are definitely involved but there definitely hasn’t been any sheep-napping going on.