Agent Ritter 7:05 PM Agent Ritter’s House, Twin Hills, AZ

I stared into my computer screen while sipping on a glass of Peralta Bourbon. A Boston Huahua stared at me from across the room, “Yeah, I know. Dinner time, right?” I asked, the tiny dog blinked and cocked its head. I sat up and walked to the kitchen to open the refrigerator. “Steak tonight then, eh?” the pup looked up and chuffed. I pulled out a plastic bag with a white t-bone steak inside. After slicing a large chunk of meat off of the bone I 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. I smiled and threw the little bone into a small dish. Bzzzzzz! The phone next to my computer rang as I walked over. A picture of Skully’s face looking unamused stared at me from the screen.

“Body snatcher speaking, how may I help you today?” I asked, “Just a doppelganger looking to score some brains.”  Skully said. “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. I 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, “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 describing what goes on in the head of Wells, I could tell Skully had had enough of an earful. “Okay, I can see there’s a lot to unpack with that guy. We should probably go our reports on the FUd Sit-E incident 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.” I Responded, “What’s it called?” Skully asked, “The Guild.”

Old Bruce Rotzenberry 7:35 PM Rotzenberry Farm, Twin Hills, AZ

  Outside of the barn, I was watchin’ the sun set over the mountains while lockin’ up my tractor for the evenin’, “G’night Bessie.” I said while clankin’ the lock. I strolled past the sheep pen that was twenty yards from my house and counted them. Twenty-six and more on the way. The chicken coup didn’t look disturbed so I nodded and went my merry way. I had to look over my crops because of them pesky critters gettin’ in and wreckin’ the place. The potatoes were just planted and the zucchini looked as though they were pretty healthy; them cane toads are keepin’ my crops nice and pest free, though I rarely see them around much. . My cornfield is quite impressive, 333 acres and about 16 feet high. That soil I got last month was magic! I 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!” I heard it from the other side of the house, “Dirty Debbie!” I yelled as I turned limpin’ over as fast as I could to see what the ruckus was about. Luckily I had my flashlight on me from workin’ on the tractor. I pulled it out as I got over to my prized cows. After clicking the blasted thing on I shined it towards the noises. Dirty Debbie, my prized cow was standin’ there with a glazed look in her eye breathin’ heavily. After lookin’ her up and down I couldn’t see what was wrong until I 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 somethin’, that’s one helluva shit!” I 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, I rolled my eyes and took my 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 …” I looked over the pen. The sheep were all to the side closest to his house. “What in the hell are y’all doin’?”  then I counted them again. Twenty-five sheep stood while bleating incoherently. I shined his flashlight in the opposite direction of the scared heard and all I saw was cornfield movin’ in the wind.

Agent Ritter 12:09 PM The Guild Twin Hills, AZ

  After arriving at The Guild, I walked in and signaled for two. I was seated and two menus were placed down, one in front of me 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!” I waived, she nodded and closed the hand she was signalling with. She walked over.

  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.” I 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.” I said nodding 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.

  We then ordered our meals, I requested the eye watering “Volcano Wings” and Skully went with the “Prehysteric Dino-Burger”. After Val left we continued our 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.” I 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 Esmeralda Jayne.” I said respectively. Skully looked up at Sheriff Jayne 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 me. “How do the police get to decide what and what isn’t in our jurisdiction?” Skully asked Jayne, “We don’t, but when it comes to animal disappearances we know its something you like to handle.” Jayne replied. “Did I just hear animal disappearances!?” someone sitting behind us exclaimed. I 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.” Jayne said and nodded, “That’s a keen eye.” Wells said as he took off the black wig, glasses and mustache. “Why are you here?” I 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?” I 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.” I said back. “Looks like you finally got some pants.” Skully said as she eyed Wells’s black slacks and dress shoes.

  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.” Skully and I said in unison, “I’m comfortable here.” Wells said, “I am actually on my way out.” Sheriff Jayne 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 was massive; it had two beef patties with cheddar cheese, two tomato and onion slices each, a leaf of lettuce, three spicy pickle slices, a fried egg, and a little prehysteria sauce served on a golden bun. The meal came with a side of garlic sweet potato fries and a large ear of buttered 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 CORN-spiracy theories.” I 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 us looking for an agreement nod. Skully and I resigned and decided to let Wells’s rant take its course, but he was finished.

  I looked towards the kitchen where Val popped back out with a fresh plate of wings, as she walked up and placed it front of me, the wings were a deep red and had little habanero seeds mixed into the sauce covering them and came with a side of blue cheese and celery. Wells gestured and 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 of us exchanged glances, “We will need boxes.” I 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?”

Old Bruce Rotzenberry 1:01 PM Rotzenberry Farm, Twin Hills, AZ

  The midday air was crisp, and the sun hung overhead like a bright hot ward. I was sittin on my swingin’ bench with El Gato sitting on the porch next to my feet. “Mow” the darn cat howled as he looked at me, “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, whoever or whatever it was I don’t think they discerning tastes, ya hear?” I said, “Mow.” El Gato replied.

  I saw dust kicking up around my cornfield which means someone’s here. One of them fancy ass electric cars rolled up and parked next to my rust bucket of a truck. “Well, looks like the cops have finally arrived. Bout damn time.” I said as a man in black slacks, grey long sleeve dress shirt and black tie stepped out. The kid had dirty blonde hair and a clean shaven face. Jiminy, that outfit is holding onto him for dear life. Then the second door opened and a very attractive young woman in a pink dress skirt and blouse stepped out of the car. “Oh, not cops eh?” I said to myself noticin’ no cop would put on whatever these kids were wearin’. Then I recognized the man, it was Dr. Ritter, he was not one of them doctors you go because you got a tummy ache, he dealt with local wildlife and such.

They started walking up casually and greeted me, “Hello there Bruce.” Dr. 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?” I said as I leered at the scientists.

Agent Ritter 1:03 PM Rotzenberry Farm, Twin Hills, AZ

“Scientists?” Skully whispered, “Yeah, not everyone in this town is savvy to the TH agency. As far as he is concerned, we are biologists. That’s why I suggested we leave our guns in the car.” I replied, “Maybe something that could have been brought to my attention on the way?” Skully asked, I nodded my head in agreement. We 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 I halted our 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 my car, just close enough for my driver side door to be blocked. Wells stepped out, licked his teeth and walked up to us while combing his brown hair back. “I know you two want me on this case, so let’s get this over with okay?” I sighed and continued walking. The others followed. “Okay Old Bruce, you know me. These are my colleagues.” I introduced. Skully stuck her hand out, “Greetings, I am Professor Skully of the Botanical Institute.” she lied. I 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 I looked at Wells in disbelief. Old Bruce responded, “Haha! You’re one sarcastic sunnova bitch. Follow me.” he said and motioned to his right.

  We walked towards the sheep pen, “Did you see anything?” I 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 goin’ 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 bleatin’.” they walked around the pen looking at the wooden beams keeping it together. “Do you have any competing farms adjacent to you?” I asked. “None yet, but I’ve had offers for my land. Mostly corporate types, real wussies. Dressed kinda like you.” I looked over to Skully and Wells, “Yeah we are real pushovers.” I said as I stood over the fence. “Take a look at this.” Wells said while crouching near the side closest to the corn field. Skully and I 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.” I suggested, “You don’t want to go looking for your sheep with a gun, what if you get spooked yourself and accidentally shoot it?” I 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 on my corn. 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.” I responded. “Tell them to give me back my Flanagan!” “We will call you when we get more information.” I replied.

Skully handed the black bag over to Wells, “Take this to the lab and have it analyzed. We can go to Utini HQ and talk to the scientists there.” she said and Wells nodded holding the bag to his side. We headed to our cars, “Do you mind?” I asked as I pointed to Wells’s car that was parked too close to my driver side, “Yes, yes I do.” Wells responded and stepped into his car. He turned on the Diplomat and shot pebbles everywhere as he skid out of the lot.

  As we pulled out of the farmer’s lot I saw Skully watching the cornfield sway back and forth, “Hmm” she said, “What’s up?” I 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.” I replied, “They are involved somehow but there definitely hasn’t been any sheep-napping going on.”

Agent Ritter 2:35 PM Utini Corp HQ, Twin Hills, AZ

We pulled into the multi-story parking garage to get a spot, “It’s five dollars an hour or less, Ritter.” Skully said as I pulled out my wallet, “Yeah, I hope their employees don’t have to pay that.” I replied, “They probably get a ten percent discount.” Skully mused. We ended up on the third floor next to the elevator and stairs.

We left our sidearms in the car again as this was basic questioning, not interrogation. I walked over to the stairs, “What, no elevator?” Skully asked as she pushed the button, “Not a big fan recently, plus if there are any recording devices in there it could get dicey for us later if they find out who we work for.” I replied. Skully smiled and nodded, then motioned for me to lead the way.

After going through the massive automatic sliding glass doors we walked about ten yards over checkered tile to meet the receptionist. She sat in a big circular console made of marble with many computers surrounding her. I noticed she was young with ice blue eyes and long blonde hair sheared on the left side. She wore a white blouse with red polka-dots and red skirt. She also had red bracelets on both hands and red nail polish, so I had a pretty good idea of her footwear choice. Clacking away at her computer, “Welcome to Utini Corp, how can I help you.” she said. I looked at her name tag “A. Moose” it read, “Greetings, I am Doctor Ritter and this is my colleague Professor Skully, we are biologists who have heard of a brand new soil that brings out the best in plants and we were curious if we could talk to some of your scientists here.” I said with my most charming smile. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked, “No, can I make one?” I said still beaming. She looked me up and down smirking as she did so.

She flipped through the scheduling log and said, “Well you have perfect timing, we can fit you in right now.” she said, “Thank you ma’am.” Skully said. “Cliff! Can you escort these two upstairs to Doktor Jon?” Miss Moose asked, and a sandy bearded muscular man walked up in a crimson colored guard’s uniform. He looked like he competed in strongman competitions on his time off. Skully slapped my arm and pointed to the large man while smiling. When the guard finally got over he loomed over both of us like a cloud made of biceps. He must have been close to six and a half feet tall. Cliff’s name tag read, “A. Cliff”

“Come.” He said while gesturing to walk with him. “Have fun!” the receptionist called out as we started walking away. He led us to the elevator, “I think I’d rather use the stairs.” I said while nodding, “Nope, in.” Cliff said as he pointed to the cold metal interior of the elevator, so we went in. “Can I call you by your first name?” I asked, “No.” he replied.

Cliff pressed the button to close the door, then swiped his ID badge. Finally he pressed level fourteen which was directly above twelve, “Whoever built this facility was easily spooked.” I said pointing and smiling to the buttons. Cliff looked at me but didn’t move at all, the elevator whirred as it ascended. “Cliff, that’s a name befitting a mountain of a man.” Skully said and Cliff half smiled. “I bet you could bench press the both of us, am I right?” Skully asked, “Haha, probably.” the large man laughed while nodding. “Yeah, I thought you were gonna throw me off a cliff when you walked up.” I joked. The room went silent, the large man went back to his scowl and leered at me. “Listen,” Skully said as she put her and on the guard’s arm, “I was just wondering why we are going to the top floor. Aren’t most labs on the lower levels?” she continued, “I am taking you to our head scientist who also runs the Utini Corp building.” Cliff said. Skully met my eyes for a second then looked back up at Cliff, “Thank you.” Skully said, ding the elevator rang.

The doors opened and Cliff waived us on to move out. As we walked into the massive room we noticed giant windows that allowed for visibility of the whole city. Near the window directly across the from the elevator was a large glass desk. Behind it was a chair pointing towards the city scape. We walked over the similar checkered tile and Cliff stepped out of the elevator standing to the side.

After we walked up to the desk the chair spun around, “Hello there.” a dark haired man wearing an expensive suit said cheerfully. He was a few inches taller than I and had a large well manicured beard. “I am Doktor Jon.” he said sticking his hand out, “Greetings, I am Doctor Ritter of the Wildlife Research Conservatory Twin Hills division.” we shook hands,
“Greetings, I am Professor Skully of the Botanical Institute.” Skully said and shook his hand. “Well this is a treat!” Jon said, “Yes, it is Doktor.” I responded, “Doctor.” “Doktor.” “Doctor” “Professor” “Doktor” “Professor” “Doktor” “Agent” Jon said. I stopped and looked at him, “I’m sorry, what?” I said blinking, “I know you are FBI,” Jon said with a smile, ” but I have nothing to hide and neither should you. Please tell me why you are here.” he continued.

“We heard you went to Old Bruce’s farm and tried to buy him out.” Skully said, “We offered him a position with the company.” Jon said smiling, “It sounded more like a requisition from what he said.” I replied. “I offered him four million dollars to work for me, that’s hardly a requisition. He’d be set for life for minimalist work.” Jon said, “Farming isn’t an easy job.” Skully said. “We have a team ready and willing to do most of the labor. He would supervise.” Jon beamed. “So then what can you tell me about this soil you gifted him?” Skully asked and Jon gasped and I gave him a questioning look. “Gift means something else from where I come from.” Jon elaborated, “Germany, right?” I asked, “Very good, I don’t have much of an accent I’m surprised you read that.” Jon observed, “Well, you know we are agents so it shouldn’t be a surprise to you at all.” I replied.

I received a text on my phone from the lab rats at HQ, “What is it?” Skully asked as I looked at my phone, “Looks like we need to head back to headquarters, the boss has something that’s taking priority right now.” I said, “Have a good day lovely agents.” Doktor Jon said while waiving us off.

Agent Ritter 5:14 PM TH Division Laboratory, Twin Hills, AZ

After logging our current progress reports on the case we went to see the scientist who texted me. Doctor Harriet Serenity was flipping through her book as we walked up. She had her red hair pulled back and wore the classic long white jacket you see on TV. Underneath was a white button up shirt and grey dress slacks. As she looked up she waived us to look at some items she had scattered around her lab tables. “So what have you got for us?” I asked, “That sample Wells brought in is kind of astonishing,” Serenity began, “It has multiple unknown compounds aside from the usual loam you would buy. The reactivity it has with plant matter is like nothing I’ve ever seen.” she continued. “Do you have any examples?” Skully asked, “Yeah, right here. You see this fingerling potato?” She said pointing to a small container filled with soil and a tiny potato sticking out, “Looks healthy.” Skully replied, “Too healthy, Agent Skully,” Serenity said pulling the little potato out of the black soil with her gloved right hand. “This used to be a quarter of a potato.” she said, “Well, that’s great news, isn’t it?” Skully inquired, “It would be if the other three pieces didn’t wilt and die.” Serenity said. “We were at the farm, Old Bruce used it on his corn and its as healthy as can be.” I replied.

“From what I gather, this soil seems to have the ability to reroute nutrients from one biological source to another.” Serenety said, “We probably shouldn’t touch it with our skin. Did everyone in the lab handle it with gloves?” Skully asked, “Yeah, we are all safe here.” Serenity responded. “I wonder why you would need so much land for something like this.” Skully said, “Is Doktor Jon trying to grow the world’s largest ear of corn?” I asked jokingly, “I’m not sure a tourist attraction is worth four million dollars to Utini Corp.” Skully said. “I think I need to sit down and chew this one over.” I said as my stomach growled. “I agree, Ritter,” Skully added, “We can go back to your favorite place again.” Skully said, “Good idea, there is a charge spot for my car near there which should give it time for a full charge.” I responded. “Thanks for the help, Doctor Serenity. Call us if there are new developments.” I said, “Will do.” She replied and we walked out the double doors.

Agent Ritter 5:45 PM The Guild Twin Hills, AZ

We sat down at the same table we had earlier in the day, “Back so soon?” Val said as she walked up to us. “It’s been an interesting day so far.” I said picking up the menu, “Cold brew, black. Am I right?” Val asked me, “Of course.” I said back with a smile. “I will have just a water at the moment, thank you.” Skully said as she picked up her menu. Val nodded and headed back to the kitchen.

“You seem to be pretty friendly to the ladies around here.” Skully mused, “Are you implying I’m intentionally trying to charm people?” I asked, “Its called honeypotting.” Skully corrected, ding the bell at the front door rang. In walked Wells with enormous headphones running down to a tiny satellite dish shaped object with a pistol grip, “Its called honeycocking.” Wells said to Skully as he walked over. Wells pulled up a chair and sat at our table. “So what have you got.” I said, ignoring the fact that Wells was spying on us for the third time in twenty four hours. “Hold on.” Wells said as he picked up a menu from the server platform to the side of the table. “Okay, anyways I’ve figured it out.” Wells said after placing the menu down. “So what is happening?” I asked, “Beef.” Wells said, “Beef?” I asked, “Yeah, enchiladas, double cheese, double sour cream, triple guacamole.” Wells elaborated. “Any clue on the whereabouts of the missing sheep?” Skully asked, “Well, I did find this.” Wells said pulling out a slender white stick with a little brown-red at the end.

As I looked closer I could see what it was; the hoof of a sheep. “Get that out of here! This is a restaurant.” I said quickly calming my tone. Wells raised an eyebrow over his sunglasses and put the hoof back in his jacket. “Wash your hands, then come back.” Skully pointed to the restrooms. “Hmff” Wells grunted and got up to clean himself off.

Val walked back over with our drinks to see a third chair pulled up to our booth, “Let me guess.” she said, “Yeah.” I implied and set my menu down; Val placed our drinks next to our menus. “I was going to get the Vampire Steak but I think I want Vicker’s Chicken Chopper Salad.” I said, “Make that two.” Skully held up her fingers, “Do you know what number three wants?” Val asked pointing to the chair. “He’s more of a number two; but he wants the beef enchiladas; double cheese, double sour cream and triple guacamole.” Skully said, “Thank you, we will have your orders out momentarily.” Val said and walked away.

Wells came back out of the bathroom wiping his hands on his coat to dry them off. Skully looked him, then rolled her eyes while looking back at me and I shrugged. Wells sat down, “We ordered for you.” Skully said, “Did you get it right?” Wells asked, “Does it matter?” Skully replied, “Lets get back on track here.” I emphasized, they stopped and looked at me. “We need to figure out how and why that soil pulls nutrients from local lifeforms and funnels them into another.” I said, “What if the soil is alive?” Wells asked, “You mean conscious soil?” I asked, “No,” Skully said, “when you put it that way, what if its not conscious but still responsive? Fungi take many forms and they all pull nutrients from their surrounding area using hyphae.” Skully continued, “Using that faux botany degree I see.” I said with approval, “Mycology, and yes I have taught classes in many biological studies; it is one of the reasons why I was hired at the Twin Hills Division.”

“So the soil is filled with mushrooms?” Wells asked, “I am not saying yes or no, only that whatever this is might be using something similar to hyphae for drawing out nutrients. The soil itself could be the catalyst.” Skully said. “So then what now?” Wells asked, “We might need to pay a visit to Old Bruce again. We are going to need to see how much it will cost to buy the cornfield from him and take that soil away so we can find out what its really doing. If it is alive and it does have hyphae it could wreck the ecosystems around here. We have a forest and a desert; both of which have plant and animal life that would be affected.” I said, “So we torch it.” Wells said as he nodded to us, “No torching.” Skully replied shaking her head.

Thinking about the leg, “Do you suppose the soil absorbed the sheep?” I asked, “It’s not unheard of,” Skully started, “especially if the soil formed a quicksand like compound, it could have pulled the sheep right in.” she continued, “But the rest of the area is undisturbed.” Wells replied, “Either way, we know the soil is dangerous for lifeforms to be trotting willy nilly on it. I think it’s probably a good idea to get the rest of that soil from Old Bruce however we can.” Skully said.

Val walked from the back room with three plates. She handed Skully and I our Chicken Chopper salads with sides of Blue G’s dressing. Wells got his
beef enchiladas; double cheese, double sour cream and triple guacamole. “Thank you, that was fast.” I said with a smile, “It was just two salads for you and your partner. And his was mostly scoops of sour cream and cheese.” Val said, “And guacamole.” Wells added. Val nodded, “Is there anything else I can get you right now?” she asked, “No, thank you.” Skully replied, Val nodded, “Well if you need me just holler.” she said and strolled back to help her other tables.

We ate without talking and I doodled on a napkin with my pen. I would say we ate silently, but Wells would be bane of a person with misophonia. Skully and I cleared our plates, Wells had only the sour cream left and he was spooning it a la carte. “We can head back to Old Bruce’s farm tomorrow morning and give him the update.” I said, “Who’s going to give him the news about his sheep?” Skully asked, “I can do it.” Wells said while flipping through his phone, “No, I think we’ve got this handled,” I started. Wells pulled the phone up to his ear, “Hello there Old Bruce?” “Yessir.” “You’re cornfield is evil and your sheep’s dead, have a good day.” “What!?” boop, the phone beeped as Wells hung up. “See, its that easy.” Wells said putting the phone away. Skully and I sighed in unison.

Val walked back up to freshen our drinks, “Can I have a Peralta Bourbon please?” I asked, “Make that two.” Skully said, “And would you like something?” Val asked in Wells’s direction, “Sure, I will try a vodka soda. I’ve never had one, but saw it somewhere recently.” Wells responded while folding his hands. I thought about that for a second before Skully spoke up, “We should call a quarantine team to the farm now since we know it will be dangerous for anyone else to set foot there.” “Dangerous to set a bare foot there.” I added, “We have to worry about bears now?” Wells asked; Skully and I ignored him. I opened my phone to call the quarantine specialists and let them know they needed to head towards Old Bruce’s farm; they gave me an ETA of two hours for prep and arrival.

Val walked back over with our drinks and we slowly sipped them. The Peralta bourbon had a coffee like finish and was smooth the whole way down. “That’s some good stuff.” Skully commented, “You gotta share more bourbon with me.” she continued and I nodded.

With perfect timing my phone buzzed as we finished our drinks. “Hello, Ritter?” “Yeah, whats going on Serenity?” “You gotta come back to the lab; there’s been some developments you could say.” “What kind of developments?” “Enough to work overtime.” “Okay, we will be on our way soon, talk to you then.” “Okay, bye” boop the phone indicated as I hit the end button. “Looks like we gotta go.” I said raising my hand to waive over Val for the check, “What is it?” Skully asked, “Serenity wants us back at the lab, she didn’t elaborate.” I replied. “I am wasted.” Wells said looking around, “You look and sound perfectly coherent.” Skully replied, “No, listen to me. I am slurring my words. My performance has been comprimised.” Wells continued. We payed and hit the streets.

Agent Ritter 7:30 PM TH Division Laboratory, Twin Hills, AZ

We strolled back to headquarters through the double doors with Wells in tow, he didn’t want to drive with one drink in his system. After reaching the science lab we saw Serenity standing near a glass terrarium. “So what is the news?” I said as we walked up to Serenity, “Look.” she said pointing inside the terrarium. Inside a large hairy spider crawled around quickly trying to get out of the case to no avail. “Did you put the sample in the cage with this tarantula? Can animals sense the presence of this caustic soil?” I asked in succession, “No, look closer.” we hovered a little closer and I noticed it wasn’t a spider; it was a potato with eight fingers and an eyeball trying to escape. “Sick.” Skully said nodding her head.

“What if the main host acquires the attributes of the hyphae and continues to suck nutrients down to their genetic level?” Skully said, “There are spores I found in this soil but they seemed to be of the common garden variety. Do you think the catalyst is some form of fungus?” Serenity asked, “That’s what we were discussing at The Guild.” Skully said. I opened my phone to call the farmer, “Old Bruce needs to be notified that the quarantine specialists will be there soon and not to go anywhere near the cornfield.” I said as the phone rang, “I already told him not to go in the cornfield.” Wells said, “No, you said it was evil.” Skully corrected. The phone went to voicemail. “Okay, we need to leave right now.” I said, “Old Bruce isn’t picking up, lets not have any more casualties on our watch.” I continued, “Do we get to bring our guns this time?” Skully asked, “Yeah, and I have a little extra firepower we can use.”

Agent Ritter 8:11 PM Rotzenberry Farm, Twin Hills, AZ

We took my car and Wells rode in the back crammed up like a sardine. We pulled into the dirt lot next to Old Bruce’s rusty truck. “I think I’m coming down guys.” Wells said, “Finally over the buzz?” Skully asked, “You mean full on inebriation, but yeah.” he replied back. I turned off the car and we stepped out. Skully pulled out her Remington and Wells grabbed his H&K while cocking it for punctuation. I stepped to the back and opened my trunk. There was a large case about three and a half feet across, I opened it to reveal a portable silver and black flamethrower. “When have you ever needed that before?” Skully asked as I picked it up, “Its for weeds, I got it as a gift when I bought the car.” I said while igniting the front torch. “Looks like we are burning it down after all. I like your style.” Wells added.

We could see the lights were on from the car so it was a good chance Old Bruce was still awake. We stepped up to the front porch to see the front door was ajar. “Old Bruce!?” I called through the door, no response. We stepped inside and I pulled my revolver out not wanting to set the place ablaze in an accident. Wells started for the kitchen and Skully walked to the living room. “I will check upstairs.” I called as I headed up the stairwell near the front door. We searched all of the rooms and the only thing we found was a small cat digging in its litter box. We met back by the front door, “Where could he be?” Skully asked, “Heaaaahhhhhhhh!” we heard from outside. We turned and ran out the front door to see Old Bruce covered in blood.

“What happened!?” I asked and Old Bruce pointed to the cornfield then collapsed. “Wells call HQ and tell them we need the quarantine team here STAT! Have them bring the medical team. I am going to check his vitals and patch him up.” I said as I rolled up my sleeves and put on a pair of surgical gloves. I put my fingers up near the carotid artery to check his pulse, it was faint but existent none the less. I tore open the old man’s shirt, “You’re pulling non-agents into the field?” Skully asked, “Yes, he’s losing blood fast, these cuts on him are razor thin. Skully, take the flamethrower I need to get my med-kit.” I said as I ran back to my car. I came back with a case larger than the one belonging to the giant torch. When I ran back I could see he was kicking around on the ground in a panic.

I immediately pulled out a tiny pen needle device filled with a compound of hydroxyzine, l-theanine and l-tryptophan; I gently poked it into the only part of his abdomen that didn’t have cuts. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but this Fade Spray is going to sting a bit.” I said pulling out a small calking gun-like object. I pulled the trigger dragging it across the seven lacerations on his abdomen. “This will stop your bleeding and still allow the oxygen to get to your wounds.” I said, the old man started to calm down and breathe steadily. “When the med team arrives we can go in there and investigate.” I said. The cornfield accelerated the process by starting to shake. “Look!” Skully said pointing to the sheep pen, which was now empty. I stood up tearing off my gloves and pulled my gun back out. We aimed our weapons toward the field.

Out from the cornfield a medium sized sheep trotted out looking tired and confused. The sheep started towards us and we kept our guns pointed at it. “Stop right there, put down any weapons you are carrying SLOWLY.” Wells demanded and the sheep stopped almost looking directly at him. Wells met the sheep’s gaze for a moment before the creature was pulled right back into the cornfield at lightning speed, “What the crap was that!?” I exclaimed while looking at Skully, “It looked like a tentacle.” she replied. Something big and nasty crawled out of the cornfield. It was seven feet tall and almost cone shaped with bulbous yellow protrusions sticking out in literally every direction. It hobbled with fat front legs and even fatter hind legs that seemed to be composed of plant matter. It looked like a giant walking ear of corn. Then I saw its eyes, they were enormous and had horizontal slits for pupils. There was a white stick poking out between a few of the kernels. The kernels split to reveal a four foot wide mouth filled with blood. Hachuckcachuk it crunched through the sheep as it lumbered towards us.

We opened fire popping the corn kernels all over its body and it screamed in agony “mwahhhhhhhhh!” It looked at us angrily as the kernels started to regenerate filling back up like yellow water balloons. It lashed out its tongue slicing through the bottom of Wells’s duster, “You ugly sunnovabitch!” he yelled and fired again, “Move back, that things tongue must be covered in razor sharp leaves.” I said.

Its tongue lashed out again, this time gripping Skully by the ankle of her boot, “Shit!” she yelled and I instinctively ran towards her but the creature started to pull. She dropped the flamethrower in the process and whipped out her shotgun. Skully sat up while she was being pulled and put the shotgun barrels right on the tongue. Kaboom! The tongue exploded with hot red blood spilling out, the monster bellowed in agony once again. The blood on the tongue still attached to the creature coagulated then started to change color and pulse. “Skully!” I yelled as I picked up the flamethrower, “Catch!” I threw it and in the most cinematic pose Skully could possibly make she caught the flamethrower with one hand, its almost as if time completely stopped for two whole seconds when she did so.

Skully stood up and jammed the flamethrower into the monsters eyes and pulling the trigger to full blast. Fire blasted out the creature’s other eye socket and mouth. It screeched and Skully jumped back to douse the creature in flames. The monster corn went through one last death throw before standing still completely crisping in the night.

Skully limped back over to us and I checked her foot immediately putting on a new set of gloves. “I think it’s just a minor cut. Nothing broken or sprained, it just hurts like a mother.” Skully said. I patched her up as she and Wells sat watching the creature burn. “That was one corny toad, am I right?” Wells commented as he put his sunglasses on to watch the blaze. Poikh poikh poikh the creature exploded, multiple times. All over its body the kernels erupted and spewed. “I think we need to rent a movie for all of this pop-corn.” Wells continued, “My leg is fine but I think I need something for all of these one liners.” Skully said to me.