Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 13. Viral Video and Underpants
When Melissa awoke, she checked one of the video sites, eager to see if anyone had watched the pig rescue video. She started to cry. The counter read over 80,000 views, and while she watched, it jumped to 90,000 and then 100,000. The meter started ticking over so fast the numbers were a blur. There were thousands of comments, and her e-mail in-box was full.
The animal rights group she had traveled to the river with phoned her. They were overjoyed. Their membership had tripled overnight. Their phones never stopped ringing. New members were signing up every minute. The video was magic. The boy was magic. With a simple act of heroism, he had transformed the animal rights movement. It was no longer a crackpot cult. It had become an ethic anyone could adopt with honor. Everyone wanted to know more about the amazing boy. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why was he naked? How did he communicate with animals?
When Pete walked into the Sheriff’s Headquarters on Monday morning, it was busier and noisier than he’d ever seen it. “What’s all this?” he asked Deputy Frankl.
“Have you seen that video — the one with the kid and the pigs?”
“Yesterday morning we got a call. A trailer truck carrying a bunch of pigs went off the highway and into the Jana River.” Deputy Frankl looked at Pete and said, “You won’t believe me if I tell you what happened next, so just sit down here. I’ll get the video on this laptop.”
Pete watched the video in amazement. A naked boy on horseback rescued eighty-six pigs from a trailer-truck submerged in the Jana River. After rescuing the pigs, the boy rode away with them into the forest. The view-meter on the video’s web page read 1.5 M. In the minutes he watched the video, it climbed to 1.6 M.
Pete’s phone rang. Caller ID informed him it was Celia Duffy from Social Services.
“Hi Pete,” she said.
“Good Morning, Miz Duffy. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Have you seen that video?”
“The one with the kid and the pigs?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. You know who the kid is?”
“It’s that boy, Sol Mundy, the boy who went missing over a year ago.”
“Yeah. He’s a bit bigger and his hair’s longer, but there’s not really much change. It’s Sol.”
“That’s great! Now we know who he is and that he’s alright.”
“It also means we can bring him in and try to get him settled in a new foster home. He shouldn’t be running around out in the bush like that.”
Pete flashed on the boy’s actions in the video and thought that Sol seemed to be doing okay on his own. “Let me talk to some of the officers who saw him with the pigs. That’s a mighty big park out there.”
“We’ve got to act fast on this, Pete. He may move somewhere else now that he knows he’s been seen.”
“I’ll talk to the sheriff and see if we can work out a strategy. Let me call you back in an hour or so. Okay?”
Pete grabbed Sol Mundy’s file from his pending tray and walked over to the sheriff’s office. He tapped on the open door. Art Jameson stood in front of the sheriff’s desk engaged in an intense conversation with the sheriff.
Sheriff Morgan waved Pete in. “Mornin’, Pete.”
“Good morning, sir. Mornin’, Art.”
Art Jameson nodded at Pete and resumed his conversation. “Look, Sheriff, this is a cut-and-dried case of robbery. The kid stole my pigs, right out of my truck, and rode off into the bush with ’em. The longer we wait the more chance he has to sell them pigs off or hide them away somewhere. I don’t know what you’re waiting for. You’ve seen that video!”
“Yeah,” said the sheriff. “I was there, but it’s complicated. For instance, the truck was there, in the river. The pigs were in the truck, but the driver wasn’t there, and you weren't there either. So, it seems like maybe you abandoned those animals to their fate. You can’t just abandon a truck full of animals because it’s inconvenient for you to take care of them. I had time to get there. A bunch of animal rights activists had time to get there. We had two patrol cars there. A naked kid on horseback had time to get there, but I don’t recall seeing you there, or any of your sons either. Then there’s the law of salvage — maybe, since no Jameson Pork representative was on the scene, that boy is now the legal owner of the pigs.”
“I’d have been there, but my youngest boy’s in the hospital. He got himself bit by a couple of rattlers on Saturday,” complained Art.
“Well, I’m sorry about that, but you should have sent someone, or done something. You’re responsible. Now, why don’t you go get that truck out of the river and give me a chance to sort out the legalities of this situation?”
Art Jameson turned and stamped out of the office without another word. The sheriff pointed to a chair. Pete handed him Sol’s file and sat down.
“What’s this then?”
“That’s the kid in the video,” said Pete.
The Sheriff opened the file and riffled through the documents. He held up a photo. “Yeah, looks like him, for sure. Hair’s a lot longer now, but that’s him.”
Pete continued, “Celia Duffy from Social Services was just on the phone. She identified him from the video. He’s been missing for over a year; ran away from his foster home. He’s a special case for her, and she asked me last week to check his file to see if he might have turned up somewhere.”
“Looks like he’s turned up,” said the sheriff.
“She wants us to get out to the park and catch the kid before he disappears himself again.”
Sheriff Morgan walked over and closed his office door. When he regained his seat, he scratched his head and said, “You know, Pete, I was out there when the kid did all that. He blew my mind about ten different ways. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“First, he gets to the riverbank and rides right in, no hesitation at all. He’s come to do a job, and he just does it. And you know, at this time of year the Jana is not exactly a gentle stream. It’s fast and deep, and even an experienced, adult horseman would be wary of riding into it.
“Then I notice there’s no tack on the horse, not a saddle, not a bridle, no reins, and no bit in his mouth. There’s no way to control the horse, and the kid is stark naked, but the horse seems to know exactly where the boy wants to go. Horses aren’t real keen on swimming, but this horse is willing to tread water while the boy hops off to rescue the pigs.
“He dives down and opens the back doors of the truck. Then he comes up and sits on the horse’s back like he’s waiting. He stares at the truck and waits. The pigs have been making a non-stop, god-awful racket, squealing and screaming. All at once, they shut up, not a peep, as if they got a message. The problem was that the pigs would have to dive down and swim underwater to get out of the truck. Pigs are not great underwater swimmers. The boy waits a little longer then dives into the river again. He’s out of sight for a long time, but when he surfaces, he’s got his arm around a pig. The kid points to the other side of the river and the pig sets off as if obeying an order.
“That pig only needed to swim about thirty feet to get to the shore where we were standing. Instead, he swims away from us across the river, a lot further. And what’s on the riverbank there? A black bear, a big black bear, and a cougar. It doesn’t look good for the pig, but as soon as it gets to the shore, the bear heads into the woods, and the pig follows behind. The pig follows the bear! It starts to feel like a circus, only the animals are running the show. What the hell is going on? As the other pigs come popping up out of the water, they do exactly the same thing, like someone told them what to do. No confusion, no panic, no running around.
“When what seems to be the last pig surfaces and has swum away, I look at the kid. He’s sitting on the horse and staring at the trailer, like he’s thinking. Then he dives again. He’s underwater a long time. It seems way too long. Everybody on the highway is worried. Finally, the boy comes to the surface. We all heave a sigh of relief. He has his arm around another pig, but this one looks to be in bad shape, bleeding from a head wound.
“The kid pulls this last pig across the horse’s withers, and the three of them make it across the rapids to the other side. The kid jumps off there and helps the wounded pig ashore. The pig seems okay to walk by then. The boy pats it on the head and gives a nod to the cougar. Yeah! He nods to the cougar, like he’s saying, ‘Great! We’re done here. Let’s go.’
“The horse kneels down. The kid doesn’t touch the horse. He just looks at the horse, and the horse kneels down, so he can get on. I don’t believe this, but I saw it. He’s not a very big kid and it’s a big horse, so of course it kneels down. Otherwise, the kid can’t get on. Then the four of them stroll off into the forest. The animal rights crowd cheers, and all us hard-nosed cops cheer right along with them.
“There’s so many things in that story that just don’t make sense, it scares me.” The sheriff paused, and then concluded, “Art Jameson wants us to arrest the boy and charge him with robbery. Miz Duffy wants us to catch that kid, so she can put him in a foster home.
“Personally,” said the sheriff as he leaned forward over his desk, “I’d be proud to meet him. It would be an honor to shake his hand. I definitely don’t want to catch him for Social Services or arrest him as if he’s some kind of criminal. I don’t know what he’s been doing for the last year, but whatever it is, it’s turned him into the kind of person I wish I was.”
Pete had never seen Sheriff Morgan so moved. He waited in silence.
“A lot of unusual things have been happening lately,” said the sheriff. “It seems the animals around Jana Mountain are acting funny. How about you and me go out there and sniff around a little. There’s something else I want to talk to you about as well.”
When River woke up, he felt groggy. It took him a minute to realize he was in the hospital. His legs felt bad. If he moved them even an inch, they were painful, and they felt heavy, as if each weighed a hundred pounds.
“Hey, you’re awake,” said the cheerful nurse who came to the side of his bed. “How’re you feeling?”
“Okay,” said River. “Well, not really. Everything hurts. My legs feel real bad.”
“Okay, we’ll get you something for the pain in a minute.” She busied herself checking his vitals. With the sheet folded back, they looked at River’s lower legs. Both were swollen and red and each bore two angry black marks, where the snakes’ fangs had pierced his skin. “You had quite an adventure on Saturday,” she said.
“Yeah. It was bad. Those snakes came outta nowhere. Did anyone else get bit?”
“Nope, as far as I know, you’re the only snakebite victim we’ve got, the star of this floor. You’re a lucky boy. Your pal who called 911 did everything right, saved your life. You’ve got a real good friend there. There’s been a reporter here to talk to you. He said he’d come back later. Now, I’m gonna get you something for your pain. You feel like some breakfast?”
River wasn’t hungry, but he swallowed a few mouthfuls of the breakfast that arrived on a tray. When the pain pill took hold, his legs stopped hurting so much. He nibbled on a piece of toast as he remembered what happened at the gravel pit.
Two images returned again and again to his mind. The first was Jude jumping onto his bike and racing away. Some friend! The second image troubled him more, and he kept pushing it away. It was David’s face, leaning over him. He looked sad and somehow friendly at the same time, like he cared about River. He recalled how David’s hand felt on his forehead, and how his voice had soothed and calmed him. The nurse said his ‘pal’ had saved his life. River blinked and stared at the ceiling, and tears ran off his face and stained the pillow.
When the nurse came in, she gave him a tissue to dry his tears and said, “Hey, I bet it hurts. But it’ll go away in a couple of days and you’ll be up and running around again.”
River closed his eyes and said, “Yeah.” He didn’t want to talk about what had forced those tears out. It wasn’t the pain from the rattlesnake bites. It was much worse than that, and he knew it wasn’t going to go away in a few days.
The sheriff pulled his cruiser onto the highway, heading for Jana Mountain. “Pete, there’s an evidence bag in the glove compartment. Get it out and take a look.”
Pete glanced at the baggie in his hand. “Looks like a pair of underpants, maybe a kid’s underpants.”
“Yeah, take them out of the bag and look inside the waistband.”
Pete’s eyes widened as he scanned inside the briefs. The label said ‘Fruit of the Loom Boys size 12.’ Below that was written, ‘David McAdam Cabin 8.’
“That’s your boy’s name, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. And Doreen’s handwriting. I’d know it anywhere. She bought him new underwear to take to camp last August. How did you get this?”
“Saturday, after we got that rattlesnake bite report, I went out to that gravel pit. It just seemed like a strange story — a kid getting bitten by two rattlesnakes at the same time. The hospital said he had a lot of wasp stings on him too. I was thinking we should put up a sign or block the road to the pit, to discourage people from going there.
“So, I got to the pit and walked around. First, I found a kid’s bike. I’ve got it in the trunk of this cruiser. It’s probably River Jameson’s, since he left the pit in an ambulance. I kept looking around. I thought maybe there was a rattlesnake nest, or a wasp nest. I found a piece of duct tape, looking like it just came off the roll. Then I found the underpants. They were out of sight behind some boulders at the edge of the pit, but it wasn’t as if they’d been there a long time. They were fresh and clean, like someone had put them on that morning. You got any idea how they could have ended up there?”
“No,” said Pete. “Beats me, but I sure intend to find out.”
“I didn’t want to talk to you about it in the office because it’s not a sheriff’s office matter. There’s no crime involved, but it does have to do with your boy, and it’s mysterious. It’s not my business, so you can take those Fruit of the Looms home with you, and how you deal with it is up to you.”
“Thanks, Sheriff.” Pete put the evidence bag into his back pocket. “You’re right. It’s mysterious. David’s a good kid, a real good kid, but I’m gonna want an explanation for how his undies ended up in that gravel pit. He sat with me and Doreen and watched the news report about that kid getting bitten, and he never said anything.”
“Well, he’s at that age, you know, when boys get a little crazy,” said the sheriff.
“Yeah, Doreen says I’ve got to give him The Talk.”
The sheriff laughed. “Oh God! The Talk. I remember when my wife told me to give our boy The Talk. I put it off for about three months, trying to figure out what to say. The Talk is one of fatherhood’s most challenging tasks. You know you got to say something, but what to say, how to say it, and when to say it — there ain’t no easy answer. Good luck!”
Aaron Jameson came out of the house whistling. He was feeling good. The weekend’s events had taken the speeding ticket off the old man’s mind. River in the hospital and the truck in the river kept him too busy.
Aaron was about to get into the red pickup when Sheriff Morgan’s squad car pulled into the yard. Pete and the sheriff got out, strolled over, and exchanged greetings with Aaron.
The sheriff walked to the back of the squad car, opened the trunk, and pulled out a boy’s bike. “I found this in the gravel pit,” he said, “and I figured it was River’s.”
Aaron looked at the bike and shook his head. “Nope, that ain’t River’s bike.” He took them inside the garage and pointed to a bike leaning against the wall. “That’s River’s bike. The one you got probably belongs to Jude. River was having a sleepover at his house, since Friday night. Maybe River was using that bike while he was staying there. I know he didn’t take his bike to Jude’s because our daddy asked me to pick him up there on Sunday.”
“Where does Jude live?” asked the sheriff.
“They got the chicken place, Bedford Poultry, further down the highway.” Aaron pointed. “About ten miles that way.”
As they drove away from Jameson Pork, the sheriff said to Pete, “You know, this morning wasn’t the first time I had Art Jameson in my office. He was schmoozing around last week about a speeding ticket you gave Aaron.”
“Yeah, I keep thinking about that,” said Pete. “Not about the ticket — I clocked him at 36 miles an hour above the limit. What I keep wondering about is his excuse for going so fast. He said he was being chased by a bunch of birds, that they attacked him up on the mountain. It seems like there’s a lot of animals attacking people lately.”
“I’ve noticed that too,” said the sheriff. “It’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. I didn’t know about Aaron Jameson’s story about the birds. I was just thinking about Dick Wilkins, Charlie Baxter and River Jameson. One of them’s dead, and two are in the hospital. And there’s a lot of animals acting funny in that pig video. I mean, aside from the boy, the horse, and the pigs, there’s a bear and a cougar. The way they were acting is just not normal. It feels like something funny’s going on, but I can’t put my finger on it. You got any ideas?”
“No, only it seems like too many cases to be coincidence. At the same time, no matter how I add them up, I can’t come up with a conclusion that makes any sense.”
They pulled into the entrance to Bedford Poultry Producers and stopped in front of the house.
“Let’s see what young Mister Jude Bedford has to say about what they were doing in the gravel pit,” said the sheriff.
Jude’s mother answered the door and called her son out into the yard.
They stood looking at the bicycle when the sheriff took it out of the trunk.
“Hey, that’s great!” said Jude. “That’s my old bike.”
“Maybe you could tell us what happened in the gravel pit on Saturday,” said the sheriff. “That’s where we found the bike.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Jude. He examined the bike like he was considering buying it, and avoided meeting either of the men’s eyes.
“What happened?” persisted the sheriff.
“Oh, I can tell you,” said Jude’s mother. “He told me they were playing in the gravel pit, him and River Jameson, and some wasps started stinging them. You can see he’s still got lumps all over him. Then he said River just ran off and left him. That River seemed like a nice boy, but running off and leaving a friend behind, that wasn’t a very nice thing to do.”
“River was riding the bike?” Pete asked Jude.
“Yeah, he didn’t have his bike, so I said he could ride this one.”
“Is that what happened,” asked the sheriff.
“Yeah,” said Jude. “That’s what happened. Just like my mom said. The wasps were bad and there was birds pecking at us too.”
“And River just ran off and left you?”
“Yeah, as soon as the wasps started stinging us, he high-tailed it outta there.”
“Was anybody else there? Was it only you two boys?”
“Just River and me. That’s all.”
“What were you doing in the gravel pit?” asked Pete. “It’s a long way from here. Maybe you had a special reason for going all the way there?”
“We weren’t doin’ nothin’, just playin’ around,” said Jude. “Can I go now?”
“In a minute,” said the Sheriff. “See, we’re getting a lot of reports lately about animals attacking people. I’d like to find out more about those wasps and birds attacking you. Did you see any other kind of animals in the gravel pit? Any snakes?”
“Naw.” Jude shook his head. “There was only birds and wasps. We wasn’t doin’ anything, and they started going after us. I didn’t look around to see if there was any snakes. There might have been some. I dunno.”
“So let me get this straight,” said the sheriff. “You and River were playing around in the gravel pit, just you two, nobody else. Then you got attacked by some birds, and then some wasps stung you. Is that right?”
“Yeah.” Jude stared into a nearby tree.
“And then River ran away and left you alone in the gravel pit. Is that right?”
“What did you do then?” asked Pete.
“I run over to my bike and got outta there and come home.”
“He must have had about twenty wasp stings on him when he got here,” said Jude’s mother.
“River was staying with you?”
“Yeah, we had a sleepover,” said Jude.
“So, why didn’t he come back here with you?”
“I dunno. Maybe he was scared and just wanted to go home or something.”
“And you never saw him when you rode out of the gravel pit. I mean, if he was heading for home, then he would have been along the highway somewhere. And if he was on foot and you were on a bike, you must have caught up to him or passed him on the way?”
“I dunno where he went after he run off,” said Jude. “I was just trying to get away from those wasps.”
The sheriff turned to Jude’s mother. “Thanks for your time, Ma’am,” he said. Then to Jude he said, “If you remember anything else, please let us know. Okay?”
His mother said, “Well, thank you for bringing the bike back.”
As they pulled onto the highway, the sheriff said, “I can’t say I think much of that boy’s story. River never ran away from the gravel pit. That’s where the ambulance picked him up.”
“Doesn’t add up at all,” said Pete. “Did you see the news report on Saturday night?”
“Yeah. There was another boy in the gravel pit, a boy who took the time to help a friend in need. Saved his life, probably. Seems nobody knows his name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Jude.”
“Nope. I don’t think so, either.”
“I suppose we could find the ambulance driver and ask him for a description of that other boy.”
“Yeah,” said Pete.
“But, though it’s an interesting mystery, there’s not been any law-breaking involved, so far as I can see. So, it’s not really police business.”
“Thank you, Sheriff. I might just look into it a little more, unofficially, I mean.”
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