Split rail fences ran for miles along either side of the road. Many of the folks who lived out on the edge of town, beyond the crowded subdivisions, had a horse or two, even some cows. Quite a few folks in their neighborhood called themselves “gentlemen farmers.” Danielle’s dad sniffed at this title and said they were “mentalmen farmers.” He considered all of them—including himself—to be crazy for trying to farm anything as a hobby. Still, they liked the slower pace of life out here and the general neighborliness of the area. For one thing, there weren’t as many cars on the road. So, it was the large number of cars blocking Danielle’s path that should have gotten her attention.
“Hey there! Watch where you’re going, lassie!” a strong voice hollered.
Danielle’s head snapped up abruptly. She’d nearly walked into the back of a police car! “Huh?”
“Lost in thought, eh?” the voice continued, but not as loud since it was now right next to her.
Danielle turned and looked at the man who had warned her. He was a policeman. His eyes were covered with large, dark sunglasses and overshadowed by a dark blue cap. His matching uniform was crisp and clean, but only to his knees. From there down, his pants were covered in mud, as were his shoes. But he was smiling, so Danielle smiled back.
“Hi! And thank you for the warning! Uh, yes, I am distracted, I guess. More than I realized,” Danielle laughed nervously, feeling self-conscious. Over the patrolman’s shoulder, she could see other men clustered closely together in the field behind the fence. “So, what’s going on over there?” she asked.
“Never you mind, young lady,” the policeman replied. “It’s a police matter. Nothing for you to be concerned about. Probably best to head back the way you came. That sure is a big dog you have,” he continued, as if seeing Anja for the first time.
Danielle could feel the sudden tenseness in Anja. The dog’s stance was defensive. She growled, glaring at the man. There was a queer, very unpleasant smell wafting over from where the group of men was standing. It made Danielle want to plug her nose. She’d never smelled anything so terrible.
“Yes, OK, officer. We’ll be on our way,” she choked out. Danielle spun on her heels, grinding them into the dirt, and walked briskly back towards home. She hadn’t gone far when she cast a furtive glance over the fence. She was trying to see between the legs of all those men. “What are they looking at?” she said out loud. She couldn’t be sure, between all the limbs and the shadows the men’s bodies cast on whatever they were looking at. But it looked like there might be a body of a cow, or perhaps a horse. Whatever it was, its legs splayed up into the air. “Oh, that doesn’t look good,” she whispered to Anja.
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