Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 14 – by lostandwhatever
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Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 14
Continued from Chapter 13.
A short time later, Candice stood next to Carol in a parking lot near a large building that looked like an elongated barn with a sign on the side that read, “Contented Cow Dairy Farm.” Candice had seen the black and white Holstein cows grazing in a field on the way in and could smell their musk and manure even from the parking lot.
“So,” Candice said, scrunching her nose. “Why are we here?”
“I have good reason to believe that we’ll find the cow we’re looking for here,” Carol said. “Follow me.” She headed for the door to the building.
Candice dragged her suitcase behind her as she kept up with Carol. “I meant, why this farm?”
“Oh, well, I called the manager of the food distributor, Foodways. He gave me the name and number of the dairy processing plant that provides them with cartons of milk. I called them, and got the name and number of all the farms that send them milk. Then, I called each of the farms and asked if they had noticed any recent suspicious activity, particularly with their employees.”
“And, this place had ‘suspicious activity,’ right?”
“Bingo,” Carol said. “Two missing employees and some funny business involving a cow.”
“Better let me do most of the talking.”
“But, don’t be afraid to speak up if you notice something. That’s why you’re here, after all.”
They reached the door to the office of the dairy. Carol opened the door and held it for Candice to walk through.
“Thank you,” Candice said as she stepped into an ordinary looking office space and approached the secretary’s desk.
Carol caught up with her and introduced herself and Candice to the secretary, who promptly led them to the dairy manager’s office.
“Mrs. Marx,” the manager said as he shook Carol’s hand. He gave Candice a brief curious glance.
“Mr. Fenton,” Carol replied. “This is my colleague, Candice. Thank you for seeing us so quickly.”
“Call me, Carl,” he said and released their handshake. “So, what can I do for the FBI today?”
Candice looked at Carol quizzically for a moment until she figured out this was their cover story.
Carol explained, “We have noticed some potential contamination in the milk that came from your processing plant. Based on what you told me about your employees, I believe they may be involved in the contamination somehow.”
“This doesn’t sound like it would be an FBI matter,” Mr. Fenton said. “Is this related to the quarantine order that went out last night? Wouldn’t the FDA handle this normally?”
“The contaminated milk is part of a crime we’re investigating, but that is all I’m allowed to say about it. Though, we will likely involve the FDA at some point.”
“Isn’t that something?” Mr. Fenton said. “Well, it’s like I told you on the phone. The two men were ‘no call, no show’ this morning. Then, there was some strange behavior with one of the cows.”
“Can you take us to that cow?”
“Sure thing,” Mr. Fenton said, practically jumping to his feet.
It was clear from his brisk manor that he wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. No doubt, the word “contamination” had spooked him. Candice was quietly impressed by Carol’s subtle pressure to get him moving. They headed through a door that lead from the office space to what looked like a factory floor filled with gigantic metal tanks.
Carol said, “Tell me about the missing employees.”
“One of them is Hank Manning, who has been working here for a number of years now.” he said as they crossed the building. “Hank’s pretty good at his job, but he tends to rub people the wrong way. I had to give him a good talking to once or twice to straighten him out when he was getting out of line. Still, a good employee, overall.”
Carol nodded and wrote down a note on her pad as they reached a door to another connected building with pipes leading out of it.
“The other one we just hired a few weeks ago. I believe his name is Chuck Timberland. Big fella, but totally dumb.”
“Dumb?” Carol asked as they entered the other building. This one was filled with penned cows and reeked of barnyard smells.
“I mean that he couldn’t speak,” Mr. Fenton explained over the mooing and grunting of the animals. “He showed up with a woman who introduced herself as his sister. I don’t really remember her name, offhand. She explained her brother’s condition, saying he had perfect hearing and no… uh… mental handicaps, I suppose you might call them. He showed he could read and write and follow directions. All his paperwork was in order, so we hired him.”
The concrete floor they walked down through the cows was dirty with mud and… other substances. Candice dreaded having to clean her suitcase later.
“How did Chuck do?” Carol asked.
“The man was a model employee. Honestly, I wish I had a dozen just like him. He picked up every task we gave him almost immediately with hardly any training. Naturally, he never complained. He did spend his breaks alone, but we figured he was just shy. His sister always dropped him off on-time in the morning, and he worked to the last second of his shift when she came to pick him up.”
“Did the two missing men get along?” Carol asked as Mr. Fenton approached one of his employees and asked for the location of a particular identification number, which the employee promptly located.
Mr. Fenton returned to them and said, “Turns out the cow is in the milking parlor right now. This way.” He headed down a row of cows towards another room. “What was that you said just now?”
“Wait,” Carol said. “Did you just say you’re still milking the cows during the quarantine?”
“Of course we are,” he said. “They don’t know there’s a quarantine on. They’re still filling up with milk as usual. It would be awfully cruel not to milk them. Don’t worry. We have procedures to dispose of all the milk, safely.”
“What was your other question?”
“Did the missing men get along with each other?”
“Well, I never saw or heard of any problems myself until I asked around about them a couple of days back after they were no-shows. Apparently, a few of the employees said they saw Hank talking to Chuck’s sister earlier in the week as she waited in the parking lot to drive her brother home. Hank may have stood a bit close to her. She’s a stunningly beautiful lady, by the way. I could understand if a guy might… well, Hank seemed to be propositioning her, right up until Chuck showed up and grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground.”
Carol wrote down a few more notes.
Mr. Fenton continued, “The guys who saw it said the sister got between the two of them to calm Chuck down. Lucky thing for Hank. Chuck could have snapped him in half like a twig.”
“What day was that?”
“Monday, I believe,” Mr. Fenton said as he open the door to another large barn room with rows of cows packed tightly in elevated metal pens. Employees worked methodically to clean udders and apply some kind of octopus-like sucking device with four ends that they attached to each teat.
“Did they both work on Tuesday as well?”
“I believe so,” Mr. Fenton said as he lead them to the middle of one of the rows of cows. He checked the number on the collar of one particular cow. “Well, here she is,” he said pointing at the cow. “She’s the ‘suspicious’ one you were asking about.”
The cow mooed at them with a fearful look in her eyes. She struggled a bit inside her pen, but it held her firmly in place.
“You said you found her in the parking lot in the afternoon on Wednesday?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Fenton confirmed. “She walked right up to the office door and started mooing like she wanted to get back in. It’s the damnedest thing. She had no collar on, no ear tags either. None of the men had any idea how she got out there. There were no holes in the fences, and the gates were closed. But, after a bit of searching we found her collar in one of the pens.”
Carol added more notes.
“The really strange thing is the missing ear tags,” he said. “It’s not unheard of for one to get pulled out by accident, but there’s always a bloody mess to deal with when that happens. This cow’s ears were as immaculate as the day she was born.”
“I see you put the tags back in.”
“Sure we did. It’s standard procedure. She did not appreciate it, let me tell you. She’s a real fighter, this one.”
The cow mooed again, sadly.
“And, she’s quite chatty as well,” he added.
Carol turned to Candice, “Would you be able to examine her?”
Candice was startled to be suddenly pulled into the conversation, but she said, “Oh, sure.” She opened her suitcase a crack and fished around inside for her smallest magic detector.
“So,” Mr. Fenton said, as they stood back to watch Candice work. “Is this some kind of mother-daughter workday visit thing?”
“Candice is a prodigy,” Carol said, as Candice nervously approached the cow, which stared back at her. “Mature beyond her years.”
“I see,” Mr. Fenton said with an uncertain look on his face. “What’s that crystal thing she’s waving around in front of the cow?”
Carol said, “It’s… an advanced scientific device.”
The crystal began to glow faintly, but it was noticeable even in the well-lit milking parlor.
Candice nodded at Carol, and Carol pulled a pair of photographs out of her jacket pocket. “Do you recognize either of these people?” Carol asked as she held the black and white security camera images of a man and a woman up to Mr. Fenton.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “That’s Chuck and his sister.”
Candice recognized the woman. “Mary,” she said with barely concealed disgust.
“Yeah,” Mr. Fenton said. “That was her name: Mary.”
Carol put the photos back in her pocket and said, “Mr. Fenton… Carl, I need Chuck’s personnel file right now. Can you go find it for me? Please?”
“Uh, sure,” he said. “I’ll go check with my secretary.”
“Thank you,” Carol said as Mr. Fenton walked away.
Carol and Candice watched as a worker came by to clean the cow’s teats.
“What do we do?” Candice asked as she watched the cow squirm in vain.
“I’m wondering the same thing,” Carol said as another employee approached with the suction device to start milking the cow.
“Shouldn’t we stop them?” Candice asked.
The device was now attached to the teats, and, immediately, the milk began to flow. The cow grunted, resentfully.
“You heard the manager,” Carol said. “It would be cruel not to milk a cow that’s full of milk.”
“B-but, she’s no cow,” Candice protested.
Carol walked up to the cow that looked at her, desperately. “Hank?” she asked.
The cow went wild, mooing and bucking against her enclosing pen over and over again.
Carol turned to Candice. “Looks like we found our cow.”