by: Wes Ishmael

“You have to promise me you won't say anything offensive, these are customers of mine,” Lonnie growled for about the umpteenth time, as he turned into the drive of a stately ranch-style home between Lubbock and Abilene.

Hooter figured Lonnie was still sore about how he and the boys had breeched the fly security system at Lonnie's feed store.

Lonnie scowled at him again just before climbing out of his one-ton, “On second thought, maybe you'd just better not say anything.”

This was the first stop on Lonnie's monthly visits to his top show pig customers. If you needed a winning pig in West Texas, you went to Lonnie Johnson. If he didn't have a prospect he'd produced in his own barn, he knew where to go. More important, Lonnie knew how to feed and grow them, including the special concoction he mixed at his feed store and customized for each competitor.

Actually, Lonnie had asked Hooter to come along on this trip, albeit with more reluctance than a politician returning campaign funds. He had a pinched nerve in his back, though. And, being a stickler for customer service, there was no way he was going to ask a customer to unload the bags of Power Pig he was delivering.


A House to Some, a Home for Others

Hooter looked around. There was no sign of life, other than a few head of stocker cattle grazing a vast and lush wheat pasture. In the distance was a cake bin next to a sparkling new Quonset housing a four-wheeler and other assorted equipment. On the other side of that was one of the fanciest painted aluminum goosenecks that Hooter had ever seen: purple and black, with ‘Molar Show Stock' in glossy orange letters.

Lonnie was leaning up against his flatbed, hood pulled up against the cold, misty norther.'

“Shouldn't we go ahead and knock or something?” Hooter said, rubbing his gloved hands together.

“They're not here yet.”

“How do you know without checking?”

“You see any vehicles, Sherlock,” Lonnie gruffed, before drilling a stream of Mail Pouch straight into the wind.

Hooter had to admit there were no vehicles. But, you also had to admit that all of the windows in the house were ablaze with light, glowing fuzzily against the gloomy morning.

“He'll be here,” Lonnie said.

Hooter couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something strange going on here. There was no pig barn that he could see, but he could definitely hear the faint sounds of them. Come to think of it, there wasn't a mailbox out front either.

His thinking was interrupted by the honking horn and flashing lights of a brand new Dodge dually speeding up the drive, painted in the same black, purple and orange of the trailer, chrome wheels, candy lights along the running boards. As it skidded to a stop, Hooter saw that the tinted glass was littered with about every bumper sticker ode to porcine worship imaginable:

‘Pigs for Peace'

‘Ham it Up!'

‘Have You Hugged Your Hamp Today?'

‘Bacon Greases the Skids of Life'

‘I'd Rather Be Pig Showing'

And on and on.

“Lonnie, sorry I'm late. One of my patients had an unfortunate accident with a basketball.”

Noticing Hooter for the first time, he stuck out his hand, “I'm Jimmy John Molar, Dr. Jimmy John Molar; I'm an orthodontist.”

As Hooter was reaching for his hand, Jimmy John added, “Looks like I could help you if you're interested; special rate for any friend of Lonnie's.”

“Oh Lord,” Lonnie muttered to himself. To his surprise though, Hooter accepted the handshake with a genuine smile. Hooter was willing to overlook the insult until he found out the possibility of trading on that obscenely under-stocked wheat pasture.

“I'll sure remember that,” Hooter said. He even retrieved his can of Cope and offered a dip to the good doctor which was politely declined.

“Shall we have a look,” Jimmy John said, beaming like a proud papa leading a college recruiter inside the gym to see his prodigy hoopster child who already has their pick of Division I schools.

Hooter was a mite confused as Lonnie and Jimmy John headed to the house. Lonnie glared a warning over his shoulder.

Jimmy John unlocked the door and shouted, “Daddy's Home!”

Here they came. At least a dozen top quality similar-weight pigs, trotting, bucking, grunting and oinking contentedly down the hall and into the living room.

“My daughter is Kimmy Jo; they're the apple of her eye,” Jimmy John said.

That might be so, but the way he said it, Hooter knew this project was really the apple of Daddy's eye.

Imagine a nice house. Take out all of the furniture, drapes and whatnot. Pull up the carpets, if there were any, and cover the floor with sand that's just the right texture and depth. Then, turn the pigs loose. Hooter had never imagined such a thing, which was saying something, much less seen it.

“It was a foreclosure and cheaper than building a new barn,” Jimmy John said in reply to the obvious but unasked question. “Lonnie, what do you think?”

Lonnie had already been nudging the herd around the room, studying structure and composition, cushion and potential.

“Let's get them outside,” Lonnie ordered. “Can't see anything with them all bunched together.”

“He's a perfectionist,” Jimmy John said with a wink. “But first, I have to show you this.”

Jimmy John led Hooter down a hall to what used to be the garage. “It's the rec room. You can imagine how much time they spend here.”

The sandy floor was littered with bowling balls in various states of being gnawed to death. Stacks of iron barbell weights swung on chains from the ceiling. “The tether balls just wouldn't hold up,” Jimmy John said.

“I can only imagine,” said Hooter, seeing Lonnie scowling over the dentist's shoulder.

The Price of Comfort

Jimmy John led the way back to the living room, with the pigs frolicking at their feet. They went past the kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms to the back of the house. The back wall had been knocked out and replaced with an electric garage door, which Jimmy John raised.

You couldn't see it from the road or the drive. The back of the house opened onto a sweeping covered porch and then into a manicured pen. On the other side of the fence, Hooter spied the smallest skid steer he'd ever seen, parked beside a regular sized version.

“It's the only way to get down the halls,” Jimmy John said. “Once you're in the kitchen, though, you do have to watch that bucket around the countertops.”

Hooter could tell by the flush on Lonnie's face that they'd come outside in the nick of time.

“Now, what do you think of them?” Jimmy John asked.

Lonnie was leaning against a panel, chawing his Mail Pouch as if it was the last made. He pulled a hand from his overall pockets and stabbed a finger in the direction of two Duroc crossbreds: “I told you to cut back on the feed for those two. If you don't, they're done.”

Hooter thought Lonnie's tone was a bit cross for a customer, but Jimmy John just kept smiling with the respect of a student for a master teacher.

“You did tell me that, Lonnie, and you're exactly right; I know you are. But, that's Al and Arnold. They're just so happy and so sociable. It's hard to treat them different, what with nurturing, the environment and all that. I do have a plan, though, but it will take a few more head if you can find me some about their weight.”

“Oh?” Lonnie said, lightening up a bit.

An air horn and air brakes sounded in the distance. Jimmy John motioned them out of the pen and led them back around the outside of the house. Coming up the drive was the first half of a double-wide mobile home.

Jimmy John grinned: “Outliers need a home, too.”

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